Chapter 5

I toss and turn as I lay in bed, trying to get comfortable. My mind whirls, jumping from one strange question to another, keeping me awake. My nose is raw and sore from constant rubbing.

How did I see the accident that didn’t happen…happen?

How did I actually prevent the accident?

What is Ian’s deal – does he like Poppy?

Why is he so nice to me?

Why is he so concerned with everything I do?

Does he like me?

The last thought is so unlikely, so ridiculous that I laugh out loud.

“What’s so funny?” Sage asks from somewhere in the dark.

“Nothing.” Like any sane guy would be interested in me when beautiful Poppy exists within range.

“Then why are you laughing?” I don’t want to tell her so I choose not to respond. “What’s going on with you?” She sounds both concerned and annoyed.

“It was dumb. Really,” I insist.

“Okay.” She’s not convinced and I wonder if she recently gained the ability to read my mind.

Eventually, everything quiets, my body shuts down, and I fall asleep, dreaming of amber eyes and red backpacks.

“Poppy?” I knock at her door at 7:57. “Are you almost ready?” There’s no answer. I try again. “Poppy?”

“Urgugh.” I squint at the door, confused by the sound. I don’t want to open it without permission because I don’t really feel like being verbally flogged so early in the morning, but if we leave any later, we’ll be late for school and I really can’t afford another tardy. Not now that my life  is finally interesting.

“What? I can’t hear you,” I say, raising my voice to compensate for the lack of conversation on her end.

“Uuuhhh.” This time it’s louder and I’m fairly certain that the sounds behind the door are groans, not words. I decide to risk her wrath and open the door. She’s curled in a ball beneath her thick, cream-colored comforter. Her face is contorted in misery and her beautiful hair is a tangled, sweaty mess.

“Are you okay?” I ask her, alarmed. She looks so sick that I’m surprised she’s able to muster up the scary glare. I hold up my hands both to ward her off and as an apology for my stupid question because it’s clear she’s not okay. “So you’re sick?”

She nods and throws her arm over her eyes. I’m not really sure why she’s so upset. It’s not like missing school is the worst thing in the world. Her phone sounds from the nightstand and she jolts up, eyes wide.

“Ian’s probably ready. Oh… “ It dawns on my why she looks like such a wretched human being, beyond the normal sick and feeling shitty thing. She doesn’t want to miss the chance to see him.

“Don’t keep him waiting,” she croaks, managing to sound haughty even as the color drains from her face and she dissolves into a coughing mess.

“Do you…need anything?” I ask her. She shakes her head and collapses back onto her pillows, closing her eyes again. “Okay. Bye,” I breathe as I pull the door together without a sound.

Vvvvt. Vvvvt. I jump, alarmed, before I realize it’s only my phone vibrating in my back pocket. Clearly, I don’t get enough texts if the vibration produces such an intense reaction.

It’s from Ian.

Hey. You up?

My heart flutters annoyingly and I wait until my pulse is normal before responding.

Yeah. Poppy’s sick.
She told me. You okay?
Yep, about to leave. Address?

While I wait for the reply, I consider our conversation, wishing I’d said something more interesting, wondering why I want to impress him when I don’t even know him.

I grab a bagel from the kitchen and head towards the car, copying the address he sends into Google Maps and responding to let him know I’m on my way. My phone vibrates once more just before I pull out of the driveway.

See ya in a few 😉

I stare at my phone. A winky face emoticon?! What does it mean? Do I respond? Do I respond with another emoticon? Which emoticon?! WHY ARE THERE SO MANY EMOTICONS?!

“It’s just a winky face,” Sage says, her voice bland as she watches me deliberating.

“So now you read my texts?” I click the power button and the screen goes dark. I back out of the driveway, checking my mirrors as I pull onto the street.

“Well, since now you apparently get texts…duh,” she says, settling into the passenger seat and resting her feet on the dash.

I choose not to respond, focusing instead on the road and making it to Ian’s house safely. I don’t think mom and dad would forgive another accident so easily.

“You know, you don’t have to be his personal chauffeur just because Poppy agreed to it,” she says, breaking the silence.

“I know, but he’s nice. I don’t mind.” She snorts. “What’s your problem? Why don’t you like him?”

“There’s just something weird about him, something…off. It’s just…strange that he’s so interested in you.”

“It’s strange that he’s interested in me?” I raise my voice, angry and hurt that she seems to think I’m not worthy of a guy’s attention.

“That’s not what I meant!” She sounds frustrated. “I just mean that – I mean, everything is happening so fast. Too fast! You met him yesterday and he’s all up in your business, in your life, like you’ve been friends forever.”

“All up in my business? He was in the car I hit! I saved them and somehow he knows that it was intentional. Of course he’s curious about it. And me.” She doesn’t look convinced.

“It’s weird!” She insists. “And it’s weird that you’re defending him. You’re not normally so trusting.”

“Maybe I’m tired of being alone all of the time, of not letting anyone in because I don’t trust them. Maybe it’s time to start trusting people.”

“And you think this random guy is the one to start with?” She says. I shrug.

“Maybe he’s lonely too. Maybe he wants a friend.” She snorts again.

“I’m sure he won’t have any problem making friends. I mean, look how quickly he befriended Poppy.” She spits the name at me, her tone hostile. She’s not wrong, but besides her, I don’t have any friends and I’m lonely, intensely lonely, much of the time.

“I want a friend, Sage.” My voice is hollow, resigned.

“I’m your friend,” she says.

“I want a real friend.” She makes a sound like a wounded animal, but when I look over, she’s gone.

