Shift – Chapter 14 – Chase

Chapter 14 – Chase

“Nicolas.” His name escapes my lips in lifeless whisper the chases the empty night. It is useless. He is gone. That last word rings hollow in my mind. Gone. Gone. Gone.

The sun fell into nothingness, gone like my heart. I scream. I called out his name. I cry out in denial.

Scalding tears blister my cheeks. The world is swimming mess of nothingness. The lights of the street lamps are smeared and drip into the blues and blacks of the buildings behind them. I feel the storm coming. An early snow storm. There are little black dots at my feet. The streets, just beginning to whiten, are wet with my tears. There is nothing left inside me. The past few weeks and months slip through me and out of me, down the drains of the city and into oblivion.

I hear myself screaming and yet it isn’t me. I hear myself calling his name over and over again. I hear myself shout out in denial. I will not let go, and yet it isn’t me who shouts, who denies. It isn’t me who cries. My heart cannot have been torn, shredded by his heartlessness. Not again. Not now.

There is silence.

Eternity passes as I stand there in oblivion. Snow flurries dance around me. Mocking me. The cold late evening fast turns into a bitter night. I watch as the street lights turned on. A door opens. Patrick runs over to me worried. I don’t move when he tells me I should go in out of the snow.

“Miss Lyons,” I barely register his voice, “Julia, the storm’s going to be a big one. You best go in, Miss Lyons.” He tries to put a coat over me. I let it hang there for a moment. The warmth of it gave me a momentary rush of feeling. Warmth. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to feel. Patrick disappears and I shrug it off.

I must have stood outside in front of the granite steps for a long time staring blankly into the empty street in front of me. I’m trying to remember something. Which way did he go so that I could follow? I couldn’t remember. So I just stand here, a silent weeping statue. He had left so quickly. He must have been in a rush to get away from me. I want to melt like the snow into the cold black granite below me.

I look up into the unforgiving night. The lights of the city couldn’t fight off the darkness that was approaching. Patrick was right. This storm was going to be a big one. The blizzard that was threatening the edges of my heart had not yet swallowed me whole. It was waiting. Sorrow falls as soft harmless flakes.

My vision blurs. A hot shiver runs through my body. A searing white migraine over takes me and fall to my knees. My wrists are on fire. I claw at the bracelets. My heart burns and I disappear into the white pain. The nothingness of the blizzard takes me.

Almost.

No.

I stare into the white blanket of nothing whipping through the street. I would not fall into that nothingness again. I would not let go. What was I looking for? I could not remember.

My wrists are wet as I claw at them. I need to get these bracelets, these handcuffs, off. I claw at them.

I hurt all over and I am cold.

I tear my eyes away from the encroaching storm. Everything is blurry. I rip the glasses from my eyes and let them fall to the snow below. Much better. If I didn’t find shelter soon I’d be blown off course and I need to find something. The streetlights seem oddly bright now. The buzzing that they emit is tickling my ears. Irritated, I shake my head, my hair flying with the force of it. My head whips around and my sharp eyes focus on a sound across the street. I take a step towards it. There was a small squeaking noise coming from a trash can there. I see a sewer rat hop out and dash into a drain pipe. Was that what I was looking for?

No.

The wind whips around my body in a fruitless attempt to drive me indoors and back into the warmth and safety of my home, my nest. Warmth. That reminds me of the something or someone I was supposed to be looking for. An image, slightly golden around the edges, flashes but I can’t wrap my mind around it. I blink and bring my hands up to my face. It was wet. Why was my face wet? It must be the snow.

My hands are covered in blood now. The bracelets are almost loose.

Something catches my attention. There is a large bird soaring in the sky. The storm tries to blow it off course. But that’s not what I’m looking for.

Across the street I see figures approach stepping out of the shadows. They are coming from all sides. But they are not who I am looking for. If they approach me I will defend myself.

What was I looking for? Perhaps I’d been hunting. My eyes pierce the drain pipe across the way. I see eyes looking at me through the pipe. No. That’s not what I wanted.

“Julia?” a recognizable voice called my name. I hide my bloody hands. “Julia… what on earth? Why are you standing out here?” It was my Aunt. She pulls me into the shelter of our home. I let her. Maybe I would find my answers inside.

The light inside is blinding. I switch it off. My Aunt says something about the storm but I don’t pay attention. I look out the window. The flakes of the blizzard were pounding up against the glass. I could hear the wheezing screech of the winds.

The figures across the street continue to stare at me.

I scowl as my Aunt switches the harsh halogen back on.

If I could only remember what I was looking for.

I ignore my Aunts insipid questions and I run up the stairs to my room. It looks alien to me but there is a familiar smell that lingers here. It smells of lavender and pine and something else. Something I’d never noticed before. It smells of feline. I wrinkle my nose. It wasn’t like the little kitty morsels my aunt kept at her office. My tongue clicks at the thought of dinner, but I need to concentrate. This smell is beginning to annoy me. I know it has something to do with what I am searching for.

With a screech, I finally get one of the bracelets off my wrist. It falls to the floor with a loud clunk. My migraine still throbs but it is so much better. My head clears a little. I work on the other bracelet.

Maybe if I just concentrate on this new smell. I crawl onto my bed. The smell is strongest here. I rub my nose into the softness there. The quilt smells like him. Blurry golden images float into my mind. Through the golden blur I see a pair of merciless blue eyes stare out at me. Watching me. Hunting me. This was the being I was looking for. He is running from me. He had hurt me.

I would hunt him.

But first. I crow with pain as I manage to tear the second bracelet off. I feel… light. I shiver and I feel as if I’ve plunged into an icy stream as that silver prison clanks to the floor.

I feel like I could fly.

I rub my nose once more into my bed. I need speed if I would catch him. My aunt is home. I hear her moving about below me. I would have half a minute to get out of the house before she realizes I am gone. I don’t think. I fly down the stairs, noiselessly, grabbing my Aunts keys as rush out the door.

The parking garage is next door. I hoist myself over the wrought-iron fence, my legs scraping against the spiked edges at the top. It hurts but it’s not enough to make me stop. I sprint past a sleeping security guard and up to the third floor.

I slow by a fraction. Would I take my Aunt’s new mini? Not a bad car. Fast enough. Or do I take my mother’s car. My aunt never drove it. She said she was keeping it for me. I knew that it would not only outstrip the mini by miles but it would also pulverize anything in front of it. No questions needed.

I whip the cover off the shiny candy-apple red paint and silver chrome. The little horse at the front of the hood smiles sweetly at me. This was my car. I unlock the door and jump in.

I don’t have the authority, legally or otherwise, to drive this beast, but my grandfather had shown my how to drive stick a few times and I was a pro at driving the carts at the Zoo. I turn the ignition and the car purrs under me. That noise, the feeling made my hunt all the more poignant. I let my hands rest on the leather of the steering wheel for a moment. Breathe in.

I fly out of the garage. Breathe out.

The sleek red car cuts through the sleet without a thought. The icy wet ground was no match for the heavy body of the beast as I cut through the streets. I was hunting. I roll the sunroof back and let the smells and sounds of the icy city flow into me.

I was hunting a cat, a very large golden cat. It was running and I was very far behind. Not for long. I catch a scent of lavender and pine, like a passing thought. I turned the car in its direction, tires screech against the wet pavement. It was heading northwest. The scent disappears as I near the water. The air was cooler here. I could feel the angry wind punch against the steel frame of the car. Two decisions. Either it went over the bridge or was keeping to the waters edge.

Decision made, I throw the car back onto the main street and onto a very large bridge. The George Washington Bridge. I watch the steel beams and cords fly by. Suspended over the churning water below I wonder for a moment what I would do when I caught up with the cat. This cat was my own personal monster. It haunts my dreams. It had torn into my chest and stolen my heart. The world blurs again and I lose control of the car.

There is something lying in the middle of the road. It was large and black. Instinct kicking in, I swerve the car. Wrong move. I misjudge something. The car hits an ice patch and at one hundred ten miles per hour, this is not a good thing. The car spins uncontrollably. It smashes against the old steel of the GW Bridge. My body smashes against and through the windshield and for a split second I can see the night sky. I fly off the bridge. I see the water speed up to meet my broken body.

I fall into darkness.

Shift – Chapter 13 – Revelations

Chapter 13

I throw my keys, missing the bowl on the entrance table. It clatters to the floor. Bending to pick it up I felt the flesh on my shoulder tear. I winch.

“Where’d you get that?” I look up and Mel is giving me the strangest accusatory look. Her hazel eyes probe my face.

I grab my keys and place it into the bowl.

“Ah… I was just … we were just.” Oh how do I explain? “I… Nicky, he didn’t mean to…”

Shit. Exactly what I didn’t want to say.

“Nicky did this?” Mel’s eyes close and when she reopens them her accusatory stare is gone. “Come on … let’s get that cleaned up. You might need stitches.”

Why. Why wasn’t I a better liar? I follow her into the bathroom.

“Sit. Let me take a look.” Melanie has her no nonsense veterinarian look on her face. After a quick examination, “You won’t need stitches.” But I still cringe as she brings out the iodine, cotton balls and gauze.

Five minutes, a sink of bloody cotton balls and a tightly bandaged shoulder later, my aunt still hasn’t said anything. I try for comedy, “What’s the prognosis, Doctor? Am I cured?”

Mel trains her intelligent cat-like eyes on mine. “You are not to see Nicolas again.”

“What? Why?” I search my brain for anything. Any excuse. Nothing appears.

“Julia, kitten … this isn’t an ordinary scratch. Nicolas could have seriously hurt you.”

Wait. “Mel, what do you mean, this isn’t an ordinary scratch?”

“Sweetie. I can’t explain…”

“You can’t or you won’t? I can’t believe this! It’s the same thing Nicky said. It’s the same thing Alison said! Now you?” I grab the medical supplies and begin to clean up. “I’m starting to get really sick of this.”

“I wish I could explain…”

“… but the Law prevents you. Right?”

Mel’s eyes widen.

“Yeah… I don’t know much but I know enough because everyone seems to think I can’t handle what all-encompassing secret that everyone seems to be privy to except for me.”

“Julia…”

“No.” I grab the trash and head out the bathroom door. “No, Mel. You don’t get to decide what I get to know and who I get to be with if you can’t be honest as to WHY.” I let the bathroom door swing shut behind me.

I make my way throughout the apartment grabbing the trash in every room. It fits my mood. Would my mom have been a part of this stupid conspiracy against me? Who knows? I beat that thought down. No room for the “My mommy left me” self-pity treatment. Loaded with trash, I manage to open the front door.

I drop a few things on my way down the front stoop. I throw the trash into the cans out front. I see something or someone across the street. It looks furry.

God. Stop it Julia. I really really have to stop seeing things. I pick up the rest of the trash, throw it out and head inside.

***

I wake up at five-thirty thinking that maybe Nicky would be there with his huge goofy smile and a bag of old-fashions. No Nicky. I jump in the shower. The entire time I’m hoping that my sound system will blast with some great new band. No music. No Nicky. What did I really expect? A phone call might have been nice.

By seven I hear Mel leave and I run down to the kitchen. I hear my iPhone beep, signaling the arrival of a text. Before looking at my phone, I stick a pop tart into the toaster and look outside the kitchen window. There is a small black car parked outside in front of the stoop. Nicky’s car. I look down at my phone.

“I’m outside.”

Happiness blooms as I run outside the front stoop and the window rolls down. “Where’s your stuff?”

“Why didn’t you come in?”

“I didn’t think you or Mel would want to see me after yesterday.” Nic looks away. “Grab your things and throw that pop tart away. Those things are bad for you.”

I run inside and grab my school stuff. I stuff one of the pink gooey bad pop tarts into my mouth before throwing the other in the fridge. The passenger side door pops open.

“I thought I told you to throw those awful things away?”

“How’d you even know I had pop tarts?”

“I can smell them. And you have crumbs all over your mouth.” Nic cracks a small smile before tossing me a brown bag. “Ham and egg.”

“Thanks.” I take a bite and although it seems good I can’t get it down. My stomach has turned to knots. I know something bad is coming.

“You’re welcome.” With that he puts the car in gear.

***

School ticks on by. All day Nicky is distant. It’s not nearly as bad as before but every time I try to get close he moves away.

Laurie and Cami shoot daggers at me from a cross the room. Nothing new there. Sam is still missing. Alison and Caleb try to cheer me up but I can’t seem to get rid of this lost feeling I have every moment I’m with Nicky.

Gym is a daze until… “I’ve been noticing that people are forming little cliques,” Coach looks at the various pairings in class. For the past month I’d been teaming up with Jennifer whenever possible. Coach was on a rampage, “I will not have this in my class!” Coach Barrett drones on about teamwork and sportsmanship. I didn’t listen until he begins to call out names. The last two names he calls… “Miss Lyons and Mr. Brown to the other end of the field today, please.”

What? Rich was back? I am going to be sick.

Great. I look at Jennifer. “When did…?”

“I don’t know. I thought Mr. Stiller said he was transferred. But the school also has a sort of rehab program…” Jen stops as if she said too much. “You know you can go to Coach and ask him to switch or I can probably come up with some devastatingly witty excuse for up to both cut today’s class.” She related back to our first meeting. I smile.

“Rehab program?” Jen chews on a manicured nail. “You can’t tell me. Right. Like everything else in this school. You know what? No. I’m going to handle this.”

“No. You don’t.”

“Jen, what’s he going to do to me here? Coach is right there. I gotta take care of this now.”

“If you need back up, I’m right here.” Jennifer gave me a long searching look. She was unsure.

Even though I didn’t like the weird secrets, it was great to have such caring friends, but they all seem to want to save me. Especially from myself. I give Jen one last smile and run to the far end of the field. They couldn’t save me all the time and I knew this was something I need to deal with. Rich was there, waiting. I stop about ten feet away from him, refusing to look his way.

“Julia?” That deep rumbling voice makes me want to fold in on myself. I immediately regret coming down here. Maybe I did need to be saved … from my own blatant stupidity. How did I get myself in this situation? I don’t look at him. I glance at Jennifer across the room. She was staring warily in our direction. Something in my face makes her step forward. I must look terrified. It wasn’t far from the truth.

I look at Jennifer again, arranging my face in a composed mask, and I shake my head just enough that she’d know I was all right. I took a long breath in to clear my mind. I mean, really, what could Rich do in a crowded Gym with two adults watching. Breathe out.

“Julia?”

I turn to face my predator. Where there should have been a 6 foot – something bear-like man, there was a slight boy. His shoulders looked hunched and his face wane. The tanned muscular football player that had once taunted me, teased me to tears and almost damaged me irrevocably was … emaciated.

I should have felt the glow of retribution … but I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak. It had been less than a week. He’d changed so much since that night. He looks like he’d lost about three inches to his massive height. His body was swimming in gym clothes that were a few sizes to large although it was the same uniform he’d used since the beginning of school. I stare, astonished.

He shudders, the tremble seems to forcibly and visibly shake his frame. “I’ve really needed to talk to you.”

“Hey LYONS!!! Heads up!” Coach Barrett kicks a soccer ball my way. I let it hit my chest and roll down my body effortlessly. I step on the ball and look at Rich. He dropped his head back down in defeat.

I had to make a decision. I could rattle off the list of expletives that rested on the tip of my tongue. The hurtful words that I had devised for this moment ached to lash out at his visibly weak figure. Or, I could listen to him. I could let him try to explain himself. He didn’t deserve to have the chance to speak. Nothing he could possibly say could make what he did, what he would have done if Nicolas hadn’t stopped him, any less disgusting.

I kick the ball at him. He stopped it with his foot without looking. At least his reflexes were still impeccable, I note. Even if this conversation was going to be a waste of time, at least Coach Barrett had paired me with someone who could play. Rich looks up and is searching my weary face, his beady brown eyes wide with surprise.

I don’t say anything. I wasn’t going to make this any easier for him. He dribbles the ball a bit before kicking it back to me. He kicks it like a wimp. I know he can play better than that. I didn’t wait for the ball to stop rolling back to me. I took a few steps and beamed it back at him. He stops it, his chest caving in with the force of my kick.

Good, I thought. Even if I let him give me his weak explanation, even if I didn’t reduce myself by yelling at him, even if nothing good came out of this long Gym hour…I would at least leave him with a few large bruises.

