Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 15 – I See Myself

Chapter 15 – I See Myself

Falling. I go towards the colors. I put my arms up again to pull myself back into the night sky. I can’t. I feel the metal tear at my flesh right before I hear my body smack and flutter against the cold glass. I see myself for instant in the glass … but it isn’t possible.

I look into the frantic stare of a very large bird.

Someone should let that poor hawk out of that glass cage, I think as I fall onto the ragged cold steel below. The air seems to glow around me. The colors daze me, confuse me. All around me are the blank stares of frozen caricatures of animals. A tiger stares down at me. There is blood splattered against its goofy cartoon smile. At the top of the giraffes long neck sits its oversized head, its eyes, unblinking, drip with the same red goo. There is a large swan in the distance, its graceful lines sealed into place. Red smeared against the white of its feathers. All the garish animals stare at me.

I have to get out of this maze. Everything hurts. I claw out of the colorful maze of frozen cartoon animals. The physical pain of it makes me scream. I concentrate on putting one hand in front of the other, dragging my body against the freezing metal. I see the whiteness before me. That must be heaven, I think. My body drops into the cold fluffiness. A pure blanket of white surrounds me. No more pain, please. I could give in. I keep inching my body towards oblivion. I turn my attention back to my arms: my wrists are bleeding, my nails torn and bloody from my relentless clawing. I could not stop. I was dying. I didn’t have to look back at the streak of blood I had left behind in my effort.

I don’t know how far I had gone but at some point I had stopped moving. I was in a fetal position in the middle of a field of white. I knew then that I wasn’t in Heaven. This was my personal hell and it was cold.

***

My eyes can’t adjust to the darkness surrounding me. I feel so tired. I’m cold, unbearably so. I feel the icy burn all around me. I try to sit up. I can’t move. Everything hurts. Blood is in my mouth. I have to move out of the cold. I need to get someplace warm and fast. I am going to freeze … wherever here was. I looked up into a faint light.

A scream freezes in my chest. A bears beady eyes stare down at me. Sniffing me. I put my arms up to protect myself and hit … something hollow. I looked again. I looked around me. Animals staring at me. A wolf’s paw just feet from my face. Tigers in the distance. All animals and they were all suspended in the air. A carnival ride. A merry-go-round… I’m in Chelsea. Hudson River Park, near the water. I’m almost home.

So cold… I can’t keep my eyes open. I am engulfed by darkness once more.

***

Someone is in pain. Someone is screaming.

Help me.

Me. I need help.

There is a faint scraping. I could hear a low rumble in the distance. I want it to go away. I can’t move. The pain and the cold were too much for my fragile body to bear. I am going to die.

The scraping gets louder. I want to scream, to sob for help. Nothing will cooperate. I can feel the pain starting to slip away. The numbing cold must be shutting down my body. The thunderous rumbling stops. I hear footsteps running towards me. The low growl of a language I couldn’t quite process. Then incredible warmth spread throughout my body. I couldn’t feel the concrete below my body anymore. It was as if someone had wrapped a warm coat of sunshine around me. This must be it, I thought, It wasn’t too hard. Dying was much more comfortable then I thought. I look up but my vision is still clouded. I shut my eyes.

After an eternity I open my eyes again. The pain is intense but I feel warm, comforted. I looked up into two grey eyes. They are very familiar. They were large and kind. I reached for my savior and my hands met … fur?

I scream. I was looking into the gray eyes of a very large wolf.

As I fight for another breath to continue my mindless screams. I looked into its, no, his eyes. The Wolf nudges my arm. I scream again and I don’t stop. I look away and see that the warmth I am wrapped in is a Bear. The scream catches in my throat. I turn back to the Wolf. If I wasn’t in so much pain I could have sworn that the Wolf had backed up as if it were apologizing. My body falls back onto the icy ground as the big bear thing raises its head abruptly to sniff the air. I finally find some strength and I manage to back away. Then both Animals move so fast and before I can take another breath the Bear brings up one of its huge paws and sweeps my body back towards it, off the ice, and into death.

I hear the hissing of a snake. I am going to die now.

I feel a warmth spread through my body as the world shifts and blurs and I fall into darkness.

***

“That should keep her sedated for at least an hour.”

“She almost tore my head off.”

“Yeah, well you would have deserved it.”

“Laurie, are you sure your venom won’t kill her?”

“Yesss.”

“Absolutely?”

“Well … no. I had no choice, Alison. She was about to kill Caleb and Rich.”

“No choice? Shit, Laurie! I had it handled.”

“Yeah, well, it didn’t look that way to me. She almost killed you!”

“Rich… you know you deserved it. And you… Laurie, I swear that if this hurts her…”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure you won’t be the only one.”

“Did the others find Nic?”

“I don’t think so…”

“Good. That gives us a little more time with our little birdie…”

“Laurie…”

“Did you check out her wrists? I TOLD you those things were keeping her from Changing.”

“God.. she must have clawed them off herself!”

“I can’t wait to see what she can do…”

“Laurie…”

The darkness retreats, a little, at the sound of that horrific name. I try to move my head.  Nothing. I try to open my eyes. I couldn’t. I couldn’t feel my body. I was paralyzed. My mind screams.

“Oh god. Please someone make her shut up.”

“She hasn’t said a word, stupid.”

“It’s not her mouth I was talking about … it’s her mind. She’s waking up and she is screaming.”

Oh god… Cami was here. What was she doing here? Where was here? I try to scream again. Nothing. Just the voices. I concentrate on that.

“She can hear us?”

“Yes.” She stifled a little laugh. “She doesn’t like me very much.” Cami’s voice was smug.

“I don’t like you very much either.” Jennifer’s voice spat out at Cami.

“Screw you princess. And shut up I’m trying to work…” Cami snorts, “Jeezus, someone put those silver bracelets on her tight. No wonder I couldnʻt feel anything from her. All this time I thought she was a dud. Her mind is crazy powerful. Shit, if I’d known that, maybe I wouldn’t have been such a bitch to her.”

Doubt it, I think though my haze.

Cami laughs.

“All of you, shut it! Julia?” Alison? “Can you hear me?”

“Nope … she’s fading back.” Cami giggles, “Laurie? How much did you give her.”

“Trust me … enough to keep us safe and her from Changing again…”

“She’s almost out.”

“Sssleep tight little birdie.”

***

I open my eyes into light. One very bright light to be exact. It’s blinding

I shut my eyes. The fiery image of the light is imprinted on the back of my lids. The light itself threatens to punch through the frail skin there. I squeeze them tighter.

I feel like I should be frightened. Strangely, I’m not. In the back of my mind I calmly wonder how I had gotten to this place. Where was this place? Who had brought me here and for what purpose. The last thing I can remember was the cold black street in front of my building. Or… A dream about plastic animals staring at me. A merry-go round? Was I dreaming now? My mind reaches out to the fragments of another dream of voices. It flies out of my reach. Had I stood outside long enough to freeze? Why did I stand out there for so long?

There was a searing and painful glimmer of thought.

Better not to go there. Whatever, wherever it was, there was a reason I was not remembering it. Better to just lie down and fall asleep again.

I let my mind drift. It was hard though. This light is seriously bothering me. It is a reddish glow from under my closed eyes. I lift my arm to block my face from the glare.

I can’t. I try moving my other arm. No luck. But damn, my wrist stung.

Legs? Nope.

Hmm. Decisions to be made now. I could … One… Scream. That would probably attract the people who brought me here. Two… Open my eyes and try to figure out where I was. That would again attract anyone who might be watching and it may also negate my last option which was … Three… I could come to the realization that this was all a dream. I could just lay back and feel my soft pillow wrap around the base of my head. My arms were not held down. I was just so relaxed that I couldn’t move. Not even my legs would move. This was quite comfortable, this dream I was having.

