by Misty Singer
If fate is real, she has a wicked sense of humor...
The maniac in the car slammed into us from behind, jolting my body and throwing me against my seatbelt. As soon as I pulled my head back up, it slammed into us again.
Beside me, the boy growled. A deadly menacing sound from deep in his throat.
He suddenly jerked the wheel to the left and slammed on the breaks, just enough so that the front of his car was even with the back left tire of the madman's car.
Jerking the wheel to the right, he hit the car just behind the tire well, causing the driver to lose control. As the car's nose spun left, he swerved to the right, slamming the accelerator to the floor to speed around him. I watched in the passenger mirror as the madman's car spun around and around in the middle of the road, its headlights winking in and out like a lighthouse beacon.
Thy boy drove until there was a football field's distance between us and the other car, then slammed on the breaks again, jerking his BMW to a stop on the side of the road. He turned the car off and released his seatbelt in almost the same motion. In the mirror I could see that the driver now had his car under control again, and waited in the middle of the road, revving the engine.
He was not going to give up.
"Stay here!" He yelled, jumping out of the car.
He can't be serious! I fumbled with my seatbelt, trying to release it with my shaking hands.
My fingers finally found the button. I released the belt and shoved open the door. "Will!" I screamed.
His eyes locked with mine. "Mia, stay there!"
The black car screeched forward, spinning the tires wildly as he aimed for us.
"Will, please..." I pleaded, terror spreading like ice through my veins.
"Mia -- Don't move." His voice was firm as he walked down the road straight toward the speeding vehicle. "Please." His eyes flashed in the light from the moving car, and in them, I didn't just see the fear I expected, I saw something else. Something that stopped me like nothing else might have.
He took off like a bullet, aiming right for the madman's car, which was speeding right at him. Panic shot through my veins until I could barely breathe.
Seconds later, I watched as Will reached the car.
Just before impact, he dropped his right shoulder, slamming into the front of the black car, like a linebacker on a football team. My hands flew to my face as a scream exploded from my lips.
A sound, so horrifying it sent shivers down my spine, erupted from the impact point. A mix of twisted metal and shattering glass. My stomach heaved with horror.
But, as the smoke began to clear, I saw him.
He stood at the mangled front of what was left of the black car... and he was very much alive.
I awoke with a start, sheets soaked through and sticking to my legs in a tangled mess. I pressed my hand hard against my chest, as if by clutching at my heart it might calm the storm raging inside me.
This dream had been different--but he was the same.
He was always in my dreams, always in the shadows, haunting my sleep with his wondrous presence. Most nights, he was just far enough away that I couldn't touch him, only a step or two beyond, obscured in darkness. It seemed as though all I needed to do was reach out to him... but he was never quite close enough, and I was always too scared to try. He was like smoke--if I disrupted the balance, he might dissipate and fade away forever.
His face, bewitching in every way, always waited with unwavering patience, beckoning me to his warm embrace. He had been part of my life, or my dreams anyway, for as long as I could remember.
I just didn't know who he was.
I'd never met the boy in my dreams--had never laid my eyes on him. He was a figment of my imagination, a precious fantasy.
Only, he felt real. He always had.
This dream, as convoluted as it seemed, felt strangely genuine. I wasn't shaking, gasping for air, heart practically beating out of my chest because the dream was scary. I was freaking out because it felt solid, like it hadn't happened yet, but it would.
It wasn't the first time I had felt this way. I've had dreams like this my entire life. Premonitions, that's what they really were, though I hated to use that term. It made me feel like a lunatic, even more so because of my other second-sight talent. But, I could smell the smoke billowing from the crash site, a mix of grease, exhaust and burning rubber. I could feel the firm grip of his hand as he laced his fingers with my own. I could hear the sound of his voice, as if I had really been there, right beside him.
Which meant only one thing--at some point, this dream would become a reality.
All my premonitions came to pass. I never knew when, though. Sometimes, there was so much time between when I had the dream and when it finally came to be, that it just felt like a serious case of Deja vu. One thing was for certain, though--they were always warnings.
I took a deep breath, slowly exhaling it back out as my heart finally began beating at a more normal pace.
If nothing else, at least I now had a name to go with the angelic face of my dream-stalker.
I peeled the wet sheets off my body and padded down the drafty hallway to my bathroom. Filling my cupped hands with cold water, I splashed my face over and over again before taking a deep, assessing look at my reflection. I was a mess. My usually full lips, which lifted just enough at each corner to give the impression that I was always happy--even when I wasn't--looked thin and chapped. Even my long, springy, black curls hung limply around my face; wet strands matted against my high forehead. The pale, porcelain face in the mirror was a mere shadow of what I normally saw staring back at me every day. I could only hope that after a few more hours of sleep, I might be able to pass for human. I would hate for my first day back at Rockport-Camden High to be marred by even more gossip than what I would already encounter. Dark circles and puffy eyes would not be welcome.
I had lived in the small, east coast town of Rockport, Maine my entire life, with the exception of this last year. Fifteen months to be exact. As excited as I was to be back home, a huge part of me was nervous to face a few of the people I thought I had left behind.
It was a relief to be back in my childhood home. After months of feeling homesick, we packed everything up and moved back in last week, during Christmas Vacation. Today would be my first day back at my old school in more than a year.
I stole some fresh blankets out of the closet and tossed one over my wet sheets, flopped down on top of it, and pulled the others over me. For now, I just wanted to get some sleep.
Preferably, the dreamless kind.
Morning came entirely too soon.
After showering, brushing my teeth and dabbing a little makeup on to try to hide the dark circles under my eyes, I attempted to tame my long, rebellious black curls into something resembling a hairstyle, only to give up and pull them back into a simple ponytail. I couldn't waste any more time; it was obviously not going to be my best hair day, no matter how much time I spent on it.
I pulled into an empty parking stall with fifteen minutes to spare, looking over the school with mild resentment. I wasn't in any great hurry to get to my first-period class. When we met with the school to re-enroll me, I found out I would be studying Shakespeare in my Junior English class. Hamlet again, urgh.
Not that I didn't love English, it was actually one of my favorite subjects, but for me, Hamlet truly left something to be desired. Yes, I realize it's a tragedy, and therefore meant to be sad, but it was entirely too dark and disturbing, everyone died in the end, and there was nothing even remotely close to a happy ending. Not one of my favorites. I had never really thought of myself as a hopeless romantic, but I guess I'm not much for tragic endings either. Besides, I had already finished Hamlet earlier this year in Augusta and now had to trudge through it all over again here.
Gathering all my notebooks in one arm, I locked the door to my car--a blue 1967 Camaro that my father had restored before I was born--and headed for class.
"Mia!" Shouted a high-pitched voice from across the parking lot.
I turned at the sound of my name to see a girl bouncing quickly for me. She had to hold her books tightly against her body so she wouldn't drop them. "Hi, Kate," I said, smiling at the beautiful teenager.
Kate Harvey was a girl I'd known since kindergarten. Where I might have been considered pretty, Kate was downright gorgeous with her shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. She was the bubbly cheerleader type, demanding to be the center of everyone's attention. I was the quiet, smart girl, perfectly happy to remain well outside of the spotlight. We were friends, but not the best of. We were just a little too different to have very much in common.
Kate regarded my hair with faint disapproval -- she was never much for comfort in style, opting for the more beauty queen approach to her personal flair--but she quickly cast aside whatever thoughts on my appearance she had and began to bubble over with her always effervescent enthusiasm. "I thought that was you!" She exclaimed, her voice squealing with barely contained excitement. "What are you doing here? Are you back?"
I nodded. "We moved back in last week."
"Oh, this is perfect! I can give you all the need-to-know info you've missed out on this year."
Oh, great. If I needed to know the latest on anyone or anything, there would be nobody better than Kate to get me up to speed. Frankly speaking, I wasn't much for gossip, but it wouldn't hurt to know what was happening on campus. I could weed through her montage and discard whatever I thought was irrelevant.
"Let me think." She searched around the campus as if all the gossipy-information she needed was hiding in the shadows of one of the pods. "Oh, Adam Martins is available. He and Jessica Johns just broke up right before Winter break." She slid me a sidelong glance. "In case you're interested."
I bit my lip to stifle a grimace. "Uh, I don't think so.
For nearly three months during my sophomore year, I had dated Adam Martins. He was a junior then and was easily the cutest guy on campus, with his dark hair, chocolate-brown eyes and an air of conceited charm. Apparently, quite a catch for me, or so Kate had been nice enough to inform me. Kate had always been the jealous type, and it was no secret that she had always liked him.
A jock to the core, Adam was one of Camden High's best wrestlers and star quarterback--you name the game, he played it and played it well. I never quite understood why he wanted to date me in the first place--compared to Kate Harvey and Sally Jenkins, I wasn't much of a prize. I wore only a little make-up and preferred comfort in my clothing, as opposed to the thick layers of perfectly applied makeup and expensive designer clothing that Kate and Sally tended to sport. Boys always drooled when they were around. He had been my first boyfriend--if you could call him that--but the relationship was awkward and uncomfortable for me right from the start.
"Mia, are you listening?" Kate's voice weaved its way through my thoughts and pulled me back to the present.
I nodded, plastering a sweet but horribly fake smile on my face. "Of course," I lied, not wanting to admit my momentary distraction. I had never been a very accomplished liar. Some would say that is a good trait. I, on the other hand, know just how horrible I am at it and wish I could at least tell a white lie with some minuscule amount of flair.
"Okay." She smiled in return. "I just wanted to make sure." Thankfully, Kate was about as deft at being observant as I was at lying.
Launching into an epic on all the new relationships around the school--the perfect matches, the horrible ones and the downright strange ones, no detail was too small to leave out. I was amazed by the amount of information Kate could cover in the short walk from the parking lot to the classrooms.
Most of her information centered on some new kids. Twins, in fact--a boy and a girl. According to Kate, they'd had the whole school buzzing about them since they'd arrived a few months earlier.
Eyeing her warily, I tried to decide if she liked them or if she was about to spread some petty little rumors about them.
Our school was not a large one, housing a little more than 650 students from five, small surrounding towns. I knew from experience that rumors raged in small towns faster than you could blink an eye. I had the opportunity to be the center of a few of them already, thanks in large part to Adam.
She went on and on about how amazing the Griffin's were. Well, mostly the boy. "You seriously won't believe your eyes." She paused briefly in her montage, clutching my shoulder with her free hand to pull me to a stop and turning all googly-eyed. "He is so handsome!" I remembered that look well--whoever he was, he had topped the list of Kate Harvey's intended conquests. Poor boy.
"I just couldn't stand it if Sally got her sharp little talons into him first, but he doesn't seem interested in her anyway, so I don't think I have anything to worry about there." Her brow creased slightly. "Actually, he doesn't seem interested in anyone, really." It was obvious that she didn't like admitting it. "Most of the girls have given up hope, but I still think he's amazing."
She raised an eyebrow at me. "Just don't you go getting any ideas. He's mine."
I snorted. "Not even a problem. He's not even on my radar." No guy was, for that matter.
