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With cross charm, p.33
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       With Cross & Charm, p.33

           D.L. Miles
 

  Chapter 1

  Five months later…

  Standing in the bathroom I stared at myself in the mirror. Wearing nothing but my jeans and a black bra I traced my fingers along the reddened scar down my ribcage; it wasn’t actually that long, only an inch and a half. What I found harder to look at was the matching scar at the base of my neck, running down my collarbone.

  I leaned into the mirror and gently touched it, remembering the pain it had given me. The nightmares still woke me up at night, but at least they weren’t every night anymore. Well, not the ones involving me at least.

  “Hurry up in there!” my brother shouted as he banged on the door, snapping me out of the flashbacks. Not a bad thing, I thought. He yelled, “We need to leave if I want to get to work on time!”

  “All right, all right!” I called back to him, throwing on a tee-shirt. It helped to cover the scar, but the tip stuck out, just enough to bother me whenever I passed a reflective surface. I shrugged my shoulders weakly in the mirror, knowing this day wasn’t going to get any better.

  Opening the door I came face to face with Ben, unhappily giving me the stink eye for taking so long. You’d think after being kidnapped by a serial killer and then being stabbed five months ago would get me a little sympathy, but not from him; he just became my body guard. I could barely go to the kitchen without him there, and if it wasn’t him, it was my best friend Aria. She still blamed herself for what had happened, saying that she should have been with me rather than flirting with her now boyfriend.

  “What’s taking so long?” Ben asked me, spinning on his heel towards the front door. I followed after him, grabbing my dark green army jacket off the rack along with a black scarf. I used to wear them for style, but now it was only to cover up the scar.

  “I wasn’t that long,” I told him, “we have plenty of time.” The door slammed shut behind us, shaking the entire house as it always did. He locked the front door behind me while I waited on the wooden steps of our childhood home. Glancing around the neighbourhood, everyone that was usually out in the morning was there; the man across the street that always watered his lawn while drinking a beer, the woman next door getting her mail and the dog-walker who struggled to keep five animals at bay. Always there at 8:30 in the morning, like clockwork. I waved at the alcoholic across the street and he raised his can at me, smiling despite his wife starting to yell at him from the upstairs window. I questioned if he even heard what she said anymore.

  “You have plenty of time,” Ben corrected, “I’m already late.” I crossed my arms as he flipped his keys around to find one for the little blue Toyota sitting on the pavement nearby. Stepping off the porch with my brother I decided it was best to tease him.

  “Hey,” I said, “I can walk to school. No problem for me.” I laughed at his silence, knowing he wasn’t going to leave me alone so easily. As I touched the door handle the woman getting her mail turned to me, something she usually did.

  “Mercy, darling,” she said. “How are you feeling?”

  “I’m…all better Mrs. Ryan.” I forced a smile on my face, trying to sound cheery. “All healed up.”

  “That’s good to hear,” she said as she flapped her mail at me, “if you ever need anything just ask.”

  “Will do.” I waved goodbye and we went our separate ways. Climbing into the car, Ben started it and immediately sped off towards my school. This was going to be my first official day back, and it was no coincidence that I had picked today; it was my birthday.

  I hoped that as long as people remembered it was my birthday it wouldn’t be “my first day back since I was nearly murdered”. It would just be “my birthday”. Then people could just give me happy wishes and move on, leaving the awkward silences and quick glances someplace else.

  Even though I was a minor, and my name had never been released, everyone still knew it was me. Balefire Bay was a small town, and I went to a small high school, so it was obvious that I was the one who was attacked. Everyone knew I had technically died for roughly two minutes, and murder was something that had never happened in this town. Serial killers were something that happened in big places, in other places. Usually when you died here, you stayed dead. But when I woke up in the hospital I became a “miracle survivor”. Oh how I loved whoever started that one.

  The car rounded the corner to the school, just missing a few of my classmates. Ben ignored the honks he got from other students and parents as he pulled up to the front doors behind a school bus. I looked at all the people passing by, none of them taking any notice of me. My eyes drifted to the glass doors and it looked ominously dark inside the school, a strange feeling of dread welling up in my chest. I had gotten the feeling plenty of times before, but today felt different. It felt particularly gripping.

  Ben’s fingers tapped my leg, dragging me from my thoughts. He said, tone dripping with a sickening amount of pity, “If you need more time that’s fine.”

  “Nah.” I blew him off, along with any of my own feelings. “No point in lying around the house all day with Aria skipping school to wait on me hand and foot. Wait…maybe I should then?” Ben smiled and rolled his eyes, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a small blue box, with a single gold bow taped to the top.

