Level Ground Bk. 01 Ch. 02bySPNKRAZE©
Arriving in the school parking lot, Billy pulled into his usual parking spot, where Devon, Dalton, and Ronnie were waiting for us. Ronnie greeted us with his usual loud greeting.
"Hey!" he shouted so loud that I was sure the doornails in the cemetery across the street were going to climb out of their graves.
I forced a smile and nodded. "Hey, Ronnie."
His smile faded as he looked at me. "What's wrong?"
I sighed. I couldn't hide it from them. I was never good at hiding my emotions from anyone, but my friends always knew right away when I wasn't my normal self. "Nothing, Ronnie," I responded, in my best honesty voice.
"Uh huh," he said, unconvinced. "Another nightmare?"
I rolled my eyes and started away from him, but he grabbed my forearm and turned me back toward him, causing me to wince. My latest cut was still a bit raw. He stared at my face for what seemed like the longest second. Dalton and Devon were there by the time he looked away.
"What's going on?" Devon asked.
"Nothing," I said, firmly and walked away from them as the first bell of the day rang.
Nobody asked anymore questions and I was relieved.
It was absolutely excruciating to be at school that day. Even though it was the last day of the year and the hallways and classrooms were buzzing with excitement, I couldn't have cared less whether it was the first day or the last. I just wanted to be anywhere but here.
I rushed to my locker to get my notebook and pen and then I headed to my homeroom. I sat down at my desk and Billy sat across from me. I rest my head in my hands, feeling exhausted.
I was staring down at my hands resting on my desk and thinking, for the first time in life, that I could use a drink, preferably something alcoholic, when all of a sudden, I felt a tremendous wave of fear for no reason at all. My heart was pounding, my chest hurt, and it was getting harder to breathe, causing me to gasp for air. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe through it, like I had several times before, but it wasn't helping this time.
"Lance?" I heard Billy's voice. I continued to breathe, trying to calm myself down. "Lance, what's wrong?"
Without responding, I got up and left the classroom without asking for permission. I hurried to the nearest restroom, finding it empty, thankfully. Locking myself in one of the stalls, I tried to breathe deep, calming breaths, but it was no use.
"Just breathe," I demanded myself, but I had already made my decision. I reached around to my back pocket and pulled out the pocket knife my father had given me for my birthday last year. I flipped open the blade and, pulling up the sleeve on my sweatshirt, made another slice right below the one from last night, before letting all the air out of my lungs in a whooshing sound.
I felt myself becoming calmer with each second that passed, as I closed the blade on my knife and putting it away. I had released the pressure that I was feeling.
Just as I was exciting the stall, the bathroom door flew open and Billy entered, pausing when he saw me. I pulled down the sleeve of my sweatshirt quickly and tried to act calm.
"Lance!" he exclaimed. "What the hell happened? Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I said, trying to convince myself, as well as him. "Yeah," I said again. I'm okay. I just... needed some air."
"You sure?" I just nodded. He stared at me for a moment and then said, "Okay. I'm going to go meet up with Devon. I wanted to talk to him about something. Are you sure you're okay?"
I nodded, again. "Yeah. I'm fine. Go ahead. I'll catch up."
"Okay," he said and left the restroom.
When he was gone, I went to wash my hands. I scrubbed my hands with the cheap hand soap that the school provided. I stared into the mirror as I dried my hands.
"What is wrong with you?" I asked aloud to my reflection, as if it would respond. "Why do you feel like this?" I stared at my reflection for a moment, wishing just for once, that it would answer my questions. Finally, I sighed and gave up.
I left the restroom, not paying attention to my surroundings and walked into something... or someone. Books fell to the floor. Without looking to see who I bumped into, I knelt to pick up the text books. When I stood up, I looked into the face on Maranda Quinn.
I almost gasped, but I caught myself. Maranda Quinn, formally known as my best friend, was staring into my eyes. At least, she was trying to. I did everything I could to avoid eye contact these days, because my eyes said everything. But I couldn't look away from her.
Something about her was more familiar, though. It wasn't just that I've known her since preschool, or that we were best friends in elementary school. It was her eyes; they were a deep blue. And her hair hung down her back; it was dark black, like coal. As dark as a rainy night in West Virginia.
"Lance," she said in her soft voice.
I just stared at her. She smiled at me, causing my beat heart to speed up. And then it was like being hit by a sledgehammer of déjà vu - very unpleasant, and quite intense sensations of the previous night's dreams accompanied by a weird flushing in my legs.
It was her. The girl in my dream. The one who was chasing me. My breathing quickened again. No, I thought. Stop, I demanded myself, taking quick, deep breaths.
Her smile faded, and was replaced with a look of concern, as I felt the blood drain from my face. "Lance?"
"Hi," I managed, in a shaky voice. I took another deep breath and tried again, forcing a smile. "Hi, Maranda."
"Are you okay?" she asked me.
I grinned. "Everyone keeps asking me that," I said. "But yeah... I'm fine."
She looked into my eyes. I tried to look away, but I couldn't. She knew I was lying. She always knew. "Do you want to talk about it?"
I scoffed. "We haven't spoken since middle school," I pointed out. "Now you want to have a heart to heart? Sorry, but no thanks."
She looked as if I'd slapped her. "I'm sorry. You just... looked like you needed a friend. I'm sorry. Didn't mean to pry." She started away.
