See You In My Nightmares

Endora Lee Andrews, "Eel" to her friends, has a pesky problem: Her touch is lethal to electronics. On her eighteenth birthday, Eel meets a boy, Kannon, who literally shocks her. Soon, she discovers he shares her electrocidal tendencies. But that is not all Eel and Kannon have in common; they have both died and been given a second chance at life. The catch? Their second lives come with a price, their allegiance to the Gods of the Underworld.

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2. Chapter Two

 

Chapter Two

The chill in the air penetrated through my skin, causing even my bones to quake.  True fear took hold in the pit of my stomach, maturing into full blown terror by the time it reached my brain.  Instinct told me run.  Find Elizabeth.  Find Devon.  Find Mandy.  Find Rick and Kevin.  Find anyone.  Put as much distance between me and Kannon as possible.  My high-heeled feet wouldn’t obey.  They were anchored to the patio’s wooden beams. 

“Endora Lee,” Kannon repeated quietly and reached for me.  The sound of my name a second time broke the temporary paralysis.  I took several steps backward and twisted my ankle when one of the stilettoes caught between two slats.  Kannon advanced as if to catch me before I ended up in a sprawled heap on the patio.

“Don’t touch me,” I hissed, righting myself at the last second.  I turned and half-limped, half-ran to where Elizabeth stood by the door texting on her phone.  Her dark eyes widen with surprise when I collided with her.

“Go,” I shouted, shoving her through the doorway.  Too startled by my rare display of panic, Elizabeth went without protest.  I pushed her through the crowd, jostling people and spilling drinks in the process.  A girl in leather leggings gave me the finger while her friend yelled obscenities.  I didn’t care.  My brain was focused, my body motivated by the only thing that mattered, getting far away from Kannon. 

My ankle stung but I welcomed the pain.  The rest of my body felt numb and hollow.  I continually glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see Kannon’s chestnut curls over the sea of club goers.  I hated the part of me that was disappointed he was nowhere in sight.   

Mandy waited by The Penitentiary’s exit, arms crossed over her pink sweater and teeth chattering.  Relief shone in her eyes when she saw us approach.  “Devon went to get the car already,” she said.

I followed Mandy and Elizabeth through the door.  The entry line was still a mile long.  Joe was still checking IDs and turning away underagers.  Nothing had changed while I was inside, yet I felt as though my entire world had been turned upside down. 

How did Kannon know my name?  Was he telepathic, like the girl in those vampire books?  No, I decided, that was fiction and Kannon was very much reality.  I had the burn on my arm to prove it.  Maybe he was a stalker?  Maybe he’d seen me on line and become fixated, that was always happening in the Lifetime movies that Devon and I watched on Sundays.  That didn’t seem likely either.  After all it wasn’t like I’d posted where I was going tonight on my Facebook page.  Devon hadn’t even told me until I’d badgered it out of her. 

“Eel, are you okay?” Mandy asked uncertainly, startling me out of my reverie.  She pointed to the burn, which looked black in the dim light.  My synapses weren’t firing on all cylinders.  I blinked at her, unable to articulate a coherent thought.  No, I wasn’t alright.  I was freaking out.  I was mentally accusing a boy I’d just met of being a vampire, or worse, a stalker. 

“Was Kannon the one who hurt you?” Elizabeth asked, seeming to put two and two together.

“No.  Yes.  Sort of,” I mumbled, silently begging Devon to hurry up.  For some reason I was hesitant to tell Mandy and Elizabeth about what had happened with Kannon.  Despite being more than a little afraid of him, I also felt protective towards him.  Now I knew how Devon felt about Rick.  This was different, I told myself.  Kannon hadn’t meant to shock me.  There was no way he could’ve known that it would happen.  And if I thought about it more I would come up with a reasonable explanation for him knowing my name.

Devon swung the car around to the sidewalk, saving me from having to explain further.  “Get in,” she called, rolling down the driver’s side window.

Elizabeth and Mandy gratefully climbed into the backseat, both anxious to escape the cold.  I hesitated.  I knew that I should get into the car, but I couldn’t resist the urge to check for Kannon one last time.  I stood on tiptoes, no easy feat since my ankle was rapidly swelling.  I finally spotted Kannon wedging his way between a kid sporting guyliner and mesh shirt and a girl with more piercings than a pin cushion.  For a brief second our eyes locked.  The terror I’d felt on the patio came back tenfold, along with a desire to run to him.  Kannon’s lips parted and I imagined that he was calling my name, but he was too far away for me to know for sure.

“Eel, come on,” Devon shouted.

Despite the goosebumps covering my exposed skin, the shoe strap digging into my ankle and the inner voice telling me I should be afraid, it took every ounce of strength to turn my back on Kannon.  Devon had the heater running and the air inside the Chevy was at least twenty degrees warmer than the outside.  I continued to tremble, my hands shaking badly when I tried to fasten the seatbelt.

 “Thanks again, Joe,” Devon yelled and waved to the bouncer.

Joe looked up from the guy’s ID he was checking and gave a nod.  “Hope you had a good birthday,” he called to me.

Yeah, some birthday, I thought. 

Devon eased the Cavalier out of the parking lot, dodging drunk and stumbling people in the process.  “Find something on the radio, Eel,” she told me, her voice echoing like it was coming from a far off distance.  When I didn’t comply, Devon started fiddling with the dial.  I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, vaguely aware of the itchy fabric against the backs of my knees. 

“Do you really think your mom will call the cops?” Mandy asked nervously from the backseat.

Several seconds of awkward silence passed in the car, Beyonce’s Crazy in Love played in the background.  Devon eyed me suspiciously while trying to keep her eyes on her the highway.

“Probably.  Mrs. Andrews is sort of neurotic,” Elizabeth answered for me when it became obvious I wasn’t going weigh in.

