Chapter 11: Waking

"Slow Burn" Atreyu

Leigh's head swam as she flipped copy after copy over on the machine in the library on campus. Thank God the library was open on Sunday. After her clubbing/drinking escapade last night, she had nearly forgotten all about an article that she had due for the paper on Monday. She rubbed her eyes as she thought about how she came to remember the deadline.

Earlier Sunday Morning

Leigh was on the cusp of what she thought was either a dream or a memory. At the moment, she couldn't be too sure which it was she was thinking about as it involved lots of alcohol, dancing, Never Have I Ever, and beating piñatas with sticks. Either way, she still had a horrible hangover from all of the drinking they had done at Chevies.

With her eyes closed tightly in an effort to get more sleep, Leigh groaned and scooted her head back to where it was more on the surface of whatever she was asleep on. Try as she might, a strong, homey smell kept her from falling back asleep.

"Do I smell omelets?" Leigh murmured half asleep.

"Yes you do little miss pass out." Even in a terribly hung over state, Leigh couldn't help but know that it was Aaron's chipper voice that was talking to her, and it reminded her that she had been table dancing, or in her case island dancing, when she passed out. A blush rushed onto her cheeks.

"I think I'm gonna be sick." Leigh groaned.

A pain wretched through her stomach and a cold sweat broke out on her skin-completely annihilating her blush with a slight green color. This was when waking up the next morning sucked. At first, the hangover would trick her and make her think that she would just have a slight hangover, but then the wave of nausea would hit her. It was all down hill from there.

Leigh cracked open her mascara encrusted eyes and saw the room swirling. This only made her head throb and stomach twirl even more. As hastily as possible, Leigh leaned over the edge of the island and rid her body of last night's endeavors as quietly as she could.

When she had nothing else to give the perfectly placed trash can, Leigh pulled her upper body back onto the cold marble counter and rolled over onto her back to ease the pain laying on her stomach was causing. Her plan worked out well until the bright light hit her eyes.

"Damn." Leigh hissed and threw her hand over her eyes. In a second, she had her sunglasses that were tangled in her hair on. Then, she heard the horrible crunching noise of a thousand chips.

Please God, don't let those be Cheetos, she thought with a feeling of dread.

If they were, then her day would suck infinitely, especially because she was in her newest sequin shirt. No better way to start the day than to ruin a good shirt.

To seal her rocky fate, Leigh kept rolling until she was comfortably lying on her back. The kitchen island was warm under her since she had been laying on it all morning, which was a welcome fact because the house felt cold now that her body was calming down. Damn boys. Leigh lifted her torso off of the island and looked down.

"Thank you JESUS!" Leigh exclaimed. The chips she had rolled over weren't Cheetos, and they were still in bags. Someone upstairs was obviously looking out for Leigh, or so she thought until her stomach revolted against the many flips she had done to get in her current position. Thankfully, the handy garbage can in front of the island was able to be reached in time.

With the bitter hot twang of rum on her breath, Leigh heard Aaron. "You look so cute when you're hung over." Aaron's voice was sickly sweet.

"Oh, fuck you." Leigh said aloud and then added mentally. Sarcastic ass.

"Now that's not nice. I got up to make all of you drunkards breakfast, and this is what I get."

Don't even talk about food. Suddenly, Leigh was very grateful that Aaron could read minds. It made it a lot easier to tell him things when every time she so much as opened her mouth she felt sick.

Crap. Why did Aaron always catch her in the worst possible moments? The ones when she was sick, had mascara plastered across her eyes, makeup smeared and smudged all over her face and hands from sleeping, wild hair, bad breath, possible B.O., few clothes on, and a foot in her oversized mouth. What had she done to suddenly piss off the higher authority? Maybe this was her form of atonement for all of her sins. Either way, it was like being put through the fourth ring of hell. Not only did she have to go through the fact that someone was catching her in an embarrassing moment, she had to deal with the fact that it was someone she liked and wanted to desperately impress.

"Thanks anyway though." Leigh mumbled with her face lying on the island.

"You are very welcome. Now here, drink this." Aaron thrust a glass toward her. Leigh kept her head down, but heard the glass ring when it hit the surface of the island.

"What is it?" Leigh peeked up through her wild mass of hair to give Aaron a suspicious look that he didn't get because of her sunglasses.

"Water," Aaron crossed his arms and gawked at her. "Exactly what you need in the state you're in now. I swear. Living with you is the perfect training for a medical student."

