2: First Kiss
These feelings aren’t sane, Jane thought, sitting down in a nearby chair. She had never felt so out of control or emotional in her entire life. She had always had a temper, but she had almost always managed to keep it to herself. It was as though all of her emotions had been heightened since the move to Lysander, and she felt almost instinctively that it had something to do with being in this town. The nightmares had become more frequent as well, more frightening and intense. There was something about this town, perhaps something – or someone – in it that was making this happen.
It seemed insane, completely irrational, perhaps even a little paranoid. But it was how she felt. She almost knew it, as though somewhere deep down inside herself she knew what was going on with her.
To feel such an innate daughterly connection to a woman she had just met was ridiculous, absurd. But then again, she had always felt as though the Parkers weren’t her real family. It could be their overall neglect, even from Todd, to whom she was closer to than anyone else, that made her feel that way.
But those nightmares with that pitiful, frightening man who was so familiar, the way her mother and father looked at her – almost as if they were afraid of her – how they treated her differently from Todd and Melody… It all seemed to add up to something going on. Maybe her parents were hiding something, maybe…
No, Jane thought. It’s my imagination, that’s all. There are no dark shadows lurking in corners for me, no boogeymen under my bed. There are no conspiracies, no secrets and lies, no hidden truths waiting to be revealed. The Parkers are my family and no amount of wishing things were different will change anything. I’m ‘Plain Jane’ Parker, and I always will be.
With that settled in her mind, Jane slunk lower in her seat, determined to flush out the rest of her feelings and understand them before she made one step toward a classroom door, even if that meant ditching her entire first day’s classes.
She didn’t like Masters, and although her reasons for it were more than a little unfair and prejudiced, she had a feeling that her scorn was well deserved. He seemed vain, arrogant, prideful, inhumanly attractive- Not that she was thinking about that; it had nothing to do with anything. Well, she supposed that it might have some small part in her dislike. In her experience, nothing good ever came of beauty. Her sister was beautiful. She was also trampy, selfish, and rebellious.
At her old school there had been many beautiful people. Not one of them ever turned out to be a decent human being. They all tended toward backstabbing, lying, deceit, cruelty, maliciousness, and many other terrible things. It had taught her to be wary of the beautiful and glamorous.
Yet for a moment, Lilith – one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen – had seemed different; less glamorous and more human, more kind and gentle. But in the end she had turned out to be another one of the Zealot Conformers, as Jane had come to call them: people who made charity cases out of poor lost souls like Jane who had no sense of fashion, poor creatures who cared more about grades than looks. She had dealt with people like Lilith her whole life, people who wanted to change her, turn her into another person – and set her up with some brainless piece of muscle or another.
Perhaps she was being unfair though. Maybe it had nothing to do with her, but something to do with Masters. Maybe Lilith was just trying to get him a girlfriend with a few brain cells that hadn’t been damaged by hair bleach, and no intelligent girl wanted to go out with him because he was so horrible. Yeah, Jane rather liked that idea. Lilith pitied Masters, not her. It made sense in a strange way, though Lilith must have been obscenely desperate to even think of her as a possibility. She wasn’t the smartest person in school, though as she was the newest she would be less likely to realize just how horrible he was. Perhaps she should give Lilith the chance to explain everything herself. It only seemed fair, especially after that weird moment they’d had.
Jane smiled and sat back in her chair with a supreme sense of satisfaction. This was exactly why she didn’t try to do any form of schoolwork while she was confused and upset. Things were always better if she just muddled through them from the first and then took care of everything else.
There were also less chances of failing her classes that way.
Jane felt a slight breeze against her face, which was odd as no windows were open. Something in the atmosphere had changed. The quiet hum of whispering students had ceased into dead silence. Something in Jane’s stomach tightened instinctively, and she could almost feel a stronger presence in the library, something more confident and self-assured. She felt that presence getting closer and closer to her with every passing second, and, though she felt uncomfortable, she wasn’t afraid. There was no malice in this presence – only an obscene amount of arrogance.
