I glance behind me. The street is empty except for thick shadows clinging to the buildings that trap me between them. Snow rides the waves of wind, and shadows dance around like children, but no one is there.
I take a breath and tell myself I imagined it—I have barely even finished the thought when the tapping begins again. Closer.
I turn around, half expecting to find the same scene I did before. Instead, a woman stands behind me, cloaked in the darkness. The only thing I can truly make out is the almost white color of her hair and the flash of something sharp.
I don’t know what it is about her, maybe it’s simply instinct; all I know is the moment I see her, panic sparks in me and my feet start moving faster without my command.
A shriek of laughter rings out, and I can’t resist looking over my shoulder to see her progress.
The woman is almost completely visible in the light. The sight of her is unnerving; the white-blonde hair she has is accompanied by crimson skin that is raised with bumps and ridges. Her eyes are almost purely red, with flecks of white, and protruding from her blood-red lips are at least a dozen, too big, pointed teeth.
She is right behind me.
I lose my footing and crash to the ground. My hands scrape against the pebbled street. I’ve just started to scramble up, when a set of black shoes walk into my line of sight. I know when I look up I will see the unnatural, horrifying face of the woman who was following me. In place of the dreadful blood-red skin, ruby eyes and sharpened teeth, is a man.
He offers me his hand and after a moment of hesitation I take it, letting him pull me to my feet. “Are you all right?” he asks.
I spin around; searching up and down the street until I’m sure the woman is nowhere to be seen. Vanished. As if she was never there.
“There was a woman. She was chasing me,” I say, breathing heavily. I don’t mention the way she looked because I know how insane it would sound. “Didn’t you see her?”
He shakes his head. He’s quite handsome, I realize, despite my fear. He has hair that looks as if it was dipped in dark chocolate and eyes that seem to be made of sunlight—that vibrant yellow of a cat’s eyes. And he’s tall; I have to tilt my head back to look at him. “I only saw you, flying down the street as if your life depended on it.”
My life did depend on it. That much I know. “Thank you.”
He nods. “I’m Lochan. Baines.”
“Felicity Carmine,” I blurt. I can’t help continuing to glance around, wondering where the woman could have gone. “I should go.”
Lochan nods again. “Let me walk you. It’s a dangerous time of night.” He smiles, “Wouldn’t want you to get eaten.”
I consider which I prefer: the boy I just met, or the woman with red eyes. I decide the former is my best bet. “Okay,” I say. “My house isn’t far.”
We walk, silence stretched like miles between us.
“So…” he begins hesitantly. “What’re you doing wandering around at five in the morning?”
I respond vaguely, some excuse about not being able to sleep. I don’t dare tell him of my dream; no need to scare him away.
“What about you?” I ask, glancing at him sideways as I step up onto the sidewalk.
“Work,” he says in a clipped tone. He continues with a smirk, “That’s what she said.”
I stop mid-step to frown at him, “Are you ten?”
We’re standing in my front yard before I even notice. The bright blue house stands out harshly among its peers, but somehow I never notice it until I’m almost past it.
Lochan smiles at me. “Maybe I’ll see you again, Felicity.”
I nod, hoping that is the truth. For some unprecedented reason he intrigues me. It isn’t simply because he’s stunning—though he definitely is—it’s the foreign light in his eyes that I’ve never seen before and the way he seems… good. There is really no other word to describe it.
Shaking my head free of the absurd thoughts, I walk up the driveway to my house.
I open the door to find my uncle, Evan, sitting on the couch, a book in his hands. He frowns, “Where have you been?”
I shake my head. I love my uncle but I’m not about to tell him about the woman. I would rather steer clear of having him commit me to a mental hospital. “I couldn’t sleep, so I went for a walk.”
He looks slightly confused, but nods anyway. Evan is far from intrusive.
I walk through the kitchen, narrowly missing an unpacked box sitting in the middle of the room, and continue my journey up the stairs to my room.
My room is behind a plain white door and I haven’t bothered with anything to personalize it. I haven’t even finished unpacking. I don’t see a point.