He rolled the ball between his feet. “Julia…” his voice was gruff and deep with some mixed emotion. I watch the ball lazily roll from his right to his left foot and back. “I know there is nothing I can do or say to make the other night go away. I’ve tried to think of way to make it better but I’ve realized that there really isn’t anything to be done. I know you’ll never forgive me but I had to tell you,” his breath was labored, “that I am sorry.”

I looked up at him. “Just pass the ball.”

I didn’t want him to be sorry. That didn’t cut it. His body slumps even more. He knew it hadn’t worked. I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t going to forget what he’d done.

I kick the ball back at him. It launches full speed at his head but turns mid air and slams into his shoulder. I hear him yelp as he loses his balance and falls to the dirt. That was going to leave a huge black and blue he’d be nursing for a few days. I approach cautiously as he sits up. There wasn’t the anger I’d expect to flare up in his eyes. He looked broken.

“You’re right. I cannot forget what you did. Nothing you do or say could erase that from my mind. Now get up ‘cause people are looking.” I back up into my position and wait for him to make the next move. I watch as he gets up. There is a small light that seems to flicker in his eyes.

“I know there is nothing I can say except I am so sorry, Julia.”

“Rich. Stop…”

“No. I’ll probably get into more trouble for telling you this. Shit, I’m in enough trouble already. You have to know that that person, that Animal that you saw … that wasn’t me. I would never hurt you like that. I don’t remember any of it. Nic, Alison and the Professor told me what I did. I know I hurt you but … I couldn’t control the Animal within me.”

“Rich I don’t wanna hear this shi…” I begin to interject. “Wait … did you just say … Animal?” Flashes of that car ride flew through my brain. Rich blurs and seems to change… Another face replaces his… Crap. It’s too blurry. Rich getting dragged out of the car by a pair of golden hands … or was it paws? I touch my still tender shoulders. One side bore witness to Rich’s attack while the other… My mind wandered to last night. To the golden blur that Nic had become.

In the distance, Mr. Stiller appears next to Coach Barrett. They both look our way.

“Shit. Julia. I said too much. Just be careful here. Watch yourself. I’m sorry I won’t bother you again.”

“No… Rich wait.” Animals. Bears. Lions … Snakes … what was going on at this school? Rich’s face is haggard and drawn. Wait… his face. My silver bracelets shift as I lift my hands to touch Rich’s face. He flinches but does not move. I turn his cheek towards the sun. His face is unshaven but clear. The revelation is so close.  “Rich, I know this is going to be a weird question. Actually… all things considered… I guess it wouldn’t be weird to ask you if you have super-human self-healing powers?”

A ghost of a smile flitted over Rich’s face. “No… I don’t have anything like that, Rainbow.”

Huge fireworks of memories burst in my head. I grab Rich’s hand and march us over to The coach and Mr. Stiller.
“Rich didn’t attack me.” I look down at my hands. “This is going to sound super crazy… but this school is crazy so… I somehow turned my hand into a claw and slashed it through Rich’s face and though I didn’t see it I know Nic beat the crap out of him.”

Mr. Stiller’s face lights up, “And again you have surprised me, Julia. We were just about to pull you both over. Rich, you were framed. Julia, we caught up with the individual who really attacked you. He will no longer be a problem.”

“Who…” Rich and I ask at the same time.

“Sam has been taken into custody. He has suffered numerous injuries, including serious lacerations to his face, and is currently in a coma.” Mr. Stiller says. The bell rings. “Rich, please come with me. Julia… Don’t worry. All will be explained in due time.”

And with that they leave me alone on the field.

***

I glide aimlessly through the rest of classes. Not concentrating. Not listening. Trying to make sense of everything when to make it sensible is to believe the impossible. The school day ticks by until I am back at the start. Nicky’s car.

He opens the door for me. I sit and try to meet his eyes. He doesn’t look at me. I miss his goofy smile. Why did things get so weighted between us?

Nicky slides in and starts the car. He looks at me. “Julia, we have to talk.”

Now it’s my turn to look away, “Nothing good ever comes out of a conversation that starts off with those words.”

“Don’t make jokes Julia.”

“I’m not joking Nicky. What really happened yesterday at the park?” Images of animals parade around in my brain. My worst nightmares. Maybe I needed to get my head checked again.

“I lost control. I am sorry I scratched you…” Nicky started the car.

“Don’t bullshit me. Nicky you … I SAW you Change … you became a…”

Nicky looks at me, eyes blank. “And what did you see Julia? Are you seeing Animals again? You really should go back to that shrink if that’s what’s happening.”

Silence.

“Is that what you think, Nic? You think I’m crazy? You think I should let the shrinks and your Dad hop me up on meds again? I KNOW what I saw.” My words were stronger than I felt. Maybe my stupid brain was playing tricks on me. Nicky wouldn’t lie to me. “I … you’re right Nicky. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I’m just tired … I don’t know…”

The weighted sadness I’d been feeling all day was suffocating. I didn’t think I’d survive this one. Deep down I knew Nicky was about to break me. I hear his breathing pick up as he pulls out of the school parking garage. He makes his way to the Westside highway … he was taking the quickest route back to my place on 22nd and 8th.

What feels like only moments later he pulls up to my front stoop.

“I can’t be around you Julia.”

“Why?”

“I need to get away before I do something else I’ll regret.”

“Something else?” I whisper. “You regret kissing me.”

He flinches then steels himself. “Yes.” He hands me my jacket. “We’re friends Julia. We shouldn’t do things like that. I don’t think we should see each other anymore. We’re not going to see each other anymore.”

I feel like the breath has been knocked from me. How could he hate me so much? What did I do? He stammers on, “My parents are moving us to Europe. They said there is a school there where I can have a fresh start.” Silence. He exits the car and appears at my side holding the passenger door open. Numb, I step out into the cold and walk towards my building.

No. I want answers. I turn back walk right back up to him and smack him. A red welt appears on his cheek. He just stands there, his sad cloudy blue eyes are cast down. “You said you didn’t want to hurt me. You said you wanted to be with me.” I am out of energy. I cannot do this anymore. The tears I’d held in all day begin falling. “I’d ask you for an explanation but I know you can’t or won’t give me one. I will ask you this, why come back into my life just to slap me down again?”

Instead of answering, Nicky does the worst possible thing. He hugs me.

I fall apart in his warm arms. I can’t stand it any longer. It takes every last ounce of strength in me to look up into his eyes. His eyes, were brimming with tears of their own. The new golden-blue, so much like the sun rising from the ocean, were clouded. With regret? Remorse? Desire? I’m so confused. I want him to just take me in his arms. His mouth was an inch away from mine. His sweet mouth. His lips part as an anguished sigh rose from them. I can’t breathe. I close the distance between us by another half inch that seems more like a mile and I close my eyes.

“I’ll miss you.” Then he was gone.

Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 11 – Forgivable

Chapter 11 – Forgivable

Somehow Alison and Jen were pacing outside my apartment building when we pull up at my building. A flash of green and pink race to the passenger side door. “He what? Un-fucking-forgiveable. I don’t care that it was his first time! He is so done…” Allison is yelling into a cellphone.

I open the car door. Nothing from Nic. He wasn’t going to stop me. I don’t look back. I slide out of the seat and into Jen’s open arms.

“Holy shit Julia! Are you okay?” Jen is a welcome warmth after the chilly ride home. Nicolas hadn’t said a word the entire way.

“I’m fine.” I wince as Alison hold my hurt shoulder.

Jen’s arms tightened around me as Alison yanks the sweater collar to the side revealing a large gash on my shoulder. “Shit.”

“What did he do to you?” Alison growls, her eyes flash behind me towards the car.

My head is still spinning. I couldn’t take this anymore. Nicolas was still in the car, looking forward into nothing. Nothing. That’s really what I meant to him. I wrench myself out of Jennifer’s arms and pull up the sweater. “I’m tired. I hurt. I need a shower and a bed.”

“Julia. Did he do anything to you?” Alison emphasizes each word. It finally dawns on me what she’s asking.

“No. Just a few scratches. Nicolas got me out.”

Alison nods. “Jen, please take Julia upstairs. I need to speak with Nic.”

“No.” I would not be coddled like some pup. “It’s late. You guys should just go home. I can take care of myself.” I looked into Jen’s worried hazel eyes. “Please.”

“Someone needs to look at your shoulder.”

“I’ll get my aunt to look at it. Please. I need… I just need to be alone.”

“Fine. I’m calling you tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“Please answer.”

“Okay … and Jen,” I turned back and looked towards the black car. Alison was having an intense argument with its driver. “Please tell Nicolas I said thank you.”

I don’t know if Nicolas ever got the message. I don’t answer the phone when Jen and Alison call and I tell my aunt that I’m sick. I don’t want to see anyone so I just lay in bed all weekend listening to music and checking books off my reading list.

I’m just done.

***

Monday morning comes sooner than expected. Walking the halls. Everyone talking about what a great time they had. Everyone talking of the after parties. I tune it all out as I make my way to the cage, to study hall. First one in the classroom, I take out my latest book and plunge myself head first into its safe literary word. It doesn’t stop my head from wandering. The words and images flow into the words and images of the dance, of what happened after the dance and the rest of the crazy weekend.

I didn’t want to be in school but I would not hide. I would not let Rich and Laurie and all her goons win.

I hear the chair next to me scrape against the wooded floor. Richard’s chair. The room blurs a little as I dig my nails into the table. Please not now. I don’t want to deal with him right now. In my peripheral vision something golden slides in.

It’s not Rich. I tense even further. I would almost rather deal with Rich.

Caleb walks towards me from the other direction. I finally glance up but I’m careful not to look to the right of me. The class has filled. I hadn’t noticed.

“Yes, Caleb, I’m sitting here today.” Caleb froze next to me, his pale hand grips the back of my seat. The golden boy chuckles. The laugh sounds familiar. Too husky but the smooth ease of it was like a dream I’d had a long time ago. I do not look at the golden dream. “No, Caleb, I don’t care what Alison said. She may have rule over you and yours but I am a free man. Why don’t you go talk to Laurie? She’s mad about something, again.” He smirks. “I’m sure you can calm her down.”

I look up at Caleb. His blank face drops slightly. He shrugs and turns away. Caleb hadn’t said anything. My eyes follow him partly because I did not want to look at the dickhead that was sitting beside me.. Caleb sits next to Alison. Sam and Cami are noticeably absent from the table. I jump in my seat but I don’t look away as I watch Laurie yell something at Caleb and storms out. Honestly, I kind of want to laugh at her.

I finally look away. I let my glasses fall to the edge of my nose. Everything gets immediately clearer. I must need a new prescription, I grumble to myself, people were getting blurry even with my glasses on. I take them off.

Jen along with the Freshman boys, Max and Leo, rush in a minute late. They all look meaningfully at me. The boys pull out their computers and show me some of the simulations they’ve done. They look really well done. I tell them that. Pleased, they start fussing over some other task for the project. Jen slides her chair closer to mine. “I knew you weren’t going to call after we dropped you off.”

“I’m sorry… I just needed some time to myself. A lot has been happening. I just couldn’t deal.”

She deflates a little, “At the dance… With everything that happened with Laurie… I thought Rich was on our side.  I should have gone with you to the bathroom. I should have been there.”

I grab her hand to stop her. “Seriously. Jen, you are an amazing friend. Thank you so much for everything. You couldn’t have known he was going to do that. I really needed to get out of there and Rich was the only one there. Don’t you dare blame yourself for this.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I will be.” I squeeze her hand.

Jen flips her hair and looks directly at Nicolas, “You suck. What are you doing here?  You’re certainly not helping anyone, especially Julia, by sitting here. Shouldn’t you go back to Laur…” Jen doesn’t get to finish.

Mr. Stiller’s voice booms over the last few attempts at socializing. “Come to order. Now.” The class is immediately still. “There was an incident involving your classmates. I can only assume what with the speed in which information travels these days that you all know more about what happened after the dance than I do.”

I stiffen. Oh please. My stomach drops.

“I will only say this: all events that took place are not to be tolerated.” His piercing eyes, ever-changing like mine were black today. “Most of you should know better. I expect better from you. For those that are a little behind I expect you’ll be catching up very shortly.” Mr. Stiller’s fist comes down on the podium. “My class shall not be a holding pen for cattle and my class shall not be caged cock fight either. You all know the rules and must obey the rules. That is all. Please use the rest of science period for personal reflection or review your Anatomy notes as I am sure none of you got any studying done this weekend.” The class blew a collective sigh of relief. “One more thing, while this school sees fit to keep its affairs and happenings in the shadows, I do not. By now you all know who in this class has Graduated and who has not. I have some congratulations in order. Richard Brown has Graduated and been transferred out of Stellar Academy.” Mr. Stiller look right at me. I don’t look away. “It was decided that he was not a correct fit for this school.” His eyes slide to the right of me, straight at the golden boy in Richard’s chair. “See to it that you do not make the same mistakes that he did.”

I hear a low growl from my right side.

“Also our young Nicolas Hart has Graduated. He, as you can all see, is still with us. Please continue your exemplary performance, Nicolas. Study hard. That is all.”

I look down at a page of memorized notes. Did Mr. Stiller just congratulate Nicolas on almost killing Richard? No way. How had Nicolas Graduated before me? When did he? Where did they send Richard? What was happening? Migraine. I did a quick tally of the students in my Homeroom. They had all Graduated except myself and the two freshmen in front of me. Why was I so behind?

If I want to be honest with myself, though … what was really forcing me to keep my head in my notes was the heat I could feel from the right side of my body. He had slid his chair so that it was about a foot away from mine.

“Excuse me.” I almost leap out of my seat. Mr. Stiller was standing right next to me. “Nicolas, I do believe your seat is at the back next to Miss Amin.”

“Yes, Sir, but I figured that since Richard is not coming back,” he punctuated the last three words, “I’d keep Julia company and maybe help her with the group project. My group is already done.”

Mr. Stiller’s eyebrows lifted a bit. “How kind of you, Nicolas. Need I remind you of the rules?”

“Rules, sir? I am just sitting by an old friend. I am not breaking any rules that I know of.”

“See that you do not. Julia’s group project is a special one, one I hope she has learned greatly from.”

“No sir. I will not mess with Julia’s project.”

“In that case, Nicolas, please carry on. Thank you again for looking out for Julia.” With that Mr. Stiller walks away.

Okay. That was a weird conversation. How could Nicolas mess with my project? I was already done too.

I tried to ignore him. I discuss bird anatomy with Jen and the boys. The boys want to explore the ties between birds and dinosaurs. I actually laugh at that. There is scientific evidence and I tell them to go ahead and I’ll add it to the project. Jen is not helping. She keeps on making mean faces at Nicolas. I wish she’d just ignore him.

I try to block out the slight purring breath that could not have been three feet away from my face. This boy, the boy with golden hair who had saved me … this familiar boy … but it had been almost a month since I had even spoken to him … until the dance … since he’d even acknowledged my existence until after the dance. I shake. I could not go there. As he would lean in to check my notes I could swear I heard him sniff me. The idea was so absurd I almost laughed, but the situation was so uncomfortable that any attempt at humor vanished immediately.

I wasn’t paying attention. The bell rang. Surprised, I send my notes and pencil flying to the ground. I really had to calm down. I was such a klutz.

Someone snorts and a hiss from the front of the room. Laurie was back. “Oh shut it, Laurie.” I hear Alison voice over the din of the class. Alison approaches me, her eyes scrunched up, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking under the desk. I couldn’t stop myself. I follow her gaze.

There he was, my notes stacked perfectly in his too big hand and my pencil tucked behind his ear. His rowdy gold locks practically obscuring it from view.

Nicolas.

We stare at each other for a second. His face was set in a determined gaze. “Ah, Jules. Um… Julia, can we talk?”

He wanted to talk? “I don’t know. Can we?” I whispered.

“Hey Julia?” Alison puts her hand on my shoulder. I snap my head away from Nicolas. “You want us to wait for you?” Caleb takes a few steps forward.

I shake my head.

“You sure?”

I find my voice, “It’s okay. I’m good.” I try to convince myself. “I’m just going to clean up here. I’ll see you guys at lunch.”

“Okie.” Alison bubbled in true Alison form and bounced out of class with Caleb following slowly behind.

“Jules…”

With that, I finally find my voice. “Please,” I spit, “do not call me Jules. So, we’re talking now?” Was this me? I couldn’t believe the venom I heard.

