Yesterday I promised to post the first chapter of The Forsaken. You know what? I keep my promises! Come back tomorrow for Chapter 2!
Six months had passed since my life had nearly been cut short at 18. I came face to face with a murderer and I had killed him. I was nearly crushed in a car wreck by his accomplice, who got away, but I managed to survive. Surviving was something I needed to be really good at lately. By doing that I had realized what that word actually meant.
I had faced so much, too much, and I did it all without completely losing my sanity. That was, from what I could tell. No one had shipped me away to a mental hospital yet, so I guess that means I was doing pretty well.
I had to learn to confront fear and then kick it in the face. If I wasn’t able to do that then there is no telling where C.J. and I would have ended up. I heard somewhere that a little fear is good for you. It is a reminder to hold tight to the things you care about and the people you love. I don’t know about it being good for you, but I did know that I had come out on the other side of fear and was pretty lucky to be somewhat unscathed. I had to be brave.
Still, here I sat, in the parking lot of my high school, scared out of my mind. I couldn’t believe myself. I had known these people my entire life. They were no more threatening than a marshmallow. But I knew it wasn’t them I was actually afraid of. It was their thoughts and their emotions that frightened me. What had happened to their fellow classmate was well-known to them and the rest of the town.
I had recently been cleared to return to school last Thursday. I had to wait; I couldn’t bring myself to start back on a Friday. Those few extra days were supposed to help me prepare for my reentry into the world. That’s what I had told myself. I was just being a chicken.
During my recovery I had been holed up in my room, safe and secure from the overwhelming emotions of the outside world. When I did manage to get out I wanted to run back in. I was a little ashamed of myself. My mind was a prison and I allowed myself to give my sanity and peace a life sentence.
I would have continued down this path if not for my family and friends, especially Leslie and Sara. They struggled and fought with me almost every day. If I wanted to stay in bed and not brush my hair Sara would make me put on decent clothes while Leslie dolled me up so we could go out.
They weren’t the only ones to try and “save” me. Mom and Mimi didn’t go easy on me either. Austin was just as tough and would forcibly make me go somewhere with him. Most of the time it was to my dad’s favorite fishing hole or to the shooting range so I never complained.
My mom said that the best way to face this was “head on.” Mimi was in the same mind set. After I was able to get out, Mimi had something for me to do almost every day, which consisted of me taking her all over God’s green Earth. I loved the time I spent with her, but she sure did make me spend a lot on gas.
If they only knew I wasn’t moping, I was trying to preserve my sanity. I didn’t want to go out. My Gift had been on steroids since getting back with C.J. in tow. I could feel everything from everyone. I had been fully charged and had just now gotten back to a neutral setting.
When I could finally manage to keep everyone’s emotions out of my head I knew there were a lot of things I needed to consider. There were several open-ended questions.
Where was Ron? Who was he really? Was he still coming after C.J.? Was he coming after me? Why hadn’t I dreamed about him since our last encounter?
Nick said that those answers would come when I was ready for them. He was right. They were all right. Right now I just needed to live. So, as soon as I found out I could go back to school I also asked Mom if I could get a job. It just so happened that Mr. Wu was looking for an assistant. At first I nearly refused because I was afraid of seeing Liam, but from what I understood he would be staying in Australia until further notice. I tried not to pay attention to the pain that bit of information caused.
My first day was next week. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be. Maybe because it was Mr. Wu or maybe it was because I was eager to get back to The Landing. That place held something for me; I could feel it. I guess because there, a lot of firsts had happened for me. My Gift and my love for Liam had started there. I had grown so much and had faced things I didn’t think I would have been able to handle.
Still, here I was, unsure of how my first day back would be. Had I really taken back control of my Gift? What if I lost it during class or when I stepped through the doors? What would it do to me to have all of these thoughts and emotions come rushing in at once? Would I crumble right there? Would I be so overwhelmed that I would just let out the most horrific scream that anyone had ever screamed right there in front of everyone?
“Hello?” Leslie called out to me, tapping on my car window.
She was bundled up in her fashionable winter coat, toboggan, scarf, and mittens. She was looking at me with concern as Sara came walking up, dressed in a similar fashion.
“You can’t sit in there all day,” Leslie said. “Let’s go, it’s freezing out here.”
“I’m coming,” I told her switching off the ignition and grabbing my book bag.
