Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 5 – MIRROR

Chapter 5 – Mirror

I am prey.

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

My head hurts.

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

They all know what I did.

I killed my Mom.

My head hurts.

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

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

They look at me, hungry. Waiting.

For what?

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

My head really really hurts.

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

My head hurts so I take my medicine.

Make my bed.

Stare out of my window.

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

Brush things that need to be brushed.

Wash things that need to be washed.

Put on a wrinkled uniform.

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

Avoid the mirror at all costs.

Grab a cereal bar from the kitchen.

Money for lunch.

Leave before Melanie gets up.

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

Get on subway. Stare off into space.

Get off subway.

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

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

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

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

Vampire bitch.

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

Science starts. Science ends.

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

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

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

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

The bell rings.

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

Gym and lunch are a blur.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something crashes downstairs.

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

She wants to talk.

Well … at least my headache is gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Julia?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My vision blurs.

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

I was going crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrug it off. “Just get out, Mel.”

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

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 4 HOLDING ON

Chapter 4 – Holding on

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

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

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

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

“Julia? Thank goodness. Is Nic there?”

“No. Is he alright?

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi Dr. Hart. I’m here.”

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

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

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

“No.”

“And you don’t know who he was with?”

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

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

“No, Dr. Hart.”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Miss Amin?”

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

I… what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, he’s not.”

“Let me go please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing. I’m nothing.

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

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

I couldn’t believe it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 3 NEW FRIENDS

Chapter 3 – New Friends

My heart soars. I missed this so much.

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

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

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

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

“I’ll meet you two in the car.”

***

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

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

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

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

I shake my head.

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

“Looks like I got some competition!”

“WHATEVER!” I sock him in the shoulder.

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

Stellar High.

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

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

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

How embarrassing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing.”

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

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

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

“I’m fine. Let’s go.”

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

***

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

I shake Nicky, “HEY! Earth to Nicky!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giggling erupts and trails to the back of the class.

“Nicky … you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Kay.” Monosyllabic.

“You okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe you can tell me that.”

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, I choke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You spit that thing at me?”

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

Silence.

“Freak.” The redhead laughs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did I ever do to her?”

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

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

“Stop staring!” I spat under my breath.

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

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

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

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

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 2 FLYING BACK

Chapter 2 – FLYING BACK

I hate heights.

I abhor flying.

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

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

The plane lurches and I grip the seat handles harder.

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

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

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

The nothingness takes me.

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

Now I am in an alley. I can still hear the screaming. A torrential river of blood runs under my feet. The rapids should pull me under but I walk calmly on the surface to the back of the alley. Someone grabs my hand.

The world drops out from under me.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

“I missed you Aunty!”

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

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

She scoffs as she pulls into the bustling airport traffic.

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

“So… Stellar Academy…”

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

***

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

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

The earth laughs again and shakes harder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give him a shove in his middle.

“Ouch.” He let out a low laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I watch?” He grins mischievously.

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

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

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

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

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

“I have Nicky,” I whisper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Six-three!”

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

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

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

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

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

Confused, I catch my breath. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“COOL!”

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

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

I smile. He likes it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I lean into it. “I have you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was weird!”

“You felt that too?”

“What was that?”

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

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

“It was probably static electricity.”

“I think it scratched my face.”

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

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

Blushing, I ask, “Want a donut?”

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


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

Much Aloha,

Pili

 

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 1 MOVING ON

Note before you begin: If you haven’t already, please read the prologue. It is the post directly before this one. Thank you again for reading. Please leave a comment below on your experience.

Chapter 1

I am flying.

Screaming, a searing silver-white pain lances through my head. My eyes are open but all I see is grey. I kick out, thrashing at the sheets as I tumble onto the floor. Grabbing a fistful of sheet, I stuff it into my mouth in a conscious effort to calm myself down.

I hate flying. I hate snakes.

Wait.

What?

As the pain of my latest headache eases away, I open my eyes and the world still has a grey tinge to it. There are flutterings of a nightmare. The harder I try to grasp it the further it flies out of my reach until here I lie, a panting confused mess on the cold wooden floor.

Not what I needed. Not another dream about that day. Another headache. I haven’t had either of those in a while. Dream flying? Nausea threatens. I need to calm down.

Looking out the window, the early morning breeze makes my pretty blue and yellow curtains dance. Breathe, Julia. The skies are clear, the sun is warm and inviting. The world shifts to a light greenish yellow. Better now. “The eyes are windows into your soul.” For me, my eyes were like the mood ring to my soul. I try my best to hide them these days.

The silver bracelets on both my wrists clank against the old wood floor as I push myself up. Ugh, I stumble back under the covers. Still dizzy. I wish the nightmares would stop. I reach for my glasses and squint at the old clock on the wall. My hands shake as I slide my familiar silver rimmed glasses on to my foggy eyes. The clock comes into sharp focus. 5:15 am. I sit up a little too quickly and the room spins. I’m going home today. I gaze at my bags neatly stacked in the corner of the room.

I don’t want to go back home to NYC and I don’t want to stay here in Hawai’i. I love the City even with all the bad memories. An event never forgotten, just pushed to the edge of my mind. The doctors, shrinks and authorities said that I imagined the Snake Man that attacked my Mom.

Of course I imagined him. Right? I mean, there is no such thing as snake-men with eyes that look like fish. Of course not. What about the talking, rabid baby bear? Nope! Figment of my imagination.

The doctors said that I must have blacked out due to my medical conditions. When the police got on to the scene, I was unconscious. The police said that we’d been attacked by an unknown assailant and my mom was bitten by a snake. I could have fallen and hit my head really hard, they said. They couldn’t really get a handle on what actually happened. They never have.

The specialists and therapists were very sure about me, though. They said I suffered from “Acute stress reaction, Anemia, Post-concussive syndrome, and Bi-polar disorder.” They threw everything at me. They said I was delusional. Delusional? I was nine. I remember looking up that word, along with all the other things they called me. I was told to stop making things up. There was no such thing as talking bears and fisheyed-man-snakes. So after an entire year of trying to make them believe, I stopped. I stopped telling them what happened. I made myself believe in their stories. No more shrinks. No thank you. Just a dead mom and a new cat from a shelter as therapy for my loss. People have accidents all the time. It’s time you moved on Julia. No more stories of people who turn into animals. At least that’s what the therapist said.