Hmm. There is a pain that had begun in my middle back around my ribcage. I’d noticed it a moment ago as I tried to move my arms. It didn’t hurt so much as annoy. Sort of like an old wound. The same feeling was beginning to blossom in my head. A shadow of a headache, as if I had fallen somewhere and hit my head.

I slowly come to the realization that I hurt all over. There really wasn’t an inch of my body that wasn’t in some sort of annoying pain. It is becoming increasingly annoying. I thought dreams were supposed to be a bit more comfortable.

Maybe this was a nightmare. If I thought about what I knew of my surroundings I could certainly come to the conclusion that this scenario was scary enough to be one of my many nightmares. I can’t move my body. I am in pain. There is a bright light shining in my eyes rendering me blind. Yep, this is a nightmare. This could be the climax in the old black and white Alfred Hitchcock films my grandmother loved.

I wait for the ax murderer or psycho to jump out so that I can wake up. No such luck.

Not a nightmare, then.

My option three, my dream or nightmare scenario is quickly fading. My heart begins to beat faster in my chest. My breath comes out in spurts. Here are the facts. I do not know where I am. I do not know how I got here. I am tied to an uncomfortable metal table. I cannot see. This is not a figment of my overactive imagination. This is not a dream.

Terrified, I opened my eyes into the bright light. I try to look around it but there is nothing to be seen. The light is just too bright. I close my eyes again.

I listen. Nothing. The room has to be sound proof. There is absolute silence.

I calm my lungs which were quickly on its way to becoming a hyperventilating mess soon if I didn’t figure this out. I take an unsteady but deep breath in. Breathe out. Breathe in. I can almost recognize the smell. There was a musty smell of metal and sweat. There was a whiff of cheap cologne and sticky sweet perfume.

No.

I know now where I am. The general area at least. The knowledge doesn’t make me feel any better. Although the last month had been better, this place was nothing but trouble for me since I had arrived.

I was at school.

In my head, I form the images of the only students I knew that would have bought me here. I could almost hear her hissing laughter echo through my psyche. I could feel her black nails digging into my skin again. Laurie was here, somewhere, watching me. I should have smelled her heady scent. I tried to locate her scent. Nothing. No matter, I know she brought me here. Although that thought should be sending me into fear overdrive, I was pleased to have figured something out about the mess I was in. I would have patted myself on the back if I could have and if it wasn’t so absurd.

My mind was eerily calm. Unfortunately my body did not want to process the terror in a collected manner. The tears begin flowing and I was having difficulty taking in a solid breath. I couldn’t let my sense of smell fail me now. It was the only thing I had working. I begin to struggle against my binds. It was useless. I am strapped down tight.

“Hello?” My voice is shaky and labored. Whoever brought me here, and I am almost certain it was Laurie, was not going to make the first move. A fresh wave of tears flows down my face and cascades into my hair. I try again.

“Please, can anyone hear me? Hello?” I choke a little on the last word. My esophagus has become constricted. I can’t speak. I let the fear finally course through my body. I sob loudly, eyes closed against the blinding nothingness.

I hear a door open and shut to the back and left of me. Breathe in. Hold. I would wait.

I heard the lamp switch off before I saw it. The light had been on my face for so long that the glow still stained my vision with a yellow-blue and red fuzz. I open my eyes into the blessed darkness. My eyes take a moment to adjust. There must be a light source coming from another part of the room because even though it was dark, I could see perfectly. I could make out the bare padded walls several yards in front of me. I notice the weak light coming from above from what looked like a viewing room.

“Hello? Is someone there?” That was a stupid question. Of course I know someone is there. The question is who. “Laurie?”

The silence that answers confirms my suspicion.

“Laurie, I know we haven’t gotten off to the right start but if this is about Nic…” I stop. What was it about Nic that I could not remember? I hold my breath hoping for my brain to answer me.

“Laurie’s not here.”

I take a quick intake of breath. That isn’t Laurie’s voice. It’s Alison’s.

Alison steps in front of me. I see something glint in her hand. A knife.

“Alison? What are…”

“Shh!”

I shut up. Alison steps closer with the knife and I forget to shut up.

“What happened?!?” Alison had four long angry red scratches that starts at her right ear and travels across her white cheek and disappears down her neck. Her black T-shirt is ripped at the collar.

She looks at me, momentarily stunned by my question. Her face changes into a look of pity and acceptance. “You don’t remember. Do you?”

“No,” I whisper, “the last thing I remember is standing outside my house.” The image of moving plastic animals comes to me… my dream.

I could see some silent internal struggle flare through Alison’s stormy grey eyes. She steps even closer.

“Sometimes that happens at the first Change. Amnesia… especially with the accident and fall you took… There is much to be explained but you have to promise me that you will stay calm.”

Change? Amnesia? Accident and fall? What was she talking about? But all I say is, “Of course.” I don’t know why she’d think I would lose my temper. I’d never done that with her.

Alison brings the knife up.

“What, Alison, are you doing?” It’s Laurie.

My heart froze. Alison brings the knife down.

“STOP!” I can feel the heat emanate out of Laurie’s demand. The knife stops an inch away from the cording, and Laurie’s long red tipped fingers clench around Alison’s hand. There is a small struggle and the knife falls.

“What are you thinking?”

“She doesn’t deserve to be tied up like this. She doesn’t remember what happened. You know that happens sometimes.”

Laurie smirks, “That doesn’t mean she won’t remember later. That doesn’t mean she’s safe.”

What are they talking about? I was sure that Alison had just been about to explain and I was afraid to say anything with Laurie inches away from my bound body.

They stare at each other. A battle of wills.

Alison looks away first, exhausted. “You’re right. How thoughtless of me.” Alison wipes the fresh tears off my face. “Julia, please stop crying. We have you here for your own good. Once everyone is back and you are secured, I’ll explain. I promise.”

“No.” Alison met Laurie’s smug black stare. “That is not entirely true. We will wait for the others but you will not explain. She already knows. Nic already told her. Nic may have already showed her. That idiot Nic may have sped up her Change.”

I couldn’t process what she was saying, it made no sense. I did focus on one thing though, every time she said his name it felt as if a stake was driving itself deeper and deeper into my heart.

I sob.

“You heartless…” a string of profanities escaped Alison’s small mouth. “You tried to get her to change that night in the Gym. So don’t act like you’re the saint here.” She wipes my face again. “And, you don’t need bring up Nic. He has nothing to do with this.”

“Well, this little birdie will just have to get over it. And Nicky has everything to do with this.”

“Shut up, Laurie!”

“No, Alison.” Laurie face is suddenly over mine. “Get over Nic, little birdie. You. Can’t Be. With. Him.” She doesn’t say it maliciously. Just in a matter of fact sort of way. “You’re messed up enough as it is.”

I can’t be with Nicky. I know this… Why?

“Stop it!” Alison pushes Laurie away.

“You’re the one who wanted to give her all our secrets before we were all here. You would have exposed us all to this freak.”

“Shut up!”

I smell him before I he came into my eye line. Rich’s feral stench has taken over the room. It was stronger than anytime I’ve ever smelled it on him. It was as if he’d been running for days.

Rich stammers, out of breath, “Cami and Jen’s located him about an hour ago. I just got the message from Caleb. Caleb ran back to help. They should be here in a bit. He was in his,” Rich stammers. There was something there that he couldn’t say in front of me, “…um… other coat. If you know what I mean.”

“Yesss Rich. We know what you mean. Did anyone see him?”

They were talking about Nic.

“I don’t think so. He was covered in about a foot of snow.”

“WHAT?!?” I thrash against my binds. I finally find my voice. It was cracked but loud enough to startle everyone. Alison holds onto my shoulders.

“He’s okay. Honey… he’s okay.” Alison grabs my face as gently as she could. “Look at me. Julia, he’s okay.”

“I…I…I don’t understand what’s happening. Please let me go.”

“Just a little while longer.”

“Is she better?” Rich asks.

