Life is a grueling game of chess. One wrong move could make you lose at checkmate. You can do everything in your power to beat your opponent, but if you lose focus for even a moment...it could all go up in smoke.
When it comes to life, there is always a balance; good vs bad. If something really good happens then something really bad must occur to counteract it. If things go off one end too far then tragedy can strike and be debilitating. Sadly, my life is on a scale completely unbalanced.
It was a slow descent into chaos, a scattering of events that broke down my spirit. I tried to get better and for a time I had, but then I was knocked down again. I live in a small town twenty minutes outside of Madison, Wisconsin and I used to love it here, but after everything that has happened, I feel like I’m suffocating. Like the world just wants me to suffer. The start of senior year was the nail in my coffin.
I pulled into the parking lot with a deep breath. I hadn’t been back to school since last February when I may have had a mental breakdown. You’ll see why just a little later.
I slid my backpack on and looked up at my school. I went to Columbus High, the place where kids’ dreams were crushed. I haven’t had many problems since I started here four years ago, but I’ve seen my fair share of tears.
I walked into the school building to find my bestfriend Claire standing beside her locker. She was staring down the hall at something and didn’t even notice that I walked up to her. I followed her gaze to notice she was staring at a boy. He was tall, handsome from the side profile at least, and muscular with the type of hair you’d see on a model.
I leaned in close so my mouth was near to Claire’s ear, “Who’s that?
My voice caused her to jump sky high. She screamed and flung all her books that she had in her hands onto the floor. People around us gave a glance and just kept walking, but I couldn’t keep it together. I laughed so hard tears came to my eyes. She picked up all her books and looked back at me with annoyance.
“You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that.” She grunted
“Well, if you weren’t so concentrated on staring at that boy then you would have noticed me walk up.” I said with intrigue. “Who is the mysterious boy who has caught your eye?”
Claire’s gaze returned to the boy. “His name is Sam Fitzgerald. My uncle helped him move in last week and I, luckily, tagged along that day. I noticed Sam was moving in by himself and so I asked my uncle about him, but he only knew Sam’s name. So I did some research and found nothing. Absolutely nothing. Even his last address is unknown. He’s a complete and utter mystery.”
“Claire, you know that’s stalking right?”
“No, it’s not.”
I scoffed. “You researched this man after meeting him once just because he was moving in alone. His parents will probably come to town within the week or maybe, he has the capability to live on his own. Besides, you looked into private records, Claire. Doesn’t that sound a little stalkerish to you?”
Claire’s cheeks turned bright red. “I am not stalking him, I’m just curious is all. Everyone has a paper trail, but he doesn’t. It’s like he just appeared out of nowhere. And besides, who let’s a 17 year old boy move in on his own? My parents would never and I highly doubt anyone’s parents would. It’s odd, don’t you think?”
“Do you have a crush on him, Claire?”
“No, it’s not like that. He’s just...intriguing. There’s something odd about him.” Claire glanced into my eyes with a serious look. “When I met him the other day he had this air about him. Like he was dangerous, but I couldn’t figure out why.”
That’s when the bell rang. Claire waved back at me as she hurried down the hall, never taking her eyes off Sam. It was odd to have no paper trail and live on his own at 17, but I couldn’t judge. I didn’t know his story and I wasn’t going to get involved. Claire could be obsessed for the both of us.
I made it to first period with a few minutes to spare. When I entered the room I noticed Sam was sitting kitty corner from my desk. When I appeared in the doorway I saw his whole body tense up, like he was in pain. I ignored that odd reaction and took my seat.
My friend, Christina, claimed the seat next to mine, the one directly in front of Sam’s. I turned toward her so we could catch up before class, when I noticed that Sam was staring at me. I’ve seen people stare at me before, but his stare was different. It wasn’t a “you’re cute” stare or “I’m bored, let’s just stare at something” stare, it was frightening. He looked at me like he wanted to eat me; like a lion would look at a sheep.
I turned back and tried to ignore his stare, but I could still see his piercing blue eyes from the corner of my vision. Christina noticed my sudden reaction and looked behind her to see the intensity of Sam’s stare. So he wouldn’t hear us, Christina mouthed, “Why is the new kid looking at you like that?”
“I have no idea.” I mouthed back. His look actually scared me. I had never experienced this sense of fear before and I couldn’t pinpoint why I felt so fearful.
My heart began to race in my chest as I peeked back at him. He was gripping onto his desk, almost to the point of leaving handprints. My fight or flight response kicked in and I wanted to run and never stop running, but I stayed put. I shouldn’t be reacting this strongly to a stare and I wasn’t about to let it make me leave. Why was he staring at me? He doesn’t even know me.
“Alright class, my name Mrs. Lindell and I will be your language arts teacher this year. To start things off, let’s introduce ourselves. Say your name and something you like. We’ll start with the left side and go down the rows, starting with you.” She pointed to the first person in the row, which so happened to be Olivia Andersen. The girl whose voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard.
