Falling in love is a lot like death. It chooses you. It decides the moment and the chain of events that will preclude the precise intersection of life in which it occurs. It uses you-treats you as though you were malleable in its warm pliable hands. It doesn't bother to ask if you want it, or need it, just fills the gaping hole of destiny's design.
Love. My world blooms with its beautiful never-ending ache. I would give all of my blood to my enemies to have it completely-if I knew it would satisfy them-if I could live without it. But I know the resolution. I know the end of the story before it ever begins. I must choose love. And for this, I will surely die.
It is that time in my life-a time for love and a time for death. Fate had intertwined the two, bereaved of any mercy. It is in the architecture of my being, the infrastructure. The pillars of my life had been established long ago-the blueprint written in my bloodlines.
A white stagnant cloud surrounds us-fog so thick it makes the world look ethereal-like a relic from some long forgotten place. Our car glides off the ferry, and my stepfather takes the keys from the porter.
Tad, my stepfather, hands him a crumpled bill in secret. Tad is the cheapest living creature on the face of the earth. I'm embarrassed to look at the porter so I begin with the business of climbing in the car.
"Skyla." My mother pulls me back. "Your sisters go first."
My sister Mia, and stepsister Melissa, both crawl into the third row of the minivan. I'm stuck with Drake, per usual, my half brother who entertains himself with bodily functions and tries to get me in on the action. He'll be a junior next month like me. My mother thought it was a sign that she and her then boyfriend had kids the same ages, plus two deceased spouses. I'm really happy for Mia since both she and Melissa are going into seventh grade together. Junior high in general is kind of scary, plus she's off my back now. Before Melissa came into our lives, Mia was constantly bugging me and getting into my things, and now it's like I don't even exist. Drake on the other hand, I'm not so thankful for. I'm already aware that his presence will effortlessly degrade my social standing.
I push in my ear-buds and lean back for the ride.
Paragon Island is off the central coast of Washington. My mother made a list of odd facts about it and stuck it to the vanity just above my desk, which isn't there anymore because everything I own has been shipped to our new residence somewhere on the west side of the island. I don't remember the laundry list of ridiculous facts, just that it's twenty-six miles in length, two high schools, two malls, and is complete with a load of freaks that specialize in the art of inbreeding. And by the use of deductive logic, some of those freaks will be my classmates-inmates-for the next two years. OK, that last one wasn't actually on the list, but factual nonetheless. Also, there's the whole deal about east side, west side, which suggests to me I should be expecting musical gang fights, and lots of girls named Maria.
I already miss my old school-old life. Not that I was super popular or anything, but it was home and it was what I was used to. No one had any real expectations of me, and I was comfortable in my nonexistent clique of girls. I also miss my dad who died two years ago, whose death is the entire reason my universe disbanded. He was the gravity that kept my sanity aligned. Without him I am adrift, without a compass and without a home.
I wipe a lone fat tear off my face and force myself to take in the landscape-row after row of skeletal trees that stretch to the sky, fog-laden roads illuminated in black and white. Something about this feels right. This is how I imagined the world right after my dad died-lonely-one solid grey scene after the next in some muted old-time movie. L.A. was always sunny, always telling the wrong story, ending with miraculous sunsets that looked like they belonged in a fairytale. It was a murky grey reality that I craved. It's like this place knows me. It knows me right through to my gossamer riddled heart.
"Is it always like this?" I pluck out an ear-bud to hear the response from my mother.
"The weather? Rains a lot, too." Mom beams her paper white teeth in my direction, her red hair fringes her face. She knows how to radiate a smile, how to pull one off even when the situation doesn't warrant it. I wish she could turn down the volume once in a while, but that would be like asking the sun to tone down its beams. Sometimes I hate how perky she is, like she doesn't miss dad-like he never existed.
"Perfect." I move my lips, don't let my voice escape.
Tad points towards a long stretch of homes. These aren't the run of the mill suburban streets that stamped out Los Angeles like a disorganized quilt. These houses sit on top of long narrow driveways, each on their own perch, nestled in a private forest of pine trees so thick you can hardly make out the structure of the home itself.
"Third one," Tad says, leaning over the steering wheel.
Now would be a great time for the airbag to deploy. I imagine his shocked expression as it explodes into his chest, knocks him backwards and breaks his neck. I can practically see the blood trickle from his nose.
"We're here!" My mother sings.