He cringes slightly. Good. He recovers fast, “Yeah… I’m really sorry about the other night after the dance.” He fiddles with my notes. “I was just… I was really angry and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

I snatch the notes out of his hand. All the rejection and despair of the past few months wants to close in on me. All I want to do was smile and tell him that it was all right and that I hadn’t even noticed. I want to make sure he is all right. Maybe he’d had some disease that required him to stay away from me, and only me. The unwanted images of him flirting and holding Laurie tumble unwillingly into my mind. I wouldn’t allow it. I wouldn’t let him make me feel sorry for him. He’d already made me cry enough.

“YOU were angry? Come ON Nicolas, you’re going to have to do better than that. You almost killed Richard!” The bitterness and flippant accusation flows easily from my voice.

“After what he did to you … after what he TRIED to do to you … how can you blame me for wanting to kill him? I should have drowned that mangy fucker. And, since when did you start calling me Nicolas?” He accuses.

As if I were the one on trial, “Since you started hurting me,” I spit. Oh. I didn’t mean to use that word. Hurt. It was the truth. I hurt. “Don’t change the subject, Nicolas.” I slump onto the edge of the desk and let the notes flutter once more to the floor. “I’m just so sick of this. Sick of feeling like this”. My voice comes out in a cracked whisper. “Thank you for, for saving me after the dance. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t. But, I just don’t understand. Nicolas, you stopped talking to me. You rejected me publicly and humiliated me. You lied to me and let Laurie hurt me. Why am I even talking to you? What could you possibly want from me now?” I finally let myself look into his beautiful blue eyes. The golden rim of the irises seemed to pulse.

A moment passes.

I finally look down and bend to pick up my notes.

I didn’t move two steps as two warm hands held my shoulders to lift me up. I jump and I try to wiggle out of his grasp. Whatever he had to say was just going to make me feel worse. I didn’t want to hear anything he had to say.

Except maybe…

“I’m so sorry.”

I look up into his face. Something glistens on his cheek in the florescent lights of the room. I follow the tears to its source. His eyes. Just a moment ago they were burning into mine with blatant accusation. At this moment they were still burning but with sorrow.

He face was twists into a look of anguish. “I am so sorry.” As his hands drift up my shoulders and past my neck I glance up into his eyes. There was a hunger that flickered there. He was losing control of it. “I should have told you that the other night. I was just so…”

He held my face in his rough hands. I felt the blood rush up into my face, practically burning the tears of my cheeks to steam. I remembered how he used to pinch on to both of my cheeks and wiggle them around to irritate me when we were kids … but this was more than irritation I was feeling. My face felt red-hot and with the bright halogen lights of the classroom, I was sure he could see it.

The hungry look in his face became softer, as he fought, and won control. The hard lines there smooth out and I recognize the face of my best friend again.

“God, Jules.” He breathes. I start to shake as he envelopes me into his warm arms. They were bigger than I remember. I wrap my arms around his waist, and all the pain of the past two months just melts away. Pain doesn’t exist here. I just let myself go. Everything bursts out. The last few months come out in a torrent of hacking sobs and tears.

“Jules, Jules, Jules…” He whispers. I feel him lift me like he had on the ferry. That triggers more tears. My heart is going to burst. He carries me gently to a to a stool near one of the lab stations. I don’t sit. I could hear the sounds of water dripping in the sinks. Maybe it was the sound of my tears splashing against his chest. He gently bends backwards, his arms wrapped around my shoulders again, and looks into my eyes. One of his arms slides backward and his thumb brushes lightly past my ear and down my jaw. It sends jolts of electricity racing up and down my body. I close my eyes in response. This feels so right.

He cocks his pointer finger under my chin and lets his thumb rest under my lower lip. I open my eyes, and the full force of his gaze stares into mine, “I really miss you.”

I feel the strangest need to close my eyes and pucker my lips as bright happy memories flittered past my mind. I think he is thinking the same thing because, against all odds, we are both grinning into each other’s faces. His eyes are glowing.

“Me too, Nicky … I miss you too.” My arms fold into his chest as he moves to place his chin on my head. The last of my tears dry on his sweater. Could I forgive him?

I could try.

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 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.

Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 6 CLEAN

Chapter 6

This needs to stop.

I wake up feeling lighter. Still foggy, but lighter. I slide the off button on my phone alarm. Something sparkles in the corner of my eye. I look over to the mess of broken mirror still scattered on my carpet. The morning sun has turned my room into kaleidoscope of light.

Crap. This needs to stop. I need to let go. Will I really? Well, I have to try. I’m this scary warped version of myself. Like this mirror, I am broken. Now, I can just wallow in self-pity or I can get my butt in gear and not wait for my Aunt to call Dr. Hart, or worse, a psychologist. Total cringe. No more psychologists.

I hear Aunt Mel leave, I pull my tear soaked sheets off my bed and start my day doing laundry. I will wash, rinse and spin Nicolas out of my life. While in the basement I find an empty crate and some garbage bags. Everything in my room that reminds me of Nicolas gets thrown into one of these. The broken shards of mirror, pictures, clothes even my new phone … well, maybe not the phone. I go to my music app and find a fun reggae beat. I’m seriously testing myself. I’d been listening to nothing but crazed and jumbled metal the last few weeks … the only music to numb one’s brain to. The bouncy beat throws more logs onto the fire. This fire is eating the misery out of my heart. Don’t get me wrong … the pain is still there, fresh and ready to move back in. I would swallow it. I can’t help the nightmares when they creep up on my unconscious self, but it didn’t mean I’d live in one.

It feels good to rip the posters off my walls. There were posters of bands from concerts Nicolas and I had gone to, posters of places we’d said we go to. All of it comes down and goes straight into the garbage bags. I clean out my closet … an amazing feat that takes the better half of the afternoon. Boxes of old school stuff, thrown away. Old journals and letters from Nicolas … into the crate, my Nicolas Box. I place the Nicolas Box neatly in the back of my closet, behind a larger box that contains a large amount of stuffed animals that I don’t have the heart to give away. I open the Stuffed Animal Box. Quite a few there were from Nicolas… I squash the memories that wanted to crash into my mind. There was an old yellow tail poking out. I dig it out. It was a stuffed lion that Mel had given to me ages ago. I smile and throw it on my bed.

That reminds me of another gift … one that I had given. My grandfather would want me to get it back now that it was no longer safe. How was I going to get the necklace back? Crap. I would deal with that later.

I close up the boxes and grab the three garbage bags filled with junk and bounce down the stairs. Grab my bedding and bounce back up the stairs. I fix my bed and look around. My room looks sterile. Everything wiped down and straightened. Nothing out of place. Good. Clean. Way too purple though. Lavender walls, purple blinds… I would have to do something about that soon. This was a good start.

Next!

I grab my school books. The music changes as I walked back down the stairs. The crooning voice of a very popular male singer dominates the air in the building. I remember having a serious crush on him a few years ago but it was fleeting because I couldn’t stand his music. I grab the wrought iron railing of the staircase in effort to fight the urge to tear back into my room and change it. I close my eyes and let the under lying beats move through me. I let the rhythm take over. I open my eyes. Once you look past the whining lyrics, the music was decent.

I dump my bag in front of my study couch. The sun was low in the sky but I was sure I could finish most of my school work before it went down. The work was mundane … easy. A five-page short story based on an Austen quote of my choice, due tomorrow. I’d already finished that last week. But, I had a half hour to give it another read-through and edit. Three pages of calculus. Boring. This school was supposed to be the best but I didn’t give me any challenge. I finish within the hour. I stretch for a moment before deciding on my next project. I grab my computer. I was half finished with the huge workbook the Science professor had given us at the beginning of school. I knew if I finished that now I’d regret it later. It was easily my favorite subject and the workbook was interesting but tedious work, some animal anatomy and some quantum physics. I really wanted to get to the quantum physics part. But, I would need this time-killing work for days that I wasn’t so in control.

Control. Yes, I need to stay in control.

There was nothing in my bag that I could work on. I turn on the computer and stare at the bookcases in the study. I would tackle those tomorrow after school. I hated to give books away but the shelves were getting crowded. They were double stocked. Maybe I’d ask Mel to redo the shelving units, build them into the walls or something.

The computer boots up. I could just finish the semester group project paperwork.

***

I hear the tinkling of familiar keys, Mel’s keys. Ouch. I turn my head towards the sound a wee too fast and am paid with a crick in my neck. Ugh. Great. I’d fallen asleep on the couch while reading. My mood brightens a tinge. I fell asleep and there had been no nightmares. I tried to remember if I’d even dreamt. Shoot, I could barely remember flopping down on the couch. There was nothing. I smile. This ‘letting go’ stuff was working.

More jingling of house keys. Mel knew I was in the study and was giving me a chance to avoid her by running up to my room. I swallow. I would have to face my Aunt eventually. There is a small knock on the study door. Sooner then.

“Come in.” My voice is calmer than I’d expected.

“Hey there, Kitten.” Mel leans against the door, kicking her black work boots to the side. She looks small there, in the doorway, tired in her wrinkled clothing. She was the strict veterinarian during the week but on the weekends she loved to volunteer at clinics around the city.

“Hey Mel.” I look down, uncomfortable. “I must have dozed off… I didn’t have a chance to start dinner.” I didn’t know how to broach the subject of my blow up yesterday.

“That’s okay honey.” She sits on the couch, a cushion away. “I picked up some pizza from Ralphʻs. He says, ‘Hi,’ by the way.” She fiddled with the edge of her flannel.

I sigh, “I’m really sorry about the way I’ve been acting.”

“Honey, I know this year has been really rough for you. You are being so strong. You have always been strong. Taking care of everything here at home. Being an amazing student and an even better niece. Sometimes I don’t think I do enough for you…”

“Mel… I…”

“No, let me finish. I talked with your grandparents today. They’re worried about you. They have things they need to share with you. They could take care of you better than I am. I am doing my very best but I see you and the struggle you go through everyday. I am not doing enough. I just thought keeping you here would be best for you. It’s not. I love you, Kitten … but,” she hesitates, looking as if she were fighting the urge to cry, “if it is too hard for you here … you can move in with your grandparents.”

What?

“Move? To Hawai’i? Aunty Mel…”

She interrupted, “I’ve already talked it over with them. Hawai’i is a lot more… relaxed. It’ll be easier for you to adjust. They can get you into one of the finest schools and you’d be able to make new friends there.”

The emphasis on ‘new friends’ didn’t escape me. “Aunty Mel.” I scoot over to her and grab her hand. She was shaking. “Mel, I don’t want to live in Hawaii. I am not running again.”

Mel smiles through her tears. “I’ll leave the option open for you.”

I hug her. My mom ran from her problems and look where it got her. I wasn’t going to be like her.

***

My chair squeaks as I settle in for Sciences. Rich whips his head to face me. So much for trying to stay unnoticed.

“Woah! Darlin’ you look like crap!” Rich snickers. The two freshman boys at the table laugh along with him.

My face reddens. “You smell like crap, Rich, and I have to sit next to you but you don’t hear me complain.” I whisper in a cracked voice. I was just loud enough for the rest of my table to hear.

Silence. I look up and into the five stunned faces of my table-mates. To tell the truth, I’m pretty stunned myself.

Rich recovers, “Wow, so you do talk. Here I was thinking you’d gone mute.”

The curly blond across the table bursts out with a tinkling laughter. “You do smell, Rich. Too much cologne.”

He sniffs his shirt, “Aw blondie, why didn’t you say so!” He scoots his seat a small ways away from the table and leans back. It doesn’t help.

The blond reaches her hand around Rich. “Hi, I’m Jennifer.” I shake it. “You can call me Jen.”

“Hi.” I don’t know what else to say.

“So, ‘Miss I am Finally Going to Speak’ now that we have the honor of hearing your voice again … you going to help us with the project?”

What an ass! It takes all my strength not to knock his chair over. It would be so easy that he wouldn’t know that I had done it. Just a simple leg swipe under the back legs of the chair and he’d be on his butt.

Instead I take out a stack of papers. The benefit of having no friends was that I had a lot of time. I give a copy to each of my table-mates. I fling it a little too hard at the two freshmen to the right of me. They were engrossed in some video game on their tablet. Their eyes widened in surprise. Jen laughs and Rich’s breath come out with a whistle. They both flip through the pages at an amazing speed.

I’d just handed them this quarter’s full project mock up. All thirty pages. This was just a fraction of the work I had completed over the weekend. All we needed to do was the labs and add pictures and charts. I already completed each lab in my head or with my grandfather … but our grade was partially based on practical application done in the presence of our professor. I couldn’t stand the practical part. Dissection … cutting into the flesh of a poor little animal. My vision blurs at the thought.

One of the freshman boys perks up, “Wow,” he bleats a little too loudly, “you finished the entire thing for us!!!”

“What’s this?” Professor Stiller grabs my mock up from the boy. Crap. Think Julia … think!

“Sir, it’s our completed paperwork.” I stammer. I didn’t know what else to say. I’d always been a horrible liar.

“Am I to assume, from what Mr. Patel here has shouted out, that you have completed this on your own, without the help of your lab partners?” His bright grey eyes scan me over black framed reading glasses.

Instead of answering I look at him in surprise. “Weren’t your eyes green before?”

Mr. Stiller cocks his brow. “Very perspective of you, Miss Lyons.” He raises his glasses back up his nose. “You are not the only special person in this school.”

An uncomfortable silence descends on our table. “Um, right. Sorry.”

“So. Did you finish this by yourself?”

“Ah … no … I, um WE decided to finish it first…”

“Miss Christiansen, is this correct?”

Jen looks up, her bouncy curls frame her innocent face, “Yes sir.” She glances at Rich for a moment. He was just about to finish reading the last page. Wow, I thought to myself, for an ass he was a fast reader.

Jen continues with a bright smile and a slight blush, “To tell you the absolute truth, Julia came up with the idea to get the paperwork out of the way … so we divided it all up. Julia took the entire second half, she just understood it more and Rich and I divided the first between ourselves.” She smiles persuasively.

Mr. Stiller is not impressed. He opens my mock up. “Mr. Brown, please explain…”

“Um sir… I’m sorry but Jen did that part. The second part though … says …”

I look up, stunned. Rich had just recited half of page twenty-four on the ventricle system of the American eagle. Verbatim.

“And Miss…” Mr. Stiller looks at Jen, but she already begins to recite the beginning of the mock up.

I try to hide my surprise. Just like me, they both had photographic memories.

“Nice work you three … what about you two?” The Professor stares at the freshmen at the table.

I should have let them rot in their own stupidity but I feel bad. I have a flash of inspiration. “Uh sir … Max and Leo haven’t finished their part yet. I figured that since they’re both geniuses at computer animation that they could animate a few mock experiments for the students, like me, that don’t want to do the actual experiment.”

The boys nod furiously in agreement.

“Well, that will be nice. I’ll expect story boards from both of you by tomorrow.” Professor Stiller walks away.

Max and Leo look at me in utter amazement. They obviously hadn’t expected anyone, let alone me to come to their rescue. I laugh. “Trust me, don’t thank me yet. I just hope you’re both as good at animation as I think you are.”

They smile sheepishly and resume their video game.

I turn to my other lab partners. Rich has a smug smile on his face. Jen is just sort of staring at me.

Rich snickers, “I knew you’d come around sometime. Nice work … I think you did this better than even I could have…” The bell rings. Rich flashes me another smile and saunters out of the class.

Jen clears her throat, “I’ve been trying to get the nerve to tell him that his cologne was too strong for weeks,” she winks as she cruises out the door, “I think the rest of the class is in your debt.”

I let a little smile bloom on my face. The bloom is interrupted by a serpentine laugh from the back of the room. Laurie. My smile turns into a jaw-clenching grimace. I hide my face so I don’t chance seeing Nicolas. I slide my book and the mock up back into my bag. I take my time. I wait for the jeering slithering noises to flow out of the room.

I don’t know if I can continue this charade. The momentary camaraderie I felt with my lab partners was fleeting. It wasn’t enough to keep the darkness at bay. I clutch my bag, not bothering to throw it on my back and stumble toward the door.

