Recently, I’ve been having this strange dream. The kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night, leaving you gasping for breath and clawing at sheets that have suddenly become like a prison.
It always starts the same way. I’m soaring through the afternoon sky, enjoying the way the wind filters through my feathers as my wings slice through the air. In my dream, I’m a snowy owl, startlingly white against a background of neon green grass and an impossibly bright blue sky. I’m not alone though. I’m aware of my friends flying ahead of me, the gap between us steadily increasing, all except Sara who’s lagging behind. I don’t mind though because I’ve never felt so free, so happy, and my environment reflects it.
Then, all of a sudden, I can feel the mood shift as if something has happened just outside my field of vision. I’m filled with a sense of dread and the world around me has become too bright. It’s not beautiful anymore. It’s too intense. I can no longer see my friends up ahead, so in a panic, I turn around in search of Sara, only to have her smack into me. I can tell something is wrong right away, and I try and fail to grasp onto her as we go tumbling towards the ground in a blur of white and gray feathers.
Just as we hit the grass, we’re human again. Sara’s head is in my lap. Her short brown curls fall in tangles just above her shoulders and her brown eyes that are usually so bright have become dull and glassy. Her entire face is blank, completely devoid of any emotion. In an attempt to jolt her out of whatever trance she’s in, I place my hand on her arm, intending to shake her awake even though I know in my heart she’s not sleeping, but I quickly pull my hand away in shock and pain.
Sara’s skin is as cold as ice, colder if that’s possible. It hurts to even touch her, and then the dread sets in as I’m forced to come to terms with the fact that she’s dead. I knew just by looking at her, but I didn’t want to accept it. Then, as soon as the realization sets in, before I can cry or scream or even do anything at all to mourn the loss of my friend, I wake up.
When it happens, I try and tell myself that it’s just a dream, that Sara’s fine. If I wanted to, I could call her and she’d pick up no problem even though she’d give me hell for waking her up, but the idea doesn’t help. All the reassurances in the world can’t take away my feeling of uneasiness. I know subconsciously that she’s alive, but dream Sara’s lifeless expression stays with me long after I’ve woken up.
“Maggie?” A voice I recognize calls my name and then just as my vision comes back into focus a hand waves in front of my face.
I blink several times and suddenly I can see the girl who’s gotten my attention. It’s Clarisse, one of my best friends since elementary school. She’s turned all the way around in her desk in a way that let’s her effectively stare me down with an incredulous expression.
“Were you seriously just sleeping with your eyes open?”
I stifle a yawn and shrug. The truth is that I’ve actually gotten pretty good at doing that. You learn a few things when you don’t sleep through the night. “Just tell me what I missed.”
Clarisse sighs and pulls her long, dark red hair up like she’s going to put it into a ponytail, but instead let’s it fall across her back. She’s always saying constantly shifting it around in annoyance, but she won’t cut it for anything. “Not much,” she replies, “We’re doing group work until the bell rings.”
To say that got my attention is an understatement. I hate working in groups, and Mrs. Collins, our history teacher, tends to assign them rather than letting us pick our own, which is even worse.
“group work?” I ask while mentally sending up a silent prayer that I haven’t been put in a group with someone who expects me to do all the work.
Clarisse’s green eyes gleam with amusement. “Too bad you slept through the instructions. I guess your partner will just have to explain it to you.”
“You’re not going to tell me?”
She shakes her head. “Nope. This will teach you not to sleep in class.”
“Oh come on,” I beg. “You’re supposed to be my friend.”
Clarisse fake pouts. “I am your friend. This is for your own good.” Then she glances towards the front of the room. “Now, go on. Charlie’s waiting for you.”
I follow her gaze to where Charlie Grey is sitting. He has his head down while he writes something in his notebook, his golden blonde hair falling into his eyes. He reaches to push it aside and as if he senses us watching him, looks up and turns towards us. His eyebrows scrunch together in confusion and he taps his pen impatiently. Instinctively, I blush and then mentally chastise myself. Charlie is a part of our friend group. There’s no reason for me to be nervous other than the fact that he's got A-list celebrity good looks, not that I would ever admit that to him, and is just as bad as Clarisse when it comes to teasing me.
