Chapter 1 Present
My clammy hand grasps the knob of the door leading in to Baylor High. I try to calm my beating heart by remembering the breathing technique I taught myself.
In and out. In and out.
I open the door and immediately feel the stares. I look down at my white sneakers. Every stare seems to burn a hole in my skin. Skin that always feels dirty no matter how much I scrub till it’s red and raw.
I can never seem to get the feeling of his hands on my waist, my throat, or the inside of my thighs to go away. It’s like a tattoo: once it is on your skin there’s no way to remove it.
I will myself to put one foot in front of the other as the whispers fill the air around me. The urge to turn around and run back outside grips me hard but I won’t give in.
“She’s so weird.”
“Why did she dye her hair black?”
“She’s such a freak”
“What happened to her?”
The whispers hit me from all sides.
The idea to dye my hair to black was last minute. It was the only thing I thought I’d be able to get away with without worrying my parents too much. I would have switched my wardrobe to all black clothes but knew my parents would have wondered if I had turned to the dark side.
Less wondering led to fewer questions. Questions I am not ready to answer.
I quicken my footsteps and pull my hood up to block out all the whispers from students standing at their lockers, huddling in groups staring. I refuse to break down in front of them, but I wish more than anything that the floor beneath me would open and swallow me whole. My eyes stay downcast as I move through the halls.
This school is where I used to be happy. Where I used to walk the halls smiling. Halls that always seemed to be smiling back when the sun came through the windows.
Now, I feel like they are closing in around me. Nothing is the same anymore. A blanket was thrown over everything, making it dark and depressing.
Remembering where my homeroom was last year, I follow the familiar twists and turns of the halls.
As I reach for the door handle of my homeroom and start to breathe a sigh of relief, pulling my hood down, a slimy voice freezes me in my tracks. “Clearwater!” Pure dread washes over me, making me break out in a cold sweat.
His smug tone sends shivers down my spine and my left hand drops to my side, clenching in a fist. My right hand squeezes the backpack strap slung over my right shoulder.
“Guess we have homeroom together, huh? Should be a fun year.” His self-satisfied voice washes over me, making my thoughts come to a screeching halt.
He is right behind me now, and I can feel his hot breath tickling my neck where it isn’t covered by hair. The horrible sensation breaks me free and I jerk away, glancing up from my feet just in time to see his perfectly white teeth flash in a victorious knowing grin as he pushes by me into the classroom. When his shoulder grazes mine a wave of nausea hits me.
Since that night, I haven’t been able to eat much, so the small amount of breakfast I was able to get down this morning lurches toward the surface of my mouth. I clench my teeth shut as I back out of the doorway and bolt for the nearest bathroom.
I barely have enough time to shut the stall door before this morning’s French toast hits the toilet water. When I know for sure there is nothing left, and the heaving has stopped, I sit down on the floor not even caring how filthy it is. I bring my knees up to my chest and drop my head to them as tears trail down my cheeks.
My body shakes uncontrollably as my emotions consume me. For weeks I told myself that I would have the courage and the strength to face school when it began again. I mentally kicked myself for thinking I wouldn’t see him this year. Being in the same grade and going to the same school, I was bound to run in to him.
Baylor High has eight buildings, and they all are connected in one big circle. Eight buildings, over a thousand students, and I thought I would never have to see him again.
The images I long to forget force their way to the front of my mind.
A hand around my throat.
Another hand working to undo the belt on my jeans.
Hot breath hitting my cheek as he whispers, “After tonight you won’t ever forget me.”
How long I sit there on the bathroom floor, lost in the memories that won’t leave me alone; I’m not sure. I’m trying to stop the tears that keep wanting to fall no matter what I do, I am pulled from the nightmare when I hear the bathroom door open. I freeze, trying not to make a sound as I see a pair of yellow shoes walk in, turn, and stop outside my stall.