Neurotic was an understatement.  My mom checked my cell phone while I was in the shower to see who I talked to, or at least she had before the latest one stopped working and she declined to replace it.  When she worked late a police cruiser routinely drove past the house.  I’d confronted her about the drivebys once.  Instead of denying it, she’d insisted it was for my safety and not because she didn’t trust me.

I shook my head.  Great, I thought.  First someone spills a drink on me.  Then that same someone shocks, no burns, me.  Then that same someone turns out to be a telepathic vampire stalker.  And now we were going to get arrested.  Welcome to adulthood, Endora.  Could this night be any more of a disaster?

Devon continued to shot me increasingly concerned glances out of the corner of her eye.  I tried to smile so she wouldn’t ask me if I was okay.  It came out pained.  Luckily Mandy started rambling about what an awesome time she’d had with Kevin, which distracted Devon.  While both Devon and Elizabeth normally ignored Mandy, even they couldn’t resist gossiping. 

I stared distractedly out of the passenger window, hugging my midsection as if I could hold in all thoughts and feelings trying to break free.  Nothing about Kannon made sense.  I replayed every minute of our two brief interactions, trying desperately to remember whether Devon said my name when the three of us were on the dance floor.  Even if she had, she wouldn’t have called me Endora Lee.  Devon never called me Endora Lee.  And Kannon knew my last name.  Maybe one of my friends told him my name when I stepped outside to get some air.  That had to be it, I decided, the rational part of my brain finally coming to life.  After I left the dance floor he must have come back and Devon told him my name. 

I started to ask her.  But clamped my lips shut.  What if she hadn’t?  Then I was back to the vampire stalker theory.  Tomorrow, when I was more clear-headed I would ask Devon.  If she had in fact not told Kannon my name, then we would make a list of realistic ways that he could have known it on his own.  The idea of approaching the problem logically relaxed me slightly. 

Before I knew it the city landscape was gone and we were crossing back over the Westwood County line.  I’d never been more grateful to see the modest cookie-cutter homes and uniformly cut lawns of suburbia.  It all felt so normal, making what happened with Kannon even more surreal.  By the time Devon parked in Elizabeth’s circular driveway, I’d convinced myself that I misunderstood Kannon when he spoke.  That he hadn’t said my name at all.  No matter that I couldn’t conjure a single word that rhymed with Endora.

All the lights in Elizabeth’s house were off and the door was locked. 

“Mom!  We’re home!” Elizabeth shouted after fumbling with the deadbolt for several seconds.  Mrs. Bowers didn’t answer.  “Figures,” Elizabeth mumbled.  She took off through the foyer, up the staircase, and headed for her mother’s bedroom.

I hurried to the house phone sitting on a small table to the right of the doorway and dialed my own phone number from memory.  My mother answered on the first ring.

“Endora,” she said crisply.

“Hey, mom.  We’re back at Elizabeth’s,” I told her, trying to keep my voice even so she wouldn’t pick up on the panic I still felt.

“How was the movie?” she asked, employing the tone she normally reserved when cross-examining lying witnesses.

“Bad.  You know, your typical horror movie.”  I forced a laugh.  “Well we have to get to bed.  Practice in the morning.”

“I expect you home afterwards,” Mom told me. 

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Goodnight, Endora.  Happy birthday.” 

“Night, mom,” I whispered as the dial tone filled my ear.

 I replaced the receiver and turned to find Mandy and Devon staring at me.  Devon’s baby blues softened when she asked, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.  Fine.”

“Rick and Kevin are on their way over,” Devon announced to cover the awkward silence that followed.

“What about Mrs. Bowers?” Mandy whispered loudly. 

Devon and I exchanged a knowing look.  After Mr. Bowers married Mrs. Bowers 2.0, Elizabeth’s mother turned to sleeping pills and copious amounts of Merlot to console her bruised ego.  While the affair and subsequent divorce were still town gossip, Mrs. Bowers’ coping mechanisms were not.  Mandy hadn’t been hanging out with us long enough to know that half the time Elizabeth’s mom was basically as effective a parental figure as a coma patient. 

“She’s a heavy sleeper,” I mumbled.  Technically that was true.

Elizabeth returned a moment later.  “She’s dead to the world,” she told us disgustedly. 

Mandy appeared confused, still not quite grasping the bigger picture.  I gave her warning look.  If Elizabeth thought Mandy too nosey her indifference towards the other girl would turn to hostility. 

“Hot tub?” Devon suggested.  “Rick and Kev should be here shortly.”

“I don’t feel like swimming,” I said.  I actually didn’t feel like doing anything besides crawling into bed and pretending like the night was nothing more than a bad dream.

“Come on, Eel.  It’s your birthday.  You can borrow one of my bathing suits,” Elizabeth said, turning to head back up the staircase.  “You too, Mandy, I have one that should fit.”

Devon opened the front door and stepped outside to wait for the guys while Mandy and I followed Elizabeth up the staircase and down the long hallway that led to her bedroom.  My ankle throbbed and I had to hold on to the railing to drag myself from one step to the next.  Neither of my friends seemed to notice.

French doors marked the entranceway to Elizabeth’s bedroom.  Mandy let out an audible gasp when we passed through the double doors.  A California King dominated the center of the room.  Burgundy drapes hung from the wrought iron canopy, held open with gold ties to reveal decorative pillows piled on top of a matching comforter. 

Ignoring Mandy’s gaping mouth, Elizabeth headed for the walk-in closet to the right.  She disappeared in its depths, and the sounds of her rifling through a chest of drawers drifted from within.  Mandy spun in a circle, her shoulder-length reddish-brown hair twirling behind her.

 “Green?” Elizabeth called to me when she reappeared.  Clenched in one hand was an emerald green bikini that reminded me uncomfortably of the color that ringed Kannon’s pupils.  Despite having convinced myself I’d imagined the entire conversation on the patio and that Kannon was really just some boy that happened to spill a drink on me at a bar, I froze.  I absently stroked the burn.  The skin had cooled, but tingled when I recalled his touch. 

