Across Two Worlds
Dirt stuck wetly to my face as I pushed myself up off the dew soaked ground with a groan. Rubbing at the mud with the back of my hand, I glanced up at the wall of slick earth so high it disappeared into the darkness of the trees beyond. My palms began to sting, my knee throbbing painfully from the hard landing. All things considered, I was lucky I hadn't broken anything in the fall.
The moon was brighter than I remembered it being, even as it floated hidden behind a thin layer of clouds and tree branches. It threw shadows all around me, leaching the colours from the surrounding forest, turning the leaves and grasses odd shades of blues and greys, the trunks of trees a shadowed black. Using a root that stuck out from the cliff side to pull myself to my feet, I carefully tested my legs to make sure they would support my weight without going out from under me. It hurt to lean on my right, but so long as I took it slow, it would be okay.
"Where am I?" I had been running through the woods when I fell over the cliff's edge. Having spent most of my life growing up in and around these forests, I knew most of them like the back of my hand. However for the life of me I couldn't remember there ever being a cliff this high near the river. I paused, listening to the wind rustling through the trees with growing confusion. There wasn't even the slightest sound of running water or that of the distant city traffic. That wasn't right. Had I really gone so far outside the city? That couldn't be right; I'd have had to walk for hours to be that far removed from civilization.
I searched the ground for my bag, dipping a hand into my jacket pocket to pull out my cellphone as I went. My fingers moved over what should have been the smooth surface of my phone's touch screen display. However when I turned it over in my hand, I discovered that the screen had been shattered in the fall. "Ah... Mom's going to kill me." And I just got this phone too. It had taken me months to convince my parents how important it was for me to have one. What if something happened or I got lost?
I sighed. So much for that.
Even with the display unreadable, it did light up. "Well, at least it's not totally useless..." Pointing it downward, I used it like a flashlight, sweeping it across the ground until I found my bag spilled out in a section of taller grass. Dropping the phone back into my pocket, I carefully knelt down to shove my stuff back into my bag, being mindful of my throbbing knee. Tonight was building up to be one of the worst days of my life. I wasn't sure at this point how it could possible get any worse.
It had started out alright. Like any other school day really. Classes in the morning were boring, but had passed quickly enough. Later during the lunch break, Sarah and I had been in the library when Becky had come walking in through the library's swinging double doors. I had barely glanced up from my book before Sarah had dashed down the aisle to hide at the far end of the bookshelves out of sight of both the doors and our classmate. I couldn't help but sigh. So much for a peaceful lunch. Sarah had been avoiding Becky the better part of two weeks now. Not that I couldn't blame her; I might have done the same in her place.
Becky was at the very top of our school's social pecking order. The boys wanted to be with her and the girls wanted to be her. Her father was rich, a fact that she was more than happy to remind you of every chance she got. Not that you couldn't have figured it out for yourself from the brand names on her clothing or the designer handbags she always carried. I think she had a new one for each day of the week.
I wasn't jealous of Becky, just didn't like her. She was spoiled, self-centred and downright mean to anyone she considered to be beneath her. Sarah and I happened to be on the very bottom that very long list.
Ignoring the newcomer, I had turned my attention to the book in my lap."She's coming this way!" Sarah's whispered warning brought my head back up to see Becky, in all her blond haired, tight clothed glory, striding towards me in a pair animal print designer heels I would never own. With a sigh I leaned back against the wall. I had hoped that she wouldn't notice me sitting on the floor amongst the T to Z fiction books. I'd been wrong.
Becky's dark eyes ranked over me with a mild look of disinterest as she approached, and they narrowed to hard daggers when she noticed I was alone. "Where's your friend?" She placed her perfectly manicured hands on her hips as she glared down at me.
"Who?" I asked, feigning ignorance. I set my book down on top of Sarah's notebooks on the floor beside me, hoping she wouldn't notice them. I risked a quick glance to where Sarah had ducked out of sight.
"What, you have more than one friend now?" Becky smirked proudly at her quick come-back.
