“R-A-I-D-E-R-S! Let’s go Raiders! Let’s go!”
“Good job girls. Annie and Melanie, step down a ways and warm up your back tucks. I want to see them in this next sideline. Those who would like to stretch out a little more can go down the other way. Keep your eye on the game, though. I expect you to follow along. “Kae, come here. Your bow is falling out. Let me fix it.”
I reached down and picked up the poms that had been on the ground at my feet and hustled over to Ms. Raye.
Ms. Raye is the cheer coach. Well, more like living angel. She’s amazing. She always there for you regardless of what the problem is. It could be studying for an exam you are nowhere near ready for, or freaking out over a boy. No matter what, Ms. Raye was there for us. She genuinely had our best interests at heart.
I turned around and knelt on one knee in front of her, my back to her. Ms. Raye was also adorably short. Kneeling put my hair at a comfortable height for her. She started to unweave my ribbon from the tangle it had create in my curly hair. They say blondes have more fun. Well, I can attest that redheads have cornered the market on fun. Just like my wild and crazy side, my hair was reflecting that today. My crazy curls were attempting to swallow my ribbon whole.
“So how are your classes?” Ms. Raye asked me as she worked.
I opened my mouth to speak but someone else beat me to the answer. “You know she’s got perfect grades.” Ms. Raye and I both glanced toward the speaker, unintentionally yanking on my hair. I rubbed my head where it had pulled and faced front again. I could recognize that voice anywhere.
“Be careful, Ivy. All that envy will make your skin turn green.” Ms. Raye teased. I smirked. Ivy is my best friend. We have been practically glued together since freshman year when we both made the cheer team. From that moment on we have shared everything.
There is one very key difference, however, between Ivy and I. When she made the cheer team, she found herself, and her world, in cheerleading. When I made the team, I found myself. My confidence. The assurance I needed to not be so shy, to know that I belonged to something. While I will always have a home in cheer, it had given me the confidence to explore other things as well. For Ivy, there is no world beyond cheer.
“So?” I teased back, as Ms. Raye pulled the ribbon out of my hair. “What’s wrong with keeping good grades? You know, they are good for more than keeping you cheering.” I turned and smiled at Ms. Raye as she spoke.
“Nothing at all. Education is important.”
Ms. Raye tapped my shoulder, signaling that she had finished fixing my minor hair-tastrophe.
“The only reason I come to school is for cheer. Grades are just something I have to do to be on team. If there wasn’t cheer, I definitely would not be here right now. Can you say ‘G-E-D’?” Ivy rattled. Unfortunately, she was telling the truth. Ivy really did view school as an avenue to cheerleading. I doubt her parents would see it that way though.
Ivy and I have more than cheerleading in common. We both come from families that are substantially wealthy. Every at school says our families are ‘loaded’. If only they knew the truth. What people don’t understand is that that type of wealth and privilege, comes with its own wealth of pressure. We are constantly told that we need to carry on the family wealth. GED’s are not in that plan. Ivy would never let anything get in the way of her cheering. She’s even used her family's wealth and influence to her advantage on occasion. While she would never admit it, I know she’s paid other students to do her homework before. If her parents knew, they’d lock her in her room and hire a tutor.
“Alright girls!” Ms. Raye called. “Line up!” We all got in our formation. It was a group of nine in the middle, with four in front and five in the back, and two groups of three, with one in front and two in back, on either side. I was front, right middle in the group of nine, and Ivy was on my left, making up the two centers. Just as we got into position the crowd erupted as our team recovered a fumble, turning over possession. “Sideline 3! Back handsprings and back tucks! Kae!” Ms. Raye yelled, indicating she wanted me to start the cheer.
“1...2….3….4….” I shouted, setting the count and tempo for our cheer. We repeated it five times, twice more than normal before I called, “Last time!” Signaling that we were ending and that the girls needed to perform their skills. The middle group all did a back tuck in unison, something we had been practicing all week. As we all landed at the same time, we celebrated with high fives, hugs, and chest bumps. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the group of three to our left. Two of the three went for a back tuck. Only one made it, and even then she tipped forward. The other one bounced off the front of her toes and landed on her knees. I winced internally. Not only did that look like it hurt, but we were all fighting for our placement on the squad next year.
Ms. Raye had an interesting way of making teams and groups. We had three teams: Freshman, Junior Varsity, and Varsity. As a freshman, you generally stayed on that team. Its program was designed to introduce you to competitive high school cheerleading. If a girl comes along that knows what she’s doing, she may get pulled to cheer along with the JV team when available. She’ll end up being an alternate, in the event another girl can’t make it, but also be help up to the higher standards of the JV team. Sophomores and Juniors are separated by ability and skills onto the JV and Varsity teams. The entire program is designed so that seniors are generally on the varsity team. There is occasionally a girl that doesn’t have the skills, but they usually have just transferred in and are new to the program. It was getting towards the end of the school year. Tryouts for next year we only two short months away, but for the girls already on the team who were hoping to come back next year, they needed to start impressing Ms. Raye now. I am a Junior, heading into my senior year. I am already on the Varsity team, though. I wasn’t so much as fighting for my spot on varsity, as I was fighting to be captain. Every year Ms. Raye selects two senior girls from the varsity team to be co-captains. The pair up the big-little sister pairs, and assist in coaching the freshman team. It’s an amazing accomplishment. The last 7 years of co-captains have all gone on to be influential members of an esteemed college team.
I looked over to Ms. Raye and she had seen the same thing I had. She caught my eye and motioned me towards her. I hustled over as she called, “Tumble line!”
This means that we condense our formation and formed a single line, of which we go down, everyone doing some form of standing tumbling. This is also a portion of tryouts. I wonder why Ms. Raye didn’t want me on the line. How was I supposed to impress her with my dependability if she pulled me out of cheers?
“Kae,” Ms. Raye started as I hustled over to her. “I was wondering if you’d do something for me?”
