Thursday, 5:59 AM.
The clock switched over and right on cue the alarm began to sound. Its persistent beeping grew faster and louder the longer it was left unattended until a heavy hand started searching in the dark.
The beeping stopped. The world fell back into pleasant silence, if only for a moment.
A scrawny, dark-haired teen groaned as he pushed the blankets aside and sat up in bed, his static hair sticking out on one side.
It was the first day of a new school year, well, technically it was the second day, but only losers and freshman showed up for the actual first day. The actual first day was the only thing more pointless than the second day, so it didn't count. It didn't matter which day it was really, first days always sucked. But after today he only needed to worry about one more 'first day'. He'd been counting down to graduation since he was in the fifth grade. It was finally starting to get close.
He hated school, but not for the typical reasons that most students did. He liked to learn and he didn't even really mind waking up at ungodly hours of the morning. It wasn't even necessarily the school that he hated, it was the people. Every. Last. One.
He had hated this town the day he moved in and the longer he stayed the more his hatred grew. He hated his suburbanite neighbors with their perfectly manicured lawns, two-point-five children, and their Labrador Retrievers. Their cookie cutter houses, their white picket fences, he hated them all, and he was one of them. That was probably what he hated the most. He hated their phony appearances and he hated himself for being the biggest hypocrite of them all.
Jack let out a breath that was somewhere between a sigh and a groan as he jammed his foot into an old tattered sneaker. Only six-hundred and forty-seven days left till graduation.
He wasn't sure he could make it that long. Every year it got harder, harder to pretend to be something he wasn't. He didn't even pretend that well.
During the summers, when school was out, he could almost forget his life wasn't normal. Because if Alice had been raised in Wonderland then it would hardly seem bizarre. But when school started and he was back around kids his own age he was reminded of just how odd he really was, how screwed up his whole life was. He was so twisted and warped and there was no sign of anything improving, ever. In fact, every year it got worse.
"Jack, don't forget, one of our major clients is in town and I invited him over for dinner tonight. So come right home after school so we can practice."
Jack was dumbstruck as he blinked up at his mother who was coming down the staircase. Her long brown hair flowed over her shoulder and blended into her black dress that dipped down to her knees and masked her boyish figure.
Just the sight of her was enough to make the vane in his forehead twitch. "You've got to be fucking kidding me," he growled in disbelief.
The thin woman shook her head firmly. "This is very important to me and your father. And none of that cussing tonight; I need everyone to seem like a perfectly well-adjusted family while he's here."
Jack let out a breath that was almost a laugh. "Well, I'm the closest one to normal in this house so y'all can 'practice' without me." And he wanted to shoot himself when he realized he'd actually done air-quotes.
His mother clenched her thin jaw. "This isn't up for discussion, Jack. It's not like we ask a lot from you."
This time he did laugh. "The fact that you think you don't ask a lot is proof of just how messed up you are. I'll be home if I feel like it."
"You will be home and you will be on time." She never raised her voice, ever.
Jack gritted his teeth, grabbed his backpack, and slammed the door shut behind him. Talking to his parents made him want to kill someone and that pissed him off even more because then they would be getting what they wanted.
He was still thinking dark thoughts while he stood out on the street corner in the pouring rain waiting for the bus. There were about five other people waiting with him but he pushed himself away from their circle and turned the volume up on his iPod.
He couldn't stand to listen to them today. Even with heavy rock music pumping into his ears he still knew what they were saying, not because he could hear them but because it was always the same thing.
All first days were the same no matter where you lived. Everyone had giant smiles plastered on their faces as they greeted the friends they hadn't seen all summer. They compared schedules, talked about what teachers they liked and what teachers they hated and what they did over the break. For the most part, everyone was happy to be back, if only for the day.
But not him.
Jack hated first days most of all. He hated the commotion, the noise, and the nonsense of the whole day. But he never missed it. His parents wouldn't care if he stayed home. His parents didn't really care what he did anymore. But year after year he still had nearly perfect attendance. Why? Because even though he hated everyone it was still the only time he saw anyone, well, besides work but he hated everyone there too and they mostly left him alone now.
The thick sound of a diesel engine grew louder until the yellow school bus rounded the corner and sloshed through the puddles to a stop. The bus driver smiled as he cranked the lever that forced the doors open. As everyone hurriedly climbed on and shook the rain off their umbrellas Jack just stared at the bus' windshield wipers flicking back and forth without pause. He thought about turning around and going home, but he'd had enough of his parents today.
