A boy watched the wall with fear and apprehension. The sky was darker than he could ever remember it. It reminded him of night back home. All the plants in the valley were dying.
“The balance has to be kept, Nayto.”
Ashton didn’t bother to look at the speaker. “I know,” he said softly.
The older lady took a seat next to him in the angry, dying grass. “We don’t have time to wait for her to find her own way here. We don’t know how long that could take.”
“You’re the only one with the ability.”
“Then why haven’t you gone yet?”
He didn’t speak. The only visible sigh no distress was his clenched fist.
She nudged him.
“Nayloni, I can’t.”
The woman read into the soul of the problem. “This is about what she can do, isn’t it?”
He didn’t respond, but they both knew she was right.
“We don’t have a choice anymore, Nayto.”
“I know.” He was silent for a moment. He looked at her for the first time since she’d taken place at his side. “Nobody should be able to cross back over. It’s not right that we meddle in their affairs.”
The woman laid her arm across his shoulder. “You do not abuse the power. You will teach her that she must not.”
There was nothing more to be said on the matter. Even if he didn’t like it, they had no choice. They had to keep the balance. “I’m going to wake up soon.” He could feel his body humming with the energy that had been slowly building since his arrival.
“Then you should hurry. Go now.”
My eyes snapped open. My body was covered in a sheen of sweat. Breath escaped in short gasps form my lungs. The red glow of my alarm clock told me it was 2:37 a.m.
I sat up shakily and clutched my blankets tighter. I felt eyes on me. Somebody was in my room. There was a shuffle to my left. I jerked my head in that direction.
I saw a boy. He looked as if he were trying to retreat. As our eyes met, he stopped moving away and rose to his full height. He wasn’t tall, but he was probably still taller than me. From what I could tell, his hair appeared jet black. He had blue green eyes that seemed to glow out of his face.
We watched each other silently. Finally, he opened his mouth. “You weren’t supposed to wake up.”
He fell back at the sudden sound. I threw my pillow, catching him off guard. He stumbled back, into the stool I hadn’t bothered to push back under my desk. He fell over it and landed on the floor. His head smashed into my lamp, sending it crashing to the ground. The bulb sparked and shattered. I was still screaming.
“Cadence!” my dad yelled. I heard movement outside of my room.
The boy was across the room in an instant. I was still sitting up, and he slipped behind me. His hand slapped over my mouth. His other arm wrapped around me, restraining me. He was surprisingly strong for his build. The door flew open.
My dad looked around frantically. To my surprise, he relaxed slightly. “Are you okay?”
I was shocked. Did he not see the look of terror on my face? Was he seeing something I wasn’t?
“Not seeing, actually.” The boy’s breath was hot on my ear.
I froze. How did he know what I was thinking?
The boy physically made me nod my head in answer to my dad’s question. Adrenaline sent my heart racing. What the heck was going on?!
Dad’s eye’s flicked over my room again. He took in the fallen lamp. I could tell he wanted to say something, but his words were swallowed up in a yawn. “We’ll talk in the morning.” He closed the door and disappeared.
He left? He just left?! I sagged against my captor in shock.
“Don’t blame him,” the boy said. “It’s not his fault he can’t see me.”
Even if I’d have been able to say anything, I wouldn’t have been able to think of a response. With adrenaline and fear running at light speed through my veins, I tore away from the boys grasp and flipped him over me and off the bed.
He groaned and didn’t make a move to stand.
I crawled to the edge of my bed to look down at him. I grabbed the first thing my hand touched on the bed. I held the heavy edition of Crime and Punishment over my head, ready to use if he twitched a muscle.
He rolled away suddenly in a quick move I wasn’t prepared for. He was out of reach and I didn’t dare leave the safety of my bed. He lifted his hands to calm me, much like I can imagine someone doing to an angry bear. “Easy, I’m not here to hurt you.”
I hadn’t noticed before, but he had a slight British accent. It felt like this whole scene was straight out of Harry Potter. “Who are you?!” I hissed.
He smiled. Something glinted in his blue green eyes that I couldn’t quite interpret. “That,” he said obnoxiously, “is not a question easily answered.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I’m not asking for your deep personal life history. Just tell me who you are and what you’re doing in my room!”
He raised his eyebrows at me. “But my deep personal life history is exactly what you’re asking for, you just don’t know it. Yet.”
I didn’t respond. The boy, so solid and so real at one time, seemed to be . . . fading. A franticness surrounded him all at once, and I knew that I wasn’t imagining it.
“Look, I can’t sit here and answer all your questions. I don’t have much time left. But you have to trust me when I say that what I’m about to say is important.” His eyes were pleading.
I glared. “I never going to trust anything you say!”
He looked down. “You have to.” The complete sincerity in his tone made me hold my tongue so he could continue. I could see my window through him now. “When you try to go back to sleep, focus all your energy into the thought of me. It doesn’t matter what you think about me, as long as you’re thinking of me.”
I could barely make out his outline.
“You have to do this. I can’t come back again until I gather enough energy. The walls might fall by then. The balance has to be kept!”
I couldn’t see him at all. I was alone in the darkness of my room. “What’s your name?” I called urgently at the place he’d been. At that moment, knowing his name was the only thing I wanted.
Out of the empty space, his voice floated weakly to my ears. “Ashton.” I knew he was gone.
I rolled the name over on my tongue. It didn’t feel menacing. Slowly, I lowered my book. I fell back on my bed and concentrated on breathing more regularly. There was no way I was going to fall asleep. My personal space had been violated, my dad hadn’t seen anything, and Ashton had disappeared into thin air.
“I’m dreaming,” I muttered to myself. It was the only explanation. People always said that you couldn’t feel pain in a dream. My eyes found Crime and Punishment. I briefly considered hitting myself with it, but discarded the idea. If this wasn’t a dream, I didn’t want to know.
I resituated myself in the blankets carefully so as not to accidently do something that would cause me to feel pain if this weren’t a dream. My pillow was gone, but there was no way I was going to go get it. I reached over and grabbed a different pillow. It was too fluffy. I didn’t care. I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply. I released the air in a slow sigh.
My eyes opened an instant later. Trying to wake up by going to sleep was pointless, and I wasn’t tired in the least. The clock glowed with the numbers 2:44. I watched it change to 2:45 then 2:46. I started counting the seconds between each minute change . . . 27 . . . 28 . . . 29 . . . nothing.
I wasn’t asleep. My eyes were wide open, but the red glowing clock had vanished. I was seized on every side.
I screamed against the hand that was clamped down over my mouth. Unseen assailants grabbed my struggling arms and legs. They lifted me easily off the bed and carried me across the room toward the balcony. We were outside and I could see what was happening. Men dressed from head to toe in black were stealing me from my room. My eyes were covered with something, and I didn’t see anything else. I never stopped screaming against the hand that covered my mouth.
I have no idea how they got me to the ground from my second story balcony, but they did. The sound of water sloshing against the bank clued me into where they were taking me. My suspicions were confirmed as they sat me down in a chair on a rocking boat. I felt myself being secured down. I took a breath to renew my screaming.
My captors took advantage of the momentary lapse. The hand lifted from my mouth and a gag was put in its place. Amidst the chaos, I heard a distinctly feminine voice break through. “Leave her be. There’s nothing she can do now.” All the hands lifted off of me simultaneously. I stopped screaming and blinked my eyes to focus.
The men were hard to see in the dark. They had formed a circle around me. The circle also extended around someone else. The girl was probably slightly older than my 17 years. Everything about her was pale; her perfect waist length hair, her porcelain face, her off white school girls dress. Everything except her eyes. Her eyes were like twin black holes. I imagined that life was being sucked out of me every second she watched me. Her face looked so calm and peaceful, like that of a mother sympathizing with her daughter.
My study of her physiognomy was interrupted by her voice. It was cold as ice. “I bet you’re wondering why I’ve had you brought here. The truth of the matter is that I don’t care if you know or not and telling you would just waste time. Besides, by morning you won’t remember any of this anyway. It’s a nasty side effect, but it suits my purpose here perfectly.”
