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Authors: Melissa Pearl

Betwixt, Before, Beyond (3 page)

BOOK: Betwixt, Before, Beyond
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Chapter Five

 

I run to school and rush towards the dance studio. The door is closed.

Perfect! How the hell am I supposed to get in
?!

I think about falling through the car door and shudder. No, I won't do it.

So, what else am I supposed to do?

Before I can figure
it out, the door bursts open and I'm engulfed by a gaggle of girls making their way to... free period. We always have free period after dance on a Wednesday.

I try to avoid the rush, but can't help a few people walking through me. I try to convince myself that I feel them brushing through my arms and shoulders, but I am like a cloud of smoke. A couple of the girls shiver like Trent did. Maybe people can feel me.

I grab for Amber's arm as she walks past, but get no reaction. My fingers swipe straight through her flesh as her arm swings away from me. She's giggling at Lauren's references to her oblivious make out session at study group.

"I couldn't help it. He's hot."

"He's not that hot." Lauren shakes her head. "You were too drunk to notice."

"I was not!"

"You were a little drunk," Penny murmurs.

"Okay, fine, but that doesn't change the fact he's a good kisser."

"So you gonna start dating him then?"

"Maybe." Amber puts her nose in the air. "Or maybe it was just a study group fling."

Lauren giggles and threads her arm through Amber's.

"Better make sure Nicole keeps her hooks out of him then."

What did she just say?

"Uch! Did you see her prancing around last night in that million dollar shirt?"

A memory floods my brain as the girls walk away from me. I struggle to keep up as the images play out in my mind.

 

I flounced out of the house, having spent at least an hour making sure I looked perfect. I opened the passenger door with a grin and slid inside.

"Check out the new attire." Amber pointed at my shirt.

"You like?"

"Me love!" She
touched the soft leather and ran her finger over the fine lace trim. I was sure her skin turned a little green before she cleared her throat and pulled onto the road. "Where'd you get it?"

I forced a casual tone. "It's a Marc Jacobs. I bought it online."

"No freaking way! How do you afford this stuff? I can barely convince my mother that a $200 pair of shoes is reasonable."

I grabbed out my Dad's credit card and looked at her with a sly grin. "You want one too?"

She glanced my way then started laughing. "You are such a bad ass."

 

"She's such a little thief." Amber flicks back her hair as they ascend the stairs, heading for the library.

Well, she's certainly changed her tune.

I try not to let it bug me, but I can't help crossing my arms and frowning.

"O.M.G. you guys, check this out." Penny grabs Amber's arm. "I just got a text from Milly."

Everyone gives her a blank stare.

"You know, the slightly chubby one who works in the office sometimes." Penny frowns. "I don't know how she managed to get out of class to score such a cruisy gig, but anyways."

I move behind my friends in order to avoid an onslaught of human traffic as we weave through the narrow corridor and out into the quad.

"Listen to this..." Penny holds the phone closer to her face. "Just heard convo.
Nicole not at school. Mom thinks she's AWOL."

The girls gasp and my chest tightens with hope.

Okay girls, start piecing it together. I hold my breath.

"No way. She's playing hooky again." Lauren rolls her eyes.

"Yeah, I mean she didn't call this morning."

"Did you call her?" Penny looks at Amber.

"I tried."

"Liar." Lauren giggles. "You're still mad she rejected your ride home last night."

I did what?

"Hey, I had to break down a very important kissing scenario and she wasn't there for me."

Are you kidding me, right now?

"Guys! Can one of you at least start to worry please!
"

Penny scratches her nose. "I'm gonna tweet, see if anyone's seen her."

"Thank you, Penny." I scowl at my other supposed friends.

 

If you want to know anything at this school, you follow @Twitterbug. Within two minutes the guys from study group were chasing us down.

"So Nicole's AWOL. What's up with that?" Matt swings his arm around Penny's shoulder. Penny shrugs him off with a polite smile.

I shake my head. How long has he been trying for her affections now? How many rejections does it take? Get a clue, Matt.

"Yeah, her mom called the office. She hasn't seen her."

"She's probably just hiding out at home until her mom leaves the house or something."

"I'm surprised her mother even cares. She's allowed to do whatever she wants."

"I know, right? If I ever got busted sneaking home after ten on a school night, I'd be grounded for life. She waltzes in and out of her place whenever she wants."

"I wish I had her life."

Not right now, you don't.

"So, where do you think she is?" Penny's face is alight with the thrill of gossip.

"At home."

"L.A. for the day."

"Making out with Trent behind the bleachers."

"Who's making out with me?" Trent appears from nowhere. I look up at his tall frame and fight the urge to admire him. Cheating A-hole. If this had been a normal day, I would have put my arm around his waist. He would have kissed the top of my head and we would have walked to the library, listening to the others, while sharing secret little looks. His hand would roam my back, sending sparks over my body.

