tagNon-EroticLevel Ground Bk. 01 Ch. 03

Level Ground Bk. 01 Ch. 03


Maranda. Again. What was with this girl?

When she looked up at me, her eyes apologizing, my breath caught and I looked away. "Hi, Maranda," I said, catching myself before another attack hit. "Sorry."

"We need to stop meeting like this," she said with a grin.

I smiled, weakly. "Yeah," I said, staring longingly at the exit. My throat felt like it was closing up. I needed to get out of this building.

"Actually, I was looking for you," she confessed.

"Really? What for?" I asked, trying to avoid eye contact. Because I knew as soon as our eyes met, she'd know everything.

"Um... I don't know," she stammered. "I was worried."

I looked into her eyes and saw that her worry was genuine. I tried to hide that I cared, but that was useless. "Worried about me?" She just nodded. "How come?"

She shrugged, and looked at her shoes. "I don't know," she said again. "Um... do you want to go somewhere?"

I looked at her for a moment. "Where?"

"Not here," she replied. "Some place quiet."

"Maranda. I, uh..." my voice trailed off. I was desperately searching for an excuse not to go, but for the life of me, I couldn't think of one. I nodded. "Okay."

She smiled, again, looking relieved. "Come on. I want to show you something."

I followed her toward the back door of the school building, where we exited through the back door. Finally outside, I let all the air out of my lungs and took a deep breath.

Maranda stopped and looked at me. "You okay?"

I looked at her. "Stop asking me that. Please."

She nodded. "Sorry," she said and started to walk toward the tree line behind the school.

Silently, I followed her past the tree line and into the forest, following a barely visible foot path. A few minutes later, we came to a clearing in the woods, where I saw an old, abandoned cabin.

"where are we?" I asked, breaking the silence.

"I found this last year. After my grandma died. I wanted... needed to be alone. So I went for a walk and ended up here."

I smiled, remembering what a sweet woman her grandmother had been. "I'm sorry," I told her, "about your grandma. I always liked her."

She nodded. "Thank you. I miss her so much. After my dad died, she was the only person I had to talk to.

Feeling that pang of guilt again, I looked away for a moment and then back at her. "I'm sorry. I should have been there."

She shook her head. "No. it wasn't your fault. It's just... it is what it is."

I looked at her. "what is it?" I asked her.

She shrugged. "life." We stared for a moment and then she broke eye contact. "Come on," she urged.

She opened the door to the cabin. The door hinges cracked, sounding like a harsh cry. I almost felt sorry for the old place. When I stepped inside, a strong musty smell hit me in the face.

"I come here almost every day," Maranda said. "I love this old place. It knows all my secrets. Stuff that I can't tell anyone else. I can trust it to keep my secrets."

I smiled, knowing the feelings all too well. "Yeah. People like that are a rare find."

She looked at me for a moment. "It's been my hideout for the longest time. Not even Raven knows it's here. I don't think anyone does. Except you."

"Why would you show me?" I asked her, curious. "We're not close anymore."

She shrugged. "A writer needs a quiet place to write."

Surprised, I smiled. "You remembered?"

"Never forgot," she replied. "I used to love reading your stuff. It always seemed like you knew me."

"I did," I said. "Then."

We exchanged a quick glance and I looked around the room. It looked like it used to be an old hunting cabin. There were two sets of bunk beds, with worn mattresses, and an old wood stove.

The silence had grown awkward. I looked at her. "Thanks," I said. "For showing me this place."

She nodded. "Of course." She looked at me for a moment and then came toward me. "So... What's wrong? With you, I mean."

I sighed. "Nothing. I'm fine." I turned around and walked out onto the old porch of the cabin.

She followed me. "You're not fine," she said, placing her hand on my arm. I tried like hell to avoid her eyes. But I couldn't. Her eyes were like a vortex, sucking me in against my will. "Something's wrong," she continued. "I can feel it. I've felt it ever since we bumped into each other today. Please... let me help."

I looked at her. "I... " My voice cracked. "I don't know if you can."

"Let me try," she pleaded.

I sighed and sat down on the step, they groaned with the weight of my body. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to gather the courage to talk.