My brow furrowed as a look of obvious confusion washed over my face. What a peculiar thing for Ms. Raye to ask. “Yeah, sure.” Regardless, I’d still do anything for Ms. Raye. I was also kind of curious what she needed that required me being pulled.
“I’m still a little uncertain about a few of the girls. I really want to focus on performance this next year. I’m worried the girls aren’t projecting enough. Would you mind helping me watch them? I trust your opinion. This could influence possible placements for next year.” Ms. Raye explained, idly looking down the line of girls as they cheered along with the crowd for something that had just happened in the game. She said it so nonchalantly, if you hadn’t been paying attention to the words you wouldn’t have understood the gravity of what she had said. She was actually asking for my opinion on the girls and their placements! I was astonished, and honored.
I quickly adopted the same cool and calm demeanor Ms. Raye had, but in a serious manner told her, “Of course.” She turned and flashed me a quick smile. She knew that I was basically exploding on the inside from having the privilege of such an honor. Ms. Raye was much better at hiding her excitement than was. I was literally bouncing off my toes.
Ms. Raye giggled at me then sent me to the top of the bleachers. This was the view our judges have during competitions. And what a view it was. Behind the bleachers was a big wooded area. To call it woods would seem wrong, seeing as how it was only a hundred feet or so thick, just enough that you couldn’t clearly see what was behind them. The grounds crew for the school never touched this area, so weed and undergrowth grew with abandon. I loved the natural chaos of it all. In a world where everyone was so focused on who they wanted to be, these trees didn’t care. They simply stood tall, strong, and steady and just swayed in the breeze. As I reached to top of the bleachers I felt the light breeze ruffle my pony tail. I took a big deep breath and looked up toward the sky. It was a beautiful clear blue day, barely a cloud in sight. Up here, everything was simple. Everything was clear. There was no homework, no problems, no worries. I closed my eyes as the breeze once again lifted the rebel strands of my ponytail. I imagined that I was up there, where the breeze is free and flows where it wants. I imagined myself flying as high as the clouds, all the weight of responsibility off of my shoulders. The crowd erupting into cheers shocked me out of my imagined heaven. I turned and watched the referee pull players off of a dog pile that seems to somehow incorporate every single player on the field. I looked down and caught Ms. Raye looking up at me. We both were having the same thought. If the referee called it our ball, making it a turnover, she would prompt the girls to begin their cheer. I turned and rested my back against the cold metal rail I had been leaning over. I wrapped my arms out and around them, casually bouncing off of them, waiting on the ref to make a call. I smiled amusedly at the fans frantic calls, as if they could sway the referee’s decision with simply the power of the decibels. I scanning the crowd when something caught my eye. I looked down toward the edge of the tree line, where the weeds were fighting to take over more territory. There was a small outbuilding at the end of the trees that seemed to be losing that fight. I had almost given up finding whatever had caught my eye and turned back when I saw it again. It wasn’t so much of an ‘it’, so much as a ‘who’. There was someone down there. I racked my brain. I hadn’t ever known of anything or anyone doing anything with that building, why would there be someone down there now? And what were they doing? I continued to stare, trying to keep half an ear on the game, to listen for the girls’ cheer to start. As I was craning for a good look at them, I realized that they weren’t so much concerned with the building so much as using it as a cover. They were hiding behind it! What the...? I felt my eyebrows lift and then furrow in confusion. I heard the girls start up the cheer behind me, and stole one last glance toward the shed. This guy was being creepy stalker like and I did NOT like it. My gut was telling me there was something wrong with this. As my glance came to an end, he came out from behind the building. Our eyes locked. Locked would be putting it mildly. I couldn’t tear my gaze away from him, even though I knew that the game, and the cheer, was continuing on behind me. I was powerless. All I could see were his eyes. Green. The kind of green you find in the middle of a rainforest, where everything is lush and full of secrets. Eyes that weren’t easily fooled. The kind of green that goes on for days. I couldn’t help but feel like he knew too much, maybe things I didn’t even know yet.
I was glued to that railing. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that they world, and the game, was continuing on behind me, but I couldn’t focus on any of it. My mind was help prisoner to his stare.
The crowd erupting into cheers behind me brought me back into the real world. I jumped and looked around, hoping no one had seen the little war of eyes that had just taken place. Luckily, everyone else’s attention had stayed on the game. I looked back to the ground. My mystery man was gone. I heard the girls finish the last few counts of their cheer.
I turned around, a new problem was now on my hands. I hadn’t paid a bit of attention to any of the girls. Ms. Raye would be expecting some kind of feedback when I got back down to the field, and all I could think of were those bright green eyes. As I scrambled to come up with anything to say, Ms. Raye looked up to me with a questioning face. I gave her a thumbs up and a smile. I had no clue what I was going to do once I got down there. I took my time coming down the stairs, attempting to make it appear that I was just being careful not to fall or step on anything gross.
I was still coming up empty when I got to the bottom of the steps. I looked up at Ms. Raye, the truth and an apology on my lips. Thankfully, she spoke before I ever got the chance. I quickly agreed with everything she was saying, spurring her on to continue and interjecting blandly when required. I suddenly loved Ms. Raye’s ability to have a conversation without much assistance from the other participant. If I’d had to have come up with anything more elaborate than my “absolutely” ‘s and “I agree” ‘s, I would have been screwed. My mind was still occupied with one thing and one thing only, Mr. Mysterious.
I sat up with a jolt, only to flop back down again, the way I have every night since I saw him. I couldn’t get him out of my head while I was awake, and my dreams when I was asleep. The mystery around this guy had me of the verge of a strange and inexplicable obsession. Something about this guy, or maybe his appearance in my life, made me feel as if I was balancing on the tip of a double edged blade.
I jerked back up in bed. My alarm clock had a tendency for gluttony it seemed. Regardless of the multiple times I had tried to murder it, somehow, it was still alive, and obviously trying to turn the sentiment. That thing was responsible for ruining some of my best dreams and prolonging some of my worst nightmares. This morning didn’t appear to be much different. Either way, I had to get up, and we both knew it.
