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Authors: P. T. Michelle,Patrice Michelle

brightest kind of darkness

Brightest Kind of Darkness

by

P.T. Michelle

Kindle Edition Copyright 2011 by P.T. Michelle

All rights reserved. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook cannot be re-sold or given away to others. No parts of this ebook may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Chapter One

For me, being surprised was like wearing my best friend’s favorite shirt; cherished for its borrowed uniqueness. Some people loved potty humor. I loved watching life's surprises happening all around me. It was so rare that I got to experience them myself.

But after last night, I’ve decided I hate surprises.

Before I fell asleep, I’d whispered, “Can I just have
one
surprising day?” And four short hours later, I was zooming across an empty Walmart parking lot in my car, shoulders knotting with each spin of my wheels. “I should’ve defined ‘surprising’,” I muttered as I squealed to a stop in a parking spot. Grabbing my white-framed sunglasses, I jerked them toward my face, then slowly lowered the shades back to the dash.
What was I thinking? The sun wasn’t even up yet
.

Could I be wrong? I glanced at my mom’s favorite wool scarf sitting on top of my jacket in the passenger seat. I’d brought it for practical reasons, but I’d also wanted a part of her with me, as if her scarf riding shotgun meant she’d approve of my decision. How would she react if I was wrong and got arrested for reporting a false crime? Would she be shocked? Disappointed? Think I’ve lost my mind? Would she show any emotion? Or would she wait until the end of the day—after her last meeting was over—to check her messages and then come post my bail? It’d almost be worth the risk to find out.

With a heavy sigh, I cocooned myself in a layer of winter clothes. Halfway across the parking lot, sweat began to coat my skin under the thick jacket. The scratchy scarf only made it worse. All I could think about was clawing my irritated neck, but the building’s security cameras hung like gargoyle guardians nesting on the shoulders of a red and blue striped elephant. Tucking my chin into the scarf’s folds, I pulled my knit cap lower. I didn’t care if I looked like an idiot dressed like the boy from
A Christmas Story
in fifty-degree fall weather. Anonymity was my top priority.

Near the payphone, a blast of frigid air whisked dead leaves along the edge of the building, turning my sweat to chill bumps. Wind whistled and tunneled, pitching low and then high. “No!” brushed past my ear in a harsh, grating whisper, and the top layer of my hair charged, floating above the scarf. I froze and smacked my hair down as I scoured the area for the source. Wind and leaves battled the empty space on both sides of the building. My car sat alone in the dark lot, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched…or reminded of the past.

I have no idea how many times I’ve forced myself to stand back and just be a knowing observer. But I couldn’t today. When I stepped toward the building, an invisible weight began to crush my head and shoulders, compressing my spine. I tried to inhale calming breaths, but thick, icy moisture swept into my lungs, stealing my air.

My vision blurred and I stumbled forward, my feet heavy weights dragging across the asphalt. Falling against the building, I pressed my cheek against the cool rough bricks and wheezed. I wasn’t certain things would go right, but there was one truth I knew for sure. “I can’t ignore this!” I whispered harshly.

As the crushing sensation slowly tapered off, I sucked in lungfuls of air, my gaze glued to the building’s sharp edge. Would someone come around the corner and tell me I was wrong? I waited. A minute passed. And then another. I was running out of time. Blowing out a breath, I pushed away from the wall. At least I wouldn’t have to peel off the wad of turquoise gum covering the phone’s coin slot. This call was free.

I picked up the grungy handset and dialed.

“911 Operator. What’s the nature of your emergency?” an older woman’s gravelly voice shot across the line.

God, what if I got it wrong somehow?
Palm sweat soaked my gloves. “I—I want to report a potential threat to Blue Ridge High School.”

“Speak up!” the operator pitched higher.

Clearing my throat, I spoke again, my words huskier. “I think someone’s going to bomb Blue Ridge High today. A student who was recently expelled.”

Typing sounded at rapid speed. “Your name?” The woman demanded.

I hung up and ran on shaky legs to my car. I hated that I didn’t know what would happen next.