  “Here,” he said as he passed it to me, “happy birthday Mercedes.”

  “Ugh, don’t call me that!” I ordered. “It’s just Mercy! But thanks, can I open it?”

  “Go ahead.” Ben rested a hand on the headrest behind me as I picked the lid off of the box. Inside was an old silver locket, decorated with flowers and swirls. I held back a gasp as I picked it up, eyes threatening tears.

  “Really?” I managed to choke out. Ben gave me another pitying smile.

  “You’re sixteen today,” he explained, “Mom and Dad wanted you to have it on your sixteenth birthday.”

  I leapt over the seats and wrapped him in a hug. “Thank you!” I cried. When I finally released him I found I was pulling off my scarf, the one thing I thought I would never do in a million decades. I put the locket on over my head, the chain so long that the pendant rested near my belly-button. My scarf hung loosely over my shoulders as I admired my new necklace, well my new old necklace. I had wanted it ever since I was four, but my parents always said that I had to wait until I was sixteen…when they died two years ago I hadn’t even thought about it anymore. But Ben remembered.

  “Thank you,” I said again.

  “It’s from Mom and Dad,” he repeated, his voice was a little weak, but he quickly straightened his back. “I’m giving you my gift after dinner tonight!” His eyes flicked out the window beside me and he nodded out it. “There’s Aria, hurry up or you’ll be late.”

  “Bye,” I choked, my eyes still on the locket.

  “If you need anything…”

  “I know.” I stepped out of the Toyota and waved at him after giving him a kiss on the cheek. It took him a moment, but he eventually drove away, getting honked at again as he cut someone off. I laughed, still on the verge of tears.

  “Mercy!” Aria called to me. I turned to find her running at me when she leapt into my arms. “Happy birthday!”

  “Morning,” I said, quickly sniffing back my pain. Well, it was a sort of happy pain, if that made any sense. “Sorry I didn’t walk with you.”

  “Oh, that’s totally okay.” She pushed herself off of me, a big smile plastered on her face. “I’m just so glad that you’re here. I get to have all my classes with you now so it’s going to make this year so much fun! Hey—is that your family’s necklace?” Her attention shifted as fast as ever and she gently picked up my present.

  “Yeah.” I grinned, excited that she was exactly like she always was. “Ben just gave it to me.”

  “Aw, no fair!” Aria set it down and spun around, gripping at her hair in frustration. “Now my gift will totally suck in comparison.”

  “I’m sure it will,” I joked, “but
can we get to class? I kind of want to…just get some things over with.”

  Aria turned back to me, less ecstatic than before. She said, “Okay. But there was an assignment do in first period so you might not know what’s going on too much…but I’ll explain when we get there!”

  I nodded at her and she took my hand in hers. She began to lead me through the school, with most people barely glancing in my direction. I did hear a couple of “that’s her”, but it wasn’t that bad. Not nearly as bad as I had thought it would be. Most of my classmates looked too busy with schoolwork because it was the middle of the week.

  Today wasn’t the first day of school, it was actually October. I had officially missed my last two months of tenth grade, and my first of eleventh. All of my exams had been missed, but they passed me anyway after I took a small makeup exam. A pity pass as I called it, though they claimed it was because I had such a high grade point average for the rest of the year.

  Aria was swinging my hand between us when she led me to her locker; she didn’t even let go to put in her combination. Finally, I just took my hand away from her and leaned against the cool metal, waiting for her to retrieve her books. Everyone knew we had been put in the same classes because of what had happened. I was sure Ben just did it to make sure I wasn’t alone. But I didn’t mind; he was right, I didn’t want to be alone.

  “We got Mr. Sampson for math,” Aria whined, “so we actually have to do…math. But it’s the last required year at least, we won’t have to when we’re seniors!”

  I giggled. “And we have Mrs. Riley for art first, right? I’m so glad, she’s awesome when it comes to assignments.”

  “I know, right?” Aria slammed her locker shut and we began heading for the art room. When we were about to walk inside somebody tapped my shoulder. I turned, expecting it to be someone telling me how sorry they were for me. But instead I found a tall girl, a bright smile on her face with big green eyes.

  “Excuse me,” she said through long blonde bangs, “do you know where the art room is? I have it first but,”—she looked down at a schedule in her hands—“it doesn’t have a room number here.”

  I opened my mouth to say we had class together when Aria jumped right in. “Oh, you’re the new girl! We have class with you then, it’s right here!” Aria pointed behind us.

  “Oh, thanks…I’m Eve,” the blonde said, tugging on her tight shirt to pull it down more, “do you guys mind if I sit with you?”

