Anticipation slides down my spine and settles in the pit of my stomach. I suck in a deep breath and squeeze his hand that still rests in mine.
"Places!" The hiss flies across the dark.
I suck in a final deep breath before the moment we've been waiting for and then I gently lift my left leg into the air. I freeze in place as I reach the perfect spot, exactly two inches from his torso. Perfect. My arms flow over my head, prepping for the first sequence. And finally, my already ramrod straight back straightens that tiny bit more. He slips his hands around the curve of my waist; this gives me the balance I need to be able to travel onto the tips of my toes.
Balanced in our first position, I freeze.
"Breathe" He sighs again.
I nod silently and then the curtain comes into view. Looking around, all that I can see is the glowing red velvet. And then it starts to rise. It's almost like the curtain was a sound barrier, because the further up it travels, the more noises are revealed. I can hear the echoing applause now; it's bouncing off of the stone walls that surround us. I can hear the quiet plucking of the orchestra as they prepare for their job. The slight hum of people talking and the hush that travels its way across the full theatre as they realize the curtain is being lifted.
A single spotlight is turned on, and I realize with a start that the curtain is now fully up. I feel as if I am completely bare to the world. Panic grips me, but something-or someone- stops that with a gentle squeeze of my hips. He's still here. I can do this. I force a wider smile and begin to count the steps. We move together, flowing gracefully across the stage.
1, 2, 3,
1, 2, 3,
1, 2, 3, 1, 2....
I spin away from his hold as the music swells, and just as I throw my body into the air, the spotlight that has been trained on us as we moved shatters. The dark from before slams back over us, impossibly darker than it was before.
The calm and excitement I had been feeling with him wrapped around me deserts me. I am left standing alone in the darkness, a sense of foreboding making my stomach clench and setting my finally steady heartbeat off in a sprint once again.
I cannot hear anything except for the skittering of glass across the hardwood of the stage, and it's like my world has been covered by a blanket. Fear is creeping over me. I feel as if the oxygen has been drained from the air, and there is no hope. I spin around and around and around, searching for somebody, anybody. I need to find him, just so that I can know he is ok. The longer we spend apart the more my heart begins to race and the more terror grips my body and soul.
I spin again, and this time a dim light catches my eye. I pause, lean forward and start squinting in hopes of discovering what the light source is. Once I do, I gasp and rush towards it-towards him. I ignore the dripping red liquid that seems to be coming from gaping holes in his wrists and throat; I push forward in desperate blindness.
I reach him just in time to hear the quiet sigh that seems to be his last breath. I collapse at his side and pull his limp body into my arms; pushing desperately against his wounds to stop the dripping blood. A sob tumbles from my lips. "No! No!" I cry, hands fluttering uselessly between his gaping wounds. I try to force the warm sticky substance back into his wounds, but there is so much. He's coated in it; it's pooling around us and my own hands are stained a deep red. Tears are flying down my face as I scream. "Don't leave me, please!"
"Andromeda." That voice will haunt me for the rest of my life. It sounds cold, detached, and above all angry. I refuse to let go of his limp body to search for the man behind that voice; instead, I pull him closer like a shield.
"Andromeda!" The anger is more prominent now, and I know that something bad is coming. I let out a shriek as the back of my hair is yanked so hard I feel as if it has been ripped out and my neck is violently turned towards the right. I let out a gasp as my eyes collide with the terrifyingly familiar watery brown, and his name drips from my lips like molasses.
"Seth" He smiles at my recognition, but it is not friendly. It is taunting and devious. I fight for the words, try to question him as to why he's doing this... but the look on his face has me gasping for air.
He smirks and flicks his eyes down to his hands. My eyes follow his to the shiny object he clutches in his right hand that has a red sticky substance matching that of the dripping blood from the man sat in my lap. The shine has been dulled from the life that drips from the sharp blade, but it still steals my breath as I catch up with the truth.
His smirk grows wider as I start screaming in horror. He lunges for me, smacking me with enough force to knock my head into the ground. Pain ricochets through my skull as it bounces off the wooden floor. He rips me away from his body and then presses his lower half into mine.
The expression on his face is torn between pure hatred and excited lust. I scream out again as he thrusts against me, pressing himself into places he has no right to; this only furthers his anger. He slaps me again and I know that I'll be badly bruised from it. He leans down a little further, pressing more weight into me, and flashes that damn knife once again. His eyes have gone wide with excitement, his face splitting into a massive grin.
