Chapter One: A Terrible Start

 I sat on the sidewalk’s curb with loud music playing through my earbuds. It was my birthday; actually, the first day I started school at Annandale High.

I was waiting for the bus to arrive with seven different people. They were all friends, no doubt because they talked up a storm. It was a small town. Jokes were thrown around, and laughter came from each of them, or that is what it looked like. I couldn’t tell, really; all I did was watch them for five minutes while they smiled and hugged each other as if they had just seen each other yesterday (which they probably did). After the agonizing five minutes of them not batting an eye at me, I sat on the curb.

It didn’t matter who they were, what jokes they were telling, or what they looked like; they still didn’t talk to me anyway. I was just the new girl in town who had an oversized coat and was freezing to death sitting on a curb. They didn’t know it was my sixteenth birthday. They didn’t think I was watching them. They knew I was definitely not from here because I was shivering like crazy.

I took out my phone and checked the time. The bus was late. The crowd did not seem to notice.

My brother Stevie was starting seventh grade and left happily to school, talking about getting on the baseball team and meeting new “chicks” at his new school. My dad laughed and said a quick ‘Happy Birthday’ to me and left for work. Mom gave me a hug and wished me luck on my first day. I could not help but feel empty and so nervous about this new school.

“I can’t believe it is my last year at Anna, it doesn’t seem like three years flew by!” a girl said.

“Sandra, you are making me feel old!” a guy laughed.

“I am serious! Doesn’t it feel like just yesterday we were getting ready to go in as a freshman?”

“Well I feel young, I just started my first year and you are all making me nervous!” another guy exclaimed.

“I know, I know. But you have nothing to be worried about, it is not the end of the world! Trust me, when you hit your junior year you will then feel the worry. Finals and college applications and tests are no joke, let me tell you.”

“Whatever, I might not even go to college. I am going to work with my dad.”

“No, you’re not, Seth! What the heck?” Sandra giggled.

“It’s true!”

They kept going on and on for about another fifteen minutes about how they remembered their first time coming to high school and the silly dreams they had when the bus started to roll up.

I stood and grabbed my bag next to me and quickly scurried onto the bus after the doors opened. I sat in the front and looked out the window. The other students walked in and walked to the back of the bus with the rest of the others on the bus hollering and shouting. “What did you do this summer?” “Where did you go?” “Did you see the movie yet?” “How was Florida?” Questions flew out again and everyone seemed to be talking at once.

The bus closed its doors and started going down the street.

I saw the cute little houses they had in the small town. There was a little trail where people could have their morning stroll, a tiny bridge, and a big red brick building that looked old and beautiful.

I never left the house since I moved here, so everything was new to me. It seemed weird that Annandale High was in fact in the middle of nowhere. It was a medium-sized school for all the little towns that were close by.

I fiddled with my hair looking at the green streak that I dyed in it two nights ago. I thought it would complement my green eyes but it didn’t matter, green was my favorite color. I was getting sick of my plain dark brown hair. I wanted to look better, different actually. I wanted people to notice me, and so far nobody did.

I walked off the steps of the bus and looked out at the school. It was a giant indoor school, but not as big as the ones I have seen. Busses filled the parking lot with kids flowing out of them and cars parked on the other side where the upperclassmen came in their own rides.

I walked into the office and picked up my schedule after a long line of new students who got their first. I assumed the school was going to start late today because the bells rang and no one rushed to class.

It was not hard to find my locker in the tiny high school I just opened it and threw the useless notebooks I had in my bag inside and locked it shut with my combination lock. The map of the school I found gave me easy directions on where to go, but knowing when the classes started and what class we were going to start with was the real mystery. Math was my first class of the day.

“Welcome back or Welcome to Annandale High School!” A loudspeaker crackled through the halls and scared the living crap out of me. “It is nice to see the new and returning faces here on campus! We are happy to have all of you here. We all hope that your vacation was a good one, but it is back to the books! The staff and I will like to see you all ready to learn, learn, learn! Remember to keep the campus clean while you eat your breakfast at the cafeteria and that classes will start at 10 o’clock sharp! Talk to each other, get the welcome wagons going and have a great day everybody! Go, Patriots!”

So it was still early to go to math. That was great. My mind was asking my stomach if it was okay to eat breakfast, but the way that it is right now, I don’t think that is happening anytime soon. I walked to the cafeteria anyway, people seemed to be walking that way.

On my way there I noticed people from the other towns dressed differently. Some of them had baggy clothing, others looked like they were still thinking it was the middle of summer, and some just looked like any Average Joe. I was the only odd one out. I wore my black overcoat with my black converse and jeans. I tried to get into the girly thing and bought nail polish and lipstick, but it was all black too. I guess I made myself look like a total Goth, but I didn’t care. After I put on the lipstick and the nail polish, it felt good and looked amazing. But right now, I stuck out like a sore thumb. People looked at me and whispered. At least the people at the bus stop were nice enough not to look or stare.

