Authors: K.G. Reuss
The Chronicles of Winterset
Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!
-William Butler Yeats
For my dearly departed grandmother.
“Anything is possible provided you allow it to be.”
I groaned as I rolled over and slapped sleepily at my screeching alarm clock, the bright red numbers angrily illuminating my barely lit bedroom. I had been out too late the night before at Crust Lust, a local pizzeria and hangout, with my best friend Melanie. I kept telling her I needed to go home and study for my chemistry exam, but she talked me into staying like she always did. It didn’t help that Kellin James, the star quarterback, my friend, and all-around high school god had sauntered in while I was wrestling with my inner good girl. All it had taken to confirm my staying was one look at those baby blue eyes, messy blond hair, and well, you know.
He’d hung out with us, a couple of his jock friends in tow, challenging us to game after game of air hockey followed by all of us drinking copious amounts of soda. It had been a good time, but now that I tried to rub the sleep out of my eyes, I realized I probably should have listened to the little voice inside my head telling me to go home and study. Now here I was at the butt crack of dawn pulling my chemistry book out of my backpack, my eyes bleary and my hair knotted.
I tried to force my brain to focus, but it was a losing battle. Even though I was exhausted beyond comprehension, there was something else. I felt
It was like a constant, excited flutter in my chest. A feeling kept cascading over me like today was going to be the last day of my life. I choked down the odd sensation, shrugging it off as apprehension over my test, and after forty-five minutes of making it only two pages into my notes, I closed my book in disgust and let out a frustrated sigh. I got up and went to my bathroom, deciding to just get ready for school. At least if I got there early maybe I’d get a few minutes of studying in before Mr. Gillis hit us with his test.
I showered quickly and wiped the stream from the mirror, my tired face blurry among the condensation. I looked down for a washcloth so I could wipe off the mirror, my mind thinking about how nice it would be if the moisture would just disappear without me having to forage around. I gasped when I emerged from looking in the cupboard beneath my sink to find my mirror perfectly clear, not a trace of condensation in sight. I glanced around timidly and noticed all the steam in the room was now gone as well.
Shrugging it off as just my good fortune, I continued to get ready. I didn’t want to dwell on it because I was a known worrier, and I already had my plate full with school, cheerleading, tests, and our upcoming homecoming. I still didn’t have a date, something that seemed to surprise a lot of people. It’s not like I didn’t want one. I just hadn’t been asked, and I figured it had something to do with how unapproachable Melanie said I was. I didn’t think I was, but apparently I was wrong, since I was still dateless.
I ran my brush through my long, thick, nearly white-blonde hair. I had blow-dried it, and it tumbled to the middle of my back in soft, silky waves. My bright-green eyes looked tired, and my full lips were turned down into an exhausted pout.
“Never again,” I grumbled, backing away from the mirror. I clearly needed more than four hours’ sleep in order to properly function.
The sun was now peeking brightly through the trees, and I remembered my parents talking about what a wonderfully warm fall day today would be. I grabbed a pair of skinny jeans, a white lacy camisole, and a soft gray sweater from my closet, finishing the look with a delicate gold necklace and a pair of brown boots that went to my knees. I twirled in front of the mirror in my room and smiled to myself. I looked pretty good considering I’d barely had any sleep.
I gave my hair a toss over my slender shoulder and gasped. It happened so fast, I wasn’t sure if I’d even seen anything, but I could have sworn I saw the blur of a man flash within my mirror. He was dressed like any normal guy my age, but I couldn’t make out anything more. I shook my head and let out a breath.
I was exhausted. I was imagining things. My house was haunted. Way too many wacky scenarios started to form in my mind’s eye, so to beat them off before they got too unruly, I backed away from my mirror and firmly told myself I was just tired and it was a trick of the light.