I actually had to get up. As much as I wanted to stay in bed, today was a day that I could NOT be late. Today was the prom committee’s presentation of the ballots. Today, during assembly, the prom committee would gather and announce the names of the nominees for prom king and queen. After today, prom season would be in full swing, and so would prom campaigns. Utter chaos unleashed today at the conclusion of this assembly. Those of us on the prom committee, knew today as Prom Presentation Day. We had to have theme, ticket prices, and everything else regarding prom figured out by today.
The past two weeks have been chaotic enough for the prom committee. Four boxes have been set up in the commons for the past two weeks. Student have been scribbling down names of their nominees for Senior King and Queen, and Junior Prince and Princess. Even a few teachers have been spotted submitting their nominations over the past few days. Today the names would be taken from these boxes, sorted, counted, and recounted. There’s a reason we wait to announce the names until the end of the assembly. Prom is real business around here. Two weeks from today, is prom. The night we find out just who won the bloodbath that will ensue after today. When we wish all of our candidates good luck in the upcoming contests, we mean it. Things can get…i0nteresting. On campus, the campaigns stay strictly PG. No one wants to tarnish their academic record on the last leg of the race. But beyond these walls, there are no holds barred. Friends that have been nominated together, may not leave the same way. No pressure, right? To top all of that off, Prom committee is run by the Junior King and Queen and their court from the previous year. Who is that may you ask? Me. And my jerk of an ex-boyfriend Cole. A bad performance during this assembly could cost me the crown this year, assuming I had been nominated.
I wouldn’t actually know until the assembly. In order to make it fair, anyone that was part of the current prom court that looked like they might be nominated for senior prom court would excuse themselves from counting the nominations. No one wanted to deal with suspicion of a rigged contest or rumors of cheating. No one wanted a crown they didn’t really win.
I swung my legs to the side of the bed and sat up on the edge of the bed. “This day cannot start until I get some coffee.” I say to myself.
I grab my robe from where it was slung over my desk chair from my shower last night and slipped on my favorite fuzzy slippers. I know slippers went out of style some time ago but I can’t give these up, they’re too comfortable. I start to head out of my room, swinging around the corner to go to the bathroom before I head downstairs. I jumped back so fast I jumped out of one of my slippers. I almost came, literally, face to face with my father.
“Oh!” then “Ah!” The hardwood floors of my bedroom were insanely cold on my now bare toes. I lift my foot off the floor again, mimicking the stance of an very ungraceful flamingo.
“Sorry, honey. All yours.” He says as he moves out of the way to the bathroom door. “Oh, and I’ve already got the coffee started for you. See you down there in a bit.” He called the latter part of this over his shoulder as he walks back towards his and my mom’s bedroom. I giggled internally at the night of my dad walking away in his black robe and tall black socks.
It’s cool, I think to myself. Just scared me so bad my heart is now located somewhere near my throat. But it’s not big deal.
My rather can be kind of eccentric sometimes. The face the he scared the bejesus out of me just now, making me jump nearly a half mile into the air, probably didn’t even register to him.
I shook my head and hopped over to slip my foot back into my rebel slipper. I walked into the bathroom. A warm shower sounded about perfect right now. I had the time, and my cold toes demanded the warmth. I tend to do my best thinking in the shower anyways. This day was definitely going to need a little preemptive thought put into it. Today, my shower wasn’t giving me the clarity of thought that it usually was, though. My mind seemed to be stuck on something else. More like someone else. I couldn’t get him off my mind. Today being such an important day, I couldn’t help but feel like karma was going to bring to back to me again. My anxiety jumped to agree.
My dream stalker was probably the reason I had jumped like a startled cat when I had almost run into my dad. Ever since seeing him in person, and in my dreams every night since, I have been a little jumpy. Something about him put me on edge. I just couldn’t get the feeling that someone was watching me. Even now in the shower, I felt apprehensive. As if my thoughts weren’t truly my own.The tingle on the back of my neck was constant these days.
My dream stalker seemed to be having the same effect on my hair as it was having on my nervous system. It was a small battle to get my hair into any kind of a tamed mass, let alone try to style it. Ponytail it was, today.
I made my way downstairs after getting ready and grabbing my back from my room. The smell of coffee was permeating the hallway downstairs. My grin turned to a full-fledged smile as I entered the kitchen. Dad had not only made enough coffee to entirely fill my oversized mug, he had already filled it for me. One sip told me that it was made just how it like it and fresh hot. To top it all off, my mug was adorned with a bright yellow post it note “Good luck today hun. J” It was like icing on a cake. My parents weren’t really around a whole lot. They had lives of their own, and, more importantly, jobs. When they were around, though, they always did their best.
I grabbed my lunch out of the fridge, my mug off the counter, my backpack off the table, and headed out the door. It was still dark as I walked out of the house toward my car. I unconsciously reshuffled the things in my hands so that I had my hand in my pocket, inconspicuously gripping my pepper spray. I was always nervous walking alone in the dark. You never know what is lurking in the shadows only a few feet away. I used the key to unlock the driver’s door instead of the fob. I had seen way too many movies where the killer slipped in the car when all the doors unlocked at the same time and the driver was preoccupied with their things. There was a reason I never watched scary movies, and when I did, I never watched them alone. Call me paranoid. Call me crazy. But I’m also safe. It won’t be me you see on the 6 o’clock news for getting abducted.