My eyes widened in fear. The girl stepped up to me and put her hands on both of my temples. She was going to kill me. I knew it. I tried to scream again, but discovered that I was incapable. It felt like a blanket of darkness settled over my mind. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think . . .
I jerked up out of my bed. The clock glowed 5:30. I felt a pervading sense of wrongness. I had no idea why I’d woken up. I felt violated. Something was in me that wasn’t supposed to be there. Had I eaten something that wasn’t sitting well? I followed my memory back. The last thing I could remember was having a sandwich before bed. The empty plate was still sitting on my nightstand.
Something caught my attention from the other side of my room. My head swung in that direction. My lamp was standing upright. Nothing was out of the ordinary about it. But the fact that it was fine did not sit right with me. I lied back down. My head rested comfortably in my favorite pillow.
For the remainder of the night I couldn’t go back to sleep. The feeling of wrongness never left me.
* * * * *
“So, are you going to tell me what happened last night?”
I glanced up from my toast. “What do you mean, Dad?”
Dad gave me that look that adults tend to give to children who are hiding something. “I’m referring to 2:30 when you woke up me and your mother with your screams.”
I raised my eyebrows at him. “Are you serious?”
His condescending look changed to one of confusion. “You really don’t remember? You broke your lamp when you threw your pillow, Cadence. Are you telling me that you didn’t even question why your lamp was broken this morning?”
“My lamp’s not broken, Dad. I used it to get dressed this morning.”
Dad stood up. He looked at me curiously. He turned and headed upstairs, most likely to verify my story. I checked the time on my phone. “Crap!” I was going to be late. If I didn’t make it, I would lose my alone time with Jason before Cassidy showed up. I swallowed the last three quarters of my toast in one bite. “Bye!” I yelled. I scooped up my backpack and ran out the door.
Lake Michigan peeked in and out of view as I recklessly drove the 18 miles to Gibraltar School. The parking lot was still empty. Jason had probably walked to school. When I reached the library doors, I had to physically stop myself from running. I patted down my hair. I’d taken extra care that morning to look good. I’d been trying to correct the feeling of wrongness I was still unable to shake. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open. My eyes lighted on the corner table where we usually sat. They darkened an instant later. He wasn’t there. Maybe he was late.
I wiped the disappointment off my face and walked to the table. I smiled at the librarian as I passed. Pulling out my laptop, I opened up my unfinished paper. I needed to fix my procrastination habit, but that was a job or another day.
Younger grade children began to come in and look at the different picture books. Nobody in the older grades dared to show their faces in the library, something about being too cool for books. I took comfort in the fact that nobody would come in here and see that I was. Also, there was the whole thing that my last name was Beck.
The bell was about to ring, and Jason still hadn’t arrived. I forced myself not to feel anything. I pressed print and closed my laptop. I was waiting impatiently by the printer when Jason arrived. Cassidy was at his side. I deliberately didn’t notice how the backs of their hands brushed against the others. I also didn’t notice how much Cassidy glowed, the same way she did whenever Jason was around. I didn’t even notice how easy Jason’s smile came to his face. I forced down my pain.
Jason’s face drooped a little when he saw me. “I’m so sorry, Cade,” he said, walking up to me. Cassidy hopped along in his wake.
I waved him aside. “Don’t worry about it. I had a paper I needed to finish writing.”
He smiled at me. My breath caught. “You still procrastinating?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, you know me.” My paper finally spat itself out.
Cassidy giggled overly loud. The librarian shot us an evil glare.
“Let’s go,” I muttered, pushing by them. They followed me out.
“I stayed up too late helping Cassi with a project,” Jason continued, by way of explanation. “This morning I didn’t hear my alarm. Again, I’m really sorry.”
“Hey, it’s your grade, not mine.” The bell rang. “I’ll see you guys later.” I went to class. My school split the seniors into two different groups for our classes. It just so happened that Jason and Cassidy were in one group, and I was in the other. I cursed myself for ever introducing them last year. Now I’d lost my best friend.
I walked through the door to my English class. I took my standard seat in the front row and waited. I didn’t have to wait long.
“Look who got fixed up this morning,” a low voice whispered from behind me.
I didn’t bother to turn around. “Go away, Cooper.”
He didn’t listen. Cooper Little pulled up the chair next to me and sat. “Why the sour face, Cady Lady? Did Jason not notice your special efforts with Cassidy stealing all your thunder.”
I felt my face start to burn with a blush. “I said, go away.”
He leaned back in his chair and twined his fingers behind his head. “Bet you don’t feel so good about friending the new girl now do you?”
I reached down and pulled up on one of the chair legs that was in the air. Cooper sure didn’t look all that cool with his arms flailing as he crashed to the floor. A second later Miss Walker entered the room.
“Okay class, pull out your finished papers. And Mr. Little,” she gave him an annoyed frown, “I would appreciate it if you got up off the floor.”
I subdued my smile as Cooper climbed grumbling to his feet and fixed his chair. What he’d said had disturbed me. If it was so obvious to Cooper, why didn’t Jason notice? Or did he? Did he see my efforts and think them sad and pathetic? Or was I being so overshadowed by Cassidy that he didn’t notice me at all anymore? It was going to be a long day and I could already feel my eyes wanting to close from my lack of sleep.
The school day was way too long and I was exhausted. I’d had enough of Cooper to last me a lifetime. Ever since I’d turned him down, he’d taken it to heart to make every moment of my life miserable. I hated the group class system. It meant that I had every single class with the insufferable jerk. I stomped angrily out into the parking lot to my small ’98 Ford Escort. My parents wanted to get me something a lot nicer and from this century, but I’d fallen for my little green companion from the moment I’d laid eyes on her. Sadly, it was reaching the end of its days and it would have to retire to that great parking lot in the sky. My baby was right in the front of the lot thanks to my early arrival to the school premises.
I leaned up against the door and searched through my backpack for my keys. All around me people filed out of the school. Where were my keys? I just about dumped everything out on the hood so I could search more carefully when a somebody leaned up next to me.
“Looking for these?”
I glared at Cooper. I moved to snatch my keys but he held them above my head, way out of my reach even if I were to humiliate myself by jumping. “Hand over the keys or you’re a dead man.”
“Is that so?”
He made as if to consider my offer. I knew it was just a farce. He’d been planning this carefully since the moment he’d stolen my keys.
His hand dropped a fraction of an inch. “I don’t really believe you. So tell you what,” he paused and I knew I wasn’t going to like the next thing that came from his mouth, “I’ll give you your keys when you give me a kiss.” He tapped his cheek lightly in the place he wanted said kiss.
I took a step back, preparing to deliver a vicious kick to his gut.
A voice interrupted me. “Leave her alone!” Jason looked angry. Cassidy’s face was contorted in worry.
“Go away, Jason,” I snapped at him. “I’m handling this.” I did not need his help!
Jason didn’t listen. “Why do you always have to be so mean to Cadence? Why can’t you just lay off?”
“Couldn’t you try to be less of a jerk?” Cassidy interjected softly.
I hated that they talked like I wasn’t even there.
People were starting to stop and watch. I felt my cheeks flame in embarrassment at the scene.
“At least I’m only talk.” He seemed to relish the attention. “I’m not some wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he nodded at Cassidy.
She paled visibly.
He continued. I felt the ground fall out beneath me. “I’m not the one who broke her heart.”
The world was still. Jason’s mouth had fallen open. Cassidy gasped and took an involuntary step back. Her foot caught the lip of the sidewalk and she fell to the ground. My world was over.
“What did you say?” Jason whispered.
A grim smile broke out across Cooper’s face. “Let me spell it. You. Broke. Her. Heart.”
That’s it. I was done. I resumed the stance I had taken before Jason had materialized. Cooper doubled over gasping as my foot connected with his gut. The keys were in my hand almost before they’d even touched the ground. I didn’t even bother repacking my backpack. I smashed everything in between my hands and shoveled it in my car. My cell phone fell out from my grip and landed under my car. I considered it an inevitable loss of battle and left it. I climbed into my car and drove away. The time from when I’d kicked Cooper to when I escaped covered the span of about five milliseconds. I’d have to improve my getaway time later. Five milliseconds was four point nine milliseconds too many in an emergency situation.