“Earth to Endora Lee,” Elizabeth said.

My eyes darted to Elizabeth.  “What did you just call me?” I demanded, sounding frantic.

“Your name,” Elizabeth said slowly.  “Endora Lee.”

“At any point tonight did you tell anyone that my name was Endora Lee?” I asked, taking a couple of steps in Elizabeth’s direction. 

“Not that I recall.”  Elizabeth’s dark eyes clouded with worry and she retreated several paces, like I was a rabid animal about to pounce.  “What’s going on, Eel?  You have been a nutcase ever since that kid hurt you.  And what was the deal with that Kannon guy?  I’ve never seen you so freaked out.”

“Whose Kannon?” Mandy asked.

“Some guy Eel was talking to on the patio,” Elizabeth told her.

“And he hurt you?”  Mandy pointed to the spot on my arm that I was fingering tentatively.

“No, the guy that hurt Eel was on the dance floor.  Kannon was on the patio,” Elizabeth said, irritation clouding her every word.

 “Same guy,” I croaked, sounding like I’d swallowed Kermit.

“What?”  Elizabeth fixed her dark eyes on my face.

“Same guy,” I repeated.  “Kannon was the guy on the dance floor that burned me and he was the guy I was talking to on the patio.”

“He burned you?  Like with a cigarette?” Mandy asked.

“Of course not, stupid,” Elizabeth shot back harshly. 

I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t even bother to stand up for my friend.  Instead I absently muttered, “Maryland is a smoke-free state,” like that somehow explained everything.

“What happened on the patio?” Elizabeth demanded. 

“It was nothing.  I tripped and hurt my ankle and it freaked me out since we have our first game next week and practice tomorrow.”  The lie came easily to my lips. 

Elizabeth looked down and her eyes nearly bugged out of her face.  “Jesus, why didn’t you say something?  I’ll get ice.  Sit down.”

Still clutching the bathing suit, Elizabeth darted through the French doors in search of ice.  Mandy helped me sit on the edge of Elizabeth’s bed and carefully removed the heels.  I lay back on the soft comforter, throwing one arm over my eyes.

“Eel?” Mandy said my name softly.  Then I felt the bed sink under her weight as she sat down beside me.

“Yeah,” I mumbled.

“Are you sure you’re okay?  You looked scared or something just before we left.  And you were really quiet the whole way home.” 

I took several deep breaths before answering.  Mandy was just trying to be nice, a good friend, I knew that.  But I wanted everyone to stop asking me if I was okay.  The more they asked the less okay I felt. 

I sat up.  “Yeah, Mandy.  Really,” I added when she didn’t look convinced.  “I’m just worried about how Coach Peters is going to react when she sees that.”  I pointed to wear my ankle had been replaced by a cankle. 

“Here, put this on it.”  Elizabeth rushed forward with a package of frozen peas and Devon on her heels. 

“Why didn’t you say something?” Devon demanded, adjusting the pillows against the headboard so I could get comfortable.  She gently propped my hurt leg and draped the peas over it.

“It’s not a big deal.  I just want to go sleep, okay?”  I leaned back on the pillows and closed my eyes.

“Sure,” Elizabeth said slowly. 

I knew that she and Devon were having a silent conversation about me.  They were worried and both of them seemed to sense more was wrong with me than a busted ankle.

I heard my friends bustling around Elizabeth’s room, changing into bathing suits and making forced conversation.  It was what they didn’t say that bothered me most.  Elizabeth didn’t mention how upset I was after what happened with Kannon on the patio of The Penitentiary.  Devon didn’t say anything about meeting Kannon on the dance floor.  Mandy didn’t inquire further about the burn on my arm.  I should have been grateful, but I knew that just meant that they were waiting until I couldn’t hear them before they talked about my weird behavior.

“Hey, you need anything else before we go downstairs?  Want me to help you change into pajamas?” Devon asked, coming to sit next to me on the bed. 

“No, thanks,” I mumbled, not bothering opening my eyes.  The dress had dried and I suddenly didn’t have the energy to lift my eyelids let alone change my clothes.

“Okay.  I am leaving my cell on the bedside table.  Call Liz’s phone if you need us.”  I heard a soft clatter as she placed the phone on the wooden surface.  “Don’t touch it unless you have too,” Devon teased.

In addition to iPods, mobiles, and watches, cell phones weren’t safe in my clutches.  Ordinarily I would have found the joke at least somewhat amusing.  Tonight though, it reminded me of Kannon asking about my pension for wearing dead watches.  I tried to muster a smile for Devon’s benefit, but the way she placed her hand on my shoulder and didn’t move right away told me she was worried.

“I’m sure he’ll call.  If he didn’t already,” Devon whispered softly.

Call?  Why would Kannon call?  He didn’t have my number.  Besides, who said I wanted him to call.  Realization hit with the force of a mack truck.  Tears burned the backs of my closed lids.  Devon wasn’t talking about Kannon.  She was talking about my dad.  With everything that had happened that night, I somehow managed to forget about the yearly phone call. 

Devon squeezed my shoulder a second time and was gone before I could reply. 

One of my friends turned off the lights in Elizabeth’s bedroom when they left.  The room was eerily quiet and I had the urge to grab Devon’s phone and tell her to come back.  As much as I wanted to fall asleep and forget about Kannon and my absentee father, I didn’t want to be alone.  I started to reach for the cell then high-pitched giggles drifted up from Elizabeth’s back deck, and I retracted my hand.  My foul mood didn’t need to ruin the rest of the night for my friends too.  At least someone would enjoy my birthday.

I listened to my friends’ muffled voices, concentrating on hearing what they were saying to distract myself from the pain and confusion.  I was still awake two hours later when a chlorine scented Elizabeth crawled into bed next to me.  I practiced even breathing so she would think I was asleep.  Within minutes Elizabeth’s soft snores filled the room. 

