The next day was the first day of school.He sat in his usual spot on the bus, his head resting against the window, grateful that no one bothered to talk to him.In his mind he kept seeing Mariah, kept remembering their time together, how beautiful she was.
“Hey, Tony Hawk, how’s it going?”Thea slid onto the seat next to him.It startled him, as if she’d jolted him from a deep trance.Her brown eyes stared into his blue ones. He half resented being wakened from his reverie and was grateful she didn’t know about Mariah, or the torment he was feeling.
Thea seemed alive, crackling with energy.She wore a short pleated skirt and a black sweater with a neckline that his mother would never allow Kit to wear.When she leaned over him, he could see a trace of a large tattoo of a red rose on her collarbone.With her black “Doc Martins” and leather jacket, she obviously intended to stand out from the other students. If that was her objective, no doubt she’d succeed.He and his friends stood out in a student body that was more conservative, but they weren’t the only ones who didn’t conform to the norm.
Irritated by his silence she went on, “Good morning, Thea, nice to see you.Ready for the first day of school?Do you feel up to the ordeal?By the way, you look nice.”She looked at him, disapproval in her eyes.“As for you, you look terrible, dude.Something bothering you?”She paused for a second, “I’m going to exercise my feminine intuition here and guess that you’re having girl trouble.”
“What makes you think that?” Michael tried to sound indignant.He didn’t know if she was serious, but she was too close to the truth, and how she’d figured it out just by looking at him bothered him.Dewey and Short Round were sure to know something was wrong, but if a stranger could read his face, he wondered who else might.
’I have brothers, I hear all about their girl problems because I have the privilege of being the only girl in the family.They seem to think that since I’m a girl, I can tell them what their girlfriends are thinking.They’re truly desperate, and are willing to try anything—hence ask advice from little sister.I tell them to talk to their girlfriends, not me, and find out what’s wrong from them.They don’t listen to me most of the time anyway, and the next time girl trouble rears its ugly head, it’s still back to little sister.”
“You’re pretty smug about it, aren’t you?I’ve got a little sister and I would never expect her to help me.She wouldn’t know what I should do, anyway.”
“That’s because you’re not very smart.When she starts dating, she’ll start asking you for all sorts of advice about boys, and you better have answers for her.My brothers and I are close—they got me my first skateboard and teach me their tricks.They tend to forget that I’ve never been serious about anyone, or fallen in love, and that they’re asking the wrong person for advice.It’s lucky for them I happen to have pretty good intuition.”
Michael looked at her, amazed.She was as pretty as any of the popular girls at his school in spite of her eccentric way of dressing.He couldn’t imagine her never having been in love, or at least having a crush on someone.
“You’re kidding,” was all he could say.
“It’s true,” Thea answered, “I’ve liked guys, I’ve come close to having boyfriends, but love?No.I don’t have anything against it, it’s just never happened for me.At home I had lots of guy friends, but no one special.”She stopped and took a breath, “I have a feeling that when I do fall, I’m going to fall flat on my ass.
Michael laughed, the cloud over his mood seemed to lift.“I’d like to see that.You’re one of those “sure of yourself” girls.I bet you think you don’t need a guy.”
Thea’s face grew serious.“You’re right, Michael, I don’t.I think I’m waiting for someone I really want.I’m happy on my own, but there’s room in my life for a boyfriend, I just want him to be the right one.I don’t want to be in a relationship because I’m miserable without one.I think that’s the mistake a lot of people make.My oldest brother is a good example.”
At that moment the bus rolled up to their stop.“Hey, where’s your skateboard?”he asked.
“First day of school,” she grinned, “I want to make a good impression.I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
He slapped her on the back of the head the same way he would Short Round, “Do it.You should have brought it today. It’s a nice roll from the bus stop to the school.But I’ll walk with you.”
They walked together, comfortable, not needing to say anything.Thea was different from any girl that he’d ever met, and he liked the easy way they seemed to get along.
Short Round, Dewey, and Dewey’s new girlfriend Anya had already arrived. Short Round gave Mike a surreptitious wink.He was rewarded with a hard punch to his ribs that Michael made sure Thea did not see.Short Round was Short Round, but even if he’d had a girlfriend, his behavior would have been the same.The “little Buddha” had better understand that Thea was a friend, nothing more—or else.Michael wanted no more teasing.
They looked at her at Thea’s schedule to help her find where her classes were.She had her first two classes with Anya, English with Short Round, and History and Chemistry with Michael. It was getting late, so they agreed to meet at lunch, then go to the skate park after school.