* * *

My car screeched into the school’s back parking lot seven minutes before first bell, the smell of burned rubber my constant perfume. Mom was going to be pissed if she had to get me new tires and brakes in the same year. Sliding on my narrow-framed black and red shades, I surveyed the ordered chaos. Police cars and fire trucks surrounded Blue Ridge High, their lights blinking in a strobed rhythm of red and blue. More students seemed to be leaving than arriving.

Digging my fingers into my backpack strap, I started toward the school with a clueless, but curious expression on my face.

The loner guy from my History and Trig classes headed toward me, hands shoved in his jeans pockets. “What's happening?” I called out.

When he didn’t respond, annoyance kicked in.

I remember the day he’d transferred in a couple weeks ago. It was the end of the day, and Lainey and I were goofing around in the hall with the soccer ball. I’d just passed the ball to Lainey when Sophia jumped in and punted it past me. Not to be outdone by Sophia, I’d gunned for the ball and looked up in time to see I was about to collide with the new guy.

“Look out!” I warned.

Blue eyes, framed with circles of exhaustion, flashed behind longish black bangs. At the last second, he’d jerked sideways and I slid past. Just as I regained my footing and turned around, he’d snagged the ball with lightning speed and sent it back to me, then continued down the hall without a word.

In the brief glance he’d passed my way that day, I’d noticed his hollowed cheeks and the blank “no one cares, why should I give a shit” look. Since then, I’d heard rumors that he’d been kicked out of his last school, so I’d tried to be nice and say “hey” to him in the hall a couple of times, but he’d ignored my attempts, brushing past me as if I hadn’t spoken.

From his first day at school, he’d parked in the back of the classroom and scribbled on a notepad, ignoring everyone. And here he’d done it again. I was just about to yell, “Hey, rude guy,” when I saw ear bud wires dangling in front of him. Had I missed seeing them in the past too?

As he started to pass me, the wind blew his unbuttoned flannel shirt open, revealing a vintage black Rush t-shirt. Cool. A band with deep lyrics. The dark circles under his eyes had faded somewhat, but his gaze never engaged with anyone’s, like he totally existed in his own world. I moved to tap him on the shoulder, but he jerked out of my reach before I connected. What was his deal? Frowning, I lowered my hand.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. Pulling the ear buds out, he shook his black hair away from his eyes. “What'd you say?”

His deep voice stunned me. Though I wasn’t sure what I expected him to sound like, husky wasn’t it. Maybe grittier, to go with his indie look. “What's happening?”

“Bomb threat.”

“Are you serious?”

“Someone called it in.” His blue eyes held mine longer than he’d ever done before.

My shades were dark, but I felt as if he could see right past the lenses.
God, I hope my eyes didn’t give me away
. Curling my nails into my palms, I tried to keep my expression and voice even. “As in…someone called in a bomb threat?”

He shoved his hands back in his jeans and continued to stare. Was he expecting me to say something else? To confess I already knew the truth? Not in this lifetime.

“Don’t know,” he finally said with a shrug. “I just heard the principal say school’s cancelled and others talking about a bomb.”

Exhaling a pent-up breath, I forced a calm tone. “Thanks.”

When he walked away, I called after him, “I’m Nara. What’s your—” but he’d already put his ear buds back in as he headed toward an old black Mustang in need of a paint job.

“Off!” he barked at a black bird sitting on the car’s roof, then shook his fist as it took flight.

Guess it left a present. As I snickered, a blonde girl from my Spanish class passed me. “Hey, school’s canceled,” I told her. “Some kind of a bomb threat.”

“A bomb?” Her eyes widened. “Thanks for letting me know.”

While she hurried back toward her car, I tried to recall her name. Sarah? No Shannon? Something like that. I could name every girl on my soccer team, but outside of that realm, I wasn’t the best at remembering names.

“Nara!” someone screamed when I opened my car door.

Sitting in the long line of cars exiting the school, my friend Lainey leaned out her window, her auburn hair swirling in the wind. She held up her cell phone and a couple seconds later my cell beeped with a text.
I’ll call you later
.