When I finally managed to succumb to sleep, I wished I hadn’t.  My dreams were dark and disturbed and starred Kannon.  We were standing on a dock.  A full moon cast a hazy glow over his beautiful features, creating a halo of light around his chestnut curls.  Black water quietly lapped the wooden support beams, causing the dock to sway gently.  Spring was in full bloom and I could smell the forget-me-nots on the long hanging branches over our heads. 

Kannon stood on the end of the wooden walkway wearing a tuxedo.  He held out one hand in my direction and I moved forward to join him.  Material swished softly when I walked.  I looked down at a strapless green dress, the train of which was trailing behind me.  In one hand I held a pair of gold heels.  The wood was rough against the soles of my bare feet, but I didn’t care.  All that mattered was reaching Kannon. 

Kannon didn’t move, letting me come to him.  But as soon as I was within reach his hands closed around my waist and he pulled me to him.  When his lips touched mine I didn’t flinch at the spark that passed between us.  The kiss felt right and familiar, like it wasn’t the first we’d shared.  I threw my arms around his neck, thinking we could never be close enough. 

Kannon lifted me off the dock and spun me around in a circle.  I laughed against his mouth, thrilled by the weightlessness.  Kannon released me.  Instead of my feet finding the dock they were met with nothingness.  Suddenly I was falling much too fast.  What felt like a dozen tiny hands grabbed the hem of my dress, dragging me down.  I was too shocked to scream or cry out.  I kept my eyes locked with Kannon’s, silently begging him to say something, do something.  He stood motionless, watching me fall with emerald green eyes full of pain and remorse. 

My back hit the ice cold water with jarring force.  The hands slid over my entire body like slippery vines.  The more I struggled the tighter they held on.  Just before my head disappeared under the water’s surface I heard Kannon whisper, “I’m sorry.”

I opened my mouth to respond but fishy water washed over my tongue and poured down my throat cutting off any words I might have said.  Icy water and panic engulfed me, but instead of fighting I let the blackness take me under.

Voices blared inside my head, screaming at me to, “Wake me up before you go-go.”  I flailed my arms and bolted upright.  My heart was beating too fast.  When I tried to swallow my throat felt raw, like after my tonsillectomy in the seventh grade.  The room spun and my feet were wet. 

“Make it stop,” Elizabeth’s muffled voice groaned beside me.

It took me a minute to clear my head and remember that I was in Elizabeth’s room.  As I took in the familiar walls covered with movie posters and photographs, my pulse returned to a normal rate and I almost laughed at how scared I’d been when I first woke up.  Wham still played at max volume from somewhere across the room.

“Make it stop,” Elizabeth repeated, pounding a fist on the pillow she had her face buried in. 

I fumbled with the heavy drapes surrounding her bed, tumbling to the floor with a thud when I finally found an opening.  Searching her room for the offensive alarm clock, I spied it sitting on her desk on the other side of the room.  My feet sunk into the plush carpeting as I stumbled toward the noise.  My ankle was stiff but no longer throbbed.  The alarm clock was more high tech than mine, and it took me several agonizing seconds before I figured out how to silence the machine. 

“Practice,” I called to where Elizabeth still lay moaning, in her bed. 

“Let’s skip,” she replied, hopefully. 

“I can’t,” I retorted, already making my way to her closet to scrounge up some workout clothes.  “Remember, I’m the captain.” 

I was honored when Coach Peters chose me to be Captain of Westwood High’s Varsity Women’s lacrosse team.  But the responsibility that came with it sucked.  Saturday morning practices were partially optional.  Every girl on the team could opt out of three Saturday practices per season, except for me.  As captain, my presence was mandatory.  Yet, even if I hadn’t been captain, I would’ve never allowed myself the luxury of missing a practice; I’d been on varsity since I was a freshman and had never taken advantage of the exemption. 

“Well, el Capitan,” Elizabeth drawled from her sanctuary, “I think I’m exercising my right to miss today’s practice.”

“You can’t.  I need a ride.  Devon already called dibs on not going.”  

This marked Devon’s third missed Saturday practice, and the first game was the following Friday.  Coach Peters would be furious.  Part of me thought she made me captain in hopes I would keep Devon in line.  Like me, Devon made varsity as a freshman, and she was no doubt the better player, but she was irresponsible and lacked focus – Coach Peters’ words not mine – and therefore had been passed by for captain.  Devon was a natural at everything:  academia, sports, being popular.  She wasn’t used to losing.  While Devon assured me that she was happy I’d been selected instead of her, I knew it secretly bothered her. 

“Fiiiiiiiiine.”  Elizabeth gave an exaggerated sigh.  “Pick out some clothes for me while I take a cold shower to wake my brain.”  With that she disappeared into her bathroom and the next thing I heard was the sound of running water. 

While Elizabeth showered, I tried to recall the dream that had startled me awake.  I remembered water and nothing else.  Not that I normally remembered my dreams after waking up, except for the reoccurring one from my childhood about the green-faced witch chasing me into a cage – I loved the Wizard of Oz – but not being able to recall the details of this one bothered me.  Remembering felt important, like it somehow mattered in the grand scheme of life.

 “Sorry!” Elizabeth exclaimed, stumbling from the bathroom fifteen minutes later.   “I’m such an ass; I didn’t realize I’d been in the shower so long!”  She grabbed the clothes from my hands, too worried about being late now that she didn’t even notice me nervously chewing on my thumbnail.

Twenty minutes later Elizabeth pulled her sleek BMW into Westwood High’s jock lot.  The school was so big it needed five parking areas for all of the students, teachers, and staff.   Jock lot, as it was so aptly named, was closest to the locker rooms.  Both the junior varsity and varsity girls were already congregated on the practice field stretching. 