She gave me a quick nod of approval then droned on and on about him as we walked to our first-period classes. William Griffin was his name, playing mouse would be his game. Well, not necessarily. In the past, guys didn't put up much of a fight when Kate let it be known that she wanted them. Adam had been the exception to that rule, but he had grown up with Kate, their families were very close. I had asked him about it once -- he just shrugged and said it would be like dating his sister. I could relate, Jack was one of my best friends; he was like a brother to me, and I could never imagine dating him.
But, the general male population was drawn to her like a bee to honey. I was pretty sure William Griffin would be no different. Eventually, she would wear him down, too.
"He can't resist forever, can he? I mean, really, he has to like someone here."
It was plain to see that she was not at all used to being turned down or disregarded, especially by someone she was working so hard for.
"Anyway." She gave her head a dismissive shake before turning to me once again. "You know, Mia, it's nice that you go for this natural beauty thing." She cast an assessing eye from my hair to my face. "But, I could show you a thing or two about enhancing your features, how to bring out your best assets. You know, if you're interested sometime."
I bit my lip to stifle a groan. I knew she was trying to be nice, as nice as I could expect from Kate Harvey, Princess of Rockport-Camden High, but the very last thing I wanted was a lecture on beauty do's and don'ts. I didn't have the patience to stand in front of a mirror for hours each morning like she did. But, I didn't want to hurt her feelings either. "Sure, that would be nice...sometime."
She beamed a smile at me.
We were nearing my classroom when her face snapped around to me as if a thought just occurred to her. "You have to sit with us at lunch today. I won't take no for an answer." She stated bluntly. "We can catch up, and I can tell you everything you've missed."
I shrugged. "Sure, I'll try to find you."
Her eyes glazed over again. "Just wait till you see him today. Your jaw will positively drop to your knees!" She sighed. "He's just so-"
"Amazing?" I asked, helpfully, sarcasm all but dripping from my lips.
Kate was oblivious to my teasing. "Yes! Exactly. So amazing, you'll see."
I grabbed the door to my classroom. "Okay. Well, I gotta go, Kate. See you at lunch, okay?" I practically flew through the door, anxious to make my escape.
"Okay, bye Mia." I heard her squeak as the door closed behind me. School hadn't even started yet, and I was already feeling a little overwhelmed. First day jitters were starting to set in.
Luckily, first and second period passed without incident. I made it through my first day reviewing Hamlet and even plodded easily enough through anatomy class, my least favorite subject.
I was on my way to my third-period calculus class, when a gust of chilling early-January wind hit me square in the back, loosening some errant curls from my ponytail and blowing straight up my jacket. It felt like someone threw ice down my shirt and I couldn't help the little "oh" of surprise I cried out.
I barely had time to catch my breath, when something else hit my back, causing me to pitch forward, my books spilling from my arms.
"Oh, my gosh!" Came a voice I knew well. "I'm so sorry, the wind-" The girl stopped, eyeing me distinctly through her blue-framed, cats-eye glasses, clarity lighting her face. "Mia?"
I laughed at my friend's stricken expression. "Hi, Kim."
"Oh!" Her enthusiasm at seeing me was marred only by the fact that she had caused me to throw my books everywhere. "Oh, I'm so sorry."
"Don't worry about it," I said, kneeling down to pick up the books I'd dropped. Kim was one of my best friends, and frankly, one of the nicest people I'd ever known. She was the type that would do anything for you.
I flashed her a reassuring smile as I scooped up my scattered books.
"Jack will be so excited to see you. He's practically talked of nothing else but you." She rolled her eyes with a smile.
"I'm excited to see him, too. It's been so long since we all hung out." I sighed. "Too long."
"Well, try to remember that the next time you think of moving away." Her tone was only slightly chiding.
I nodded my head mockingly. "Oh, okay. Because I had so much choice in the matter." I retorted.
"Hey, kids refuse their parents about stuff all the time these days. Don't you ever watch Lifetime?"
I snickered at that. Kim's playful sarcasm was exactly what I needed. Her humor was so refreshing that I could feel my humming nerves slowly begin to relax.
"Wow," She said, her voice filled with genuine surprise. "Would you look at that."
"What?" I asked, glancing up at her.
She didn't reply for a few seconds, just kept staring at whatever it was that had caught her attention. When she answered, her voice was a mix of disbelief and awe. "I think you are the first girl he's looked at for more than two seconds since he moved here. You're certainly the first one I've ever seen him look at like that."
"What are you talking about?" Curious, I followed her gaze as I stood up, reassembling my books in my arms. Standing a few yards away, flanked by a giggling Kate on one side and an unabashedly flirting Sally on the other, was a boy so strikingly handsome he made every other guy in comparison look...
Of course, nobody in their right mind would ever call Adam Martins--or the vast majority of the guys at this school for that matter--unattractive. It would be a bald-faced lie. The guys here dressed in cashmere sweaters and designer jeans, had their hair perfectly styled and smelled like they drenched themselves in Dior and Valentino colognes. They weren't all gorgeous, but most of them were at least passably attractive -- Adam, however, was gorgeous. He just wasn't him.
Dressed all in black, his style bordered slightly on the dark side. Not gothic, exactly--he didn't have the pale skin or dark makeup you would expect from a true Goth. He wore no chains and had no body piercings. He reminded me of a dark avenging angel -- not that I had any real knowledge of what a dark avenging angel would look like, but still, that's what came to my mind when looking at him. From his perfectly fitting leather pants to his black, slim-fitted motorcycle jacket and black combat boots, he was impeccable. He had pale, white-blonde hair, which fell in a flawlessly untidy fashion over his forehead and into his eyes, giving him a boyishly handsome look. But his eyes...
His eyes held a thousand secrets. Even from this distance, his brilliant cerulean blue eyes seemed far older than his beautiful face could possibly be. They seemed so perceptive--I felt as if he were staring straight into my soul, reading my deepest, darkest secrets.
He was perfect.
And I knew him. I saw him every night in my dreams.
He stood there for what seemed like the longest minute known to man, frozen in place, unable to take his eyes from mine. For the briefest of moments, I couldn't catch my breath, like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the air, leaving a void in the atmosphere. This was downright crazy -- I wasn't one of those girls -- those girls that melted into a puddle of ooey-gooey, gooshiness over a guy. I couldn't stand those girls -- few things drove me to insanity more than a bunch of girls acting like mindless fools over some hot guy. But the way he was staring at me had me feeling strange, for even as a shiver of awareness trembled down my spine, the deep, dark wariness I saw behind his eyes left me feeling uneasy and confused.
"That's-" Kim started, but I cut her off.
"Will," I whispered, not quite sure if I was asking a question or stating a fact, but not trusting my voice either way. I was still unable to tear my gaze from his.
"Yeah, William Griffin. How'd you know?"
I cleared my throat. "Kate."
"Oh, of course." She paused briefly. "Hey, Mia," She began, her voice pitching with excitement, "I think he likes you." She giggled, batting playfully at my arm and almost making me drop my books again.
That finally snapped my attention away. "What? No." I said, dumbfounded. I'm not the stop-guys-dead-in-their-tracks kind of girl -- but the way he looked at me had my skin flushing and my heart thumping right out of my chest. "We haven't even met." Technically, anyway.
Kim shrugged. "Call me crazy, but I don't think it matters if he knows you or not. He has never given any girl here the time of day. Just look at the way he is with Kate and Sally--he might be polite to them, but you can see he couldn't care less if they were there or not." She whispered. "And, he's still staring at you."
I chanced a quick glance in his direction again. He was still staring at me, that strange look of wariness still present, showing in the crease of his brow, the caution in his eyes--eyes that were entirely too blue.
The girls were beginning to notice his unexpected interest in me; interest he had clearly not shown them. Each one began to pout, fluttering their eyes in unison while tugging on his arms, hoping he might notice and throw a bone in their direction--anything to turn his attention away from me.
He did finally break out of his trance, his eyes scanning the crowded courtyard, searching for something. When I followed his gaze, I saw that it rested on a stunningly beautiful young girl with the same pale hair. She was obviously his twin sister; the family resemblance was plain to see. Dark clothing must be a preference for both of them since she was similarly dressed, and just as strikingly picturesque as he was.
She looked at him for an instant before her brilliant blue eyes flashed in my direction, then met his once again. She shrugged slightly, confusion evident, the delicate movement beyond graceful.
The strange communication between them left me with a multitude of questions, but before I had the chance to grab on to a single one of them--as they flitted through my befuddled brain--I felt someone's large hand lock on my shoulder, giving me an awkward, jolting shake. It was enough to break the trance I was in, and possibly give me a minor case of whiplash. Much to my chagrin, I realized I had just been standing here blatantly staring back at the new boy. I can only hope I didn't drool.
I swung around to confront the rude person behind me, my cheeks burning.
"Hello? Did you hear me?"
Lovely. It was Adam.
"Hi, Adam," I said, not bothering to hide the irritation in my voice.
He glared over my shoulder, his dark eyes like two little slits, resting where mine had just been. I could see the burning jealousy he was trying hard to hide. "I just wanted to know if you've changed your mind yet." A smug look crossed his face as he glanced down at me. I didn't find his question very funny.
About two weeks before I moved away, Adam was over at my house watching a movie -- an action flick that had plenty of blood and gore -- always a favorite of his. That night he decided that if I didn't agree to take our relationship to the next level, then he couldn't date me anymore.
I promptly showed him the door.
Feeling my temper flare at his taunt, I glared at him, scathingly. "Go. Away."
I tried to turn away from him, but he quickly reached out and grabbed my arm, and my books clattered to the ground once again. "Oh, come on Mia, you know I'm kidding." He flashed me that smile of his that could melt an iceberg as I bent to pick up my books once again. Nobody could resist that smile.
Nobody but me.
He was nice enough to pick up one of my books. Just one.
"No, seriously. I just wanted to know if you'd like to go out tonight, that's all." His eyes darted behind me briefly then back to mine again as he gallantly handed me my one book.
"Hmm," I said, tapping my finger against my chin mockingly. As if I had to think about it. "No."
"Why not?" He glanced over my shoulder again, his face hardening. "You don't have a date already, do you?"
I could hear the disapproval in his tone, and I was little startled by the rawness of it. "Uh, no. And I'm not looking for one. I've still got to help my Mom unpack tonight, anyway." It wasn't exactly a lie. And if he thought we were going to pick back up where we left off, he had another thing coming.
After we had broken up, he spent those last two weeks throwing me sad, wounded looks, playing the victim with expert precision. But, while trying to woo me back with guilt, he took a different tactic with the guys in the locker room. It didn't take long for the rumors to run that he had finally got me into his bed, scored and was ready to move on to the next girl in line.
So, half the school believed that he was a poor victim of love and I had broken his heart while the other half thought he was the master player and could woo any girl into his bed.
Neither belief was even close.
Honestly, we were never that serious, so there were no strong feelings to begin with. We really had very little in common. I had read about love, knew it was real, saw it evident in the memory my mother had of my father and knew that I could never settle for anything less when the time came for something, or rather someone, serious. It was for this reason that I refused to sleep with Adam. I just couldn't.
Call me a prude. Guess I'm just old-fashioned that way.
And the whole being dumped thing wasn't a problem either. Like I said, I didn't know why Adam was interested in me to begin with, so it wasn't much of a shock when he finally grew tired of our platonic relationship and decided he wanted more.