I pulled into school just as the sunlight tipped the tops of the trees. Streetlights in the parking lot were flickering off as they sensed the coming of sunlight. Birds were waking up, making their morning calls and babies chirping for breakfast. I always loved this time of day. Dawn. The time when the world itself is just waking up. Fresh, new. Like a clean slate. For some reason, I found it incredibly peaceful. Unfortunately, it also meant that I was still pretty early for school. The doors were unlocked by now but it was most certainly still empty of all students. Only a few cars were in the lock, and those were most likely faculty and staff members. I have a nerdy side but even I didn’t like hanging around school when I didn’t need to. I got out and walked around my car, taking lungfulls of the crisp morning air. I climbed onto the warm hood of my Mustang and laid back against the windshield. I always backed in the I parked. Not only did it mean that I got a good view of the woods beyond the parking lot but it was also easier to leave this way. I can back up just fine, as long as it’s not in a tight space or there’s a lot of things around. I didn’t so much care about other people’s cars but I did NOT want to scratch my baby. I relaxed as the warmth of the windshield and the engine fought off the chill of the morning air. I watched as the sunlight climbed higher in the sky, rising father and farther above the trees, lighting the world around me. I was focused on nothing at all. One of the only calm moments I had had in the past few days. This was good. I needed this.
Of course it couldn’t last for long. Nothing good ever does. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head, assuming it was another student arriving to school, signaling the beginning of the onslaught of students. It wasn’t. I sit up and strain my eyes. I freeze as I catch the culprit. It’s him. But unlike last time, when he was a hundred yards away, this time he was less that fifty feet. I see him pause in his stride along the tree line as he sees me. After only a moment, he moves again. This time, towards me. My eyes widen as he steps out of the tree line. Fear? Surprise? Anticipation? Whatever the reason, my heart suddne thundered full steam ahead. I knew I shouldn’t let him get any closer. I knew I should get back inside my car or maybe beeline it into the school, but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to. I wanted him right next to me. I wanted answers. Who was he? What had he been doing by the shed the other day? What was he doing now? Why was he following me?
I’m not sure it was luck, or unfortunate, that I heard my name called. I had been so focused on him that I hadn’t noticed that the majority of the upperclassmen had arrived at school while I had been preoccupied. before he could get any closer, our moment was shattered like glass. I looked around, seeing if anyone had noticed my visitor. I heard my name again.
It was Ivy. She had parked a few spots away and was getting out of her car. She beckoned for me to join her. I looked back towards the tree. He was gone. I slid off the hood of my car and walked as casually as I could towards her, trying as hard as I could to ignore that chaos that had erupted in my mind.
I wasn’t as good as hiding it as I thought. When I got to Ivy’s car she looked up at me and her face immediately scrunched into once of confusion.
“What’s wrong?” She asked me.
“Nothing.” I plastered a smile on my face. I was never very good at lying.
“Who was that guy?”
My jaw dropped open. “You saw him?”
“Of course I saw him. You’ve been gawking at him for, like, five minutes now. Kind of the same face your making now except,” she paused to tap my chin, “less open.” She giggled. “Who was he?”
“I don’t know.” I mumbled. How was I going to explain this to her?
“Oh. Well I saw him after the game the other day. He looked like he was looking for someone.” She said as she went back to searching her center console for something.
I didn’t respond. What do I say? ‘Yeah I saw him, too.’? Oh it’s no big deal. I knew I needed to tell her but I didn’t know how.
She stood up out of her car, lip balm in hand. “Well that’s not creepy at all. Stalker much?”
“Yeah totally,” was the genius answer that I had come up with. I was not doing my intelligence any favors in this conversation.
“I wonder if having a stalker will get you any pity votes.” Ivy mused to herself as she applied her lip balm and then put it in her purse.
I froze in shock. I hadn’t thought of that. I had been in my own little world. I hadn’t considered the effects this would have on anyone else. Would people still vote for me now that I had a stalker, or stay away and call me ‘the crazy one’?
Ivy continued on the conversation without me. “I wonder what he’ll do next. Leave a little stalker-love letter in your locker? Awe!” She laughed loud enough to make the person standing next to the car beside us look over. I halfheartedly smiled back.
That possibility was not nearly as cute to me as it was to Ivy. She always romanticized everything. I was genuinely concerned. On the other hand, I was in some ways relieved. My over active mind had tried to rationalize his appearance and why no one else has seen him. It was good to know he wasn’t a ghost, or something crazy like that. While the jury was still out on my own sanity, it was nice to know at least that wasn’t a possibility.
“He’s even a cute stalker. Where’d you pick him up at? You think I could get me one of those?” Ivy joked.
With the small sense of comfort my realizations had given me, I finally tried to join the conversation in earnest. Ivy’s giggles were infectious and I couldn’t help but smile at her ridiculousness. I knew I loved her for a reason. Let Ivy be the one to take a stalker and ask how much he cost at Walmart.
We grabbed out backpacks and headed into school with the rest of the driving student body. I took a deep breath and tried to put this morning behind me. I had one hell of a day ahead and I could not afford to be distracted.
If he was here before, he’ll be here again. I just have to keep thinking that.
I hadn’t seen him since that day in the student lot. But I knew he’d be here. I’m not sure how I knew, but even as the thought crossed my mind for the umpteenth time, something inside me told me it was true.
I crept as silently as I could through the practice field. I couldn’t be found. By anyone. I had risked a lot to be here, telling more lies that I ever cared to in my lifetime. I had told everyone that I was going to hole myself up in the computer room, working on prom committee things. I had made arrangements so that I could join the game just before the halftime show. Ivy was the only one that knew that it was just a cover story, and even she didn’t know the truth. I think she silently knew I was sneaking out to see him though. When I fed her my lines, she seemed all too ready to comply. She was my safety net in case anyone started asking any questions or acting like they were going to come look for me.
Luckily for me, it had rained last night. The sunlight today had been enough to dry everything the light had touched. But the ground here, hidden within the cover of the trees, was still moist and spongey. It was just wet enough to muffle my footprints through the brush but not enough to leave any kind of obvious tracks.
