Hiiii. Uh, warning because drug use/underage drinking in this chapter? Hashtag gotta love high school.
Ever since I turned twelve, I've dreamed almost incessantly. Puberty, freezing time, and an obscene amount of dreaming seemed to come all at once for me. You can imagine how delightful my middle school years were.
Most of my dreams were about freezing. I would imagine myself taking a drive to the beach and being the only person there to enjoy the view. Of course, my not-dreaming self knew that cars and electronics didn't work in frozen time, but dream me was happy to pretend. Eventually the dreams ventured to me freezing for strange reasons—to save a life, to stop a wreck, to steal something. I've never been comfortable with the idea of freezing, even for petty things like my English paper, so the situations have are alarming to wake from.
I wake up sometime far too early in the morning and look at the clock. 4:07. I stare at it and it doesn't faze me for a few minutes until I realize it's still 4:07. A frustrated groan fills the noiseless space and I look up at the fan. It's still. I close my eyes and breath and unfreeze.
By my count, this is the fourth time this has ever happened. Freezing in my sleep has only been a problem when I've frozen the day before. It's unnerving, but I remember the dream I was having and realize it isn't that far of a stretch.
I'm not tired. Given my nap the day before, it isn't surprising. Staring at the ceiling fan can only entertain me for so long and around 5:30 I force myself up and into the shower. I'm ready an hour later, but I still have another one before I have to leave. Coffee sounds like a good idea to me and at 6:45 I'm scribbling a note to my still-sleeping parents, saying that I left early. Usually they get up around seven, Dad getting ready for classes and Mom going over her appointments for the day.
At the gas station, I park and see a few sleepy students that I vaguely recognize pumping gas. Inside, I fill up my medium sized coffee cup, shove a handful of vanilla creamer in my jacket pocket, and find a place behind a few people in the check out line. I grab a bag of M&M's for myself when I get to the front of the line and, as an afterthought, grab Destiny and Martin one. They're the kind of people who surprise you with Dairy Queen when they know you have had a bad night, or buy you a cute shirt just because—in Destiny's words—"it came in your size and not mine!" They're great friends, and I know I'm not a bad one, but sometimes I can feel shitty when in comparison. Buying them candy sometimes helps to compensate.
After paying, I still have thirty minutes before the time I usually get to school. I stall for a moment outside of my car, sipping my coffee and staring at the cars and trucks passing by, en route to wherever their morning routine may take them. I remember swinging the day before and slide back into my car.
The park is completely empty, but I guess that's fairly normal for seven in the morning. There's a frail-looking lady in jogging clothes speed walking up and down the sidewalk and the occasional person coming outside to grab their newspaper. My car is on the street, beside the lamppost, and my coffee is between my hands, warming them. It isn't cold, but the air has an Autumn morning chill, accompanied by dewy grass and a too-bright sunrise.
My phone vibrates and I remove it from my pocket. It's Destiny, asking about a party tonight and if I want to go. And I do; I really want nothing more than something that will make me forget about freezing. I hate that I hate it, but I would willingly pass it on to anyone, even if they didn't want it.
Apparently I'm occupied by my cell phone for longer than it feels, because just as I'm firing off a final text to Destiny, a throat clearing to my left startles me.
I have never been a particularly anxious or uneasy person, but being on edge for nearly twenty-four hours seems to have morphed me into one. I clutch my coffee a touch tighter and breath a sigh of relief when I realize the person looks seemingly innocent. A guy, older than me—maybe even older than Patrick—is standing a reasonable distance away, holding the bar that supports one side of the swing set. There's something just vaguely familiar about him. I don't have time to place what it is before he speaks.
"Is this swing taken?" he asks, and there's something so wonderfully proper and strange about the words and the way he says them. What if you were young and a kid rushed up to the swing beside you? You're expecting them to wordlessly plop down and start swinging back and forth, but what if they stopped to inquire about the swings' availability? I wonder for a brief moment if there's a child out there who has already been instilled with the manners and respectfulness to ask for permission on playgrounds, the same way an adult would when out in public.
His eyes are wide and I realize I've left his question dangling in the space between us.
"Yeah, of course," I say, but I stand. "I was just leaving anyway."
"No," he says quickly, too quickly. I raise an eyebrow at him, take a sip of my coffee, and wait for more of his words. He touches a hand to the back of his neck, then looks me in the eye. "I mean, you don't have to go. I'll leave if you don't feel comfortable."
The question is at the tip of my tongue before I can stop it. "Should I feel uncomfortable?" I don't, at least not yet. He's acting too awkward to make me feel like I have anything to be worried about.
He shakes his head. "Absolutely not. I'm unarmed, I promise."
I laugh, but he doesn't, and I'm left feeling like the awkward one. I thought maybe he was making a semi-attempt at flirting with me, but I remember that it's seven in the morning, we're on a swing set, and he's a good few years older than me. Not exactly typical grounds for trying to get a girl's number.
