Authors note;; I'm changing Mika's name to Scarlett because I feel it suits the character more, just so you guys don't get confused. I'll go back and switch the first chapter eventually.
Chapter Two: Jungle Hunter
Even if it was the attic, it wasn't all that bad. Really. You had to take another, smaller winding staircase to get to the attic. By the time you were sure you were going through the first stages of claustrophobia, there was another door and you were in another open room. The attic was a little low, but it ran the length of the house. Half of the wide space belonged to me, the other half was used for storage, Christmas decorations and whatnot. Half of the attic had originally been a bedroom to start with though, so there was a wall separating the two halves. And, I didn't have to drag up a bedframe or mattress or anything. No, I was getting my Mom's old room, and her old bed. Which was furnished cherry oak and queen sized, thank you very much! I'd only ever had a small, cramped twin sized bed. I guess you could say I was moving up in the world. The room was a little musty when I first came up, ungraciously dropping my Fox Racing travel bag on the wood floor. Spider webs haunted in the corners and dust had settled on the few furnishings; a set of drawers, the bedside table and the bookcase. The room was nothing a little TLC and Febreeze couldn't fix though.
It felt like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't picture my mom in her teenage years, living in this room. There was no sign that she had, no posters hanging on the white-washed, sloping ceiling. The book shelves and bedside table remained empty, except for a lamp. I was almost thankful for this and tried to think of the room as some hotel suite long since used. I inhaled the Jurassic period dust and almost gagged. I walked across the room and opened up the pilot window, gratefully letting the cool nighttime breeze waft in.
I pulled up a lonely looking stool and sat down, resting my elbow on the window frame as I looked out past the dirt road and the wheat fields, towards the horizon. Towards Tucker's Bay and the ocean. I might as well kiss it all goodbye. A sudden high pitched whinny caught my attention and I stuck my head out the window a little, trying to get a better look at the right side of the house, where Bentley's old pasture was. To my surprise there was a statuesque palomino standing at the fence, where Lina and Glenn were petting him. Dawn hadn't brought up her and Jack getting another horse. And why would they? Neither of them would have the time to take care of it.
Just as I thought about this, Jack came and smooshed the Stetson down over my eyes. I had a feeling I wasn't going to get a lot of privacy in this house.
"Eeyore!"Jack exclaimed as I took off the Stetson and tossed it aside, running my hands through my messed up hair and not really caring how it looked.
"Your mom said you were hiding out up here, come on, I have something to show ya,"He said,"How was the drive?"
"Fine,"I answered simply, not wanting to elaborate. I think he got the message. The two of us walked downstairs and out front, to the left side of the house, where the garage was. The garage had originally been a bigger barn, but when Dawn and Jack moved in, they took out the stalls and replaced them with workbenches. The loft was used for storage. The barn had originally been painted white, when my great grandparents had been living on the property. They had just put a new roof on it last summer. But the white paint was chipping away and lush, emerald ivy crawled across the surface; rotting wood peeked out from underneath.
I caught Jack shake his head a little at the structure, like it was some stubborn mule that nothing could be done with. I hoped they wouldn't change a single thing about it; I think the building had character. Jack pulled open one of the large barn doors which retaliated with a rusty creak. I was about to follow him into the dark but he held up his hand and told me to wait outside before he disappeared into shadow. A pungent, ancient musk wafted outside and mixed with the smell of evening. I knew that smell could only come from musty attics, or decaying straw.
It was a couple of moments before I heard a grunt from Jack from within, but soon he walked out into the fading orange of the evening, pushing out a dirt bike before setting down the kick-stand and stepping back.
"Ta da,"He said, clapping his hands together, looking at me.
I raised my eyebrows in content surprise and disbelief, by Jack's sheepish grin I knew that I looked similar to a kid on Christmas. I couldn't help it though. It was a Kawasaki KX 85, a mean, electric green from front tire to back. It was obviously used, stickers had been slapped on it's surface, and the shining metal parts were scratched and dirty. Even the tires still had mud on them, and looked like they needed to be replaced. It's appearance was the equivalent of that lemon of a car you had as a kid, but with shorty headers and Bassani mufflers under the hood..
