Ella arrived early and picked up the corsages. I stared at her while she pinned the white flower on the lapel of my black tux. She looked phenomenal in her long red dress; the color and style suited her well. I don’t know how she got ready in less than thirty minutes, but she had. Her hair was freshly washed, smelling of strawberries and vanilla although she left it down and didn’t bother to dry it. In the background, near the farthest wall of the room we were in, Jacelyn shamelessly flirted with Kyle as though nothing had happened between the three friends. Ella made it a point to not turn and face the back area, and I didn’t blame her, but there wasn’t much else to do but stand around and talk to the other nominees before the ceremony. Thank goodness most of us were friends already otherwise it would’ve been awkward with the disgusting display going on around us.
I assessed myself once more in the mirror and made sure to put on my best smile before walking over to the beginning of the red carpet. Ella had disappeared once more, probably to get away from the smooching couple, in return for running errands for the nominating committee. Jacelyn hung onto Kyle’s arm, determined to enter the court with him. I waited patiently in line for my turn, wondering which girl I would lead out.
Teresa snaked her arm into mine. “Looks like we’ve been paired.”
I noticed she wore a dark blue dress that matched her eyes. Her corsage was on her left wrist, a white rose against her tanned skin. She looked gorgeous tonight. “Is Kevin bummed that you’re with me?” I asked her, knowing that he stood directly behind us.
“Yeah,” she sighed aloud.
“If Jacelyn can be paired with Kyle after the stunt he pulled, then I should be able to escort my girlfriend,” Kevin answered from behind my back.
I smiled and turned my head, so he could see my eyes. “I’ll take care of her.”
He returned the smile. “I know. If she was paired with Kyle…I don’t know what I’d do.”
Kyle and Jacelyn passed us, making their way to the back of the line after getting their assignments from the teachers. Kyle shot me an angry look while Jacelyn smiled prettily at us all. She hugged Kyle’s arm tightly, barely walking as they passed by. Her dress was so tight it left nothing to the imagination. Once they passed us, Mehgan nudged Alex in front of us. He nearly stumbled on contact.
“Ow! What was that for?” he complained.
The announcer began the ceremonies out in the stadium.
“You had stopped breathing!” she whispered harshly to him.
“Senior Alex White, escorting Senior Mehgan Cockram!” The pair’s names boomed out of the speakers in the stands. Mehgan straightened herself and tugged on Alex’s arm to get him moving. They turned the corner and disappeared down the walkway.
I signaled to the other candidates that the ceremony had started. When I glanced back I caught sight of Ella. Her arm was linked with Drew’s. They were right in front of Kyle and Jacelyn. Ella didn’t look stable from where I stood. She was trying to keep it together, though it didn’t help that she stood in front of the pair that caused the trouble in the first place.
“Senior Garrett Reed escorting Senior Teresa Marshall!”
I looked sideways at Teresa. We both took in a breath and walked down the long red carpet to the middle of the football field, taking our time and not rushing even though I wanted to. The quicker this ceremony was over the better it would be for Ella. Once we appeared on the field, the stands roared from our classmates cheering us on. When we reached the middle where the red carpet ended, Teresa and I parted ways. She went right where Mehgan waited, and I went left to stand next to Alex.
“Senior Kevin Lawsen escorting Junior Valerie Velencia!”
I watched the pair enter the stadium from the same room I had just been in. Kevin gracefully kept his gait short to keep the girl from tripping. Across the field, Teresa stared at her boyfriend’s face, proud of him. Valerie was the only junior to be nominated for the high court ballot. She was short and tiny, looking more like a pixie or a fairy creature than a human. She suffered from a debilitating disease which kept her figure small and thin. Despite her handicap, she was well loved by almost everyone in the school due to her friendly nature.
“Senior Andrew Hawthorne escorting Senior Christianella Lyndon!”