My mouth drops open as we trail up the driveway. It looks massive compared to the beach bungalow we lived in back home. A wall of windows looks out at the street below, tall double doors with a twin fixed window inset in both-one of them broken. It takes a minute of absorbing the sheer mammoth size before I realize it's nothing more than an overgrown cabin made of wood. Large fat beams run across the façade, reminding me of the Lincoln logs I used to play with in preschool.
We file out of the car, the fresh damp air hitting me in the face, fragrant with the scent of eucalyptus.
Drake emerges from the car picking at his nose, his eyes glued to the house in a daze.
I'm more than slightly mortified to be forcibly associated with him.
"Landon family?" A light female voice calls out from the fog at the bottom of the driveway.
A thin brunette with her hair pulled back in a ponytail wafts in and out of the fog like a ghost.
"Hi! I'm your neighbor." She jerks her thumb at the house next door. "Brielle." Her tiny hand jets out in my direction.
I go to shake it, but Drake sideswipes me. He over exaggerates a handshake, lets her know he's a douche bag right from the beginning.
"Skyla Messenger." I shove Drake aside with my shoulder and shake her hand like a human who actively participates in civilization. She reminds me of the army of Barbie's I used to play with as a kid, same perfect features-bright blue eyes. Except for the hair. I've got the requisite golden blonde hair that you need to survive in L.A. If you're a female and have access to a bottle of bleach you're required to go bimbo by the time you hit sixteen. Lucky for me it grows out of my head this way, blonde, long waves. I don't have a problem with frizz like my mother, so the fog and rain won't really bother me.
"Come on." Tad waves us up the stairs onto a large platform with a square picnic table sitting off to the side. A closed umbrella is spiked through the center, chock full of spider webs and badly faded on one side.
"I'll give you the tour," Brielle offers, stepping in before me.
Tad and my mother head towards the back of the house. The girls take off upstairs and fill the hollowed out house with the echoes of their laughter.
"You've been here?"
"Oh yeah, tons. My best friend used to live here." Her affect drops a notch.
"Where'd she go?"
I stop abruptly, stunned by the revelation.
"You mean you don't know?" Brielle asks, as she takes me by the hand and pulls me up the stairs at a decent clip.
"Do I want to know?" The truth is I don't want to know. I hate ghost stories by the campfire, and I don't listen to the news. I can't stand freaky things so I avoid them at all costs, that's exactly why I maintain the ability to sleep at night.
We walk down a huge hallway with yellow stained walls and cobwebs in the corner. I watch as the ghostlike tendrils of spider webs long forgotten give a gentle wave from the crevices of the tiny chandelier above.
Mia and Melissa have staked their claim to the bedroom at the far end of the hall near a set of double doors, which I assume is the master. Drake is already gassing up the one just off the stairs, so I'm left with the middle room.
"Chloe's room." The words whisper from her lips.
"Chloe's room," I echo. An icy chill penetrates my bones. I look around at the dingy rectangle with bare walls and dark-planked floors. A large bay window fills the center of the back wall. A small bench sits in its shadow. It's romantic in a scary sort of way.
"So your friend. What did she die of?" I plunk down my backpack resigned to my new surroundings.
Brielle's expression blanches out. Her sky blue eyes widen with surprise at my seemingly irresponsible oversight.
"She didn't die of anything. She was murdered."
It doesn't take long before I talk my way out of unpacking duties and ditch the haunted house for a so-called tour of Paragon Island piloted by Brielle.
The movers pull in just as we leave, relieving me of any guilt I might have felt.
"They never caught who did it," Brielle pauses, coming up for air. "Found her in a shallow grave near the base of Devil's peak. It's weird because we hang out at the overlook like every night." She shakes her head. She's got her leg up on the seat and steers the wheel with her knee for a good stretch of road. "She was right there at the bottom." Her eyes glaze over and tears start to fall. I'm too busy focusing in on her breakdown to notice we've drifted lanes. A horn blares without ceasing, shaking us both back to reality. I grab a hold of the wheel and help maneuver us into the proper lane.
"Crap!" I'm half laughing.
"Sorry." She gives a hard blink. "Here." She lifts a finger over at the bowling alley. "Let's go here."
Paragon Bowling Alley, the large neon sign blinks with all the fanfare of some D list joint off the Sunset Strip. It sits across the main thoroughfare, overlooking a jagged shoreline. The sun's dismal glow illuminates our world from behind a mass of dark clouds.
