Chapter 15: Dread

When usually I couldn’t wait for my long day of classes to end, today I was dreading it. I continuously glanced at Olivia, to see if maybe she might change her mind about me.

When the professor released us from class, I lost track of Olivia. I gathered my books, slowly and methodically putting them back in my messenger bag.

I sighed, dragging my bag over my body and followed the group of students filtering out of the room.

Olivia was waiting patiently in the hallway.

“Hey.” I said softly.

“Hi.” She smiled. “Are we still going for a walk?”

I swallowed and nodded slowly. “If you want. You can still change your mind.”

Olivia pursed her lips. “No, I won’t change my mind.”

I drew in a deep breath. “I was afraid of that.”

Olivia frowned.

“Can you lead the way? I’m still not entirely familiar with the campus.” I informed her.

She nodded. “Where do you want to go?” She began leading me down the hall.

“Someplace quiet, private. You know? Someplace where no one will overhear us.”

She chewed the corner of her lip for a moment and led me out one of the side doors.

We crossed a perfectly manicured lawn. I followed silently, and Olivia didn’t attempt to make any attempt to make conversation.

I glanced around to be sure no one was following. I couldn’t help being paranoid. If anyone followed and found out my secrets, I was sure that by first class the next morning the entire school would know. I knew Olivia would never tell, but I couldn’t be so sure about anyone else.

We reached the edge of the grass, and I stopped. “This is it? This is the spot?” I guessed.

I couldn’t see anything else beyond the wall of trees before us. Some of these trees were new or sprouting up from the roots, while others were ancient, possibly there from the founding of the school.

“No, no. We keep going.” Olivia answered. She lifted aside a sloping branch and slipped beneath it.

I followed close behind her, studying her carefully. A large part of me wanted to reach out and touch her, or at the very least hold her tiny hand in mine.

I hardly even noticed that the ground beneath our feet.

Her face puckered into a frown. “Now… there should be a path here… somewhere.”

“A path?” I asked.

She nodded, moving aside another branch. “Oh, there.”

I moved toward her, peering over her shoulder. I noticed immediately the same path she was pointing to.

I followed close behind her.

“Where are we going? Into town?” I inquired.

She laughed softly. “No, no. It’s way too far. It’s almost half an hour by car. It would take us so long to walk into town.”

“Oh.” I mumbled.

The ground below us began to slope down, which seemed to make sense. I remembered on the day my parents dropped me off, we had to drive up a winding, sloping hill to get to the front gates.

I glanced around at the trees. If it weren’t for the path beneath us, I would have been sure we’d be getting lost. Everything seemed to look the same.

“So then where are we going?” I asked after a few seconds of silence.

“There’s supposed to be a place, at the end of this path where kids used to go to get drunk, you know? No one ever uses it anymore because there was a bust there, some kids were suspended, and I guess everyone is worried that if they come back, they’ll get caught again.”

I ducked beneath a low branch that she was easily able to pas through without bending. “And you’re not worried about that?” I asked.

“No.” Olivia answered, smiling at me. “We won’t be doing anything wrong.” She shrugged.

“Right.” I answered. “You’re sure no one else will be here?”

“I’m positive.” Olivia replied.

“Alright, lead on.” I sighed, continuing to follow right behind her. She hopped neatly over a fallen log, which looked no thicker than my arm. I easily stepped over it.

“Here.” Olivia said finally, triumphantly.

My eyes flicked up to see a large stone bench in a tiny circular shaped clearing. I moved into the middle of the clearing and turned in a small circle. On all sides, there were trees, as far as a person could see. No gaps of light shone through, except from above. It was eerily quiet. And eerily perfect.

Olivia laughed softly, plopping down on the bench. “So this is where the bench from the front court went. It disappeared last semester.”

I dropped my bag on a patch of springy ferns and moved toward Olivia. I plopped down on the stone bench with a sigh.

Olivia seemed to wait patiently for me to begin.

I drew in a deep breath. “I’ve never told anyone this. I don’t know where to start.”

“Start at the beginning. Why did you come to Pine Crest Academy?”

“That’s actually kind of the end of the story.”

“Oh.” She pursed her lips.

I stood and brought one leg over the bench, sitting so I was straddling the stone seat. This way I was facing her and I could read her expression clearly.

She turned, slanting her bare legs to face me too.

I drew in a deep breath. “I… I don’t really know how it started. I guess it started the same way it always does. I was at a party, or a friend’s house and someone handed me a beer. I tried it, and I liked it. I mean, isn’t that how it always goes? I drank beer for a little while, on Friday nights at house parties, or on Saturday nights… whenever someone had a keg or a case of beer, I would drink one or two and begin to loosen up, you know? I felt free, and it took away all of the responsibilities and struggles I had. For a few brief hours or minutes I forgot everything, I could be completely normal. I could be completely someone else.”

