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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

EXCERPT: She Speaks to Angels


Rooftops
As the day began, I didn’t know it would change my life forever. No one prepared me for something like this. Not parents, teachers or guidance counselors. Walking through the front doors and down the hallway of Millennium High School in New York City, I thought today would be just like any other ordinary day. Long, boring and dreadful. Take your pick. I wasn’t anyone popular. There was nothing special about me that made the guys drool.
I approached my locker, combination 17-75-7. Could it have any more sevens? Out of the corner of my eye I saw him skirting along the wall, more of just a vague silhouette really. Not enough to make out a name, face, or even what clique he belonged to, but enough to make my heart race. Seriously, I could hear my own heart pounding. I wasn’t sure who I saw, but his presence sent a shiver rushing down my spine, and as the minutes ticked I grew closer and closer to finding out....
As I fidgeted by my open locker moments later, the mystery man spun past the corner and spun his lock combination: 15-40-31. I paid attention. Dameon. Raven black hair and equally stark eyes, arched brows as if he always had a mischievous appointment to attend. He probably did, as popular as he was. He wore a black leather jacket with a singular crimson red stripe that stretched from one sleeve, across his back and to the next sleeve, and black faded jeans. The only thing he altered was his shirt.
“Hi,” I managed to squeeze out of my nervous body. Never sure of what he did to me, I realized that just being around him made me clam up and never know quite what to say. I’d had a crush on him ever since he arrived, at the beginning of my junior year. That was three months, three weeks and five days ago. Well, as soon as Friday ended it would be five days. It’s not like I was obsessed, but he was hard not to notice. And anyway, his locker sat right next to mine. Of course I’d see him. And we had first period English together. He probably didn’t even know I was in the same class.
“Hi.” He grinned and placed his hand on my shoulder. OMG! He touched me! “Better get going. You don’t want to be late for class.”
He noticed me!
As he turned away from me with his Kindle in hand, and scrolling through his English textbook, he glided down the hall to Mrs. Engstrom’s English classroom. Jennifer and Molly bounced up behind me in a semicircle. It was the early morning shark attack. That was how I thought of it anyway.
“What did he say to you?” Jennifer pushed, her legal-eagle style sometimes irritated me.
“Nothing.”
“Come on, Ali! You can tell us! We’ve only been your friends since middle school!” Molly encouraged. Pale blue jeans ripped at the knees emphasized her artsy persona. 
I leaned toward them, giving in. “Not much, just hi and that I’d better hurry up to class so I’m not late.”
“He knows you have English with him,” Jennifer said, as if she were presenting a final argument in an important case before the judge.
“I’m not invisible,” I defended myself.
My two friends just stared at me. The school was comprised of girls who wore tight-fitting clothes from Hollister, Forever 21, Limited, Express. Cool, chic. Not me. My attire could be described in one word: baggy. Today my choice garb had been beige cargo pants, a cream blouse and black cardigan.
“You always go for that type of guy.” Molly brushed back her dirty brown bob with one hand as she held paint brushes in the other. Art class next. She could have chosen any elective, but each year she chose art. There was even a smudge of blue paint across her chin. She must have worked on one of her projects at home before school.
“What kind of guy?” I focused my eyes.
“You know. The dark, mysterious, brooding type.” Jennifer fixed her red curls into a knot on her head. Her hair had grown so long this year she didn’t even need a hair tie. After Jennifer teased me, she raced off with Molly, shoulder to shoulder and I couldn’t help but grin; we’ve been best friends for years. I couldn’t imagine high school without my crew. As they disappeared around the corner, the bell rang. Damn. I was always late. I really needed to manage my time better.
Fumbling with my NOOK, my choice eReader, I opened the closed door to English class. Mrs. Engstrom kept her eyes on me in that late-again fashion. I actually could feel those words emanate from her pores and penetrate my skull. Tripping on a television cable wire, I stumbled to the carpeted floor, dropping my NOOK and purse. Oh, God, please let no one be watching. Please let no one be watching this. I picked up my items hurriedly and then flung my body upward, propelling myself into an open seat. Damn; the whole class stared and a few giggles permeated the room. Awkward. Dameon sat in the back with his eyes locked on mine the whole time. No squeezing out of this embarrassment.
