chapter one

Have you ever had an identity crisis? You know, that thing where you think you know who you are, but in actuality you had no idea? Sixteen is that age of discovery and what a miserable discovery it can be, especially when you are not sure you want to discover anything at all. Not that I was thinking about that much at my own sweet sixteen bash. I had quite a few more serious things to worry about, or at least, more serious things were about to happen. I had no idea my life was in for such a twist. Sometimes when I think about what happened, I get so mixed up, so I'm going to write it down this time. Of course, it will probably still be very confusing, but what the heck! My name was Shelly Parker, and this was my story. Was that a lame sentence or what?

It all sort of began at history class. It was the fourth period of the day and by this time I had lost all interest in the lecture my poor teacher was desperately trying to shove down our throats. I say 'our' because of course I was not alone in boredom. I glanced to my left and smiled at my inattentive strange and yet treasured friend, Joanna Patterson. She sat with her arms folded across her small chest and stared straight at Mrs. Lain, but I could tell by the intense stare that Joe had no idea what she was talking about. With her baggy black pants covered in chains and her ripped black t-shirt held together by safety pins and of course her trademark collection of over twenty thick silver necklaces with various dragons and skulls hanging from her neck, Joe would occasionally frighten a person upon first glance. She was full of fight and prone to yell and do and say things that were just plain odd. Observing her and then observing me, a person could never guess that we had been friends since elementary school. She had had a hard life. Her dead beat father was in jail for some crime or another and Jo's mother had married another man. Unfortunatly it was a big mistake. Jo was basically given the shaft and it was a long while until her mother figured out about the verbal abuse. They divorced, but it was messy. We had our rough times and I was quite alarmed as her style became more and more extreme, but somehow here we were, sitting in the same classroom and apparently of the same opinion. The lunch bell had to ring soon, or heaven help the faculty.

I lazily rotated my head to my right and was met with a much more intimidating view. There he sat, tall and thin with thick black hair and crystal green eyes which were at the moment frosted over with a vague uninterested expression. His crisp white t-shirt clung slightly to his body and his dark jeans hung just below his hips. With his hand holding up his head and occasionally pushing back locks of soft ink hair, Ryan Harris was probably the most gorgeous boy I had ever seen in my entire life. I despised him. Isn't it interesting how even though you are so physically attracted to a person of the opposite gender, you still have the odd sensation whenever you see them or have to talk to them that you wish you were anywhere else in the entire world but near them? Uh, did what I just say make any sense at all?

After drinking in the beauty of Ryan I tried to focus on Mrs. Blain, but found my eyes clinging desperately to the wall clock. Any minute now and it would ring, I just had to hold on a little longer. Finally the bell sounded through the halls. The sighs of relief were audible as my fourth period class slid out of their desks and moved towards the door. Joe slept out of her chair with a whoop that caused most of the class to stare, but knowing that she would wait for me, I slowly gathered my things and met her by the door. She gave me a patronizing glare and I prepared for her remarks.

"Oh come on already! I have to pee so freaking bad my bladder is going to explode!" Joe grabbed my wrist and marched me to the bathroom. I had the pleasure of holding her huge orange binder while she did nature's business. Joe's pants fell with a clang as metal chains met dirty bacteria filled tiles. There was no one in the faded pink bathroom owing to the fact that everyone was in a rush to get ahead in the lunch line. My fingernails drummed on the porcelain sink, as least they did until I started imagining what nastiness had probably occurred in said sink and quickly removed my pale fingers. Instead, I took the opportunity to study my reflection in the water spotted mirror. I stared into the eyes of a gracefully thin girl. Her ivory skinned face looked back at me with fairly large brown eyes. She was a little under average height, with shoulder length dark brown hair that framed her face and slightly curled at the ends. It was a pleasant girl, I decided. She pulled at the simple green v-necked shirt and turned to check her dark jeans for unnoticed gum that might have been placed on a chair. At that point Joe emerged from the stall and began to wash her hands in the dirty sink. She glanced at me and gave me a funny grin.