“Is that all you’re wearing?” Leslie asked, taking in my light jacket.
“I can’t wear all that,” I said, pointing to her attire. “Looking at you makes me sweat. Besides, it isn’t that cold.”
“Yeah, it’s only 27 degrees,” Sara rolled her eyes, laughing.
“Sometimes I wonder if you’ll make it in New York,” I said to Leslie. “It’s like a million times colder there.”
Sara laughed and Leslie’s lips were chattering too much to formulate a response. A few students getting out of their cars spotted us. Instantly I felt their emotions hit me in the chest. I stopped short and inhaled deeply. I had to get myself together or I’d never make it. I could feel their emotions eating away at the shield I had been practicing on for the past six months. Tiny pieces started to chip away; I could feel the pressure start to build, getting stronger and stronger.
“Are you alright?” Sara asked, reaching out to touch me, then pulled back.
While I didn’t explain why, they knew I “panicked” from being touched when I was already upset.
“I just needed a second,” I sort of laughed and then cleared my throat. “OK, I’m ready.”
When we climbed the steps one of my teachers was standing there, on hallway duty, and gave me a surprised smile. They knew I was coming back, but I didn’t begrudge them the reaction. I would still be surprised to see someone too when I knew they had nearly been murdered.
“Welcome back, Miss Stone,” Mrs. Holiday said to me.
“Thanks,” I said and hurried in the door.
Walking down the main hall was quite an experience. Minus cameras flashing I suspected this is what celebrities felt like walking down the red carpet; a hundred eyes watching their every move. Oh yeah, and minus the millions.
Every person had their eyes on me, even though I know for a fact most of my classmates were taught it wasn’t polite to stare. Their emotions were running at me full speed and I felt my heartbeat quicken. My steps felt heavy with the weight of their thoughts.
I could pick up certain things as my Converses hit the wood floors of the halls. Some people wondered if I had been abused when I was taken. Others suspected more vile things had happened to me. There were thoughts of sympathy, but it was mostly fear. They feared that I was somehow cursed and I was bringing that curse with me, tainting our halls.
Suddenly I saw Nick and Jasmine. For a split second I had forgotten they had transferred here. Nick came bounding down the hall toward me and put his hand in mine. Leslie gave him a surprised look and was about to tell him to back off, but she saw that I had thoroughly relaxed.
“Thank you,” I said as he squeezed my hand.
Nick gave me a slight smile and then walked away without a word.
“He is so…weird,” Leslie commented looking after him. “Cute, but really, really weird.”
“And he has a crush on Rayna,” Sara laughed.
“Ha!” I laughed sarcastically and then made my way to the locker Leslie and I always shared.
The three of us were practically sisters. We fought, made up, teased, and picked. Normally our go-to reaction to stress was to tease and pick and that’s what Sara was doing. She was nervous for me and afraid so she teased to make me smile. I honestly didn’t feel like smiling or getting picked on. Thankfully she realized this and dropped the whole “crush” thing.
Nick and I did have a unique relationship, but only because we were both Gifted. So was Jasmine, but she hated my guts so we hadn’t quite bonded yet. I was waiting for her to get past the hating my guts part. Despite what Nick might feel for me, my heart would always be Liam’s. Just the thought of him pained me, my ever-distant star, so bright among all the darkness.
If the hunt for Ron or The Shadow ever ended, would we be able to pick up where we left off? It was highly unlikely. I had hurt him in the worst possible way. Not with a weapon that inflicted physical pain; I had claimed my heart belonged to someone else.
I did this to save him. The Shadow made it clear that Liam would die if he stayed. So I hurt him, made him hate me by fabricating a love I didn’t feel. I let him see me; I let him watch me kiss…Jayce.
Jayce, he had been hurt too. He had truly cared for me and I used that to my advantage. I had manipulated him into believing I cared for him, but it was only to save Liam.
As these thoughts circled my mind I knew I was somewhat lying to myself. While I didn’t love Jayce, deep down he moved me. For a while I thought it was because his emotions intertwined so easily with me; that his emotions were just so intoxicating. Now, after six months of trying to reason away his effect on me, I came to the conclusion that I liked him. It wasn’t love really, but I had very strong feelings for him.
