The weekend comes and goes without another word from Jared. I muster up my courage and send him a couple of texts: the first a thank you for the nice afternoon, the second a comment about how I’d looked up the Rephaim, and a third asking if he might want to hike Camelback. He does not reply to any of them. After my fourth text goes unanswered, my courage is solidly crushed and I resolve to stop pestering him. Lucky for me, Anna's company remains almost constant. Mom has inquired only once about her situation. It was obvious she was trying to pick up some clues on how much more time she might be staying with us. But Anna is kind, considerate and funny and being in her company is a constant entertainment. She is quickly growing into the 'best' friend I've ever had.
I wake Monday morning and give a great sigh because I really don't feel like going back to school. I really don’t. Still, I get up and head out, ignoring the deep sense of loneliness that settles on me when I unlock the door and get into my cold, silent car. I make the short drive, park, grab my backpack and join the flow of students heading into the building.
“Rachel, wait up,” a voice calls behind me. I turn to see Patrick trudging toward me. I wait for him and then we climb the steps together. “So how was your vacation?” The bell rings as he pulls the door open.
I duck inside. “Okay, I guess. I spent most of it at work. How was yours?”
He gives a soft snort. “Well except for the robbery at the restaurant, it was pretty uneventful.”
“Geez,” I exclaim flashing him wide eyes. “I forgot about that.”
My response pulls a small smile from him. “Oh, and sorry about the movie,” he adds as he starts down the hall.
Kids flood by me but my feet are frozen. “Hey, wait. I want to hear about the robbery.”
Patrick half-turns toward me. “There’s not much to tell but I promise, I’ll fill you in later.” Then he’s part of the crowd surging away from me.
First period is AP English and quick as always, Ms. Hedley hands back our essays. I am happy to see my A+ score marked at the top in red ink. The day clicks along just fine until lunch period when I am unable to find Patrick. After ten minutes of looking for him, I give up and resolve to spend the rest of the hour in the library. I’m halfway there when someone calls after me, “Hey Rachel, wait up.”
I turn to see Suzie and Melinda standing with Michael, all of their eyes fixed on me as if I'm the center of some private conversation. I’m wondering what they might want, watching as Suzie links her arm through Melinda's and starts toward me. “Where're you going? We were just going to get a bite at the snack bar.”
“Yeah?” I reply cautiously.
Suzie smiles. “Why don't you come with?”
My eyes go wide as I realize it’s much worse than I feared. They want to try to socialize. I glance at Suzie's hopeful expression and realize even Melinda looks open and almost, well, interested. I shrug and reluctantly follow the trio to the snack bar. I brought leftover pizza so I sit down at a table and wait. When they come back, they file around me choosing seats. Suzie slides in next to me, Melinda sits across from her and Michael sits down in the seat across from me. Then they fall into an easy conversation like I've been part of their group all along.
“I heard that JC got sent to juvie,” Suzie chips.
“Really?” I ask. “Why?”
“For having a party when his parents were away and trashing the place.” She pops the top of her soda and takes a sip before she adds, “I guess it’s a good thing we didn't go. The police showed up and everything.”
“No way,” Michael tells her.
“That's what Tina Hernandez told me.”
Michael gives Suzie an open-mouthed smile and a shake of his head. “The police might have crashed the party but he wasn't sent anywhere because I just saw him in history.”
She shrugs and begins to unwrap a dingdong.
I gesture to it and her diet coke. “Don't tell me that's your lunch.”
Melinda snorts. “Every day. Ding dongs are one of her staples.”
“Hypocrite!” Suzie retorts. “Like Doritos are any better?”
Melinda shrugs as she pops another chip into her mouth.
Michael is nursing a Coke. “What about you?” I ask. “Aren’t you eating?”
He lifts his Coke.
I laugh. “Oh, come on, am I the only one here who eats real food?”
When he shrugs, I push the paper plate with my second slice toward him. “Want it?”
He looks up sharply at me.
“It’s takeout from Oreganos.” His expression softens as I shove the plate a couple inches closer to him. “It’s good!” He still hesitates even though I can see he wants it. “Take it. Really, I'm full.”
Michael reaches out to snag the corner and pull the plate before him. Then he takes a cautious bite before he devours it zestfully lifting eyes to dart over me but not before I see they are full of curious surprise.
Tuesday, it’s the same, another walk through wonderland. I don't think it’s me. I mean, I really don't think I'm imagining it because it’s like everyone's attitude toward me has shifted. In class everyone has become more receptive. When I speak the other kids actually listen to what I’m saying and when I walk down the hall, kids who never even glanced at me before, turn to say hello. Even my teachers, whom I've always gotten along well with, seem more appreciative. It’s curious, very curious. I'm pretty sure it really is happening. Yeah, it is happening. My perceptions can't be that false…It really is happening…I'm becoming popular. My eyes flash wide as the thought takes me by surprise. Memory of the spell Anna and I worked tumble through my thoughts and I sag against my locker as Anna's words echo through my mind, “We all have the ability to control certain aspects of our lives, to manipulate the present and activate auspicious energy for our future. It is possible to create the life we each desire…” I frown as I think of how we’d nullified all the spells, or so I thought, I’d hoped, nullified them by transferring them to the poppet…Didn’t work? Or maybe it did, just not on spells cast by the one it was protecting? Or was this the result and it was being returned to me, the sender, by the power of three?
A pretty girl with short blond hair calls out, “Hi Rachel.” Her bright chirp pulls me from my thoughts and I wave back as she walks past but I really have no idea who she is. I don’t think she’s in any of my classes. I follow her with my eyes, Oh my god! Oh my god. It’s the spell! It has to be. The realization strikes through me and my eyes go wide, mouth falling open, eyes still on the girl now almost lost in the crowd. I’m paralyzed by the possibility until the girl at the locker next to mine bumps me as she turns to hug a brunette who gushes, “I just got the most gorgeous dress!”