I waved, then climbed into my car, welcoming the lingering heat to chase away the chill in the air.

As I set my sunglasses on the rubber mat on my dash, I glanced in the rearview mirror. The guy was still standing beside his Mustang.
He's not looking at you
. But when I pulled out of the parking lot and his attention followed my direction, I glanced away from the mirror, worry echoing in my mind.
He knows I'm the one who called
.

* * *

Setting my backpack on our coffee table, I grabbed the remote and clicked on the TV. Our school was the “breaking” news and a blonde reporter held a mic in front of our principal.

“Principal Wallum, can you give us an update?”

Mr. Wallum pushed his thick, black-rimmed glasses up on his bulbous nose and squinted at the bright camera light. “A bomb tip was called in at five this morning—”

“So it wasn’t a bomb threat then. Someone tipped the police off?”

My cell phone started ringing Dokken’s
Alone Again
, and I turned the TV down, then quickly dug through my backpack.

Emailing and texting were my mom’s main form of communication, so hearing the ring tone instead of a text message ping was surprising. Mom cared about my grades and which colleges I was thinking of applying to. Otherwise she depended on me to keep myself together, because...I always had. She had no idea I had my own way of coping. No one did. (Well, except Gran Corda, my seventy-eight-year-old semi-lucid grandaunt, who sequesters herself in a retirement home and has this to say about her name: “
Corda’s short for Cordial. I—I mean Cordelia. Or maybe it’s Corduroy. Wait, it’s….well, hells bells…I can’t remember!
” I’d confided in Gran the year my dreams first started, thinking, “There, I’ve told
someone
. She’ll forget the moment I walk out the door.” Oddly, that was one thing she never forgot.)

Pushing my cell phone to my ear, I glanced at the TV. “Hey, Mom.”

“Inara! I just heard the news. Where are you?”

The shakiness in her voice startled me. Mom was always in control.

“Inara?”

“I’m fine. They sent us home before school even started.”

“I’m glad you’re safe.” She exhaled, then cleared her throat before her tone went back to the steady one I was used to. “They said on the news that a student might’ve planted the bomb.”

My eyes darted back to the screen, where Mr. Wallum was nervously adjusting his bowtie. He always looked like he’d stepped right out of a dusty old library book. “Seriously? I haven’t had a chance to listen to the news.”

“They found an explosive rigged to detonate inside one of the school lockers. Thank God it was caught before school started!”

I winced. The thought that a student could’ve been blown to bits made my stomach queasy. Not to mention all the other people who might’ve gotten hurt. My instincts had been right. “Yeah. Me too.” I turned off the TV and tension released between my shoulders.

“Well, I’m due in another meeting,” Mom started to say when my phone beeped.

“That's Lainey calling. See you later.” Clicking over, I switched ears as I flopped onto our tartan-patterned couch that desperately needed to be updated to something from this decade. “Hey.”

“Did you hear the news? About the bomb?” Lainey sounded breathless.

“Yeah, I just saw—”

“Ohmygoditwasinthelockerrightnexttomine! My dad said they’re investigating a couple of suspects. Both are people from school. Can you believe it? I want to kiss whoever called in that tip. I could be in a billion pieces right now!”

Smirking, I blew her a silent kiss. Lainey had been my best friend since she walked up to me on the first day of middle school and announced, “Hi, I’m Lainey O’Neal and we’re going to be besties, I just know it.” That’s what I loved about Lainey. If she wanted something, she marched in and
made
it happen. Rejection/failure didn’t compute. Not only had she given me my nickname, Nara, but she’d always been a great source of information. When it came to the latest news, she knew the scoop, since her father was a Central Virginia police officer.

“That was a close call,” I agreed.

“No freakin’ joke! Dad said that anyone within fifteen feet of that locker could’ve been killed or seriously injured.”

“Good news all the way around then. Since school’s out, I guess that means practice is cancelled too,” I said.

“Nope. Miranda just called. Coach talked to Principal Wallum about practice. Even though the fall soccer program isn’t ‘officially’ part of the school, Mr. Wallum loves that we’re undefeated, so he said we could use one of the back fields furthest from the main building while the police conducted their investigation.”