Elizabeth and I grabbed our sticks from the trunk and dashed across the grass to join them.

“You’re late, Andrews,” Coach Peters called as I took my place in the center of the circle next to the JV captain, a sophomore named Anna Beth Walters.

“Sorry, Coach,” I apologized, dropping my stick to the grass and mimicking the stretch Anna Beth was doing.

“You and Bowers owe me suicides on the hill,” she said pointedly, gesturing to a steep grassy slope behind the practice field. 

I caught Elizabeth’s gaze across the circle.  “I’m soooooo sorry,” she mouthed.  I shook my head to let her know it was fine.  Frequently relying on Devon for rides to practice often meant I was late.  It wasn’t the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last that Coach punished my tardiness by making me run that hill.  

Practice went as well as I could’ve hoped on barely four hours of nightmarish sleep.  During the warm-up drills I was sluggish, and dropped several easy passes.  Most of my shots on goal went wide, but since I normally played defense that wasn’t that unusual. 

Elizabeth didn’t fare much better.  She was normally one of our leading scorers, but she missed every eight meter shot she attempted.  Every time the ball sailed over the goalie’s head, Coach Peter’s jaw clenched tighter, and I knew that she was keeping a mental tally of our respective screw-ups so she could assign a corresponding number of suicides. 

In anticipation of our first game of the season, practice ended with the annual JV versus Varsity scrimmage.  I’d forgotten the tradition, until Coach Peters blew her whistle with 45 minutes left in practice.  When the realization hit me, I regretted not demanding Devon wake up and come with us.  The scrimmage would also determine the starting lineup for Friday’s game, and missing it meant Devon wouldn’t start.  I only felt marginally bad though, she was our best player, so despite not actually starting there was no way that Coach Peters would sideline her for more than several minutes at the start of each half. 

“Andrews, left d-wing,” she barked when she got to my name in the lineup.  I normally played third man, which was considerably less running than d-wing, and I got the impression she’d assigned me position as further punishment for my lateness. 

“Bowers, center,” she shouted to Elizabeth.  Center was Devon’s position.  Elizabeth froze, a water bottle midway to her mouth, she ordinarily played first home; an offensive position that entailed very little running compared to center.  The center was responsible for the entire field.  Elizabeth’s eyes pleaded for me to intervene, but Coach was already mad enough, there was no way I was going to fuel that fire.

Despite Coach Peters’ reassignment of our positions, Elizabeth and I both rose to the challenge and we beat JV easily – thank god.  If we hadn’t, I had a feeling that Coach would’ve had us run that hill until the sunset. 

“Birthday lunch, Endora?” Anna Beth called once Coach dismissed both teams.  Even though Anna Beth was a year younger, we’d gotten close over the past six weeks since our captain duties often brought us together. 

“She owes me some sprints first,” Coach Peters barked with a malicious glint in her eyes.  Great, my birthday celebration hadn’t even been that fun, and now I was going to physical pay for it.      

“Maybe next week,” I called back.  Anna Beth shot me a sympathetic smile before scurrying after her teammates. 

As I dejectedly walked to where Elizabeth was already standing with Coach Peters, I noticed our assistant coach placing bright orange cones at intervals on the grassy slope.  Elizabeth hung her head and stared at her cleats, as Peters lectured her on the merits of punctuality. 

“It’s my fault, Coach,” I said, sidling up to the two of them.  “We stayed up a little late celebrating my birthday.”  I added the last part in hopes of eliciting a little bit of sympathy from our tough as nails leader.  She didn’t so much as bat an eyelash at my excuse.  Instead, she put the silver whistle that was dangling from a lanyard around her neck to her lips, and a shrill sound mingled with the sounds of my teammates departing cars.

“GO!” she shouted to drive home the message.

Elizabeth and I sprinted for the first orange cone on the hill.  The grass was slick with residual dew, and even with our cleats we both slid when we turned to run back down.  I finished my first suicide a full thirty seconds before Elizabeth, and therefore had time to catch my breath before Coach Peters’ whistle punctured the air again.  Ten suicides later, my chest ached from all the panting, my glutes burned, and my hurt ankle throbbed painfully.  I squatted with my palms on my quads, my head dangling between my knees, and tried to catch my breath, when Elizabeth finally collapsed on the ground next to me.  Her face had a sickly green hue to it and her chest rose and fell in rapid succession.

Coach Peters brought her whistle to her lips one last time and blew.  “Don’t be late again,” she said in a tone that hit me like a bucket full of ice.  With that she turned on her heel and left the practice field, her assistant not far behind. 

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Elizabeth moaned, rolling on to her stomach. 

I grabbed her long blonde ponytail just in time to save it from the mess that projected from her mouth.  As I rubbed her back and held my breath so I wouldn’t be compelled to join her vomit party, I vowed to never be late again.

Elizabeth was so sick she insisted I drive home.  She closed her eyes and reclined the passenger seat, while I navigated our way back to her house.  When I saw Devon’s car still parked in front of Elizabeth’s front steps, my exhaustion turned to irritation.  My annoyance spiked considerably when I entered the foyer and the scent of frying bacon and cinnamon pancakes wafted from the kitchen.  When the smell hit Elizabeth’s nostrils she clamped one hand over her mouth and made a mad dash in the direction of the downstairs powder room.  I dropped our sticks in the entrance and followed my nose to where the Bower’s housekeeper/cook was preparing a breakfast feast. 

Devon, Mandy, Rick, and Kevin lounged in high backed bar stools.  Plates piled high with food and large glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice sat in front of them.

“Hey, Captain,” Devon called cheerfully, stuffing a fatty strip of bacon in her mouth and washing it down with juice. 

“Hey,” I replied coldly. 

“Tough practice?”  Mandy asked sympathetically.  Her brown hair was piled in a messy bun on top of her head and the previous night’s mascara was smudged under her eyes.