Frustrated, angry, and a little depressed, I pound my fist into the steering wheel. It doesn’t make me feel any better and then, on top of all my emotional aches, my hand aches as well. I pull up to Ian’s house a few minutes later. He’s sitting in a wooden rocker on the front porch of a beautiful home, reading. I honk the horn and he looks up and smiles at me. Then he holds up one finger to let me know he’ll be a minute longer. He reads a bit more, then closes the book and stretches as he stands. His shirt rising just enough that I can see a hint of skin above his jeans. I swallow hard as he strolls towards the car.

“Hey,” he says, as he folds his too-large body into the rental, a tiny Ford Focus.

“Hey,” I respond, wishing I didn’t notice the way his eyes crinkle slightly when he smiles, trying to think of something clever to say. “Have you always been so tall?” Has he always been so tall? In what universe is that a clever thing to say?

He laughs, then reclines the seat slightly and laces his hands behind his head. “I was pretty average-sized until 9th grade,” he says. “Then I grew. A lot.”

He smirks, his implication clear, and I’m able to pull myself together enough to say, “In some places less than others.” I tap my temple twice and he laughs again.

“We can’t all be great thinkers. Some of us have to be great doers.” He doesn’t know me well enough for this to be a dig, but it bothers me since I spend most of my time thinking much and doing little.

“You can change the radio station if you want to,” I say, purposely changing the subject. He starts flipping through the stations, listening to each one for a moment, until he finally settles on an alternative rock station. It’s not my favorite, but it’s better than rap or Top 40 and I decide I’ll allow it. Besides, I gave him radio control, objecting now would be rude.

He drums along with the band, seemingly content to ride in silence. When his phone vibrates in his pocket. A deep sigh emanates from his him and I glance over. His eyebrows furrow as he reads, texts a brief response, and puts his phone away.

“What’s wrong?” He looks sideways at me, his gaze thoughtful, before he answers.

“Nothing,” he sounds distracted.

“Okay.” I can feel the weight of his thoughts as he considers.

“It’s Poppy,” he says after a moment. “Texting me. She’s been texting me pretty much non-stop since last night. I don’t even think she slept.” I frown – this kind of desperation doesn’t seem like my sister, but then, I don’t really know her all that well anymore.

“Lucky guy! She picked you!” I exclaim, sure this news will thrill him. It would thrill any guy. He doesn’t smile.

“Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered, because she’s beautiful, but,” he pauses and I wait for him to continue. “She’s not really my type.”

“Ha!” I laugh in disbelief, but stop abruptly when he doesn’t laugh with me.

“Oh. You’re not kidding?” He shakes his head. “Poppy’s everyone’s type.” I say, my tone lilting, like I’m asking a question. He only shrugs.

“I’m sure she is…usually, but I’ve never really been drawn to that kind of girl.” I draw a breath and he continues, stumbling over his words in an attempt to spit them out fast enough to appease me.

“You know the kind…like, the flashy kind of girl you see in movies, the one everyone wants to be with. There are certain expectations that come with dating a girl everyone knows and loves and watches. Too many expectations.” I nod, understanding what he means. “And anyway, girls like her, they’re not usually drawn to me either.” I cut my eyes to him, disbelief etched into my features. “Really!” He insists.

“There’s no way that’s true. Not when you’re…you,” The ghost of a knowing smile flits across his face as I gesture meaningfully in his direction. I immediately regret my words and wish I could will them back somehow. But – those eyes, that bod, the smile that makes even the most sensible of girls weak in the knees!

“I may be…me,” he mimics my tone. “But I’m also me,” he says, pointing at his head. “I’m different than people think, than they expect, probably because of,” he gestures again. “All of this. And then, when I’m not who they want me to be, they’re shocked or nervous or weirded out or…something. And I’m alone again.”

Though he says it nonchalantly, like it’s no big deal, like it doesn’t bother him, there’s something in his voice, in what he says, that speaks to me. My hands, which have been clenching the steering wheel, begin to ache, but loosening my grip takes more effort than I’m willing to exert when it takes all of my focus not to jump out of my skin. I want to tell him that I understand, that I know what it feels like to be alone, but my throat has closed. I want to look at him, but I’m driving and the conversation, which turned serious more quickly than I was prepared for, has made me emotional. I don’t like feeling emotional.

“I’m sorry,” I manage, unsure what else to say, how to give voice to thoughts that even I don’t fully understand.

“It’s alright. I’d rather be alone and myself than be part of a group and a possession, something to own, to show off.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Girls like Poppy want everything. They want to rule the world, swallow it whole, and possess everything in it. They think it all belongs to them and somehow, because of their exceptional faces or gorgeous legs or awe-inspiring red hair, they’re entitled to it. And the only person I will ever belong to is myself,” his finishes vehemently.

We stop at a red light and I’m finally able to look at him. I feel something loosen inside of me as our eyes meet. His amber eyes brighten and burn. My head spins and my stomach clenches. Unconsciously, I reach for his hand.

“BEEEEEEEP!” A horn blares from the car behind us and I snatch my hand back. Then I take a deep breath and keep driving, reminding myself that no matter what he thinks, he already belongs to Poppy. Neither of us says a word for the remainder of the drive to school.

*          *          *          *          *

The rest of the day passes normally. I go to class, do my work, and eat lunch alone. We have a pop quiz in English so even that class, with Ian sitting behind me, is quiet as usual. I think about him periodically the rest of the day – the fire in his eyes, behind his words, and the way it made me feel, for a moment, like I wasn’t alone. I float through the day, paying little attention to my surroundings. It hardly registers that I haven’t seen Sage since this morning.

After school, I walk to my car, bracing myself for another intense conversation, preparing for the onslaught of emotions. Instead, the ride is uneventful, boring even. Ian and I make ordinary small talk that is continually interrupted by the pings of text messages. I ask a question that he doesn’t hear, busy answering another message and suddenly, thick, awkward tension fills the car, choking me, cutting off my speech.