Plopping into the front row with a shake of my head, I let my graciously long dark hair wisp over my oval shaped face. Sea blue eyes begged me to cover them up; I didn’t want to see any more. Kids stared, and faces that once held shape and names became a conglomeration of taunting flesh. I felt dizzy with the rush of adrenaline. Emotions pulled me in opposing directions. Fight or flee? Dameon kept staring from the back. I could make him out in my peripheral vision. God, his stare even looked sexy. Sliding down in my seat, I hoped to become invisible. But I didn’t.
Mrs. Engstrom had called roll and shouted my name just to be sure I paid attention. “Allison Maney?”As if she didn’t see the circus act I performed in front of the class.
“Here,” a defeated whisper escaped my pink-hued lips. I only used lipstick because my lips tended to chap. Molly used to tease me about my preference for wearing little make-up. Her mom, being a free spirit, allowed her to wear make-up since sixth grade. Molly said I must be the only girl in the city without it, so I added lipstick to my daily morning regime. But in truth, I didn’t need much make-up. I was one of those blessed girls without blemishes, pimples, or uneven-toned skin. Yes, one of those girls. But I quickly remedied my natural beauty with the oversized garb. My attire choices made Jennifer roll her eyes every day at lunch. She wanted to be a cheerleader; one of those “it” girls, smart and sassy. But she never made the squad.
Sliding the NOOK across my desk, my fingers clasped the delicate touch-screen and I flipped to the required English reading assignment.
“Allison, could you read paragraph one?” Mrs. Engstrom asked, but her request sounded more like a command from the captain of a sinking ship. She had lost everyone’s interest months ago.
“It’s Ali.” I arched my left brow like a dog about to bark. She returned a quizzical look. “My name is Ali. I’ve only told you this since school started.” The second sentence rolled out under my breath. The teacher looked like she might explode any minute as she took in a deep breath, as if fumes might just blow out of her nose. I sighed as I glanced back down at my eReader.
I guess her patience ran thin six months into school. Homework to grade. Mischievous students to send to the principal’s office. And then there was the fact that she hardly ever had anyone’s attention. She appeared surprised when I flipped my NOOK to the page that corresponded to the one on the whiteboard.
“Just read, please,” Mrs. Engstrom replied.
I nodded.
When the dreadful paragraph ended, the room felt suspiciously quiet. Not a peep. No one ever listened in this class. Was I really that interesting? I tilted my flushing face around in Dameon’s direction just as his side of the class stood up from their seats and watched out the adjacent side window. With eyes mesmerized, the other side of the class jumped to their feet with jarred expressions as two jocks took off like a marathon over a few desks to get closer to the window. I made out a blur of something dropping past the window to the ground, but it all happened so fast I couldn’t be sure what I saw.
“Tommy?” the quarterback shouted in question, and then I heard a loud thud. His nose pressed up against the glass. “Tommy Bachelor?” The dread in his voice shot through my veins and brought back the day Mom told me about Dad’s fatal heart attack. I had just turned sixteen and was supposed to have a sweet sixteen party. Dad made the arrangements for a limo to drive my friends and me to the local dance club. I had gone to the hospital instead and cried all night.
What the hell just happened?
I leapt from my chair and darted toward the window to stand behind the broad-shouldered linebacker just as Mrs. Engstrom, at a remarkable sixty years old, managed to squeeze between the two large athletes.
“I saw him fall!” a student in the back shouted, his forefinger pointing to the window.
“Is he dead?” a female voice questioned from somewhere in the middle.
“Couldn’t be!” The linebacker nudged the quarterback. “Could it?”
“Someone do something!” A shriek sounded from behind me.
As all these questions and statements circled, my eyes focused on a lump on the school ground. Crimson color washed around him as he lay face-down. I couldn’t be sure if it was him, but the body wore a green turtleneck, and I had seen Tommy in something similar before heading to my locker this morning.
Buttons on phones clicked, texting. Someone finally called the front office as Mrs. Engstrom panicked. Maybe it was the female student from the middle of the room.
“This is Mrs. Engstrom’s class...we just saw someone fall from the rooftop. YES! He is there now on the ground outside!” The shrieking voice shot goose bumps up and down my arms.
Mrs. Engstrom drew away from the window and appeared to be in shock.