Inside, the violent flicker of light attacks my vision-subtle as a funhouse. The room opens up into arcade heaven, literally this is the name painted on a plank right above the doorway. A smattering of teenagers, mostly Goth looking guys, hunch over the blinking mechanisms making hasty stride with every jerk of their hand.
"This way!" Her voice rises up over the noise.
We walk into a well-lit expanse devoid of the sensory pollution of the entry. It looks like your average bowling alley with lanes lining the two opposing walls of the colossal structure-thick with the scent of popcorn. A giant square of a cashier's station sits to our right with a wall of shoes behind it. Every now and again you hear a set of pins knock over followed by a gasp or a scream. Not too many patrons, but then it is a Thursday afternoon in August. I suppose even the village shut-ins take a vacation now and again.
"Bree." A male voice spikes from behind.
We turn in unison. A pair of guys around our age make their way over, both tall, one with gold hair that matches my own, and one with hair the color pitch. It's the blonde that gets my attention. It feels as though the entire room has lost its light, harnessed its beauty and shifted its lust filled focus just on the two of us. I bask in his perfection, straight Roman nose, sharp almond eyes, broad chest, wide shoulders.
My mouth falls open stupidly, and I can feel the drool pooling beneath my tongue.
"Guys, this is Skyla. She's moving into Chloe's old house." She shrugs as though it were unexpected. "Skyla, these are the knuckleheads I work with, Logan and Gage." She extends her hands over them as though they were prizes.
Logan. Immediately I'm lost in his trance, like he's cast a spell on me and I can't look away. It's simultaneously the most comfortable and frightening feeling in the world. You're gorgeous, I want to say. Instead, something far more normal and garbled escapes my lips in the form of hello.
"Skyla? Gage Oliver." He takes up my hand. He has severe dimples on either side of his lips that ignite when he smiles. His eyes are the purest color blue I think I've ever seen-the color of a cobalt sea off in some unknowable part of the world. He's gorgeous and I'm perplexed that standing before me are two of the best looking guys quite possibly on the planet. Normally I would have been ripe to worship at his feet, but it's the Adonis to his left that has me spellbound.
"You have a very unique name. It's beautiful." The Adonis takes my hand away from Gage and brings it to his lips with smile. "Logan Oliver." He emphasizes his first name.
"Oh, so you're brothers?" It comes out doubtful. They look nothing alike. Or maybe they're step? Mothers marrying morons is on the rise.
"Cousins." Logan ticks his head towards Gage. "I live with them. My parents are both deceased."
The sharp sting of reality rattles me out of my lust struck stupor.
"Oh. I'm sorry. My dad died too." It's only when I look down that I notice he's still holding my hand, cradling it soft between both of his. The awkwardness of the situation comes to light and he gently replaces my hand next to my waist.
"Sorry." He gives an open pensive stare. It feels as though he's bearing right through me-like he sees me, but too much. I feel naked under his watchful supervision and it sends an errant shudder up my spine.
We reconfigure at a nearby table with Brielle next to me, and by process of elimination Logan across from her.
"So you're a junior?" Gage rasps his knuckles across the table. He's fixed on me with those blue, piercing orbs. His eyes roam all over me freely and with great intensity.
"Yup." I bob my head. "And you guys?"
"We're all juniors!" Brielle shakes my arm as though it were the most exciting news in the world.
When she touches me, I can hear her thoughts. It's an odd gift I don't bother utilizing too often. I think my mother is onto me because she bolts like a cat out of water if I dare let a hug linger. I need to have flesh contact, and I don't make it a practice of abusing my gift.
I bet they're both already in love with her. All that perfect hair, and what color are those eyes anyway? Crystal clear? Really, I hate how beautiful she is.
Her lips twist with discontent before she removes her fingers.
She hates my beauty. The thought of it brings a slight curve to my lips.
"So tell me about Chloe," I ask no one in particular.
A stunned silence fills up the tiny space around us.
Logan's face darkens. His eyes flare with an emotion I can't quite identify, something akin to anger.
Chloe may be dead, but it's clear her name still holds a great deal of power.
Cult of Personality
Turns out Chloe was the subject of much lust at West Paragon High-cheerleader, all around American girl, dated both Logan and Gage on and off-been dead a good nine months.
I blink up at the canopy above my bed. My mother had the movers replicate my old bedroom under her strict delegation of authority. She dreams of us falling in love with this rat-trap, playing the piano, and singing by a roaring fire. I think she needs an entire family transplant for something of that moronic magnitude to happen.