I decide I’m done talking, done pretending things are normal. I’m so tired of pretending all the time – that things don’t bother me, that I don’t mind being alone, that I don’t feel anything. He doesn’t try to resurrect the conversation. We spend the next ten minutes engulfed in silence. Except for the pings and taps as he texts and texts and texts.

When I drop him off, he puts his phone in his pocket, grabs his backpack from the back seat, and maneuvers his way carefully out of the car. For a moment, I think he’s going to leave without saying anything else. I rub my nose vigorously. Then he knocks on the window. I roll it down and he leans in.

“That nose rub thing you do when you’re nervous or irritated? It’s really cute,” he says with a grin. I blink up at him in shock. “See you tomorrow.” Then he saunters up the driveway without a backwards glance and I’m left sitting in the car alone, the hint of smile creeping onto my face.

*          *          *          *          *

I’m still smiling when I get home. My body is tingly and I feel breathless. I’m a little worried I’m coming down with Poppy’s illness.

“How did it go?” I look up and see Poppy standing at the top of the stairs, her hair in a topknot, her face clear and free of makeup.

“You look so much better!” I exclaim. She nods, but collapses onto the steps, resting her head in her heads. Maybe she doesn’t feel as well as she looks.

“How did it go?” She asks again.

“With Ian?” She drops her chin and looks up at me through her eyelashes, her expression an obvious “duh.” “Fine, I guess. We just drove to school and back.” For obvious reasons, I don’t share the details of our conversation with her.

“Did he…say anything about me?” Insecurity oozes from every bit of her and I try not to wince. I don’t know what to say to her. I don’t know this version of Poppy – the insecure, scared, confused, timid Poppy – but I know that how I handle this situation can make all of the difference in our relationship.

I take a deep breath and make a decision.

“He said your face is exceptional,” I answer, bending his meaning without lying outright. Her face lights up, her eyes, the eyes that look so much like my own, like Ian’s, shining hopefully, gleefully. “I think if you guys spend more time together, it’ll happen naturally.” She looks as though she wants to argue. It’s possible she doesn’t want to admit her obvious crush, but she knows it’s futile.

She smiles at me – probably the first genuine smile she’s given me since we were kids and I make myself a silent vow: to remove myself from the equation, to push them together, and to repair my relationship with Poppy.

I hear a noise, a deep, lengthy sigh. When I look up, Sage is leaning on the railing of the stairs looking down at us with a peculiar expression on her face. It’s gone before I can register what it means, but for an instant, I could have sworn it was jealousy.

 

 

Follow the links for the prologue and chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4. Happy reading!

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Chapter 4

I close my eyes again, gathering my thoughts, my wits, and my strength before I have to face Poppy’s wrath. She loves her car – a 2012 white Jeep Wrangler reminiscent of Cher Horowitz’s car in “Clueless” – so I’m sure all hell is about to break lose. Sage rests her hand briefly on my arm as a gesture of strength and solidarity and as a reminder that I’m not alone.

“Is everyone okay?” I ask as soon as I step out of the car.

“No, everyone is NOT okay!” Poppy shouts, stomping around, but carefully, so she doesn’t damage her new ankle boots. “Do you not see my car?” A crowd is gathering and while most people are watching the drama unfold, a few, including Ian, are staring down the road, pointing towards the red car that is now weaving through traffic.

“But are you hurt?” Busy texting now, she ignores my question.

“We’re fine,” Ian answers instead. “Did you see that car? It almost hit us.” Then, his voice soft and thoughtful, “It would have hit us if you hadn’t first.” I rub my nose, but stay silent. He moves towards me and I can’t read the expression on his face, but it looks almost like sympathy.

“But…how did…I mean, the car…” I stammer.

“Poppy slammed on the breaks when you hit us,” he explains, somehow understanding my broken thoughts.

Poppy’s phone rings and she answers, wailing like a little girl, putting on a show for our mother. I feel myself shrinking as she wavers between whining about her car and shooting me vicious looks, and though I can’t hear what mom is saying, I’m sure she’s not telling her it was only an accident and that she should be kind to her sister. Somehow, my mom manages to calm her down (probably by promising to replace her Jeep with a brand new one) and she finally hangs up, placated.

“Call the insurance company,” is all she says to me before grabbing her bag out of the car. She doesn’t even look back as she stalks towards Sonic, already busy calling someone else. Most of the people in the parking lot go to school with us so they follow her, eager to be near and console the queen.

“Are you okay?” I’m startled by a voice next to my ear. Ian is standing inches from me, a concerned look clouding his face.

“What? Oh, yeah. I’m fine. I have to call insurance.” Something in his amber eyes unnerves me, and I dig my phone out of my bag to call the insurance company, more to have an excuse to look away than because I’m supposed to. I’m surprised when instead of following Poppy, he stays beside me, listening as I explain the accident, watching as I stumble over my words.

“Well, that’s done,” I say, ending the call. He crosses his arms and nods, waiting patiently for me say something else, and I continue nervously. “They’re sending tow trucks out right now, but I guess I’m the only one covered for a rental, so we only get one…” I don’t finish the sentence and we both look at the dining area where Poppy is holding court.

“I take it that’s not going to go over well,” he says.

“I think it’s safe to say she’d rather burn every pair of shoes that she owns as part of a strange religious ritual than share any enclosed space with me for an extended period of time.” His laughter, a truly glorious, manly sound, rings in my ears, hitting me in the stomach, in the knees. I wobble. Sage arches an eyebrow and frowns at me. I straighten.

“I can go with you when you tell her. Maybe soften the blow a little bit. If you want.” I stare at him, confused.

“Why are you being so nice to me?”

“Why wouldn’t I be nice to you?” I guess he hasn’t been filled in on the “don’t talk to the weird girl” plan.

