I ran faster than I ever thought I possibly could, constantly on the verge of unconsciousness, but the fear of what might happen, if I succumbed, kept me going even though my heart was on fire. I glanced briefly behind me, long enough to see the approaching figure’s, they looked menacing drenched in the shadows and were gaining on me quickly, I increased my pace, wading through the dark deciduous trees, with only moonlight to guide me.
Fear was my only companion as I struggled not to faint out of exhaustion, but I knew I couldn’t run forever, already I could feel their unrelenting hands behind me, grasping, clutching, pulling me back, I screamed as the darkness consumed me.
I woke up, my heart pounding, a stream of sweat, pouring through my clothes, another nightmare I thought, as I tried to calm my breathing. My mother appeared in front of me, startling me at first, but even in the dim light, I still recognized the concern on her face. I realized then I’d screamed out loud and had woken her like I’d done on so many nights. Before I can even say a word, she was already at my side, wrapping her arms around me.
“It’s alright Jessica,” she consoled, resting my head against her chest.
“I’m here, it was just a dream.” She held me until my heart rate normalized, till the panic in me was gone, I don’t know how long it took, till I finally had the courage to pull out.
“Thanks, mom.” I told her meaning every word of it.
“You’re welcome sweetheart and you know I’m always here for you.” She reminded.
“I know.” I assured her. She exhaled, getting up from the bed.
“You shouldn’t go tomorrow if you don’t want to.”
“No, I’ll go.” I had to get it over with, sooner or later.
“Okay, and you’re sure you don’t want me to stay with you tonight.” She offered, knowing I would refuse.
“It’s okay mom, you can go. I’ll be fine.” I told her, hoping I sounded better than I felt. She threw me one more concerned look and hesitantly left the room.
In her absence, the room suddenly felt larger and emptier. I rested my head back on the pillow, tears already welling up in my eyes, tears I’d been holding back from the moment she’d entered the room. I had been strong for her, but now that I was alone, I couldn’t keep my emotions at bay.
I was too afraid to sleep for fear that the nightmare would return, I knew this would end up being one of those long unbearable nights, I’ve had since I was eight years old. Sometimes my nightmares were so bad they would leave me trembling till dawn. I had to think of something else to take my mind of the nightmare, so I thought of the new school I’d be attending tomorrow, and it filled me with enough dread to take my mind of the dream, even if only a little. To say I wasn’t social would be a huge understatement. When I turned eight and the nightmares started out of nowhere, I became withdrawn and depressed, one particular episode left me speechless for days. It had gotten so bad, my parents made me see a therapist, and when that didn’t help, I saw another one and another one, until finally, they gave up. We’ve been moving from place to place since then, never staying at a place for more than two years, mostly because my mom got a job as a real estate developer, and I think in part because of me, my father was almost never at home anymore, so the constant move didn’t bother him.
I would turn seventeen this year and still I had no friend’s or social life, not because we moved a lot, but because it was hard for me to socialize with people, at least that’s what I learned from my therapists. The only friend I did have was my mother, and that didn’t count, nobody understood me and nobody ever would.
I stared at the ceiling, letting the sound of the lightning storm outside drown out the thoughts in my head, for now I wouldn’t sleep, because if I don’t sleep, I can’t dream, and the nightmare would not return.
The alarm by my bed rang, I stared at it, seven o’clock, the sun’s rays already passing through my window. I entered the bathroom in my room, brushed, showered, and combed my hair, in that order. It was getting harder to recognize myself in the mirror, with every passing day. Today the girl staring at me had huge dark circles under her eyes, and dark brown hair. I wondered what I would look like tomorrow, as my insomnia progressed.
The smell of pancakes greeted me as I opened my room door, that and humming. My mother always hummed when she made pancakes. I always wondered how she could remain so cheerful, when she was basically living next to a dementor like me. I put on a fake smile for her as I climbed downstairs, I do that often.
“Hey honey, I made your favorite.” She sang as she saw me, placing the pancakes on the counter top, I sat on a stool next to it.
“Thanks mom, it’s just what I wanted.” And it really was, after breakfast, my mother offered to drive me to my new school, but I refused. The directions were really simple, but most of all I didn’t want her to be there if I broke down. I could tell she was still concerned, so I said.
