Authors: Barry Chaison
“I need air,” I said to Hope. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“I’ll come with you,” Hope said hopefully.
“No, just give me a minute. I’m feeling really trapped right now. I’ll be back soon, I promise,” I reassured her with a smile. She just stared at me sadly like a child that was just told there was no Santa Claus.
The fresh, seemingly cool air struck me like an open freezer. Even though I knew the temperature was still close to triple digits, it felt much cooler than when we first entered the house. After a few deep breaths, I noticed a set of steps that led towards the extremely disheveled backyard of the frat house, and took a seat. Weeds, brown grass and a couple of toppled garbage cans were scattered all across the yard. The noise and glaring music resonated through the thick house walls as I slowly caught my breath on the step. It was nice to be isolated for a few moments and not have to yell above the music or be forced to drink something disgusting. To make things even better, Liam was nowhere to be found. I leaned back on the steps, closed my eyes and continued to breathe deeply, as a small smile cracked my face. At that moment, a deep, gruff cough emanated from behind me. My elbows slipped from underneath me in surprise, as I couldn’t remember hearing a door close or the sound of footsteps.
“Careful,” he chuckled. “Don’t hurt yourself!”
My worst fears came to fruition as I looked up. There stood Liam, toga and all, with a cup similar to what was scattered around the kitchen. His olive tanned skin was covered with an ivory white toga that blended perfectly into the darkness. I could see the moonlight gleam off of his flawlessly toned torso as he looked at me with an all-knowing grin on his face. Part of me wanted to smack the smirk right off of his face, which was an unfamiliar and scary thought.
“Whatever,” I said curtly.
“Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone with paler skin than you,” he said jokingly as he approached and finally took a seat right next to me. I shuffled as far away as I could and kept my gaze off of him, and on the ugly backyard.
“Yep, I’m a modern medical wonder,” I sighed.
“So, too good for the party, huh?”
“What?” I responded sharply. “No, just needed to cool down.”
“Hmm, come outside to cool off… in Las Vegas? Interesting logic…” he laughed. My insides curled sharply as I realized his logic actually made sense. No matter what I said, I was going to come across as an idiot.
“You got me there,” I mocked softly. “Besides, it’s your party. Shouldn’t you be inside with the other gorillas?”
“Ah, another one of those…” he sighed, shaking his head.
“What do you mean, one of those?”
“Oh, nothing. Just another girl who sees a fraternity guy and automatically assumes he’s just a stupid jock who loves nothing more than drinking beer and hooking up with as many girls as possible…” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Funny, but that was exactly my first impression after seeing the show you put on when we got here!” I argued, still not looking at him.
“So, what does that make you then, for showing up here?” he said, not changing his amused tone. He seemed to be engaged in a fun game of cat and mouse, with me being the defenseless, helpless mouse.
“I knew it was a mistake coming here tonight,” I mumbled.
“So why’d you come?” he inquired suspiciously. It was the first change of tone I’d heard from him. His normally joking and laid back demeanor had been replaced almost instantly.
“I came for Annie, to support her,” I said almost inaudibly, finally looking up at him. At that moment, our eyes locked onto each other again, and the familiar feeling from our first day suddenly raced through my body. His attitude and egotism were distant memories, as all I could think about was the mystery that lied behind his pitch black eyes.
“Supporting her for what?” he said.
The spell seemed to break the moment he spoke. I shook off the feeling of weariness that had engulfed me and looked back out to the dusty yard.
“I don’t feel comfortable talking about this behind her back.”
“No, supporting her for what?” he asked again, sounding serious.
“Nothing, I just don’t want to see her get hurt, that’s all.”
“And you think I’ll hurt her?” he accused. “What makes you think I’d do that?”
“I…I don’t,” I stuttered. Everything was going way too fast and he was two steps ahead of me.
“You knew exactly what you were going to say,” he shot back, starting to sound very angry.
“Look, I’m sorry I said anything at all. I told you I just wanted to be alone. You should just leave,” I begged. An unusual feeling started brewing inside. It was a very powerful anger, more powerful than anything I’d ever felt before.
“No, please, tell me what you were going to say. Let it fly!”
“I don’t insult people like you do.”
“Now I’m really curious. Maybe I should go back inside and find your friend, the big one. I’m sure she’ll tell me after a few drinks...”