Better? “I feel just dandy, Thanks for asking, asshole.” I crowed. “It’s all of you who have something seriously wrong with your heads.” I strain against the bonds that held me. Too tight. I almost laughed. Instead I calm my body back into submission. I close my eyes.

“They’re back. They’ve got him.” Rich said.

Alison wipes at my face again, “I’ll be right back. I need to speak to Nic before we let him in.”

I nod. Whatever they had to say was coming soon. I didn’t know if I was ready to hear it.

There was silence, then a sickly sweet slithering voice.

“Rich, be a dear and get me a bottle of water. Now.”

I felt a single nail scratch up against my binds, up my neck and across my cheek to my ear. I shudder. That’s where Alison had been scratched. Had Laurie done that?

“Are you sure you don’t remember anything?” Laurie’s black eyes pierce mine. She seems a little stunned at what she saw there. “Hmm … interesting. Did you know that your eyes are black right now. It looks good on you.” She lets a laugh snake out of her lips.

“Now that I have your undivided attention for the moment … let me get one thing clear with you. While, I am not a big fan of Alison’s or her clan of goodie goodies, if you ever hurt her or any one of my family again, next time I won’t just put you down… I will kill you.”

I hurt Alison?

A flash of memory, of rage that did not belong to me, flies into my head. It was cold there was someone trying to move me. I lashed out. My eyes widened at the memory that wasn’t my own.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I stammer, but Laurie had already caught my remembrance, however fleeting it was. I had hurt Alison?

“Oh? Memory just came back, did it? I think you do remember. I think you’re lying.”

I didn’t have the time to process that information.

I see shadows moving around in the viewing room upstairs. More people? A door opens.  Feet creep in. My eyes sweep the room. I can’t see much else. My body batters against the straps that hold me down. I could feel the rope burn into my wrists and ankles.

I can’t move.

“Laurie, please,” I beg, “tell me what’s going on.” Tears were beginning to stream down my face.

She snorts. “Oh quit whining. Are you comfortable?” She gave the straps a strong tug. I whimpered as they tighten abruptly.

“Don’t do that!” Alison grabs Laurie’s arm.

She shrugs it off. Laurie let out a throaty giggle, “Alison here believes that you don’t know why you’re here.”

“I don’t remember!” My voice broke.

“Yes you do!” Laurie screams. “I saw you with Nicolas! He showed you! He told you! He broke all the rules!” I could see the power building behind her eyes.

“Did I, you dumb hypocrite?”

I stop breathing. He always brought the fresh smell of the forest when he walked into a room and I did not want to breathe him in. I would not let him remind me. The pain rips through me anyway. I felt it start in the tattered rag that was my heart. The searing pain burns through my body. If I wasn’t strapped to this table I would have folded in pain. As I was, I could do nothing but let the pain take me. His calm voice had come from behind my metal prison. Against my better judgment, I try fruitlessly to look in his direction. I can’t see him. It’s better this way, I thought, I didn’t want to see his face. It would only hurt more.

Laurie whips her head up, surprised. She recovers quickly. “So the bleeding lover returns,” she hisses. “Yes, you did. You showed her what we are. You told HER.” She points an accusatory red nail in my face.

“What, did I say?” His face was stone.

“You told her, you told her…” Laurie stutters. She was breaking under his gaze. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. “YOU told her about us.” She repeated, “You showed her. You broke the rules.”

I didn’t hear Nicolas move but he was suddenly in my sight. I did not want to see him but I could not close my eyes. His perfect features were marred by a grimace as he surveyed my body locked onto the metal table. His jaw tightens as he looks at my face, avoiding my eyes. I finally close my eyes. He is revolted by my very presence. I try to remember to breathe but my lungs would not cooperate.

“Laurie, Laurie, Laurie…” he chuckles softly. “So what if I did? You really shouldn’t spy on other people’s conversations,” He growls, “it’s rude.”

“Then you admit it.” It wasn’t a question.

“To an extent. Unlike what you tried to do in the gym, I made a mistake. I lost control.” Nicolas pauses. “Tell me something, Laurie, did you really hear everything that I told her?” When she didn’t answer, I heard him exhale deeply, “I was trying to let her off easy … she had seen me shift and I was trying to make her believe she’d made it up in her head. I had convinced her. I want her to live her stupid normal life. She didn’t need to know what we are.”

He walks closer to me. I finally open my eyes again. He doesn’t look directly at me, like I was too gross to comprehend, but I could see that his eyes were enraged, “Now this!?! Laurie?” He spit out this words. “Are you stupid?” He looks at the others in the room, “Have you all gone crazy? Why would you do this to some insignificant little human?” No one paid attention as I let out a small whimper behind my gag. Insignificant. His words were more painful than the straps that cut my skin. I hadn’t noticed until that moment but my tears had stopped. I felt all dried up inside. He didn’t care about me. I was insignificant.

I look at the others. Cami was trying to get her fire engine red hair to lie flat. Her gaze was smug, as if there was some joke that she wasn’t sharing with Nic. Rich looks supremely uncomfortable. Jennifer was ready to pounce at any moment. Her curly blond hair was in tatters. Caleb, looking weather worn, just stared at me and then Nic with absolute indifference. Alison had backs off a little to stand at Caleb’s side, looking from Laurie then at Nic, her teeth slightly bared. None of this gave me any information or hope.

His icy gaze, blank and cold, focuses on me, “Even if she knows,” He continues in his low bitingly sarcastic growl, “Let me rephrase that, now that you have so carelessly reminded her of our little situation, what can we do with her? Hmm? What did you plan on doing after you had scared her? Kill her!?!”

I flinch. Death would be welcome. I closed my eyes again. I could feel my heart drumming against my chest.

“Laurie, no one will believe her. What is she going to say? ‘Hello, Mr. Police Officer, sir, I think my classmates can turn into Animals.’” I hear his hand fall lightly on the side of my face. My eyes strained open again. He still didn’t touch me. His entire body was blocking my own. Anyone else would have thought he was protecting me, but I knew it couldn’t possibly be. I force my eyes closed again. His laugh sounds more like a snarl. “So, Laurie, why do we just let our little captive go. I’m sure she’ll keep her pretty little mouth shut.” I turn my head to the side. I wish he wouldn’t stand so close to me. I would make myself forget him. I would not remember our night in the park. Even as I thought it, even as I try to wrap myself into nothingness, the memory of our last encounter flashes in my mind. The last time we had been this close we had almost… NO, I wouldn’t go there. I could feel something in my head cracking. Confusing images jam into my mind.

“What have you done to her? Why are her wrists bleeding? Did you rip those bracelets off?” Nic breathes.

“Ah … I’d back away from her if I were you Nicky-boy.” Cami warns.

He touches my mangled wrists and my eyes flash into his.

He seems caught off guard but can’t break my gaze.

My mind flies back to the cold street in front of my house. Breath in. I had been hunting something. Breathe out. Something golden. Breathe in. Something that smelled like lavender and pine. I was hunting the golden man in front of me.

I hunted Nic. I hated Nic.

The entire night came flooding back. The torrent of it took me. The car flying off the GW bridge. Instead of falling to my death my body had Changed. I Changed. The hate flows through me. I see his eyes shatter. This was not Nicky, my best friend. The memories of his lovable, easy laughter flew through my mind. His small face as I coaxed him off the top of the jungle gym. The bouncing blundering teenager that had been so excited to go to Europe. The image fades and becomes the beautiful, cold man before me. This was Nicolas. I was so blind. He didn’t care. That echoes in my mind. He didn’t care. I was insignificant. He would leave me here confused and hurt like he’d left me on the street. I feel the anger build. Everything turns red and blurs. I welcome the Blur. I feel my body begin to Change again. My hands turn to claws. Nic is still leaning over me. I caw. My left hand brakes through its binds and I lashed out. It feels good to rip my talons through his shirt.