I felt the reason for this was because there was something that we needed from each other. It didn’t make any sense to me at all. I’m not denying the fact that Jayce had captured a piece of my heart, but it wasn’t a relationship I wanted from him. Sure, I could easily be his friend, he was a charmer, but there was some connection we shared that went beyond friendship, but not quite love. It was a bond that was very hard to watch shatter, wither and die.
“Where are you going?” Sara asked.
“I have to get my class schedule,” I said turning around. “Y’all don’t have to come with me. I promise, I’ll be fine.”
They gave each other a worried glance then walked away. It was reasonable to worry, I was worried about me, but I had to keep living. Mimi said to let my past be a guide, a lesson, and let it explain the scars, but to never let it be a crutch. If Dad were here he would say, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep on chugging along, Honey Bee.”
So I put one foot in front of the other this morning. While I was bound to be overwhelmed with the emotions from my classmates, I was going to enjoy what was left of my Senior year, really enjoy it.
If there was one thing that I learned from this past summer it was to just live. Granted I couldn’t have everything or everyone (that would be Liam) that I wanted, but I could make do with what I had.
“Mrs. Harper,” I said to my guidance counselor when she handed me my class schedule. “Can I change my Art class to Theatre?”
“Let’s see,” she made a few clicks on her keyboard. “You’ll be a little behind on the Spring show, but I’m sure Mr. Nolan will be thrilled to have you back. Here you go and welcome back!”
I thanked her and took my schedule to my first class. Thankfully I found a seat before the bell rang. My classmates tried their best not to stare at me, but every now and then their eyes would wander.
Those same emotions tried to break down the wall of my mind. I placed my fingers on the bridge of my nose, pinching it as a throbbing pain began to make its way up to my forehead. Feeling an emotion different from the others, a feeling of pure concern and kindness, I looked over and noticed I was sitting beside one of my old theatre buddies, Mitchell. I gave him a smile and he gladly returned it.
“Welcome back,” he said. “We missed you.”
“Thanks, hey, what play does Mr. Nolan have prepared for the Spring?” I asked.
“Grease,” he said to my delight. “But you know we always perform Romeo and Juliet for Valentine’s Day. Why? Are you getting back in it?”
I felt his thoughts hoping a “yes” and I also noticed many eyes and ears on our conversation.
“Yeah,” I told him at last. “I guess so.”
My first and second classes weren’t as bad as I thought they might be. It helped that Leslie was in my second class with me. The classroom change unsettled me for only a moment. I was brushing up against hormone-fueled teenagers and their constant emotional changes were hard to filter. Nick found me though during our first break and sat beside me on one of the bleachers in the gym.
Jasmine came strutting up and grumpily sat next to him. She paid no attention to the fact that I was even there. Soon Leslie, Sara, and Mitchell found us. I saw that Leslie and Jasmine had gotten to know each other well during my absence. They were sharing some story about Tray Watson falling down the stairs last week with Mitchell. Apparently he was the only person in school who hadn’t heard.
“Is he OK?” I asked them while they laughed.
“What?” Jasmine asked, looking at me as though I had just blessed her out.
“Is Tray OK? Did he get hurt?” I asked again, looking straight at her.
“Oh, he’s fine,” Leslie laughed. “He’s just the butt of everyone’s joke now. Well hello to you too, Mr. Cool.”
Leslie said this to someone behind me. I heard a raspy laugh and turned around.
“Hey, Leslie,” Mr. Cool said.
He was tall, taller than Nick and Nick was tall. The boy had thick, dark hair and warm brown eyes. His skin was dark, like mine.
“Come on over here and let me introduce you to Rayna,” Leslie instructed.
Mr. Cool was a few seats up in the bleachers. He came down to stand in front of me as Leslie made her promised introductions.
“Rayna, this is Mr. Cool because he wears a leather jacket and drives an Audi. Mr. Cool, this is Rayna, my other best friend.” Leslie said.
“Hey, Rayna,” he said to me smiling. “If you’re best friends with this one as she says then you know not to take her seriously. My name is Patrick, not Mr. Cool.”
“Hi,” I said in return and without skipping a beat went on with. “Where are you from?”
“Rayna!” Sara said, shocked. “What’s up with you? That’s rude.”
“It’s OK, I get that all of the time,” he looked slightly embarrassed.
That was it, he looked it. I couldn’t tell if he felt it because I couldn’t feel anything from him at all.