Ella’s long walk to the midfield seemed to stretch for several minutes compared with the few seconds when I walked out. Drew repeatedly patted her arm with his free hand, helping her keep it together. Who knows what awful things Jacelyn stated within earshot before she left the small enclosure? She was pale and trying to control her tears, but a few had already escaped. Her face glistened from the wetness, and I had the sudden urge to run over to her. Drew and some of the others looked the same way as she left to go to her spot. Even Valerie trained her worried eyes on Ella’s face. She mumbled a few words of encouragement, but Ella didn’t respond.
“Senior Kyle Hasmond escorting Senior Jacelyn Avery!”
The pair entered the fray. The noise from the observers phenomenally deafened whatever sound they made when the rest of us passed by. The two made their way to the middle of the field, waving at the crowd. Kyle kissed Jacelyn’s palm before letting go of her hand. The nominees for court scowled from where I stood; nearly grossed out by his display of affection and publicly snubbing Ella despite his efforts to keep her as a girlfriend. I frowned with them. This was blatantly dishonorable and uncouth behavior. Had he any idea the effect he was having on Ella?
Kevin withdrew his attention away from Teresa so he could stare at the audience. Jacelyn’s scantily clad outfit was in his line of sight to his girlfriend. The rest of us found it hard to look away, as she probably intended with that choice of dress. We managed it, even though it kept my gaze off Ella. But Kyle was the only one who kept his focus on Jacelyn the entire next few minutes while the runner ups were announced. Jacelyn grinned at him before turning her eyes towards me and then back onto him once more. She blew kisses in the air towards her adoring fans.
There were five tiers of court nominees that followed before announcing the winners of the Homecoming ballot. Homecoming was a celebrated occasion in our village. The alumni revisited the town and attended the many festivities; therefore, everything was done in a regal fashion. The Freshman vote decided Julie Picard and Brandon Smith as the Dame and Sir, respectively. The Sophomore vote decided Brett Sanders and Ashlynn Morrow as the Lord and Lady. The Junior and Senior votes were all that were left now. Count and Countess went to Teresa and Kevin. They paired off and went to gather their roses. Baron and Baroness went to Alex and Mehgan who received roses as well. Duke and Duchess went to Valerie and Drew. They paired off and went to gather up the velvet cloaks that were given to them. It was down to the four of us; Ella, Jacelyn, me and Kyle.
“The Princess of the Court is Christianella Lyndon, making Jacelyn Avery the Homecoming Queen!”
Jacelyn’s grin widened as Ella made her way to the podium to receive her scepter. Jacelyn walked slowly to the area where she received her tiara. A carriage waited in the background to escort her and the King away in a fanfare. Now that the girl’s titles were decided I felt the tension increase, but I was concerned about Ella rather than which one of us would be paired with Jacelyn.
The crowd grew silent again.
“And now, for the Homecoming King, Kyle Hasmond is the Prince leaving Garrett Reed to take the title!”
I froze. I had been nominated King? There was no way I was more popular than Kyle. Hockey games were the afterthoughts of students that were bored.
Jacelyn looked a little shocked as well. She obviously hadn’t expected me to win. Ella looked completely miserable from where she stood, though I was sure she was happy for me regarding the title. But as I made my way towards the middle, she stumbled a little on her podium and nearly fell over from where she stood.
I corrected my trajectory and instead made my way over to her. I reached her just as she passed out. I swept her up into my arms as some of the teachers ran over, alarmed; the crowd’s clapping ceased, and they watched, staring at us, wondering what could’ve caused Ella to pass out on the field. Kyle had frozen in his place, shocked by the outcome while Jacelyn glared at me from the middle of the field. Clearly, I wasn’t standing next to her, as she wished it to be, and that made her not the center of attention. Clara left her post near the committee members and joined me with Teresa, Alex, and Kevin who lumbered over to help me as soon as they saw Ella stumble. We all knew what transpired from where we stood. It was clear to me that the teachers had no clue.
“Is she alright?” Clara asked, running up to me.
“Dear me,” Teresea muttered from under her breath. “I thought I had it bad, but Jacelyn really got to her tonight.”
“Do you want me to take her, so you can get your crown, Garrett?” Kevin offered.
I shook my head. “No.”