As soon as I had touched him, my anger, leaves as fast as it consumed me. I bring my claws up to my face. They were bloody. I watch as my claws slowly Change back to hands. I fall back exhausted. More images flood my head. Images of a younger me holding my claws up to my face. My hand drops to my side as Jennifer or maybe it was Caleb holds me down. I can’t move anyway. Everything hurts. It wasn’t just the physical pain but the stabbing nails that riddled my heart. One nail for every hurtful comment, every biting look.

Nicolas staggered back into the shadows. I can’t see him. I don’t want to see him. I turn my head away with what little strength I could muster. Laurie’s face was a mixture of amazement and disgust but mostly she looked smug as she saunters back towards the metal bench that held me. All I could do now was lie there. My eyes, as if on their own accord, tries to focus on Nicolas’ retreating figure. He falls into a metal chair in the corner. His breath comes out as a low shallow wheeze.

“All this time Nicolas, I thought you knew.” Laurie hisses, each s-sound was more pronounced then the rest. She has produced another rope and was securing my arm to the rest of my throbbing body. “Surprised you, didn’t she?” Her laugher bubbles up from her slithering voice.

“You evil poisonous…” I heard Nic’s voice growl from the shadow in the corner, “What did you do to her?”

“Me? No.” She denies. “What did you do?”

“Stop talking in riddles, you snake!” His growl was more pronounced. Then, either my vision blurred or maybe they did, but in that next second five Animals surrounded me. Two Wolves were snarling in opposite directions. One at the Black Cobra that was slithering around my body, its poisonous fangs just inches from my face. A Golden Eagle caws at the snake from the top of my bench. The other Wolf is snapping it dangerous canine jowls at a giant golden cat. Rich looks on in fright while Cami picked at something in her teeth. Despite the danger something in my head flashes on. I recognize that cat. It is the Lion that haunts my dreams. It is the gigantic animal I had seen in the park in my flying dream and other Animals had surrounded him. This Lion is the one that he said … that Nicolas said didn’t exist.

Nicolas is the lion.

Laurie is the snake.

Jennifer is an eagle.

Caleb and Alison… they are wolves.

I am losing my mind.

The Laurie-snake was gazing at the huge Nicolas-cat. The Laurie-snake was goading the Nicolas-cat into coming closer. I knew if it did, the snakes’ poisonous kiss would not take very long to stop my heart. I almost yearn for it. Anything was better than this pain.

The Nicolas-cat roars.

Then everything got bright. The snake stops hissing and the two wolves looked up. The cat was still looking at the snake whose grip was starting to crush my ribs.

“Now, children,” I vaguely recognize the voice that comes out of the intercom, “there will be no need for all of you to fight. Miss Amin?” The detached male voice uttered, “Please let go of Miss Lyons. She is tied up and cannot protect herself properly. That is not fair and particularly cowardly of you.” I feel her ebony arm slither out from under my shaking body, an arm that used to be a snake, an arm that belongs to Laurie Amin. The crazy person in my head begins to giggle uncontrollably. “Mr. Hong and Miss Hong, please escort Mr. Hart up into the viewing room.”

Nicolas growls. I shift my gaze away from Caleb and Alison, who used to be wolves, to Nicolas who was also back in his human form but he was still crouching, ready to pounce if anyone provoked him. Even in my delirious state I knew Caleb and Alison wouldn’t dare to touch Nicolas. He’d somehow shifts himself between me and the other three. As if he cares what happened to me.

“Mr. Hart,” The intercom voice warned, “you will come up to the viewing room.” There were no threats made but I could hear the unspoken authority in the voice. He looked, no, he searches my eyes. I look away. I would not let him pretend to care. I would not fall into his trap again. It was more unbearable than the craziness that surrounds me.

He growls and is gone.

Good, I thought, but even as his absence settles in my mind, tears begin to well up in my eyes again. He left me … again. He doesn’t care. I felt the despair take me.

“Oh stop. I told you to get over him already. No one likes a girl who cries all the time.” They had left me in the room with Laurie. With all the lights on she doesn’t look nearly as menacing, at least if I didn’t think about her sharp fangs biting into my skin. I feel the rope around my middle loosen. Laurie was undoing all my binds.

As she works I take stock of the scene around me. The lights were on. The table was in the middle a large circular room. About two stories up the walls were surrounded by glass. I could see Nicolas pacing at one of the window panes. I look away from him. The man standing next to him with a lab coat is turned from the glass. On the other side a man in a grey suit and slacks is staring down at the scene below like a judge. He looks familiar but his face is partly obscured by shadow. Caleb and Alison are both behind him. It only takes a few more seconds to untie my legs. As soon as the last rope is loose I jump off the table. I almost lose my balance but somehow scramble to the door. I knew it would be locked before I tried it. It wouldn’t budge. Not thinking I began to pound on the metal door. I scream at them to let me out.

“Oh shut up, will you?” Laurie’s nails tap impatiently against the metal bed. I turn around, my back against the door and my hand still twisting the knob. She smirks, “To think, I actually thought you were going to be strong.” She hisses out a giggle. “Let me paint a picture of the Julia Lyon I heard about. She had gotten the highest aptitude test scores of any Animal at Stellar. She would have amazing powers when she Changed. She would be a leader in the school, she was beautiful – all the boys would want her and all the girls would want to be her. Hell,” she exclaims scornfully, “I wanted to be you.” She slithers over to me. “Then you come to my school and you were nothing. You are nothing. To top it all off,” her voice turned into a poisonous hiss, “your best friend … your Nicky, couldn’t stand to be near you any more.” She was staring directly into my eyes, her hands wrapped around my face as if to really see the world shatter in my eyes. “So what if I used a little bit of my power to take Nicky away from you. It didn’t take very much. He wanted me. Not some little bird.”

I hear someone bang against the glass upstairs. It stops. She is still staring into me. I couldn’t tell her that she was too late, that she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. I knew I was nothing. My world had already shattered. She let go of my face and I crumpled to the ground. I was just so tired. I stared into nothingness. I could have been staring like that for a second or it could have been an hour. I wasn’t sure.

“God, you’re SO PATHETIC!” She picks me up and holds me there until she was sure I would stand on my own. “You’re a mess and you’re going to make this way too easy for me. You will fight.” She slaps me. I fall back down to the floor. “Fight back!” She screams.

I couldn’t hear her. I had closed myself off. I can feel her heave my limp body up into a standing position again. I hold on to the doorknob again to keep standing. I stare down at my hands. I could barely hear the string of obscenities she hisses at me. I am tired. The tears are still running down my cheeks, but I didn’t know where or for who they were falling for. My heart had disappeared. It is no longer a tattered mess. It just didn’t exist. I feel someone slap me again. I didn’t fall this time, I barely felt the sting. I just stand in the nothingness. It’s good not to feel. It’s good not to remember where I was. Who was I? I can’t remember. I hear pounding above me. That was getting a bit annoying. I wish that they would stop that pounding. Someone was also slapping me. Why was she doing that? Didn’t she know that that as rude? Slap. Pound. Pound. Slap. Pound Pound.

I had to stop this.

As the irritating red tipped hand lashed out to slap me again I grab it. I hear a scream and a crack. Then the person with the red tipped hand Blurs and disappears. I notice that the pounding had stopped too. For a moment. Then it begins again. I look up. There was a golden boy thrashing against the glass. Why was he doing that, I wondered?

Then it hit. I feel two teeth sink into my leg. I scream and the air around me shimmers. Suddenly I feel lighter. My leg stings but I didn’t need my legs, not yet at least. The air lifts me up to the ledge above. Pound. Pound. I would deal with that noise later. The thing that bit me was more important. I was looking for a snake. My sharp eyes scanned the floor below. I hear the reptiles’ scales slide against the cold stone tile before I saw it and dived. I close my sharp talons around its face and body. I squeeze. I would take this reptile back to … my nest. That sounds right. Now I just needed to figure out how to get out of this brightly lit cage.