A slight smile plays on my lips. Already I don't want to leave. Already I'm in love with this haunted, arid island.
I dreamed of Logan. Logan on the beach, Logan at the movies, his hands racing up and down my body-crying out my name on a lonely stretch of highway.
A horn goes off in a series of short staccato beeps down in front of the house. I glance over at the alarm-nine on the button. Brielle has already managed to convince me to join the cheerleading team. Since Chloe died they've yet to fill the void. The horn goes off again as I round my legs over the bed. I ignore her impatient honking and head into the shower.
When I get out, Brielle is seated on my bed Indian style messing around with her phone. "Morning sunshine." She doesn't bother looking up.
"So Gage or Logan, which one's yours?" I try to sound cheerful like I might be joking, but I'm digging for the truth, we both know it.
I towel dry my hair in a fury like it's no big deal, like I didn't whisper I love you to him in my dreams.
"Which one do you think?" She cocks her head to the side. It comes out almost a dare.
It couldn't be Logan. What we shared was practically electric.
Her affect flattens. She pulls her lips to the side. "Neither."
"Oh." I let my towel fall to the ground and pick up my hairbrush from off the desk. "Which one are you hoping for?" I can spot a crush a mile away. If she says neither I'm going to hold her down by the wrists until I hear the truth stream through her mind.
"I don't know. I've known them all my life-kind of find them boring. I like fresh meat. Undiscovered terrain." Her eyes squint hard from the explosion of joy on her face as she points in the direction of Drake's room.
"Oh dear God, no." In a way it's a good thing because there won't be any weirdness between us, ever. Let the record show I will never challenge her for Drake's affection.
"What? He's cute."
"It's like you're cursing." My hands rise instinctively over my ears.
"Anyway, they're not seeing anybody. And when I went to work last night it was obvious they were already warring over you. Guess they like fresh meat too." She tosses her phone onto the mattress.
Fresh meat. Good thing I'm partial to carnivores.
West Paragon High sits landlocked around a fleet of tall brick businesses, and it remains an unfortunate distance from the miles of sandy shore. Another fog filled afternoon is here to greet us, and I welcome it as it kisses my face, caresses my arms and legs as we cut through it with haste. We're a good forty minutes late to practice because of my 'hygiene habit' as Brielle put it so delicately.
On the ride over, she informed me of the triune goddesses who run the team and apparently the school with their wicked charm of which no one can stand and yet everybody secretly wants to be a part of. Sounds like your typical power bitches.
"Michelle Miller, Emily Morgan, Lexy Bakova." Brielle gives a knowing look when introducing them. They have that ripped from the pages of an expensive magazine look written all over them. The set of matching scowls must be their signature mark.
"Nice to meet you." I manufacture a smile.
"Natalie Coleman, Kate Winston." Brielle concludes the introductions with a set of homelier girls with bright friendly faces.
It's uncomfortably quiet, save for a few shy hellos from the last two. The trio of wickedness glares over at me with a special brand of callousness I've yet to encounter. A horrible sense of vulnerability washes over me, and suddenly I'm self conscious of everything right down to my breathing.
"Hey!" A booming voice calls from the side.
With lightning quick strides Logan appears next to me, swooping his arm across my shoulder.
"Trying out for the team?" He's sporting a half-shirt, worn out grey sweats and has a football helmet tucked under his arm.
"Yeah, I think so." I don't tell him I'm in. That they'll give me Chloe's spot if I want it. I don't want to see his amber eyes ignite like that again. He's far more attractive than he was yesterday, and I'm not entirely sure how that can be possible. "Morning." I say as though magically we were the only two people on the field.
"Morning," he counters. His brows narrow in on me, and for the first time I see his eyes light up, wide like beautiful flames as he smiles. Animal eyes.
I keep staring and I'm gonna have a really big problem right here, right now. I hear him say.
I want to laugh at the thought. I blink back my surprise. I can feel the heat rising to my cheeks, an embarrassing shade of scarlet. I think I'm in love.
His eyes widen with pleasure.
Love? He looks right at me as he thinks it.
This time it's my eyes widening-with horror. I jump free from his grasp. My lungs expand and retract at a quickened rate.
Shit! He heard me! I heard him and he heard me.
Judging by the shocked expression on his face. He didn't expect it either.