He brushes the hair from my face, and I flinch. He laughs, and then leans down so there is no space between us.
"Bitch." And with that the knife is plunged into my chest, exactly where my heart used to be.
I let out a piercing scream as my eyes ripped open, the watery brown irises still tattooed to the inside of my eyelids, staring straight into my soul and leaving me shaken. Blinking away the tears, I whipped my head around to try to figure out where I was. After a moment of heavy breathing I recognized from the freshly painted walls and black furniture that I was sitting in my new room, and that it was just a nightmare.
By now, one would think that it wouldn't be scary anymore. That is definitely not the case. Even after having the same dream every night for the last year, I still wake up screaming. No matter what I do, he still haunts me; the only time I get free is when I've drowned it out by alarmingly loud music and running. And that only lasts until I step off of the treadmill.
I collapsed on my bed again and looked towards the ceiling. The glow in the dark stars that stare back at me did little to calm me. Shortly after settling back into the midnight blue covers that blend into the rest of my room, I jumped out of bed and chucked on some running clothes. I Gathered up my headphones, iPhone and running shoes, and walked carefully through the shadowed house. I flicked on lights as I went.
The dark is my enemy. It leaves me confused and vulnerable, unable to see what is coming for me. As I made my way to the basement- to the gym I forced my brother to set up the day we arrived- I ignored every mirror and glass wall I passed. I don't want to see what I know will glare right back at me. I know what I look like: my skin is lifeless, a far cry from the days of sun kissed warmth and spattered freckles. My dyed red hair barely meets the top of my shoulders when it was once a deep brown that travelled to the bottom of my back. My eyes that used to sparkle in the sunlight have dulled. The striking blue I used to remember had pulled back into a dull grey; Showcasing my unstoppable sadness no matter how much I tried to hide it. And the dark circles that came from only getting a few hours of sleep a night.
I don't need a reminder of how awful I look; how awful I have been treating myself. I had even gone so far as to cover the single mirror in my bathroom with a sheet so that I didn't have to risk seeing what I looked like before school.
School. When that thought crossed my mind, I felt like running and screaming. Ever since the... incident... Blake had been worried that I am always by myself. He wanted me to brush past it, to make new memories and start living my life again. So, to encourage me to "spread my wings" "make friends" and "stop being so... sad" Blake moved us to this little town in the middle of nowhere, a place I had picked for its remoteness from my old life, and signed me up for my senior year of high school. This was something I wasn't looking forward to for multiple reasons, aside from the obvious trauma I'd been running from. I haven't been to any type of normal school before. I'd spent every year before this, with one major exception, being homeschooled. And to make matters worse, I'd be starting weeks after the rest of the school, and being a little town everybody had grown up together.
By this point, I had reached the door to the basement, and the entrance to my distraction. I yanked open the white door and flicked the light on before carefully descending the plain brown hardwood stairs. When I reached the bottom I let out a sigh before opening the soundproof door and stepping into my sanctuary. I treaded carefully around the weight set up, and sauntered past the elliptical. I carefully hooked up my phone to my headphones and turned the volume up as loud as it would go. Immediately, the song "Wheels' by the Foo Fighters exploded from the speakers and effectively drowned out any other thoughts. I bobbed my head to the beat, stuffed my phone into my pocket and walked towards the treadmill. I hopped carefully onto it and gradually increased the speed until I was full out sprinting.
I ran until my muscles burned and my lungs were aching. The only reason I stopped is my alarm going off to let me know it's time to get ready for school. I pulled slowly to a stop and instantly regretted it from the rubbery feeling that turned my legs weak. I heaved in deep breaths, pain lacing through my chest with each one. I prayed that this is the time that my heart would give out, but after a moment I managed to catch my breath and all hope for the sweet embrace of death drained away.
I climbed back up the stairs and headed for my room. Once there, I pulled out a pair of baggy jeans and a generic t-shirt. I layered that under two other shirts so that no trace of my shape could be deciphered. Happy with my outfit choice, I quickly hopped in the shower to wash off the coating of sweat I'd donned during my run.
As I dressed in my outfit, I contemplated ways of getting out of going to school. Could I fake sick? Call a personal day? Beg my brother to change his mind? Get kicked out of school? Do they give out expulsions on a person's first day? This seemed the increasingly more appealing choice, as it seemed to be the only thing that might actually work...
"Andy! We got to go!"