What was a problem was the smug ultimatum he gave me. Give it up or give me up. It really wasn't a difficult decision to make. Obviously the relationship meant as little to him as it had to me.
He'd done us both a favor. I was only too glad to get that monkey off my back.
"Come on." He was turning up the charm now, his eyes burned into me, their chocolaty warmth beckoning to me. "We could just hang out, like old times." He shrugged, pretending his offer was as innocent as it sounded.
I found myself caught between wanting to be civil on my first day back, and wanting to satisfy the itch radiating from the palm of my hand to slap the smug smile off his face. I did my best to take the high road. "I've got to get to class, Adam." Turning from him, I started walking away.
"Wait," He purred seductively. He was as used to being snubbed as Kate was. "I'll walk you."
"No!" The word came out sharper than I had intended, but by then, I was past the point of caring. I held my hand up in warning, practically spelling it out to STOP in big bold red letters. "Just leave me alone."
"Yeah, back off, Adam." Kim hissed beside me.
Adam smiled--again that smug smile I wanted so much to claw off his face--and shrugged.
"Mia!" I heard a deep voice call out behind me. I turned, hesitantly, to see who it was -- anyone would be better than Adam right now.
A boy with dark blonde hair was walking quickly toward us; a huge smile spread across his angular face.
Jack? It couldn't be. I had last seen him only four months ago, and he had looked then the same as the day I had left -- fairly average. The boy who was walking at me now wasn't so average.
He marched straight up to me, grabbed me around the waist and lifted me into a huge bear hug. "About time I see you." He said, squeezing the breath out of me before setting me back down on my feet.
"Oh, my gosh, Jack." I couldn't believe my eyes. "What happened to you?"
He laughed at me. "Nothing much."
"You're huge. I just saw you a few months ago -- where did all this come from?" I squeezed his enormous right bicep. He flexed it just for my benefit, tight sinew contracting as he lifted his arm.
He shrugged. "Eh, I joined the wrestling team. All us guys lift weights after school so I bulked up a bit. See what you miss when you stay away so long?" He teased.
I laughed, hugging him again. "It's so good to see you."
"Where's your next class?" He asked. "I'll walk with you."
"I've got math next with Mr. Marshall," I replied.
"Oh, good. I'm walking that way, anyway."
He and Kim walked with me down the breezeway to the math building chatting the whole way. We reluctantly said goodbye, but I promised to find them at lunch.
I found an empty seat in the middle of the room. I sat there, doodling on my sketchpad, while I waited for the substitute teacher to finish roll call.
"Let's see, is there a Maya Rose present?" He asked, his gentle voice pronouncing my name wrong.
"It's Mia," I said automatically, not bothering to look up. Nobody ever got my name right.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a quick movement, a swift snap of someone's head. I looked over to find that handsome, angelic face sitting at the desk to my right, and again, he was staring at me with those shockingly blue eyes.
At first, he looked bewildered, taken aback, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. I couldn't help but feel a little self-conscious. I tried to swallow, but my throat was suddenly very dry.
"Oh, so sorry -- Mee-ahh." The substitute quietly said, scribbling something on his sheet of paper.
I reluctantly tore my eyes away from the boy and glanced at the teacher. "Don't worry about it -- it happens all the time," I replied.
"You must be a new student here; your name is at the bottom of my list. Welcome, Miss Rose." Mr. Collins said, his voice was soft and soothing.
I nodded, silently thanking him. When I looked back at William, he was still studying me, but his gaze had become wary once again. It was almost as if he was uncertain of me, suspicious even.
"We haven't met." He said, his voice more alluring than I had anticipated, low and honey-sweet.
I tried to shake my head, but I barely managed to move it, so entranced was I by his eyes. So blue, they seemed to almost glow. Feeling like a complete idiot--and knowing I must look like one as well -- I swallowed past the lump in my throat and forced myself to speak. "No, we haven't." I croaked.
Brilliant. Nothing like stating the obvious.
He winced as if someone had dragged fingernails across the chalkboard. Not that I blamed him, I couldn't have been much more lame. I wasn't exactly on my game today.
When he smiled at me again, his smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'm Will."
I smiled back at him; it was nearly impossible not to. "I'm-"
"You're Mia," his smile widened as he nodded at the teacher who was now shuffling through the papers on the desk. It didn't appear that the normal teacher was very organized. "I got that." He winked.
Well of course. How stupid could I be? I did just announce my name to the entire class.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Across the room, I noticed Susan Myers shooting daggers at me with her eyes, a scowl fixed on her usually engaging face. If only she could hear my pathetic attempt at a conversation, she would soon realize she had absolutely nothing to worry about. I was quickly digging my grave with this divine creature. Soon, he would realize how boring I really was and would then be rolling his eyes, turning his back and walking away.
Sally, who was sitting on the other side of him, tapped him sweetly on the shoulder asking to borrow a pencil. He replied with a simple "yes" and handed her one, refusing to look away from me. Sally's flirtatious expression melted away into a full pout, complete with her bottom lip pouching out.
As he brought his arm back from the exchange, he didn't return it to his side, nor did he rest it on his desk in a bored slouch like most of the boys in the room sat. Instead, in one graceful, fluid motion, he extended it out to me. "It's nice to meet you, Mia." His expression was cautious but curious.
I reached out my hand to meet his, more than a little surprised by his intention. It seemed like an old gesture, shaking someone's hand. I honestly couldn't remember the last time I had done so.
And I could never remember a time when I wanted anything more. The desire that coursed through my veins to merely touch his skin, feel his touch in return, shocked me. I had always been too afraid to touch him in my dreams...
As my hand met his, a warm tingle snaked up my arm. The strange sensation began at my fingertips, ran all the way up my arm and didn't stop until it shivered down my entire spine, leaving a trail of goosebumps behind. I heard his sharp, indrawn breath and wondered briefly if he, too, felt the unexpected sensation.
He broke off the unusual embrace with a flinch, snapping his hand back as though it had been burned by fire. The caress had lasted only seconds, but the effect was staggering--his breathing was ragged, his eyes slightly startled, his hand shaking.
My hand trembled. I couldn't find my breath, to the point that I was beginning to feel dizzy. I had never felt anything like that before...
I couldn't be sure, but I thought I heard him whisper, so quietly that only I could hear him, "Breathe," I promptly let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. As I forced myself to breathe again, the dizziness began to dissipate, though the shocking rawness of my response from the tiny contact with him had my mind reeling.
He turned away from me then, faced the front of the room and didn't look back again. When class was over, he bolted from the room without so much as a backward glance.
See, I thought to myself, suddenly feeling sullen and dejected. He might not have rolled his eyes, but he had certainly dismissed me. He had even turned his back and walked away.
Then again, I couldn't exactly see his eyes as he ran from the room. Maybe he did roll them at me.
I found Kim and Jack at a lunch table near the middle of the cafeteria, waiting anxiously for me. The three of us sat alone until Kate and her gang infiltrated the table, but they all sat gossiping amongst themselves, mindless chitter-chatter that would have driven me to madness had I been forced to sit and pretend to be interested in what they prattled on about. I didn't care about which pumps went with what dress or who Mike Webber was hitting on this week or who was having a party this weekend. Again, I was reminded of how thankful I was to have the friends I did. I would take Jack's ramble about Dungeon's and Dragons and gamer cheats or one of Kim's lively sermon's about the most recent historical romance book she found herself engrossed in any day.
"So, how's your first day back been?" Jack asked.
"It's been fine so far," I replied, still dumbfounded from my encounter with my dream guy. I prided myself on being different from the typical giggling teenage girl, so it was a little strange to think that maybe I wasn't so different from them after all. They all looked at him the same way I did.
"William Griffin has a thing for Mia," Kim told Jack, stifling a giggle.
I scowled at her. "He does not."
"William Griffin?" Jack made a face, like the thought of him was repelling. "He's weird. Doesn't care about anyone but himself." He looked at me pointedly. "Don't even waste your time, Mia. He's not worth it."
I noticed Kate's expectant look from across the table, waiting for my response.
"I really wasn't planning on it. Geez you guys, give me a little breathing room. I haven't even been back a full day and already you guys are trying to fix me up." I joked.
"Not a chance. Especially not with him." Jack threw back. There was an edge to his voice. It was obvious he didn't like William, but his disdain made me very curious. What had William Griffin done to make Jack dislike him so much?
"Oh, Jack. Be nice." Kim glared at him, then looked back at me. "I think it's sweet." She smiled at me. "He seems to like you." Her hazel eyes suddenly brightened. "Maybe he'll be your prince charming, like the guy in the book I'm reading right now, he wasn't liked by anyone either, but that didn't stop him from being Sophie's soul mate."
"Pl-ease!" Jack huffed at the same time I said, "I have no idea what you're talking about." I could feel the heat rising up my neck to my face. The whole lunch table had noticed our conversation, and they were all peering at me earnestly, hanging on our every word. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans suddenly feeling claustrophobic.
"Like I said, he's never looked at anyone else the way he looked at you today."
"How did he look at her?" Jack's curiosity got the better of him, much to my embarrassment.
Kim grinned at him. "Like he wanted to gobble her up!" She snickered, tossing me an apologetic look. She knew how much I would make her pay for this later.
"Yeah, like a fricken vulture." He mumbled, glowering to himself, his brow creased in a frown. When the bell signaled the end of lunch, I was only too happy to get out of there and head off to my next class.
I only hoped the end of my day would be better than the start of it had been. I was ready for this day to be over.
When mom got home that night, she was so excited to hear about my day that she had me feeling like a kindergartner on the first day of school.
"So... how was it?" She asked, kicking her heels off and taking a seat on a barstool in the kitchen.
"It was good. I'm ahead in most of my classes." I told her.
She smiled. "Well, that's a plus. How is everyone? Were they all happy to see you?"
I thought about Kim and Jack, Kate and Sally. They had all been very excited to see me back. Then I thought about William and the awkwardness I felt at the end of that class. "Yeah, they were all nice enough."
She frowned. Even with a look like that on her face, she was just as stunning as ever. "Uh, oh. Did something happen?"
I shook my head. "No. There are some new kids at school." I paused, sighing softly. "I just haven't figured them out yet."
She giggled. "Figured them out? You sound like you're gearing up to give them a psych exam. What do you need to figure out about them?"
I chewed on my lip. "I don't know. The Griffin's just seem a little different. Have you heard anything about their family?"
"As a matter of fact, I have. Mr. Griffin is some kind of scientist, I believe." The tone of her voice said she was impressed to have such an important person in our little town. "From what Marry Meyers told me, he's married and has three children, one in college and two in high school. I believe his wife is a nurse down at the free clinic."
Geez, my mother had been back in town only a week. The supermarket must have been quite the gossip-mill.
"They're supposed to be a very nice family. As I understand it, they're all incredibly good-looking, too. They must have good genes. Mary's daughter, Susan, seems to be very interested in the younger boy, from what she told me."
"Umhmm," I mumbled. He seemed to have that effect on everybody.
"So, did you see Jack today?" She inquired, gently prodding, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
"Ye-es, why?" I eyed her carefully, knowing exactly where she was going with this particular line of questioning. She always thought that Jack had some huge, life-altering crush on me, even though I explained again and again that were only friends.