He climbed the steps onto the bus and sat down in the third row on the right.
The bus was old and worn with duct-taped up seats and windows that wouldn't open more than a couple inches and closed about as well. The whole bus already reeked of B.O. and wet dog. They pulled away from the curb and continued down the rain soaked roads for another three feet before stopping to let more students on.
It was going to be a very long day.
A young blonde girl swept her hair into a low side ponytail with her fingers as she jammed her feet into a pair of blue converse. She looked in the mirror and shrugged, good enough. As she began making faces at her reflection the door to her bedroom swung open without warning and her brother stuck his head in.
"Hey loser, Mom says that you better get up or you're going to be late for school," he said as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
Leah turned and glared, "Does it look like I'm still sleeping, Logan? Does it?"
He rolled his eyes and ran a hand through his untamed hair as he turned to walk away. But he stopped and took a step backwards, "Hey, sis," he peeked up at her with his honest blue eyes. "Can you try to be less of a loser this year? It's getting hard to convince people that Sarah's my sister and not you, what with our same last name and Sarah being Chinese."
"You're such a jerk, get out of my room!" Leah shouted as she threw her hairbrush at his face. She missed.
She could still hear his manic cackle as she headed down the stairs to make a quick breakfast. Her mother was in the kitchen making a cup of coffee and she looked up when Leah entered the room.
"Oh no, you are not going to school dressed like that," the woman said as she gestured with her hand to her daughter's entire outfit.
Leah looked down at herself. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
"Well, for starters your shirt says that you 'heart' zombies."
Leah nodded, "I do heart zombies. I heart the hell out of zombies."
Her mother waved her off like she was shooing away a fly. "Don't say hell. You have picture retakes today and I will not be sending pictures of you hearting zombies to your grandmother. Go put on that pink blouse I bought you."
Leah made a face. "But it's pink, like pale ugly peachy pink. And it has those awful ruffles on the sleeves."
Her mother didn't seem to pay the slightest bit of attention. "It's adorable and it will look lovely with your pretty blue eyes. Hurry up and change or you're going to be late. You wouldn't want to make a bad impression."
Leah sighed and stomped back up the stairs. After switching shirts, she stood in front of her mirror with a scowl. She looked like someone's dressed up Chihuahua. She sighed as she grabbed a light jacket out of her closet. It was only for one day. She could make it.
After suffering through her mother's second inspection she was finally able to leave the house. It was still dark as she stepped out the door and she quickly zipped her jacket all the way up to her chin, mostly to hide her shirt, but also to keep the chill out.
Logan laughed as he walked by her and climbed into his jeep that was parked by the street. "Hey, don't you want a ride?" He called through the open window just as she was about to pass him by.
"Nope," she said and kept walking.
"Oh come on, get in; you know I was just messing with you this morning. You don't really want to walk. I have to pick up some buddies but I'll still probably get you to school faster than walking."
Leah made a face like she'd just smelled something foul, "Why on earth do you think I'd want to ride to school smashed between a bunch of smelly football players while watching Barbie-wannabes in their tight clothes and fake tans flirt with my brother? Gag me."
Logan shook his head, "Whatever Princess," and then waved as he drove by, leaving her to her peaceful walk.
The walk to school usually took about twenty minutes but Leah knew of a shortcut that could cut that time nearly in half, but the timing wasn't the reason she liked the shortcut so much.
Most kids from her neighborhood knew of the shortcut but no one else used it, especially in the mornings. Woodlands stretched from the edge of their neighborhood all the way to the back of the school, going through them instead of around saved a lot of time. But the woods had a reputation; three years ago, a girl hung herself from one of the maple trees somewhere in the woods and people swore they would catch glimpses of her in the fog. Stories like this were enough to cause most students to skip the shortcut and take the long way around.
But Leah liked the trees.
She found them to be oddly calming. The woods were still and silent except for the random rustle of leaves or snap of a twig. Fog hung low and thick, making it feel like you were disappearing with every step. There wasn't even a real path; in order for the shortcut to work you had to leave the path at the large Maple tree—the same one Deborah Parker supposedly hung herself on.
Leah liked the tree; every time she saw it she always paused and stared up at its large twisted branches that looked like they were reaching for something. Maybe another soul to take.
Leah reached the edge of campus just as her fingers began to go numb inside her gloves. As she walked in the building, she watched numerous students bustle about and excitedly greet each other. There were so many faces in the crowd it was hard to focus on a single one. Though, it didn't matter; she didn't know very many people. She had a small circle of friends, well really more like a line since it's hard to make a circle with only two people, but outside of that she really didn't know anybody. Sure, she knew their faces, she had been in the same classes with them since kindergarten, but that didn't mean she knew them.
