a vampire cure for forever

This. A Vampire Cure for Forever

You can read portions of eleven (of 71 total) chapters of This. right here, which gives you a general idea about the book, but of course can not fully convey the steady crescendo of action, depth, and suspense that grows steadily as the story moves along!

Chapter One: What You Don't Know

Maybe you think you know how this world works. Maybe you think you know what will happen to you tomorrow, next year, and the decade after that.

I did. I thought I knew. I was wrong.

Here's what I thought would happen: I would finish school, start college, fall in love with a handsome young man with bright eyes and nice arms, marry, raise brilliant, talented children, chance upon my fifteen minutes of fame by appearing on television for some charity work or saving a stranger's life from choking at a restaurant, endure a few romantically melancholy days, then enjoy happiness ranging from gentle and calm contentment to rapturous and tearful joy all the others. In between all that, I would discover the secret to contentment, the wisdom to understand why all this makes life perfectly satisfactory.

Now the thought of such simplicity makes me laugh out loud.

But if not for a surprising series of events during my junior year at Timpanogos High School, I may have continued with those naive expectations for the rest of my life.

These events seemed unremarkable at first, beginning when I woke up in class one afternoon, and weeks passed before I realized how dramatically my life changed when I opened my eyes.

I'll show you. I'll tell you what led up to that moment and all the breathtaking experiences that have followed since, though it's far from over.

I should probably tell you a few things about myself. I may as well get it over with. I've been dying to tell someone, but I can't. I can't tell my parents. Or my friends. Or even strangers who might know someone who I know.

So I'll tell you.

You're safe. You don't know me and we'll probably never meet. Anyway, you probably won't believe me, which is perfect. Don't. Just listen and let me get this out. I'll start with the basics.

My name is Kayla Porter. I'm seventeen and a junior at Timpanogos High School. I'm not a total brain, but not stupid either. I'm 5' 4" with a reasonably nice figure. I have red hair and dark emerald-green eyes.

I live in a beautiful valley in the Rocky Mountains. Jagged and majestic peaks rise seven thousand feet above the valley floor, and a seven-mile wide lake shatters the sunlight into a million shimmering diamonds before sunset.

...

Someday, I'm going to figure out exactly what it's made of. Someday, I'm going to discover who I really am.

Then, someday, I'm going to die. Probably. Hopefully. I haven't quite decided yet.

Wait. Forget I said that. I can't jump straight to the end of the story or it won't make any sense.

As I was saying, if you think you know what happens next, you're wrong. You don't.

Life is not what you think. It's a big world out there filled to overflowing with unforeseeable possibilities. Anything can happen. You don't know what will happen until it already has - you can't even judge the significance of a common, unremarkable event until long after it has passed you by.

By the way, you know what they say about "what you don't know"? Well, they're wrong.

What you don't know can most certainly hurt you.

Or save you.

Chapter 4: Men in Black

I hadn't slept long when a noise snapped me back from dreamland. At least I thought I heard something. All I knew for sure was that I lay facing the wall, my heart was pounding hard in my chest, and I felt paralyzed by fear in the still-dark room.

I held my breath, straining my ears for any sound. The night breeze rustled the leaves outside my bedroom window. They sounded strangely loud. Was the window open?

No, that was impossible. I was being ridiculous. I was imagining things. The loudest sound in my ears was my pounding heart. I had let my imagination get the best of me again!

Finally I allowed my throat to open and the air came rushing in, filling the vacuum in my lungs and making more noise than I expected.

"I told you she was awake," said a calm voice from the center of the room.

My heart broke into a sprint and I stifled a scream as I sat up and spun around to face the voice. My breath caught in my throat when I saw two men dressed in black standing at my bedside.

I pulled the blankets up to my chin as if they could protect me from these frightening strangers. No matter how I tried, I couldn't suck a full breath of air into my starving lungs.

"Take her," one said, then turned and strode into the hall as the second man reached out toward me.

"Get away from me!" I shrieked as loudly as my constricted throat would allow. The man grabbed my wrist and pulled me from under my covers. I screamed again and tried to squirm out of his strong grip. I kicked at his torso as he pulled me closer and closer. I aimed my tiny fists at his face, but he wrapped his arms around my waist, pinning my arms to my sides. I felt small and weak in his grasp.

"There's no need to get upset," he assured me in a deep, rough voice which did nothing to reassure me. "I promise, no harm will come to you."

The man lifted me from my bed and began carrying me into the hall. He pinned my body against his. I couldn't move my arms or my legs above the knee. My face pressed against the thick, cool leather of his jacket and his long hair tickled my face.

Without even thinking, I took the only defensive action left to me. I bit his neck as hard as I could. The salty taste of warm blood sprang into my mouth and I spit it out, along with the coarse hair I had bit through.

At first the man seemed shocked and pushed me away from him. I tried to free my arms and scratch at his eyes, but he still held me firmly. As the surprise melted away from his face, he laughed, then spun me around and held me facing forward. Now I was truly helpless.

