It was quiet in class. Only the monotone sound of her voice filled the space surrounding me. I looked at my classmates and most were asleep or in a pseudo-comatose state, trying desperately to appear to be involved and paying attention.
Me? I doodled on my paper. The same drawing I'd always drawn. A handsome man, not a boy... as my fantasy should dictate because of my age, but a grown man. He must’ve been in his late twenties or early thirties. The time era was the twenties or thirties, by the look of his perfect black suit, his pocket watch adjusted just so. He was the center of the drawing... always. Every time my pencil hit the paper, I would begin sketching him, in the same exact stance and always surrounded by the same images of childhood nightmares. The picture never changed, only I did every time I drew it.
I reached to shade the edge of the page and smudged the corner of his eye, the look going from one of horror to concern, as if he'd not only witness a death, but in a moment’s notice, it became my own. I wanted to reach into the drawling and touch him. I wanted to crawl into the fine lines of the paper and save him.
I loved him. Not sure when it happened that I’d fallen in love with someone ten plus years my senior, but I didn't care. He didn't exist, but I spend day and night wishing he did. I wished I could draw myself in the gray shading of his arms, but no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't alter the fabric of the piece. I'd tried so many times to draw something lovely around him, to surround him with the image of a cafe or a park, but the pencil never listened and my hand was its obedient slave.
I finished and looked down, staring into his concerned gaze. My heart lit on fire and I knew I was a freak. In love with a drawing from my head. I sighed, put the picture in my binder and leaned back to listen to Mrs. Marcias finish instructing us on our next physics project. I looked over at my best friend, Sidney and smiled. She was such a brain, and an overachiever, that I knew she'd have the notes from class. We'd partner up, like we always did, and she’d once again save my butt from failing.
She smirked and shook her head at me. "The door to nowhere," is the name she'd given my drawing many years ago. It was an incredible fantasy that didn't exist... hence the doorway in my soul that led to nowhere. I smiled back. My retort had always been that I'd love to go nowhere if my dream guy was driving the train. It was an ongoing joke between the two of us.
The bell rang and I stood, filing out behind my fellow class mates, my vision muted by the memory of his new smudged expression. That's the first subtle change I'd seen in the drawing in the better of two years. Why was he concerned? Did he know me? Would we ever meet? How would I find this door to nowhere?
I ran into a tall guy in front of me, Jonathon Kerig. He was on the soccer team and most girls swooned over him as he passed in the hall, but he seemed down to earth, oblivious to them. We weren't friends, but more acquaintances. Heck, I was only acquaintances with everyone.
"Hey, Jess, if you wanted to touch me, just ask. No need to mow me down as a cover up.” He smirked and fell in line beside me. “Besides, these are my new shoes you’re stepping all over."
I scoffed, "And then you woke up."
We both laughed and walked into the hall, people moving around everywhere. We made small talk as he walked me to my locker and then left. Sid came up and jumped in front of me, a ridiculous smile on her face.
"Well?" she said.
"Don't play games with me. What did Jonathon want? Walking you to your locker, laughing together... tell me, tell me, tell me," Sid sang.
I chucked. "When there’s something to 'tell you,' believe me I will, but really I'm not interested, and neither was he. We were talking about his shoes, Sid."
Her pretty features crinkled up in a funny face. "Oh, well... darn. I was hoping for something hot to have occurred."
"Sorry to disappoint," I said and got my stuff out of my locker. We turned to walk down the hall and something caught my eye.
Amongst the colorful hallway of students and teachers, was a man - tall, well filled out.... sketched? My heart stopped. He paused to look at me as he turned the corner to the gym, his eyes full of concerned fear... for me? My breath caught in my chest. I was officially losing my mind. I froze in my spot as Sid continued to gabber away about nothing. I just started at him. He was a figment of my imagination, not real, but a drawing come to life.
His mouth moved, and a whisper carried down the hall and wrapped around me, "Jessica.... my love... find me." As quickly as the breeze carried the message, it died down and he walked around the corner. I felt the air swoosh from my lungs and I took off in a sprint. I might be crazy, but I'd been thinking about this man for as long as I could remember, and sketch or real, if he was findable - I was going to find him.
I turned the corner and stopped, looking around. I placed my hand on the wall next to me for balance, my heart threatening to beat out of my chest, my spirit on fire for the possibility of his existence, and my mind threatening to snap at the insanity of my thoughts. I sighed at his absence, and pulled my hand back, looking down at it. It was completely covered in lead, pencil lead. I looked at the wall. My smudged handprint smeared on its glossy white texture, and a slightly bigger one just above it. His.
Sid rushed over to me, "What in the hell are you doing? We're going to be late to Algebra."
I felt like a fool, but honestly I didn't care. I'd follow my sketch anywhere. Sometime, a long time ago, I’d drawn my heart in the picture, deep in the dark grey jacket, in the chest of a man I didn't know and hoped I'd someday meet.
"Sorry, thought I saw something," I murmured and followed her to class. I sat down with a sigh and opened my notebook. I had hundreds of sketches of him, most of them at home, under my bed, away from the concerned eyes of my parents, who thought I lost my mind or was slightly autistic with my incessant drawings of the same man and same setting. I only had a few in my notebook.
My heart almost stopped, and I gasped as the folder slipped out of my hand and spilled on the floor. I slid out of my desk and hit my knees, my hands spreading the sketches frantically. They were just as I had drawn earlier today and yesterday and the day before, but one thing was now missing... him.