Miranda always conveniently forgot to pass on team news to me. As team captain, she hated that I sometimes ignored her “orders” at practice. I didn’t like the sway she seemed to have over my teammates (they were the hive-mind to her queen bee). But right now I didn’t have time to be annoyed. I hadn’t really thought through what having a “surprising day” would be like. I’d just liked the
idea
of it. I curled my fingers tight around the cell.

The bomb incident in my dream had woken me before I could see how my day would turn out. Once the disaster was averted, I’d planned to ride out the remaining few hours in the predictable confines of my home, where the biggest surprises were when Mom would be home and what we’d have for dinner. That would’ve been a novelty. But now I was going to have play soccer?
Be calm. It’s just practice. Not a game with more on the line. You’ll be back to your old self tomorrow
.

“You there, Nara? My dad says it’s safe to practice.”

“Yeah, I’m here.”
Silently freaking out
.

“The football team will be practicing in the back fields, too,” she sing-songed.

Lainey liked to tease me about Jared Polenski. I’d been crushing on the blond quarterback since last year. Well, me and every other girl in school. “Just because I watch him practice doesn’t mean he’s even aware I exist.”

“He’s seen us there checking the team out, and I heard him say you’re tall.”

Five eight isn’t
that
tall
. “Great, he thinks I’m an Amazon.”

“Actually, he said you’re tall for a soccer player. Just pointing out that he knows you’re that
star goalie
, who never lets a ball get past—oh, that’s Sophia calling. Gotta go. See you at four!”

Star goalie, who never lets a ball get past.

If Lainey only knew the truth.

Chapter Two

You know that feeling of déjà vu people talk about? I live it. Every. Single. Day. I’ve dreamed my entire next day since I was seven, so it just became a part of me; like the small scar on my forehead, the dimple on my left cheek and my wide smile.

It’s not like I can predict the future or try to win the lottery. That’s not how my dreams work. I only dream about things
I
will personally experience in my life…well, a day before they actually happen. That’s it. I just get one day ahead. Which sometimes makes life pretty routine and predictable, but there’s also an upside. Imagine knowing you’re going to have a bad hair day, or that you’ll burn the toast for the eighty-zillionth time, or that Mount Everest will appear on the tip of your nose a half hour after lunch. That’s when a ponytail, cereal and Benzoyl Peroxide come in handy.

Knowing what’s coming can be reassuring somehow. Not to mention, it sure helps with exams, dealing with friend stuff, and definitely playing soccer goalie. Who wouldn’t want to know which direction the ball would be kicked
before
it left the player’s foot?

I’ve lived with this odd gift for nine years now, which hasn’t always been easy. There’ve been times when I’ve woken in tears from a friend’s betrayal or been crushed by a slam from a boy I thought was the cutest guy in the entire middle school. “Nara likes me? She’s a dog!” I’d overheard him tell his friend outside the boys’ bathroom.

Growing up, I often choose to avoid the unpleasant stuff I know is coming. Avoiding situations doesn’t stop them from happening, but the “out of sight/out of mind” concept mostly works for me. Every once in a while, though, I’ve challenged a dream.

When I was eight, I’d dreamed that a boy I really liked had given another girl in our class a heart-shaped box of chocolates. All he’d given me was a lousy punch-out Valentine card. As soon as I’d woken that morning, I’d desperately rubbed my Magic Crystal Ball (a birthday present from Aunt Sage, who was clueless about my gift).

“Will he really give her that heart box of candy?” I’d asked the shiny ball. Digital words spelled out across the surface in reply, “Not sure, try again”. I immediately rubbed it again and got “Concentrate and ask once more”. One more vigorous scrub gave me, “Try again later”. So frustrating! At school that day, instead of going to the bathroom to avoid witnessing the hurtful scene, I’d stayed and hoped. And had my heart ripped apart all over again.

My dreams had never been wrong.

Not once.

