Find me at: http://careycorp.blogspot.com/
Find me at: http://careycorp.blogspot.com/
I'm going back into lurk mode. The best place to catch up with me is on Face Book. (I admit - I am OCD when it comes to FB.) And I'm always looking to chat latest GLEE and THE WALKING DEAD episodes, movies seen, and books read.
Two things are making my Halloween this year…
#2 AMC’s The Walking Dead premiers on Halloween night.
To quote the hubby: “There’s no such thing as a bad zombie movie.” Or in this case show. Even the trailers are friggin’ creepy!
#1 The Rocky Horror Glee Show!!!
Better than chocolate and peanut butter. Two of my favorite things converge into what I’m anticipating to be an A—wait for it—MAZING show. How could you go wrong with the Time Warp and John Stamos as Eddie?
What are you looking forward to this Halloween?
Kathleen, Idina, and Austen, OH MY! It's that time of year again, when I let loose my inner theatre snob and chose my MUST SEE productions for this season in cincinnati.
9/14- 10/2 Kathleen Turner
in Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's Broadway bound HIGH.
9/24-26 Idina Menzel
opens the Cincinnati POPs Orchestra season.
2/18/11-3/13/11 New stage adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival
Never bet against the little one.
There are lessons learned and adhered to the hard way. When enough people learn these lessons, they become universal rules. A few of these rules are:
Never invite a vampire into your house
Always wear clean underwear in case of an accident
Never go outside in the middle of the night to investigate a chain-saw type noise
Goonies never say die
Let the Wookie win
Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line
And in my house we are now adding, Never bet against the little one.
Think about it. The little ones are always the ones to watch out for. They have something to prove and possess unending determination. Who could forget the Little Engine that Could? Yoda turned out to be the most badass Jedi of them all. Rudy, the little Notre Dame Football player was so tenacious he got a movie named after him. Frodo saved Middle Earth. And when it comes to the Goonies, everyone knows not to underestimate Data.
So last night the little one comes to the hubby and me and says she’s thought up a great plan. Then she bets us she can stay up all the whole night. Of course being the inept parents we are, we’d just told her she could watch unlimited TV due to her brother sleeping over at a friends. So hubby and I look at each other *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* and say “go for it.” Of course we’re confident she’ll be asleep by 10:30 or 11:00 tops.
When we wish her good night around ten we’re still feeling supremely and parentally confident. A few minutes later I hear the little one thump down the stairs and patter to the bathroom. *still confident*
The fifth or sixth time I hear her thump and patter it’s closer to morning than bedtime and have no choice but to intervene. I wait for her to come out of the bathroom. When her manically energetic little face sees me, she chirps, “So far my plan is working perfectly! I’ve stayed up for all this night and I’m not even tired!”
It’s two forty-five in the morning!!!
I proceed to explain to her that she has a big day tomorrow. Karate class at ten, a pizza party in the afternoon, and other promised activities like mother-daughter fairy making, and reading the latest Junie B. Jones. Without so much as a grumble, the little one sensibly agrees. Then she thumps up the stairs, turns off the TV, and patters to her bed.
It seems the hubby and I fell victim to one of the classic blunders. Never bet against the little one, when failure is on the line.
Just don’t do it!
Trust me. You will bet wrong. You will fail. You will be up at quarter to three in the morning talking sense into your little one.Never bet against the little one.
The happiest loser – like EVER: One first timer/GH finalist’s perspective on RWA Nationals and Romance Rock Stars.
So the Romance Writers of America Annual conference in balmy Orlando is over and I’m still trying to digest the experience. It was A LOT… It was SURREAL… IT WAS AWESOME! Here’re some of the random, and often surprising, experiences I’ve been able to process so far:
Nora Roberts EATS just like the rest of us. Jeanne Adams and Anna Campbell are two of the NICEST people you could ever meet. (And they liked my gown.) Having experienced several publisher signings, I now understand what it is to be “book drunk.
Nationals was like the Warped Tour of the YA world: Meg Cabot, Ally Carter, Melissa de la Cruz, Kelley Armstrong, Tera Lynn Childs, Lauren Stransnick, Simone Elkeles (who won the Rita for Perfect Chemistry), Tina Ferraro, Jennifer Echols, Cyn Balog, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Diana Peterfreund, Wendy Toliver, Jeri Smith-Ready, Linda Gerber, Tricia Mills, Gwen Hayes, Kristi Cook, Sophie Jordan and lots of other rising YA stars.
I not only met these authors, but in many cases I hung out with them, I talked to them, I tried not to have too many fan girl moments in front of them. I’ve got my new BFF, aka Meg Cabot, on video saying my name (and not in the context of a restraining order). I have pictures with Meg but I also have pictures taken by Meg. And I can’t say enough about the wonderful Ally Carter. My favorite picture is one where I’m sandwiched between Meg and Ally. (Hopefully, I’ll have my pictures up soon.)
I didn’t win the Golden Heart for the YA category. My dear friend Erica O’Rourke did and I couldn’t have felt more proud in that moment. The other GH YA finalists, my margarita gang, have become my sisters on this journey and it was an honor just to be among them. Plus other non-winners of the night were Ally Carter, J.R.Ward, and Nora (writing as J.D. Robb). With such a distinguished list, how could I ever call myself a loser? I won! I WON BIG!!! *tearing up*
I came home exhausted, with blisters, and more books than I could ever hope to read. But most importantly I came home with a sense of community. RWA is no longer this removed organization, of which I happen to be a member. It’s my organization, my peers, a cornerstone of my career. AND I CANNOT THANK THE RWA STAFF AND BOARD ENOUGH FOR THEIR HARD WORK IN PULLING OFF THIS MIRACLE!
So what was my BIG take away from this conference? It was totally worth the expense, the travel, and even the stifling Florida humidity to grow my craft, network, and celebrate with this rich community of authors. RWA Nationals is not just about the Noras and the Megs, it’s about passionate writers in all stages of their careers coming together to share their dreams. Where a yet-to-make-a-name-for-herself author can come for four days and feel like a Romance rock star.
I have recently posted my short story The Revolution and the first two chapters of THE HALO CHRONICLES: THE GUARDIAN. Enjoy!
THE HALO CHRONICLES: THE GUARDIAN
(To start at the beginning of Alex's story, click or cut and paste this link into your browser. http://careycorp1.livejournal.com/1038.html )
“Thank goodness you’re all right.” There’s a tiny hitch in his voice that I don’t think I’m supposed to hear.
Holy crap! The boy with the voice is kneeling over me. He’s so luminous my eyes water as I painfully squint up at him in awe. He makes a small noise between a gasp and a chuckle, and shifts slightly. It no longer hurts to look at him. Now that he’s not silhouetted against the glaring sun, I can see him better. And he’s still heartbreakingly glorious.
Glowing with a golden, shimmering light, I discern he’s not the angel I was about to mistake him for… he’s just a boy. An exquisite boy, flowing with goodness and beauty. But part of what I initially mistook for his halo’s merely a trick of the sun light. He shifts again.
Or is it?
As he reaches out his hand to help me up, I still want to weep at the sight of him and wonder if I’m in shock. But I don’t feel like I’m in shock. Just overwhelmed by the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen.
He continues to gaze down at me, a small smile quirking his lips. But since I only just met him, I don’t know what that particular expression means.
My stomach flutters anyway.
I smile back and it feels foreign as my cheeks stretch tightening my lips. Alex doesn’t smile. Mostly she just hides from the dark ones…and herself.
When I place my hand in his, electricity – tingling warmth – shoots up my arm. He’s so beautiful. Sandy-blonde hair with wheat colored streaks, sun-kissed skin, Caribbean-blue eyes fringed with long lashes and a full, kissable mouth. That last embarrassing observation has my tongue darting reflexively between my own lips.
After he helps me to my feet I try to thank him, uttering, “Beautiful.”
It comes out as a hoarse croak and I suddenly realize it’s not the first time I’ve said that word out loud to him. “Uh – I mean, thank you,” I stammer, feeling my face grow red hot. My abused throat burns. “Thanks.”
“I think I should walk you home. Under the circumstances.” He says it mildly but in a way that tells me the subject’s not open for debate. Not that I would argue anyway. His voice is commanding; deep, smooth and lyrical. Hypnotic.
Dumbly, I nod, my head bobbing up and down under his spell. “Uh, okay.”
He slings his backpack over one arm then reaches for mine, shouldering it as well. Next, he smiles widely at me and I’m momentarily dazzled. And my instinct is to run away, protect myself from this handsome boy who must have some kind of ulterior motive… but his shining halo doesn’t lie. His halo tells me he’s good, safe.
“I’m Gabriel,” he says. He’s got perfect teeth, white like pearls.
I don’t smile back. I can’t. My whole body’s trembling. I glance down at my feet because it hurts too much to look at him. “I’m Alexia.”
Damn! Why did I say that? I’m opening my mouth to amend my introduction, when I hear my name coming from his mesmerizing voice. “Alexia.”
It’s like it comes from somewhere deep inside him, some place familiar and safe.
Chancing a glance at him, I’m captured by his searching crystalline eyes, tumbling into their depths with little resistance. He whispers again, “Alexia.”
Now he shivers. Glancing away, he breaks the intensity between us. I watch his Adam’s apple bob enticingly as he swallows. His neck’s smooth and looks soft.
Carefully, Gabriel places a gentle hand on the small of my back. We both tense at the contact and it strangely occurs to me he’s as unused to touching as I am to being touched.