Then a piercing scream rang out from down the hall. It sounded like Mom.

"Mom!!" I screamed. "Dad!! Heeelllp! Help meee!"

The man carried me into the hall and there I saw the first man holding Mom, one arm around her arms and waist, and his other hand covering her mouth. Her eyes grew even more frantic when she saw me being carried toward her.

Dad came running out of the bedroom into the hallway then, and the man grabbed him by the throat and lifted him into the air. Dad's feet kicked wildly at him but he was as helpless as the rest of us. I could barely make out what was going on in the dark house.

The first man held my parents still and nodded his head to one side, indicating for the second man in black to carry me past them.

"Please, Mom, don't let them take me!" I screamed, utterly terrified, as the man carried me by. Hot tears streamed down my face and blurred my vision. But as I was carried past my Mom, I saw.

I saw her eyes.

She was not my Mom.

She was my Mother.

5 Nightmares

I woke up breathing hard. Cold sweat soaked my pajamas. My arms and legs were twisted up tightly in cherry-colored blankets and pink sheets. I had no idea how long I spent tossing and turning during the night. Another nightmare.

I turned toward my dresser and watched my clock turn from 5:59 to 6:00 a.m. Time to get up. I would probably feel more rested if I had just stayed awake all night.

I tried to roll out of bed and nearly tripped on the sheets wrapped around my legs. I walked to the shower with my eyes half closed, trying to salvage the last possible moments of rest before my day began in earnest.

At least the night was over. At least I wouldn't have to endure any more nightmares for the rest of the day.

"Good morning, Sunshine," Dad said as I made my way downstairs for breakfast. "Another bad night?" he added as he saw my droopy eyelids and the exhaustion apparent in my step.

I nodded and he walked across the dining room and hugged me. I let his arms wrap around me and I collapsed against him. "You know I'd never let anything happen to you," he said to the top of my head.

"I know, Dad," I said into his arm. "They're only dreams."

It felt good to be loved. It felt good to be cared for and worried over. It felt good to know that my life was perfectly secure and happy and really the only serious problems I ever faced were lack of sleep and being tortured by my impossible crush on Ethan.

When I was younger, my parents sent me to a counselor to talk about my nightmares. After a couple sessions, it was decided that the dreams were simply the result of feeling abandoned by my biological parents at the time of my adoption, eleven years ago now.

I was six at the time and I have not seen my birth parents since. I call them 'Father' and 'Mother,' while the parents I live with are 'Mom' and 'Dad.'

I know nothing about the conditions of my adoption. About why my birth parents gave me up. About who they are or where they live or if they ever wonder about me. It doesn't really matter. That was a long time ago. I chose a long time ago to just let it go and live in the present. There's nothing I could do about it anyway, it was a closed adoption and I have no way to track them down.

I scarcely remember anything about Father and Mother now. Mostly just their faces. I have the nightmares to thank for that, for searing their faces into my memory. I can also thank the nightmares for the exercise I get in my sleep, judging from the condition of my sheets and blankets and my pounding heart when I finally wake up.

The counselor's diagnosis did nothing to stop the dreams, but it made my parents become even more loving and concerned and attentive since then. Maybe they thought I missed my birth parents. Maybe they worried they weren't good enough parents to me. Maybe they just loved me and hated to watch me suffer from the dreams now and then.

In a way, the extra care backfired. It emphasized the fact that I was different. That I came from somewhere else. That I had been a stranger until they signed a piece of paper and relocated me to this new house. It made me feel like a guest in my own home when all I really longed for was to be taken for granted.

Sometimes I would look at my family's blonde hair and blue eyes that contrasted so sharply with my red hair and green eyes, and an old Sesame Street song would pop into my head. "One of these things is not like the other...."

For my part, I did my best to be a good daughter. I studied hard, helped around the house, and tried to please them. I felt happy with my life and could only assume that everything had turned out for the best.

"You gonna be okay?" my dad asked, stroking the back of my head.

"Of course, Dad," I answered. Sometimes I felt like my parents needed as much reassurance that I loved them, that I felt happy in their home, and that I would never leave them, as they thought I needed from them.

I took a deep breath and dad let me go.

My seven-year-old brother Joey walked downstairs and gave me a hug. He never talked much, but his big blue eyes seemed to look around and take everything in. I sometimes wondered what he was thinking.

"Good morning, little brother," I said, waiting for him to let go, which always took a while.

Mom and Dad drilled us with the typical questions about school assignments and friends while we ate breakfast until Joey had to leave to catch the school bus.

"Gotta go," I said as I carried my bowl to the sink. "Love you."

Mom gave me a quick hug and Dad winked at me from his place at the table. "Stay out of trouble," he added with a smile. I grabbed my school pack and headed outside to my car.

6 Zombie

I managed to stay awake in class all morning long. I didn't get much from my teachers' lessons, but at least I didn't make a fool of myself by falling asleep.