I’m distracted from answering because Sage is staring at Ian, a strange fire burning in her eyes. The frown is gone and a peculiar expression, one I don’t understand, has repalced it. It could be anger or confusion, but for a moment I almost think it’s fear. When she notices me staring, she shakes her head like she’s coming out of a fog and says, “I’ll tell you later.”

“Kenna?” I cringe. I forgot we’d been having a conversation. This is why people think you’re weird, I think to myself. You stop talking mid-conversation because your imaginary friend distracts you.

“I’d better go talk to Poppy,” Resigned, I walk towards her.

She takes the news better than expected, with only minimal sighs of exasperation, toddler-like boot stomping, and woe-is-me wails. Probably because Ian is standing next to her and she doesn’t want to look like a total monster. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was suffering from her first crush.

The tow trucks and Kat arrive at the same time. Poppy jumps in Kat’s car, leaving me responsible for dealing with both of ours, which she says is only fair since it was all my fault. I know better than to argue with her. Ian offers to go to the shop with me, but the pure rage in Poppy’s eyes keeps me from accepting. Not that I would have anyway. He’ll figure out quickly enough that I’m a social pariah and I don’t feel like dealing with the embarrassment that revelation will bring. I wave him away and Kat takes off. None of them look back.

The mechanic at the shop says they should have an estimate for us by the end of the week, after they’ve assessed the damage and the insurance adjustor looks at the car. Thankfully, the rental car place is connected to the shop and I’m able to get my car without much hassle. By the time I get home, I’m drained – the stress, anxiety, and fear of the day have taken their toll and now that the adrenaline has worn off, all I want to do is sleep. Unfortunately, we have guests.

“Hey, Kenna,” Ian calls amiably from the couch, where he’s sitting with Poppy, looking as though he’s been there every day since the beginning of time. One arm sits on the armrest and the other is draped casually on the couch behind Poppy. Her posture is relaxed, like it’s no big deal that she’s sitting next to the hottest boy she’s ever seen, but her knees are angled towards him, her head is tilted in his direction, and if they were to face one another, even accidentally, their lips would graze. I take all of this to mean they’re into each other. Except…except his knees are pointed straight. His head is tilted away from hers. And, most surprising of all, I get the distinct feeling that if they were to face one another, he would turn away before letting his lips touch hers.

My parents are sitting on the loveseat across from them. They stop talking, stop smiling, when they look up at me. There are twin expressions of surprise on their faces, like maybe they’d forgotten they had another daughter until I walked into the room. The surprise turns sour as stern, parenting faces take over.

“Alright, Kenna, do you want to tell us what happened today because now both you and your sister are without cars.” I can tell Dad is gearing up for a lecture when he folds his hands together and asks, “What distracted you? Were you texting?” As though I have anyone to text. Poppy smirks, one corner of her mouth tilting up, probably thinking the same thing.

“Dad – no. It was just an accident!” Five years ago I might have told them about Sage’s warning, hoping they’d believe me, but now I know better so I keep my mouth shut.

“Most accidents are caused by someone who isn’t paying complete attention to the road,” he continues. “So I can only assume that you weren’t paying attention to -”

“Actually,” Ian cuts in. “She probably saved our lives.”

My hero, I think wryly.

“Poppy and I were joking around,” he says. I’m shocked. Poppy makes jokes? “Probably not paying a hundred percent attention to our surroundings,” Ha! In your face, Dad! “She was about to pull out of the parking lot when Kenna hit us, which made her slam on her breaks.” Dad smiles at Poppy, a father proud of his daughter’s driving instincts. “Then this red car sped past us going at least 70, driving like a maniac, weaving in and out of traffic. If Kenna hadn’t bumped Poppy’s car, Poppy wouldn’t have hit the brakes, and that car would’ve hit us. It could have killed Poppy.”

My parents seem torn between horror at Poppy’s near demise and strange, unexpected gratitude towards their least favorite daughter for saving their most favorite daughter. Poppy, on the other hand, looks like she only feels annoyed. I can tell she wants to say something, but is afraid to contradict the boy with the perfect smile, so she remains silent instead.

“Poppy seems super grateful that you saved her life,” Sage quips, appearing next to me. “Thank goodness you did.” I cough and shove an elbow into her ribs, not because anyone can hear her, but because I don’t want to be distracted by her running commentary, which is always sarcastic and usually funny.

“Well, Kenna,” Dad says cautiously. “Your mom and I are still upset about the vehicle situation and we want you to drive carefully, but we’re glad both of you are safe.” He emphasizes “both”, perhaps because he realizes that they tend to favor Poppy.

“So…that’s it?” Poppy can’t stop herself from speaking this time. “I don’t have a car and Kenna’s not in trouble.”

“We can’t really punish her for having an accident, honey,” Mom says, glancing at Dad for confirmation. I feel the unspoken question in her words. We can’t, can we?

“So, who gets the rental?” Demands Poppy. Mom and Dad exchange a nervous glance.

“You’ll have to share it or you can have Kat drive you to school,” Mom says.

“WHAT?” She explodes. “I am NOT sharing a car with Kenna! She almost killed me!”

“According to him,” I gesture to Ian. “I probably saved you.” Her eyes glow with rage, and I know she’s thinking horrible things about me, but before she can speak, Ian lays a hand on her arm.

“Actually, maybe this isn’t the best time, but I was going to ask if you guys would be my ride for like, maybe a while. Since, you know, my car is currently without a working engine. Or wheels. Or air conditioning. And I don’t really know anyone else,” he asks, looking at Poppy.

Pleasure fills her eyes, replacing the ire from mere seconds before. I watch him, surprised and slightly impressed by this clever boy that’s known Poppy for all of twelve hours and already knows how to play her.

“We can probably make that happen,” she responds. Then she grins. He grins back. Mom grins. Dad grins. Even Sage grins, though hers is less happy and more mocking.