My car’s air conditioning was broken and it was the middle of September. The hot smugness of summer had yet to melt away. My windows had to be rolled down manually with a handle that had fallen off. As I drove home, I didn’t take the effort to reattach the crank and open my window. I didn’t deserve to be relived of the sauna. I was a horrible friend who couldn’t let my two best friends be happy. I sweated like a pig as I drove the 18 miles back home. Sweating like a pig is a stupid expression, I thought moodily to myself. Pigs don’t even have sweat glands. That’s why that had to wallow in the mud: to keep cool.
I reached my home way too soon. I hadn’t had a chance to torture myself enough for being a bad friend. I stormed inside. My parents weren’t back yet from whatever charity event they happened to be hosting that day. Our house was so meticulous that if I wanted to grab a paper and pencil, I would have had to run all the way upstairs to the storage closet. Instead, I grabbed one of each from my backpack. I scribbled out a quick note:
Broke my phone. Took my jet ski. C.
Normally I would take the kayak, but I wouldn’t have time to make it to the island and back if I took the Kayak. Plus my mom was always happy when I used one of their gifts. The only reason I’d mentioned the broken phone was so my parents wouldn’t worry when I didn’t answer. Also so they could buy me a new one. It wasn’t exactly like money was an issue in my house.
I quickly threw on one of my warmer swimming suits and clipped a life jacket on over it. As an afterthought, I grabbed a small throw blanket. I stomped out the back door and along the dock. I didn’t bother looking around me as untethered the ski.
An eerie feeling washed over me. I stood up straight and looked around. Nothing looked at all out of the ordinary. The picture of a girl popped into my head. She had long blonde hair, a pale face, and eyes as dark as the back of the moon. A shiver passed through me. I repeatedly looked around me as I finished my preparations. I left the dock with a sigh of relief.
Even though the water was chilly as it splashed in my face, I reveled in the feeling. To be out in the open, breathing the crisp air, to be free. I was going to my favorite place. At least, it used to be my favorite place, back when Jason and I used to visit it, before Cassidy. Now it tormented me with memories of what used to be. It was now my own personal means of torturing myself.
I scowled as a plane flew by overhead. My parents loved that our house was so close to that “cute little airport.” I found it annoying. Luckily they didn’t get a whole lot of business. I urged my ski to speeds closer to 70 mph so I could pass Washington Island quickly. The sky was practically perfect, except for that one blot of clouds. It was a “good fly day.”
Who the heck did Cooper Little think he was?! All I’d ever done to him was decline going on a second date. The first had been a disaster after all. Cooper was on the varsity football team, not that that was really much of an accomplishment considering that our graduating class was only 42 people strong. The whole date, when he wasn’t ignoring me to watch nameless pro-teams plays on the TV above my head, he’d been bragging about his nonexistent football skills. He couldn’t stop talking about how he was in the starting lineup or how he’d almost scored a zillion and five points against that one team from down state. I’m pretty sure that everybody on the team started and that Cooper had never even touched the ball, forget about scoring points! I spent the whole time politely nodding and using incredible amounts of self-control to not bang my head repeatedly against the table. Thank you Cooper, now my life was over. When I got home I would have to tell my parents that I was moving to Florida to live with grandma.
I passed Washington Island. I’d made it a stupid game to guess when I crossed the border into Minnesota. When I was little, Jason and I had been so sure that crossing into Minnesota was like crossing into a new world. We’d often talk about how it had a different feel surrounding it. We pretended we were astronauts exploring a strange new place. I wondered if tears were slipping from my eyes, intermingling with the spraying surf. Each memory was like a knife, slowly cutting away at my soul. Wow, when did I get so overdramatic?
Minnesota in three, two, one, now. No wait! Now. No, definitely now! I was in Minnesota.
I weaved around the smaller islands waiting for my own little Poverty Island to show its face. I saw it and smiled. Just like always, the dilapidated lighthouse stood waiting to greet me.
I brought the ski in slowly until it lodged itself on the bank. I made sure that it wouldn’t drift off by securing it to a rock. The water lapped cold against my shins. I shivered and grabbed my supplies. As I walked up the beach I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders. I saw garter snakes flitting about among the rocks. They seemed more agitated than usual.
The lighthouse reminded me of happier times. I felt sick thinking about them, but that was kind of the point. In a way, the lighthouse was like me. At one time it had been the shining beacon , but now it was falling apart. I remember a time when people used to look to me for guidance. I’d kept the secret well hidden for a long time and no one had made the connection. Jason had been the only one and he hadn’t told anybody. But somebody found out, and like lightning it had flashed across the school. Now my life was endless thunder. Everybody knew I was filthy rich.
The change hadn’t been immediate, but slowly my friends had started dissolving away. I heard the rumors circulating about the outlandish things I owned, including a castle in Ireland made of gold. People said that I thought I was better than them, that I’d always held myself slightly aloof. My parents riches had robbed me. That was the real reason I was clinging onto my junker car until its dying breath. Everything I owned that wasn’t perfect helped me feel like a normal human.
The stairs creaked something awful. My heart speed up its pace in fear, like it was trying to get as many beats in as it could before I fell through the floor to my death. I tried to be as light on my feet as possible. Chipping white paint flaked onto my back and hair as I pressed myself against the wall. I scooted slowly by the giant hole that consisted of more missing steps than I cared to think about. I push up with my back on the trap door and climbed from the hole to the upper house. My heart seemed to sigh in relief. I briefly wondered if other people thought of their heart as its own being. I thought mine had a rather strong personality with all the mood changes it seemed to go through. Like for instance, when I stood and saw the view, my heart dropped from a million beats per minute to maybe three.
I let the view overwhelm me for a moment. Then I turned away. I wasn’t there to experience happiness and beauty. I was there to be punished. I sank to the floor. From there I could only see the sky. I closed my eyes. Even the sky was too good for me.
Jason’s face swam behind my eyelids. I felt tears break beyond my eyelid barrier. I wasn’t worth Jason’s notice. I’d been stupid to convince myself. I built a fire in my mind and burned all of my break-up-Cassidy-and-Jason-so-Jason-comes-back-to-me plans, one by one until my mind was full of the ashes they’d left behind. I opened my eyes so that those too could wash out with my tears.
The world around me was considerably darker. I knew my imagination wasn’t great enough to overrule the logical part of my brain. In other words, I wasn’t seeing darkness because of my tears filled with imaginary ashes. The lighthouse shook as thunder rumbled across the sky. My heart began to speed again. I was stuck on Poverty until the storm passed. I raised myself to my knees and looked out.
My little water ski had become dislodged in the swelling waves. I watched in horror as it smashed again and again into the rock.
* * * * *
The boy felt extremely weak. He’d used all his meticulously stored energy on visiting the girl. His poor heart had been running solely on adrenaline when he’d returned to his self after his visit. As he reached the place he called home, he felt his heart begin to recharge. He felt happy that the little guy could take a break. Even so, it would be days before the boy could go running around fully juiced again. The boy briefly wondered if others personified their hearts as much as he did.
Objects around him focused and the boy’s smile faded. The land looked worse, not better. From where he was standing, he could see chunks of the wall falling away.
The boy turned to see that the older lady was already there. “I’m sorry, Nayloni.”
The woman smiled sadly. “True as that me be, Nayto, you didn’t answer my question.”
The boy made himself look into her gray eyes. “She woke up.”
The woman closed her eyes. A sign escaped from her lips. “What did you say to here? I hope you did not scare her away from here forever.”
The boy looked at the wall. Cracks spread over every inch of it. Sections were beginning to crumble. “I did not tell her about this place. I told her to think of me when she went to sleep. I did not know what else to do.”
“You did well, Nayto. We can only hope she finds this place herself before it is too late.”
The boy’s eyes fell to the ground. “I’m sorry, Nayloni.”
“It’s not your fault.”
