Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 10 – Attack

Chapter 10 – Attack

Oh my god.

“Alison!” I shout from inside my bathroom. I peek at the girl in the mirror. The dress was simple enough with spaghetti straps that could easily be covered with a hoody. The material was a smooth golden silk that clung to my body and shimmered with the slightest movement. The dress was beautiful. There was no way I could wear this.

“Jen! Alison!”

I jump back just in time to miss the door flying open into my face.

“What’s wrong?!” Alison kicks open my bathroom door wearing my two sizes too big purple bathrobe and wielding a mascara ward. I snort back a laugh. I guess she’s trying to make sure I don’t spill make up all over her when it’s my turn. A bit of electric pink taffeta pokes out. One of her worried eyes seriously smudged.

“You okay?” Jen towers over the slight figure of Alison. She pushes a couple of curlers off her forehead. Her eyes light up. ‘Wow, you look amazing!”

“What is this?” I looked down at the dress.

“Your legs?” Alison snorts trying to keep the laughter in. “Seriously, Julia. You have an amazing body. It’s about time you showed it off.”

“Yeah! Be proud of it!” Jen pulls me out of the bathroom.

“It’s so short!” I pull at the edge of the dress, fruitlessly. “I feel so naked.”

“Stop or you’ll rip the material.” Alison pushes me down and I fall into my desk chair with a plop.

“I can’t believe you don’t have a proper vanity.” Jen scolds. Her strapless forest green dress sparkled matching perfectly with her hazel eyes. Her foot taps. “Sweetie, where is your makeup?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Okaaay. We will definitely need to remedy that later. You can use anything you need from my box”. The box she spoke of was a monstrosity that took up most of my desk. I look in. It was filled with so many little pots of different colors. My head spins. I had no idea what to do with makeup. What was I supposed to do with all this stuff? I pick up the closest tube for inspection.

“Unless you’re into a gothic look, I wouldn’t recommend that.” I feel hands on my shoulders. “Would you like me to do your makeup?“ Alison reemerged from the bathroom, mascara and eyeliner fixed into a smoky cloud around both of her startling grey eyes.

“No, it’s okay. I’ll just use a little bit of, um, this.” I grabbed another tube of something.

Jen laughs, “That’s eyelash primer, babe.” She takes the tube out of my hands. “Trust me. You want Alison to do your makeup.”

“Okay. Not too much though… I don’t wear…”

“Oh shush.” Alison spins me around and takes a good look at my face.

She puts her hand under my chin. “First things first. Jen.”

“Yes, boss.”

“Tie her hair back.”

Wait. This was not part of the deal. “No…”

“Julia.” Alison’s small hand lifts my chin. Her big grey eyes search mine. “Stop hiding, Julia. Stop looking down. I don’t know why you hide your beautiful eyes.”

I shrugged. I’d always hide my eyes. They get me in trouble. I tell her that.

“Well, babe, we’re gonna get into a little bit of trouble tonight!” Jen does a little booty shake.

Alison wields a metallic pinching object in her pink tipped nails. “So … you wanna do this?”

***

“So when did you start going out with animals?”

My breath catches. I look at the golden boy who appeared out of the gyrating throng of craziness that was on the dance floor. He is wearing a light golden colored sweater and blue jeans. Even dressed down he looks amazing. He takes a simple black mask off his face. Not that he needed to. I would have recognized him anywhere. My mouth pops open. At first I can’t think of anything to say. This is the first Nicolas has talked to me directly in ages. Finally, with some dignity, I manage, “You’re talking to me again … I’m so honored.”

I see Laurie snake over in our direction. Her tight red tube dress hugs her body like second skin. I know there is nothing she can do to me here, but her icy black stare made my knees want to cave in. “Speaking of animals, looks like your girlfriend is angry. I’d better run along before she decides to bite me.” I spat at him.

Not looking back … I walk away and into the crowd of dancers. The tears want to flow. I swallow them. I don’t want Alison’s masterpiece to go to waste. Jennifer tamed my hair into a low ponytail, Alison got to work. After a half hour of brush strokes and face pinching she let me view her work. The girl in the mirror looked like me and yet I couldn’t recognize my dewy golden tinged skin. Alison had used just enough makeup to highlight my eyes. My eyes. In the mirror my eyes changed to a golden rimmed, blue-violet.

My mind was rambling. After two months Nicolas decides to talk to me. After two months. No apologies. No smiles. I guess he took the bait. Rich said he’d be angry if I went with him. Prick. No one notices me in the thrashing gyrating mess of bodies. I thrash and spin with the surging crowd. I see a pair of crystal blue eyes watching me. I close me eyes. Not here, not now. I felt what little control I had return to me. It wasn’t fair. He has no right to be angry.

I let the loud pounding vibrations wash over me. I let it fill the empty crater in my heart … even if it was merely a temporary fix … it works. The school didn’t allow Halloween costumes. They said it was a security risk but students could don masks as long as it covered no more than half the face. Alison forbade me to wear mine. “No hiding,” she said.

The techno beat of the music drives me deeper into the crowd. Alison and Caleb join me in the frenzy, their infectious laughter and bouncing making me drown out my insecurities. Against my own will I find myself bouncing along with them. And after what feels like the first time ever, I feel like I don’t have to hide. I could be me without apology.

Alison grabs my hands and we bounce and sway to the music. It feels so amazing to just let go. I’m so exuberant, I almost miss Alison’s eyes bulge. I was about to ask her what was wrong but then I smash backwards into it. ‘It’ grabs my waist and starts gyrating behind me. I jump forward and spin around.

Rich.

“Hey, Julia,” Rich slobbers. He smells strange, sort of … ripe. Animalistic. His hands grope like a bear trying to catch his prey. I was the prey.

“Whoa… Slow down big guy. You can join us.” I shout over the loud music and try for compromise.

“Aw … Julia … come on, dance with me!” I look over his shoulder. Blue eyes stare at me from within the crowd. I smile as the song turned soft, sweet almost. A slow dance.

“Sure, Rich. Let’s dance.”

Rich’s’ eyes widen with surprise right before he lifts me up and spins me. Against my will, I laugh. He sets me down and holds my waist against him a little too close for my liking. But he does it gently so I give in and place my hands on his shoulders. I wasn’t sure how this was supposed to be done. It was my first slow dance. I let Rich know that.

He smiles sweetly. “Oh no…” he smirks, “I think we’ve done it.”

I look up at him as he spin me back around and leans his chin on my head. “I think we’ve made Laurie and her boy consort angry…” I peek through the crowds. Those steely blue eyes weren’t looking at me anymore. They are transfixed on Laurie. Laurie looks like she was screaming at him. But him… nothing. He just looks at her and shakes his head. He looks away and into my eyes … almost. I turn my head away too fast and my lips brush Rich’s neck.

Oops … crap. “Um … sorry.”

I see Rich’s neck turn red. He’s blushing! He doesn’t say anything. Rich isn’t a horrible guy, once you got past his initial rudeness. He might even make a good friend. That was it, though. He would only ever be a friend.

Just as the song ends he asks, “So what are you doing after the dance? My parents have a place on Staten… Shit…” Rich almost topples into me as someone barrels into his back. “You ok?”

“Gross dude.” A rumbling voice interrupts Rich. Sam looks down at me like I’m just dirt. What was wrong with this guy? Rich tucks me behind his back. “Awww… so valiant, Rich. Let’s play hero so you can get some later. Guess you need a piece of something after getting dumped by Laurie.” Sam smirks in Rich’s face.

“Get a life, asshole.” Rich steers me back towards the tables. “Go back to gettin sloppy seconds from Laurie.” Sam steps towards us.

“Hey, you guys!” Jennifer comes skipping over with Caleb in tow. THANK YOU ALISON!!! “We’re going to get some food … you wanna come?”

“Yes!” I stammer, tugging on Rich’s sleeve. “Come on, he’s not worth it.” I didn’t know what Sam’s problem was with me but this was not the time or place to find out.

“Yeah sure.” I grab his hand and we snake through the crowd over to the buffet. I grab some salad and barbecue chicken. I look at the three kids around me. Rich has piled his plate with every meat product available. It was a mound of protein. I guess that’s how he kept up his physique. What surprises me though is Jen and Caleb. They both had the steak guy slice off two thick pieces.

“Hey, aren’t you guys afraid of clogging an artery?” I laugh. They all look at one another.

“It’s a special diet.” Jen and Caleb said at the same time. They chuckle. I smile, forgetting my misgivings about their weird diet. I look for our table. Alison is already eating at there with her date. At least Alison seems to approve of Rich more now that she’d hung out with him a bit.

When we get to the table, Alison jumps up, nervous. Wow. Totally unlike her. She must really like this guy. “Hi guys! This is Keith. He was a little late because of a project he’s working on at the College.” He shakes everyone’s hand except mine, noting my bracelets.

“Is that silver?” He inquires politely.

“Um… yes. But I’ve asked the School and they said I have special permission because they are family heirlooms.” I was telling a half-truth. I did have some sort of weird exemption but the truth was, I couldn’t take them off.  I tried. They were stuck and I would have to cut them off.

Keith looks at me keenly, noting maybe that I wasn’t being totally honest. He tips his head in acknowledgement and sits. Alison smiles uncertainly and as if reading my mind, shakes her head ever so slightly.

Damn her. I was going to ask what Keith knew about silver.

After dinner, the music starts back up again. I excuse myself to use the restroom.

“I’ll escort you.” Rich pats his flat stomach. I don’t know how he’d just eaten an entire farmhouse and still managed to have a wash board stomach.

“Nah.” I didn’t want to be alone with him again. “I’ll be really quick. Just need to freshen up.”

Rich shrugs, “I’m gonna grab some water then… anyone need anything?”

I walk quickly away. Our table was fairly close to the restroom, just past a few tables. The boy I beat in the long jump from Gym waves at me. I wave back. It was such a change from a few weeks ago. My classmates actually treated me nicely. The bathroom is just around the corner now…

My world stops.

There, on the far end of the hallway that leads to the restrooms, are two bodies intertwined. I couldn’t see their faces because they were kissing, the type of kissing that you only see in movies. I could hear the breathlessness of it. I didn’t want to see, though. Everything went blurry and for the first time since the gym incident I feel a massive migraine begin. I could still see color through the  pain. I saw the red of her dress melt with the gold of his sweater.

I would hurt them both. Everything went into sharp reality. My bracelets burned my wrists as I felt my hands form into claws. I take a step forward. A large hand holds my shoulder and I hear a deep voice shout out.

“Hey! Why don’t you two get a ROOM!”

I fall back against the wall. The boy in gold looks up in surprise, his hair flies briefly out of his face. He looks at me, confused. Then slowly he looks back at the red snake. His face contorts and he steps back. The snake pulls forward. That’s all I saw because at that point I fall into a pair of strong arms.

“Rich … can you take me home?”

***

I am so lost in my thoughts about the golden boy that prowls through my head that I when I look out the window of Rich’s Cadillac CTS, I am stumped. If the Hudson River is on my right, that means we are going south. Much farther south than my building in Chelsea.

I hesitate, not wanting to ask, knowing I wouldn’t like what I’d hear, “Ah… Rich, you’ve passed my building. I live in Chelsea”

He looks at me and grins. There were more teeth there then I’d noticed before. I grip the passenger door in effort to get as far away from him as possible in the confines his car’s cab.

“Hmm?” His beady brown eyes scrunch in mock amazement. “Really, I could have sworn I mentioned that I was going to take you to my parent’s place. It’s on the water. Really nice and secluded.” His smile get wider, “Were almost to the ferry.”

“Were going to Staten Island?” My stomach lodges itself in my esophagus and the little danger guide in my head is screaming. This is not good. This is not good. This is not good. This is really, really bad.

“Yup! Didn’t I mention that to you earlier? For someone who’s supposed to be really smart, you sure don’t pay attention, do you.”

We were really close to Staten Island Ferry. If I was going to get out of this car, this stupid situation I had put myself into, I would have to do it fast. I look around the car. What could I do?

I keep talking. “I thought cars weren’t allowed on the ferry anymore.”

“My family has pull with the officials that run the ferry. We’ll be fine.” Fine. No, not fine. I was stuck in the car with him going 65 miles per hour down Westside highway.

He must have noticed my feeble attempt at planning an escape and chuckles as the locks slam into place. I jump and he lets out a little snort. “You know, Julia, you really surprised me back there. You are an amazing dancer. Here I was thinking that you were all hung up on that Nicolas kid. I thought you were just using me to get back at him. You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?” He muses, letting each word drip into my ears, “That Hart boy and Laurie really make a cute couple. Don’t you think? I mean, I’ve only heard the rumors, and from what we saw in front of the bathroom… I’m sure they’ve taken it to the next level.”

I’m dying inside. I try to ignore the darkness that wants to engulf me. “Please, Rich … please just take me home. I didn’t mean to give you the wrong idea. Please, I just want to go home.” My pleas are hopeless.