I grimace, annoyed by everyone in the room, but mostly with myself because the way Ian is looking at Poppy bothers me. And it bothers me that it bothers me, which is incredibly confusing.

“I’m going to bed. What time are we leaving in the morning, Poppy?” She doesn’t look at me when she answers, “Eight,” because she doesn’t really care whether or not it works for me. Everyone says goodnight, but Ian jumps up and stops me.

“Hey, I have a quick question about Macbeth,” he says. Poppy, who’d tensed when he stood up, relaxes again.

“Okay, let me grab my extra copy – it’s upstairs,” I say, wondering how nerdy it is that I have more than one copy of Macbeth. In my defense, it’s a really good play. I run up to my room, intending he wait downstairs for me, but when I turn away from my bookshelf towards the door, he’s standing there waiting, hands tucked into his pockets, lazing against the doorway like he belongs there.

“I was coming right back,” I say.

“Yeah, but I want you to tell me what happened today and I don’t think you will in front of your family.” I scratch my nose.

“What do you mean? You were there. You even told my parents what happened.”

“I know, but you knew.

“What?” I’m confused. “Knew what?”

“You knew that car was going to hit us. You saved us. I don’t know how you did it, but you did. How did you know?” His voice is soft, gentle. My eyes widen as takes a step towards me. My heart is racing. My breathing quickens. There’s a hot guy in my room! There’s never been a hot guy in my room. There’s never been any guy in my room.

“Kenna?” His voice is probing. He’s less than a foot from me, staring at my mouth, into my eyes. There’s a hot guy in my room. I sway slightly, suddenly lightheaded for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. The urge to confess everything, to tell someone the truth for the first time in years gnaws at me

“Kenna,” Sage’s voice at my ear is so sharp it stings, bringing me back to reality. I close my mouth. “You don’t even know him.” His eyes, those damn bright eyes, burn into me, encouraging me to speak, speak, speak now. She pinches me. Hard. I yelp.

“Are you okay?” Ian looks concerned, but the spell is broken. I shake my head to clear whatever strangeness had come over me. Sage is right – I don’t know him. I don’t know why I felt compelled to spill my weird secrets.

“It was just an accident. That’s all,” I say. His shoulders sag at my lame response, but he nods like he believes me and turns to go.

“Wait, so you don’t have a question about Macbeth?” I call out as he’s walking out. It’s a stupid question, but I’m still not sure why he cares so much about how the accident happened. Or rather, didn’t happen. Especially since everyone is safe. He cocks his head and half smiles at me in response. He runs one hand through his hair – his thick, glorious, distracting hair – and pauses like he might say something else. I wait.

“See you in the morning,” he says. Then he walks out of my room.

“See ya,” I respond, closing the door behind him. Then I rub my nose furiously and draw in a shaky breath, sure I’m in trouble of all sorts.

Chapter 3

“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 sayHe 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.

Chapter 2

I jerk the car over to the shoulder and put it in park before looking directly at my wide-eyed, terrified friend. I’m sure our faces are mirror images of fear, sure we look more like twins than Poppy and I have since we were three and still wearing matching outfits.

“Tell me exactly what you saw. Don’t leave out a single detail.”

“It was red this time. Everything was so red,” she swallows. “But this one was different than any vision I’ve ever had; it felt…off, weird.” I don’t question the weird feeling because visions are, in and of themselves, extremely weird.

“Okay, so red. Anything else? Anything useful? How did you know it was Poppy?” I press her as gently as possible, but I know I still sound frantic for answers.

“I saw her hair,” I nod, knowing that her hair – long, full, and dark red – is impossible to mistake. “And there was a backpack, a red backpack with writing all over it – I don’t know what it said,” she interrupts herself to answer the question before I can ask. “I saw a red car. It was demolished, totally smashed. And there was blood. There was so much blood, Kenna.” By now she’s whispering and I feel her fear seep into me. It’s not until she reaches out and touches my hand that I realize I’m weeping.

“But it hasn’t happened yet, so there’s time. How can we stop it?” I demand.

“We can’t. I saw it. I wish I hadn’t, but you know how it works. If I see it, it happens.” This was always true before. It was true when I broke my arm in 4th grade and it was true when dad lost his job when I was ten. But she’s never seen my sister die. That can’t be true. I won’t let it.

“She’s not going to die, Sage. I’m not going to let her.”

“There’s nothing you can do. It just…is. Or rather, it will be.” Her tone is mournful, regretful, but also resigned. It infuriates me.

“She’s my sister, Sage! My sister! I have to save her. I have to fix it.” I feel responsible for this vision, like I own it, like I had it. And now I have to do something about it. She shakes her head, but fortunately, doesn’t argue anymore. I turn the car back on and pull onto the road, narrowly avoiding a car driving by, ignoring the angry horn and rude gestures directed towards me.

I don’t care; it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I get to school and figure out a way to save Poppy.

The late bell is ringing as I run into the building.

“Shit, shit, shit.” I mutter, when the assistant principal catches me and forces me to stay for tardy sweep. I’m only allowed one more tardy before I’m assigned a day of Saturday school. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to me, since I have no other plans in the foreseeable future besides keeping Poppy alive, but right now, I don’t have time to waste on petty things like tardies and stickler assistant principals.

I feel a clock ticking, ticking, ticking like a bomb inside my head. Time taunts me and I know each passing second brings Poppy closer to certain death. He lets the lower classmen go, but spends an extra few minutes lecturing the seniors who are tardy about responsibility and grown-up life, like we haven’t heard it a thousand times before. Most of my classmates use the lecture time to catch up on their Tweets and Insta likes, while I sit and resent them for their simple, carefree lives. Also, does he not realize the irony in lecturing us about being on-time, but making us later to class? When he finally releases us, I sprint to my next class. Luckily, it’s government and we’re watching an episode of Law and Order, so I immediately zone out.