I was sure that if anyone saw me, crouching under low lying branches and climbing over fallen trees, they would immediately know I was up to something. I was up to no good and I was no good at hiding that. My fanciful imagination had gotten better of me today. I had gone fully ‘James Bond’ for my ambush tonight. I had even gone so far as to wear a trench coat so that my sparkly cheer uniform wouldn’t draw any undue attention. My parents didn’t really believe in violence or guns or anything, but my faithful keychain pepper spray was gripped tightly in my hand. I didn’t want to have to use it, but still, I was determined to get some answers. I wasn’t going to let all this hard work go to waste.
My heartbeat thundered on in my ears. I felt like I was breathing like Darth Vader.
Finally, I hear the buzzer sound on the score board. First quarter had just ended. It was only a minute or so into the second quarter that I saw him last time. I quickly creep to the side, behind the building that I had seen him behind the first time. As I was trying to quickly but very quietly sneak around it, I saw him. He was standing just where he had been before, out of sight from the field but with a full view of everything. I had planned on hiding behind it and waiting for him to come, but it would seem that he had beaten me to it. I had planned on using the element of surprise on my side, but as I looked at him from behind, I felt my plans crumble slowly into pieces. What was I going to do now?
As I was standing there, in the open, trying to wrack my brain to devise some kind of a plan B, a shift in my weight made the smallest of sounds. It was loud enough for him to hear. He straightened and turned around, eyes bright with surprise. What bright eyes they were. Bright blue eyes, so bright they were almost white, like the color of a summer sky the day after a storm. It made me think of tropical beaches and waves. His skin complementing his eyes with a sandy tan color. The freckles on his cheeks looked like a treasure map I wanted to follow. I had never seen anyone like him in my life.
That was the last thought I remember. About that time is when my surprise caught up with the rest of my brain and I descended into an inaudible, unthinking stupor of awe. I was stuck on him. Tall, radiant, handsome. Possibly the most handsome man I had ever seen. He was what I had imagined a god to look like. But just as I recognized his radiance, I recognized that it was tinged with darkness. I was like a snake, I could taste the danger that seemed to be a part of him, hidden deep beneath his soul.
If I thought my heart had been pounding earlier, it was nothing like what it was doing now. The running of the bulls paled in comparison to the pace my heart was setting. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the part that was still capable of thought, I idly wondered how high your heart rate had to be until it tripped over each other. Was that a heart attack? My heart beat was an uneven, erratic beat that would have worried any health professional.
I continued to stare at him, aghast. His face mirroring the expressions of mine. It felt like an eternity of silent shock. I continued struggling to compile any shred of higher brain function.
After what could have only been a few seconds or so, my shock slowly subsiding, my gaze lowered off of his eyes. That was the first step. They drifted down to his lips, slightly parted, air rushing between them. I had the sudden and very extreme urge to touch them. As I stared, I watched as their disgruntled frown of finding himself caught slowly turned to a mischievous smirk. He looked to be a mixture of up-to-no-good and truly pleased.
I took a moment to find the will and deliberately blinked, the only moment I was capable of performing. It helped. My facilities were slowly returning to me. I looked to my feet, breaking our scary stare-fest. I was finally able to glance back up at his face. While I was able to keep my wits about me this time, I couldn’t stop myself as I reached out toward him. I’m not sure what I was reaching for. All I know is that I wanted to feel his skin beneath mine. Maybe to reassure myself that he was actually real.
I like to think he was having the same problems as me. Either way, he seemed to be much more amused with the situation that I was, as if it was an interesting twist to a very strange game. As I raised my hand toward him, his movements mirrored mine. We were only standing feet apart. Finally, our hands brushed. my last thought was that of lightning.
The moment our skin touched, a shock pulsed through my entire body, starting and pinpointing to the exact spot where we had connected. It moved almost instantaneously across my body. It continued to bounce back and forth as we continued to touch. All of this took place in milliseconds.
The jolt to my system was like jumping in a pool of ice water on a hot summer day. Any breath I had was long gone, and my heart came to a resounding stop. The overload proved to be too much. The last picture in my mind was of his eyes looking at me with concern as my entire world fell to the ground. I kept the image in my head as I fell to the ground and fainted.
“Mmmmmmmmm……” I groaned, rolling over. Every muscle I had, including some I didn’t know I had, ached. They were alternating a pulsing pain and a kind of frantic energy that made the extremities of my limbs tingle. It was like having one too many energy drinks before school in the morning. I could feel where the sweat had dried on my skin. I froze mid-roll as the events from the night flooded back into my memory. I jerked up in bed, ignoring the protests of my body. My eyes strained to see anything in the complete dark. I felt around me to realize that I was lying in a bed. The smell and feel of the sheets convinced me that it was my own bed. How did I get here? I looked towards the window to see the total darkness extended outside as well. The only light around was the sliver of moon hanging in the sky. It was just enough. I looked down at my clock. 3:47am. I was staring in wonder at it when I noticed the small green light blinking at its base. It was charging. How the…? I couldn’t remember getting home let alone plugging my phone in. I went to reach for it and noticed how perfect and evenly balanced it was on the head board. I never put it like that. Most of the time it would vibrate with some notification or another and fall.
It was then that the memories came back to me. It wasn’t one at a time. It was all of them, all at once. I started to notice more things in my room that weren’t normal: My chair to my desk was pushed in, my shoes were put nicely and neatly on the trunk at the foot of my bed. My blankets were made at the foot of my bed and had been tucked around me when I had woken up. None of this is normal.
I pushed up farther on the bed and felt a pinch on my hand. I looked down. The place where we had touched was bright pink. It was the exact spot where I felt the shock radiate to and from. The sane part of me, the part that tried to put everything into tiny little boxes, tried to reason it away, telling myself that I had been drugged. The not-so-sane part of me, that strayed outside of those boxes more often than I’d like, cried foul play. I wasn’t sure which side I should listen to.
My internal debate had to be put on hold as my phone blinded me. It lit up, signaling a call. My eyes burned as I looked to the screen to see who it was. Ivy’s face painted the screen. The picture was from four years ago. It was our first cheer competition and our first picture together. Ivy hated that I still had it, but I loved it. I swiped the screen over to answer.