Hands that roamed other backs.

I step away from him and call him the worst swear I can think of.

"Nicole, who else?"

Trent chuckles and runs a hand through his short, dark hair. His dimples pop into place and he looks around with a grin. Matt and Drue roll their eyes. Maybe they know he's scum too... or maybe they think his cheating antics are cool. Man, I hate these guys sometimes.

"She's missing, you know." Penny stops at the library doors.

"What?" Trent swallows, looking slightly nervous.

"Yeah, apparently her mom called the school to say she doesn't know where she is."

"That's crazy. She's around."

"She's not at home."

Trent shrugs. "She's probably just run away to L.A. for the day."

"He's right, you know." Lauren shrugs. "Amber you said she stole her Dad's credit card. She's probably walking Rodeo Drive as we speak."

The jealousy in Lauren's voice is impossible to miss.

"But she usually invites me." Amber frowns then her expression darkens. I can hear her thinking, "Bitch."

"I didn't
not
invite you, Amber. I'm stuck in a forest somewhere, dying, not shopping on Rodeo Drive."

I look at Lauren.

"Didn't you take her home last night?" Penny points at Trent.

He nods, looking slightly awkward.

"What?" Amber steps towards him.

"Nothing. I just hope she's okay. She wasn't herself last night."

I wasn't?

"What do you mean?"

"She just seemed uptight. I'm sure she's just blowing off steam somewhere. You know what she's like."

They all nod.

I frown.

What was I like? Why was I uptight last night? What did he mean by that?

I wish I could remember. My head pulses and I rub my temples.

Lauren gives Trent a sympathetic look. "Sorry if she ruined your night." She squeezes his arm.

He shoots her a glum smile, playing for the sympathy card like a pro.

I roll my eyes.

"Excuse me? Ruined his night? He's not the one lying lost in the forest."

I want to scream. This is so frustrating. How is it possible that Trent dropped me home yet I've ended up in the middle of nowhere? What happened between his car and my house?

"Well, us big seniors have more important things to think about right now." He gives the girls a wink and grins at Matt's retaliatory insult before sauntering off to his next class. I want to follow him and ask for more details, but since he can't hear me staying with this group will probably work to my advantage. Maybe some of their gossipy natter will lead to the truth.

Matt pulls open the door for everyone and they file inside. I jump in before it closes on my butt.

"Penny. Amber." I walk next to my friends. "Why aren't you guys worried? What if Trent's lying? How did I end up in the forest? Please, someone, hear me."

"What if she's not shopping?" Penny drops her books on the big library table. At least she looks a little worried.

Thank you. Finally.

"Maybe she's run away. She's been threatening to do it for months." Amber pulls out a chair. "Trent did say she was acting weird last night. Maybe when he dropped her off she collected her stuff and left?"

"What's the bet some studly picked her up and they're now getting married in Vegas."

Everyone laughs at Matt's joke.

"Maybe some trucker kidnapped her and she's locked in the back with a trailer load of livestock." Amber giggles.

"Why would that be funny?" My voice punches out in harsh syllables.

"Maybe she's on a bus to New York. Hashtag, Nicole makes a break for it." Penny smiles.

"Penny, not you too. I haven't run away." I throw my bag on the table. "You guys!"

"Maybe she's dead." The table goes silent at Lauren's casual statement. They all look at her then at each other... then all start cracking up.

"Why are you guys laughing? I'm not dead. I'M NOT DEAD." I scream.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a head pop up from a book and look around the room as if he just heard something.

"I'm not dead." I yell across the room.

He flinches, lowers his book and looks straight at me.

I wince.

Dale Finnigan.

Un-freaking-believable
.

 

Chapter Six

 

Of all the people.

I lick my lips and take a step towards his table. He's still scanning this section of the library, looking jittery.

I wave my arms and jump up and down. Dale frowns then looks back down at his book. Okay, so maybe he can't see me.

"I'm not dead." I call across the room again.

His eyebrows pucker and he's obviously making a concerted effort to keep reading.

Grabbing my bag, I weave around the tables and squat down next to him. I wave my hand in front of his face, but he doesn't move. His eyes keep scanning the pages of text as if nothing is trying to block them.

Holding my breath, I slowly stand and lean down so my lips are right next to his ear.

"Can you hear me?" I whisper.

The book drops onto the table with a loud bang. Dale looks as though he's about to go into cardiac arrest. Everyone in the library looks his way. The librarian frowns and shushes him, while my table of friends all start to snicker.

I want to crumple to the floor with relief. Who cares if it's Dale? Someone can hear me.

"Dale, I..." Tears make my voice quiver.

He stands up and with shaking hands gathers up his things.

"Dale?"