“What do you think, Caleb?” I hear a bubbly voice right behind me. I jump and my bag drops. “Well, I don’t care what Laurie thinks, we can be friends with her if I say so. I SAID I don’t care! So what if Rich told Laurie about something that happened EONS ago! She looks like she needs a friend. Don’t you want to be her friend? Good! Then it’s settled.” I feel a little tap on my shoulder. I ignore it and bend down to pick my bag off the floor. Whoever this strange girl is, she’s having a conversation with herself and I didn’t want to be her friend if she had anything to do with Laurie.

The tapping on my shoulder persists. Why are people bothering me now? I stay low and I don’t talk with anyone. It was like no one in this school was allowed to be near me anyway. I finally think of something crass and witty to throw into this girls’ face.

I turn around, that something witty that was on the tip of my tongue evaporates. I see two pairs of startlingly grey eyes staring up at me each framed by a thick expanse of black lashes. Their irises were a startlingly bright gray. One set was expectant and bright, the other drawn and cautious. They were both about five inches shorter than me. I had to look down because she was standing only a foot away, her brother peeking wearily over her shoulder.

They were clearly twins but, style-wise, they looked nothing alike. Their beautiful facial features were all the same, same smooth pale skin and round cheeks, even the same body type. Both were petite and Asian. I guessed Chinese because of the almost unnoticeable accent that colored the girls’ speech. The boy had a pair of squarish black rimmed glasses on. The glasses could not hide his enormous grey eyes. I felt lost in the storm of his eyes. His uniform was immaculately pressed, like it was straight out of the dry cleaners. He was almost too perfect, at least for a boy.

I cringe. My small experience with boys was not a good one. I could not let my mind wander in that direction.

I stare at the boy a second longer. The only thing out of place was his shiny black hair which clung to his skull like an upside down bowl. There was a slash of white hair, a good inch in diameter. I’d never seen that before.

His sister, who was tapping her foot impatiently, as if I had yet to answer some unheard question she had posed, had the same slash in her hair. Except that she had dyed it a bright shade of magenta. Everything about this girl was bright and bubbly. She looked like she was straight out of a Sailor Moon cartoon. Her uniform was in complete disarray. She missed a button at the top of her blouse and her tie was tied in a regular square knot high on her neck. Her thick black hair was pulled up to two cute pig tails, one a little higher than the other. The bands had fluffy pink balls attached to them. Her bangs were cut straight across her forehead right above her eyebrows which were arched expectantly.

“Um … hello.” I sputter.

“Hi!!! Oh thank goodness! I thought I saw you finally talking today! But I really couldn’t be sure with all the noise Laurie makes at our table. I would have much rather had you as a partner than her!” Her face broke into a surprised grin. She practically danced with surprise, as if she wasn’t sure I could speak.

“Can I help you with anything?” As if I could help anyone, I could barely help myself.

“Yes, please. My brother and I were wondering if you’d like to be our friend.” I didn’t know such a little mouth could grin so wide. It was infectious. I found myself cracking an unsure smile.

I look at her brother. He stares blankly back.

‘Ah… I guess?” I didn’t know what else to say. “Sure.” I try to make my voice sound casual.

“GRRREAT!” Then she twirls. She actually spins in place. My mouth drops open. Then I notice the ear buds that are stuck in her ears, its long white cord was tangled mess coming out of her backpack. That sort of explained the dancing.

“OK then! Why don’t we meet after school?” She grabs her brothers’ hand and as they turn he gives me a small smile. They head out the door. She is bouncing and dancing. He saunters. I stand there in the middle of the room … stunned. A bell rings.

Shoot… Lit. wasn’t going to be fun… Mrs. Tanaka hated late comers.

It wasn’t so bad though as I snuck into class. She pursed her lips a little, clearly exasperated but I had run all the way there and I’d just missed the second late bell. She’d started her lecture on the life of Jane Austen. Depressing but you could see where her life reflected her writing. Where she let her dreams of what might have been color her prose. It’s an enlightening lecture.

The bell rings and everyone begins to file out of class. Mrs. Tanaka gives her last minute notes, “Everyone, please remember that your monthly reviews are due tomorrow.” She clears her throat as I near the door. “Miss Lyons, please come to my desk.”

Crap. Another, “Are you okay? Give it some time, you’ll like this school” speech. Now I was going to be late for Gym.

***

I rush into the gym locker room at top speed and I nearly crash into a blond blur of a girl who was running out. I grab the door to prevent myself from launching into her. She stops neatly in front of me, a foot away from my face. I blink. I could have sworn she had been flying out of that door with more momentum then I had going in and yet she had come to a complete stop without help. I was still clutching the door for support.

“I’m sorry.” I had almost run her the girl down and now she was apologizing. Her voice had a British lilt to it. It was faintly melodic.

I look up. It was the girl from my Sciences class, Jen. She smiles in polite recognition, her honey brown eyes scrunch apologetically. “Looks like were both late.” Her laughter rings out into the field behind us. Her curly blond hair bounces in the slight breeze. “Julia, right? I’ll come up with something good for both of us.” She runs off without another look.

I hurry into the locker room, the encounter with Jen still fresh in my mind. What did she mean by come up with something good … I didn’t even know the girl. I recognize her from class but we had only briefly spoken today and before that I’d hardly said one word to her in the past three weeks since school started. I stuff my bag and all my clothes haphazardly into my locker and slam it shut. The second bell rings. Wonderful. Now I would have to do laps.

It wasn’t the running that I minded. I’d be just awesome if Coach Barrett made me run during the whole class. We were playing volleyball today, a game that I was actually pretty good at … but not here. Not when I didn’t know anyone else in my class. Here I seemed to play the role of the clumsy girl. I’d become the last person to be picked on every team. That meant I was on the bench a lot. The coach thought I was inept.

I fly into the gym doors, the long handle giving way to my push. I groan, all heads turn towards my bumbling entrance. I’d just interrupted a lecture. I sprint toward the group. I wait for Coach Barrett’s booming voice to sentence me to whatever extreme punishment he deemed necessary.

“Hurry up Lyons! We’re just about to start!” I stop in front of the coach, head down.

“Coach, I’m so sorry… I…” My mind was blank. I’d never been good at lying and it was impossible for me to form a coherent sentence at the moment.

Coach lowers his voice a bit. “It’s okay Julia. You’re on Jennifer’s team on court four.” I must have had an incredulous look on my face bordering on blank stupidity. He continues, “Hey, Lyons… I know this class has been hard for you but Jennifer explained that you’ve been having some difficulty with the change of this school. She also mentioned that you’re a fantastic volleyball player. I expect that the extra sessions you two have been putting in will help out in tryouts this evening.” He slaps my back and jogs over to the other side of the gym.

I sprint over to court four. They were already mid game. I would have to sit out again. Jen smiles as I approach. She cries out “Sub!” and turns to a small boy who looks like he’s never played any sort of organized sport in his life. She smiles, dimples deepening, and says something that makes his face brightened. He runs towards me with gratitude and says, “Thanks! If Rich beams me with the ball again I might be sick.”

“Come on Julia! You’re holding the game up!” A gruff voice sounds from the other side of the court. We were playing against Rich and a few other kids I didn’t recognize. Despite the growl that came from his side of the court he had a huge grin on his face. I couldn’t help but give him a small smile back.

“Hey RICH! No flirting with my players! Come on Julia, you’re serving.” I blush a little, but she hadn’t said it meanly. Her face was a welcome but determined smile. She stuck her hand out to meet mine as I got into place. “I’m Jen. I hope you’re a good player… I really want to kick Rich’s…” She didn’t get to finish.

“Hey,” Rich calls out, “is this social hour or are we playing.”

Both Jen and I snap our heads towards him, determined. She jogs over to the front right corner. The dirty white ball feels good in my hand. I throw the ball up and as my hand finds the ball again I know this is going to be a good game. I spike the ball over the net. It would have met Rich’s face but he ducks just in time, the ball slaps against the floor behind him before the girl behind him can save it.

My team roars and for the first time in a month I feel welcome.

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 5 – MIRROR

Chapter 5 – Mirror

I am prey.

There is nothing I can do, no one I can talk to. Weak. Everyone around me seems to be special. So what if I’m smart. No amount of brainpower can take me away from my past. So what if I go to the most prestigious school in North America. That means nothing as I walk down the halls, as I walk down the flower-lined paths. Everyone here is special. Everyone here is accepted. Except me.

My head hurts.

I am hated by the most popular and feared by the rest. I am a pariah.

They all know what I did.

I killed my Mom.

My head hurts.

I didn’t help her. I could have done something. I was too scared.

I see those people around me. I feel their stares. They all expect something from me.

They look at me, hungry. Waiting.

For what?

I don’t know. I keep to myself now. I don’t talk with anyone. I am friendless.

My head really really hurts.

On school days I wake up from my nightmares into my nightmare of a life.

My head hurts so I take my medicine.

Make my bed.

Stare out of my window.

Wait fruitlessly, hoping for a golden mane of hair to tumble through.

Brush things that need to be brushed.

Wash things that need to be washed.

Put on a wrinkled uniform.

Throw my hair up into a ponytail to keep it out of my face.

Avoid the mirror at all costs.

Grab a cereal bar from the kitchen.

Money for lunch.

Leave before Melanie gets up.

Walk fast, head down, past the deli … I do not want to talk to deli-man … Last time he asked about my friend. I told him that I didn’t have any friends. He’s been looking at me weird ever since.

Get on subway. Stare off into space.

Get off subway.

Get to school before the hallways get crowded. Rush to my locker.

Rush to the library. I avoid most of the crowd.

Look over homework and projects I know I’ve completed competently.

First bell. I wait. Let the cattle shuffle into class first. I rush into my Study Hall/Science Class. During the Study Hall hour, I drown myself in my latest music download, a hard driving rampage of sound, and Bram Strokers Dracula. My Lit teacher has a fascination with all things morbid and Jane Austen. She is in a morbid month. Perfect. Right now, Lucy is being attacked. I cringe. No one notices. If they do … they have no reason to care. I continue reading for the next twenty minutes. I am pleased with myself. My mind wanders. My former best friend is at the absolute other side of the universe that is study hall. He’s reading Dracula too. Black fingernails stroke his gold hair.

Vampire bitch.

I realize that I am staring again. I blast the music louder into my brain and resume my flight into the realm of the undead.

Science starts. Science ends.

The bell rings. Metal scrapes against wood. I hear a slithering laugh in my direction. The hissing voice says something. I pretend not to hear. But I do anyway. The snake has made some comment about my hair. My hair. It’s tangled and hitched up in a messy bun.

I look down into my bag and pretend that there is something interesting in there. The snake passes but not before the rancid smell of lavender and pine assaults my nose. I sneeze. I’ve convinced myself that I am allergic.

The class is empty. I make a break for Lit. class. At least here I can relax a little. Some of the other students even talk to me. Some. Not really. At least they don’t visibly detest me. The English Professor lectures on Dracula. I don’t pay attention. She calls on me. I mumble an answer. I guess I said the right thing because she doesn’t pick on me again.

I don’t want this class to end. I don’t want to go to my next class. But … I want this class to end because I will at least get a fleeting glance of … him. I don’t allow myself to think his name.

The bell rings.

As I throw my bag over my shoulder my English Professor summons me. She looks worried. I wonder if she knows about my past too. I walk up to her desk. She says things about being concerned and that perhaps she might suggest a trip to a counselor. I ask her if I’ve turned in all my homework. She says yes. I ask her if I’ve ever missed an answer. She says no. I ask her if I’ve ever missed a class. She says no. I tell her that I am fine.

Gym and lunch are a blur.

The bell rings. Now I’m late for my History of New York class.

The professor drones on about the Third World War. Even though it happened the year I was born, Manhattan and the entire world still suffers from the aftermath. It had ended with the devastation of Manhattan. The massive explosion that ended the New York Attack had leveled the Northern part of the park as well as the surrounding blocks. It was assumed that the planes were targeting the financial district and were brought down sooner. No one really knows. Many lives were lost. It was an act of terror. Similar attacks had broken out all over the United States focused mainly in New York, Washington DC, The entire West Coast and Hawaii.  Although it had only lasted a few months, the entire country had changed.

He rambles on. There is nothing that he is saying that any New York born kid couldn’t tell you. Normally I would have been an eager participant… but I just don’t have it in me. I shut him out and began the work at the back of the chapter.

It’s Friday and I really need this day to be over.

***

I wake up. The remainder of a nightmare grips me. I hold my breath as the tightness falls away. I really need to stop dreaming of flying.

Mochi-kitty head butts me in effort to get me out of bed. She tries to help. She is constantly by my side now. She knows I need a friend. She’s brought me another dead mouse. I pick the dead thing up by the tail and throw it through the open window onto the fire escape. Mochi gives me a look of disgust as if to chastise me for wasting yet another good mouse. I almost laugh.

Melanie is tinkering in the kitchen downstairs. I wait. It’s Saturday. She always goes to the clinic on Saturdays. Mochi curls up in my tangled mess of hair as I roll over and let a few tears spill onto my pillow. I don’t even really feel them anymore. The throbbing pain that courses through my heart and flows into my entire body is constant … almost normal now. It has been three weeks now since I last talked with … Nicolas. Even thinking his name makes the tears come faster, burning my raw cheeks.

Last Saturday was the hardest. Today will be no different. After Melanie goes to work, I’ll crawl over to my sound system and blast the loudest most obnoxious band I own then crawl back into bed and probably stay there for another hour, rehashing the past week of nothingness. If I’m lucky, my brain will slowly shut off so I can just lie in bed and stare up at the ceiling. I try that. All I see are eyes. Some are a midnight black, trying to suck what’s left of my tattered soul. Others I imagine to be a soft blue, like the sky, just brighter. Those eyes are closed off to me.

I roll to my side to get away. I am now staring directly into my reflection. The mirror was a gift from Nicky long ago. The girl there looks despondent, haggard and lonely. Alone. The image in the mirror shakes and becomes distorted. I blink my eyes. It’s happening again. The feeling of disappearing creeps up on me. I roll again and stuff my head into a pillow. Fresh tears spring up and are swallowed immediately by my understanding pillow.

After my failed attempt at shutting my brain off, I go downstairs. Between my schoolwork, which was thankfully never ending, and chores, the day passes in a pleasant storm of activity and very loud music.

On good days, the clocks in my house speed up as the sun overhead plunges the earth back into the darkness that signals the return of my Aunt.

On bad days, I run out of things to do. If the house is spotless, I retreat to my study and reread books that I already know by heart. I go over my Hawaiian Studies and language. My Tūtū would be pleased at that at least. I almost have the first vocabulary book memorized. On these bad days nothing can hold my attention. I throw on a movie, listen to music, read a book – sometimes all three at the same time but it is no use. My mind wanders to any moment that week in which I saw Nicky. My mind flies backwards into a happier past and reflects on times when smiling was an easy thing to do … with Nicky. Those memories aren’t all that bad: it is coming back into the reality that’s the hardest part.

At exactly six in the evening I make a lame and probably tasteless dinner. I swallow some of it. I’m not very hungry lately and most days I have to remind myself to eat. I throw the leftovers into the microwave, grab my school things from the study and run back into the safety of my room. All this done by seven-thirty. Melanie is usually home by eight.

I don’t want to think about my evenings. Alone. Just alone.

And then there are the headaches. They’re becoming almost as bad as when I was a kid. My Aunt and Dr. Hart kept me in the hospital for months after the incident to make sure I was okay.

Just thinking about it makes my head burn. I grab my pills and toss two back.

Something crashes downstairs.

Mel? I look at my clock. It is already eight AM and she hasn’t left yet. My stomach sinks as my nose picks up the various smells that are wafting into my room. Now that I was paying attention to the present I can smell it. Eggs. Microwaveable sausage. Burnt toast. Mel was cooking. She wasn’t going to work this morning.

She wants to talk.

Well … at least my headache is gone.

I can just sequester myself in my room. I can tell her I’m sick. But then she’ll just burn down the house in her effort to make me breakfast. Plus, she’ll never buy it. Besides the headaches, I never get sick. Groaning, I tip toe to my bathroom. I’ll have to make myself somewhat presentable before going downstairs. Maybe I could alleviate Mel’s worry enough to make her go to away.

I make it to the bathroom without alerting her. I jump into the shower, willing the searing hot water to wash away the grief. At least for Mel. I don’t want her to worry. She has enough going on without me and my stupid little problems. She doesn’t need me rehashing the past. It wasn’t her fault she has been saddled with me since my Mom died. I feel the tears threaten again. I swallow them. The hot water is just too comfortable. It’s too easy to let my tears flow here.