Which was why today was so out of the norm. I didn’t usually change the course of things for people around me. I’d tried once when I was seven, not long after my dreams began. In my dream, a girl named Sadie had fallen from the monkey bars and broken her arm. The next day, as Sadie sprinted off toward the monkey bars, I caught up with her and asked her to do chalk drawings on the asphalt. In my dream, I didn’t think much of the over-the-fence “homerun” baseball that had bounced across the asphalt and rolled to a stop in the grass. I’d been too busy watching the teachers hover over Sadie after she’d fallen. But that day, instead of bouncing innocuously, the baseball had clipped Sadie in the head.

Sadie didn’t come to school the next day. Instead, she was in the hospital with a blood clot on her brain. I blamed myself for not paying attention to the details. If I had, Sadie wouldn’t have had to suffer through brain surgery. The hardest part was wanting to apologize to her, but not being able to.

After that experience, any “adaptations” I’d made had been strictly stuff that affected me. And even those weren’t often. I’d learned the hard way that altering an event
could
affect how the rest of my day was supposed to unfold. Knowing what was coming—even if I didn’t like it—was better than
not
knowing what would happen if I changed something. Avoidance worked for me. But last night was the first time a dream had left me with only one choice.

My dream started out just like any other day; full of screeching tires and normal “I’m running right up until the bell” annoyances…

It’s three minutes ‘til second bell, and I’m in such a hurry that I rush into the school bathroom and accidentally pick the stall with the lock that never works. Of course I’d pulled on the jeans with the stupid zipper tab that sometimes gets turned sideways. I always have to fiddle with it in order to unzip it.
Not now!
I grind my teeth and flick at the dang metal tab, hoping to get it to cooperate.

After thirty frustrating seconds of flicking, I vow to cut the “jeans of torture” up the moment I get home.

Someone shuts the stall door next to mine. “I’m at school. Where else would I be?”

Still attacking my zipper, I roll my eyes and wonder, 
Why do people talk on their cells while in the bathroom? Eww!

“Yeah, no one’s around. What’s up? You sound weird. Wha—What’d you say?”

I pause my zipper attack.

“You’re serious? Why are you doing this?” she hisses.

A deeper voice comes through the phone, louder now, but I can’t make out the guy’s words.

“I thought you were blowing off steam last night, bullshitting with Jay and Kurt.” Her voice lowers. “Just cause you’re pissed at the principal isn’t a reason to rig a frakkin’ bomb in the school.”

God, no! A bomb? My urgent need to go evaporates and my hands start to tremble. I grip my waistband tight as the guy’s voice rumbles, sounding harsher. I strain to hear what he says, but my heart is thudding too loud.

The girl is Lila Jenkins. I recognize her “frakkin” comment. She’s a Science Fiction fangirl to the point she even bleached her hair blonde and cut it short like her favorite TV show character. Lila also dates David Donaldson, who was recently expelled for beating up a sophomore because the guy had the nerve to take “his” parking space.

“I won’t rat you out. Don’t you threaten me, asshole! Everybody in this school’s a jerkoff anyway. I’m going out to my car until the fireworks are over. That is far enough away, isn’t it?”

A couple seconds later, she flips the phone closed and mumbles, “Idiot” with a heavy sigh.

I clench my jaw and wait for her to discover my presence. By the time she bypasses my stall, I’m so anxious my teeth are hurting. As soon as the bathroom door closes behind her, I count to ten and then burst out of my stall in a full run…only to jerk awake at four this morning.

I didn’t bother flipping a coin. Instead, I quickly got dressed, then went hunting for a nearly extinct species—a payphone.

Chapter Three

“Don’t forget to make that eye doctor appointment, Nara.” Miranda wagged her finger toward me as she and Sophia walked down the hall. Sophia snickered, briefly pausing in front of me to cover one eye and squint through the other one, pretending to read an eye chart. “I see…a G, an O, an A, an L and an S.”

“Trying to get your own stand-up TV spot, Soph?” I called after my teammates as they continued on their way, “Yesterday was a fluke,” I finished as I opened my locker.

