Raleigh (Chapter 1)
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m even human.
My name is Raleigh. I’m seventeen and I go to Woodbridge High School (regretfully). Lexi didn’t have enough money to send me to a magnet school, which appalled most of my teachers. I guess they suspected it was obvious that I’d be going.
I walked begrudgingly to school, pausing every now and then to glance at a flower. I kicked the rocks that had been laying in my path onto the road, scowling. The air was thick with humidity, the rain slowly seeping into the cracks of the pavement. The sky was blue, the sun smiling brightly on my head, burning my scalp. Cars zipped past me on the road, kids running on the other side of the block. I felt like yelling at them, which made me even more aggravated.
For the past few days, I had been feeling antsy. On edge. Like something is going to happen to me. It was as if I turned my back for a moment and returned with a knife at my throat.
My stomach’s been tickling a lot lately. And not like-I have to go to the toilet tickling. It was the kind of tickling you got whenever you had a good grade on your essay, or you got asked out on a date. Sure, I got good grades, but I had been so used to them I hardly got a jumpy feeling anymore. As for boys-hah! Forget it! I was a match for nobody.
I decided I’d tell Mrs. Cortes today about how I had been feeling. She was the only person who really listened to me, much more than the counselor ever did.
Mrs. Cortes is the principal of Woodbridge High. She’s actually pretty young, which was why I was surprised when I found out she was married. She was the one who gave Logan and me the push to become friends.
Logan and Mrs. Cortes are the only two people in Woodbridge High that I can trust. I don’t know why either. I had no reason to trust them, to tell them everything I had, yet I still did.
Logan is a good year older than me even though she’d be graduating with me this year. She has dark black hair, like I do, except she has hers in a short style, like a boy. She has this very pale complexion and is always wearing dark clothing, no matter what it is. I guess she’s goth? Her boyfriend, Drew, is the complete opposite of her. Drew and Logan have been dating since freshman year, and according to Logan, it was love at first sight.
I had always been the third wheel to them when they were together, which was fine with me, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. The painful, pang in my chest only seemed to increase when Drew and Logan announced that they were to be married after High school. I didn’t exactly support that, but what else could I do?
I brushed those dark feelings away. I should be happy for them, I kept thinking. I should be proud of Logan for finding happiness, yet I couldn’t help but feel like a void was being created deep down in my chest. Like a part of me was missing, was taken, and chipped away.
“Good morning Raleigh,” a lively, early morning person chirped. I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and waved at the figure leaning on the brick wall.
Mrs. Cortes was always early and always at school, no matter the day. She had dark blonde hair and sharp yellow eyes, maybe almost golden. When I asked her once, she’d vaguely said something about an eye implant? I decided not to ask again.
“Morning Mrs. Cortes.” I yawned. “Still early?” Mrs. Cortes smiled apologetically at me and nodded. I groaned and threw my head back. “Ugh!”
“Don’t worry about it Raleigh. All this proves is that you’re diligent, not lazy,” she pointed out. I bobbed my head up and down, barely conscious of what she was saying.
“Yeah,” I muttered. I followed her to a locked back door closest to the entrance to Rahway park. With a loud crack, the lock snapped open and she yanked the door wide, helping me up the stone steps to the back kitchens. We walked down the quiet hallway to the main desk. She beckoned me inside her office and handed me a stack of fresh paper. I sighed and dropped my backpack on the chair behind her desk, beginning my morning tasks.
When I was a freshman, I would always be on time to school because Lexi had to take the little kindergartners to school early. I remember I would always be waiting outside in the cold and be bored to death until Mrs. Cortes saw me one day and invited me inside, giving me some simple office work to do to buy time. At first, it was a lot, but over time it became really fun.
Mrs. Cortes’s office wasn’t as big as I used to think it was. Just a desk smack in the middle of some old red carpet. Behind her were shelves filled with books, magazine clippings, and awards she’d won. I never had much time to take a good look at the awards. Whenever I caught just a glance, Mrs. Cortes would hastily give me another task to do. Weird, but I never questioned it.
“You look excited today Mrs. Cortes,” I noticed, swiping the desk with a stray napkin. Mrs. Cortes bobbed her head excitedly.