"I was just wondering." She said it much too sweetly, the high pitch in her voice betraying her words.
"No, you weren't. If you were just wondering, you would have asked about Kim, too." I gave an exaggerated sigh and stuck my tongue out at her playfully. "He asked me to meet him at the park after school with my guitar. He missed hearing me play." It was completely innocent, but I knew to her ears it would sound like more.
I held my hand up and accessed my fingers. "I think I might have gotten frostbite, it was so cold out there. I just didn't have the heart to tell him no." It was a last ditch effort to veer my mom off of her intended course of yet another talk about Jacks feelings for me, not that it was working any better than all the other times I tried to shy away from it.
My mom just giggled louder.
"Mom, please. You know we are just friends. I could never look at Jack that way. He's practically my brother. And he doesn't look at me that way either."
"Oh, I don't know about that. He thinks the sun rises and sets because you beckon it." She gave me a pointed look. "And he acts nothing like a brother to you, Mia. He absolutely adores you. I think if you asked him to jump, he would first ask how high, then climb something twice as high to jump from just for good measure." She winked at me. She actually winked at me, like this was fun or something.
"Ugh, Mom...." I could hear the whine in my voice and didn't care.
She snickered at me, knowing full well how she was tormenting me and loving every minute of it. "Isn't it nice to be home again? I missed this place so much."
"I did, too," I said truthfully, with a sigh. Still, I had a prickling feeling that something important had changed in my life today, something that I didn't yet understand but knew centered around the Griffin's. It was strange and unsettling, but it felt... it felt strangely right.
She made a face at me. "Whose dumb idea was it to move away, anyway?"
I just shook my head, smirking at her.
She chuckled again, a heartwarming sound of happiness. Moving back home had her in good spirits, despite her long day. "So, what did you have for dinner?"
I paced the short distance to our white and chrome vintage 1938 Hotpoint refrigerator (that my mom just had to have) and pulled out the container of shrimp pasta I had made earlier and tucked away for her. A couple of minutes in the microwave and it was ready to be devoured.
And devour she did.
As it turned out, I had more classes with William. I found him in my World History class and also in Gym. It was blatantly obvious that he wanted nothing more to do with me, though. He wouldn't even look at me. The way he refused to acknowledge my existence was beginning to make me feel like an outcast, like I had contracted some heinous plague. He was so careful to keep his distance from me, staying on the opposite side of the room from where I would be and then disappear from every class I had with him almost before the bell would even sound.
I wondered if I was being slightly narcissistic, giving myself too much importance by taking the credit for all his reactions. Maybe this was just how he was. People were antisocial all the time, it didn't necessarily mean it was personal, it was just their nature.
Except, I couldn't help but feel like it did have something to do with me. Especially since he didn't seem to be antisocial with anyone else. He may not have been what one would call outgoing -- he and Hannah both seemed to keep a comfortable distance between themselves and others -- but he didn't exude the extreme icy coldness that he projected in my direction with anyone else.
Not everyone had such an adverse reaction to me, though. Throughout my first week back, most of my old acquaintances approached me to tell me they were glad to see we came to our senses and moved back. Again I explained that I had little choice in the matter, my mother was the navigator, and I just hitched a ride on the train. Only the Griffin's acted as if my presence here was intrusive -- an invasion in their lives.
It was a beautiful late winter day. I was on my way to my calculus class, when I saw Hannah Griffin, walking with a purpose straight for me. I'd never spoken to the beautiful, young girl before and was slightly more than shocked to find her heading my way, eyes narrowed, determined.
She stopped right in front of me, graceful and angelic, just like her brother. "Hi, Mia." She said, her melodic voice drifting through the air like a warm breeze. It was plain to see why everyone had the reaction they did to her; she was nothing short of stunning. Her pale blonde hair fell in cascading layers midway down her back, framing her seraphic face perfectly. Her blue eyes were exact mirrors of her brother's, deep and wise. Her fine-boned features, from the delicate slope of her nose to her high cheekbones and soft, sultry lips, fit her face flawlessly.
"H-hi." I managed, my voice betraying my surprise.
"I decided it was well passed time for you and I to talk." She smiled, and I was enchanted. "I've wanted to for quite some time."
I smiled. "Really?"
She nodded, her pale hair bouncing around her in beautiful waves. "You seem nice, and everyone says you are. I don't think I've ever known someone who was actually liked by everyone. I mean everyone. There isn't a single person in this school that has had anything but nice things to say about you." She shook her head. "It's crazy." She giggled, a sound that floated lightly through the air.
I smiled. "I don't... I'm not sure I know what to say to that." And I didn't. I had always thought I was well liked, but it was another thing actually to hear it. I could feel a little bubble of delight soar up inside me.
And then I thought of Will, and my smile disappeared. "I'm not so sure your brother would agree." I said with a grimace.
She flashed me a sad smile. "Yes, I'm sorry about that. He does have his reasons, misguided as they might be." I caught a glint of silver at her throat, a necklace that was so unique it instantly drew me in. It was a flat, crudely made circle of aged silver with a raised infinity sign placed perfectly in the center. I tore my eyes away with some effort, trying to focus on the conversation.
"You wouldn't feel like sharing those reasons, would you?" I asked, already knowing her answer.
She shook her head. "Best if I stay out of that one, at least for now." She frowned, her eyes flashing with annoyance. "Uh, oh."
I cocked my head questioningly. "Uh, oh what?"
She seemed to be waging a small war inside her head, ending with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. "I'm really sorry for what is about to happen."
I frowned, not understanding her meaning. "What do you-"
"Hannah!" I heard that beautiful voice hiss from behind her. Will was stalking at us from across the courtyard, his face a mask of fury. The Strange thing was, Hannah had her back to him, so how did she know he was coming?
She turned, facing him. "Hi, Will." Her voice pitched sweetly, as if nothing was amiss.
"What are you doing?" He snapped at her.
"Well, I was having a very nice conversation with Mia here, until you so rudely interrupted. Mia," She looked over at me, a smile lighting her eyes. "You know my brother, Will, don't you?"
"This is not the least bit funny, Hannah." He grumbled, anger still evident.
She glared at him, and he glared back, as seconds slowly ticked by. I was starting to feel a little awkward just standing there while they glowered at each other silently, with an intensity that was palpable. It strangely resembled the peculiar exchange I had seen between them that very first day. Almost as if they were speaking to each other without words. I felt like I was intruding on a private moment between the two of them just by standing there.
"Enough." Will snapped, slicing his hand through the air with determination. "I'm the eldest, what I say goes."
"Seriously?" She questioned, blatantly. "You are older by two minutes, Will. I think it's about time you gave up on that one. It doesn't count anymore -- it hasn't for a long time." She rolled her beautiful glowing eyes again. "Besides, you may be older, but I'm the wiser one."
He just stared at her.
She smiled, slyly. "Gotcha on that one, don't I? When are you going to learn to trust that I know what's right?"
"It's my decision, Hannah." Will's voice became quiet.
That seemed to wipe the smile right off her face. She sighed but gave him a little nod before turning back to me. "It was very nice to meet you, Mia. I have a feeling that we will be good friends one day. Until then, I have a class to get to before I'm late." She turned, giving Will one final pointed glance, then walked away, her willowy silhouette swaying with the wind.
William let out a huge breath as he watched her walk away. He glanced over at me, taking note that I still stared at him in disbelief. I had no idea what just happened, but it was very apparent he had something against me and wanted no part of his life to touch mine, including his sister.
He turned his back without another word, and walked into the calculus classroom, leaving me just staring after the both of them.
I was still confused by the bizarre confrontation that afternoon as I listened halfheartedly to Jack try to convince me about some foolish plans to throw a party at his house. A welcome home bash for me, he kept saying. He was beyond ecstatic to have me home again, which was nice, but not nice enough for me to participate in anything Jack would call a party.
"Come on, Mia. It will be fun." He begged, in his most pathetically whiny voice. He had come over after school, and the stupid party was all he could talk about.
I glared at him, my emerald eyes narrowing. "What would you know about throwing parties?" I asked, shaking my head. "I don't think sitting on the couch in your grandma's basement with your D&D nerdies campaigning in the magical world of Greyhawk counts."
"Hey!" He screeched, looking wholely affronted by my goad against his still favorite past time. We had spent countless nights campaigning through the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, staying up until three o'clock in the morning and then back at it as early as we could drag ourselves out of bed the next morning. I had achieved a high level during that time, but I hadn't played in years. Jack's face was fixed with a humorless smile, his dark eyes turning shrewd. "You used to be one of those nerdies, if you remember. I wouldn't go around criticizing a game where you were once a Tier 1 Wizard if I were you. It took a long time to achieve Wizard status." He peered at me, smart-ass written all over his face.
I rolled my eyes at him. "That was in eighth grade, Jack."
"Oh, what, you're too good to be a nerdie now? You have someone you need to impress or something?"
I was a little surprised by the venom in his voice. "What, exactly, are you talking about?" I matched my tone to his, adding a touch of frostiness for good measure. It wasn't like Jack to speak to me in that way; it was rare for us to argue even. When we had fought in the past, our fights had been practically nuclear in nature and had involved everything from screaming matches to the silent treatment, but even at that, it had only happened maybe two or three times since I'd known him. Regardless, I was less than appreciative of the implication he was making, and it wasn't too difficult for me to figure out who he was referring to.
"It was just a question." He replied, defensively.
"No, it wasn't just a question."
"Fine, whatever. Forget I said anything." He huffed, scowling. "Anyway, we were talking about a party."
"Uh, no we weren't." It was my turn to glare, and Jack surely would have withered up and died if he had been paying the least bit of attention to me, but he was busy picking at a scab on his arm and didn't even notice. "I swear, I will murder you in cold blood, in the most painfully creative way I can think of, if you try to go through with this. I hate parties. Especially the ones that feature me as the main attraction."
"How would you know? The last party you were the focal point of was, what, like your thirteenth birthday?"
"Yeah, and I hate the thought of it now just as much as I hated it then. Something embarrassing always happens."
"Like what?" He was baiting me.
"Oh, let me think." I sniped. "That was the year that Dan Thomas kissed me in front of everyone after I blew out the candles on my cake, remember? He said he was just trying to make my birthday wish come true." I recalled. It was one of the more embarrassing things to have ever happened to me. Dan Thomas was now a vile senior who constantly smelled of stale beer and smoke--and who my mother would have amusingly referred to as a 'stoner' -- and I couldn't even tolerate being in the same breathing space as him. He blatantly ogled me every chance he could.
"Uh, yeah, I remember." Jack didn't seem to enjoy the memory any more than I did.
I continued mercilessly. "The year before that was the year that my mom ordered me those shoes that I wanted so badly, remember the ones with the pink daisy-beaded laces on them?"
"Ugh, who could forget those horrid things?"
"Yeah, well do you remember what happened?"
He snickered. "Yeah, you tripped and fell."
"I didn't just trip in them. One of the laces got caught on my sock. It ripped the laces and beads went flying everywhere, all over the concrete by the pool. I slipped on the beads and cracked my head open. Blood everywhere. They even had to close the pool to clean it all up. Remember?"
"Yes, yes. I remember. I was there." His cocky little attitude was beginning to grate on my nerves.
"Why are you being such a jerk?"