“Wrong idea?” Rich is clearly enjoying himself. The words ooze with poison. “I’m sure I overheard Laurie tell Cami that she wanted to turn that little cub into a man.” He grabs my thigh hard.

I hit it away. “Don’t touch me!” I hiss. My words hit dead ears. Rich hits the gas harder. My breath was coming out in shallow spurts. I had to concentrate on getting out of this car and away from Rich. His torturous words were like hundreds of tiny vultures flying into my ear, tearing through my mind. Each syllable making its way to my heart, biting and tearing little chunks away from the bruised carcass.

“Touch you? Hmmm… I wouldn’t dream of it…”

I look up at him hoping I could think of someway to threaten him into letting me go. I immediately regret it. The vultures and the pain fly away in fright. There is only fear. His smile has morphed into a ravenous snarl. Rich smells feral. The sweat drips down his forehead. He looks like a crazed bear looking for meat and I was a juicy piece that couldn’t get away. “I’m not going to touch you Julia.” He laughs grotesquely. “I’m going to do much worse than that.” He put his attention back onto the road.

We pass the ferry parking lot. He flashes a card at the attendant who is staring avidly at some sort of sports game on a small screen. The attendant waves us by without giving the card a glance. He wasn’t paying any attention to anything else but that small fuzzy screen or he would have seen me pleading through the window. Pleading with him to take notice of me. Rich drives in and onto the ferry.

He maneuvers the car into the most secluded spot he can find.

When the car stops I rush for the locks. I gasp as his clammy fingers dig into my left shoulder, pinning me down onto the sticky seat. “I wouldn’t scream either. That’ll just irritate me. You don’t want to irritate me.” His hand clenched harder as he inched closer, enjoying my fear. I could smell the rot of alcohol on his breath. I whimpered in pain as the strap of my dress snaps. “Ah… do you know how much it burns to touch you? I don’t know how anyone can stand it. You are an abomination. You should not exist. You will not exist.”

I feel the ferry rock forward.

He grins again. His nails dig further into my skin as the realization that I was irrevocably trapped punches through me. My mind goes into overdrive. The different scenarios that rush in and out of my head frighten me more, each one worst then the one before. What would he do to me?

Rich seems to realize his victory. He lets his grip loosen. “Confused? It’s okay. We have met before… I know things about you…”

“What are you talking about?”

“Then it’s true. You really don’t remember. Do you?” And I have no idea what he’s rambling about. “No? That’s too bad.” He backs me up against the passenger side door.

“Rich … please let me out. You. You’re not like this. Please, let me go.”

My words don’t penetrate. He stares at me, “You’re riiight…. I’m not like this. I’m so much more. I can do so much more.” His eyes are becoming black and beady. “Then things like you had to come along. You are an abomination. You shouldn’t exist. I’m going to take care of you like you should have been all those years ago.” I’m only catching portions of what he’s saying. He’s blurring in and out. His hair is getting longer, blacker. “You should never have been born… I’ll make it so. But first.. I want to know what Nic and Rich see…” What… but I cant process anything as he pulls me under him. I go limp from fear. Frozen scared. He bends over me. “Good little birdy. I promised myself I wouldn’t touch you, I wouldn’t get my hands dirty on you but maybe just a taste. Because, unlike Laurie’s little golden boy,” he spit the words into my face, “I am a man.” His snarl inches closer to my lips. “I will make you remember me!”

A familiar burning sensation fills me as my hands form into claws at my sides. This would not happen.

I hear something scrape against the driver side door. Rich’s head snaps back to look for the culprit. That was all the time I need. My right fist slams into Rich’s’ exposed windpipe as my left swipes at his eye. My knee drive up into his manhood. Rich roars in pain.

I had to get out of there now.

The next few moments happen in slow motion. Like in the movies when they really want you to pay attention. I breathe out and try the locks. They don’t work. My head turns slowly toward the enraged Rich. The left side of his face has four very deep scratches. My eyes fly to his hands that were raised up to attack me. His body blurs and begins to look very brown. I put my hands in front of me in effort to protect myself. There is a small space between my hands and his grotesque head. The car rocks as I see a huge gold body slam into the drivers side window. It looks furry. I hear glass break as two arms reach in and grab Rich from behind and into a chokehold. The arms pull Rich, head first, through the broken window. I hear scuffling and the sounds of someone choking.

I take a breath in and everything flies into real time. The sounds of choking subside. A hand reaches in and unlocks all the doors. Not a breath later, the hands that had wrenched Rich out of the window are gently lifting me out of the passenger seat. These arms swing me up and hold me close, like a child, and we dodge into an empty stairwell. He sets me on my feet. I wavered a little but my legs hold firm. He peeks out the door, his back turned towards me.

I hear hurried voices. Someone says something about an attack. I hear shouting. I feel the ferry stop and slowly begin to float in reverse. All this was going on but my mind would not focus on the details of what was happening through the door. I was looking at the figure in front of it.

I know my rescuer. He is wearing the same golden sweater that I’d seen him in earlier. It matched his longer sun-streaked hair that fell into a mess at his shoulders. His body was a bit taller and larger than I had remembered it, but he still smells the same. He smells like a light lavender wind that rustles through a forest of pine trees. Woodsy… I used to call it. He turns around to face me. I don’t look up at him.

I can’t.

“Are you okay?”

My head move up and down. I don’t know what else to do.

I sense his eyes scrutinizing me. I felt his hand brush my bruised and bloody shoulder, my strap dangling to the side. I shiver at his touch. I hear his breath hiss out, ragged. His hands pull the sweater up. My eyes followed his hands as if they could not help themselves. He is still lean but in a decidedly muscular way. As his sweater goes over his head, I get a glimpse of his lips. I look away. I would not let myself process that.

He starts to pull the sweater over my head. I push it away. I don’t want him to touch me.

“Don’t be an idiot.” He mumbles.

I stand still as he slips the sweater over me. I try not to think as his scent floods my nose. For a moment I feel… home again. It’s an irrational thought since I absolutely loathed the boy that this sweater belongs to. The acute pain, a pain that had nothing to do with my shoulder, and humiliation of the situation begins to creep into my mind. I try to stomp it out. It persists.

The ferry slows down. Not enough. It bumps into the dock. The force sends me flying into his arms. I grabbed onto him and he to me, wrapping his arms around my shoulders, as if giving me a light hug. He sighs.

It was just for a second, though. We both let go at the same time but he lets his left hand rest gently on my right shoulder and trails softly down my arm before landing on the rail.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” He tries unsuccessfully to bend down and look into my eyes. I glance to the side.

“I’m fine.”

His hand is gripping the guard rail like he’s going to break it. I try to cover my shock as a rush of whispered obscenities fly from his mouth. He never swore. Well, the boy I used to know never swore.

He wraps one arm around me. “Come on.”

As we walk out of the stairwell we are met by a few police officers and what looks like station officials. There are lights coming off an ambulance some place in the distance. I feel his arm close around me tighter.

“Hey there!” An authoritative voice shouts in our direction but we keep pace.

“Hey YOU…. BOY!” A police officer blocks our way. “Where do you two think you’re going?” The police officer had a distinct Brooklyn accent. “Don’t you see the craziness around here?”

I watch as the golden boy transforms his face into one of shock and worry. He looks up at the overworked officer. “I’m so sorry, sir!” He sounds like the little boy I’d known most of my life, “My girl is deathly afraid of boats, sir. I told her that it’d be real romantic. We were up at the front of the ferry when all of a sudden it stopped and reversed back. Sheila here got all scared and started hyperventilating. She just about ran into the bathroom. I’m sorry but there might be a mess to be cleaned up in there. Any who, she just about shit herself when you all bumped into the dock like that.” He grips me harder. The pain in my shoulder makes me jump.

The officer looks at me. I tried to give him my best sick person impression, but I knew I didn’t have to try very hard. From his expression, I was a mess.

“Sorry son. You take her straight home. Poor girl. My little baby’s the same way. Just give her some tea to calm her nerves.” He trooped away and stopped. “Hey … just in case … you two didn’t see anyone run past here? No? Well, I’ll just watch from here to make sure you get to your car safely. Someone was just attacked. A boy got real hurt. He wasn’t moving when they put him into the ambulance.”

He was talking about Rich.

“Yes, sir.” The voice beside me was emotionless.

We walk down the ramp. His arm was still warmly wrapped around my shoulder. We exit the ferry building and I head toward a line of taxis. I am pulled towards the street instead. We head in the direction of a small black car parked haphazardly and illegally in a construction area nearby. I hear a beep. The lights flash.

“Get in.”

He holds the passenger side door open for me. I had a momentary rush of defiance. I wanted to run back to the police and tell them the whole story. Tell them that I’d been attacked and then saved by my former best friend who hated me. The crazy person in my head was starting to giggle uncontrollably. Better yet, I wanted to run down Westside highway. I wanted to outrun the pain and humiliation I was almost sure I could run all the way home. Everything went a little blurry. That was happening a lot. I was going to go into hysterics if I let my mind go down this road.

“Just get in the car, Jul… Julia.” His voice is frayed.

It was insane but my heart let out a small sigh at the sound of my name coming from his lips. He had been just about to say my special name … the name only he called me, but had hesitated at the last second. I close my eyes and tried not to feel. Total fail. I slide into the car. As soon as my door shut, he was already settling into the drivers’ seat. My mind must be worn out, I kept missing things.

I stare out of the window as we tear out of the parking lot. I watch the ferry disappear. The police officers words ring in my mind. A boy got real hurt. He wasn’t moving when they put him into the ambulance.

The police officer was talking about Rich. My mind shut itself against the terror. That greasy slimy bear!

I turn and open my mouth to ask him what had happened. “Nic… Nicolas…”

He was staring at me. I yank my gaze downward. That was a close one. I’d almost looked into his eyes. He puts both hands on the steering wheel and lets out a long flayed breath into the darkness ahead. “Just please … Julia … do not say anything yet. I’m trying to concentrate on getting you out of here. I am SO tempted to go back there and rip into that ambulance and finish off that slimy bear.” His voice turns into a low growl as a string of expletives hiss out of his mouth.

I look out the window to hide my shock. It was such a small thing but still shocking. But he, I could barely think his name, let alone look at him … had known exactly what I was thinking. Firstly, what was with all the swearing and second, he couldn’t have known what I was thinking, but he called Rich a … bear.

Figuring it was just the shock of my ordeal, but that had already become background noise in comparison to the turmoil that now rocked through my body. Nicolas was right beside me. He had, beyond all hope, saved me. He must have been looking for me, the little voice whispered. He didn’t have Laurie strapped to his right arm, as she’d been for the last two months. Nicolas was here, driving … I finally took in my surroundings … a really nice new car. He was only fifteen … how’d he get his license so soon?

“How are you?” He murmured.

“When you’d start driving?” I stammer out the stupid question. We asked at the same time.

“Okay…”

“My father pulled some strings…”

I want to giggle. I looked at him out of the corner of my eyes. I swear his cheek is slightly raised up in a smile. We always talked at the same time when either of us was hiding something or nervous. I have a sinking feeling that it was both. My heart plummets back into my stomach where the acids there could resume eating away at its tender flesh.

He clears his throat, as if announcing that he’ll talk first. “My father pulled some strings at the DMV. He knows the police chief. I went in and passed the tests. When I got home, Dad threw the key to me and this,” his blue eyes appraised the interior, noticeably avoiding the passenger seat, “was in the garage.”

A silent moment passed, “So, how are you?”

“Fine.” I lie. What was I supposed to say?

I really want to tell him how much I miss him. How much I want to grab on to his hand and skip and jump around with him like we were kids again. How I want to forget the pain of the last few months. How much I want to forget the anguish he’s put me through.

He is staring at me again.

“You should really keep your eyes on the road,” I practically whimper. The tears are going to spill. I could feel them threatening to leak out. I’d been doing that a lot lately. I shake my head a little to make them go away.

He turns back to the road, growling a little under his breath. I glance up a little. He was looking out but I could tell he wasn’t paying attention. Both hands are gripping the steering wheel so hard that it seems like he was going to rip it off. His knuckles are bone white. He rifles his fingers through his gold hair. He always did that when he was frustrated. I try not to remember the feel of his hair. “You’re not fine. I know that. Believe me, it’s much better this way.” His voice grumbled softly.

Wait. What?!? I wanted to shout at him. I want to make him stop the car and explain to me why he ignored me for the past two months. Then it finally hit me. For one who prided herself on her supreme intelligence, I was becoming extremely slow and stupid.

“It’s Laurie,” It took all my strength not to spit her name, “she’s going to be mad at you now, isn’t she?”