I went through the lunch line and made my way to my usual table with my three best friends. Beth was my locker buddy, had shoulder-length blonde hair, a happy smile, and bright green eyes, but not a whole lot of brains behind them. Sorry, I know that was cruel to say of a best friend, but in a way, it was good for her and me. See, her simple view of life made her an unflinching optimist. If I ever had a bad day, she made it her solemn mission to talk a smile back onto my face. I loved her for that.

Krissa was the polar opposite. Brown eyes and brilliant, with a casual toss of her dark-brown hair, her cynical assessment of the tiniest detail could prove without a shadow of a doubt that everyone is evil, nothing ever works out for the best, and life is bad and barely worth living. The ironic thing is that she found this endlessly amusing and her observations often made me laugh.

Jill was the quiet one. At 5' 2", she was the shortest one of the group and had dirty-blonde hair. She smiled at Beth's optimism, rolled her ice-blue eyes at Krissa's cynicism, and now and then said something so profound that we wondered what went on inside her head the rest of the time.

"You look beat," Krissa pointed out as I sat down with my lunch tray.

"You look beautiful," corrected Beth. "But tired, too."

Jill simply made eye contact and gave me a faintly sympathetic smile.

"Couldn't sleep?" Krissa asked. I nodded. "I told you boys are bad. Love is the worst thing that could happen to you, unless maybe on the weekend when you can sleep in."

"Are you ever going to talk to him?" Beth asked. "I swear, if you just walked up to him and said hello, he would be hooked. And lined and sinkered, too."

"Well it certainly won't be today," I answered, stealing a glance across the room to where Ethan sat with his friends. "I look like a zombie."

"Oh, you do not!" Beth scolded. Krissa rolled her eyes and even Jill gave a half-smile, half-grimace that said I didn't look my best today. "Well, a beautiful zombie, then."

"Anyway," I explained, "that's not the only reason I'm wiped out."

"Not another nightmare!" Beth declared with a look of such concern that she seemed to be playing an exaggerated caricature of herself.

"At least I'll sleep really soundly tonight, right?" I said with a shrug.

"That's right!" Beth agreed. "That's the spirit."

"You should stash some weapons in your dreams," Krissa suggested. "So you'll be ready next time the creeps show up. A pistol under your pillow, a grenade or two in your fuzzy bunny slippers, and a chainsaw in the closet to finish the job."

"That's disgusting!" Beth objected.

"A small price for peace of mind and a good night's rest," Krissa explained. I finished the good parts of my lunch while they talked, then pushed my tray away, folded my arms on the table, and lay my head on them.

"Sweet dreams," Jill said. "We'll wake you up in time for class."

7 Detention

My brief nap made me feel more tired and groggy rather than rested. I walked along the right side of the hallways to my locker and class to hide the bright red mark my arm had left on my cheek.

Mr. Robbins seemed to be in a pissy mood, which grew worse when he found out most of the class hadn't finished today's reading assignment. The lively discussion he had envisioned vanished in a sea of blank stares when he posed his questions.

My eyelids struggled to stay open as he launched into a lecture instead. Every time he turned to write on the board, I let them close, paying careful attention to open them again whenever his speech shifted from writing speed to normal speaking speed.

"Miss Porter?" Mr. Robbins asked, waking me from a dream where I had been riding a zebra bareback across the African Serengeti plain. I was shocked to find him standing right in front of my desk.

"I, I'm sorry," I stuttered, "what was the question?"

"That's it!!!" exclaimed Mr. Robbins. "I'm sending you to the office."

"But Mr. Robbins!" I began to object. I was a good student! I had done my reading! I had never been sent to the office before.

"If you can't pay attention in class," Mr. Robbins interrupted as he scribbled out a slip and handed it to me, "then perhaps you can get your work done in detention."

"But...!" I began again.

"Nope," he cut me off with a satisfied grin. "No buts."

"Good afternoon, Miss Porter," said the attendance secretary, Mrs. Miltner, as I stepped into the office. "May I help you?" I handed her my detention slip and a concerned frown crossed her face. "I fell asleep in class," I explained, which instantly erased her frown and restored her pleasant expression.

"Mr. Robbins likes to make examples of students," she said understandably. "I won't put this on your record."

The secretary showed me to the tiny cubicles in the back of the office where detention did its best to create the impression of solitary confinement. Each desk sat separated by three walls. Each student faced his or her own miniature dead end, with the implied message that they might as well get used to it if they didn't shape up.

"Well if it isn't Miss Goody Two Shoes," said Mitch Craven as the secretary left me at my desk. He had light brown hair, pale green eyes, and was probably the toughest boy in school, picking fights whenever possible and only channelling his physical talents in a positive direction when playing rugby, where I heard his aggressive nature intimidated even his own teammates.

"No talking, Mitch!" the secretary instructed as she walked away.

Mitch waited till she was out of ear shot and spoke to me again. "Whatchu in for? Get caught cheating? Inciting rebellion? Mass murder?" I turned my head and glanced at Mitch. I wasn't sure if looking at other prisoners was forbidden, too. "What are you in for?" I asked.

"All of the above," he answered, then laughed at his cleverness.