Michael’s first class was the one he hated most, Calculus. It was nice to get the worst class over first, the day seemed to go easier after that. Mr. Saltzman was nice, and patient enough to explain the problems until he knew the class understood. Hating math was no crime as far as Michael was concerned, but it was his goal to get as many grants as he could, or maybe a scholarship or two, and if that meant taking Calculus so be it.
He normally paid attention in class, but today, for some reason, he kept finding it hard to concentrate.He hadn’t slept well the night before; he was worried about the situation with Mariah.This was the longest relationship that he’d ever had, but, now things were changing.He decided it must be lack of sleep that kept closing his eyes, making him see her face.
He was relieved when class was over, but as he stepped out of his chair, his feet seemed to trip him and he fell to the ground.People around him laughed, but a couple of them reached out their hands to help him up.He wasn’t aware that he looked confused, and the teacher insisted that he should go to the nurse’s office.He shook his head, and feeling steadier on his feet he went to his next class.
By lunch he felt better.He found his friends in the lunch room, already eating.Thea was in line, piling her plate high with every item of junk food the school cafeteria offered.She came back, balancing her tray precariously.“Junk food!” she said delightedly, “Everything my parents disapprove of.We eat fruit and vegetables, free range chickens, and grass-fed beef.No pop, only Perrier or organic sodas.Fruit juice and water are also encouraged. The only cheat allowed is tea or coffee, but that’s usually organic, too.”
She looked suddenly at Michael, “Are you okay?You don’t look too good.”
Dewey surprised him, “She’s right, you don’t.But we’re going to the skate park after school, and you’ll be okay by then.”He paused, “Right?”
“He will,” Thea interrupted and turned to Michael, “You need some fresh air.And I want to borrow your skate board, Short Round insists his is sacred, and I’m not used to long boards like Dewey has.I’ll bring my own tomorrow, I promise.”
Thea talked even more than Short Round, thought Michael, but with her it was somehow charming, whereas with Short Round it could be just plain irritating.“No problem,” he assured her, “we can share—you don’t look like you’d steal it.Besides, I know how to find you.”
“Oh, but I might,” she grinned, “I’m just sneaky. No one has any idea of what I am capable of.I have this trustworthy face.” She smiled innocently, and then lifted a quizzical brow, as if to ask if he really believed her.
When lunch was over, they went their separate ways.In the classes that they shared, Michael noticed that if called on, Thea generally had the correct answer, but she didn’t seem to like to volunteer.She would lean over her desk to explain something to someone if asked a question.She was patient, willing to help if asked, but she never offered advice. She was out the door when the bell rang, as if she could not wait to make her escape.Michael had trouble catching up to her to guide her to where they usually met after school.
The boys were standing around with Anya at the familiar flagpole.“Everybody ready?” asked Short Round, “Then let’s blow this popsicle stand and go to the skate park.”
They piled into Dewey’s car, Short Round, Michael and Thea squeezing into the back seat.Dewey let Thea examine his board, explaining that the difference between long and short boards were not limited to their length.Michael smiled as he watched—the three of them probably knew more about skateboards and skateboarding than anyone in their town.Michael and Short Round loved to skate for its own sake, but Dewey would go into the physics, materials, long board versus short if he had an audience who was polite enough to listen to him.Thea had evidently learned to cultivate patience.
They took Anya home, then made the short drive to the skate park, parking as close as they could.They hoped they would have it to themselves, but luck was not with them. The after school crowd stood around the course, each waiting to take his or her turn. It was either leave, and come back another day, or wait.They decided that leaving was out of the question, so they waited, Short Round not bothering to hide his impatience while he waited his turn.
When the course was finally open, Michael and Dewey let Short Round go first.“Hay Yah,” he shouted out as he sped down the ramp, then performed a 360 at the bottom.All three boys wished the ramps were higher:to be on their skateboards gave them a sense of flying, and the more difficult the tricks they could do, the better.They knew they were better than anyone else who came to the park, had no qualms about showing off.“Guy stuff, maybe,” Short Round had explained it, “But there ain’t nothing wrong with knowing you’re good.”
Michael was a little pissed off that Thea hadn’t been allowed to go first.He gallantly loaned her his skate board and watched as she fearlessly navigated the course.Only a few girls ever showed up at the skate park to skate.The ones who did weren’t as good as the guys, in his opinion, but some could hold their own.There was always the usual audience of girls who came to watch and flirt, but Thea was a cut above most of the skater girls he had seen.She’d told him that she snowboarded too, and that her time on her skateboard had helped her out a lot.He felt envious—like last year, snowboarding this year would not be possible.Maybe he’d get to go next year—if things improved.