“What?” Now he seems genuinely confused for a moment. “Oh that.” His jaw clenches, “Yeah. I suppose she won’t be too happy when she finds out I left her at the dance. Julia, what was I supposed to do.” He looks straight into my eyes. My whole body rocks with the force of his blue eyes. They were blazing with anger. “I get to the dance and you are getting slobbered on by Rich. You don’t have any idea how hard it was for me to watch you let him. To watch you pretend to enjoy his big stinking hands touching you. I tried to ignore it … I tried to ignore you. Then, OF ALL THE IDIOTIC THINGS YOU COULD HAVE DONE… YOU LEFT WITH HIM. HOW COULD YOU BE SO STUPID!” His angry growl raised into a roar. “I COULD HAVE KILLED HIM! I SHOULD HAVE KILLED HIM.”

The car swerves to the left as he crosses the freeway. I grip the handle on the ceiling of the car. He finally lost control and we were going to crash, I thought calmly. Instead, he slams the car into park. We were in a lot in front of a dark warehouse. He turns the car off and throws the keys onto the dash so fast that I hadn’t noticed until he was out and the door slammed.

I sit there for a second, my eyes following his strides back and forth in front of the headlights… the hurt confusion that is burning in my soul doesn’t last long. I opened the door slowly and got out. My hand gripes the outside handle of the door for support. The two months of pain sears through me.

“How dare you.” I don’t recognize my voice. It was low, heartless and dripped with accusation. “How DARE you yell at me!” It was barely a whisper but in the cold silent night around us, I knew he could hear me. Refusing to look at me, he stops pacing. “Two months,” I fumed, “Nicolas, it’s been two months since you’ve spoken to me … NO! Since you’ve even looked my way.” I could hear my calm voice start to give way to a screech, “NOW THIS? YOU can’t even bare to look at me NOW. Do you think I care how HARD it was for you? YOU? You who barely said three words to me at the beginning of school. You … who ignored me time and time again. You who TRICKED me into the Gym and WATCHED while they hurt me. You … who started going out with that… that … snake! How awesome do you think I felt when I found you practically screwing that BITCH near the bathrooms tonight. You were sucking her face off.” I couldn’t say her name. I’d tear the car handle off his door if I did. “And then, of all the IDIOTIC excuses you could have possibly come up with you tell me, and I quote – ‘You’re not fine. I know that. But, believe me, it’s much better this way.’ You fucking asshole.” I scream, “HOW IS THIS BETTER?” I wanted to hit something. I wanted to hit him.

Instead I slam the door and stomp over to him. I know he won’t care, but the truth was going to come out anyway. I would not hide anymore. Not from him. Not from anyone. I ignore the pained look in his eyes. He had no right to feel any pain. I spit straight into his face, “You’re right Nicolas, I am not fine. I have never been more miserable. Ever since that night you lied to me and Laurie and YOUR friends… yes Nicolas… YOUR FRIENDS hurt me I have been racking my brain as to why you HATE ME so much. If it wasn’t for the twins … and Rich,” I heard him growl at the name. Good. “Yes, Nicolas … I don’t know what Rich was thinking tonight but, if it hadn’t been for Rich and MY friends, I would have spent this evening like last night and every night before that. I would have sat in my garden alone. I would finished all my homework and ran ten miles in the freezing cold … alone. Then, so that Mel wouldn’t be able to see or hear, I’d drown my tears for the day in a blazing hot shower. I would come out of the bathroom, tired but presentable. I would have made dinner for Mel and myself without eating any of it. Then, I would have gone up to my room and cried myself to sleep thinking … no … KNOWING … that you didn’t care about me anymore. That you hated me. That you’d rather have Laurie’s arms snaked around you than give … one … look in my direction. What the fuck is wrong with you.” Like a child, I wanted to pound his chest with my fists but all my energy was spent.

He doesn’t say anything and my body slumps. My eyes blur a little … again. I thought I could feel the world slip from under me. The last two months of sleepless nights decided to rush at me at this vulnerable moment. I turn to walk back to the car.

“Just take me home.” I whisper weakly.

Shift by Pili Yarusi – DREAM – Chapter 9

Chapter 9 – Dream

The first part of my dream is strange. I am the garbage man who found the twins in that little town on the outskirts of Zhejiang. I open the lid and throw the papers and trash aside. The litter floats noiselessly to the ground, like feathers in a windless space. I reach to the bottom but there is nothing there. I hear laughter up ahead and see two children playing in the street. The children are blurry. They look as if they are wearing fur coats. As I get closer I do not find children.

They stop playing and two pairs of grey eyes stare at me. Grey eyes of wolf cubs.

The dream changes, becoming dangerously familiar. I am flying. Soaring over the mountainous hills of concrete and steel that made the jungle I dwell in. I left my nest in search of someone. I head toward the warming breezes of the lush city jungle.

As grey turns to green I hear a boys’ voice screaming into the air. I could not understand what he was saying but he was in pain. I fly toward the wrenching sound and find myself in a small clearing. The boy is crouched in the middle. The air is shimmering around him.

We aren’t alone. Others are watching from the edge of the clearing. I hear the ground shake and the air explode. I turn my attention back to the boy, but he is no longer there. In his place a large tiger remains. The tiger looks up in my direction and makes to run.

As I perch on a nearby oak, I find that the crowd that had gathered around has altered too. There are no humans left. Five large bears split up and circle the outside perimeter. There are now about ten other birds. I see eagles and hawks fly overhead. A golden eagle drifts down and lands on my branch. She cocks her head at me. But the snakes steal my attention as they slither up tree trunks to get a better view. Three large cats draw near the tiger. One lioness steps forward and the tiger whines and growls. The tiger drops under the lioness stare. As the lioness draws nearer the air begins to shimmer again.

The golden eagle next to me nudges me with her beak.

I wake up.

***

“Last night the rules were broken by a few of your classmates. This will not be tolerated. Most of the persons involved have been suspended and their records will be marked. We know that there were a few witnesses who are located in the College and they have also been dealt with. Again. I stress that rule breaking, bullying and hurting your fellow classmates will not be tolerated.” Mr. Stiller sits down at his desk. “You all will use this time to work on your projects and reflect on your positive contribution to our society.”

I look at Mr. Stiller and he nods.

“So… I heard you had a run in with the snake. OUCH!” Rich reaches down to grab what I could only assume was his foot. Jennifer gives him a scathing glare. “Oww … that hurt! What did I say? What? I thought everyone knew.”

My face flashes warmly as I look around the class. Most students were working on the semester project but I notice that quite a few seemed to be checking out my table regularly. Did the whole school know what happened last night? I bury my head in my arms. I want to dissolve into the desk.

“Geez… Rich! Use a little tact!” The sound of metal scrapes against the floor as Jennifer pulls out her seat. “You two,” The rich English lilt of Jennifer’s voice is harsh, “go work on the computer or something.” The two younger boys rush away from the table. Jennifer sits next to me.

“Julia … it’s okay. Rich is just being a prick.” Jennifer pats my back, a little hard and awkwardly. I look up. Now all faces in the class were decidedly turned away from my direction. I shouldn’t have come to school today.

I look toward the front of the class. Alison and Caleb are sitting alone. Alison said Laurie would be in trouble but I didn’t realize they would all get in trouble. I meet Alison and Caleb’s stoic gazes. Caleb shifts in his seat a little, looking slightly uncomfortable. “The rules were broken by all of them. I spoke with Mr. Stiller and he said that they’ll be gone at least a week.”

“Hey! I warned you! Didn’t I? I told you to stay away from her.” I pick my head up off the desk and look up at Rich. His expression softens. “Crap… I’m being a dick, ain’t I? Shoot. Okay…” Rich takes a deep breath, “Let me try this again…”

“Why don’t you just shut it and we’ll all pretend you didn’t mention anything?” Jennifer’s hand grips my shoulder. I know she is trying to be comforting but if I let this go on, my back would be a series of black and blue bruises. Soothing back rubs were not Jennifer’s specialty. I touch her hand and try for a smile.

“Aw, Jen … can’t I just apologize.” Rich turns back to me, his brown eyes worried, “Look, that came out all wrong. I mean … when Caleb told me what happened…”

Astonished, I find my voice, “Caleb told you? How?” My head tilts towards the back of the room again. Now Caleb was looking down and Alison was furious. It looks like she is arguing with him. It was funny, kinda, because Caleb, from what I knew of him, didn’t talk.

“Um …well … he e-mailed me?” The last few words came out sounding more like a question.

“So … what? Am I a topic of discussion of some blog?” Unfortunately my anger just fueled my tear ducts. The waterworks were starting again. I look down at the desk and I blink them back.

“Just shut it already Richard! Why don’t you bugger off!” Jennifer seethes.

Grunting and stomping ensues as Rich goes away.

“Thanks Jen. I don’t know if I could have dealt with him.”

“Rich is just a big teddy bear once you know how to deal with him.” Jen looks at me intently, as if trying to gauge what to say next. “I was just wondering if you slept okay last night. I mean, what you went though… I could have clawed Laurie’s eyes out if it was allowed!”

“Ah… that’s okay… no need to claw anyone. I slept fine. Alison stayed with me.”

“Did you… shit, I might get in trouble for this… did you dream about anything?”

What a strange question. “Yeah. I dreamt about flying to Central Park and a bunch of animals. It was weird. I hate flying and heights and I’ve been having a lot of animal dreams lately.”

Jennifer almost jumps out of her seat, she’s so excited. “I knew it! You’re a Dreamer!”

“A what?”

Jennifer giggles, “I don’t know how you can do it now, without graduating, but…”

“Hi!!!” Alison smiles at me, interrupting what Jennifer was about to say. “You want to join us for lunch period? We usually grab our lunches and eat outside in the courtyard.”

“Sure! Of course!” I smile at Alison warmly and turn back to Jennifer but she is looking at Caleb who is shaking his head. “Jen, you were saying something about dreams…”

“Oh that? Oh don’t bother with me. Sometimes my brain goes cuckoo and I don’t know when to stop talking. I’ll see you at lunch, ‘kay?” And with that she hurries out of the room just as the bell rings.

“What was that?” I look to Alison. “She was saying some stuff about dreams. Whatʻs she talking about?”

Alison looks like she has a major headache. “Look, Julia… There is so much I want to tell you. And I… WE,” She looks at Caleb, “Can’t say anything.”

“The rules?” I ask.

“Yup… you’d better get used to them now.”

***

The entire week was a miracle in comparison to the few weeks of pain. I found myself laughing again, loving life again. It felt good to have such awesome friends in Alison, Caleb and Jennifer. Alison and Caleb joined up on the same table during study hall. It was a tight fit but I finally felt like I’d found some real friends. Even Richard wasn’t so bad.

Then, they came back.

It’s Monday morning and Laurie, Cami, Sam and Nicolas are at their front desk like nothing ever happened except that Nicolas looks different. I didn’t want to look but I couldn’t help it. For lack of a better explanation … he seems more defined.

The worst part is, Nicolas is even worst now then when he was just simply ignoring me. All through class I’ll catch him looking at me. I can’t read the expression there. Sometimes his face is a complete blank. Sometimes I see this pitiful pleading in his eyes. Sometimes I just see abject contempt. The worst is when he seems to be on the verge of saying something to me, anything would be nice, but he either gets distracted or thinks better of it and doesn’t say anything at all.

No. Actually, the worst part is, Laurie is still wrapped around him.

Can’t go there.

“You know what would probably piss him off?”

“What?” Rich caught me staring at the front of the room again.

“There is the Fall Dance coming up…and…”

The look on my face stops him. Was this boy serious? “No. Rich I am not going to a dance.”

“Hear me out! We could go together just as pay back. Come on Julia, I ain’t that bad!” Rich looks at me shyly, stumbling on his words.

“Oh … um … Rich…” Is Rich really asking me to go to a dance with him? I don’t know what else to say. I don’t have any experience with this sort of thing.

“Hey I know you’re sort of hung up on that clown over there and I really don’t know why after what he did to you. I don’t know what you or Laurie see in him but I figure we could kill two birds with one stone. I could get back at Laurie for leaving me for your man.” Rich lets a little pleading color his usually gruff voice.

“He’s not my ‘man’!” My cheeks heat up. “I am not hung up on him. He’s so different now…” I ramble.

“Whatever.” Rich turns back to the science project. “I just thought it might be fun.” He looks up as Laurie’s throaty giggled fills the room. My gaze follows his to the front corner of the class. Her fingers are intertwined in his golden hair. I feel my insides sizzle. I want to throw up.

“Maybe I’ll see you there.” I meet Rich’s eyes for a moment. He smiles. The bell rings.

As Sam, Cami, Laurie and Nicolas approach, Rich takes out a sheet of paper from his notebook and makes a huge show of giving me his number. Giggling, I blush at his audacity. Alison and Caleb look a little concerned but it’s a fleeting look.

Rich stands up right in front of Laurie and Nicolas, blocking their way. “So … give me a call.” He’s speaking a little too loudly to me. “Alison and Caleb are getting a ride from Jen. We could go with them … or we could take my car.” I give Rich the biggest smile I can muster as he hands me his number. Alison’s eyes bulged a little. She looks like there is something she wants to tell me. Cami’s mouth falls open and Sam looks as stoic as usual. Out of the corner of my eyes I try to read Laurie’s face. She’s looking straight at me, a sinister smile painted on her face. My smile disintegrates.