"I got it off of Mike Toomey down at the hardware store, his kid stopped playing around with it ever since he got his KTM 120. It's a small thing, but it still has some kick. It's a clutch, four stroke. Some parts need to be replaced though, like the shifter shaft, and the tires. But, I figured you'd need something to do with all of your free time out here.."He trailed off and looked at me, winking.
I offered him a smile, ecstatic. A clutch four stroke?!For ME?! So maybe the rest of this summer hadn't gone down the tubes after all. I could already picture myself tearing off along the fallow fields, an endless escape. Jack brought me back to reality, tossing a green and black helmet at me. I caught it quickly, scrambling to keep it in my arms like a newborn, in the helmet was a rolled up catalogue.
"You'll find everything you need in there, Chuck's place is just outside of Copper. We can go out there when you want to pick up the parts,"He paused for a moment, looking away from me, and sighed,"Don't make me regret giving this to you."
I knew he was talking about my mom, and though the somber note of his voice threw me off at first, a soft, quick electric buzz of annoyance flared in me somewhere. Wasn't it a child's job to worry their mother? Could I do something to anger her, to make her realize I was only sixteen, for once? In this exchange of our close relationship I suddenly felt a fence rise between us. Like he was some experienced horseman and I was just some willy Mustang on the other side.
"I won't,"I said, maybe too suddenly. His brown eyes met my gaze, but he smiled in a crooked way. I hurriedly continued,"I just..thank you, Uncle Jack,"I glanced over the bike briefly,"For saving me from potential boredom."
He patted me on the shoulder and laughed briefly, a deep, gentle sound, like he was humoring me. It reminded me of my dad's.
"It's okay Indigo, I know how it can get out here sometimes,"He replied finally, he still seemed to be thinking about something, his eyebrows furrowed,"Y'know, your thoughts..your head isn't a good place to live, Indi. Especially with the ..stuff that's been going on. If you stay in your head, you begin to forget who you are."
I didn't comment, listening, but mostly wanting him to die out on the subject. I'd listened to psychologists, doctors, counselors, friends. It wasn't that I couldn't let the past go, everyone else couldn't. I bit my bottom lip lightly, focusing on the glinting metal of the bike, fading as dusk slowly swallowed the sky. Couldn't they see I was fine? That I was coping just fine on my own? I couldn't voice any of this though, Uncle Jack just cared, like everyone else. Deep down, I appreciated the gesture. Deep deep down.
I shrugged, then nodded, looking at him so he could believe me, throwing in a slight smile for measure,"I'm fine, everything has been fine. It's just a bit of a tight place right now, for mom. I'll survive, it's not like stuff like this hasn't happened before."I must have repeated those similar lines dozens of times by now. I knew I was fine, but it was what people wanted to hear. Who was I to stop people from getting what they wanted? Even so, self-doubt becomes easy to read in someone's eyes after a while.
I felt Jack's eyes scan my jaw and I looked him in the eyes, pretended not to notice. He only stared back at me, and I felt like he was challenging me to some face off. I crazily remembered some random trivia that the first sign of the fighting of wills between animals was a stare-off.
"..If you're worried about people saying anything, well, it's going to happen either way,"I shrugged carelessly, giving in,"Plus, that was a while ago now, people will find better things to talk about."
It was probably the only thing I didn't like about this town, everyone knew everyone else's business. What else was there to talk about when time moved slower than the grass grew? People could say whatever they wanted for all I cared, what was past was past. I wasn't looking back anymore.
"So when did you guys decide to invest in goldilocks over there?" I asked more casually, gesturing to the far pasture while I looked over the bike, feeling the textured grips of the handlebars under my fingers.
"Oh, Reason?"Jack said, glancing to where I had gestured, he took the bait, shaking his head a little,"Pretty, isn't he? He's not ours though. He belongs to Mrs. McGuire next door. She needed a place to keep him."
"Oh,"I replied, and grabbed at any bit of information I could like a floating device,"Wait, someone moved into the Higgins place?"
The question was one of genuine interest, no one had moved into the small cottage-esque house next door since Mr. Higgins, a retired police officer, had passed away. No one had settled into a chair in that place in at least ten years. I kneeled down next to the bike, checking the engine pin, which was down, and unscrewing the oil cap to look inside. I glanced sideways at Jack.