"I’m so excited our senior year is here, finally,” I yelled with excitement. The night was warm as summer was ending, the sky painted in a blend of yellows, oranges and reds. We were sitting on the hood of the car, watching the stars, each of us lost in our own hopes for a miracle, for something, anything.
“Oh yeah? You’re so ready to start paying for everything in life? You hear dad going nuts over the bills twice a month. That sound like a tea party to you?” My brother, Ian, muttered.
“Tea party? You’re such a pansy sometimes. How about a mosh pit?” I laughed at my own brilliance.
“Actually that does sound more like it. Jumping in a pit with angry, aggressive people whose only goal in life is to beat someone up to the sounds of metallic screeching in the air. Just brilliant.” He chuckled.
I sighed. My brother was forever the logical one. Already had life planned out in front of him, and was happing being the nerd of the school. Well, not really a nerd as in nerdy, but as in super smart. That was him. I always teased him that he got all the brains, but I got the beauty. He always smiled and agreed.
“I want this year to be different.” I looked over at him. His chocolate brown hair and green eyes a perfect match for mine. He actually looked like a masculine version of me. No surprise, with him being my twin and all.
“How so?” He looked over at me and smiled.
“I want to be popular for once in my life. I want to feel like I belong, get asked on a real date, go to a couple of parties, at least get offered weed,” I whined.
“Let me get this straight, you want someone to offer you an illegal substance that could land you in jail, make you smell like burnt dog butt and causes you to lose all ability to reason?” He sat up on the hood of the car.
“Well, when you put it like that.” I sat up, laughing at him. He wasn’t laughing. “I wouldn’t do it, but yes I would want to be cool enough, popular enough, to at least be offered it. I can say no, ya know?”
“No, I don’t know. You and this being popular thing is slightly skewed. You have one more year and then you get to start a new life, Rach. Don’t let this popularity thing drag you down like it does every year.” He reached out and rubbed my shoulder.
I pulled away, tears filling my eyes, a lump of hot coal burning my throat. “You wouldn’t understand. You have Allison and Clay and a ton of other friends. You belong to the cross country team, Ian, what do I have?” I stood and walked into the open field.
“You have Katelyn. She’s been your best friend since kindergarten, Rach, and you belong too. You’re water girl for the football team and you can paint and sing. You have so many talents, so much to offer. Stop being yourself up. The whole world is ours for the taking.”
“I don’t have the one thing I would give anything for. I would kill to be popular. I would sell my soul to the devil if I could just be popular this year. It’s my senior year.” I looked over at him, tears dripping down my face. “It’s my last year to be someone special.”
He climbed off the car and wrapped me in a hug, “You are someone special. You’re special to me, to dad. Please stop talking like that. It’s shallow, and you’re not shallow at all. If people would just get to know you, they’d love you.”
I pulled back and looked into his eyes. “Yep, you said it yourself. If they’d get to know me. Well, I intend to do whatever necessary to get noticed this year.”
I heard him huff as I walked farther away from the car. I knew I sounded ridiculous, but it’s how I felt. I’d spent eleven years of school watching everyone else have fun, my face pressed up against the window of life, never participating. I was done with that. I looked up at the stars and closed my eyes tight.
“I meant what I said,” I whispered to the wind. “I would sell my soul to the highest bidder and all I ask in return is to be popular, top of the food chain, for my senior year.” A tear dripped down my cheek and I wiped it away angrily.
What was I doing? I didn’t believe in God or the Devil, so who exactly was I talking to? I rolled my eyes and headed back to the car. I reached my brother and he hugged me again. I turned to look at the setting sun in the distance. I flock of black birds that were huddled together rose from the high grass and ascended into the sky, molding together, forming the shape of a dark angel.
I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself. A warm wind picked up from the east and blew across my bear arms, lighting them on fire and taking my breath. I gasped and looked over at my brother, who was getting into the car. He seemed untouched by the wind, his hair not moving, but mine was blowing wildly.
I looked back at the bird formation. It hadn’t changed, but was getting closer to us. I ran to my side of the car and got in, slamming the door, out of breath.
“Hey crazy, be careful with my baby.” My brother smiled and patted the seat beside me. He loved this old piece of crap car.
“Did you feel that wind out there? Did you see those birds? That shape they formed?” I looked at him, fear in my heart, my eyes wide.
“Uh, no crazy town, I didn’t. The wind probably came from the engine starting and you are obviously high on your hopes of getting offered weed.” He laughed.
I flipped him off and sunk down in the seat. Something happened out there.
We drove off and I watched in the review mirror as the birds, true to formation, landed together. It was probably just the fear eating the recess of my ability to reason clearly, but I could’ve sworn where they landed, a few seconds later, a man emerged. I jerked around in my seat and the view from the back window was clear. I sighed and sunk down in my seat, my thoughts returning to my promise. I would do anything to be popular – shallow as it may be.
Part I: The Broken Life
A battle of will,
for the gods of old.
For each his revenge,
would he forfeit his soul.
On the chess board of blood,
will their story play.
Using innocent lives,
revenge claims her way.
Out of hate will come love,
and love will come hate.
For immortal and man,
have entwined their damned fate.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Samantha said, flipping her hair over her shoulder.
“What?” Julie glanced up from her ‘Seventeen Magazine.’
As on most weekends, the girls were shut up in Julie’s room catching up on weekly gossip, and planning out their futures with the kinds of boys that can only be created in the space known as fantasy.
Sam chuckled, but didn’t respond.
“What? Spill it. What’re you looking at?” Julie snapped her fingers.
