“Can I borrow a pen or something? I guess I left mine in my last class,” Red Backpack asks. If he notices our unexpected connection, he doesn’t show it.
“What?” I continue staring at him.
“Can. I. Borrow. Something. To. Write. With,” he enunciates each word, drawing out each word with deliberate exactness as though he’s concerned I might be slow.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” I hand him a pen and turn back around. My mind races. Oh, my God! It’s Red Backpack! What do I do? What do I say? How can I convince him not to get in a car with Poppy? Oh, shoot. That was my favorite pen.
“Thanks,” he says. I shrug, not sure what to say. Better he thinks I’m just a quiet, weird girl than a quiet, weird girl with an imaginary friend who’s sure he’s somehow a part of her sister’s impending doom.
“I want you to consider heroes. What makes a hero? What are the differences between a traditional hero and an anti-hero? And how does Macbeth, as our tragic hero, fit into this spectrum? Pair up with someone near you and discuss. Be prepared to share your answers in approximately,” Mrs. Henrys pauses and looks at her watch.“Ten minutes.” She finishes giving instructions and then moves around the classroom, her long skirt swishing in time with the chatter of my classmates.
“I haven’t read Macbeth,” Red Backpack says. Though I know his actual name, for now, I prefer to call him ‘Red Backpack’ because it makes me feel like I’m in a mystery novel. “Can you help me out?” I listen, rifling through my journal as I pretend I’m not listening. I’m sure someone is about to answer him, but when no one does, I turn to look at him.
“Are you talking to me?”
“Yeah,” he gestures towards the class.” Everyone else is already partnered up.”
It’s true – my classmates have long since established their discussion partners and since this is AP Literature and their perfect GPA’s are on the line, they’d prefer not to get stuck with someone who may not have a clue what they’re talking about. Or with me. Because I’m weird.
“Oh, um,” I clear my throat. “Have you told Mrs. Henrys?” He nods. “I don’t – I mean, I guess I can give you a summary?”
“Cool. I know it’s Shakespeare and it’s a tragedy so I’m sure Macbeth and a bunch of people die, and someone goes crazy, but just maybe fill in the blanks.” He sits back and crosses his arms, waiting for me to speak. I raise my eyebrows, surprised he knows that much. I know I’m not supposed to judge books by their covers, but generally, boys with faces (and physiques) like his don’t have a clue about Shakespeare. And who can blame them? Their free time is often filled with sports, bros, and girls like Poppy.
I briefly fill him in and offer to let him borrow my copy of the play if he brings it back the next day. If he survives the night. I keep the second comment to myself. When class is over, I jump up, eager to find and follow Poppy again, but he falls into step beside me.
“I don’t think I actually introduced myself earlier. I’m Ian.” He smiles at me broadly. A lesser girl would swoon. I nearly do. The combination of his beautiful, familiar eyes and Herculean jawbone is disconcerting.
“Kenna,” I ignore the hand he holds out, pretending I don’t see it. His smile grows wider and he drops his hand. He swings his arms easily, lightly, comfortably, more comfortable in his body than most guys our age.
“You look almost exactly like this other girl I met today – “
“Poppy. Yeah, she’s my twin sister.”
“I thought it was something like that. Same eyes. Different hair though.” I frown, wondering if he reads minds and intentionally compared the thing that would annoy me most. “Not that anything’s wrong with your hair,” he adds quickly.
“Right. Well, nice to meet you. See you later,” I increase my pace, hoping he gets the hint, but he matches my stride.
“She offered to give me a ride home later since my car’s busted. Do you guys ride together?”
“No. We each have our own cars.” Before he can comment on that fact, I add, “It was easier that way since we each do our own thing.” And since that’s what Poppy wanted and my parents give her whatever she wants. I don’t say. He nods and starts to say something, but I stop and gesture to the girls’ bathroom. “I have to…” I trail off.
“Oh, sure. See you later!” He waves and keeps walking, ignoring the stares of the gaggle of girls he passes. I walk into the bathroom and stare at my stupid hair in the mirror, purposely avoiding my eyes, fearful of who I’ll see in them.
When the final bell rings, I head to the parking lot and sit in my car. We have assigned spots and Poppy’s is directly in front of mine. I don’t really have a plan beyond, “don’t let Poppy die,” so I’m just going to stake her out and try to steer her clear of any danger.
“So, what’s the plan?” Sage bites her nails anxiously.
