Authors: Lauryn April
Phantom Owl Press LLC
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A DIFFERENT KIND
Copyright © 2014 by Lauryn April
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission of the author. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied, or transmitted save with the written permission of the author.
Edited by Victoria Shockley
Cover Design by Lauryn April
A Phantom Owl Press Book
ALSO BY LAURYN APRIL
Into the Deep
VISIT LAURYN ONLINE
ll I could see was bright, blinding white. I tried to glance back at my bedroom window but couldn’t move. My eyes were frozen open and watering as I stared into the abyss.
God, this can’t be real.
My night shirt fluttered around my thighs. A cold breeze swept up my spine. I could see strange, shadowed forms blocking out the light – dark bulbous figures in a halo of white. They were watching me.
This has to be a dream.
If I could have moved, I would have been shaking. I would have been screaming, but I could do nothing but internalize my fear. I could do nothing but wonder,
? It didn’t take much to answer that question. This was karma biting me in the ass for how terrible of a person I’d been.
I’m just going to be honest about this - I’ve always been a bitch. I know this, have always known this, and truthfully, it never bothered me much. But, as I floated up into the night sky, my body prone, wishing I could move but completely paralyzed in the light, I wondered if this was my punishment for being such a mean person.
This was what I got for stealing Stephanie’s boyfriend last year, two weeks before the junior prom. This was what I got for telling Erica she looked a little fat in her cheerleading outfit – as if saying
lightened the blow. This was what I got for making Andrea cry at lunch last week by pointing out to our whole table that she was flat as a board, and that Eric would never notice her. Replaying the image of Andrea blinking back tears made my stomach twist. My words had really hurt her.
“What do you think, Payton?” she’d asked. “Think Eric was flirting with me after practice last night?” She bit her lip. Her eyes filled with this nervous hope.
“I mean, let’s be serious,” I said. “Eric’s a boob guy, and you don’t exactly have anything working for you in that department.”
The hope vanished from Andrea’s eyes. She looked down at her chest, her eyes glistening and her cheeks red. A few of the girls at the table laughed.
I didn’t mean to hurt her; I’d just been telling the truth. Yeah, this was what I got for being the person that I was.
As I floated up to their ship, I stopped trying to convince myself this was a dream. Instead I wondered what they wanted with me. I wondered what they would do to me, but all the while part of me thought that whatever it was, I deserved it.
arlier that night I heard the shouts resounding from the stands. My heart pumped wildly with excitement as my squad led the crowd, cheering the Raiders on to victory. We went through our routines with precision. We landed every step. I smiled from my position at the top of the pyramid. With my arms wide and silvery pompoms sparkling beneath the bright lights that lit the field, I was on top of the world. I smiled, a real smile, different from the perky grin I plastered on my face for the crowd. Then I felt those few moments of weightlessness as I tumbled backwards until my teammates caught me. Those were the moments I enjoyed most about cheerleading, not the chants and cheers and moves I made for the show. It was those few seconds I had to myself where no one could see my face and I could just fall.
We won the game. As the football players hustled their way off the field, their helmets bobbing in a sea of red and gold, Melissa Fischer squealed and wrapped her arms around me. Melissa was a sophomore. She’d just made the varsity squad that year.
“Did you see my round off? I feel like I nailed it this time.” She was smiling, but her eyes begged for my approval. We’d been working on tightening up her round off for the last week.
“It was better, not as good as mine, but you totally fixed that sloppy landing,” I said.
A huge smile spread across her face. Her blond curls bounced as she jumped up and down. “Thank you, thank you.”
We shuffled off the field after that. Before we’d even made it through the locker room doors, there was talk of partying. Jared Hoffman, quarterback and my ex-boyfriend, was throwing a kegger, and I was invited. He’d been trying to get back with me since we broke up sophomore year, after I caught him kissing the now-graduated Angela Resner under the bleachers. But, since he’d told the entire school we’d slept together when we hadn’t, that was so not happening. Not that the rumor still bothered me. It had at first, but within a week of word getting around that I’d “lost” my v-card, I had five guys ask me out on dates. The cutest two had taken me out to pretty nice dinners.
