Note: This story has been given an Mrating due mostly to strong language.
Text copyright 2013 © P.S. Warner.
Down on the Upside of Desolation
Chapter One: Mindset
"The apple cannot be stuck back on the Tree of Knowledge; once we begin to see, we are doomed and challenged to seek the strength to see more, not less."
"Elena Caldwell, please come to the office."
Oh super. Not exactly the way I wanted to start of my Monday. I glanced up at Mr. Henry, and he nodded to me.
"Take your books," he said. "Just in case."
I sighed and grabbed my Chemistry book and notebook, loading them into my backpack reluctantly. I glanced over at Kimberly. "See you at lunch."
She smiled. "Later, Gwen."
Just for the record, my name is Elena, but as of two years ago-when I transferred to Hemingway High- my new friends took to calling me by my middle name. They'd said that it was unique, which I guess it is. I don't know of too many people who were named after a great king's skanky wife. Personally, I have zero respect for Queen Guinevere, but apparently my mother had been a little obsessive.
I swung my backpack over my shoulder and half-smiled back at Kimberly before making my way from the room. I closed the door quietly behind me and then continued down the hallway.
Fun fact! Hemingway High was not named after Ernest Hemingway. Arthur Hemingway, in fact. And if you don't know who Arthur Hemingway is, I can't say I will be too surprised. He was some random farmer who donated a chunk of his land and allowed the school to be built on it. Nice guy, apparently. At least, that's what the giant glass case containing his pictures that sits outside of the office would lead one to believe.
"Hi, Nancy," I said with a smile. I'd always loved the secretary here. She had been incredibly kind to me on my first day-she was actually the reason that Kimberly and I had become friends in the first place. She had assigned her to be my guide for the day, and we'd been friends ever since. I'd been able to slide into the school causally, and I still owed her for that.
"Elena, my dear," she greeted. "I'm sure that Mr. Lucas will be right with you. If you'll just have a seat for a moment-he's meeting with a new student." I couldn't be sure, but her voice sounded almost...sympathetic. I hoped that the new student wasn't transferring here under unfortunate circumstances. I knew all-to-well how difficult that could be.
I nodded. "Sure."
I took the fourth seat out of seven-the one right in the middle was the only chair with an untarnished cushion. If I'd sat in any of the other ones, I knew I would have been tempted to pick at the stuffing. So I took the safe route.
I debated getting out my book, but a second later Mr. Lucas's door slid open. He emerged behind a boy with shaggy dark hair and brilliantly blue eyes. I grabbed my backpack as I stood, ready to get my meeting over with.
"Ahh, Miss Caldwell," Mr. Lucas greeted me with a smile. Mr. Lucas was a tall, slender man with a pointed nose, and he was also probably the coolest principal that any high school student could ask for.
Kimberly told me that once, he promised the boys basketball team that if they made it to the state tournament, they could paint his face for the first game. They'd turned him into one of the guys from KISS, and apparently he'd sat in the stands with his makeup on-wearing it proudly.
"Hello," I said, forcing a smile.
"Elena, this is Killian Pierce, he's a new transfer."
I reached my hand out to the boy instinctively and said, "Nice to meet you."
He looked at my hand quizzically for a moment before reaching out his own. "You, too," he said, but his voice made it obvious that it was not nice to meet me. In fact, his voice made it seem like he would rather be dragged behind a school bus than shake my hand.
I noticed that his hand was slightly damp- probably a nervous sweaty palms kind of guy- but I shook it firmly anyway. "You're going to love it here," I said, trying to be encouraging.
He nodded once, released my hand, and then turned back to Mr. Lucas as if waiting for further instruction.
"If you'd like, I can have Nancy show you to your first class?" He offered kindly.
The boy shook his head. "No, thank you. I'm sure I can manage."
"Alright then. Nancy, will you get Mr. Pierce a copy of his schedule, please?"
Nancy nodded. "Of course."
Killian gave me a strange look, but then brushed past me without another word. I turned to Mr. Lucas then, who gestured for me to follow him into his office. With one final glance back at the new student, I turned and entered the room.
"Have a seat, please."
"Thank you," I managed, taking the seat. My mind was racing- for some reason, getting called into the office never felt like a good thing.