"Coming" My voice was barely audible to my own ears, and I know that Blake wouldn't be able to hear it, but I couldn't make myself speak any louder. Loud noises still frightened me, with the exception of the music I constantly had pouring into my ears.
As casually as possible, I strolled down the stairs and towards the massive four car garage that I knew I would find Blake in. Normally, I would drive myself wherever I needed to go, school included, but my car wasn't here just yet. Right now it is in a safe house in New York, waiting for the delivery company to carefully come and pick it up before driving it to a shop two towns over where it will wait patiently for my brother to bring it home. I was waiting rather impatiently for the car; having the ability to drive myself where I wanted to go would give me a sense of control I'd been longing for for the last year.
I threw myself into his car, and as soon as my seatbelt was buckled Blake pulled out of the garage, pressing the button to shut the door as soon as the back end of the dark green Jeep cleared it. And then we sped off down the road, headed towards what will no doubt be my own personal hellhole.
Before I was ready, Blake pulled into a large parking lot. Most of the spots are full, and I could see groups of students throughout the lot. Blake pulled to a stop near the front of the building and I glanced over at him. He offers me a wide smile but I can see the swirling hesitation in his eyes. I pursed my lips and carefully climbed out of his car.
The building is gorgeous. It steals my full attention and I stand frozen for a moment, just admiring the beauty. It's multiple stories, and a gorgeous grey brick. Ivy grows along the side, and fairytale windows poke out of the thick leaves on all three floors. The front of the school has a massive open courtyard, and there's several benches placed around the entrance. The stone steps lead up to massive wooden doors that are open, inviting. All in all, the school is an amazing place. Blake called my name and I shook out of my admiration to follow him into the massive building.
My stomach turned at the amount of people around me; I could feel their eyes burning into my skin. I stared at the ground and walked faster. Not paying full attention because of the anxiety gripping me, I slammed into something hard and warm. My skin crawled and I whipped my head around to figure out what had happened. Trying to figure out what torture is about to follow.
"Andy..." Blake's sigh drifted to me so I lifted my eyes off of the plain white walls and allowed them to drift towards him. As he entered my line of sight, I realized it was him I crashed into. I stood carefully, dropping my mess of scarlet locks so that they obscured the view of my face, and hopefully, the beet red color my cheeks had become. Blake carefully stretched his hand out to me, offering me the chance to hold his hand for support. I shook my head, knowing that too many memories would surface if I allowed him to hold my hand. After a moment, Blake dropped his hand with an audible sigh, and carefully gestured for me to walk forwards. I don't dare to look up, not brave enough to see what my harsh denial for comfort had caused. Instead, I walked carefully through the door he held open for me, and stopped immediately.
The room itself isn't what made me freeze. In fact, the office had a rather comforting vibe to it, with its dark wooden floors, cheery yellow walls, large cushy chairs set carefully and strategically around the room, dark wood doors with shining golden name plates, and a long, cherry wood desk that splits the room in two.
So, no, it is not the office itself that makes me freeze into place in the doorway, which ultimately leads to me being smacked into, and once again, having my body become acquainted with the hardwood floor. I let out a groan of pain as my ribcage is jarred painfully and the wind is knocked from my lungs rather harshly. Hands land on my shoulders and all air leaves my system. Panic rips through me and I start flailing immediately. Ripping, twisting, pulling and twisting my body until the contact is broken.
"Chill Andy! It's just me!" Blake roughs out and I let out a breath as my brain catches up with his words. Only Blake. I breathe in my mind. My shaking slows slightly.
I shake my head at him to let him know I am ok and carefully peel myself from the floor. I offer him a weak smile, letting him know I'm sorry and turn back to the scene that had forced me into stilled shock. I feel my face pull into a look torn between confusion and mild amusement.
Standing at the receptionist's desk are two people. One of them is obviously older, who I assume to be the receptionist, and the other looks to be about my age.The fact that there's two people in the office isn't what's given me pause- It's the fact that the younger woman is covered in some kind of oil, multi coloured feathers and glitter. Her entire body is covered and I'm almost curious enough to ask her how it happened.
"And why did he do this again?" The old woman speaks, and even I can tell that she is barely concealing a fit of laughter. Therefore it is completely understandable that the... sparkly chicken... gets even angrier, and I almost flinched at the amount of venom that passed through her lips as she spit out her answer.
"Why does he do anything? Because he's an idiot that has to figure out new ways to torture me even when he isn't in the county! I swear to goddess yesterday I walked into a trap in the house that doused me in cat pee! I don't even know where he got a cat! " I flinched at the screeching level her voice reached.