It was his turn.He put on the much-hated helmet and knee pads.The course was like a siren call for him and he found resistance was futile.His confidence was coming back; the muscles had healed and he had lost the fear of falling that had plagued him after his accident.He sped over the course, more fearless than the rest, jumping higher, rolling faster.He came to a stop, and did his trademark trick of jumping off his skateboard and flipping it into his hand.
Dewey hadn’t bothered to wait for him.He was still perfecting his mastery of his long board, and wasn’t about to wait for Michael to finish.It still felt strange at times, but it seemed to suit his height better, and his tricks were coming easier than they had when he had first started with it.He navigated the course, showing off for Thea, but was still cautious.He rolled to a stop where the group was standing, and suddenly had an idea.
He called Thea over to him. “Hey, are you up to trying something stupid that will probably get both of us hurt?”
She smiled that open smile that had impressed Michael.“Always.”
They went back to the course and she climbed onto Dewey’s back, then held on as he launched his skateboard down the ramp at a reasonably slow speed.Thea would scream when they made a turn, and soon the two were shrieking with laughter as they tried to navigate the course without falling.
Suddenly Thea flew backwards, as if someone had pulled her from Dewey’s back. By some miracle he managed to regain the balance he had come dangerously close to losing.Thea ran, screaming, over to Michael and Short Round, crying, “No no no no no.” She collapsed on the bench and started crying, “It couldn’t have happened, no way could this have happened.”
Short Round beat Michael to the opportunity to play hero, not wasting an opportunity to put his arm across her shoulders and squeeze them.He waited patiently until she was ready to speak.
Her shoulders finally stopped shaking, and she relaxed for a moment against Short Round, then straightened up.“You guys aren’t going to believe me, but I swear I saw a girl on the course.She was looking at me, and then suddenly it felt like someone grabbed me and threw me.And then she was gone.She just disappeared.One minute she was there, and the next minute she wasn’t.There’s no way this could have happened.There must be some explanation for it, but I can’t come up with one.I don’t believe in things that don’t make sense.”She turned to Short Round, “I appreciate the arm, but I don’t need it now, okay?”
The other three looked at each other, each thinking the same thing.Dewey and Short Round didn’twant to say, “Mike’s ghost”, but each was thinking it.
Michael was thinking “Mariah, how could you?” For a moment he had seen a black, shadowy form standing on the ramp, then watched it disappear.He thought he had no doubt as to what had happened—he was sure Thea had seen Mariah appear on the ramp.He couldn’t believe that she would put his friends at risk—she had never done anything like this before. And she had never appeared in that black form, that shadow that felt somehow sinister.
He felt bad, not really knowing why; but blamed his new friendship with Thea. It was no more than a friendship and nothing for Mariah to be jealous over.For the first time he felt apprehensive about her, wondering what she might do if she suspected that he liked another, a living girl.
Thea, though not recovered, had at least regained some of her composure.Her brown eyes stared into Michael’s blue ones, as if to tell him, “Did you know about this?I don’t know what makes me think you know, but something makes me think you do.”He knew she couldn’t read his mind, but the look made him uncomfortable.
The camaraderie they had felt at the start of the day seemed to slowly be dissolving, and the only thing left to do was go home.The excuses were lame.Everyone had homework, and though they could have stayed another hour, homework was suddenly very important.Short Round got into Dewey’s car and they took off.Thea and Michael were left to wait at the bus stop, neither of them really wanting to talk.
When the bus came, they didn’t sit in their usual place in the back, but in one of the regular seats along the aisle.Thea’s head lolled on the back of the seat, her eyes half closed.She let her head slip on Michael’s shoulder for a brief moment, and sighed.Michael was afraid she’d put his arm around her but she suddenly sat up and asked him, “Did you see anything?This is going to bother me until I figure it out.Did you see anything, did you?” she asked insistently.
He’d seen something all right.He was sure what he’d seen was Mariah, had been Mariah. She must have wanted to hurt Thea, or at least scare her.She’d succeeded with the latter, for Thea hadn’t recovered yet from the incident.This was something he couldn’t tell Thea, though.Dewey and Short Round knew about Mariah and that was two people too many.Maybe a part of him wished he could tell Thea, but he couldn’t, and to tell the truth, he didn’t want to.
“No, I didn’t see anything.It looked like you lost your grip before you fell.You and Dewey riding his long board wasn’t a very smart thing to do.”