I gather my things and stand up to go over to him, but not before glaring at Clarisse.
“I’ll get you back for this you know,” I hiss at her.
She just smiles and waves goodbye. Charlie watches me as I walk over to him, and I concentrate on not tripping over the other students’ bags that are scattered haphazardly in the aisles before I get there.
“You and Clarisse fighting already?” He asks as I slide into the desk in front of his. “It’s the first class block. You’ve still got a whole day to go.”
“Let’s just get started,” I grumble as I open my notebook to a clean page.
“Sure,” he replies. “we can split the work 50/50. Which topic do you want?”
I hesitate and start writing my name in the upper left hand corner of the page so I don’t have to look at him. “Uh, what are we supposed to be doing exactly?”
“You mean you weren’t listening? You? Miss ’come on guys school is important?’” I don’t have to look at him to know how much he’s enjoying this.
The truth is that I might have said something like that in the past one or twice or maybe a couple hundred times when my friends decide to slack off, but so what? I can’t be perfect all the time, and I guess this makes me a hypocrite, but oh well. Sue me.
Deciding on a different approach, I look up at Charlie and scowl. “This is your grade too you know. Can you even afford another F?”
The laughter in his gray-blue eyes dies and he pales. “Not according to my mom.” A shudder ripples across his body and he holds his hands up in defeat. “Whatever, you win.”
I sit back smugly in my seat as Charlie explains the assignment to me, but as he’s doing so, the realization begins to dawn on me. I groan inwardly. I haven’t won anything at all. Charlie may be my friend, and he’s got many talents, but school work, for history in particular, is not one of them. The mere idea of how exhausting it will be to keep him on task is enough to make me want to go ahead and beg Mrs. Collins for my F right then and there just to save time.
For a split second I actually consider it, and then I sigh and start scribbling down ideas for supreme court cases to write about. It’s just not in my nature to fail an assignment without trying no matter how much I complain.
Beside me, Charlie leans over my desk to get a better view at my notebook and grins. “This’ll be fun.”
“For you maybe,” I mutter back and will the bell to hurry up and ring.
It eventually does after a grueling half hour that seems to stretch on forever. Fortunately for me, I get a break from both Clarisse and Charlie seeing as we only have two classes together. In fact, I don’t see them again until P.E, our second to last class of the day and my least favorite though it is the only class that the entirety of the Apprentices have together.
It’s not a name we use to describe ourselves in public, but it is, essentially, what we are and the easiest way to refer to our group as a whole.
“You have a lot on your mind today.” Derrick says as we walk together towards the gym. Coming from anyone else a sentence with that phrasing would probably be a question, but from Derrick it’s a statement.
Derrick is my best friend and the person who probably knows me best with the exception of Sara, and conveniently he’s also another member of the apprentices. Derrick is crazy tall, with broad shoulders. His dark curly hair is almost the same color as his skin, but his eyes are a warm brown that offsets his intense looks and makes him seem more friendly. At one point in time he was a scrawny kid, barely taller than me who has been 5′2 since the 9th grade, but a lot has changed since then of course.
I shrug, keeping my eyes straight ahead and focus on giving off a “I’m fine. Nothing wrong over here” vibe. I can feel Derrick give me a sideways look. He’s always been able to read me too easily.
I can tell that he wants to say more, but at that moment Charlie crashes into us from behind, throwing an arm around us both, which is slightly awkward due to the height difference, and I can’t help but take a moment to compare the two. Charlie is tall himself, but Derrick still has a couple of inches on him and while Derrick has become bulkier, Charlie is more on the lean side. They’re almost the definition of night and day.
“Well if it isn’t my favorite set of wonder twins. Did you miss me?”
If you were wondering where the wonder twins nickname came from. It’s not because Derrick and I look alike in fact with my pale skin and dirty blonde hair, we couldn’t look more different, but we’ve always had this weird connection. It is sort of like the kind people say twins have. We always seem to know what the other is thinking or if one of us is hurt. Sara thinks it’s some kind of weird psychic ability. Hence the Wonder twins.