Deciding to skip the part about the nasty habit that kept recurring after each nightmare, I said, "It began right after my birthday. That same night actually."

"What did?" she asked her voice soft.

"Dreams. Nightmares," I said.

"About what?"

"I'm not really sure," I said, trying to avoid details. "But that's not the worse part."

"What is?"

"After the first nightmare, I had this... attack, I guess," I said, searching for the right term. "Panic attack. It scared the hell out of me. I thought I was going to die, Maranda." I took a deep breath. "At first, I didn't think anything of it, but now... seems to happen out of nowhere."

"Like this morning?" she asked, recalling when I bumped into her in the hallway. "I knew it was something. I just couldn't pinpoint it."

"Yeah. Most times I can breathe through them, but sometimes it feels like I'm suffocating."

"And your friends?"

I shook my head. "They don't know."

"How come? I thought you told them everything," she said.

I shrugged. "It's a weakness," I told her. "I just... I don't like to feel vulnerable. So as long as I keep everyone else convinced that I'm fine, I start to believe it, too. Know what I mean?"

She nodded. "I think so," she said. "When my grandma died, I refused to cry in front of anyone. I'd hold it in until I was alone, but when I let the dam break, I couldn't control it. I've cried myself sick."

"I'm sorry you had to face it alone. I wish I'd been there."

She nodded. "Me, too." She smiled, gently. "I've never forgotten you, you know?"

I looked at her. "Me, neither. I've miss you, to be honest."

She nodded. "Me, too."

She held my gaze, her eyes locked on mine. I tried to look away, but she brought her hand to my chin and turned my face back toward hers. That was when she inched her face closer to mine. I could feel my heart skip a beat and start again, beating faster. When her lips touched mine, I swear I felt a spark, a tiny jolt of electricity. She must have felt it too because she pulled back.

She giggled, nervously. "Sorry," she said, softly.

I shook at my head. "No. It's okay."

I don't know what got into me, but I cupped her face in-between my hands and brought my lips back to hers. There was no spark this time, but the feeling I had inside my chest was different, new. I wanted to feel more of it. I held the kiss and when she kissed me back, the kiss deepened. I welcomed her touch, the way it made me feel. Like I was invincible.

Thunder rumbled in the sky above us, breaking the spell we were under, causing us to break the kiss. We pulled away from each other at the same time.

I stared into her eyes; my finger caressed her bottom lip. "what is this?" I asked, mainly to myself.

She smiled. "I don't know," she said. "But I'm not questioning it."

There it was. That smile of hers. It calmed me in a way nothing in my life ever has. It was an odd feeling.

"Thank you," I told her. "Thanks for this."

She nodded. "I'll be here for you. I'm not going anywhere," she promised.

"Thank you," I repeated. I sighed and checked my cell phone for the time. "Guess I better go meet up with the guys or I'll be walking home."

She smiled and nodded, as we stood up. We walked back to the building in silence. When we reached the front steps of the building, I saw Billy waiting by his car.

"So," I said, turning to Maranda. "I guess I'll see you around."

She nodded. "Yes. Our number is still the same, at the house. Call if you need anything, okay?"

I nodded. "I will."

We parted ways and I hurried over to Billy. He was irritated. I could tell by the look on his face.

"Lance!" he exclaimed when he saw me. "Where the hell have you been?"

"I'm sorry," I said. "I got distracted."

"I can see that," he said, glancing toward Maranda. "Was that Maranda Quinn?"


"Ya'll talking again?"

I shook my head. "No. Not really."

"Hmm," he said, but left it at that.

I was still trying to make sense of what happened. I was feeling something that I'd never felt before, but I couldn't identify it.

My parents were gone when I got home, for which I was grateful. My mother had left twenty dollars on the table in case I needed anything. I grabbed something to eat and went to my bedroom to record today's events into my journal, something I've been doing every day since my sixteenth birthday.

I had thought that writing about what was happening to me would help me figure out what was wrong with me. But so far, no reasonable solution has come out of it.

But the events from that day were still reeling in my mind. I was trying to make sense of it. I've always been told that's part of my problem. I often overanalyze the simplest situation.

Feeling exhausted, I kicked off my boots and decided to sleep. Once I got comfortable, it didn't take me long to fall asleep.

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