“Hey…” I answered.
“Hey! How are you? Are you okay?” she said, her tone staying neutral. Did ivy know anything about last night?
“Yea. I’m alright. Just woke up actually.” I was going to let her make the first move. I didn’t want to say too much. I didn’t know how much she knew, yet.
“Well, I hope you feel better soon.” She said.
Huh? My words echoed my thoughts. Feel better? I felt bad? I mean, I didn’t feel great. I was pretty sore and felt like I had been hit by a truck, but I wasn’t sick or anything.
“Yea. It was a total bummer that you didn’t get to join us at the game. It was a real battle the whole game. The girls did great with their new stunt groups.” She kept up the idle chatter about the game. It was a moment before I heard the other voices in the background.
OOOhhh! Understanding dawned on me. She was at the slumber party. After every Friday game at home, the girls always went to someone else’s house and had a slumber party. It was a way we bonded over either our victory or defeat. “Yea, sorry. I didn’t want to get any of the other girls sick, so close to tryouts. I figure it was best to sit this one out. After all, beauty sleep is very important.” I wasn’t sure why this ruse was necessary, but I was going to let Ivy take the lead on this one.
“Haha,” her laugh was genuine. “I’ll let you get back to resting, then. See you tomorrow at practice right?”
“Definitely. I’ll be there. Talk to you then?” I hope she understood that I was trying to tell her that I’d explain more then, but for now was okay.
“For sure. We’ll talk.” She answered, hanging up a moment later.
I think she got the hint. I hope she got the hint. Knowing Ivy, she understood that I wanted to talk to her, she might not have understood what about though. I would take what I could get.
I pulled the screen away from my ear just in time to see the flashing red “Call Ended” across Ivy’s face. 3:21 was just beneath it. Our conversation had lasted less than 4 minutes. That was probably a new record for us. Even with us texting consistently throughout the day, our phone calls rarely lasted less than twenty minutes. Ivy must’ve been really worried about me.
I leaned over to plug my phone back it. It was at 86% but I needed it full by morning. As I set it down, I smoothed the wrinkles I had made in the bed. I hated to mess up someone’s handiwork. My hand then trailed to my forehead, smoothing the wrinkles there as well. It was an old habit. “If you don’t stop making that face, it’ll stick there.” I had heard it my entire life. I knew it wasn’t true, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry. My mother always warned me to do what I could to prevent wrinkles when I was young, or I’d have them before I was old. My mother had a tendency to be on the materialistic side. She had an excuse, I guess. She was the aesthetic consultant for Stylist magazine.
I looked at the clock on my phone again. I was always very conscious of the time. Time is money, as they say. I never seemed to have enough to go around. I did the math in my head. It had been near eight o’clock when I had been sneaking around in the woods last night. Assuming I had somehow been home within the hour, that put me at close to seven hours of sleep. I got less than that on an average school day. I had gotten all this sleep and yet I still felt as if I hadn’t slept at all. Thank goodness Saturdays were the morning I got to sleep in. I had to make up for that lost beauty sleep somehow.
My Saturday didn’t have to start until ten o’clock practice. I usually tried to get there early to help the girls that were struggling and needed a little one-on-one time. I took my job as captain seriously. Too seriously, according to some. I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave, albeit a few exceptions.
I laid back down. My over active mind wouldn’t let me sleep, that I was sure of. However, it couldn’t hurt if I just laid here and rested until the sun came up. Maybe if I relaxed, I’d be able to remember more about what had happened last night. I wriggled farther beneath my blankets. I made one resolve. I would in no way, shape, or form, even consider that there had been one certain type of fair play. I didn’t feel any different…down there, and refused to believe that it could be a possibility. I had, against statistics, kept my virtue, for lack of a better term, intact thus far into my high school career. I wasn’t going to be bested by the possibility of some stupid date rape drug. Thinking the word made me shiver.
It wasn’t that I was waiting till marriage or something. I was more waiting for Mr. Right. Or at least until it felt right. I still firmly believed in fairy tales and fate and destiny. I wanted it to be magical. Back seats and quickies weren’t magical. And until it was right, I would wait. I would wait for my Prince Charming.
I lay in bed, watching the shadows the leaves made against the moonlight move in the light breeze outside. It was sending dancing figures across the canopy drapes of my big four poster bed. It was modeled after the Victorian era, and during these warmer months, I replaced the heavy curtains with light fabric that let in the summer light. The shadows cast across it looked like waves dancing around me. It was better than counting sheep. Before I knew it, I was out again.
I woke up in paradise. Well, not really. I had left the window open from the day before. The sunlight shining through my windows was warm, almost uncomfortably so. The gentle breeze blowing through the open window and ruffling the drapes was just enough to keep it cool. Perfect. This moment, right now, was perfect.Just lying here, it was like my own little piece of paradise.
My moment of heaven was short lived. My dreams had accomplished what I had failed to do waking. Memories came back to me from the night before. This time, they were much gentler, whereas earlier, they had come swift and forceful. This time, they flooded in by a gentle flow, sifting themselves out in my mind, clear and understanding. I breathed in a gasp of shock at the same time I exhaled a sigh of relief. Now that I could remember everything, my curiosity had all but doubled. Not only did I have close to a couple hundred new questions, but I had a few answers for some previous ones. My unspoken fears were laid to rest. Nothing untoward had happened. There was still a large amount that I didn’t know, a large amount of time I couldn’t account for, but I was safe in that conviction. I had been out of it, but lightly conscious. I wasn’t sure how I had gotten home, but I know whomever had gotten me there, had kept me safe. I could at least sleep a little easier now.