“Breakfast, dear?” Helen, the housekeeper/cook, asked before the snappy retort I’d been about to make could find its way through my clenched teeth.

“Sure, thanks, Helen,” I mumbled claiming one of the empty barstools. 

“How mad was Peters that I skipped?” Devon asked scrunching up her face in a grimace.

“She didn’t say anything, she was too busy screaming at me and Elizabeth while we ran suicides . . . on the hill,” I said pointedly. 

“Should’ve taken a pass,” Devon shot back, satisfied in her decision to play hooky.

“I couldn’t,” I hissed.  “Remember, I’m the captain . . . besides today was the scrimmage.”

“Shit,” Devon swore loudly, drawing a disapproving look from Helen.  For the first time that morning she truly looked like she felt bad for missing practice.  “Guess that means I’m not going to start, huh?” Her blue eyes grew wide with anxiety. 

Our game on Friday was against Mt. St. Mary’s, an elite all girls private school.  They weren’t in our conference, but they were really good and had been a longtime rival.  Scouts would definitely be at the game.

I sighed, resigned.  As frustrated as I was with Devon, I knew how badly she needed a scholarship.  “I’ll talk to Coach,” I promised her. 

“Thanks, Eel,” she said softly.  “I’m really sorry about this morning . . .”

“Don’t worry about it,” I dismissed her apology as Helen placed a generous helping of pancakes and extra-crispy bacon – she knew that I liked it that way – in front of me. 

“Thank you,” I gave her a grateful smile.  The food hit the spot, the breakfast quickly replacing my earlier exasperation with Devon.

After I’d satiated my hunger, I borrowed yet another change of clothes from Elizabeth’s overstuffed closet and swapped them for the soaked-through practice gear.  Elizabeth was lying in her bed, letting Helen fawn over her when I waved goodbye.

Devon must have felt really bad about missing practice and letting me and Elizabeth take the brunt of Peters’ anger, because she didn’t so much as grimace on the twenty minute drive to Mandy’s house on the outskirts of town.

“Want to come over later?” Devon asked when she’d stopped in front of my big brick house, my mother’s Saab noticeably absent from the open garage bay. 

“I don’t think I can, I’ve got a ton of homework,” I explained.  The homework excuse wasn’t a lie; I did have an AP History paper due that next week and I had yet to start. 

Devon’s face fell.  “Oh, well okay.  If you want some help, maybe I could come  over here . . .” she looked hopeful, and I hated to disappoint her. 

“Only if you promise to bring the pizza,” I responded, relenting under her big puppy dog gaze. 

Devon’s entire face lit up when she nodded vigorously promising she’d make sure Ledo’s put extra cheese and mushroom on my half.  I knew agreeing to let Devon “help” me with my history paper was a bad idea – no history or paper would get done – but when I walked into my big, empty house and found a note from my mother saying she would likely be at the office until late tonight preparing for her trial that started on Monday, I was glad I made the concession. 

The home I shared with my mother wasn’t as large or luxurious as Elizabeth’s, but it was in the wealthier section of town and expertly, if not impersonally, decorated by a professional.  We did have a housekeeper that came in twice a week, since my mother was too busy to take care of such trivial measures as cleaning.  Unfortunately she didn’t put as much stock in eating, so she refused to hire a cook, which meant I was forced to fend for myself at mealtimes.  Luckily the Holloway’s and Helen normally took pity on me and made sure I wasn’t malnourished, or worse resigned to eating fast food for three meals a day.     

Helen had taken care of breakfast, or was it lunch?  I looked at the watch Devon’s parents had given me the night before, the hands hadn’t moved from the eight and five they were stuck on when Kannon had asked me at The Penitentiary.  Kannon.  Every time I thought his name, a shiver ran the length of my spine. 

  The mornings torture, err practice, had put both Kannon and my father far from my mind.  Now, alone I had nothing to distract me from the weird boy who knew my name before I could tell him or my father missing our yearly phone call.

In the kitchen, I dropped my bags on the floor and hit the blinking light on the answering machine.  I prayed it would be my father’s voice that would speak from that machine, even though the odds of him having left a message were slimmer than Ross Perot’s chances in the 1996 election.  Of course, instead my mother’s hurried voice told me to call her at work immediately.

I picked up the cordless and wandered into the living room as I dialed my mother’s work number. 

“Evelyn Andrews,” my mother answered on the third ring.

“It’s your daughter,” I told her.

“Good, your home.  I left some money for dinner under the toaster.  It looks like I will be stuck here for a while.  I’ll call and update you periodically.”

Update was mom code for “make sure you are there.”  “I’ll be here,” I said into the phone.  I reached for the laptop sitting on the coffee table and hit the start key.

“Get your homework done – ” my mother started to lecture.

“I will,” I cut her off.  “Um, Mom?  Did anyone call for me yesterday?”  I held my breath, waiting for her answer.  Even if my father had called my mother wasn’t likely to tell me.  She was the primary reason he no longer took an active role in my life.

“No, Endora, your father didn’t call, which is a good thing since he isn’t supposed to have any contact with you,” my mother replied after a long pause.

“Okay, right, sure.  Bye.”  I hung up quickly, before I could remind my mother the moratorium on visitation only extended until my eighteen birthday.  My father was legally free to call and see me as much as he liked now.

My parent’s marriage had never been a happy one.  They fought constantly about everything.  Mostly about me though.  After an epic battle of wills that lasted well into the night, my father moved out.  I was twelve then.  Two days later he picked me up from school and said we were going on vacation.  Apparently he didn’t inform my mother.  She called out the National Guard and had my father arrested for kidnapping. 

A bitter divorced followed shortly thereafter, followed by a nasty custody battle.  In the beginning my father was given limited visitation rights.  That didn’t last long.  My mother was still a US Attorney then and convinced a judge that it wasn’t in my best interests to have contact with my father.  By the time I was thirteen my mother quit her job and we moved from our home on the edge of D.C. to the suburbs of Maryland. 

