Chapter 1

I've been having strange dreams again.

I'm standing in this mist; the wind is blowing heavily all around me, throwing my hair in my eyes and mouth. I can barely see anything at all, but suddenly I know that I'm not alone. I look down at my feet, I've lost my shoes or maybe I never had them at all, and she is below me. I scream her name, but she doesn't respond. She looks the same as the last time I saw her, although I know in the back of my mind that her hair must have grown or she might have new glasses now.

She turns to start walking away and I'm clawing at the ground, trying to get closer to her, digging my way through until I break out, her name on my lips. She stops now, facing away and slowly she begins to turn her head to glance over her shoulder at me, a blank look on her face.

"What happened to you?" I ask, the tears hot and rolling down my face. I can taste the saltiness as it wets my lips.

"Too much," She responds, the wind carrying her words over to me in a soft whisper. The ground falls away underneath her tall shoes and she is gone.

I wake up panting, my chest gasping for air.

"Rachel…"

--

Rachel and I met in choir class in seventh grade. I was a first soprano and she was an alto, though we were seated next to each other. I think it was our fondness for books and Japanese animation that really got us talking. Our birthdays were three days apart, both of our parents were divorced, although she lived with her mother and I lived with my father. I invited her to spend the night at my house and we stayed up late eating ice cream and making stupid movies with my father's video camera.

We were inseparable from then on, always seeing each other at lunch, in classes and after school. When high school came, she had to go to a different one than I and most of our mutual friends, but we still walked to each other's houses after class. We both took French and used what little we knew to complain about the Texas heat. When we started driving we were each other's partners for the mandatory school sessions. We got our licenses together and she developed a crush on my boyfriend's best friend.

I guess that's when the secrets started to pile up. I neglected to tell her when I lost my virginity, instead telling a good friend of ours and reveling in that together. She was hurt when she found out I hadn't told her, and I tried to reason with her that it was hard to say something like that when her younger sister was constantly around us. I guess she was still upset.

She started working at a mini-golf arcade house and I worked at a pizza place. It was then that we really started to drift apart. It seemed like she worked all of the time, and spent the rest of the time with her new work friends. I hadn't made any new friends, so I was always waiting for her calls, which were coming less and less often.

One day I was sitting at my usual lunch table telling a story about me and my best friend when a mutual friend of ours told me that Rachel had told her we were no longer friends. I was hurt, but I hid it well. That day I got home from school and she called me to come and pick up some stuff she had left at my house.

I remember standing in the doorway as she was leaving, my head screaming at me that something was wrong.

"Are you mad at me, Rachel?" I asked, both of us knowing the truth.

"No, of course not." She smiled at me softly, "I'll call you later, Jess."

That call never came. Years would go by before I would see her again, we would both be out of school and I would have started to hear about her drinking and smoking beginning to get out of control. She passed by me while I was cashiering and it took me a moment to realize who exactly it was. She had cut all of her hair off and dyed it blond. I think maybe she was also wearing contacts. We didn't speak, I don't know if she even saw me.

I think she is the reason I have so many problems relating to other females. All I see is how much they want to hurt each other and how little they actually care. My mom leaving home when I was little, sticking my father with two little girls probably didn't help at all. I mostly hung out with my boyfriend's friends and played video games to pass the time.

I made a new friend while taking a community college creative writing class and we meshed perfectly. A few tentative lunches together and I knew that we could be very good friends. I told her that when someone was my friend, they would be that for life unless they were the ones who decided to change it. She said she felt the same way.

A few more years went by and I had moved out of my father's house, in with a guy I had been seeing for a few years. I was working thirty or more hours a week, going to school 15 hours a week and spending the rest of my time playing table top role playing games. That's when the dreams started.

They weren't very consistent at first, happening maybe once a month. Then they grew more frequent and now I've been having them every night. I tell my boyfriend that it's just nightmares, I don't think that he'd really understand anything else. He knows that I had a best friend who hurt me very deeply when I was in high school, but I didn't want him to think that I was insane about it.