"oh come on now Shells, you weren't checking yourself out again were you?" I tossed her the orange monstrosity that is her binder and spoke as if oblivious.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." she caught it with ease.

" yeah okay, whatever you say Whiteout." I glared at her for calling me that name. It was a horrible nickname that she and a few of my other friends had come up with one day. The idea behind it was that my skin was so white that if they were to put whiteout on my hand, it wouldn't show.

"Oh come on Joe! You know I hate that!" I marched out of the bathroom and made my way to the cafeteria. I heard Joe's heavy boots behind me and sighed. She knew I was a push over and would forgive her instantly.

"Jeez Shells I didn't mean it!" I stopped and tried to stay angry, but it was to no use,

"My name is Shelly Parker and don't you dare call me anything else." I tried to look menacing but Joe just grinned,

" yeah alright, you got it Shells." why did no one take me seriously? No matter how hard or upset I ever became, people would just laugh or pat me on the back like it was all a big joke. Maybe because usually I am joking.

Together we walked past the lunch line that snaked out of the cafeteria and into the hall and went straight to our table with our brown bag lunches in our hands. We sat towards the back, but not so far that we looked like delinquents. It was sort of in the middle but at the same time far away from everyone else. That was how we tended to like it. Joe's actions often caused a good deal of unwanted attention and because I enjoyed being invisible we tried to stay away from crowds.

We reached the germ infested table and sat on the round blue benches. Our friend Megan Hamilton who had already started on her sandwich sat on the end of the table. She gave us a hello and then went straight back to her food. She had long dark hair and a was almost as tall as me. She sported a soccer jersey and faded jeans and sat with her tennis shoe covered feet tucked comfortably around the bench. She was reading a fantasy novel as she slowly chewed her food.

I knew Megan fairly well. We were both neighbors and had met four years ago when I discovered her moving van had gotten the wrong house and was trying to unload in my driveway. Like Joe, Megan and I had very little in common. She was athletic and enjoyed rough games. However we did both read the same literature and shared the same dislike for attention. I glanced at the others who graced us with their presence. Andy, a tall lanky boy who was a year younger then us sat with his focus on Joe as they discussed various video games. I studied the awkward actions and nervous laughs that would appear whenever Joe was focused on him.

I liked Andy. We had met in my Algebra class a year ago next week when he had tripped over his feet and ended up on top of my desk. I had expected him to turn red and mumble an apology as he had when he had accidentally knocked into another girl, but instead he smiled at me and said,

"sorry, I just couldn't resist your magnetism." I was a such a ridiculous line and his face was just full of fake sincerity that I burst out laughing. After that I had adopted him as my little underclassman. Jo took an instant liking to him, and when Andy was introduced to her I had noticed an infatuated glint. I had hoped it was a harmless glint, but judging by his current body language I was being proved wrong. I shook my head as I listened to their discussion, man we were such geeks.

Erick sat stoically next to me as always. I knew absolutely nothing about him personally. Erick was a friend of Jo's I had met at the beginning of the year. I believe the story was he was coming out of the office at school and she found him attractive. Jo immediately offered to show him around and ever since he has been with us. He was taller then me with broad shoulders and tan skin. His eyes were gray and devoid of any emotion. He would sit across from Jo and next to me everyday and never say a word. I tried to talk to him once but he only responded with a nod of his head or a grunt which was not very interesting or comfortable. You would think that this would prevent any kind of a friendship. I mean, who wants to hang around someone who refuses to talk to anyone. I'll tell you why, because the one thing about Erick was that he listened to me. Everyday after school I would give him a ride home in my metal death trap. He only lived about a street away so it really wasn't a problem. When we were alone, I never felt pressed to make conversation or not to make conversation. If I wanted to talk I would end up spilling my guts about all sorts of insecurities while he would look at me and nod or stare or whatever his little stone heart felt like doing in response, but it didn't really bother me too much, until I thought of all the dirt he really had on me. That kid could reveal secrets that even Jo had no idea about. So did that make Erick my best friend instead of Jo? I debated that every car ride home. The only time Erick was bothersome was during school in which he just always appeared to be bored or tired. So anyway, that's Erick. Occasionally our other friends would walk by and sit with us for a little while to remark on an assignment or tell a funny story, but other then that our lunch table consisted of only us.