“Take a look at this crap.” Sam sat up on the bed and turned to face Julie, holding out her cell phone.
“Just a quick note.” Julie fluffed her short blond hair, cleared her throat and read in a snooty, ‘I’m Marcie Peterson and everyone can fall down and worship my greatness,’ voice. “If you don’t have a date to the ‘Fall Flip-Out Dance,’ get one! This is a couple’s event, and I don’t care if you bring your dad! No date? No entrance.”
“She’s such a twerp.” Sam rolled her eyes. ”Being head cheerleader and class president doesn't give her the authority to make demands on everyone."
“Harsh. Aren’t you two friends?”
“I’d rather brush my teeth with superglue, but she does sometimes remind me of you.” Sam ducked as a pillow swung dangerously close to her head. “Watch it or I’ll ask your sexy senior of a brother if he wants to be my date.”
Julie pretended to gag and launched the pillow, this time connecting.
“Hey, if you want to be treated like a skank, that’s your business.” Julie laughed. “You know Brent’s the ultimate player.”
“Yes I do, and sadly enough he doesn’t even try to hide it.”
“So true. I’ve told him many times that his pick up line should just get straight to the point.”
“Agreed. How about something like, ‘Hey, my name’s Brent and if you're free on Saturday, I could pick you up, but we’d skip out dinner because I’m cheap.’”
Julie clapped her hands and jumped in, “’Then we could go to a movie. I could cop a feel, all the while, dazzling you with my white teeth and sexy cologne.’”
Sam laughed. “‘Afterwards, we could make our way back to my car and steam clean my windows with our passion.’”
“Oh, hell yeah. Then how about, ‘And then, I’ll break your heart tomorrow when I pretend like you don’t exist.’”
They rolled on the bed in fits of laughter.
“Yep, that about sums it up.” Sam sat up.
“You’re an idiot if you’re even considering going out with him. He’s totally not worth the heartache, and he smacks like a cow.”
“I have no interest in your juvenile delinquent, crack-case of a brother, but I do enjoy seeing you get riled up.”
“Nope, not falling for that trick.” Julie smirked.
“What trick?” Sam asked, hiding a smile
“Please. You’re the come-back queen and I usually end up having to gracefully bow out.”
“More like tucking tail and limping in the opposite direction.”
“Ha-ha.” Another pillow went flying by Sam’s head. “So… are you going to the dance?”
“Uh… no. I won’t be told I have to bring a date to some stupid kiddy-bopper dance.” Sam wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I have an idea, how about a Fall Flip-OFF Dance?” Sam stuck her middle finger in the air.
Julie threw her head back and laughed. "I'd love to see the look on everyone's faces when they arrive and see new decorations. That would be priceless."
“I’ll see what I can do.” Sam smiled mischievously.
“I’m so glad it's the weekend. How late can you stay?”
“Dude, how long have we been friends? You know Sunday is ‘hang out with the boring-ass people that adopted you and try to be a family’ night at my house.” Sam rolled her eyes.
“Oh yeah, I forgot.” Julie sighed. “Wish I had that problem.”
“As if.” Sam smirked. “Hey, how is family life going?”
“Fine, just wish we had more time together.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “Mom constantly has someone to defend in court and Dad’s caught up in traveling the country, promoting his new best seller, “Jump Higher than the Giants,” so family interactions have taken a back seat.”
“Well, Debbie Downer, you could consider your constant fighting with Brent over the bathroom as a family interaction.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Julie pouted.
Oh Lord, she’s doing it again.
Sam had listened to Julie many times over the last three years about having a real family somewhere in the world, and she was sure her birth mother and father would eventually come for her. Sam was always taken aback by her strong belief.
Sam learned a long time ago, growing up in the orphanage with Julie, that fate wasn’t so kind as to give her anything it didn’t quickly take away.
And that’s the reason I refuse to get close to my adopted family.
Sam shook the thought from her head before it invaded her day, dripping the icy cold pain of rejection and abandonment down into the depths of her soul.
Not going there today.
She jumped off the bed, startling Julie, and walked over to the open window. Julie’s room was on the second story of the McAllen’s mammoth three story mansion. Her window opened to a multitude of beautiful maple and oak trees, which were turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and gold. Sam scanned the ground below. The leaves were not only turning, but beginning to fall and mix together, making a rainbow of color as they swirled around in the chilly New Hampshire afternoon.
Sam turned away from the window, tucked a strand of her black hair behind her ear, and grabbed her backpack full of homework and books. “Hey, Smarty McSmarterson, I thought we were going to actually do some homework today.”
“I worked on my biology honors project all day yesterday. Forgive me if I’m a little fried.”
“Yeah, must be nice to have all the brains in the family.” Sam smiled. “I gotta get going; it’s gonna get dark soon and my car’s still in the shop. Bikeville, population one, here I come.”
Julie got up from the bed. “Alright. Don’t forget I can’t talk tomorrow night. Brent and I are leaving right after school to go visit his aunt in Massachusetts.”
“Yeah, I remember. That seriously blows about having to spend the whole evening with Brent.” Sam couldn’t help but laugh at Julie’s plight. “Sneak me a call tomorrow night when everyone goes to sleep and fill me in on Brent’s latest skank conquest abroad.”
Sam hugged Julie, hurried downstairs and jogged out the front door. She’d almost made it to her bike when someone coughed. She turned around to, none other than, the player himself.
“Yes?” Sam asked, trying not to smile and failing miserably.
“Leaving so soon?” Brent asked with a little boy pout on his face. “We were just about to order pizza. We don’t have dessert, but maybe you’d be willing to volunteer?”