The laptop hummed to life in front of me and I waited while the internet connection was made.  I considered searching for my father online, finding a way to contact him.  But I’d tried that numerous times over the past five years without success.  After the judge had stripped him of his parental rights, my father became a ghost.  He risked my mother’s wrath once a year to call and wish me happy birthday.  He always called my cell from a blocked number and refused to give me a way to contact him. 

My cell phone, I thought brightening a little.  Dad probably tried to call my cell and it sent him to voicemail since the battery was dead and wouldn’t charge. 

 I picked up the cordless again, this time calling my own voicemail.  I typed in my access and waited. 

“You have one new message and five saved messages,” a mechanical voice informed me.  I hit one to hear my messages and crossed my fingers. 

“Please be dad, please be dad,” I chanted.

“Hey, Eel.  Happy birthday, sweetheart.  I’m sorry I missed you, but I hope you did something fun for your eighteenth.”  A fist tightened around my heart at the sound of his voice.  I clutched the phone harder so I wouldn’t miss a word.  “Listen, Eel.  I really need talk to you, as soon as possible.  Try and keep your phone nearby and charged.  I’ll try and reach you again tomorrow.” 

The strained quality in my father’s voice gave me pause.  Something was wrong and he was going to try and call back tomorrow.  Not tomorrow, today.  And my phone still didn’t work.  I swore under my breath.  I really wanted to talk to my dad.  Not only because it had been a year since I last did, but he sounded almost scared in him message.  Maybe he was in some kind of trouble? 

I dialed my voicemail again.  This time I chose the option to change my outgoing message.  After the beep I spoke in a slow deliberate tone when I said, “You have reached Endora Lee, my phone is not working so it is safe to call me at 410-545-9189 until further notice.”  I hoped my father would understand that giving him the house number and telling him it was safe to call meant my mother was not home.

Two hours later, I still had yet to start on my history paper, receive a phone call from my father, or stop obsessing about the vampire/stalker who had burned me.  Instead I was sitting on my bed dissecting every moment of the previous night like it was the fetal pig in my anatomy lab. 

Deciding my fixation was reaching the unhealthy point, I grabbed the antique style phone on my bed side table.  When I was younger I’d been enamored with all things turn of the century, so when my mother had finally decided I was responsible enough to have a telephone in my room she’d purchased me the replica.  Luckily, I knew Devon’s number by heart, which is more than I could say for just about anyone else’s.  I dialed, and cradled the headset between my ear and shoulder, counting the rings.

“Eel?” she answered on the third ring.

“Yup, it’s me,” I replied.

“What’s up?”

“Want to come over now?  My mom is at work, and . . .” I let my voice trail off.  Devon knew I hated all the alone time my mother’s extended work hours created.  Not that my mother was great company when she was home either.

“Sure,” she replied kindly.  “You ready for pizza now?”

 “Nah, we’ll get delivery later.”

“Be there soon,” she said into the phone, but then her voice became muffled.  “Rick, stop, I’m trying to talk to Eel,” she giggled, and I heard a soft thud followed by Rick’s deep laughter. 

“Are you at Rick’s?” I asked. 

Rick had an apartment he shared with his friend Bill Thompson in town.  Devon’s parents had practically forbid her to go there, but much like with any rules they imposed, it went in one ear and out the other.  I tried to avoid the apartment at all costs. 

Bill and I had a history.  Not as interesting a one as he led people to believe, unless sloppily making out the bleachers during the homecoming football game counted. 

“Yup, we were just . . . watching a movie?” she said it like it was a question, and I assumed that “watching a movie” was a euphemism for getting naked between Rick’s sheets.

“Oh well, why don’t you finish, um . . . watching your movie?” I suggested.

“Don’t worry, Eel, it’s over,” Rick yelled over the line, and I wondered if Devon had me on speaker phone, or if the volume on her cell was just up that high.

“I’ll be right over, Eel,” Devon said, and then promptly disconnected.

Right over in Devon time turned out to be two hours, her movie must’ve been really good.  When she finally barged through my front door, full of apologies and carrying an extra-large pizza, I forgave her tardiness.  Extra cheese and mushroom weren’t her only forgive me gifts, she had also brought a selection of romantic comedies from the Red Box. 

In theory the DVD vending machines were great inventions; for a dollar you could rent a movie for the night, which sure beat the $4.99 that on-demand charged, but Devon and I had a problem with the returning part of the equation.  As a consequence of our inability to do just that, I had an extensive, and extremely expensive, Blue-Ray collection.  To make matters worse, we rarely watched the movies.  Instead we favored gossiping through entire films; Devon’s father often marveled at our ability to spend so much time together and still always have a so much to say to one another.

That night was no different.  While chowing down on greasy slices of pizza and numerous cans of soda, we caught each other up on every detail the other had missed in the rare time we’d spent apart. 

“You should’ve come in the hot tub last night,” Devon mumble in between bites of pizza.  “Mandy was so drunk that she let Kevin go to third base IN THE WATER!” she punctuated each word to drive home her point – translation:  Mandy was easy. 

Of course, Devon had done much worse in that same hot tub after one of Elizabeth’s parties with Greg Crenshaw the year before.  She and Rick had been on a “break” after she’d caught him with an Arby’s drive-through girl.  But since she was my best friend, I didn’t point out the obvious double standard.  Instead, I widened my eyes to mirror her look of horror, like that was most shocking news I’d heard all day.  Gossiping was fun and all, but more than that I liked how normal having a conversation with Devon about who hooked up with whom the night before felt.

“Ewww, wait were you still in the hot tub?” I asked, comprehension dawning on me.  I might not judge Mandy for fooling around with Rick in an outdoor setting, but I certainly found her letting him go to third base while others watched icky.  Not to mention what that said about Devon.