“I don’t exactly have one. I’m just going to follow her and hope for the best,” I say, giving voice to the words that were thoughts mere seconds before. “Unless you saw anything else?” She shakes her head, mournful. “I didn’t think so.”
So we wait. I fiddle with the radio and Sage keeps biting her nails, sighing every few minutes either out of anxiety or boredom. I’m not sure which it is and I don’t think I want to know, so I don’t ask and for the next ten minutes, we don’t talk.
“There they are!” Poppy and Ian make their way to her car. He says something that makes her laugh – a real laugh, not the kind of laugh she puts on for her friends. She throws her head back and opens her mouth wide, and my heart lifts. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard Poppy laugh like that. “Isn’t she going to notice you following her?”
“Poppy never notices me,” I say, checking my mirrors and pulling out of my spot. But just in case this time she does, I stay out of sight a few cars behind her.
She pulls into the Sonic down the street and parks in a spot towards the front. I drive in and pull into a spot behind her. As focused as she is on Ian, I’m sure she won’t see me. I feel a little bit like a stalker, watching them talk and eat and hang out, but I console myself with the fact that I have a perfectly good reason for peeping. Then I sigh because maybe that’s what all stalkers think.
It looks like they’re going to hang out for a bit, so I order a cherry limeade. No point in dying of thirst while I’m waiting for something to happen.
“Nothing’s happening,” Sage sounds bored. I scowl at her as she leans her head heavily on her hand.
“So we should just leave and abandon the whole thing because you’re bored?” She doesn’t say anything, but looks away intentionally. I glare at her. “Seriously? You told me you saw her die! You said you’re never wrong! Why would I leave her?”
“I’ve never been wrong before; it doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t be wrong.” She says, staring at my drink. She can’t drink it, she can’t drink anything. She’s not real, so her interaction with the physical world beyond me is non-existent. She mumbles something that is nearly incoherent, but I think it has something to do with not wasting my time for someone who wouldn’t do the same for me. I decide to ignore her.
“Explain it to me again,” I request. She knows what I want explained.
“The vision itself?”
“No, how they work.”
“I’ve told you how they work,” she says.
“Well, tell me again!” She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly to express her annoyance with the question, but then acquiesces.
“You know how it feels when you wake up from a really vivid dream and you’re not sure if it’s real or not?” I nod. “It’s like that. Except one minute I’m awake and aware and the next it’s like tunnel vision and I’m seeing something.”
“But you never see all of it?” I ask.
“Right. Usually I’m given a piece of it, something to focus on – a color or an image or a feeling. When your dad got laid off, it was all about feelings – intense feelings of anger, fear, and sadness from him and your mom. When you broke your arm, it was images – monkey bars, ambulance, x-rays. And this time…” she trails off.
“This time it’s red,” I finish my voice flush with fear.
“They’re leaving,” she says suddenly.
“Another vision?” I sit up, alert.
“No, I can see them right there – they’re leaving.” She points in their direction where Poppy’s car is backing out of the spot.
“Shit!” I throw the car in reverse as they speed by. They stop, waiting to turn onto the road and I pull up behind them. They’re facing each other, talking, laughing, flirting – not paying attention to anything around them.
Sage covers her eyes and grips her head, pointing towards Poppy’s car, then towards oncoming traffic. A red car is coming fast, too fast, in our direction. If she moves, it will hit her. I don’t know what to do. I have to stop them, have to make sure she doesn’t get on the road, have to keep her safe, but I don’t know how. Terrified, panicked, my breathing harsh and ragged, I do the only thing I can think to do: I hit the gas and ram my car into Poppy’s.
“Kenna! Kenna!” Voices are shouting my name. “Kenna! Are you okay? Can you hear me?”
“Poppy?” I whisper as I open my eyes. Apparently, I blacked out.
“She’s fine, you’re fine. Everything’s okay,” Sage’s voice warms and reassures me. “You did it. You saved her, Kenna.” She sounds awed and slightly confused.
“I saved her?” I feel strange, disoriented.
“I don’t know how you knew what to do, but you saved her.” Now she sounds afraid.
“Where is she?” I look up and around.
“Oh, my God, Kenna! What the hell?! My car is totally wrecked!” I hear Poppy screeching, sounding less grateful than enraged.
“Hey, at least she’s alive, right?” Sage says, sarcasm coloring her words.