“Volunteer to get dessert, huh? Never heard of the guest having to provide for the hosts, but coming from you, it isn’t a surprise.” Sam smirked at him as she jumped on her bike.
“Not get dessert, Samantha, be dessert.” Brent smiled devilishly, teasing her like he always did.
“And then you woke up.” Sam laughed and started to peddle away.
“You’re not even going to blow me a kiss? Shame, Sam, shame.” Brent laughed.
Sam flipped him the bird over her shoulder as she rode away. She sighed and shook her head, excited about the fifteen mile bike ride ahead of her.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and even though the breeze picked up, embracing Sam like a lover, the warmth of the sun was putting up a fight. Being someone who needed to be outside, she loved that New Hampshire had four seasons and took profound joy in having the ability to experience all the weather gods could throw her way. After the first few warm up miles, Sam stood up on the bike and pumped out the next ten miles.
Man, it feels good to get my blood pumping.
Sam looked to her left as a quick movement of yellow jotted between the trees.
“No!” A loud masculine voice rang out.
She jerked forward in time to swerve, barely missing the yellow lump lying in the road, and colliding with the curb. Plummeted off the bike, she flew through the air and landed in a crouch. Her chest heaved and all of the blood in her body rushed to its aid.
She jumped up and surveyed her surroundings. No one was close enough to create the loud protest that reverbed in her head. Gasping for air, she searched the ground. Damn. I could’ve sworn a yellow jacket was lying in the road. Let’s not forget the disembodied voice, shall we?
At least I didn’t end up with a few broken bones or some knocked out teeth.
Yeah, it’d be real cute to show up to the dance missing a few teeth… without a date.
A cold chill ran down her spine and she whirled around to see who was watching her. She spun in a circle, only to end up where she started, with no one around.
Yeah Sam, it’s the boogie man. Good Lord. Sam picked up her bike, noticed only a few scratches, jumped on, and headed the rest of the way home. The remaining three miles took less than twenty minutes.
By the time Sam pulled into her driveway the sun had set in the sky and the wind had picked up.
“It’s seriously cold out here,” she muttered, trying to settle her anxious thoughts about the ride home.
“Talking to yourself again, Sam?” Her younger, adoptive sister, Megan, snorted as she walked toward the front door.
“Why don’t you do us all a favor and throw yourself in that big brown can on the side of the house?” Sam snorted back. Little sisters – blah. Who needs ‘em?
Megan ran inside ahead of Sam, slammed the door and locked it. Sam could hear her through a crack in living room window.
“Mom, Sam’s being mean again. She said to throw myself away with the trash, because that’s all I am to her is trash. She called me trash, Mom.” Megan was a great actress; she could even cry on cue.
She reached for the door, which didn’t budge. That little turd locked me out.
She started banging on the door, louder and louder. She could hear Mrs. Parker coming to the front door and reprimanding Megan for locking it. Megan responded that it was a habit, something she often did for the family's “safety.”
I’d barf if I’d eaten anything since breakfast.
The door opened and a hot blast of air, filled with the smell of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, assaulted Sam’s senses, causing her stomach to rumble with hunger.
Did I forget to eat lunch? Her thoughts were quickly interrupted by Mrs. Parker's apologies.
“I’m sorry, Sam, hurry and get in here, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Megan didn’t mean to lock the door, honey. She’s just a creature of habit.” Mrs. Parker smiled sweetly and wrapped Sam in a hug.
The Parkers were good people, but they weren’t family, not that Sam would have any idea of what “family” was. She was always alone, never good enough for anyone to belong to, or for her to belong to them. Protecting her heart was a must, but doing so without being mean or callous was a challenge.
She’d been adopted three years ago by the Parkers, when Mrs. Parker said 'The Lord' just laid it on her heart that there was a teenage girl in the orphanage that needed a home. Besides, she wanted her little Megan to have someone to lean on, out in the big, bad world, once she and Mr. Parker were gone.
Got the wrong person, lady.
She knew Mrs. Parker wanted her to call her Mom, like Megan called her, but Megan had every right. Mrs. Parker was her mother. Sam, on the other hand, had never met, heard about, or even dreamt of the woman who gave birth to her.
Wouldn’t call her ‘Mom’ if I met her anyway. She didn’t want me and I sure as hell don’t want her.
Sam snapped back to the present time. Mrs. Parker dropped the hug after a few awkward seconds and walked with Sam into the kitchen where Mr. Parker and Megan, the turd, were seated at the table, waiting to dig in.
“Hey, kiddo. How was the bike ride this afternoon? Seems a little cold out there to not be wearing a jacket.” Mr. Parker gave Sam an award-winning smile.
Seeing that he’s a dentist, he should have that kind of smile. Not like you’d be cool with having a dentist with crooked teeth or even missing a few of them. Kind of like having a fat personal trainer tell you what you need to do to lose weight and get in shape.
“Earth to Sam. Dad’s talking to you,” Megan said in a sweet, sisterly tone. Great fake-out for the parental figures.
“Oh yeah, sorry, I’m just beat from the bike ride. It was good though and not too cold up until the last twenty minutes or so. I must’ve left my jacket at Julie’s. I’ll get it later this week.” She took her seat across from Megan.
Sam pulled her napkin into her lap and reached for the fried chicken. The smell of everything was overwhelming. Her stomach growled loudly and Megan chuckled. After stuffing herself, she leaned back in the chair and let out a loud sigh, rubbing her stomach for emphasis.