He handed me an oil bottle, which I then poured into the bike,"Yeah, she moved in about a month ago. Nice lady. She used to work as an English teacher over at Brookdale for a while, and she moved here after her husband passed away."
I nodded a little, half-listening. The conversation had drifted back to shallow waters again and I felt like I was breathing more easily. Now if only there was some sort of button to switch off uncomfortable conversations..
"Oh god,"Jack then suddenly muttered in an almost tired way, which made me look up. Well, it was partially that and I could hear distant music getting louder and louder. I caught part of Jack's bright smile as he caught my eye and then turned back to the barn, I stood slowly and looked down the road. A large, black, well mostly black, F-250 was barreling towards the house, radio blasting and kicking up dust. It was easy to pick out other teen drivers in Copper, mostly because if you owned a truck, which most people in Copper did, the sides were caked in muck. Which, these off-roaders thought it was admirable not to wash the gunk away. So, I meant 'mostly black' as in 'partially covered in mud' as well.
"Oh dear indeed,"I found myself muttering, but smiling. The truck pulled abruptly on the side of the road and parked, killing the radio and the engine. The noise didn't stop there though; a henley of voices ensued all at once and finally the truck door opened and a teenage girl a couple of inches shorter than me came darting out, running across the road.
I felt my knees lock up in anticipation, waiting for Scarlett to undeniably knock me to the ground. She was only 5'2, but I was a sapling tree to her tidal wave of momentum.
She had a voice to scare off a murder too. But it was why I loved her. I sucked in my breath as she jumped and knocked me to the hard dirt, I could hear my head smack against the driveway and my brain rattle in my skull. I only blinked and sat up, looking at my dirt covered shirt and then attempted to brush some of it away. Oh well, so much for white.
Scarlett was sitting on her knees though, flashing her brilliant smile at me. She looked pretty, of course. She was wearing low-rider shorts, frayed out at the cut-off and the denim was just-bought dark. They were a little short for my taste, but that was Scarlett's style. Along with that she was wearing a black ribbed tank, showing off her slim waste and bulging bust. Her hair was back in a sloppy bun, and a pair of aviators was propped on her head. I'd been best friends with Scarlett since I was six, and since school had started I'd known she was the girl that other girls wanted to be and boys would be fighting to have. When we were younger it hadn't been so much about looks of course, but it had just been the way she had carried herself, her attitude. I could swear that Scarlett had been born self-assured. She was spirited and confident, she would openly say secrets and laugh the loudest in class. I was more held back of course, the cool contrast of her bombastic personality, but it was just the way things were. Of course, I couldn't help but be a little bit jealous of her, like everyone else. She was what people wanted to see and be; thin and athletic. She had a small, heart-shaped face and large gold-brown eyes, a dainty nose sloped down into full lips which hid those gloriously white teeth, as straight as chicklets. Her complexion was clear, and since it was summer, deeply tanned. If it wasn't her slim, coltish legs that got people, it was her razor-straight, deep red hair. The girl was a sun goddess.
"So what's shakin'?"Scarlett asked finally, her lips held in a gentle smile, but her eyes glinted towards something on the brink of mischievous, like she knew a secret.
"My thoughts,"I answered, touching my temple as I felt the blood rush in my skull slow down.
"Oh come on,"She laughed, pushing my arm,"You're not happy to see me? We wanted to surprise you."
I deliberately rolled my eyes,"Jeez, I'm gone two months and you're world is falling down. What would you do without me?"I looked at her and grinned, we always joked around like this.
"Cry myself to sleep at night,"Scarlett replied, pouting. As she said this her boyfriend, Brett, walked up and sat down next to her, draping an arm over her shoulders. Everyone at Copper High knew that Brett was Scarlett's prince, but he still had to go around trying to show some form of possession. Boys will be boys, as the saying goes. He was your basic diction of the star quarterback, muscled, tan, and cute. He rocked the whole 'boyish charm' thing, with sloppy gold-brown hair and bright green eyes that you couldn't say no to. Brett and I were only friends through Scarlett, but he was nice enough.
He looked at me and nodded,"Welcome back."
"Thanks,"I shrugged, I had gotten the words out just in time before I was mauled once again. Before I could even register that I was back on the ground, someone was nuzzling my neck, making my skin freak out and my initial reaction was to crawl away.