The cat? Yeah… don’t know why or where it came from but my therapist said it was supposed to help. She comes and goes as she pleases. I call her Mochi… because I love mochi.

As she is my Mom’s sister and closest living relative, Aunty Mel became my legal guardian. After Mom’s funeral, Aunty Mel gave me a silver bracelet she said belonged to my Mom. “You can never take it off. Please. It’ll help you to remember her. Never forget your mom. Never forget what she gave up.” The bracelet has my name on it. Julia Lyons.

My Mom. I miss her smile. I remember that she used to be really strict. Because we needed to be careful. I never knew why. She was always worrying. So anytime I could get her to smile, it was special. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering what she looked like…

“Lani-Girl, you up?” My Tūtū calls in her strong singsong voice.

“Aloha Kakahiaka!” I yell out, “I’ll be down in a bit!”

“Good Morning to you too, Lani-Girl!” My Papa bellows.

Then, Tūtū Kiha and Papa ʻIolani stepped into my life. I’ve never met my biological father but his parents are amazing. They’re from Hawai’i. Tūtū means Grandma and Papa is short for Grandpa. My Tūtū and Papa gave me another silver bracelet that has my Hawaiian name on it, ‘Iolani. I’m named after my Papa. But my grandparents call me Lani-Girl for short. So now I have one on each wrist. I am a half Hawaiian and half Caucasian jumble and I was a one hundred percent confused and miserable little girl. So, My grandparents said, “bullshit,” to all the medical conditions and got me a real doctor who simply told me I have bad eyesight and migraines. I take a pill once a day for the migraines and I have glasses. My grandparents also got my Aunty Mel to agree to let me fly out to Hawai’i every summer to visit them. Every July since the accident, my Aunty Melanie is forced to put me on a plane to fly here. I don’t know why, but she doesn’t like that very much. My grandparents live on Hawai‘i Island, the Big Island, at the southern most part of the Hawaiian chain. Tūtū and Papa own and live at the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo on the outskirts of Hilo. It is part of my rehabilitation, the doctors said. I always looked forward to my two months with my grandparents. Hawaii is beautiful.

A beautiful rock in the middle of the ocean.

Looking out of the picture window in my room the Zoo property stretches out into the forest. You can almost see the ocean shimmering in the distance; it’s hard to think of this place as a prison. By the fourth week of each of my trips to Hawaii I would get antsy, trapped. I would tell myself to relax. But the feeling of enclosure would never quite escape me. Like one of the many zoo animals I attend to, I feel like I’m in jail. This trip was no exception. I look around the room that had belonged to me ever since I was a kid. In the fourth grade, I cried myself to sleep in the car ride from the airport and awoke in this room.

Love the view… as long as it’s from a secure balcony or window. I had picked up this fear somewhere in all my delusions because I was fine before the whole “incident”. My doctor said it was vertigo and that it would pass but I wasn’t too sure. I am deathly afraid of heights and flying. I don’t even want to think about it right now. I must have passed out on that first flight to Hawaiʻi.

The room itself was like the whole house, simple. It had a squeaky, but comfy twin bed made up with an old set of faded quilts that my great-grandmother made decades ago. There was a very old chest of drawers shoved in the corner near the doorway and I had my own bathroom. The walls were a faded light blue and yellow curtains that did nothing to keep the sun out when I wanted to sleep in. Not that I ever got to sleep in.

“Lani-Girl?” My Papa bellows, “The Animals are calling! It’s your last day here. I want to make it count!” My grandparents worked me like a horse every summer at the Zoo. Again, part of my rehabilitation. It was hard work and it kept the headaches away.

“Yes, Papa.” I yell, stretching, “I’ll be down in a sec.” Even though my head was touching the topmost part of the bed, my feet dangled off the end. I’d grown about two inches while I’d been here. I smiled smugly. Cornflake was going to hate that.

Cornflake… ah… Nicky. He can’t remember anything from that day except that he was exploring in the alleyway with me and the hand-changing booger boy. Booger totally vanished. Apparently no one of that boys’ description went to my school and I’d never gotten his actual name. I tried years to jog Nic’s memory. Nothing. We held on to each other after that day though. Cornflake is my best friend.

Nicolas Hart. My Nicky. I was the only one allowed to call him that. Everyone else knew my best friend as Nicolas or sometimes Nic. I really missed him. It was the only other downer about coming to Hawaii every summer … I didn’t get to see him. Of course, our friendship had been just that, a friendship. I didn’t mind and neither did he. If anyone asked we’d say, usually in unison, “We’re just friends.” We’d laugh. I grinned up at the peeling paint on the ceiling and grabbed my phone. He was five hours ahead, but knowing him, he’d sleep in. I text him, “Wake up sleepy head!”

Nicky went to Europe with his foster parents for the most of the summer. As for me, my Papa and I worked on the Zoo grounds every day and my Tūtū taught me how to speak Hawaiian or ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i. I’m a fast learner, especially with languages. I’m fluent in ʻŌlelo Hawai’i, but considering I only speak it during the summer, my vocabulary is not as extensive as my Tūtū would have it. Every day during lunch, she sits with me under my favorite plumeria tree and we talk. The pronunciation of the vowels is very much like Spanish, which I could easily converse in and it wasn’t nearly as hard as the little Russian that Nicky had taught me.

This trip was a little different then the others though. My Grandparents asked me a few weeks back if I wanted to stay with them for the rest of school. Except for the fact that I’d have to leave Nicky, it would have been awesome. I told my Aunty Mel that they asked and she flipped. I’d heard her yell at my Grandparents before but this time she and my Tūtū had it out. I couldn’t hear what was coming at Tūtū from my Aunt’s end of what was being said but obviously my Tūtū had reservations about PS 33.

PS 33, or Public School 33, wasn’t bad. Throughout my life I’ve always had problems fitting in. I found that people are generally mean, especially when they find out things about you. Rumors were spread. If it hadn’t been for Nicky I’d have spent all my time at the library. Also, Nicky and I were bored all the time. So we’d cut a few classes and maybe we liked to play tricks on our teachers but that didn’t make us bad kids. We did the homework and aced all the tests. We were just bored.