“Never in thirty years of teaching.” She shook her head as if she just couldn’t believe what she saw. But I had my doubts. I heard the rumors...the rumors of students jumping from the rooftop of the school years before I attended. Mrs. Engstrom had only started teaching at Millennium High several years ago. She wouldn’t know that the school, the city, had its fair share of suicides and suspicious deaths. Wherever she had taught for the past twenty-seven years must have been fairly tame compared to this.
A tap on my shoulder from behind spun me around on the ball of my foot, and my dazed eyes met his. Dark as night, his eyes searched my face for expression. What he searched for I couldn’t be sure, but I felt pulled to him like a magnet.
“Are you alright?” Dameon asked, his thick brows arched over his thinly black-penciled inner eyelids. If not for the obvious tweezing at the center, his two brows could easily be mistaken for a unibrow. He reminded me of a referee controlling a game, making sure every player was fine, not rattled.
“I...I...” I didn’t know what I felt. I didn’t know Tommy that well. He played with the football team. Not a star, but a good player. But rumors circulated that he didn’t have his mind on the game anymore, that he was distracted. He and I never bonded over the course of my two and half years at Millennium High. In fact, I would bet he didn’t even know I existed. I only knew of him because Jennifer dragged me to the football games and she kind of had an unspoken crush on him. I’m sure he didn’t know she existed either, but that never stopped her.
Shivers rushed through my bones like cold water hitting me as I realized that was the second time Dameon had touched me. I stayed in that moment for a minute longer before returning to the classroom. A mixture of shock and adrenaline. I didn’t know if I should feel guilty for feeling anything other than dread in that moment, but I had waited for three months to connect with Dameon, and took what I could get.
“He seemed unstable.” Dameon whispered behind me, and his unchecked comment jerked the quarterback around with an intense twist of his lips and nose. The sight made me step back.
“What did you say?” As the red football jacket moved closer and closer, I felt Dameon step in front of me. His black leather red-striped jacket became my world. I couldn’t see either of their faces, could only hear their heated words, but I did see Dameon shrug with his first retort.
“Unstable,” Dameon repeated. Not mean spirited, not even in rebuttal. Just as a stated, unattached fact.
“You didn’t even know him!” The quarterback inched closer and his stitched name over the right pocket came into view: Clark. “You’ve been here...what a couple months? You don’t know what you’re talking about, kid!” Clark clasped both hands on Dameon’s shoulders and pushed him; but Dameon, whose stature matched Clark’s in height and width, didn’t react. Dameon just let Clark push him, I thought I heard a distinct hiss. From where I was I couldn’t be completely sure.
I stumbled backward during the feud, trying to get out of Dameon’s way, and stepped on Mrs. Engstrom’s toes.
“Now, boys,” she wobbled between the two of them. “This is no time for arguing. We have a death to deal with.” Her voice grew scratchy as she waved her hands. “Sit, sit. Everyone return to your seats. I’m sure Principal Patty will address this matter over the intercom shortly. Until then, S-I-T.” The eyes over her beet-red face met with Clark’s, and the quarterback retreated from the window with the linebacker at his side.
I felt panicked and my body shook. Curiosity spun my mind in circles and then to my Journalism class. I whispered aloud without even realizing what I’d said. “This would make a great newspaper story.”
Dameon turned, his owl-eyes catching me and his hand slapping me on my back. “Come on.” As he plodded to his chair, the array of stunned, aggravated, grieving students hit their seats and his hand broke away from me, allowing me to return to my desk. I wondered why Dameon paid me such attention. I guess death and shock did that to people? Chatter permeated the room.
I couldn’t believe what just happened. No one could. Another suicide to add to the growing list of suicides at this school, and though there had been prior deaths, I had never actually witnessed one myself. I typed into my cell as fast as I could. Thoughts escaped my mind quicker than my fingers could push the miniature buttons. My first text went out to Jennifer and then to Molly. Jennifer had to hear from me first. This news would crush her and she would need me to be strong.
Jennifer,
Did u hear? Tommy Bachelor fell from the rooftop and landed on the ground outside English class. OMG! We’re all stunned! I’m so sorry. Here for u if u need me.
Ali
As I watched out the window from my desk, a ray of sunlight danced over the sparkling glass and a crowd of administrators surrounded the body. Principal Patty’s voice sounded over the intercom. “Because of an emergency regarding a student, we will be canceling classes for and the rest of the week.” Sirens sounded in the distance and came closer with each second. Police surrounded the body as my NOOK slowly faded back to black.

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