Sophia snorted, wrinkling her freckled nose. Miranda cast a captain-like “it’d better be” look, then turned away. Her dark, choppy hair flipped out in all directions—thanks to gobs of pomade. It also never moved an inch. I knew this for a fact, because her hair always looked the exact same
after
practice as it did before. Made me wonder how she got her fingers through the concrete mass to shampoo it.

Sifting through the stack of books in my locker, I jerked out texts for upcoming classes. My teammates had teased me mercilessly yesterday for missing so many balls during practice, but Miranda and Sophia had been the worst. “But Nara, you’re so perrrrfect. You never miss,” they hissed.

Sophia had especially enjoyed mocking me over and over. Once that girl sensed weakness, she circled like a vulture, ready to peck you
beyond
death. Neither of them would let up anytime soon. At least not until I proved I was back to my old “never let a ball find its way to the back of the net” self, which I was pretty sure Sophia secretly hated as much as Miranda secretly resented.

I tried to refocus on the positive. It was good to get back to my routine. Even though I’d woken feeling drained (an annoying downside of dreaming one’s
entire
next day), my dream had also left me feeling tense and upset. People crowded around chit-chatting, throwing paper balls and yelling down the hall to each other, but my thoughts were elsewhere. The stricken look on my mom’s face in my dream kept replaying over and over in my mind. I hadn’t seen emotion like that since I was five.

In my dream, the phone rings around seven in the evening. I pause stirring through a bowl of trail mix for random peanuts and briefly glance at the caller ID. It’s a D.C. area code. We don’t know anyone in Washington, so I ignore it.

“Inara!” Mom fusses and walks from the living room into the kitchen. Shaking her head at my laziness, she scoops up the handset. “Hello?”

Her friendly smile fades and the look on her face gives away the caller’s identity as she grabs the counter’s curved edge.

No way!
The kitchen stool scrapes as I jump up, every nerve on high alert.
What does he want?
“Mom?”

“Why are you calling, Jonathan?”

My dad, the lowlife who’d walked out on us when I was five, is suddenly calling after eleven years of complete silence? I’m fire and ice, furious and cool. My only memory of him is a hazy collage of images: strong arms hugging me close, a big hand palming my whole head and smiling green eyes framed by dark eyebrows.

My mom’s light blue eyes tear up as she glances my way. She presses the phone harder to her ear. “Inara’s here. She’s fine.” Her voice quavers slightly and she shakes her head, running trembling fingers through her blonde chin-length hair. “She’s perfectly safe.”

Hurt flits across her face and my chest tightens. He didn’t ask about her. He asked about me. My hands begin to shake. I worry Mom will slip back into the near catatonic state she’d wallowed in after he’d left us; the rapid weight loss, endless insomnia and twice-weekly visits to her therapist. She didn’t stop wearing her wedding ring until I was twelve.

I’d always thought that if something had happened to him, like if he’d been killed in a car accident, that would’ve been easier for my mom to deal with.

Mom doesn’t demand to know why he left us. Instead, she calmly says, “Please don’t call here again.” But the moment she hangs up, she bursts into deep, heart-wrenching sobs. I want to hug her, but I know she’ll pull away. I refuse to ask what my dad wanted. I don’t care. All I could do was helplessly stare in frozen fury.

The moment I opened my eyes this morning, sadness had kicked in. After my dad left, Mom pulled away…until the early memories of her kissing me on the forehead, singing while brushing my hair and snuggling close to read me a story had faded like rock-skipping ripples dissipating in a pond. Mom was as smooth as glass now. She never hugged me. Never showed any emotion, yet I knew she loved me. I thought Mom was impervious, indestructible even, but now I knew that wasn’t true. Dad’s desertion had left us suspended. On Pause. And all it took was one call to rewind us eleven years.

Tired as usual, I reached for the quarter on my nightstand and instantly thought of my Gran. Mom didn’t visit her mother’s older sister. She claimed spending time with Corda was a sad reminder of her own mother, who’d died in a car accident with my grandfather when I was a baby. Instead, Mom sent me a few times a year as the family envoy. It was during one of my visits when I was thirteen that I’d complained about my gift.

“There just aren’t ever any surprises, Gran.”