Most of the other students were busy getting their schedules since almost nobody had been present for the actual first day of school. Just her. Leah's mother didn't believe in missing school unless you were contagious or physically incapable. So, she and a handful of other nerdy eleventh graders already had their schedules.
Leah pulled the folded-up piece of paper out of her pocket and double checked the room number for her first class. As she was still looking over the list, the paper was violently ripped from her fingers.
"There you are; I've been looking everywhere for you," her friend Sarah said as she waved the schedule around in the air with her every hand gesture. Sarah was a very animated person and felt that if you only talked with your mouth, then you weren't putting full effort into the conversation.
Leah smiled as she tried to pull her schedule back. "Yeah sorry, I just got here."
Sarah swatted her friend's hand away and then traced her perfectly manicured finger down the paper as she examined it. "Hey, we have Science and History together!"
Leah frowned, "That's it? I think I'm gonna go see the counselor today and get my entire schedule changed," she said dramatically.
"Oh relax; maybe we'll still have lunch together or something. And there's always after school; but of course, I'll be doing volleyball and the school newspaper again and you have ... that thing you do."
"Uggh," Leah groaned. "Don't remind me. Honors Society was the worst thing that ever happened to me last year. Not only was my mother able to force me into joining a club but she was able to force me into a club that my brother is president of. I hate my life."
Sarah sighed with a smile, "I would join any club your brother is in, except I don't have the grades for that one."
Leah rolled her eyes as she followed Sarah into their first period Science class and found the perfect place to sit. The teacher would probably make a seating chart and she'd have to move anyway, but Leah always liked to sit in the second row closest to the door. It helped in making a clean getaway as soon as class ended.
Glancing around the room, she made a mental note of all the kids she recognized, there weren't very many of them. There was a cheerleader Leah had always hated for no real reason in particular. There was a blonde boy Sarah had dated last year. It hadn't ended well, for either of them. And finally, there was a girl named something with a D that she remembered talking to last year. Diana? Darcy? Debbi? She couldn't remember.
Like all first days, time seemed to pass by relatively quickly all up until math ended and Leah found herself walking into the lunch room. She didn't know anyone in her math class and prayed she'd at least have lunch with someone she recognized.
Her heart sank as she rounded the corner and entered the lunch room to be greeted by a sea of unfamiliar faces. She stood awkwardly under the bright lights as she scanned over each person, trying to find someone she could sit with.
She began to recognize some of the faces and a pit formed in her stomach; this was a mostly senior lunch. She saw her brother and a group of his friends laughing as they claimed a table by dropping their backpacks all over it.
The palms of her hands began to sweat as she got into the lunch line just so she didn't stand out as a loner. But even while waiting in line, she was still looking out over the bustling cafeteria. She knew Logan would welcome her at his lunch table but that was the last place on earth she wanted to sit. What if she couldn't find someone to sit with? Should she just bombard some random person's lunch table? That's what Sarah would do. That's why she had so many friends. Leah wondered if she should eat in one of the classrooms. She was not going to hide in a bathroom stall like you always see in the movies.
When Leah reached the front of the line she absently grabbed a piece of greasy pizza without really looking at her options; she was still too busy trying to find at least one person she felt comfortable enough to sit with. Her hands dug into the paper plate causing it to crumple and bunch around her fists. She wanted to disappear. She didn't want to be the freak sitting alone at lunch.
Just as she was trying to think of what classrooms might be empty at this time, she spotted a boy sitting all alone with no extra chairs piled around his table. She vaguely recognized him; she'd seen him in the halls since middle school. She was even fairly certain they had been partnered together in science last year. She remembered that she had accidentally knocked over some chemicals and he had banned her from touching anything else and finished the projects himself. That was the best grade she had ever gotten in science.
Leah sucked in a deep breath, clutched her paper plate, and walked over to the almost empty table. She stood in front of the boy awkwardly waiting for him to look up from his book and notice her standing there. After watching him read for a second or two she finally cleared her throat.
"Hi, I'm Leah. You probably don't remember me but I think we were paired together for science last year."
The boy didn't even look up from his book, "I remember you."
Her eyebrows rose. "Really?" she said in disbelief.
"Yeah, it's kinda hard to forget the girl who tried to douse you in Hydrochloric Acid," he stated dully.