I blast the cold water. My body cringes at the sudden change in temperature. I force myself stand there for a good minute. The water numbs my up-turned face, hopefully soothing the swelling there under my puffy eyes and raw tear stained cheeks. I turn the water off and wrap me and my broken heart into my tattered purple bathrobe.

Glancing up at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, the girl behind the mist blurs. I put my glasses on. It doesn’t help. I shiver a little. I can’t even look at myself anymore.

The shower didn’t help. At least I tried. I go back to my room, not bothering to creep this time because now Mel knows I’m up.

I can’t smell burnt toast on the air anymore. Avoiding the long mirror in the corner, I throw on a pair of old sweat pants and a clean shirt and ready myself for my aunt’s barrage of questions. I think about moving that mirror into my closet as I walk down the stairs. It scares me.

I see a flash of worry crease Mel’s face as I enter the kitchen and sit at the counter. She arranges her features into a warm smile. “Morning Kitten!” She comes over and gives me a peck on my forehead.

I try to smile. I think my grin may have come off as more of a grimace from the look on Mel’s face.

I stand there. This was not part of my routine and my body did not know how to react.

“So,” Mel was throwing something frozen into the toaster. “I decided to stay home today! I figured we could do something. After breakfast maybe we could go shopping. I know you said something about redecorating your room and I saw the perfect frame for your bed while I was walking to the hospital … or we could clear out the garden. I noticed this morning that everything is drying out back there. I know it’s a bit colder now but most of the plants out there should have lasted longer and the roses need to be trimmed back before it gets too cold…” she rambles.

I get plates out of the cabinet and set them on the kitchen table. I silently nod in an absent response to her rambles as I take utensils out and place them on the sides of the plates. Mel started talking about work. Something about a little boy who had an orange jelly bean stuck in his ear. I sit down. Nod. Nod.

“Julia?”

I look up. Had she asked me something? I rake my brain for an answer but I hadn’t paid attention. “Hmm?” was all that came out of my mouth.

“Julia, I just asked you if you’d like some orange juice?”

“No. I’ll just get myself some water.”

“There’s some in front of you.” A look of concern sweeps over her face again. I hadn’t noticed that Mel put a couple of toasted waffles covered with butter and my Tūtū’s homemade guava jam, just the way I liked it, on the plate in front of me along with a tall glass of water.

This was not going well. Mel watches me carefully. “It’s been a few weeks since you called your grandparents.” My charade was not fooling her if she was actually suggesting I call them. I couldn’t even think about my Tūtū and Papa. I put some food into my mouth. I chew and swallow without really tasting anything. Try harder! “I’ll call today.” I probably won’t call today. My voice is small. “This is good, Mel.” It was her turn to nod silently.

I take another bite, and another. Mel looks away and at her own food. She doesn’t eat. My waffles are becoming hard to chew. My mouth is dry. I take a large gulp of water to make them go down. It is like swallowing styrofoam. I grab my napkin to wipe the tears that are flowing down my face again. I look down hoping that Mel hadn’t seen that.

“Kitten, sweetheart…” She began but I didn’t let her finish.

“I’m sorry Mel… I can’t…” The tears blur my vision as I stumble out of my chair and run upstairs to my room.

Thinking I could face my aunt had been a huge mistake. I shut my door and tumble back onto my bed and sob uncontrollably into my pillow. I try to quiet myself but I can’t. There was no one I could turn to. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t have my Mom. She died saving me because I was stupid for being is that dumb alley. I didn’t have Nicky. Nicky would understand. He would understand because he was the one who was doing this to me.

I feel a hand on my head. Mel. She strokes the tangles there. It makes me cry harder. I want to confide in her but, how to begin? I look up and into that cursed mirror.

My vision blurs.

“I don’t know who I am anymore. I’ve lost me. I don’t recognize that girl.” I couldn’t recognize the fear in my voice. Shaking, I point at the long mirror in the corner of my room. It was the absolute bane of my existence. I miss the girl that all my doctors said I could be if I tried. The girl that used to smile into that mirror. Now that mirror, a window into my tattered soul, terrified me. I didn’t know the person who looked out at me from that glass. She wasn’t me. I didn’t look like that.

I was going crazy.

Every time I look in a mirror now, my face would distort. My image there would fade. It was like I was disappearing. The blur and the ensuing blackness that sometimes follows scares me. It reminds me of the alley. Of my Mom screaming my name. I couldn’t go there.

“I know it’s hard, Kitten, you’re going to be all right, I promise. This is all part of growing up. You’re changing. Do you think … do you want me to ask Dr. Hart if you should go see someone again? Do you want to see Dr. Hart?”

“No.” I say as she reaches for me and brings my head down to rest against her shoulder. Fingers stroke my hair. My mind flashes back to the day before school when Nic was stroking my hair. I push my aunts hand away. It reminds me of him. “I don’t need the shrinks psychoanalyzing me again and drilling me about what happened. I saw things that weren’t there. I don’t remember it correctly. When I woke up, Mom was gone and I was covered with blood.”

Mel gets in my face. “Number one, you know that wasn’t your fault.”

“No, I don’t. I don’t know that it wasn’t my fault. I was covered in Mom’s blood, Mel! How does that even happen?”

“Stop it, Julia.” Mel shakes her head sadly. “It wasn’t your fault. And number two: I wasn’t talking about that anyway. You should go and see him to discuss what’s happening now. Maybe something is wrong with Nic”

“No, Mel. Dr. Hart is the the last person I want to talk about my feelings with. And Nic?…” I want to disappear. Stellar School and all the people that went there made me feel like I didn’t exist. I shut my eyes against the pain, against the nightmares and most of all against Nic. All I see is red. I started to shake.

“It’s all right, love.” She pats my head again.

I brake. “NO! no NO! I’m not going to be all right!!!” I scream at my Aunt. It feels good to yell. I let the pain flow out of me. I hit her hand away. I couldn’t tell her what was going on. I couldn’t tell her that my classmates knew about my past. I push off the bed and I rip that stupid, ugly mirror off the wall. It crashes onto the hardwood floor.

The sound of shattering glass reverberates through my body and I crumble.

I fall to the ground in front of the shattered pieces of my mirror. I look down. I finally recognize that girl. My eyes burn with the tears that have finally stopped.

Mel says something. I ignore her. She puts her hand on my shoulder. “I’m calling your grandparents, Kitten. You have to stop this.”

I shrug it off. “Just get out, Mel.”

As the door shuts, my mind becomes blank with grief except for the image I was now staring at. I recognize the girl in the broken fragments of reflective glass because for the first time in weeks it truly reflects me.

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 4 HOLDING ON

Chapter 4 – Holding on

“Julia?” Nicky spat. Shaking me. Rattling me. He looks at me through familiar coal black eyes. A snake slithers around his neck. Nicky’s voice becomes softer, more feminine. He starts to sound a lot like my aunt. “Julia, are you sick?” I open my eyes and look into Mel’s concerned hazel ones.

Mochi is licking my face. Groaning, I scratch her furry little belly. “Mel? Let me sleep…” I complain.

“Julia, I have Nicky’s Dad on the phone. He’s a little concerned…” I grab the phone from her outstretched hand. I’d tried to call and text Nicky all day yesterday.

“Is Nicky alright?” I blurt into the phone.

“Julia? Thank goodness. Is Nic there?”

“No. Is he alright?

“Yes … and no. He didn’t come home last night which isn’t like him so I thought he might’ve been with you but Mel just said that you were home all night. Hold on…” There is rustling and talking in the background. I can’t understand any of it. “Julia, Nic just got home. He won’t talk to me. Do you know what’s going on?”

The phone slips from my hand as the world blurs and a painful white and searing migraine hits me. A pair of black eyes flash in my mind.

I feel hands at my shoulders. “Julia? You okay? Another headache?”

I open my eyes. “Just give me a moment.”

“I’ll grab your pills, Kitten.” Mel leaves the room. The pain subsides lingering on the edges of my consciousness. Threatening. I need to clear my head but there is no time. I lift the phone back to my ear,  “… are you still there. Julia? Can you still hear me?”

“Hi Dr. Hart. I’m here.”

“Another headache?” Mr. Hart knew all about my medical difficulties. He was not only Nicky’s adoptive father but also my physician. “Julia… Is it bad? Would you like to come to the office? Do you have your pills? Maybe we need to adjust your medication?”

My head clears a little as Dr. Hart’s voice slaps me back into the present. “Yeah. It was a pretty bad one.” Mel returns with my pills and some water. I take one, not bothering with the water. “Is Nicky okay?” I ask.

“I think so. So, you don’t know where he was last night.”

“No.”

“And you don’t know who he was with?”

My chest begins to ache. I have a guess. I hope it’s not true. “No. I’ll try to ask him when I see him at school.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to come into my office today? You don’t sound very well, Julia.”

“No, Dr. Hart.”

I don’t think you can fix this ache in my chest.

***

I give myself a pep talk on the subway. For the first time in years, Nicky didn’t come to my house in the morning. Maybe he was sick? Tired from being out all night? Who was he with? I really needed to shut my brain up. I would try to forgive Nicky for ditching me at lunch and after school.

And … I would try to look past the fact that he may have spent the entire evening with … Crap … my head hurt like hell. I couldn’t even think about that black-haired snake without my head pounding.

I run into our Sciences/Homeroom class. Even if I didn’t like the answer, I was determined to make Nicky tell me what happened. I look over the room. Nicky was sitting with his head down at our desk. Good. The black-haired girl and her entourage were missing.

I walk over to the five-top. Nicky wasn’t looking up so I tap him on the shoulder to get him to turn around. His eyes brighten for a moment as he saw me. A slight flicker of remorse flashes on his face.

I am about to smile. I am about to punch him and poke at him for being a butt. I am about to tell him how worried his Dad is. How stupidly worried he’d made me! But then his eyes avert, they trail away from my face and over my shoulder to the door behind me.

His face drops and the apologetic smile that had been there changes into a look of blank hunger.

I don’t look at whoever he was looking at. I’m afraid to. I move to take the seat next to Nicky. If I could just get him to look at me everything would be okay.

“Excuse me,” the girl sounds like she had a slight lisp. No one elongated their S’s like that. I follow Nicky’s blank gaze up to the girl’s smug face. “I believe you are about to take my seat.” She stares down at me, her long legs accentuated by four-inch black wedges. Her black eyes, so dark that I could barely make out the irises in them were lined with dark blue. As if she needed any makeup, I absently thought. A flash of determined authority slithers over her features.

My head begins to pound and against my will, I pull the chair out for her. I hear a snicker come from the redhead. I look away from the girl and my mind suddenly clears. Wait! What was I doing? I slam the chair back under the desk. The other kids at the table look up. Twins, I thought absently. The girl-twin gave me a look of pity. The other twin was the boy I’d scared away at lunch yesterday. I shake my head and the migraine subsides.

“No, I sat here yesterday. Mr. Stiller assigned it to me.” My voice sounds small and humble.

The girl’s eyes flash sliver as they lower into two slits, her black onyx eyes bearing into mine. I didn’t know what she was trying to do, but it was starting to scare me and people in the class were beginning to stare. I don’t know what frightens me more, her or the attention we were attracting. I hate attention.

Suddenly, her head cocks to the side as if trying to figure out a puzzle. “Your eyes are weird.” She smirks. Without taking her eyes off me she lets her husky slithering voice carry out over the din of voices in the class. “Mr. Stiller!” Now all the attention was on us. Crap.

I was determined not to be the first to break this weird staring contest … but now I had to. The force of the complete attention of the class startles me into submission.

“Yes, Miss Amin?”

“Julia was wondering if she and I could switch seats.”

I… what?

“Yes, that’ll be fine. Miss Lyons?” I look up. I couldn’t believe this was happening. “Ah… Julia, you can take the seat next to Mr. Brown.” I look around at where he was pointing. The only empty seat was next to the big guy from yesterday. I look back at the table, at Nicky. The redhead’s face was turning into a beet. She was snickering loudly under her breath. The twins had resumed their silent conversation.

“Then it’s settled. Excuse me.” She neatly pushes me aside, takes the seat in front of me and looks sweetly up at me. “You can have my seat back there. Since you didn’t seem to want to help me yesterday I had to help myself to Nicky at lunch… and after school. He’s so… delicious. We’re great friends now.”

I want to throw up. At least now I know what happened to him at lunch yesterday. And after school. And last night. There was nothing I could do. I tried to get Nicky to look up at me. But it was in vain. There was nothing for me here. I grab my bag and rush to the empty seat at the back of the room.

In my hasty escape my hip bumps a chair and my bag flies out of my grasp. All my books tumble under a table. The class bursts into laughter, the loudest coming from the front of the room. I could see the redheaded girl practically pounding the desk.

I duck under the table to retrieve my books. I want to just crawl underneath it and hide there until this day is over. I reach for my calculus book but it isn’t there any more. The beefy boy was under the desk with me. He had my books stacked neatly in his left hand, his right extended.

“I’m Rich. We met yesterday.” He retracts his hand when I don’t take it. “I saved you from death by grape.” His smile fades, turning into embarrassed concern. “You were choking… Remember?”

I just stared at him blankly. My mind was still reeling from my embarrassment. I realize a second too late that I had let a few errant tears fall. I wipe my face quickly.

“Yeah, I remember. Thanks.” I say tersely. All I need is for this lug to start teasing me too. Wasn’t he with that black-haired girl? He was with her yesterday. He had no reason to be nice to me. I grab my books from him and sit.

“No prob.” He lounges backwards in his chair as the professor begins his first lecture. “So we have to study Avians… ah, you know… Birds…” I didn’t catch what else he said because all I see is Laurie run her claws through Nicky’s hair.

I open my notebook to take notes. Owl anatomy. I already looked over that chapter last night. I knew it by heart. What I didn’t know was that my heart was beginning to fall apart.

***

“Oh look.” Rich swings his head back to me in the lunch line, “There is Mr. Lover Boy right now.”

“Where?” I look around in vain. After a dismal gym hour, in which the entire class witnessed me eat it during sprints, Rich insisted on walking me to the cafeteria. I protested that I didn’t want to go to the cafeteria, not after yesterday’s grape debacle. But, Rich laughed and said if he didn’t watch me I’d probably trip over myself and hurt another student. Also some nonsense about hiding from beasts. Plus I was hungry and maybe if I could just get Nicky alone he could explain what was going on.

I spot him sitting alone in the back of the cafeteria.

My spirits lift a bit. I grab my tray and make my way to him.

A rough hand grabs my forearm and steadies my tray before the fried chicken can go flying off of it. Rich swipes a grape from my fruit salad and pops it into his mouth, “You know it’s a losing battle. You should just let him go.”

“What are you talking about? You don’t even know me. You don’t know what Nicky and I have been through! We…” I stutter. Why was I spilling my guts out to this lug? “He’s all I have.”

“No, he’s not.”

“Let me go please.”

“Suit yourself. But it looks to me like Nicolas has found someone else.”

I turn my back on Rich and head towards my best friend. I have to get him to explain. I notice that quite a few people were staring at me as I get to the seat next to Nicky, our backs to the rest of the cafeteria. What were they staring at? Uncomfortable and a little lost for words I inch a seat away from the table with my foot. He looks at me. His eyes flash happily and he is about to say something. A glimmer of hope unfolds in my chest. Nicky’s eyes avert from mine and he follows someone or something approaching us from behind.

“Ah hem.” I hear a throat clear behind me. “My, my, my … this little birdie does have a knack for fluttering around where she’s not wanted, doesn’t she?” Her voice makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

As I look behind me the redhead, Cami, hisses at me as she walks to the seat on the other side of Nicky. Who hisses?

Laurie glides to the other side of the round table, places her tray down and sits gracefully. In the moment her eyes brush past mine I feel my head begin to ache. It’s only fleeting. I shake my head.

When I open my eyes again Laurie is still staring at me.

“What?” I spit. This girl was seriously beginning to freak me out.

“Touchy, touchy aren’t we?” Her words slither over me. “Oh … nothing. Just thinking about what makes you tick. You’re a weird little birdie. Cami can’t figure you out either. And that, my little bird, is very strange.” Laurie continues to stare at me with some strange mixture of amusement and disgust.