Was there something about Rich that I didn’t know about?

I slide my gaze towards Nicolas. There was something that flickers in his vacant eyes. Something close to disapproval. Must have been just my imagination.

Rich turns sharply and barrels into Nicolas and Sam. “Oh, dudes … sorry ‘bout that.” He smirks, “See yah later Julia.” Rich gives me a little wink.

I let another small giggle slip. For a brute, he wasn’t a bad guy.

Sam gets up in Rich’s face. “What bro?” Rich laughs in Sam’s face. Both guys are huge and the stare down lasts a few seconds until Sam pushes past him. “At least I’m still not following Laurie like some whipped puppy.” Sam looks back at Rich briefly, his face full of hate. He turns back towards the door and almost takes it off the hinges as he exits.

Laurie pulls Nicolas past our table. Now Nicolas looks straight at me. I turn away, memories of the night he let Laurie bully me… I need to remember that he is not my friend. He’s not my Nicky. I can feel his eyes try to bore into the back of my head. As much as I dread the thought of going to the dance, I am grateful to Rich. Maybe this is exactly what I needed to move past.

I turn to Alison and Caleb. Caleb was shaking his head and Alison let her tongue click in her mouth.

“What? Come on Alison! Spill it! You’re looking at me like I just signed up for kitchen duty. What’s up?” Exasperated, I really didn’t know what to expect from my new friends and I could really use Alison’s help right now. I had even less experience with boys.

“Are you sure you want to go with Rich? He’s kind of … ah. I’ve heard that he can sometimes lose his temper…” She pauses, choosing her words carefully. There was something she didn’t want to or couldn’t tell me.

“Alison!!!” Her silence was killing me.

She seemed to be playing with opposing comments in her head. Finally, “Well, I guess it’ll be fine as long as you’re with us. It’s just that Laurie used to tell me some awful things about him.”

“Laurie? Then they were probably all lies.” I grimaced, “What’s he going to do to me? Dance me to death? Also, I didn’t say I’d go with him … just that I’d meet him there.”

“Well then … I guess it’s set.” Alison brightens up. “We’ll all go together.” Caleb shrugs and focuses back on his video game.

We meet up with Jen after class. She gives me the same startled look when I tell her that Rich was coming with us as my ‘sort of’ date. But was also appeased when I tell her that we’d meet him there.

Jen laughs, “So Caleb … how about it? You wanna go with me?” Caleb blushes and nods furiously.

“Aw … Jen … why’d you have to go and do that for? Now I gotta find a date.” Alison whines. They all laugh and saunter off in the direction of her car. “You coming?”

***

Jennifer and Alison kidnap me. They’d set it up with my Aunt.

“You…” Alison began.

“… and your room…” Jennifer injects.

“Are in serious need of a makeover.” Alison finishes.

I grab my old alarm clock off my bed stand. It reads 7:02 am. I toss it back onto my nightstand, and missed. I didn’t care though, I was tired and the newest round of nightmares was not helping. I stuff my head back into my pillow. The dance was tomorrow night and I just wanted to hide. Alison and Jen had other plans.

“No,” I moan as they rip the covers off me.

They both laugh. Between my abject refusal to get out of bed, my tattered pajamas and the slight whimper that sounds out of my mouth; I admit that I was laughable. I throw a pillow at both of them. Alison sidesteps and Jen catches it before it has a chance to hit its intended target.

They sit on my bed. Alison places her hand on my head. “Look, we can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way. Either way we are not going away.”

“Let’s do it the hard way!” Jen laughs gleefully.

I didn’t want to imagine what ‘the hard way’ includes in Jen’s imagination. I flop over.

“At least let me take a shower.” I concede.

I step into the hot stream of water. I’m grateful … really I am. It feels awesome to have friends I can trust, people who care. Alison and Jen had quickly become close to me. I felt like I could tell them anything. Caleb, though a silent presence, was a much needed support. Even Rich … I cringe a little. Was I making a mistake by going ‘out’ with him to this dance? I thought he was cute, a little rough around the edges, but cute. It wasn’t even like that though. I was meeting him there. I didn’t want to lead him on but he did seem to like me. It was nice to be liked. He made me feel strange though. Every time he looked at me it seemed as if he was fighting something inside him. It was a funny thought, but he looked hungry.

I put that aside. Although we hadn’t gotten off to an amazing start in the beginning, Rich was filling a small part of the gaping hole that had taken over my being since the beginning of school. A flash of him hitting my back to save me from choking entered my memory. His toothy smile at the beginning of school. The water was scalding hot but I could feel a small blush steal across my cheeks anyway. He’d always been nice.

He was paying more attention to me because Laurie had slighted him and the attention was welcome. He’d begun to hang out with Caleb more instead of Sam, bringing himself closer to Jen, Alison and myself. Rich started to eat lunch with us in the courtyard instead of inside with Laurie and her cronies. Rich was a good guy once you got past his initial rudeness.

Maybe this wasn’t a mistake. Maybe it would be a little fun. My stomach did a little turn. It was my first real High School Dance.

I would turn into a prune if I didn’t get out of the shower soon. I shut off the water and step out. I give my teeth a fast but thorough cleaning and throw my hair into a quick pony tail. The ripped jeans and tank I had dragged out of my drawers before jumping into the bathroom looked ragged. They’re too big on me. I lost weight. I wipe the mirror. The girl looking back at me through the mist looks dejected. Her eyes, normally a kaleidoscope of color, had taken on a flat brown tone. There is a sickly olive hue to her skin, skin in bad need of a tan. Faint bluish circles rounded her eyes. She needs to get a life, I think. She needs a fresh start. I smile. The girl in the mirror smiles back.

There is a pounding at the door before it flies open. Jen coughs as the steam rushes out to greet her.

“Geez … it’s a sauna in here! Come on,” As she grabs my hand and before she pulls me out, I see the reflection of my eyes in the mirror. They’re bright green. I can feel the beginnings of a really good day begin to dawn. I giggle and let Jen drag me out of the bathroom.

“I thought you were going to stay in there forever,” Alison complained, “so we started without you.”

I look around my room, my mouth falling wide open.

“Your Aunt said you’d kill us if we attacked your closet, but we figured the rest was up for a turn around. Oh, and the bed is a present from your aunt. She said it was about time that you got rid of that old one. Too small and lumpy, she said. How long did you have that thing?”

I didn’t really hear everything that Jen was yammering on about. I search my room. In the half-hour that it took me to clean myself up, Alison and Jen had rearranged my entire room. A queen had replaced my small twin sized bed, the frame was beautiful dark unfinished wood. It was pushed up against the western side of the house facing my balcony. The garish purple plastic blinds had been taken down from the wrap around windows on either side of the balcony doors. My plants had been moved outside to breathe, they needed it. For all intensive purposes, my room was really a clean slate. A fresh start.

Tears well up in my eyes.

“Oh god, not the waterworks.” disappointment falls over Jenʻs face, “You don’t like it. We could always put those ugly purple things back on your window.” She sulks over to the bed and pouts.

Alison glares in her direction and grabs my hand. “Honey, what is it? What’s wrong? Did we go too far? Jen’s right … if you don’t like it, we can put it all back.”

I sniffle. “It’s not that, its just … this is going to sound really dumb but … why are you being so nice to me. I mean, thank you, but why?” I wipe at my face.

Jen snorts in reply, “Do you want us to be mean?” She laughs as Alison guides me over to the bed. The plastic is still covering it. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re a cool person. You kick butt in Gym. I don’t need much else in a friend.”

Alison shakes her head. “You know… I’m not so sure. Jen’s right, of course, you’re a good person.”

“I said cool”

“Whatever… I don’t know,” she pauses, choosing her words carefully, “it’s kind of like we’re sisters.” Alison looks away for a moment. “When we found you in the gym with Laurie and she was threatening you I saw how you stood up to her. It takes guts to stand up to that girl. I should know. Being the smallest person in our house has made me come up with ingenious ways of standing up to her. I know her. You don’t, but you were still strong enough to hold your ground,” Alison snorts, “I’ve known her forever and she wouldn’t have tried so hard if she didn’t like you too.”

“What?” My mind couldn’t wrap around that bit of information. Laurie? Like me? No way.

“Oh … never mind about that, I’m just rambling now. Anyway, like Jen said … you’re cool and you kick ass. You’re strong and you seemed to really need a friend.”

Jen pipes up, “And we just happened to be around. So if you like, we’d like to stick around for a bit longer.” She pokes me in the ribs.

I chuckle, “I just have to warn you though… I’ve never been very good at this friend stuff.” I pause, a little uncomfortable. Could I talk about it with them? Yes. I needed to let it out.

Alison and Jen looked at me patiently, I hesitate. “Nicky… Nicolas … was really the only real friend I ever had. We both got into a … situation a long time back. We’ve been friends since the fourth grade. Losing him … to Laurie … was like losing part of myself.” I was going to start rambling on but I see the way Jen’s eyes widened just a fraction at the mention of my situation. I pause. Laurie and Cami had mentioned a few times that there were stories going around school about me. If they knew anything and wanted to talk about it they would have to go first. I had told Alison a little about what had happened… but not the full extent. This was not a closet I was ready to clean out.

Breathe in. Seconds tick by. Alison smiles. “Sweetie. You can talk or not talk about whatever you want with us. Trust me when I say it is okay to have your own secrets.”

Breathe out. Okay. Good. Not going there. “So with Nicolas I found my forever friend. So I thought. I don’t know how to react anymore. But having you two here and Caleb … and even Rich,” I added absently, noting how Jen’s eyes scrunch up for a sec, “Wait … is there something about Rich that I should know?”

Alison looks at me apologetically.

“Caleb told me that you were planning to hook up with Rich at the Dance.” Jen’s concerned look intensified, “Is that true?”

“Hook up?! I’m not hooking up with anyone! What IS Caleb … some kind of gossip? I’ve never heard the boy speak! Oh god.” I hid my head in my hands. “Rich saw how much Nicolas was upsetting me and thought it might be fun to make him jealous. I think he just wants to pretend he’s with me to get back at Laurie though.” Jen still looked concerned. “Look, I know Rich is an animal, but I think I can handle him. He’s been really kind to me.”

“Yeah. We’ve noticed. He didn’t used to hang out around us until you showed up. He used to run around with Sam a lot but then Laurie got involved. I don’t know exactly what happened but there was this weird love triangle between those three. Whatever. Rich does seem much calmer now. Maybe …” Alison looks to Jen for a moment, obviously trying to decide what to say next.

Oh. Oh! “I’m so sorry!” I blush profusely. I couldn’t believe how blind I was. “Do you like him, Jen?”

“Oh … god no.” Jennifer chortles, “There was a moment last year where we might have hooked up but then Laurie got to him first and moment came and went. I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting yourself into. Rich has been known to lose his temper in the past.”

“Well, if he is controlling himself more … maybe it’ll be fun.” Alison smiles.

We three sat there for a moment. Jennifer was the first to jump up. “Geez, enough of this wimpy emotional crap!” She went to my wall of music and whistled, “Wow, you really like your music. I didn’t know people still collected CDʻs”

“I like to be able to hold something in my hands. It makes me feel like the music is tangible and not just a piece of information on my computer. A lot of the collection is my Mom’s. I even have vinyl and cassette tapes. You can borrow anything.”

“Really?” Jen eyes scan my collection covetously. “You got an empty box?”

Alison pinches her arm.

“Ouch … geez …” Jen tears herself from my music wall. “ Later … first your bedroom.”

Alison smiled, “So, what do you want to do to it.”

We spent the better part of the morning planning our attack. The bed my aunt had gotten me took up more space. I pushed it a bit more center, more in line with the balcony doors. From the bed I could see the tops of the trees and into the clouds. I marveled that I hadn’t ever thought to move it here before. The bed was incredibly comfortable. The frame was a work of art. Alison said that it was made from reclaimed wood. It had large branches that the designer had formed to encompass the bed. Jen came up with a great idea. We would extend the frame up into a canopy. I had no idea how we were going to accomplish this feat, but I put the fate of my room in their hands.

It felt amazing to absolutely trust people again. I smile and laugh easily with these girls. I felt happy.

The morning turns into early evening with a happy swoop. Any misgivings I had about my friendship with either of them were long forgotten. After shopping for new curtains … I find a sky blue that reminds me of … the sky. Lying to myself, it reminds me of something else. Someone else. Jen and Alison try to convince me that the soft lighter green curtains will be better. I win them over. I also pick up some muslin to hang around the canopy.

After, we go down to the fashion district. Jennifer knew someone down there that was dismantling a set from a fashion show. There was a forest of beautiful wood that was going to the chopper for mulch. Jen and I choose the best pieces while Alison disappeared.