I try to … soar? Yes … that was it. I try to soar back into the sky with my catch but the pain in my leg has spread. I blink my eyes. The room is beginning to spin. That’s funny because now I wasn’t flying … my legs are on the ground. The snake twitches in my grasp. Then the snake didn’t smell snake-like anymore. It smells human. Well then, I though, that was stupid of me. Of course I can’t fly a human to my nest. I screech a small laugh. My talons still held onto the humans face and neck. I shake my head to clear my thoughts. Why does my claw look like a hand? The air shimmers.

I can’t feel my leg anymore but the pain flowing through my veins is excruciating. I lift myself to look at the bloody mess below me. It looks like something had torn at this poor girls neck. She was unconscious. That is probably a good thing. There was a lot of blood on her face and body.

A nap sounds really good right now. I really couldn’t feel my body anyway. I am so exhausted. I close my eyes. The pounding above stops.

I hope that golden boy isn’t hurt too. I fly into oblivion.

Shift -Chapter 12 – Hold

Chapter 12 – Hold

“She had some strange hold over me.”

I flop on my stomach to get a better look at him. His eyes are closed to the sun. We lie in silence for a bit. The sounds of kids playing a little ways off reminds me of happier times. We used to come to this exact spot to play when we were younger. We would have mock battles and practice our martial arts moves on one another. I smile at the memory. But, now was not the time to reminisce. I force myself back into the present.

Nicolas is staring off into space.

It wasn’t hard to accept that Laurie could hold onto a boy that way. I could see why Nicolas wanted her. An image of Laurie at the dance snakes into my mind. She’d made all the boys want to leave their dates. Any super model would die to have her long legs, perfect bronze skin and exotic features. She was perfect. Just thinking about her made me take a hit on my own self-esteem, and I didn’t much like it. I banish her image from my mind. I would not let her haunt me.

Nicolas continues, “It was crazy because whenever she was around me it was like I couldn’t breathe without her. I felt strangled. As soon as we’d part I get this major head rush…”

My mouth fell open. Laurie did that to me sometimes … but I’d thought it was only my reaction to her scariness.

“You think I’m kidding … it was exactly like I’d been holding my breath for too long. Every time I was away from her I’d feel lighter but then I’d go through what I’d done that day or what I had done in the hours that I was with her and I wouldn’t recognize the memories. I knew they were mine but I couldn’t remember doing any of it.”

“I’ve wanted to call you, to talk to you… I even took pictures of you when I was sure Laurie wasn’t looking just so I could see you when she wasn’t looking … but anytime I’d even think about you it was if her image would come blaring into my mind.”

He shuddered, “Once I fought it enough to the point where I’d make up my mind to see you. I wrote you a letter and I was going to slip it in your locker. I have the original here, with me.” He slips his hand under him and wrestles something out of his back pocket. It’s an extremely crinkled piece of binder paper. He turns it over and over in his long fingers.

“When I walked up to your locker you were already there. I can’t begin to explain how happy I was. I just wanted to go over to you and give you a huge hug. It was the first time I had really seen you. I felt whole again.” He turned his head and smiles up at me. I gave him a small smile back. I remembered that first day, or last day depending on how I really wanted to look at it. The last time I had spoken to Nicolas had been in the first week of school. I had turned the events around in my head so much the past few weeks thinking that I had done or said something wrong. He went on. “I think I grinned for the first time since school started. I was about to call out to you, but you looked upset. You were talking to someone. I made the huge mistake of looking at who you were arguing with. You were with Laurie. As soon as I saw her my breath caught. Everything faded and I walked over to her like the zombie I was and held her hand. I don’t think I even looked your way. When she kissed me…”

I cringe. If he was trying to explain his actions the last few weeks in a manner that I would accept and understand … bringing that up would not help. He notices.

“Um, well… I guess the less I mention that, the better.” He gazes apologetically into my eyes. “I’m sorry. I know I owe you a lifetime of “sorry’s” and even then it won’t be enough. I know that this flimsy story won’t be enough to garner your friendship again … but I have to try.”

“Nicolas… I…” How could I put this into words that didn’t sound lame and mushy poetical? I stare across the lush green grass. “No matter what you say to me right now, or ever really, no matter what … I’ll always be your friend.”

He smiles … a twinge of sadness still lingering in his eyes. “I really don’t deserve that, especially after everything. You really shouldn’t be friends with me. I don’t want you to hurt anymore.”

“Well then, don’t. Don’t hurt me.” I give a small laugh, “You haven’t finished your story yet. So maybe you’ll get your wish and I’ll stomp off into the sunset and never see you again.” I playfully push him with my left shoulder, and cringe. The bruise there was still throbbing. An unfriendly reminder of what had happen just a few nights ago. I shiver at the thought.

Nicolas’ light smile turns menacing. He is remembering that night also. “You really should get checked for rabies, you know.” I could hear the attempt at sarcasm but it was hard to notice around the growling. He touches my shoulder gently, “Why did you leave with him? Why not wait for Jen or…”

“Oh no… You’re on the chopping block right now.” He sighs and lets his hand slip off my shoulder and onto the moist grass by my hand.

I look at the frayed piece of paper now clutched tightly in his other hand. “Can I read my real letter?”

He blinks and lets the paper uncrinkle in his hand. “In a bit.” He tries, unsuccessfully, to smooth down its worn edges before sticking it into his front pocket. Nicolas looks, well stares forcefully, into my eyes. The heat rises into my face. “You will tell me what that was all about. Rich? Of all the guys you could have gone home with! He isn’t even your type!”

“What the hell, Nic… You were sucking Laurie’s face off. He was there. I needed to get out of there.” I scramble to get onto my feet. I would stomp off now. “How do you know what my type is? I didn’t even know you cared!”

He grabs my hand and gently pulls me back down onto the grass. We were now sitting up facing each other. I wouldn’t look at him … my face was still burning and I didn’t want him to see it.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been having a hard time controlling my temper lately.” He sighs, “Like I said, a lifetime of apologies.” He smiles but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I shouldn’t have said that. You can go out with whoever you want, even if he’s a big hairy oaf. BUT … you’re wrong, you know. About me not caring about you. I do care. A lot. It was probably the only thing that got me through … everything.” He hesitates. I calm down. My face still felt a little warm but I had a feeling it was because of his proximity to me than anything else.

He lets out a great big sigh as he flops back onto the grass, his blue eyes more brilliant than the wide expanse of sky they were searching. I remember then that he’d never told me why his eyes looked different now. It was as if the sun was rising out of them. They were slightly golden around the irises.

I realized a moment too late that I’d been staring. Nicolas is smiling timidly up at me. My face gets hot … again. I really wish it would stop doing that. I was still sitting up and I arched my back a little to stare up into the sky and hopefully to get the blood to rush back out of my face.

He snickers a little. “Should I finish my tale, or are you going to ‘stomp off into the sunset’ and never see me again?”

I slump back down again and purse my lips to keep myself from flinging words at him that I probably didn’t mean and would definitely regret later.

Still smiling he looks back up into the sky. I look too. I could see a few white clouds forming in the distance.

“So… ah…” He is trying to edit out the kissing part. “Ok… so, I wanted to give you my note but since I was so full of Laurie’s presence I had completely forgotten about it. But somehow she knew. She asked what I was doing here and I confessed that I wrote a note to you. She held her hand out and I gave it up to her without a second thought. She read my note to you.” Unconsciously, his hands reached up to his breast pocket. The note was still there. “I could see the calculation in her eyes as she crumpled up the paper.”

“This is going to sound really lame, but maybe it’ll drive home the point I’ve been trying to make about her tremendous hold on me. I was terrified that she was going to be mad at me. I would have crawled on glass naked if it would make her happy. I was such an idiot!” He pounded the ground with his fist. I could feel the vibrations from it course through my body. He’d gotten much stronger than I’d realized. There was a dent in the dirt where his fist had been.