What does she mean she can’t figure me out? Figure out what? I looked at Cami. She is downright scary.

Cami grins, “I’m sick of trying. I think she’s nothing.”

Nothing. I’m nothing.

Why should I even care what these girls think of me? It stung though.

Laurie is staring at Nicky. Out of the corner of my eyes I see his body go stiff. His hands grab his tray forcefully, knocking over a bottle of strawberry soda. I pick it up and place it back on his tray. He looks at me for a fleeting second. In that moment I see the light in his eyes vanish. His sky blue eyes are a stormy steel blue now. Unseeing. He looks back at Laurie who is now smiling. I hear his chair scratch the concrete below it. He gets up and moves around the table to sit next to her.

I couldn’t believe it.

“Nicky? What are you doing?” He ignores me.

There was a pause. Cami snickers. “Told you I’d come back for you.” Her voice chokes me. I can’t speak. I hear Laurie hiss to Nicky, “What’s her name?” She asks Nicky with a mock politeness that barely covers her obvious dislike of me.

I can’t stand it. “You know my name is Julia. I’d like to know who you think you are, Laurie…”

Laurie ignores me. She looks steadily into Nicky’s eyes as if hypnotizing him. “Her name is Julia.” Nicky’s voice is monotone.

“Well, Nicky could you please tell your little friend, Julia, that I am no longer interested in being her friend. Tell her that she is no longer welcome in your company and that she’d better stay away from you and me or her life will become rather painful.” Laurie hisses out the last few words and turns to her lunch.

Headache clears as I stare at her. Did she really just blow me off? “Excuse me?” I stand up, furious. She just threatened me. How DARE she! “You want to say that to my face?” I could not believe this was happening. To top it off, Nicky was just sitting there beside the witch, not saying anything. He was just staring longingly at her. It made me sick.

“No.” As she looked up into my eyes the world blurs. My head explodes in pain. I double over and hold onto the table in front of me. I bite my lip to stop myself from throwing up or screaming. Or both. It was as if her stare was enough to knock me to the ground. I steady myself. Who was this girl? WHAT was this girl? I saw her lick her lips. “Hmm.” She mused. “Interesting. Not at all what I expected. You are immune … except for…”

My head explodes again. “Now isn’t that fun, but… it does not matter. I don’t want to play with you. I thought about being your friend but you don’t like to share. So I had to take what I wanted. I thought that maybe you’d be a great addition but then I realized that I don’t care what the others say about you.”

What were people saying about me? Laurie’s black eyes catch mine. I feel my feet dragging the rest of my body towards her until I am face to face, her black eyes baring into mine.

“What are people saying? Isn’t it great how the past catches up with us? How people from our past recognize us for who we really are. No one has said anything … yet. But my friends and I will take care of that.” She laughs huskily. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Laurie. I could tell you to stay the hell away from my new boyfriend. I could tell you that if I ever catch you talking to him I will make sure you never speak again. I could say that you are not getting a good start in this school by becoming my enemy and that your life from now on will be a miserable hell. I could say all of this to you but…” She laughed again, “I’d rather hear Nicky say it.” She tore her steely black eyes from mine and the world righted itself again. She looks lazily at Nicky.

I laugh weakly at her. I want to tell her that Nicky would never say those things to me and that I didn’t care what she said about me at this stupid school. We both stare at Nicky. He is looking straight into Laurie’s eyes. “Go away.” Nicky said flatly.

I smile, relief washing over me. There. Now she would go away and I could punish Nicky for being such a jerk.

Nicky turns to me. My smile fades. “I said, go away, Julia.” His face, usually bright whenever he talked to me, was fixed in a horrible scowl like he’d seen something gross.

“Very good Nicky-baby.” Laurie coos into Nicky’s pliant face, “You deserve so much better than this murdering little crow.”

The room swam and I lost my grip on my tray, its forgotten contents clattering to the ground. “What did you just say?” I whisper, hoping I heard her wrong.

“Oh you heard me right. I know all about you, Julia. So do me a favor and stay away. You know it’s better this way. You’re dangerous.” She smirks.

Someone bumps me as they join the table. I hear whispers all around the cafeteria. I realize then that the entire cafeteria had stopped to listen what was going on. At least half the school had seen my defeat. They all knew that I was an outcast. They all knew what I was and what I had done.

I look at Laurie. I knew she was skewing the story. That’s how the rumors started at my last school. Someone found out. They told. But at least then I had Nicky.

Something hit my shoulder. A grape. Laughter spews from the redheaded girl at the table, “Is little Julia going to cry now? Oh no! She might get mad and claw my eyes out! Did the mean girl take her boyfriend?” She sucks a chicken wing into her mouth and swallows it, bones and all. Wait. I was seeing things. Cami smiles like a scary clown. I was going to throw up. I grab my tray and whatever I could off the ground. The whole cafeteria seems to be looking at me. I stumble to the nearest trash can. I dump it, along with a fraction of my heart.

I walk unsteadily out of the cafeteria, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I swallow the tears that would come. I couldn’t afford to cry now. I still had three more classes left. I ignore the few ʻhellosʻ that I get in the hallway. The bell rings. The beefy boy, Rich, bumps into me. He says something that sounds a lot like, “I told you so.” and “I’m sorry.” But I brush past him without a second glance.

Better to ignore them all now than to hurt when they ignore me later. Soon they would all know what I did. They wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me.

I make it to my locker without an incident. I turn around and lean against the cold metal door, staring blankly into the now empty hall way.

What just happened? How did she know about what happened all those years ago? Guilt rakes my insides. She was right. I deserve to be alone. Nicky is safer without me.

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 3 NEW FRIENDS

Chapter 3 – New Friends

My heart soars. I missed this so much.

We crawl over to the old maple in the corner. Mochi is waiting for us there. She knows our routine. It was the best time to give Mochi her tummy-rubs. Nicky calls this our leaning tree. We come to this tree to lean and look for the non-existent stars in the bright NYC night, or in this case, to see what mystical creatures were hiding in the morning clouds. Nicky spots a tiger in a cloud that I think is a dragon. We both agree on the shark shaped cloud that flies across the sky and passes the sun. I pet Mochi as Nicky leans his head against my shoulder and we munch donuts, staring up into the blue morning sky.

“Hey kids.” My aunt bounces down the steps in her sneakers and scrubs, fiddling with her phone. “It’s six-thirty. I’ll take you both to school before I head to the clinic.” She looks down at us and at the state of our uniforms. “Nic and Julia, you both get back in here right now and get cleaned up. You are both a mess.”

I take a good look at Nicky. She was right and I probably look worse.

Back in my room, I comb a little coconut oil into my hair. A brush would just turn it to a frizzy mess at this point. I still want to hide behind my hair. A new braid tames my wild curls. Mel sent me back upstairs to change my socks, which had gotten muddy from the damp ground. I bounce back downstairs to find my aunt trying, unsuccessfully, to get Nicky’s hair into a low ponytail. It wasn’t long enough yet, but just long enough to look very untidy if left untamed. I snicker as she gives up.

“I’ll meet you two in the car.”

***

The Second Civil War changed the face of NYC. Central Park and upper Manhattan took the brunt of it. Except for any historical buildings that were salvageable the entire area was rebuilt. The bustling traffic of 110th street was diverted to a widened 111th street. 110th was converted into a small cobblestone two lane road way for emergency use and for student drop offs. The entire area from 110th to 111th and from the Central Park East to West was taken over by Stellar Academy in effort to restore and renew upper Manhattan. Two thick ivy covered iron gates loom ahead as Mel pulls her bright little Mini Cooper into the West entrance of the school grounds. The front building was massive: an impressive glass building that stood as a beacon of hope in the middle of the block. The rest of the block consisted of a hodgepodge of buildings ranging from super modern to historic wonders. As we drove into the large roundabout that circled a massive fountain and flower garden, Mel absently named a few of the flowers growing there.

A beefy uniformed boy, barely older than Nicky and I, motions for my aunt to pull over into the drop off zone. The beefy boy looks at me with recognition and winks. I drop my head, embarrassed for absolutely no reason.

I bring my head back up and while my aunt, was unaware of my foolishness, the wink had not escaped Nicky’s notice.

“Do you know that guy?” His eyes pull into a squint as the beefy boy sneaks a look at me again.

I shake my head.

“He looks familiar… I can’t place him though.” He huffs. “Great, now that’s going to bother me all day!” He throws a sharp glance at the beefy boy as if to say, “Lay off” and smiles at me, glowing.

“Looks like I got some competition!”

“WHATEVER!” I sock him in the shoulder.

Wincing and laughing Nicky and I unfold ourselves from the tiny car. I don’t know that Mel can ever take us to school. Sitting in the backseat was hell. Nicky grabs both of our backpacks and throws them over his shoulders. We kiss Mel goodbye and walk up the granite steps and through the large oak doors of the campus.

Stellar High.

We enter the Grand Hall. The Hall is the width of a football field, but half as long. The ceilings are three floors up and open to what looks like a bird menagerie. All sorts of large birds were perched up there. Quite a few were scrutinizing the humans below.

“Cool!” Nicky grabs my hand and pulls me along. We find the Students Office at the front eastern corner of the hall and check in. The stern grandmotherly woman at the desk hands us both our schedules with a huff and we leave the room.

I rush ahead of Nicky to look up again but the birds are gone. And then the world flips over as my legs are swept out from under me. My glasses go flying. Maybe if I’d been paying closer attention I wouldn’t have tripped. But I did. I tripped.

How embarrassing.

Strong arms catch me from behind with an, “Oomf.” I look up. It is the big beefy boy from the parking lot. “Hey there,” the boy’s voice rumbles. “Oh.” His arms tighten a little. “It’s you. You both getting into trouble again on your first day?”

“What…” I start to ask but Nicky picks me up out of beefy boys arms. “You okay?” Nicky asks as he slips my glasses back over my eyes. Looking around, his eyes are blazing. Laughter invades our space. There is a tall lanky girl with spiky red hair laughing down at us.

“Aww! You spoiled my fun!” she whines to the beefy boy who’d caught me. “Did the poor widdle birdie trip? Aw poor, poor birdie!” Her twinkling little laugh irritates me. She turns to a stoic black-haired boy, “Sam, are these the new kids? They’re lame…”

“You tripped her! I saw you!” Nicky advances on the girl. The boy she’d called Sam who’d been standing behind her with his back turned to us was suddenly in Nicky’s face.

“Do we have a problem here?” Sam got in his face, teeth bared. He looks like he’s going to bite Nicky’s head off when a large hand shoots out and pushes Sam back. It was the beefy boy again. He was even more massive up close. He was easily three or four inches taller than Nicky and a lot wider. “Come on Sam, let it go.”

“What’s going on, my sssweeties.” From anyone else, the slight lisp that the girl had would have been comical. But there was nothing funny about the girl who’d just walked up. The beefy boy’s entire body went rigid as she looked up at him. Her coal eyes were piercing and her black mane of thick straight hair twitched down to her waist. She gives Sam a pat on his cheek as the beefy boy snakes his arm around her.

“Nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing … my my my … what have we got here?” Her deep black eyes shot daggers into mine and I feel that heat the happens before every one of my headaches. The whole world spins and I can barely keep myself from doubling up in pain. “Ah … it’s you! Rich, didn’t you say she’d show up this year!” She brushes off beefy boys arms and grabs my face. “We’ve all been waiting for you to make an appearance. The Administration is so excited for this years new haul … but you’re not just cattle, are you … no … no …” I shut my eyes. The headache recedes. “Aw … come on little Julia. Let me in. No?” She lets go of my face.

“Fresh meat!” I hear the red head whisper excitingly.

“Don’t jump to conclusions, Cami, these two might prove their worth…” I shake off the headache and I open my eyes to find the girl has moved on, staring deep into Nicky’s eyes. “Yes, very worthy. And you, my beautiful golden boy are oh so ready too…” I still feel a little light headed as she slithers on. I pull Nicky back. That seems to rattle him a little as he shakes his head and looks at me. “Are you okay?” He asks again.

“I’m fine. Let’s go.”

I take one final look back and hear the tinkling laughter of the red head echo through the hallway. I see the beefy boy grab the tall black haired girl, but she shakes him off. I grab Nicky’s hand and rush us to our first class.

***

We find our seats and Nicky still seems a little dazed. He touches his cheek and sighs. She had touched him there. For the first time I felt … jealousy? Who was that girl anyway? How’d she know my name?

I shake Nicky, “HEY! Earth to Nicky!”

He blinks and looks at me, blushing. “Wow! My head was someplace else just then.”

“Welcome!” I look up into laughing green-blue eyes and everything goes blurry … again. My eyes close and a strange smell fills my senses. Before I can place it strong hands grip my shoulders before I can faint. “Hey there … you’re Julia Lyons.” Not a question. I’m made to sit down.

“Jules you okay?” Nicky kneels next to me as I come to.

I look at Nicky then shift my eyes towards the green-eyed man.

“I… I guess I’m still jet lagged.” Why am I so weak today?

“Ah, you probably just have first day jitters. Happens to all the new students. I’m Professor Stiller.” His green blue eyes crinkle again at the edges. “This will be your seat for the rest of the semester. Nicolas, why don’t you take the seat next to Julia since you seem to know one another.”

Nicky was about to take his seat when something hit him from behind. “Hey, watch yourself.” I look up. It was the beefy boy from the parking lot again.

Nicky opens his mouth to retort but instead of speaking his face morphs into a look of a hungry little puppy. A blast of incense fills the air. It was sickly sweet and I know who it is coming from. It was the black-haired girl we’d just run into. Of course she’d be in the same class. Perfect, I thought as I turn around to face her and automatically wish I hadn’t.

“Well … how nice is this. A class with my newest friend.” The room swims again and I need look away. “Julia, won’t you introduce me to your … um, boyfriend…?” Her coal black eyes swept over Nicky.

Snap out of it, Julia! “How do you know my name?”

A little slithering giggle escapes her red lips, “Oh … I know plenty about you. I’d rather know your friend though, seeing as you were getting nice and cozy with my boyfriend.” She runs her red tipped claws up and down the beefy boy’s arm.

All eyes turned to face her. She’s captivated the room for the small space of that moment. Somehow she made the school’s uniform look like it was made for the runway. Her perfect skin glimmers in the artificial light. Every girl in the class wanted to be her and every boy wanted to be with her. I didn’t get it. The only other people in the room that seem unaffected by her were the other kids at the table I was standing in front of. The three of them were having a hushed conversation.

I look back up and she’s giggling and slapping the beefy boys hands away. The boy gives up and moves toward the back of the class. The Black-Haired Girl looks at Nicky and he stands as if summoned. All I can do is stare. I feel like I’m intruding on an incredibly private moment. My hands form into claws. She obviously wants Nicky…

“Okay! Welcome to your Sciences class and study hall.” The professors voice booms through the fog. Nicky blinks and I grab his hand and yank him down into his seat below.

Giggling erupts and trails to the back of the class.

“Nicky … you okay?”

“Yeah … yeah, sure. That was super weird. Who is that girl?” He looks back at the Black-Haired Girl. His eyes fog up again. The girl wiggles her black tipped fingers at us.

“I don’t know. She said she knows me. I don’t know how though…”

“Weird” Nicky shoves his long hair out of his eyes. He is back to normal now.

“Yah… I know. I think we should stay away from her.” I look towards the back of the class. “I think we should stay away from all of them.”

Mr. Stiller commands the attention of the class, “As some of you already know, your studies here at Stellar are a lot more free flowing. Your four new classmates have passed the aptitude and physical examinations, so they have every right to be here as you do. But they don’t know how this school works. Please do your best to make them feel welcome.” Mr. Stiller’s eyes flicker towards the back of the class and the noise there is automatically silenced. “This semester we will be studying whatever branch of Science I see fit to teach you. I’m thinking a little bit of Animal Science to get in touch with our furry little friends.” Mr. Stiller laughs a little at that. “And then we will switch gears and I’m thinking we might discuss a little bit of quantum physics and dark matter… or what I’d like to think of as the energy that binds us all… But that’ll be later in the semester. For now, I lovingly call this class “The Cage” as you will be spending the first two hours of everyday caged with me, so get comfy!” The class goes by in a haze of introductions and paperwork. Nicky and I are two of four new kids in the class. The other two are at the same table as the Black-Haired Girl and her crew. I pity them.