I roll out of bed and take care of the essentials in the bathroom, including taking my daily pill. My eyes go from sky blue to silver as the gray pill slides down my throat. Funny how certain things make my eyes change color immediately. I put on some clean coveralls over a tattered pair of shorts and a tank and creep down the stairs. I could hear my Grandparents having a hushed conversation. I try to catch what they’re saying. I strain and go down another step and am greeted by the first floor ceiling slamming into my forehead. I’d forgotten to bend down to avoid hitting it. Ouch… one of the set backs of getting taller.

“Good morning sunshine!” My Papa pats the growing lump on my head as I kiss his cheek. I blush. He knows I tried to sneak up on them. “You’re up late!” He takes a healthy swig of coffee. I eye it longingly. Back home in NYC I wake up every morning to coffee and old-fashion donuts. In Hawaii though…

I kiss my Tūtūʻs cheek as she hands me a bottle of OJ. “I see the way you stare at that coffee, Lani-girl. Coffee stunts your growth and…”

“…Gives me headaches,” I finish. My migraines would come anyway but Tūtū refused to let me have coffee. I still tried every morning to get just a little.

My Tūtū shakes her head as I kiss her cheek and pick up a piece of Portuguese sausage straight out of the pan. “Ouch!” I play hot potato with the sausage before taking a bite.

“I already made you a sandwich to take.” Tūtū hands me a brown paper bag which I promptly take after slipping my mismatched socked feet into my rubber boots. I kiss Tūtū once more and I follow Papa out into the bright Hawaiian morning.

***

The sounds and smells of the forest assail me. The sweet smell of maile hangs in the air. The Zoo is in the middle of a protected forest in Pana’ewa. Secluded. So unlike NYC the smell of the forest invites me to breathe deep and relax into its gentle breezes. So like the streets of the City, a canopy of voices, animals all, takes flight. I let myself be carried away by songs of the manu, the birds. I laugh at the hoots of the monkey cage. I wonder where the old lioness in the back is until I hear her roar… she’s being fed. The Animals greet me as if one of their own…

“Eh Lani-Girl…” My Papas voice sounds like an old Hawaiian slack-key guitar song, melodic and soothing. Except when he wants something done. “ʻIOLANI!!! Get your head out of the clouds, girl! This is your last day and if you finish up everything we can go surf after, but right now you got some work to do. So finish your breakfast…”

“Papa… It’s my last day.” I fake-whine, my mouth half full of Tūtūʻs Portuguese sausage and egg sandwiched between freshly made sweet bread. “Can’t we just go surf?” So much better than the list of chores I know he has for me.

“Oh, you love it!”

“Yeah… I’m going to miss it here, Papa.” It was true. I love NYC but there was just something about Hawaiʻi that always made me FEEL loved. I could feel the aloha.

“You can still stay, Lani-Girl. You know your Tūtū and I want you to go to school here.” Papa and I stroll towards the reptile cages.

“You know Aunty Mel would never let me.” My aunt was not a fan of my grandparents and my grandparents couldn’t care less about her. They fought constantly.

And… as much as I love Hawaiʻi, I craved the crazy vibrant energy of the City.

Papa ruffles my already crazy curls. “Well, at least tell your Tūtū I asked again. She really isn’t happy. Here’s your list.” Papa hands me a torn piece of paper bag with a long list of scribbles on it. “Go check on the Moʻo first. The lizards and snakes are getting restless.”

“Papa!” I shiver. “I hate the Moʻo!” Moʻo is Hawaiian for lizard. He knew I couldn’t stand going in there.

“You need to get over your fear. They don’t hate YOU!” Papa giggles.

“Very funny. How is it that even though snakes and most reptiles are banned from Hawai’i, you get to keep them?” I stop near the caged doorway.

“I don’t keep them. They need to stay here so they don’t get into anymore trouble. Why do you think they came here from the mainland in the first place?” My Papa laughs at his own joke before the punch line. “Vacation?” Papa trudges off toward the manu area, the bird cages. He turns back just before disappearing inside, “Eh, no forget to say goodbye, yeah?” His face is serious and he goes in without waiting for an answer.

“You’re crazy Papa!” I laugh and huddle under my poncho as rain clouds move in. Hilo rain is nothing to laugh at and I do not want to get wet. I make it to the Moʻo Pit untouched. The smell of dead mice permeates the air. I hate snakes. I hate lizards. I hate creepy crawly slimy things. But my Papa won’t hear it and my Doctor says this is good for me. So I start talking to the snakes. It’s this thing I do whenever Papa makes me go in. It’s therapy.

“I hate you.”

The moʻo I was least afraid of was an oversized Emoia Impar or a copper striped blue tailed skink. This particular species went extinct a few years back during the war. I guess no one had time to look out for these little things. Skinks are usually a few inches long at best. But my Papa found two, and they are still labeled as extinct because the two he found, they’re both at least three feet long. The female is old and doesn’t come out of her hole. Ever. Papa says she’s there but I’ve never seen her. The male was colorful, strange and had a bad attitude. We have an understanding. Papa has an assortment of crazy reptiles here. There was also a lizard that looks like a cross between a Kimono Dragon and a Yellow bellied snake. It is hiding somewhere in his cage. That one scares me.

What am I even saying? They all scared me.

“I hate you all.” I shouted. It didn’t make me feel any better. It never did. But it made the headache subside just a little. I wonder what it would be like to go back to a time without headaches or bad dreams. I wonder how life would have been if my Mom…

Whatever. I can’t go there.

I look at the check list at the door. The stupid lizards have been fed. Thank God for that. Feeding Moʻo? Worst job ever. I grab the hose at the back of the cave like room and begin shooting down the flooring. Slime and who knows what make it’s way into the drain. “You know,” I look at another terrarium filled with Jackson Chameleon of all sizes, “Besides Nicky, you are all the closest things I have to friends.” Wow. I suck.

I tap on the glass of the yellow bellied snakes cage. It doesn’t surface. I keep talking anyway, “Because of you… well not you, but whatever… I don’t know what it’s like to have a group of friends.” Before she was killed, my mom was my only friend. We took care of each other. I didn’t have any experience keeping friends, so why bother. We moved seven times since I was two.