Gran’s wiry eyebrows shot up under puffy gray hair. “What about when you do something different than what happens in your dreams?” she asked as she shoved a couple of rainbow colored gummy worms into a potted plant.

“I think it’s going into sugar shock,” I said, nodding to the plant’s droopy leaves. She’d ignored me and added another worm. Sighing, I answered her question. “It’s not the same. Then I
know
I’m going against my dream. Anyway, you know I rarely do that, which means…there are never any unknowns.”

“Ha, you think so?” Gran set the bag of gummy worms down, then pulled something out of the pocket of her light blue cardigan sweater. She always wore a cardigan, no matter the time of the year. Her deep green eyes glistened as she held the quarter up. “Sugar high money”, she said with glee. The retirement home vending machines only took quarters. Shuffling over to her desk, she slowly lowered her petite frame into a straight-backed chair. She made a show of flipping the coin, then set it on her desk where she covered it with a piece of paper.

I gestured toward it as she rubbed the quarter’s face on the paper with a pencil. “I knew you were going to do that.”

“Smarty Pants.” Gran made a face and hunched around her rubbing. When she was done, she quickly tucked the folded paper in her cardigan pocket.

“I knew you were going to do that too.”

“So, what does it say? ” Gran gave me a hoity-toity look (at least that’s what she’d call it) “Heads or tails?”

I shrugged. “You didn’t tell me in my dream.”

Satisfaction flitted across her thin, deeply-lined face. “And I won’t tell until the next time I see you. That’s
one
thing you don’t know about today, Inara Collins.”

When Gran was lucid, her insight was razor sharp. As I sat in the morning light, worrying that my Dad would make a random, utterly useless call after all these years, I rubbed the quarter between my fingers. Taking a breath, I thumbed it into the air. Heads meant YES and Tails meant NO.

Slapping the coin between my palms, I slid it from my hand onto my nightstand and covered it with paper from the 3x3 paper cube next to my hand-painted jewelry box. After I’d made my “blind” pencil rubbing, I brushed the quarter into my nightstand drawer, then quickly folded the paper into fourths.

While sliding the folded paper into its slot in my backpack, I realized I didn’t have one from yesterday, since I’d rushed off to find a payphone. Now, I desperately wanted to pull the new rubbing out and look at it, but I held off. The question I’d asked of the coin was always the same,
Should I act on something I’d dreamed about?

As I grew older I’d given Gran’s coin-toss a dual purpose. It became my way of asking for an unbiased opinion, even though I never looked at the answer until the following morning. I still wanted at least one tiny thing about my day to be “unknown”.

Glancing at the hammered metal wastebasket beside my nightstand, I worried my lip with my teeth. The basket was full of past paper rubbings; every single one was Tails. I hadn’t acted on my dreams in so long, it had made sense that they were all Tails. Like the coin agreed with me. But was it possible I’d somehow subconsciously controlled the outcome? If I’d taken the time yesterday morning to flip the quarter, would the rubbing have been Heads?

An image of my sobbing mom reappeared in my mind. I glared at my backpack. “If Tails is on that paper, I’ll eat it,” I snarled before grabbing the cordless phone and punching the Talk button.

Silence. “Hello?” I hung up, but before I turned the phone back on, I wrote down a phone number on the paper cube. Turning the phone back on, I waited for the dial tone.

“Don’t!” an eerie whisper threaded through the crackling across the line.

A cold, heavy chill prickled my skin and the tiny hairs around my face began to cling to my skin as if drawn by a magnet. Brushing them away, I immediately punched the End button.

Three seconds passed before I got up the nerve to turn it back on. Oppressiveness still tugged at me, but at least a normal dial tone rang in my ear. I didn’t like this newfound guilt that had me imagining weird voices and heavy, cold chills.

My conscience could take a hike. I wasn’t letting my mom go through that. Better to have an emotionally distant parent than an emotionally wrecked one. Been there, done that! Squaring my shoulders, I dialed the phone company.