I paused, choosing my words carefully. “And after a few weeks, those few beers wouldn’t do it anymore. I tried something harder. It was whisky or vodka… I’m not sure. And I just kind of graduated. I started smoking because it just made sense. Every time I drank, I had to have a cigarette to go with it.”

I sighed, dropping my head into my hands. “But of course like everything else, after a time I kind of began to tolerate it. I was at a party, with a lot of people I didn’t know, and I was fairly drunk and someone passed around a joint, and I took a hit off it. And before I knew it, that wasn’t enough. So I graduated to harder stuff.”

“What kind of harder stuff?” Olivia inquired quietly.

“A bit of LSD at first… until someone gave me some coke at a party, and before I knew it, I was hooked.” I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. “I started to loose entire weekends. I’d get drunk and high on Friday nights and would wake up Monday morning, not knowing where I was or what I’d done. I would be at a party and I would come to at home in bed. My parents were freaking out, they had no idea what was going on. I was hardly home, my grades were slipping. Most of the time I wasn’t even going to class, and when I was I was usually high and couldn’t remember anything.” I sighed. “My cigarette breaks were getting longer throughout the day. My friends were no longer the people sitting in class and studying. My friends were the people crowded around a joint behind the dumpsters at the back of the school. These people didn’t care about me, but to me they were friends. They turned me on to the lifestyle that I knew now, and I was so lost, I was grateful to them. This girl, Katie… I guess she was my girlfriend at the time I don’t know. It was just sex and… drugs. I couldn’t even tell you her last name if I wanted to…” I paused, not sure if I should be telling her all this. “One day some cops showed up at the school. They were doing locker checks, and Katie was devastated. She was on her last strike, if she got caught they were going to kick her out of school and her parents were going to throw her out. I couldn’t let that happen, so I did the only thing I could… I took the bag of weed she had in her locker and put it in mine. They busted me, and suspended me for two weeks. I got nailed for possession with intent to distribute.

“My parents were furious. I was grounded and they hardly let me out of the house, thinking it would somehow get me clean. I of course was sneaking out and back in while they were asleep at night, and they were none the wiser.

“My mother resented me because I interrupted her perfect, happy little family. It was like I was going against her image of the big, wholesome, god-loving, bible bearing family she had. My dad wouldn’t even look at me or be in the same room as me. He felt like I was being irresponsible. I was his oldest son, it was my job to help parent the younger kids, and to share some of the responsibilities of his job as a father…

“But I didn’t want any of that… I just wanted to be me, and they couldn’t see that. I couldn’t take the pressure of school and my family… drugs and alcohol were just so much easier, and they made everything else much more bearable.”

I glanced at Olivia to see how she was doing with absorbing all of this information.

She was chewing her lip, but seemed alright. She wasn’t running away on me or anything.

“After a while, things went back to normal. I don’t think I ever went back to school. I just kept getting high, and drunk and when neither worked, I did both. I was always going to parties, and hooking up with the odd random girl in my circle… I was actually happy. Or so I thought I was. I was at a party one night, and I got a call from my dad. I had his car, and he asked me to go and pick up one of my sisters at a sleepover. She was sick and needed to go home… my parents were beginning to trust me again, and I couldn’t very well tell him that I’d had a few drinks, and I was high. I mean, I wasn’t really thinking. I was drunk and high… so I got in the car and drove to pick up my sister.”

“Oh, no.” Olivia swallowed thickly.

I had to keep going. I’d come this far, I couldn’t stop now. “I got her in the car and instead of putting her in the back seat, she asked to ride in the front with me. I agreed, just eager to get her home and get back to the party. I buckled her in and got behind the wheel. I was in a rush, so I was driving too fast… and I… I’m not entirely sure what happened.” I frowned, trying to remember. Still trying to make sense of what had happened, still trying to justify my stupid actions. “Somehow, I lost control of the car. I took a turn to fast or there was an animal or… I don’t know.”

“Is she alright?” Olivia demanded. “Did she make it?” The worry was evident in her voice. I wanted to smile almost. Olivia didn’t even know my sister, and she was already fraught with concern.

I closed my eyes and concentrated. “The car went off the road and I tried to maintain control of the vehicle, but instead, I hit a tree…”

“Oh, God.” Olivia groaned, she seemed to pale, considerably.

“The impact was mostly on the passenger side… I escaped with a minor concussion, a few scrapes and bruises… but Jessica… my sister… she broke her leg and got a concussion. If she hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt…” I swallowed thickly.