“I’m from Brazil,” he told me. “My father is Afghan and married my mother, a Brazilian. We’ve lived in Brazil for most of my life, but have spent the last 3 years in Ireland.”
“No, that’s not what I meant,” I said. “I just meant…I think I know you. Have we met?”
“Um, I don’t think so,” he said, smiling. “I believe I would have no trouble remembering you.”
“OK, are y’all hitting on each other right in front of us?” Leslie asked, looking at us with an eyebrow raised.
I was totally bluffing of course. I knew I had never met him, but I was hoping to evoke some emotion in him to see if I could read it. I looked at Nick who was busy messing with his shoelace. He was in one of his “I’m in my own little world” moods.
“Maybe I’m mistaken,” I said after trying to search him and coming up with nothing. “So how do you like America?”
“I’m finding it very nice here,” he said. “My uncle is enjoying his teaching post at UAH so I suspect we will be here for a while.”
“Your uncle?” I was confused.
“Oh yes,” he smiled. “I moved here with my uncle. My parents are still in Ireland and will soon be moving to Haiti for the next few years. They are doctors and go around the world helping set up hospitals in third world countries. Ireland is just a stop along the way while my father finishes writing his medical text book.”
“Wow,” I said, thoroughly impressed. “Sounds like you have amazing parents.”
“Thank you,” he smiled. “They really are great, but I am biased.”
Leslie interrupted our conversation about his saint-like parents to inform me that Patrick was an amazing dancer and the new star of our drama department.
“Rayna is in drama as well,” Leslie stated. “She’s amazing so if you want to stay on top you need to stay on your toes with this one around.”
“You’re embarrassing me, Leslie,” I laughed nervously. “I’ve been out of drama for a while so I’m rusty. Today is my first day back.”
“Well that’ll be great. I suppose I’ll see you in class,” he smiled and walked away just as the bell rang.
I grabbed Nick away from everyone before he left for his next class. Jasmine gave me a harsh look.
“What’s his story?” I questioned.
“Didn’t you just ask him his story,” Nick said this as an obvious statement, not a question. His expression had that far-away look.
“You know what I mean,” I said irritated. “I can’t read him.”
Nick actually looked at me then. His soft eyes were still a little glazed over, but I could tell he was listening. His response confirmed my assumption.
“Are you sure?” he wondered. “I have read him plainly before, but of course that was only when we shook hands. Still, I get brief glimpses of his thoughts and they are always rather clear.”
“I could swear…I mean, I think…” I rubbed my eyes. “You only read him clearly when you shook hands? What does that mean?”
“That is how my Gift works,” he told me. “I can read people, yeah, but it’s more vivid and reliable when I touch them.”
“You’ve never told me that,” I looked at him narrowing my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Nick grasped my hand reassuringly and then walked away. I didn’t think I’d ever get over his flighty emotions. Besides Dr. Wayland, he was the only other person whose emotions were so jumbled and disoriented. Liam had moments when he was an emotional mess, but for the most part I could read him plainly. Nick and Dr. Wayland had emotions like tangled up Christmas lights; I didn’t know which way they went or how to find the beginning.
It wasn’t surprising that Mr. Nolan found out I was rejoining theatre before I actually told him. I had a feeling that Mitchell ran off to tell him the first chance he got. He was no less thrilled when I entered his class at the end of the day. The Romeo and Juliet play was well under way so I told him I’d do whatever needed to be done. I ended up being the makeup assistant, which I have to say I’m pretty good at.
It really all started at a young age. Dad and I had always shared a fascination for the theatre, but his specialty was the makeup part. Even when we watched movies he would critique monster prosthetics or bad paint jobs. He would use me as his model all of the time. There was hardly a time, especially around Halloween, when I wasn’t running around the house with some sort of mask or flesh wound that Dad had created.
He had once given me a pretty nasty cut across the face when I was about 6. I came into the kitchen where Mom was cooking and pretended I had fallen outside. She freaked out for about 2 seconds until she heard Dad laughing in the hall. She threw an oven mitt at his head when he walked into the kitchen, holding his sides he was laughing so hard.
Mom looked like she wanted to bang Dad over the head with her skillet, but she could never stay mad at him for long. As soon as he started laughing she would crack up. Oh, she tried to keep a straight face and would reprimand him for teaching me how to be deceiving, but I could see the smile playing at the corner of her mouth. Dad saw it too that’s when he would strike, tickling her until she had forgiven him.
