AN: Oh jeez, that small break turned into a big break. It was not intentional, I promise. I was sick, I was doing a crap ton of moderate labor that made me quite a bit sicker, then the depression set in and then I got laid off from the job I didn't even start so now we're back to panic.
Anyway, enjoy the book.
I went to school feeling numb. Scarlet still hadn’t gotten back. But she had a right to go off on her own… even if I felt like I’d been left behind. It was hard after getting used to her always being there when I went to bed, and then being there when I woke up. It was difficult even when I had to wait for her to get back from wherever she was feeding herself these days. Since there weren’t any new murders or attacks to be heard of, she was probably subsisting off of animal blood and whatever her brother had given her.
Lee was concerned for me, but she didn’t pry any further, knowing I’d told her what I could of everything. Meanwhile Christian and Elias were bent over a sheet of looseleaf, trying to come up with lyrics for an original song.
I leaned on an elbow and stared at my lunch. A sandwich with a slab of ham, mostly the skin parts that Mike had to dispose of at work, but they were perfectly edible and still tasty enough for a sandwich. Just ugly.
Sierra was watching me from the corner of her eye, having caught on to how exhausted I was. She pulled her headphones off to chat.
“Do you need help disposing of a body?” she asked.
I snapped my gaze to her, feeling far more panicked than an innocent person should. “N-no,” I told her.
“I kept her up really late last night,” Lee explained. She slung an arm over my shoulders in a friendly gesture. “That’s all, she’ll be better soon.”
Sierra nodded and then looked over to where the boys were trying very hard to explicate their own poetry. “We should really get some of our own songs out soon. We’ve had some shares on the social media, so.”
Lee agreed wholeheartedly. “Yeah, we really should, especially since we’ll find another venue to play at soon.” She leaned on me even more. “You’re the quiet one,” she told me. “Do you think you could write some poetry for us?” she asked.
“I hate poetry,” I grumbled.
“Well, it’s not really poetry. It just shares some characteristics but song lyrics can do whatever the heck they want.” She was too close for my comfort right now and I just wanted to go home and be with Scarlet again. Surely she’d be back by now. But Lee wasn’t going to let me escape our friend circle so easily. “You’ll come over for some band time right?” she asked. “I know you’re sleepy but we just need you for support.”
I sighed. “I don’t really want to,” I said.
“Which is why you should,” Lee pointed out, knowing my mental health treatments almost as well as I did. “It’ll be good for you to chill out and take your mind off things. If Scarlets there you guys can hang, if not, then you can have some time to unwind away from her.” She shrugged. “I promise you’ll feel better after a while.”
“Fine,” I pushed her off of me, escaping her grasp. “I’ll come over but I don’t know if Scarlet’ll be around.”
“What’s up with Scarlet?” Ellias asked, as if he hadn’t noticed she’d been a bit spotty in showing up for band practices. The problems of being a vampire in the twenty-first century.
“She’s off doing some vampire thing,” Lee explained.
I elbowed her hard. “Don’t say stuff like that. People’ll think we’re crazy.”
“I mean,” Ellias pointed out. “We’re still a bit unhinged, even if we aren’t crazy. Case in point, your girlfriend is a bit insane.”
For the first time, I actually wanted to slap all of them across the face. Surely, most of that was just from lack of sleep making me miserable but another was just… I never intended for them to know any of this.
“She’s not insane…” I tried to keep my cool but it was quickly dissolving into sadness. “Just… misunderstood.”
Sierra made a face.
“I know what that sounds like,” I waved her off. Sierra and Lee had geeked out over serial killer podcasts enough for me to hear how people talked about them when they… fell in love with them.
I shook my head, finally deciding I needed some fresh air so I got up. “I’ve gotta use the bathroom,” I announced and headed away from the table.
They looked after me but nobody got up to pursue. Lee, at least, understood I needed some time to deal with the anxiety and imminent panic attack that had been trying to claw its way into my head. But my psychologist was generous with the anti-anxiety meds so it was a lot easier for me to curb them before they happened.