“What do you want from me?” I bellowed, the deep anger finally exploding like a volcano. “You want me to tell you that you’re egotistical, selfish and arrogant? Fine! You are always gloating about yourself, thinking you’re above everyone else. You hurt and insult people, and get joy out of it. What you did to my friend tonight was very rude and you seem to get some type of satisfaction from it. You get a sick thrill from hurting people. That’s why I’m here; to make sure you don’t hurt Annie. I’ve seen it happen way too much. You’re no different than any other guy I’ve met before.” I exhaled. “There, are you happy?”
I looked over at Liam, and for the first time, felt completely frightened. His eyes had gotten even darker, and I could have sworn a slight shade of red was mixed into the darkness. I stood up immediately; not sure what to expect.
“You’ve never met anyone like me,” he said quietly into the night.
“What?” I asked, my eyes wide in fear.
I spun on the spot and there stood Annie in the doorway of the kitchen, sporting a suspicious look on her face. Her eyes were alternating on Liam and me. Liam was sitting on the stairs with his arms rested on his knees and his back to her and I was standing directly next to him, my eyes still wide open.
“Oh, there you are!” I said, rushing over to give her a very tight hug. She hugged me back, although somewhat weaker than usual.
“What’s going on out here? I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” she snapped at Liam.
Liam quickly jumped up; sporting his patented smile again. Any trace of hatred and anger had been replaced with a calm, peaceful glare.
“Nothing babe, just saw Zoe out here and wanted to say hi,” he said, putting his arm around her. “She had some great things to say about you!”
“Oh,” she said, comprehension immediately dawning on her face. “Did she?”
Her look of skepticism had been replaced with a sweet smile that looked eerily familiar to Marie. She gave me a quick wink and nod.
“That’s my Zoe,” she said happily. “Now, what does a girl have to do to get a drink around this place?”
“Right this way,” he said, opening the door to the kitchen as Annie stepped through it. He gave me another odd glance before he followed Annie inside, leaving me frozen on the spot, my mind racing.
Chapter 4: Warnings
Happy Birthday to you!” my parents finished singing in unison.
The younger me was sitting in a large wooden chair, staring at a tasty looking rainbow chip birthday cake, as a large number nine burned slowly down. My parents stood on the other side of the table, arms around each other, smiling proudly down at their only daughter. They encouraged her to make a wish, which led to a peaceful moment of silence. As she sat there with eyes tightly closed, my mother snuck away from the table and walked directly past me through the door-less walkway that separated the kitchen from the main living room. Her steps along the hardwood floors, which covered the entire house, finally broke the lasting silence. I watched her stride through the living room and up the staircase on the left, as my eyes shifted back towards the familiar living room.
Nostalgia filled my heart as the familiar surroundings began to sink in. We lived in an old-fashioned, two-story log cabin, which was completely isolated from the rest of the Bainbridge Island community. The wall opposite the kitchen had a large arc fireplace mantel built in, where a peaceful fire slowly burned. Pictures of my family were scattered along the mantel, which blended perfectly into the many bookshelves that encased the walls surrounding the rest of the room. Hundreds of my father’s school textbooks, as well as numerous volumes of my mother’s art literature collections filled each bookshelf to the brim. Along the open spots of the walls rested my mother’s artwork, which depicted anything from gorgeous Puget Sound sunsets to random paintings of unfamiliar, but important looking people. A cozy lounge area sat in the middle of the room, complete with a U-shaped formation of leather couches and an enormous redwood coffee table. But it was the hand-woven, cream color Persian wool rug that sat beneath the coffee table, which was the epitome of the room’s beauty. Two end tables stood at the sides of the loveseat, where rustic lamps added extra light to the grayness outside.
As my gaze lingered on the living room, my mother’s legs slowly came walking back down the stairs. I turned my head back into the kitchen, where my father still stood, smiling widely at his young daughter, whose eyes were slowly starting to open.
“Go ahead and open your eyes honey,” he laughed. “Your mom will be back in just a second.”
An expectant, but eager look emanated from her young face as my mother finally came hustling back into the room.
“Okay Zoe, did you make your wish?” she asked. My father glanced over at her with his eyebrows raised, which made my mother nod once in return.
“Alright, go ahead and blow out your candle,” my father exclaimed cheerfully.
The candle was extinguished in a single, effortless breath.
“Nice work sweetie,” my parents cheered, applauding her efforts.