Ouch... I lowered my head. Leave it to Becky to know which buttons to push. Not that her comment wasn't fair... It was true after all. I didn't really have any other friends other than Sarah. She and I had been friends since grade school when I moved into town. We had instantly bonded and did everything together. At the time the thought of having more friends had seemed almost silly. Quality over quantity, right? However once we reached high school we were forced to spend less and less time together. I missed not having her around all the time, although we still spent as much time together as we could. Our lunch breaks were one of those few times, and Becky had ruined it.
Taking a deep breath, I looked up at the girl leaning over me. "You mean Sarah?" At Becky's hard look I continued. "She went to the music room. I think she's speaking with the teacher about one of her projects, or something." I lied, doing my best to keep a straight face and not look away, even if the lie tasted foul on my lips. I really didn't like to lie. Twist the truth? Fine. But to downright lie to others? Hated it. Even if that person was a bitch.
Becky huffed, casting a quick look around the quiet, nearly empty, library. "Fine, but tell her she can't avoid me forever." With that she turned on her heels and left.
Sarah watched from around the corner until Becky was out of sight before coming back to my side. Her large eyes shone with unshed tears as I gave her a small smile. She sat back down beside me.
"You can't keep doing this." I said as she gathered up her books.
"I know..." Came her meek response.
I sighed again. The only time Sarah had any sort of confidence in herself was when she was playing the violin. Any other time and she would just fall to tears at even the slightest hint of a conflict. I could never understand why. Sarah had this sweet exotic beauty to her with her dark olive skin, large brown eyes and shining dark hair. There was no reason for her to be so painfully self-conscious, but she was.
Hell, beside her I looked even plainer than I already was. Freckled skin and dull brown hair didn't stand a chance beside her winning cocktail of genetics.
"At least she's gone now." Beside me, Sarah started to cry. "Oh, hey..." I put my arm around her and gave her a squeeze. "Don't let her get to you. You didn't do anything wrong." And she hadn't. Not really.
Three weeks back Sarah had been paired up with Becky to write a research project on the French Revolution of 1830 for history class. Becky had put on a good face in class but as soon as the teacher had turned his back, Becky had made it very clear to Sarah that she was on her own and expected her to get at least a B on their paper or there would be hell to pay.
Sarah pushed my arm off her shoulders and stood, rubbing tears from her eyes. "Easy for you to say, you have good grades."
I shouldered my backpack as I stood, tucking my book inside before I zipped it closed. "Hey, it's not your fault." I ignored her previous comment. "She was just too lazy to do any of the work. Besides, she can't really make you pay her for the coat, you know." In response to the failing grade they had received on the history paper, Becky's dad had decided to deny his daughter the new designer jacket she had wanted. Becky was now holding Sarah accountable for it.
The ten minute warning bell chimed to signal the end of lunch. Taking Sarah's book bag from the floor, I held it out to her. "Come on, let's get to class."
She took her bag with a small 'thank you'. "Did you notice...," she started quietly.
"Hmmm?" I leaned a bit closer as we made our way towards the doors. "What?"
She gave me a small smile. "Her shoes looked like she had stepped on a tiger."
I couldn't help it, I laughed and bumped her with my shoulder as she giggled too. Together we headed off to math class, one of the few classes we had together this year. We even got to sit next to each other near the front which made it all the better since I dreaded that class more than anything. Not only did the teacher, Mrs. Harrison, seem to hate me, but I just sucked at it. Words were more my thing, not numbers. I wondered if I might be able to sneak in some time reading my book during class. I didn't do it often, however it was easy enough to hide behind the thick math textbook.
There was oneother thing that did make that class worth going to; David.
David was cute, tall, sweet and on the rugby team. He had the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen and would always smile when I greeted him on the bus in the mornings. I'd liked him since the fourth grade. He even lived around the corner from me and would sometimes come by my house looking for his little brother who was friends with mine. Just seeing him made me feel all happy inside and made me smile.
Since entering the same high school together, I had been working up my courage to ask him out. He had yet to have a girlfriend, which was a good sign. Though I had heard his friends teasing him about it. It gave me hope anyways. Maybe he liked me too.