"Seriously," he continued, "now that you're a troublemaker like me, maybe we should go out for a burger after school."

"I'm not a troublemaker," I objected, though surprised that he would ask me out. I wasn't sure whether I should feel flattered or not. "I fell asleep in class."

"So you're a slacker! I wouldn't have guessed that about you."

"I'm not a slacker," I protested again. "I just didn't get much sleep last night."

Mitch raised one eyebrow curiously. "What were you doing out all night, young lady?"

"I wasn't out all night! I just couldn't sleep."

Mitch paused, a blank expression lingering on his face. "Well that's not very fun," he finally said.

After that, Mitch left me alone. He glanced down the hall to make sure the coast was clear and pulled an Ipod from his pocket. Soon I faintly heard the heavy drumbeat of whatever music he was listening to. I opened my English textbook to try to get some of tomorrow's reading assignment finished.

I had to read and comment on five poems, but caught myself reading the same sentence over and over with no comprehension. I decided to give up and just sleep.

Just as I closed my book, Mrs. Miltner returned with another student. She was thin and pretty with long dark hair and eyes to match. She sat down at the desk next to me.

"Yo, Melissa!" Mitch said as soon as Mrs. Miltner had gone.

"No talking!" said the secretary from half way down the hall. "You know the rules, Mitch."

"Yes, Mrs. Miltner."

Mitch waited longer this time. "Yo, Melis!" he repeated. "It's good to see your body here!"

"Shut up, Meat Head," Melissa answered. "I'm trying not to induce any suicidal thoughts today."

"Oooh!" Mitch groaned in mock pain. "That's a good one!" I couldn't help but smile.

"Come on, Melissaaa," Mitch tried again. "You know you want me!"

"Oh, great!" Melissa said disappointedly. "I failed already."

"Come on," Mitch insisted. "You and me could make something real good."

"Sure, I could make really good sense, and you could make real good tank fodder."

"What's tank fodder?" Mitch asked.

"It's a military term. It means you could stand in the way of oncoming tanks."

"Yeah, I could do that," Mitch agreed, flexing his muscles proudly as if they could stop a tank.

"Wow, look at that muscle! I've never seen anything quite like it!"

"These mighty guns could be yours, you know. Just say the word."

"No, I meant the muscle inside your head."

Mitch paused, not quite knowing how to take that or come back from it. "You know you want me, Melissa," he finally asserted again. "Your brother told me all about the way you constantly obsess over me during practice. So as soon as you're ready to stop pretending you're not madly in love with me," he paused and winked at her. "Just say the word."

"I promise," she assured him. "As soon as I'm ready, you'll be the first to know."

Melissa pulled her phone from her bag and plugged a set of earbuds in just as Mrs. Miltner walked through to check on us.

"I'll take those," she said, holding out a hand to each student. Mitch and Melissa reluctantly handed her their contraband electronics. "You can have these back when detention is over."

"Psst! Hey Melissa!" Mitch whispered after Mrs. Miltner left again. Melissa ignored him and read her book. "Your brother says we'd make a cute couple. How about it?"

"My brother did NOT say that. You and my brother would NOT make a cute couple!"

"No, I mean you and me."

"Oh, that's even worse. Go away."

"No talking back there!" shouted Mrs. Miltner.

"Psst! Hey Melissa!" Mitch whispered again.

"Shh!" Melissa answered and ignored him, then turned to me. "What are you reading?"

"Um, poetry."

"Do you like it?" she asked.

"Some of it's really good," I said. "Some's just okay."

"Read me your favorite," she requested.

"Okay." I felt awkward but fought the feeling back as I opened my book to a dog-eared page and began to read:


"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both,
and be one traveler, long I stood,
and looked down one as far as I could,
to where it bent in the undergrowth.
"Then took the other, just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim,
for it was grassy and wanted wear,
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same."
"Both paths that morning equally lay
In leaves not step had trodden black.
Oh, I'd save the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubt that I shall ever go back.
"I shall be telling this with a sigh,
somewhere ages and ages hence.
Two roads diverged in a wood and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference."

"I know it's kind of cliche' to like Frost," I said.

"Not at all," she disagreed. "Just because everyone else does doesn't make him any less perfect."

I closed the book and Melissa nodded with a faint smile on her lips.

"I wish everything we said was as beautiful as poetry."

"I am Sam," Mitch said. I had forgotten he was there. "Sam I am. Do you like green eggs and ham?"

Melissa and I both laughed but neither of us looked at him. I sensed Mitch struggling to remember the next line and wishing he had paid more attention in first grade.

"Hey Melissa!" Mitch tried again.

"Be QUIET!" Melissa insisted. "You're going to get our detention extended again!"

"How come you're talking to Miss Goody Two Shoes then?"

"Oh, so you CAN count," I retorted. "I underestimated you. I apologize."

Melissa smiled at me and looked pleased with my comeback.

"Shut yer pie hole, you!" Mitch said menacingly.

"How dare you speak to my best friend that way?!" Melissa hissed more viciously than I could have imagined from such a thin, pretty girl.