Derrick shoves Charlie off and scoffs, “Never been a fan of clowns, so no.”
Charlie frowns. “Oh come on. I thought you liked being called Wonder twins.”
Derrick doesn’t even honor this with a response. Instead, as we step over the threshold that separates the gym from the rest of the school, he turns to me, ignoring Charlie completely. “Catch you in a bit,” He says before heading towards the guy’s locker room.
“What’s gotten into him?” Charlie asks, running a hand through his hair, causing it to stick straight up in all directions. I resist the urge to stand on my tiptoes and smooth it back down.
“You antagonize him.”
Charlie throws up his hands. “I antagonize everybody. You were a part of that joke too, but you didn’t go stomping off and frankly that wasn’t even some of my best work.” He sighs. “Sometimes I get the feeling he just doesn’t like me.”
“You’re an apprentice,” I tell him. “He has to like you.”
Charlie just looks at me. I’ll admit that maybe it wasn’t exactly the type of response he was looking for, but I didn’t know what else to say. I’d honestly been getting that same feeling the past couple of weeks, but I have no clue what changed. They’ve never exactly been best friends, but Derrick wasn’t even close to as hostile to Charlie as he is now.
Suddenly the bell rings, and a girl goes streaking by us in a familiar fashion. “Better get changed before you both get written up,” Sara calls after us as she practically sprints towards the locker room. She’s got a lot of nerve scolding us when she’s the one who’s always late, but as usual, she’s right.
“Look, don’t worry about it okay,” I tell Charlie and try to smile reassuringly before turning and running after Sara. I hate Gym but I hate D-hall more.
“I wasn’t worried!” Charlie calls after me.
Yeah, keep telling yourself that. I think.
Not even halfway through gym my friends and I have all but given up on participating. Coach Hollis is an old man who has been teaching for so long he no longer really pays attention to the class. He starts the block by calling roll and checking to make sure we’re in our gym clothes before trying to separate the boys and girls into their respective activities. He then stands around for about ten minutes to make sure we at least look like we care about our physical education before disappearing into the back office only emerging ten minutes before the bell to tell us to get changed.
There’s almost no one actually playing sports. A few guys are taking turns shooting hoops at the back of the gym, but that’s about it. My friends and I spend the class block by lounging on the bleachers, back in our normal clothes, having changed as soon as Coach Hollis left the room. I have my head in Derrick’s lap and can feel myself falling asleep. Beside me, Charlie is sketching something in his notebook, his eyes carry the same intensity from class earlier today, which is very unlike the goofy persona he tries to put on. I sit up, filled with curiosity and hoping to get a glimpse at what he’s drawing. He doesn’t fit the typical look of an artist, but Charlie is really good at sketching and painting.
Clarisse suddenly stands up, startling me and catching Charlie’s attention, so he closes his sketchbook before I can see the drawing.
“What are we doing? Let’s get out of here,” she demands.
On the bleacher below me, Sara tugs at the strands of hair too short to be pulled into the tiny bun on the back of her head, a nervous habit. “But we have another class after this,” she points out, but I can see her excitement in the way she sits up straighter and know that she’s going to go anyway.
“When did you become Maggie?” Charlie asks her, already stuffing his sketchbook into his bag.
“I haven’t even said anything!” I protest.
“Yeah, but you were thinking about it,” he shoots back.
Okay, he got me there. I have Calculus after this and it’s not a class I like to miss if I can help it. I look back at Derrick and am not surprised to see that even he has made up his mind to leave. We have similar views on a lot of things, but school is not one of them.
I sigh knowing that I’m outvoted. “Okay, fine whatever.”
Clarisse grins and grabs my hand, pulling me up, and despite my doubts, I can feel myself smiling too. We make a break for the gym doors, and unsurprisingly, nobody cares. It’s not unusual for kids to cut out of gym class, since Coach Hollis isn’t normally around. Outside, a warm breeze is blowing despite the fact that it’s nearing the end of September. We go tearing towards the little stretch of trees by the student parking lot, but it’s not a car we’re racing towards. We hit the tree line and suddenly, we’re no longer running, we’re flying.