"Sorry," I say, but I don't know what I'm apologizing for. "I really do have to get to school though—" I realize this is too much information if this guy is, in fact, a psychopath "–so the swing set is all yours."
"Oh." He looks like he wants to say more, but he doesn't, and I've never felt more confused by a person. "Okay. Well, uh. I'll see you?"
I blink. "Um. Maybe."
I gracelessly stomp over to my car, avoiding muddy spots formed from where it had rained the night before. When I start the car, I allow myself to look back over at him for a moment.
He's seated in the swing I vacated, hands holding the chains on either side of him. I notice his clothes—tan corduroy jacket, black T-shirt, and light colored jeans that fit just a bit too loose. It's familiar, as is his hair that's buzzed so short that I can only assume it would be a brownish color if grown out. He's tall and he's lean and he's normal looking, but I know from briefly talking to him that normal is not an entirely accurate assessment.
"Maybe he's one of Patrick's friends," Destiny suggests, popping a green M&M into her mouth. "Or he's a pedophile. Regardless, I say we were smart to avoid the park today and come to McDonalds. It's Friday. Let's be hellions."
"In agreement," Martin says, nodding and tipping the pack of M&M's back, devouring a good portion. "What if he's, like, a drug dealer? His behavior sounds suspiciously drug dealer-esque, Emery. Maybe he was dropping all the normal hints and you just weren't picking up what he was putting down since, you know, you don't snort cocaine. Maybe ‘is this swing taken?’ is a code."
"For?" I ask, staring at the road ahead of us. We're in Martin's Jeep and there's a pile of fries on the console that we need to finish, along with the M&M's, before we get back to school.
"For ‘I've got the crystal meth we discussed via coded text message last night.’ I don't know? Seems plausible."
"Totally plausible," Destiny agrees, reaching for a fry.
"So, I'm confused. Was he a cocaine dealer or are we gravitating towards the crystal meth?" I flick my gaze between the two of them.
"I'm actually getting a strong inclination that he was just trying to sell you some pot. Call it a sixth sense, but he may have been more harmless than you suspected," Martin says, shrugging and then winking at me in the rear view mirror.
"Your assumptions about fabricated drug dealers are one of the many reasons why I love you," Destiny sighs, sarcasm thick in her voice as she puts an emotion-laden hand to her heart.
"And you guys' ability to turn a perhaps serious situation into a sarcasm-filled car ride is the very reason why you're my best friends," I say.
Destiny looks at me, grinning, in the space between her headrest and the seat. "It's our job and we take it seriously."
I smile, tip my head back, and let a peaceful easy feeling sneak up on me.
I'm feeling more than just a little peaceful and easy hours later, after school, when Destiny, Martin, and I have been at Katie Wescott's party for a couple of hours. It's almost eleven and I'm a comfortable type of buzzed after two drinks and a shot that somebody thrust into my hand the moment I walked through the door, while Destiny is verging on hammered and Martin is just giggling. He's stoned. None of us smoke or drink very much—we pride ourselves on being "good kids" most of the time—, but when we do, I tend to get silly and Destiny and Martin tend to get affectionate. Towards each other, that is.
I leave them more-than-just-cuddling on a couch in Katie's living room and go to the kitchen. It's packed with people—some younger than me, some older than me. The kitchen table is being used for beer pong, although I'm ninety percent sure they're just using water and taking shots whenever they get the inkling to. People are hoarding their alcohol, guys clinging to a case of beer that they've brought and claimed. Girls are acting s.lutty and desperate, even the pretty ones. It's cliche and I can't even be totally sure I'm enjoying myself, but it's so typically high school that I can't deny the comforting normalcy of it all.
"Hey, Emery," a voice behind me says, and I spin around to see Colton.
"Colton!" I say, grinning. I fling myself at him, wrapping my arms around his neck, and now I look like every other desperate girl in the room. I take a step back.
Colton Fields has been my something ever since I can remember. We met back in elementary school and he liked to throw rocks at me during recess, up until one day in the fourth grade when he kissed me beside the monkey bars on a dare. In middle school, there was an awkward phase where I was taller than him and his voice cracked a lot, but then in eighth grade he got cute again. We "dated"—meaning our parents took us to movies and we held hands in the school hallway. We lost connection after middle school and I hardly saw a glimpse of him during the ninth grade. Somewhere around the beginning of my sophomore year, he got a car and asked me out. We were together for most of the year, threw a lot of "firsts" out of the window together, and then broke up during the summer.
Ever since, we've maintained a friendship that Destiny and Martin like to call me out on from time to time. It's not at all as strange as they think it is. We get along at school, still text occasionally, and when we're both bored enough at parties, we like to hook up. Simple as that.
"You're here with someone?" he asks, standing too close to me.
I nod, then realize what he's asking and reroute. "Well, with Destiny and Martin."