“My sentiments exactly. Dinner was great, dear.” Mr. Parker leaned over and kissed his wife. “We ready for family night?” He turned toward Sam and Megan, eyebrows raised.
“Yep. Absolutely.” They responded with less than enthusiastic cheers.
An hour into playing Scrabble, Mrs. Parker got a call from a client and excused herself. Sam took that as her opportunity and faked a big yawn.
“Uhhh, I’m exhausted. Would it be okay if I hit the sack a little early tonight? I have a lot going on at school this week and I’m just beat.”
“Sure.” Mr. Parker got up and hugged Sam, his mouth a little downturned.
Sam raced upstairs. Thank God I’m a junior. If I had more than two years left of every freakin' Sunday night being family night with a family I don’t belong to, I’d lose what's left of my mind.
Besides, I’m not really wanted down there anyway.
Sam tossed her backpack on her bed and rummaged through it looking for her cell phone. She dialed Julie’s home number and waited several rings.
“Hello,” a deep, sexy voice answered the phone. Brent.
“Hey, Brent, it’s Sam. Put Julie on the phone.” No point in flirting since Brent would flirt with a stump if it had boobs. She rolled her eyes.
“Sure thing, Babe.” Brent breathed into the phone. Sam’s cheeks burned and she stifled a giggle. The boy is hot, and a senior - sinfully delicious!! There was silence on the line, a little too much silence...
“Yep.” He answered too quickly.
What an ass, he didn’t even tell Julie the phone was for her. Ugh.
“I said put Julie on the phone. What’re you waiting on? An invitation?” Sam continued. “You’re cordially invited to put her on the phone, dill-weed,” Sam replied, treating him more like the brother he was and less like the date she wished he could be.
“I'm not her keeper, but I am the one holding the phone. So you can continue talking to me, or settle for sloppy seconds.”
“Give Julie the phone, you idiot,” Sam retorted. Okay, that just took him down the hotness ladder.
“Okay, okay, put your teeth back in your head. I was only delaying my departure from your sticky, sweet voice.” Brent gave a chesty laugh. “Julie, your BFF’s on the phone, harassing me.”
“Hey, you,” Julie chirped out, “Are you bothering my helpless brother again?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what was happening.”
Julie chuckled. “You left your jacket over here. Do you want me to leave it on your porch tomorrow on my way out of town?”
“No, that’s okay. I’ll use it as an excuse to come over later this week.” Sam sighed. “Hey, I don’t remember eating lunch today. I was absolutely starving by the time I made it home. I think I actually swallowed a whole chicken leg at dinner because I was too hungry to chew it. What did we eat?”
“You left here at one o’clock. Remember me asking you if you wanted to stay for a late lunch? My mom ordered us pizza, but you said you needed to get home to do your homework before family night. Maybe that chicken bone went the other way and is lodged in your brain.” Julie chuckled.
What? I left Julie’s at one o’clock?
The ride home would only take two hours max, but I didn’t get here ‘til seven.
Where did four hours go? Sam turned and sat down on the edge of her bed, a light sweat covering her forehead.
“Are you sure? I got home at like six or seven.”
“Not this again.” Julie sighed into the phone. “You left here at one. You can ask Brent… He asked you to stay for pizza. Remember you nicely declined and flipped him off?” Julie started laughing loudly in the phone. “He mentioned something about you refusing to bring dessert. Guess you’d be good for the Fall Flip-Off dance.”
Sam held the receiver away from her ear until Julie stopped laughing at her own joke. She smirked at the level of entertainment Julie was getting out of the crappy comment.
“Yeah, I remember, just seeing if you caught it. That one was for you,” Sam said, grateful that Julie always let her slide on this subject of unaccounted time in her day.
Sam shook her head. What’s happening to me?
“Okay, well I’ll try and sneak you a call tomorrow night when I get home.”
“Sounds good, Jules.”
Sam hung up the phone, grabbed her pajamas and a clean towel, and headed for the shower. She held the towel up to her nose and inhaled deeply.
Wonder if this is what a mother’s love smells like. The sounds of love and laughter drifted up from the bottom floor. They were bonding with one another, something she’d never allow herself, bonding. Not with a mom or dad figure, not with friends, except Julie, and even she wasn’t allowed in beyond a point, and most certainly not with a guy.
I’m good on my own, and that’s where I intend to stay. Can’t get hurt if you don’t get involved.
Sam took a quick shower and made her back to her room. She shut her bedroom door and finished getting her stuff ready for school for the next day. She wasn’t really a “plan ahead” type of girl, but if planning ahead allowed her to sleep for an extra fifteen minutes, then “plan-ahead Sam” was her name.
Tomorrow was another day of trying not to fit in too much, which took more effort than she wanted to think about. Anyone with athletic ability belonged to the 'in' crowd without much effort at all, even if they wanted no part of it. Tomorrow morning was basketball try-outs for the girls' varsity team and Sam planned on making it this year.
Staying active helped put a damper on her overactive imagination and gave her a good excuse to not hang out with anyone. She usually made the volleyball and softball teams at school, but basketball was a whole different ballgame - literally.
Grabbing her backpack off the floor, she reached in and pulled out a worn down library copy of Romeo and Juliet.
The Shakespearian love tragedy. Guess you have to have love before being afforded a tragedy. Sam stacked her pillows, leaned back and started reading where she’d left off last week, only to have her thoughts shut down her progress.
No really, what if I met him, the one? Someone I couldn’t live without? Does love at first sight really exist?