It didn’t mean I wasn’t miserable when I got like this. The girls bathroom would have quite a few girls in it at this time. Lunch was a popular makeup touch-up time so instead I checked both ways in front of the handicap restroom and slid in, locking the deadbolt behind me.
The small room was a bit too warm and smelled a bit too foul to be ideal but it was better than nothing. I turned the cold water on and waited until it was ice cold to plunge my hands under the stream and waited until my fingers hurt from the chill. And then I held them under there until I couldn’t bear the pain anymore and pulled them out. I breathed, and planted my hands over my eyes, cooling the hot skin there now too.
I felt better, but not perfect. But it’d be good enough as I repeated the process, though less dramatically until my body had come back to a normal temperature and my blood pressure eased.
Why exactly this worked, my therapist had explained but I didn’t remember. Still, my stomach roiled nauseously from the post adrenaline and I took another moment to let that settle down before going back to the cafeteria. At least the bell rang before I’d even sat down so I didn’t have to go through another round of questions.
But at our band meeting, I still had to deal with the noise of a bunch of stressed teenagers trying to come up with rhymes for “a tad unhinged.” I felt like telling them to just let it be and come up with a half-rhyme or even something that had the same emphasis. It was just a song lyric, and one I’d prefer not to listen to over and over. A song about being crazy. But not that crazy. I just didn’t want the reminder of how high my med dosage was or that I had to take it in the first place. Especially since we’d just had a discussion in health class about how overmedicated the American population was. But it wasn’t my fault my brain had a hard time acting in the least bit normal.
After I’d been released from my responsibility as a friend to attend this band meeting, I headed home, my school bag slung over my shoulder as I headed out into the dark.
For how peaceful and quiet the cul-de-sac here was, it only had two street lamps at each end. The distance between Lee’s house and mine was very dark other than whatever spilled from the houses or from the sky. Tonight was cloudy, so the moon was obscured but there was enough ambient light for me to just barely make out the pitch black outline of the woods behind the homes.
I gazed in there, wondering if Scarlet would be back by now. There was a bad feeling in my heart that she wouldn’t be. Maybe just because she was worried Mike would catch her sneaking in or out of my room.
And then, there was a gentle prick of pink in those woods. I stopped dead and stared, waiting for it to come back. It did, a slow glint of pink out there in the woods.
Thank god, I felt so much relief knowing she was at least willing to stay close by and started over, eager to ask her how she was, and reassuring her she could still stay in my room.
I passed between houses on what I could imagine as their property lines. The most polite place to cut across somebody’s lawn when necessary. The woods were still blacker than black. Getting closer didn’t help with that as I strained my eyes to see where the pink eyes had gone. I spotted them a bit inside the trees and took my phone out to see where I was stepping in the brambles. A tiny break in the undergrowth became my way in and I gritted my teeth at the unavoidable brushing of branches on my pants. There’d have to be another tick check later. I didn’t want lyme disease or any of its cousins getting in my bloodstream.
Once past the initial barrier I looked up again, hiding the light so I could see those pink eyes better.
“Scarlet?” I asked, keeping my voice low.
There wasn’t a response and I couldn’t see the eyes anymore. I looked around, even turned in a circle, feeling lost in the woods. If I had to, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find my way to the asylum along this route. Not in the dark like this.
“Scarlet?” I asked again. It was strange she wouldn’t appear to me yet.
An uneasy prickle crawled along my skin. Her brother had left town, surely. He wasn’t the type to stay around for long, she’d said so.
Some quiet creaks of branches above me filled the silence. A crunch of leaves signified something moving in the undergrowth, but, with a turn, I found nothing there.
I realizedI should get back to the light. Or rather, I realized here I was helplessly blind; an issue I was sure Scarlet wouldn’t have, being adapted to night hunting and everything.
I turned to get back to the road. If it was Scarlet, she’d follow. If it wasn’t, I’d have to get away. But the eyes froze me in my tracks, hovering between me and the neighbor’s lawn.
“Oh,” I said, as if that was adequate for the situation. As if I knew exactly what was about to happen.