Jack let out an exaggerated sigh. "Because you are ruining my mojo. I want a party, and you won't let me." He sounded like an impudent child.
"Have your stupid party, Jack. Just don't use me as your excuse, and don't expect me to be there." I smiled pertly. "I'm sure there are a couple of people who will show up, and if not, you always have D&D, in the basement, with your nerdies, on grandma's couch to fall back on."
He rolled his eyes. "Rose, you could drive a man insane."
"Well, the next time I see a man, I'll try to contain myself."
He just shook his head and busied himself with raiding the fridge. For his part, he never mentioned the party again.
William Griffin, however, was going to drive me insane.
For the next two months, I didn't hear a word from him. The only indication that he even remembered that I existed was when I was called upon in class. He would visibly cringe, wincing whenever I spoke, like the very sound of my voice sent tiny daggers through his entire body, and it hurt his precious ears to hear it.
Which was just fine. It's not like I cared. He wasn't that great. Or amazing. Or even good looking.
The only problem was I didn't lie to myself any better than I lied to anyone else.
The truth was, I did care. I cared more than I wanted to admit. I found myself looking for him when he wasn't around. Searching for him at lunch, watching for him in passing between classes, and unable to help but steal a few glances at him during the classes we did have together. Sickening, I know, but true none-the-less. I was like a pathetic little puppy dog--no better than the throng of giggling girls pretending not to notice his every move every day.
Based on the quick peaks I chanced in his direction, he was still unfazed by my raging emotions. He carried on each day is if I was not even there. Since he went to such great lengths to avoid me, I think his contemptuous feelings for me were just as obvious to everyone around us as it was to me. You would have had to have been blind not to see it.
The girls took that as an open invitation to throw themselves at him once again. The guys on the other hand, showed more interest in me. They did still ogle at Hannah every chance they got, but Will's sister continued to make it very clear she was off the market, having an older college-age boyfriend that none of them could compete with. I certainly didn't understand all the unexpected attention I found suddenly focused in my direction -- it had to be because I was the new-ish girl. What else could it be? People were funny about that kind of thing.
Regardless, the competition for me came fast and furious. I was asked out on eighteen dates in the last two weeks alone, though five of them had been by Adam, and therefore, didn't really count.
It was a little deflating to think that the interest might have had nothing to do with me. Not because I was a nice person, or that I was funny or good at sports. Not even because I was beautiful--I look in the mirror every day, and it isn't beauty that stares back at me. I mean, I'm no ugly duckling, but I couldn't compete with the crowned queens at our school.
The whole thing was strange and unsettling -- but the quests for a date with me just kept coming.
Dan Thomas seemed the most bothered when I politely declined a date with him, especially after the second time. Adam, on the other hand, continued asking unabashedly, laughing each time I refused him.
When William did finally speak to me again, it was by circumstance alone, not because he'd had some epiphany and changed his mind about me
It was the first week of March. Temperatures had warmed up to higher than the typical average for the third month of the year -- heat wave -- so it was just warm enough for us to be forced outside for an exciting game of baseball. Nearly all the girls in my class hated playing the sports in gym, but I enjoyed it. While they were making excuses about bad ankles and menstrual cramps, I was pulling my hair back and warming up my pitching arm. I was athletic, though physically my body showed no signs of it. I was slender, softly rounded where most athletes had muscle and tone. I enjoyed physical activity, I fight at the Advanced level in Kickboxing, with two championship belts hanging in the back of my closet to show for it. I also rank as an unofficial Kudan--which is a 9th-degree black belt--in Tae Kwon Do. Unofficial, because you cannot technically achieve a Grand Master ranking unless you spend thirty-some-odd years working at it. I, however, achieved this status and surpassed my own master in less than a year when I was only twelve years old. It's safe to say that I have a strangely prominent competitive streak in most things, and sports are certainly not the exception to that particular rule.
And I was good. I had a real knack for learning quick. Teach me a something and I'll soon be better at it than you are. I'm not bragging; it's just the way it is.
I struck out two of the girls on the other team plus Jarrod Johnson--a gangly freshman boy with glasses and a face full of zits--in no time. Our team was able to get in two runs during our time at bat before we were struck out and took our turn back out in the field.
William was playing shortstop; Sally was guarding second base--though guarding was a term I used loosely with her, she was just batting her big, brown doe-eyes at William. Adam was up to bat. He was a powerhouse, probably their strongest hitter, but I was sure that I could get him with my infamous curveball.
I checked to make sure my team was ready, honestly, just another excuse to allow my greedy eyes to rest on William for a split second--yes, pathetic--then threw my fastball, gaining the first strike.
Adam's face tinted just a little. "Come on Mia, give me a break. It's Gym for Pete's sake. You don't have to take it so friggin' seriously."
I flashed him a saucy smile. "It's not my fault you can't find the ball with your bat."
I heard William's sweet voice chuckle behind me. I tried to shake off the shiver that crawled down my spine at the sound.
"Whatever! I just wasn't ready, that's all."
I scowled playfully. "Ready now?" I was having fun. It had been a long time since I had felt this good. I'd been entirely too mopey lately.
"Just throw the ball. But, watch out," Adam pointed the bat at me before settling it into position above his right shoulder. "I'm aiming right for your pretty little nose."
I prepared to give him my deadly curve ball, just to wipe the smug look off his face. I flicked a searching glance at my teammates, wound up my arm, and hurled the ball as fast as I could, hooking it at the end to curve nicely across the plate.
I heard a loud crack slice through the air, like the sound you'd expect to hear when lightning split a tree in two, and had almost no time to react when I saw the ball coming right back at me.
Dimly, in the dark recesses of my mind, the thought occurred to me that I should probably try to duck out of the way. I did try, but I had only seconds, and I knew in that moment there was no way I was going to make it out of its blazing path in time.
Distantly, I heard Adam yell some expletive that was sure to land him in detention, but my brain would only focus on the furiously fast ball aimed right at my nose.
And how much this was going to hurt.
I was on the ground, my eyes squeezed tightly shut, waiting for the excruciating pain I knew I was about to feel begin to consume me. But, I felt nothing, just the cold dirt from the field beneath my back.
"You okay, Mia?" That voice, that dreamy, gentle voice I so often thought about, slipped around me, cocooning me in a soothing, imaginary blanket of calm.
That was until I opened my eyes and looked up.
William was staring down at me, his blue eyes glowing wild with...
Confusion must have been etched all over my face. I stared at him, trying to piece together what had just happened. Where was the ball? Why was I not in pain? Maybe I was unconscious. That actually made sense. If the ball had hit me and knocked me out, that would explain why I wasn't in agony, writhing on the ground in excruciating misery.
It would also explain why he was talking to me, because surely he wouldn't talk to me now except in my dreams.
One corner of his mouth tugged up in a lopsided smile as he reached a hand out to me to help me up; I grabbed it hesitantly, still a little dazed--though if by my surprising escape or William's heart-melting smile, I couldn't be sure.
As soon as I was up, he snatched his hand back again, all trace of the former smile wiped from his beautiful face. I, too, was unprepared for the sudden rush of tingling warmth that shot up my arm from the brief contact. It woke me from my daze and alluded to the fact that I, in fact, was not dreaming. It also left me with several questions--questions I couldn't even begin to answer. This was the second time it had happened; the tingling warmth I couldn't explain. His expression was also one that confused me more than it clarified, I couldn't take my eyes off him and the haunted look that now occupied his beautiful face.
Was this all in my mind, or did he feel it, too?
He tossed the ball up in front of him, catching it again neatly in his glove. He caught the ball? But, that was impossible. He was too far away to have gotten to me in time.
He flashed me a reassuring smile, a smile that didn't quite melt the strangely troubled look from his face. "Breathe, Mia." He whispered, as everyone else finally crowded around us.
I inhaled a shaky breath. "But, how-"
"Mia, are you okay? I don't know what happened! I really didn't mean it; I was just kidding. Truly." I heard Adam rambling beside me, but I still couldn't take my eyes off William.
Several others asked if I was okay, too. I just nodded.
"How did you do that?" It was Sally asking.
How did I do what? I thought. He was the one who had done everything; I just fell to the ground hoping against hope I was faster than the ball. But, when I turned to tell her just that, I found she wasn't looking at me. She was addressing him.
He glanced at her. "Uh, do what?" His voice was quiet, but I could hear the slightly anxious undertone that he was trying hard to hide.
"You were over by me when Adam hit the ball." She stated, her voice laced with bewilderment.
He shook his head gently, meeting my eyes again. "No, I wasn't."
"Yes, you were." She stated firmly. "How did you get all the way over to her?" Her dark doe-eyes were enormous.
"I was already running forward when she threw the ball, Sally."
"No, you weren't. I saw you."
Sally's questions were like an echo of my own.
"What does it matter how he got there? If he hadn't, I'd be in so much trouble." Adam announced, not without a little relief.
"You still are." Coach Dawson, a stout old buzzard who always wore a Cincinnati Reds ball cap and black Nike track pants, was finally pushing his way through the crowd of students.
"Ugh. Coach." Adam whined.
I was still staring at the panicked look on William's face. "I saw him, too, Sal." I heard myself say. "He really was right by me." Not sure when I decided to lie for him. Maybe because he did just save me from a whole lot of pain.
Or, maybe I just couldn't stand to see him squirm anymore.
I forced a smile. "I'm just glad he can catch, or I'd be toast."
I could see his relief, though he seemed fairly taken aback that I had lied for him so easily. His bright white teeth flashed. "It's not so hard to catch the ball when someone tells you where he's aiming."
We all looked at Adam. "Hey, I wasn't really aiming at her." He professed, his voice pleading. "Mia, seriously, I wouldn't do that." He turned to Mr. Dawson. "Coach, really, I wouldn't do that. You all have to believe me."
I just glared at him. Unfortunately for Adam, I wasn't feeling charitable. He'd done too much damage to get any pity from me.
Mr. Dawson scowled at Adam. "We'll talk about this later, Adam." He looked at me. "You sure you're all right, Mia?"
I nodded. "I'm fine, thanks."
Adam kept mumbling apologies, but as I met William's eyes, Adam's voice dimmed to an annoying buzz. The questions were there in his eyes, begging to be answered, and likely just as many as I expected he saw in my own.
"Thanks," I said quietly.
He shook his head, but it was just a tiny movement. "No," he whispered. "Thank you."
I showered and dressed quickly after gym, hoping to catch up with him before he reached the parking lot. As luck would have it, he was walking by himself only about twenty paces ahead of me. "I ran up behind him, but just as I got to him, I stubbed the toe of my shoe into the pavement and tripped, colliding into him instead. I caught myself on his arm at the last second, using it to steady myself.
Less than graceful.
William had obviously been preoccupied with his own thoughts because he didn't seem to hear me approaching him. When my hand made contact with his skin, however, he jumped about a foot, wrenching his arm away as if I had stung him.
"Sorry," I said, a little surprised by his fierce reaction, yet still bemused, as was becoming usual, by the heat the contact caused.
He glared at me, unmistakable frustration and anger setting his bright blue eyes aglow. "Where did you come from?"
"What?" That wasn't what I was expecting. "I-"
"Never mind." He seemed strangely disoriented. "I'm not used to people sneaking up on me like that."