A folded bit of paper landed on my desk, a small pink heart scribbled on the top corner told me it was from Sarah beside me. Taking a quick glance towards the front to make sure the teacher wasn't looking, I unfolded the note.
You should ask him out. You'll never know if you don't ask!
I quickly hid the paper under my textbook as the teacher turned around to explain the equation she had just written on the blackboard to the class. Easy for her to say. My heart jumped at the very thought, causing butterflies to flutter in my stomach.
It wasn't as if I had never tried to ask him out. I had tried. I just couldn't seem to get the words out. I'd stumble over my words and he'd smile his smile which would quicken my heart and I'd find myself grinning like a fool, completely forgetting what it was I wanted to tell him in the first place. I was starting to think he was doing it on purpose. Even so I loved him the more for it. I just wished I could let him know that.
I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. There had to be some other way...
"Alice!" I jumped as the teacher suddenly appeared in front of my desk like she had just teleported across the room. How does she do that?!I tried to calm my racing heart as she frown down at me. "I have asked you not to doodle in your notebooks during class time." She quickly snatched said book off my desk, causing the note I had just tucked under the cover to fall to the floor. I looked at it in horror. "What's this, hmm?" Mrs. Harrison quickly picked up the small piece of paper with her long bony fingers.
My cheeks burn as I watched her read over the small message. A single thin greying eyebrow rose as she gave me a smile that reminded me a lot of Becky's at that moment. Evil and mean. I dropped my eyes to my desk. Oh please, please, please just let her give me a detention.I couldn't stop myself from risking another quick glance over at David across the room. He had turned in his seat like the rest of the class to watch the unfolding drama.
Taking my notebook and the note, Mrs Harrison walked back to the head of the classroom. She dropped my notebook onto her desk with a loud thud. "Alice, you may have your notebook back at the end of class. I hope that without it's empty pages to distract you, you might concentrate more on the lesson and less on your budding artistic abilities. As for the passing of notes in my class," She held the small bit of paper up between her fingers. "I think this will be punishment enough." She then read the note aloud to the whole class.
Everyone started talking at once. Cheryl, in the seat in front of me, turned around with a huge grin on her narrow face. "Oh, Alice! Who is he?! Oh, please! You can tell me. I won't say a thing!"
Joey yelled out from across the room. "The bookworm has a crush! It's not on an apple, is it?" A few of the other boys laughed somewhere near the back.
I sunk down in my desk, my cheeks burning brightly with humiliation. If this is a dream, I can wake up now!
Randy, a boy with a permanent sneer and just as bad of an attitude— who always went out of his way to tease me— nudged David in the seat beside him. "Do you think he's real?" he asked with a mocking laugh. "Maybe it's all in her head, ya know?" And I saw the amusement in David's blue eyes, the smile ghosting across his lips and I couldn't take it anymore.
Grabbing my bag, I fled the classroom, ignoring the teacher as she called my name and the other students' stares. I just couldn't sit there any longer.
I walked quickly passed the bathrooms and continued down the hallway. If anyone was going to come looking for me, they'd look there first. The last thing I wanted was for Mrs. Harrison to corner me in the girl's bathroom with the intent of dragging me back to class. There was no way I was going to go back in there. Not today.
I passed an open classroom door of English students reading Shakespeare, and a senior class watching a movie in the dark. I continued down the hall, hoping their teachers wouldn't stop me. Students weren't allowed to be in the hallways between classes without a hall pass after all. I froze for a moment, hearing voices down the hall to my left and turned to the nearest stairwell.
As the stairwell doors closed behind me, tears began to prickle at the back of my eyes. I took a deep breath to calm myself. Mrs. Harrison is such a bitch. She always seemed to know what to do to get to me, either with extra assignments or public humiliation like today. I couldn't help myself from drawing in the columns of my notebooks. I did it in every class! My French teacher loved them and the others didn't seem to care. It's not like I wasn't doing the work or not paying attention. My hand just likes to doddle. It just wasn't fair. I needed that math credit in order to graduate and if I failed her class, I'd just have to retake it again next year. Something I'm sure neither of us wanted. Even if she'd flunk me in a heartbeat just out of spite.