Ms. Cramdon and Mr. Teak finally appeared. “What on earth caused her to faint?” she exclaimed to us.
“Do we need to call an ambulance?” Mr. Teak asked me.
“I think this is stress,” I answered. Ella was fine as far as I could tell. She was breathing and had a pulse.
“Has she had anything to eat today?”
I shrugged. “She had breakfast, but I don’t know about the rest of the day.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Kyle demanded from beside me. He must’ve suddenly found the will to move his feet and paddled over to us. “She was at your house all day long!”
The moment got awkward for a minute or two. I had the sudden urge to wring the guy’s neck, but Ella was in my arms and I wasn’t dropping her, so I couldn’t beat out my frustration. “She left my house at five to get ready for tonight, plus she spent the entire afternoon talking to Lynna. I did not keep track of her eating habits,” I explained calmly.
Mr. Teak drew his eyebrows together. “And what was she doing at your house, Mr. Reed?”
Damn Kyle for opening his mouth. I had completely forgotten that Mr. Teak was a good friend of Ella’s mother. Of course, he would know that her parents were out of town. He kept watch over Ella at school whenever one or both of her parents were away.
“She’s recovering from a stressful breakup,” Clara answered for the rest of us. “It’s common knowledge by now what’s happened between Kyle and Ella. I seriously thought you and Ms. Cramdon knew that when Kyle and Garrett tied for King.”
My eyes, along with everyone else who was present nearby, nearly popped out of our heads. We stared at the teachers as they blushed in response to the obvious mistake.
“So, I am actually King as well as Garrett?” Kyle asked, intrigued by the prospect. In fact, he sounded pleased rather than confused like I was.
“Yes,” Mr. Teak drawled out. “In the event of a tie, the teachers break the vote and decide who the King should be. We picked you to be the Prince so you could be paired with Ella, not taking the recent events into account.”
Kyle nodded solemnly, clearly getting on my last nerve.
“You know what?” I said from where I stood. “Why don’t you let Kyle go take my place? I’ll take Ella back home,” I suggested.
Ms. Cramdon and Mr. Teak nodded with respect. “Alright,” he complied. “I’ll alert her mother that she’s not feeling well.”
I carried Ella off the field, accompanied by Teresa and Kevin. Clara returned to the front, and Alex returned to his post.
“Kyle Hasmond will be taking the title of King instead of Garrett Reed!” the announcer stated.
Kyle returned to Jacelyn’s side and they linked their arms together as he received his crown. After about a few seconds, the pair climbed into the carriage and was whisked away off the field. Jacelyn no longer glared at us, as the attention was focused back on her now that we were off the field.
Teresa grabbed Ella’s bag and Kevin retrieved mine from the locker rooms. We walked out to my car, just as Lynna strolled over to us wearing a plain blue cardigan and a long white skirt. It was the first time I had ever seen her somewhat dressed up. I paused at the sight, not knowing what it was I should do.
“Is she alright?” she asked me, looking concerned for Ella.
I met her gaze. “No. She fainted on the field. Did you guys eat anything at the house?”
“She consumed a bag of chips,” she answered me.
Teresa and Kevin stared at the three of us well mostly the two of us considering Ella was unconscious.
“I need to get her home,” I said and turned back towards my car.
Out of the corner of my eye, Lynna nodded, complying with me.
The whole time I stood there holding Ella and making small talk with Lynna, my arms never cramped with the extra weight I carried. In fact, Ella was no longer heavy to me; she felt as light as a feather, even lighter the longer I held her. I felt like I could carry her home like this, but I wasn’t going to do that.
Lynna opened the passenger door for me. I put Ella inside and buckled her seat belt.
“Can you drive Ella’s car home?” I asked her.
Lynna shook her head. “I don’t drive.”
Kevin and Teresa frowned. I wasn’t the least bit surprised by this statement, though I don’t know why. It was unheard of for a Senior to not know how to drive or to not want to and the way Lynna stated it meant she chose not to drive.
“I’m epileptic,” Lynna explained casually as if it were the natural thing to do.