“Fun though,” Thea’s smile came back but quickly faded, “Fun while it lasted anyway.Not something I’m going to tell my parents about, though.It left me bruised, but that’s the worst of it.Uh-oh, here’s my stop.”She got out of their seat a little stiffly and left the bus without waving good bye.
Michael’s mind would not quit working for the rest of the ride home.“Mariah, Mariah” ran in his head over and over like a mantra.There was that part of him that still wanted her, wanted to cling to her.He wanted her cool body next to him on the bed, wanted to feel the touch of her lips against his, but it wasn’t possible.She’d started out as a mysterious ghostly girl that he had fallen in love with--now he thought he realized what the medium had meant when she said that Mariah probably wouldn’t do him any good.
Meeting Thea had done more than any of Short Round’s rantings to make him understand that he and Mariah were not meant to be.There was a bond of love between them; he wanted to help her, not because he pitied her, but because he sympathized with her plight.He sighed; he had always been affected by the helpless.The few fights he’d gotten into at school were when someone was up against an opponent who outweighed and outfought him.It was almost a curse—he stood up for the underdog without thinking about what the consequences might be to him.
He looked up and was shocked to see Mariah waiting at the bus stop.“What’s wrong?Something happened, I can tell by the look on your face.”
Michael checked to see where they were before he stopped.The monster’s house was down the street, and he wanted to take no chances. He grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her, and was not gentle. “Were you at the skate park this afternoon? Tell me the truth, Mariah, I want to know, now.”
“No, Michael, I wasn’t there.Sometimes I can’t bear to go there because I don’t want to see you get hurt again. What’s wrong with you?”
He wasn’t sure he believed her, but she’d never lied to him—that was something he knew for sure.“Can you understand that I care, really care about you?”Mariah slowly nodded her head.“Thea, that girl at school, is just a friend. We, I mean the guys and me, enjoy her company, but that’s all.But things have changed for me.I’m not looking for anyone, but having that concussion affected me in ways I didn’t expect.I didn’t know how badly I’d hurt myself until the doctor told me.I’m craving a normal life, Mariah, and what we have isn’t normal.”
“I don’t understand why you’re telling me this.I wasn’t at the skate park this afternoon, and why are you telling me about a new girlfriend?Do you think I want to hear it?Since I’ve met you I’ve felt like I was alive again.Now you’re acting strange and I don’t know why.I wonder sometimes if you really care, if you ever cared, if you only felt sorry for me.Now I’m wondering if it might be true.”Mariah was starting to shimmer and fade.
“Mariah, don’t go—please.I just thought you were jealous.I just wanted to make sure you knew that Thea’s just a friend, that’s all.”He hesitated for a moment.“You are my first love, Mariah, for what it’s worth. I still have to find a way to keep my word.You shouldn’t have to spend eternity in a basement.”
They stood for a moment in silence feeling, knowing, that something had changed and wishing things could be as they were before.Michael had started to reach out his hand to Mariah when she suddenly pushed him away from her.“Run, Michael,” she said, “Run and don’t look back.”
He didn’t question her, he took off down the street, running as if his life depended on it.He heard a giant “crack” from a branch of one of the maple trees, but did not turn around.He thought he heard something fall behind him, but didn’t stop to look.He only stopped running when he reached his parents front door.He looked around, but could not see anything from up the street.He could feel the roots of his hair standing on end. He waited until he caught his breath, then entered the safe haven of his living room.
Kit was playing with a tabby kitten, teasing him with a ball of yarn tied with a long string.The kitten caught the ball and then held it, kitten fashion, kicking it hard with its hind legs.Michael watched as the scene played out—he was fond of all sorts of animals.He knelt down to pet the kitten’s stomach, saying, “Hi, little guy,” when the kitten suddenly stood up and hissed.It ran under the sofa,and no matter what she did, Kit could not coax it out.She cast a murderous look at Michael.
Mariah must have followed him home, he thought, that’s why the kitten was upset.He went upstairs and into his room to find Mariah sitting on his bed, clearly frightened.
“Something was after us, Michael.Something I’ve never encountered before.It was like a mass of energy that was full of anger.It wasn’t only after you, it tried to attack me.I’ve got to talk to Crazy Girl.Something has materialized from somewhere, and I don’t know what it is--except that it’s evil.Keep your friends away from your house; I don’t know how safe this street is.”Her cold lips kissed his warm ones, “There is something wrong here, terribly wrong, and I’m frightened for you, your family and your friends.Promise me you’ll be careful, I don’t know what it can do.”