Mr. Lucas sat down and leaned his elbows on his desk as he spoke. "Miss Caldwell, I received a call from your grandmother this morning. Now, I don't want you to panic, but she informed me that your grandfather has had a small accident."
My heart picked up its pace then, and my body went rigid as I went into panic mode, despite Mr. Lucas's request.
"He's back home and resting now, but she wanted me to tell you so that-"
"What do you mean back home ?" I asked, not bothering to apologize for the interruption. "Where was he?"
"She took him to the emergency room. You see, he fell down the stairs, and she feared that he had broken his hip." Seeing the look on my face- which must have been one of pure terror- he backtracked immediately. "No broken bones, though. Your grandfather is doing quite well, apparently. He has some minor bruising, and she said that he is rather sore but also mentioned that she didn't want you to worry," he said with a gentle smile.
I nodded slowly, only slightly aware that my mouth was still hanging open. I felt my eyes begin to sting, and I knew that the tears were coming. "Okay," I managed, controlling my voice carefully so that it didn't crack and give me away.
Mr. Lucas smiled at me reassuringly. "Your grandmother asked that I keep you in school for the remainder of the day-she mentioned that you had an important English presentation today?"
I nodded. "Yes, I-I do."
"Alright then. If there is anything at all that you need, please do not hesitate to ask."
If there was anything that I needed? He was making it sound like Grandpa Jim was a goner or something... I smiled at him and nodded, muttering a thank you as I stood up to leave.
Only when I was out the door did it hit me. He hadn't been so kind because he thought I was going to break down over the news of my grandfather. And he only thought that because that's what I did the first time we'd had a serious conversation. He'd offered me the same thing then, 'anything I needed.' Back then, I had been the girl with the dead parents. Now, I'm sure he just didn't want to say anything that could possibly cause a repeat of that encounter.
And I couldn't blame him for that.
I joined Kimberly at our usual table a few minutes later. I had allowed myself a few moments to disappear into the restroom and gather myself first. I hadn't even sat down before she turned on me.
"Yeah. Sort of. Well... Yeah." She frowned and waited for me to elaborate. "My grandfather had an accident. Nothing major!" I interjected quickly when her eyes widened. "He's okay. Just lost his balance on the stairs, I guess."
Kimberly stuck out her bottom lip in a pout. "I'm sorry."
I shrugged it off.
"Hey, but on a brighter note-have you gotten a chance to check out Hottie McMystery yet?" She asked, wiggling her eyebrows.
I tried, I really did, but I absolutely could not contain the bark of laughter that escaped my lips. "Hottie McWhat?"
"Look at him!"
I followed her gaze. Oh, right. "Killian," I informed her.
She gaped at me. "How do you know him?" She demanded.
"Whoa there," I insisted. "Down, Cujo." Kimberly rolled her eyes and waited -not so- patiently for me to continue. "He was in the office just before I was. Had a meeting with Lucas. New kid. Got introduced. Shook his hand. That's all."
"You mean you got to touch him?" She didn't even try to hide the longing in her voice.
I glanced over at Killian again just to make sure I hadn't unjustly evaluated his looks the first time I'd seen him. My conclusion was pretty much the same. He was an attractive guy all right, there was no denying that. However, he was far from being the Greek god that Kimberly seemed to think he was the reincarnation of.
"You know what, Gwen? I think we might just have to befriend this newcomer." And with that she pushed herself up from the table and marched over to him.
It was times like these that I desperately wished I had one of those ears from the Harry Potter books- the ones that the twins use where there's an ear on each end to aid in proficient eavesdropping.
I tried not to watch the scene that played out before me, but it was like a car accident. I just couldn't help but be curious.
All I really saw was this: Kimberly approached Killian. Killian eyed Kimberly suspiciously. He shook her hand. She held on too long. He pulled away. She spoke. He spoke. She stood up abruptly. He went on eating, and she stormed off.
"Not well. He's an ass," she said, grabbing her tray and heading to dump the remains of her lunch into the garbage can. I watched her as she slammed the tray down on the stack and marched out of the lunch room.
With a heavy sigh, I headed toward the table where Killian still sat, unnerved by Kimberly's sudden change of mood. I placed my hands on the table and leaned forward.
Without glancing up he said, "Hello again, Elena."