I think that was when I realized people were crazy hypocrites. I was questioned by every girl in school to talk about the steamy night Jared and I had never shared. I thought up details that made their hearts swoon. I made them wish they could hook a guy as hot as Jared – minus the part where he’d cheated on me. For that they reminded me I was gorgeous, and that I could do better. But Julie Martin, who had slept with her boyfriend sophomore year, and had been unlucky enough to get pregnant, was considered the biggest whore in school. It was all stupid and unfair. I knew that even then, but all I could do was be glad I was Payton Carlson and not Julie Martin.
I walked with Hailey and Joanna to the parking lot. There was a chill to the air that seemed uncommon for a late September Texan night. For the first time, I was glad Mrs. Davis had vetoed my vote for uniforms with exposed midriffs.
“So, you’re going, right?” Hailey asked, smoothing her straight brown hair back into a tight ponytail.
I shrugged. “To another one of Jared’s
parties where he spends the whole night trying to convince me I
need to see his new laptop or flat screen, or
in his bedroom?”
Hailey rolled her eyes. “Forget Jared. Ian will be there, and he so has a thing for you.” Masterfully waxed brown eyebrows rose as if to say “duh.”
I smiled. “Well, maybe I should be playing hard-to-get then.”
I didn’t want to go to Jared’s party, but everyone would be expecting me there. Last year Jared had a pretty serious girlfriend. He and I actually managed to be friends for a while. Now that they were over though, he was trying to remind me how “perfect we are for one another.” It was getting to be a little much.
Hailey rolled her eyes. “You’re no fun.”
“I might go, we’ll see.” Normally if there was a party, my going wouldn’t be a question, but I wasn’t in the mood to deal with Jared. After winning against our rivals, the Panthers, his ego would be inflated to the point of popping.
“What about you, Jo?” Hailey asked.
Joanna shrugged. “Maybe, we’ll see.”
“Well, I hope to see you guys there.” Hailey turned toward her car. “If not, call me tomorrow,” she yelled over her shoulder.
Jo rolled her eyes, and we walked to my red convertible. The car had been a birthday gift from my parents. They’d tried to convince me it made them the coolest parents in the world, but I’d quickly realized it was just a parting gift for barely being around the last eighteen years. Mom and Dad had never been cut out to be parents. They did alright when I was little. I remember trips to the zoo and my father teaching me to ride my bike, but as I’d gotten into my teen years they’d gotten more and more distant. Their idea of giving me “the talk” had been to stick me on birth control when I was thirteen. While I knew they both loved me, it was no surprise I was an only child.
“You know the only reason she wants you to go is because Darren is going to be there. Every time you blow him off, he chats up Hailey the rest of the night to stay close to you.” Jo shut her door. “Otherwise he doesn’t even bother to talk to her.”
I shrugged, turning my key in the ignition. “Do you wanna go?” Jo’s wanting to go would have been the only thing that could have made me change my mind about putting up with Jared’s cheesy advances for a night.
“No, I’m beat,” Jo said. “I don’t know how Hailey is up to it. After practice all week and that game, I’m worn out.”
I nodded. Jo and I had been best friends since she moved to New Liberty when she was twelve. In the six years we’d lived next door to one another, we’d become more like sisters, which was surprising since we weren’t that much alike. Jo was more down to earth. She was the girl who actually read the book when she had a report to do, while the rest of the class, including myself, rented the movie. She wasn’t the social butterfly or girly girl that I was, but I figured our differences was a good thing. It made our friendship feel balanced. Looking back I have to credit her with keeping me grounded and preventing me from being completely plastic.
When I pulled into my driveway, Jo asked, “So, are you gonna go?”
“No, I think I’ll stay in tonight.”
Jo nodded. “Running tomorrow?”