The boy walked away. The wall wouldn’t last the time it would take him to get the energy to return. He absentmindedly said hello to the quiet people he passed. Nayloni wasn’t happy when the boy did the thing he was thinking of doing. He’d left his light on in his room and not slept for enough time for his parents to think he had insomnia. He still had the sleeping pills in his drawer. He would force himself to sleep longer than his body thought it needed. He had to build up energy to make another visit. He felt a flash of anger at the girl. Why wouldn’t she do what he’d told her? Everything depended on her.
The door swung open. Mrs. Beck smiled at him. “Jason, what a nice surprise. We haven’t seen you around here lately.”
Jason shifted nervously from foot to foot. “Mrs. Beck, I was wondering if I could talk to Cadence. I would’ve called, but her phone broke.”
Mrs. Beck smiled at him. “You know you’re welcome over any time, Jason. Unfortunately, Cadence isn’t here. She went for a ride on her jet ski. If you think you know where she went, you’re free to take one of the skis and find her.”
It would never cease to amaze Jason how free the Beck’s were with their possessions. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you.”
Jason followed Mrs. Beck through the house. It shocked him that so many things had changed since his last visit. Had it really been so long? He walked out onto the dock and climbed onto the jet ski he usually took possession of. Mrs. Beck tossed him the keys. “Don’t be gone long.”
Jason took off. He knew where Cadence would go. An airplane flew toward him, heading into Washington Island. He smiled when he saw it. The smile immediately dropped from his face. A storm was blowing in from the west. It was coming hard and fast. Jason bent low over the ski and the speedometer edged its way up to 70.
The water started getting rough when Jason only had a mile more to go. He had to drop his speed below 30 to stop himself from being thrown off. Half a minute later he couldn’t go more than 5. Poverty island was just ahead. Thunder crashed over him. He couldn’t see Cadence’s wave runner anywhere. Whether she was there or not didn’t matter anymore. Jason had to get out of the water.
He accelerated as much as he could and rode the ski all the way up onto the beach. He was certain the Becks would forgive him. He could barely see through the drilling rain as he made his way to the protection of the lighthouse.
* * * * *
My jet ski had completely disappeared below the waves. The rain blinded me, even from my position. I crawled to the trap door and climbed down the hole. I closed the hatch, but water continued to drip around the edges of the door. My clothes were soaked through. I sat on the top stair and thought. I really was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The only way I could think of getting back to civilization would be to make my trek north to Fairport; a seven mile journey, three of which I would have to swim.
I inched down the stairs one at a time. I was sad, upset, and angry, but that didn’t make me careless with my life. I reached the bottom and picked up my discarded bag. I stripped off my shirt and wrong for all that it was worth. I put all my frustrations into it. I shook it out and slipped it back on over my head. I pulled my blanket out and wrapped it around my shoulders.
The storm seemed to roar loader for a minute. It abated again just as quickly. My mind began to think through all the scenarios that could cause that. I only came up with one answer. My tired mind was running sluggish and I didn’t realize it until too late that it had been the sound of the main doors to the house opening and closing. I didn’t realize it until the door to the stairs where I was sitting opened.
Jason stood in the door.
And I had thought I was wet. Jason was soaked to the bone. When he saw me, some of the tension drained out of him like the water that puddled beneath his feet. Before I had time to react, he crossed the room and wrapped me in a hug.
My heart stopped, but only for a beat. It started up again with a vengeance. I pushed him away. The parts of my blanket he’d touched were instantaneously soaked. I let the blanket fall and began inching my way back up the stairs.
“Wait, Cadence!” I didn’t. “I’m sorry. I was just relieved that you were here and not caught somewhere out there.”
I don’t think that he realized I was trying to get away from him, not his display of emotion. “What are you doing here?!”
He stepped up onto the first stair, trying to keep me in view on the curving staircase. “I needed to talk to you.”
“You’re not welcome here!”
“Oh, I’m not!” I heard the sarcasm slip into his voice. “I’m the one who discovered this place!”
“That was before,” I shot back, “this is now!”
He switched tactics to sincerity. “Please, Cade. We really need to talk about this.”
“I don’t need to talk about how my life is a freakin’ Taylor Swift song, okay! Just go away!”
His sincerity disappeared. “Cadence! Stop!” Fear exploded out of him.
The warning came too late. I’d reached the spot where the stairs had fallen away. I screamed and flailed, trying not to fall into the space. I grabbed at the walls to no avail. There was no hope. I was going down.
Jason leapt toward me and snagged my flailing hand. He yanked me away from the hole. I crashed into him. We rolled down the stairs in a tangle of arms and legs.
My head thudded on the ground. I groaned. Lights flashed in my vision then cleared. Jason got up weakly on all fours from where he’d landed next to me. I thanked God that he hadn’t landed on top of me. I tried to sit up and was overcome by a wave of nausea. Jason seemed to be fine. His sports med. Training took over and he started quizzing me.
“Does anything feel broken?”
“Are you seeing lights?”
“Do you feel lightheaded?”
He helped me sit up. I closed my eyes until the nausea passed. “Thanks,” I said quietly. The moment I almost fell flashed across my frame of vision again. My heart beat quickly, catching up on all the beats it had missed during the incident.
“Don’t mention it,” he said.
We sat quietly for what seemed like forever while I regained my equilibrium. I moved so that my back was against the wall. I rested my head on my knees. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“You and Cassidy are my best friends. It’s not my place to come between you guys.” I couldn’t lift head to look at him.
Jason’s cold fingers touched my cheek. He made tilt my head up. I tried not to gasp when I saw how close his face was. I was frozen as his lips came down over mine.
My mouth curved into a smile, and I pulled away. “What was that for?”
“That was my way of saying sorry.”
My eyebrows frowned. “What do you mean, you’re sorry?”
He leaned up against the wall next to me. I didn’t even notice how wet he was when he put his arm around my shoulder. “I mean, I’m sorry I didn’t wait for you.”
I leaned up against him. “Stop answering with half answers.”
He smiled. “Cadence, I’ve loved you from the moment I first saw you. That’s why I tried so hard to be your best friend. I was just waiting for the day that you would look at me the same way that I looked at you.
“Last year I realized that that day was never going to come. I knew Cassidy had a crush on me. I decided that I would let her dream be fulfilled, even if I didn’t get to have mine. I guess I got caught up with her and didn’t notice the day you started looking at me.”
We sat in silence while I processed the information. Outside, the storm still raged. “So, what now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you and Cassidy are kind of together.”
I looked at him in shock. “You broke up? Because of me?” A seed of guilt curled in my stomach. Cassidy was my good friend. I didn’t want to steal her boyfriend.
“It’s cool. We talked about it after you left. We decided that maybe being together wasn’t the best thing. She wanted to come talk to you herself, but I thought it best that I came alone.”
Something didn’t seem right about that. Cassidy wasn’t one to go down without a fight. I wondered if maybe he was massaging some of the details just a bit. “You’re promise she’s cool with this.”
Jason tipped up my chin and kissed me again. “I’m positive.”
I pulled the blanket over us and we snuggled together against the cold. I could still taste Jason on my lips for hours after. For once, everything in my life seemed to be going right.
I listened as Jason’s breathing deepened. I was far from sleep. My body felt exhausted, but I knew there was no way I was going to sleep just yet.
I felt indescribably happy. All my hopes were coming true. But, I felt like something was missing aside from sleep. For an instant, the image of a dark haired boy with blue green eyes appeared before me. Then it was gone. I couldn’t bring it back. I had no idea who he was, but there was a feeling inside me that said he was important.
I closed my eyes and thought about the mystery boy as I tried to go to sleep. When the storm had passed and morning risen, the sun found me still awake, trying to remember the boy.
The boy closed the door to his apartment soundlessly. His classes at the university were done for the day and he was on his own. He could hardly to afford to pay for the apartment and attend school, but he had no other option. His secret life didn’t allow for him to remain in residence with his parents. Plus, he wouldn’t have wanted to live with them anyway. He had a crappy life. His only consolation and happiness came through his dreams.