We meet back at the truck. I try to look at what she disappeared to get.

“NO! No peeking!” I pout a bit and she gives in. “I got you something for the dance”

Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 8 – Save

Chapter 8

I feel Alison’s small arms wrap around my waist. Like Caleb, she was much stronger than I’d thought. She and Caleb lead me toward the light. The halogen lights in the hallway on the other side of the gym doors were frightening bright. It was sterile and harsh in comparison to the dangerous gloom behind me. I stumble into the colder air of the hallway.

They take me to the student parking building. I walk in a daze. The only reason I can be propelled forward is because I’m being led. I think if they let me go, I’d curl myself into an unfeeling mass of flesh on the cold concrete. I feel more wet stuff fall out of my eyes. Alison murmurs something that is meant to relax me. I don’t hear it. The tears keep coming.

She lets go of my waist. My body slumps on one side. Caleb holds me closer. I barely help him, if at all, to hold myself up. I hear a beep and flashing lights of a small blue car in front of us. Alison is opening the passenger door. Caleb lifts me and places me into the car. I should ask how he carried me so effortlessly. It didn’t matter. I really don’t care anymore. I find the numbness, the all-encompassing numbness that is taking hold of my system is much better than the alternative. The alternative includes two bottomless holes of midnight. To think of them was to fall into them. So much better not to think. Much better to be numb. Caleb shuts the door.

Beyond the car door, a bird flies over head. A moment of silence. A voice, demanding. “How could she? How could they!?” It was a girls’ voice that was faintly recognizable. Her speech has a soothing English lilt to it. My mind wanders back into grey reality for a moment.

“Laurie doesn’t think. She lets her power go to her head.” Alison growls. “This is all my fault.”

“You can’t let yourself think that. You couldn’t have known that Laurie would move so fast … what a horrible girl she is. I knew Laurie was bent on the girl, but to try to force her to fight back, to frighten her so much that she’d Change. It’s astonishing.” I hear Caleb clear his throat loudly. The girl’s words trailed off or maybe I just stopped paying attention. “I will go home right away. I’ll make it there before she does…”

I hear two doors open and shut. I squeeze my eyes closed at the sound. I must have jumped. I looked at Alison and scream. There is a black wolf with beautiful grey eyes sitting in the drivers seat. I close my eyes again as two hands hold my shoulders firmly from behind. I look again. Alison is there, her eyes two worried pools of grey light.

I am going crazy. First the most popular students in school were trying to kill me and now my brain was recalling my worst and most recent nightmares, transposing them onto the very person who had stood up for me. I feel horrible. I should be thanking her but instead I let my nightmare mingle with the daily horror show of my life. I close my eyes again … letting myself drift back in to the nothing. It was so much easier here.

“Julia,” she let her voice seep into my unconscious state. Part of my brain wakes up. “I’m going to drop off Caleb and then I’ll take you home.” It wasn’t a question. She was only telling me out of courtesy. I feel Caleb’s hands steady me from the back seat. I didn’t realize I’d begun to tremble. I nod. I could feel the warmth of gratitude flow through my body. They saved me.

I try to put this overwhelming gratitude into words. I can’t speak. The words won’t come. I know if I said something now, everything would come out of me. I had dammed the flood of still stinging memories in the far reaches of my mind and I could not let them flow out yet. A rush of unanswered questions would overshadow my words of gratitude.

Alison seems to understand and smiles soberly. “Rest awhile. I’ll wake you when we get to your place.”

I nod again sluggishly wondering how she knows where I live. Again … it really didn’t matter. I shut my eyes against the flood.

When I open them again, after what feels like a second later, Alison is kneeling at my side with the passenger door open and is shaking me softly. The chilled autumn air sweeps into the car, startling me a bit. It takes a moment to get my bearings. We are in front of my building and this pretty girl shaking my shoulder had just saved me from something traumatic. That’s as far as I’d let myself remember. Denial was the best policy right now.

“We’re here. Come on, I’ll help you into your building.” Her voice is soothing and kind. I step out of the cocooned safety and warmth of the car. Blood rushes to my head in my effort to get up. I grip the edge of the car for support.

“Come on… Julia, you’re safe now.” Allison undoes my grip on the car with relative ease, “I’m not going to carry you and we can’t stay out here. You must be freezing. Let’s get you inside.”

I let her lead me up the stoop and to the front door. A man was just coming out. One of my Aunt’s tenants in the building next door, Patrick, paid his rent by doing odd jobs for my Aunt. He is locking up as Alison and I stumble up the granite stairs. He is gripping two large garbage bags and looks up with a relatively bored expression. Dropping the bags, “OH! Julia!!! Are you feeling OK?” Patrick runs over and lifts me from the other side. His southern drawl is pronounced.

No.

Alison answers before I can try to explain.

“Hi! I’m Alison!” Her voice belongs to the bright and shiny anime girl I had met that morning. Had it only been a few hours? Alison voice is hushed as she squeezes my hand. “Julia isn’t feeling very well… I think she’s coming down with the stomach flu.”

“Oh geez … well then, Alison, let’s get her on up. I don’t think her aunty is home yet.” Patrick props open the door for us with his left foot, his arm tending to my right elbow. “I’ll send some of my wife’s chicken soup with my son later tonight. That’ll fix her right up. She has this special ingredient, see? She uses lots of ginger! My wife’s’ mama…” He trails on.

Alison interrupts gently, “I’m sorry Mr. …”

“Just call me Patrick. They use to call me Mr. Delancey ‘round here but Julia came up to me and as bright as day when she and her mom, God rest her soul, moved in and called me by my first name … as if the little lady had named me. I’ve known Julia since…”

“Thank you, Patrick.” She used the same gentle voice as we enter the sitting room. It had a touch of finality that Patrick easily comprehends.

“I do hope you feel better, Julia. Alison, you must be a kind soul, taking care of her like this. Blessings on you!” The door eases shut. I could hear Patrick’s voice trail off. “Poor girl … ever since her mama died … Oh well, it’s good to know she has a friend again …”

I cringe inside. Did everyone know I was friendless?

I scan my living room. It looks the same as when I had left it this morning. Books are piled everywhere. I have an insane urge to curl up on my favorite armchair in the corner and lose myself in one of them. I look at Alison. She is still holding me up.

“Your room is up here.” Not a question. She was stating the fact for my benefit, just in case my mind wasn’t sound enough to remember where I had left my bedroom.

I nod. She leads.

My room looks the same also. Clean. Sterile.

The smell of my roses wafts in from the balcony with the cool evening breeze, bringing me back to the present. Nicky had planted them out there. The tears fall onto my cheeks. I had tried so hard to remove him from my life. How could I have forgotten the roses? I would pull those stupid flowers out tomorrow. I didn’t want a reminder. I didn’t want to feel…

“Julia?” Alison sat me down on my purple comforter. Everything blurs and as my head hit her shoulder I felt my eyes burn. The tears came and I let them. Huge raking sobs well up out of my heart and onto this strange girls shoulder. Nicky, the horrible school, Nicky, Laurie, Nicky and Laurie, the gym… I let it all out. I tell her everything from my Moms death, leaving out a few details like talking animals, to my splitting migraines. For the first time in weeks, I feel safe. I feel like I can let go. She puts her small arm around my shoulder.

After an eternity passed I slumped over, exhausted onto my pillow. “…And just before you came in Laurie showed everyone my bracelets like they were poisonous. Then everyone started to blur and Cami was coming at me with huge pliers. Shit… my life is some sort of horror story. I really wish I could understand why this is happening.”

“Julia…” I turn my head to face her. “I know we barely know each other, but would you like me to stay with you?”

“I’d like that.”

Alison smiles. “I might be able to explain something’s about what’s happening but not all…” She bites her lip, thinking for a bit.

I interrupt, “Please… anything. At this point, even if you pinched me and said this was all a bad dream, I’d believe you.”

Alison laughs sadly, “I wish it were that easy… Let’s get you cleaned up first.”

I look down at my clothes. They were wet and winkled. Was that blood? I must look like a mess. Alison gets up and makes a beeline for my bathroom. I hear the water begin to run. I take stock of my body. Wobbling, I stand up and pull my sweater off. It was ripped as was my blouse. My legs hurt. I sit back on my bed and see long nail marks on my calf as well as the slight yellowish beginnings of bruises blossoming. I bend over to get a closer look and immediately regret it. My ribs burn under the pressure. My eyes well up again. I usually didn’t crack under pain … but this was too much.

I look down. I see where they had held me. The bruising was going to be severe. I knew from experience that nothing was broken … but it still hurt. I feel my neck … yup, tender. The tears had begun again, silently. I look up through the flood and into the early evening sky. Too many lights in the city. The sky never really gets dark here. My heart feels dark, though. Dark, cracked, and broken.

Alison returns from the bathroom. I grab my blouse and wipe my face in it. I really need to pull myself together.

Alison wraps her arms around me again and I let her lead me to my bathroom. The bathtub was practically overflowing with purple bubbles. The room smells like gardenias. “You’ll feel a lot better after a bath. Get in there and soak! Call for me if you need anything. I’ll check in on you in five.” She walks out of the room, leaving the door slightly ajar. I don’t think she trusts me enough to be alone. Hell, I don’t trust myself to be alone.

I undress and step in to the flowery soup and stand there, letting the steam waft around me. It was slightly hot … and lovely. I slip my body into the scalding bouquet. I let the water burn away the pain in my body. It can’t do anything for my heart, but this was at least a start. My body melts into the sweet water. My mind begins to wander. I let it. The images of tonight’s ordeal take over. To make the images go away, I sink under the bubbles and into the water below. I hold my breath as Nicky’s stoic face slams into my heart. The strength of it catches my breath and I push up and out of the water, coughing and spurting bubbles.

I reach out for a towel and wipe my face. I realize that Alison must have handed me the towel. I finally got the soap out of my eyes and look up. “I can see the headline now, ‘Girl commits suicide in tub of bubbles’. Pathetic huh?” I laugh weakly and Alison’s concerned look breaks into a smile.

“No,” she laughs, “It is not pathetic. More like, it is not worth it.” She puts the toilet cover down and sits. “Nothing and no one is worth that.” She gives me an appraising look and shakes her head. “You shouldn’t have had to go through tonight … I’m sorry.”

“What? Why should you be sorry?” I sit up a little, my head barely bobs over the cascading bubbles. “Thank you for getting me out of there. If you hadn’t, I don’t know what would have happened.” My voice is a little cracked but I hope that she could hear the sincerity behind it. “I don’t want to think about what would have happened if you hadn’t showed up to save me.”

I don’t know if it’s the healing warmth of the bubble bath or the fact that I just need to talk so I confide more in Alison. “I thought I could save him. I thought that she had had some powerful hold on him and that he was reaching for me. I am… I was his best friend.”

Alison just peers at me through her messy bangs.

“Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that we took care of one another. I missed him so much. Ever since he met her he’s been different. He won’t talk to me. No, worst than that, he’s gone out of his way to ignore me. I’ve been tearing myself apart trying to come up with a reason for his behavior and the only solution I could come up with was that he was tired of me. Nicolas just wants someone prettier, more popular and more willing to do things that couples do. We were never a couple. I always thought we were more than just that. This is going to sound really cheesy but I thought we were meant to be together forever.” A heat that had nothing to do with the water temperature sears my face. I look away. I hadn’t meant to say so much. I’d never acknowledged my feelings out loud to anyone before … not even to myself. I dunk my head under the water again.

When I come back up a second later and after wiping the bubbles off my face I let out a weak laugh, “Sorry, I usually don’t talk this much and I didn’t realize that I had so much to say. I just miss having someone to talk to. I used to tell Nicolas everything. Seriously everything. Even the female bits that girls aren’t supposed to share with guys. I never had another friend, we didn’t need anyone else. Am I making any sense?”

Alison muses, “That’s how it is with me and my brother. So I understand. If anyone took my brother away, I’d be devastated too.”

I shake my head, the tears were beginning to well up as the realization hit me. “He was more than my brother and I wish someone had just taken him away from me. Alison, he left of his own will. He’s the one that tricked me into coming to the gym tonight.”

“Julia, this wasn’t Nicolas’ fault…”

“Yes, it was. Nicolas just stood there, he gave me up to Laurie. He did it and if it wasn’t for you… I… I don’t know what would have happened.” The tears were flowing freely again.

“Don’t thank me just yet. I know Laurie and she should not have done that. She was out of line but she couldn’t have hurt you.”

I snorted. “She didn’t need to cause me anymore physical pain to hurt me. She did enough.”

Alison shakes her head, “You don’t understand … she is dependent upon her subjects … ah … boyfriends. She…” I notice that Alison began to choose her words carefully here, “She has a knack for making people feel … um…”

“Drained? Scared? I personally feel like I’m falling in to a black abyss.” My voice raises a little higher, “Other times it feels like she wants to take over. Like she wants to make me do things that I don’t want to do. Most of the time it just feels like she’s sucking the life out of me.”

