Thursday, June 23, 2011

PART ONE: THE BEGINNINGS, Chapter One



PART ONE: BEGINNINGS

CHAPTER ONE

Dan Shields ran his fingers through dry, dark locks that had at one time looked and felt like pure silk. Though Allison, the wearer of the brittle strands, was only twenty-two years old, she was pale and appeared at least a decade older in the shadow of her canopy bed. Her sunken cheeks and cracked lips invoked images of the undead sitting up and reaching out for his blood. The white bandage that hugged her right arm would place her in the category of a mostly unwrapped mummy, and only the shallow, quick rising and falling of her chest assured him that she hadn't passed into eternity without a Light to guide her way.

He bowed his head as the first of his tears slipped loose. Hopefully, Ryan was still sound asleep and unaware of his quiet gasps.  Hopefully, Allie would remain blissfully unaware of the Bible trembling in Dan's right hand, of the way he pounded his chest with his left fist and then dropped the Good Book to make his way to the window.

The quiet street in Bexley, Ohio was just now receiving the first warm beams from a sun that daily lit the sky for both the guilty and the innocent, the poor and the rich, the broken and the whole. Yes, despite his current circumstances, the world just kept on spinning along with his watch hands, which told him he'd only an hour and a half to shower and get ready for school.

School. How could he even begin to handle the wild and famously rough teenagers of Westview High, when his sister lay in bed, infected and nearly starved to death with an IV dripping into her veins? How could he leave with so much work to be done- scrubbing and washing and organizing, eradicating every trace of the infernal bacteria that had found its way into Allison's wound?
On the flip side, how could he miss the first day of school after the way he'd fought for this position?

Ryan would be here. The hired nurse would be here. And God would be here, wouldn't He? Or had Dan blown it too many times for God to hear his pleas for help?

Had Dan failed to set the proper example for his younger siblings? Too many fights with his father, too much rebellion and disrespecting of his parents' authority. In the end, he'd needed to grow into his own person, but he'd gone about it in a less than stellar manner.

The water welling in his left eye distorted his sister's silhouette beneath the covers. Turning to the window again, the whole scene blurred, but he could make out a jogger with what appeared to be a dog bouncing along the walk in front of him. Yes, the world kept spinning. People kept running, jumping over problems or battling their way through them, going for morning jogs and meeting peers for coffee and business meetings. Rarely did anyone slow to reach their hands to suffering souls.

He could imagine Christ reaching down from Heaven and he longed to place his hand inside of His. If only he could see that hand. 

Instead, another image crowded the comforting thought. An image of Allison, shiny ponytails on either side of her head, her young, smooth face glowing under chandelier lights as her lips folded in an attempt to stop her giggles. Her rail thin arms folded in defiance as her food remained untouched and cooling in front of her. Dan hadn't found it funny…but he'd smirked when he'd caught his father's indignant glare.

"I meant for Allison to lose weight, but not like this. You're a bad influence, Daniel," Oliver growled as his honeyed biscuit fell upon his plate. 

Dan swallowed hard. He'd been the first one to stop eating at the dinner table just to annoy their father; but he'd always eaten later and encouraged Allie to do the same.

But she began refusing, over and over again.

Up and down her weight had shifted over the years, no more than a ten pound difference as she'd caved in to the natural instinct to fill that gnawing void inside of her. On and on she'd struggled, while Dan lectured from the sidelines.

More action. More action had been needed, not just talk. Instead, he'd been too busy chasing Denise and plotting his future. Too busy to seriously intervene in Allie's life, to persuade their parents to seek help.

How stupid could he have been? His failures…all of his failures had cost him far too much, but it couldn't have been too late to turn the tables. God was simply whipping his butt back into gear, shaking him awake, showing him more pointedly where he'd gone wrong, and in the end He'd work a miracle in his siblings' lives.
Dan would live right this time, and he'd prove his faith to his family.

Looking at Allie again, his heart seemed to crash through the earth's crust and remain caught in the blackness of the mantle. No fire. Yet.

Get going, Dan.

His fists clenched.