Sneaking up on him? Ok, fine, I did sort of crash into him a bit unexpectedly, but there was no sneak to that attack. That was just plain bad luck.
"So, what do you want?"
I flinched at his clipped tone. "Oh, so we're back to that, are we?"
He sighed--and not one of resignation, it was impatience. "Back to what?"
I glared at him. "Back to you acting like I don't exist. Do you plan to avoid me forever again?" I realized the moment the words were out how stupid it sounded, and I could see from his expression that he hadn't missed it.
Even though he smirked, his eyes remained cold. "Forever again? Is there such a thing?"
I could feel the heat rise to my cheeks. "Don't change the subject; you know what I mean."
He rolled his shoulders. "I wasn't trying to change the subject." He said, his tone icy. "But, to answer your question, I hadn't really given you much thought."
He was impossible. Mind-numbingly, frustratingly difficult boy. Why on earth did this guy have to haunt my dreams at night?
I did my best to tamp down on the anger rising inside me--like a fiery demon hell bent on destruction--by inhaling a long breath through my nose. "Fine, whatever." I wasn't going to help the situation by letting him nettle me with his infuriating dismissal or by allowing my temper get the best of me, but seriously, I would have loved the opportunity to have clawed his eyes out at that very moment. I tried to take the 'bigger person' approach my mother was always lecturing me about. "Look," I began, working hard to keep my voice even and light. "I just wanted to thank you, you know, for saving my face back there."
Again, he shrugged, this time I think just to aggravate me. "Didn't you do that already?"
My mouth fell open. "You really do hate me, don't you?" I couldn't hide the hurt that laced my voice. My cheeks burned.
Something flashed in his eyes. Deep inside, I hoped it might be regret, but knew that was asking too much. "No-"
"Why?" I deliberately cut him off. My soft, easily bruised heart was no match for his coldness. "What did I ever do to you?"
Back was the perfect, indifferent mask. "Nothing at all." His tone was casual, uninterested. "It's just better this way."
He turned then, and walked away, leaving me behind, shaking in utter disbelief.
The next week dragged on so slowly it was a wonder I made it through it at all. William continued to treat me as though I had some incurable, highly contagious disease, but otherwise, life continued on as normal.
Sally appeared pleased the game hadn't changed his interest in me; he still acted as if he barely noticed my existence. Not that he showed her any interest either, but I guess in her eyes, no interest at all was better than any interest in me.
His avoidance and intolerance for me bordered on contemptuous. Even as he remained cool and calm on the exterior, it was hard to miss the seething hatred and rage that boiled beneath the surface. I often wondered if I was the only one who noticed it, or if it was as obvious to everyone else as it was to me.
It really didn't matter either way. He was careful not to place himself anywhere near me, and never so much as glanced in my direction. Why he felt such animosity for me was a question I had no answer to. The more I tried to figure out his intensely raging feelings for me, the more confused I was about my own feelings. Like, why did I care so much, when he gave me every reason not to?
I was sure of one thing, though, above all else...
He was aware of me--every bit as much as I was aware of him. He may not want my company, my friendship (or anything else with me for that matter) but he knew where I was and what I was doing at all times. I wasn't entirely sure how I should feel about that. But, one did not work so hard to create such distance from a single person, know their every move in order to plan which move will be your next, without it monopolizing a great deal of their thoughts every day. So, if that much was true, he was spending nearly as much time thinking about me as I thought about him, even if in a... slightly... different way.
It made my brain hurt just thinking about it.
The hardest part was, I knew he was a good person. Even with all the animosity he had for me, no matter how hurtful he had been, he was good inside.
I know this because I can see it -- like, really see it. In addition to the wonder of premonition dreams, I get the honor of being able to read the energy around a person -- my secondary second-sight-talent. At least, I think it's energy. My Grandmother had noticed this little gift when I was very little. I approached certain strangers as if I knew them, and I would hide from others in fear.
"Princess Mia," She said one day, "do you see colors?" I was about seven at the time and thought she was just being silly. She knew perfectly well that I could see colors.
"Yes, Nana." I giggled. "I can see all the colors."
"Ah, yes." She smiled her sweet, gentle smile. "But, do you see colors around people?"
I was frightened by her question. I had never told her, or anyone else about that.
"It's okay, honey. I can see them, too." She said.
"You can?" I asked, amazed that someone else had the same thing. "You have a disease, too?"
She laughed. "Oh, no, my love. It isn't a disease. It's a special gift." Her voice had taken on a tone that held my attention. "You can see the energy that people give off to the world. You can see if they are good people, or if they are bad people. That is very special, don't you think?"
I nodded, not sure if I agreed, but wanting to make her happy.
"But, let's keep it our little secret. Sometimes people don't like it when others can do things that they can't." Her usually bright and cheery face grew dark and serious. "It makes them mad. Sometimes, it even makes them want to hurt those special people. And we don't want that, now do we?"
I shook my head vigorously, as she smiled in approval, her face brightening once again.
"That's a good girl. One day, it will help lead you to your destiny, but for now, it will be our secret."
To this day, I have never told anyone about my secret, so who knows what it really is. All I do know is that it's there, it's real, even if it's only real to me. It's just something I've always been able to do. I figure if nothing else, it's a good defense mechanism. If someone is hateful and mean, I can see it emanate around them. When someone is compassionate and good -- I can see that too. It looks like a faint haze of color all around them. Most people have varying shades of blues and greens around them, generally indicating they are just an average person. But some, those who have a cruel nature about them, have much darker colors surrounding them.
Believe me; I know how crazy it all sounds. That would be the reason I've never shared my little gift with anyone, even after my grandmother passed away. If I hadn't known it for myself, seen it with my own eyes all these years, I would never have believed it was possible either. It isn't something that is always there, it takes a certain amount focus for me to see, but that doesn't change the fact that I can see them.
So, what did I see when I looked at William or Hannah's energy? His was very different from everyone else, not green or blue, but golden in its hue. Like sunlight radiating from within him. Certainly not what would be in the spectrum of cruel or evil, even with the way he treated me.
I just wish I could figure out what that all meant.
Mom was out of town again on another business trip, so I had the house all to myself. After school, I finished my homework and ran a load of clothes through the wash. It was still too early for dinner and after reading the same paragraph three times without remembering what I'd read, I finally gave up on trying to read a book.
I found myself pacing my room. Again. Something I was doing more and more often of late. I'd always found the mossy green color on my walls earthy, soothing and peaceful. But, lately, the tranquility I usually felt from the space wasn't doing much to help me stay calm. In my mission to figure William out, piece everything together, the back and forth rhythm of pacing my floor seemed to tamp down some of the irritation I was feeling. I was surprised there wasn't a permanent mark etched in the dark wood floor from the constant action.
I sighed in frustration. My head was throbbing, and I was starting to feel claustrophobic. I had to get out of the house for a while and clear my head.
What I needed, even craved, was some exercise, something to expend some of this pent up frustration and confusion I was feeling. I desperately needed to get him out of my mind.
I hadn't been on a good hike since I'd been back, and that was unusual for me. Lately, it seemed like all my time had been spent trying to evade Adam's continued advances and figure out why Will was so callous with me--only me. I mean, why did I even care what he thought of me? It just sucked the energy and motivation right out of me.
I was focusing on things I had no control of. He was fast becoming a hopeless fixation, and I was starting to feel a little neurotic about my infatuation with him.
It was only four o'clock, so there was still plenty of time to get a good trek in before nightfall. With any luck, I'd have some peace of mind by bedtime. Maybe I would finally get a good night's sleep. Dream-stalker free.
I pulled my boots out of my closet, laced them up securely, wrapped a sweatshirt around my waist and headed out. Camden Hills State Park had some nice trails to hike, but I should have known everyone would be out on a day like today--the parking lot near the trail to Mt. Battie was full. Not really feeling like running into anyone, and hoping for some peace and quiet, I opted for a different location. I followed Harden Avenue back to the fifty-two and drove until I found a gravel road to turn off on. I made sure I was far enough away from the main road that my car wouldn't be visible--our crime rate here is pretty small, but that didn't mean occasional break-ins didn't happen. Besides, my car was pretty recognizable; I didn't want someone to see it from the road and decide to stop by and check on me. I wanted to be alone.
I was looking forward to getting my mind clear of the beautiful boy who seemed to haunt my every thought.
Hopping out of my car with more enthusiasm than I'd felt in a while, I gave my legs a quick stretch, tossed my sweatshirt in my backseat; it was plenty warm out so I wouldn't need it. Tucking my cell phone under my sweatshirt instead of in my back pocket so nobody could disturb me, I hit the lock button on my key-chain and started for the dense patch of woods that sat outside the park boundary. Nobody would find me here.
I noted the sun's position in the sky, so I'd know which direction I would need to go when starting back, and stepped into the tree line.
The woods felt like home. I tromped around, stepping over large trees that had long fallen, easing around decomposing stumps, brushing past great ferns and other living green plants growing wildly, carpeting the ground. It was always an incredibly beautiful sight, whether, in the dead of winter or the first blooms of spring, nothing compared to being in the forest.
As I moved, I could feel squishy green moss cushion my step in some places and all the damp, yet still brittle twigs littering the forest floor, snap under my feet in others. The sounds of the woodland were soothing, despite my foul mood.
William Griffin. He was the most strikingly handsome boy I'd ever known, someone who I felt strangely compelled to on a level I didn't even come close to understanding.
And he hated everything about me.
Not just everything, but everything. Name anything--my face, my voice, my body, probably my hair, obviously my touch--and he abhorred it. He didn't just hate it, he loathed it, was appalled by it.
By me. Me--Mia--the girl nobody hated. I was the girl everyone liked. And if like was too strong a word, then they at the very least tolerated me exceptionally well.
Nobody had ever hated me. Ever.
Until now. Until William Griffin showed up and turned my world upside down.
Who was he, anyway? He was just a boy. Just a boy. In fact, he was no more than a disrespectful, difficult, discourteous, demeaning, degrading, dislikeable, dimwitted...
I was beginning to run out of d-words, and they were starting to lose their ring of truth. He wasn't dislikeable or dimwitted; I had to concede those--he was unfortunately very likable. Even with all the resentment I felt towards him I more than liked him. He was also eerily intelligent; his abounding knowledge was very impressive. But, all my other d-scriptive words were true enough. I wasn't budging on any of those.
I let out a frustrated growl. I had never, in my entire life, known anyone so impossible.
He was, without a doubt, the most frustrating, infuriating, insufferable man I'd ever met. And the most maddening part of it all...
No matter what I did, or how hard I tried, I couldn't keep William's face from burning in my mind every second of the day. It was there when I woke up every single morning. I daydreamed about him in class, looked for him between classes, hoping for even just a glimpse of his beautiful face--a face that then haunted my dreams each and every night.
Feeling more discouraged than ever, I knew exactly how unhealthy my fixation with him had quickly become. I must have been quite a sight, standing with my hands on my hips, in the middle of the forest, seething. Sickened by my lack of self-control, all I could do was shake my head.
Obsessed. It was a word I was beginning to know well -- and I was starting to hate myself for it.