I see a flash of anger on Alison’s face but before I can comment further, she interrupts me. “There are things about Laurie that…” Alison falters, “I don’t even know where to begin…” Alison looks away abruptly. “Just finish up here and we’ll talk when you get out.” She closes the door firmly behind her leaving me staring at the white paint.

I drain the bathtub and take a quick shower to wash my hair and rinse the suds out. It takes all of ten minutes to accomplish this but it seems like forever. I have a million questions and Alison was waiting outside to answer them. I pull on a clean T-shirt and sweat pants and wrap a fresh towel around my hair. I didn’t dare look at myself in the mirror. I knew all I’d see was my red and puffy face. I didn’t want to see the bruises that were showing up on my neck and arms. I wanted answers and I had a feeing that Alison had a few.

I walk out of the steaming bathroom. Alison was sitting cross-legged on my bed hunched over my copy of Dracula.

She didn’t look up but said in an irritated voice, “I hate how wolves are depicted in this book… and the movie. As if wolves needed another reason to be hated. That Lucy girl was a certifiable flirt that probably enticed the wolf… AND … wolves are NOT vampires. What a crazy idea.” Alison looked up then, her grey eyes flashing. “A real wolf would have either eaten the mortal or left the stinking mortal alone, either way … Lucy would not have turned in to a vampire. What rubbish.” She flings the book neatly onto my dresser. “You look so much better!” She pats the area next to her. “You smell better too.”

I laugh a little.

“You might want to sit down for this one.”

My stomach plummets into my intestines making my entire abdomen clench. What else could happen tonight? I sit.

“Laurie is my sister.”

The blood drains from my face and I want to throw Alison, my savior, out of my room … out of my house. Instead, my jaw drops and I stare at her, unbelieving.

She laughs a little which knocks some sense back into me. This must be a joke. It really wasn’t funny but I try for a smile anyway. There was no way that Alison and Caleb could be related to that snake. They didn’t look anything like Laurie.

“You’re joking, right?” I choke.

Alison smiles, “Afraid not. You should see your face. You look like you can’t decide whether to throw me out or pity me. I told you I knew Laurie a lot better than you thought.”

“But … wait … you look nothing alike! You are nothing alike!” I was reaching for anything that would absolve the situation.

“Well … we’re not blood, but we might as well be. We’re all adopted. Jennifer, Caleb and I, Sam and Laurie.”

I breathe easier, “So you’re not really related.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, I guess not.” I relax a bit. Of course, it doesn’t matter if they are but I really could not see Alison being tied to that girl.

“So how…”

“How did we all become family? Jennifer was the first. Don’t know much except that she was found in a church in a small town off San Antonio. She tried to locate information about her birth parents but everything has come up as a dead end.

“Laurie was the second. She was adopted in India. Her parents both died leaving Laurie alone at the age of three. Our father said she had problems from the start. It was hard enough to find parents for orphans but Laurie made it harder. She wouldn’t let anyone touch her and if they did, she’d bite them. People thought she was cursed, swore that she’d poison all those who touched her. So, she lived in the orphanage until a young American professor and his daughter came in to help the hospital. There is more to the story but I’ve never heard the whole thing. Jennifer said that Laurie bit the professor once and he just laughed at her. He sucked at the bite, spit and walked away from the fuming child. The four year old Laurie stomped off after the professor grabbed his hand and took him in front of her nurse and told her nurse that she wanted to adopt him.”

I laugh. “Don’t you mean the she wanted him to adopt her?” Thinking about a younger version of Laurie makes her a little less menacing.

“No, Laurie thought it worked the other way around. I guess she figured that since she’d lost her real parents, she should be able to decide who her new parents were going to be. She has issues with ownership. That’s why she and Jennifer don’t get along. She’s jealous of Jennifer because she was chosen first. That’s why she’s jealous of you too.”

“Me?” I think of Laurie. “Her perfect complexion, her statuesque figure and her ability to make a person crumble with just a glance … She has no reason to be jealous of me.”

Alison laughs, “She has every reason to be jealous of you. Tonight should have proved it to you. Did she by any chance ask you to join her? To be her friend?”

“Sort of.” I remember Laurie gripping my face with her talons:

“… I just need to push her a bit more.” She chuckles.

“You know the rules… I thought we were just playing…” Cami’s voice is an uncertain growl.

They weren’t making any sense. I feel utterly powerless. I could only think about getting out of here.   

Laurie grips harder, her face becoming frenzied. “You all won’t tell anyone! This little one,” she turns her attention back to me, “we’re going to become best friends. Aren’t we Julia? Be my friend, Julia. It’s an easy choice, once you make it. I see the power in you. I can help you achieve that power. Just let me IN!” She unleashes her full gaze into mine. 

I tremble as I recall the memory for Alison.

Alison growls and I back up just a bit. Alison sees my reaction. “Sorry. It’s just, Laurie should not have done that. She went way too far. Well, at least she won’t be bothering you in school for a little while.”

It was too much to hope for. “Why?”

“As much as the professor loves us all as his children, even he cannot look away when the Law is broken. Laurie could have gotten into much more trouble if it had worked but … she failed. Unfortunately for her, she’ll be suspended for at least a week, amongst other things…” Alison’s voice trails off.

“If what had worked, exactly.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you … everything.” I was about to interrupt but she steamrolls on, “No, let me finish. I’ve Graduated, so has Laurie and the rest of my family including her friends that were in the gym with you. What Laurie was trying to do is against the rules. She was trying to see if she could get you to Graduate earlier.”

“What? How could she…”

“You won’t understand until you do. I know I’m being cryptic but I can’t say anything else except that the fact that you fought Laurie off … well, that took guts. I don’t think I could have done that before I’d Graduated.”

I was about to push for more information but the look on Alison’s face was stoic. I wasn’t going to get anything else out of her on that subject. “You can’t tell me anything else?”

“Not now.”

I rub my face with both my hands in frustration. My bracelets clink together. Images of tonight cut though me.

“This is why we can’t touch her.”

My bracelets shine in the spotlight of the gym.

“Holy shit.” Sam lets go of me and backs away. “No wonder it burns to just touch her.”

“What the… What?” Cami looks at me with amazement, “Are you crazy!”

“Sam!” Laurie barks his name and I feel Sam’s hands grip my shirt, careful not to touch my skin.

“I saw those things on your wrist earlier today. I can’t imagine what you are thinking wearing them. But you don’t know, do you? You don’t know that all silver is banned from this school. You ARE as dangerous and as naive as they are all saying.”

I hold my wrists up. “What about these? Laurie and the others said they were poison. Sam said he could hardly touch me.”

“Those… yeh… silver. Another thing that’s hard to explain. I’m not sure why you’re allowed to wear those. For many reasons, if you graduate, you are not allowed to have silver in your possession.” I could tell Alison was trying to explain her way around this. So I patiently waited until she found the words. “You really shouldnʻt even be able to wear those bracelets. Don’t they hurt?”

“ Iʻve worn them since I was a kid.”

“Wow… really?”

“…And if they’re poisonous, why can you and Caleb touch me?”

Alison has a weird smug look, “Silver doesn’t affect people like us. We’re immune.” One of her eyebrows disappears up into her bangs. “Maybe you are too?”

“Immune… I didn’t know silver was poisonous at all… why…” I didn’t get to finish.

“Enough questions. I’ve already said too much. I don’t want to get into trouble and I am already treading a fine line right now.”

“One more question? Please?”

“I might not be able to answer.”

I guess I had to accept that but something had just occurred to me. “If you and your family as well as Cami have all graduated… what are you all still doing in High School?”

Alison looks slightly confused, “I… you know what… I don’t really know.”

“OOOOoookay. Fine. You won’t answer any more questions.” I sulk off the bed towards my closet.

“Julia, don’t be like that. I’d tell you if I could but…”

“I know … the Rules.” I reach into the Nicolas Box and take out a pink bag. I throw it to Alison who caught it with one hand.

“What’s this?” She turns the pink flannel bag in her small hands.

“Pajamas. You don’t think I’d let you go home alone now? I may be distraught, crazy and poisonous, but I’m not stupid. It’s too late for you to drive home and I think I’ll lose my mind if I stay here alone tonight.”

Alison scrunches her nose. “These probably won’t fit.”

“They will. I got that a few Christmas’ ago as a gag. The person who gave it to me knew I couldn’t stand pink and I never wore it. You can keep it if you want.” I think she understands my drift as she bounces into the bathroom.

I fall back on to the bed. I fix the pillows. Mochi jumps onto the bed and gives the air a sniff. Petting her furry little head and I try to read … anything to keep my mind occupied. I was serious when I told Alison I might lose my mind. Talking with her had calmed me, but I could still feel the nothingness threaten to take over again. I was about to fluff the pillows one more time, but Alison bounces out of the bathroom and flops onto my bed sending all the pillows flying.

Mochi goes berserk. She flies off the bed and hisses at Alison before darting out of my bedroom door.

We laugh. It was easy to laugh around Alison. She makes me feel at ease. “Sorry, I don’t have much luck around cats.”

“That’s okay. Mochi doesn’t really like anyone,” I chuckle. “So … what about you? Do you mind if I ask how did you and Caleb get adopted?”

Alison flips her pink hair out of her face. “That … is an interesting and long story.” She yawns, which made me yawn and we both laugh. Again. I could get used to this laughing thing. “We should get some sleep. We still need to make it to school tomorrow.”

“Come on … you can t give me any more details on my death-defying escape from the clutches of the evil Laurie, so… tell me a story”

“Oh, okay then!” Alison smiles, “youʻll have to imagine it from the perspective of the man who found us. Caleb and I were found in the eastern provence of Zhejiang…”

The garbage man grabbed the can outside the  rundown and abandoned shack as he always did. There seemed to be more trash inside it as of late, though no one lived in the dwelling. He, as always, would shrug his shoulders. At least the misfits around here had enough decency to throw their trash into a bin instead of the street.  

Today was different. He lifted the bin and could feel something shake inside it. He figured that it was just a stray cat and that it was best to just throw the rotten thing into the truck. He was about toss the trash, and the rotten cat into the back when he heard a babbling. Like talking but in another language. Almost like a couple of puppies. He’d never had a puppy before but if they could talk … that’s what he’d imagine they would sound like. A couple of puppies were a lot more valuable then some rotten cats. He set the trash bin on the pavement. The papers rustled at the top, shaking from the unknown force below it. The garbage man tentatively began to take garbage out of the bin. He was careful to throw the waste into the back of his truck. He didn’t want to litter.  

He’d taken out at least half of the trash that was there. Oddly enough, it was all newspaper as if someone was packing something fragile. His dirty gloves brushed something soft.  

A pink blanket.  

“Now, why would someone throw away a perfectly good blanket,” he grumbled softly. It was still early in the morning and he didn’t want to wake the townsfolk. The strange cooing got louder. He started to take off his gloves but thought better of it. What if these are rabid puppies, he shuddered. He did not want to get bitten. He moved the blanket aside and gasped.

There were two babies at the bottom. The cooing sounds were coming from the larger of the two whose body seemed to be wrapped around the smaller who was whimpering like the pup the garbage man thought he’d heard. Neither was crying. They both looked up. Their heads turned up towards the garbage man at the same time. The startlingly grey eyes, very rare in China, looked up into the dirt creased face of the garbage man. The larger baby smiled, as if to say, “What took you so long?” The baby raised one bubble gum pink hand towards the garbage man. The other just stared for a moment into its saviors eyes and turned back to its sibling.

The garbage man shook his gloves off in a hurry. He tossed the remaining newspaper on to the black pavement and enveloped the babies into his strong arms.  

They still did not cry. He knew there was something different about these infants as he drove to them to the nearest temple. He’d found a clean box to put them into. They were strapped into the passenger seat. He stared into their grey eyes again. He’d never been a superstitious man but he could swear that those babies could see him, hear his thoughts even.  

“Hey, babies,” he murmured in gentle Mandarin, “are you good luck babies?” He stared into the bigger baby’s face. He laughed to himself. Now he was just being silly. He looked back. Both babies were smiling at him.”

Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 7 – Friendship

Chapter 7 – Friendship

I walk out of the locker room feeling something close to happiness. I’d taught myself not to hope but the feeling was creeping on me. Hope. The hope of friendship. The hope of being able to hang out with someone after school instead of being alone.

Alone.

Now that was a feeling I was used to. Even now it threatened the little bit of sunshine in my world. Alone. I was all alone in this terrible school. The biting voice of self doubt tries to move back in to secure its place in my mind.

Not anymore. A little voice fights for me, it has a girlish slight Chinese accent.

I smile. I have friends now. Maybe I could find Allison. See if she wanted to sit with me for lunch.

I practically skip to my locker. It was too late now; I was letting the happiness and hope infect me. It lightens my step and made me feel that, perhaps for the first time this school year, I belong.