I turn back towards the skinks cage. It’s the only moʻo who seems to be listening. “Right before she was killed, Mom moved me and my special eyes to New York City to live with Aunty Melanie. Mom was running away from something. Always running…” The skink is playing with something. Oh gross. It was the tail end of his breakfast. The skink seemed to study me as it swallowed the bottom half of the dead mouse. Challenging me. I would not show weakness. Who was I kidding? I wanted to barf. Instead I kept on talking, “The City is a big, dark and stinky place for a kid. I didn’t cry in front of Mom. I was used to it. I had trained my kaleidoscope eyes to keep it all in until I was alone. Then, I would cry in my bed. I didn’t want Mom to hear or see me. She had enough going on already and shouldn’t have to worry about me.” I rambled on, “I didn’t say goodbye to any friends at my last school in San Antonio because we didn’t stay long enough for me to make any. Before that we had lived in Saint Cloud, Portland, Albuquerque, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Hawai’i. I was born here in Hawai’i.” As if bored, the skink turns its head away.

“Lizards suck!” I spray water at the skink cage. It eyes me. “My mom was trying to save me and you killed her!”

“Excuse me?” a male voice echoes through the room. Startled, I eye the skink.

“Did you say something?” I ask the skink.

“Ah, most of these moʻo can’t talk anymore…”

I jump forward, almost smashing into the skink terrarium as something touches my shoulder. I flip around, losing my grip on the water hose. It barely misses spraying a boy in a blue school uniform. I, of course, get drenched.

“Hey, whoa there! You okay?”

“Shit, shit, shit…” I turn off the hose. My coveralls are soaked. “Don’t sneak up on people like that!” I yell at the stupid boy as I unzip the top and tie the sleeves around my waist. His eyes sort of bug out. “What?”

“You… you’re…” The boy stutters and even through his tanned skin I can see him blushing.

Geez. Are all boys this dumb? “What do you need?”

The boy shakes his head and smiles. “Wow. They said you might be a bitch, but I didn’t think they were right…”

“What? Who are you to come in here and scare me, then call me a bitch?” Wow. Who was this guy?

His smile falters, “Sorry… that was mean. I don’t care what they say… you seem okay.” He reaches in to his back pack. “I have a letter for you.” He hands me a heavy envelope and turns on his heels and walks towards the entrance.

“Wait.” The boy stops at the sound of my voice. “What’s this?”

“You’ve been accepted into the Schools. Congrats.” He tilts his head a bit and I swear his eyes flash gold for a second. It must be a play of the light. He smiles. His green eyes search mine. His gaze reminds me of one of the many moʻo in the room. “Your eyes are cool. I hope you choose to come to my School instead.” And he walks out.

It takes me a moment before I run out after him. I look down the only way he could have gone but he’s just disappeared.

The envelope is thick and weighted in my grasp. No return address anywhere. Just my full name and address in big bold green letters.

“Julia ‘Iolani Lyons. Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo”

Who beside Aunty Mel and Nicky would send me anything here? No one knew I was here. I rip the envelope open. I manage to keep all the papers from flying out but a pamphlet escapes.

A strong tanned hand grabs it before it lands in a puddle of water below. My Grandfathers. His eyes look like they’ve seen a ghost. The pamphlet is a simple shiny green with no embellishments. What’s got Papa so worried?

“Where did you get this?”

“A boy dropped it off.”

“Did you see him leave?”

“No. He sort of just disappeared. It was weird. Why?” Nothing phased Papa’s happy-go-lucky attitude. I’d never seen him look so concerned about anything. “What’s this about Papa?”

“Did you say goodbye?”

“To the boy?” I ask. Papa looks at the cages around me. “Oh yeah… are we done?” I hardly finished any of my chores but leaving the moʻo cages early brightens my day a little.

Papa looks at the pamphlet again and reaches out to take the envelope carrying the rest of the papers. I hand it to him without question. “Papa, you’re starting to scare me. Why the serious face all of a sudden?”

“What serious face?” The look has been replaced by my Papa’s signature smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. He is definitely hiding something. “We have to go talk to your Tūtū. Just go say goodbye to your moʻo friends. I’ll have one of the guys take care of the rest.” He walks out of the room without another word. No matter what was going on, Papa was serious when it came to his animals. He’d know if I didn’t say goodbye. I turn to look at all the reptiles. A wave of nausea wants to take me down but I swallow it. I will not show weakness. The skink is the only one that notices me so, waggling my tongue, I blurt, “Goodbye moʻo! See you next year.” And I blow a loud raspberry at it for good measure.

The skink nods and sticks his long blue tongue out in reply.

***

A whopper of a headache is thumping behind my eyes as I read the pamphlet. “Stellar Academy welcomes you, Julia ‘Iolani Lyons. You have been accepted to attend one of our schools of your choice.” Stellar Academy? That was the new, really ginormous school on the northern end of Central Park. The one they built right after the war. What the…? I hadn’t applied to go there. My sophomore year at PS 33 starts in three days. My freshman year there had been a horrible experience and the change might be welcome but why was I transferred?

As I try to get my dizzying thoughts in order I hear yelling filter into the kitchen from the living room. My Tūtū is arguing with someone on the phone. There was only one person she lost her temper with. Aunty Mel.

“How could you not know that she had been accepted,” Tūtū’s voice was a fuming whisper. “Don’t give me that bullshit. Who else would have submitted her?” Tūtū was getting angry, “I don’t care what her mother would have wanted! … You don’t know that! She can still stay here, in Hawaii, where we can watch her. Where she can be safe! The school here is a much better fit for girls like her! She doesn’t need that Stellar School, she is an ‘Iolani not like you… Don’t you tell me to watch what I say Lyons…”

Girls like me. It was an age old argument that hardly stung any more. It was still a slap in the face to be reminded what trouble I’d been. I tried everyday to be better… but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough.

I look at Papa who gives me a sideways smile. “I don’t like it when she yells either…” He grins, “But at least she’s not yelling at me.”

“Papa… what is this all about? The boy who dropped it off said that he hoped I went to his school…”

“That boy goes to the school here… the one your Tūtū and I asked you if you wanted to go to, remember?” I remembered. It was at the start of the summer and I’d stupidly told Aunty Mel about it. It was the last time she and Tūtū had argued. I’d thought that one was bad. This argument was flying far beyond that one. “But now that you have been accepted at Stellar…” Papa continued, “well… It’s really your decision, Lani-girl. We will support and love you no matter what.” Papa envelopes me into his arms and my headache subsides a little. He nudges me toward the living room. “Go make this right.”

I stumble into the beautiful room filled with koa furniture and intricately woven lauhala leaf mats. “Fine! She can go but if anything happens to her… it’s your tail, Lyons.” Tūtū sees me approaching. “Lani-girl. Come here. Your Aunty Melanie would like to speak with you.”