"Can I get paid for this?" Leigh asked as she lifted herself up and forced the water down her parched throat.

"You wish!"

"I do actually." Leigh replied through coughing fits after gulping the entire glass Aaron had given her.

"What's the matter, your mama didn't teach you how to chug?" Aaron grinned at his goofy comment. Leigh gave him a dirty look.

"I never needed to learn how."

"Everyone should learn how to chug." Aaron quipped.

Leigh rolled her eyes at his typical guy comment. "If you'll excuse me, I need to clean up." With a swift glance, Leigh took in her bedraggled appearance and dusted some lint off of her shirt.

"I'll second that." Aaron smirked.

She gave him the finger and jumped down off of the island. God. She did not want to have to clean this entire mess up, but she knew that she had made this chaos and that meant only one thing. For now though, Leigh had more pressing issues, like getting a shower which would make her feel less sick.

Slowly, very slowly, Leigh climbed the stairs and went straight to the bathroom. For hopefully the final time this morning, Leigh rid her body of all of the alcohol left in it, brushed her teeth, and turned on warm water. As the water created deliciously warm steam in the cold bathroom, Leigh got ready to hop in, but even the warm water couldn't soothe her mind for the moment because words that she had glanced over Aaron saying came back to slam her like a freight train going a thousand miles a minute. The only thing that kept running through her head was how Aaron had jokingly said she looked cute with a hangover.

Obviously, he was lying to her. However, that was the thing that gnawed at her. She wanted him to mean something like that when he said it. She wanted him to be impressed by her and think that she was a bombshell no matter what. Then a morose thought crept into her, would she ever be able to escape the shadow of being like Aaron's little sister?

It was bad enough that she felt like it was noticeable that she liked Aaron, but it was even worse since he could read minds and find out that she did because she simply wasn't watching her thoughts. Leigh had to keep her guard up at all times. If Aaron found out about the way Leigh felt, he may not want to be roommates anymore, which meant that they would have to find a replacement and go back to pretending. Or, he would be so grossed out by the fact that she did like him that he would stop even being friends with her and make things painfully awkward for everyone in the house since he couldn't move out at the moment.

With a new headache sprouting more from the ideas swirling in her head than the alcohol in her veins, Leigh sank down to the floor of the shower and let the water pelt her skin like rain. For a while now, the shower was the only place she could honestly be unguarded because Aaron said that he never read anyone's mind when they were in there after picking up some pretty disturbing images from Nick one night. Leigh smirked at the thought and went right back to thinking about her next life move.

What was she going to do with Zac? They had been together so long that Leigh felt practically attached to the guy even though she didn't exactly love him anymore. Katie and Lauren said that it seemed like they had been drifting apart for a long time but just never noticed it. Both of them were right in a sense. Leigh and Zac hadn't actually gone on a date in a while, but that didn't mean that she wanted to end things. Despite the part of her that wanted Aaron, Leigh stubbornly clung to Zac as he did her just because they each felt like they had a claim on one another after dating so long.

"Hurry the hell up in there!" Katie's obstinate knocking on the door ripped Leigh away from herself and forced her to get out of the shower. Just to piss Katie off though, Leigh made sure to take an extra long time drying off. After about five more minutes, Leigh emerged from the bathroom.

Apparently, Katie was suffering like Leigh was earlier. In the same fashion as Leigh, Katie had on a pair of over sized sunglasses, wild hair, and a bad mood to top it off.

"Finally, what did you have to do in there? Shave Sasquatch?" Katie exclaimed. Leigh went wide eyed at what Katie was implying in front of Nick, of all people, who was conveniently was standing in the hall.

"Please tell me you didn't use my razor for that!" A horrified expression crossed Nick's face.

"NO!" Leigh hissed vehemently as she clung to the towel wrapped around her. "I didn't shave at all."

"Uh, I'd rather donate a razor to the cause than live next door to Chewbacca." Nick interjected.

"Nick!" Leigh began. "Shut the fuck up right now! I am not hairy!" Leigh declared.

"Let's hope not…" Nick sing-songed and walked down stairs.

"I hate that hobbit sometimes." Leigh scowled after him.

"Well, he has a point ya know. It's not like your French or something." Katie put in.

"Don't even start with me. He wouldn't have said anything if you didn't." Leigh glared crazily at Katie and retreated to her room to find clothes that would cover the nonexistent body hair they accused her of having.