She was looking directly at Lukan Masters when he turned the corner, almost as though her eyes had instinctively sought him out as that same presence. And he really was a presence in and of himself. She could feel his energy radiating off of him, that arrogant, vain energy that seemingly infused the very air she breathed.
It made her feel rather nauseous actually.
He smiled when he saw her, one eyebrow lifting as he eyed her in his predatory way. He began walking toward her – though ‘strutting’ would be a more appropriate word for it. Every movement seemed more graceful than that of a lion, more vain than that of a peacock.
“Hello,” he said, leaning up against her table, drawing out the word.
He seemed so sure of his charm, of his ability to make her weak-kneed. It sickened her.
“Can I help you with something?” Jane asked, leaning back in her chair and staring him unblinkingly in the eye.
Her lack of a starry-eyed expression seemed to surprise him for a moment, though he soon recovered. He began to seem rather intrigued now.
He lifted her backpack to her eye level, and she felt embarrassed that she hadn’t noticed him carrying it before. She could feel the blush spread on her cheeks and wished fervently that she wasn’t so pale.
“You left this behind in Lilith’s office when you… left,” Masters said, feigning delicacy. “I merely wished to return it to you.”
“Thank you,” Jane said tartly, quickly taking her backpack from him.
She was taken aback when he deliberately brushed his fingers across hers, and she cursed her pale face again as her blush deepened.
“You’re very welcome,” Masters said smoothly, leaning back a little, gleam of triumph glittering in his eyes.
For a long moment Jane waited for him to leave, avoiding his gaze as best as she could. He didn’t go however, and she soon began to feel even more uncomfortable than she had before, especially as he seemed to be looking her over more carefully than anyone had in a very long time.
“Is there anything else?” Jane asked with forced politeness.
“Oh, nothing in particular. I simply thought that, as we both seem to be in favor of remaining absent from class for the time being, we might get better acquainted with one another. What do you think? Shall we make the attempt?” he said, oozing charm, his gaze unblinking.
Jane scoffed, grabbing her backpack and rising from her seat.
“I think that you’ve been reading a little too much Jane Austen for a straight guy your age,” Jane said in amusement.
She walked away, noticing a frown form on his lips as she turned from him.
He, however, didn’t seem quite ready to let her go.
“Perhaps I have been,” Masters said, dropping the pretext of politeness and easily catching up to her. “Perhaps I read many things that people your age have no appreciation for.”
Jane whirled around and faced him then, bewilderment and disgust clearly written on her face.
“’People my age?’ Could you be more conceited, more stuck-up if you tried? Just out of curiosity, is it hard for you to breathe when it rains with your nose so high up in the air? To be honest, I’m surprised you haven’t drowned! Then again, you probably keep a parasol handy for times like that, don’t you? You are unbelievable. Every word out of your mouth is condescending! And yet you’re still arrogant enough to think that I’ll give you the time of day, let alone actually become – what was it you said? Oh, yes – ‘better acquainted’ with you? Well, take a hint, buddy: go away. Do not bother me. Do not talk to me. You know what, don’t even look at me! I want nothing to do with you.”
Jane’s last exasperated words rang out through the library, not that they hadn’t already attracted attention. Everyone in the library was whispering, staring and pointing at them in the most obvious way.
Yet Masters seemed oblivious. He just stared at Jane, his expression soft and all traces of emotion gone. He seemed entranced. Jane was just about to make a whiplash comment when his hands cupped her face and his lips pressed softly against hers.
For a moment she was unaware of what was happening. For one blissful moment she just felt, no thoughts of time or anyone else intruding on her.
And then it hit her. Lukan Masters was kissing her.
She shoved him away, only vaguely aware of the catcalls and gasps from other students. Without giving much thought to it, she slapped him hard across his right cheek. The crack of flesh hitting flesh sounded, and for a long moment no other sound could be heard. No one even really dared to breathe.