“Yes, Tūtū.” I scurry over and take the phone.

“Oh Julia!” Ouch… my eardrums. Yep. It was my Aunty Melanie. “I’ve missed you so much! Your Grandmother just told me you got accepted to Stellar Academy! I’m so proud…”

“Aunty Mel,” Usually, I could hardly get a word in, but I had to interrupt. “Why am I going to Stellar? I thought you had to be smart or rich or special or something…”

“Kitten…You make me feel so old! How many times do I have to tell you to just call me Mel! Your grandparents told you to call me Aunty…”

“Mel!” I yell into the phone.

“Julia Kitten, you are special and smart! Do you remember the series of exams you took last year?” Yeah. I did. The school psychologist that Nicky and I went to gave us both a series of weird tests, essays, and a physical exam that made me feel like I was a lab rat. It was the worst.

Wait… crap. What about Nicky?

“Well, Stellar looked at your results and decided that you would be a great candidate for their high school program. I received notice a few months back that you might get in but I didn’t want to get my hopes up and I didn’t want you to be disappointed if you didn’t…”

“You knew and you didn’t tell me.” It wasn’t a question.

“Kitten, of course I knew. Like I said I didn’t want you to get your hopes up… I know that your current school hasn’t been the greatest and with your grandparents wanting you to stay in Hawaii…” she trailed off.

“So you made the decision for me? Mel… that is not fair.”

“Julia, please do not start with me too. Your Grandmother has already had her say. You already told me you didn’t want to stay in Hawaiʻi and you don’t like your current school. I know you’re just bored and Stellar is perfect for someone special like you.”

Yeah. “Special”… riiiight. And the less she mentioned my current stint at PS 33 the better. There was no way Aunty Melanie would have let me stay in Hawai’i, even if I wanted to. I just felt like the decision had been made for me. I hated that. But what could I do. And… What about Nicky? It was just another school. Nicky and I could still hang out before school and after school. Deep down I knew it wouldn’t ever be the same. I needed Nicky.

“Mel, I gotta go.”

“Okay?” Mel takes my silence for acquiescence. I’m so proud of you, Kitten.” My moms pet name for me. “Which reminds me… Mochi! Your cat is a rotten punk! She bit me the other day…”

“That’s because you always forget to feed her! Aunty… I gotta go!”

“Okay, okay! Love you, Julia.”

What could I say? “I love you too, Mel.” I hang up the house phone. I hear my grandparents arguing about the whole school situation in the kitchen. I can’t deal. I basically sealed my fate. There was no way I could stay in Hawaiʻi with those moʻo terrorizing me everyday and Mel would not have taken no for an answer. I rub the silver cuffs at my wrists. They itch and burn. Walking out the front door I step into the covered lanai. My beautiful Hawaiian morning has turned grey. Large drops start cascading onto the tin roof of my grandparents plantation home. The forest stretches out in front of me, gloomy and strange. Everything gets a little blurry as I fish around my coveralls for my phone to call Nicky. I gotta tell him the news.

Finding it in my back pocket, I sit down on the old sky blue rattan rocking chair. It protests under my weight. I feel another massive headache coming on. I go to my favorites list when my phone starts buzzing of its own accord signaling an incoming text. It’s from Nicky:

“Good Morning. Bad news.”

Tears threaten and my head pounds as my fingers find the right buttons. “Not worse than mine.” I text back. I could not go to a different school. I could not leave Nicky. Nicky was my rock.

Text back from Nicky, “Wanna bet?”

I laugh but it comes out as a sob. “Extra-large coffee and a bag of old-fashions from Ralph’s.” I type back.

“Donuts? Already feeling better. You’re on.”

Nicky’s corn flake colored hair and goofy smile pops up on my phone. I answer angrily with, “I got transferred to another school,” and it sounds like a garbled mess because Nicky shouts at the same time. I barely catch the words “moving” and “stupid school.”

“What?” we both bleat at the same time.

I begin to laugh. This was crazy-talk! I could not lose my best friend. I would not lose Nicky for some stupid school.

“Hey, Jules … please stop laughing. I’m super serious. I just got some weird notice from the state that I’m being transferred to Stellar Academy.”

I stop breathing.

“No way…” laughing hysterically. “Me too!”


Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment below! This experience is making my heart so happy!

Next Chapter to be published on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.

Hugs,

Pili

Shift by Pili Yarusi: The Prologue

PROLOGUE

“You want to see something that I can do?”

I stare. He looks like a completely normal fourth grade boy: brown hair, brown eyes and boogers. He seriously has one hanging from his left nose hole.

“Look, Rainbow… I don’t have all day. If you’re going to come we got to go before the office lady gets back.”

“Rainbow?” I give my best eyebrow arch. My mom does that.

“Your eyes have rainbows in them. So, you are Rainbow.” And just then a boy with cornflake colored hair shoots out of the Office.

“Dude… come on.” Cornflake hair zips by and out the front doors of the school.

“Coming?” The booger boy holds his hand out impatiently. I grab his hand and we fly though the front doors.

So, now I’m in the side alley of my new school. With Boogers and Cornflake.

I look at my reflection in the mud puddle below. My hair is poofing out in all directions framing my weird eyes. Instead of hiding my face it just makes me look crazy. I probably should have kept my long, curly brown hair in those pigtails that Mom braided for me this morning. I probably shouldn’t be cutting class on my first day at my new school. Mom is going to be so mad at me… As the excitement of our flight from school dwindles, my eyes change from violet to green to grey. Every time my my eyes change there is a second where the world becomes that color.

“RAINBOW!” Booger interrupts my thoughts. You’re not even paying attention! Look what I can do!”

“This is my first day of school and I don’t really want to look at boogers.” Eww. Just the thought of boogers make my eyes change to a yellowish-green. Ha! Now the world is booger-colored.

“Like you were doing anything better in the library.” Booger sneezes.

“Bless you. At least I wasn’t cutting.” My eyes switch back to gray.

“You were, though.” Cornflake said.

“I was not!” Flaring back to a brilliant violet, I turn my eyes, giving them my best mean stare. They’re not paying attention to me and… Whoa. I’m used to strange things but this was super unreal. As I watch, Boogers hands blur… like it’s out of focus and covered by mist at the same time. He stretches his fingers out. Except now they’re not fingers. His hands have changed into dark brown paws with sharp gray claws. His hand blurs again, Booger slumps and his hands are back to normal. I move forward to catch him but Cornflake gets there first.