"I'm sorry," Mitch backpedaled politely, "you know I didn't really mean that. I mean, I meant, would you like some pie?"

At that, Melissa burst out laughing uncontrollably. By the time Mrs. Miltner stepped into view, tears streamed down her face and I couldn't help laughing along with her.

"Very well," Mrs. Miltner said indignantly. "Thirty minutes extra detention for all three of you!"

8 Ride

By the time detention ended, school was out and the building had emptied of students. I dropped by my locker, packed up my homework for the night, and headed toward the student parking lot.

I found Melissa outside sitting on the grass.

"Hi," I offered.

"Hi," she smiled back.

"Do you need a ride?"

"No, thanks. My brother's coming for me."

I tried to guess who her brother could be. Clearly he was one of Mitch's friends and a rugby player, based on Mitch's comments about talking during practice. Having a jock for a sibling would also explain Melissa's quick-witted banter.

I pictured a boy who looked like Melissa with a slight frame and dark hair and eyes. Jessie, I think was his name. He seemed quiet, though I couldn't tell if he was shy or not. All I could really say about him was that he didn't speak up much in class and the only interest I had observed in him was sports.

"Want to keep me company for a minute?"

"Sure!" I dropped my pack on the grass and sat down next to her.

I liked Melissa. It wasn't just her quick wit, self assurance, and the mental plane we seemed to click on. She had something different about her. She seemed uncommonly alive. Audacious. She said what she really thought and didn't worry about any repercussions. I wished I knew how to be so bold.

"You like my brother, don't you?"

"No!" I said emphatically, then felt embarrassed for sounding so adamant about it. Was she just teasing? Or was she trying to set us up because she liked me? She should know better than that! Wasn't her brother just another meat head like Mitch?

"Puh-lease, Kayla. You can be honest with me. Why don't you talk to him?"

"Is Jessie your brother?" I asked, still slightly repulsed.

At that, Melissa burst out laughing again. She laughed so hard that a tear sprang from her eye. "I'd like to think I came from a different gene pool than that!"

Just as I was about to ask who her brother was, a car locked its brakes and skidded to a stop at the curb. The door opened and Ethan hopped out. He left his door hanging wide open and walked energetically down the sidewalk toward us.

"Heya, Melis," he said, a broad smile spreading across his face. Melissa stood up and walked toward him. They threw their arms around each other and Ethan lifted her off the ground and spun her around once. "Have fun in detention?"

"I always do," she replied.

My breath caught in my throat. Was Ethan Melissa's brother? Or were they dating? I couldn't tell whether I had just witnessed a sibling hug or something more.

I needed to breathe, but my throat wouldn't open to let the air inside.

"Ethan," Melissa said, turning to me, "this is Kayla. Kayla, Ethan."

Ethan reached out his hand toward me and I put mine inside and let his fingers close firmly around it. I wanted to memorize this moment. I wanted to remember this sensation forever. The warmth of his skin. The firmness of his muscles.

"Pleasure to meet you, Kayla," he said, looking down at me with a dazzling smile. I felt the blood rush to my face and I couldn't make my voice work to respond.

"Kayla was my relief from the tension in detention today," Melissa explained.

"Another troublemaker, eh?" Ethan asked with a smile.

"Hardly," Melissa countered. "She has expert sarcasm, but I've never seen her in detention before. Was that your first time?"

"Yes," I answered, finally able to speak. "Mr. Robbins was extra cranky today and he took it out on me."

"Do you need a ride home?" Ethan offered.

"No, thanks," I declined, pointing to a lone Honda Civic left in the student lot, then mentally kicked myself for not accepting! "I'm parked over there." Stupid, stupid, stupid! I chided myself. I could have spent more time with Ethan! He would know where I lived! I would have gladly walked back to school to pick up my car!

"Well it was a pleasure to meet you," Ethan said with a slight nod as I got to my feet.

"Likewise," I was able to respond this time.

Melissa turned and gave me a knowing smile as she walked toward the car. I had no idea how she knew about my crush, but there was no sense denying it now.

Six weeks later, Ethan would invite me to live forever.

9 Timid

"You look better today," Beth told me at lunch the next day.

"So you admit she looked worse yesterday?" Krissa inquired. Beth returned a withering look that seemed to say 'You're incorrigible!'

I saw Melissa enter the cafeteria and waved her over when I caught her eye. She waved back and got in the lunch line.

"Do you know her?" Beth asked, looking surprised.

"Yes," I answered. "We met yesterday."

Beth looked a bit concerned. "You know she's...." She paused and I raised an eyebrow. "She's not like us," Beth finally concluded.

"Yeah," Krissa added, who seemed to enjoy Beth's concern rather than share it, "she's a wild child."

"Well I think she's cool," I said.

"Would that have anything to do with her being Ethan's sister?" Krissa asked. I smiled happily at the reminder but didn't answer.

"Just be careful who you choose for friends," Beth advised. "I heard she parties."

"I heard she jaywalks!" Krissa added dramatically.