I shut the door and get ready for the first day at my newest school this year. After much deliberation, I pull on a crisply ironed white blouse, a black pencil skirt, and a blazer to match. I wrap my straight, chocolate hair in a ponytail and add a subtle layer of eyeliner to my reddish-brown eyes. Eyes that, at times, I swear are more of an eerie maroon than a true mixture of brown and red.
I bound down the staircase and into the kitchen where Evan sits at the recently assembled kitchen table; his book still in one hand, as oatmeal drips into his lap from a spoon, his mouth hunting through the air for what is now an empty spoon. Evan is not good at multitasking.
I smother a laugh from the hall, and he glances at me, biting down on the metal, oblivious to the fact that the spoon is now empty.
Evan, like me, is tall and lanky, skinny enough that people often assume we don’t eat. He, however, has light brown eyes—genuine brown, not a brown possessed by red—dark blond hair and deeply tanned skin—a stark opposite from my colorless parlor.
I sit down across from him and pass the time until I need to leave with a book of my own.
After a chapter, I stand up and look at my uncle, “I’m heading out.”
His eyes flick toward me. “Breakfast,” he says with his nose back in the book.
I grab a whole-wheat donut from the counter on my way out the front door. I call out, “Bye,” just before the door shuts. My seventeenth birthday present sits in the driveway: a practical little silver Honda Accord that still shines like it did on the lot.
Remedy is a little town in Washington that feels no shame showing its wealth. The roads are all perfect—not a bump dare disturb them. The buildings are equally faultless, without chips or imperfection, mostly comprised of brick and stone. Everything in the town practically screams quality and care down to every dark corner of every store. I am quite certain that if I ever had the desire to check, even the sewers would smell fresh and clean.
A sheet of snow covers the town. At the end of January—my favorite time of year—nothing, not even the perfect pavement, is left untouched by the cold’s icy fingers.
This town feels like home in a way that no other city in which I have ever lived could compare. The city we just left, in California, was a perfect example. We stayed there for less than a month. It was one of the few times I was ever grateful when Evan announced we were moving again. The excess of people, all the people and the yearlong heat made southern California unbearable.
I park my car in the Remedy High School parking lot, one of only a few cars present because there is still half an hour until the first bell rings. Every car looks new and expensive despite that they are all property of high school students no older than eighteen, despite the fact that they are all too young to afford them on their own.
I sit in my car for a few minutes, enjoying to the classical music flowing from my speakers, trying to avoid walking in too ridiculously early. When I do get out of the car, the parking lot is full of stereotypical rich kids’ cars: Mustangs, BMWs, and a few Ferraris and Lamborghinis here and there.
The school building is made of polished marble, equally as nice as any other building in this town. The hundreds of kids that frequent the building somehow don’t affect its appearance. The inside still surprises me as I walk in: the walls are an unpolluted golden color, as if they were just painted. Honey-colored stone tile stretches in every direction beneath my feet. The lockers are an unblemished ash shade that look as though they were installed just yesterday. The ceilings stretch well above twenty feet curving to an arch at the top with brilliant chandelier fixtures hanging delicately. It looks more like a mansion than a high school.
Evan and I came here two days ago to register, so I already have my class schedule and everything I might require for the day to go perfectly. I walk over to my newest locker and have hardly begun twisting the dial, when I feel a light tap of fingers on my shoulder. I turn around swiftly, half expecting to find the woman with red skin again.
My eyes slowly scan downward to find the eyes of the girl before me. She is short; I stand almost a full foot taller than her regardless of the shiny red go-go boots she’s sporting. The boots seemed to be some far-fetched attempt to match the rainbow-striped dress she has on, which does actually have one tiny red stripe hidden among the other blinding colors. One of which is teal, another reach to match the teal jacket she wears.
Her light brown hair is pinned up in a disarrayed bun, hair sticking out at all sides as though she woke up this morning and didn’t even bother with a brush before tying it into its chaotic knot. Fuchsia and cobalt streaks run through, causing the rest of the jumble of colors to match even less.
It takes substantial effort to keep myself from sneering at her, but seeing the warmth in her smile erases the desire.
“You’re the new girl, right?” she asks in an animated voice that is a hair’s breadth away from being annoyingly high-pitched.