She glanced around the kitchen hopefully, looking for any trace of a gift. The corners of her mouth twitched downward slightly as the reality of a gift-less room began to sink in. My parents stood there, smiling more widely, waiting for some unknown cue to speak again.
“Now, stand up and close your eyes again,
my father said, as he slowly crept out of the room.
Excitement came flushing back into her innocent face as my mother bent down slightly and grabbed her hand. Slowly, they walked into the living room, where my father stood eagerly, his hand resting on a familiar piece of my past.
“Now open them!” my mother said, as she crouched down and placed both hands on young Zoe’s shoulders.
She stood there in stunned silence. Her jaw almost dropped to the floor in surprise as a beautiful pink bicycle leaned against my father’s bony leg.
“Is that for me?” she gasped.
My father nodded feverishly with a smile.
“Wow! Thank you so much! I love it!” the younger me cried, running towards my father and giving him a hug.
“Now, we understand you don’t know how to ride a bike yet,” my mother chuckled, as she was the next recipient of a loving thank you. “But, there’s another part to this gift.”
She looked up at my mother, perplexed.
“What is it?”
“Well honey,” my father chimed in. “All we can tell you is that you’ll need to go upstairs quickly and get your coat; we have a ferry to catch!”
“Yes, we’re going into the city today and it’s chilly outside. So you’ll need to bundle up!”
She turned instantly and ran up the stairs, leaving my parents behind. They looked at each other for a moment before my mother broke the silence.
“Are you sure about this?” she whispered. “There’s no going back once it happens.”
“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life,” he answered back shortly. “You’ve met them. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that they are the ones.”
“It’s just that Zoe’s still so young. This is a big risk.”
“Look,” he said, taking a few steps forward as he pulled her into his arms. “We’ve gone over this hundreds of times, it’s the only way. We can’t keep Zoe hidden forever. And besides, I think it’s time she gets a real friend. She’s growing up so fast.”
“I know,” she sighed, resting her head on his chest as tears started to build. “It’s just that I’m so worried. He’s out there Eli. He’s watching us and won’t stop until we pay for what we did. I don’t want to lose her.”
“We won’t,” he said sternly. “She’s going to be something extraordinary Reyna, you more than anyone else knows that. And the only way it’ll happen is if they become a strong part of her life.”
“But things can change, nothing is set in stone,” she sobbed.
“True, but think of what could happen if we don’t do this,” he warned, still holding and caressing her. “This is the safest way to play it hon and besides, it’s the only way to get him involved.”
“Here I come!” young Zoe sang from somewhere out of sight, literally flying down the stairs in one giant leap. My parents broke apart almost instantly as the sudden emergence caught them completely off guard. “Are you guys alright?”
“Yeah, we’re fine,” my mother sniffed, wiping a tear from her eye. “Is my birthday girl ready for her big surprise?”
“Come here you,” my father playfully growled as he lifted her up and over his squared shoulders. “Let’s get going!”
From out of the blue, a soft beeping sound started emanating from somewhere far away. With each passing second, the vision of my childhood home quickly faded, as the sound of the beeps grew increasingly louder. Then, like a deflated balloon, my dream fizzled away in a split second.
The alarm clock on my cell phone was beeping loudly from somewhere beneath my awakening body. A religious studies textbook slid down onto the floor as I slowly started to sit up and get adjusted to my surroundings. The blinds in the TV room were still in the same open position as the night before, and all of the oscillating fans were still going strong. My eyes gazed down and noticed that I was still wearing the same pair of loose fitting jeans and plain white T-shirt from the day before. As I finally sat up and rubbed my face, the beeping cell phone appeared at my waist. Without looking, I reached down and turned it off. I sat there for a moment, tossing my head from side to side in a vain attempt at shaking free any remnants of déjà vu. Even though the dream felt so real, it was still only just a dream. The brightness of the day was the only welcoming sight as the nostalgia from my dream faded slowly.
“Annie?” I yelled in a scruffy voice.
There was no answer.
“Oh come on Ann, it’s time to get up!” I said again, finally pulling myself up for the first time. Every vertebra in my back seemed to crack at once as an unfortunate reminder of the harshness of sleeping on a futon. It wasn’t a good start to the day.
“Don’t you hear me?” I asked, opening the door to Annie’s room. But, it was completely empty. Her bed was in the same disheveled state it had been in for days, and both her backpack and toiletries were all gone.
I slowly trudged my way back towards the kitchen to get a glass of orange juice to wake me up. As I approached the closed door, a folded piece of paper that had been taped up caught my eye. Curious, I reached up, pulled it off and opened the note.