When I saw Patrick back stage I went over to him. He had been on my mind all day. Why couldn’t I read him? He smiled when he saw me approach.
“Have you come back to ask more rude questions?” he laughed. “Sara isn’t here to chastise you so fire away.”
“Actually, I came apologize,” I said. “I’m not normally so impolite, so, I’m sorry.”
He searched my face with his deep, brown eyes while I tried searching his emotions. One of us came up short. Again, nothing. This was unnerving and really scared the crap out of me. Maybe I needed to touch him, like Nick does to get better readings. My reading of people through touch had been heightened as of late.
“Its fine, really,” he smiled and then looked shyly at his feet. “I need to go; Tessa and I have lines to rehearse.”
“Who are you playing?” I wondered.
“Romeo of course,” he laughed. “Remember, I’m Mr. Cool.”
Jerk, I thought.
Nick was also in theatre to everyone’s surprise but my own. He wasn’t an aspiring actor, but he could build the heck out of sets. He was in the theatre room basement, building away. Nick came up every now and then, measured something, looked at me, and then went back down again.
“I like it when he wears that sleeveless shirt,” I heard Annie Townsend say.
“Uh huh,” Stacy Barton agreed.
“Hey, don’t you know him, Rayna?” Annie asked. “Is he dating anyone?”
I had just returned from a near death experience and this is the first thing these girls ask me? Annie and Stacy were never “friends” of mine, but I never had a reason to dislike them. I wasn’t sure what they thought of me before, but right now their emotions were just indifferent. I was just a means to an end. They wanted to know about Nick; they didn’t give a rat’s behind about my recent ordeal.
Oh well, at least they were actually speaking to me. All day most of my classmates just stared. They didn’t even say “Hi” or “Drop dead” or “I’m glad that serial killer didn’t murder you.” They were somewhat frightened. I guess being nearly killed by a psychopath sort of taints you.
“Yeah, he’s a friend,” I responded. “I don’t think he does much dating, but you could ask.”
They gave me a somewhat friendly smile and then continued with their own conversation. I shrugged and looked back up at Nick. I wondered if he knew what they thought of him. I’m sure he did, but that would mean next to nothing to him. He just wasn’t like normal guys.
My first day back went much better than I expected. Other than the occasional burst of emotions I didn’t have a complete freak out. The only concerning factor was Patrick. There had to be a way for me to read him.
I kept a close eye on him throughout the class period. His rehearsal with Tessa wasn’t going well because she kept mixing up the lines and getting frustrated with her costume.
He didn’t seem irritated by her, but that was only speculation. Tessa I could plainly read. She was embarrassed by her inability to grasp the lines and was even more humiliated that Patrick was there to see it all. She had a crush.
It seemed every girl had a crush on him, especially Leslie. She would rather die than admit that to anyone. Her mind was already set on New York. That thought saddened me. It was inevitable that all our lives would change after graduation but having her so far away would be hard. That was her dream though and no best friend or cute guy was going to stop her.
Going to New York at the end of graduation was all she could talk about. She had even been accepted to a fashion design school. When she told me about it I pretended to be excited for her. That makes me sound like a horrible friend. I genuinely and honestly was happy for her. It’s just that I would miss the heck out of her.
It was the same with Sara. All that ever came out of her mouth was going off the college. She had tried to convince me to apply and go with her, but I politely refused. College was something I had always planned on. I wanted to better my life by educating myself, but there were things that needed to be taken care of before I settled on when and where I wanted to attend. It didn’t stop my mom from making me fill out an endless list of applications and scholarships.
When it was time to go home Nick found me and we walked out the door. He never said a word until we found Jasmine at their car.
“Bye,” he said then quickly got in the passenger seat.
I got in my own car, but didn’t leave right away. Patrick came out after a while and I watched him and Tessa chat for a bit then he climbed into his sleek, black Audi.
The whole time I watched him. It was like staring into nothingness. He was a blank page, an empty shell. If I didn’t know any better I’d think he was dead.
I shivered at the thought then started my car. All the way home I thought about Patrick and what it was about him that prevented me from reading him. Patrick quickly left my mind when I pulled in my driveway and saw a vehicle sitting there. I knew that he would come and visit me; we had left many things unsaid. I just didn’t think it would be this soon.