I come to a complete stop. Someone bumps into me from behind. I hardly hear or feel them. Maybe if I had been paying closer attention to where I was going I might have avoided this. I would avoided my locker all together, found a safe little corner in which to hide myself until she left.

Laurie is waiting at my locker. She leans lazily beside it, her black nails scratching up against the painted green metal.

I turn around immediately to run away.

“Hey Julia.” I could have sworn she’d been at least ten feet away but now she was right next to me, whispering in my ear. I spin around. She is still at my locker, right where I’d seen her. How’d she throw her voice so far? She smirks.

I might as well face her. If I was going to get over this and take my life back I neded to do this. I walk up to her. She slides in front of my locker, blocking the lock. “Ah, Julia … just the little bird I wanted to catch … I’m angry at you again.”

I swallow. At first glance she didn’t look angry but her deceptively warm smile flashes in the bright halogen in the hallway revealing a row of sharp white teeth. How did that old children’s story go? Better to eat you with my dear. I look away. What had I done now? I’d stayed away from her. I’d stayed away from her boyfriend. I’d disappeared over the last few weeks.

“Do you know why?” She took out a smooth black phone from her skirt pocket, Nicolas’ iPhone.

I cringe but I found my voice. “Look, Laurie, I sent those messages ages ago and I haven’t called in weeks. I really don’t want any trouble…” I try to reach around her to get into my locker. She plants herself firmly and grabs my shirt sleeve with her free hand. Her nails dig in.

I bite back the yelp that wants to sound out of my mouth. I would not give her the pleasure of seeing me in pain, again.

“You’re so silly, I got rid of those long ago … so pathetic. I’m angry about these.” She pushes the screen in front of my face. There on the screen were pictures … of me. Recent pictures. In study hall, reading my worn copy of Dracula. In gym, running. A few were taken in Sciences sitting staring out the window while Mr. Stiller had been lecturing.

Her tongue flashes out of her mouth, licking at her red lips. “I thought I told you to stay away from him? I thought we agreed it was for your own good?” I cringe, I couldn’t help it. This girl scared the shit out of me. I didn’t think it was possible but her grip on my wrist got tighter. If the cuff of my shirt wasn’t there she’d draw blood. “I thought I’d made myself perfectly clear that I would make you hurt if you had any contact with him.” She twists her grip making me face directly her way and in her face. “He’s mine.” Into her soulless black eyes I fall. The world blurs.

No.

I close my eyes and almost immediately the familiar blinding white sensation of my migraines flare into my head. For once I was glad for them. That was a pain I was used to. I twist my arm in the same direction she was pulling it. I feel her body tilt off balance in surprise … that is all I need. I twist out of her grip and with my free hand, I find her exposed neck and slam her up against the locker.

I open my eyes. Everyone in the hallway was looking at us with unabashed amazement. “Don’t do that.” I seethe at her, avoiding her eyes. I slam her head against the metal again for good measure.

I was crazy but now I knew for certain that she had some sort of freaky power to render people incapacitated just by looking at them.

She laughed, “So the little birdie knows how to fight back.” She licks her lips again, her face quizzical. I could see a million different reasons why this girl was so popular. But she was just such a wicked bitch. I couldn’t stand to touch her. I put my hands up and back away.

Laurie’s eyes widen. “What’s that on your wrists?”

Three people appear out of nowhere, flanking her. The exotically beautiful, Camille Hong, her fiery hair a smooth cap of lava on her head, bangs framing her large green eyes. Those eyes were two emerald slits of menacing danger. Laurie’s brother, I think his name is Sam, he just stood there, looking down at me. That’s all he needed to do to make my blood turn cold.

“Then it is true.” Cami pointedly stares at my wrists in distaste. “They had to cuff you! I knew something was wrong with you.”

Were they talking about my bracelets? Strange.

There was one last person, standing a little aloof … not knowing what to do he looks from me to Laurie. Had he really taken those pictures? When he looked at Laurie I saw the blood drain from his face. He saw his iPhone. There was a flash of recognition in his eyes.

I took my chance. “Nicky! Look at me! Don’t look at her…” It was too late, he was already moving to her side, looking at her like a whipped puppy. He wraps his arms around her. She looks at me scathingly and smiles a sweet little smile at Nicolas. I keep my eyes on her mouth … anything to keep me from looking at her eyes. Bad mistake. Huge mistake. I watch, my heart tearing into little bleeding strips of flesh, as her lips met his.

I shatter. I couldn’t stay here anymore. My will to fight drops out from under me. I turn on my heels and walk away, a dead thing … numb. I try to search for the strength that I’d found during the weekend even the strength I’d found in my new friends. Friends … that had probably just been a dream.

Where are your friends now? You don’t have any friends. You’re an ugly little girl with no friends. The hissing voice of self-doubt slithered into my mind.

***

I am in my New York History class. Then in my calculus class. It all went by at a snails pace. I didn’t let myself focus. If I did I would see Laurie kiss Nicolas and the tears would come. I didn’t want that. I just wanted the bliss of nothingness. The Professors asked about things and I answered. I must have got them correct but I couldn’t really grasp what I solved. I couldn’t grasp the complicated equation that had become my life.

The bell rings. There was no way I could go back to my locker. My feet take me to the library. I find a secluded couch in a corner and I just stare into the endless shelves of books. Unseeing, I take my books out of my bag. I try to work on the mundane school work of the day. My face becomes wet with pain. I can’t concentrate. All I want to do was fall apart. I don’t think. I let myself slip away.

I stumble to my locker an hour or so later. I almost convinced myself that I’d been in the library to catch up on homework, but failed. I didn’t get anything done. I stayed there in hopes that there would be no chance of running into Laurie or her friends again. Nicky’s blank stare flashes into my mind. His lips meeting hers. I don’t think I’d be able to take the humiliation or the pain again.

My mind wanders as I walk through the empty halls. Camille wasn’t any better. Shuddering, I remember how her piercing green eyes had lashed into me as I had fallen into Laurie’s two black holes. Laurie’s brother, almost as large as Rich and more menacing. He made Rich look like a goofy teddy bear. I felt strangled just thinking about the three of them.

I wouldn’t think about the fourth person. My hand trails against a row of lockers for support. I would crumble.

Laurie… She seems to almost taste the air. It would have been comical on anyone else, her tongue constantly lashing out, like she was taking sips of the air. Her long tongue continuously licking her lips, as if her words weren’t dripping with enough venom to tear through my heart, she needed to keep the message clear. Bite me and I’ll bite you right back. Laurie bit hard.

I make it to my locker. Leaning my head against the cold metal, I try to make my headache go away. I shake myself. I was being ridiculous. I need to get out of here. I try the combination on my locker. My hands are clammy and clumsy and I have to start again … two more times. I finally get it open.

“What the…” I jump as a small pink note floated down harmlessly off the top shelf. I must be on edge. Someone must have slipped it in through the vents at the top of the door. Maybe it was from those crazy-looking twins I’d met earlier. They were nice.

I pick up the letter.

I can not breathe.

My name is scratched on the front of the folded pink binder paper. It’s in Nicolas’ slanted messy writing.

Julia,

Meet me in the gym at 6pm. I’m sorry about today. We need to talk. 

-Nicolas.

My heart leaps into my mouth and does a little dance. The letter is short and to the point, which is not normal for Nicky. There is a faint glimmer of suspicion. Nicky’s letters were always long and drawn out. He loves to write. Okay… I need to think positively here. Number One: It was Nicky and Number Two: he wanted to apologize. Maybe he’d been in a rush. Maybe he had to write it fast enough so that he could slip it in my locker without Laurie noticing.

But… He wanted to meet me in secret. So… He didn’t want Laurie to know.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I should be angry that he wants a secret rendezvous. I should be furious at him. Any misgivings I have, though, are greatly over shadowed by the fact that Nicky wants to apologize and hopefully explain his horrible behavior of these past three weeks. Maybe I could live with the fact that he was involved with that snake of a girl. I just really want my friend back. I feel a little of the weight lift off my chest. The fear and suspicion flies from my mind. Even his writing made the sunshine through my clouds of doubt.

My friend.

I could be Nicky’s friend again.

I look at my watch: 5:55 PM.

Crap. I don’t think. I run.

It’s going to take me five minutes just to make it back to the library, and that’s only halfway. In that moment I miraculously forget the awkward clumsiness that’s been infiltrating my limbs since school started and I feel my body sprint with the loping grace it once had. I feel free in my long strides, my army boots pounding against the white linoleum. Running toward happiness.

Bam! “Shit!”

Unfortunately, the gym doors are locked when I slam my body into the long metal handle. I smash my face against the wire laced glass and ricochet off the huge doors. I fall to the cold linoleum, laughing painfully at my own stupidity.

I hear someone laugh inside the gym, too. Nicky? Yeah … he was probably shooting some hoops and seen me splattered against the glass like a bug. He’s going to poke at me for this stunt for the rest of the year.

I reach for my glasses, which had flown off and bounced off a locker, and pick myself up. I try all the doors. The last one clicks open. By now all my anger and misgivings have disappeared. I left them trailing behind me in my race to get here. My face hurts from smiling and I’m bursting at the thought of being able to talk to Nicky again.

Pushing open the door I am greeted by the old sweat smell of the Gym. It’s normally bright interior opens to a gaping blackness. I squint into the darkness. At the far end there is one overhead shining brightly. The florescent beam lights a small twelve foot circle. My giddy smile falters. Nicky is there but he’s not playing basketball. He’s not doing anything. Just standing with his head down, his features shadowed under the overhead light.

“Nicky?” I walk slowly toward the light. His hair looks oddly dull in the beam. He probably just felt miserable for treating me so badly and maybe he didn’t know how to properly turn the gym lights on and maybe he was just joking and at any moment he come rushing at me and we’d fall to the floor in a laughing mess and maybe he’d …

The gym doors slam behind me. I whip my head back. I’m already halfway into the darkness and I can’t see anything behind me in the light streaming weakly from the hallway beyond the doors. I shake myself. The door must’ve closed of its own will.

I turn back to Nicky his head was up but the strange shadow still covers his eyes. His face is calm.

I’ve gone through almost five years of emotions with the boy standing ten feet in front of me. Fear wasn’t one of them. Until now.

“Nicky?” I can hear the hope and cheer falter in my voice. I take a few steps closer into the light. I can see his eyes now, the glaring light above glinting off his cheekbones.

“Nicolas?”

He wasn’t looking at me.

He is staring blankly over my shoulder.

This was a trap.

“Hello, Julia.” I see her fiery hair first as she walks out of the shadows and into the light about three feet to the right of Nicky. Cami laughs and her green eyes tilted up as if she enjoyed the spotlight and wanted me to see the full scope of her joy. She revels in the fearful surprise that flushes my face. “Did the little birdie get herself lost?” Her light giggle is in direct contrast with the fear that is just beginning to grip me. “Poor little birdie, I think she’s fallen into a trap.”

“Oh NICKY!!! Nicky!!!” another voice growls from the darkness to the left. “Nicky doesn’t like you? Do you Nic?” Another immense figure is inches from mine. The guy was so close I could smell the hunger radiating off of him. I’d seen him around Laurie and Cami before but never this close.

I turn my focus back to Nicky. I wouldn’t let my gaze focus on the others in the room. I swallow my fear and stare at Nicky, pleading with him for the second time today. Then it clicks. I think I’d been expecting this. I lied to myself in thinking that this meeting would go any other way. I should not have hoped. Hope got people hurt.

I take Nicolasʻ crumpled note out of my back pocket. I didn’t need to read it again. What it said wasn’t important anymore but it served its purpose. Nicky did write it. Nicky set me up. The paper falls from my hand.

My fight or flee instinct kicks in and my mind screams at my body, FLEE! I turn and bolt for the gym door. I see a face, brown eyes staring at me in the gym door window but then its gone as strong arms grab me from behind and toss me into the smaller but equally strong arms of a girl. The boy and Cami pushed me between themselves. I try to stop them, I try to right myself, but I just numb. I fall into a familiar set of arms. The jeers stop. They want to see what happens next. I hear a new breath hiss out as I look up into Nicolas’ eyes. They are blank. Still staring out into the black behind me.

Something in me fissures right then, a small crack that lets the lava of my pain explode up from the depth of my heart. The world is just me and him and it is an angry blistering hot world. I feel it surge through my body. I push off Nic and backhand him. The pain feels good across the back of my hand. It wakes me up further. A hard angry red welt blooms on his face, but the boy standing in front of me, this shadow of the boy I once knew, does not move. He didn’t even flinch when my hand met his face. It was the absolute worst response I could have hoped for. If he hit me back it would be better. Any response would be better.

I search his face again. I feel the heat begin to fade and I shiver. My eyes graze over his neck and I see a familiar cord. Almost shyly, I reached up. He doesn’t stop me. I pull the necklace out of his T-shirt and give it a small pull. It gives way easily, as if it doesn’t want to be there anymore and was waiting for me to come back to get it.