“Seriously? I mean prom is still weeks away.”
Prom? The single word turns my mood sour and I turn away from the conversation and pull my locker open. I rummage for the right book but I can’t keep my thoughts from prom, something I'll probably never, ever, go to, and in truth, really don't want to. Because, heck, I don't dance and the only guy who'd probably ever consider going with me has vanished without even saying goodbye… I go gloomy with thoughts of Jared.
I’m trading books when a familiar voice sounds and I turn to spot Sean Waverly across the hall. I watch as he walks up to a group of guys. Brad Mosely greets him with a slap on his back. “Sean, my man! How goes it?” My thoughts go back to the day at the K when he’d asked me to go swimming, and even though I didn't go, I wonder if it counts as him asking me out. Never in a million years would I have ever even considered the thought of prom but now as I stand here watching him, I start to spin scenarios about what it might be like if he did ask me to go… I could get a spectacular dress and have my hair put up. Then he'd be there pinning a corsage on me as we climb into a rental car…
Siobhan Buchanan slinks up and slips her arms around Sean’s waist in a playful hug, crashing down my daydream. They exchange a few pleasantries before she continues on her way. As I watch her go, I begin to wonder what it would be like to be the one garnering his attentions. What would it be like to have the boy everyone wanted? I look at him and a hungry yearning fills my being. I let myself focus on him and then I intent… See meeeee…notice meeee…see meee. I hold my focus for a moment before I turn and close my locker.
I slip the lock into place, and when I turn back around, I am surprised to find Sean gazing at me from across the hall. His lips quirk into a secret grin and I just stare back as a stream of kids flow between us. The bell rings and I only blink, frozen until some of his friends push by to claim him. Hand on his shoulder, a thump on his back. Then together they turn and flow away with the crowd but I am still watching and I catch the long glance he sends back to me before they round the corner.
Later that afternoon, I pull up to the house. I grab the DVDs and lock my car. Mom is hosting tonight's event, but Anna has the night off and I'd picked up two movies on the way home hoping she might want to watch one with me. I find her sitting at the kitchen table reading, a cup of tea forgotten at her elbow.
“Whatcha reading?” I plop my backpack down beside her.
She only flashes me the cover as she continues to read. I see it is 'The Earth Path'. When she gets to the end of the page she sets it down.
“Is it any good?”
“It’s interesting. The author talks a lot about the importance of working with subtle energy to heal and use in magick.” She glances up at me. “I remember you once said you could see energy and feel it shifting. How do you do that?”
I shrug. “Um, I guess I just sort of tune in.”
“But how? How'd you learn to do it?”
“I think I always could sort of sense it and with practice I just got better.”
She cocks and eyebrow at me. “Think you could teach me?”
I shrug. “I could try.”
She brightens. “Ever since I heard about you, I've been hoping you'd teach me some of your secrets.” Her statement strikes me as odd but before I can comment she continues, “I've been reading about how purifying your body through a cleansing diet can sharpen your psychic senses and open doors you never even knew existed. Want to start one with me?”
I make a face. “Oh god, I hate dieting.”
“Well, it’s not really dieting per se, but more like changing the way you eat.”
I smirk. “Sounds like dieting.”
“You can still eat as much as you want. You just make wiser choices to eat better. You know, no sugar, alcohol or caffeine.”
“Ah.” I nod. “So you want to become a Mormon.”
She laughs. “Hey, as far as their diet restrictions go, they really are on to something.”
I decide, why not. “Okay, I'm in. I'll clean up my diet if you will.”
“Awesome! But let's start tomorrow 'cause tonight I'm having a horrible Chinese craving.”
I laugh and she turns her dark eyes to me. “So when's you're mom going to be home?”
I shrug. “Around eight or nine I guess.”
“Care if we order in?”
I'm glad she wants to stay in. A quiet evening was exactly what I was hoping for. “I know a place that does amazing lettuce wraps and eggrolls.”
“And maybe a movie?” I hand her the DVDs I'd rented.
We eat Chinese while we watch The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a sweet heartwarming movie about a couple who wants to adopt and the odd little kid who spontaneous shows up. While the movie is sweet, it makes me think about all of the strange things going on in my life lately and that night when we go to sleep I have the strangest dream.
I'm riding the escalator. It’s a dark and starry night and the escalator is chugging upward as it reaches to the sky. Then I'm somewhere else looking at the muscled back of brown-haired man as he kneels naked in a room lit with glowing candles all around. Long ugly scars mar his shoulders, remnants of some horrible accident. When he reaches forward to place his palms on the stone floor and bows to rest his forehead on the ground, I spot an intricately drawn sigil tattooed on his spine.
There is a flurry of wind at my back then I'm watching Sean Waverly and Michael Judson drinking beer in a darkened room while Jack White croons from the speaker of an Ipod dock. I think I hear Sean whisper my name before the room shifts to a park where I spot my neighbor Tom as he stands with a group of rough-looking homeless men. He hands each of them a brown paper bag. Then it’s as if Tom senses me watching because he suddenly turns and looks right at me, only now he doesn't really look like my old neighbor anymore, but a slim and shining, bright-eyed man. The wind flutters as white wings lift into the air to reveal a white envelope pressed with a golden seal... I'm reaching for the letter… when an obnoxious buzzing pulls me from the dream.
I open my eyes and slap the alarm off. Anna peeks at me with one eye open before she rolls over and goes back to sleep. I pull out my dream journal and make a new entry before I go shower.