I slipped my cellphone out from my pocket to check the time. Next period would be starting soon enough anyways, I just needed to decide whether I was going to go or find a place to hide till the end of classes. It was my last class for the day anyways, so skipping it wasn't so bad.
Clutching my bag to my chest, I sank down on the top of the landing, rubbing my wet eyes. David must think I'm such a dork now. Just when I was finally getting up the courage to ask him out. Now his reaction would be, 'Oh, so the note was about me!' I rested my head in my arms.
"You know, you need to find better hiding places." Sarah stood over me with a small smile on her round face and my forgotten math books in her arms.
I groaned. "Maybe you just know me too well."
Sarah smiled at that. "Maybe, but then again this school isn't very big." She shrugged. "Let's go to the back fields. I don't think last period is going to miss us."
We spent the rest of the afternoon laying out in the grass behind the school enjoying one of the few remaining warmer days left in the season and caught the later school bus home after the final bell. The second bus home was always the quietest of the two, with fewer students left waiting around the bus stops. Students often pushed and shoved at one another in order to get into the first of the buses. I saw little point in all the fuss only to get home a few minutes earlier than everyone else, and fearing any new rumours that might have sprung up since math class, the fewer people I saw right now the better I felt. Thankfully, no one said a thing and more importantly, I didn't run into David. He must have taken the first bus.
I turned to Sarah as she stepped off the school bus behind me. "Did you want to come over?" I asked hopefully, not wanting to lose her company quite so soon.
Sarah shook her head, her short black bangs falling in front of her glasses. "Can't. I have practice."
"Tonight? But it's Wednesday." I pouted in disappointment.
She gave me a small smile. "I have a concert coming up and my teacher wants me to put in some extra practice time. So I can't tonight, maybe tomorrow." She adjusted her bag on her shoulder before giving me a quick hug goodbye. "Thanks for today. I'll see you tomorrow." She gave me another grin which I quickly returned as she turned to leave.
"Hey, that's my line!" I called back, hearing her giggle. I didn't know what I would do without her sometimes, just wished we could spend more time together. We needed to come up with a game plan, after all. Somehow I needed to confess my feelings to David. If I didn't do it soon, I might never get the nerve to.
I shifted my bag on my shoulder as I turned down the sidewalk towards home, hoping for the best. Maybe tonight wouldn't be so bad, though I had wanted Sarah to come over for a bit. Things had been quiet of late, which could be both good or bad depending on the day. I wouldn't know till I got home.
Dread smothered what remaining good feelings I had as I walked up the narrow driveway of our two story townhouse. I could already hear the raised voices coming from within as I moved passed mom's rusty little Chevy and dad's dented Ford. Stopping before the door, the voices inside rose a few more levels and I braced myself before going inside.
"You think that's going to make it all better, Terry?"
I kept my head down as I quickly took off my shoes beside the door, keeping my back to the kitchen where my parents were currently fighting.
"What do you want me to do, Susan?! You tell me, since everything I do is always wrong." Money troubles. That's all they ever fought over since dad was laid off of work in the summer and hadn't been able to find another job.
I took a quick count of the shoes on the mat next to the front door and noticed my brother Danny's were unaccounted for. He would be out with his friends then.
Risking a glance into the kitchen, I met my mom's tired gaze. She just sighed, rubbing her eyes, the same green-blue as my own. "Alice, would you mind going to your room for a bit?" Knowing I wasn't being given a choice in the matter, I simply turned and headed upstairs. It wasn't like I wanted to be there any more than they wanted me around. Hushed voices started arguing again before I had even made it to the top of the steps.
My room was my safe haven from the world. The single bookshelf was overflowing with books, my desk had my laptop, a white bendy lamp, more books and few movies on it. It also held my small collection of dragon statues. An older tube TV sat in the corner of the room close to the bed with its mountain of pillows and plushies. In the middle of it all sat Mister Snickers, or Snickers for short.