After an hour or so, Mrs. Parker stuck her head in. “Night, Sam. Make sure your alarm is set.”
Hitting the pillow with a heavy sigh, she closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the sound of her own breathing.
Wonder what it’d be like to have my own Romeo. Someone who wanted me so badly only death would suffice in my absence.
Uh… I’m gonna barf if you don't stop mumbling about something as disturbing as… what's the phrase… oh yeah, unconditional love that spans the depths of time.
I’m a little too old for fairy tales.
What if though? What if there is someone for me? I’m tired of being lonely.
Which is your own fault, hater.
Sam rolled her eyes in the dark. Not only were the voices talking to her, but now she was starting to talk back. Padded cell here I come.
She cranked up Lincoln Park’s “In the end.” Slowly, the music drowned out everything, barring the quiet, ever present pain of loneliness.
Nothing could ever thaw that place inside of her. Nothing she was willing to dream about.
Samantha froze. Swirling white mist covered the ground at her feet. A radiant sunset had painted the evening sky in varying shades of crimson, the grass a brilliant gold. She looked around the lush, open field, trying to get her bearings and realized she wasn’t alone.
She squinted through the fog as a figure approached. He towered over her by at least a foot and judging by the large expanse of his shoulders; he played football or should start.
Her chin dropped as he drew nearer. A teenager, and by his exotic appearance, she guessed him to be a foreigner. Wherever he came from, he was unbelievably delicious, like hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. He stopped in front of her and she stared intently, unable to formulate words. His sun-kissed skin seemed to have gold flakes buried deep within each pore. His dark green eyes had orange rays stretching from the iris, as if yawning in comfort.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
“For me?” Sam blinked in surprise. “Why?”
“Same questions every time, my love,” he breathed out, his brow creased. “Shall I give you the same answers?”
“W-what a-answers?” She shook her head, attempting to erase the engraved image of him or at least clear the air a little, so she could remember how to speak. Speaking’s good.
She tried to relax, but brick by brick, her heart constructed the wall that protected it. It was impenetrable by the time he reached out and took her hand.
She inhaled sharply as their hands connected. The warmth of his touch sent electricity rushing through her fingertips, tingling all over her body. Still, the cold loneliness remained.
That loneness brought back her first memories of the white-washed walls at the orphanage and the feelings of abandonment, leaving her empty, a wasteland of hopes and dreams.
“Still not ready to let me reach your heart are you, Samantha? I’ve yet to find you, my love.” His voice was airy, but deep, like resounding thunder after a storm.
Okay, I’ve officially lost it. I should be the mayor of crazy-town with as many voices as I have skipping around in my skull.
“You been drinking the Kool-Aid?” Sam retorted, crossing her arms tightly across her chest and cocking an eyebrow. “And it's Sam, by the way.”
She hated when people used her full name. Only a few days old, her mother had left her in a shopping cart wrapped in a dirty yellow blanket. She hadn’t even given her a name. The people in the front office at the orphanage had to name her and just happened to be watching “Bewitched” at the time. How humiliating. Abandoned in the world and her identity rested on a worn-out witch on a sitcom. The nickname, “Sam,” would have to do until she was old enough to have it changed.
“Uh, no... I’m sorry. You do look lovely tonight. That shade of lavender against your soft skin and beautiful blue eyes remind me of the essence of color that lingers in the sky just before twilight. You’re such a rare beauty and you’re all...all...” He stopped suddenly.
Wow, a stutter, go figure. At least he’s not perfect. Besides, when you look this good, who cares what’s coming out of your mouth? Sam caught herself before she chuckled out loud.
“I’m all what?” Sam asked, like a chicken with its feathers ruffled.
“And you are allllll-ways beautiful.”
“Thanks, I guess.” She started to relax a little. “By the way, where are we and who are you?”
Now if this freakin’ t-shirt would stop itching. She looked down and gasped at the revealing, purple ball gown that hugged the curves of her athletic body, creating a seductive cleavage. The dress's hem skimmed the ground and shiny black shoes peeked out from underneath.
Sam reached up to touch her hair, but it wasn’t hanging down on her shoulders in her usual style. Instead, to her surprise, it was wound tightly into bun, with stray pieces caressing her neck.
What the hell? I’ve lost it and now I’m standing in a grass field in prom attire with “People’s” sexiest man of the year. Guess it could be worse, as in no sexy man, but seriously, a prom dress?
“I’m Marcus. Marcus Greco and you do know me. You visit my dreams quite often, but not often enough.” He shrugged and turned away from her, continuing to speak over his shoulder, “you and I have spent many nights tucked away here. I search for you endlessly.”
Sam inhaled, filling her nose with the musky tones of his cologne. Hello, hormones.
“So, you’re the reason I’m in this itchy dress?”
“Guilty as charged.” He smiled and Sam was certain she’d heard heaven and hell applauding. Fantastic, if I could just stay here staring at him forever…
“Sounds fun,” she said.
“So, what do you want to do tonight? Dream up your best and let’s have a good time.”
Man, this guy’s incredible. His smile, so evil and enchanting, as if to suggest something I’d wish a boy this good looking would suggest.
Becoming more comfortable with the fact that this was definitely a dream and not reality, Sam decided to take it up a notch on the bad-girl scale.
She allowed her eyes the pleasure of committing him to memory. She started with his handsome face, and slowly moved on to his muscular chest, thick arms, narrow hips, and solid legs, finishing with on more glance at his decadent mouth. His breath caught in his chest, confirming the shocked look on his face.
I wonder if he’s an athlete.