He was careful to make sure the door to his apartment remained locked. All of the blinds were down, closing off the outside world. His rooms were almost as dark as if it had been night. He went into his room and pulled the small bottle of pills out from under his mattress. He popped two of the red pills into his mouth and swallowed them. He cringed as they slowly scrapped down his throat.
The boy fell down on his bed and waited for the Lunexor pills to go into effect. He reached over and hit play on his radio. The droll voice droned on as it continued onto the next passage of the intense book.
“Andesite. Spelled: A-N-D-E-S-I-T-E. Definition: a dark-colored volcanic rock composed essentially of plagioclase feldspar and one or more mafic minerals, as hornblende or biotite. Example: The rock was of the andesite variety.
“Andiron . . .”
The boy felt his eyes already begin to close as the audio dictionary moved on to its next word. He had taken great pangs to find this gem that could put him to sleep easily, even when he was wide awake. Of course the Lunexor helped. As soon as he’d finished off the bottle of prescription sleeping drug, he had discovered this non-prescription “all natural” sleeping pill on the internet. It didn’t have the greatest safety rating, but it was very effective. Or so it had said on the internet. This was his first time using it. He didn’t care so much about the safe factor. He needed something that worked.
He felt the euphoria begin to wash over him. From his research he knew that that was one of the effects of the phenibut in the pill. On impulse, he reached under his bed and grabbed the alcohol he kept stashed there. He hated the stuff, but it was a depressant. It would slow his body down and help him fall asleep quicker along with the drugs.
He took a swig. It burned all the way down his throat. He put the bottle on his nightstand and coughed. It was stronger than he remembered. He felt instantly woozy. That Lunexor was powerful stuff. He closed his eyes and was instantly back to his home.
* * * * *
“Niewit!” the boy looked up at the sound of his name. His American friend only had another few hours before he was called back.
“Kaman,” he smiled. “Long time no see.” The boy only ever saw Kaman when he took naps like he was doing then. Kaman was from California so their times barely intersected, if at all. Yet, despite their limited interactions, the two were like brothers.
Kaman reached him and gave him an American man-hug. He would never get used to that. Americans were peculiar people. “That’s my line, dude. You Brits mess it up with all your proper sounding speak.” This was a longstanding joke between the two. The boy was continuously poking at the peculiar phrases that seemed to come from Kaman’s mouth.
“If you didn’t talk in such a ridiculous fashion, I wouldn’t have to make fun at you.”
Kaman smiled. “A’ight, a’ight. We all know you’re just jealous of the K-Man. So what you be doing here at this time? It ain’t your shift.” The boy had a deep running suspicion that Kaman always spoke his worst just to irritate him. “If you’re trying to catch up on your beauty sleep, bro, it ain’t working.”
The boy rolled his eyes. “No. I’m trying to absorb extra hours. We need to keep this place alive long enough for the girl to arrive.”
A somber mood descended over the friends. A large chunk of the wall crashed to the ground. “How long do you think we have?”
The boy shook his head sadly. “That depends on how much energy I can absorb. The more I absorb, the longer the precarious balance can be maintained and the sooner I can bring her here.” The boy felt a flash of anger at the girl. Why couldn’t she come? Had he been even remotely unclear when he told her how important it was?
Kaman knew the situation perfectly. He’d read about what happened in the journal. “I need this place, bro. Maybe not as much as you do, but I can’t go back to how it was before.” His eyes fell.
The boy nodded in understanding. He did understand, completely.
“What are you taking?”
The boy looked up in shock. “Who’s to say I’m taking anything?”
Kaman gave him a sidelong look. The boy had to struggle not to squirm. “We’re friends Kiewit. Don’t insult me by pretending I’m stupid. You used to use those prescriptions to come here ‘bout three extra times a week. This is the first time you’ve come off-shift since then.”
The boy sighed. “I don’t think you’re stupid, I’m simply upset that it was that obvious.”
When he didn’t say more, Kaman nudged him. “So?”
Kaman wrinkled his eyebrows. “I haven’t heard of that one. I’ll have to look it up. Be careful with it, dude. We can’t afford to lose you too.”
“I’ll be careful,” he promised.
The air in front of them began to shimmer. The boy felt a curl of hope rise inside of him. Could it be her? If she had come her shift would be over by now, but maybe . . .
No, it wasn’t her.
A dark-haired, tan-skinned girl winked into existence. “Hey Kiewit. Kaman.”
The way she said Kaman’s name made him want to roll his eyes again, but he refrained. “Hi Lele. How’s the sun?”
She smiled. “It’s great. How are the raids?”
“Better.” He turned away as the tall Hawaiian girl and Kaman glued themselves together. He walked over to the wall and sat down amidst the dead plants. He slowed his breathing and focused on what he’d come to do. Absorb energy.
* * * * *
Jason had to physically help me to my feet. It was hard to stand on my own strength. Sleep reached toward me from every corner, but it stopped short of actually taking me in its grasp.
I closed my eyes and leaned all my weight on Jason.
“Are you okay, Cade?”
Jason was always overly worried about me. “Mmmhm, just tired, couldn’t sleep,” I mumbled into his chest.
He grabbed all my things and stuffed them into my bag. He slung it over his shoulder. “Come on,” he said, guiding me from the lighthouse.
Because of the tide, the waves were lapping against the beached jet ski. He tossed my bag in the storage area under the seat. I climbed onto the seat. He pushed the ski until it was deep enough in the water that it floated, then, he climbed on in front of me. He revved the engine. “Hold on tight and don’t fall asleep!” he yelled back at me.
I wrapped my arms around his waist and leaned my head up against his back. I wasn’t going to make any promises about the falling asleep thing. The sun was bright overhead. I would never have guessed there was a storm the night before if I hadn’t experienced it.
In no time at all, we were back home. I knew I hadn’t fallen asleep, but I must have drifted into some kind of daze. My parents were waiting on the dock, looking both worried and relieved. As soon as I’d set foot on the dock, I was attacked on all sides. My face was pressed so hard into my mom’s shoulder that I couldn’t breathe. “Oh, baby,” she whispered over and over.
I finally extracted myself from their hold. “I’m fine, really,” I reassured them. “Jason and I took shelter in the old lighthouse.”
I noticed Jason standing awkwardly to the side. For a brief instant, instead of him, I saw the shorter, dark-haired boy with the piercing eyes. I shook my head to clear the image. I immediately regretted it. The image was out of reach, but I could still see his eyes. I’d spent the entire sleepless night trying to remember the mystery boy, now the image was gone.
Shaking my head had reminded me of how tired I really was. I was super glad it was Saturday. I pushed aside my parents’ questions. They didn’t matter in the long run, and I knew that by the end of the day they would probably have forgotten the whole incident. My heart beat its sympathy for me.
At my insistence, I got my parents to go into the house and leave me and Jason alone. I walked up to him and wrapped my arms around his waist. He gave me a gentle kiss and ran his fingers through my hair. “You need some sleep.”
“I know,” I mumbled.
He guided me into the house.
I didn’t want him to leave, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to function if I didn’t get a little bit more sleep. “Promise you’ll call me later?”
“You don’t have a phone,” he reminded me.
I looked at the counter where my new iPhone sat waiting for me. “Yeah I do.”
He smiled. “I promise I’ll call you the instant I think you’ve slept enough.”
I dragged my feet languidly up the stairs. I collapsed on my bed and closed my eyes. Sleep wouldn’t come. I rolled over on my bed and looked at the different constellations of glow-in-the-dark stars I had arranged all over my walls and ceiling. My parents couldn’t understand my fascination with the sky. I could spend hours watching the sky, day or night. When they’d gotten me the stars for my birthday two years prior, I had spent hours meticulously arranging them until they were perfect. In three days, my room would match the nighttime sky exactly. In three days, it was my birthday.
Hours passed. My eyes remained stubbornly open. Finally, I hissed in frustration and sat up. My head started spinning. I hoped I would pass out, but no such luck. I pulled my blanket around my shoulders and stood. I weaved my way through my messy room. Clutter was part of my life. I know most people can’t focus unless everything around them is perfect, nothing to distract them. The truth for me is I can’t focus on anything unless I want to. If I want to focus on something, I have no problem devoting all my attention to whatever. If I get distracted, it’s because I want to get distracted. When I work on something that bores me, I enjoy those moments of distraction.
