It was at the Halloween dance that I got the first glimpse of my past life.
The gym was packed, and due to the masks and the dim lights, it was impossible to tell who anyone was. I looked through the crowd, trying to see who Chelsea was dancing with, but even her red dress blended into the darkness.
Then I felt a movement from behind.
“Your boyfriend won’t mind if you dance with someone else?” a familiar voice whispered in my ear, barely audible over the loud, trancelike music. I turned around, disappointed to find that the black bandanna wrapped around his hair and the matching cloth mask covering the top half of his face made it impossible to see his features in the low lighting. But I knew it was Drew.
He pulled me closer before I could respond to the question. His arms wrapped around my waist, and I rested my head on his shoulder, closing my eyes and inhaling the sweet scent of pine coming off his skin. Jeremy would mind, but pulling away from Drew would be like trying to yank two magnets apart. It was dark, and we were in the back of the room, far enough from the main crowd in the center for anyone to notice. One dance couldn’t hurt.
He must have figured that I wasn’t going to try pulling away again, because he raised his hand to my shoulder and trailed his thumb down to my elbow, reaching my wrist and intertwining his fingers with mine. The palms of our hands connected, and I decided to enjoy the time we could be together, knowing that everything would return to the way it had been come Monday morning. The world spun to the beat of the music, and I let myself sink into it, clearing my mind of everything around me.
That was when the first flash came.
Today was going to be different. I could feel it.
It wasn’t because it was the first day of school, or that it was ten minutes after the time Jeremy agreed to pick me up. There was something strange in the air.
Or maybe I was just being ridiculous.
Tires screeched around the corner, and I looked down the street, recognizing Jeremy’s red Jeep Wrangler speeding down the pavement. He pulled up in front of my house and I hurried to the side of his car, swinging the door open and hopping onto the hot leather seat.
“Way to be late for the first day of school,” I said, pushing a few strands of hair off my face that had gotten out of place during my dash to the car.
He looked at me and smiled, his blue eyes hidden behind his sunglasses, and reached to tuck a loose curl behind my ear. “Liz,” he calmly spoke his nickname for me. “It’ll be fine. The teachers won’t even care on the first day.” He leaned back, the sunlight shining through the window glistening off his sandy hair. He looked like a model featured in a summer clothing catalogue; the pale colors of the blue and white striped shirt and khaki shorts he wore intensified his golden tan from his recent outdoor soccer practices.
“Not all of us have gym first,” I pointed out. “Your teacher might not care if you’re late, but mine will.”
He shrugged and turned to look at me again. “Why didn’t you straighten your hair today?” he asked, unhappy with my decision to let it dry naturally.
“I like it like this,” I said, unsurprised that it didn’t take long for him to mention it. I’d started to embrace my curls over the summer, which was easier than straightening my hair every day. It wasn’t like they were springy and uncontrollable. They were loose and flowing, the kind of curls people cherished before the invention of flatirons.
“I like it better straight,” he told me. “You look so young right now, you could pass as a freshman.”
The words stung. I took a deep breath to calm myself, keeping my eyes focused on the road. “If I’d straightened it, we would have really been late to school.”
He reached his arm across the gearshift and squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry, Liz. I meant it as a compliment. You look great when you straighten it.”
I shrugged and pulled my hand out of his, looking out the window as my house disappeared behind us and blended in with all the others in the quaint New England neighborhood. The early September leaves were still green, and I soaked in the last days of summer, not looking forward to the weather getting cold. Even though I’d lived in Pembrooke—a town right outside of Manchester, New Hampshire—for my entire life, I still hated the winter. Whenever snow, sleet, or ice fell to the ground, I stayed in as much as possible. There was no point in going outside and freezing to death.
Jeremy stopped at a red light and reached over to turn on the stereo. The heavy pounding of an awful rap song filled the car; it was so loud that the floors vibrated with the bass. The old man in the rundown truck next to us glared and shook his head in disapproval.
“When did you start listening to this kind of music?” I asked, lowering the volume.
“Some guys on the team got me into it.” He grabbed his iPod off the dashboard and handed it to me. “Check it out, it’s pretty good.”
I glanced at it before putting it back where it was, uninterested in the other songs in the album. “You know,” I said, looking back over at him, “I just realized we don’t have a song.”
The words sounded stupid after I said them.
He thought about it for a second. “I guess we don’t,” he said, switching the stereo over to the radio. “Why don’t you put on any station, and whatever comes on will be our song.”
It sounded ridiculous, but I reached towards the tuner to change stations, closing my eyes before turning it.
AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” blared through the speakers, and I turned if off so quickly that I feared the knob might break off in my hand.
“Great pick, Liz,” he said with a laugh, driving into the parking lot of The Beech Tree School—a private school for kindergarten through 12th graders that sprawled across a small campus. We drove past a variety of cars—everything from used Volkswagens, brand new SUVs, and even the occasional Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes—but Jeremy didn’t turn to find a parking space. Instead, he pulled up next to the flight of steps leading to the entrance.
“How about I drop you off here so you’re not late?” he asked, resting an elbow on the armrest and turning to look at me. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the lenses of his sunglasses, making it difficult to tell if he meant it or if he was irritated at me for giving him a hard time earlier. But the offer was nice.
“Thanks,” I said, forcing a smile I hoped looked genuine. Maybe he did care that I was upset about his being late. I grabbed my bag before hopping out of the car, swinging it over my shoulder and turning around to look at him again. “I’ll see you in French.”
The Jeep squealed against the pavement as Jeremy turned into the parking lot, and I ran up the steps, flinging the door open and scurrying through the commons where my friends and I usually ate lunch. Finally I made it to the main hallway. The light wood door leading to the European History classroom remained open, and I slid inside, not wanting to draw any more attention to myself than necessary.
“Just in time, Elizabeth,” said Mrs. Wilder, turning her head in my direction. Her light grey hair was in a bun in the back of her head, and she wore a flowing brown skirt with a white button down blouse. She looked like she’d walked right off the prairie. She nodded for me to sit down, and I looked around the room to find an empty seat.
I spotted Chelsea sitting at the far end of the giant U-shaped table, her back facing the large paned windows on the opposite side of the room. Her straight, dark red hair cascaded over the edge of the chair, and her jean mini-skirt was paired with a dark purple top set off by a long golden necklace. She looked like she’d thrown her clothes on in the morning without a second thought. No one would have guessed that she didn’t let me get off the phone with her the night before until she’d decided on the perfect outfit. When I sat down next to her, I knew that my dark jeans and light blue tank top I’d thrown on that morning looked plain next to her ensemble.
“Who would have thought that you would almost be late on the first day of school?” she snickered, keeping her voice to a low whisper.
“It wasn’t my fault,” I replied, leaning back in the plastic chair. “Jeremy was late picking me up.”
I knew that his being late wasn’t worth getting angry about, but my relationship with Jeremy was changing—and not for the best. He was constantly with his new varsity teammates, and while I knew it was normal for him to want to spend time with them, it hurt whenever he pushed me to the side. I couldn’t help but hope that he didn’t get elected co-captain, even though it was an awful thought to have. He’d tried introducing me to a few of his new friends’ girlfriends, but I couldn’t relate to them sitting on the bleachers analyzing every play on the field. While I did go to all of his games, kicking a ball around and barely scoring wasn’t entertaining in the slightest—at least not to me.
I didn’t realize that I was lost in my thoughts and hadn’t heard a word Mrs. Wilder said about the beginning of the school year until the opening of the door brought my mind back into focus. I looked up in curiosity, wondering who else would risk being late on the first day.
The moment my eyes met with his, the other students in the room blurred into the background. My heart felt like it was pumping at a faster than normal rate, and my lips parted slightly as I took in the sight of the boy who looked so familiar, even though I couldn’t remember where we’d met before. His spiky black hair was gelled to make it appear like he’d just rolled out of bed, although I had an image of what he would look like if it were a bit longer, with no gel. The midnight blue jeans, black shirt, and matching leather jacket that he wore seemed impractical in the summer heat, but I couldn’t picture him wearing anything but dark, heavy clothes.
He yanked his gaze away from mine and scanned over the other students in the room, breaking the spell between us. Realizing that I’d been staring at him for longer that socially acceptable, I turned my attention down to my fingernails and pretended to be interested in the chipped pink polish. I tried to think of where we could have met before, but nothing clicked. It was like trying to recall a forgotten dream—each time I felt close to remembering where we’d met, the memories slipped away.
“You must be Andrew Carmichael,” Mrs. Wilder stated the familiar name. I looked back up at him, but was still unable to figure out why I felt like I’d met him before.
He leaned against the door and crossed his arms over his chest, glancing around the room again. “I go by Drew,” he said, sounding just as bored as he looked.
Mrs. Wilder ignored his attitude. “Please take a seat next to Elizabeth,” she suggested, pointing to the chair next to mine—the last empty seat in the classroom.