Happy Birthday Zoe! Can you believe it’s October 6
already? We’ve been in school for over a month.
I’m sorry I missed you last night, but I came home around 9 and you were out cold. But no worries, I crashed at the Beta house and everything is fine.
I know that Friday is a busy day for you, but it’s your birthday and I’ve got a surprise waiting. Be back here by 2 this afternoon so we can get going right away. I can’t wait to see you! Have a good day!
I reread the note one more time as a warm sensation built inside my chest. The last part of her note was exactly what I needed to get over the hump of my latest dream. As I put the note down and opened the refrigerator door, my eyes caught a glimpse of the clock on the microwave, which read 8:50. I slammed the door shut instantly and sprinted to my bedroom. I’d never been tardy to a class before, but even at a flat out sprint, it would be nearly impossible to get to my 9 am Yoga class on time. Without looking, I reached into a drawer and pulled out a random workout shirt and a pair of shorts and threw them on. I rushed into the bathroom and brushed my teeth faster than ever with one hand, while the other tried, unsuccessfully, to pull my hair into a ponytail. By the time I actually left the apartment, and was struck by an unusually strong gust of wind, the clock on my phone read 8:56.
My legs had never been put through so much stress in such a short amount of time. Campus flew by in a blur as I sprinted along the sidewalk towards the gym. Some students leaped out of my way as I streaked by, whereas others stopped to stare. The gym came into view quicker than expected. I took the stairs three at a time, until I went bounding through the gyms doors and towards the Yoga studio. The door stood open as a few other stragglers went walking in before me. When I entered, the room was completely packed. No open spaces were anywhere to be found. My pulse, which was already jumping off the charts, picked up even more speed. I scanned the room eagerly, hoping against hope that a small spot would open up.
From out of the sea of girls that were all sprawled out across the room, a familiar voice rang out.
“Zoe! Over here!” Steph’s voice yelled from the opposite corner of the room. I looked up and saw her trademark fire red ponytail bobbing up and down with her body. A grateful smile spread across my face as our eyes met.
Her thin hand was waving in the air. She pointed down next to her, where a perfectly set up Yoga station was ready to go, yoga mat, balancing blocks and all. I quickly meandered through the crowded studio towards Steph’s corner.
“You’re a lifesaver,” I admired as I dropped my phone and water bottle next to the purple mat Steph had set up.
“No problem. Happy Birthday!” she exclaimed.
“Thanks. Not the best way to start it though, huh?”
“Yeah, what’s up with that? You’re never this late, where were you?”
“Nowhere, I just woke up a little late.”
“You? Late? I’m not buying it,” she said skeptically.
“Believe it or not, that’s what really happened,” I shrugged while my hands reached down and grabbed my toes. Steph glared at me for a moment before she started to warm up as well.
Yoga had quickly become one of my favorite classes. Even though it required focused concentration, something I sorely lacked, I still was able to gain a slight increase in flexibility and relaxation during the first month. Our instructor, Mr. Himani made it even more fun. He was one of the stranger but more likable teachers I’d ever had. He was extremely short and bald, with paper-thin arms and a long, narrow neck. A deep tan covered a good portion of his body, but the oversized white tank top and high riding running shorts he wore everyday showed many unappealing tan lines. His punctuality would have given Mark a run for his money as he never showed up a second late. Every day, he came in wearing the same pair of rustic old beach sandals and carried a small portable stereo.
“Good morning class,” Mr. Himani said in his high-pitched and thick Indian accent. “Today, we are going to focus on improving your balance. As long as you can maintain focus and concentration, you’ll feel the benefits of this lesson for days!”
“Great,” I mumbled under my breath.
Steph looked over at me with an encouraging smile, which was returned only half-heartedly.
Mr. Himani always spent the first few minutes every day warming us up with some simple arm and torso stretches. And, just like every other day, it seemed that as the class went on, he started to bend and stretch in a way that I never expected possible from the human body. One minute, he was in a simple tree pose. The next, he was standing on one leg, extending out the other, leaning his entire torso over the extended leg without the slightest sway of his body. Everyone in class watched his demonstration in stunned silence. After he set us free to try it ourselves, students all over the room were either teetering, or dropping their legs completely with a look of frustration. He decided to walk around the room as we worked, ready to point out the flaws, and in some cases, strengths of our work.