"How did you meet her, anyway?" Beth inquired, a hint of concern still written on her face.

"In detention," I answered, and nearly laughed when Beth's jaw dropped open in surprise.

"Reaaalllly," stated Krissa slowly. "And how, exactly, did you happen to find yourself there?" Even Jill's usually-blank expression showed some curiosity.

"I fell asleep in Robbins' class."

Beth look relieved.

"Did you snore?" Krissa asked, clearly hoping for something more interesting. "Did you snort?"

Melissa arrived just then and pulled an extra chair over from another table. "Hi, guys," she said with friendly confidence. I introduced everyone and we talked about common friends and classes while we ate.

"Are you gonna talk to my brother now that you've met him?" Melissa asked out of the blue.

"Um, sure," I said as nonchalantly as possible with a little shrug of my shoulder.

"Good," Melissa said.

After a brief pause, Beth asked what all three friends were thinking. "You met Ethan?" I nodded. "How did it go?"

"It wasn't a big deal," I told them. I wanted to make up an elaborate story like that I said hi and he stopped and stared into my eyes for a moment then asked my name and if I was new around here because he had never noticed me before and then invited me for a motorcycle ride up the canyon and that we had taken the curvy road up to the Squaw Peak overlook and I had to wrap my arms around his waist and hold on so tight and how I could feel his stomach muscles as he breathed and how we stopped and sat on the low stone wall and stared out over the city lights and he held my hand in his and we talked and laughed until we cried and then he drew his face closer and closer to mine, so close that I could feel his hot breath on my lips...but not with Melissa there. "We met. He shook my hand."

"It's a start," said Melissa.

"It's about time," said Jill. When Jill said it, I knew I had been daydreaming about Ethan for far too long without doing anything about it.

I suddenly grew aware of what a timid little life I had lived for as long as I could remember. I always dreamed big and did...nothing. I felt regret and a tinge of shame.

"How did you know..." I began to ask Melissa.

"That you like him?" she finished for me. "I've seen the way you look at him." I blushed a little. I didn't know I was so obvious. "Lots of girls look at him," Melissa continued. "Don't worry," she added, seeing the extra pink in my cheeks. "He's clueless. All boys are clueless."

I understood that if I didn't do something about my daydreams, they would never come true. It scared me to think of taking the initiative when it came to Ethan, but the thought of doing nothing and letting another opportunity slip by left a sour spot in the pit of my stomach.

I had to do something about it. I had to act, and act fast before I changed my mind or lost my nerve. I didn't allow myself the comfortable safety of thinking it over and making a plan. I seized on the first idea that came to mind and put it immediately into action.

Lunch wouldn't last much longer. If I didn't act fast, I would lose my chance. I excused myself abruptly, carried my tray to the counter, and walked out of the cafeteria, making sure to go out the door near where Ethan and his friends were just finishing lunch.

"Hi Ethan," I said casually.

"Hi Kayla!" he answered with his typical friendly enthusiasm that had attracted my attention in the first place. He reached out a hand and I took it and squeezed his fingers gently for just a moment as I passed.

Once in the hallway, I had to stop and steady myself against a wall. Had I really just done that?? Was that really me?

That's the new me, I thought. No more timid little life. Never again. I hope.

10 Split Second

Life happens one split second at a time. Usually, you just don't notice. Seconds blend into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into decades, centuries, millennia and eternity.

None of that changes the fact that the seconds are what matter most.

Sometimes you can identify one that made all the difference. You can point your finger and shout, "That's it! That's the one! Right there!"

I know I can. It was the moment I woke up with Mr. Robbins standing in front of me, waiting for a sacrificial student to send to detention and make an example of.

That second changed everything.

Up until then, my life moved along a predictable path, a direct course to the mundane destiny that had always waited straight out ahead of me.

But after that split second, everything changed. Everything turned new. Unpredictable. Exciting, thrilling, wonderful. Terrifying, confusing, painful.

There's no use asking which way I preferred. The split second came and went and I no longer had a choice.

Detention was the best thing that ever happened to me.

And the worst.

11 BFF

"Hi," I said as Melissa walked up to my locker the next day.

"Hey," she replied. "Come over tonight for a movie."

I paused momentarily and smiled. "Okay!"

"Ridge Road," she said. "Seventh house on the left. Dinner starts at six."

"I'll be there!" I assured her. "Thanks!"

Melissa smiled and walked away.

I liked her. I liked her better than I had ever liked another girl. I liked her casual confidence. I liked her directness and openness. I liked her friendliness and generosity. Part of me wanted to be just like her, but that was impossible. I would have to be content to enjoy being around her. To watch her and admire her and laugh with her.

She had long dark hair, dark chocolate-brown eyes that glowed with intelligence and life, light skin, gentle but sharply-defined features, and a voice that was at once soft and strong.

I think I knew already that Melissa was my new best friend. Or would be soon. I could never have guessed how significantly that friendship would shape my life. Not in a million years.

In hindsight, in retrospect, speaking from a few months down the road, I think I understand her.