The two of us sat in silence. I was desperately trying not to think of what might have happened if she hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt.

“I got arrested again, for possession, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, endangering the life of a minor, reckless driving…” I paused. “Spent a few nights in jail… my parents wouldn’t call or anything. But eventually they sent a lawyer, who struck a deal for me. I was under eighteen, and a good kid who got mixed up in some dangerous things… the prosecution wanted to try me as an adult, but I somehow got off. I had to spend time in a rehab facility and get clean. I had to stay off drugs and alcohol for at least a year, get my grades back in order and they would wipe my record clean. I got off lucky and I’m insanely grateful.”

I rummaged through my bag and removed my package of cigarette. I had three left. I removed one and stuck it between my lips. I found my lighter and lit the end.

I inhaled the sweet release of nicotine and let the smoke float from my lungs slowly in a long puff of air. It was a perfect, sweet release. After so long, the nicotine was like a new high for me.

“So, my parents tried to get me back into school. My old school wouldn’t have me, and neither would any other school in the state… so my dad had a friend here at Pine Crest Academy, so he talked him into letting me go here. Professor Firestone put me on academic probation, but he decided to try me as a normal student the other day, which you know about.” I sighed, raising the cigarette to my mouth again. “So we’ve come full circle. That’s everything. All of my secrets.”

She pursed lips and exhaled the breath held in her chest through her nose. “That’s… a lot to take in.”

“I know.”

“Still, Isaac… you had me believing you were a terrible person, that you’d done all sorts of unspeakable acts… to me it just sounds like you were lost… but you’re at least trying to get your life together again…”

I nodded. “I don’t really have much of a choice… when… when you’re constantly getting high, you don’t see how bad it is for you until you’re sober and looking back at all the really shitty things you’ve done.” I chuckled humorlessly. I dropped my hands onto the bench, on either side of my body.

Olivia chewed her lip. “You’re such a sweet person… you’re trying to do the right thing, I can see it. You’re always trying to do the right thing, and you’ve done right by me. The night of the party, when I was drunk you did everything you could to take care of me, to make sure I was safe. You don’t do that if you’re not already a fantastic person.” She smiled lightly. She reached out and touched the inside of my wrist.

I glanced down and watched her fingers stroke my skin. She removed the burning cigarette from between my index and middle fingers. I thought she might steal a drag, but she completely surprised me. Instead she butted the cigarette out on the bench.

Ordinarily I would have been pissed. Cigarettes were in short supply here, and I was down to the bare minimum.

“Sorry.” She said gently. “My grandpa used to smoke, and he died of lung cancer. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand the smell.”

I nodded.

Her fingers moved back to my wrist. She ran her fingers lightly down the back of my hand. I watched her curiously, enjoying the feeling of her cool, soft fingers on my skin.

Without thinking, I flipped my hand over, and she interlaced her fingers with mine.

I smiled faintly, and squeezed my hand around hers. She scooted closer to me. I closed my eyes and glanced down between us, inhaling the scent of her hair.

With her free hand, she reached out and lightly ran her fingers along my jaw.

Even that small, sweet gesture felt remarkable.

I swallowed, glancing toward her. Her lips neared mine, and suddenly she was kissing me shyly.

My eyes closed and my forehead puckered in concentration. I couldn’t understand. She knew all of this bad stuff about me, she knew all of my deep, dark secrets, and yet she still wanted to kiss me. She still wanted to be close to me. It didn’t make sense.

I released her hand and moved my arms around her. I kissed her, my lips parting and gently closing around her tip lip. I moved my hands into her hair, it was even more silkier than I’d imagined. It was a new from of intoxication for me.

“Mmmph.” She mumbled, gently breaking the kiss by pulling away.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, worriedly, afraid I might have crossed some boundaries with her that I really shouldn’t have. I swallowed thickly.

She pursed her lips. “I mean this in the nicest way possible, I like kissing you… but… you still really taste like cigarettes.” She wrinkled her nose.

“Oh.” I mumbled. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She smiled. “I thought I could handle it…” She swallowed.

“No, it’s my fault.” I replied. “Totally my fault.”

She drew in a deep breath. “I should get back before Gabby starts looking for me. We were supposed to have a girl’s night.”

“Oh, sorry.” I said quickly.

She laughed softly. “Stop apologizing.”

I wanted more than anything to spend a few more minutes with her, at least. “Can I walk you back to the dorms?”

“Sure.” She nodded, tucking her hair behind her ear.

We both stood. “Wait… one more thing.” I said quickly. “About us… are we… a couple?”

Olivia smiled coyly, slipping her hand into mine.

We started off walking back to the campus. It wasn’t a definitive answer, but I’d take it.