“You know you can stay, right?” Lexy asked, her eyes looking me over.
“I know.” I answered. “But I should get home. My foster parents might get worried.” I told her.
Despite living with them for the last 3 years, and them promising to keep me till I was 18, I couldn’t call them Mom or Dad. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them or anything. But I didn’t really trust anyone. I had burned too many times as a kid in the foster system to think things couldn’t change. But I was super grateful for the days I did get to spend with them.
She nodded in understanding and gave me a quick hug before I headed out and she closed the door behind me.
I didn’t live that far from her house, but it wasn’t a short walk either. I had walked it thousands of times since we first met. We had walked it together and I had walked it alone. There was little about this path that I didn’t know.
But to my surprise, the boys I had never seen any where near here before we’re sitting on the front porch on the corner of the street when I turned.
“Hawkins!” Jake Graening, the guy who had dumped his spaghetti all over me called out.
I rolled my eyes. I had never even noticed the house there. I just kept walking.
“Hawkins!” He called out again, jogging to catch up to me.
“Yes?” I asked, I knew I sounded annoyed, but the truth was, I was.
“Are you okay?” He asked a little breathlessly when he finally caught up.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I responded, a little harsh even to my own ears.
“I mean, I didn’t mean to run into you so many times. It’s just… Something happened when we did…”
He looked a little flustered for someone who always seemed so confident, but these were my secrets and I wasn’t ready to give them away to a stranger.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” I answered with a sigh before continuing to walk.
He looked at me confused.
“What do you mean? You felt it, right?” He asked urgently.
The vision of him on a prison floor and the dread that filled me made me shake my head so the image would leave. I couldn’t get involved. His imprisonment was not my problem.
“No.” I responded. “I have to get home. It’s late.”
“Let me walk you home then.” He grumbled.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m fine thanks.”
He just shook his head, the confident Jake the world knew was back.
“Fine, whatever you want Princess.”
And he turned around and ran back to his house where his friend was standing on the porch watching our exchange. The whole thing freaked me out enough, that as soon as I was out of their sight, I ran the rest of the way home.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of a door slamming.
“Are you awake?” Lexy pounced on me. She was breathless. She had to of run the whole way here.
“I am now,” I grumbled, rolling over and pulling the pillow over my head.
“Get up,” She stated, pulling the pillow off my face.
“You have an awful lot of energy right now.” I told her. “And you are very early.”
“I-“ She paused for dramatic affect. “Am right on time, and ready to get this show on the road.”
“You’re being ridiculous.” I told her, but she ignored me. She seemed so happy. So carefree. It made me smile. “You don’t do mornings.” I teased as I stood up. “You’re too happy. Who are you and what did you do with my best friend?”
“You know what today is,” she threw a shirt at me and a pair of jeans.
“Yes, I know. The dance tickets go on sale today, and the first 30 sold are half off.” I repeated the words she had told me a thousand times.
“Yes!” She squealed excitedly. “So we have to hurry. I can’t afford them if they go to full price.”
“Lexy, why do you even want to go?” I asked as she turned away so I could get dressed. “I would think it would be a living hell for you. If you think the hallways or the cafeteria is bad, this is going to be way worse.”
I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell she was smiling.
“That’s why we need the half off tickets,” She explained. “So if I leave early, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t spend a fortune.”
I let myself let out a chuckle. She was always thinking through these things. Her parents would give her the money for a ticket, full-priced, if she asked. It was me who couldn’t afford it without the discount. Her parents would understand if she left early, and said it was lame. But my foster parents would not. And she had answers to every question. I really didn’t want to go. But she was my best friend. I had to go if she wanted to, and this was my only option.
Lexy was happy and almost giggly the entire walk to school, and it made me happy. We chatted about the dance and what we were going to do after school. There was little stress in our lives. We were just normal teenaged girls in that moment, and it was something to be grateful for.
But when we got to school. Everything changed. The air was different.
Lexy froze and looked around. Her headphones were in her hand, and I gave her a curious look.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She tilted her head as if she was listening to something that confused her.
“There’s new voices.” She said quietly as we approached the building.
“How many?” I asked, feeling a churning in my stomach, full of unease.
“I don’t know,” She whispered back.
With that, we both walked into the building and moved as one to our lockers. We could both feel that something was off. We kept looking at each other, opening our mouths then closing them. The truth was, probably nothing was wrong. It wasn’t totally abnormal for Lexy to hear new voices if there was a new kid, especially if they were super nervous, or just in general people visiting the school. That was semi-normal. But this, this we couldn’t put our finger on it. Something was off. And Lexy’s smile had changed to a troublesome frown.
“You ready?” I asked after I grabbed everything I needed for my morning classes.
Lexy nodded, and I noticed her headphones were still out. Something that never happened. Only if she was listening for something.
We walked to our first class in silence. We were sitting there in silence as the bustle around us started to take their seats and settle in. I watched Lexy turn her head slightly. I could tell she was listening to something I couldn’t hear.
“What is it?” I asked, but she was focused in.
Suddenly, she turned around just as the bell rang to tell me something, but she stopped. I followed her eyes to the door. A new kid with blonde hair and the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen stood there, his eyes locked on Lexy.
She looked away quickly, but she mumbled, “I know him.”
And I felt my own confusion grow, but before I could ask what she was talking about, class started.
It was normal by all means that could describe normal. But the feeling of something being wrong didn’t ease with time. By the end of the class, I could tell something was very wrong.
When the bell finally rang, I realized I had been too lost in my head to really know what class had even been about. I stood up and began gathering my books, but I realized that Lexy hadn’t moved at all yet.