"Hi," I said hurriedly, getting right to the point. "So listen, my friend just wanted to-"
He looked up and gave me a look that made me stop talking. And folks, let me tell you, sometimes that is a challenge.
"I simply told your friend that she was wasting her time hitting on me. I don't date. Nor do I intend to make friends while I'm here. I won't be attending this school for very long. I just didn't want her to waste her time."
I felt my mouth pop open, but I didn't bother shutting it. He was very blunt, wasn't he? "Well, there may have been a better way to go about doing that..."
He shrugged. "There probably was."
"Okay, so... I'll just deliver word of your sincerest apology to her next period."
Killian frowned at me, but his eyes sparkled almost playfully, "And why would you do that?"
I smiled and said, "Because I'm sure that somewhere deep down inside of you, you regret being a total douche to a girl who is probably one of the nicest people you will ever meet." The corners of his mouth twitched, but he didn't quite smile back.
"Like I said, I don't plan on sticking around long enough to make friends."
I rolled my eyes. "Well, welcome to Elba, Napoleon. You may not be happy to be here, but..." I told myself to stop. Being mean to him wasn't going to fix anything. I was still frustrated with the way my day had been going in general, and that wasn't his fault. "Look," I went on with a sigh, "I was you once, okay? I was new here, and I hated it, but that girl made it bearable. So, be nice?"
He eyed me suspiciously for a moment and then nodded once.
"See you last period," was all he said as I turned to leave. I debated whether or not to spin around and ask him how he knew my schedule, but I figured it wasn't worth it. I just wanted to find Kimberly and relay Killian's (sort of) apology.
"He really said he was sorry?" She asked, closing her locker door in one swift motion. Her eyebrows were raised as though she were waiting for me to say 'actually no, I made it up to make you feel better'. But that was definitely not going to happen.
I nodded. "He full on Bill Clinton-ed it. And really, I think you should just accept his apology. I mean, God only knows why he's transferring here. I wasn't exactly a joy to be around on my first day, either." I knew that pulling that card was a cheap shot, but I was sort of out of options.
Kimberly sighed and then nodded- a little reluctantly, but she nodded. "Okay. I'll tell him it's all well and good if we happen to cross-"
Just then, Killian Pierce rounded the corner and headed towards us, cutting off her sentence abruptly. "Hello," he said as he approached. "Kimberly, isn't it?"
She nodded slowly.
"I wanted to apologize for the way that I acted earlier. I wasn't sure whether or not Elena had gotten my message to you."
Well, as far as sincere apologies went... I bought it. And apparently, so did Kimberly. She nodded and muttered something about understanding.
Killian smiled at her and then turned on me. "Could I talk to you for a minute?"
Kimberly was nodding eagerly at me over Killian's shoulder. The request took me by surprise, but I knew that I would only regret it later if I denied his request, so I nodded back to him. "Sure."
He turned back to Kimberly, who was mouthing OH MY GOD at me, and smiled. "Sorry again," he said, in a dismissive kind of way. She took the hint and didn't seem to mind her requested departure.
"No problem," she said, and then to me, "Good luck, Gwen."
As soon as she was gone, Killian's smile disappeared. Ahh, so he had only been acting. "What's up?" I asked, keeping my voice as casual as possible.
His face-hell, even his eyes- were completely serious as he said, "I have to ask you something."
He was going to ask me something? That sounded almost promising... Although, he had said that he didn't date... The only thought that ran through my head went something like this: Whoa, new guy, if you're about to ask me to hook up with you, I have news for you! I'm not that girl. Unless you are Ryan Gosling. Then I am whatever kind of girl you want me to be.
"Are you all right?" He asked me suddenly.
I snapped my attention back to him and nodded slowly. "Yeah, sorry. Just playing out this scenario in my head." Did I really just tell him that? Whoops. Also, why was he suddenly getting more and more attractive with every passing minute? Was it the mystery thing? Whatever it was, it was irritating...and also kind of enjoyable.
"...Okay." He eyed me suspiciously and then shrugged it off. "So, I was wondering, can you tell me what this symbol is? We talked about it in one of my classes, but I forgot to take notes."
That wasn't nearly as fun as what I had imagined.
