The lightening was high up in the clouds, threatening of the coming storm. It was the only light in the cloud covered night. The boys face was drenched and his forehead was plastered with his brown hair, not from the first drops of rain but with the sweat of anxiety of what he was facing. Hundreds of feet below lay trees and rocks and a river.
The boy’s chest was heaving as his breaths became quicker and quicker. He looked over his shoulder. His eyes suddenly became clear and void of the panic that had filled them moments before. He looked back out over the scene below him, closed his eyes, and leaped outward.
That’s where I wake up each time, and have every day for the past week. I could follow Eric all the way down, just like I did that first time, but I can’t, I won’t ever do that again. His funeral had been a week ago. After that my parents had given me something to make me sleep.
I stopped taking the pills when I couldn’t wake up from that first dream. Falling through trees and feeling them and hearing them as they snapped and tore at Eric and then the impact of his landing, never again.
At Ridgeline Lake we had all been at the cabins like we did every year. I was there with Emily and Abbie in one cabin, and Eric had been there with Jessie and Milo in another. Our parents had their own cabins. It was a tradition before school started back. We had to make it a week earlier than usual because of football practice for Eric and Jessie who were starting quarterback and tight end, Milo was team…well I don’t know exactly what he does, but it’s not water boy or anything like that, he does something with the electronics for the stadium and things like that.
It had been the best summer yet, with Eric and I having just started dating during the spring. He was a year older, which was fine, and the brother of Emily, which was weird because that almost made him my brother too. Emily, Abbie, and I had been best friends since Kindergarten so our families were each other’s families.
Early that Thursday morning, way before dawn I had sat up in bed. Everyone had put it down to a clap of thunder as the storm finally broke over the cabins. All I knew was something was wrong. I woke Emily and she came with me to my parents’ cabin. I told Dad that I was worried about something, that I just felt something was not right. Over the years he had learned to listen to my feelings.
We knew that Abbie was okay, so we went to the boys’ cabin. Eric wasn’t there. Milo, Abbie’s boyfriend, said he had heard something earlier but thought it was just one of the guys going to the bathroom. Dad ran to Eric’s parents’ cabin and a search began. They wouldn’t let the girls go because of the rain and lightening. But the fathers and boys went.
Jessie, Emily’s boyfriend and Eric’s best friend and Eric’s dad were the ones that found the note on the tree. It was too dark to tell what had happened. My Mom had already called the sheriff and as soon as it became light enough the storm had passed and they said they could see broken limbs down below where the note was found stuck to the tree with Eric’s pocket knife.
The river was up and moving fast so they couldn’t find Eric. The note said he was tired of trying to be perfect all the time and was just ready to rest. Wednesday they had a funeral to at least mark a spot for him to rest in. Everyone from school was there. I had noticed a lot of people staring at me, but I just thought it was out of curiosity. Yeah, they were curious.
“McKenna, hurry up, you’re going to make everyone late the first day of school!” Mom called up the stairs…again. This was supposed to be a big day, the biggest day yet for me and my girls. No, we’re not a gang or anything, but we had been looking forward to high school for two long years. The school had a history to it and you just knew when you walked through those doors you were an adult. Okay, so on your WAY to finally being an adult.
But things had changed. Mom had not listened when I said I didn’t want to go yet, that I wasn’t ready. Emily had said the same thing about her mom too. Abbie…well she was always ready for school. She got bored during the summer and wanted the challenge of seeing if a teacher could teach her something new. For her high school would be like a candy store full of new things she had never tried.
I looked in the mirror. I hated what I saw. Holloway High was not a private school but it had followed the trend of a dress code to keep everyone equal. I liked skirts, real skirts, but the gray pleated skirt and white blouse were just not real to me. But it was better than the khaki pants that I could have chosen. I’m sorry, but I am not in the army or like in my thirties. Give me jeans and a t-shirt or even a real dress and I am fine.
Glancing down out of my window I saw the top of a head of dark hair parted down the middle and tied off into two pigtails. It was hovering over a book and moving ever so slightly as the reader moved back and forth from word to word.
I grabbed my bag and thumped down the stairs. “Good luck, sis,” called a voice from an open doorway at the top of the stairs. I ran back up and through the door. The tall boy braced himself as I leaped at him. I felt the bear hug as my brother, a freshman in college showed me he loved me best.
“You too, bro,” I said as I punched him in the stomach. “And no sorority girls until junior year, remember, you promised.” I ran out without waiting for a reply.
Throwing open the front door I had barely opened my mouth when I heard, “Hiya, Mac.”
I looked at the back of the pigtailed head still reading the book. “And just how do you know it’s me?”
“I doubt your mother would resemble a thundering herd of rhinos coming down the stairs like that…twice,” Abbie said. “I take it Ken begins college today.”
Grrr…she knew everything. “Yeah,” I said as I leaped around and in front of her. Ken was short for McKenzie, just as Mac was short for McKenna. Are we Scottish or Irish? I have no idea.
Abbie looked up from her book and scrunched her nose to adjust her glasses. She looked me up and down in my uniform, which she was wearing the exact same version of. She nodded and stood up. When I said she wore the exact same version I meant even the size, although she was smaller than me by a little. She never wore clothes that fit her.
“Did you eat breakfast, or are you sticking with tradition?” She asked me as we began walking to the Japanese but made in America SUV parked in the driveway. It was Mom’s turn for carpool. We could ride the bus but we didn’t. I have no idea why not, the mom’s had just decided it years ago.