“Oh yeah,” Kevin responded as though it were obvious to them, when I knew it wasn’t. Lynna wasn’t a person that everyone thought of as a student or a person when they usually pretended she didn’t exist. This was probably the first time the pair had seen her as a living, breathing person with a functioning brain.
I faced Teresa. “Can one of you drive Lynna’s car home?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Teresa beamed at me, elated that I needed their help. “Kevin can follow and bring me back here.”
Kevin finished putting our things in the trunk. “Alright, I’ll go get my truck and meet you all here.” He disappeared, off to get his truck.
Teresa glanced at me. “Any idea where she’s parked?”
Lynna answered her. “It’s one of those fancy cars over there.” Her finger pointed the way. There was a mass of BMW’s and sedans in the midst, but there were a couple of rare and exotic cars mixed in as well. The alumni here had money and they splurged accordingly.
Teresa stared at her as she spoke, probably not knowing how to respond.
“We came here together,” Lynna explained when it became clear that no one knew how to react to her intelligence.
Teresa drew out the keys from Ella’s purse and punched one of the buttons. Lights flared from the front of a white car, parked behind an SUV. “I’ll meet you here as well,” Teresa said before walking away.
Lynna followed her to the car.
I got into mine after placing Ella in the front seat and started it, waiting for the others to meet up. Kevin appeared in his blue truck, parking by the curb. Teresa took her time, but eventually she appeared at my window, with no car, looking despondent. I rolled down the window, so she could talk to me.
“Um Garrett?” Her hands flustered at the door.
“Yes?” I responded wondering what was wrong.
“I can’t drive a stick,” she explained.
I sighed and turned off the car. “Can Kevin?”
“I think so,” she left my car and went to get her boyfriend. They switched places and he arrived next to my door.
“Yeah, so Teresa says that you better drive Ella’s car. She doesn’t know what it is, but fancy didn’t quite fit the description Lynna gave.”
I turned on my car again and got out of it. Kevin took my place. “You can drive mine, just be careful.” My old sporty car could sometimes cause problems, but Kevin was a pro with cars, so I didn’t mind him driving it. I made my way over to the car parked behind the SUV and stood in shock when I realized what it was. I knew Ella’s parents were rich, but I couldn’t believe they left the keys to their new Lamborghini with her instead of the family sedan. This must’ve been parked in the third garage slot.
Lynna sat in the front seat, staring at the dashboard. The car was already running. I got in and familiarized myself with the settings. I had never driven a vehicle of this caliber. I pulled out of the space carefully. Kevin and Teresa were ready to go. They followed me as we left the stadium. Ella’s house was at least twenty minutes away. I made sure my car stayed behind me and didn’t drive over the speed limit, but under it.
“I thought you weren’t coming to the ceremony,” I mostly said for Lynna’s benefit, ending the silence between us.
“I arrived at her house early. She helped me dress and we rode together to the stadium,” she explained like it wasn’t that big of a deal.
A few minutes of silence settled once more between us. “I’m glad you’re staying with her until her parents return.”
From the corner of my eye Lynna didn’t know how to respond to my comment. She looked down at her hands and back up at the dash and out of the window before saying anything about the situation. “She doesn’t need to be alone right now. Jacelyn told her some mean things from what Ella described earlier. She’s nearly on the verge of being suicidal…”
“WHAT?!” I shouted and nearly slammed on the brakes.
“Calm yourself,” Lynna murmured. “She’s not there yet, but she’s not completely herself. Her fainting earlier is clear sign that it’s a coping mechanism because she can’t deal with the stress any other way. Jacelyn was ranting on and on about how good Kyle was in bed right in front of her and she couldn’t handle it, especially after what happened with the incident.”
I gripped the steering wheel tightly. “You mean to tell me that she and him… they were intimate…” I couldn’t get the words out though I knew what Lynna was talking about.
“Had sex?” Lynna glanced at me. “Of course.”
No wonder Kyle was still hung up on Ella. He was her first and she was his. He had problems with letting go of things that he cherished, and he cherished Ella in a physical way and probably an emotional way in certain aspects. It wasn’t unheard of for some of my classmates to become attached when they started down that path.