“It’ll give me a great chance to try out the car dad sent me.” Her expression relaxed.
“Have a great day.” She encouraged, throwing one of her contagious smiles at me, but I don’t smile.
“I will.” I replied, my first lie of the day.
Forty minutes later, I’m at the front of the school building, in the purple Honda convertible, my dad had gotten me, he made wildlife documentaries and expensive gifts were his own way of trying to make up for never being home.
Greenhill high was probably just like any other small town high school, you would’ve found in New England and in reality there were probably no more than sixty students in the court yard, but to me, it might as well have been six hundred. I hated being the new kid, in all my previous schools; I’d been the social outcast, the relatively pretty, but weird girl at the bottom of the social heap, the girl that everyone avoided. The opinions of my peers had never mattered much to me, I just didn’t like being constantly watched, which was what I was pretty sure would happen, when I entered that school.
I pulled the car into the parking lot, and killed the engine. I sucked in a gulp of air, building up nerves. I needed to get past the new girl stage, and that would only happen, once I actually started school.
I stepped out of the car, walking quickly past the yard. I was in the hallway, still darting past people, when a running student almost slammed into me, but I sidestepped him, instead bumping into someone else, spilling what looked like hot coffee over the persons clothes, the girl shrieked in pain, staring at me with hate filled eyes.
“I’m so sorry.” I apologized, trying to salvage the situation.
“Watch where you’re going bitch.” She screamed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.” The hall went silent, as the students watched us, this was exactly what I was trying to avoid, a scene.
“Look at what you did!” She screamed again, I brought my gaze to the coffee stain on her white dress. I didn’t know what to say, it was obvious she didn’t want an apology, everyone in the hallway was watching me, waiting for my reaction. I felt my cheeks turning red and I did the only thing that came to mind, I ran, at first not really knowing where to go, but then I saw the sign for the girls bathroom and I entered. I got into one of the stalls, seating on the toilet cover. I had to keep it together, I would not break down on my first day of school, now more than ever, I wanted to get into my car and drive home. I heard the bathroom door swing open, footsteps approaching my stall, someone knocked on my stall door.
“Occupied." I said out loud.
“Are you ok?” A female voice inquired.
“Just leave me alone.” The last thing I needed was a spectator.
“Don’t let what Diana said get to you, she’s a total bitch, everyone in the school knows that.” I turned silent, I hadn’t expected sympathy from a stranger.
“Well I understand you want to be alone, so later.” I heard more footsteps and the sound of the door shutting close. I came out from the stall, taking slow steady breaths, as I washed my hands and face at the sink. I walked out the bathroom feeling only marginally better.
My first class for the day was biology, and I was already ten minutes late. The teacher was already at the board when I walked in. My eyes roamed the class, I saw Diana, the girl I’d spilled coffee on, she’d apparently found a top to cover the coffee stain. She sneered at me as I sat down, at the only empty seat in the class, I could still feel her hateful gaze burning at my back.
“Eh-hem,” The teacher said, breaking the silence my presence had caused.
“Welcome to our class,” he directed at me.
“Stacy, it’s nice to see that you now have a new lab partner.” The red haired girl sitting next to me waved.
“It’s nice to meet you.” The girl said that voice, I’d heard it before.
“Especially when you’re not in the bathroom.” She whispered.
“Wait, you’re the girl in the_.”
“Okay that’s enough. You can both get acquainted later.” The teacher stated, continuing with his lecture. When class was over, Stacy and I walked out together.
“So you were the girl outside my stall?”
“Yes and you’re the girl, who spilled coffee on Diana, on her first day of school.”
“That’s not really a good thing, is it?” I asked, truly curious.
“Sure it is. It made me feel good.” She replied, a smile appearing on her face.
“I take it, you don’t like her much.” I interpreted.
“Don’t like her much, is an understatement. She’s my arch nemesis.” Stacy corrected, her green eyes darkening a bit.
“Okay, so anyway thanks.” I told her.
“Anytime......uh,” She motioned with her hand.
“Jessica, my names Jessica.” I informed her.