“Lead the way.” He sounds restrained, but I can’t read him well enough to figure out precisely why. We walk stiffly, in perfect silence. The pressure of his hand on my back’s so light I can’t be sure it’s really there. Except the spot tingles.
As we walk the three remaining blocks to my temporary home, Gabriel stays close. It feels surreal but surprisingly okay. In front of Kate and Steven’s, I reluctantly slow, then halt. When I turn to thank him, he’s so close that our lips are just inches apart.
He smells of evergreens…and the smoke from a hardwood fire. I’m reminded of the only time I ever went camping in the mountains. The sensation of being one with nature and in tune with a Majestic Creator.
Neither one of us moves.
Butterflies pirouette inside my stomach as Gabriel’s eyes slide away from my mouth to examine my neck. The way he scowls at my damaged throat makes me suspect it appears even worse than it feels, if such a thing’s possible. He lifts his hand as if to touch my skin. In anticipation, I swallow then wince because the motion hurts. He lets his hand drop, his lower lip jutting out slightly in annoyance.
After an awkward pause he asks, “What time do you leave for school in the morning?” To my inexperienced ears he sounds terse, but I can’t be sure. And I’m distracted because he’s staring at my mouth again.
Unclear what he’s really asking, I hesitate, trying to read his expression. But he doesn’t accommodate me by looking up. “Uh, seven fifteen – ish?”
He winces at my raspy answer, but still doesn’t meet my eyes. The muscle in his jaw jumps. He’s angry. I wonder at whom? And why? Surely he doesn’t think what happened – back there – is my fault? Even as the thought passes, a small part of me agrees that it is my fault.
And he has every right to be angry. I forgot to watch for the darkness.
“Okay. I’ll see you in the morning, Alexia.” He bites his lip, hesitating. What he’s struggling with is a mystery. Finally, his eyes pierce mine and I’m flooded with the tidal wave of anguish that overflows from his angelic features. “I’m sorry I was late.”
With a fierce frown, he turns and walks away.
I watch Gabriel’s retreating golden form until he’s gone. He doesn’t look back, and I’ve got no idea how I’m supposed to feel about that. Inexplicably I have the urge to cry, whether from sorrow, shock, or happiness, I can’t tell.
What just happened seems impossible, like a dream. I begin to wonder if I’ve hallucinated the whole thing – him. But there’s a spot on my back where the skin still sings from his touch.
Is he really going to be here in the morning?
Alarmingly my face cracks and I realize I’m smiling to myself. That’s new. Gabriel nearly makes me forget I’ve just lived through hell. Shaking my head at it all, I go inside the comfortable home that’ll never be mine. But I am still smiling.
Over our take-out dinner of Szechwan shrimp, Kate asks me how my first day was. Unable to remember anything other than Gabriel, I hesitate. But the memory of him is one of the few things that belong to me and I’m reluctant to share it. Instead I shrug. “Uh, fine, I guess. It was school.”
“Did you make any new friends?”
My face starts to crack. Again, I’m surprised by the involuntary gesture. Tensing my muscles, I duck my head doing my best not to smile. “A few kids have potential.” I’m deliberately vague but she doesn’t press. She has probably noticed my neck, but she doesn’t ask about that either. She just nods and returns to her dinner.
Kate’s sort of like a perky pixie. Her short platinum hair spikes expensively around her head. She has beautiful, petite features – even her hands and feet are tiny – and the richest, most expressive, chocolate-brown eyes I’ve ever seen. They’re even more penetrating than Derry’s bistre-colored ones. Her champagne halo bubbles around her invitingly.
Always smiling, you get the feeling Kate’s a born nurturer. She doesn’t pry, knows when to back off and when to encourage, and always sees the positive. But at the corner of her mouth and in the hidden depths of her eyes, there‘s a grief so profound I can’t comprehend it. Maybe that’s why I feel kind of bad not telling her about Gabriel.
Steven arrives home a few minutes later. His job often requires him to work late and Kate tells me, because of this, she’s grateful for my company. As he sits, I study his expensive blue suit, his pale green shirt, impeccably matched tie, and daffodil halo. His freshly cut hair’s the color of espresso with subtle gray streaks invading at the temples. He has the appearance of someone important, busy. But his astute hazel eyes really see when he focuses on something or someone. And if you look closely, you can see evidence of laugh lines in the contours of his face.
I’m in the process of passing Steven dumplings when his perceptive eyes focus on something they don’t like. Abruptly his countenance is severe, almost scary. “What happened to your neck, Alex?”
Kate has noticed it as well – the look they exchange is unmistakable.
Instinctively my hands rise to cover the area, to protect my secrets. But touching my neck’s a bad idea because the flesh is too tender. I wince, trying to stifle a gasp and come up with a plausible explanation at the same time.
“A locker,” I lie. “Mine’s low and I ran into the elbow of the guy whose locker’s above mine. It looks worse than it is. Really.”
Another glance is exchanged, and then Steven lets it go. As he settles into eating, he asks all the same questions as his wife did earlier. Giving all the same answers, I wait until his curiosity is satisfied then asked to be excused.
In my room, I replay my interaction with Gabriel. All the confusing feelings come back – the fluttering, the trembling, the smiling – especially the smiling. I try to finish my homework, which is minimal being the first day and all, but Gabriel keeps distracting me. My neck throbs and my face aches from smiling.
I sleep like crap.
When I wake, the butterflies in my stomach are already rambunctious. Will he be waiting for me? After tossing all night, I’m still uncertain as to whether I want this. Briefly, I consider sneaking out early, just in case he shows. But I’m not a morning person and the extra time I spend on my appearance, for no reason in particular, costs me.
When I burst from the house at seven fifteen, Gabriel’s sitting on the porch steps. He’s even more beautiful, if such a thing’s possible, than on the previous day. Without a word, he stands and reaches for my bag, his movements smooth and confident. The look he gives me, as his eyes search mine, is penetrating.
“Ready?” he asks, as if he would completely understand if I said “no”. I bob my head somberly, but in reality I’m not ready for any of it, returning to school or this boy in front of me. As if knowing my thoughts he stifles a small frown and shoulders our bags. Again, his hand rests at my back in a touch so light the only way I can be sure is my skin’s awareness. I want to ask him to stop touching me, but I can’t seem to get the words out.
Just seven blocks.
At the corner of Fort Thomas Gabriel switches sides careful to keep his body between me and the busy street. The gesture is so protective and male, that I feel vaguely annoyed by it.
“Are you alright, Alexia?”
“Fine.” Even as I answer, I feel the frown puckering my features. But Gabriel lets it drop.
As we walk, I sneak sidelong glances at him. Encircling him in a thick ring of gold extending outward in spiky white tips, his halo makes it still seems like he’s backlit by the sun despite the cloudiness of the morning. Overcome with the urge to gawk at his radiance, I try to distract myself by focusing on the features of the boy inside the stunning halo. My heart stutters as I admit how breathtakingly gorgeous he is. Even with my new wardrobe and haircut, I feel completely inadequate by his side.
Distracted by his perfection, I don’t notice we are nearing Orchard Avenue until we’re at the corner. Awareness hits me like a sucker punch. Short of breath and in physical pain, I freeze, unable to cross the street, unwilling to get closer to the source of my new nightmares. The pressure of Gabriel’s hand increases. His fingers brush my back in small circular strokes.
Eyes widening, I suck air noisily through my nose. My yogic breathing doesn’t work this time and the terror threatens to overtake me. Then Gabriel’s warm hand is cupping my chin, forcing me to focus only on him. “It’s okay, Alexia. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
And I desperately want to believe him.
He moves to the inside of the sidewalk, becoming a buffer between me and the dark memories of that particular street. His head’s close to mine, his breath tickling my neck as he whispers into my ear, “You’re strong. You’re brave. You can do this.” Over and over, like a litany.
Before I can give into my panic, we’ve moved beyond the corner. But it’s still uncomfortable because I’m leaning on Gabriel, in the literal and figurative senses. The feeling of security’s so huge, such a relief, that I can’t trust it.
“I’m fine,” I lie pasting a bright smile on my face and stepping away from his warmth. The minute our contact breaks I feel cold and strangely bereft. “Let’s go.”
Gabriel keeps pace as I charge my way toward school. At the crosswalk I reach for my bag, which Gabriel surrenders with a barely noticeable amount of reluctance. It’s better if we part company before anyone notices us. After all, my goal is to be invisible and Gabriel’s about as visible as they come. With his celebrity looks, he couldn’t be inconspicuous if he tried. But as I mentally dismiss him something akin to physical pain settles heavily in my chest. Crap!
“Thanks Gabriel. I’ll be fine from here.” With a drop of his hand he nods.
The light changes and I hurry across the street in the middle of a yellow mob of kids, determined not to glance back over my shoulder. My heart twists, as if it misses him already – totally ridiculous since I just met the guy. Walking straight to Algebra, I keep my head down carefully skirting around any dark ones in my way. In the classroom I sit in the same front seat as the day before. About as far away from Jonah Wilkes as I can get.
A second later Gabriel slips quietly into the second row, one seat from the end. As he adjusts his desk, I realize he’s directly between me and Jonah. He grins, despite my scowl, and the effect he has on me is more powerful than ever. My stomach somersaults while I grip my desk so hard my knuckles whiten. The whole class is focused on him – for he’s too beautiful to be overlooked – chattering excitedly. Out of the side of my mouth I hiss, “What do you think you’re doing?”