The first thing I have to do is figure out who the red backpack belongs to. Until I know, the only information I have to work with is Poppy’s hair, a red car, and blood. So, unless I just want to follow Poppy everywhere she goes today (and I really, really don’t), I need to find Red Backpack. If I’m everywhere she is, I can anticipate what she can’t because I know to expect it. For once, I’m grateful for the long school day, knowing I have at least six solid hours before I really need to worry because Poppy would never dream of leaving early and missing dance class.

As soon as class is over, I head to Poppy’s usual hangout spot in the Commons and watch from the other side – close, but not so close she sees me creepily stalking (but really protecting) her. She’s deep in conversation with her best friend Kat. Though their conversation seems serious, they’re probably just discussing the products that give them magically smooth and bouncy waves. They pretend not to notice the attractive guy walking towards them, forcing him to reach out and touch Poppy’s shoulder to get her attention. She glances backwards coyly, tossing her hair back in a move designed to look natural, but which is clearly meant to draw attention to her raw beauty. Strangely enough, he seems unaffected. Interesting. Perhaps he’s some new breed of teenage boy. Normally, they trip all over themselves fawning over Poppy. I’m pretty sure the freshman boys started a Poppy Barquin fan club where dedicated members could spend their time running her errands or taking pictures of her from a distance.

I watch as Hot Guy tells what is apparently the funniest joke in the history of ever and Poppy grabs his arm to hold herself up while she laughs. He grins and says something else before continuing towards the 100 hallway, which is exactly where I’m standing. Sort of. I’m more off to the side and hidden in the shadows, but still, he’s heading in my direction. I’m so distracted in trying to jump out of the way so he doesn’t see me and ask me why I’m staring at him, that I nearly miss it. Strapped to his back is a dingy red backpack nearly completely covered in black Sharpie.

“Who do you think he is?” Sage whispers, peering over my shoulder. I usually tease her for whispering since I’m the only one who can hear her, but I don’t have the time or energy.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” She trails behind me anxiously as I walk over to Poppy and Kat. They know I’m there, but both pretend not to see me.

“Who was that?” I ask. Poppy looks at me, her eyes widening incredulously; probably surprised I would deign to speak to her in public.

She stares at me in silence for approximately twelve hours, but when it becomes apparent that I’m not going anywhere, she finally says, “He’s new.” Then she turns back to Kat, her meaning clear: Leave. When I don’t, she sighs, “What?” She draws the word out so I know how irritating my presence is.

“Well, ‘he’s new’ doesn’t tell me anything about him. What’s his name? When did he get here? Where did he come from? How do you know him?” She’s obviously annoyed by the barrage of questions, but I don’t stop. “What’s written all over his backpack?” She holds up a hand to stop me.

“His name is Ian. He moved here a few days ago from Colorado or Ohio or something. He’s in my AP Calculus class first period and I offered to lend him my notes. Why are you asking so many questions? You’re being weirder than normal.” She’s either suspicious or jealous and I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the middle.

“I mean, he’s hot, so I’m curious – ” I start, attempting to speak her language. She narrows her eyes and I get the sense she doesn’t believe me.

“Poppy’s driving him home. He’s currently sans vehicle, but don’t worry about him because Pops will take care of him,” Kat cuts me off, effectively marking Poppy’s territory for her. Poppy doesn’t say anything, just stands, arms crossed, smirking, grateful for a friend who will fight her battles for her since I’m clearly not worth her time. I’m about to respond when the warning bell rings.

“Okay, bye,” Poppy says, tugging on Kat’s arm and the two walk to class without a second glance back at me.

At least now I know who to keep an eye on.

I stand for a moment, thinking, but then I see the same AP who caught me this morning. Two run-ins in one day is way too much exposure for me, so I run to English and slide into my seat just before the tardy bell sounds.

I love English. I love immersing myself in literature, knowing for a little while I won’t have to interact with people who think I’m strange, knowing I’ll be able to disappear into someone else’s world, knowing who I am makes no difference to Harry Potter or Elizabeth Bennet. My teacher, Mrs. Henrys, reminds us about that our literary analyses are due at the end of the week and asks us to take out our journals and something to write with.

Someone taps my shoulder.

I freeze.

People don’t talk to me and they certainly don’t touch me. I’m the weird one, the other sister. I’m the girl who talks to herself, the girl without friends. I’m no one. Usually, I barely exist. I wonder if it was an accident. Maybe I should pretend like it didn’t happen; it would probably be less embarrassing if I did.

I busy myself gathering my things.

“Excuse me?” A low voice sounds behind me. I hesitate a moment and finally turn around only to find myself looking amber-colored eyes, feline eyes, eyes a color I’ve only seen twice before, eyes that look exactly like mine.

Chapter 1

BEFORE

The sound of the alarm is a warm welcome after a restless night and strange dreams, but still I groan, unprepared to face the day. Mondays are bad, but nowhere near as horrible as Tuesdays. I throw my arms over my face when the door opens, shielding my eyes from the light that streams in from the hallway.

“Just checking to make sure you’re up,” Mom whispers nervously, peeking into my room.

“I’m up, but I don’t – ” I start, but she cuts me off.

“Okay, don’t be late.” Then she closes the door, leaving me almost completely alone. The truth is that I’m rarely alone. I rake my hand across my nose, which has started to itch like it always does when something upsets me.

“She doesn’t mean to act that way,” Sage says, in an attempt to reassure me. It doesn’t work.

“Yes, she does. She doesn’t like me. My own mom doesn’t like me.”

“She likes you,” she insists. “She just doesn’t understand you. And you know what they say about the things we don’t understand.” I stare at her and she pauses before she says, drawing out her words, “We fear them.”

“Whatever.” I get up and head to the bathroom, grateful she doesn’t follow me. As the shower heats up, I think about Mom and Sage and my weird life. Or rather, the life everyone else thinks is weird; it’s my normal.