I padded across my room to my balcony. As I passed my lamp, I couldn’t help but take pause. Something was wrong with it. I scrutinized it thoroughly, even turning it on and off. Absolutely nothing was wrong. A chill washed over my skin. I shivered and turned away.
My eyes fell on one of the few places on my floor that wasn’t littered with my clutter. I creased my eyebrows. What was I supposed to be looking at? In a flash, a vision jumped across my eyes. The boy, lying on that spot of floor, a soft groan escaping his throat. His eyes snapping open. Blue green staring directly into my soul. The vision dissipated.
I gasped and stumbled backwards. I bumped into my lamp, sending it crashing to the ground. I turned around in shock. Suddenly, it was right. Where before the lamp had seem so wrong, now it was perfect. My breath came out in short gasps. What was happening to me?
I considered going out onto my balcony, but that didn’t feel right either. Something had happened in my room. I didn’t know what, but I couldn’t stay there any longer. My heart raced sporadically. Run, it screamed at me. I did.
I ran across my room. In the half-light, and blinded by fear, I couldn’t maneuver around my obstacles as usual. I tripped over something, I think my backpack. I couldn’t get up from the floor. I was paralyzed to do anything but sob uncontrollably.
I’m not sure how long I was in that position. My phone rang. I jerked in shock. The vibrating caused it to fall from where it was sitting on my bed. I snatched it up from the ground and pressed it to my ear.
“Cade? What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
“No, I’m fine.” I swallowed back the rest of my tears. I covered the speaker and took steadying breaths. Even I could hear the lie in my voice.
“Why are you lying to me?”
I cleared my voice. “I’m not.” I leaned back against my bed. “Really, I’m fine.”
“Cadence, what happened?”
“Nothing happened,” I reassured him. “I just had a little nightmare.” More like a day-mare. I tried to shake off my earlier fear.
“You don’t sound good. I’m coming over.” End call.
“Ooookkaaaayyy, bye then.” My phone dropped silently from my hand.
Looking around my dark room again, I felt the same fear run over me. I stood and floated to the door like a wrath. I closed the door softly behind me. If I had my way I wouldn’t be going back in there any time soon.
I stumbled down the stairs. My parents weren’t home. The note on the table said they’d gone to make a withdrawal from the bank. They had other errands to do and wouldn’t be back for a while. I rolled my eyes wondering what kind of “errands” they had to attend to. Most likely another charity event they wanted to look good at by making a big cash donation. I wish that charity events could actually be about lifting others, not lifting up yourself. The phrase charity event was almost worse than the phrase sweating like a pig. Just then I thought it would be fun to go wallow in the mud for a bit. Maybe the mucky goodness would soothe me to sleep. I took a black sharpie and gleefully scribbled out my parents’ message. I wrote my own for Jason on the back. I tapped it to the front door so he would know to come on in.
I descended down another flight of stairs and walked by a few doors until I reached the theatre room. I plunked on the couch and stared at the wall of movies, trying to decide which one to watch. Jason was amazing, don’t get me wrong. He was willing to drive almost 18 miles to check up on me. There was only one small problem: I didn’t really want to be checked up on. Why would I? Would you want your new boyfriend coming over to ask what’s wrong when the thing wrong was that you couldn’t stop thinking about another boy with deep blue green eyes and midnight black hair you couldn’t remember meeting that was in your room in the middle of the night and broke a lamp that became magically unbroken in the morning who may or may not be responsible for the fact that you hadn’t closed your eyes for more than a few seconds at a time over the last 30, or more, hours? No? Well me neither. I would tell him I was fine, give him a kiss to seal the deal, and snuggle with him on the couch while watching a mind numbing action movie.
My eyes picked out a movie from the rest. I smiled. I stood and retrieved the movie. Inception. It wasn’t super actiony like I planned, but it was good for removing any non-movie related conversation from a room. It was exactly what I wanted.
I sat down on the couch and waited for Jason.
Jason was prefect. We once did this thing in school when we were learning about Hitler where we all stood up. My teacher talked about how Hitler planned to kill everyone who didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes. All of us who didn’t fit the description we supposed to sit down, having effectively died. Jason was the only one who remained standing. Not that having Hitler endorse his perfection was anything to his benefit. But he was perfect, there was no other word to describe him. His perfect smile, his perfect hair, his perfect grade point average; everything about his was perfect. Jason’s beautiful face hovered in my mind. Against my violation, I giggled. He was so completely different from the other boy it was funny. Jason’s blue eyes vs. the deep blue green eyes of the boy that seemed to pull you in and never let go. Jason was tall whereas the boy was only had me by a few inches. Jason’s blonde white hair as opposed to the boy’s jet black hair that looked as soft as the stars. Its black strands were just short enough that they didn’t fall in his eyes. I imagined myself running my fingers through that hair, and I couldn’t suppress a smile . . .
My smile fell instantly. What was I thinking?!
I spun at Jason’s voice, my face burning bright red. I was extremely grateful for the dim lighting. “Oh. Jason. Hi.” I felt my face burn brighter.
He didn’t appear to notice my mortification. It was so cliché romance novel of me to not be able to stop thinking about a boy I’d never met. On cue, Jason’s phone started ringing. His ringtone? I Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Michael Bublè. His phone blared, “I know that we could be so amazing.”
Really?! The universe really was against me.
Jason ended the call without looking to see who it was. This little omission helped calm me. It was more important to him to be there with me than to be talking to anybody else. He sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulder. I leaned into him and thought only about him, not about the mysterious wonder boy with the blue green eyes and the jet black hair . . .
I really needed help. But, that’s what Jason was for.
He nudged me. I realized he’d asked me a question.
I took a shot in the dark. “Nothing’s wrong. I was just freaking out over a dream I had.”
“Are you all right now?”
Yes! I’d gotten it right! “I am, now that you’re here.”
I tilted my chin up and gave him a light kiss.
It was obvious from his reaction to the pressure of my lips that he believed every heartfelt lie I’d fed him. I felt a twinge of disappointment. I thought he knew me well enough to see through my straight-forward lies. I guess not.
I pulled away from him and went to turn on the movie.
We hadn’t been very close the last few months, I was sure that in no time he would understand me like he used to.
I took my seat and curled into his side as the opening scene started. His breath tickled my ear. “At least you were able to get some sleep, even if it wasn’t super restful.”
I forced myself not to be irritated. I was the one who’d lied, I couldn’t be mad at him because I was so good at it. I really just wanted to go to sleep.
Don’t doubt that I didn’t try. My place at Jason’s side wasn’t a comfortable as I thought it would be. It was almost like we were to puzzle pieces that didn’t quite fit together right. That probably wasn’t the only reason I couldn’t sleep, but it’s what I chose to blame. I did not do well without sleep. People tended to walk the other way when the saw me coming. What can I say? I have a powerful personality.
After the movie he stayed and we talked until he had to leave to help his mom with dinner. We talked about nothing. I don’t think he noticed. To me the conversation felt forced. I was sorry to say that I was happy when it was finally time for him to leave. I needed time to be by myself. I needed to sleep. My eyes squeezed shut as I tried to restrain the tears. What was wrong with me?
My parents came home as the sun set. I was sitting on the bench swing on the back porch drinking hot chocolate. It started to get cold, but I didn’t have enough energy to go inside and grab a blanket. I clutched my chocolate closer to me and attempted to absorb the heat.
“Honey, what are you doing out here?”
I didn’t turn at the sound of my mother’s voice, but continued to gaze at the stars. They twinkled at me their hello. Sitting out here was like being in my room without the scary flashes of memories that hadn’t occurred. “Just looking.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her shake her head in wonder at me. “Come inside, dear. You don’t want to catch a cold before your birthday.” She extended her hand to help me up.