My fat black and white cat stretched out lazily when I entered the room, watching me with large green eyes as I dropped my bag beside the bed and climbed up onto the comforter beside him. "Hey, buddy." I cooed to him as I pulled him into my lap, rubbing his pudgy little belly. He happily purred like a rusty car engine, laying limply across my legs. Giving him a tight hug, he licked my cheek before I put him back down.
Snickers was not as young as he used to be, but he was still sweet and very cuddly, which made him the best cat a girl could ever ask for. We had been through a lot together growing up and I could always count on him to listen to all my problems, regardless of how silly they might seem and to keep me company when I was sick or just down in the dumps. Sarah liked to call him my fuzzy little boyfriend.
Laying down, I tucked Snickers against my side as I dragged my school bag up onto the bed to get out my books. I had an essay to get done for Friday that I had been putting off. It was as good a time as any to get some work done. So I put in the earbuds for my music player, turned up the music and I got down to work. Beside me, Snickers went back to sleep.
I had a good base for my essay mapped out when my headphones were suddenly ripped from my ears. "Ouch! What are you doing?!" I yelled at my little brother as he dropped my music player onto the floor at his feet.
"Dinner's ready! Geez," He threw up his hands as he turned and stomped toward the door. "Why don't you try answering the door for once, huh?" He glared at me before slamming my bedroom door close behind him, causing one of the figures on my desk to fall over and topple onto the carpeted floor.
I glared at the closed door angrily as I scooped up my headphones and put them back onto the bed next to my books. "He didn't have to be so mean about it." I mumbled as Snickers rolled over onto his back to show off his white belly again, asking for more rubs. Unable to stay angry around such cuteness, I rubbed his tummy till he purred and licked at my hand with his little pink tongue.
My brother was six years younger than me and we never seemed to be able to get along for longer than five minutes in the same room. We were just too different and he always seemed to have it out for me. I loved him, he was family. Just didn't like him very much.
"Alice! Dinner!" Mom yelled up the stairs.
"Coming!" I called back, only to hear her call me again. Opening the closed door, I called down, "Be there in a second!"
Mom was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs with one hand on her hip and the other on the railing. "I've been calling you for the last twenty minutes." Her face was set in a grim expression. Clearly I was not making her day any better.
I lowered my eyes. "Sorry, I didn't hear. I was working on my homework with my music on," I explained.
She looked as if she had something to say about that but then just sighed instead. "Fine," She turned back towards the kitchen. "Just keep your music down next time."
The days were getting shorter and it was already dark outside by the time dinner was done and the dishes in the sink. I lied to my parents then, telling them that I was going out to meet up with Sarah in the park. They didn't question me; Sarah and I often spent time talking in the park after dark. They really didn't care so long as I was home before nine. In truth, I just didn't want to be in the house longer than I needed to. I made a quick dash to my room, grabbed my cellphone and shoved my music player into my purse, giving Snickers another belly rub before heading out the door.
The days were still warm enough to go outside without a coat, but the evenings were getting colder. I zipped my jacket up over my sweater against the wind and turned the corner towards the park behind my old grade school. Taking out my phone, I scrolled through the contacts till I found Sarah's number. Even if I would be interrupting her practice, I needed to hear a friendly voice. I listened as the phone ringed.
The line clicked and there was some shuffling before Sarah's voice finally came on the line. "Hey, Alice," she greeted cheerfully.
"Hey Sarah, sorry if I'm interrupting." I apologized quickly, hearing another voice in the background. I really didn't want her to get in trouble with her parents for me calling. They were a little uptight sometimes.
"No, it's okay, but I'm still in practice. Is something wrong?" I knew this was her way of telling me to be quick, but she still wanted to make sure everything was okay. It made me smile.
"No, it's nothing. I'll see you tomorrow at school." Saying a quick good-bye, I dropped my phone back into my coat pocket and continued along the sidewalk. I was disappointed and lonely, but I had kind of expected it. Though I had hoped that Sarah had finished her lessons by now, it was not unusual for her practices to run later into the evenings, breaking only long enough to eat before continuing. Though I had hoped she would be free enough to at least talk. I still needed her help working out a plan to finally ask David out.