Class is almost done and I finally get my head out of my introduction notebook. This school is surreal. After the Second Civil War, the entire block north of Central Park had been converted into a College and High School. All students entered from the grand entrance located at the middle of the property. The College was on the West side of campus; the High School was to the East. There were no grade classifications at this school. If you were smart enough to get in, that meant you were smart enough to graduate regular High School. To even be at this school, you had to pass a High School equivalency exam. Apparently, we did, last year, in the ninth grade. It was part of the testing that we’d been administered. I just thought Nicky and I were the weird smart geeks. Who knew that we were in the upper echelon of humanity? We both took specialized tests that threw us amongst about two hundred fifty-nine other students – the smartest kids between the ages of fourteen to seventeen in North America. There were schools like Stellar all over the world. If you didn’t graduate to the College by the time you were eighteen it was okay because every student there had their choice of college. We could go anywhere. We could do anything. Nevertheless, you wanted to get into The College. That was the goal. Students who had not graduated were not allowed to go into the West side of the school. There were guards at the doorways always. The guards knew who had graduated just by looking at you. They didn’t need papers, they didn’t listen to lies, they knew.

Some kids graduated at fourteen, some on their eighteenth birthday. There was no way of knowing. It was all very hush-hush. One day the principal would just tell you, you graduated. Some of the younger graduated students still attended High School but none of them were allowed to discuss their College classes.

I bump my shoulder into Nic, “I wonder who in our class had graduated?”

“Hey Nicky.” We haven’t talked all class. He’s focused on something towards the back of the class. I shake him a bit and he looks back at me. Dazed. “I just asked you … never mind. Do you wanna meet at my locker before lunch.” I started putting all the paperwork into my bag. Mr. Stiller had given handouts of species to focus on. Our table was “For the Birds”.

“‘Kay.” Monosyllabic.

“You okay?”

“No … ah yes. Um do you know who that girl is back there?”

Wait. What? “No… I told you that before.”

“I know but she seems to know you and I thought that maybe…”

“You want an introduction? She asked for one you know.” Was he really slobbering over some girl and asking me to send her love notes for him? Butt-head! “Earth to Nicky!!!”

“What?” He shook his head. “Whoa! Totally someplace else right there. What happened?”

“Maybe you can tell me that.”

“Shit … we’re gonna be late. Meet you at your locker later for lunch,” and with that Nicky runs off.

***

My second class: Literature. Nicky’s second class: Creative Writing. Our classes are at separate sides of the Literature Hall. Thank goodness I made plans to meet for lunch. I really have to knock some sense back into Nicky. What’s up with him?

***

I walk into the crowded cafeteria, alone. Nicky didn’t show up at my locker before lunch. He was supposed to meet me there. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I ignore it. I’m just hungry. Maybe Nicky was so hungry that he’d forgotten to meet me.

I scan the room. No Nicky. My stomach rumbles again. The donuts and orange juice this morning were long gone, leaving an empty starving beast in its wake. After Animal Sciences, I’d had English Lit. Then Gym right before lunch and I was famished. I choose a turkey sandwich and a fruit salad. Although I could probably eat six of the fried chicken thighs they were serving but after the donuts, I needed to eat something healthy today.

The tables in the cafeteria were large and round, good for small groups of friends to eat around and talk with each other. I didn’t have as much luck as most of the students here. Without Nicky, I was alone. I try to shrug it off. He’s probably stuck in some class, probably his creative writing class. I could see him showing the professor his story ideas. Smiling at the thought, I find a table. As I sit, I recognize the other people sitting there. Both boys were in my Sciences Class, the beefy boy and a smaller Asian boy that sat at my table. They look like they were in an intense argument about something on the smaller boys phone, but they weren’t saying anything. Not a word. Just pointing. They didn’t notice me take a seat across from them. I knew I was blatantly staring at the pair, but I couldn’t help it. It was so odd. The beefy boy abruptly grabbed the phone from the hands of the smaller and started pounding his fingers against the screen. The smaller boy watched, a little put out, but engaged in what the other boy was doing.

“YES!!!” The beefy boy roars. I almost fall out of my seat in surprise. He does a little victory dance while the smaller boy just sits back and seethes’. The smaller boy’s eyes meet mine. He flushes, grabs the discarded phone from the table and runs away.

“Hey! Caleb! Come back!” The beefy boy calls out. This guy was huge. It was hard to believe that he was in high school. He was cute in a burly sort of way. He was easily a foot taller than me. Shoot. I looked down, pretending to fiddle with the grapes in my fruit salad. I was staring again. Besides this morning, I could have sworn I’d met him before. I pop a grape in my mouth for something to do.

He hadn’t noticed me staring. Thank God! He slumps back into his seat. The beefy boy looks at me, his brown eyes bearing down on mine. “Hey! Why’d you go and scare him off like that! I finally got him to let me play that game! It took me over two weeks to convince him. Now he’s gone and run off.” He looks at me with mild accusation.

I take a breath in. I mean to tell him that I hadn’t done anything … but nothing comes out of my mouth.

Instead, I choke.

I am choking on the grape I’d just begun to chew. Partially from the surprise of the accusation – all I did was sit down. I hadn’t done anything to the younger boy that would be considered even remotely scary – and partially because the beefy boy looked at me full in the face. He was stunningly beautiful. His large brown eyes looked like they were brimming with tears as a child would when his best toy was taken away from him. I saw a flash of anger there that made my stomach clench involuntarily. That’s when I choked.

I couldn’t get it out. I wave for the beefy boy to help. In two long strides he comes up behind me and wallops me on my back. The culprit comes flying out of my mouth. I cough and air flies back into my lungs.

He put his hand on my shoulder. “You OK?” He looks down at me his face spread wide in a stupid grin. He looks like he’d like nothing better than to fall to the ground laughing.

I don’t get a chance to thank him for saving me or to chastise him for scaring me.

“Who threw that?” There was a string of expletives that accompany the question but all I can concentrate on are the emerald green eyes encased in the smooth ivory skin of the girl who I’d accidentally hit. It was the same redhead that tripped me this morning. I tear my eyes away as the expletives get louder. Her small pink mouth was spread tight over a straight line of sparkly white teeth. I wonder stupidly who could be more beautiful, the big beefy boy or the enraged redhead. I really couldn’t choose.

“Whoops!” The beefy boy laughs looking from me to the redhead. “She didn’t mean to Cami!” He was laughing even harder, “She was choking and she had to spit it out somewhere.”

I cringe as I hear the girl’s chair slide out. The beefy boy could not have made it sound worse. I hear the area around us become hushed. I get up out of my seat to apologize but the words get caught in my mouth. The red head comes up to me, her face inches away from mine.

“You spit that thing at me?”

Her green eyes lash into me. I can’t breath. I try to fill my lungs but they would not work. It was like she was crushing my windpipe. With what little breath I had, I scream.

Silence.

“Freak.” The redhead laughs.

There were some twitters of giggling in the crowd around me. It must have looked like I screamed for no reason. I wanted to explain how I had lost control of my breath but there wasn’t anyone around me who would care. I stare at the evil redhead in front of me. All I can think of to say was, “Stay away from me.”

“Or what?” She is about to say more but is interrupted.

“Cami…” The beefy boy seethes through his teeth. There are quite a few teeth there too.

“Whatever… I’ll get you later…”  Cami seethes as she stalks away.

I slump back into my chair trying to tune out the new chatter in the cafeteria. Worse day ever. I was now the topic of embarrassing discussion amongst my peers. I look up. The beefy boy is looking at me.

“You probably shouldn’t have spit that thing at her…”

Irritation wells up inside me, “I didn’t mean to!”

“Well, it’s all the same to her and she never liked you to begin with. Now she really has a reason to hate you, she holds on to her grudges.” He grabs a slice of apple from my tray and throws it in his mouth.

“What did I ever do to her?”

“Oh … that. Ah…” The boy grabs another apple. “Cami just doesn’t like anyone.”

“Argh!” I growl into my plate. I wasn’t hungry now. My mind was in a jumble. First, Nicky ditches me, now I have an enemy on my first day of school, and to top it all off I have some big oaf staring at me. I didn’t think he was remotely cute anymore.

“Stop staring!” I spat under my breath.

“Why? You were staring. Before.” Crap, he noticed that. I didn’t say anything. My face felt a little hot. Thank goodness for my tan or I’d probably look like a lobster. He continues, his voice a little less enthusiastic, “Hmm… You’re friends with that blond kid… Ricky or Dicky. Yeah… Dicky.”

“You mean Nic?” No one else calls him Nicky except for me.

I meet the beefy boy’s calculating stare. “Yeah, that cat. You tell your friend to stay away from Laurie. Although…” He gave a little growling chuckle. “I really don’t know whether to punch him or shake his hand. Maybe I’ll do both…” and at that he picks up his tray and saunters away, laughing.

I stare after him. What was he talking about? Why would Nicky be with Laurie?

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 2 FLYING BACK

Chapter 2 – FLYING BACK

I hate heights.

I abhor flying.

I can feel it start. The dizziness. The nausea. A healthy concoction of sleeping pills and airsickness medication was traveling through my system. I toss in my seat. The plane is taking its time taxiing through Hilo International Airport. I don’t feel remotely tired. Not that I’d ever fall asleep on a plane. It is too dangerous. My system usually rejects the meds but that was okay. I just need them to make me drowsy enough during the whole trip so that I’d be in a constant state of nothingness. That’s not happening. I need to be in my nothing state and I need it to happen right now. If this plane took off with me still conscious, I would throw up. My silver bracelets dig into my wrists as I grip the handles of my overpriced and under-cushioned seat.

“Honey… Are you okay?” The elderly woman’s voice next to me sounds slurred and distant. She sort of reminds me of my Tūtū. Tūtū said nothing as she trimmed my hair this morning. She talked about random things and pointedly said nothing more about her argument with my Aunt Mel or anything about Stellar Academy. When I made a move to mention it, Papa shook his head. I touch the necklace and pendant they gave to me before I entered the airport. “This will keep you safe.” Tūtū smiled a somber smile and they both kissed my cheeks and sent me off.

The plane lurches and I grip the seat handles harder.

I know my neighbor is trying to be helpful but she is drawing more attention my way and that is not helping. A couple across the way looks at me with sympathy. They look away. I may have just snarled at them. I don’t even know at this point.

The plane begins to really move. A small whimper cracks through my tight lips. I will think about my pendant. Made by my Tūtū, it is a tooth and a feather hung on a bit of leather cording. My Papa made me a koa box to keep it safe in. The plane seems to spin a little. Maybe I could close my eyes for a bit.

I jolt awake. The woman next to me says something and pats my hand. I didn’t hear what she said. I try to look at her mouth to focus on the words but it is muffled. Her face seems blurry too.

The nothingness takes me.

I open my eyes. My head turns to the side. The green canopy below is lush and full of life. I want to stop for a quick snack but I had to push forward. A warm current propels me toward the horizon. The canopy turns to rock and rock becomes sand and the sand becomes ocean. I soar over the brilliant crystal blue waves that call out to me. I dive lower, flying directly above the cold water. My talons skim the surface. I flex lethal claws. I’m hungry. I have to hunt soon but I’m having too much fun. I keep flying. Then, I smell it. The blood. The rapids become a river of blood. The river of blood becomes a snake. The snake laughs and opens its jaws wide. I am engulfed in the bloody red snake. Coppery blood fills my throat. Someone is screaming.

Now I am in an alley. I can still hear the screaming. 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. Someone grabs my hand.

The world drops out from under me.

A plastic voice cracks over the load speaker, “Welcome to JFK… Thank you for flying with us…” Groaning, I put my hands over my ears and I try to get comfortable again. I was having such a happy dream. At least I thought it was happy. The more I reached for it the less I could remember.

I try again. I’d been flying. Please, no. I’d been standing in a river. Blood? Ewww. Maybe not so happy.

The lights of the cabin filter through my arms. I look up and laugh. For the first time in my life I had fallen asleep on a plane and I am alive to tell about it. My grin dissolves as flashes of the back of an alley haunt me.

***

The air is nasty as I step off the plane and onto the bridge. I take a deep breath in as it gushes through the cracks. I love New York. A man pushes past me in a rush to get off the plane. Normally I’d be racing along with him but right now I just want to take in the pleasure of being back home. I stop in the doorway.

Bad move. “Keep walking!” Someone curses at me from the bridge. I want to fling back a retort but I swallow it and find my way to the baggage claim. I collect my bags and go outside. The murky air still has some of that summer humidity to it. Home.

In the hustle of NYC airport traffic, I search for my aunt’s old BMW.

My phone buzzes in my pocket. Aunty Mel. A picture of what looks like a shiny, new, souped-up golf cart and a text, “I’m behind you! Hi KITTEN!!!”

I turn around just in time to see Melanie Lyons’ beautiful porcelain face poke out of the driver’s side window of a new Mini Cooper. “Julia!!” she hollers. I swear the entire airport stops to look at us. I put my head down as I rush over to the car. I don’t look up again until I fling my bags into the car. Wow, these cars were tiny. I look at my Aunt and smile. She smooths down her cap of golden blond hair. She’s a crazy cat who loves attention. I am the exact opposite. So was my mom. Mel gives me a huge hug and I hug her back equally as tight.

“I missed you Aunty!”

“Hey… hey! I said no more with the ʻAuntyʻ stuff. This isn’t Hawaiʻi! I missed you too, Julia, my little Kitten.” She swipes a long curly brown lock out of my face as her eyes water with the reference. “Kitten” was my mom’s name for me. Only my Aunty Mel called me that now.

“Tūtū and Papa say hi!” Aunty Mel’s face clouds over. “Aw, come on! They are amazing! You really shouldn’t give them such a hard time.”

She scoffs as she pulls into the bustling airport traffic.

“I know, I know!” It really wasn’t Aunty Mel’s fault. My grandparents didn’t have anything nice to say either. I let the subject drop.

“So… Stellar Academy…”

That was all my Aunt needed… “You are going to love it! Both your mom and I graduated from there when it was just a few brick buildings. Since the war ended… they’ve taken all of Central Park North… it’s stunning…” I half paid attention to what she was saying. I was just so happy that I wasn’t going back to my old school and what was more important, Nicky was coming with me.

***

The lush green canopy stretches out in all directions. I wait patiently for the right current. I feel it coming closer. I let my wings expand and I soar. I dive a few feet lower, the warm wind caresses my light body. My eyes scan the ground below. Floating on a drift, I feel free here. I am free here. I spot a slight movement in the brush below, something gold glimmers there. I need to feed. I fly closer. It is too big to eat. I gain a bit of height as the slight drift I’d been floating turns into a gust. I adjust. Not quick enough. The winds become stormy. How hadn’t I realized this? I fly into the nearest tree. I grip the branches. This will not be enough. I land roughly and hop over to a small cave. That is when I smell him. My head turns. There is something staring at me from the nearby brush. Hunting me.

The ground rumbles under me and I jump, startled. I look back to the brush but the eyes are gone. My body rocks up and down in the tremulous earthshaking wave. The earthquake sucks me into the dirt. The ground is laughing, calling my name. The dirt turns into quicksand under my feet. I kick against it. I’m hyperventilating. I am going to die.

The earth laughs again and shakes harder.

“Rainbow… Jules… Jules!” The earth sounds strangely like Nicky. The soft fabric of the Nicky-sounding-earth tangles around my feet. The quicksand begins to feel a lot softer.

“Don’t call me that.” I still hated that name. Removing the quilt that smothers my face, I squint in the bright light of my lamp.

Groaning, I bring the quilt back over my head. My world is still undulating. There was only one person in the world that was allowed to call me Jules: Nicky. I’m crazy happy to see him but the surging and heaving of my bed was going to make me seasick. I peek out from under my purple quilt, my eyes adjusting to the light. Nicky is jumping on my bed, his head threatening to punch a hole in the ceiling of my bedroom.

He has a huge grin plastered on his dumb cute face. His blue-eyes dance with light. I can’t help but smile back. His early morning antics, though irritating, are infectious.

“Hey sleepyhead!” Nicky sings, jumping higher. The cute butt-head is trying to touch my ceiling.

I sink my head back into the lunging pillow beside me. “Cornflake? What time is it?” My voice was a cracked muffled squeak. I can’t see any light filtering through my curtains.