He answers me the same way. “Math.”
Girls are twittering about him, using words like hot and doable. As the teacher calls the class to order, I glance over my shoulder and whisper, “You have this class?”
He leans forward causing his sandy-blonde hair to flop over one eye. “I do now,” he whispers back with a conspiratorial wink. Everyone’s staring at him – and me.
Mr. Ramirez clears his throat and I’m out of time to suggest Gabriel sits somewhere else. My face is burning as I sink down in my seat. For the next hour I pay rapt attention to the teacher but it might as well be Greek. I don’t comprehend a word.
I do learn Gabriel’s last name is Kustosz.
When the bell rings I’m one of the first ones out of my seat, but before I can escape Gabriel’s at my elbow following me down the hall. Although I'm ignoring him, we’re too close not to be together. I’m hyper aware of his heat, his halo, his amazing smell. All around us I hear bits of conversations – kids talking about us. Feeling their scrutiny, I don’t dare look at anything other than my shoes as the humiliation burns in my cheeks. Inspiration flashes and I halt, suddenly.
Pausing to let Gabriel get ahead of me doesn’t work. He stops too, his familiar hand coming to rest against the small of my back. I stare straight ahead, keeping my voice discreet. “What’re you doing?”
His voice is also low, low and amused. “Going to our next class, Alexia.”
Unable to help myself, I turn and glower at him. My response is out of control and louder than I want it to be. “There’s no ‘our’, Gabriel. There’s ‘yours’ and ‘mine’. No ‘us’!” Everyone within earshot is curiously watching, ravenous for gossip
He’s tranquil in the face of my anger, his smiling eyes radiate patience. Looking down at me he tucks an errant strand of hair behind my ear. His fingertips softly graze my cheek causing me to shiver. Instantly I feel as fearsome as a fuzzy kitten.
“Maybe there should be.” He stuns me with his dazzling smile.
Without a word, I make a beeline for French.
In class Madame Mimi showers an inappropriate amount of attention on Gabriel. She flirts outrageously, giggling and flipping her hair, but I seem to be the only one who notices. I decide to call her Madame Putain. It fits.
On the way to third period, I pretend he doesn’t exist. Only I can feel the searing heat of his hand against my back. When we enter class, he keeps himself between me and Jonah all the way to our seats. Coincidence? I wonder as he sits behind me again, one seat over. Although Jonah’s the deep slate of a stormy ocean, with Gabriel between us, his halo barely affects me.
Gabriel, on the other hand, I am keenly aware of…every movement, every shift, every breath. For the next hour, I try to concentrate on biology, but all I can think about is chemistry.
After science, I try another tactic and hide in the girls’ bathroom until the bell rings. The space has a cold institutional feel I find comforting. From inside my stall I stare at the cracked blue floor tiles and read the graffiti that covers the walls. I learn Naomi is a slut. At least in someone’s opinion.
I’ve spent a lot of time hiding in bathrooms.
Not caring if I’m late, I actually consider ditching Government altogether until the Fosters’ concerned faces fill my head. Crap! When I finally emerge into the empty hall, Gabriel’s lounging against the wall, unconcerned. He grins as annoyance crosses my face, pointing out smugly, “You’re late for Government.”
His smile, I want to slap it off his face…or kiss it away.
Crap! Crap! Crap!
My words, short and clipped to cover my traitorous thoughts, sound angrier than I feel. “If you care so much, you should’ve left me.”
That gets the smile off his face. He grips my shoulders firmly but without hurting me. It actually feels sort of nice. “I’m not going to leave you,” he insists.
It feels as if he’s talking about something other than class, something I don’t understand but sense is bigger than I can handle. I grumble, “Even if I ask you nicely?”
As my words sink in, he blinks several times. “Would you do that?”
“What?” My sullen response causes his eyes to widen.
“Ask me to leave you?” There’s surprise with an undercurrent of something I can’t quite identify in his voice. It almost feels like panic, but since we are practically strangers the emotion makes no sense.
Ducking my head, I avoid the answer with a question of my own. “Even if I did, would you really go?” A red thread-like fiber curls on the ground near my feet, I stare at it while waiting for him to answer, afraid of what he’ll say.
Soft as a feather, his fingers trace my jaw line. Gently, he lifts my head until we’re staring into each other’s eyes. His narrow with import. “If you really wanted me to leave, I would.”
The air between us is heavy with his unspoken plea. It hits me that he doesn’t want to be sent away and I don’t really want him to go – at least not for today. The stark vulnerability of need twists in my stomach. I feel weak and scared, because I don’t want to need him. I don’t want to need anybody.
“Do you, Alexia?”
His words flow over me like a haunting melody causing me to forget the original question. “Do I what?”
“Want me to go?”
Quietly he clears his throat and for the first time he appears uncertain. His eyes continue to hold mine and I’m unable to look away, to protect myself even in that small way as I admit the truth.
I tremble slightly as the confession hangs between us. He swallows and I watch the way his throat bobs, the way his jaw muscles flex, the way his lips ripple, and his pupils expand… Movement at the end of the hall breaks the moment. Gabriel sighs, reaching for my bag. “We should get to class.”
Dumbly nodding, I turn away from him, my body feeling shaky and unreliable. It takes all my concentration not to stagger. Anger and guilt tangle in my chest as I try to process what just happened. Then I feel Gabriel’s steady hand settle reassuringly into the small of my back and bite back a growl. “Maybe you shouldn’t touch me.”
Wordlessly he lets his hand drop, and I nearly relent.
At the door to Government, he stops and hands my bag back to me. I pause, confused. “Don’t you have this class?”
His left eyebrow dips as he inquires, “Do you need me to?”
I think for a moment, wondering at his cryptic question before shaking my head. “I guess not.”
“I’ll meet you right here for lunch.”
“That’s not necessary.”
Although he’s waiting for me to go, I hesitate, worried about after lunch. As much as I want to, I don’t think I can face Mr. Creepy on my own. But I can’t bring myself to admit it. Clearing my throat, I ask, “What about – nevermind...”
When he looks at me – a deep, searing stare that shakes me to my core – it’s as if he knows my mind. “This is the only class we have apart. So the bad news is you’re going to have to put up with me the rest of the day and I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
Relieved and more than a little grateful, I nod. Giving my hand a quick squeeze, he lightly admonishes, “Now get to class. You’re late.”
In that moment I’m too mollified to realize how bizarre it is that he knows our collective schedule. But as I sit in Government, self-loathing sets in. I hate that I’m counting on Gabriel to get me through English. It’d be better to leave – get away from him and from the Fosters before thing become complicated. The only person I can depend on is myself. I know this from experience.
Afterwards, Gabriel’s waiting just like he promised. As we walk to lunch together, amidst stares and whispers, I resign myself to no longer being invisible. But as we enter the cafeteria, I’m ill-prepared for the resulting attention.
First everything comes to an immediate halt. Noise stops and movement ceases in an almost exaggerated way, reminding me of a poorly-made sitcom. The result is disorienting. My body reacts in fight or flight mode as Gabriel smoothly steers me through the maze of gawking students to an empty table in the back.
In a stupor, I let him seat me facing the wall. As he settles across the table, I fidget uncomfortably, panicking because I can’t have my back to everyone. Needing to watch for the darkness, I try to glance over my shoulders at my surroundings without being obvious about it but the movements make me nauseous and agitate my injured neck. Noticing my distress, Gabriel stops unpacking his lunch to pat the seat beside him.
“Why don’t you come sit next to me, Alexia.”
I want to, but worry what people with think.
Continuing to read my mind, he offers, “They’re already talking about us. There’s no reason for you to be sitting over there in agony, when you would be more comfortable on this side.”
As painful as it is to admit, he’s right. So I switch sides. I try not to sit too close but, because there’s a metal bar in my way, end up touching his thigh with mine. Despite our layers of clothing, my leg tingles where we connect. If Gabriel notices, though, he doesn’t react. Instead he watches with interest as I pull a Vitamin Water and a cereal bar from my backpack. With a frown he asks, “That’s all you’re having?”
I shrug. “Didn’t think I’d be very hungry.”
Nodding he begins unpacking his lunch, producing a thick sandwich loaded with veggies and meat on wholegrain bread, an apple, a banana, a Vitamin Water like mine, and a tiny package of Oreos.
“Here,” he says handing me his banana.
Hungrier than I anticipated, I take it without arguing. “Thanks.”
“You’re most welcome.” Crooking an eyebrow, he contemplates me challengingly. “You’re also eating half my Oreos.”
His edict makes me laugh because he has no clue how crazy I am for Oreos. “Half?” I retort, “I was planning on eating them all.” I grab them possessively, clutching them to my chest. Pulling at my hands, Gabriel makes a mock attempt to reclaim his dessert. We scuffle, wrenching the cookies back and forth, until we’re both quaking with laughter.
“Is this seat taken?” I look up to see two cheerleaders smiling – all vacant and phony but dazzling nonetheless – down at Gabriel. My heart slams painfully in my chest as I realize I’ve let my guard down yet again.
Or maybe my pain has to do with how lovely the two girls are with their perfect makeup and short, sexy uniforms. One blonde and the other brunette, they resemble what I imagine to be the epitome of every teenaged boy’s fantasy. Once they capture Gabriel’s attention, they sit down uninvited.