Sage has been around for as long as I can remember. When I was five, my parents called her my imaginary friend. When I was twelve, my parents called a psychiatrist. Now I’m seventeen and they don’t talk about it at all. Whenever possible, they ignore me. It’s easier for them to pretend like I don’t exist than it is to acknowledge their crazy daughter, especially when they have one perfectly lovely, perfectly normal daughter – my twin sister, Poppy.

I let the hot water run until the bathroom is steamy, until my head feels lighter. A banging on the door startles me and I slip, barely catching myself before I plummet to my watery death.

“There better be hot water left for me, Kenna!” Poppy shouts from the other side of the door as I shut off the water. “Kenna!” The banging continues, louder and more insistent.

“There is! I’m done! I’m out! Calm down!” I turn off the water, step out of the shower, and wrap a towel around myself before unlocking the door on her side of the bathroom. She pushes past me and turns the water back on, testing it.

“Is it still warm?” I ask her. She gives me a withering look and stares pointedly at the door. “Uh, okay. Enjoy your shower.” She doesn’t respond. I don’t like to call people names, but sometimes Poppy can be such a bitch.

Sage is lounging on my bed, staring into space. Her eyebrows lift when she sees the expression on my face. “What’s wrong?” She asks.

“Nothing, just Poppy being Poppy.” I say, rifling through my closet, both to distract myself from feelings and to have an excuse to turn away from Sage. Imaginary friends are exhausting – always there, always probing.

“Not in the best of moods this morning, are we?” I shrug. It seems pretty obvious that I’m not in a good mood, but I’m determined not to hash it out. I examine and reject each article of clothing deliberately.

“Oh right, like you’re not just going to wear jeans and chucks.” I shrug again. “Oh, my God! If you want to be alone, you can just say so.” Oh good, she’s picked up that. I turn around to bark some retort, annoyed that she knows me so well, but she’s already gone.

The loneliness creeps in more quickly than anticipated, but I’m too frustrated to hope Sage comes back soon. I throw on my clothes and some make-up, ready to leave the house before I really am late, but then I notice my hair. The cut is great and my wavy hair usually falls well, but my damn bangs never lie exactly right unless I blow-dry them as soon as I step out of the shower. I waste another five minutes wetting and re-drying them and run directly into Poppy when I leave my room.

“Hey!” She shrieks. “Be careful!”

“Sorry,” I mumble, caught off guard like always that she’s my sister. We’re not identical, but we look enough alike that there’s no question we’re twins. Except that Poppy never looks anything less than stellar. Either she’s a witch or she spends all of her free time praying to the mighty Aphrodite because no one’s hair can look that good all of the time without a little bit of magic. And seriously? Does she also watch a thousand YouTube makeup tutorials? Whose cheeks even look that like? I must have been staring for a long time because she turns around.

“I can feel you looking at me. What?” She demands.

“Nothing,” I pause. “Your hair looks great.” It’s a stupid thing to say to a twin who doesn’t usually speak to me so I’m not really surprised when she smirks and merely says, “I know,” but it still stings.

Like I said, Poppy can be a real bitch sometimes.

Together, but still separately, Poppy and I walk into the kitchen. Mom makes fancy breakfasts on Mondays in an attempt to make up for her lack of involvement the rest of the time, but I’d rather pretend it’s because she wants to help us start the week on a happy note – like a normal mom would. I help myself to pancakes, eggs, and bacon and sit down in my usual seat. Beyond the sounds of clicking keyboards and text tones, it’s quiet. We all stare at our respective screens and eat our meals in silence, content to ignore each other.

Every once in a while, between bites of Greek yogurt and sips of caramel latte, Poppy giggles at a text. Dad alternates between grumbling and chuckling as he checks his email, and Mom reads quickly, marking edits and making notes on her tablet, obliterating the hopes and dreams of some young, new author. I’m jobless and friendless, unless you count Sage, which I don’t since she can’t text, so I use the time to read on my iPad. By family bonding standards of the 21st century, we’re practically the Cleavers.

Poppy finishes her drink and stands up, stretching lazily. “I’ll probably be home late tonight, Mom. I’m going out with Kat,” she says by way of explanation.

“Okay, sweetie. Have a good day!” Mom smiles at her and Dad slips her some money with a wink as she saunters out of the kitchen.

“I should probably be going too. I don’t want to be late.” I say, putting my dishes in the sink. Mom waves without looking up and Dad just grunts his goodbye. No one hands me any money or smiles at me before I leave, and my old, familiar friend loneliness settles in.

*          *          *          *          *

Driving makes me happy. I can turn the music up as loud as I want to, drowning out all other noises, like the chatter of an imaginary friend who could pop back up at any time, and all depressing thoughts, like the ones of a family who wishes I didn’t exist. Sunny skies and empty roads usually make for a nice drive, but I barely notice, as I’m lost in thought, remembering.

Until just after our eighth birthday, Poppy was my best friend. She took my side when the kids made fun of me for being different and always made sure I was included when she was invited to friend’s houses. Even then, she was the popular, admired, pretty girl. Then, out of nowhere, she got really sick. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. For weeks, she lay in bed out of her mind, delirious from the fever. She spent hours talking to people only she could see. She would clutch my hand, almost rabidly, jabbering about how she knew I understood, asking me never to leave her, fearful of something she wouldn’t say. Sometimes she was hysterical and inconsolable. Other times she seemed calm and rational, but her eyes were dark and empty. Then, as quickly as it had started, the fever broke and she was healed, but she was different. Her entire demeanor changed. When before, she’d been happy and kind, now she was cold and hateful.  She stopped talking to me unless she had to, often ignoring me for days at a time. I was devastated. We grew further and further apart, until eventually, we were strangers.