Jane felt a tangling in her gut, a severe knot there that wouldn’t go away. She felt a growing horror as she saw a red mark slowly appear on his face where she had hit him.
The slap seemed to have awakened Masters from his trance-like state. He glanced around them, and then side-stepped her without sparing her a glance, walking out of the library. All who were in his way moved very quickly.
It was only as Jane stared back at where he had exited the library that it occurred to her that she had just had her first kiss.
Jane grabbed her books and ran out of the Algebra II classroom door, only barely waiting until the bell rang to make her escape. She couldn’t take another minute of it. It was worse than it was at her other school. They hadn’t been so hatefully cruel, so utterly malicious back in Chicago.
Yes, they had teased her, but there was no real ill will in it. She hadn’t ever thought she would miss that teasing, those words she had seen as so harsh then. But now she did. She would trade places with any one of the kids she went to school with in Chicago, and been grateful for it.
She headed for the bathroom, feeling sick. She pushed past some of the girls who had been cruel to her – Deirdre Kirkpatrick, Alyssa Addison and Christy MacDonald, she remembered briefly.
She ignored their laughs at her agitated state, yanking open the door to the girls’ bathroom. She paid no attention to the three other girls in there. She dropped her books on the floor and dashed into the first vacant stall she saw, dropping to her knees and emptying the contents of her stomach, retching over and over again. Jane was vaguely aware that someone was holding her hair out of her face but she wasn’t mentally capable of thinking about that at the moment.
When there was nothing left in her stomach she sat back on her feet, shaking from the toll taken on her body, allowing the person who had held her hair to rub her back soothingly and whisper words of comfort to her. She had taken the clip out of her hair long ago when she’d started to get a headache. Besides, her hair helped hide her face.
“Are you okay?” Jane heard from behind her.
She managed to gather enough strength to glance behind her to see who was talking. It was the young Asian woman she had seen in the picture hanging on Principal Kingsley’s wall, dressed in sunny yellow and white. There were two other girls behind her, one a tall blonde, the other with rusty-red hair and a crown of white lilies on her head, also from the pictures.
Flushing with embarrassment, Jane pushed herself up off the floor, her humiliation complete when the girl helped her up.
“I’m fine,” Jane said hoarsely.
The tall blonde scoffed.
“Yeah, we can see that,” she said sarcastically.
“Tracy,” the Asian girl said warningly to the blonde, who simply glared back at her.
“They’ve been unkind to you,” the redhead said to Jane in a sad, far-off voice, her expression vague and dreamy.
Tears misted in Jane’s eyes, clouding her vision. She slowly nodded her head, hating herself for being weak, for letting what those idiots in class had said to her earlier effect her. She hated herself even more for noticing that Masters hadn’t even blinked at the way they treated her, let alone did anything about it. She began to sob then, choked, heartbroken sobs that she felt utterly ashamed of.
“Aw,” the Asian girl said sympathetically, taking a step forward and embracing Jane. “Oh my word, you poor, sweet thing!”
“Wow,” the blonde said less sarcastically. “You really are upset, aren’t you?”
“Her aura is full of pain,” the redhead added sagely.
At that, the whole group of girls looked at the redhead silently before bursting into laughter. Even Jane managed to laugh through a choked sob.
“Come on,” Tracy said finally after the laughing had subsided. “It’s about time for lunch and I think the new girl could use a little backup with the bubble-headed miniskirts and jockstraps.”
“Oh my word!” the Asian girl cried jubilantly, making the other girls wince. “You can sit at our table!”
“No, Sofiya,” Tracy said snidely. “I was going to make her sit under the table.”
Sofiya stuck her tongue out at her companion childishly before turning back to Jane and dragging her out of the stall, heading for the door.
“Hold it!” Tracy said, making Sofiya stop dead in her tracks.
“What?” Sofiya said sharply.