Leah bit her bottom lip as her face started to turn red. "I didn't try to; it was an accident. If I had meant to do it you would have been covered in the stuff."
Those seemed to be the magic words that made the boy's eyes lift from the pages of his book for the first time.
"Well, it's great to know you're just naturally klutzy and not downright malicious."
Leah smiled innocently, "Is someone sitting here?" she asked as she pointed at the empty seat across from him.
"Yes, my imaginary friend, Fred. You just can't see him on account of him being invisible." And he glared up at her in annoyance when he spoke the word invisible.
Leah plopped down in the chair and folded her arms. "Aren't you a bit old for imaginary friends? Or is it like that Tom Hank's movie where it's the only friend you can make so you keep it around to avoid going crazy?"
A wicked grin twisted up his face. "Or maybe the reason I have imaginary friends is because I already am crazy. Can you hear the voices?"
Leah laughed before taking a bite of her pizza and then watched as the boy went back to reading his book.
He was by no means attractive. He was too skinny and too tall, with sharp angular features as if carved from stone. His stringy black hair parted straight down the middle and fell around his pointed chin and into his eyes. Even with his sunken cheeks and large nose, his eyes were the worst, they were pale grey and had deep purplish bags underneath as if he hadn't slept in years; and although he was young, a permanent crease was already set between his brows.
She continued to stare at him as she ate her lunch. She watched as he absently brushed stray strands of hair out of his face only for them to instantly fall right back to their previous position; and she watched as his eyes slid to the side to catch her staring. She didn't look away.
"What are you reading?" She finally asked, simply to try to start another conversation. Uncomfortable silences were uncomfortable.
The boy slowly lifted his head and stared at her for a moment. "It's called a book," he explained. "You're probably just confused because you've never seen one up close before."
Leah sucked on the inside of her cheek. "I can see it's a book. I do read books you know."
He raised a brow, his expression changing for the first time from annoyance to amusement. "I'm afraid Twilight and Life of an American Slut count as trash, not books," he said with a smirk.
Leah's mouth fell open, "Wow, okay, nice. I admit, I've read Twilight but I'm not even sure the second thing you said was a real book."
He shrugged, "Knowing our society and publishing companies, I'm sure it is."
Leah smiled; she kind of liked this guy. He was dark and unapologetic of his opinions.
"So, do you not have lunch with any of your friend's either?" she asked before taking another bite of pizza.
"I don't really do friendship."
"Why not? Everyone needs friends."
"Yeah, well around here your options are pretty limited. The only way I can get an intelligent conversation is if I talk to myself and I'm just not that narcissistic."
Leah nodded, "Not to mention: crazy."
"Oh no, I really am that crazy; I'm just not narcissistic."
Leah smiled as she looked up to the ceiling. "Well, thank you anyway."
The boy's left eye squinted as he stared at her. "For what?"
"For calling me a genius. You clearly don't have the patience for morons but you've put up with me for this long so I must be a genius."
He flashed her a crooked grin. "Well, I wouldn't go that far; sometimes I get bored and idiots can be very amusing."
Leah shook her head in disbelief; this boy really had some nerve. But the witty banter wasn't what she was focusing on; when he'd smiled she caught the flash of dimples on both sides of his face. With his stringy black hair and hallow grey eyes, the dimples were obviously his best feature. Though she got the impression they were usually hidden behind a scowl.
"Yeesh, you spill some chemicals once and you're labeled a moron for the rest of eternity," she said half-jokingly.
"It's not just the Hydrochloric Acid; we've been pared together on other things and you've yet to prove there's anything occupying the space between your ears."
Leah wondered what else they had been partnered on. She was terrible with names and faces.
"We've had other classes together?"
He shook his head as he turned his attention back to his book. "Yup. We had all our core classes together last year, a few classes throughout middle school, and we currently have Science, English, and Math together this year."
Leah blinked. She hadn't realized they'd spent the whole morning together, and honestly if he hadn't made such a big deal about the chemical thing last year, she probably wouldn't remember him at all.
"You're in three of my classes? I don't remember seeing you."
"Yeah, I've got that kind of face. I sit in the back. Now eat your pizza," he said in a gruff as he turned the page of his book.
Leah was about to respond when a loud noise echoed throughout the cafeteria and the room fell dead silent. All heads turned to the direction of the noise. A large guy—who Leah was fairly certain played on their football team—was holding onto a chair while some nerd tried to pull himself off the ground. Unfortunately, this was pretty typical stuff at her school. Juvenile pranks kids played on each other in elementary school had somehow followed them to high school.