I watch mesmerized as the trees appear and disappear in and out of the fog as Brielle races down the road. Mom was so tired, there was hardly any fight left in her when I asked if I could go to a party with Bree tonight. Mom's only concession was that I let Drake tag along. She wants him to get acclimated before school starts. She and Tad are afraid he'll have a hard time fitting in. Most likely he won't fit in anyway, primates usually don't do well at public school. But I pay the piper and issue Drake a get-out-of-the-house free card.
"Ellis Harrison is sort of a dick," Brielle says, turning down the music in her bright red Jeep.
Earlier she informed both my mother and I that he came from old money and lived in one of the biggest homes in the gated portion of town known as Paragon Estates.
She recites his name to the tower guard who lazily punches in a code. The wooden arm swings up as we glide down a mysterious winding path. You can feel the affluence just driving past the sprawling homes, each one more extravagant than the last, hiding behind the neatly trimmed bushes that nestle their borders. We follow a white bridal fence for what feels like miles as the giant eucalyptus shag their leaves into the wind. The sky glows a light purple. Even through the damp thick air you can see the crystal expanse of stars glinting above like shards of ice.
She pulls into a long stone-paved driveway that widens until it reaches a monolithic estate lit up like a jewel. A giant chandelier glitters out from the second story window just above two glass doors adorned with wrought iron. The whole place has a Spanish villa feel, equipped with an enormous three-tiered fountain in the middle of the circular driveway that sits surrounded by stone lions. It's illuminated with a pale blue glow, and it occurs to me while gazing at it dreamily, that I could never get used to living in a place as fantastic as this. I'd have to wear ball gowns to bed and pearls to breakfast. Hell, I'd probably have to eat pearls for breakfast.
"Shit," Drake hisses as we get out of the car.
The entire upper portion of the driveway is bombarded with cars. I look around suspiciously at each one within my line of vision. I'm not sure what kind of car Logan drives, or Gage for that matter. Speaking of which, I'm not particularly looking forward to seeing Logan tonight. I still haven't had the chance to properly process what happened this afternoon. He left for practice like a bat out of hell. Maybe it was my imagination? Maybe I only thought he could hear me? I'd die if he could.
Brielle leads us in through the front door without knocking. It's noisy inside. My chest picks up the bass from some rap song I don't recognize, and an army of shadows laugh and sway to the beat. I don't say anything about the music just follow the scarf of Bree's perfume into the next room illuminated by the residual light from the main entry.
It's not wall to wall bodies like the parties I've been to back home, but then those houses were the size of a shoebox and come to think of it if we shrunk this place down to that size we'd probably be wall to wall bodies too.
"Elle!" She flings her arms around a tall, good-looking guy with sandy hair and a deep dimple on his right cheek. My stomach gives a hot pinch at the sight of him. "This is Skyla!" Brielle shouts over the music. "And her brother!" She pulls Drake over and laps her arm around his waist.
He doesn't hesitate to offer me a full-blown hug. His hands ride up my back, disrupting the bra straps beneath my sweater. I can feel the heat coming off his shirt, his neck. He smells of soap and mint mouthwash.
"Ellis. Nice to meet you." He gives it all in one hot whisper directly into my ear.
Damn! She's hot.
I take a giant step back as my face burns with embarrassment.
"Look who decided to join the party?" A voice emanates from behind.
Gage slaps Brielle on the back, introducing himself to Drake by way of a high five. He looks sharp with a stark white polo that gives off an eerie glow, matches the white of his teeth and his eyes.
I pick up my hand and wave. My heart races at the thought of seeing Logan. They're a package deal, right? Living together, the bowling alley, football team...
I turn around to find him standing behind me.
"Hey." His arms are folded across his chest, and his legs are set in a defiant stance. The shadows are playing with his expression, and I can't tell whether or not he's happy to see me.
Brielle pulls him over with robust enthusiasm and introduces Drake as my brother, which makes me groan inwardly. She's blowing my plan to avoid Drake at all costs. So much for pretending I don't recognize him as a species. At least he's not picking his nose. For that I can be thankful.
Drake reaches up and scratches at the side of his nostril, giving me a mild heart attack in the process.
"You shoot pool?" Logan directs the question right at me.
"I'll break some balls with you guys." Ellis nods into his offer.
"No thanks." Logan doesn't take his eyes off me. The intensity has returned to his face. His eyes seem to have garnered the ability to steal the light from the chandelier, cast it out at the world as though it were their own.