The doors clicked and I jumped in the front while Abbie slid into the back and across to behind the driver’s seat. Mom walked around the front with the keys in her hand. “Always stick with tradition,” I said.
“Good, because Em has a new yogurt she wants me to try and some kind of bagel with like all sorts of things in it for you,” said Abbie. “She said she forgot to ask you last night before you two hung up.”
“I didn’t even think about it,” I said. Last night the thought of breakfast had been as far from my mind as…as…hmm…as anything else. “Em always comes through though.” Emily always had something for us for breakfast, just a little something. Okay something little for her and Abbie, and something crazy for me. I liked to eat but I worked out a lot so I could handle it.
We all lived on the same street, although it was a long street. Abbie always walked to my house because she wasn’t far away and she liked to read along the way. Then either Mom or Emily’s mom would take us to school. Abbie’s mom was the pickup mom after school. Emily lived a little further along the street at the very end. The gates were just shutting as she was attempting to hold a bag of our food, a holder of drinks, and wondering what to do with her book bag.
Mom saw the situation, sped up just a little and came to a quick stop. I jumped out and grabbed the drinks. “You seriously need to have like someone out here and help you or have them put a table by the mailbox,” I said as she hugged me. I stood back and looked at her.
We wore the same thing but she still looked like a million dollars. I looked like just the average girl who just…didn’t…care? I cared how I looked. It’s just that there wasn’t anyone at school I cared to impress enough to take the time. Not that Emily really took much time. She was just naturally gorgeous.
Even though we all had to wear the same brand and colors of clothing, shoes and accessories were different. And accessories made the difference. Don’t ask me the name of her shoes or the cut of the diamonds in her ears. But she made them both work, not that she needed them.
She jumped in behind my seat and I got in with the drinks. I handed Mom her coffee, and passed Abbie her juice, and Emily her smoothie. I had a big bottle of milk. I liked milk. When we were all little people thought we were sisters because we all had dark hair and dark eyes, and we might as well be. But we had always been very different in a lot of ways.
The bagel was loaded with roasted veggies and some white cheese, amazing. Before I took my second bite, I asked a question. “Hey, Abbie?”
“Do you have your locker planned yet?” I heard an almost snort from Emily.
There was a muffled noise from Abbie and I glanced back. She was nodding with one hand slightly up to her mouth as she was swallowing her yogurt quickly. “Yes. I was able to get the list of books and find out the sizes. I have the perfect plan for what I want to do.”
I didn’t dare look in the mirror. One of the last things Emily and I had talked about was Abbie’s tradition of planning out the most efficient locker. It was a thing she did and it actually always worked out best. Our lockers were never that neat and we always had to hunt for things.
I caught the raised eyebrow from Mom. I gave her my toothy innocent grin and she just shook her head and took a sip of the gourmet coffee from Emily’s housekeeper.
“What class do you have first, Mac?” Emily asked.
“I have English with Ms. Trask. “How about you?”
“P.E. with Coach Tompkins, can you believe it? First period?” I could see her eyes rolling in the visor mirror. “What do you have Abbie?”
“Honor’s Algebra with Mr. Mason.” We all got kind of quiet as we realized that we weren’t going to be in the same classes any more. Emily and I might luck into some, but Abbie was going to be in a whole different world than us. I mean Emily and I are good in some classes but who knows if schedules will let all three of us be in those together.
Mom joined the line of cars dropping off students. I guess if every student rode the bus then they would need a lot more busses.
“There he is!” Emily shouted in my ear. She had leaned forward and for some reason was looking over my shoulder at exactly the same view she could have seen from her window.
“Might as well let us out here, Mrs. Lark,” said Abbie.
“Yeah,” I said, as I gathered up my bag. “She’s spotted Jessiekins. Bleck.”
I felt the tap on the top of my head. “Oh, hush,” said Emily. But Mom stopped and before Emily could even touch the handle the door was promptly opened by the muscular blonde boy wearing khaki pants and pale blue polo, of course covered by the Holloway High crimson and white letterman’s jacket.
“About time you showed up, princess,” said Jessie. Some might almost hurl at hearing his nickname for her but the truth was he treated her like one. It wasn’t a cheap name every boy in school called their girlfriend. You could see it in his ice blue eyes that he really adored her.
Abbie scooted around the oblivious duo and slipped her hand into Milo’s. Their adoration was less obvious but no less real. “Call me if you need me, McKenna,” said Mom. “I have to meet a client about a catering assignment but it’s okay to call.”
“Will do,” I said smiling. Mom was her own boss. She ran a catering company that didn’t just handle business in Holloway but pretty much anywhere. She even had assignments several states away. She was good. She pulled away and I turned back to look at my new school.
Holloway High was at one time the home of an exiled member of French royalty. He had this huge palace built out here in the middle of nowhere that was now a school. There were a lot of stories about from when the guy lived there.
The walkway to the main doors was wide and designed with tiles. There were tall trees everywhere and flowers of all kinds. It was really an odd place for a school and had even appeared in magazines and on TV several times. Movie companies used it during the summer sometimes.
“Don’t be too impressed,” said Jessie, who had finally stopped hugging Emily. He nodded at the high school. “It looks impressive, sure, but once inside and in classes, it doesn’t take long to just think of it as a school.”
“Very true,” said Milo.
Before we could even take a step toward the school four figures stepped in front of us blocking our way.
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