  “No, that’s cool,” I told her. I was wondering if this girl knew who I was, but her expression gave nothing away. “I’m Mercy, this is Aria. I didn’t realize we were getting a new student.”

  “Oh, right!” Aria smacked the palm of her hand to her head. “I meant to tell you that but I got so caught up in wrapping your present! She has a twin too, a brother, right?” Eve nodded.

  “It’s okay.” I gave her a weak smile. Maybe if we had this new girl, my day wouldn’t be so bad? At least then I could tell myself it was her people were looking at; she was beautiful, looking much like a model from a runway. Together we walked into the half full classroom and I found it rather calming. This room was familiar to me, with the exposed pipes hanging over head, the smell of paint and charcoal and art decorating the walls. A few people glanced at us as we came inside but quickly went back to their own conversations. Aria led Eve and I to our usual desks by the window. I sat down first, allowing me to bask in the sun with Aria on my left and Eve beside her.

  “Oh, I should let you guys know,” Aria said, “today we’re just presenting our egg projects, so you won’t really have to do anything.”

  “Egg projects?” Eve asked, sounding completely appalled at the idea.

  “Yeah! We had to create something using only egg shells.” Aria pointed to hers sitting at the front of the class. It looked like she had made a rainbow sun, the shells decorated in every colour she could think of. “It was so much fun, although my dad got kind of mad at me for using so many eggs…”

  “Is that why you said you felt sick for eating too many omelets the other day?” I laughed and she nodded. Mrs. Riley came into the classroom then, a green and gold turban on her head with a matching floor length dress. She spotted me immediately and I stood up to greet her; she had always been my favourite teacher.

  “Mercy!” she called out, arms going wide to wrap me in a hug. I gave her one back, trying not to sneeze from her flowery perfume. “It’s so good to have you back. We missed you here; you always did the best found object sculptures.”

  “It’s nice to be back,” I half lied, a feeling of terror bubbling up inside me again. “I missed being here.”

  “Well you picked a good day to come back,” Mrs. Riley said, “you won’t have to do a thing today! Oh, and happy birthday! Aria has been talking about it non-stop.”

  “I can’t help it,” Aria chimed in, “I’m just so excited!”

  “Well if you have so much energy why don’t you help me set up the projects?” Mrs. Riley looked down on my friend who was still eager. Aria jumped up and they walked to the front of the room to move around the egg shell pictures. I sat back on my little plastic chair, still smiling.

  “Happy birthday,” Eve said, looking more awkward than it sounded. “Were you sick or something?”

  “Um…or something.” I shrugged and looked out the window. So she didn’t know what had happened? Realizing how rude I must have looked I turned back to her. Eve was watching Aria and Mrs. Riley move around, as if trying to determine why they would want to make art out of egg shells.

  “So where did you move here from?” I asked, hoping to drum up a conversation. Balefire Bay only had one high school and the nearest city, Groveswood, was an hour’s drive away. It must have been kind of lonely for her here.

  “Vancouver,” Eve said, shrugging out of her jacket. As it passed closer to me it began to beep, loud and piercing.

  “Cell phones on mute,” Mrs. Riley ordered, wagged her finger towards Eve from the front of the room. She reached into her jacket and clicked a button, looking more confused than anything that it would be going off.

  “That’s a horrible ringtone,” I joked, “why don’t you change it?”

  “I…can’t really hear it otherwise,” she said, her voice going a little higher.

  “Oh, I guess that makes sense,” I mulled, “just don’t let Mrs. Riley hear it again or she’ll take it away. It’s the only thing she’s really strict about; she always says—“

  “Art cannot be interrupted,” finished Mrs. Riley. The teacher approached us, finger pointing towards the pipes overhead. “And you must be Eve Holmes, welcome to Balefire!”

  “Thanks,” Eve nodded her head at the teacher. “It’s quite the change from Vancouver.”

  “I would imagine.” Mrs. Riley’s dress shimmered around her as she twirled back to help Aria. “But you’ll see it’s much easier to breathe here!”

  “She doesn’t like big cities much,” I whispered, “she says it’s something about too many auras being around her makes her feel sick.”

  Aria came back to us, flopping down into a small chair on the other side of the desks. She took the elastic out of her dark hair and let it fall to her shoulders. It seemed so much longer than I remembered…

  The bell rang and I jumped in my seat. More students filed into the room and sat down, scattering all over the place. Aria touched my hand, telling me that it was okay, but it really wasn’t. A loud, sudden noise would make me jump out of my skin, and not getting much sleep wasn’t helping.