I took it gratefully. I leaned on her heavily the whole way back into the house, only making it as far as the kitchen table before I had to stop and rest. My mom looked worried.
“Why are you so tired? Haven’t you been sleeping?”
Slowly, I shook my head.
She felt my forehead like any good mother. “You don’t feel hot. Do you have something on your mind?”
I rested my head on the cool table and breathed slowly. “I’m sure I’ll be fine tonight.”
She relaxed at my words. “You should go to bed now. Get as much sleep as possible.”
I nodded. She helped me the rest of the way up to my bedroom. I collapsed on my bed and she closed the door softy, blocking out the light from the rest of the house. When she was gone I closed my eyes. They didn’t open for the rest of the night.
* * * * *
Kaman fazed into existence. The boy saw him instantly and stopped his relentless pacing. Both had anxious looks in their eyes.
The boy went to speak, but Kaman interrupted.
“Dude, you need to stop taking that Lunexor immediately. It’s supposed to be super addictive and—”
The boy cut him off. “Kaman!”
The seriousness that Kaman saw in the boy’s eyes stopped him midsentence.
Kaman’s eyes immediately drifted to the crumbling wall.
The boy hissed. “Not that!” He seemed reluctant to continue, then forced himself forward. “It’s me. I can’t wake up.”
Kaman’s eyes clouded. “What?”
The boy gritted his teeth. “I haven’t woken up since I saw you here yesterday!”
Kaman sat in stunned silence. Then he couldn’t stop talking. “I told you to be careful! You were drinking, weren’t you! Dang it, Ashton! You know we can’t afford to lose you too.”
The boy voice was quiet. “What did you call me?”
“Sorry. I meant Niewit.” He didn’t sound very apologetic. “What are we going to do? Did you tell Nayloni?”
The boy shook his head. “I couldn’t. I can’t disappoint her.”
Kaman turned away and took a deep breath, calming himself. He turned back to the boy. “Kiewit, brother, what do you want me to do?”
The boy smiled his gratitude. “Can you call my parents? They’ll take me to the hospital.”
Kaman nodded. “Should I memorize the number or skinprint it? I think we should skinprint, just in case."
The boy stepped forward to Kaman’s outstretched arm. He picked up one of the sharp rocks. He scratched the number into the soft skin.
They smiled at each other weakly. Kaman faded away.
* * * * *
When the early morning light seeped in through my blinds, my eyes cracked open. I hadn’t slept a wink.
I rolled off my bed, attempting, and failing, to get my feet under me. I didn’t move from my crumbled position on the floor. Hot tears seeped from closed eyes. As I waited for my parents to come discover me, I fearfully contemplated what was wrong with me. My heart beat in tired sympathy. It scared me.
* * * * *
The boy sat by himself. Kaman and Lele were talking softly in the distance, casting anxious glances at him.
Kaman hadn’t been able to do anything aside from leaving an urgent warning with the boy’s parents. It was suspicious enough as it was without the Californian having an extended phone conversation surrounded in lies with the Brits. Now they were waiting. The boy buzzed with energy. He needed that energy to visit the girl. Or . . . he could use that energy to visit himself. Every passing minute, that second option looked more and more appealing.
He glanced over at Kaman and Lele. They weren’t watching him for the moment. He took a deep breath and let the energy swirl around him. He closed his eyes, thinking of his dark bedroom.
When he opened his eyes, he was sitting on the floor in the corner of his room It wasn’t dark anymore.
The light in his room flared brightly. His mam was sitting on the corner of the bed, cradling his head. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she rocked him back and forth. His dad pounded on his chest, yelling into the phone at his ear. The boy had to force himself not to cringe as his dad touched him, trying to wake him.
The boy felt the edges of himself fading. This was different than the usual fade, where the edges of everything else blurred. He was blurring.
He was dying.
The thought slammed into him with the force of a battering ram. He’d been too anxious, like always, and now he’d let everybody down. Now everybody would suffer.
His edges blurred a little more.
Medics burst through the door in slow motion. To the boy, it felt like they meandered over to his bed. His father slowly stepped out of one medic’s path. The medic searched his pocket and pulled out a syringe with a long needle.
The boy’s eyes drooped. He didn’t have the energy to keep watching.
What happened next, happened quickly. It felt like someone grabbed him by the shoulders and dragged him across the room to his prone body. He was thrust into himself.
He opened his eyes with gasp, trying to sit up. Hands from different directions pushed him back down to the bed. He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look at his mam. The medics prepped him to go to the hospital to flush any remaining depressants out of his system.
He would live.
He angrily thought about the girl. If she’d just listened to him, none of this would have happened. Now he’d have to find a new way to reach her since he’d used all his energy.
* * * * *
My mom pushed the hair out of my eyes and felt my forehead as I rested in bed.
“Your temperature still feels normal, baby. You don’t feel sick at all?” She stood looking anxiously down at me. Dad waited nervously in the doorway. Both were dressed to go to church wearing only the finest.
“No,” I whispered. “Not sick. Just tired.”
My parents exchanged a worried glance.
I closed my eyes so they wouldn’t see how scared I was.
“Just go,” I mumbled, snuggling deeper into my blankets. “I’ll still be here when you come back.”
I felt my mom’s hand on my cheek. “Are you sure?”
“We’ll have our phones if you need anything.” I listened to her soft patter of feet across the carpet followed by the gentle click of a closing door.
I moved my hand to my neck. My heart beat weakly in response.
* * * * *
“We’ve flushed all of the remaining depressants out of your system, but we are going to keep you overnight for observation. You are very lucky, you know.”
The boy stared fixedly at the ceiling, refusing to make eye contact with the doctor. After watching him for a second, the doctor sighed and left the room. He was alone in the hospital room with his parents.
His dad started speaking, a note of lecture in his voice, “Ashton—”
“Don’t call me that!” The boy interrupted. He turned angrily to his mam. “Did you bring my laptop like I asked?”
She nodded sadly and picked up the backpack from the floor, handing it to him.
His dad went to say something more, but his mom gently shook her head and pulled him from the room so the boy was by himself.
He opened his laptop, waiting for it to connect to a Wi-Fi network. He pulled his cell phone out of the side pocket of his backpack and dialed Kaman. He would be awake by now.
He answered on the first ring. “Kiewit! Ah man! Dude, you just disappeared! Is everything—?”
The boy cut him off. “I’m fine. How quickly can you get to Wisconsin?”
“Wisconsin? The girl?”
“Yeah.” The boy opened up the website for British Airways. “I might need some help.”
“I dunno. I’d have to check the flights. You?”
“I’m heading to the airport as soon as I can get out of this hospital.” The boy selected and confirmed a flight. He had two hours to get to the airport.
“You’re in the hospital? Are you getting out legally?”
“No. I’ll see you in Wisconsin.”
“See ya, bro.”
The boy closed his laptop and climbed out of the bed. Now he just needed to find his clothes.
It was late evening when my parents finally decided to come home. But I wasn’t alone when they did. I heard voices outside on my balcony as the gravel crunched under the tires of my parents car.
My balcony door swung open. I could see two silhouettes against the dying sunlight. I didn’t have the energy to do anything but watch, measuring their progress against that of my parents.
They hesitated. The same glaring light that prevented me from making out their features prevented them from seeing me.
“Is she here?” The taller one asked. His voice sounded young, probably my age. The voice that responded jarred me. “I think she just arrived with her parents.”
I’d heard that voice before. I knew it. It belonged to the dark-haired boy.
He continued. “Find somewhere to hide so we can be here when she comes in.”
The first voice responded. “What’ll we do then?”
The dark-haired boy didn’t respond.
There was a shuffling of feet as they entered.
I closed my eyes wishing I could disappear.
The first boy’s voice sounded above me and I couldn’t help but open my eyes and look at the intruders face. “Kiewit! She’s not with her parent! She’s here!”
Even in the fading light I could see that the first boy’s hair was cut short and dirty blond in color. I couldn’t pick out the color of his eyes. Brown? His face was deeply suntanned and a shark tooth hung from a beaded chocker necklace at his throat.