"Heya Denny, didja miss me?" The football player asked as he continued to hold onto the chair he had just pulled out from underneath the other boy.
Dennis sighed as he tried to climb back to his feet. "No Derrick, I didn't."
Just as he tried to stand up, Derrick put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back to the ground again.
"Wow, that really hurts buddy. We haven't seen each other in months," Derrick mocked.
The other boy didn't say a word as he once again tried to get to his feet, only for Derrick to shove him back down again.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down there Speed Racer. What's the hurry; we're having a lovely conversation, aren't we?"
"Sure Derrick, whatever," Dennis said as his hands balled into fists on the ground. He waited a minute before trying to get up again only for Derrick to shove him back down. Dennis clenched his jaw as his fists began to shake at his sides. "Just let me up!"
Derrick raised his brows, "Well, look who went and found his balls over the summer. All right Denny, you can get up," he said as he held out his hand.
Dennis looked weary as he hesitated before smacking the bully's hand away and getting to his feet on his own.
Derrick held his hands up disarmingly, "Hey, whatever floats your boat, Master D."
He turned as if to walk away; however, he only made it a step or two before spinning around and sticking his leg out in front of the other boy's feet, causing him to fall forward.
"Changed my mind," Derrick said cheerily as he stomped down on Dennis' hand which he had used to brace his fall. A loud shriek filled the air as Derrick twisted his heal and ground the other boy's hand into the tile.
"Fair warning: having balls with nothin'ta back 'em up can getcha into trouble."
Suddenly Logan threw himself into the mix as he pushed Derrick away from the other boy. "Dude, just walk away," he said as he stood between them.
Derrick's eyes narrowed, "You gonna make me, Ebner?"
Logan shook his head, "Is it really going to come to that? Be smart about this Derrick, you could get kicked off the team for this shit."
Derrick's fists shook at his sides but he turned and walked away, leaving Logan to help Dennis to the nurse's office.
Logan to the rescue, Leah thought bitterly as she turned back to Dimple Boy. She kind of wished she knew his name about now but she didn't know a good way to ask at this point. As she looked over, she noticed that Dimple Boy was glaring daggers at Derrick who was about to walk by their table.
"What are you looking at, Addams?" Derrick hissed as he made a jerking motion toward Dimple Boy.
"Fuck off, Webber." And the way he said it was more like a challenge than anything else.
Derrick just sneered as he kept on walking, completely ignoring the challenge.
Dimple Boy clenched his jaw as the skin around his tired eyes crinkled under the weight of his glare.
Leah twisted her hands around uncomfortably, "So, your last name's Addams?" She was trying to change the subject and lighten the mood all at the same time.
Instead, Dimple Boy whipped his head around and directed his nasty glare at her. "No, no it's not."
"But, he just called you ..." she trailed off.
His glare began to dissolve into mild irritation as he let out a sigh. "That's just Derrick's way of calling me a freak, you know, Addams Family."
He snatched his book up off the table and walked away just as the bell rang.
Leah looked down at her hardly touched lunch. She kind of wished she hadn't wasted her time talking to a boy who she didn't even know the name of and watching the lamest fight in history. She let out a defeated sigh as she slid her hardly touched lunch into the trash before pulling out her schedule to find her next class. Next up was History with Sarah.
At least today went better than yesterday when there were all of three students in History. Leah hated to have that kind of one on one attention; she liked to blend in.
After History, there was only one class left for the day; the class Leah was already beginning to suspect she would be spending all her time dreading. Web Design. She had signed up for it because she still needed a technology credit to graduate and this one looked the easiest. But basically, her computer skills were limited to surfing the web. She even made Sarah illegally download her music because she didn't know how.
Swallowing her worries, Leah headed into the room. It looked just like any other classroom except on every desk there was a computer. At least there were ample things to hide behind. Leah was about to sit down near the front when she noticed Dimple Boy standing in the back of the room while he dug something out of his backpack.
She froze in the aisle as she absently chewed on the side of her lip before straightening her shoulders and walking to the back. The boy paid her no mind until she dropped her backpack to the floor and took the seat next to him. She smiled as his eyes slid to the side and his face dropped when he saw that it was her.
"What do you want?" he hissed.
"Good, then go away," he said, book already open in his hand.
But Leah wasn't about to give up. "Don't you think it's kind of a coincidence that we were just talking about having classes together at lunch and now we find out we have one more?"
Jack lowered his book a little and finally laid it closed on the table, except for one finger that he left tucked into the pages in order to keep his place.