  Eve eyed us but said nothing. I wondered if she could sense what had happened, or if she was just starting to put everything together. I knew I was just being paranoid.

  “All right class,” Mrs. Riley said, her hands clapping at the front of the room, “if you haven’t done so already, please bring your projects up here so we can start the presentations.” A few students set their eggshell work on
the chalkboard ledge and returned to their seats. Mrs. Riley picked someone to present first and they began.

  By then I had stopped paying attention; I knew it was a little mean, but I never cared to watch others talk about their work. Instead I rested my head in my hands and stared out the window, watching as a few orange leaves fell to the grass. Closing my eyes I took in a deep breath, getting the remnants of the crisp air into my lungs. When I reopened my eyes I saw a girl standing on the walkway across the street, watching me.

  My heart skipped a beat as I recognized her in her white summer dress. I had dreamed of her before, always standing a small distance away from me, just watching me. My eyes tore away from her to look around the classroom, nobody taking any notice of her. I blinked hard, wondering if this was real but she remained under the blazing tree. As we stared at each other a truck drove by, blocking my view for a fraction of a second. When it was past though, my breath caught in my throat.

  The girl was no longer standing on the walkway, looking at me; she was hanging from the tree, a thick rope around her neck. Her dress ruffled in the breeze as she dangled from the heavy branch, eyes closed, just swinging back and forth, back and forth…

  “Mercy?” A hand gently touched down on my own and I jumped backwards. My chair screeched on the linoleum when I turned to face Aria, a worried expression on her face. “Are you okay? You look really pale.”

  “I’m fine,” I said quickly before looking back out the window. There was nothing unusual there anymore. No girl hanging from a tree, no white dress swaying on the wind. The palms of my hands dug into my eyes and I turned back to Aria. “I just thought I saw something.”

  I was shaking for the rest of art class, and no matter how many times I looked out the window and saw nothing, I couldn’t stop. My stomach was churning, my ears beating in sync with my heart. Aria had grown worried, that much I knew, so I tried to calm down. Eve just sat next to us awkwardly, obviously not understanding the depth of the issue. But did I even know what was wrong?

  “Are you sure you don’t want to call Ben?” Aria asked, her voice soft. The wind brushed my hair as we sat on the bleachers facing the art room. Flipping it over my shoulders, I pushed it back into place, shaking my head.

  “No,” I said, “it’s fine…I just don’t want to give him more reasons to keep me at home.”

  “But—“

  “No.”

  “There’s something I’m missing, isn’t there?” Eve’s eyes were narrow, flicking between Aria and myself. I had invited her to join us for lunch, since she was new, but now I was regretting it. I wanted to talk to Aria about my nightmares again, but I couldn’t do that with Eve there. A sigh escaped me; it wasn’t like Aria wanted to listen to my horrors anyway. They scared her too much, and I hated making her feel that way.

  “So how long have you been here?” I changed the subject, hoping to get them both talking about something, anything, else. Aria pursed her lips together.

  “Just moved here last weekend,” Eve said, “the old man said he wanted a change of scenery for me and my brother so we just up and left.”

  “You don’t sound happy about that.”

  “I’m not, honestly. I had a life back in Vancouver; and I had to leave it all.”

  “That sucks,” Aria agreed, wrapping her lips around a straw and slurped from a strawberry juice box. “I don’t think I could ever leave here like that.”

  “I could,” I blurted and quickly covered my mouth. My eyes darted to my best friend, wondering how she would react but she just brushed past it. I wondered if she truly understood.

  “I have to go to practice,” she whined, “are you sure you want me to go? You can come if you want!”

  “It’s fine,” I assured her, “what will they do without your awesome cello solos?”

  “Be even lamer than they are,” Aria laughed and stood. “I’ll see you in French then! Oh, before I forget, want to come to the dance committee meeting tonight? You can watch us argue about decorations.”

  “Sure,” I laughed, and she ran off. “See ya!” I called to her as she moved down the bleachers, just missing a boy with giant headphones covering his ears; he didn’t seem to notice her. Eve was silent next to me, but I could feel her calculating eyes on my face. I began to fiddle with my scarf, clearing my throat. Just as I was about to ask another question Eve’s phone went off, beeping its shrill alarm.

  She looked surprised as she reached into her pocket and said, “Sorry.”

  “No problem,” I breathed. “Who keeps texting you?”

  “It’s nothing.” Eve clicked a button in her pocket and the beeping stopped. “Does this school have any good ghost stories? My last school didn’t have any good ones.”

  I thought for a moment she was referring to me, but I quickly shook my head. Not everything that everyone said would be some sort of reference to me, or what had happened. I was imagining things, being too sensitive.