My eyes widen a little but, I stay quiet. I want him to finish this story. I want him to explain why some beautiful, scary and perhaps homicidal and psychotic girl had stolen my best friend.

“Sorry.” He slumps a little. “So there I was, being a blithering idiot. Begging her to forgive me, to not be mad at me … that I didn’t mean what I had written … that I would do anything to make her stay with me.” I could tell that he was editing again. It was probably for the best. I didn’t really want to hear everything he’d said, or done, to get back in her favor.

“She wasn’t mad. She … well … she forgave me.” He looks up into my blank stare. I was trying not to show my revulsion, and failing. He hurries through to the next part. “I noticed that she’d tossed my note into the trash can next to your locker. Even in my crazed state, something in my mind was a little … angry … by the way it was crumpled in there. Like that letter was really important. Her hold on me must have been slipping a little, but as I said before, my mind wasn’t focused. I followed her, like the little lapdog I’d become, behind Laurie and Cami as they whispered. They stopped. They had come to some sort of agreement and Cami walked away.”

“Laurie turned to face me. I told her I would take any punishment she had to offer me. I just wanted to be near her. She said, ‘I’d like to write your little friend a note of my own. Can you write it for me? I don’t think she’ll come if I write it.’” He stops.

My breathing is labored. I remember that simple letter in Nicolas’ messy handwriting. I remember all the hope that it had given me just to be dashed to pieces hours later in the cold Gym. The blaring light and Laurie’s snake like tongue practically tasting the fear in the air. I grip the grass to steady myself as the nightmare slips into my consciousness.

I hear a rustling as his warm body wraps around my back, holding me gently from behind. “Do you want me to stop? I don’t want you to go through this again. I’ve put you through so much already.” His heart is beating rapidly in his chest. The sound of it calms me. I am safe. The nightmare lets go of me.

“No … you … we need to talk. And I need to know why.”

He still held me tight, my back (and heart) is warm by his embrace as he continues. “After you left with Alison, I remember Laurie laughing into my face and something inside me … awoke. There was no light-headed-blood-rushing feeling this time. I just stared at her like I was seeing her through new eyes. I didn’t want to be with her anymore. I didn’t even like her. I could smell that ridiculous perfume she used and it was hurting my nose. I remember searching the room. I could still smell you there. I could feel your warm presence. It was too late, though. Laurie had already gotten what she wanted. She’s bent on hurting people and I stood by and watched as she hurt you. I had to watch as strangers came to your rescue … from me. I saw your pleading eyes trying to comprehend the monster I’d become for Laurie.” He let go of me then and crawls around to face me, our knees touching. He shakes his head, the sun is gleaming off his golden hair.

“The noises coming from outside in the parking lot were deafening. I heard Jennifer and Caleb help you into the car. The one noise that I couldn’t take was your crying. I thought I could hear you. I couldn’t take it. I turned and ran out of the gym. I had to get away … I was sick. I heard Laurie shout something but I tuned her voice out. I couldn’t see how I’d never been able to do that before.” He pauses, contemplating something.

“Everything was sort of a blur that night …” he hesitates. I couldn’t see his face because his head was down, the hair falling into his face casting dark shadows there. I could hear his brain working around things he didn’t want me to know. “I must have gone a little crazy. When I got home later that night I was sick. My parents kept me out of school all that week. I would have come to see you… I should have but, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face the animal I’d become.”

“The following week, when I did get back to school I found that Laurie, Cami and Sam were the only people I knew. I didn’t have anyone else. I tried talking to you a few times but I couldn’t gather the courage and the others hated me and kept me away for what I did to you. Leading you to Laurie. I hated her for what she’d made me do to you but she still had a hold on me. It was a little different now though. I stayed with her because I was too much of a coward to handle all these changes alone.

“Her power over me grew stronger again until before the dance when Rich gave you his number. I remember wanting to tear his head off for even talking to you. I didn’t because for the first time in an eternity I saw you smile. I realized that you had become friends with not only Jennifer, Alison and Caleb but with Rich too.” He pauses. “You had survived without me.”

“Barely.” I whisper.

“I am so selfish. I got angry that night. When Laurie told me to pick her up at six for the dance I almost told her to find another boy-toy… but I couldn’t. She had me. I would go to the dance anyway at least to see you.”

He brought his hands up to rest on my knees. The warmth sent little ticklish shivers up my spine. He’d been there to be with me. I smile a bit. Then I remember… “Then why?”

Nicky knew what I was about to ask. “Again… a lifetime of apologies … my temper that night… I’m so sorry I said those things to you, but when I saw you with him … flirting with disaster coupled with Laurie’s ceaseless taunts about how good you looked with him, I completely lost myself. Instead of apologizing then for how horrible I was being, I drove you to him. I wanted to apologize but I was just so angry at everything.”

“Then why…?” the memory of the hallway was creeping up on me.

“I’m getting to that.” There is a pain blooming in his eyes. I reach for his hands which had fallen to the grass beside up. He pulls away. “You may not want to touch me after what I’m about to tell you…” He hesitates.

“I watched you dance with Rich.” Anger flashes across his face. I know he wants to comment on that but thinks better of it. He goes on, “I watched you get your food and eat and talk and laugh and smile with your new friends. I watched you have fun without me. I let the jealousy and anger eat away at me until I couldn’t watch you any longer. You were doing fine without me and it was killing me inside. Laurie said something to me then, I don’t even remember what it was. I told her then to stay away from me. I told her that we were over and I got up and walked away. I would go find a corner and wait. I had to at least make sure you didn’t leave with him. I sat at a bench outside in the hallway.

“I waited. Everything blurred for a bit and I felt woozy, like I’d been drugged and then you came out. You smelled all wrong but I thought that was just me. You called me ‘Nicky’ and you started kissing me. I wanted to stop but it felt so right to hold you.” He looks away. His face is bright red. He continues, “I didn’t know it wasn’t you until I heard Rich’s voice and saw you standing at the end of the hall.” Nic began to rush his words as if willing them to spill out. “When I realized what had happened it was already too late. You were gone with Rich and Laurie thought she’d finally won. Something broke inside me and I ran. I ran out of that stupid building and tore around town looking for you. I remembered Laurie saying something about Rich being from Staten Island. I went to the ferry on a hunch.”

“Wait … back up.” My mind was still trying to process everything he’d just said. I couldn’t relive the ferry just yet. “So … when you were kissing Laurie … you thought it was me? You do know how dumb that sounds? How am I supposed to believe that?” The memory of the hunger of the kiss lurked in my mind. It had been so passionate. Now it was my turn to blush.

He nods, oblivious to the small smile that was forming on my face because he was still looking down.

He looks up as I laugh, hiding my blush, “Was I any good?”

Stunned, Nic stammers, “You’re not mad?”

“No… well yes and no. Really just confused though … so you’re saying that Laurie has some strange power over you and then you say that she drugged you into believing that you were with me.”

Nic nods. It was pretty farfetched, but with all the other stuff that’s been happening, I honestly believed him. It was the same thing I felt every time I looked into her eyes. Like I was losing myself. I could also see how a girl like Laurie would do whatever it took to get what she wanted … even if it meant drugging Nic.

“I believe you.” I touch his face, letting my palm rest against his cheek.

“Why?” He looks at me in disbelief. “I hardly believe myself. It wasn’t all Laurie … I should have had more courage, I should have stood up to her.”

I grab onto his hands and hold them in my lap. That brought his face just a tad closer to mine. “You wanted to know why I left with Rich. That is why. I left because I couldn’t stand to watch you with her. I couldn’t stand up to her. Rich happened to find me there. I wanted to go home. He was supposed to take me home. And he didn’t. Instead he attacked me and you stoped him.”

“That still isn’t enough though…”

“Maybe not… but it was a great start. Like I said before … no matter what you tell me, no matter what happens or has happened, I am your friend.”

He smiled, “Friends…” he mused on that word for a second, his eyes glowing.