A loud sound in the distance snapped me out of my reverie. How long I had been lost in my thoughts, I couldn't say, but by the time I became aware of the dimming light, the sun was well past being visible. It was nearly sunset--and I was still deep in the woods.
Panicking just a little, I started jogging back in the direction I thought I had come from, hindered by all the debris around my feet. Suddenly, all the things I loved about the woods became what crippled me most while I hurried to find my way as the sky darkened above me. Every step became dangerous. I stumbled my way as far as I could before all light was gone.
As soon as the sun dipped beyond the horizon, the temperature began to drop quickly.
Faster than I could believe, all light was gone. And it didn't just seem dark; it felt dark. I was beginning to think that I was very likely going to be spending a frigidly cold night in the middle of the woods, but I couldn't stop. My mind, unable to fully accept what was looking more and more like certainty, kept thinking, just a little further and you'll see the break in the trees, just a little further...
But there was no break. And this whole thing was all his fault.
And my mother was going to kill me.
Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind and hauled up against someone's very strong, very hard body. I tried to scream, tried to kick out and push myself away, but whoever he was, he had a secure arm clasped solidly around my chest, effectively pinning my arms to my sides, and a large, long-fingered hand clamped tightly over my mouth.
He was strong. Nothing I did had any effect on him; he didn't budge. Black belt or not, I was no match for this guy.
"Shhh..." He crooned, his voice like a purr in my ear as he easily carried me until his back rested against the side of an enormous, moss-covered, old-growth Oak.
It was then that I realized who he was. My body told me before my mind accepted it. That strange tingle of awareness that I felt with no other prickled down my spine and my skin hummed in every place that made contact with his.
Though my heart still hammered wildly inside my chest, my body began to relax against him, relishing in the heat of his body--heat that seemed far warmer than my own. I must have been colder than I thought, for William's skin felt feverish against me. Little circles of familiarity danced down my neck, across my shoulders, and down my arms.
I had no idea why he was holding me silent and still, but my gut instinct was to trust him. Even after everything he had put me through these past few months, even with as angry as I was with him only minutes ago, I intuitively felt he would never do anything to harm me.
"Don't make a sound," he whispered hot and urgent against my ear. "He's tracking you."
My heart was thrumming so hard now. I could hear it pounding in the back of my head. "Calm down, Mia." He must have noticed my panic, his voice barely even a whisper. "I won't let him hurt you."
Who? My mind screamed. Who was tracking me? Why would he want to hurt me? Who would want to hurt me? Hadn't I just been thinking about how there had been nobody in my entire life who had not liked me?
Maybe I wasn't quite as liked as I had always thought.
Despite the threat lingering out in the shadows, it was peaceful in his arms. His body was so warm, his skin so hot and comfortable. My body slowly relaxed against his, and I didn't even think about it when I leaned deeper into his warmth, enveloping myself in his embrace.
And then I heard it.
Somewhere in the darkness was the sound of careful footsteps, and they were slowly getting closer. A strange sound accompanied the soft, measured step of the stalker, almost like an animal sniffing at the air with each stride.
As he closed in on us, William's grip on me instinctively tightened, nearly cutting off my air supply. I wondered if he knew how crazy strong he was; I'd be lucky if I didn't pass out on him.
Only a few paces away now, I again heard that strange sniffing sound, only this time it was followed by a loud hiss--a sound so fierce it left the hairs on the backs of both my neck and arms standing on end.
It was the most terrifying sound I had ever heard.
Again, there were footsteps, but this time, they moved away from us, and very quickly. Whoever, or whatever, it was, they were no longer interested in following us.
For what seemed like forever, William held me close, listening intently for even a hint of movement, until long minutes had passed since the last footfalls had been heard. Only then did he finally loosen his grip, though he didn't release me at first.
"I'll uncover your mouth, but you have to promise me you will be quiet."
I nodded as vigorously as I could, and he finally removed his hand from my face. I sucked in several lungs full of air. "Who was that?" I croaked.
I felt him shift behind me--just a tiny movement that sent even more sparks of awareness through me. He shivered, but still didn't release his hold on me. "I don't know." His words seemed true enough, but I could tell from his tone he wasn't being completely honest.
The questions started tumbling out of my mouth before I thought to stop them. "How do you know he was after me? How do you know he wasn't just lost like we are? How did you know where I was? How-"
"Mia," My name sounded so sweet falling from his lips. "Do you think you could save the questions for when we are out of here?"
"No." I huffed. "I want to know what's going on."
"Didn't we just agree that you would be quiet?" He drawled, not without a hint of sarcasm. "This whole thing," He waved his hand around flippantly. "Really defeats that purpose."
I fumed at his condescending tone, visibly shaking now in anger rather than fear. "Don't you dare talk down to me."
Behind me, he sighed. "Okay. Okay. I don't know who he was, only that I could sense he was a threat. I know he was after you because he was tracking you by your footprints." He paused for effect. "And he wasn't the least bit lost."
That shut me up--for the moment, anyway.
"Do you feel strong enough to stand now?" He asked. Only then did I realize that he still had a secure arm around my midsection, holding me up against him, my toes a couple of inches from the ground.
I nodded, and he gently lowered me back to my feet, keeping a steadying hand on me. "Promise you won't faint." I could hear the smile in his voice.
His amusement at my shaken, confused state needled me. "I'm not as weak as you seem to think. I'm fine." I threw back at him, hoping he didn't hear the tremor in my voice that betrayed my words. My knees felt weak and wobbly. I prayed they wouldn't buckle underneath me.
He chuckled quietly, which only further irritated me. "We should get you out of here." His fingers squeezed my arms gently, lingeringly, almost reluctantly, before letting go.
He pulled away from me and I wasn't prepared for the power of my disappointment at the loss of contact with him. I felt alone, almost bereft without his touch.
I gave my head a shake, partly to cast aside the crazy reaction, partly because I had the reaction to begin with. I turned to face him. My hair tugged at my scalp, tangled around something on his chest.
I heard his quick intake of breath. "Mia, what's wrong?" His voice suddenly serious.
My skin broke out in goosebumps. "What do you mean?" I whispered the words, afraid my voice would betray me.
"You're upset now."
"I'm upset now?"
"You weren't this upset just a minute ago. What's wrong?"
"What's wrong?" I was furious now. Was he mocking me again or was he serious? "You mean, besides the fact that I'm lost out in the woods, in the dark, with the one person who can't stand me and who I was trying to get out of my head." I paused, just long enough to catch my breath, but I caught the look of surprise on his face. "And, if that's not enough to excuse my obvious distress, then add the possibility of being stalked by some unknown person who may or may not pose some sort of threat to me?" I fumed. "You mean, besides all of that?"
"I suppose that is what I meant." He sounded genuinely concerned, if in a sarcastic sort of way. Could you be seriously sarcastic? If it was possible, that's exactly what he was. "Besides all that, what's wrong?"
"Is that not enough?" I snapped, hoping he wouldn't see through my pretense. I thought about the effect his touch had on me and the feeling of desolation he left behind when he pulled away. Did he feel anything at all?
When he didn't answer, I sighed in frustration.
He must have decided to change the direction of the conversation. "You were out here trying to get me out of your head, huh?" His tone sounded a little too self-satisfied for my taste.
He liked playing games. Well, I was good at games, too.
"Do you know how to get us out of here, or not?" I returned icily, opting not to answer him.
"Of course." He replied simply.
I frowned. What was he, superhuman? Could he see in the dark?
"And, exactly how is that? How can you possibly know which way to go? I've lived here my whole life, and I couldn't find my way." I played at detangling my hair from his necklace, but the crude, rounded object wouldn't release from my hair, and my fingers were cold and not nearly nimble enough to free it. I could feel the raised infinity sign on it, as my fingers brushed across it -- it must match the one his sister wears.
Even in the dark, I could see his perfectly white teeth flash at me. He pushed my hands away and easily freed my hair from the bind. "Let's just say I have a great internal compass."
Evasive as ever. Was I really expecting anything different from him?
He reached for my hand, locking his fingers around my own. The modest contact brought me so much more comfort than I would have thought possible.
He, on the other hand, let out a frustrated sigh.
Pulling me effortlessly behind him, he cautioned me whenever there was something in my path to be aware of. I don't know how he could see anything, I felt blind in the blackness surrounding us.
Eventually, my curiosity got the best of me. "William, how did you find me?" I asked.
"I already told you. And, you can call me Will. Nobody calls me William except the people who either don't know me or don't know any better." His voice turned darkly sardonic. "Since it seems fate has put you in my path, I hardly see any reason to keep up the formalities."
I ignored his tone and focused on his words, considering them. "But, I don't know you."
"Not as if that's my fault. That's all you."
"You have no idea how infuriating you can be. Did you ever consider that might be the reason why I keep my distance?" His crossness with me did little to lessen my irritation with him. "That, however, doesn't change the fact that I would prefer you not to call me William."
"Okay, Will." His name tasted sweet on my tongue, even if I was still pissed by his comment. He made it sound like he not only couldn't stand me, but I was some great burden he was just stuck with. "But, you still haven't answered me. How did you know where to find me?"
"We don't have time for these games, Mia." His tone grated on my nerves.
"Then answer my question. You answered all of them except that one."
He hesitated a moment before he answered, triggering my intuition. "I saw your car. Figured I'd better make sure you weren't stranded or something. When you didn't show up after a while, I decided to go looking for you." His words were said so naturally, so smoothly, if I hadn't already known it was a blatant lie, I would have easily accepted it as the truth.
"No, you didn't."
He was incredulous. "I beg your pardon?" The moon was rising above the tree line, and I could finally see the outline of objects around me in the moonlight. "Is this the thanks I get for saving you?"
"Please. Are we just a tiny bit narcissistic?" I knew deep down that he was probably right, he probably did just save me from some crazy lunatic stocking me in the woods, but I was loath to give him the satisfaction of actually admitting it, especially when he had that self-satisfied smile on his face. "And stop trying to change the subject. You couldn't see my car from the road; I made sure of that. I didn't want to be bothered, so I parked it where it where no one would see it."
He swung around on me, surprising me with the force of his sudden fury. "You what?" He snapped. "Do you have any idea how foolish that was? Do you know what would have happened if I hadn't found you?"
"No," I replied, genuinely curious. "What?"
He ignored me. "I suppose you didn't think to tell anyone where you were going either."
My silence was as good a confession as any.
"You seriously need to take safety 101, you know that?" He was making me feel like a small, foolish child needing a lecture by an older, wiser adult. "How would anyone have known where to look for you?"
He was right, of course. I knew better than to go running off in the woods without at least leaving a note, but I wasn't about to admit that. Why did he care, anyway? Since I had moved back to our happy, little community, he had spent the entire time making it perfectly clear to one and all that he couldn't have cared less about me. I was no more than a tiny flea infesting the carpet his perfect feet walked on.
I drew on the only argument I could. "Well, you found me, didn't you." It wasn't a question.
He growled. "You are impossible."
"Funny, I was just thinking the same thing."
"What? That you're impossible? At least we can agree on something." He threw back.
"No." I retorted, wanting more than ever to stick my tongue out at him like a child. "That you are."
"You're just being difficult now."
"Maybe, but it's true, you did find me. And you still haven't answered my question, how did you know where to find me?"