I frown, “Yeah.” I wonder how small this school must be if she already picked me out of the crowded hall as the “new girl”.
She nods, though clearly she already knew, “I’m Liberty.”
“Felicity,” I say. I expect her to leave then. She doesn’t, instead opting to invade my personal space.
“This is my locker,” she says pointing to the metal box nearby. I nod, unsure of what it should mean to me.
“If you want, I can help you find your way around today,” and when I don’t immediately accept, she hurriedly adds, “only if you want, of course.”
I’m not sure how to decline without sounding rude and, although I’m sure I can manage without a guide, it won’t hurt. I agree and offer my appreciation.
She grins and finally retreats to her own locker, which is so messy I am surprised half of the contents aren’t vomited onto the floor. I grab the few things I’ll need for my first class from my bag, and make sure that the rest of my locker is organized perfectly. I turn around to find Liberty has resumed her spot behind me. My heart jumps; I expected she would take longer finding her things in that chaos.
“Sorry,” she says. I start walking down the hall and she skips into step with me. “You just moved to Remedy, right?”
“Yeah. My uncle and I got in a couple days ago,” I say, bored. Everyone asks that same question, no matter where I go.
“Yeah? Where from?”
“California,” I say, leaving out the other fourteen states I could mention: Georgia, Michigan, New York, and so on.
“California? Really? You meet any celebrities?” she asks, eagerly.
I shake my head, “I wasn’t really looking.”
Liberty looks at me with confusion, as if wondering ‘who wouldn’t look for celebrities in California’. Instead, she says, “That’s too bad. Anyhow, what class do you have first?”
I consult my schedule. “English with Mrs. Johnson.”
“Lucky! She’s a pushover and you can get away with almost anything.”
I’m at a loss for words; this girl is far too enthusiastic and cheerful. I honestly don’t know what to say to her. So I say nothing.
She doesn’t seem to mind; she apparently, is an advocate of questions. “So, what’s with the business wear?” she asks, waving a hand at me to encompass my clothes. I glare but she continues, “Yeah, I know, I’m one to talk about clothing choice. But you dress like you’re thirty.”
I bristle and turn on her with annoyance. “I look respectable in them. Most people won’t treat you like you’re some immature child if you don’t make the impression you are one. If you didn’t wear clothes that look like they were picked out by a three year old who likes pretty colors, people may treat you with respect.”
She raises her hands in surrender, as if there was a gun pointed at her. “Personally, I don’t care what people think of me. And I didn’t mean to offend; I just thought it was odd.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t hear me mentioning your rainbows.”
I figure that with that she’d storm away and leave me alone, instead she laughs, “Touché. Anyhow, this is your class. What do you have for second?”
I turn back to my schedule. “Physics, with Mr. Wright.”
“Awesome, me too. I can swing by after my class, so you don’t get lost.”
I shake my head. “No. I’m sure I can find my way around. Thanks anyway.” When she still doesn’t leave, I say, “I’ll see you in Physics.”
“Yeah, great.” She smiles and turns away, practically skipping down the hall.
“Great,” I say to myself. She seems too nice, and I have a hard time believing the sincerity isn’t a ruse. I’ve met my share of fake, insincere girls throughout the many different high schools I’ve been to, but Liberty doesn’t fit in that category with them. She’s just strange.
I head into my book-filled English classroom. An older looking woman with glasses—who I assume is Mrs. Johnson—sits on a stool in the front of the room. “You must be Felicity,” she says.
I try not to look at the room full of students, knowing they are all judging and making assumptions of me. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Take a seat anywhere you’d like.”
I do as she says, finding a seat at the front of the room next to a tiny girl who manages not to stare at me like I’m a dead frog under a microscope. Five minutes later, I’ve managed to immerse myself in my favorite distraction: school. It’s always a guaranteed way to shut off the part of your brain that likes to obsess over the problems you can’t find an answer to.