“I’m Naomi Bennett,” the brunette bimbo says coyly. Her halo’s a smudge, merely a slight darkening around her edges like a grease stain. She nods toward the blonde. “This is Kendra Douglas.”
“Hi,” chirps the blonde one. “You’re Gabriel, right?” She tosses her hair with such skill it should be an Olympic event. Kendra’s surrounded by a flimsy ring the color of stale beer. She’s barely good, which becomes apparent in the way she’s blindly following Naomi’s lead.
They don’t acknowledge my existence as they make themselves at home at our table. Their attention is exclusively for the gorgeous boy at my side. Suddenly, I am invisible again.
Deflated by the turn of events, I turn away to catch Jonah watching us. Hate shoots like daggers from his eyes toward the two girls seated opposite me and I wonder at the history behind his scowl. All of a sudden, he’s conscious of my scrutiny. Giving me a quick, sharp glare, he turns back into himself, his chaotic halo darkening into slate as he picks at his lunch.
“Alexia?” Gabriel’s breath is low and humid against my ear. I realize he’s been speaking to me, waiting for some kind of response. At some point he has nestled his hand against my back. My skin begins to sing with awareness and I scoot away.
Shaking my head to clear it, I snap back to him. “Sorry, I must’ve zoned out.” As I turn toward him, he doesn’t pull back. He – is – so – close.
An involuntary shiver trembles down my spine as our noses brush. He swallows, a small gulp so loud it fills my ears causing me to tremble even more. My stomach tingles in an unfamiliar yet not unpleasant way.
Alarmed he pulls back, holding me at an arm’s length for evaluation. “Are you all right?” The concern in his sea-colored eyes makes them wide.
“Fine.” Nodding self-consciously I fiddle with my water as Gabriel opens his Oreos, giving me two and keeping the other half for himself.
“Oooh,” crows Naomi enthusiastically. “I just love Oreos. They’re the best.”
Gabriel grins. “Yep.”
To my extreme satisfaction, not only doesn’t he offer her any, but he seems to take great pleasure in breaking them apart and slowly savoring them in her face. His thigh presses against mine and I wonder if his action is conscious, if he’s deliberately maximizing our contact.
“So Gabriel, how do you like Midlands High?” Naomi smiles at him sweetly, overlooking the cookies. But I get the impression she’s not used to being ignored.
“Is it better than your old school?” Kendra bats her eyelashes at him then backs off as Naomi elbows her under the table.
As the two girls attempt to chat with him, Gabriel remains polite and brief. Even in the face of his one syllable answers, they can’t take a hint. He makes a private joke of rolling his eyes at me as he exaggeratedly eats his Oreos, and before I know it, I’m playing along with my own cookies.
When the bell rings, Gabriel clears our combined trash without a word. I’m still sitting when the cheerleaders stand in tandem. “What class have you got next?” Naomi asks.
“English,” he answers curtly.
They move to intercept him on his way back from the waste bin, chattering over the top of one another. “We’ve got English too!”
“Isn’t Mr. Abernathy the best?”
“Did you get yesterday’s homework assignment, since you were out?”
“He’s one of the best teachers at this school. He’s won National awards and everything.”
“My locker’s right on the way, I could get you the answers.”
“He’s really handsome, for a teacher and all.”
Naomi tries to take his arm, but Gabriel successfully evades her grasp. Parting them like the Red Sea, he reaches out to help me to my feet. His lips twitch with barely contained mirth that makes his eyes sparkle.
Glancing at me as if I’m some spider she just noticed crawling across her shoe, Naomi shoves at Kendra and they flank Gabriel in unison. “Walk with us,” she begs.
“No thank you.” Looking pointedly at me he asks, “Are you ready Alexia?”
I’m anything but ready. But I won’t admit it. He remains motionless, hand outstretched, waiting for me to surrender my bag to him. The cheerleaders are hovering and in a fit of impulsiveness I sling my backpack at Gabriel in an enthusiastic arc that nearly knocks Naomi down. Choking back a giggle, I enjoy the rush of satisfaction as she stumbles backwards.
Kendra rushes to her friend’s aid as Gabriel catches my carelessly flung bag. Disapproval radiates from his eyes and the tight set of his lips but I don’t care. In this strange new world where I have to suffer perky cheerleaders and perfect boys, it feels good to lash out. As Jonah brushes past me, I see the smirk on his face and I know he gets it.
Shooting daggers with her eyes, Naomi stomps past us dragging Kendra by the arm. “Bitch,” she snarls.
“Was that really necessary, Alexia?” The disappointment in Gabriel’s eyes fuels my mood.
“Yes,” I answer, feeling defiant and perversely happy.
With a soft shake of his head, he asks, “Are you ready for our next class?”
The smile freezes on my face as the realization that I have English next sinks in. The knowledge causes instant corporeal pain and I regret having eaten. My heart sharply accelerates in anticipation as my legs turn to rubber. Mr. Creepy’s sickening behavior speeds through my mind blurring the present surroundings.
Everything in the scene before me goes fuzzy around the edges. Solid objects start to dissipate as the floor tilts, pitching up to meet me at an impossible angle. Then, everything vanishes.
THE HALO CHRONICLES:
Happiness damn near destroys you
Breaks your faith to pieces on the floor
So you tell yourself that’s enough for now
But happiness has a violent roar
When I was a little girl I thought the shadows could harm me. I was terrified of them. Then I learned there are far worse things in this world than the absence of light… things like hate, racism, pure evil, and high school. Yep, that’s what I said, high school. Most people overlook the real darkness of the world, seeing instead average citizens – adults mostly, some teens, a few kids, an occasional teacher – but I see them for what they are: monsters. Now I look for the shadows, welcome them even. There’s safety in shadows. Especially when your only goal in high school, in life, is to be invisible…
Seven long blocks.
I tell myself that’s all it is – a cake walk. Basically I lie.
Kate and Steven have already left for the day, so I linger on their freshly painted front porch taking in the variations of pastel blue and antique white gingerbread trim. Inhaling deeply, the pungent chemical smell of the paint slices through my fear allowing me to clear my head. The acrid scent is strangely soothing.
For a minute I regret not accepting the ride offered to me. Kate wanted to stay. Drive me to the first day of school, my being new and all. But I tell her that’s not the way it’s done when you’re a sophomore. She gets it and lets the subject drop. She’s good that way.
I shut the front door, which is the same shade of red as a Christmas poinsettia, taking extra care to use the key given me and return it to the inner pocket of my new backpack. Looking down, my eyes trace the bottom edge of my jeans as they rest against my new Ed Hardy sneakers. The shoes match my top perfectly, both a vivid shade of electric purple– not a color I’m entirely comfortable with. The whole outfit’s new, like the backpack and my haircut.
At Kate’s insistence I capitulated to a back-to-school shopping spree. It seemed to make her sublimely happy to dress me up like Suburban Barbie, and since I don’t care too much one way or the other, I thought it was the right thing to do. So I now have a new, colorful wardrobe that puts me in the same category as the porch – recently overhauled. But I miss my faded army jacket with its oversized sleeves and holes worn clean through the pockets.
As I contemplate the walk before me, my heart squeezes in a familiar, unpleasant way that proves, contrary to my makeover, nothing has really changed. Nothing ever really does…
Just seven blocks.
And Kate’s already gone because I told her I would be fine, that I could handle the first day all by myself.
Basically I lied.
Does it make a difference that I’m sorry when I have to lie? I like to think so… but does it make the lie harder to tell the next time? No.
But it’s not any easier either, so that’s something.
Regardless, lying is what I’m good at, so I tell myself today will be just fine. That there’s nothing to be afraid of… And despite the cramping in my stomach, I leave the safety of the pretty porch and begin to walk.
It’s seven fifteen. School starts in forty five minutes. If I amble I’ll reach
But I am conspicuously purple. And I no longer have my jacket.
To console myself, I make believe
I don’t tell the Fosters this – not that they wouldn’t go out of their way to try and help me – it’s just,
Six blocks to go… like a countdown to an execution, or the tolling of the bells at midnight... the blocks vanish beneath my feet as I move toward something sinister and ominous. It doesn’t help to change direction, no matter which way I go, I’m always moving toward it. Never away… never toward safety.
At the corner, I turn right onto
For a moment I long to be back at The Children’s Center with its cracked, crumbling pavement and tenaciously growing weeds. There the air was stale but familiar. I think about the Center, the closest thing I can call home, for the next two blocks and wonder for the millionth time where
…And just maybe I need him.
Maybe I need one person in this cursed life to care about me, and whom I can care about in return. Then I wonder if I’m asking too much.
Four more blocks.
When I reach
To my right are snappy little shops with green awnings and thriving flower boxes. They’re closed this time of the morning. Idly, I wonder if Kate shops there and whether she’ll take me with her sometime. One store’s a used CD place. Maybe I’ll stop there on the way home, if the day doesn’t turn out to be too bad. I’m always looking for more music.
With a swift stab of pain, I realize it doesn’t matter anyway. I no longer own the MP3 player I got for Christmas as a charity gift. It was dark pink and came with a gift card for 200 downloads, which wasn’t nearly enough since my tastes are eclectic. I gave it to
The foot traffic’s heavier now, teens walking in boisterous groups and alone. Most kids are in shorts, since it’s August. For the most part they look bright and shiny, and rich. It occurs to me I’ve never been to a school this nice and maybe, because of the affluence, it’ll be different. Better.