Without a word to Brielle, I follow Logan out the French doors that lead to the side yard. The night air is perfumed with the thick scent of night blooming jasmine, a scent I remember from back home, and it leaves me feeling nostalgic. The heavy night dew deposits its dampness against my sweater, my face, with its cold ragged breath.
Logan waits for me to catch up as we hit a dirt trail leading to a barn-like structure.
"It's warm inside. I promise." He bounces his fingers against the small of my back before dropping them back to his side.
He's right. It is warm inside. He turns on a light in a kitchen the size of the one I had in L.A. In fact it looks surprisingly like a normal sized home with the exception, it's just one large room with a pool table right smack in the middle.
I run my fingers over the smooth red velvet of the pool table while Logan fishes the balls out of the pockets and rolls them out on top. I watch as he gathers them, places them into the waiting wooden triangle with great patience. He doesn't say a word, just goes about doing his task. It feels strange like there's a weirdness between us.
"So," he begins, "how long have you known?" He pushes a stick in my direction.
"Known what?" He's not talking about love, right? We literally just met and he can't read minds so the whole idea is absurd.
His head ticks to one side examining me openly.
"That I like to play pool?" I don't tell him I'm a novice at the sport. Instead, I lean in and shoot the white ball across the table and say, "Stripes."
Logan steps forward pinning me against the table. He leans in and shoots from behind my back. Heat emanates off his body as his knee presses into my thigh, and I break out in an unexpected sweat.
"Solids." His voice hums across my cheek when he says it.
I turn around and we're nose to nose. His hand comes up on the back of my neck and he holds it there softly.
Kiss me. He instructs. His eyes widen at the prospect.
I press my lips against his-soft. A small part of me tries to scramble my thoughts, erase the sweeping elation from my being, but I can't do it. I grab the back of his neck and push into him. His tongue darts around my mouth and glides across my teeth. He pushes me back onto the pool table. I can feel the balls shoot out from underneath me. My neck ignites with the pecks of his quick kisses. He pulses up to my ear with his lips before meeting me again, perfect and hungry.
Right here. Right now. I hear him purr in his thoughts.
"What?" My hands slap against his chest, as I push him off with a violent force.
"Sorry." His hands fly through the air quick as a stickup.
"I gotta go." I bolt from the pool house and into the night.
If I stayed another minute I might have said yes.
Ellis' party is still going strong.
Brielle is nowhere to be seen and suspiciously neither is Drake. The disgusting possibilities float through my mind-welcome as a school of dead fish.
"Skyla." Logan's deep voice emanates from behind as I peer into the kitchen.
I ignore him as I spy on Brielle backed up against the sink and Drake digging into her with his hands octopus style wandering quickly up and down her back.
"Seriously?" I pull back into the dim hallway, filled with disbelief.
"I think we need to talk." He shakes his head when he says it. He looks serious as though a major infraction has just occurred.
"I want to go home." The strange urge to cry infiltrates me. My knees tremble as I try to steady myself against the wall.
"Let me take you." The whites of his eyes flash through the dark. His voice is soft and gentle, almost convincing.
I follow Logan outside, afraid to hold his hand or touch him in general. If he can hear my thoughts that means the deformity that lives in me also lives in him. That it wasn't some random gift bestowed upon me and my father-that others have this, too. Or maybe I gave it to Logan like a cold or mono? Maybe I have the ability to pass it to the ones I love, or those I believe I do.
We make our way down the dark winding driveway, past the rows of expensive cars and into the great expanse of the full encompassing dark.
"Where we going?" My fingers brush up against him and this time I don't fight it. I form my hand around his because it feels natural, because I want to.
He stops short and turns to face me. His eyes press into mine as his lips give a slight curve.
I live across the street.
Can you hear me? I offer it as a test run.
"Yes." He pushes the word out with great intensity.
"Oh God." He hears me. He knows my thoughts. I wiggle out of his grasp.
Can you hear me now? I offer all the sarcastic inflection I can muster.
He pulls his cheek up on one side.
"I need to touch you," he says.
"You're just like me!" I marvel. All the anger and confusion vanishes like smoke and suddenly I'm thrilled to have found Logan.
"And you're just like me, but prettier." He bounces a quick kiss off my lips.