Not wanting to be caught staring at him for a second time, I leaned down to grab a pen from my bag, trying to ignore the feeling of my blood pulsing faster through my body as he got closer. I was aware of his every movement, and it was impossible to act unaffected as he took the seat beside me.
Goosebumps sprung up along my arms, and I inhaled the scent of new leather accompanied by a crisp trace of pine, reminding me of a campfire on a winter night. I tried taking shorter breaths in an attempt to ignore his presence beside me, but it didn’t work.
Making sure not to look at Drew again, I readjusted in the chair, turning to Chelsea to see her reaction to him. She was looking at him, her eyes glinting with determination as she twirled a strand of hair around her finger, forming her mouth into what she probably believed was a seductive pout to try getting his attention. He must have not noticed, because an annoyed look crossed her face and she redirected her attention to Mrs. Wilder, who was walking around the room handing out the syllabus describing what to expect from the course that year.
I focused on the paper in front of me, shaking my pen back and forth between my index and middle fingers in the hope that I looked like I was deep in concentration. However, it was impossible to forget that Drew was sitting so close to me. My eyes kept drifting to the side, forcing me to see him in my peripheral vision. The pen wasn’t enough of a distraction, so I dropped it on the table and gathered my hair over my shoulder, using it as a shield to block him from my line of sight.
Before I knew what was happening, the pen rolled off the side of the table, landing on the floor between us. I tried not to look at Drew when I leaned down to pick it up, but I was trying so hard to not acknowledge his presence that I didn’t realize he had also reached to get it until the warmth of his fingers brushed against mine. A spark of electricity shot up my arm, and my breath caught in my chest at the sight of his dark brown eyes with a ring of golden flecks bordering his pupils. My mind grew hazy; everyone else disappeared around us, making it feel more like a dream than real life. I wondered if he felt it too.
The late bell shrieked through the halls before either of us could say anything, jolting my mind back into reality. He lifted the pen up and I smiled in thanks, making sure not to brush against his hand as I took it back. It was tempting to look at him to see if he felt the same draw towards me that I did towards him, but instead I gathered my hair over my shoulder again, re-creating the makeshift barrier between us. If I couldn’t see him, maybe I would forget the strange attraction I felt towards him.
I also reminded myself that despite his recent change of attitude, Jeremy was still my boyfriend. Chelsea always gushed about how perfect Jeremy and I were for each other. My mom loved him, and she was best friends with his mom. Sometimes I wondered if they were already planning the wedding. Still, it took a concentrated effort to not look at Drew again—so much so that it felt like my struggle to keep my eyes focused on the front of the room must have been obvious to everyone else in the class.
The bell signaled the end of first period, and the only thing I could think about was getting out of the room so I could gather my thoughts. The best thing to do would be to get Drew out of my head, but it was impossible when I felt the energy pulsing off his skin, making me unable to ignore his presence as he gathered his books beside me. My heart thudded in my chest at a million times per second as I rushed towards the door, glad when I found myself amidst the bustling students in the hallway going to their next class.
“Lizzie!” Chelsea called from behind, making me stop in place. “Wait up!” We were both heading towards the language wing since I had French next period and she had Spanish, but apparently I was so caught up in thinking about Drew that I’d forgotten to wait for her in my dash out of the room. She bounced to my side, clutching her books to her chest. “So, how hot is Drew?” she asked, her eyes shining with enthusiasm.
I nodded and managed a small smile, hoping she would continue talking so I wouldn’t have to reply. I was still trying to figure out why he seemed so familiar, and the last thing I wanted was for Chelsea to think I was interested in him.
She leaned in closer and lowered her voice. “He moved here last week from Manhattan,” she said, glancing around to make sure no one was listening. “He lives on Lakeside Circle. I heard some people talking about him before you got here this morning.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. The biggest, most elaborate houses in Manchester were on Lakeside Circle—the people who lived there were so rich that they didn’t even need to work.
“Why would they move here?” I asked, wondering why someone would go from Manhattan to Pembrooke. Judging from Drew’s lack of enthusiasm about being here, I figured there must be a story behind the move.
“I don’t know,” she said, her eyes wide with excitement. “But I’m going to find out.”
“You do that.” I laughed, doing my best to pretend not to care, despite the fact that I hadn’t stopped thinking about Drew since leaving the classroom. “But we have to get to class. Meet you in the cafeteria for lunch?”
She smirked and stopped in front of the Spanish room. “Sounds good,” she said, glancing at something in the distance before looking back over at me. “I’ll let you know what I discover.”