I shrugged as he passed me his notebook. "What class is this for?" I asked, but he didn't answer. The image on the page was basically a star with a circle around it, and what appeared to be a foreign-possibly even dead-language written in the corners. But, I had seen the symbol before, in a movie once. I wasn't sure if that would be the answer he was looking for, but I gave it a try. "Pentagram and or Devil's Trap."
His eyes narrowed at me, but only briefly. He nodded once and then asked, "And what does it mean?"
"What do you mean, what does it mean?" I asked, confused. "I mean... It's used to trap demons, and... wait, what class did you say this was for?" I tried again.
He grabbed his notebook back from me and stuffed it into his backpack. "I'd like you to meet me after school. I'd really like to talk to you a little more."
Okay, wait... Was this him asking me out? If so, it was more of a demand than a request. I know that some girls are into the whole bossy-guy thing, but I was not one of those girls.
"Elena." He said my name slowly, as though it was the most important word in the whole world. "We don't have time for you to play this one out in your head, okay?" I blinked back to reality. "Can you meet me or not?"
I shook my head. "No, sorry. I can't tonight. My grandfather just got out of the hospital... I have to go home and see him right after school."
Killian eyed me curiously again. I was beginning to feel as though we were never quite on the same page. "Why was he in the hospital?" He asked in a rather demanding tone. He was a very demanding individual, I noticed.
"He uhm..." I stammered as the warning bell sounded. I glanced around as everyone rushed past us down the hall and then quickly finished. "He fell down the stairs."
Arching an eyebrow, Killian nodded slowly, as though he understood the importance behind what I was saying. Which made no sense. Grandpa Jim fell down he stairs, and that was pretty much the whole story... No underlying message whatsoever.
"I should get to class."
He nodded. "As should I."
And apparently that was that because he turned and sped off down the hallway.
My English presentation on The Count of Monte Cristo had not been overly pleasant, so by the time last period had rolled around, I was so eager to get home that I could hardly focus. I took my usual seat by the window and opened my notebook to doodle. When a figure slid into the seat next to mine, I barely even noticed. It wasn't until that figure spoke that I finally looked up.
While Killian Pierce was a very attractive male individual, and I found that I could no longer deny that, I still felt that there was something a little off about him. For some reason, he suddenly had taken on an entirely new persona. He had gone from being the shy, cute new guy that I barely knew to being the handsome bad-boy with a mysterious look about him within a matter of hours. Maybe I just hadn't been paying close enough attention at first?
"Hello," he greeted.
I nodded to him but remained silent. Miss Lowell-the Psychology teacher- entered the room just as the final bell was sounding. She was typically late to class, so I was actually surprised at her timing.
"Hello, class," she sighed, setting the pile of books she was carrying down on her desk. "Here's the deal, I've got a lot of grading to do and very little time to do it. We're having a work day."
A couple of people, including myself, clapped, and a few actually went so far as to let out a cheer. The nerds ignored the rest of us and pulled out their worksheets from the day before to start double-checking them. My worksheet was finished and there was no way I was going to waste my time checking answers that I knew were right, so I pulled out my book instead.
What I really wanted to do was ask to be dismissed early, but I knew that that would only cause trouble for Miss Lowell, so I didn't even bother asking. No, instead, I simply unfolded the top corner of page 112 and continued where I had left off.
"What are you reading?"
I tried my best not to let out the sigh that was so eagerly trying to slip past my lips. "A Tale of Two Cities."
I blinked, not knowing how to respond. "To find out how it ends?"
I went back to reading, not sure why I was suddenly so annoyed with Killian. Honestly, he was probably just trying to be friendly, and I knew that my annoyance had more to do with being worried about my grandfather-despite all of the reassurance everyone had been giving me- and less to do with anything he'd done.
"So, how come you moved here?" I asked, still holding my place with my finger but folding the cover down.
"It was a family thing," he finally said after a few moments delay.
I nodded. "Everything okay?"
"Are things ever really okay?" He countered and then flashed me a smile.
"You sure are pessimistic, aren't you?"
So much for trying. I lifted the cover of my book, only to have it gently pushed back down again. I glanced up at him and arched an eyebrow.
"You're good at that."
"Good at what?"
He smirked. "That eyebrow thing. It's very convincing."
More than anything, I wanted to compliment his adorable single brow raise, but I decided against it.