The revelation was cut short however, as I glanced at my clock. My hectic night had overrun into my hectic day today. If I slept any later, I’d be late for cheer practice.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up. With all the crazy that had happened less than 24 hours ago, I sent up a silent prayer to whoever would listen, that today would be extraordinarily ordinary. I’d even take hopelessly boring. I took a deep breath and started my day. First thing first, I needed to get out of this crusty cheer uniform.
Rubber mats. Hair spray. The sharp clap of a routine so tight Houdini himself couldn’t get through. This is my world. I smiled as I breathed it all in. These were my girls. We have literally put blood, sweat, and tears into these mats. There wasn’t a soul that stepped on these mats that hadn’t risked something to be where she was now, especially the varsity. Be it talent, popularity, or an extreme passion for the sport, we all cared deeply for our position on the team. That’s probably what makes being captain so rewarding. My heart warmed as I watched the girls practice their varying skills, warming up before we started practice. When everything else in my life was crazy or unsettling, I knew I could always come here, to the cheer room. It was like a safe place for me. My not-so-secret hide away from the world.
Practice was exactly what I needed right now. If you could bottle it and put a label on it, my diagnosis would be boyatosis: a condition that causes a hypersensitivity to certain members of the male species, symptoms can include but are not limited to insomnia, anorexia nervosa, overactive mental acuity, and an inability to focus on other tasks at hand. My poisons? Tall and lean, Mr. Mysterious from the first game and broad and muscular, Dr. Dangerous from last night. Cheer seemed to be one of the very few things my newfound disorder hadn’t wrapped it claws around yet. There was a peacefulness in cheer that kept my sanity secure. I thanked my lucky stars that at least one thing in my life was safe.
Today seemed like a very good day to retreat into my safe place. It was tumbling practice after all. A good full out tumbling work out was exactly what I needed. I shut out everything that wasn’t in this gym and literally threw myself into the work, leaving my heart out on that mat.
“Good practice, girls! Really good work! Keep tumbling outside of practice to keep those skills up. Keep working on those pulls. We’ve got more to work on but I’m really happy with where we’re at right now. We definitely got a lot done today. Have a good rest of your day. Do something easy.” We all laughed as I waved goodbye to them. I stuck around and answered a few straggler questions about random things, but most of the girls left quickly. They either had parents outside waiting or other plans for after practice. A few of the girls were straggling, talking about who knows what. Most of the time this would have aggravated me. Tonight was different. While I still had a million and a half things to do before this day was even close to over, I was in no rush to get them done. I wasn’t looking forward to revisiting the complicated part of my life. Just like a stream, though, it starts with a trickle. All I had to do was let a few stray thoughts in, then the rest forced their way. Thoughts of both of my mystery boys came more and more steadily.
What the…? My head whipped around.
“You okay, Kae?” Ivy asked me, trying to figure out why I had stopped dead in my tracks.
“Huh?” I hadn’t really heard what she said. I was still searching for the person I had just seen lurking in the shadows of the gym. I was standing in the doors, waiting to close them. All the lights were turned off. Everything was dark. A shadow within shadows. But I knew I had seen something. “Ivy, you were the last one out right?”
“Uh. Yea. I think so, why?” She was really confused now.
“I’m not sure. I thought I saw someone,” I said slowly, staring behind us, searching the darkness. After finding nothing, I turned back around, shaking off the feeling of being watched. “I’m just crazy.” I knew I wasn’t. I had seen something.
Ivy laughed. “I think you flipped too many times on that last pass. Since when did you have a double full twisting layout?” Rambling off the tumbling pass I had done about 15 minutes ago. It entailed spinning horizontally twice and flipping vertically once. I smiled in response. I had been working on that little trick, keeping it in my pocket until I had it ready to inspire the girls.
Despite Ivy’s distraction, I still remembered what I had seen behind me. I glanced back one more time before pulling them shut, causing them to lock. I ignored the tingling on the back of my neck.
Thursdays. Uhg. I’ve always had a problem with Thursdays. And Tuesdays for that matter. They are both just wanna-be’s. Mondays suck. Everyone knows that. They are the first day of the work week, filled with hangovers, regrets, and memories you wished you had drank away. Wednesdays were alright. Mostly because we had cheer practice, but it also signals the middle of the week. Hump Day. Fridays are obviously amazing. They signal the starts of good nights and good times. But Tuesdays and Thursdays? They were like filler paper, just extra space. Tuesdays were just a reminder that it’s the beginning of the week. It’s about as bad as Monday. They’re all like ‘Ha. You’re not even close to freedom. I eat freedom for breakfast.’ Thursdays are just prankster Fridays. They’re all like ‘Heeeeyyyyy, It’s Friday! Just kidding. It’s not. It’s just me, Thursday. Got ya!’ I could honestly be okay without either. I tried explaining this to my teacher once. She didn’t seem to agree with me. That’s about the time she started to just forget about me in class. Honestly, I couldn’t remember her name either.
Ms. What’s-Her-Name was standing at the front of the class now, going on and on about something to do with the homework. I had already completed the assignment while she had been jabbering on. Math was the easiest subject for me. I know it’s not stereotypical, but I’m actually pretty smart. I was not listlessly staring out the window I thankfully sat next to.
That was when I saw him. This time, I didn’t jump. I didn’t squeak. I didn’t let anyone else know anything had changed, but everything had. This time, time kept moving, kept ticking on. He wasn’t hiding. He wasn’t in the shadows. He was actually sitting on the hood of my car. I could see his smirk from my seat. My Dr. Dangerous was out, in broad daylight, and it looked like he was waiting on me. I snuck a peak at the time on my phone. Two minutes. There was less than two minutes until the bell rang and school let out. I was already packed up and ready to go, as were most of my classmates. In less than two minutes, I could pick up my bag and rush outside to confront my stalker.
I looked back out the window. The spot on my hood where he had been was empty. Damnit. I had to get outside before he could get away. I probably wouldn’t get this close again.
I was perched to take off, like a drag racer at the start line, waiting for that bell to ring.