I take a long heavy breath in. I look into the face of my best friend. I memorize the new lines and definition that had formed in his face since school had begun. I let my eyes brush quickly past his lips. I couldn’t let my thoughts linger there for too long or I’d sink into an oblivion of sweetness.

Yes, this boy was more than just my best and greatest friend.

I look up and into his eyes. They’re burning. His dark dilated pupils totally eclipse the golden rays there. I could have fallen into that dark hunger I saw there but the rest of his body craved my attention. My hands ache to touch him. Shyly, I bring my hand up to brush away an errant golden lock that had fallen on his forehead. I run my fingers through his golden mane, glowing around him in the late afternoon sun. The tips of my fingers find the soft hair on the back of his neck. I hear him purr as I stroke the soft skin there.

He abruptly shuts his eyes. His lids and lips pursed for a moment, his forehead crinkles with concentration. He is fighting me, fighting the feeling. I don’t care. I bring both of my hands up to his face. I run my fingers across his forehead, his eye lids, his lips … his lips … I let my fingers linger there for a moment. His mouth was warm against my fingers and although his face had relaxed I hear his breath quicken with mine. As my hand slides past his chin, feathering down his neck and down his chest, his lips open slightly. He is finally breathing in the moment with me.

I let my hand rest in the shallow hollow in the middle of his chest. The taut muscles there are rising and falling rapidly.

Nicolas opens his eyes. The soft rays of sunset glints off them as he stares into mine. They glow momentarily, as the sun catches the gold there. He brings his hand up and holds mine firmly against his chest. His eyes are still burning with that same hunger the same need I feel for him, but his breath is slowing down.

“Julia…” His voice is torn. “Julia we shouldn’t do this.”

I smile slightly as he shakes his head. Our friendship had already been through the ringer and worst. He was more than just my friend. I want to let him know that.

I wait. His silence tell me more than I need. There was more he needed to tell me. I could see that he was struggling with something. I should stop.

Without breaking his gaze, I slide my hand past his abs bringing his hand down with mine. I guide our hands to his waist and let them rest on his legs. My face is inches from his.

If he isn’t going to make the first move, then I am.

I lean in, breathing his woodsy intoxicating scent. It makes my heart beat faster. I feel like I am running, each infinitesimal inch that brings my lips closer to his is a mile and I still had about five more to go. I would collapse of exhaustion before this marathon is finished but what waited at the end is so sweet. His lips part, his breath erratic. My eyes lower and my breath catches as our noses touch, our lips are only an inch apart. I know I should close my eyes but I can’t stop looking at the shape of his perfect mouth. I want to feel its warmth crush against mine. His eyes close tightly as I tilt my chin, my lips just barely millimeters from brushing against his.

“How could you even want me? I’m not good for you, Jules.” His voice is hoarse. His hand grabing onto my shoulders. He would bring me in for the kill. My heart leaps. He holds me and we are suspended in that moment, our mouths so close, and our lips about to melt into each other.

The last rays of sun disappear behind the trees. The moment passes as a cool breeze blows between us, separating us. He moves slightly back. His face is a mask.

“I know you want to kiss me.” I whisper. His eyes are still closed but I could feel his body jump start again at the sound of my voice. “So why don’t you…”

His breath quickens again and his grip on my hand that still lay on his lap tightens. “Please, Jules… I need…”

My heart melts as he uses my special name.

“Please. Just give me a moment.” I see that hunger flash across his face again.

No. I wouldn’t let him get away so easily. IfI can’t have his lips then… His eyes open slightly as I bring his open palm to my mouth. He growls, a deep soft rumbling sound. I lightly kiss the inside of each his fingers. I let go of his hand and he keeps it there, his rough fingers tracing the outline of my mouth. I close my eyes and just let myself feel. His fingers softly tickle the skin there. My mouth opens slightly and a little whimper escapes my lips. I hear him take a sharp breath in, but he doesn’t move his hand away. Nicolas holds his breath as his hand continues down and back up my throat, lightly across my jaw, up my cheek and tangling through my hair he softly cups the back of my head. He brings his other hand up to my other cheek. I open my eyes. I didn’t realize that he’d gotten so close to me again. His face was on the side of mine. He murmurs softly into my ear, “We should really stop. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out and you are not making this any easier.”

I barely hear what he’d said. All I am is feeling. I feel the tingling of his warm breath against my ear. He lets his lips brush softly against the sensitive flesh there. Those lips that I’d been dreaming about began to travel the same path his hands had taken. The smooth skin of his lips gently caress the soft skin under my ear. His mouth travels to my cheekbone and he gives me the sweetest light kiss there. He travels back towards my ear, my entire body sizzling his lips moves towards my jaw line.

I am having a hard time taking a full breath as his lips slowly trace the outline of my jaw to my other ear. His nose snuggles into my hair and he takes a deep breath in before bringing himself to face me again, our noses barely touching. “Please, Julia… Julia… Jules, please stop me now…” His voice was a soft growling plea.

I don’t want him to stop. This bliss is just so sweet. I want him to go on … and further. His hands are still cradling my head. The tips of his fingers were lightly brushing my cheek sending delightful little shivers up my spine and into my heart. I tremble. I looked into his eyes. His blue eyes turn a deep golden. “I don’t want you to stop… I…” I didn’t get to finish.

“Jules…” Nic moves forward an inch as I tilt my chin upwards. “Your eyes are such a beautiful sky blue right now. I… You are so beautiful and good and… I shouldn’t…”

I place my hand lightly on his cheek. Our lips touch and the universe explodes. His lips burning. Both my hands tangle into his golden mane. This wasn’t the chaste kiss I had dreamt about. I was starving and I needed this kiss, his lips, to survive. My mouth opens against his. His hands tangle further into my hair. I crush myself against his body and we tumble to the soft grass. His lips, so soft, were as starved as mine. We had denied ourselves for too long.

Nicky rolls on top of me. He tries to keep it gentle. He tries to keep the weight of his body from crushing me but I don’t care. I arch my body against his and I feel him let go. I stare into his golden eyes and fall into a deep pool of bliss.

The air heats up suddenly and Nicky blurs. I see his eyes but… “Ow!” I grab my left shoulder as a sharp pain blooms there and I look up into the cold empty sky, frightened. My hand comes away, wet with blood.

Where was Nicky?

NICKY!” I shout and I scramble to my feet too fast and the blood rushes to my head making me woozy. My mind tries to wrap around what I’d just witnessed. I must have held my breath too long. For a moment, before Nicky had disappeared, I thought I saw Nicky’s eyes get bigger, the gold sun completely taking over the soft blue ocean I loved. I thought I had seen a large golden brown furry blur on top of me. I thought I’d heard a growl, not the human-type growling, but the type of growl that only a very large cat on National Geographic would make. I thought I saw the Lion of my nightmares.

I tremble as a cold sweat brakes over my skin.

Nicky!” I shout again. I knew he was still here. Something deep down told me he was hiding. “Nicky, please… I know you’re there.” I hear a rustle to the left of me, deep within the brush. I walk towards it. “Nicky?” I whisper.

I jump back as something black and frighteningly long slithers over my feet. It hisses. A snake. I walk backward slowly trying not to alarm it. It was staring right at me, its black eyes bearing into me in a very familiar way. I was about to take a step back towards it when a tightly muscled arm yanks me backwards.

“Get back, that ones poisonous!”

Nicky kicks at the snake. It hisses again, looks at Nicky then back at me as if it was trying to read us. First Nicky turns into a Lion now smart snakes were trying to communicate with me. What was next… Bears?

The snake disappears.

A part of me just wants to snuggle back into his warm arms, still tight around my body. Another part of me wants to giggle with him and tell him the stupid things I thought I’d seen. The strongest part of me was angry and confused. That’s the part that took over. I push away from Nicolas. “What happened to you?”