“Sam, what are you doing?” He moved a step closer.
“Most teenagers in this era call it ‘checking you out.’ Which I have to admit is like going to the candy store. Such a treat.” She looked up into his eyes.
“Let it leave your lips, Samantha, say it. Tell me you know me. That you’ve missed me,” Marcus whispered. “Say it…. Come on Sam...” He reached for her hand.
She backed up, her desire turning into something bordering on apprehension. Her face must’ve told the story of her internal struggle because Marcus’ expression changed from one of need to concern.
Why do I have the extreme desire to touch him, to know him? Why do I feel that maybe I’ve already done both? She glanced up as Marcus dropped his hand.
“I’m sorry, Samantha, that was too forward. I just miss you so much.” His eyes dropped to the ground, shoulders slumping.
“Walk away, Sam.” A voice, as warm as the summer sun, caressed her from behind as the wind picked up, circling around her body. It was full of lust and heat, and it reminded her of someone… someone she loved… someone she needed, belonged to. Sam didn’t belong to anyone... did she?
“What is it?” Marcus started walking toward her, his eyes filled with mixed emotions. “What did he say?”
Until then, Sam hadn’t realized she’d been slowly backing up, walking farther and farther away from him.
Why am I putting so much distance between us? Stop moving! Her legs refused to obey her silent command. Half of her heart longed to return to Marcus and the other demanded she run free toward something exhilarating. She wept as the fleeing half won and she ran faster and faster until she could no longer see him.
She awoke abruptly at the loud masculine voice. Her body jerked upward, drenched in sweat; her heart determined to race its way out of her chest. Sam shivered as a network of goose bumps laid claim to her skin.
She tried recalling the details of her dream, hoping to shed some light on the one whose scream had woken her out of a deep sleep. Déjà vu. The voice was so… so… familiar.
Exhausted, she flopped back onto her bed and rolled onto her side, succumbing to a restless sleep.
“Hold on, don’t let go.” He grunted, realizing he was losing his grip. The edge of the building he was hanging off of was more than twenty stories high.
Why did she do this? After all I have done for her? To leave me again.
The rain had begun to pick up and he was struggling just to hold himself up, much less maintain his grip on her. But he couldn’t let go, no he wouldn’t let go, never.
“Just let go. You can’t hold onto me forever, Nathaniel.” She smiled. Her face showed no fear, but her eyes told the story of regret.
“No,” he screamed. “No, I won’t let go, I can’t. Just hold on to me and I’ll pull us up.”
His grip slipped again and he cursed under his breath. He flung his head back and screamed to the sky, “Where are you? Help me, if you’ve ever given a damn, help me know.” He knew he was skating on thin ice by flinging such an insult toward Heavens majesty, but he was running out of options.
I know we are at odds right now, but surely my prayers will be heard. I’ve done so much for you father. Surely you’ll answer, and let me save her this time.
He looked down into her eyes and she smiled again. “Always on your timing Nate, but He never left you. You left him. It’s time for me to go.” She twisted her hand and he screamed again, tightening his grip.
“I can get us both out of this. I can pull us up, there is still a chance; I can save us.” His heart felt as if it might explode.
“You can’t save me or yourself Nate, only He can save. Goodbye, Brother.”
She closed her eyes and jerked back hard.
“No,” Nathaniel screamed as she slipped out of his grip and plummeting twenty-five stories to her death. His heart exploded in his chest and ceased to beat. The grief was overwhelming.
He closed his eyes and tried to pull his own hand away from the ledge, but his fingers wouldn’t obey his command. He wanted to taste death, to meet her head on and feast on her promises.
“Is death so sweet you’d deny me release?” Nathaniel yelled at that the sky. The heavens responded by illuminating its breadth with shards of lightening and a great boom of thunder. Nathaniel closed his eyes to protect them from the radiance of heaven’s response.
“How dare you,” was the last thing Nathaniel heard before the warmth of the lightening penetrated his chest.
He sat up quickly, the slivers of sunrise just breaking through his window. His chest was heaving, trying to suck oxygen into his lungs as quickly as possible. He was twisted in covers that were tangled around him and covered in sweat. He could still taste the saltiness of his own tears as he pulled the covers back, swung his legs over the side of the bed and came into a sitting position.
He lowered his head into his hands and tried to focus on calming himself, trying to get his breathing back on track and slow his racing heart. Always the same building, always the same dream. She was always trying to leave and he was always trying to save her, but he never could.
If he didn’t break this cycle soon, it was going to kill him. But he wasn’t that lucky. He had the same dream so many times and doubted he’d find release anytime soon. Especially since he wasn’t willing to even ask anymore.
Not willing to ask for anything from him.
“Benjamin Warren!” Mrs. Lawson shouted. “Are you even awake?”
I snapped my head up, and quickly wiped the drool from my face with my sleeve. “Huh, uh… yeah. Just closed my eyes so I could think better.”
“I doubt that. Wake up, or it’s detention today after school for you. Got it, mister?” She shook her finger in front of my face. She might’ve been pretty if she wasn’t my mom’s age, which is kind of gross altogether.
I wanted to roll my eyes so bad it hurt. “Yes, Mrs. Lawson. I got it.”
She returned to the front of the room and started preaching on the importance of dividing fractions. Eighth grade sucked, kind of like my older sister. She sucked with a capital ‘S’.
I stretched and started to yawn, but slapped my hand over my mouth. Don’t want to give old Mrs. Lawson anymore reason to bite my head off. I wouldn’t be so darn tired if I could sleep at night, but I had better things to do. It all started a week ago with a noise at my window…
Tap… Tap… Tap…
“Ben,” a voice whispered.
