The story opens in a deep wood, where an unidentifiable man is about to ravish a young girl. Cut to a sunny eighth-grade classroom, where Robbi Benson’s lovesick stare is snared by Katie Sullivan, the transfer student who sat in front of him the entire year. Robbie hides his face, but Katie seeks him out, suggesting they sign each other’s yearbook. In his nervousness, Robbie bungles his message, writing “Love your long hair and your lovely fragrance.” Later, Robbie avoids Katie as they board the school bus for home.
Depressed about his botched note, Robbie seeks solitude at “his” pond, buried in the woods. He is astonished when Katie appears, and they enjoy an afternoon of swimming and talking. Robbie’s hopes of seeing more of Katie through the summer are dashed when she reveals plans to visit her cousin Maggie O'Keefe for several weeks and then return home to be consumed by the wedding of Katie’s sister on the 3rd of July, followed by a family picnic on the 4th. Katie invites Robbie to the picnic.
On the 5th, Katie and Maggie meet Robbie at the pond. After a joyful swim, Maggie cuts her foot on broken glass as she exits the water. Robbie takes charge as a medic, binding the nasty wound, and a phycologist, talking with the girls to distract Maggie from her injury. Maggie invites Robbie to the local observatory where she will be one of the tour guides for an upcoming open house, but Robbie begs off.
On the first day of the observatory event, Robbie’s mother, Laura Benson, rushes home to tell Robbie that an unidentified young girl had been abducted. Unable to reach Katie by phone, Robbie heads out to her home, on the far side of the pond.
But when he nears the pond, Robbie hears splashes in the water and sees a large, shirtless man, his back covered by a strange tattoo. He hides until the man is gone. Cautiously approaching the pond, Robbie sees a body under the water. He is unable to pull it up, but observes on the bottom of the foot a familiar gash...it’s Maggie.
Running for help Robbie runs into a state trooper, one of the search party looking for the missing girl. While Robbie tells the police about the man he saw, Robbie remains a suspect, first based on his knowledge of the girl’s identity without seeing her face under the water, and later when they discover the girl’s blood on Robbie’s penknife and on a cloth buried near the scene. Robbie is eventually cleared when Katie retells their mishap at the pond.
Police drag and find more bodies in the pond, suggesting a serial killer. Unable to find a suspect, Sheriff Edwards enlists Robbie to search for the mystery man at the funeral and burial, knowing that murderers sometimes desire to watch the burial of their victims.
At the gravesite, Robbie identifies the local pastor as the murderer and, during the ensuing struggle with the police, the pastor’s shirt is torn off, revealing his tattooed back, as Robbie had described to the police.