“Jules,” He bounces, reaching for the ceiling, “I hate that name.” Bounce again, “The sun hasn’t even come up yet. So I’d say around five um…” Again with the bouncing, “maybe five-thirty. I was going to wait until seven to come get you for school but I couldn’t wait to see you and I just…” Bounce.

I’m going to kill him. I didn’t wait for him to finish. In one fast move I pop up and grab his legs out from under him. His head comes crashing onto the bed. Nicky is such a punk! I climb on top of him and start poking at him and tickling his sides. Nicky hates to be tickled.

He squirms and laughs uncontrollably under me. “You. Woke. Me. Up. At. FIVE!” I try to make my voice harsh but my scolding sounds are muted behind my laughter.

“Five-thirty!!!” He yells-laughs. He grabs my arms and holds them firmly at my sides. He’d gotten stronger. I can’t get out of his grasp.

“Stop it!” He laughs shoving me roughly off of him.

I didn’t mind so much though. I gave him a small punch on his shoulder. The corners of his eyes crinkled just a little as his dumb smile took over his face again. This was how it was like between us, ever since we were nine, ever since the incident. The pale scar above his right eye was a punch in the gut reminder of how our friendship had begun. Because of the accident, I was kept for observation in the New York State Hospital until my Aunty Mel officially adopted me. Going back to school after everything was difficult. But Nicky saved me. He stayed by my side. He kept the bullies at bay. He said that even though he couldn’t remember what happened… He knew I had saved him somehow. He would always be by my side. His dad was even my psychologist. When my Grandparents appeared they met Dr. Hart, Nicky’s Dad, and convinced him to help take care of my crazy brain.

Everyday, before school, Nicky walks across the street to my building and sneaks into my bedroom through the fire escape. When we were kids, he’d bring me toads and other scientifically interesting creatures to peruse and poke before my Aunt, disgusted, would release the creatures into the back yard and take us to school. Growing up I remember having a symphony of toads in my garden. As we grew older, Nicky decided to bring breakfast instead. Ralph’s Deli at the corner has a great selection of glazed jelly donuts and bagel sandwiches that any scraggly teenager could live off of.

I give him a shove in his middle.

“Ouch.” He let out a low laugh.

I could challenge him to a sparring match right now. No … better not. I was still a little groggy and I probably had morning breath. I could at least knock him out with that. It might give me the upper hand.

Instead I kick the covers to the side and rolled onto my stomach next to him. “You owe me donuts!”

“There’s a bag on your desk.” His words came out a little muffled. “Ralphʻs old-fashioned donuts right outta the fryer!” I saw that he already ate one and was picking out the remains from his teeth.

“Nick-y! Gross!” I wrinkle my nose. Old-fashioned donuts were our favorite. Climbing out of bed, the room swims a little as I stand too fast. I grab onto the wall. My image in the mirror blurs a bit. I shake my head. Ouch. I could feel another bad migraine coming on.

“Hey, earth to Jules! Hey, I just asked you if you got me anything?” Nicky whines.

A pillow smacks me in my face. “Bah! … NO!” Of course I did. “Not if you’re going to throw things at me and wake me up at five frickin’ thirty in the morning.”

“Aw come ON! Jules! You always get me something from Hawai’i! Did you get me a surfboard this time? I still have the surf shorts from last year.”

“Yeah, and they have a huge hole in the butt.” But Nicky still wore them. He was going to have to wait. “Meet me in the garden. I have to get ready.”

“Can I watch?” He grins mischievously.

“You wish!” Heat rises to my cheeks as I saunter into my bathroom.

“I was just joking … geez … like I’d actually want to watch you brush your teeth. Ewww. You gotta do something about that breath of yours. Jules, I could smell it from the deli … ouch!” He stops abruptly because I launched magazine at him. I didn’t watch where it hit him, but it must have been a direct shot.

Music blasts as I turn on the shower. An album from what was probably Nicky’s new favorite band. I don’t recognize the band. He has a new favorite band every week. I smile. Another thing we had in common, our uncommon taste in music. We listen to everything.

I pull at my silver bracelets. They were bothering me and getting little tight on my wrist. I hadn’t taken them off except to get them resized. Maybe I needed to again. Ever since that day in the alley… I keep them on as a reminder. My Tūtū and Aunt said they would protect me.

Geez. I wouldn’t go there. Not today. There was enough to worry about. I step out and cringe. There, hanging on the back of my bathroom door, is my new uniform. Another new school. At any other time in my fourteen years the thought of going to another new school would have scared me.

“I have Nicky,” I whisper.

The door open a crack. A black and white mitten paws through. Then a little pink nose followed by a masked face pokes through and meows loudly. I giggle. Mochi, my little tuxedo-cat, inches open the door just wide enough for her large black and white body to slink through. She’s my therapy cat. The doctors said she would help me with my “difficulties”. She was an oversized, polka dotted, weirdo … and she was all mine. Besides Nicky, she was the only one I could talk with. I tell her my problems and she meows back at me in cat-speak.

Mochi hops onto the sink. It was bath-time. I stroke my wet fingers over her face and down her back. She nips my fingers in appreciation and pushes her black-masked face under my hand. I scratch her furry neck. “Okay … I have you too.” Satisfied she fluffs up in the sink and closes her little yellow eyes.

“Kooky little Mochi. You’re a strange cat. Sleeping in the sink. Getting baths.” I laugh and give her a little scratch under her chin. “And they say I need a therapist.”

I throw on the stiff white blouse and green skirt and scan myself in the mirror. The image blurs again. I shake my head. The blurriness goes away and I look up. My eyes immediately change. My sky-blue eyes turn to a leafy green color. No one could tell me why my eyes were so different. Sometimes they changed with my environment, sometimes my mood.

I let my hair fall out of its bun and I run my fingers through it a few times before throwing it into a messy braid. I could fix it later in the car. The beat outside was becoming infectious. I open the door. Nicky was thrashing around in front of my sound system. He’d definitely gotten bigger. He lost all the baby fat that had lingered around his face and middle before I had left at the beginning of summer. He looked good in his new khaki’s and green sweater. The edges of his button down were poking messily through every available hole. His hair was long enough to touch his shoulders. It had darkened a bit, but the golden streaks still dominated.

I throw a roll of toilet paper at him. “I thought I told you to meet me in the garden.” I laugh as he drops his phone in surprise.

Something flickers across his face, his blue eyes widen and he charges me. I grip the edge of the doorway as his body collides with mine, holding me close. I bury my face in his neck. I can’t breathe.

“Hey there, Jules.” He hugs me tighter. “Missed you.”

But, hey, who needs to breathe. I could live off of hugs like these.

I smile into his rough green sweater. He smells good. Like lavender and pine and Nicky. “Missed you too.” I whisper. I look over his shoulder at the full length mirror there. A gift from Nicky and his parents a few summers ago while I was going through pimples and braces. He’d been digging something out of his nose when he told me that the girl in this mirror would always be pretty. I’d punched him. I smile not only at the memory, but also at the image of our bodies in the mirror. I like the picture we made.

I felt his nose and his lips on top of my head. The heat rises in my face but I do not want to let go. He takes a long lingering breath in. “You smell much better.” Laughing into my hair, he pulls back abruptly looking into my eyes. “Cool! Your eyes are all leafy green now. Like spinach!” He bounces back a foot, still laughing. Good. That was getting a bit too close.

“You’re so sweet! I bet you say that to all the girls. ʻYou’re eyes look like spinach!ʻ” I push him. “Punk.” I walk over to my dresser to grab the green and white socks that would complete my transition into conformity. I wiggle my feet into them.

I sigh at my image in the mirror and pull at the skirt. I hate skirts. Nicky is looking over my shoulder at me. That weird hungry look crosses his face. It make me feel like throwing something else at him. Instead I concentrate on my socks and ask, “Who’s the band? They’re amazing!”

That snaps him out of his reverie. He bounces again, smiling hugely, hair flopping around. “You like it!?! GOOD! ‘Cause this is your copy! I found the album at a small music store in Berlin. They’re unknown but I think this band is going to blow up next year. I also downloaded a bunch of that oldie rock and pop stuff you like.” During their vacation, his foster father took them on a road trip through Germany and into Russia. I was sure Nicky would fill me in. He learned Russian and German in middle school to prepare for this trip. He’d been so excited.

I bounce with him, “I love it!” Nicky knows how much I love the classics. My walls bookcases were filled with my Moms old cd collection and I had a whole shelf of vinyl records that had belonged to my biological father. But I did have a soft spot for unknown musical genius and this band was slowly nearing the top of my eclectic treasure trove of music.

The song ended, and I noticed an iPhone connected to Nicky’s slim new laptop. He disconnects the cords and throws his computer into the padded compartment of his backpack. He tosses the phone to me. “All the music is from me, and I programmed all important numbers and addresses into it. The phone is a ‘Welcome to Stellar Academy’ present from my Mom and Dad.” He shrugged and his eyes flickered my way, slyly, “I don’t know why they like you so much, you’re kind of stinky.” He grabs his bag and launches down the stairs before I can fling a retort.

I shrug on the forest green cardigan that completes the uniform. Grabbing my backpack and donuts, I bound down the stairs into the kitchen after Nicky.

“Hi Melanie!” Nicky has my aunt in a bear hug. On the counter there are two steaming cups of… “COFFEE!!! I love you Mel!” I grab the beautiful dark liquid and spoon just a little bit of brown sugar in. I take a tentative sip. Perfection. “Oh, Coffee, how I did miss you.”

“My dear, you got big!” Nicky pretty much towered over my aunt’s slight frame. “You’re taller, Nicolas.” She backs up, “Let me get a good look at you. That German food must have helped! How tall are you now? Six-one? Two?”

“Six-three!”

I almost snort coffee. He’d grown four inches since the beginning of summer. Snickering, “Wow Mel, I think all your fawning is making him taller or is that just his head?”

I grab some orange juice from the fridge as a dish rag flies over my head. “HA! Missed!” I launch out the back door and into my garden, careful not spill my coffee, though. We have a small grassy garden area behind our brownstone. I breathe in as I set breakfast down on the grass. I could always breathe easier out here.

“NICKY!…” I furiously yell. My coffee mug goes flying into the air as Nicky tackles me to the ground. “MY TURN!” He laughs.

I scream, twisting under him. If anyone hated to be tickled more than Nicky, it was me. I kick under him. He laughs merrily in my face. He was tickling me so much that I couldn’t take in a decent breath. I was going to kill him! But then everything blurs and I get a little woozy.

He stops abruptly. “Woah!” He crawls backwards, away from me and looking a little scared. “Um… COOL! I’ve never seen you do that before. How’d you do that?”

Confused, I catch my breath. “What?”

“Your eyes. Wow. They went all black for a second.”

I crawl over to him, like a cat stalking its prey. “Maybe it’s because I’m going to kill you now. I barely got any coffee!” I poke him. My finger hits something hard in his breast pocket.

“Ouch! What’s that?” We ask at the same time.

I shake out my bruised finger as he takes the package out. Mel pokes her head through the kitchen window. She’s smiling. “My aunt’s sneaky.” Then I sulk a little, “If she had told me I would have programmed some songs in there for you too.”

“Niiicce! Thank you Mel!!!” he yells over his shoulder. My aunt yells something incoherent from inside the kitchen. “I was kind of jealous that my parents had gotten you one and not me.” He tinkers around with it for a minute and tosses it back into his pocket.

I drink some orange juice. It’s not coffee but I guess it’ll do. “Pass me a donut.” I pass Nicky the juice as he hands me a crumbly delicious donut. Old-fashioned donuts from Ralphie’s Deli were the best. He chugs the orange juice looking at me expectantly from over the bottle. A little juice drizzles down the sides of his mouth, just missing his sweater.

“What?” I hand him a napkin, pretending to be oblivious. He obviously wants to know what gift I’d gotten him this year. I fiddle with the front pocket of my backpack. I’d gotten him another pair of surf shorts but I thought this might be better. I hope he likes it. I wasn’t supposed to give it to him but my grandparents had said to keep it safe and I couldn’t think of a safer place than with Nicky.

“So…” He runs his fingers through his unruly hair, the rising sun and the warm light that pokes through the trees turns it to liquid gold. Patience has never been Nicky’s strong suit. I take my time. I love to watch him squirm.

“COME ooonnnn! Juu-ules! I’m gonna tickle you again if you don’t hurry up!”

“Okay, okay!” I take the small box out. The swirling lines of the beautiful koa wood shine like honey in the sunlight.

“COOL!”

I laughed, “Sorry, you can’t have the box, my Papa would kill me.” My Tūtū wouldn’t be so thrilled either, but I would deal with that later. Nicky’s face drops. “You can have what’s inside the box.”

I climb around so that I am across from him, my knees touching his and pass him the box. His blue eyes glow with excitement. He opens it. There was a silence that seemed to extend all around my little garden. He breathes, “Wow.”

I smile. He likes it.

I look over the cover and into the box. The rough cord was nestled in the tapa cloth my grandfather told me to put it in when I wasn’t wearing it. A tigers tooth rests on a soft brown feather. Both were tied expertly to the center of the necklace between two worn white beads. I reach in and take the piece out. A bird sings in the distance.

“My Tūtū and Papa made it.” I shuffle around to place the necklace around his neck. He pulls his hair to the side. I tie the cord and let my fingers rest on the back of his neck for a second. I could feel the warmth there, flowing through into me and back out into Nicky. I knew my grandfather would approve.

I shake my head and laugh. My grandparents superstitions were getting to me.

I shuffle back to sit in front of Nicky, knees touching. His eyes were closed, face lifted to the sun.

“My grandfather said it has the power to keep me from harm. He also said to keep it safe… I figured you could help me do that.”

He opens his ocean blue eyes. The weird look was back. “Then what about you?” He puts hand on my face.

I lean into it. “I have you.”

“Thank you. I’ll never take it off.” He whispers. Then he shakes his head, laughing. “Now you’re going to expect me to get you jewelry too! Grrreat.”

I sock him in the shoulder as he stuffs the feather and tooth pendant unceremoniously into his sweater and pressed white shirt.

“Ow! Owowowo…. OUCH!” He scrambles up yanking his sweater off and practically ripping the buttons off his new uniform. I see a small spot of blood seep into the white starched shirt at the front of his chest.

I fly up and help him with the buttons. The cut is shallow but bleeding badly. The tooth had scratched him when he stuffed it into his sweater and against his skin. I grab napkins out of the donut bag and hold it against his chest. “Don’t be such a wimp, Nicky.”

He laughs. Thinks about something and laughs again. “It bit me! I got bit by a tiger!!!” Under my hands his chest heaves with glee.

I giggle along with him. “Stop moving so much. Let me check the bleeding. Stop moving!” I command. He stops moving and smiles broadly.

I shake my head as I remove the napkins. I take my glasses off and look closely. There is an angry red line about an inch long right under the sharpest end of the tooth. At least the bleeding has stopped.

He snickers, “So, Doctor Lyons, you gonna kiss it and make it all better.”

To spite him, I do. I tip forward slightly and give his chest a playful little peck. At least that’s what I’d meant to do. As my lips reach to touch his skin, the feather and tooth brush against my cheek. There is a jolt somewhere in the universe between my lips and his skin. My lips never make it. I jump back, holding my mouth.

I look into Nicky’s face. His features were drawn into that weird hungry look again.

We stare at each other for a second. I blush. He giggles.

“That was weird!”

“You felt that too?”

“What was that?”

We ask at the same time, look at each other in surprise and fall to the ground laughing.

“I think the tooth might have bit us both!”

“It was probably static electricity.”

“I think it scratched my face.”

He rolls onto his belly and catches my chin with his hand. Looking up into his cloudless sky-blue eyes my heart does a weird flippity-flop. “Nope, no scratch.” His hand traces up my left cheek and into my hair. He strokes my hair.

I don’t move. My scalp tingles as I am flooded with warmth. I close my eyes and let him run his fingers though my hair and through the loose strands that fell out of my braid. He stops. I looked up as he bends a little and his face is nose to nose with mine.

Blushing, I ask, “Want a donut?”

He shakes his head, giving me an eskimo kiss. I grin at him as he backs away, reaching for the discarded orange juice.


Thank you again for reading! YOU ARE AWESOME! What did you think? Please leave a comment below!

Much Aloha,

Pili