“My name is Olivia and I like ponies, especially the one my dad bought me for my birthday. It’s pink.” She bragged, standing up and chewing her gum loud enough that I could hear it across the room.
“Thank you, Olivia. Next...”
Then it was a train of sharing. It was smooth sailing until it reached me. It was my turn, but I was so focused on ignoring Sam’s stare that I didn’t hear her. I didn’t realize she said anything until she slammed a ruler onto my desk, causing me to jump in my seat.
“Carly?” Mrs. Lindell asked a little too loudly.
I quickly stood up. “Um...my name is Carly and I like to draw.”
I sat down just as fast as I stood up. Every eye in the room was on me, which just made the whole situation a hundred times worse. Mrs. Lindell was annoyed, but she was satisfied with my answer. “Thank you for finally responding. Maybe next time you’ll respond the first time I ask. Whoever’s next please stand up.”
No one sat behind me, which meant it was Sam’s turn. He stood up without ever taking his eyes off me. “My name is Sam and I love to paint.”
“Paint? What do you like to paint?”
“I love painting portraits. People with green eyes especially. They are sincere, caring, creative, intuitive, and empathic. I love to paint portraits and green eyes are always the most...tantalizing.” Sam explained with his eyes drilling holes into the back of my head.
Mrs. Lindell was satisfied and continued to the next person. I on the other hand stopped functioning altogether because I...had green eyes. I don’t know why he was staring or why he was reacting this way or why he described painting green-eyed people with such a sexual tone, but I didn’t like it. I decided I couldn’t stay in this room any longer; I had to get out now. Mrs. Lindell put on a movie and once everyone was settled, I made my move. I quickly rose from my desk and approached the teacher.
“May I go to the bathroom?”
“Just be fast.” She shooed, returning her attention to the film.
I thanked her and quickly left. I made my way to the girl’s restroom so I would hopefully be alone. I entered and to my glee, no one was inside. I sprayed water up at my face, feeling the water drip down my skin. I needed to snap out of this. What the hell is going on? Am I in some sort of Twilight Zone episode or am I just having a nightmare?
I pinched my arm to see if I would wake up and sadly, I didn’t. I stood there for a moment staring at my own reflection, when I noticed movement from the corner of my eye. I turned around to find Sam standing there. I put on a confident face, even though my heart was racing.
I took my stance. “What do you want from me? You’ve been staring at me for almost an hour with your body tensed in pain. What do you want?”
“I want you.”
Those words made me lose any sliver of confidence I had. He was blocking the only exit and I didn’t have the strength to fight him off. I backed up into the wall as he appeared in front of me, almost too quickly. Our eyes were inches apart and this was the first chance I truly got to look at him. He was pale, dark circles under eyes, lips a faded pink; he looked sickly. Honestly, he looked dead.
His eyes scanned my face like he had never seen someone’s face before. I wanted to say something or even scream, but no words came to my lips. I was absolutely frozen. He moved his head closer to my neck, so close I could feel his breath on my skin.
I grabbed his arm and whispered. “Please, don’t hurt me.”
Sam stiffened and quickly backed away from me. My words were like a bucket of ice cold water. His posture changed, his eyes wide with guilt, and he shook like he had fallen into a pile of snow. A hand flew to his mouth as he backed away from me with terror. He ran to the door only to turn back with three words. “I’m so sorry.”
He vanished out the door and I just stood there dumbfounded. Now I was even more confused. It’s like he broke out of some trance and completely changed. The bell rang loudly through the bathroom, making me clutch at my heart. I pulled myself together, got my belongings from the classroom, and headed to next period.
The rest of the morning I didn’t see one glimpse of Sam and I was relieved. I didn’t regain my composure until halfway through second period. Claire was right, something about this Sam kid was off. He almost attacked me and then completely switched to a guilty stance. I didn’t know what to think.
When lunch came around, I was feeling good again. I got to my locker and shoved everything inside. When I turned around, I noticed Sam was headed straight for me. Maybe he was coming to apologize, but I was still shaky from this morning. So, I turned tailed it and pretty much ran to the lunchroom. Whatever happened this morning creeped me out beyond anything I had ever felt and I honestly just wanted to forget it ever happened.
I pushed the weirdness down deep and strode into the cafeteria. I looked around and found my friends at our usual table in the back of the room. I got my food and wanted to focus on other things then Sam.
Sadly, the second I sat down, Christina opened her mouth. “So Carly, did you ever figure out why that new kid was staring you down this morning?”
“He was what?” Claire asked, looking over at me with concern.
“Yes, Sam was staring at me all of first period. I still have no idea why.”
I looked around the cafeteria to see if he was still staring, but he was nowhere to be found. I was relieved and disappointed. Part of me wanted to never see him again, but another part wanted to know what the hell was going on.
“Is the new kid hot?” Anna asked, leaning forward with a big smile on her face. She loved gossip and cute boys.
I sighed. “Yeah, I guess he’s pretty hot. I wasn’t really paying attention to his attractiveness. I was actually trying to avoid him, but since I was stuck in class, I couldn’t.”