I got out of bed and snuck over to the window, ducking low to peer through. You just never know what kind of blood-sucking monsters might be lurking about. Not that I believe in monsters, but hey, you never know. I didn’t want to give him the head’s up either way. I bent way below the window, on my knees, like a life size army figurine. I pulled myself up and I peeked over the windowsill.
Tap… Tap… Tap…
“Aghh!” My heart jumped in my chest.
“Shhhhh, you fool. It’s me, Jake.”
I could see his grin through the steamy glass.
“Stop screaming like a girl and let me in.”
It was cold this time of year in Texas, but winter always ran late, showing up in January and February. We were usually sweating our butts off at Halloween and Christmas, but I liked sweating. Besides, girls like the natural-smelling hormones boys put off, or that’s what my sister told me. Seemed odd to me, but what do I know?
Cracking open the window, I helped pull Jake in. He must have used the rose trellis that went up the side of the house to get to my second floor window. That thing was full of roses that were dead to the world this time of year. Those brittle thorny stems had to hurt like heck, but of course Jake, ‘the man,’ didn’t complain.
“What’re you doing here, you idiot? You could’ve killed yourself out there.” I quietly pulled down the window, looking over my shoulder at Jake.
“Shhhh. God you’re loud, just like your sister. Speaking of, where is she?” Jake peered out into the hallway and started laughing.
I punched him in the arm and narrowed my eyes at him. Ever since we got into eighth grade and my sister, Elizabeth, started ninth, Jake asked about her - a lot. I mean more than normal. Like enough to cause my gag reflex to hang out in anticipation of usage.
“Shut up, Jake. Answer my question. What are you doing here? You’re going to get us both into trouble.” I sat down on my bed, still staring at him.
“So am I supposed to shut up or answer your question?”
I threw a football at his stomach. He barely caught it in time, bending over at the waist as the air escaped his lungs.
“Answer the question, butt breath,” I said, laughing at the look on his face.
“Just because we’ve been friends since second grade and I take up for your skinny butt every day, doesn’t mean you can boss me around.” Jake’s face broke out into a wide grin. The guy had always been way too much of a jokester to pull off tough or serious, at least with me. With the other kids at school he was Mr. Popular Jock, but with me – he was just Jake.
“Thanks for the history lesson on our relationship. Now answer my question or get out. I was already asleep and tomorrow’s a school day.”
He repeated my words back to me in a high pitched, witch-like voice. I shook my head and crawled back into the bed, covered up and whispered forcefully over my shoulder, “Get out!”
He laughed. I felt the impact of the football in the middle of my back about the time he started to explain himself.
“Come on, Ben, sit up, dude. This is important.”
I sat up, threw off the covers again and moved to the edge of the bed. “You seriously have ten minutes, so spit it out. You know I can’t go on no sleep, and it’s two in the morning. Hurry up already.”
“Okay, okay…” He laughed. “I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking about how you and I had talked about starting our own lawn business to make cash.”
“Really? At two o’clock in the morning we’re talking about starting a business? You do realize that we’re only fourteen, right? I need sleep more than I need money. This better get interesting real fast or I’m going to kick your butt back out the window and you can use your flying powers to land.”
“Calm down and put your teeth back in your mouth. I think I have a better idea than us trying to make money by cutting grass.”
“Get on with it.” I started to hum the theme song from Jeopardy.
“Okay, okay. So I was reading the paper this evening, the one my dad leaves beside his chair, and there are like five or six ads for people needing a private detective.” Jake looked really pleased with himself.
“And?” I asked, running my hand through my hair. “I hope this is about to get better, Clark Kent.”
“And…” Jake emphasized his excitement by standing in the middle of my soccer and football decorated bedroom, waving his arms wildly. “And… we could do this. People never meet private detectives. With my voice being all low and manly, I could be the point of contact over the phone and we could correspond with them through e-mail.”
“Are you insane? Is this some demented dream I’m stuck in?” I threw a black and red pillow at his head. He dodged it perfectly. Surprise, surprise.
“No, and stop being so negative. Listen, this could work. Just hear me out. There are five cases in the paper right now that need help locating something or someone that’s lost. I’ll work up the details. Just tell me that you’ll consider it? We’re talking five hundred to several thousand dollars if we can find the missing items these people are looking for.” He gave me a look that said, ‘See? I told you this was brilliant!’
I sighed and stood. I mean really, what did I have to lose? I pretty much stayed in trouble with my mother because of my bratty sister, so why not? I stuck out my hand, “Deal. As long as you come back with some information on how we’re going to pull this off and you’re the communicator between us and these people.”
Jake’s smile was so big I thought it might crack his face. “Deal. We’re going to make loads of cash. I knew you’d be game for this.”
“Great. Now get out.” I pushed him toward the window, opened it and watched as he climbed out. The dude always was such a great athlete. I don’t know why I was surprised by his ability to scale the side of my house, but I was. I started to push the window down, a sigh escaping my lips, as his head popped back up.
“Agghh..” I jumped back from the window and swore at him.
“Pansy, you knew it was just me, again.” He chuckled.
“I’m shutting the window.” I snickered.
“You won’t be sorry. This is going to be the greatest adventure of our lives.”
I shut the window and crawled back into bed. I was excited about the thought of an adventure, as long as it didn’t end with me getting my butt tore off the back of me or being grounded, I was on board. Funny now, looking back – being grounded or whooped was the least of my worries.