“Yes! You see, my older brother is coming from his town to pick me up to spend the weekend with him,” she said, bouncing on her desk. I wanted to cry on the inside, but I didn’t. Instead, I plastered a fake smile on my lips and nodded.
“Oh? Does he look like you?”
“Kind of?” She laughed gently. “We often joke that he got my father’s genes, which is both a blessing and a curse.” She sobered suddenly, and I decided not to ask about that certain joke.
“Can I see a picture of him?” I asked cautiously. Immediately, Mrs. Cortes perked up and nodded. She reached behind her desk and pulled a dusty old photo from her drawer, handing it carefully to me.
The picture looked fairly new, which was why I was skeptical as to why it was so dirty. I could immediately recognize Mrs. Cortes in the picture. She wore her blonde hair down and had on a beautiful, if not, revealing sundress. She had an arm wrapped around the large man next to her, her smile wide and playful.
Speaking of said man...
I averted my brown orbs from Mrs. Cortes to the tall man. He was handsome, incredibly so. His shirt pulled taunt on his chest, and I could only assume he was muscular. His arms certainly showed something to look at. A dark, wavy tattoo swam its way down his arm and snaked around his wrist. He had a small crescent and star tattoo on his cheek, right above a neatly trimmed beard. His hair was just like Mrs. Cortes’s only much shorter and ruffled, probably to look stylish. It was brown, fading to blonde with a light neon blue stripe down one of his bangs, just like Mrs. Cortes’s bangs. Butterflies erupted in my stomach from looking at him and I handed the picture quickly back to Mrs. Cortes. She smirked.
“Handsome, isn’t he?” She asked. I faltered for a moment, my breath leaving me in harsh panic before I managed a short nod of my head, reluctant to disagree with her. Mrs. Cortes laughed.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I know he’s good looking. Everyone says that.” She then sighed and traced her fingers gently over the figure. “I’ve missed my brother.”
“You’ll see him today though, right? I’m sure he’s missed you just as much.” She smiled.
“Yes, him and my husband.”
“Nice.” I looked away from her, yanking the paper holder to the printer out harshly. I glanced at the clock, tapping my foot. The bell suddenly chose to ring at the moment, startling the stack of papers from my grasp. Mrs. Cortes laughed again quietly and I shoved the stack back into the copy machine and printer, slamming the latch shut. I grabbed my backpack hastily.
“Bye Mrs. Cortes! See you later!” I called, racing out of the room. I heard Mrs. Cortes chuckle and wish me goodbye as well before I had managed to shove my way out of the office doors and into the hallway. I pushed my way through the couples making out and students chatting about their weekend plans to my locker, which was all the way by the girls changing room for the gym. Logan was already there, kissing Drew goodbye. I coughed to make my presence known, smirking at the way Logan and Drew jumped away from each other.
“Raleigh!” They exclaimed, relieved. I snickered.
“You’d better watch out for Ms. South. She doesn’t take to making out couples as lightly as Mrs. Cortes,” I warned. Logan glared at me and Drew dashed off to the gym before I could scold him too. I snickered and leaned down to twirl my padlock. Logan dropped her books by my feet.
“Nice to see you too Raleigh,” she muttered. She scooped her books from the ground and slammed her pink locker shut. One thing I’ll never understand is if Logan liked black so much, then why the hell was her locker pink? I’d asked her once, but all I got was a shrug in return.
“How was your night?” I asked. Logan shrugged.
“Alright. My cousin, Aldric, is coming to visit.” She said, laughing nervously. I frowned, slamming my locker shut in the process. I clicked the lock into place, snapping the latch together.
“Aldric? A cousin? Since when do you have a cousin? I thought your parents had no siblings?” I asked. Logan looked away, playing with her keychain.
“Well...it turns out they do! And-um-he’s coming to visit today?”
“Your parents’ sibling?”
“...Okay.” I drawled, hastily collecting my books. We began to walk to class together, talking about our plans for the weekend when the best smell I’ve ever smelt hit me like a ton of hot bricks. It was like fresh cookies and pine, a weird combination, but it smelled divine to my nose.
