Author: Qutter PM
As far away as the end seemed, the top seemed even farther. A group of students find out just how far away freedom and survival can be from each other when a school pep rally goes horribly wrong.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Romance - Chapters: 4 - Words: 12,377 - Reviews: 4 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 03-17-13 - Published: 09-24-12 - id: 3060648
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
No one saw the blackness snap over them, but when they awoke, the lights of the gymnasium glared down at them. Some of them were shadowed by the bleachers.
Brianne was one of the first to wake. She turned her head, spitting out a damp mouthful of hair that was draped over her face. Her body ached on the hard maple floor, but she wasn't too uncomfortable. She grimaced and groaned as she turned her head, and then, as her fingers pushed the stubborn strand of red-laced black hair from her face, her hand met jeans.
Ryan shifted at the contact and woke up. As soon as he moved, Brianne sat up, realizing she was using his knee as a very uncomfortable pillow. She was gone before he could look down.
She mumbled at the soreness running through her, fumbling with the thin strap of her purse that had become entangled over one shoulder and her neck. "What... What's...?" She glanced around, wiping hair from her face.
They were behind the bleachers in the gymnasium. It was too bright, as someone had turned on the lights in the little-used trampoline area at the upper deck of the gym. The angle of the strong lights shone down behind the bleachers, illuminating them in all their rumpled sogginess.
Brianne frowned at the others. Chloe, Josh, and Sasha were clumped together nearly orgy-like, much closer than any school supervisor would have allowed, piled as if for warmth under the stand of bleachers. Berlin was curled in the fetal position near Decker, her skirt wet and clinging, one loose shoe in Decker's hand. He was sleeping, half-draped against the edge of the bleachers. Lee and Kevin were nearby, both on their backs, looking much like they'd just lain down for a nap.
"Where the hell are we?" Ryan asked, clearing his throat as he first looked around and then to Brianne.
She shrugged gingerly.
The others slowly awoke, confused, and some of them shivering with cold. Chloe was the first to register disgust, scooting away from Josh and Sasha before she completely got the use of one of her sleeping arms. She nearly fell back to the floor as the arm refused to support her. It only made her appear more awkward as she moved away, bringing a chuckle from Josh.
He was still groggy, but had the sense to read her irritation. "Yeah, so... What're we doing here?"
Sasha automatically pulled down her cheerleading skirt, wiping the wet hem to her legs, making a face at the feel. "I'm all wet."
Kevin looked to Lee. "Why are we all wet?"
They'd both sat up, watching the others compose themselves.
Lee shrugged, glancing to Brianne as she tried to push her hair into a semblance of style, creating red and black ropes of matted hair. "No idea." He instinctively looked to Berlin. She was squeezing water out of the hem of her skirt as Decker sheepishly handed her her shoe.
Sasha got to her feet before she should have and nearly fell over. She braced one hand at the bleachers as Josh moved as if to spot her like a gymnast's coach. "Where's Brad?" She leaned to the wooden stand of seats. "Wasn't he here, too?"
"What do you mean too?" Kevin asked.
Sasha tried to pick at her sweater vest heavy with water. It sagged against her chest. "I thought Brad was here. I mean...I dreamt he was here."
"That explains it," Decker said with a low chuckle.
She frowned at him.
For a few more moments they all stared at each other as each attended their clothes and grooming. Most of them were wet, some merely damp, and all felt beaten. Sasha resorted to sitting back down, one hand at her side as she carefully breathed against the pain riddling her ribcage. Lee got to his feet, attention on Berlin as she poured a small stream of water out of her shoe. She gave Decker a suspicious look, but said nothing of her thoughts.
"The rally's over," Sasha said, getting to her feet again, slowly. It was the wrong move to make, and she immediately knelt, this time to tie her saddle shoes. She remained at the floor, grimacing against the pain of her sore ribs. "We're late. We'll get detention. It's got to be fifth hour by now."
"Past that," Kevin said, looking at his watch. "It's almost five-thirty."
"Shit!" Josh leaped to his feet, grunting at a few stray aches, and darted around the bleachers. He nearly ran over Chloe on the way as she tried to withdraw her legs. "Practice is half over!"
Ryan got to his feet. "Yeah, great, Coach McIntyre will be pissed." He gave Brianne a quick glimpse before looking around at the others slowly getting to their feet. "Wasn't Winters with us?"
At the name the others flinched in unison.
"Matt Winters?" Berlin put a hand over her mouth. "Oh...I think he was."
"With us where?" Brianne grumbled, hitching her purse over her shoulder. "Doesn't anyone want to know that?"
"I do." Decker shrugged when they looked to him. "I do."
Chloe gave them all a shrewd look, blue eyes narrowing on each in turn. "What's wrong with this place? What happened? We all fell off the bleachers? All at once?"
Berlin wiggled her foot in her shoe and then stopped as a twist made her ankle cramp. Her gaze went to Lee, but she wasn't certain why.
He was watching her leg as she carefully maneuvered it into a more comfortable position, putting little weight on her foot.
She smiled quickly, mostly at her ankle. "Ah, one kick too many..."