I try to picture what it would be like to stay here in this place, but the harder I focus the more the idea becomes intangible, dissipating like the morning fog. It’s as if I’m trying to capture something that doesn’t exist… something that never can, for me.
Rounding the next corner I see the dark spot, just off the main road, on
Loosening my coffee-colored hair from behind my ears, I hunch my shoulders, ducking into myself. But my newly cut hair is too short to hide behind. And I don’t have the safety of my jacket. Diverting my eyes, I stare at the sidewalk in front of me, feeling highly vulnerable. I regret declining the designer sunglasses Kate wanted to buy for me. If I had sunglasses I could observe things better.
The three boys notice as I pass. I don’t look, but can feel their repulsive attention all the same. Bile starts to churn in my stomach, rising. My heart’s rioting beneath my ribcage as I pick up my pace. From experience, I know the reaction will lessen with distance. Fervently, I hope I don’t have class with any of them. If I do, maybe I can switch. Then maybe I can stay, at least for a little while.
Less than three blocks to go.
The pristine sidewalks are congested with teenagers. Excited chattering surrounds me adding to my anxiety. My stomach rumbles in protest and I’m glad I’ve not eaten. New environments often make me sick. I’ve learned to take precautions.
The last two blocks are shorter. Up ahead I can see the three story brick citadel that’s
Ahead of me in the semi-circular courtyard, I spot a potential problem. Just one boy, a blob of battleship gray in the buttery sea of students. I alter my course, giving him a wide berth. He doesn’t pay any attention to me, which is just the way I like it.
Mentally I review my plan. Visualizing my route using the class schedule and campus map I’ve memorized, I cross the street with the oblivious herd of teens and resign myself to the horrors of high school. Main building, second floor, left wing. First period Math. Algebra II. I focus on my unsullied, purple shoes as I weave my way through the heaving mass of adolescents, trusting my senses to alert me to any real danger.
The worst part of a new school is getting the proverbial lay of the land. Interpreting the cliques and teachers, identifying who’s got power and who just thinks they do. Most of all who to avoid. Not the obvious bullies or bitchy popular girls, but the truly malicious, malignant ones. This is my fifth school in two years. I have made surviving an art.
Relieved to make it to first period without incident, I’m slipping through the classroom doors when uncontrollable sensations assault me. Palpable dread, a leaden ball in my stomach. My mouth goes dry as my heart slams against my ribs, faltering before it speeds up. I inhale sharply, knowing the danger’s in the back of the room on the side closest the door.
With a side-long glance, I look.
The boy stares apathetically at his desk, his acne-pocked face sullen. Long greasy hair, dyed an inky black, hangs limply around his shoulders. He looks quiet, almost wimpy, but surrounding him is a cloud of churning ash that keeps obscuring him from my view. Crap!
I slump forward, shuffling to the opposite corner of the room near the window. The class isn’t yet full and no one seems to notice my bizarre behavior as I slide into a first row seat. Gripping my desk with both hands, I focus on yogic breathing techniques as the room fills. In this instance they help.
As the class fills putting more bodies between me and the dark boy, the sensations abate. By the time the teacher enters the class I’m sure I can make it, for today at least.
It’s hard to recall exactly when I first started seeing my fellow human beings in the parameters of light and darkness. I was very young and already on my own. The first time I saw someone truly dark – almost black – I wet myself. I was six.
I don’t see auras. No pretty colors or hippy dippy philosophies. I see variations of good and evil that halo the entire body and my physiological processes react accordingly. I’ve little control over either phenomenon. It really sucks.
Halos are like a color scale ranging from black to gold to white. The center’s neutral, no color or halo of any kind. On one side there’s good, a spectrum of yellows, starting out faint hazy goldenrod, growing brighter and lightening into clear white brilliance. The other side’s bad, starting as an ethereal dull silver mist, turning gray then charcoal, before darkening into the still blackness of pure evil. With an energy all its own, a halo’s pattern and movement mirrors its owner’s emotional and moral states.
The boy in the back of the room is angry. Hurt, pissed, out for revenge. His halo tumbles around him like an ominous storm cloud. I get all of this in the time it takes for the teacher to call the class to order and open his class roster. Mr. Ramirez, as he introduces himself, begins to take roll.
John Avers. Mindy
I listen intently for the name of the boy in the back.
Geena Davies. Luke Davis. Graham Ernst. Alexia Grabovski.
I listen so intently I don’t recognize my own name as it’s called.
It’s only after the third time the teacher says it that I react.
It comes out as a squeak. Feeling the collective eyes of the class, including the boy, staring at me I meet Mr. Ramirez’s amused gaze. “Daydreaming already, Miss Grabovski?”
“No, sir.” I shake my head back and forth a few times. Mr. Ramirez goes back to his list and I gulp before regaining his attention. My cheeks burn with humiliation, as I unavoidably prolong the spotlight. “Uh, Mr. Ramirez?” He pauses. “It’s Alex, not Alexia.”
He makes a note on his paper, giving me a warm smile. “Okay, Alex.” He’s surrounded by a thin but solid layer of ecru. If I were staying, I would probably like him. A lot.
But I’m not…staying. And I'm not Alexia.
Alexia is a pert girl on the cheerleading squad, who spends her time shopping and dreaming of prom. The kind of girl who’d carry a rat-dog around in her handbag. Someday she’ll trade in her pink bedroom for a sorority house full of other cheerful, aptly-named sisters. She has her whole bright future ahead of her.
I am not that girl.
My name’s Alex. I spend my days trying to dodge the darkness and, if possible, stay one step ahead of it. The most I can hope for is to make it to my eighteenth birthday so I can get out of the system and fade into obscurity. I take one day at a time, trying my best not to look ahead – the future terrifies me.
By the end of roll call, I learn the boy’s name is Jonah. Jonah Wilkes.
Second period French. So far so good. I sit down next to a frizzy, red-haired girl with glasses and hand-me-down clothes. She’s benign – harmless – I’m sure of it. Her halo’s a diaphanous lemon chiffon.
Most people have very vague halos, slightly good or bad, but for the most part neutral. They may waver with emotion and circumstance, but generally remain on either one side or the other. There are a lot of “good” people surrounded by faint gray halos. These are the people who make the right choices for wrong reasons. The ones that would do wrong if there was no consequence or chance of getting caught. For the most part, society keeps them in check. Those faintly gray people don’t bother me.
On the flip side there are those who do wrong for the right reasons, like Robin Hood. They possess some of the brightest, most clearly-defined halos I’ve ever seen. Ironically often a school’s iconoclast, its “rebel”, has a heart of gold. And a golden halo to prove it.
The brighter or darker a person’s halo becomes, the more intrinsic it is to their make up. They’re the ones who choose to do good or evil because of their own moral compass, regardless of external expectations. Then there are those rare people who embody goodness or evil. I’ve never seen any up close but I come across them on the news occasionally. Mother Teresa and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Adolf Hitler are the most famous examples I can think of. The first and only time I saw an image of Hitler, I threw up.
The French professeur, Madame Mimi, is one of those outwardly nice people who really isn’t nice at all. She’s surrounded by a light fog the color of dirty cement. As she commences the morning’s leçon, I idly wonder if she talks about students behind their backs. Two-faced fits her.
The whole class has to choose French names. I pick Jeanne, like Jeanne d’Arc. My own grim joke. But no one’s laughing, not even me.
The lemon chiffon girl, I learn, is Becke Finch.
I cross Jonah’s path again in third period Biology but now that I’m more used to him, I know what to expect. Also his halo’s shifting, less chaotic and lighter by the time we’re dismissed. He reminds me of a child, the way his halo fluctuates.
Children can vary greatly in a short amount of time as their emotional state changes, even flipping from light to dark and back again. They don’t have a developed voice of reason to keep them grounded and without it often are slaves to the feelings of the moment. That seems to fit for Jonah, somehow. Suddenly, I’m feeling hopeful. Maybe he simply needs an outlet for his emotions, a friend or a therapist.
It’s too soon to know for sure and I’ll probably be gone long before I can discover the answer. But I find myself wishing for his sake, that his friends might make a difference in his life.
After fourth period Government, I sit alone at a corner table in the cafeteria eating a BLT sandwich, carrots, Pringles, and a Vitamin Water. Kate offered to send me with lunch money, but I don’t like taking things. Room and board’s hard enough.
As I eat, I try to ignore the other tables of tightly packed kids. I’ve seen it all before – tons of times. High school seems to follow that rule of nature, like associates with like. A couple of the tables are noticeably darker, mostly misfits, pariahs, an occasional Goth. There are the few bright tables of the overachievers and honors kids, glowing like beams of sunlight. The predominant tables, though, are a mix of popular kids, their halos, while encompassing both light and dark, are equally weak. They lack substance and definition. Then in the far corner, completely alone, is the roiling halo of Jonah Wilkes.
After lunch is English, not one of my favorite subjects.
He’s watching the door, evaluating the students as they enter, sizing up the guys and ogling the girls. Instantly my stomach cramps and my bowels turn watery. I breathe through it, then mumbling an excuse, turn around and sprint for the bathroom down the hall.
I spend a few minutes splashing cold water on my face and calculating my chances of transferring to another class. When I return he’s waiting, smiling at me in an uncomfortable way. Mr. Abernathy is swathed in cold, smooth gunmetal. He leaves a metallic taste in my mouth that makes me want to grimace.
“Alexia Grabovski, I presume.” His voice is jovial, adding to the ick factor. “Please take a seat. Join us, Alexia.”