The main thing is that she was smart. Too smart to play the games most people spend their whole lives on: petty insecurities and jealousies, tiny dreams and safe ambition, masks that hide the true, vulnerable, frightened self; selfish love, and frustration when expectations don't come through.

Without such games to take up her time, all that remained was herself, and she offered no excuses or apologies for exploring, discovering, and enjoying her true nature.

To some, that made her a rebel. To some, anyone who didn't follow the rules - both written and unwritten - was rebellious, out of control, disrespectful, and dangerous.

But she was not a rebel. Rebels define themselves by what they're not. Melissa never did this. She never thought "I am not like my parents!" or like her teachers or other authority figures or fashionable role models. She never felt the need to break free of family ties to prove her independence. She never felt compelled to prove her individuality to anyone the way so many people do.

She dressed her own way, it's true, but not to prove anything. She simply dressed as she felt comfortable. She read what she wanted, thought what she wanted, said what she wanted.

For the most part, did what she wanted, but she never did it to "show" anybody.

She was different. She was unique. She was alive. She was true to herself. Maybe that's how I can be like her. Maybe I can figure out who I really am and be that with integrity.

As for getting in trouble, for occasionally talking back to teachers when she disagreed with their point of view or methods, for getting sent to detention now and then, I think she was just bored.

Bored of the rules and routine. Bored in advance at the 80 years already stretched out ahead of her in which she would graduate from high school, go to college, work, marry, raise children and grand children, save up for a vacation to Hawaii, and then die.

She wanted to break free. She wanted her life to matter more than just that. She wanted to experience life and understand it. Feel it. See it clearly.

She dabbled in drugs and alcohol for a little while, but found them unsatisfying. She didn't enjoy the experience and didn't consider them "exploration" as some others do. She considered them escapes from reality, and reality is where the only lasting satisfaction can happen. "Anything that doesn't last holds no meaning," she once told me.

She also saw what became of those who dove into drinking and drugs body and soul. Their lives became nothing. Entire weekends got erased with nothing to show for them.

So she quit cold turkey and never looked back.

Her old friends, however - the sober ones - never forgot. They now considered Melissa to be a party girl, and never looked at her as one of them again.

Melissa decided that was fine with her. They were boring anyway, with their insipid talk about holding hands with boys, new shoes and purses, movie stars, the latest bands, etc. They had bought into the pop cultural identity and their role as consumers hook, line and sinker.

They would get educated, work, marry, raise children, and die and it would never dawn on them that other than a little fun here, a morsel of love there, and fleeting moments of deeper insight and actualization, their lives had meant nothing at all.

From then on, she began exploring people.

She was fearless. She would strike up conversations with anyone who seemed different and interesting. Anyone who seemed to know who they were and what they wanted. Anyone who seemed real.

Everyone liked her immediately but few seemed to keep her interest for long. The moment she satisfied her curiosity that they were no more genuine or ambitious or interesting than everyone else, she dismissed herself.

For all her openness, she also held back so much, saving it up inside, keeping it to herself, waiting for the right moment to send all her thoughts and feelings spilling out, waiting for someone who would understand and appreciate them. Waiting for a soul mate who was capable of seeing her clearly all the way down to her core, and loving her for it.

That's what I think about Melissa now. Back then, in the beginning, all I knew was that I liked her.

12 I Want to Live

I showed up at six o'clock on the dot.

I rang the doorbell and heard Melissa shout, "Come in!" I opened the door and hesitantly walked inside. The sound of conversation guided me toward the back of the house where I found Melissa sitting at the table while Ethan set out silverware and their parents put finishing touches on a few dishes on the kitchen counter.

"Sit here," Melissa directed, tapping the table next to her. "I hope you're hungry."

"Hello, Kayla," Mrs. Clayton said as she carried a platter of fried chicken to the table. She looked just as I imagined her, with wavy brown hair and intelligent dark eyes. "I hope you're not vegetarian."

"She looks too healthy to be vegetarian," said Mr. Clayton, holding a basket of hot rolls in one hand and a casserole in the other. His short blond hair and green eyes didn't match the rest of the family, but his eyes danced with the same lively spark.

"Bob, be polite," Mrs. Clayton directed.

"That was a compliment," Mr. Clayton defended.

"I'm not," I interjected before they could argue over me any more. "I'm not vegetarian."

"Oh, good," said Mrs. Clayton, "because you will love my chicken recipe."

"She's not vegetarian," Melissa said, "she's vegan."

Mrs. Clayton paused as she set the chicken in front of me and there was a momentary awkward silence before I shook my head "No."

"Good," Mrs. Clayton said again. "Then I won't have to lie and tell you this chicken is made of tofu."

Everyone laughed and sat down. Mr. Clayton prayed over the meal and we all dug in.

"Melissa tells us you like poetry," Mr. Clayton said.

"Uh, huh," I answered lamely. I wanted to say something smart. Something interesting. Something impressive for Ethan and Melissa and their parents. I wanted to create a good first impression, but all I could say was 'uh, huh.'