The old woman let out a snort, walked around the counter and sat gracefully into her rolling chair.
"That boy will never learn, will he?" The other girl looked like she was about to lose it.
"Aren't you going to do anything?! This happened on school grounds!" I reached up and rubbed my sensitive ears. God she's loud. The older woman sighed, and started typing away on her computer.
"Well, knowing you, I figure you've got something planned for when he gets back. And I don't want to get involved. Last time I tried to force you two to cut it out, I almost lost an eye!" The younger girl laughed, and smiled at the older woman.
"Well you're not wrong..." The older woman snorted and raised her eyebrow.
"What are your plans?" Curiosity clung to her words.
The other girl smirked and rubbed her hands together. "Let's just say it involves some spray paint, gorilla glue and a banana and leave it at that, OK?"
Watching as the receptionist sighed and laid her head in her hands, I almost spoke up but before I got the chance her head snapped up and in our direction, almost as if she just registered we had walked through the door. Blushing she gestured us forwards.
"Sorry, about that. How can I help you?" At her words, the other girl whirled towards us and her sparkling hazel eyes widened almost comically.
"Ugh, hi... My name is Blake Romans; I believe we spoke on the phone the other day...?" He let his voice drift off in an unsure statement at the end, and within seconds her eyes gained a shine of recognition.
"Yes, of course! Hi! I'm Mrs. Lawler, nice to meet you."
Blake shot her his million watt smile, and I felt like groaning when the poor old woman looked starstruck. I rolled my eyes and stepped forward. Blake glanced at me and shugged before turning back to smile at the receptionist once again.
"Anyhow... Is there anything else I need to do to enroll Andy here?"
"All you need to do is sign a few documents and then she will be an official student of St. Louis' High School. If you just step this way, we can get things moving." Mrs. Lawler lead Blake over to the far corner of the room, and for some reason this made me feel very alone. I dropped my eyes to the floor, suddenly finding the hardwood extremely riveting.
"Hey!" I ignored the call, assuming the person couldn't be talking to me. Again, the voice rang through my ears, but still I pretended to be focused on the floorboards. I felt a sharp jab in my left shoulder and flinched back from the sudden touch. Seconds later I looked up enough to see the girl from before – still covered in vegetable oil, feathers and glitter.
She looked like the sun lived inside of her; her skin glowed, and her eyes were wide and enchanting, a swirl of honey and green. She was half a head taller than me and her stance was strong and proud. Her hair, beneath the multicoloured feathers and healthy coating of vegetable oil, was a gorgeous dark brown and it spilled down her back, nearly meeting her hips. Her lips were painted a shimmering shade of brown, and as she smiled as me the light caught the gloss, making it sparkle.
I blinked stupidly at her for a moment before letting my dull grey eyes float around the room to take in my surroundings.
"A-A-A-Are you t-t-t-talking to m-me?" She gave me a puzzled look that somewhat reminded me of a puppy, before slowly nodding.
"Who else would I be talking to?" She arched a single perfectly tweezed eyebrow at me, and I found my face flooding with color before I could control it.
"I-I-I-I-I don't kn-know" She gained an odd look in her eyes before she inhaled a deep breath and took a step closer to me. I flinched back noticeably, and her eyes widened before she relaxed her stance and leant against the desk behind her. The move made her shrink and I found myself relaxing the tiniest bit, somehow understanding her attempts to appear non-threatening.
"Who are you?" I bit my lip and glanced over to my brother. He was still talking quietly to Mrs. Lawler, so I turned back to the girl.
"A-A-A-Andy Romans?" It came out like a question, like I'm not entirely sure of my own name. A fact I shrugged off, knowing for a while there it was true.
She smiled at me and I offered her a weak one back. She scooted over on the desk, bringing her slouched body closer to mine.
" I know I have no right to ask this, but I'm just wondering. Don't answer if I offend you, because that's not at all what I am trying to do... But.... Do you have a stutter?"
I blinked stupidly at her again, and her face filled with color the longer I took to answer.
"I'm sorry! Damn, I really need to learn when to shut my big mouth. Ryker is going to have my hide when he realizes he needs to help me out of another girl fight.... Shit, I'm really sorry! I didn't mean---"
"I-it's ok. Y-Yes, I-I guess you c-could s-say that...." I let my already quiet voice drift off, and her face visibly brightened. Her megawatt smile returned and the warmth it brought to her face made something pull in my chest. I brushed the thought aside.