He tried to ignore me, but I yanked my hand away from his, even though it brought that same crushing discomfort back that I felt earlier when he let me go. "No, I need answers, Will."
"It's no wonder bad things keep happening to you. Do you willingly place yourself in the path of danger, or is that just a side effect of being you?"
I felt the heat rise in my face, a mix of anger and embarrassment. "Funny, bad things only seem to happen to me when you are around."
He clamped his mouth shut, eyes narrowing.
"I'm sorry. That wasn't fair of me to say."
"But, still true, right?" Will turned away from me swearing under his breath.
Then he spun on me, a mix of emotions coloring his voice as he snapped at me. "Why did you lie for me?"
I flinched at the venom in his voice. "What?"
"The ball game. Why did you lie? I wasn't anywhere near you when you threw the ball. It's obvious you knew that. So, why did you say I was?"
He looked really angry, and to be honest, it was more than a little frightening. I knew he was trying to intimidate me, and I refused to let him. I sucked in a deep breath, knowing if I was going to get any answers from him tonight, now was the time.
"First, tell me why you are lying to me now."
The forest was so quiet, so serene, with the exception of the raging boy standing before me. His glare was enough to make me want to crawl into the nearest hole and bury myself.
"Come on, Mia," His voice was compelling, and yet the undertone was mocking, taunting even. "You aren't the lease bit curious how I got to you in time? Just tell me why you lied for me and I'll give you all the answers you want."
"You are insufferable!" I hissed at him. The subtle goading in his tone once again ignited my anger.
"Tell me why you lied." He demanded.
"I don't know!" I howled, my voice sounding foreign to my own ears. I was exasperated with myself and furious with him. But, I had no answer for him. I couldn't explain why I had lied for him, I didn't even fully understand it myself, and that only pissed me off even more.
"What do you mean you don't know?" A mix of confusion and irritation shaded his face, but his voice was surprisingly calm--given my thunderous outburst.
I shook my head. "I don't know." My voice was soft, only slightly louder than a whisper. "I saw... I mean, Sally's questions... I swear I could feel your anxiety like it was my own. And your eyes..." I looked away from him, staring off into the darkness. "I just couldn't bear to see you like that." I shrugged, trying to look blasabout it.
His voice sounded so sad when at last he said, "Mia, I need you to promise me something."
"What?" I asked, stumbling over a root I hadn't seen when I tried to move past him.
He caught me easily before I could fall, pulling me against him. I looked up at him, intending to thank him, but when my eyes locked with his, my mind went blank, and I found myself lost in his brilliant, intense stare. My lips parted as I sucked in a deep breath. The feeling of his arms around me and the incredible warmth of his touch made my skin hum and dazzled my senses.
He swallowed hard, his arms tightening around me. His beautiful face was so close to mine, his eyes filled with something I'd never seen in them before...
His breath became quick and shallow, hot and heady, mixing with my own. His gaze shifted down to my lips, regarding them carefully. The overwhelming desire to know what his felt like was consuming--I itched to feel them against mine.
His face dipped towards mine, his lips only a whisper away from pressing against my own. I sucked in a tiny breath and he instantly stilled. He blinked, released his hold of me and stepped away, almost all in one, fluid movement. Trembling, shaken by the moment, I was again surprised by the powerful force of my reaction to him.
"Please try to be careful." He whispered. His tone held a note of disbelief.
I took a deep breath, giving my head a shake. What had he asked me? To promise him something? "I d-don't need to promise that. I can take care of myself."
I had wanted him to kiss me...really wanted him to. That realization shocked me. But, I didn't really want him to, right? I had just yelled at him--he infuriated me to the point of insanity. I wanted him out of my head, not all over my lips. I couldn't have wanted him to kiss me.
He smirked, his face an icy facade once again, as if nothing had happened. "That's not what I wanted you to promise me; it's just a concerned request."
"Promise me you'll stay away from me."
I felt a sharp stab of pain radiate through my chest at his words. "Why?" I whispered.
"It's just not safe for you to be around me."
I sighed, knowing I couldn't make any such promise. "I can't promise you something I don't even understand." I could hear every drop of the frustration I felt saturated in my voice.
"Just promise me." He was beginning to show signs of impatience again himself.
My answering smile was sickeningly sweet, my voice more than a little mocking. "You know exactly how far I'll be from you, Will, since you dictate the distance between us. So, there really is no need for me to make that promise."
"I only make promises I can keep, and only to people who deserve them. Now, if you don't mind, will you please show me how to get out of here? I want to go home."
He sighed but said nothing more. Swiftly grabbing my hand again before I could pull it out of his reach, he gently led me out of the darkness to the safety beyond.
"I know you're out here, Mia! Where the hell are you?" He roared. His voice was vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite place it.
My heart was thrumming in my chest so hard that I was beginning to wonder how he wasn't finding me by the noise of it alone.
Suddenly, he reached in through his window and snapped on his headlights, bathing me in a bright beam of light. As much as I wanted to jump up and run, I forced myself to stay silent and still. Maybe he couldn't see me. I didn't want to let my fear get the better of me.
He stumbled around for a while, yelling for me. I waited, hoping he would eventually give up and decide to go. He didn't. Soon, his footsteps were getting closer to me, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he discovered my hiding place. If that happened, I was done for.
When I knew I couldn't wait any longer, I jumped up and bolted deeper into the woods, where the light wouldn't reach me.
But, even as I ran, I could hear him right behind me, closing the distance between us. I was fearful that I couldn't outrun him--he was much faster than I gave him credit for.
I kept running, hoping my feet would stay swift and sure, praying they would find purchase on the ground and not sink into some hole or trip over something littering the forest floor. Still, I heard him behind me, fighting his way to catch me...Every footstep getting closer and closer...
I woke, a scream lodged in my parched throat, sweat dripping from my shaking body.
I sucked in deep breath after deep breath to try to stem the flow of tears--I didn't want to cry, but that nightmare was all too real.
Which only meant one thing...
"Damn," I mumbled, under my breath. When the hell did my life get so complicated?
Two words--Math Trivia.
The entire class groaned in accord.
No groups, no teams, just good old-fashioned, one-on-one competition. Mr. Marshall, our math teacher, was nothing if not unorthodox. Though I had to give him credit, he was a fairly bright bulb. Knowing full well that the majority of the class would throw out a wrong answer just to get out of the game, he attached a grade value to the competition, but it was solely based on his perception of effort in answering the questions he gave you.
Fair? Didn't matter. This wasn't grade school, after all. I heard several comments, all of which asking the same question, if this wasn't grade school, then why were we playing stupid, childish games?
Our insistent teacher paid little attention to them.
In the end, the teacher always wins, for the threat of a failing grade was more persuasive than feeling a little foolish in front of classmates.
He went alphabetically around the room, starting with Alex Burnsbury matched against Tyler Day. The first few were pretty easy, questions like, what is the name of the top number of a fraction?--Alex got that one quickly enough, efficiently sending Tyler off to the sidelines. In fact, Alex got the first few questions correct, many of which dealing with shapes--formal names of them, how many sides they have, and so on. He was beginning to look pretty smug, having quickly put out four of his classmates in just the first few minutes.
Then Alex went up against William Griffin. Poor Alex, he didn't even stand a chance. Will answered the question before Mr. Marshall even finished asking it, and he didn't even seem all that pleased about it. In fact, Will looked fairly bored with the entire game.
Not that I blamed him, none of us were all that excited to be playing, but once again I couldn't help but be impressed by his extensive knowledge. Impressed and maybe slightly nettled, for even though he didn't have the smugness that Alex had exuded after his first few wins, he still had an air of expectation. He was confident in his answers, and certain nobody else in this class could take him.
Will blew all his competitors away--if you could even call them competitors, that is. One by one, each classmate that went against him was found lacking in the end.
I was up next, and I had to admit, watching him tromp all over everyone else piqued that little combative spark I had inside me. This was one of my best subjects.
I could so take him.
"Okay," Mr. Marshall began, glancing at his stack of trivia questions. "How many sides does an icosahedron have?"
"Twenty." Our answer came in unison.
From the corner of my eye, I could see Will glance at me in surprise. I, on the other hand, kept facing straight forward awaiting the next question.
"Well now, I was beginning to think you were going to take the show, Mr. Griffin. It looks like you might have some competition after all."
Will made no reply.
"Let's see," He riffled through his questions, "How about something a little more challenging, hmm? Name one of the two founding fathers of algebra."
"al-Khwarizmi." I said, at the same time Will said, "Diophantus."
"Very good!" There was no mistaking Mr. Marshall's excitement now. "Oh, this is getting interesting now."
Again, Will's surprise was apparent, and it left me feeling electric. He didn't look quite so bored now, if the frown on his face was anything to gauge by.
"Okay, I have one for you. This will be a race, whoever gets the answer out correctly the fastest will win." He glanced behind us. "Lucky for you, Mr. Taborson, it appears you get a free pass today. We are down to only about a minute of class time left."
"Yes!" I heard Luke hiss from the back corner of the room.
"You will answer on my mark, not before, is that clear?"
We both nodded.
"Okay, give me the numerical value of pi, truncated to eleven decimal places. Ready? Go."
"Three-point-one-four-one-five-nine-two-six-five-three-five." We said in one perfect harmonious breath.
"Ha, ha!" Yelled Mr. Marshall as he clapped his hands loudly. "Now that is how it is done!"
The bell sounded then, marking the end of class. I turned away, careful to avoid Will's face. I was perfectly satisfied with my little show of intellect and even more pleased with the awareness that Will was completely dumbfounded that a foolish, ordinary, small town girl gave him a run for his money in a game of wits.
Today was turning out to be a pretty good day after all.
After class, as I was walking to the cafeteria for lunch, I heard my name called. I turned around, surprised to find Will behind me.
He approached me with his usual casual grace. "Can we talk for a minute?" he asked, his perfect voice sending shivers down my spine. I was doing my best to repress all feeling for him, but I couldn't help the way by body responded to him.
I frowned at him, a little baffled by his request. He hadn't spoken to me since that night in the woods. We hadn't exactly parted that night on the best of terms.
Hesitating briefly, I searched his face for any sign of pretense. If this was some kind of joke, I might just deck him. "I thought that was against your rules."
The corner of his mouth flipped up creating the most flawlessly lopsided smile the earth had ever known. It should be a crime to look so perfect.
Ignoring my remark, he continued as if I said nothing at all. "You were amazing in there. I have to admit, I didn't think you had it in you."
My frown grew deeper. "Gee, thanks," I mumbled, resisting the urge to flip him off. If all he wanted was to insult me, then he could save it.
"No-" He began, but I cut him off.
"Look, Will, I get it. Truly." I turned away.
"Mia, please, stop." His voice was gentle.
Reluctantly, I turned to face him again.
He sighed. "That isn't at all what I meant. I know how smart you are, I'm impressed more and more every day."
I stared at him, not quite sure if I heard him right.
"What I meant was, I didn't know you had such a competitive side. You knew the answers to things I doubt anyone else in that class did."
"Well, yes. But..." He paused, a strange look flitting across his face. He slowly turned his head to look around us, stopping to rest on a group of kids I had never seen before. A group of kids that everyone on campus was staring at.
A group of extraordinarily beautiful kids, all with strikingly bright blue eyes.