“Right, anytime Jessica.” She said, then graceful walked away, and I moved onto my next class. I didn’t see Stacy again till lunch period, when I entered the school cafeteria, my eyes roaming for a place to sit. I spotted an empty table and I was walking towards it when I saw her frantically waving me over. So Instead I took my lunch tray over to her table. She was seated with two other girls dressed in cheerleading uniforms, whom she introduced as Claire and Brittany.
“Hi, my name’s Jessica.” I told them and they both laughed, they must have noticed the change in my demeanor, because Stacy quickly said.
“They’re not laughing at you.”
“No, we’re not.” The black girl Stacy introduced as Claire agreed.
“I was just telling them about the whole coffee incident.” Stacy clarified.
“Seriously, you guys should have seen her face.” Stacy continued, and they all started laughing again.
“You’re something of a hero now.” The other girl, Britney informed me.
“A hero?” I repeated, puzzled.
“Just for spilling coffee on someone by accident?”
“No,” Stacy stressed, wriggling her index finger in front of my face.
“For spilling coffee, on a stuck up bitch, that’s had it coming for years.” She corrected.
“The accident part. Doesn’t really matter.” She smiled.
“Okay, whatever.” I told her.
“So where are you from Jessica?” Claire asked, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was asked that question.
“I’m from Ohio.”
“Are you on the cheerleading team too?” I asked Stacy, not wanting to divulge more about my past.
“I was, but due to some irreconcilable differences, I left.” She explained, taking a hard bite at her apple.
“It’s because of Diana.” Claire informed me.
“And speaking about Diana, you won’t be believed what she had us do yesterday....” At this point I zoned out from their entire conversation, focusing instead on eating my lunch.
The cafeteria door swung open and a boy stepped through, and normally I wouldn’t notice or care, but this time I found I couldn’t look away, he was breathtakingly handsome, that much I noticed right away, but it was beyond his looks, there was just something different about him that I couldn’t explain. I continued to watch him, as he walked over to the only empty table in the cafeteria, the one I almost sat on.
“Jessica.” I heard Stacy call, jarring me from my trance.
“Stop staring.” She said to me, trying not to snicker like the other girls, I felt the blood rushing to my cheeks.
“Who is that guy?” I found myself asking her.
“That’s Jake stone, creepy, but totally hot, he doesn’t talk to anyone, I haven’t even heard him speak.” She divulged.
My head swung back to look at him, I watched as he picked pieces of food from his tray with a fork, inserting it slowly into his mouth, like lifting the fork was somehow laborious task. I traced the outline of his jaw as he chewed, his eyes seemingly fixed on nothing but his tray. I averted my gaze, realizing I was staring again, the girls all looked at me with a knowing smile, Stacy shook her head, and I ignored them all continuing with my food.
I didn’t see Jake stone for the rest of the day, but his features still remained fresh in my memory.
When I got home after school, my mom was in the living room, watching TV, she smiled when she saw me approach, getting up from the couch to hug me, like I’d done some brave thing.
“How was your day?” She asked, smiling expectantly. I thought of telling her about Diana and the whole coffee incident, but thought better of it, the last thing I wanted was for her to worry unnecessarily, so instead I told her.
“It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected.” Which wasn’t technically a lie?
“See I told you, nothing to worry about, you is going to love it here.” she proclaimed enthusiastically. I kept silent, not wanting to crush her hopes. I left her at the living room, choosing instead to crash in my room. My mother was always wildly optimistic about any place we moved to, always declaring that it would be a right fit for us, and by us she meant me. My depression and reclusiveness had affected everyone in my family differently, for my dad it had made him withdrawn, increasing the length of his absences, and for my mother, well, she just thought, if she couldn’t change my emotions. She could at least give me a better environment to deal with them in. The only good news is that I had gotten through the first day of school with only mild drama, and I was at least one day down the road of not being new girl. I prayed the coming days would be kinder.
Later that week, I’m on my bed doing homework, when my cell phone chimed, the display screen showed it was Stacy, we’d traded numbers earlier, being lab partners and all, but since we didn’t have any projects this week, I was a bit curious as to why she was calling, I picked up the phone, touching the receive button.
“Hi, Jessica its Stacy.” Stacy’s high pitched voice responded.
“I know” I told her.
“Why are you calling me?”
“Well...” She dragged.
“Well there’s this party...” Oh no, she wasn’t just about to ask, what I thought she was about ask.