"Oh, I'm so glad I didn't offend you! I really didn't mean it the way it came out! I just- I just wondered if I made you nervous or if it was an actual speech impediment. Not that I won't talk to you because you have a speech impediment. I've actually always wanted to know somebody with a stutter or a lisp. And... Now I've made it worse!" I honestly didn't think she even took a breath during all of that. Seriously, it was like a blur of words that I could barely keep up with.
"I-it's fine. D-d-don't worry about i-it." I gave her a weak smile and tried to subtly move around her to get to where my brother and Mrs. Lawler were still talking. I froze again as the girl started talking and flinched as she enthusiastically thrust her hand towards my face.
"Anyhow, my name is Arrow Cardinal."
She smiled at me and eventually she realized that I wasn't going to take her hand. Instead I offered her a tentative smile, and allowed my short curtain of hair to drape across my face once again. As I turned to see what was going on with my brother, I realized he and Mrs. Lawler were coming back towards us. We met them halfway and Mrs. Lawler held out a paper for me to take. I pulled it from her grip, being careful to not come in contact with any part of her, giving her a hesitant smile as I did.
I quickly glanced at it and saw that it was my schedule, but just as I was about to scan it to see what classes I had, the paper was ripped from my grip. I looked up to see that Arrow has it now. I shook out my hair, letting it fall back into place covering my face, and walked towards my brother to tell him goodbye... And see if it's too late for him to change his mind.
"Be good today, little sister. And don't even think about calling out sick halfway through the day, I won't be coming back until the last bell rings." He frowned down at me, trying to emphasize his seriousness. I ducked my head.
"Yeah, s-sure, whatever." I grumbled quietly to myself, and looked back towards Arrow. She smiled at me and folded my schedule in half before passing it back to me and gestured for me to follow her.
"We have every class but second together, so I would be glad to help you around school today, as long as that's ok with you." I nodded and she led me from the office, yelling a loud "Bye Mrs. L" as we went. I trailed behind her silently as she led me god knows where, never once bothering to check that I would be able to find my way here again. And during the entire walk, Arrow didn't once shut up. We paused once so that she could clean herself up, and while we were in the bathroom the bell rang. My heartbeat increased but Arrow simply rolled her eyes and kept walking.
We finally reached a room which I assumed was our class as Arrow rapped twice on the door before pulling it open and striding inside. I followed behind her silently, making sure that I pulled my hair further towards my face to create a more solid curtain. Peering past the strands, I felt like blushing as an entire class sat gaping at me. Suddenly finding my interest back on the floor, I tried to ignore the twenty- something pairs of eyes that still sat glued to my plain face. Or, at least what they could see of it.
"Ms. Cardinal, I hope you have a good excuse as to why you are late to my class, again...?" The deep voice caught me off guard for a minute, but quickly I regained my composure. So my teacher for this class was male. Now if only I knew what class this actually is....
"Actually, this time I do." Arrow sounded smug, as she stepped out of the way so I was exposed to the middle aged teacher.
"I was showing the new student around." And cleaning yourself up, I thought to myself. I lifted my head enough to see my teacher, and felt like smacking myself for that as my nerves skyrocketed once again. He was incredibly handsome; extremely tall, with a wide smile and dark skin, dark brown hair that poofed out from his head in a small afro, and strong features that make me think of a warrior. He arched an eyebrow at me and I prepared myself for an interrogation.
"New student? What is your name, Ms.?"
"A-Andromeda R-Romans" I winced at the obvious shake in my voice, and lowered my gaze back to the floor. But not before I saw the look that crossed his face. It seemed to be one of curiosity, and this frightened me. Curiosity is so much worse than indifference.
"Well, Ms. Romans, it is a pleasure to meet you. I remember now Principal Tekal said to expect a new student... You were homeschooled every year before this, correct?"
"Y-y-yes sir. T-this is my f-first year at an a-actual school." He seemed to take this into consideration.
"Perfect. Well, let me be the first to welcome you to this fine school, and wish you the best on your adventures this year. Please, try to be on time to the rest of my lessons."
He smiled at me, then gestured for me to grab a seat. I scanned the room and decided that the best place for me is the very back in the right corner. Settling into my new seat, I realized with satisfaction that the closest people are a row in front of me, other than Arrow who was slouching into the seat to my left.
Once I am settled, the teacher whose name I still didn't know launched into a lesson about the importance of sources.