"Did you hurt it in the fall?" Kevin asked, dark eyes on the higher part of her skirt as she half-leaned over her foot. He averted his stare when she looked to him.
"No...but...yeah." She sighed. "I guess."
Sasha was making her way around the bleachers, no word goodbye to anyone.
Decker watched her go. "Is she all right?"
Chloe gave him an intolerant look and made a huff as she departed to the other side of the bleachers.
For a moment, Lee, Berlin, Kevin, and Decker looked to each other. Something familiar yet unfathomably distant lingered in the air for a moment.
Then Berlin smoothed her skirt and gave a quick two fist pumps into the air. "Some pep rally, hey?" She smiled her best pompom routine smile and flashed a V-shaped peace sign with two fingers and brushed a still-damp strand of auburn hair from her face. "Go Pirates!"
She giggled and dashed around the bleachers, but a few of them saw the slight hobble to her left foot as she went.
"Go Pirates?" Decker said, laughing. "Does the cheeriness go that deep in them?"
Lee shook his head. "Guess so."
Two days later, Berlin wasn't limping anymore, nor was she pretending not to. She'd shoved whatever had put them behind the gym bleachers the previous Friday back into her mind with thoughts of unfinished homework and the kicks she had yet to perfect. Sunday morning found the weather bright and sunny, cold and crisp for late September, but not chilly.
"Okay!" she called down to her mom as a last reminder was sent up the staircase. "I'll do it later!"
There were no other reminders and she heard the sound of the front door closing below. She sighed as a moment later her mom's car rumbled into life in the driveway. The exhaust was still hanging, announcing the Rogers' arrival to anyone within earshot. Another something that her dad had to fix when he got home.
She finished primping in her bedroom before the tall mirror on the back of her closet door. Sundays usually meant casual wear, unless she was going somewhere special, but today she had something to do.
She wasn't sure it was special, but it was necessary.
More of her recollection from the dark spot in her memory during the pep rally had surfaced, but she'd chalked it up to a bad dream from the fall. The football game that evening was a blur. She could recall little of it. Her ankle had throbbed until halftime, but then the cold night air had come to her rescue and numbed the small, aching knot at her instep enough to not care.
She pulled her sweater to her waist, ignoring the bruise at her hip, knowing the top would cover it. It was new and she didn't recall getting it, so again, it was stashed into what she'd begun to call The Fall Injury List.
Satisfied with her image reflecting residual rudeness, she headed downstairs.
The townhouse she needed to find in the fourth block radius from the high school was almost two miles from Berlin's house, but it was a rough two miles. The heavily wooded landscape of the land followed the twisting road that would become the main secondary street in Parrish, making the walk seem longer than usual to her.
She generally caught a ride with Stacie from the pompom squad when the latter's boyfriend drove them in, but occasionally Berlin walked when she bypassed the bus stop. She didn't mind the bus on game days if the weather was too cold for her uniform skirt, but she preferred walking. That Sunday morning, she wished there was a bus to catch. Her ankle was still a bit strained; the only excuse she had for why was too unsettling to give more thought.
She reached town a bit breathless, so she took her time finding the brick townhouse. When she did, she worked up her most apologetic smile, which was easy to do because she was guilty, and knocked on the front door to the Park residence.
It opened and Kevin stared back at her. He looked surprised to see her, but seemed to recognize her. "Berlin Rogers?"
"Yes, hi." She smiled too much and quickly toned-down the feature.
A moment of discomposure passed and he nodded slowly and stepped to one side of the doorway. "Come in."
She hesitated for a split second and then nodded. "Okay, thanks."
She stepped in, immediately absorbed in the quietness of the entry hall as he closed the door to the outside traffic passing on the street. As soon as the sounds were muted, she felt the confines of the room close in on her. The entry hall was little more than a patch of slate marble before the main living room that opened before them. Two dove gray sofas faced each other in front of a gray brick fireplace. The lamps were matching slate gray, their shades pearl white. Everything looked like it was etched in frosted glass, from pale gray carpet to glass-topped coffee table to the ceiling of swirl-patterned plaster.
"Uh, would you like to sit down?" Kevin asked, curiosity at her presence still showing in his face. "Can I take your coat?"
"Oh, this?" She said it before she thought, her mind on how odd coat sounded for her lightweight wool jacket. It was warm, but she'd never thought of it as a coat. "I, yeah. Guess so."
She began to slip out of one sleeve before realizing he was so close or that he was indeed taking it. She nearly cuffed his cheek before she saw his hand on her collar, helping her ease out of the navy wool, and also aiding in colliding with her palm.
He didn't duck, but the look on his face told her he'd thought about it. He plucked the jacket off her other shoulder and hung it on the antiqued brass coat tree behind them. "You came here alone?"
Some of the smile fell from her face. "Yes. Is that okay?" She looked swiftly around for parental figures, seeing none.
"Of course." He frowned, jamming his hands in his jeans pockets, looking much like he did during school hours in a simple charcoal gray button-down shirt over a tee, except a few less buttons were fastened. "What are you doing here? Are you all right?"
She nodded. "Yes. Are you?"
He frowned more. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Because we fell off the back of the bleachers last Friday and I was just wondering," she finished slowly. "I didn't see you at the game Friday."