Ftoday. I have barely been at Remedy High for an hour and I’m already lost. I have only three minutes left to get to a class that—for all I know—could be on the opposite side of the school. Reading the room numbers is like trying to read Greek, and I’m on the verge of ripping my hair out. I’m trying to find room 108 and I found 152, 34 and then 90—not in a pattern that makes a sliver of sense. I feel helpless and I hate the feeling more than anything.
I turn around to trace my steps back to the front office to get directions, only to come face-to-face with a boy. He’s tall and a little on the skinny side, but cute. He has short brown hair in a spiked mess and kind yet dark eyes.
He frowns at me, a crease forming between his eyebrows. “Are you new?”
“Yeah. Actually, I’m kind of lost,” I admit, trying to hide my embarrassment. “You wouldn’t know where Mr. Wright’s Physics class is, would you?”
“Yeah, sure. It’s this way,” he says, starting down the hall, without glancing back to ensure I’m following.
“That’s okay,” I say, though I have no problem with him walking me there, if for no other reason than so I don’t get lost again. Dignity, be damned. “I don’t want to make you late for class. I’d be eternally grateful if you’d just give me directions.”
He turns to face me but doesn’t stop moving, walking backwards through the mostly empty hall. “No worries, my class is across the hall from it.”
“Okay, thank you. You’re a life saver.”
“Anytime. You said you’re new?” he asks.
I’m tempted to tell him no, just to see the bumbling idiot he’d turn into. But no, I won’t tease my savior. “Yeah. I’m Felicity.”
“Nick. Ward.” He arrives at the doorway labeled 108, holding his hand out as if he were showcasing the room, “And this would be your class.”
“Thank you so much,” I say with a sigh of relief. I push open the classroom door just as the bell rings. Guilt spreads through me knowing Nick is late because he helped me.
“You must be Felicity. Have a seat,” the teacher says, without looking up from what he is writing on the whiteboard.
The room is filled with rows of desks occupied by students that I would never think of going to this fashion-minded school. Liberty stands out among these students surprisingly more than the rest of the school. She enthusiastically waves me over. I take the seat beside her, offering her a wan smile.
“Hey!” she says over the cacophony of the other students. “I must have missed you at the lockers. You get lost?” she asks sympathetically, as if she knows the truth.
“No,” I lie.
She nods but her eyes hold doubt. Before she can say anything else—which even with the little amount of time that I’ve known her, I know she will—Mr. Wright calls attention to himself and begins his lecture.
I made it through three classes without killing anyone, but history pushes me a little too far. As soon as the bell rings, I’m out of my seat and out the door. History has never been able to hold my interest. But being that it is my last class before lunch, time seems to crawl by slower than a turtle.
The cafeteria is easy to find, I just have to follow the horde of students. I still feel like an idiot for not being able to find my Physics class, but Liberty told me that with all the expansions the school has done, the room numbers aren’t in any order. That, in addition to the fact that the school is gigantic because it is very well funded, makes the school like a maze.
The cafeteria is a nice surprise; the room is large, with plenty of students, but not filled to the brim with them. What shocks me most is the furniture. The tables are real wooden tables, and the chairs are plush and cushioned leather. To the right of the doors is a line of people getting lunch and the food served is real, not the same crappy cafeteria food that I’ve become accustomed to. Remedy High is more like a private school than a public school, except without the uniforms and tuition.
After I grab my lunch from the line, I scan the tables for Liberty. I figure that sitting with her would be better than being labeled a freak for sitting alone. I’ve stopped in the middle of the room to search for her, but before my eyes can find the rainbow colored girl, I feel the unmistakable presence of someone standing directly behind me.
“No one told me the new girl was hot,” a voice says into my ear, his hot breath on my neck.
I turn around with a start, backing up a step in the process. The guy’s voice is deep and seductive, but his voice has nothing on his looks. He’s taller than me by quite a few inches and he has an athlete’s build—that lean kind of muscle that is defined but not in a body-builder sort of way. His straight ash-blond hair is a stark contrast to the black tee and gray jeans he’s wearing. His hair falls just short of his eyes, and oh, those eyes. They’re hypnotizing—a dark, metallic silver that peer at me in a way that makes me feel exposed. A devilish smirk on his lips makes me question the statement about me being hot.