I look back into his eyes, my will draining. There is something there. A small twitch of his eyes as they meet mine. He is looking at me. Really looking at me, not just through me. His lips move as if trying to speak.

“Nicky?” I whisper.

I hear a small clap from behind me. The tooth cuts into my hand as I grip the necklace. I put it in my pocket.

“Very interesting. I’ve been trying to get that piece of crap off his neck for weeks now.”

Laurie was somewhere. I try to run away from her voice and am greeted by laughter. Nails bite into my arms as inhumanly strong hands grip me. I struggle in Cami’s grasp.

“Stop.” There was a slight hiss to Cami’s voice. “Sam! A little help here?” She holds me tighter and pulls me back to the light. Nicky moves aside and into the darkness.

“I’ll push it around… shit… I’ll even kill it if you want me to. But I ainʻt touching it.” The guy named Sam laughs. He’s tall and lanky, black hair falling into familiar brown eyes.

Out of nowhere, eerily beautiful students of Stellar Academy surround me. I didn’t recognize any of them. Except Cami, her silky red hair was now sticking in every direction as if her fanatic fire within had set her head ablaze. Her green eyes were trained on me.

My eyes fall on back on Nicolas standing amongst the strangers. He was still staring blankly over my shoulder. I felt the tears stream down my face. My body quakes in Cami’s tight hold. I don’t care. I don’t care what they all thought about me now. In Nicolas’ blank face I feel my world crumble.

“Nicky,” I sob softly. I thought I saw something flash again, there in the blue depths of his eyes. It doesn’t matter. Nothing mattered.

A familiar hissing laugh slithers out of the darkness. The fear I had swallowed before was streaming out of my body in waves. I can’t tell from which direction she was coming from. I knew she would be here. As soon as I had figured that I’d been set up, my brain had been screaming her name in fright.

“I. Thought. I. Said. To. Stay. Away. Do you not listen?” I struggle in Cami’s grasp. Shes holds me firmly. “You are right to be afraid of me, Julia.” She caresses my name with her husky voice. “You shouldn’t have come. I really hoped you’d come … but you are really going to regret coming here tonight. How many times have I told you to stay away from him? If you had followed my directions you wouldn’t be here in this unfortunate situation.” Her teeth rest on the s-sound of the last word. Her slight accent gives her speech a menacing quality. “I told you to leave Nic to me. He’s mine.” I feel her hand trail up my neck, nails scratching my skin.

“Shall we try again?” Laurie hisses and reaches for my chin. Her black painted long nails dig into the flesh there. Her eyes, two midnight pools of empty universe, bore into mind. I will myself not to scream as my soul shutters and I fall into a searing white migraine.

Then it stops. My head flops to the side and Cami staggers under my weight. I can barely look at her. Her features soften and she looks slightly askance, not wanting to look at me as she whispers into my ear, “This really isn’t about Nic. Well… maybe a little.” she laughs huskily. “It doesn’t have to be like this. You could just accept the power. There is power and all you have to do is reach for it.” She grips my face with both her hands.

“Laurie… I don’t think you should…” I feel the rock hard grip around me loosen, slightly. Even Cami was trying to make her stop whatever she was about to do.

“Shut up, Cami. No one needs to know. I just need to push her a bit more.” She chuckles.

“You know the rules… I thought we were just playing…” Cami’s voice is an uncertain growl.

“Just do it.” Sam laughs. “Grow a pair, Cami. When did you get so soft?” Why did this guy hate me so much?

“Screw you, Sam. I’ll kick you in your pair if you don’t shut up. I just don’t want my ass sent to the Zoo, shithead.”

They weren’t making any sense. I feel utterly powerless. I could only think about getting out of here.

Laurie grips harder, her face becoming frenzied. “You all won’t tell anyone! This little one,” she turns her attention back to me, “we’re going to become best friends. Aren’t we Julia? Be my friend, Julia. It’s an easy choice, once you make it. I see the power in you. I can help you achieve that power. Just let me IN!” She unleashes her full gaze into mine.

My mind blazes with pain. The searing migraines I was accustom to have nothing on this. The crystal white world that my pain lives in turns into a black hole. I fall into a river of blood. I toss, screaming, in the torrent. The river of blood becomes a snake. The snake screams and opens its jaws wide. I am engulfed in the bloody red snake. The coppery blood fills my throat, the poison of it licks at my body. The snake is still screaming.

The nightmare shifts. I am in a very familiar alley. I can hear screaming in the back ground. A torrential river of blood runs under my feet. The rapids should pull me under but I walk calmly on the surface to the back of the alley. There is a Man and a Bear. They attack us. The bears brown eyes widen with fright as I look at him with my weird eyes. The other boy runs away and the Bear follows him. I try to save the other little boy. The man disappears and now I am fighting with a very big Lizard. I see my Mom. She fights the Lizard too. The other little boy comes back and watches as the Lizard and my mom fight. There is a bright light above and something flies into the darkness swirling around me. It catches me and flings me back into consciousness.

I let out a gasp as I am dropped to the floor. I look up and see the beautiful nightmare in front of me.

Laurie is screaming and drops into Cami’s arms as they both fall to the floor in front of me. The is blood coming from Laurie’s nose.

“Laurie?” Cami shakes her. Laurie’s body begins to twitch and seize. She stops. Her breathing settles. “What the hell are YOU?” Cami looks at me with actual fear.

“What the f—…” I scuttle a few feet back from Laurie as Sam steps over me to check her.

I close my eyes and try to go back to the scene that Laurie had made me remember but even as I do my head begins to heat and the pain of my migraine begins again. I ignore it. I need to remember what happened. My wrists are burning under my bracelets as distorted images of Bears, Lizards and blood flood in to my mind. I scratch at my wrist. The silver bracelets are hot.

I am heaved up and made to stand. “What did you do to her?” Sam is shaking me. The headache disappears but my fear spikes. A look of extreme surprise mingles with disappointment in Laurie’s perfect features. It’s worst than if she’d been mad at me.

“What the hell was that?” Cami shoots a fateful look in my direction.

“That was…” Laurie’s eyes flicker with a second of pain before a smooth mask replaces it. She grabs both my forearms and holds my hands up for Sam, Cami, and everyone else. “This is why we can’t touch her.”

My bracelets shine in the spotlight of the gym.

“Holy shit.” Sam lets go of me and backs away. “No wonder it burns to just touch her.”

“What the… What?” Cami looks at me with amazement, “Are you crazy!”

“Sam!” Laurie barks his name and I feel Sam’s hands grip my shirt, careful not to touch my skin.

“I saw those things on your wrist earlier today. I can’t imagine what you are thinking wearing them. But you don’t know, do you? You don’t know that all silver is banned from this school. You ARE as dangerous and as naive as they are all saying.” She backs up into Nicky. He stands there behind her. A shocked look replaces the blank stare that I thought was frozen there.  He hadn’t realized that she’d walked right in front of him. Nicky wasn’t looking at Laurie.

He is looking at me. I sob harder and look away. I don’t understand what she’s talking about. But, it really doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.

“Nicolas?” Laurie’s demanding voice echoes through the Gym. He blinks and places his hand on her shoulder. “That’s better.”

“Julia, you disappoint me. I tried to do this the easy way … but I guess you don’t want that.” She laughs. “This is against school policy, hell … it’s against the Law, but once I’m done you won’t remember that I made you Shift. Please look up, little birdie. I don’t want you to miss this.”

I didn’t want to look up but her voice is too compelling, demanding my cooperation. I look up. The room swims in front of me. I see Cami approach me with metal pliers. She has one of my bracelets in its teeth. I try to struggle. Laurie’s figure blurs and distorts.

“STOP!” A clear voice rings through the gym. I blink. My vision is restored. I feel Sam’s arms let go of me immediately. Unable to hold myself, I tumble to the ground. Sam draws back behind Laurie. I try to scurry away but Cami’s green eyes are trained on me, hungry. I stiffen.

I hear a low growl and all eyes shoot up, even Cami’s. Everyone backs away from me forming a wall behind Laurie. I look into the faint light shining in from the hallway. There is a silhouette there. “What the hell do you all think you are doing?”

The voice is vaguely familiar but it was the low growl that accompanied it that I couldn’t place. It sounded a lot like Alison, but it couldn’t be. I hear a light flapping sound in the distance and another low growl.

“Oh Alison! Welcome to our little gathering. I see you’ve brought some friends! Too bad they’re not presentable.” Laurie smiles sinisterly, “I would have invited you… but I guess someone else had to spoil our party.”

I squint into the darkness as the light shown off Alison’s pale face, her gray eyes penetrating the thick air. What was Laurie talking about? Alison was alone. I want to scream out to her, to tell her to run. But, I could barely save myself.

“Shut it Laurie.” I look at her in surprise as she kneels down in front of me. “Are you okay? Did anyone hurt you?” I can’t move, not even to answer. How could Alison stand up to Laurie? I shudder uncontrollably. Alison’s eyes fill with barely restrained rage. “I’ll get you out of here in a moment. You’re safe now.” She turns to face the others.

“I am only going to ask once more … what have you done to her?”

“Oh Alison!” Laurie uses the same fake bright voice. “You jump to such conclusions. We haven’t done anything to her. We were just discussing … things. We were having a great time before you came and ruined our fun. Please remind me to thank Rich for letting you in on our fun.”

What did Rich have to do with this?

“How could you? Laurie, you know the rules. You know the Law.” Rules? That word again. I was really confused. Alison’s hand wipes the tears that were flowing freely from my eyes. I couldn’t stop them from coming. I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t want to feel anything but I couldn’t help myself. I was terrified and my heart was torn to shreds. I’m a mess.

“She’s one of us.”

“She’ll never be like us. I looked into her. There is nothing but a glimmer. She’s worthless.” Cami let her breath hiss through her teeth on the last word.

What were they talking about? I canʻt stop shaking.

“Look at her! You’ve scared her to death.” Alison’s worried grey eyes become stormy. She stands to face the otherworldly and dangerous beauty before us. “You shouldn’t have done this, Laurie. What did you say to her?”

Laurie feigns interest, “Oh nothing … really. I just wanted to see…” She laughs, “But, I was wrong … I guess. This one’s got nothing.”

“You’re lying. I know you too well, Laurie. Mr. Stiller will hear about this. You do not have the authority…”

What did the science teacher have to do with all of this?

“Oh? Who’s going to tell him? You? I thought we were sisters, Alison?” Laurie’s coal black eyes gazed into two stormy gray eyes. I felt woozy again … her eyes were driving my mind back into the abyss. I feel another pair of arms pick me up gently, cradling me and holding me up. I look up. It was Caleb.

“Stop it, Laurie.” Alison’s gaze was steel. “You know your crap doesn’t work on me…” Alison glances at Nicolas for the slightest second. “But now I see you’ve been working on another project.”

“This is none of your business.” Laurie slithers back to Nicolas’ side. I cringe as her arms snake around his. “Nic wants to be with me … he wants me. Not some murderous little girl.” She snorts.

“Murder? It that what you think? God, Laurie, you’re so dumb.” Alison shook her head, “Nic … wake up! Can’t you see what your new girlfriend is doing to your best friend?” Alison seethes. There is a flash of recognition … again. I see Laurie grip his arm harder. He looks into her eyes and any realization that had flickered in his was gone.

“You know you’re going to lose him, don’t you? It’s already happening. He’ll Shift and walk away from you. He’s not like you. He’s going to figure it out.” Alison shakes her head  as she takes stock of the group around her. “You don’t have any real friends, Laurie. You force them to be at your side, bating them with power or illusion. When you’re through with them you’ll just discard them like trash,” Alison glares around the room. “Cami? I should have realized. You are such a follower. Laurie’s little errand girl.” Cami simply glares back, standing her ground behind Laurie. “That’s right, Cami, be the good little deputy. Maybe Laurie will give you a dead mouse to play with.”

Alison walks straight up to Laurie, her face tilts up a bit. She should have looked smaller than the tall snake but I could tell they were equals. Alison, even in her slight stature had more authority here where she was out numbered. “What do you think will happen when Nic finally wakes up? At least Rich finally woke up and sees you for what you really are. What happens when Sam finally realizes that he is nothing but a little toy soldier to you? Hmm?” She whispers right into Laurie’s face.

Laurie was thoughtful and her eyes flashed momentarily with something close to fear. I don’t think that fear was a concept that she could grasp completely. Myself on the other hand, I was about to crumble in Caleb’s arms. I think I may have. He held onto me a little more tightly. For a boy that was so slight, he seemed really strong.

Laurie snorts. “How pathetic.” She’s obviously talking about me. “You better get her out of here before she falls apart. I’m bored and we’re leaving.”

Caleb gathers me in his arms and helps me to the exit. When I look back into the bright overhead light the last thing I see is the retreating eyes of my former best friend. Nicolas.