“Dude, you okay?”

“Yeah… It just makes me tired to do that…” He shakes it off.

“Can you do it again?” I’m still staring at his hands.

“Nah… I’m tired now. Nic made me do it a couple of times already.” He wipes his nose with the back of his sleeve. At least the boogers are not on his face now. “I want to see you change your eyes!”

“You can do that?” Cornflake asks.

“Yeah. My eyes usually just change on their own but sometimes if I concentrate on something I can do it.” I look into Cornflakes clear blue eyes. He stares back, unflinching. The world blurs a little, kind of like Booger’s hands. Never noticed that before.

“Woooaaah!! Wow!” Cornflake and Booger jump up and down like crazy monkeys.

“Stop! Someone will hear you!” I look back towards the entrance of the alley. Was there someone there?

“Your eyes did this crazy rainbow kaleidoscope thing then changed to blue, just like Nic’s eyes!” Booger whispers excitingly.

“It’s not as cool as your hand though. I wish I had claws.” Cornflake whimpers. “I can’t do anything cool. I’ve tried. See!” He screws his face up like he’s on the toilet. “Nothing!”

“Try again!” Booger laughs with me and Cornflake gives him a small shove. His face is just too much.

Booger suddenly stops laughing. Cornflake looks as if he’s going to shove him again but is frozen in mid-action. I poke him. Nothing. I look at Booger. “Come on guys this isn’t funny.” I poke Booger. They’re both frozen. “What’s going on?” Boogers eyes move side to side, looking frightened. They look beyond me towards the light at the front of the alley. This feels like one of those scary movie moments where you hope the girl doesn’t turn around.

I turn around.

The sun is blinding. The tall man is just a dark shadow in the middle of it. Maybe a teacher? “Hello? I’m sorry. I know were not supposed to be down here but could you help me? My friends… Something’s wrong with them. Could you help me, please.” I hear a barking noise and some laughter. The guy has something furry with him. A dog, maybe? Teachers don’t have dogs. The dog growls. That is my only warning as it barrels down the alley towards me. I barely have time to lift my arms to protect myself when creature hits me. I fly backwards into my friends.

A sharp pain blooms as my head slams against the hard ground. Cornflake and Booger groan, unfrozen. The dog that hit us isn’t a dog at all. It’s a bear. With a roar, it charges after us again, kicking both boys.

“Stop!” I scream. The bear doesn’t stop. It steps towards me and smiles, it’s sharp teeth just inches from my face.

The bear growls, “You said if we scared them enough they would Change.”

“I didn’t say for you to hurt them.” The man replies.

“Why not? You said they were freaks. Shouldn’t be allowed to live. I was just playing with our food before we…” The bear snaps his teeth.

“Just stop.”

“Why are you doing this?” I ask though my tears. He called us freaks. I don’t even know this guy. The man and bear look at me. The man was much older than I thought. He looks like one of those movie star guys in the films my Mom and I like to watch. The bear looks exactly like the pictures of the bear cubs that play in the wild. Except this bear is foaming at the mouth, looking really scary. Big bad baby bear. It is so much taller than me. Baby bears are not supposed to be this tall. Now that I think about it, bears are not supposed to talk, either.

I hear a small whimper. Booger is groaning and Cornflake blinks up at me. There is a line of blood dripping into his pain-filled blue eyes. “Why are you doing this to us.” I whisper.

“You want more?” The bear steps forward and leers at me.

“No,” I try not to clam up. If I run now, I’m pretty sure the bear will catch me. My head hurts but I push myself up.

“Hey,” the bear turns his black snout to look back at the man. “She has weird eyes like this little blond rat on the ground … except hers change. She has rainbow eyes.”

“My eyes are… not… rainbows!” This stupid bear didn’t know anything about me! “My eyes don’t turn red or orange!” I get up.

“Hey, stay back, you … you … you freak,” The bear shies away from my approach. “You might be one of them!”

“What are you talking about?” I barely get the sentence out as the man grabs me, and before I can breathe out a scream, he throws me back down. I fall into Cornflake. We both roll into a puddle of mud. He must really be hurt. I sit him up out of the mud and hold him as well as I can. Blood is flowing from the cut on his head. I press my hand to it. Booger rolls to the side. He looks at me briefly then back down. I follow his gaze. He changes his hands into paws again. His claws look extra sharp this time.

The man gets into my face, he was definitely older, my Mom’s age. His bloodshot brown eyes are filled with hate. He might look like a movie star but his eyes reminded me of the dead fish in the grocery store. The ones wrapped in plastic. I like to poke at those plastic-wrapped fisheyes.

My vision goes blurry for a moment. I blink. Maybe I need glasses. Good idea. I could hide my eyes in glasses. My eyes were getting me into trouble. I close my eyes tight. Maybe if I wish hard enough he would go away.

“You’re her daughter, aren’t you?” he spits into my face.

The baby bear yells, “Weirdo! You’re a freak!” The rabid talking baby bear was calling me a “weirdo”? I opened my eyes and saw two blue ones staring right back into mine. I smile. Cornflake smiles back tightly. I feel the fish-eyed man’s boot dig into my ribs. I wince but I won’t move.

“Bring me the girl.” The fish-eyed man licks his dry, cracked lips with a lizard-like tongue.

“No… please!” Cornflake holds onto me as the baby bear tries to pry me away. I didn’t know what this had to do with my Mom but she always told me to keep my eyes to myself. She said not to look too long at anyone if I was angry. She said I could only do it if they were hurting me. So I looked up at my attackers and I did what I always did when I got angry. I let my weirdo eyes go into little slits and I stare at the baby bear. It can’t look away. It screams. They always scream. The baby bear wasn’t so big and bad after all.

Just then, Booger pounces and slashes at the rabid screaming baby bear with his claws. Booger leaps to the side, evading the grasp of the man and runs out of the alley. I push at Cornflake, “RUN!” I scream at him. But it’s too late. The baby bear barrels into Cornflake and slams him against the ground. I hear a sickening thud as Cornflake slams into a nearby wall and crumbles to the ground. He doesn’t move.

“Go after the other one!” The man yells. At least one of us got away.

I am about to turn my gaze onto fish-eyed man when I feel his clammy hands go around my neck.