A flood of guilt washed over me. "I'm sorry," I said, quickly. And then more calmly, I repeated it. "I'm sorry, Maranda. Bad day. Bad month."
She stopped and turned back to face me. She nodded and smiled, weakly. "It's okay." She looked at me for another moment. "If you decide you want to talk, or just need a distraction, I'll be around," she offered.
I nodded. "Thank you, Maranda."
She flashed that smile again, causing my heart to skip a beat, and I stared at her, afraid to speak.
"Well," she said, finally. "Raven is waiting for me, so... I should go."
I nodded and forced a smile. "Okay."
"See you around."
"See ya," I replied.
I watched her walk away. She had really grown into something beautiful. Maranda and I met in preschool. We were best friends for the longest time. She hung out with me and the guys most of the time. But for some reason, when we started middle school, all that changed. She made new friends and seemed to forget about me overnight. We stopped talking took our own paths.
I walked to my locker to put my notebook away and then I headed toward the cafeteria. Stopping in the cafeteria door, my eyes scanned the room for my friends. I found them at our usual table. They were conversing with each other, Ronnie was laughing at something that I'm sure only he thought was hysterical.
I stared at them for a moment. And then, deciding that I didn't want to interrupt, I turned and decided to walk outside for some air. I walked outside and sat down on the steps in front of the building. I closed my eyes for a moment, wishing this day was over. Time seemed to be moving so slow for me. I just didn't want to be here.
"What are you doing out here?" someone demanded from behind me.
I turned to see the school's guidance counselor, Mr. Lee. "Hi, Mr. Lee. I'm sorry. I just... needed some air," I said.
He looked at me for a moment and then came closer. He sat down on the step beside me. He looked at me for a moment. "You look exhausted. Are you sleeping okay?"
I scoffed. "No," I said. "No. Not really."
He nodded. "Anything you want to talk about?"
I looked at him for a moment. "No. Not yet. It's just... I'm not sure if I understand it. So... I'm not sure how I can talk about it."
He nodded. "I understand."
I just nodded. "Thanks."
"Sure," he said. "Take all the time you need. All of us need a breather sometimes."
"Thanks," I said, again.
He stood up and walked back into the building. A few minutes later, I followed him back into the building and went to the nearest bathroom.
Ricky, a boy that I had known since the 3rd grade, was in there, sneaking a smoke no doubt. He looked up quickly when I walked in and then relaxed when he saw me. "Lance, you scared the hell out of me."
I chuckled. "Sorry," I said and went to splash some water on my face.
He offered me a smoke, and I realized what he was smoking wasn't a cigarette. "Hit?" he asked.
I looked at it for a moment, considering, but I quickly squashed the urge. I shook my head. "No. Thanks," I said.
He shrugged. "Suit yourself."
I looked in the mirror for a moment. "Actually," I started. "Do you have anything that might... I don't know... relax me?" I asked, hesitantly.
He looked at me for a moment. "Like?"
I shrugged. "Anything." I'm not sure why I asked him. I wasn't the drug-user type. But I felt I needed something... anything that might help.
He looked at me for another moment and then reached into his pocket, pulling out what looked like a prescription bottle from the local pharmacy. He opened the cap and dropped two into his hand. He handed them to me. "Here are two. They're strong so one for now. One for later."
I took the pills and then looked at him. "What are they?"
He grinned. "Effective."
I nodded and swallowed one of them. "Thanks," I said with a sigh. "What do I owe you?"
He shook his head. "This one's on me."
I nodded. "Thank you."
"So what brought this on?" he asked me, curious. "I've never known you to be a druggy."
I laughed. "I'm not. But today..." my voice trailed off. I didn't really know what to say.
He nodded his understanding. "I hear that."
"Thanks," I said. "And if you could just... forget you saw me, that'd be great."
He nodded, understanding. "Forgotten, man. Take care of yourself. I got to run. Look me up if you need anything else."
After he was gone, I looked into the mirror at my reflection. I felt worse than I looked, thankfully.
The day was dragging but it was finally last period. I walked into my English class and had to stifle the urge to groan. I had that one class with all my friends. It was also my favorite subject. I sat down at my desk in the back of the room and opened my notebook to the part in my story where I had left off the night before. It was my way of ignoring everything around me. Today especially, I wasn't interested in the drama of my peers.
But I couldn't focus. I really just wanted to put my head down, just for a minute; I would only rest for a minute. I let my eyes flutter shut and felt as my whole world started to spin.
And there I was, running. Running away from that girl. The dark surrounds me. I can hear her calling my name, but I won't turn around, I keep running toward the end. I don't know her name. I've never seen her face before. Her dark hair and pretty, deep blue eyes... they haunted me. In my dream, she is running towards me, begging me to let her explain. But I kept moving forward, running away from her. I was just about to run over the edge of the cliff, but then...
I jolted upright in my seat, stirring the attention of my friends. They all turned to me.
"Lance?" Billy said. "What the hell?"
"Nothing," I said quickly. "I'm fine."
He sighed and shook his head. He knew I wasn't but he didn't press the issue.
I was glaring at the clock on the wall. Just move, I urged the second hand. There were exactly thirty seconds till class ended, till the school year was over, till this rotten day was over.
Fifteen seconds. Come on, I urged.
Thank God! I was up and out of my seat so fast, I was sure that people thought I was a lunatic. I continued weaving through the people in the hall with only one thing on my mind: getting the hell out of this building. That's when I crashed into something, or shall I say someone.