It was only after she was dressed that she noticed Lauren sleeping snugly in her bed. At least one of her friends was responsible. Leigh strolled over the bed and laid down next to Lauren.

"Good morning." Lauren mumbled when she felt the bed shake with Leigh's movement.

"Dido." Leigh said. Lying on her own bed instantly cheered her up. It was like putting on a favorite dress or eating super delicious comfort food.

Lauren was fine laying there in silence. Secretly she wondered if Leigh knew that the only reason why she had even crashed in Leigh's bed is because Leigh had one of Karl's pillows that still smelt like him. Currently, Lauren was taking advantage of this fact and had the pillow propped right under her pretty little head.

"So, are you a suffering soul like Katie and I this morning?" Leigh asked. Her hellacious first few minutes this morning passed through her mind even though she felt okay now. Sunglasses were still a must, but at least she wasn't running to a trash can or having quite so bad headaches. Leigh hoped that Lauren hadn't had the same happen to her in her bed.

"No, I barely got buzzed last night." Lauren said. "I'm not a big drinker."

"Wait." Leigh propped up on her arm and tilted up her sunglasses to seriously look at Lauren as memories of last night ran through her head. "You mean to tell me that you act like that sober?"

"Does it surprise you?" Lauren wiggled her eyebrows up and down while giggling.

"You always surprise me." Leigh's laugh was cut short by her growling stomach. "Aaron made us breakfast this morning. Let's get some grub."

"Food!" Lauren cheered and hoped out of bed. She slipped her feet into the horse slippers that she always carried in her overnight bag and followed Leigh to the kitchen.

Katie was already seated in one of the high bar stools munching down an omelet that Aaron had fixed. She scooted down as best as she could to make room for Leigh and Lauren on her side of the island.

"So what are all of you ladies doing today?" Karl shuffled into the kitchen and grabbed a pint of chocolate milk of the refrigerator. Disgusting Leigh thought.

"We," Leigh put extra emphasis on the word, "are going to clean up." Katie nearly choked on a bite of egg when she heard the word "clean" come out of Leigh's mouth. Leigh slapped her on the back; Katie glared at her.

"Have fun with that." Aaron said as he scraped an omelet off onto Leigh's and Lauren's waiting plates.

"Oh, what are you going to do?" Lauren gave Aaron a dirty look.

"I didn't start the party last night." Aaron smirked. "I got home off of work, and you guys pulled me in through the door and harassed me all night long."

"Really?" Leigh asked. She wished she could, but she unfortunately couldn't remember much from last night. Hopefully, her mock serious tone about a serious question wouldn't let anyone else in the room realize how bad off she was last night.

"You liked being harassed!" Nick quipped as he strolled in and rat-tailed Aaron with the end of his towel. "Or at least I did." Nick gave Katie a sly glance that Leigh and Lauren picked up on. They smiled knowingly at each other.

"Well then gals and guys, I resign." Aaron threw his dish towel that had been draped over his shoulder onto the counter top by the stove.

"Where do you think you're going?" Lauren raised an eyebrow at him.

"I have to go take Hannah to the doctor." Aaron said.

It may not be physically possible, but Leigh practically turned green with envy. Zac never did that for her. This only helped her make up her mind that she should have dumped him a long time ago, but the fear of being alone when all of her other friends were in a relationship or in the stages of forming one was enough to keep her right where she was. Silently, she bit the tip of her tongue to make her focus on something other than the pain in her heart.

"Bye." Leigh said. The two smiled at each other as Aaron exited the room.

Lauren gave Leigh a pat on the back and a wry smile.

"You know what I think we should do?" Katie said.

"What?" Leigh asked.

"We should totally have a Halloween party this year." Katie said. "Here of course."

"That's a great idea." Lauren said enthusiastically.

"I think it'd be fun." Nick added in from his post by the fridge. "Never know who might show up."

"Yeah," Leigh started, "it sounds like an excellent idea. What's today?" Her wild night had completely obliterated her memory banks.

"It's Sunday, October 15." Lauren said as she squinted her eyes and thought about her last phrase.

"Good. That gives us plenty of time to plan this shin dig out." Leigh added.

"Who needs a plan?" Nick asked. "We can just say we're having a Halloween party to one person, it'll spread like wildfire, and then next thing we know we have a huge party on our hands, the cops are getting called, someone's getting arrested, another someone is in tears because they got cheated on, and the other is pissed off because they caught themselves being cheated on." Nick sucked in a deep breath of air when he was done.