When it finally went off, I was the first out the door to the classroom. Three steps was all it took to carry me away and out that door. I skipped stopping at my locker to exchange books and made a beeline for my car outside in the lot. I was hoping that I wasn’t too late.
I got to my car and an intense wave of disappointment washed over me. I unlocked the car using the key fob, wishing, hoping, that he would be a creepy stalker and sneak in the back seat when I wasn’t looking. I carelessly tossed my bag into the passenger seat. I didn’t have anywhere to be right after school to play off my rush to get to my car. I was left standing there waiting on Ivy to make her way out here. I scanned the area, watching as the rest of the student body poured out of the school, heading towards the lot or the bus bay. I strained my eyes through the crowd, hoping to find my Mystery man making his way through them. It was like watching a small stampede. I started to give up and take that place on my hood when I found him. Well, them.
They were standing over on a grassy knoll between the lot and the trees. Their backs were to me. Dr. Dangerous was being yanked away from the cars and into the tree by Mr. Mysterious. Putting the pet names I had given them in my head together into once sentence sounded kind of silly. I pushed off where I was leaning on my hood and scrambled their way. It was obvious where I was headed. My poorly concealed haste was drawing attention. Not as much attention as they were drawing on themselves, coming close to blows next to a high school parking lot. Almost half of the student body was eyeing them and me, alternatively, by the time I reached them. They were yelling, arguing about something. It only took me a moment or two to realize they were arguing about me. They still hadn’t noticed me standing there. I was close enough to hear their conversation.
“I’ve told you before: don’t make me order you.” Mr. Mysterious warned.
“Order me? So we’ve resorted to power plays now? Glad to know that’s were we’ve gone.” Dr. Dangerous scoffed.
“Don’t blow our objective. We came here with one very simple goal and a plan to achieve it. You’ll screw it all up if you try talking to her now. We have to be sure, first.”
“We came for her! That was our goal. How are we supposed to know if she is ready if we can’t speak to her?!”
“We will talk to her soon, just not yet and NOT like this. This WILL NOT WORK!”
“You have no assurance of that. Just because it isn’t your plan doesn’t mean it won’t work.” With that statement, Dr. Dangerous took a very large towards his companion, bringing himself closer to the trees, but throwing off his friend.
I could NOT have these two fighting about anything, let alone me, in my school’s parking lot. I moved toward them, lunging to close the few feet as quickly as possible. I reached out and grabbed Dr. Dangerous’ arm, yanking him back towards me, and away from his friend. He stumbled back a few feet, not prepared for the shift of weight. I had effectively ended the argument as both men went silent at the sight of me. Astonished looks painted all three of our faces. Theirs because of my sudden arrival. Mine because I had touched him and remained standing, this time experiencing only a mild shock. Last time I had touched him I was knocked out like a light. I had barely noticed the shock this time. It was mild enough that I was able to remain coherent as well. Either his potency was less or maybe my tolerance was higher. Either way, I was glad for the semi normalcy I was granted to deal with the current situation. I rubbed my hand where we had shocked. It stung still a little, but bearably so.
No more than a moment had gone by as I looked around at all the students staring at us. We had secured the attention of almost 80% of the classmates in the lot. As I looked back towards the boys, I saw Dr. Dangerous grab his arm where we had touched, as if the shock had gotten him too. He looked up at me with a penetrating stare, as if he was trying to read my DNA. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but before any noise could come out he moved. In the blink of an eye he had turned and was walking away from me. Striding really. As if his goal was to get as far away from me as possible as quickly as possible. It was almost animal-like, the gait of his walk into the woods. But he had a hitch, he was holding his arm where I had touched him. Had I hurt him? Was I the one producing that strange shocking sensation I had felt twice now?
I looked over towards his friend. Mr. Mysterious, as I had nicknamed him in my head. I silently pleaded for an explanation of what was going on. My original stalker did what he did best and simply stared back at me.
I heard the beep that was Ivy’s car unlocking. I turned towards the noise. She was standing in front of her car, staring at me with a shocked face. I looked back towards him. He was gone. I was standing alone, awkward. I looked around. Neither of them were to be found. I turned and walked back to Ivy and I’s cars. It was only when I reached her and waved my hand in a greeting that I saw it. Where he and I had touched, there was a mark on my hand. Like the scar from a burn, long healed and barely visible, but there.
The rest of the day seemed to go on like normal. I felt like I kept looking back over my shoulder and around corners to see if they would show back up or not. They never did. Everything in my life had gone back to normal, or as normal as it got. Everything but me.
I was out of sorts all the way home as well. I now understand what people who drive drunk feel like. I was barely able to concentrate on the pavement in front of me. I’m not really all that sure how I made it home. I was so out of it that it wasn’t until I almost ran smack dab into the FedEx guy at my front door before I even noticed he was there.
“Oh, Hi!” I said, jumping to a halt, but managing to keep my shoes on this time.
He looked up at me with a smile. I returned one as well.
“Hello ma’am. You made it just in the nick of time. Sign here please.”
I looked at him confused for a moment until the rest of my awareness kicked in. There was a package sitting at the doorstep. He was holding out his little console toward me to sign. The moment was getting awkward. I nervously giggled and scribbled my name down.
He tipped his hat and walked back to his truck, leaving me standing there, still trying to catch up with reality and come fully out of my little wonderland I had been in all afternoon. The FedEx man was pulling away by the time I had the wherewithal to pick up the package and make sure it was actually for someone in my house. It was feather light. I flipped it over to see the recipient. It was for me.
A part of my welcome this oddity, rejecting the normalcy that had painted the day after this morning. Another part of me was startled and slightly nervous. What could I be receiving in a package in the mail? Further inspection of the small package indicated that it had been an immediate shipment. As if it had gotten packaged just in time to make it on the truck to my house. Confusion was an understatement at this point.
I set my stuff down just inside the door, not even bothering to hand up my keys, instead placing them on the entry table instead. I was too anxious to get the package open to worry about being messy.