We continue the slow walk over to his house. It mirrors Ellis' home in width, but the styling is different, more rambling ranch than anything. The lights are all off inside, and I wait on the porch as he literally pops in and out to grab his keys and wallet. Leading me over to an oversized white truck, he helps me climb the mini stepladder to get inside. While he's making his way around, I text Drake and let him know where I'm headed.
"You really want to go home?" He starts up the truck. I can feel it shift and rumble beneath us as it roars to life.
"Not really. You wanna just drive?"
"Sure. I know just the place to take you."
"I know I'm from L.A. and stuff, so you probably think I've been everywhere and done everything, but I haven't, and I don't plan on it. I'm... " I stop shy of verbalizing the fact I'm a virgin. We've already determined I'm a freak, well, I guess we both are, but still no point in dissecting the issue.
"I'm glad you haven't been everywhere." A disarming look lights up his face. "Or done everything." He doesn't meet my eyes when he says it, just gazes out at the open road slightly catatonic.
We drive for long stretches in silence. A thicket of dark clouds have canopied themselves across the sky like an oversized umbrella. They press into Paragon hiding the moon and the stars like a cloak.
"Do you know what it is?" He asks pulling onto a gravel road then slowing down until he slides into a parking spot. The moon breaks through a crack and shines its beams down across the water.
"It's so beautiful," I say, mesmerized by the glistening reflection as it dances in an erratic line over the waves.
"So are you, but you're evading the question." He picks up my hand and nestles it in his.
Do you know why you're like this?
I shake my head. A picture of my father-his perfect smile blinks through my mind. Each time I think of him it feels as though I've fallen through some unexpected pothole.
Another picture vies for my attention. It's of a young couple, both with elation written across their faces as they hold up an infant between them.
That's me in the middle. Logan looks at me intently.
I'm sorry. My face fills with sympathy. What happened?
Car accident. So I was told. His chest rises with a dull laugh.
"I could do this with my dad." It frightens me to do this with Logan. "My mom, my sister, they can't."
"Gage can't. I don't make a habit of touching people and reading their thoughts."
"Are you?" He pulls my fingers to his lips and kisses them individually. "But you don't really know why, do you?" It comes out more a fact than a question.
"No. Will you tell me?"
He pulls me a little closer. I don't bother resisting. I want to be there, right there.
"Yes." His eyes close as his lips crush briefly against mine. "But not tonight." He continues in soft rolling waves.
I don't object.
In the afternoon when I finally manage to roll out of bed, I seek out my mother in the kitchen.
"You look like death warmed over." She plucks at my hair as I walk past her on the way to the fridge.
"Gee thanks." I pull out the O.J. and lean against the island. "You ever miss Daddy?" It comes out childlike, simple.
Her eyes widen then retract as she glances back down at her game of Sudoku. I recognize the small book she purchased at the gas station before leaving L.A.
"Only like crazy," her voice drops to a guilty whisper. It's usually an indication that Tad is somewhere in the vicinity. I hate the way my father has become some dirty little secret ever since her engagement to Tad. It's like a sin to acknowledge my father's existence. My blood begins to boil, brewing itself into a perfect hormonal rage.
"It's OK to talk about him, you know," I say it a little louder than necessary. "I wasn't exactly hatched from an egg. He put me here." The idea of my parents copulating sprints through my mind, takes my appetite out along with it.
"Nobody said you were hatched from an egg." She gives the slight hint of annoyance. "Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?"
I pick up the glass carafe in disbelief and slam it back down on the granite counter with a controlled fury.
"Do I have to get up on the wrong side of the bed to be thinking about Dad?"
"Skyla." My mother's eyes close heavy with regret.
Already we've started this train down the wrong track.
"I remember him." My voice shakes as I deliver the words at the top of my lungs. Without thinking I walk over and clutch both of my hands over her forearm. "I miss him." Tears stream down my cheeks as I wrench her arm in both directions at once. Can you hear me? Tell me if you can hear me. Explain to me what this is, because he's dead, and he can't tell me things anymore!
"Skyla!" She shrieks, trying to break free from my hold. "Tad...Tad?" She's losing her mind in an effort to wrangle away from me. Tad's right, she's going off the deep end because I never took her to therapy. What if she's doing drugs?
I let go of my grasp, panting for air. She nurses her arm, holds out her wrist tenderly as Tad the step monkey fast approaches.
"You've gone too far, Skyla." He reprimands while inspecting my mother's injuries.
My mother breaks down into heaving sobs in his arms. She murmurs something, and he shushes her, rocking her like she's some fragile freaking baby.