“Yeah, same time?”
“Yep, I’ll meet you outside.” Jo paused for a minute, then said, “We should get lunch or something tomorrow too. I’ve got some stuff I kind of want to talk to you about.” She gave me a nervous smile, then got out of my car.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, watching as she made her way across my yard and inside her house. Something about the way she said that struck me as odd, but I pushed the thought aside.
y house was empty when I walked through the front door. Mom and Dad were out with my father’s business associates. They wouldn’t be back until after I fell asleep. I hit the hallway light and made my way upstairs. The house was silent, but I was used to that. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to come home to the sound of the TV and conversation from the living room, the way it was at Jo’s. Whenever I’d stop next door, there was commotion. Jo’s younger brother running up and down the stairs, her mother busy in the kitchen, or her father flipping through the channels, or watching football on the flat screen. I wondered if I’d like that better.
I washed my face, wiping away the thick eyeliner and red lipstick I’d worn for the game, and pulled my hair out of its restraining ponytail. My normally straight blond strands were kinked from the band and fell around my face. After taking out a sleep shirt from my dresser, I went to the window to draw the blinds. As usual I saw Logan Reed lying on his roof. Logan was my age. We’d lived across the street from one another for as long as I could remember.
When I was six, my mother had invited the Reeds over for a summer barbecue. I hid behind the trunk of the maple tree in the front yard when Logan and his mother arrived. Mrs. Reed held Logan’s hand tightly. She was a thin woman with long light brown hair and wide brown eyes. My mother greeted her and started light conversation. Mrs. Reed explained her husband was in the Army. Twelve years later, he was still in the Army. I can’t ever remember seeing Logan’s father. After all these years there were rumors he died overseas.
I’d never been fearful of strangers. I wasn’t shy, but for some reason all I can remember doing at that barbecue was peering at Logan and his mom from a distance. I hid behind the edges of tables or behind my father’s legs, never venturing out to meet them in person.
As I stared at him from my bedroom window, I realized not much had changed. I watched Logan sweep his dark hair back and adjust his glasses. He kept to himself and though we’d never talked, almost every night I’d see him on his roof. Usually he lay on his back staring up at the sky, but every so often I’d see him gazing through his telescope. More than once I’d wondered if he’d aimed it at my bedroom window; because of that I made sure to close the blinds.
I played around on my laptop for a while, working on homework and stalking a few friends on Facebook. It was only eleven when I turned off my computer, but I was feeling worn out from the game. After getting ready for bed, I hit the lights, turned on the TV, then crawled beneath the covers.
woke in the middle of the night, my eyes squinting even before I opened them. Bright light assaulted my eyelids. I opened my eyes only to squeeze them shut a moment later. The scratchy noise of salt and pepper static echoed through the room. I wondered if the cable had gone out. With a groan I twisted around, throwing an arm over my head. I tried to fall back to sleep, but it was no use. It was too bright.
Slowly, I opened my eyes again. After a moment, they adjusted. The world came into focus, and I found myself staring at a tiny, shiny gold figurine. I realized I was looking at the topper to one of my cheerleading trophies – a trophy I’d placed on a shelf above my desk. Sometimes I’d look up at that trophy from my bed, remembering that first award I’d won, but now I was eye level with it. Through my hazy, sleep-riddled mind, I wondered how that trophy had gotten off the shelf. Had I set it on my desk? I didn’t remember moving it – had it fallen?
Light reflected off the statue’s surface. The wall behind it was stark white.
Is my TV this bright?
I spun around, squinting as the light intensified. It was so strong that for a moment all I saw was white. When my eyes adjusted again, I saw the light wasn’t coming from my TV. It was coming from my window.
That was all I remembered the next morning, and even that felt distant and hazy like a dream. I sat up and looked around my room. Everything was normal. My cheerleading trophies all sat in their normal places on the shelf. The TV was still on; an infomercial played at low volume across the screen. Sunlight filtered in through the blinds, and everything was fine.