"They're still together?" Colton asks. I can smell beer on his breath and pot on his clothes. It's a terrible combination and even tipsy me doesn't find it very appealing. I step back a little, bumping into the side of the fridge.
"Over three years now," I say in lieu of just saying "yes." I like to brag about Martin and Destiny, even if they're currently off doing things I wouldn't even speak of.
"Damn. That's insane. Did you ever think they'd stay together this long?" he asks.
"To be honest, no. But I'm also their biggest fan. I came up with their couple name last year, you know? Started calling them Mestiny. Really caught on their for a few class periods," I say.
"Why not Dartin?"
"Because Dartin sounds like a verb and people can't be verbs, Colton."
"I forget how smart you are, Emery."
He flirts with me for a few more minutes and I know that I'm not going to go off somewhere with him. I'm not drunk or bored enough, but it's funny to watch him try. Feeling like this, like a normal, albeit slightly inebriated girl being hit on is so unsurprising. There's nothing I like more than being unsurprised.
"So, do you want to—"
"No," I say before he can finish. He looks dejected, but then nods and shrugs his acceptance.
"I actually sort of brought a girl," he admits, and he has the decency to look somewhat sheepish. "But I lost her half an hour ago. Have you seen Amber Shelton?"
"Making out with Jordan Neese on the back porch." I raise an eyebrow at him and he chuckles instead of looking disappointed.
"Yeah. Whaaaata b.itch."
We talk in a much more friendly manner than before for a few minutes until I spot Destiny and Martin walking into the kitchen, holding hands. Every other couple is wrapped up in one another, gazes and hands wandering, and I smile a little at the simplicity of their joined fingers. Sure, I know they were all over each other just minutes before, but they can go from that to this in three, two, one. I excuse myself from Colton and walk over to where Martin is taking a hit off a blunt someone offered him.
"You need to stop," I whisper as inconspicuously as I can into his ear. "You're supposed to drive. And I have to be home at 12:30."
"You can't drive?" he asks, a desperate look on his face as someone offers him another hit. Why do stoners love to share? He shakes his head at the blunt. "Des and I were actually thinking about spending the night. She doesn't wanna go home. And plus... I'm slightly wasted."
"Martin," I groan, but this isn't that unexpected. Both of their parents are a lot more relaxed than mine. Sometimes I'm jealous of the fact, but sometimes I wonder what the hell their Mom's and Dad's are thinking. "...I can probably just walk. It's only like a fifteen minute walk."
Suburban living has it's upsides, but they sure don't feel like upsides when you're talking about walking home half-drunk in the dark.
"You shouldn't have to do that. Isn't there someone here sober enough who could drive you?" He glances around, then shakes his head. "Yeah, okay. There's not. Could you call Patrick?"
"I think he was going to a bonfire outside of town tonight." I try to smile at Martin. "Really, it's fine. We live in Blakeshire, not the East side from The Outsiders.
I'll be fine."
"Whoa, you just took me back to seventh grade English class, Emery," Destiny, who up until this point I had thought was too drunk and thus too unfocused to talk, says. Her hands make their way up to my hair and this is how I know she's really drunk: when she starts twirling her fingers through random strands of my hair and telling me how "touch-ie-ball" and "so so soft" it is, is how I know she's past-the-point-of-no-return-wasted.
"You sure?" Martin asks, ignoring his girlfriend.
I hang out for another thirty minutes, but decide to head out a little before twelve with a promise to Martin that I'll text him when I get home, even though I could stay a little longer. The thought of being around so many drunk people when I'm not getting anymore intoxicated isn't all that appealing.
There are cars parked on the road and people inside of them doing God only knows. Other than the excess of cars and light around the house, the music isn't loud enough to be heard once I'm at the sidewalk. Regardless, I still think Katie Wescott must have some low-maintenance neighbors if not a single one has complained.
"Need a ride?"
I glance at the car packed full of what I can only assume are stoners. I'm five feet away and the smell of marijuana is penetrating even from a distance.
"No, thanks." I give them a weak wave and continue walking down the sidewalk. I glance back warily when they start the car, but relax when they drive past me. It's pointless for me to even be concerned.
It's silly for Martin and Destiny to have to worry about me making it home. If anything did happen—say, a lunatic murderer leaped out of the bushes and threatened my life—all I would have to do is calm down, freeze time, and walk away. Just walk away. It's as sickeningly easy as that. Whereas anyone else would have been wrapped with fear, I wouldn't be. With freezing comes fearlessness and with fearlessness comes a lack of human emotion.
I let my thoughts take over for my feet. They carry me the rest of the way home.
I wake up sometime during the night thinking about a tan corduroy jacket and a wrinkled sheet of paper with my neatly written name on it. There's an instant connection between the two followed by an immediate sense of recognition. And I know who the man from the park is.
***Weird man from park! High school parties! Normal ex-boyfriend! Haha. Colton is a reoccurring character here, so his introduction into the story here is actually very vital. Tell me what you think about chaptaaa three!