“Lex?” I tapped her on the shoulder. “Are you good?”
She looked at me with a slightly dazed expression as our classmates all moved out of the room.
“Something is really wrong.” She stated in a hushed voice.
She looked toward the door, as if she was questioning its existence.
“Lex, you’re scaring me,” I told her.
“Girls, is everything alright?” Our teacher Mrs. Garrison asked, giving us a weird look.
“Yes,” Lexy answered, standing up, her expression back to normal. “I was just thinking about our book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?”
Our teacher looked at us curiously. “Yes, I suppose it does Miss. Marks. But if you think about it anymore, you will be late for your next class, girls.” She chided.
Lexy gave her a smile and turned toward the door. “Have a good day, Ma’am.”
“You too.” Mrs. Garrison replied uneasily.
“What the hell was that?” I muttered when we finally got out of the classroom.
But there was no time to answer me because the new kid was walking toward us, his eyes asking a thousand questions.
“Lexy!” He exclaimed happily.
I looked at my best friend to see if she shared his same excitement, but to my surprise, she was completely ignoring him, looking the other way.
His face fell slightly, but he didn’t seem too discouraged yet.
“Come on,” He pleaded, “You can’t be that mad at me… It’s been years.”
It was a rarity to see Lexy mad, but her face showed a whole lot of anger, mixed with just a smidge of hurt.
“It’s been 6 years. You left without a word. You didn’t say goodbye. You never wrote. You never called. You just disappeared. I have 6 years’ worth of anger.” She snapped.
I understood then. This was the guy who had been her best friend before me. This was the guy she never talked about, but his picture hung in her room. And now he was here. I understood her frustration.
Then suddenly, someone grabbed my elbow and pulled me away from their conversation.
“We need to talk, Princess.”
I turned to look at the person who was moving me, only to see the angry face of Jake Graening.
“Oh, come to spill more spaghetti on me?” I taunted, trying to match his anger. “Or follow me home again?
“No.” He shook his head and looked at me like I was the one who had lost it. “You need to be careful.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. I felt as though I was being suffocated, my world felt like it was stopping.
“Just be on the look out for weird things. Something is going to happen soon, and you need to be ready.”
“Are you threatening me?” I felt outraged at the thought.
Again, he shook his head, and looked at me like I was the crazy one, but this time he added an eye roll.
“Just be careful, Princess!” He called back at me.
“Why do you keep calling me that?” I yelled after him, feeling incredibly frustrated.
He didn’t answer though. He just kept walking. I turned away from him, frustrated as the bell rung.
“We’re late.” Lexy barked as she marched toward me. I could tell she was furious about something. More than that, I could feel it.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as we walked to class.
“Everything.” She huffed as we walked in the door. “Literally, everything.”
I didn’t get a chance to answer because class had started and the only person talking was the teacher.
We were about halfway through class when the announcements started to go off.
“Teachers, please check your emails, immediately.” The voice asked.
Lexy turned toward me with a curious and worried look.
“What’s that about?” She whispered.
“I don’t know but look out the window.” I made slight gesture toward the window, and she turned to look.
“Jeez, there wasn’t a storm in the forecast today!” She exclaimed still in a whisper.
“That’s odd,” Our teacher, Mr. Sanderson muttered. “There is no email.”
This caused Lexy to look at me with wide-eyes full of panic.
“We need to get out of here.” She said under her breath.
“No. We can’t ditch,” I replied seriously.
“Annie, listen,” She sounded desperate. “Something isn’t right. I know you feel it too.”
My mind flashed back to my conversation with Jake that I had just had.
“Jake Graening told me to be careful.” I started slowly. “I wonder if this was what he meant by it.”
This didn’t ease the expression on Lexy’s face though. She looked more serious though.
“After this class, I’m leaving.” She stated. “And I think you should too.”
It was almost an ultimatum. Almost. But the bad feeling in my stomach churned. It wasn’t fair. Something was off though I couldn’t tell what. And I couldn’t let her leave alone.
And I didn’t have to wait long, or even more than a couple minutes. There was no bell that rang for the change of classes. There was no signal to move. But there was chaos in the hallway.
First, our teacher opened the door to peak out there. She heard the ruckus and she went to check, but that’s when we heard the screams.
“We can’t stay.” Lex’s eyes were big. “We are out of time.”
“What do you think will happen?”
She looked at me, her eyes showing she was scared.
“I don’t kn--”
She was cut off as a chilling voice cut through the air.
“Annabeth Hawkins!” A woman’s shrill voice called out. “Come out, come out wherever you are!”
Shock and fear ran a chill through my body.
The people left in our class looked at me, and our teacher quickly slammed the door.
Before I could even think, Lexy was pulling me toward the teacher’s desk. All eyes were still on me. She fumbled with the window, swearing under her breath. She rarely swore so I wasn’t really sure what this meant.
“Lex?” I could hear the shakiness in my voice.
She shook her head at me as she yanked the window open.
She looked over her shoulder, and I turned to see what she was looking at or for, but I saw our teacher nod at us and I realized she had been silently asking for permission. My heart swelled with appreciation for her as she grabbed my hand and pushed me through the window.
“What are you doing?” I argued as she began to close it.
She didn’t answer me. She just shook her head. I had thought she was coming with me. I had thought that we would leave together. Leave the city. Go anywhere... But she closed the window as someone yelled my name again.
And I couldn’t help but watch in horror as she walked to the door and heard her call out, “I’m Annabeth Hawkins.”
I felt like a terrible best friend, but I didn’t stick around to hear what happened next. I took off running. But where I was going was a mystery to even me.