So once again I was awake at three in the morning, demons of my past weighing heavily on my mind. Why was my brain doing this now? Probably trying to sabotage the good things I've been actually doing for myself. With a heavy sigh, I rolled over on my side, determined to go back to sleep. Someone from that long ago shouldn't be able to make me feel this way. With a determination I've been trying to feel for a long time, I decided that she no longer would.

I didn't sleep.

--

The next day was a Monday, and I woke up at the same time as my boyfriend to get ready for my nine o' five classes. Grabbing jeans and a tee-shirt, I dressed quickly before running a brush through my hair and sliding on some flip flops.

My first class is English, which is a rather easy A for me, considering it's my major. Second is psychology, which is brain food and easily retained despite what little notes I take. History is different though, I spend the majority of that class slumped over my desk, trying to capture as much as I can on paper from the lecture. My history professor's exams are over lecture, not the book, so if you aren't doing what I'm doing, you're probably failing. I'm well aware that I'm ruining the curve for everyone else, but I'm considering starting to charge people for copies of my notes pre-test, so it might work out in my favor. Choir is choir. Then I'm driving home to get ready for work.

I've been working at the same large retail chain for almost a year and a half and I've been promoted twice. I started out on the sales floor, zoning my area and cleaning up spills before someone could fall down and sue us. I then moved up to cashier after a few months and just recently became an hourly supervisor. It all sounds cool until you find out that you have people twice your age that don't realize that you're technically now above them. Yeah.

Since I get out of class at one thirty and my shift starts at three, I basically only have enough time to get dressed and get back in my car, then drive the fifteen minutes that it takes for me to get to work. After I clock in, the hours tend to fly by as I do a lot of walking all over the store, fetching things for people, and taking complaints about my cashiers. When it's time to go home, my feet are aching and I am walking considerably slower.

It's after eleven when I am walking out of the automatic doors, past the security guard who is diligently sleeping on the job like he does every night. It's a rather well lit parking lot, so I'm not too concerned. I dig my keys out of my pocket and click the button that unlocks the doors a few times as I draw nearer, thinking about how Texas needs to make up its damn mind about the weather. November should be colder, dammit.

I'm almost to my door when I realize there are footsteps behind me. I want to turn around, but I also don't want to seem like I'm overly suspicious of everything around me, so I keep going. I'm reaching for the door handle when a voice calls out.

"Jess."

It's more of a statement then a question, and I turn around expecting to find one of the overnight managers ready to ask me a question about where I left some paperwork.

But no. It wasn't. It couldn't be.

No.

"Rachel?"

There she was, under the streetlamp. Her hair was back to its natural chestnut brown and she wore simple silver-framed glasses over her unusually colored eyes. One was hazel and one was blue, I always remembered that. She had on a regular shirt and jeans, sneakers covered her feet. It was like nothing had changed.

"Jess…" She said again, as if she was uncertain that it was really me.

I hadn't changed much, my hair was the same vibrant red that it always had been and it was almost as long as it had been in high school. I wore the same glasses, but I was still in uniform which might have been throwing her off. I never was one to wear khakis.

"What… Why are you here?" I looked around, realizing we were quite alone out here. I moved closer, "I've been having weird dreams about you…"

She didn't seem fazed, "I need to talk to you. I… I need help."

I stopped suddenly.

Here it was. She had used up everyone else around her and I was the only one left. She had called everyone else and gotten nothing, so she thought she could come back to me and get whatever she was looking for. I was so tired of this, being used and left behind. I had finally gotten all of those people out of my life.

"What kind of help?" My words were careful, my hands going into my pockets.

"I just… I have no one. Nothing." Her fingers were shaking as she twisted them together, taking another step towards me as I took one back, "I just… need something."

"I can't help you, Rachel. I'm sorry." I turned from her, grabbing my door handle and yanking it open, sitting down in the front seat as she rushed forward before I could close the door.

"Jess, come on. Please." Her voice was desperate and I could see it in her eyes, even though I was trying so hard to look away.

"No Rachel. I won't." I shut the door and drove away.

I had the same dream later that night, only this time I couldn't get through the dirt to her. I scraped and clawed, but made no progress. When I finally gave up, I found that she was never even there in the first place.