"Yeaaaah…." All the girls said together as they stared at Nick with odd expressions.

"That is exactly why you have a plan." Karl laughed between spoonfuls of Coco Crispies.

"I'm with Karl." Lauren smiled.

"Me too." Leigh said. "The last thing I want is what hobbit ho over there just described."

"Yep. So, let's get this place clean!" Katie said in a mock deep voice.

"I don't wanna…." Lauren wailed and threw herself onto the island with a firm grasp on the edges of the table.

"Oh come on," Leigh urged.

"Fine, but only if Karl helps too." Lauren said in a baby voice while giving Karl puppy dog eyes.

"Only if you get up to help." Karl shrugged his shoulders.

Lauren instantly relinquished her hold on the table and jumped up. Leigh pushed her plate away and stood. Unexpectedly, Lauren jumped on her back.

Just as Leigh was exclaiming, "Oh God, my back!" Lauren pointed toward the living room, swept a costume pirate hat that was conveniently on the counter top onto her head and shouted, "Tally Ho!" Ignorant of Leigh's protest and exaggerated pain, Lauren kept talking in pirish.

"Onward to ye ole living room. We got us a deck to wash me mattes! Hoist the mast, adjust the wheel. Onward I say." Lauren yelled and slapped Leigh on the butt.

Leigh grumbled something about harassment and insanity toward Lauren at this turn of events but acted the part of a good ship nonetheless and gave Lauren a "jolly ole sail" into the living room.

& & &

All of the trash was outside and in the cans. Now, Karl, Lauren, Nick, Katie, and Leigh were all laying in the living room, exhausted from cleaning.

"What the hell is this?" Leigh exclaimed. She picked a crumpled piece of paper from between the seat cushions on the couch. To her knowledge, the garbage was all outside, but unsurprisingly, they had missed a piece. Leigh unfolded the paper to read it out of sheer curiosity. When she read it, all she could do was groan.

"What now?!" Nick asked from the couch.

"I have a deadline tomorrow." Leigh moaned. "Uh. I haven't even started research on this stupid article yet."

"Damn. What have you been doing instead?" Katie asked from the foot of the couch where she conveniently happened to be sitting. Leigh gave her a look.

"I've been playing around with you guys and doing a bunch of other crap." Leigh snapped playfully and hummed the paper at Katie's head. Katie ducked just in time.

"Well it sounds like you need to get crackin!" Lauren yelled. "Do you want some help?" She raised the rag she had tied around one eye as a make shift eye patch.

"No thanks One Eyed Willie." Leigh laughed. "I'm just gonna go ahead and get over to the library."

"Okay. Be safe. Call us." Katie said as Leigh slipped on a pair of flip flops, grabbed her keys, and dashed out the door.

Not five seconds later the door flew open and Leigh appeared.

"Forgot my iPod!" She yelled as she flew upstairs.

Nick, Lauren, Katie, and Karl all looked up at the ceiling vacantly as they heard Leigh drop something heavy upstairs. Then, she came running downstairs and slammed the door.

Now, Leigh was here in the library burning her tongue on a French Vanilla Latte at her side as she scanned another page out of a book. When she turned around she bumped into the person who was behind her. She patted his frozen shoulder, said excuse me, and continued to her table.

Normally, Leigh wouldn't freeze time to meet deadlines. Unless it was an extreme emergency, she just wouldn't, but it always ended up being an extreme emergency. Leigh couldn't help it that every time she had something important to do things that were a lot more fun to do came up. And why should she not use her power to manipulate time? Apparently she could do this for a reason; so why not use it to her advantage? It's not like she was hurting anybody. She was simply speeding up the rate at which other people could do things because she didn't get in the way.

And she really needed to speed up on finishing this article. Leigh had been at the library since the late afternoon and now it was about seven. She had frozen time since the library closed at seven thirty. Plus, she had a favorite show to watch at eight, and if she hadn't stopped time she would still be waiting in line for a turn to use the copy machine.

& & &

The legs of Leigh's chair screeched as the scooted back against the tile floor. Casually, she tipped the chair back and balanced it on the two back legs. She only needed one more paragraph. But, she couldn't think of any way to conclude her item because she couldn't focus any longer. Fatigue and hunger were working against her.

Leigh got up and went walking to the small cafe that was just next door. There was no reason for her to be scared, but Leigh always got the jitters when night time came around. Even with time being frozen, Leigh felt uneasy walking through the dim library. She got the vague notion that someone was watching her, but that was impossible.