“Did he do anything else than just stare at you?” Phoua worried
I wanted to tell them, but I also had no idea how to even explain what happened myself. Saying something would cause them to worry and I hate making my friends worried for me. So, I lied. “No, he just stared at me in a very odd and long way. Nothing else.”
“I would steer clear of him.” Claire warned, crossing her arms over her chest. “If he was staring at you for that long, that isn’t normal. I would keep your distance until you know more. You don’t want to take any risks.”
Anna tossed a fry into her mouth, giving her input. “He’s just the new guy. Maybe, he was staring at you because he thinks you’re attractive or maybe he’s just odd. I don’t know, but it’s not like he’s the devil. He’s probably just some awkward kid who didn’t know where to look.”
Phoua shook her head. “Even if he isn’t the devil, that’s still creepy. Who stares at someone for an entire class period? Maybe you stare for a minute or two, but forty-two minutes of staring at the same person is just beyond creepy.”
I nodded in agreement as pain surged through my head; a normal occurrence for the last few months. I placed my hand on my forehead, squeezing my temples with my fingers. I gritted my teeth and held my breath. When the nightmares had stopped, the headaches replaced them. They usually happened at night, this was the first to occur during the day.
Christina was the first to notice my pained expression, placing her hand on mine. “Carly, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, I’ve just been getting these weird headaches lately.” I said with reassurance. I removed my hand and tried to smile. None of them believed me.
“When did they start?” Claire asked
Claire was my best friend and I don’t think I could ever live without her. She and I were like twins with how similar we truly were. So when I was hurting, she always knew. Like some psychic power she could wield. She always knew when I was hiding something and she always knew how to get it out of me.
Anna became confused. “Why does it matter when they started?”
“Because there could be something seriously wrong with her. ” Claire said, looking into my eyes, scanning for the truth. “Did they start after the crash?”
I nodded. The crash, that Claire just mentioned, was how my mother died. Seven months ago she had gone to pick me up from a sleepover, but the roads were slippery and we didn’t see the deer until the very last second. I lived and she didn’t. Since then I had nightmares every night, but when those stopped, the headaches began.
“Have you tried going to a doctor? What if you hit your head and something is broken or bruised?” Phoua worried.
“I’m fine.” I insisted, looking around the table to realize none of them believed me. “Seriously guys, I’m okay. I’ll just take some headache medicine when I get home and everything will be fine, I promise.”
Before any of them could continue to question me, the bell rang. They reluctantly let me go as we all went our separate ways. Luckily, there were only two classes left and then I could go home. A place I wouldn’t have to deal with creepy guys who stare and get up close and personal when we haven’t even truly met.
The last two classes, art and math, went by quite quickly. With the day I had, I wasn’t complaining. My head felt like it was getting kicked around like a soccer ball, but it was still dull enough for me to play it off like I was fine. I could go to the nurse’s office to get some meds, but I hate doctors and I avoid them like the plague.
When the final bell rang I jumped out of my seat, not caring what the teacher had to say. I threw everything in my backpack and ran outside to my blue convertible. I placed my bag in the trunk when I felt eyes on my back. I turned around to find Sam standing there.
When I looked up into his eyes they weren’t scary like before, they were calm and concerned. His skin was pinker, eyes a less faded blue, even his lips looked more plump. He didn’t look sickly in the slightest. Whatever was wrong with him this morning was gone now. He looked like a completely different person, oddly enough.
I was about to continue getting in my car when I saw the look on his face. I knew he wanted to speak so against my better judgement, I let him. “You’re Carly, right?”
“Yeah and your Sam, the creepy guy from this morning.” I said with poison on the tip of my tongue.
“Can I talk to you about what happened? Explain myself?”
“Yeah, I would love an explanation.” I remarked, placing my arms over my chest.
“I think I gave you the wrong impression earlier.” He said, swallowing the spit in his throat. “I’m sorry that I was staring at you. There’s just something about you that caught my eye. Not in a sexual way, but you look interesting. Different from the other kids, something I haven’t seen in a long time.”
“That stare was not someone looking at another person because they’re interesting, you looked like you wanted to eat me. Like a predator does to prey. When someone looks at interesting people, they don’t have a look of murder in their eyes.” I snapped
“I was just hungry.”
“Just hungry?!” I shook my head with disbelief. “Really? How does someone who is hungry follow a girl into the girl’s restroom and try to rape them?!”
My comment was a little loud and a few people passing gave us some weird looks. They didn’t care enough to stop, but they definitely heard what I said. Sam’s eyes went wide. “I wasn’t going to rape you.”
“Then what were you going to do? When you follow someone into a bathroom and they say they want you. There aren’t many places the mind goes to.”
Sam looked down at his feet, wringing his hands. He sighed loudly. “I had just moved to town last week and I haven’t had the chance to buy much food. So I was really hungry this morning and not in my right mind. I guess I went a little animalistic, but I feel awful about it. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”