As I got to the cafeteria entrance I saw an open spot at the far right corner and made my way over there. I started to tremble again. After the “incident-that-didn’t-happen” I had a bad case of the Shakes. I would get really nervous, my stomach starts to feel like it turned inside-out, and my whole body trembled. My heart would beat rapidly like it wanted to escape my chest, my lungs felt nonexistent, and a little faint. I put my head down on the table after I sat down and started my breathing exercises. I thought I was ready to see other people. I thought I could really do this, going to school should not have been this hard.

While I was waiting for classes to start, I was working on calming myself. I would wake up in a sweat and have terrible paranoia. Everything triggered the attacks no matter how small the noise or nightmare. It started to worry my mother, telling me I should not go back to school at all. The more it happened, the more I started to believe she was right. Though, one day I was in the living room watching the discovery channel when I found a way to make the panic attacks go away. The documentary was about dung beetles and before I knew it, I was a fish out of water. There was nothing else near me but a pillow and I hugged it tightly, closed my eyes, and started to breathe slowly and deeply. While I clenched the pillow I started to imagine myself floating into an abyss of nothing, where nothing could hurt me or touch me. After a while, it started to work. My trembling deceased and my breathing got better. I felt myself becoming normal again, even if it was only for a little bit. I needed to come out of the house and see people. To try to interact with others because I did not want to lose my sanity and build a bigger gap to recovery than there already was.

The cool hard table sent a calming sensation to my temples. My left hand rubbed the side of my head while I was using my breathing techniques. I sat there for what seemed like an hour, but when I looked at my phone, 7 minutes have gone by.

“Why did I think this was a good idea? You are so stupid Gwen! So freaking stupid! You look like a complete idiot,” I whispered to myself. “Mom was right, there is no way this would ever be okay.”

I made my way to the doors. I had to get out of here. What was I thinking? I could never go back to a normal school again. There was no way in hell that I would ever forget the incident. I needed to get out of here.

The doors gave way easily and slammed into the wall causing more attention to myself. People looked up as I was speed walking to the front doors of the school. They gave me dirty looks while some just stared and laughed at me. My heart started to race again.

I started to run down the hall keeping my eyes on the clear exit in front of me when a door swung open. My head hit the door first and my body flung backward hitting the ground hard. Everything happened so fast that I barely had any time to react. From where I was on the ground I didn’t see anyone come in or out of the room. People gasped or laughed even harder, but no one offered to pick me up.

Brushing myself off, I stood and looked through the open door before the door completely closed. It was a person with a black jacket who seemed to be in a real hurry. The door shut and I started to walk out the main doors of the school.

It was a bad idea trying to walk home when I didn’t know the way home. Actually, I don’t know anything about this town. Or was I still in town?

There was nothing for miles where I could see. There was a house a while away but it looked like fields and little foothills from here on out until I hit town. I was walking for what it seemed like hours.

The sky was still gloomy and the air was still cold. I hugged myself trying to keep warm. I don’t think I would ever get used to the weather here.

Back home where I was from it was always warm. Everyone wore sweaters only in the middle of December and January. It was clear skies every day with a nice refreshing breeze. But here, it was cold with clouds that hover after you all day. California was scorching hot during the summer and you wished it was legal to walk around naked during a heat wave. It was not all that great during the summer months, but I sure will miss the cold seasons there.

The trees here were beautiful though. The leaves changed color so fast here. The golds and reds were filling the branches like wildfire and it was breathtaking. The cold wind kicked them off their stems and flew into the air swirling in the wind as if they were dancing.

I blew out a cold breath and watched it leave my lips like white smoke. It was enchanting. I just wish it wasn’t so cold.

The leaves crunched as my black converse hit the ground. It was so quiet here.

It was different from the busy streets and the buzz people had in the city. It was a good different. To hear your own thoughts again, to hear-nature-around-you different.

It seemed a little too quiet actually. I started to get goosebumps and a sick feeling in my stomach. My head was spinning.

I checked my phone again, it had only been fifteen minutes since I left the school.


I slipped my phone back into my sweater and kept walking until I heard a noise from behind me. I turned and saw nothing.

  That was weird. I picked up my pace while keeping my eyes behind me.

There was shuffling noise from the right now. The left. Then right again.

I stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes scanned the place from top to bottom, there was still nothing. My hands squeezed my bag tight. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary anymore.

  Stop freaking out. It was a bird. Stop being such a baby.