“Uh...Raleigh? You okay girl?” Logan asked. I blinked, realizing I had blocked the doorway when pausing to sniff that smell as if I had been caught under the summer mistletoe. I turned and smiled sheepishly to the kids behind me, hustling to my seat. Miss Lythis was late...again. She was always late, yet Mrs. Cortes had the patience of a saint, one of the other reasons I respected her.
“Y-Yeah, just...do you smell that?” I asked, taking my front seat next to Logan. She turned to the open window and took a deep whiff, her head poised just like a wolf’s.
“...No. Describe what you smell.” She questioned, her hopeful yellow eyes turning to me. I frowned, tapping my chin and gazing at the whiteboard.
“Like, a sweet cookie and pine scent. It just makes me want to cuddle up against a warm plush toy...or a warm body...” I groaned to myself when a flash of black marker caught my eye.
DON’T FORGET! NOTEBOOK QUIZ TODAY!
“Huh, I forgot about that,” Logan murmured, barely audible. I leaned against the bar on my chair, reaching underneath my desk for my notebook. The smooth books slipped under my fingertips as if I were touching glass. That made me frown. Nothing poked my soft pads; nothing brought an iron scent to my nose. Panic rose in my chest.
“Damn it!” I cursed softly, so only Logan could hear. I rummaged through my backpack, my heart beating frantically. I shoved all my books to the back of my backpack, but my yellow notebook remained nowhere in my sight. Then, it hit me.
I had been in such a rush to get to my locker, I had forgotten to zip up my backpack in Mrs. Cortes’s office! I jumped out of my seat, startling Logan.
“Raleigh? Where are you going?” She asked. I grabbed the hall pass from the ledge on the whiteboard and skidded to the door. My legs trembled in warning as I ran, a caution for me to slow down or I’d fall, but I paid no heed to it, knowing that choice would cost me later.
“I left my notebook in Mrs. Cortes’s office!” I called, my breaths already leaving me. I slid into a quick-paced walk in the hallway, smiling and nodding briefly at the teachers and safety officers walking past. They nodded at me, their eyes glued to my wobbling legs and jerkily swaying hips like leeches. It disgusted me.
I nodded to Mrs. Cortes’s receptionist when I reached the main office and she smiled at me, gesturing to the closed oak wood door. As I neared, I could hear hushed whispers and quiet cackles. I bit my lip, debating whether I should knock or not. Realizing I’d rather interrupt their conversation than getting and F, I rapped my knuckles on the door.
“Come in!” Mrs. Cortes called, sounding as if she was trying hard not to laugh. I licked my lips, palms sweaty, and slowly creaked the door open. I bent my head sheepishly as I entered.
“Sorry for bothering you Mrs. Cortes, but I think I left my notebook here?” I asked quietly. I looked at the chairs by her desk, wondering what student had gotten in trouble this early in the morning. When I was met with an empty chair, I took a risk and looked up, my eyes catching the imposing figure looming by her desk. Or rather, above her desk.
It was the same guy from the picture, only now he looked bigger, much more ruffled than before. His golden eyes bored into me, and the sweet scent returned to my nose at full force.
His pupils widened and he licked his lips, turning to Mrs. Cortes. She was grinning wickedly at the two of us.
“Raleigh, I believe I have yet to introduce you,” she said, looking very smug. She gestured to the man, who’s eyes had glazed over for a moment, muscles contracting ever so slightly. He looked around twenty-five.
Abruptly, he glanced at me just as I was assessing him. “This is Lucien, my older brother. Lucien, this is Raleigh, the girl I’ve told you about over the phone.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said politely. Lucien stared at me for a moment as if debating why a teenager was talking to him. Then he smiled.
“Nice to meet you too,” he said, his voice as warm as chocolate, yet had a sharp undercurrent of power. I watched him closely as his dark eyes ran over my petite frame, the irises darkening. Heat crept through my body and I bit my lip. My heart was pounding, struggling to catch up to the pace I had run in.
“Here you go!” I jumped and Lucien chuckled as Mrs. Cortes reappeared from below her desk, the notebook held high. I snatched it, my ears tipped pink.
“Thank you!” I stammered briefly, practically running out of the office. His smile. His laugh. His dark eyes haunting my every step.
I knew deep down this wouldn’t be the last time I met Mrs. Cortes’ brother.
And I knew he could never be mine.