From the voice I can tell it is a girl, and not a hall monitor checking for skippers. I expect her to continue going about her business, but to my dismay and horror, I watch as her knees hit the floor in front of me, and gentle light brown eyes that are covered by big, rounded glasses connect with my dark blue ones.
“Hi…” She stares up at me. “I came in to get out of homeroom. Do they leave the air off or something? It was so stuffy I couldn’t take it. You should come out so we both aren’t sitting on this disgusting floor,” she says to me.
I stare at her as she talks so freely looking under a stall door like she does it often.
She smiles then stands up. I can see her shoes pointing at me as she waits patiently for me to come out. Reluctantly, I get up off the floor, and flush the toilet, watching as my stomach contents swirl around before they are finally sucked down. For just a second I stand there wishing I could be sucked down with them.
I brush the tears away that still cling to my cheeks then slowly open the door to face the girl standing on the other side.
Her short, brown hair barely skims her shoulders, and worn, blue jeans with a faded Rascal Flatts t-shirt make her look like is very comfortable with school. Behind her big rim glasses her eyes sparkle, and her uneven teeth smile at me, pretending she doesn’t notice my red nose and *******, tear-streaked face.
She reaches her hand out to me. “I’m Anna. You?”
My eyes scan her hand noticing they are chalk white, with nails that look like they are chewed on constantly.
She clears her throat; I look up in time to see her eyes dart to the side. She starts shifting from one foot to the other, and her smile is fading but her hand stays midair, waiting for me to take it.
As soon as I do, I feel the warmth of her hand as it wraps around mine in a gentle grip. I look up again at her face to find her eyes back on mine. They are gentle, and friendly.
My voice is barely above a whisper as I say, “Paige…”
Anna nods and turns around, walking to the mirror above the white sink. She moves her hands through her hair, sighs, then reaches into her jeans pocket, and pulls out a scrunchie. “I cut my hair too short,” she says as she tries to pull it into a ponytail. “I’ve regretted it ever since. Now I can’t even put it up.”
After two more attempts of failing miserably, Anna shoves the scrunchie back in her pocket, turns around, and looks me up and down curiously.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
I’ve been watching with my mouth open slightly, in awe. I bite my bottom lip, caught off guard by her question, and look at my sneakers not answering her.
I hear the school bell ring overhead, dismissing homeroom, and then the sound of fast-moving feet with students talking at high volume. Feeling dazed, I hadn’t realized that I had been in the bathroom for so long and start to feel guilty about not having been in homeroom for the first day of school. I wonder how much trouble I’m going to be in.
Girls start entering the bathroom, making it too loud to talk, so Anna grabs my hand, and pulls me out to the hall. It’s not any better out here.
“What’s your next class?” she shouts over the noise of the voices in the hallway.
Wordlessly, I pull my schedule from the front pocket of my backpack, and slowly hand it over. Her eyes skim the paper, and she smiles even wider. “Cool! The only classes we don’t have together are homeroom, and sixth period history class. I’m new here too, so I’m not sure where to go either. We can find the classes together, and that way neither of us will look like chickens with our heads cut off,” she says, laughing at her own joke.
I realize Anna probably thought I was crying in the bathroom because it was my first day, and she is trying to help me feel at ease.
I can’t help but crack a small smile but it’s only for a second, and Anna doesn’t even notice because her eyes are still focused on my schedule.
“Let me just go get my stuff from my homeroom, and we can make our way to the next class,” she says, handing back my schedule before walking away.
I wait for her leaning against the lockers as the other students pass by. Not wanting to catch anyone’s eye I stare at my sneakers again.
“I’m back! Let’s go,” Anna’s cheerful voice says.
I look up from my shoes to see her walking toward the stairs that lead to the next floor. Instead of looking down at my shoes, I stare at Anna’s back, and follow her.
I try to think of nothing, but glimpses of last year flitter through my mind, and I wish I could go back to before everything changed. I wish I listened to the warning signs that flashed in my head when he smiled at me for the first time, and like many times after.
I wish I had never crossed paths with the monster who is slowly destroying my soul one piece at a time.