"I don't believe in coincidence which means you must be stalking me. Now, I know I'm irresistible but please, try to restrain yourself."
Leah allowed her head to hang forward as she stared at him. "I can't believe you just said that with a straight face ... you were kidding, right?"
He cocked his head and shrugged. "Interpret as you will."
"You are unbelievable."
"Why thank you," he said proudly. Obviously, he had decided that was meant as a compliment.
As more students began to pile in and find their seats the teacher began to take roll and for once Leah paid attention to the names of all her classmates and the faces they belonged to. She noticed Dimple Boy raised his index finger, without looking up from his book, when the teacher called for a Jack Calder.
While the teacher began talking about class expectations, Leah leaned over a little and whispered. "Hello, Jack."
The boy pried his head away from his book and shook his shaggy hair out of his face.
"Holy shit, did you just figure out what my name was?"
Leah chewed on her lip as she sheepishly nodded her head. She was expecting him to be upset but instead he nodded in approval.
"Damn, I'm better at this Anonyms thing than I thought. Eleven years down, two to go. I'm so winning."
Leah smiled, all the while wondering what the heck he was talking about. Winning at what?
Unfortunately, their teacher actually kept them busy all period with school related things, so Leah didn't have much of a chance to talk to her new friend. And when the bell rang, Jack was out the door before it even stopped ringing.
Leah looked around at all the lucky little people who got to go home now, she didn't. As much as she wanted to go home she had to stay after for Honors Society, because it looked good on college applications.
Jack made his way to the school library where he calmly sat down and appreciated the silence before opening his book. He wasn't going home. He had no intention of practicing to play happy little family, and he hated to be told what to do.
His mother was going to be pissed, but he didn't care. He was sick of playing her little games, but he didn't exactly have anywhere better to be so he'd decided to just hang out in the school library until they kicked him out or he finished his book, whichever happened first.
Leah let out a heavy sigh as she made her way to the room where the meeting was being held. She still didn't get the point of this club and she'd been in it for a year. The only thing it ever succeeded in doing was making her hate her brother even more.
Even though this was only the first club meeting of the year it still took the full hour. They had to introduce themselves and vote on who would be president, spoiler alert: still Logan. Leah was the only one who hadn't voted for him, and he was running unopposed.
The room was busy with chatter, everyone talking about their plans for the year. But while everyone else was socializing, Leah kept writing the same sentence all the way down a page of her notebook.
Someone please kill me and end the torture.
But no matter how many times she wrote it, it would never be enough. She would rather carve her own eye out with a rusty nail than be here in a room full of eggheads. She didn't belong here. Really, she didn't feel she belonged anywhere, but definitely not here.
"Young man, the library's closing," the librarian called.
Jack looked up from his book long enough to check the clock. Crap. Not even an hour had gone by. He quickly gathered up his things and exited the library before the librarian could come after him with a broom or something. She was really a pretty nasty lady once you got to know her.
As he walked the empty halls and tried to think of another place in town he could go to kill some time, he spotted Derrick Webber slinking out of the chemistry classroom. The guy was looking awful pleased with himself. Jack scoffed at the stupidity of the world and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Humanity was damn depressing.
Derrick was still looking way too proud of himself when he turned and saw Jack walking towards him. His smile fell and his lip curled back.
"Hey Addams, bad things happen to snitches," he sneered.
Jack barely looked up from the floor as he went to pass by. "Eat shit."
Without warning, Derrick reached out and grabbed the corner of Jacks shirt and slammed him up against the wall, hard enough to rip his hands from his pockets. Derrick's fist tightened and for a second Jack actually thought he was going to get hit, but he didn't. They'd done this dance before in middle school; Derrick had been too much of a coward to take a swing then, too. Instead, he just stood there for a moment, leaving Jack pinned to the wall glaring back at him.
"Get your thieving hands off me!" Jack yelled as he tugged at the other boy's hand.
As ordered, Derrick let go. "Freak," he spat as he turned to leave. "Don't you dare tell anyone you saw me in there or I'll kill you."
Derrick hadn't even taken a single step before Jack pushed himself off the wall and wrapped his arm around the other boy's neck in a chokehold. Derrick squirmed and tried to pull at Jack's arms but the more he struggled the more force Jack applied to his carotid artery, cutting off his airways.
The two boys were pretty equal in height but Derrick outweighed Jack by at least fifty pounds. Even with less oxygen getting to his brain, he was still aware this was his biggest advantage. He stumbled back into the chemistry classroom where he proceeded to slam his back up against the whiteboard, smashing Jack in-between Derrick's body and the wall. After about the third time Jack lost his grip and Derrick stumbled a few steps away gasping for air.