“Oh god, no, Eel.”  Devon looked appalled at my question, which I was relieved to see.  “Kevin told me and Rick while Mandy was in the bathroom this morning.”

“He’s such a creep,” I said, guzzling from my coke can. 

“You’re the one who made out with him behind Charlie Richter’s barn,” she teased, waving her second slice of pizza in my direction.

“Please don’t remind me,” I groaned. 

That was one lesson I’d learned the hard way.  The first time I’d met Kevin, I’d thought that he was nice enough and agreed to take a walk with him.  When he’d kissed me it was nice enough, but then he shoved his hand up the front of my shirt; I slapped him across the face. 

“Well, I don’t think he’ll have to make up rumors about Mandy, I’m pretty sure they went all the way – although that isn’t exactly something to brag about,” she tapped her pointer finger against her chin, leaving a greasy fingerprint. 

“Be nice,” I scolded her.  “Mandy is nice and she means well.  She just wants people to like her.  It sucks being the new girl.  If you hadn’t come to my rescue and deigned to be my friend then I would be just like her.”  It was sort of true.  If I hadn’t met Devon in the eighth grade I doubt I would have turned out the same.  She’d introduced me to most of the friends I had.  And it was her parents who had convinced my mother Westwood was safe enough to let me go places without a chaperone.   

“No way.  You would never do it in a hot tub,” she teased.  I knew she meant it as a joke, but it stung a little.  Not that I would do it in a hot tub, I wouldn’t.  It was the reminder that I was the only virgin among my friends. 

I wasn’t exactly a newbie to the dating scene, I’d had my first boyfriend when I was six – his name was Nate Shin, and he’d chased me through our first grade classroom pulling my pigtails until I’d agreed to hold his hand.  In the second grade he gave me a paper flower for Valentine’s Day, with a note that read “Be my girlfriend?  Check yes or no.”  I checked “yes” and we officially became an item. 

For my birthday that March, he gave me a stuffed teddy bear holding a heart that read, “I love you this much.”  In return, I gave him the chicken poxes, which I’d gotten from Regina Skloven.  Later that same year, his family won nine million in the state lottery and moved to move Canada – I’m not sure if the two were actually related. 

During my third and fourth grade years, I fell in to a dating slump.  But in the fifth grade, my chest had developed enough to necessitate a training bra, instantly making me the object of affection for swarms of boys.  My overnight popularity faded just as fast as it had blossomed, as other girls began to develop. 

In the sixth grade, I played my first game of spin the bottle.  His name was Brent Phizer and he wore braces.  Brent’s mouth jewelry cut my bottom lip, which caused me to cry, the blood and tears that followed – both mine – had been humiliating, and I’d sworn off men at twelve.    

By the time high school rolled around my embarrassing spin the bottle incident was ancient history, but between sports and my mother’s refusal to let me date I didn’t have much experience with the opposite sex.  And now, the day after my eighteenth birthday, I had yet to share a meaningful kiss with a boy that I was actually dating.  I had long ago decided college would be when I finally found my soul mate, unless I met the kid from High School Musical sometime in the interim.

My fingers involuntarily went to the burn on my arm.  I rubbed the spot through the cotton of my tee-shirt.  Devon’s eyes followed my hand and her blue eyes turned stormy. 

“What happened last night, Eel?  Elizabeth told me she found you on the patio talking to the kid that burned you.  Then she said you practically bowled her over to get away from him.”

I inhaled deeply and blew out the breath slowly.  I’d known this was coming.

“Nothing happened, he just came over and we talked for a minute, then Elizabeth came over and we left.” I shrugged like it was no big deal.

“What did you talk about?” Devon prompted.

“He asked me for the time.”  I tapped the watch her parents gave me the night before, mimicking Kannon’s motions from the night before.

“The time?” Devon looked skeptical.  “I guess that’s a sure fire convo opener, I mean you kinda have to answer, right?”

“I guess so,” I said noncommittally.  

“Did you exchange names and numbers?” Devon asked narrowing her eyes on my face.  “He was super weird, Eel.  Hot, but weird.”  Devon shuttered a little like the recollection gave her the creeps. 

“No, nothing like that,” I assured her, refusing to meet her eyes. 

 “What aren’t you telling me?” Devon demanded.  “Did he hurt you again?  Because if he did, I will find him and kill him.”

I laughed out loud at the fierceness behind her words.  Devon was more into verbal assaults than physical ones.  My laughter petered out quickly, though.  How would she react when I told her he knew my name?  She was my best friend and we never kept secrets – when she’d watched a movie with Rick for the first time, she’d called me from the bathroom to fill me in on the nitty gritty details of the encounter.

I swallowed the irrational fear that had lodged in my throat.  “He knew my name,” I said quickly, staring past her to a picture of me and my mother in Aspen on the wall next to the television.

“Excuse me?” she said, her expression changing to disbelief. 

“He knew my name,” I repeated, louder this time and enunciating each word. 

“How?” she demanded.  “That’s not possible, is it?”

“So you didn’t tell him, I guess?” 

“No, I most certainly did not.”  Devon stood and started to pace and chewed her lower lip.  I’d expected her to be bothered, but not freaked out.  She didn’t speak for several minutes.  

“What are you thinking?” I asked when I couldn’t stand her pacing any longer.

“Just how sad it is that you finally meet a hot boy and he turns out to be a burning, mind reading, weirdo.”  Devon smiled and sat beside me.  “Eel, there was something not right about that kid.  He gave me the creeps.  If you seem him again, stay away.”

“See him again?  Dev, I’ve never seen him before in my life.  It’s doubtful he lives in Westwood.  And since my mother rarely lets me out of the house, I don’t think we’ll be going back to The Penitentiary any time soon.”  A part of me felt relieved as I told Devon this.  Part of me felt disappointed that the words were true.

“Still.  Just promise me you will stay away.”

“Sure, I promise.”

  


 

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