The park sat in the centre of the large field tucked behind my old elementary school and the community centre beyond it. It backed onto the conservation area that border the Grand River that divided the town. It was always quiet and peaceful there at night, close enough to the neighbouring houses that there was some light to see by, but not so much that it blocked out the view of the stars above. We spent a lot of time talking there.
I took a deep breath of the cool night air as I made my way up the grassy hill to the swing set on the far side of the playground. I was so distracted by my own thoughts that I almost didn't notice a young couple wrapped in each other's arms making out on the park bench.
I blushed with embarrassment as they noticed my presence, jumping apart from each other to stare at me with wide eyes. My mouth dropped open at the sight, my heart came to a stop upon seeing their faces in the weak light. "...Sarah?" She returned my look of horror with an equal amount of shock and panic. She wasn't supposed to be there, she was at practice. I had just called her... My eyes turned to the guy she had just been wrapped around. "No..." I stepped back as my heart shattered into a million pieces.
Sarah was on her feet, standing quickly between David and myself. "Alice, it's not what it looks like," she said, taking a careful step forward.
"How can you...?" How could it not have looked like she had just been making out with the man I had been in love with for years?! For all her sweet shyness and kind words... For all the late nights we had spent talking about our heart's desires with each other... She had been playing tongue wars with mine the whole time! Shock, anger, betrayal all rushed through me. I wasn't sure which one to pick. "You knew... you knew how I felt!" I started to shake all over. "You've been telling me to ask him out all this time! You told me to ask him out..." I took another step back as she reached to touch my arm. "Why would you do this...?" My vision started to swim with tears but I was almost too angry to let myself cry and too hurt not to.
Sarahlet her hand drop. "I didn't plan for this, you know." She hugged her thin arms around herself. "It just kind of happened... It's been hard keeping this from you, for so long. I thought... I thought that if you asked him out, and he turned you down then you would be able to move on with your life. You'd be able to be happy for me." Her brown eyes begged me to understand, asking me to forgive.
But I couldn't. The pain in my chest was sharp and hollow. Years of friendship, years of tears and joys, and it was nothing. Even worse, he knew. My eyes moved to David sitting on the bench, refusing to look at either of us. He knows how I feel about him... And he didn't care. He didn't love me. He loved Sarah.
I was such a fool.
My feet turned me towards the trees and the river and I ran. Sarah called out to me. I didn't stop. I just wanted to get away. I needed to get away. Nothing mattered anymore. The only person I had given my heart to cared nothing for me, my best friend was no friend and my family wouldn't even notice if I was gone. I had nothing. I was no one. I didn't belong here.
Tears ran down my cheeks freely as I fled through the forest. I stumbled over roots as passing branches snagged on my coat and legs. But I kept moving blindly forward. In the distance I could hear the rushing waters of the Grand River and the distant sounds of traffic on the main street bridge. But I blocked out the world. The world that hurt, that was unfair and cruel and mean. I just needed to get away, one foot in front of the other. I kept running. Suddenly the ground fell out from under me and I was falling. I turned, reaching for something to halt my fall, for something to hold onto, but the dirt was loose and slid through my fingers. I came to a stop at the bottom of the steep cliff. Banged up but otherwise unharmed.
I held my bag to my chest as I looked up at the cliff's edge high above my head. I tried not to think about Sarah and David and instead focused on the issue at hand. "What am I going to do now?" There didn't seem to be an easy way to climb back up to the top from where I was standing. I was going to have to follow its length till I found a place that looked safe enough and low enough to climb. Maybe if I could find the river I could follow it back towards the road.
I was startled by a sudden noise behind me and turned towards the forest as the trees started to groan, bending and moaning as something big moved between them, shoving them out of the way. From amongst the shadows, a large sleek black beast reared his head and roared.
The rest of this story has been removed as it has been published. Titled Beyond the Stars, book 1 in the Across Two Worlds series.