"You freaky son of a bitch!" he hollered as he stooped down and picked something up off the floor.
Jack was still rubbing at the back of his head when he realized what Derrick had just picked up. It was a knife, but not just any knife, it was his knife. Jack quickly felt at his empty pocket, it must have fallen out during the struggle.
When Honors Society was finally dismissed, (and Leah had filled about three sheets of paper with pleadings to die) Leah slowly began packing up her supplies while everyone around her quickly grabbed their stuff and left.
Logan came up behind her as he slung his backpack over one shoulder. "Mom wanted me to remind you that she's picking you up for your hair appointment. So, don't go home."
"I know, Logan!" Leah snapped., "I don't need reminded of my own appointments; I'm not a child."
Logan's brow furrowed and he stepped back. "Jeez, it was only a friendly reminder, no need to be a bitch."
He was right of course, her brother could never be wrong after all, but Leah couldn't help that her default was bitchiness, especially when it came to him.
As Logan left, Leah slowly pulled her cell out of her back pocket. Her mom wouldn't even be there for about another forty-five minutes. She could be home by then, even if she walked slowly and took the long way. She grumbled as she collected her things and left the classroom. Within minutes the whole school was like a ghost town as clubs got out and teachers left. Leah was the only loser who was still wandering around a vacant school.
Even though she was determined to be in a bad mood she really loved walking alone in the empty halls. During the day the halls were completely coated in students, you couldn't even get by them half the time. But now they were empty, her footfalls echoing off the walls. It reminded her of the woods in the dark; there was that sense of uncertainty and potential and possibly just a hint of eeriness. She loved it
Leah listened to the clapping her shoes made on the tile floors as she walked down yet another empty hall. As she passed by the chemistry classroom, a low scuffling sound caught her attention. She paused and took a few steps backward when she heard the noise again.
Leaning all the way up on her toes, she tried to peek into the room through the little rectangular window on the door. She couldn't see anything out of the ordinary inside but with her head pressed against the glass she thought she heard someone talking inside the classroom.
The voice was low, almost ghostlike with unmistakable panic lingering at the edge of each word.
"What the hell am I gonna do?" the voice whispered.
Leah bit down on her lower lip as she stared at the door handle. On one hand she was extremely curious, but on the other she was kind of worried for no real reason at all. She slowly reached for the handle all the while craning her neck to try to see into the classroom better.
This was why curiosity killed the cat.
Once the door opened just a crack the noise stopped and the room fell silent. She stood awkwardly in the doorway for a moment but the noise didn't start again. Leah crinkled her nose and stepped fully into the room.
It didn't look any different inside as it had from the hall. It smelled kind of weird but Leah chalked that up to it being a chemistry classroom. Even though all seemed well she still wasn't satisfied; something was going on here. She took a few tentative steps towards the teacher's desk and called out.
"Hello? Ms. Rhymer, you in here?"
She waited around for a second or two but there was no answer. She must be going crazy. The whole school was practically empty; she must be hearing things.
Leah shook her head at how silly she had been as she turned to leave, but the glint of something red caught her eye and she stopped in her tracks. She stared at the little pool of red liquid streaming out from behind the teacher's desk. She just watched it for a moment before slowly taking a step forward and then another until she was rounding the desk to see where the pool was coming from.
When she rounded the corner she stopped, shock freezing her in place. Her heart beat loud against her ribs and her eyes widened but she couldn't look away. Not that she really wanted to.
Lying on the floor just behind the desk was a body. A human body. The body of a teenage boy. His brown eyes were still open but glazed over as he stared blankly at nothing. His skin looked paler against the deep red blood pooling around his torso. He was lying on his back and his chest was soaked in blood.
Leah couldn't stop staring; she had never seen a dead body before. And although she knew her reaction was not 'right' she was still overcome with the overwhelming desire to reach out and touch it. She tried to suppress the urge but found herself stepping closer and her fingers began to stretch forward, and that's when she realized she was not alone behind the desk.
Crouched down just a few feet away from the body was the boy from lunch, Jack. He was speckled in blood and was still clutching a bloody knife in his hand. He sat completely wide eyed, staring at her like she was a deer about to jump out in front of a car, like he was silently begging her not to.