"Hey baby,"Vegas said too close to my ear.
It took all of my strength to stop myself from squealing, since I was known to be extremely ticklish. I punched Vegas in the arm and pushed him away from me, laughing,"You goof!"
"Woah now you two, keep it G-rated,"Brett murmured in his deep voice, grinning. I turned my head and shot him a look before sitting up again and taking all of them in. Vegas hadn't changed much since I'd last seen him, except that he'd gotten his long dark brown hair cut to a shorter style. He had bright, light blue eyes with a soft face, he was as tan as Brett from football practice. A peculiar difference between Vegas and the rest of the football team was that it was openly agreed that he was the only one that could rock an eyebrow piercing without being obscenely ridiculed. Vegas Comanche was the biggest flirt in Copper High and yet he hadn't had a girlfriend since eighth grade, much to the disappointment of most of the female population of Copper. Hell, even I was amazed that he hadn't jumped a girl's bones yet.
Vegas had been my very first friend before Mika had moved in next door. He lived across the street from me and I swore if I thought about it I could still smell the pungent Honeysuckle from that late Spring day when I made the surreal realization at four years old that another kid lived across the street from me. The only reason I'd met Vegas was the fact that the ice-cream man had driven down our street and our moms had taken us both out to get ice-cream. Then of course they had started talking like friendly neighbor-moms and set up a play date. So I owed a big thank you note to the ice-cream man..and my mom, actually. The two of us were constantly joking around and rough housing and for this fact there were rumors that the two of us were secretly together. Rumors, of course.
"So how've you been? We missed you,"Vegas asked, grinning as he absent-mindedly rubbed his arm where I'd hit him. Yeah, like I'd actually hurt him. Before I knew it he was up again and checking out the Kaui,"Oh, dude you're definitely going to have to let me ride this thing."
"Okay, more or less, glad to be back. I was lost without you guys,"I answered, laying back, propped up on my elbows as I watched him with some amusement,"Thanks for coming to see me so soon."
"Uhm, duh Indi, we're your friends. You couldn't make us go away if you even wanted,"Scarlett said, that contagious smile on her face, her eyes glanced around the yard, looking to see if anyone was around before drifting back to me,"And boy do we have a welcome home bash set up for you!"
"I don't know if she'd be up for that Scar.."Vegas said slowly, shrugging.
I glanced at the two of them, suspicious. They didn't think I was up for it? True, I wasn't much of a party type, usually I only went to keep an eye on Vegas and Scarlett. But I didn't want them to think of me as sensitive or anything, it would actually be nice to get out of the house.
"Guys, I'll be fine, anything would be better than being stuck in the house with my mom right now. And I haven't seen you guys in a while, we need to chill,"I said defensively.
"Well it's at Cam's house.."Brett said carefully, watching me.
Well, at least they didn't think I was going to have an emotional breakdown or something, technically. A party at Cameron Manor's place. A party at my ex's house. Great. Still, still better than them thinking I'm weak. I doubted that he would let me in his house though, to party to say the least.
"And you guys think he would even let me set foot on his lawn?"I asked cruiously.
"Actually, yes, we do. Or I do,"Scarlett answered calmly,"He invited us, including you. There's going to be a lot of people there too, his brother is throwing it, technically. So it's not like you'd actually have to deal with him."
I was quiet for a moment, sometimes I wondered what Scarlett was thinking, a thought suddenly popped in my head,"Wait, how does he even know I'm here?"
"He was asking about you,"She said simply.
"Which is why I'm not sure if it would be a great idea if we all went,"Vegas finished,"We could always go to my place, my parents are out for the night."
"Well Indi is seventeen now, I think she can decide for herself,"Brett suddenly said, stretching casually,"A rager in the lion's den or a quiet night at Vegas's."
I pursed my lips, weighing the choices. Honestly, I think we'd be better off at Vegas's place, the Cameron factor wasn't very inviting. But a party would make things more normal for me, begin to fill in my four month hiatus like filling a grave; it would be like a disruption that had never even happened. Plus, it would help get my mind off of things, and how hard could it be to avoid one person in a crowded house?
"Bring on the lions,"I smiled.
"That's my girl,"Scarlett smiled, squeezing my shoulder.
Yeah, that was me, easy Indigo.