“That’s not even the worst part,” Lynna continued.
I scowled. “It gets worse?” Was Ella pregnant? Did he have a disease? I ran through the list of contraindications and it was horrifying to know it could be that much worse.
“Yeah. She agreed to something she shouldn’t have and that’s the real reason why Kyle’s hung up on her as well as Jacelyn. He believes that he can get it again.”
I slammed on the brakes this time. Behind me Kevin screeched to a halt, Teresa swerved to avoid hitting my car and pushing Kevin into me. I stared at her, knowing exactly what had happened now.
Lynna met my eyes and pleaded with me. “Don’t tell anyone I told you that. Jacelyn will keep it quiet as well because she let loose a secret of her own during that entanglement, one that if others found out, she’d lose her reputation over.”
I resumed driving, knowing Lynna didn’t have to tell me what exactly Ella agreed to. There was usually one thing no girl should ever agree to do for a guy they love or like or were infatuated with. Jacelyn’s relationship with Kyle was only a mere reflection of what occurred earlier this week and now that I knew the whole story it made clear sense why things had gone sour. Jacelyn was pulling the strings here to keep him silent, so he wouldn’t squeal to any of his friends, but that wouldn’t hold his tongue for long, unless he truly did care for Ella and was maintaining the secret to keep her reputation in check.
I pulled into Ella’s driveway and opened the garage door. Her mother’s SUV was parked in the garage, alongside Ella’s car. I opened the third door, checking to make sure it was empty before pulling in.
We got out. I retrieved Ella from my car. Teresa carried her bag. Lynna opened the doors for us, selecting the proper key from the chain. Kevin stayed behind with his truck and my car though he didn’t need to keep watch. I carried Ella up to her room; it was a long walk down the hallway and up a flight of stairs. I placed her on her canopy yellow bed while Teresa stared at her furnishings; she had followed us indoors, scolding me for stopping so quickly.
“This girl needs to be hosting parties,” she gasped at the furnishings.
I shook my head. “Ella’s parents forbid her throwing parties.”
She set the bag onto the floor next to Ella’s dresser. “Every parent says that, but we still have them.”
I smiled grimly. “You don’t understand. She tried having a party several years ago. The house went into lockdown.”
She gaped at me. “Lockdown?”
“Yeah,” I answered knowing what that really meant. “They literally made their house into a fortress. It’s wired with sensors. She’s not supposed to have more than three people here at a time. It’s a good thing Kevin stayed behind because if he steps into the house, then the alarms will go off. It scared off the partiers when she tried it the first time. After that she gave up on the idea.”
“I don’t remember that party,” Teresa thought aloud.
I raised an eyebrow. She was sure to have heard the rumors even if she’d never been here. “Do you remember the stoners talking about a haunted mansion in the town? Plus, the police have mentioned and dropped several hints about that haunting as a potential hot spot.”
“Yeah,” she replied. “They bring it up every time a party gets busted, like we would forget about that stupid story.”
“Well this house is that story but retold several times over from the point of view from people who were strung out on something. Most of those kids that were here that night, are afraid of this place, especially once the alarms went off.”
She finally understood what I was referring to. “Oh…wow. I think I’ll go back with Kevin now. We don’t need him stepping inside here.” She retreated quickly.
I didn’t expect her to run out of the room, but she practically fled down the hall. Lynna took a seat at Ella’s desk. “You can go. I’ll watch her.”
“Thanks,” I responded, but I didn’t move. Something bothered me, but I couldn’t pinpoint what that something was. “I know you’re not an epileptic.” I blurted it out, though I don’t know why I stated it especially in front of Ella, even though she was asleep. “What I can’t figure out is how I know that.”
Lynna didn’t move nor respond.
I continued my rant. “How do you not know how to drive a car? We’re forced to take Driver’s Ed as sophomores.”
Lynna mumbled under her breath, but I caught the words in my ears. “Primitive mode of transportation.” She sighed. “I’d rather discuss this somewhere else. She’ll be waking soon.”