Get up and handle the business you've been given. Get a hold of yourself.


He was tempted to ask, "Lord, how can I?" But he knew better than to ask. He'd read the Bible verse many times and it always resurfaced during times of great need: "For when I am weak, then am I strong."

He'd heard enough preaching and teaching to know that sitting here worrying would do nothing more than encourage an ulcer and drive him mad. By the same token, if he didn't make it to school today he would have failed on another scale.

He'd be home soon enough. Ryan would call him if there were any changes.

But, Lord, what if she starts to go while I'm gone?

She wouldn't. Allison wouldn't die because she'd been stabilized and the antibiotics were working their magic. The doctor wouldn't have released her to a nurse's care at home if she hadn't improved.
He stepped toward the bed and bent over to feel his sister's forehead. No sign of a fever, so he shuffled toward the hall, where he stopped. The demon holding his soul to the floor of Allie's room wouldn't permit him to budge.
Move, Dan.

OOOO

He'd love nothing more today than a wild ride on his motorcycle, but since he looked like a business man in his black dress suit and neatly combed, dark waves, he opted for the Jeep. Lord only knew how the kids at Westview would respond to a teacher hopping onto a motorbike, anyway. Either they'd view him as being "cool" or they'd mock him for trying to earn their attention with his coolness.
In the end, who cared?

You care. You care or you wouldn't have selected this offer.

He yanked his computer bag off of his shoulder, took a breath, and settled it neatly in the passenger seat before slamming himself behind the steering wheel. A string of curses rolled out of his mouth. One of Allie's menaces could spread if he and Ryan didn't keep up on the cleaning. He'd have to start researching how to extinguish every ounce of this bug, because he'd already read horror stories online. Judging from Allie's frail condition, she was in for more than one round of this fight.

Jamming the Jeep into reverse, he held his foot on the brake while his gaze swept onto the road. To think that only a few months ago, he'd been flying along on his motor bike, the engine roaring and wind beating against his visor. He may as well have been riding through the gardens back at the mansion, because the neighborhood was so chockfull of beautifully maintained yards.

At least two-thirds of this town felt like home, even if his two-story house was only about a sixteenth the size of his parents'. But for the first time in his life, he could take an evening stroll in a suburban area with no bodyguards following him around, reporting his every move to his parents.

He could breathe here. Finally.

He was free.

Right. Free in one way and bound in so many others.

"Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

Allison's captor had tightened its grip around her neck. She'd fallen so quickly since they'd moved here. She'd stopped eating all but a small salad at dinner, and sometimes he couldn't even coax her into eating that.

Something must have triggered her plunge. Was it the move? Was it Jeremy? Their parents? Whatever it was, he'd have to find out, because she wasn't talking. For the first time in their lives, she 
wasn't talking.

OOOO

Pop! A balled up piece of paper hit Rebekah Rose in the middle of her back and ricocheted onto the floor.

It wasn't long before the snickering ensued. Bekah gnawed her inner cheek, her shoulders stiffening and heart pounding as she longed to scratch the instigator with Freddy-Kruger-like fingers. OK, maybe not that overboard, but a good slap across the face would suffice, wouldn't it?

Her nails digging into the palms of her hands, she imagined Brian Cruise's wide, green eyes- the shock and the surprise of finally getting what he deserved. He usually led these Make-Fun-of- 'Cheap Rose' sessions and Bekah doubted anyone else had started it this time.

Not only did everyone assume too much about her and Towers, but they seemed to thrive on treating her like crap based on their false information.

As if she hadn't suffered enough grief.

She turned to leer at him over her shoulder. Brian, the dumb jock, had slumped in his new seat- lucky her, only four desks behind and diagonal from hers. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

He adjusted his baseball cap over his blonde head and smirked, the gleam in his eyes announcing his un-intimidated state. No matter how hard she glared, he just looked more thrilled, which was totally unbecoming of a big, broad-shouldered football player, who was supposed to be all nicey-wicey with the girls.

Gag, what was she thinking? Jocks were rarely gentlemen, at least in this school.

She faced the front, wondering how long she should ignore the whispers.