Because I had no desire to sit in silence I decided to draw Megan away from her book by being my usual ridiculously goofy self. I have always enjoyed making others laugh. I love to hear people laugh, something about that sound takes the weight of tests embarrassment and sadness off my shoulders. Unfortunately Megan had no desire to draw herself away from her land of dragons and knights so I returned to my lunch and began to people watch. I quietly observed my fellow students as they ate and socialized. My mind began to dwell on the many high school stereotypes that simply did not seem to exist. Movies and books tended to display high school students as different groups such as the preps and cheerleaders, the Goths and punks, and the geeks and nerds, acting as if the different groups never socialized with each other. I had to disagree with that as I watched my peers. Many of the more popular girls did seem to hang on the arms of football players, but they were not snobbish or mean. Many of them treated me just fine and a few of them were old friends. The geeks and the nerds were not the skinny pimpled boys you would think of. Some were actually very attractive and smart. Of course there were extremes, I can't deny that. Joe often was under the impression that cheerleaders were all blond idiots and that only the Goths and punks had any real ways of thinking logically.

I glanced at Joanna under my eyelashes. She was in heavy discussion with Andy about some level in some game that I didn't know. I was honestly starting to worry about Joe. It wasn't the extreme style or even the occasional language that had me in a real discomfort. It was the way she didn't accept people. She locked herself in a small box of how she thought the way things should be and I don't believe she even knows where the key is anymore. At times she even would become upset with me, especially when she would catch me studying myself like I did in the bathroom or whenever she caught me studying Ryan Harris, which I thought was ridiculous because I was only human.

Joe caught me staring at her. She grinned and gave me the finger. I scowled at her for being so rude, but she only laughed. I would never understand why Joe thought it was so amusing to act in such a way especially when she knew I hated such actions. Megan must have felt the same way because she punched Joanna so hard on the arm that she went flying off the stool. She emerged looking as though she didn't want to admit that it hurt but didn't want Megan to get away with it. Thankfully the bell rang and saved us from any further contention. Sometimes I had the nagging feeling that Jo didn't treat me or any of us with very much respect.

Joe left in the opposite direction while Megan and I climbed the stairs to our German class. As we walked down the English hallway, Megan stopped by the door of her brother's class and gave him a quick hello. By that time she had put her book away and was ready to acknowledge my presence. "did you do your German homework? I completely forgot about it."

"Sure did" I replied and pulled it out of my folder with a flourish. "My dear Lady doth thou so desirest to posses my parchment to perform the act of completing thine own scholarly workmanship." Megan grinned and gracefully took the notebook paper out of my hand.

"Why indeed I do accept thine gracious act of kindness. Mayest thou say the word and thy deed shall be rewarded!" We laughed, both knowing that the reward would be me borrowing her assignment the next time I was in a jam. Megan and I entered the air conditioned classroom and found Sasha saving us seats. Sasha was one of those friends who would visit with us at lunch but never stay long. She was a social butterfly with far to many people to be with at once. We weren't very close, but I liked her, even though she was far to blunt at times.

German class had to be almost as terrible as history. It is no fun to have an instructor drone on and on about nouns that had to have different forms of die der and das at the beginning, but at least we were given ten minutes at the end of class to talk. A time that Sasha took full advantage of. The minute our teacher gave the permission, Sasha made a ninety degree turn in her desk and confronted me with various facts about students that I didn't even know. I tried to catch Megan's eye for help, but Megan just gave me a grin and picked up her book, so I put on a smile and let Sasha get it all out of her. As I made the proper comments whenever appropriate, I wondered how on earth I ended up with friends that were so completely different from me. I studied Sasha from her highlighted blond hair to her designer clothes. She loved to shop and be with large groups. At times I considered her to be even more strange then Joe.