“And I was thinking you could go with me.” She was.
“I can’t.” I answered immediately.
“Please Jessica, I know we just met, but I can’t go alone.” She pleaded.
“Why don’t you just go with Claire or Britney?” or basically any other person in the school.
“They all had plans tonight.”
“Plans?” I repeated
“Yeah plans, Claire’s going on this dinner with her parents and Britney_”
“Okay, I get you, plans.”
“So is that a yes?”
“I don’t know Stacy.” It wasn’t.
“Fine, if you don’t want to go, I won’t force you, I guess I’ll try going it alone, I mean we did just meet, what was I thinking.” I knew she was guilt tripping me, and sadly it was working, I mean, she was the only one who aided me on my first day, and thanks to her, my transition out of new girl status would arrive quicker, so I at least owed her one, so reluctantly I told her.
“I’ll come with you.”
“Really?” She replied, I could tell she was smiling at the other end.
“Thank you so much!” She screamed so loudly, I had to pull the phone away from my ear. And when I was sure she was done, I place it back on.
“So when are you picking me up?” I requested.
“Actually my cars kinda totaled, so you’re picking me up” I knew there had to be some kind of catch.
“Stacy_” I started to protest, but she quickly said.
“I’ll send you my address and you can pick me up at six, bye.” She hung up, I banged my head with the phone, what had I just agreed to do. I seriously considered not going, but at the last moment, I found myself in my car already driving to her house.
Stacy’s address was easy enough to find with the map on my phone, the houses on her street all looked identical, the only distinguishing feature, being the color they were painted. Stacy’s house had a pale yellow hue, I’m about to call her, when the door to her house opens, and I spot her running towards my car, she opened the passenger door, and got in.
“Drive, NOW!” She said, her eyes wide with urgency, I started the engine immediately, and we drove off.
“What was that about?” I asked her, when we’re at what I considered an appropriate distance. I risked a glance at her, noticing the dark sparkly dress she was wearing.
“My parents can’t see me leave.” She replied more calmly, checking her stunning reflection in the side mirror.
“Great." I muttered, through gritted teeth, not only was I accompanying her to a party, but apparently I was also aiding and abetting a Friday night escape.
“Thanks for picking me up.” She said appreciatively.
“Just where is this party?” I asked her, trying not to let my irritation bubble to the surface. She smiled brightly, and then began spouting directions as I drove.
It took us about thirty minutes to reach the place where the party was being held, and another five minutes to find a spot to park, amidst all the cars that lined either sides of the street.
“This is it.” Stacy said, as we both exited the car, walking towards the sound of music, I could see tons of people at the party, a lot of them dancing on the front yard, others entering inside the really large house, and almost everyone I’d seen so far, had a red plastic cup in their hand. I stuck close to Stacy, not wanting to get lost in the sea of bodies.
“So what do you think?” Stacy shouted, over the head pounding music as we entered the yard.
“It’s okay.” I shouted back, though my knowledge of parties limited only to birthdays I’d gone to as a kid, but I didn’t feel like sharing all of my knowledge gaps with her.
I followed her as she made her way towards the house, the music being only a few decibels lower inside, but offering great relief to my already aching ears, as we walked through the large house, a lot of people waved and others smiled as they saw Stacy, and it was like that, everywhere we went to, she was like a magnet for attention and she handled it well, I watched in fascination, as she received and tossed compliments, even joining in on a few conversations, all this while partially drunk. I knew I would have folded under the weight of the attention she got, but that didn’t seem like a likely problem, since I was virtually invisible to the people she talked to, she and I were at such contrast. She was an open flame, and I a stick of candle, I didn’t belong in her world. I moved away from her and her current audience, though not too far, I still didn’t want to get lost. I stood next to a table lined with drinks, subconsciously moving my feet and head to rhythm of the music being played.
“Are you dancing or having an epileptic seizure.” a male voice said behind me, I turn, facing a boy with bright blue eyes and blonde curly hair, he threw an unapologetic smile at me.
“Neither." I answered, a little angry.
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to come across as a total douche bag.” He apologized, stepping closer.
“You didn’t, well, not a TOTAL, douche bag anyway.”
“Thanks.” He replied sarcastically with a smile.
“I’m Mark by the way.” He offered.