Peeking across the room, she found Kevin Murphy seated next to the long row of windows. Today, he wore a black tie and a pink dress shirt. Pink. Of all the colors for a guy to wear to a school like this, why on earth would he choose pink? Not only was it weird, but it reminded her of the nightmare known as her bedroom.
Sky blue eyes narrowed, green leaves waving through the window behind Kevin as he straightened. "Are you OK?" he appeared to mouth.

At first, Bekah released her breath. At least not everyone in this room held a grudge based on idiotic rumors; but still…Bekah rolled her eyes. What was with this tie-wearing nerd? Why did he seem to care so much about her, and where the snot was the new teacher? Only his appearance would shut up the snickers and stop the balled-up papers from being tossed at her.

Bekah cocked her jaw. If this continued, there'd be hell to pay for someone. So, yeah. Teacher needed to arrive immediately.

No one in this room knew what she'd been through over the summer and if they had, she hoped they'd stop with the mockery. She could feel the cheerleaders sneering at her, hear the little remarks like, "I'm surprised she came back this year."

Stupid idiots. Sheeple. Each person following the lead of the most ignorant one.

Her jaws began to throb because she'd been clamping down harder than a zombie's mouth upon fresh meat, and she was sure someone's nose would soon be bloodied.

"Never start a fight you can't finish, you little Spit Fire," her father had warned in the typical, Daddy-O fashion. She could still see him standing in her bedroom doorway, his partially bald head shining under the hall light and his big coffee mug steaming next to his chest.

Always the bearer of neat, little tidbits of advice. Too bad he didn't always listen to himself.

Maybe Daddy needed the freaking bloody nose more than Towers and Brian and everyone else who was currently whispering about her.

"Cheap Rose!" someone hissed, only this time it didn't sound like Brian.

If only she'd the powers of Maggie the Witch, this juvenile behavior would soon end in an eruption of froggies and snakes all over the room. Bekah, of course, would laugh as the cheerleaders leapt upon their desks and-

The door opened and a breeze whisked across the room. Bekah sat back as most of the chatter ceased and a dark-cloaked figure toting a laptop case strolled toward the high and mighty throne known as the teacher's desk.

After blinking a few times, the figure came into focus. Nothing but a man dressed in a black suit and tie. She leaned over her notebook, aware that the glorious new teacher had arrived. Finally, someone to distract all these dingbats while Bekah plotted her next course of action- if there was to be one.

"Hello, everyone, I'm Mr. Shields." The man at the front of the room had removed his jacket and turned to scrawl his name on the chalkboard. As if high school seniors needed that.

Some girls to Bekah's right giggled and, vaguely, she heard one utter, "Nice butt!"

Rolling her eyes, Bekah sank in her seat with her arms folded. Aside from noticing his GQ-ish coif of brown, wavy hair, she hadn't yet studied the new teach, but it didn't matter. It wasn't as though this school had never seen a hot, young teacher before- one that sent all the dimwits into school-girl banter and fainting spells.
Towers had been like that and fat load of help he'd been.

While she tapped her pencil eraser against her notebook, Mr. Shields began bragging that he was 'the best English Lit teacher ever.' And why?

Bekah frowned as the man withdrew a bundle of what appeared to be candy bars from one the compartments in his case. "I come bearing chocolate," he said, passing out treats as though they were a deck of cards.

While most of the sheeple ripped into the paper like a bunch of hungry pigs, one of them complained, "Dark chocolate? Yuck."
"Hey, don't knock it." Mr. GQ stopped about two rows away from Bekah's, the thick stack in his hands drawing a grumble from her stomach.

Heck, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate. What did it matter, as long as it was chocolate? For all Bekah cared, he could have handed her the whole bunch and she'd devour it all before lunch. Talk about a caffeine high- something she desperately needed after missing her morning coffee. And after this morning's pain-in-the-butt fiasco, nothing would be nicer than a mind-numbing dose of caffeine.

Drown the sorrows, drown the pain, Amen. Maybe after school, she'd snag a bottle of vodka from Alice and spend the rest of the night alone in her bedroom. Mommy Dear would probably be working late, anyway.