After German ended, I excitedly made my way to the best class of the day, Art. I fought my way down the busy stairs and reached the big gray door only to find it locked. Mrs. Price must have taken her free period and had not returned yet. I held my binder to my chest and shifted my weight to my right foot in impatience. I felt a tap on my left shoulder and stupidly looked to see who it was. I heard a male laugh and quickly looked to the right. Peter's pleasant face came to view and I formed my expression into a fake pout.

"I got you AGAIN Shells!" he proclaimed with joy. I just had to smile. At first glance this tall dark African-American boy would seem intimidating in his football jersey , but Peter had such the look of a little boy whenever he smiled that you just wanted to hug him.

He continued to look very pleased with himself as he searched the crowds for our missing teacher.

"Mrs. Price!" he called in a high pitched sing song voice "dear Mrs. Price where are you! How is Shelly ever going to complete her masterpiece if we can't get inside the door!" I punched him lightly on the arm in mock annoyance.

"what masterpiece! It's a pencil sketch!" Peter stopped and tried to look wise, "yes but pencil sketches are your forte Ms. Parker." Peter was saved from any remarks from me by the arrival of Mrs. Price who promptly unlocked the door and released the flood of students into the classroom. As a whole we took out our sketch pads and began to complete our drawings. We stared at the model vase Mrs. Price placed in front of us and the sound of graphite on paper became the dominant noise. I became lost in that wonderful feeling of pencil against paper.

I loved the way the smooth, gray lines danced and intertwined to become something, anything I wanted them to be. I was the master and today I commanded a vase. The only problem with this feeling was that I never stayed in touch with what my surroundings were doing. I was suddenly made aware that students were gathering their things and leaving. I looked towards the door and just barely saw Peter's wave goodbye. I hastily responded and gathered my things.

Joe, Megan, Andy, and Erick were waiting by my locker with various looks of annoyance, except Erick who always had the same expression.

"Sorry!" I called out to them, "I got held up." I reached my blue locker and quickly did the combination. I threw my books into my backpack and slung it over my shoulder. "Ready! It's going time!" We marched out of the school and slowly made our way through the parking lot. Most of the other students had cleared out, I secretly liked the lots to be empty because I was a very jittery driver and the less things to hit the better. We arrived at my car first. It was an old beat up red car, but I was pleased to have it.

"Well fare thee well my dear dear companions." I stood behind Erick and put my hands on his shoulders while pretending to yank him with me. "I am taking this rock and none of you can stop me." I gave Erick a real yank, but it was in vain. He didn't budge at all. It must have looked ridiculous. A well muscled tan boy who was a head or maybe two heads taller then me, trying to be dragged by a thin girl with toothpick arms. My friends must have thought so because their pleasant laughter was dancing in my ears. I grinned, but my grin turned into a protest as I felt my feet leave the ground. Erick turned around with me over his shoulder and started for my falling apart metal contraption. I saw Jo and Megan raise an eyebrow while Andy let out some sort of whistle call thing. Not wanting them to get the wrong idea, I raised my arms in mock defeat.

"It appears as though the rock has taken me!" that eliminated their expressions and replaced them with pleasant amusement. Erick gently let me to my feet and I hopped in the driver's seat and started the ignition. I watched him ease into his seat with that bizarre stoic grace and with a wave goodbye we left the school parking lot.

Sometimes when I would wave goodbye, I wished I could say goodbye to so much more. Even though I was supposed to be a young woman, is still felt like I was fourteen. I had the same worries and the same fears. I hadn't changed at all and that scared me. Wasn't I supposed to experience some dramatic alteration both physical and mental? With these thoughts running through my muddled brain I temporarily forgot I had company with me. I glanced at Erick and found his gaze on me. It was calm as if he was saying 'yes I am here.' I shook my head,

"my bad, guess I got lost in the labyrinth that is my mind. Someday I'm going to make a map for myself, then maybe I can understand what I'm trying to find in these crazy thoughts." He stretched and leaned into the back of his seat. I knew that meant 'yeah, I know just what you mean.'