“What the hell did you do? You’re HER, aren’t you?” The fish-eyed man’s hands were cutting off my air. I couldn’t breathe. It hurt. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”

The funny thing was, he sounded like he really wanted to make me feel better. He sounded like he wanted to take my pain away. I can’t breathe. I feel the world slipping away and I see Cornflake lying there on the ground. Not moving. I see my mom’s smile as she holds me, warm in her arms. It is the best place to be. I look up at my mom. She looks terrified. “FIGHT!” she screams! “Julia, FIGHT!” Anger floods me as the image of my mom is replaced by the fish-eyed man. The world blurs. My hands burn and I screech as I reach up. Yellow talons tear at Fish-eyes eyes. He drops me, screaming.

“Julia!” A familiar voice roars. She’s really here!

“Mom!!!” I yell with what little breath I had. She sounds so far away.

“You Animal!” Fish-eyes screams over me. There were three deep scratches blooming red, running down his forehead to chin. His body began to blur as he hisses. “I’ll take care of you then your mother!”

He disappears.

“Julia!” My mom sounds closer.

“Mom! Mommy!” I feel a tightening around my body as I am lifted into the air. A coil wraps around my chest, my neck. I am being crushed. A face appears in front of mine. He still has Fisheyes but now those eyes were attached to a very large snake.

Everything happens slowly after that. I see Mom running towards me in the distance. Fisheyes the Snake shakes me. Everything blurs again and I am suddenly released. I blink. I fly to the side grabbing Cornflake with me. I feel strangely light. My talons reach out toward my Mom but Fisheyes the Snake gets in my way. Everything really hurts. I hold onto Cornflake. The air ripples and goes black.

***

Red blood runs in ribbons from my talons. The gray sky blurs out of focus as my world shifts. My hands are in my face. I have blood on them. There are bits of flesh in my fingernails. I feel the gooey warmth travel down my forearms. Flesh is gooey. Blood is red. Dripping, I feel the warmth dripping from my elbows onto my bare feet.

I feel the throbbing pain come back. Searing pain. Everything hurts. I hear sobbing. Is that me?

Rivers run from my eyes. Is it blood too?

I look away from my blood-red, gooey hands. I am standing in a pool of blood. Mine? The world swims in a blur of red. I hear screaming. People are gathering.

“Oh my god. Is she dead?”

She? Me?

Where is my Mom?

I am pushed to the side and Cornflake is taken from me. I hold onto myself. Everything hurts. Someone is shouting. I hold my hands to my ears. I don’t hear. I don’t understand. I turn my head and my vision clears.

Mom is lying in a pool of blood.

Mom’s eyes look like deadfisheyes.

“Mom?”

I feel hands carry me away. I need to escape.

I need to fly away.

 

Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment below! Let me know your thoughts. Thank you to Siya Oum for the beautiful cover art. Thank you to my valentine and husband, Jason Yarusi, for your tireless support.

Next Chapter to be published on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

“Sharing your Aloha”

(The article and story below was originally printed in “The Paradise Post”. As their website no longer exists, I am re-publishing the unedited version of my article here. Thank you for reading!)

Alooooooooha… Sometimes I feel like that song. I’m not sure of all the words but it has the phrase, “Coconut girl in a high fashioned world…” Iʻve always had that image of a Hawaiian girl dressed in only tapa, only a wrap around her middle. Her long, untamed hair flows out behind her like an Herb Kane portrait of Pele. She walks barefoot through the greatest city in the world. NYC. I feel like that girl. That duality of being.

Sounds very artistic and lofty.

But really… I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere. I’m just one of those birds who was either too colorful, too plain, too weird, too out going, too shy… Too much or too little. I just never fit in.

Probably didn’t help that I traveled a lot… hmm… correct that… I travel a lot. As a child, I was always moving and changing schools. As an adult I moved from home as soon as I could afford it. I moved to NYC about a month after I turned 21 in August 2001. We all know what happened in September 2001… But that story is for another time.

I have always been, what my Kumu Hula calls “a strange bird”.

I am going to use this, my first dance in this beautiful publication, as a thank you. Thank you to my Kumu to ALL my Kumu for nurturing my weird. For accepting and highlighting my strangeness.

Here is a little story… I have titled it:

“Sharing Your Aloha”

….

“Let me tell you a story,” my Kumu Hula said in his uniquely melodic sing song voice. It was one of those rare moments (that seemed to happen every Sunday) where hula practice had turned to kanikapila out on the lanai, which turned into Aunteh Kathy bringing over dinner, which turned into “talk story”. My Kumu always had a story to tell and tonight was going to be a good one.

“Come, come!” He laughs as the rattan chair cricks and bends under his momona body. I sit. Of course I sit.

“I want to tell you the story of a strange little bird named Aloha the Mynah bird. Now… donʻt let the name fool you. She wasnʻt noisy or talkative. She was actually a shy little bird. She belonged to a Hula Halau called Halau ‘O Nā Manu ʻO Hawaiʻi.

Every year the birds of the world would gather in her home town to compete. Every year they would sing their songs and dance their dances. Every year a group of the most majestic and knowledgeable birds would judge and crown winners. Whosoever danced and sang the best would be lavished with gifts and praise.

Aloha wanted to be acknowledged. She felt plain. She wanted to shine like those birds on the stage that flashed their feathers and sang their songs. She worked hard everyday with her Kumu and her Halau. She danced and sang and learned her language and traditions. She got over her shyness … but she was still a little strange. As she became knowledgeable in the art of dance and song she began to express her strangeness in more than wearing mis-matched socks… (What bird in their right mind would wear socks, anyway?) She would work with her Kumu (who was also a little strange) to change the motions of the dance. They would work on non-traditional ways of movement. 

Years went by and her Kumu Hula never entered this contest. He did not believe in it. He believed that the dance and song of his people should be shared with the world without judgement.

Still… the little bird worked hard. Her Halau sisters and brothers saw how she worked and followed her lead. They studied the dance and song of their people. They studied the song and dance of others as well. They moved to the beat of the song but made their own song heard as well. The Halau accepted any and all. The Halau was a brilliant rainbow of cultures and birds from all over the world. The song and dance of the Halau changed. It grew. It flourished.

The Kumu saw this and gathered his haumana, his students from around the world. Feathers flew and voices squeaked and squawked. Quacked and pocked. The Halau settled in to hear their Kumu speak. 