  “Not really.” I shrugged. “We did have that janitor that died in the basement, though. I don’t really believe it, but apparently he sometimes comes back from the grave to wash the floors.” I wiggled my fingers at Eve and laughed.

  She gave me a weak smile back. “Haha, sort of ridiculous. Like a person would come back to our world just to wash a few floors.”

  “Yeah.” I moved my hair to one side so it would stop blowing into my eyes. “That’s it I think.”

  “Did a person actually die in the basement? Or was that made up?” Eve’s eyes were positively glowing as she looked at me now. I bit down on my lip, not really liking this topic. Ghosts were boring, and terrifying. Why anyone would want to know more about them was beyond me.

  “Yeah,” I said again, “I think he died about…ten years ago? He suffocated somehow. I don’t remember if it was ever declared…”

  “Okay, cool.”

  I raised my eyebrows at her.

  “Well, not cool as in it’s cool he died, but just…cool as in…thanks for telling me?” Even she didn’t sound convinced of herself.

  “You like ghosts, huh?” I asked. Eve was a pretty girl, but she became absolutely beautiful when she started talking about ghosts; something in her eyes made me wonder about her. And I wondered if I ever looked like that when talking about something.

  “Nah.” She jumped from her seat, checking her phone for the time. “But I actually have to go find my brother now. I’ll talk to you later!”

  Eve ran down the steps on the bleachers, her bag hitting the boy in the back of the head. She didn’t turn around to apologize and I called after her, “Wait! We didn’t exchange phone numbers!”

  But she never turned around, even as the boy cursed at her. I picked up my things and approached him, watching as he glared at Eve with an unusual intensity.

  “Sorry about her,” I murmured. I stayed standing, deciding it wasn’t a good idea to invade the boy’s territory. “Are you okay?”

  When he shifted his gaze to me he almost looked surprised. He just stared at me for a moment, before pulling his headphones down.

  “What?”

  “Um…she hit your head. Are you okay? I don’t think she meant to do it…she was in a hurry was all.” I shifted my feet around, hoping he would just tell me to leave.

  “I’m fine.” He looked suspicious.

  “Okay, well sorry again.” I moved down the last of the steps and practically ran for the school. Something about looking into the boys blue eyes was making my legs feel strange, as if I would just fall over. Exactly how I had felt in class.

  My hands raised to my burning cheeks when I made it inside. Maybe I would just go watch Aria practice after all.

  I turned around in the empty hallways, feeling a little safer now that I was inside. But my face was still red from how that boy had stared at me, and something about him made me feel sick. I faced my locker, closed my eyes and took deep breaths. When I felt I had stood th
ere long enough, I decided to try and find Aria in the music room. I slammed my locker door shut and started walking when I ran into someone.

  “Sorry,” I stammered, bag falling to the floor. Nothing fell out, and I reached for the handle when a larger hand swept over mine.

  “It’s my fault,” a deep voice said, “I never look where I’m going.”

  Slowly, I looked up, still kneeling on the ground to find someone else I didn’t recognize. A boy stood there, and the green of his eyes told me that he was Eve’s twin brother. I knew my mouth was hanging open, and drying with each passing second, but I just couldn’t look away from him.

  “Are you…okay?” He furrowed his brow at me, and removed his hand from mine. But he held it out again to me, and I absentmindedly took it as we stood.

  “Uh, yeah,” I said, “I’m fine. I-I mean, sorry! I wasn’t looking where I was going, and I just…yeah…my fault…sorry.”

  He smiled, and my heart jumped into my throat. Our hands were still touching, and when I realized that I snapped it back to my side. He did the same, but in a much slower movement. A much more normal, casual movement.

  “My names Tristan,” he said, and it felt like he was towering over me so much that I couldn’t look into his eyes. “Do you think you could point me to the office?”

  “Uh, yeah.” I swung my bag over my shoulder, and gestured in the direction I was going. “It’s over here.”

  “Thanks.” He followed me, and I felt like he was staring at me. I kept my eyes down, and brushed my hair behind my ear. He asked, “Are you going to tell me your name?”

  “Mercy,” I mumbled, my heart racing, “the office is there.”

  I pointed at the small corner room, and he nodded. Trying to make a quick escape, I mumbled something incoherent when he grabbed my hand. I turned back to him, holding my free hand to my face as he slowly brought it to his lips. He gave me one gentle kiss, his lips barely brushing against my hand, and he said, “Thank you Mercy, I hope we see each other again.”

  I hurried to the music room, with an annoying skip in my step.

 
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