The only seats left are in the front row. I wonder why?
The class snickers as he places a not-so-fatherly hand just behind my shoulder, careful not to actually touch me, and guides me to the front center seat. My skin crawls. If I hesitate even a fraction of a second he’ll bump into me causing “accidental” contact. Without stopping to question how I know, I realize he’s used this ploy before. With a tight smile I slip away from him and take the seat on the end.
“I prefer to be called Alex,” I say, after swallowing back the vomit that’s lodged in my throat. The wall behind his desk is covered with accolades. Awards and articles meant as a testimonial to what a great teacher Mr. Abernathy is.
He follows me as the class begins to lose interest and pursue their own conversations. Standing benignly off to my right side, he bends forward slightly so his stale breath brushes against the sensitive skin of my collarbone but still not close enough to seem inappropriate. His smile holds polite yet professional interest at odds with the dark sphere of menace that encircles him.
Bile rises in my throat and I swallow it down with a gag. I kick myself for being a naive idiot – for not skipping school, for actually wanting to stay however briefly with the Fosters, for believing things might be different this time.
Mr. Abernathy’s husky voice is nearly covered by the din of the class. “All comfy now, Alexia?”
Contorting in my seat, I look him straight in the eyes. His pupils are so dilated that his watery blue eyes look black. Up close, he has a stench like sour bodies – it fills my nose, mixing with the metal taste on my tongue and causing my stomach to cramp even worse. Fighting the urge to put my head between my knees, I try to distract myself by thinking up a nickname for him. I decide on Mr. Creepy.
Mr. Creepy stares. His fingertips twitch, as if resisting the urge to touch me. And I can’t help but wonder if this weren’t such a public setting…?
After a long, uncomfortable pause he whispers, “Alexia.” The way he says it makes me feel exposed, like I’m in my underwear.
The taste in my mouth is nearly unbearable. I stifle a gag as my voice comes out low and pained. “It’s Alex.”
His reply’s a whisper. “You shouldn’t be afraid of who you are. When you get older like me, you’ll realize Alexia is a gorgeous name.” He’s looking down at me, only not at my face.
I feel violated, numb, but refuse to let it show. “Are we going to have a lesson today? Or just talk about what old people know?”
Lips twisting into something akin to a grin, his gaze travels lazily upward to my face. But there’s malice in his eyes. Still he lingers. “Touché, Alexia.”
Strolling back to his desk, he makes a pretense of reviewing his papers while really he’s leering at a couple making out in the back of the class. From my vantage point in the front, I follow his gaze to where the guy’s got his hands on his girlfriend’s ass as she perches on the edge of his desk. Mr. Creepy’s getting off on it.
Suddenly his eyes shift to me and I get caught watching.
Feigning a look of shock, Mr. Creepy clears his throat then frowns at the couple disapprovingly. “Let’s begin,” he says. Although speaking to the entire class, his eyes dart to mine secretively before sliding away. Then directed to the girl-half of the couple he orders, “Please take your seat Miss Bennett.”
He spends the entire lecture seated, lounging behind his desk. His relaxed posture, like every gesture and every question, is calculated. Whenever he looks in my direction his eyes make me feel dirty – it’s like he’s projecting pornographic thoughts.
Five minutes before the end of class his eyes turn feverish and he dismisses us early. I try to get the heck out of there but get stuck behind a couple of slow kids, one of the last ones to exit. Waiting anxiously for my turn to leave, I try to ignore my glassy-eyed teacher as his x-rated thoughts pummeling me from across the room as I make my escape.
I wonder why none of the other students seem to notice something’s amiss. Maybe on top of everything else, I’m beginning to hallucinate. Then I realize they can’t see his halo, which undulates about him in stilted, jerky motions. In my peripheral vision I see him lick his non-existent lips. He smirks knowing he has my undivided attention. His dark halo continues to thrust.
I have to get the hell out!
Stumbling out the door, I bump into Jonah. His halo’s darkened again into charcoal but it doesn’t bother me at this particular moment. His pale eyes, however, are unnerving as he regards me uncomfortably, with something that could pass for sympathy. “Fuckin’ teachers,” he mumbles before ducking his head and shuffling away.
In Physical Education I’m grateful there are no dark ones to avoid. I’m also grateful it’s the first day and we’re not expected to do anything other than watch a video. Hurray for Coach Mann and her school bus yellow halo!
After school, I try unsuccessfully to switch English classes. By the time I leave
Just as the green awnings of the local shops come into view, something overhead captures my attention. It’s like a blazing light streaking across the sky, but low and close. Like a meteor about to crash into earth, or a plane falling from the sky – but there’s no fire. If it’d been night, I’d believe it was a shooting star.
But stars can’t visibly burn in broad daylight, can they?
It vanishes just beyond the shops, leaving me momentarily blinded and anxiously listening for some sort of inevitable collision that never happens. This is why I’m distracted – why I’m not thinking about
“Hey, new girl!”
I hear and feel them at the same time. Instant stomach flu-like pain has me cramping forward, clutching at my abdomen. My heart accelerates into an arrhythmic staccato. Fear is sharp and tangy in my mouth, like an old penny.
I freeze, wondering if it’s too late to run.
Then I feel him behind me, my skin prickles at my hairline just before he grabs my shoulder, spinning me around. My heart sinks. There aren’t just three guys, but six or seven. Only a few are dark ones, the rest pale gray followers. The one in front of me is the color of lead pipe. He might be considered cute, but it’s difficult to see objectively through the filter of his sickening halo.
He steps back, appraising me with a smirk. “Hey, I hear you’re so hot for Mr. Abernathy you were practically giving it to him in English today.” The boys laugh.
The air whooshes from my lungs as I’m shocked into silence. Toward the back of the group, I see Jonah. He looks at me, maybe apologetically, then mumbles, “I’m out.” Turning his back to the dark intentions of his associates, he leaves. I watch his halo darken and churn as he retreats.
A finger snaps in front of my eyes, interrupting my reverie. “Over here, new girl.”
Closing my eyes against a wave of nausea, I concentrate on edging backwards, away from the kid in front of me. I manage two steps before meeting a wall of solid mass. Two of the boys have circled around behind me, a predatory move I should’ve anticipated. I shudder, my eyes popping open, as they put their hands on my body. Their leader leers gleefully at me, checkmate in his expression. “Bring her this way,” he growls to them.
They push me roughly forward. One cups my ass as he walks. Nearly incapacitated by their halos, I shuffle forward, too sick to resist let alone fight back. My brain feels thick, feverish as I struggle to make it work at the same time willing myself not to pass out.
Scream, I think to myself. Scream, you idiot!
By then I’m in the small side yard between two houses obscuring me from public view. Which is very bad. The energy thrumming through the group’s palpable as everything slows down. It’s nearly an out of body experience. High in the sky overhead I notice a dark cumulus cloud as it slowly drifts in front of the sun, bathing me in shadow. The penumbra reminds me that I need to do something, but it takes a moment to remember what.
I have to scream!
The sucking of air into my lungs signals my attacker as to what I’m intending to do. His hand comes up against my windpipe. Hard. I’m pinned against the wall of a house and I can’t breathe. I can’t get any air at all!
Frantically, I claw at his hands until he barks, “Hold her.” Now there are more hands pinning me, some are rough and eager, while others seem hesitant. Spots dance in front of my eyes and I feel sleepy. With relief, I realize I want to go to sleep. Everything will be okay, I think, if I can just sleep. The kid in front of me dissolves as everything fades away. For the first time in my life, I’m happy to embrace the darkness.
Then several things happen all at once. The sun emerges from behind the cloud, illuminating everything in brilliant light. As I squint against the glow, the kid lets go of my windpipe. The others release me as well and I drop to the ground, clutching at my throat and dragging in ragged breaths of air.
Two seconds pass.
Around me is noise, commotion my oxygen deprived brain can’t process. Finally I’m able to sift through the sounds. Fighting. I hear an unfamiliar voice roar, “If you touch her again, I’ll kill you!” I believe the voice. He means it. I wonder who her is? Whoever she is, she’s lucky to have such a protector.
I hear the sounds of shuffling. Low moans and curses. Sounds of retreat.
The roaring voice is gentler now. Laced with concern, it asks, “Are you alright?”
Surprised, I surmise it’s talking to me so I manage to nod. I can hear the voice hovering over me but when I open my eyes I only see light. Blinding, brilliant white light radiates around the voice. Blinking rapidly against the bright onslaught, I strain to focus on the speaker. In the middle of the light is the most exquisite boy I’ve ever seen. His face is both achingly perfect and terrifyingly severe. I want to cry at his resplendence.
You’re beautiful! The words slip through my mind before I can censure them. Surprise, followed closely by relief, registers in his eyes. Then he smiles at me, a joyous, lustrous smile that crashes over me and embraces me on all sides. I should be having a nervous breakdown or something, but somehow he fills me, keeping all other reactions at bay.
I am swallowed by the sun.
THE REVOLUTION part 2
“You can’t return to your people until tonight and I didn’t think it prudent to leave you alone.” A small self-aware smile lights his face. “This must seem a strange world to you.”
“A little,” I confess. Just then something flitters between us. Something small and vibrant and so orange I think it will burst into flame any second. “What is that?”
“Haven’t you ever seen a butterfly before?”
I shake my head. “It is like our moth but more colorful. Beautiful.”