As if on cue, Ella stirred.
Lynna didn’t move, but her eyes flickered onto Ella’s figure. “Where could we go? Almost every room in this house has voice monitors.”
I had forgotten about that. How did Lynna know that select piece of information?
“She told me,” Lynna answered. “Ella’s room isn’t one of those monitored. I don’t know who else’s is.”
I was flabbergasted. How could Lynna know what I was thinking unless my face was showing signs of a questionable expression, though it would be a first for me?
“I’m reading your reactions to my words, in case you’re wondering how I keep answering your unspoken questions,” she explained. “I can’t read minds.”
I relaxed a bit. “We really need to talk,” I stressed.
“Have you remembered yet?” she asked me.
“Then I cannot explain anything until you do.”
Ella stirred again. Time was running out.
I grasped onto the recent images in my mind, ones that I was sure she’d be able to talk about. “But you can explain the darkness and the woman with the golden hair who reads minds or at least she reads mine.”
She perked up and studied my face. “Have you been dreaming about something else?”
“I think so…”
She thought for a moment. “They’re just dreams, glimpses of the present.”
I froze. Her words didn’t explain anything and left me feeling like she was telling the truth but also alluding away from what I was seeing. She knew something about my dreams otherwise she wouldn’t have been interested in them. “This didn’t look like a present state of mind,” I sighed aloud. “I’m starting to…” I trailed off, but I never finished my words.
Lynna and I both heard the noise that distracted our attentions. A loud beep sounded from the first floor. I had heard it before and knew what it was. “Oh, crap. Kevin triggered the sensor,” I groaned.
Lynna froze, warily afraid of what would happen next.
A voice from the monitor started announcing the computer’s intentions from the speakers overhead. “House lockdown will commence in ten seconds.”
I blanched and raced out of the bedroom. Lynna followed behind me, keeping close. I hurriedly backtracked down the long hallway to the staircase and jumped down it, skipping multiple steps at a time.
“5 seconds,” the voice spoke again when I reached the foyer.
I raced down the long hallway that served as a bridge to the living rooms and library, headed towards the garage. I ran out of the door, wondering how I made it all the way downstairs in less than ten seconds. I turned around in between the two cars and yelled at Lynna before she could break completely away from the house. “Stay with Ella!”
She turned around and sprinted back the way we came.
I spun around once more and crossed the few feet out of the garage. When I glimpsed back to see how far Lynna had made it, she was gone, disappeared into the depths of the mansion. The garage door started closing, though it was quicker now than when I opened it earlier.
Teresa and Kevin were standing near his truck in complete shock. “You weren’t kidding,” she stated to me as I caught my breath.
I glanced at the two of them.
“Is Lynna going to be alright in there?” Kevin asked me. “This is my fault. I wanted to see what would happen. Teresa explained it, and I got curious.”
I closed my mouth. I didn’t blame him for ruining my talk with Lynna. I would be curious too, if I hadn’t witnessed it when I was much younger. “Ella’s room is safe. Once she awakes she can reset the house lockdown. If her parents get called from the security system, they can reset the house’s alarms as well.”
Kevin went white. “Geeze, this house is like the pentagon.”
Teresa nodded. “Though I think it’s safer than the pentagon.”
“I think that was the idea when they built it,” I answered. I got into my car and said goodbye to Teresa and Kevin. They were headed back to the stadium for the rest of the game, but I wasn’t interested in football. I headed home tired from the night’s events. My mom was back when I arrived, but I knew she would be.
“I left you guys alone all afternoon,” she explained as I walked in the door. After a brief explanation of what happened in the night’s events, I went down the hall and retired to my room. As I was lying in my bed, nearly asleep, mom opened the door and peered over at me.
“Garrett?” she asked.
“Yes?” I moaned from my pillow.
“Did you rearrange the books in the library?”
“No,” I moaned out again, not bothering to think about what she was implying. “Why?” I grunted out.
“No reason. Get some rest.” She shut the door once more.
A part of me wanted to know what she suggested, but I was so tired. I fell asleep and gave none of it any more thought.