Okay, you are the only person on the face of the planet that is walking around Leigh. Everyone else is a statue. You can do anything you want, and no one will know about it.

With hurried steps, Leigh came through the library door. Being outside eased her fear, but she would be happier if someone was with her. Maybe she should get a dog. That might make her feel better, but is also meant that she had another thing to take care of.

Leigh cut through the alley and went in the coffee shop. She went around behind the counter and started to make herself another cup of coffee. Luckily, she had never broken anything and figuring out how to work the machines was practically idiot proof. Once she had her drink, she got a cinnamon roll from the display case and left the appropriate amount of money in the register.

Feeling calmer in the night air, Leigh sat outside under one of the huge oak trees and ate. The cinnamon roll tasted like heaven and this time her coffee was iced for the sake of her tongue. It seemed like everything was perfect but soon the feeling of being watched returned. She turned up her iPod and reminded herself that she was the only person walking around. Slowly the feeling crept away, and the coffee and cinnamon roll left Leigh feeling lively but lonely again.

Yearning to get back to the real world, Leigh sauntered back into the library and hurriedly wrote the conclusion to her article. Then she closed her eyes and concentrated on bringing everything back to its normal speed. Air swirled around her head and the noise rushed back into the world like a screeching train. Leigh sucked in a deep breath to counteract the feeling of being punched in the chest and knew that everything was okay when she once again heard the whir of the copy machine.

Relief filled Leigh since people were no longer playing the role of manikins in her world, but she still felt like she needed to get home as quickly as she could. And if her intuition wasn't enough to urge her feet into motion, the simple fact that she might be able to get Aaron to proofread her article did. Giddy with possibility and on edge because of the feeling in her gut, Leigh hurriedly stuffed her things in her book sack and strode out of the library.

"Hey!" Someone was yelling behind Leigh. She turned her head and saw Sharon waving her iPod at her.

"Thank you so much!" Leigh couldn't express how grateful she was of what Sharon had just done for her. "I didn't even know that I had forgotten it."

"That's why I ran after you." Sharon huffed. "You looked like you were being chased by a devil the way you were walking out of there." She laughed, and Leigh responded with a tight smile because the offhand comment had made her even more aware of the fact that outside the consciousness of this feeling was growing instead of weakening.

"I'm just tired and ready to get home." Leigh forced a condescending laugh at herself out.

"I know how you feel. I hate having to cover night shift in there." Sharon nodded.

"Well, I can't really say how grateful I am for what you just did for me," Leigh started. "Most people would have just taken it but thank goodness you were around. So, would you wanna come to a Halloween party that my friends and I are having in a couple weeks?"

"Isn't it a bit earlier for an invite?" Sharon giggled.

"Maybe, but I know how hard it is to get off of work sometimes, and if you go ahead and ask now, you'll definitely be able to come." Leigh smiled.

"Good thinking." Sharon grinned at her. "I'll definitely come then."

"Cool. See you at work then." Leigh took the iPod from Sharon and continued walking away.

"Bye." Sharon called.

Leigh threw a backwards wave and kept going. Every moment she spent outside, the darkness of the night felt more oppressive. What was wrong with her? This had never happened before. Leigh had never been afraid of the dark. She like it actually. But something was different tonight. The murky black seemed dangerous and full of frightful, evil things. When she looked at it for too long, she fancied that she could see things moving in the shadows. She shut her eyes tight.

"Go away." Leigh said to whatever may be out there.

Timidly, Leigh peeled open her eyes and stared out of her car windows. Nothing. Darkness fell like a cape around the library. The street lamps made tiny halos as they sliced through the black and attracted bugs that she could see buzzing around the light bulbs.

Leigh shook her head. She was not being followed, stalked, or anything else.

AN: Super sorry about the wait but I have had terrible writers block for the past month or so. Then we got a new computer and I had to move all of my stuff from my old one to my new one. Plus I had finals, drivers ed, then I went on vacation, and I just got back from 4-H U. So, sorry about the long wait. I know I don't have a real excuse but the next update shouldn't take as long because now I have ideas!! Mwuahahaha!

Also, sorry if there are some errors I was so excited I probably did a sucky job proofing this chapter. But what is causing Leigh to feel like this? And what will happen at the Halloween party? When will we find out?

Please review. The more I get the faster I update :)