He looks at me askance, his eyes were blue again. “I had to stop.” His voice was cold. “We can’t do things like that. I don’t want to lose control. I can’t risk it.”

None of this was making any sense. An extreme cold blows through my body. The sun had set and the autumn air was becoming frigid fast.

I wrap my arms around myself. I had to ask, even though I knew it was impossible, I had to. I soften my voice, “What really happened to you, Nicky?” I reach for his hand. He rips it away from mine. I stare up at him, stung by his denial.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I think you do.”

His voice raises a bit with biting sarcasm, “So … what did you think you saw? Something from your dreams again? You really should get your head checked.” He tries to laugh but it sounds more like a snarl.

At another time I may have agreed with him, that something was definitely wrong with my head if I was people turn into frightening animals. I knew my nightmares weren’t coming true, but I could also tell that he wasn’t telling me everything. He was keeping something from me.

All my friends were keeping something from me.

I knew the truth. Looking in the direction that the snake took fragments of truth begin to form. But the truth was just too crazy to be real. I’ve known Nicky for most of our lives. I push a little harder, my indignation and anger fueling me. “I get that there is some huge secret club that all you Graduated are a part of. Alison and Jen can’t tell me and Caleb can’t even talk! You know what?” My voice rose as the wind picked up. “Laurie is really the only one who has even become close to telling me. I would think, no… actually … I would EXPECT my greatest friend to tell me what was going on.”

“It’s nothing, Jules. Leave it alone. Please.”

“So you’re telling me that this scratch on my arm is nothing?” The pain had stopped. It was a shallow scrape but Nickyʻs nails had dug in just enough to make it bleed pretty badly.

I see Nickyʻs eyes go wide as he takes a step toward me as if to check. He takes a deep breath in and turns his head away, disgusted with himself. With me?

“I’m sorry about that. I lost control. It will not happen again.”

The scratch was nothing compared with the final tone in his voice. That hurt. We stand in silence.

He reaches for me, tentative. “We should go. It’s getting cold and you should let your Aunt look at that scratch. I’ll walk you home.” I look up at him then. Did that mean he wasn’t coming inside? Did that mean that he wasn’t going to tell me what had really happened? I had so many questions but, I just nod.

We cross the park in silence, hand in hand. We walk down and cross the Westside highway and down 22rd St., our breathing the only accompaniment to this evening stroll that seems more like a funeral procession. He walks me to my front door.

I know his answer but, I asked anyway. “Are you coming up?”

“No.” He give my hand a squeeze and tries for a smile. It doesn’t reach his eyes. “I don’t think that Mel will want me to see you after tonight. Please, have her look at that scratch.”

“Nicky, This was an accident. Whatever issues you’re having I’m sure we can get through it together.” I didn’t know what else to say and he stayed silent. I knew he wouldn’t answer any of my questions.

“Bye, Nicky.”

“Bye, Julia.”

Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 10 – Attack

Chapter 10 – Attack

Oh my god.

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

“Jen! Alison!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t have any.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, boss.”

“Tie her hair back.”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich.

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

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

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

“Sure, Rich. Let’s dance.”

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

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

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

Oops … crap. “Um … sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that silver?” He inquires politely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My world stops.

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

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

“Hey! Why don’t you two get a ROOM!”

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

“Rich … can you take me home?”

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel the ferry rock forward.

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

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

“What are you talking about?”

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

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

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

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

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

I had to get out of there now.

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

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

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

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

I can’t.

“Are you okay?”

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

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

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

“Don’t be an idiot.” He mumbles.

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was talking about Rich.

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

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

“Get in.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you?” He murmured.

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

“Okay…”

“My father pulled some strings…”

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

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

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

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

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

He is staring at me again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just take me home.” I whisper weakly.

Shift by Pili Yarusi – DREAM – Chapter 9

Chapter 9 – Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wake up.

***

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

I look at Mr. Stiller and he nods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grunting and stomping ensues as Rich goes away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The rules?” I ask.

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

***

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

Then, they came back.

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

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

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

Can’t go there.

“You know what would probably piss him off?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“You…” Alison began.

“… and your room…” Jennifer injects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tears well up in my eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

“I said cool”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison looks at me apologetically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison pinches her arm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 8 – Save

Chapter 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

Alison answers before I can try to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cringe inside. Did everyone know I was friendless?

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

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

I nod. She leads.

My room looks the same also. Clean. Sterile.

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

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

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

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

“I’d like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison just peers at me through her messy bangs.

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

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

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

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

“Julia, this wasn’t Nicolas’ fault…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I laugh a little.

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

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

“Laurie is my sister.”

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

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

“You’re joking, right?” I choke.

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

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

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

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

“Does it matter?”

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

“So how…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tremble as I recall the memory for Alison.

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

It was too much to hope for. “Why?”

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

“If what had worked, exactly.”

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

“What? How could she…”

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

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

“Not now.”

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

“This is why we can’t touch her.”

My bracelets shine in the spotlight of the gym.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Iʻve worn them since I was a kid.”

“Wow… really?”

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

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

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

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

“One more question? Please?”

“I might not be able to answer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pink blanket.  

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

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

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

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

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

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 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.

PUBLISHED in the Paradise Post!!!

The Paradise Post

Hello Friends, Family and all you good people!!!

Please check out my first published short story ONLINE at:

It is a bright little story about a hula-dancing Mynah bird. AND… if you live on the Big Island, Hawaii you can pick it up for free IN PRINT at your local grocery or bookstore. I’m really excited to be in print!!!

AND… Happy Earth Day! GO plant something everybody!!!!

More updates on my novel coming soon…!!!

Love, aloha and flowers,

Pili

The Lion. “The Change” flash fiction

She felt the heat before she saw the man.

Head bowed, the seven foot beast crouches in the entrance of the subway car. His tawny dreads are braided and wrapped into a handsome bun at the nape of his long mahogany neck. He brought with him a dry heat that sucked at the New York City summertime humidity.

The sounds of the subway intrude. The noise and bustle of W4 station, the F train, assail him. A high pitched bing announces that the doors will close in seconds. He moves forward an inch. His head tilts up, golden wire rimmed glasses flash as the chrome doors slide close behind his stout figure. His massive frame is wrapped in a specially tailored charcoal Armani suit. His silk black tie is held in place by a gold tie clip.

His strides have a lazy, educated danger to them. He stops mid-car and looks directly at her. She pays him no mind but the children, the children look up and see the beast. They gasp and giggle. They play around him and poke fun at his height. They want to be beastly big and rich like him, they giggle and gasp.

He bares it with dignity. With a proud glitter of a smile in his honeyed brown eyes and with a low rumble in his chest he growls softly, “It is not the heights that your body might reach that you cubs should be aware of. It is the height of your mind.”

He was a Lion.

There is a secret beach somewhere in Crete. Only a few have been in its waters. That was the color of the eyes that met his. The Lioness had finally acknowledged the Lion.

3766323539_20c7037d41_b

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/35796663@N06/3766323539″>The Lion King</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

UNDER CONSTRUCTION www.pilialohanathaniel.com

Aloha Everyone!!!

This site is currently under construction. As this is my first attempt at putting together a professional website… this may take awhile. Thank you so much for visiting! In the meantime you can still catch me at:

www.happynathaniel@blogspot.com

For my more random thoughts on health, wellness and the overall state of things. This website will be focused on writing.

I will be dismantling my other writing blog, www.monkeymonsterthoughts.com and reposting my posts from that blog to this website.

Life Update: Happy Valentines Day and yesterday was Luke’s (my son) SIX MONTH Birthday!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY LUKE!

Book Update: “The Change” is in the hands of my Editor, Janelle Asselin. Thank you to all my readers: Leimaile Barrett, Peter Steigerwald, Justina Taft (Mattos), Jason Yarusi, Michael Leath and Mike Wolfson. The draft is still being read by a few more people… I thank you as well!!!

Aloha,

Pilialoha