“You can’t honestly expect her to go out there looking like that, can you?” Tracy asked coldly. “A blind man can tell that she’s been crying and someone without nostrils could tell she’s thrown up. I refuse to be seen with her until she’s at least halfway decent, though I suppose with those clothes that may even be a bit too much to ask.”
“Tracy!” Sofiya shrieked in shock, her voice hitting a note that most dogs can’t even hear. “That’s a terrible thing to say!”
“Well, excuse me for being honest,” Tracy said with an offended sniff. “Now, have you got anything in that purse of yours to help clean her up or are you going to play the shocked Mother Theresa for a bit longer?”
The Asian girl pouted but began to dig through her large yellow purse quickly. She pulled out a fresh toothbrush still in the package, toothpaste, a comb, several hair pins, and countless other things while Jane looked on in shock.
“Have you got a McDonald’s in there too?” Jane asked in disbelief.
Sofiya rolled her eyes, not even bothering to look at Jane as she continued to pull things out of her giant yellow purse.
“I might,” Moonbeam said, drawing the attention of the other three girls.
The red-head pulled out a small white coin purse embellished with green embossed leaves, and she began to sift through the contents in earnest, making small jingling noises as she searched for a McDonald’s.
Jane looked at Sofiya who simply shrugged and went back to digging through her bag. Tracy rolled her eyes, her arms folding over her ample chest as she leaned against the counter.
“That ought to keep her busy for hours,” she said, gesturing to the redhead still digging through her coin purse. “Things like that usually do.”
Jane looked at the girls surrounding her and began to wonder what she’d gotten herself into. She put the brake pedals on in her brain and thought, Uh, hell no!
“Look, it’s nothing personal, but I’d rather not sit with you guys,” Jane said. “I’m kinda a loner and I actually like it that way, but thanks a lot. I really appreciate you being so nice. Besides, I’m an outcast. I wouldn’t want it to rub off on you.”
The three girls looked up at Jane then exchanged looks. The Asian girl spoke first.
“Are you sure you don’t want to sit with us?” the girl said softly, looking a little hurt. “We really don’t mind.”
“Naw, but thanks,” Jane said with a forced smile. “Though if it’s okay, I’d still like to brush my teeth.”
“Oh my word, of course you can!” the Asian girl said exasperatedly. “What do you think we are, monsters?”
“No,” Jane said, her smile becoming genuine at the girl’s dramatic response. “Just teenage girls.”
“Well, I’ve also got some Kleenex and some ibuprofen if you’ve got a headache,” the Asian girl said. “My name’s Sofiya, by the way.”
Jane held her hand out but Sofiya went for the kill – a hug. Jane stood there uncomfortably with Sofiya’s arms around her for a long moment, patting Sofiya’s back as the strange girl hugged her.
“Sofiya,” Tracy said with a sigh. “I think you can let go now.”
“But she needs a hug!” Sofiya cried in protest, holding on tighter, as if she was afraid that Tracy would try to pry her off of Jane – which she did.
“Come on, Sofe, let go,” Tracy said, pulling her friend off of Jane.
“Fine!” Sofiya said in a huff. She then turned back to Jane. “Are you feeling any better?”
“Yeah, thanks, quite a bit,” Jane said.
Sofiya handed her the things as Tracy headed for the door, the redhead following but still digging through her coin purse. Sofiya looked at Jane with sad brown eyes just before she pulled Jane in for another quick hug.
“Are you sure you don’t want to sit with us?” Sofiya asked, pulling back.
For a moment, Jane hesitated to answer. Could she? Should she? No. But did she even want to? Sadly, yes. Jane longed to sit with the sweet and caring Sofiya who had been so kind to her, despite the fact that she was considered a freak of nature by the rest of the school.
“No, but thanks,” she finally said.
“Okay,” Sofiya said. “We’ll see you later.”
I doubt it, Jane thought a little bitterly. You’ll probably forget about me by lunch time.
“Bye,” Jane said as the three girls left.
Jane sighed and popped open the toothbrush that Sofiya had given her and started working on making herself presentable.
She quickly regretted not saying yes.