He’s absolutely stunning and there’s this arrogant glint in his eyes that leaves no doubt in my mind that he knows it too.
Instead of sputtering out something ridiculous, as I’m sure he expects me to—I have a feeling that’s what a lot of girls would have done if they were in my position—I ask deadpan, “You hit on all the new girls, or is it my lucky day?”
He smiles, his smile is as brilliant as his looks, and surprise flashes in his eyes. Brief, but there. “I hit on all the girls, babe, not just the new ones. You have a name, beautiful?”
“Not one I’ll be sharing with you,” I say. A spark of joy fills me upon seeing the look of outward shock on his face. I’m sure he’s never been denied what he’s asked for in the past, but I’m not dumb and it’s obvious he’s not a serious guy with good intentions.
“Ouch,” he says, his hand to his heart, clearly not actually hurt. He probably thinks I’m playing hard to get. “It’s just a name, darling. I can always get it elsewhere, you know. I doubt it’s a very well kept secret.” His tone challenges me.
“Felicity,” I say, a sharpness to my own name. I’m not sure what about him angers me so much, but the arrogance, to start, is infuriating.
“Felicity,” he repeats, rolling it around on his tongue, testing it out in a way that makes me wish I hadn’t told him. “I’m Kellan. Come sit with me today.”
“No,” I say, without even a pause to consider it. There is no need.
He raises his eyebrows and I want nothing more than to slap the smirk off his lips. “You’ve only just met me. What could I have done to make you hate me already?”
“You haven’t done a thing and I’m going to make sure it stays that way.” I turn my back on him and walk away, resuming my search for Liberty.
She sits, gawking at me a few tables from where I stand. I take the empty seat beside her. There’s only one other person at the table—a small girl with short brown hair, dark eyes and tan skin.
Liberty says nothing when I sit down; she just stares at me.
“What?” I ask, annoyance reflecting in my voice.
“That was Kellan Croix, and he was talking to you. It’s every girls dream to talk to him, just so they can gaze into those beautiful silver eyes without seeming stalker-like. And you... you blew him off,” Liberty says, and it looks as if her jaw is ready to snap it’s hinge.
I roll my eyes. “He’s an arrogant jerk. I thought blowing him off might deflate his ego, which is already the size of this school.”
Liberty blinks rapidly. “You are truly one of a kind,” she says, not in a good way. This is coming from the girl who probably spent five hundred dollars on a dress so original not even a homeless person would be thankful to wear it.
“Thank you. I wouldn’t want to be just another brainless fool, falling for some random guy I don’t know simply because he’s a little good-looking.”
Liberty stares at me for a few moments as if she was trying to see if I was actually brain-dead or even blind. “He is not a little good-looking.” She glances at the table Kellan invited me to. There are more than a dozen people squeezed into the table that should have sat no more than six. He says something and every girl at the table giggles. Really high pitched, pathetic giggles that makes me wonder if they have even an ounce of brain matter left in their heads. Not one of them acts as if they know he’s playing them all, at the exact same time. “He is model gorgeous. Godly, even. And it doesn’t hurt that his dad has more money than anyone else in Remedy, and that’s saying something,” she says in a dreamy voice, which makes me wonder if she is any different than the giggling airheads.
I scoff, “So it’s about the money then. I understand now. No. No, I don’t. Liberty, listen to me, he’s not a good guy, it’s obvious he just uses girls. It’s an insult to your species to act so smitten.”
She looks at me oddly for a moment. “Oh my god, you’re so lying! You do like him!”
I frown, wondering how the hell she got to that conclusion. Was she mistaking my disgust for something like attraction? How could those two even be mistaken? “Look I’ve seen many guys like him. They’re all the same—they think that because they’re hot and have girls fawning over them, they can be complete jackasses. No one can be that beautiful on the outside without hiding something hideous on the inside. And he’s too striking to be even halfway decent,” I say, growing tired of the conversation. I glance at his table again, but instead of talking to the other girls like he was before; he’s looking at me. When I meet his eyes, he winks, a knowing smile on his lips.
I send him a glare before turning back around, sure that my cheeks are flaming red.
Also Available on iTunes under "The Torment of Shadows"