Even when I hate her, I miss my sister.

Someone calls my name and I’m shaken from my reverie. “Kenna!” She’s shouting over the music. “Kenna! Turn it down!” I attempt to ignore her, but she’s insistent. “It’s important!” I lower the volume, choosing not to glance over to the passenger seat where Sage just appeared.

“What? What could possibly be so important that you’re making me turn down my music? It’s T. Swift!” I say, mostly kidding.

“I had a vision.”

“Okay.” I wait, but she’s quiet. “What is it?” Still, she says nothing. “Sage?” Silence. “Are you going to tell me about it or not?”

“It’s Poppy,” she chokes out. “Poppy’s going to die today.”

Numb

It was strange feeling such anger. I’d never been angry with Sage before, never felt so hurt, so betrayed – not by anyone, but especially not by her. The pain was so intense I felt like I’d been physically attacked. Everything ached – inside and out – and I wanted to lash out, to hurt her like she’d hurt me. Or worse.

“Please, Kenna! Please! Just listen to me!” She pled, her eyes wide and weepy, her expression sincere, concerned, and cloyingly, disgustingly needy. I turned away.

“No. You’re wrong. Ian isn’t one of them; he cares about me,” I insisted, surprised that the wrath I felt only sounded cold when I spoke. I turned back to look at her, so she could see the ire, the rage in my expression, afraid she might not hear it in my tone. She reached out as though to touch me and I stepped back. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

“We have to talk about it. It’s important! It’s life or death! It’s YOUR life or death!” She shouted. I cringed, her voice was louder than it should have been, louder than my thoughts, louder than any earthly sound. My head throbbed and a warm, sticky liquid dripped out of my ear and down my neck. Slowly, I reached up and dabbed at my neck. My fingers came away red and my stomach clenched when I realized what it was. Something in me knew she’d done this and when I looked up and saw her staring at me, mouth open in horror, I knew she knew it too.

“Blood,” I whispered, my voice cracking in dread. “What did you do, Sage? What did you DO?!”

She was quiet for a long time, too afraid to speak. “I – I don’t know. I didn’t do anything! I’m sorry!”

Her obvious distress was too much to bear because though I was furious and hurt, she was still part of me and I still cared about her. But she’d betrayed me when she spoke to them and I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to trust her again.

“Leave. Go away. I never want to see you again.” I turned back to my house, dismissing her.

“Kenna! Please! You have to listen to me! I saw it! I saw it!”

“I SAID LEAVE!” I roared and pushed her straight into the street as a car rounded the corner. She stumbled backwards and just as she righted herself, the car barreled into her. I closed my eyes and covered my ears, and still the sounds of screeching and screaming and smashing overwhelmed me. I couldn’t think, couldn’t see, couldn’t feel. I was numb. Until I wasn’t.

I didn’t mean to didn’t want to it was an accident what did I do…

I fell to the ground sobbing, the concrete scraping my knees, slicing me open. After what felt like hours, days, years, I braced myself for the horror, opened my eyes, and there was nothing. No blood, no car, no wreck. No Sage.

I brushed myself off, stood up slowly, and walked inside the house.

*          *          *          *          *

NOTE: I submitted this piece to another contest I didn’t win. It’s another piece of Kenna and Sage’s story, though I’m not sure this scene will actually be part of the novel. Feel free to leave your thoughts, friends! But, as always, be gentle.

Prologue

I don’t just write weird, sad blogs; I also write fiction. This is the prologue to the book I’m working on. Read it and share your thoughts, please. But gently.

NOW

I silently count to ten, then open my eyes and assess my surroundings just in case they’d changed since the last time I checked. I had, after all, been known to see things that might not have actually been there.

White ceiling? Yep. I slowly turn my head to the right and then the left. White walls? Yep, again. I take a shaky breath in a pitiful attempt to quiet my brain, which is currently in full-on freak out mode. Since I’m still shackled to the bed, there’s nothing to do but panic so I prepare to start screaming for help. A quiet cough sounds from somewhere in the room. I look around frantically, and sigh when I spot her. Even trapped in what I assume is the nut house I can’t escape her. Staring at me from the chair in the corner in the room sits the girl who got me here – my imaginary friend, Sage.

“I take it there’s nothing you can do to help me,” I say. She shrugs.

“You know I would if I could,” she starts.

“But you can’t because you’re not real,” I finish, ignoring the pain that flits across her face. We’ve been over this a dozen times before. I only said it to hurt her because I was still angry with her. I might be angry with her forever. “Do you think you can at least – “

“Quiet!” She hisses, cutting me off. “Close your eyes. Someone’s coming. If they hear you talking to me, they’ll just force more pills down your throat.”

I do as she says, just as I always have because she’s always right. I close my eyes and make my breathing slow and even, trying to ignore my thundering heart, hoping they can’t hear the blood rushing frantically and fearfully through my body like I can.

The door opens then closes, and I feel someone lean over me.

“Come now, love, no need to feign sleep! You’re actually not very good at pretending.” I hear the grin in his voice as he speaks and, forgetting myself, I open my eyes indignantly. At first glance, in his white coat and official-looking badge and stethoscope, I assume he’s the doctor but then I notice his shoes. I’ve never known a doctor to wear dirty Chuck Taylors on the job. Suspicious and a little afraid, I look back toward Sage who’s staring at our intruder wide-eyed with shock.

“You’re not the doctor, are you.” It’s not a question. He shakes his head and my panic grows. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“Generally speaking, sweets, I’ve found that when a person proclaims their innocence before they’ve even been accused of anything, they’re probably guilty.”

“Who are you?” I whisper.

Dramatically, he whisks a key from his pocket with a “ta-da” flourish, smiles and says, “Pardon me; I nearly forgot to introduce myself. I’m Oliver Logan and I’ll be your hero today.”