"So, why did you pull that crazy barbarian move on me in the parking lot huh?" I pulled a sharp turn off the main road,"You've never done anything like that before." Erick lazily turned his head in my direction and put his hands behind his head. 'well you started it first.' I rolled my eyes,"yeah well, now Jo, Megan and Andy are going to have all kinds of random thoughts because of it." He sighed and closed his stony eyes,'who cares?'

"oh for the love of the ability to breath, you can be so exasperating!" I locked my eyes to the road while he dozed until I reached his house. He undid his seatbelt and shot me a look. "I know you don't like it, but this car could die at anytime while I'm driving and I could crash, without that belt you could fly through the window and die!" He must have thought that was amusing because he gave a loud snort before ruffling my hair and getting out of the car. I rolled down the window as he started to his porch," I am NOT a dog so don't pet me like one!" He didn't turn back but waved as I pulled out.

With a sigh I pulled into my driveway and climbed out of the car. My house was tucked faraway in a little wood just off the main road which was only accessible by a thin curving dirt road. I had lived there for as long as I could remember with my foster parents Lyn and John Parker. They kept me for five years before they adopted me legally. I climbed the dark wood stairs and entered into the kitchen.

"I'm home Lyn!" Lyn was cooking an elaborate meal for dinner. She held a part time job as a professional chef at a local restaurant and John and I had the pleasure of trying out every new dish she came up with.

"Shelly!" Lyn wiped the flour off her hands and reached into the cupboard for some random spice that I would never be able to pronounce. "a letter was left in the mailbox for you today!" I paused on my way to my bedroom.

"a letter? Who would write me?" Lyn just laughed,

"It didn't have an address or stamp, so I put it on your bed for you." Curiosity gave my body an extra push as I climbed to the second floor. My room was the farthest one on the left in a hidden corner of the house. I pushed open the door and found exactly what I was looking for. Sitting on my simple twin bed rested a small white envelope. I picked it up and was surprised to discover that even though it look smooth and was pure white, the paper felt rough and old to my touch. There was no address or stamp, just my name "Shelly" written in a fancy calligraphy. I gently ripped the top of the envelope and pulled out and equally white paper that was folded in half. I unfolded the message. It read.

Are you sixteen years of age?

"um ...yes." I turned the paper over, looking for the rest of the message, but that was it. Who would write me such a strange letter? It was completely pointless. I had no way of responding to the letter and if someone was really curious they could have looked into my records at school or hack into the Government or something. It was pointless, unless I was being watched. However, at that point the thought did not occur to me, so I made to toss the paper into the trash, then I thought better of it and put the paper in my sketch pad.

Dinner that night was amazing. Lyn had made some sort of Italian dish with the most amazing sauce. The way Lyn cooks it's a wonder as to how I stay so abnormally thin. By the time I was done eating I could barely roll myself into bed. Somehow I managed it. Pulling the bed sheets up to my chin, I snuggled in the depths of my cloudy dreams. In my comfort, I did not see the window open, or hear the quiet intruder climb into my room and sit at the foot of my bed, but I did dream. His eyes watched me, just waiting for me to wake, hoping that I would wake. It's a good thing I did not. I wouldn't have believed what I would have seen. He sat patiently at the foot of my bed while idly carving some piece of scented wood. This guy came to me in my dreams all the time. Pretty much every night. He didn't do much just sat fiddling with one object or another. I think he talked to me, I didn't always remember what was going on. If he wasn't sitting at the foot of my bed, he was kneeling next to me or laying down by my feet with his head propped up in one hand. I liked him, I knew that I did. I just didn't know who he was. Seemed nice though.