I ripped the note off my door and threw it on the floor. My heart thudded in my chest and my hands shook as I tried to work my combination. On the third try I managed to get it unlocked, but just as I pulled the door open, a hand reached over my head and pushed it shut.
TUESDAY - AFTER SCHOOL
I didn’t ever look for them. I didn’t have to. They were just there. Lurking and spying from the tops of lockers and doorframes and other places people don’t ever think to look. They watched with those freaking taxidermized eyes, all the same, all green, and waited for someone to catch their attention. I probably should have been thankful that I never had, if nothing else.
I didn’t know what to call them. Watchers or my personal demons. Whatever they were, I was the lucky one who knew they were there.
I saw the note before she did. It stuck out of Lyla Nue’s locker looking all innocent and normal except for the way shadows smudged along its edges like it’d been dropped in a mud puddle. She wouldn’t see it that way. She’d see a white paper note, plain and simple, and probably think she knew who’d put it there.
For a second, I thought about snatching it. Of the mass of sheep hurrying around me, not one of them would give me trouble. They all worked so hard at avoiding me that I could probably steal five or six iPhones before anyone cared to notice. A note would be easy.
But it wouldn’t matter.
And then it was too late. I saw her come around the corner with two of her chirping friends at her side and that was it. The note was in her hand.
Guilt isn’t something I do, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Lyla and that damn note all night. In all of history, we’d shared a grand total of fourteen point two words and that wasn’t the sort of thing that was supposed to lay the groundwork for irritations like guilt and caring.
I shoved my ear buds down to my eardrums, cranked How to Destroy Angels, and drowned my face inside a feather pillow.
WEDNESDAY – ENGLISH CLASS
Seeing the note on her desk encouraged the guilt I’d been unsuccessful in killing. It bubbled up inside me like I was a shaken soda and I sat in my desk and waited for her to arrive.
When she did, I thought that I’d never really looked at her before. She was pretty, but not in the plastic veneered, Paris Hilton way that most of the girls worked so hard for. Maybe because she’d always been surrounded by those girls, I’d assumed she was one and never looked twice. But Lyla was pretty in a simple, unbleached way. She wore make-up that didn’t look like finger paint and her nose was long and wide and commanded all of my attention. She probably hated it, but I thought it was striking and elegant.
She twisted in her seat and I caught her eyes. They were full of surprise and irritation and the sort of deep brown I associate with the perfect cup of coffee – with just a hint of cream to take the edge off. I expected her to turn away quickly, to rid herself of the mistake of making eye contact with the freak in the corner, but she didn’t.
I looked past her to the note, trying to decide if she knew yet that it wasn’t totally innocuous. But Mr. Lawrence took that moment to demonstrate his capacity for being a douche and she looked away.
WEDNESDAY – AFTER SCHOOL
I waited down the hall from her locker. The note stood out from everything. Not only was it crumpled and dirty, but the shadows dripped from it like long, dark loogies. Again, I wanted to go and snatch it away. It wouldn’t do an ounce of good, now that one of them had latched on to her, but I wanted to keep her from finding it. It was a useless urge. I had no reason to care about Lyla.
I turned, started walking away, but got to the end of the hall and turned back around.
She was at her locker, far enough away to just be one more body in the throng, but not so far that I couldn’t see her face as she balled the note in her hand. She knew and she was afraid.
I couldn’t get the image of Lyla’s face out of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking of the way her neck tensed and her lips tightened when she unfolded the note.
All night, I dreamed of green eyes and Lyla’s fearful expression.
The wind was sharp and cold in my face on the walk to school. I lowered my eyes to the sidewalk in front of me, heard the blare of the first period bell weasel its way through the wind, and gave up on trying not to think of Lyla.
My entire life had been one long game of Keep Away between me and the locker-top shadows. I’d worked hard at learning their hiding places and then staying very far away from them. And I’d worked just as hard at never noticing what they were up to, which suddenly seemed like a very dumb practice. I couldn’t stand willful ignorance in others, but somehow I’d made a freaking epic allowance for myself.
By the time I got to school, I was loaded with purpose and energy. Finding her alone, at her locker, in an empty hallway seemed like the only lucky break I was likely to get.
Dark shadows leaked through the vent of her locker and I knew something unpleasant lay inside it. With more confidence than I’d ever exercised in public, I pushed my hood back and reached over her shoulder to shut the locker door and keep whatever was inside, inside.
When she screamed, shadows shimmered above us. I looked up, straight into a pair of those glassy, green eyes and the washed out face of a girl. She grinned and reached down with fingers dripping in shadows to cover Lyla’s mouth.
I didn’t think. I just pulled her away, but not before shadows left pale smudges on her skin and drained the color from her lips.
The girl of shadows drifted back to the top of the locker and with a transparent grin, she sang, “I only have eyes for you.”
Behind me Lyla gasped, I felt her fingers tighten on my arm and felt a shiver move between us. I turned to find her clutching her throat with her free hand, her eyes filling with tears. But when she opened her mouth to speak, no sound emerged.
The shadow girl laughed lightly with Lyla’s voice and again sang her chorus.
“Come on,” I said to Lyla. I wanted to get as far from here as possible and fast. I reached out and she put her hand in mine.
Welcome to Tangled Fiction, where three YA writers collaborate to complete one story!
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one TF writer will post a piece of the same story. Each of us will be responsible for one beginning, middle, and end in a single month. The fourth week will be full of surprises, we're sure, and we'll share them with you when we know what they are.