"Dark chocolate is lower in sugar," said the briber as he snatched more goodies from his desk and handed them to the row in front of him. "And not only is it high in antioxidants, but the caffeine should keep you awake for the remainder of class time, don't you think?"

Except for the sound of ripping paper and a few random snickers, the room became silent and the man hovered right in front of Bekah's desk. The scent of his cologne fell over her. It was nothing like the smell of Towers' Old Spice, but sort of...woodsy. She lowered her pencil. Taking candy from strangers wasn't a good idea and everyone knew that any guy who offered sweets too early in a relationship was after 'one thing.'

Bekah laughed to herself and pursed her lips to keep from mocking this idiot. Though he wasn't trying to bed anyone, Shields couldn't honestly believe he'd win much affection from this offering, could he? OK, the girls were probably already in love with him, but the guys would be much harder to win. She could barely wait to see the look on this naïve, young dude's face when the big oafs in this room finally decided to start harassing the new teacher.

Well…at least she'd finally found something to be truly amused about today. It was always a fight, staying above the darkness, and her depressive side was a pain in the butt.

Tucking a strand of her long, chestnut hair behind her ear, she dared to lift her gaze from the shiny foil and the red sleeves wrapped around the small rectangles in Shields' hands. In return, she received a vague smile that brought just a touch of a gleam to eyes the same color as a Hershey Bar.

"Don't care for chocolate?" Shields asked with one, thick brow raised.

She shrugged. "Who doesn't?" With that, she received the offering and didn't bother turning around while passing the rest to the jerk behind her. She wasn't exactly sure who was sitting there, but she was sure it was a 'he,' because she'd heard him cackling along with the others.

Snorting, the creep received the candy and Shields, looking rather pleased, stepped to the final row to release the rest of his batch.

What a nerd, Bekah thought. But then she noticed the color draining from his face as he turned away. Judging by the way his shoes scuffed across the floor as he retreated, there was no spring in his step to match the cheerfulness she'd heard in his voice only moments before.

She slowly tore open her candy bar. Whatever. Everyone had problems and he was no different. Maybe he was just nervous. As he should have been.









7 comments:

  1. Im glad you decided to "retouch" the story, because you did an excellent job! I'm also glad you decided to keep the choc part in it! :)

    Cool chapter 1!

    Suzie

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  2. Hi, I wanted to stop by after you visited my blog. I love the scene with the chocolates, I think it paints their personalities so well and it also feels very true-to-life. Looking forward to reading the rest of the chapters!

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  3. Hey, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. And for the following. :)

    Jen

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  4. Hey, there. I saw your thread on Absolute Write. I'm only squicked by the type of relationship you asked about if one party's taking advantage of the other.

    This is interesting, and I'll keep reading, but I'm not getting a good sense of characters outside the POV characters' heads. That may be because my stomach's insisting "FOOD TIME!" ^_^

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  5. Thanks for reading! Working on Chapter five now...hope you're able to catch up. I know some of this might not seem to fit, but it will all come together. ;)

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  6. I just read the first chapter. It's really good so far. It seems as though in this version that you are focusing a lot more on Dan early on in the story. I remember in your previous versions the first few chapters were focused a lot more on Bekah. Why the change? If you don't mind me asking. It's not bad or anything I'm just curious as to the different approach you are taking. Your writing has improved a lot. I can defiantly see from this chapter how much you've grown as a writer. I look forward to reading more. = )

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  7. Hey, sorry it took so long to respond. Thanks for reading and for your comments.

    Basically, people weren't warming to Bekah right off the bat, but they did to Dan. His opening seemed to draw more readers, and a lot of people like that we can see into his head and how things are going on the first day of school, etc. I think I've failed to fill in enough details about his teacherhood, though. I'll probably have to polish it up a bit in that aspect.

    Thanks for the compliments. :) I really have to let a chapter sit a day or so and then go back to see where I can improve. Unfortunately it doesn't come naturally in the first round. LOL

    I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. :)

    Jen

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