"What type of poetry do you like?" asked Mrs. Clayton.

"Do you have anything memorized?" asked Mr. Clayton without waiting for me to answer the first question.

"Bob!" Mrs. Clayton objected, "Stop putting our guest on the spot."

"Actually," I interrupted again, "I do." I cleared my throat and began:

"I want to follow the swallows who dart through the afternoon sky,
I want to spend my life on the wing,
In this moment alone,
Nothing more, never less.
The sun flies on above me,
Days blur into one,
No such thing as tomorrow.
No such thing
As never again.

"I want to carve a tiny shape from the blue
And fling it above the trees,
Flit wherever I please,
Wherever the breeze leads.
Rise and fall
See it all
Light as a feather
Bright as a star.
No need to stop
And catch my breath.
No need to come back
Down to earth.

"I want to live,
Just once,
Just once.
I want to give it my best shot.
Never give up.
Never let go.
Never look back."

"That's beautiful," said Mrs. Clayton after a pause. Mr. Clayton stared at me with his mouth slightly open. He looked thoughtful and pleased and surprised.

"Who wrote that?" Melissa asked.

"Me," I answered shyly.

"You wrote that?" Ethan asked, looking impressed. He glanced at Melissa and raised one eyebrow. I wished I knew what that meant.

I suddenly wished my wish hadn't come true. I wished I hadn't said anything quite so smart and interesting and impressive. I picked up a piece of chicken to hide my reddening cheeks and took a bite. "Mmm," I said, pretending everyone wasn't still staring at me, "this is delicious."

Chapter 20: Can't Catch My Breath

Melissa stood in the crowd waiting for us when our ride ended. "You guys totally missed out!" she said enthusiastically. I couldn't disagree more. "Mitch got in a fight and got his butt kicked!"

She related the whole story of Mitch's dirty fighting and getting his comeuppance. Ethan winced in empathy. "Did you really enjoy watching him get beat up that much?"

"Sort of," Melissa confessed. "Maybe now he'll gain some humility and learn to take 'no' for an answer."

Just then a face caught my eye. It caught my attention because it seemed to be watching me. Its owner peered toward me from the deep shadows between tents along the edge of the carnival. I could barely make out any details, but something about it struck a chord. Something seemed familiar, as if I knew this person intimately from somewhere a long time ago.

When I stepped toward the shadows and peered back, the face vanished, ducking behind the tent. I shook my head and forgot about it.

The three of us wandered through the crowd for a while, looking for the next attraction to capture our interest. Ethan draped his arm around my shoulders and I wrapped mine around his waist. The crowds, the noise, the colorful lights, and Ethan holding me made me feel so happy that I had to work to keep my smile from growing too big and silly.

"Hi Kayla!" said Beth as she spotted me in the crowd. She noticed Ethan's arm around my shoulder and her jaw dropped open, then turned into a happy grin. Krissa did her best to make Ethan laugh and create a good impression. Jill said nothing, as usual.

When we ran into friends from school, I noticed different reactions to Ethan's arm around my shoulders.

Girls I didn't know sometimes looked disappointed, then put on their brightest smiles as they greeted Ethan and commented on classes or friends or whatever they had in common with him.

When asked, Melissa answered questions about Mitch's fight, which brought reactions of both empathy and satisfaction that it was about time someone taught the cocky boy a lesson.

Sometimes the crowd would surge as groups pushed to move past others. I would let the surge press me against Ethan and sometimes rest one hand on his chest. I could hardly believe my good luck and how well life was turning out.

But good luck doesn't always last. Not without challenges.

Now and then as we wandered along or stood in line, a creepy sensation of being watched would drift over me. At first I tried to brush it off, ignore it. When it persisted, I would glance around briefly, just to prove to myself that it was just my imagination and no one was watching me.

Then I began to see things. A face silhouetted in the shadows. Then two of them together. If I squinted my eyes and tried to see deeper into the shadows, they would disappear.

It seemed strange and I wondered if I was merely imagining things. But it didn't matter. I had Ethan and nothing could shake my happiness from me.

Until.

Until once as I glimpsed the two shadowed faces standing in the darkness, just twenty or thirty feet away, and one of them took a drag on his cigarette.

The soft, orange glow from the cigarette's ember cast a mixture of shadow and light across the man's face. In that momentary illumination, I recognized the face.

I froze.

My heart stopped.

My jaw dropped open.

I couldn't draw in a full breath.

The man in black from my nightmares stood there watching me.

I tore my eyes away from him and turned to find Ethan wandering away from me in the crowd. I fought my way toward him and held on tight.

My heart started beating again and thumped away at triple speed. I still couldn't take a deep breath.

I was being silly. I was imagining things. Of course it wasn't really the man from my dreams. That would be impossible. But I knew that face. I had seen it hundreds of times.

"Are you cold?" Ethan asked, wrapping both arms around me and squeezing me tighter.

I nodded. I felt cold inside. I wanted to scream. I was afraid I was losing my mind.

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