"I wasn't there."
He laughed, but without amusement. "I don't go to football games."
"Even home games?" she couldn't help but ask.
"Even home games." He nodded into the living room. "Have a seat."
She glanced to the room that looked too polished and shiny and gray to sit in. "I, uh, I just came to apologize, really." She saw the knowing dread cross his face, something wary settling in his eyes. "I assumed you were an exchange student from Korea and I shouldn't have. I'm really sorry."
He opened his mouth to say one thing, but then changed it even as he spoke. "Why Korea?"
"Oh, well, Park. You know. Park." She said it as if he was supposed to understand by the name alone.
He did. "I see."
She smiled, brightening. "You are? Korean?"
He grinned a little. "Yes, and some Japanese."
"Oh, that's so cool," she gushed, and then stopped herself before stepping on another etiquette landmine. "I mean, I think it's..."
"Cool?" He shrugged. "You want to sit down?"
She took a seat on one of the gray sofas, on the center cushion, sitting straight, nearly rigid as she looked around the room. On the mantle was a collection of framed photos, most of black-haired people she guessed to be family. A few were of young boys, one of four people standing before a lake, a few of a man and a woman. She curbed her wandering attention and looked back to Kevin.
He was opposite her in the other sofa across the glass table. To her surprise he was leaning back, nearly slouching against the sofa, one arm resting along the back, more at ease than she'd ever seen him, even in literature class where students were known to fall asleep. His posture looked out of place in the formalness of the room.
"You have a really nice house," she said, meaning it. "Everything looks so, so untouched," she added as her gaze went again over the furnishings. "Nothing like most of my friends' houses. Everything is always so overly lived-in."
He nodded. "How's your foot?"
She wiggled her left foot on cue. "Fine. Why?"
"You were favoring it last Friday, and limping a little at the gym, after the rally." He said the last as if it were a question.
"Yeah, that." She sighed, watching her ankle do nothing before shifting her gaze to him. "What do you remember about any of it?"
Something flitted over his face, something that he caught before it actually made an expression. "About what? Dark tunnels and water?"
She nodded slowly, eyes locked on his.
He frowned, watching her nearly mirror the feature. "Really?"
Her gaze dropped to his shirt, unaware she was counting how many buttons were loose over his t-shirt until she felt a blush catch her cheeks. "No."
"No." Her eyes flicked to his face. "No, I don't know why I nodded yes."
He sat forward and leaned his elbows on his knees, hands slowly balling together until his knuckles cracked. "Because I remember something about dark hallways and water."
"I don't." She had to make herself say it. It was more comfortable to say no to the nightmare in which she'd seen Sasha crashed against a wall and the dark water that had nearly pulled her foot down a drain. Lee's face leapt into her mind. She shook her head. "What do you remember?"
Kevin looked to each of her eyes, a piercing study that nearly made her squirm. "You don't remember, but you're here to apologize for what you said there?"
Her mouth dropped open slowly, but she was oblivious to him following the movement. "Oh, it was there... I thought it was lit class."
He frowned, watching her compose herself as she sat straighter, lips pursing for control. "Is it easier that way? To pretend it didn't happen?"
"Dreams don't happen," she said without thinking. It felt as if someone else had control of her speech. She shook her head. "They just are, inside our heads."
"I guess it is easier that way."
She sighed, looking around the room, searching for something to distract them, her, from herself. She studied one of the photos that showed Kevin and a younger boy in school uniforms. They weren't from any school she was familiar with, but she easily recognized Kevin. "You have a little brother? Is he at Parrish Junior High? Or is he still –?"
It came out more harshly than he'd meant it; she could see that right away. She saw a pained look furrow over him. "I'm sorry. I'm, I'm sorry, Kevin. I didn't mean to bring up anything sensitive."
He glanced to the photo she'd looked at it. For a moment his eyes went over the image in it, as if for the first time, as if trying to bring back that moment in the frame. His gaze dropped to the glass table top. In it he could see Berlin's reflection, her empathetic unease as she watched him.
She flinched as he hastily looked up to her. "You want to go get some egg rolls?" he asked.
Again her mouth drooped open, but this time much quicker. She snapped it shut, only to speak. "I'm sorry for that, Kevin. Really I am. I didn't –"
"That Chinese place in town." He saw she was still serious, their previous topic still hanging over them. He grinned, hoping it would pass as genuine. "Hey, just 'cause I'm Korean doesn't mean I can't jump Asian cuisines, does it? Do you like Chinese food?"
She smiled, nodding almost frantically. "Yes. Oh, yes. Lots of Chinese stuff."
He got to his feet, frowning as she stood and blushed, adding much-needed color to the room. "Just Chinese?"
She paused, quickly reading the low-key tease in his tone. "No. Everything Asian."
She smiled wider, nodding.
"Then it must have been you that picked out that song the pompom squad performed to last Friday."
Some of her smile faded. "Did you like it?"
"Korean pop music isn't my favorite," he admitted as they went to the entry where his coat hung on a branch of the coat tree near hers. "But, yes, it was fun."
She giggled. "Good."