He doesn't even bother to pack his stuff away properly, just shoves it in his bag as he makes a beeline for the exit.

I follow him and manage to squeeze through the door before it closes on me.

"Where are you going?" I have to run to keep up with him.

He keeps walking, gripping the shoulder strap of his bag as if it's a lifeline.

"Dale, please stop. I can't keep up with you."

We speed down the corridor and turn another corner. Why won't he listen to me? I know he can hear me. Does he really hate me that much?

His pace is getting faster and I finally have to stop. Leaning over, I let out a little scream and stamp my foot.

"Damn it, Dale. STOP!"

His pace slows. I draw in a couple of deep breaths and keep walking towards him.

"Look, if this is about the Scarface comment, I'm sorry. Okay? I'm sorry! I didn't mean to say it and I felt really bad afterwards."

I can see his shoulders heaving as he goes to turn the next corner.

I raise my voice even higher as I run to catch up to him. "I know I should have said it months ago, but it's not like you've given me any chances."

He shakes his head. I know what he's thinking, even if I had had the chance I probably wouldn't have. I hate that he's right.

Desperation floods my system as he strides around the next corner. I stop in my tracks and am on the verge of tears. Slumping to the floor, I wrap my arms around myself.

"Define irony," I mutter. "Someone can actually hear me, but they don't want to listen."

I shake my head and sniff. Liquid burns my eyes and I know if I shut my lids, big fat tears will soon be rolling down my cheeks.

This isn't fair.

"Nicole?"

I glance up at Dale's whisper. His face is pale and he looks pretty edgy, but he is walking down the corridor... back towards me.

Rising from the floor, I brush off my jeans and clear my throat.

His eyes dart my way and he starts speaking to the locker just right of me.

"It's not about the comment," he looks over his shoulder before stopping a few feet from me, still facing the lockers. "It's about the—"

"I'm standing to your left."

He turns his head, obviously annoyed at the interruption, but at least he's facing me now... pretty much. Two slow breaths rush in and out of his nose then he swallows. "This isn't real."

"It is. I swear I'm not messing with you. I don't know why you can hear me, but you seem to be the only
person who can. Please, I need—"

He suddenly laughs, not a happy sounding laugh, but one of those verging on hysteria ones.

"I'm talking to a ghost, right? You're a ghost or something?"

"I'm not dead."

"I heard. What are you? Why can I hear you?" He points to his head with a shaky finger.

"I don't know."

He shakes his head and turns to leave.

"Please, Dale, I'm not dead, but I will be if someone doesn't help me
!"

My loud outburst is followed by a stony silence. He hitches his bag higher onto his shoulder and lifts his chin. I can sense him gearing up to stride away again, but then his shoulders slump. He lets out a heavy sigh.

I wait in agitated silence, my boot tapping out a nervous staccato on the corridor floor... not that anyone can hear it.

Moving in painfully slow motion, Dale spins back around to face me. I can't read his expression; there is a depth to his eyes that's
unfathomable. His whole demeanor has changed, his laughter has scuttled away and I feel like I'm staring at a seventeen year old... man. 

Dropping his bag to the floor, Dale whispers, "What's happened to you?"

"I'm not sure. I mean, my mind is here, but my body..." my voice starts to quiver, "I'm lost in the forest somewhere and I don't know how I got there. I can't remember anything."

"What's the last thing you do remember?"

"Amber was driving me to study group... at Matt's house."

Okay, that was new. Images of Matt's huge log cabin flutter through my brain. Loud music floated down to the lake where we were all standing. Drue and Nixon were throwing stones into the water; Trent had his arm around my shoulders and was drinking a Corona. Matt was standing way too close to Penny while she giggled at Lauren's joke... and Amber was sitting on a log, making out with... Charlie Watson! Ewww!
The greasy haired skinny guy from her Biology class? I thought she hated him. The memory evaporates in my brain. I try to search for more intel, but it's gone.

Dale snorts in disgust. "Study group? Don't you mean the party?"

I nod, still a little dazed from images of Amber and Charlie playing tongue twister.

"Nicole? Am I right?"

I'm about to snap at him for making me answer twice, when I remember he can't see me. I clear my throat.

"Yeah, the party... whatever you want to call it."

He looks serious as he nods and tucks a curl behind his ear. "Okay, so you left Matt's house and..."

"I don't remember leaving Matt's house." I squeeze my eyes shut. "My head hurts... and I can't remember."

Dale's features flash with concern.

"You must have a head injury."

"I do. I hit my head and my arm is killing me and I think I've busted up my leg."

"How do you know that? Can you feel it?"

"No, I went back to my body. That's how I know I'm not dead. I woke up and I'm down this steep slope, surrounded by trees and everything hurts. When I tried to move I blacked out again. I don't know what to do. I... I'm... What do I...?" My voice shakes as swift tears rise.