As I pretended to be my mom, unease clung to me like a nauseating perfume. I kept glancing over my shoulder, half-expecting Mom to catch me in the act when I told the operator we were tired of receiving telemarketing calls and I wanted to put a block on all unsolicited calls. After I gave a list of approved phone numbers, I hung up and felt much better. The guilt, worry…whatever it was, had completely disappeared.

At least I’d prevented one tragedy today, even if I couldn’t stop the other, considering it had already happened. This afternoon, after fourth period, Lainey would rush up to share the latest gossip. In my dream and even now, the news left my heart heavy with regret and deserved guilt.

Wham!
A heavy thump jerked me out of my musings just as something banged my locker door. As the door swung wildly toward me, I reached up to stop it at the same time a hand landed on mine.

“Sorry.” Apologetic blue eyes sought mine as the loner guy’s hand fell away. “My elbow caught your door.”

I eyed the pile of books he’d just dumped onto his locker’s metal floor. “Why’d you move lockers?”

“My old locker’s been confiscated.”

“Confiscated?”

His longish-bangs partially covered his eyes with his nod. “My locker had the bomb in it.”

Oh. My. God!
“No way! That must’ve freaked you out.”

Pushing his shoe against the tumble of books, he shut his locker door, then tucked a book and notepad under his arm. “No biggie.”

“You could’ve…died.” I was babbling, but I couldn’t help thinking,
I saved this guy’s life yesterday.

“It’s all good. I’m Ethan Harris. You’re Nara, right? I think we’re in History and Trig together.”

I was so thrown off by the fact this entire conversation with him was: One, happening at all, and two,
new
to me, that all I could think to say was, “Yes. Nara.”

His eyebrow shot up. “Nara of the no last name?”

He must think I’m a total moron. “Oh, it’s Collins. Inara Collins.”

“In-ara. I’ve never heard that name before.”

The way my name rolled off his tongue, that deep baritone enunciating each syllable, made my stomach flutter and my heart thump. “My parents intentionally picked a rare name.” How lame was that? Why couldn’t I have come up with some great philosophical reason?

I missed what he said because the first bell rang. The noise in the hall grew louder and everyone scattered like ants. When a football player zoomed by, bumping Ethan from behind, I realized Ethan’s shoulders were almost as wide as the other guy’s.

Ethan didn’t spare him a glance. Instead, he suddenly zoned as if he were seeing something else instead of me. As he rubbed his left forearm, I could tell he was miles from the locker hall.

“Ethan?”

He blinked, but his gaze remained hyper-focused.

I touched his arm. “Are you okay?”

For a split-second, a face flashed; a lightning blip of a gaping maw and…long teeth. Gasping, I pulled away. “Did you see that?”

Ethan’s attention snapped back to me. “See what?”

I seriously doubted I could explain it. Maybe what I saw was just in my own mind. “You, uh…kind of zoned out.”

“Sorry.” Ethan tilted his head and the right corner of his lip lifted in a grim half-smile. “I just remembered I have a test today.”

That was some pretty intense zone-age over a forgotten test. Then again, I was hearing voices and seeing things. Who was I to judge “normal” behavior?

The hall was clearing and I was finally able to talk without screaming. “I’d better go. Good luck on your test.”

“Thanks. See you in History.”

As he walked away, I stared after his long stride. Yesterday, the people I’d saved had been faceless. Today, at least one had a face, making me doubly glad I’d called the police. Ethan seemed like a nice enough guy. He might seem intense, but the way he kept to himself didn’t mesh with the kind of behavior that usually got someone kicked out of school. What could he have possibly done to get expelled?

* * *

History class was right next door to Homeroom, so I always got there before most everyone else. Pulling out my thick History book, I opened to the section we’d be lectured on today. I never studied (at least not for any school subjects. Teaching myself Latin was a whole other story), but I needed to at least “appear” studious, considering I had a 99% average. Once my desk was set up, I turned to the important stuff—jotting down notes about the rest of my day.

When I couldn’t find my purple ballpoint pen, I remembered that I’d used it to write down the phone number on the Caller ID from my dream—just in case the phone company wouldn’t let me block
all
unsolicited calls. My favorite pen was on my nightstand instead of where it would normally be, sitting in the third slot in my backpack.