I started to walk again and looked down at the ground. I was freaking out over nothing. I was being a baby. For Pete’s sake, I was walking home from school on my first day in a new place.    There was nothing intelligent about that at all. I was being stupid, very stupid. There could be stray dogs, snakes, or maybe a serial killer for all I know. It was not at all safe what I just did.

I looked up in time to slam into something hard yet again. I fell back and looked straight into someone’s eyes.

“Are you okay?” A boy stood in front of me.

He stuck his arm out to me inviting me to take it.

I got up by myself and brushed myself off. “Yes, I’m good. Sorry about that.”

“Where are you going?”

He kept his eyes on mine, cutting deep into them actually. It felt uncomfortable to be in his stare. But he stood there anyway waiting for an answer.

“Home,” I started to walk.

“Where do you live?”

“In town.”

“What town?”

“A town I live in.”

“Why are you going that way?”

“Can you stop asking so many questions?!” I turned to find him still looking at me, but he also looked a bit puzzled.

“Because you are going the wrong way,” he shoved his hands in his black leather jacket.

I sucked in a breath. He was the guy that hit me with the door earlier on my way out of the school. “Are you following me?”

“What?” The guy acted completely lost now.

“I saw you at school earlier.”

“Really? When? I haven’t seen you before.” He looked up and down at me.

I hugged my coat closer to me, “Yes, you-”

  Hit me with a door while I was running down the hall. No, I ran into the door you opened when I was running down the hall.

I shook my head, “Never mind, forget about it. Stop following me.”

The guy shrugged and gave me a sideways smile. “Who said I was following you?”

“Why do you ask so many questions?”

He then smiled bigger and brushed his hair back with his fingers, “I am not following you.”

“Then explain how you ended up way out here.”

“I am on my way home too.”

“Oh, really? In an unlikely story,” I started to walk again.

“Wrong way,” He pointed to the left. “You should be going that way.”

I let out a sigh and made my way over to the left and started on my way home…again.

“Which town are you from?” He started walking with me.

“Why do you care?” I walked faster.

“Because I need to know what turn we should take three miles down.”

“Three miles? Really?” I couldn’t tell if he were serious or just messing with me.

“Yes, really,” he chuckled.

At that moment I realized I had no idea where I lived. I had no idea what town I was going to and not the slightest clue how long it was going to take me to try to get here.

“I have to call my mom,” I take out my phone and start looking for her contact number.

“There is no signal out here,” the guy took out a stick of gum from his pocket and started to chew it loudly.

He was right, there was no signal. I rubbed my eyes in frustration. I had no idea how to get home.

“I can show you where to go,” he said coolly. “If you want I can walk you there. Or I can drive you.” He gave me a sly smile while he balled up the gum wrapper and then flicked it.

Should I trust him? I put my phone away while I gave him a look over myself. He didn’t look too dangerous nor did he look like he was in a cult. He dressed like a normal guy. He had on an army green shirt under his jacket with dark grey faded jeans. His shoes were beaten up but they suited him. Black hair, short on the sides and a little long on top barely enough to hang over his right eye just a tad. A silver necklace hung around his neck that was a diamond shape with weird symbols on it. He had eyes that were a cloudy gray and was a bit tall. Seemed to be older than me by a couple years.

“How old are you?”

“Now you are asking a lot of questions,” He started to turn and walk the other way.

There was a pit feeling in my stomach and I started to fidget. I didn’t want to be alone. “Can you please give me a ride?”

The guy stopped and didn’t bother to turn around, “Then let’s get a move on, honey!”

He led me all the way down the path and soon we were in front of a big black gate. The initials of L.S. was built in the middle of the two gates. There was a button code on the side pillar where the guy punched in some numbers and the gates creaked open. “Welcome to my Uncle’s home,” he dramatically wove his hand and signaled me to come in.

The gates fully opened as I set foot in the long driveway that was surrounded by trees. It curved at the end in no doubt leading to the house, but from where we stood you couldn’t see much of anything except a few cars in the middle of the driveway. Most were protected with car covers and only two stayed naked in the little lot.

The guy took his keys out of his pocket and walked over to an old beat-up truck. He made his way to the driver’s seat and turned on the old thing. The engine roared loudly and he smiled, “Finally got it to work! I have been working on it over the summer!” He stuck his head out the window, “Hop in milady!”

I   started to walk toward the truck and stopped. I have no idea who this guy is or if he was actually nice enough to take me home.

“My name is Derek Straton and I am a senior at Annandale High. I like fixing old stuff, being an ass, and I like to eat cereal while I watch cartoons.” Frankly, my hesitation was not so subtle. Derek motioned me to sit on the passenger side and honked the horn, “Well? We don’t have all day!”

Embarrassed, I ran to the truck and slid into the seat as he shifted gears and sped out of the gates.

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