“I’ve heard of moths but never seen one. In theory I guess they would be very similar.” He gazes at me thoughtfully, his chocolate eyes shimmering with anticipation. “I know a meadow, deeper in the forest, where there are hundreds—maybe thousands—of butterflies. Would you like to see it?”
Helping me to my feet, he shoulders his bag before placing his hand firmly on my elbow. “Take your time,” he cautions. “And lean on me as much as you need.”
I have never been so close to a boy for an extended length, at least not with the kind of tangible awareness that Perseus elicits. Not knowing what to say, I remain mute.
My silence causes him pull me closer. Lifting his hands to my hair, he adjusts my veil. “Can you see all right?” he asks. Then thinking aloud, he frowns, “Maybe I should carry you.” His fingers linger around my ears, lightly stroking my hair.
Afraid he is about to heft me over his shoulders, I take a step back and away from his touch. “I can walk.”
Tipping his head to one side, he narrows his eyes as if considering whether or not to overrule me. “Fine,” he pronounces. “But you will lean on me.” When I open my mouth to protest, he declares, “it is far,” putting an end any argument.
Picking our way over the difficult landscape—hidden crevices, steep inclines, jagged rocks and soft pits of mud—Perseus holds my arm, guiding me away from peril and keeping me upright when I lose my footing.
Along the way he points out foliage, insects, and the occasional animal as it crosses our trail. When our path become a sharp ascent, he remarks, “It is not long now—just at the top of this rise.”
Straining to glimpse our destination, I see nothing but trees and thick underbrush. The severity of our incline halts our conversation as our efforts turn to the simple task of climbing. Mere feet from the crest of the hill, I see a single butterfly—an explosion of orange against the gloomy grays and dark greens of the forest.
Then ahead, crystalline brightness beckons as the sun-dappled meadow comes into view. Vibrant green grass is dotted with yellow and red flowers and the dancing orange of hundreds—maybe thousands—of flitting butterflies. It is everything Perseus promised and more…
As if sensing my overwhelmed state, my companion stops, quietly letting me absorb the beauty as it unfolds before my unaccustomed eyes. When I have looked my fill, I turn my attention to the boy beside me. The captivated delight I feel for the meadow is mirrored on his burnished face… but instead of focusing on the scene in front of us, his attention is singularly on me. My stomach does another funny little flip as I register the intense pleasure emanating from his eyes.
Breaking into a wide smile, he inquires, “Ready to go forward?” When I nod, he takes my arm and leads me the final steps into the achingly beautiful clearing. Stopping in the center of the meadow, he instructs, “Put you arms out, like this.”
Copying his posture, I lift my arms away from my body, palms up.
“Good. Now stay very still.”
After a long moment, a flame-colored butterfly perches on the tip of my finger. Then another one lands… and another… Soon I am covered with the tiny creatures. In amazement, I glance at Perseus, who despite being covered with his own butterflies, stares at me in awe. I cannot help but smile at him, at the expression on his face that makes me feel so special.
A gust of wind stirs the colorful insects and we are enveloped in a vibrant, orange cloud. As they flutter away, Perseus takes the pack from his shoulder and produces a thick woolen blanket. “I think we should rest and eat.” Then retreating a few steps, he picks a heavily shaded patch of emerald grass.
I watch as he arranges the blanket on the earth, then lays out bread, a blob of white with which I am unfamiliar, and raspberries. My stomach rumbles in approval and I realize it has been a long time since I’ve eaten. Spreading the white paste onto a chunk of bread, he beckons me, holding out the food as an enticement. “Here.”
Coming to sit beside him, I take the offering and inspect it. “What did you put on the bread?”
“Goat’s cheese.” At the lack of recognition on my face he asks, “Don’t your people make cheese?”
Shaking my head negatively I reply, “No. We do occasionally roast goats though. But meat is scarce, so we only prepare it for the approved holidays.”
“This cheese is made from the milk of the goat,” he explains. “Try it.”
I do, letting the creamy texture of the cheese coat my taste buds. Perseus watches me attack the morsel with obvious gusto before pressing a response. “Well?”
“Good – have more.”
Taking another generous piece, I inquire, “What about you? Aren’t you going to have any?”
Delicately nibbling on a raspberry he says, “Not at the moment, so please eat your fill.” While I gobble up more bread and cheese and a fair bit of the raspberries, Perseus divides his attention between me and the visible expanse of sky. “The sun is far in the west,” he proclaims. “It will be evening soon.” In the waning light, the forest is full of deep, lengthening shadows.
“Hold still, Lyra.” Reaching around me, he removes the filmy fabric from my head and, lifting my chin, stares into my unveiled eyes. His own chocolate ones are uniquely expressive, not the cold, pale orbs I am used to. Emotions and thoughts flicker across the canvas of his brown eyes beckoning to me.
Sweeping his gaze outward, he focuses on my flaxen hair. “May I?” He waits for my consent before delicately capturing a fine strand between his thumb and forefinger. With a gentle tug he examines its silky softness before leaning in to inhale my hair’s rose-water scent. His exhale is a low sigh, nearly a hum. “You’re… so different.”
“I’m yellow,” I admit with resignation. My awareness has always been such that his description carries no sting. “Most of my kind are silvery-white, like the moon. I am too dark to be considered a beauty.”
“Dark?” Perseus gives his head a gentle shake. “No, not dark…” He peers at me with his fathomless eyes, his finger twining around the lock of my hair. “And you are not yellow. You are golden, like shimmering sunshine. And so soft.”
His pronouncement causes strange sensations to radiate through my insides, like I’ve swallowed a handful of moths that now beat madly to get out. “I guess compared to you and Cassius, I am not that dark.”
Frowning over my shoulder into the distance, he purses his lips, musing over some memory only he is able to see. “I have always been the most adventurous of my friends, stronger and more daring, too. But it is Cassius who captures the girls’ fancies. Compared to his perfect dark features, I am nothing.” In that moment he seems sad and lost—and my heart wants to break for him.
“You are not ‘nothing.’ You are handsome, like the heroes of old. When I look at you I am reminded of our ancient stories and my chest aches from beauty of it.”
“And you,” he murmurs solemnly. “Like something out of a fairie tale, something elusive and pure.”
From deep within the forest, a bird calls and is answered by another. Although the light wanes, it is impossible for me to judge the evening’s passage. “What time do you think it is?”
“Almost night. You can go back to your people soon.”
“And you should return to yours…”
Eyes—so dark—large and grave, pierce me as his mouth broadens into a rueful smile. “I’m thinking it is past time I experience this night of yours. For so long I’ve wondered; I’ve dreamt about the night. The dream is too close to give up now.”
And despite the terror I am certain grips my family—likely my entire colony—concerning my fate, I say, “I don’t need to go home yet. I have until dawn to return to the vaults.”
“So, you’ll stay with me?”
A small thrill flutters low in my stomach at the expectancy in his deep voice. “If you wish it.”
Such a simple word, deep and soft yet uttered with a hard conviction. Perseus’ “yes” steals my breath away.
When I am able to breathe again, I inquire, “Does the twilight frighten you?”
“A little.” His guileless admonition touches undiscovered places in my heart. “My whole life I’ve been taught to dread the dark. To abhor the moonwalkers.”
“And do you?”
He laughs to himself before gazing at me from beneath his dark lashes to share his thoughts. “I could no more fear you than my own self.”
“My people are as afraid of the sun-dwellers. Even at night their fear keeps them inside the colony borders and away from the forest. We should be safe here, in this meadow. If you like, I will show you our constellations and tell you the stories of our ancient ones.” When he nods, I add, “Although, now that night is falling, we should probably move to the center of the clearing.”
Perseus stands—a deft, powerful movement filled with grace—and offers me his large hand. His warm touch feels heats my whole body. Tiny currents of electric awareness spark where his skin touches mine and tingle up the length of my arm. After I have gained my feet, he continues to hold my fingers. When I start to move his grip stops me, pulling me back to him.
His burnished brown eyes are feverish as he searches my face, eyes lingering on my mouth before snapping back upwards. “Have you even been kissed?”
“No.” I swallow down the lump that lodges in my throat. “You?”
Shaking his head back and forth, he sadly confesses, “All the girls want to kiss Cassius. Never me.”
The pain he feels is twin to my own. Lonely and rejected, we are incomplete souls without hope of solace. Wanting to ease his suffering, I admit, “Nobody wants to kiss me either.”
His eyes drift downward, back to my lips. He swallows. “I do.”
Turning quickly, I wrench my hand away and walk to the center of the clearing. As Perseus follows, I stare at the rose-colored sky, memorizing my first sunset. Continuing to stare straight ahead, I feel his fingertips twine with mine. And I’ve never dared to dream—never even hoped—of having a moment like this. A boy at my side who wants to kiss me… Part of me is dying to taste his full, warm lips but another part is terrified, not of being kissed but of returning to my people and my loveless future with the memory of Perseus’ kisses burned into my brain.
Rough fingers gently graze my cheek as he brushes the hair from my face. “Don’t you want me to kiss you, Lyra?”
I want to answer no…and yes.
Staring in indecision, the compulsion to touch him, to run my fingers through his chestnut hair becomes all-encompassing. Raising a trembling hand, I tentatively graze his temple. His hair is course and thick but surprisingly soft. In the moment, Perseus’ eyes close as he leans into my caress. Of its own volition, my other hand snakes around his neck to cup the back of his head. This brings our faces closer together, mere inches apart, my nose level with his chin.