As she stood there trying to piece everything together in a way that made sense, she half expected the whole thing to be some big joke. That any minute now the dead boy would sit up and laugh at her and say something like "Got you, you should have seen the look on your face" but the longer she stood there the more obvious it became that this was real and dead boys don't get up and talk.
A light popping sound allowed her to pull her eyes from the body and look over at her living classmate. Jack was slowly rising to his feet with a grip so tight on the knife it was turning his knuckles white.
This reminded her of one of her horror movies, which she would usually laugh at but under these circumstances ...
Leah slowly took a step back and then another and another, not allowing the killer to leave her sight for a second until her back hit against the open door. When she felt it behind her she quickly turned around and walked out.
"Sorry for disturbing you," she mumbled and then closed the door behind her, simply out of habit, before making her way down the hall.
She knew she should run; something in the back of her brain was telling her this would be the right thing to do, but she walked. She walked the empty halls as if nothing had happened.
Jack stood his ground as he watched recognition spread over her face and she slowly stepped back before disappearing out of the room. This was bad.
Understatement of the year.
This couldn't be happening. None of it. His head felt like it was going to cave under the pressure of all the thoughts piling up and beating against his skull. His world was falling apart. He needed to get Leah back; she couldn't be allowed tell anyone.
Kicking his blood-soaked sneakers from his feet, he glanced at the door and then at the knife in his hands. He set it on the desk and then darted out of the room after Leah.
When he opened the door, she was nowhere in sight. His heart began to race as he frantically ran to the end of the hall and only stopped for a second to look both ways. And there she was, in her dark blue jeans and ridiculous pink top, making her way to the stairs.
"Wait!" he called, but even he didn't know why he was wasting his breath; there was no way she was going to stop and let him catch up to her. In fact, she acted like she didn't hear him at all. She didn't turn her head or run faster or anything.
Jack tore down the hall after her and slid across the sleek tiles, placing himself between her and the stairs. He grabbed her shoulders tightly with his bloody hands and stared her right in the eyes, each one sizing up the other, determining the level of threat.
"Dammit, just wait," he breathed.
She didn't scream; she didn't cry; she just stared at him with soft, unblinking blue eyes.
He needed to kill her. He knew that was what he was supposed to do, but it was taking everything he had just to hide the fact that his hands were shaking and his legs felt like jelly and he wanted to throw up. He couldn't do it; not again, not now, not to her. So, he stood there with his hands pressing in on her shoulders while he tried to remind himself to breathe.
With no explanation to offer, they both stood, wrapped in their own thoughts and plans until a little tune began to chime. It was a happy, whimsical song like that from an ice-cream truck or a Mario game.
Leah pulled her phone from her pocket and answered it before Jack even registered what was happening.
"Hello?" Her voice was quiet and her eyes were locked on his. "Okay, I'll be right there." She closed the phone but still held it in her hand. "I have to go. My mother's waiting for me out front," her voice wasn't much louder than a whisper, like she was afraid a loud noise might startle him into doing something they'd both regret.
He let go of her shoulders and ran his bloodstained hands through his shaggy hair. He had absolutely no clue what to do. His brain was always thinking, except now, now it was quiet. Perfect fucking timing.
"Take off your shirt," he ordered.
Leah stared at him in disbelief before shaking her head. "What? No."
He let out a frustrated breath as he pulled his dark hoodie over his head and held it out to her.
Leah stared at the shirt and then looked back up at him, puzzled. He gestured to her shoulders that were now sporting bloody handprints on both sides.
She bit at her lip as she stared at the shirt as if trying to decide if this was a trap or not. Finally, she grabbed it out of his hands and then stepped around him to the stairs.
She kept waiting to hear the sound of him chasing after her but it never came. She wanted to look over her shoulder all the same, just to be sure, but she didn't. If he was going to come after her and kill her, she'd rather not see it coming.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs she pulled the hoodie up over her head before exiting the building. She knew his sweatshirt must have more blood on it than her blouse but its dark color masked the sight.
The air outside was already growing colder and colorful autumn leaves danced across the ground in the wind as she ran to her mother's car. She slid into the passenger seat without a word and allowed her attention to fade as she watched the passing scenery out the window. Her mother was telling her all about her day at work but Leah wasn't paying the least bit of attention. It was all just white noise in the background of her thoughts.
Everything seemed so bizarre, like it wasn't even her life, like it was a movie or something. In fact, if it wasn't for the large sweatshirt that smelled like cologne she could probably convince herself that she made the whole thing up. That none of it really happened. But it had.
Her mother was still prattling on as Leah stared out the window at the first drops of rain that batted against the glass.