“Haumana… I have decided that we will enter the Contest this year. You have all worked so hard. Why not? We will also SHARE our song and dance with the world.”

Aloha, who was a little older and wiser now but still a little strange, was excited. There was a special night at the Contest where only the best birds in the world got to sing and dance. They had the best feathers and they were the most celebrated. Aloha was afraid though. Would her Kumu choose her. She raised her eyes to her Kumuʻs face and she knew her answer.

Yes. Her years of hard work had paid off. She would compete. She would SHARE.

For months the Halau prepared. They learned and sang the songs of their ancestors. They fluffed their feathers and donned the costumes. They would SHARE. They would compete with other birds from around the world. 

The Kumu Hula and the rest of her brothers and sisters in the Halau spent extra time getting Aloha ready. She would be their Poʻo Manu. She was their Head Bird. She would compete for the title of Miss Best Dancer Bird in the Whole World.

The week of the Contest arrives. It is a nationwide celebration. Birds of all colors, shapes, sizes… beaks and claws and all find themselves in the midst of a flurry of culture and pageantry.

The Contest days are here. Feathers are flying and beaks are raised in song and chant. Aloha and her brothers and sisters of Halau ‘O Nā Manu ʻO Hawaiʻi share their songs and dance their dances along with all the other colorful Halau from around the world. But the night has arrived. The night Aloha has been waiting for. Her Kahiko is about the Puʻeo. Her ‘Auana is about the mynah bird. 

Sassy strange little bird. 

The haumana all help to get her ready. They make pick ʻopala and she makes her lei. They talk about the previous performances on Kahiko and Auana nights… But for Aloha… She is now concentrating on tonight… 

She performs. She shares. She shows the work and love that has encompassed her life. She shares the love and work of her brothers and sisters in the Halau. She shares the love and work of her Kumu and her ancestors. Aloha shines.”

My Kumu Hula yawns and picks up his ukulele. He strums it, singing “Sassy little Mynah Bird.”

“Did she win?” Keaka wonders aloud. Keaka was a new student from another part of the world. She was new to hula and a little shy.

Kumu strums and changes the song to Aloha ʻOe. The entire Halau raises their voices in song.

When the last notes of their song come to a close the Kumu smiles, “Does it matter?”

What is your answer? Does it matter?

Share with aloha,

Happy Nathaniel

1923863_17895529445_3728_n

Art work above from the comic book “Soulfire” by Aspen Comics. Developed by and Pencils by: Michael Turner. Color by: Peter Steigerwald. This short story has nothing to do with “Soulfire” but I thought the image fit and the character in this book was named after me and bares a slight resemblance. Look up Aspen Comics… their work is phenomenal!

Paradise Post – May Issue!!!

May 2015 Paradise Post for web

Aloha All!!!

Check out my new story below!!! It’s on pages 15 and 16! I am so stoked to have my work published AGAIN with the Paradise Post!!!! Writing this new story has been a great challenge as I am writing a new chapter each month. I have a loose storyline… I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us!

“Ka Naheka a me Ka Mano” (The Snake and the Shark)

One young mans journey deep into the waters of his ancestors. Set within a world where Humans are ruled by their Animal-selves…

May 2015 Paradise Post

MAHALO!!! Please let me know what you think!!!

-Pili

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

“Hunting the Snake” a short story

Hunting the Snake. A Beginning of a Short Story. By Pilialoha Nathaniel

It is really a symphony of sounds and smells. The scream of electrified metal clashing against metal melds with the melodious canned voices that fail to rise above the static of the obsolete sound system. The din of millions of footsteps trying to get somewhere, or away from somewhere churns up the aroma that belongs to this place alone.

Caught up in the sounds and smells that is the music of the New York City Subway, I almost missed her. The sewer Rat scurries by me in a rainbow of ratty florescent green curls and a faded torn I “Heart” NY shirt she probably bought from one of those knock off stores in Chinatown. She grabs the pole and swings back around. The metallic doors close and she peers out the window as the train begins to move. She sways. Her shorts are stained with finger swipes of spray paint over a pair ripped purple tights. The earbuds that keep her ass moving in small undulating waves are studded with shiny green rhinestones.

Her satchel is a mess. Dirty tees and jeans poke out of every available hole. Shit had been stuffed into that hand sewn piece of rag. This girl must have been in a rush to get somewhere.

Or … away from someone.

A book slips out of her bag, bounces off her boots and drops on to the black rubber floor below. It flips open in front of me. A detailed pencil sketch of a Lion stares up at me.

Interesting.

Still not noticing me, she scoops it up in a flash of punk pink painted nails and stuffs it back into her rag of a bag. She gnaws on her pinky nail. Most of the paint looks to have been bitten away. As she works on the rest of the toxic pink paint, she stares out the window of this A train that we have both found ourselves on.

I look back down. She is definitely not a sewer Rat. Her boots give her away. She could have stole them, true, but these babies fit her like they were tailored. These were made from the finest skins I’d ever seen. This ratty mess was no more sewer Rat than I was. I can’t imagine why or what would make this lovely girl pretend to be other than she is.

And she is special. A Snake. My special Snake.

The train slows as it approaches 14th Street. She backs up, visibly disturbed. The train stops and her head snaps down and she is absolutely still.

I glance up as the doors open. Two cops stand right outside. One cop looks in and straight at me. With all the shit that’s been going down, I’m not surprised they are on high alert.

I arch my brow and smile invitingly. The cop looks deep into my multifaceted eyes and turns beet red. He bows his head in acknowledgement. Unless necessary, Law-enforcement types rarely seek to tangle with my kind. He backs out of the train as the doors close.

With a lurch we begin our forward momentum once again.

I look up at my target. She has finally noticed me. Does she know who I am? Her now unpainted pinky is back in her mouth and her malachite green eyes are piercing.

No, she doesn’t know who I am. Maybe it is better this way.

Or…

I smile my inviting smile and she looks away, startled and terrified. She looks to the humans on the train. They are all oblivious to her. She backs up against the train car exit doors. She reaches for the handle as if to pull it open to exit to the next car.

I give my head the slightest shake and she obeys immediately. Tears stream down her face.

Good girl. Now she knows who I am. What I am. There is no escape for her.

And now I know who she is. I’ve been searching for her and after all these fruitless years she happens to stumble onto the same train car.

God, I love this city.

…to be continued…