"Convincing of what?" I wondered. This boy... was very confusing. First he was all new kid, sweaty palms, and shy. And then suddenly he was all cocky, joking, and social. What the hell?
"Your mood. Anyway," he went on without giving me a chance to respond, "about meeting me after school-"
"I'm sorry, I told you, I can't today."
He nodded. "I understand, but do you think that maybe after you check on your grandfather we could meet up or something?" I hesitated and he added, "Please."
He gave me a single, accepting nod, and then turned back to face the front of the room. I tried to go back to my book, but I couldn't help but feel bad for Killian. I wasn't sure whether or not he was trying to ask me out or if he just needed a friend, but either way, I wasn't being particularly nice about it.
"So what do you do in your free time?" I asked, closing the book for good.
"I hunt," he said, watching my reaction carefully. Typical guy, thinking a girl would be grossed out by bleeding animals and nature altogether. I decided to play it cool.
"Hunting, huh?" He nodded, still watching me. "I've been... hunting." Sort of. One time. For pheasants. With my grandfather... and I sat in the pickup the entire time.
That was a surprise. "Really?" He nodded again. "Well, I guess it wasn't really your everyday... usual hunting type... thing." I said, trying to discredit myself a little in case he asked to hear the specifics of my outing.
"Yeah, I figured that, too," he said with a smile.
Oh good. He knew I had exaggerated a little. "Yeah."
"So, you live with your grandparents?"
"Mhmm. I moved here two years ago." I should have figured this conversation would come up. It always did, one way or another.
"Are your parents...?"
He didn't have to finish the question for me to know how to answer. "Yeah, they're gone." His eyes sparkled kindly at me, as though he were telling me that he knew exactly how I felt. I couldn't help but ask. "Are you here with your whole family then, or...?"
Again with the unfinished questions. I felt like and idiot. Apparently, he didn't need me to finish either, though.
"I'm living with my uncle right now."
A few moments of silenced passed then, and I thought about picking up my book again. But just as I reached for it, he sighed. "How did your parents... Uhm..."
"Oh, uhm... bad accident," I said, shrugging. I hoped that he would take that as answer enough and not ask about the specifics.
He didn't. "Sorry to hear that."
"So, according to the paper, this town is going through some kind of messed up shit," he said suddenly, glancing around us to make sure no one else was listening.
I nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."
"A group of campers was mauled by a bear or something?"
Why did I feel like he was testing me? Every time he asked a damn question, I felt like he was giving me a pop quiz. "It wasn't a bear," I replied without even thinking. That's just what my grandfather had said when I'd read him the story. I hadn't a clue what he thought had done it.
Killian nodded. "I didn't think so, either."
I nodded back at him and then turned away slightly.
He opened his mouth to say something else, but was cut off by the bell. Had time really gone by so quickly? Apparently so. Those moments of silence must have been longer than I thought.
I grabbed my backpack and shoved my things inside hastily. "Nice talking to you, Killian," I said as I slung my pack over my shoulder and headed for the door.
"Elena!" He called after me just as I passed through the doorway.
He caught up to me quickly, so I didn't have to stop walking, which was nice. "Yes?"
"Will you seriously consider meeting with me, please?"
I was in a hurry, but I just couldn't walk and talk about this at the same time anymore. I paused and turned to face him. "Why?" I had to ask.
"Because you're the only one here who I think will be able to help."
I sighed. Bonding with him over our dead parents wasn't really what I had in mind to kick-start our relationship. Not that I was anticipating starting a relationship with him... but... Oh what the hell. What could it hurt, right?
"Give me your hand."
He frowned, but extended his hand. It no longer glistened as it had the first time I'd grabbed it, which was nice. I popped the cap off of the pen that I was holding and scrawled- in fairly legible handwriting- my number across his palm.
"Wait until after at least seven, though, okay?"
He didn't argue. "Okay."
-Just trying this out. I'm pretty sure that this won't be another one of my start-and-never-finish projects!But don't quote me on that.. Please feel free to review.
-And also, to those of you reading New Girl... It has been put on TEMPORARY Hiatus. I apologize sincerely. I do plan on continuing it-just not at this moment.
(Song for chapter inspiration: "Mindset"-Every Avenue.)