“I already know who you are,”
“You spilled coffee on Diana.” Was that what I would forever be known as, Mark noticed my mood swing and said.
“I don’t mean to offend you, it’s just that. I was right next to you, when she was yelling. I’m new too and I definitely would’ve cried on the spot.” I smiled, picturing him crying next to Diana.
“You do look like a crier.” I joked.
“I am, I’ll see you around Jessica.” He said, walking away, just as Stacy approached me.
“Who was the hottie?” She inquired.
“Can we leave, now?” I asked before she could question me further.
“No, it’s still early.” She replied defensively, as she grabbed my arm, leading me out the back of the house. She stopped next to a swimming pool, and yet another table filled with drinks.
“If you’re bored then do something.” She instructed, plucking a cup from the table and dumping the contents in her mouth. I looked at the cup in her hand and said.
“I’m not drinking.” The only alcohol, I ever had was wine, and only at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner’s.
“I wasn’t offering you a drink, you’re my sober cab for Christ sake, and I was talking about dancing or even swimming.” My gaze shifted to the pool beside us, people were indeed in the pool, although most of them were in pairs kissing.
“I’m not swimming.”
“And I’m not asking you to, just give me ten more minutes.” She pleaded.
“Whose party is this anyway?” I asked her, the thought only just occurring to me.
“Em...” She said, taking long slow sips from her cup, she was trying to avoid the question, never a good sign.
“Whose party is this Stacy?” I asked again, more firmly this time.
“Don’t freak out okay.” She instructed, which only made me more likely to freak out.
“But it’s Diana’s.” She cringed, waiting for my response. I felt my hands curling into fists.
“Why would you bring me then?” I asked angrily.
“It’s not invite only, it’s basically for the whole school, besides it’s a big house, you won’t even see her.”
“You know how she feels about me, what if Diana..”
“What if Diana does what?” I recognized the voice instantly, Diana. I turned slowly to face the evil pretty brunette, she wore a bikini and was surrounded by a bunch of other girls all wearing bikinis too.
“Well speak of the devil.” Stacy said taking a courageous step forward. Diana smiled smugly.
“Didn’t anybody tell you guys this was the pool area. Well I don’t blame you anyway, I see both of you with clothes on, and I don’t even want to imagine what you look like without it.” Diana and her posy all laughed at that one, Stacy tried to grab her but I held her back.
“It’s not worth it.” I advised
“What, you’re being controlled by your little pet now?” I tensed, trying to control the anger that was rising in me. I wanted so badly to hit the smug smile off her face.
“Common Stacy, I expected this kind of behavior from the reject.” Diana’s glare moved to me.
“But I expected more from you.” She paused as if contemplating her earlier statement, then said.
“Okay, no I don’t.” That did it, I let Stacy go.
“Do whatever you want.” I encouraged, Stacy smiled viciously, the smug look already melting of Diana’s face. Stacy poured the remaining content of her cup on Diana, making her squeal, and before she could get over the initial shock, Stacy pushed her into the pool. Stacy was absolutely fierce, none of the other girls dared to come closer.
“Now we can go.” Stacy announced, a smile firmly printed on her face. I took one last look at Diana, as she tried to get out of the pool, but slipped falling back in, her curses drowned by the music. Stacy and I laughed all the way into the car.
“So was that party awesome or what?” She asked.
“It had its moments.” I confessed, and we both laughed, tears were coming out Stacy eyes when she said.
“You know what Jessica, you’re not so bad.”
“Neither are you.” I admitted, maybe we were complete opposites, but if she were an open flame, then I had to be a fire resistant candle, and I don’t care how stupid that sounded.
I woke up sweating and panting, my heart pounding against my chest like an enraged animal trapped in a cage, in the darkness, my room felt larger, almost infinite, further fueling my fear, I had to calm myself, I groped for the lamp at the side of my bed, turning it on, Its glow was blinding, but I stared at it unblinkingly, hoping the light would chase away the demons in my head, it doesn’t, and against my best efforts scenes from the nightmare kept replaying itself in my head, being chased by the creatures that permanently haunted my dreams as the world burned around me. The fact that my mother wasn’t currently in my room, meant I hadn’t screamed like before. Most of the original terror had now rescinded, but I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping this night.