I don't hang out to watch the rest of the show.
I run out the front door and slam it shut. It goes off like a shotgun blast ricocheting through the virginal morning air. Birds jet out of the pine branches and fly away from the house. I watch them trek across the sky quick as a dart. I wish I could be that free.
Barefoot, with messy hair and no make-up is hardly the first impression you want to make on the parents of your new best friend. Brielle lets me in while wiping the sleep from her eyes. She takes a good look at me in my full pre-shower glory.
The house is heavy with the sweet woodsy scent of bacon. I haven't had real bacon since Tad came into our lives and declared pig-fried flesh something akin to an abomination.
A tall blonde with short-cropped hair and a friendly face peers over Brielle's shoulder.
"You must be Skyla." She puts out a slender hand, and I shake it.
"Nice to meet you," I say.
"Call me Darla. Have you eaten yet?"
"That's OK." I shake my head. Like it's not bad enough I've come to their door disheveled, I need to eat their food, too.
"I insist." Brielle threads her arm through mine. "It's not an official friendship until you break bread with me." She winks over at her mom like it's some unspoken joke.
Brielle's home is decorator perfect, all done up in shabby chic. It's covered with different toile fabrics, from curtains to the couches to throw pillows. It feels like every square inch has been gift wrapped in repeating patterns. And knick-knacks abound everywhere, yet it doesn't feel cluttered. For my personal taste I love it. I'd be in heaven if my bedroom looked exactly like this right down to the blue crystal chandelier hanging over the center of the dining room table. I think Tad and Drake would definitely feel their manhood disintegrating at light speed in an atmosphere like this.
"Your dad at work?" I ask Bree while her mother dishes up breakfast.
"Probably. They're divorced," she pauses, "I have a sister at Washington State. It's just me and my mom right now."
"That's right. Just us girls," she sings back.
I wish my mother were secure enough to live on her own. I tried to talk her out of marrying Tad. Something about him sends a chill as sharp as razors beneath my skin, but I could never put my finger on it and thus have never built an adequate case against him. She would have married him anyway. I'm the last person on the planet my mother would consult on marriage, on anything for that matter.
"You have fun at the party last night?" Brielle knocks her knee into mine beneath the table.
"Logan drove me home. Showed me the overlook." I shrug trying to ignore the fact I'm blushing ten shades of red.
"Overlook?" Darla takes a seat at the table across from us after distributing our plates. "Did he show you anything else?" She draws the words out suggestively.
My gaze drops to the table. What does she mean? Like body parts, or landscape? Maybe Brielle has one of those 'special' moms that talk to their daughters about sex like it's natural as breathing when you're sixteen. I'm pretty certain I'd never in a million years want a mom like that. The thought of my mother talking to me about sex makes me want to stab my eyes out with a fork, gouge even deeper and scramble my brains to prevent the conversation from ever happening.
"He showed me Ellis Harrison's pool house. It looks like a barn." It comes out unnatural as though I were lying.
Darla explodes into a fit of wild cackles. She picks up her plate and heads out of the room.
"A barn! Is that what they're calling it?" She cries through laughter.
"She's gone." Brielle shakes her head in disgust. Maybe she doesn't appreciate a 'cool' mom either.
"So, anyway, that's what happened. How was your night?"
"Freaking awesome." She takes a sip of her drink while batting her eyes.
"I hope it was freaking awesome because you had a good time for reasons other than count Drakeula." It's not my fault he's comes equipped with sharp pointy teeth, that and the fact I'm not above name-calling.
"Count Drakeula can suck my blood anytime he wishes." She bats her lashes faster than before. Even with her crumbling mascara from the previous night, her eyes still look disturbingly perfect.
"You know I'm more than grossed out by this. You should go for Gage. He's like a Greek god or something."
She shrugs. "Been there done that. Besides, he was talking about you last night. It doesn't faze him at all that Logan practically staked his claim."
"Me?" Something deep inside me purrs at the thought of Gage the claim jumper interested in me. I've never been the center of attention before, and for sure not from boys of this caliber. "It's hard to believe they don't already have girlfriends."
"They really haven't gone out with anyone since Chloe. They took her death pretty hard. We all did." The smile bleeds off her face. She traces the rim of her glass with her fingertip in a slow circular motion as tears wobble inside her lids.
There's so much I want to know about Chloe.
"Tell me all about her. I really want to know."
... continued ...