When his eyes open again, my answer is written on my face. Tipping forward, my sun-dweller brushes his lips against mine, as soft and fleeting as our orange butterflies. Then he pulls back the space of a breath. “More?” he asks uncertainly.
“Yes.” My heart hammers in my throat as insides quiver and flip with the after effects of his whisper kiss.
Perseus cups my face, slowly kissing each corner of my mouth before pressing his lips fully to mine. My senses fill with raw heat and exotic spices, with the essence that is uniquely this boy. His exploration starts slow, as he traces the shape of my mouth with his tongue before capturing my bottom lip between his own. The electricity, the headiness of what is occurring, makes me anxious to begin my own discovery. My tongue darts between his parted lips, to start its own dance. He tastes of raspberries.
After I have been thoroughly kissed, his head drops to rest hotly against my neck. His panting breath rushes in and out, stirring my sensitive skin. Leaning my check against his wavy hair, I am content to just breathe him in.
When he finally looks at me his lips are swollen with kissing. Tracing my lips with a fingertip, he chuckles in a way leading me to believe mine are similarly affected. What now? After kissing like that what comes next? Not in the physical sense, but for the sun-dweller and the moonwalker, where do we go from here?
Seeing the askance in my eyes, he presses a kiss to the back of my hand in a kind of reassurance. His shimmering eyes penetrate mine as he admits, “I’ve never seen a sunset. Have you Lyra?”
Fetching our blanket he lays it out in the center of the meadow. Reclining in the center he reaches for me. Sinking to the ground, my body relaxes against him, my curves fitting perfectly against his hard angles, sharing his heat. My head comes to rest in the crook of his arm.
He does not kiss me again and I am glad of it. Easily I could lose myself in Perseus’ kisses. Forget my people, my home, my family, even Quil…
As if reading my thoughts he says, “Tell me of you home, your family.” I tell him everything about my life in the vaults. Of my parents and my young, subversive sister with her no longer so foolish ideas. Of the all-encompassing fear that governs our colony. Of my aunt and uncle, and grief so ragged it can only be tempered by strong drink. When I get to the part about Sirius, Perseus smoothes his fingers against my hair.
“But sun-dwellers have never been what your people believe them to be. So what happened to your cousin?”
“I don’t know.” That is the truth.
“Perhaps he got lost in the forest or attacked by animals?”
Lifting my head to look down at him, I reply with shrug, “It is a mystery. Now tell me about your family.”
Hovering above him, I watch as her talks animatedly about his parents and three younger brothers, about life in the repositories, and the livestock in the pastures. When he broaches the subject of Cassius, his features cloud.
Remembering the look on his face when he admitted the girls all want to kiss his best friend and not him, I cannot help but kiss away the tiny puckers on his brow. Continuing my ministrations, I kiss his eyelids, his high cheekbones, his nose and chin, before coming to rest against his lips. “I only want to kiss you, Perseus,” I whisper against his mouth. “Only you.”
Some minutes later, when we return to our senses, Perseus points upward. By now the sky has darkened allowing the first stars of the evening to appear in the purple-blue sky. Somewhere in the distance an owl hoots. With a sly smile, he recalls, “I believe I was promised nighttime stories.”
For much of the night I lay across his chest, pointing out formations in the heavens above and telling my people’s ancient tales. Once the stories have all been told, we grow quiet, content to listen to the intermingled beating of our hearts as we hold one another.
“I can’t bear the thought of the night coming to an end.” We have been so quiet for such a length of time, that the deep timbre of his voice startles my train of thought, yet, I understand perfectly—for his feelings are my own.
Covering his hand with mine, I search for his face in the darkness, resigning myself to what must inevitably happen. “Eventually we have to return to our people, you to your repositories and me to the vaults.”
With a pensive, far away look he muses, “Maybe I will stay out here for another day. Then at night, you could come to me again.”
I like the idea, more than I care to admit. But it seems terribly selfish to make his people worry needlessly. Still… If they already fear the worst, will another day really matter? “Won’t they come looking for you?”
“No, they’re terrified of the forest.”
“But Cassius, after he explains—”
“—they’ll be even more afraid. That a moonwalker is in the forest by day will make them more petrified to venture outside our borders. And Cassius—when he is finished telling his tale—will probably make it seem like I was enchanted away.” Before I can comment he shakes his head, pronouncing, “No—they will write me off for dead.”
“Don’t be sorry for me, be sorry for them.” And I am sorry for them. The same way I am sorry for my own colony. For my aunt and uncle, for my parents and all those who live in mortal fear of the sun-dwellers.
My thoughts turn to Perseus, and when I realize he is staring, he winks at me. “And I was by the way.”
He pulls me forward for another kiss and the night fades. Sometime later, as he cradles me to his chest, arms wrapped tight around my trembling frame, I have the kind of fantastical thought worthy of Quil. “What if we don’t go back? Ever. What if we keep going deeper into the forest?”
Stroking my hair, he asks, “Then what?”
“I don’t know... We’ll find our way as we go.”
For a moment he gravely examines my face, and then stands, lifting me with him. “Okay.” He folds the blanket, returning it to his sack. “I couldn’t go back now anyway… Not without you. I don’t suppose your people would welcome me any more than mine would embrace you.” My mind flashes to Regulus, to my uncle and some many others in the vaults bound by hatred. When I shake my head, he brushes his lips over mine. “So we find our own way. Together.”
Moving past the meadow, we pick our way through the darkness down the far side of the hill, searching the horizon for an indication of the breaking dawn. We walk for a very long time, but it is a good kind of walking. Hand in hand, Perseus and I move toward our shared destiny.
Finally birds begin to wake, calling out to one another in greeting. In the dusky haze preceding the rising of the sun, we see an opening through the canopy of trees up ahead. Gray tendrils of smoke rising lazily into the sky confirm we are not alone.
Drawing closer, a small rustling makes us freeze warily in our tracks. A small child—neither dark not pale, but somewhere in between—with tousled, caramel hair and bright emerald eyes emerges from underneath a bush to stare at us. Before I can open my mouth, the child puts his finger to his lips in warning. Silence…
Perseus grips my hand tightly, his protective energy rolling over me in tense waves.
A man, clearly in pursuit of the child, weaves his way through the underbrush, coming to an abrupt halt behind the child with a triumphant grin. “There you are. I found you.”
The boy giggles and I realize his warning has been part of a game. Hide and seek. Perseus relaxes his grip but doesn’t let go as we wait for events to unfold.
Although he bears little resemblance in coloring, I can only surmise the smiling man before us is the boy’s father. His angular face is fair, yet ruddier than mine, his fine silver-white hair gathered into a band at the nape of his neck and pale colorless eyes… Watching him scoop the smiling child into his thin arms, recognition dawns. “Sirius?”
Thinking himself alone with his child, he whirls on us, blinking at me in surprise. “Lyra? Is that you?” When I nod in confirmation he exclaims, “I’d know your flaxen hair anywhere.” With a broad, welcoming smile, he regards Perseus and me. “So you found us, cousin!”
Continuing to stare, I stammer, “But—but you’re dead. A victim of the sun-dwellers.”
His booming laugh causes me to jump. “I didn’t die, Lyra. I left. But you’re right about one thing, I did fall victim to the sun-dwellers, one at least. My wife Miram.”
From behind Sirius steps a dark woman of equal height as my cousin. Coppery skin, sleek ebony curls, and large onyx eyes, she is more lovely and exotic than I could’ve ever imagined. At first shy, her dark curving brows arch in surprise as she regards my companion. “Perseus?”
“Hello Miram.” Percy’s still swollen lips quirk in amusement. “I am relived to discover you did not fall victim to the moonwalkers and their insatiable lust for blood as our colony feared.” As I open my mouth to protest he gives me a playful wink, his hand wrapping possessively around my waist.
“The only thing I fell victim to was my desire to see the night sky… Well, that and Sirius.” Linking her arm through her husbands, she graces him with a radiant smile.
My long-lost cousin kisses his wife’s dark cheek, his pale eyes full of adoration. Then turning attention back to us, he beckons, “Come and meet the people of our settlement.”
Looking from Miram to Perseus to Sirius in confusion, I frown. “I don’t understand… What are you? Are you and your people sun-dwellers or moonwalkers?”
“Neither,” he pronounces with a laugh. “And both. We live as the ancients, before the divide. A life spanning daybreak and nightfall. Lived in harmony and without fear. That’s the most important thing Lyra. Without fear of one another, we truly live.”
In the breaking dawn I gaze expectantly toward the thick tangle of forest straining to catch a glimpse of silver-white movement in the shadows. It is my daily ritual, waiting for the day Quil’s curiosity—her hope—will lead her to this place.
“Good morning.” Perseus slips up behind me, greeting me with a tender kiss on the sensitive skin behind my ear. Wrapping his strong, sinewy arms around my waist, his rough hands come to rest on my swollen belly. Our child, nearly ready to come into this world, kicks from within. A greeting to his father.
As he does each new morning, Percy whispers into my ear, “She’ll find her way. Faith Lyra.”
I do have faith, because out of us all, Quil was the one to feel the truth, instinctive yet tangible in her heart. One morning soon she will emerge from the forest, guided by her belief in something better, to embrace the new world that waits for her. A revolutionary world—without fear—where moonwalkers and sun-dwellers exist together, free to live each and every moment of the earth’s turning in harmony and love.