The boy was pushed aside, replaced, by the dark-haired boy who had inhabited my thoughts for the past few days. Seeing his face now was different than I’d ever imagined it would be. Every plane and angle was etched in anger. Looking into his blue green eyes, I was startled to realize that I had put it there.
I was too weary to look away.
“Don’t get too close,” the dark-haired boy said. “Last time I was here, she flipped me.”
It felt like he was reading my soul. He examined each fragile part thoroughly before moving to the next. As he searched me, I watched confusion take the angers place. It was followed closely by suspicion. Somehow, I knew this last emotion wasn’t directed at me.
“She was here,” he whispered to the other boy.
The blond boy stepped forward until he was again in my frame of vision. “She who?”
The dark-haired boy turned on him. “Who do you think?!”
The blond boy paled. “Anna? How’d she find out about her?” He looked back at me in fear. “Has she been blocked?!”
In answer, the dark-haired boy placed his hands on my temples.
I saw a flash and standing before me was a girl, white in every way except the twin black holes that rested where her eyes should have been.
I gasped, the image dissipating. Finding some hidden pocket of energy inside myself, My hand leapt, grasping onto the boy’s wrist as he held my head between his hands.
“Ashton,” I whispered, the name slipping from my lips like the tears from my eyes. I knew immediately that the name belonged to the dark-haired boy. “Help,” I begged, my eyes doing the pleading my voice couldn’t.
Ashton nodded solemnly, resolve filling him. He closed his eyes, concentrating.
Immediately, a heavy blanket lifted from my mind. Slowly more layers were removed, leaving my mind lighter than it had been in days.
“Cadence,” my mom called as she walked up the stairs to my room.
“We have to go now, Kiewit!” The blond boy hissed.
Ashton looked like he was expending great amounts of energy. “I can’t stop! I won’t have enough energy to start over later.”
So he was using energy. I felt great. Fantastic, even.
Why did the blond boy keep calling him Kiewit?
“The wall won’t last a few more hours, Kaman!”
“Cadence, baby, are you feeling better?”
Ashton’s hands disappeared as the blond boy, Kaman, used his superior size to drag him to the balcony. All of the heavy blankets crashed back to my mind, suffocation it. The tears that had been silent before exploded from me, leaving behind a shriveled, shaking mess.
Ashton fought to get back to me to no avail. The handle of my door started twisting and both boys froze. As it inched open, my mom trying to be respectful of my privacy, the boys scrambled out to the balcony and closed the door silently behind them.
My mom poked her head in. “Cadence! What’s wrong?!” My dad was on her heals as they ran to my bedside.
I couldn’t answer her question, and even if I could, I wouldn’t have a logical response to give her.
* * * * *
“What are they saying?”
Ashton waved him aside trying to listen. He couldn’t make out much of what they were saying. Cold washed over him. “I think they’re planning to take her to the hospital.”
He got as low to the ground as he could and peered into the room through the glass on the door. The girl’s dad lifted her from the bed and carried her out the door.
Ashton ducked away from his own door. He nudged Kaman. “Come on.”
They climbed over the balcony railing and lowered themselves until they were only a few feet from the ground before dropping. They scrambled around the side of the house, looking around the corner to the driveway.
“This is not good,” Ashton muttered as the father laid Cadence down in the backseat of their car.
“What’s not good about it, aside from the obvious wall shattering business?”
Ashton wanted to yell at his friend. How could he not get the blindingly obvious?! He watched the car pull away, taking Cadence away from him. His anger at Kaman was quelled by his worry for Cadence. He looked at his friend, despair seeping from his eyes. “At the hospital they’ll give her something to slow down her body and put her to sleep.”
“Isn’t that a good thing? If she sleeps then all is well.”
Ashton shook his head. “Kaman, she can’t sleep, not until I can remove the block. Her body is already running a lot slower than it should be. If they give her something to slow it down more, her heart will stop. She’ll die.”
Kaman looked like a lost puppy. “What are we going to do?”
Ashton bowed his head, asking himself the same question. “I need to get more energy.” He looked at his friend. “If I could get enough, quick enough, I could project myself to her before the doctor’s had a chance to do anything. Where’s the nearest hospital?”
Kaman pulled out his iPhone. His face glowed in its light. “Google says . . . just over twenty minutes.”
Ashton clenched his fists. “We have to hurry. If they make it to the hospital it’ll be too late!” A disparate idea began to form in his head. He’d never tried it before and it might just kill him, but he was out of options. If she died, it wouldn’t matter if he was alive or not. “Come on.”
They went back around the house and climbed back into Cadence’s room.
He looked at Kaman. “We need to find something sharp. Something we can use to cut.” Kaman, being Kaman, nodded and ran out of the room to search.
Ashton went into the bathroom adjoining Cadence’s room. He almost started looking rummaging through the doors and cabinets before he realized that there were probably things in there he didn’t want to see and Cadence wouldn’t want him to see. He braced, telling himself that there was no other way.
Kaman’s voice floated up to him. “I found some scissors!”
Ashton sagged against the counter in relief. “Perfect, bring them back to her room!” he called back as he left the bathroom.
After Kaman hurried through the door, Ashton took the scissors from him. He saw the lamp (wasn’t that the lamp he broke?) in the corner, and ran over to it. He yanked the power cord from the wall. Using the scissors, he cut the cord and frayed back the edge, exposing the wires.
“What are you doing?” A kind of horror had entered Kaman’s voice as he started to understand what Ashton was thinking.
Ashton handed the cord to Kaman so he wasn’t touching the exposed wires. Then, he plugged it back into the wall. A few sparks spouted from the wire’s end. He positioned himself in front of the sparks. “Don’t let me die, Kaman.”
Kaman was too shocked to do anything to stop him.
Ashton reached out his hand and touched it to the sparking wire.
Electricity surged through him making every muscle in his body clench.
Kaman dropped the cord and yanked it from the wall.
Ashton started sinking into the floor as a dark sleep claimed him.
Kaman stopped him from falling on his face but there was nothing else he could do.
* * * * *
When Ashton opened his eyes again, his dying haven greeted him through an energy field so thick he could see it. The field hugged his body. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling. His plan had worked, and he wasn’t dead.
He closed his eyes away from the scene of destruction and concentrated on the girl.
* * * * *
Now my eyes hurt from crying as well as sleep deprivation. I had a blinding headache that made me want to sleep more than ever. I was having trouble focusing on any one thought aside from sleep. Cruel fate had torn relief away. More and more the boy seemed like a dream. What was his name again? I couldn’t remember. What did it matter anyway? He was just some hallucination my troubled mind had created.
It was dark outside. When had that happened? Had the sun set? I loved sunsets and was sad I missed it.
My mom was talking to me. I only knew that because I could see her lips moving. If she wanted me to hear her, why didn’t she make any sound?
The way my arm was pressed against the seat made it so I could feel my heartbeat. It was quiet, soft, and slow. It was tired and struggling like me. Suddenly, my heart paused, as if taking a breath. I gasped. It felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I couldn’t breathe. My heart continued on as if nothing had happened. I don’t think I’d realized before like I had right at that moment. My heart was failing.
I closed my eyes against it all. I just wanted to sleep. Apparently that was too much to ask.
Something jostled me and I opened my eyes. My hallucination boy was sitting on the seat next to my head. He was smiling like he’d just accomplished something great. Forgive me for not sharing his enthusiasm.
My eyes flicked over to my mom. She was smiling kindly at me, not noticing the boy at all, proving to me that he was a hallucination.
The boy placed his cool hands on either side of my face like he had before. I could almost feel a faint buzz of energy under his skin. He took a deep breath.
Slowly, like before, the blankets began lifting away from my mind. I would’ve cried at the relief if I had any tears left. Layer after layer peeled away from my mind leaving me feeling light and free.
The boy leaned down and whispered in my ear. “Concentrate on me.”
I looked at him confused. I didn’t know why he’d want me to do that, but he was releasing me from my own personal torture. I would do as he asked.
I closed my eyes, concentrating on the feel of his hands against my skin. The last layer of blankets lifted away. I was asleep instantly.