I peeked through the blinds of my bedroom room and peered out at the house across the street. Everything was so still and picturesque except the leaves softly blowing down the street. The house itself looked innocent enough, but upon closer inspection something insidious pulsed beneath the surface. The once elegant vines slithering up towards the front windows were now overgrown and insatiable. The shutters cracked with years of abandonment and the rose bushes lining the side walk to the front door were wilted with decay. I shivered as chills creeped up my spine. The house had always made me uneasy, although I wasn’t sure why. Something about its unwavering and ominous stare as it confronted her bedroom window day in and day out. It had been abandoned every sine my family moved in eight years ago, and hadn’t been occupied by anyone long before that according to local rumors. While it was on the market for any interested buyer, I had only seen a few actually come by to check out the property in person, and those who did never returned and always withdrew their offers.
“Nora! You better be down in here in 5 minutes, dressed and ready to go or so help me I will-“ my mom shouted from downstairs.
“Coming!” I yelled back as I yanked on my black leather jacket. I glanced up in the mirror to make sure I looked presentable before heading out. My long, wavy blonde hair was behaving itself after I beat it into submission earlier this morning. My blue eyes shone brightly and were complimented by my long lashes coated with black mascara. I prayed to the make up gods the concealer I used to cover my dark circles actually made me look less zombie and more human. I ran my pink lip balm over my lips and I was good to go.
I slung my backpack over my shoulder, glanced around my room once last time, and did my keyswalletphone keyswalletphone chant before sprinting downstairs. In the kitchen, my mom waited sipping her coffee and checking emails on her phone. She peered up over her glasses when I poured myself some coffee in a togo cup.
“How many times do I have to tell you? When you’re late-“
“I’m late. I know I know Mom. I’m sorry, I overslept.” I finished for her.
She gathered her purse and keys and started walking towards the front door. I grabbed an apple off the counter and followed her.
“Are you still having trouble sleeping? I have some melatonin you can have. You need to get your rest.” She called over her shoulder.
Once outside, she locked the front door and turned to me with a raised eyebrow waiting for an answer. I took a loud crunchy bite out of my apple.
“Nope.” I said popping the p. “Just forgot to set an alarm. Sorry.” I added a sheepish smile for good measure. I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s rest, free of any nightmares or weird whispers but my mom already had enough to worry about. My lack of sleep was really no big deal and I’m sure I wasn’t the only seventeen-year old losing sleep during her senior year.
We climbed into her black SUV and started down our street and into town. I glanced over my shoulder at the house only to find it as still and ordinary as always.
“Nora? Did you hear me? Hello?”
I glanced over to my mom only to find her peering at me, eyebrows crinkled with worry. Clearly she had been talking to me and I didn’t catch anything she said.
“No. Sorry, what were you saying?” I asked. There was no point in pretending I’d heard her. She always knew when my brain was elsewhere.
“I said I have to work late tonight. Can you catch the bus or a ride from a friend after school?”
“Yeah sure. No worries.” I assured her. Ever since dad got sick, she was working overtime to make ends meet. I walked dogs on the weekend and tried to help where I could, but most of the time the best way to help my mom was to minimize her stress, especially about me.
“Great. Well, we’re here. Have great day and stay out of trouble. I’ll see you later tonight. Love you!”
I let out a heavy sigh as I looked at the front doors of my high school. Walter Hills High. Here we go. I gathered my things and looked over at my mom one last time before opening the door.
“Love you too. See you later.” I shut the door behind me and started the trek up the front steps. Once inside, I was immediately hit with the roar of students milling around as they waited for first period to begin. I chucked my apple core in the trash before starting off towards my locker. I stashed my togo cup and grabbed my copy of To Kill A Mockingbird for first period. As I was shutting my locker, I heard the usual bickering of my two best friends behind me. I spun around only to find Liv throwing her hands around wildly to emphasize a point. Jules responded by rolling her eyes and gesturing towards me.
“Fine! Then why don’t you just ask Nora and she can decide.” Jules demanded. They both turned towards me expectantly.
“Nora, please tell Julia here that listening to true crime podcasts nonstop is making her paranoid and not everyone is worthy of the third degree!” Liv asked with clearly waiting for me to agree with her.
“Nora, will you please inform Liv hearing the stories in my podcasts only keeps me informed of what people are capable of and it’s important to know that everyone has secrets and people may not be who they say they are!” Jules retorted after side-eyeing Liv. Liv only scoffed in response. I looked between my two best friends as they waited for me to pick a side. I opened my mouth only to close it as the warning bell rang.
“We should get going before Mr. Harkins turns into an episode on a true crime podcast.” I warned. I spun on my heel and started off towards class as my friends whined behind me. We all had first period together so it was usual routine to meet at my locker so we could walk to class together. Mr. Harkins gave us a curt nod as we walked in and took our usual seats towards the back. I wasn’t a bad student and English was actually my favorite subject, but I was by no means going to sit in the front and be called on for every question. Mr. Harkins and I had this unspoken agreement. I was a perfect student and he didn’t bother me with questions during class.
“Ok but you are going to have to pick a side at some point you know. Just tell Jules she’s deranged and be done with it.” Liv said, eyebrows raised nodding over to Jules on the other side of me. Jules huffed and gave another signature eye roll. I dodged the conversation again by breaking eye contract to pull out my notepad and pen. Just as Liv was about to push me again, the classroom door swung open and in walked the school’s prized pupils.
Matt and Jarrod lead the group and didn’t even glance up from their conversation as Matt eyes crinkled in laughter at something Jarrod had just said. Both boys were tall and lean from years of basketball but while Matt’s blonde head bobbed with laughter, Jarrod’s jet black hair and dark eyes seemed only amused. Behind them Ashley and Jenna beamed with entitlement, giggling as they kept in step with the boys. Ashley never left Jarrod’s side while Jenna took her place next to Matt and smirked at Ashley knowingly. Finally, their queen bee waltzed in with her dark raven hair flowing behind her shoulders as she sauntered into her seat with the group. Chloe had a frown on her face as her piercing eyes searched the class room. Her frown deepened when they landed on me, obviously not finding whoever she was looking for. I met her eyes but didn’t flinch as she glared at me. Her face tensed in disgust as she flipped her hair and turned to her friends.
“He’s not here.” Chloe spat to her sidekicks.
“Jarrod said today is his first day back. Don’t worry.” Ashley whispered back. I glanced to Liv to see if she knew who they were talking about. Liv frowned and shook her heard letting me know she was equally as lost as I was. She opened her mouth to start theorizing when the door swung open again.