"Shhhh," Dale
whispers gently. "It's okay. I—" He holds his breath, hesitating.

I can't take my eyes off him as his face washes with varying emotions. The reluctance is hard to miss, but his head is bobbing. The movement is minute, but the hope within me clings to it. Finally he swallows and the nod becomes pronounced.

"I'll help you. I will." He nods again. "Just walk with me to my next class and tell me everything you know, okay?"

His voice is tender and swe
et as if he's talking to a five-year-old. For some weird reason, it's the most comforting thing I've heard all day.

I wipe at my tears as the bell trills. With a few little sniffs, I shuffle up next to him and we walk to class in silence.

 

Once he's seated, he pulls out a blank piece of paper and writes.

Tell me everything you can see.

"You mean when I'm in my body?"

He nods.

I start talking, describing the embankment in as much detail as I can. He nods, trying to make it look as though he's just paying attention to the teacher. Every time he wants to clarify something, he stops me with a written question.

Are you bleeding?

"No, well yes, a little blood on my head. I don't think it's bad though."

He does that smirk of his.

What are you wearing?

"Really? You want to picture me right now?"

He shoots me a dark look. His direction's pretty good and I get the full force of his glare. I can't help smiling a little. He's actually quite cute when he frowns.

I clear my throat. "I'm in jeans, knee high boots and a... a sleeveless leather shirt."

In the fall?
Aren't you cold?

"I guess so. I don't remember thinking that when I woke up."

Do you have a jacket? What do you have with you?

"I'm not sure... wait a sec!" I grab my bag. "I must have my bag with me."

What's in it? Your phone?

I scramble through it, pulling out lipsticks, a makeup kit, nail polish, my wallet, my Dad's American Express. I frown. Shoving it back in, I rummage around each corner of the bag, but come up empty.

I sigh. "No phone."

A jacket?

I touch the jacket I had taken out to search through my bag.

"Yes."

Next time you go back, cover yourself. Make sure you stay warm... and try and get a better idea of your injuries. The more I know, the more I can help you.

"Okay." Hope spurts through me as I read his words.
Of all the people in the world who can hear me. I shake my head. Dale Finnigan.

Why do I feel so incredibly grateful?

I stick close to Dale as we leave his Advanced English class. He is walking fast again and I have to jump around people to keep up with him.

"Why do you always walk so fast?"

"I need to talk to your friends before next period and I don't want to be late."

"My friends?"

"Yeah, didn't you say you went to study group with Amber?"

"Yeah, but I didn't leave with her."

"Well, maybe she knows who you did leave with."

For some reason, I don't want to tell him I left with Trent. I bite my lips together as I weave through the crowd. He glances at his watch again and I can sense his urgency and reluctance to be late.

Eventually I let out a sigh. "I left with Trent."

Dale screeches to a halt and I nearly bang into him.

"What?" he mumbles out the side of his mouth.

"I don't remember, but according to Amber I rejected a ride with her and chose to leave with Trent."

His face is pretty dark as he turns in the direction of my voice. He opens his mouth to speak, but waits until a group of students pass before asking, "Did he take you home?"

"He said he did."

"Do you believe him?"

"No." I don't hesitate. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I caught him cheating on me this morning. Maybe it's because it's the truth. Either way, I think it's safe to say that our relationship is over, so thinking of him as a liar, doesn't seem so bad.

Dale's dark eyes take on a stormy quality and his skin pales, making his scar scream red.

"Let's go." His quiet words command compliance and I chase after him as he descends the stairs towards the changing rooms.

 

Dale swings the door wide and leaves it open longer than necessary.

"Thanks."

He gives me a little grin as he heads towards his locker.

"Can you go through doors?" he whispers while spinning the dial on his lock.

"I haven't tried yet... well, not on purpose anyway. My fingers pass through everything I touch, so technically doors are no different."

"What's stopping you?"

"Ahhh... how about ick factor —
ten billion."

He grins.

"You know when you think about it..." He opens his locker. "It's kinda cool. You're like Invisible Woman from Fantastic Four."

I snort out a laugh. "Are you kidding me?"

"Think of the power you have." He looks at me deadpan. "You could sneak into anywhere and no one would know." He wiggles his eyebrows.

I can't help laughing. "What's the p
oint of sneaking in somewhere when I can't actually do anything in there."

"True, but—
" His voice cuts off as a few guys round the corner and start opening their own lockers.

I'm suddenly super conscious that I'm in the boys' locker room. The guy next to me unzips his jeans and takes them off. I turn away and find myself staring at a half naked Dale.

Wow. He's like totally cut. That's surprising. I stare at him with wide eyes as he turns to find his shirt. How had I never noticed this about him before? His baggy T-shirts were hiding some major candy.

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