I turned and stuffed my books into my bag, all the while feeling like I was being watched, the tiny hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention. I quickened my pace and made my way downstairs to find both my parents in the kitchen, my dad at the table with the morning paper in his hands and a cup of steaming coffee in front of him and my mom whipping up pancakes at the counter.
“Morning, sweetie,” my mom greeted me with a smile on her pretty face, her dark hair falling in her eyes as she quickly whisked the pancake batter.
“Morning,” I replied grabbing a slice of toast from the center of the table and buttering it quickly.
“You got in late last night,” my dad commented, not bothering to look up from his paper.
“We were at Crust Lust and some friends showed up, so we stayed and played air hockey,” I replied through a mouthful of toast.
“Kellin?” my mom asked knowingly. I felt my cheeks burn with the blush that had crept up my neck.
“Um, yeah,” I answered, hoping to sound nonchalant about it. The truth was, Kellin and I had been friends since he’d moved here our freshman year of high school. I’d been first to move to the area and had been in school all of a week when he had sauntered in. We became fast friends, and it was an easy friendship as we shared a lot of the same interests. We flirted with one another, but nothing had ever happened between us. He’d dated others off and on, and I, well, I watched and smiled as he did so, never wanting to admit that I sort of wished I could be one of the girls he was interested in.
It’s not that I wasn’t pretty. In fact, I was often told how beautiful I was. Melanie told me it was one of the things that made me unapproachable. A gift and a curse, but more often, it was a curse it seemed, especially with homecoming just weeks away and I still didn’t have a date.
“Kellin James?” my dad asked, glancing over at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Would there be another Kellin?” my mom replied with a chuckle. My dad shrugged and went back to his paper.
I got up from the table, taking another slice of buttered toast with me.
“I’ll see you guys later. I want to get to school and do some studying before Mr. Gillis drops his idea of a good time on us.”
“Honey, you’ve barely eaten anything,” my mom tsked. “I’m making pancakes!”
“I know. Rain check?” I gave her a quick peck on the cheek. She smiled and shook her head, but I knew she’d have pancakes ready for me tomorrow.
I left the house with my backpack over my shoulder and pulled my car keys out. I lifted my face up to the sky and breathed in deeply, hoping to rid myself of the strange feeling still blanketing me. It was a beautiful day, and I didn’t want to miss more of it than I had to, so I stuffed my keys back into my bag and decided to walk to school rather than drive. It was common knowledge to all my friends and family that I adored the outdoors, and whenever I could be out enjoying it, I was. I ran every evening just to feel the wind on my skin as I raced down the trails through the woods behind our house. It was nothing for me to spend hours out there, sometimes just laying among the wildflowers while the sun kissed my skin.
I started walking with a smile on my face as the fresh air welcomed me, but had only gone three blocks when a horn honked behind me. I turned and saw Kellin pull up to the curb in his new truck.
“Hey, Ana! Why are you walking? Everything OK?” he asked, rolling down the window on the passenger side to engage me in conversation. I stepped over to his truck and shook my head.
“Yeah. It was just such a nice day, I thought I’d walk,” I answered, my heart thrumming in my chest at the sight of him. His blue polo shirt clung to him perfectly, making his already bright blue eyes pop with even more color. His lopsided grin caused his cheeks to dimple in a swoon-worthy way, and the way his blond hair fell across his forehead—lord have mercy!
“Well, what are you going to do later when it rains?” he asked.
“It’s supposed to rain?” I asked, looking up at the clear skies, doubting his meteorological capabilities.
“Yep, I can feel it in the air,” he replied seriously, his eyes focused on me. “How about you hop in and we ride to school together? I’ve been wanting to talk to you anyway.”
I swallowed thickly at that news. What could he want to talk to me about?
I grasped the door handle and tossed my bag on the seat. He reached over and held out his hand so I could climb in, and I took it, feeling his warmth radiate through me as he pulled me up.
“Last night was fun,” he remarked as he put the truck into gear.
“Yeah, it was,” I agreed, clasping my hands nervously in my lap. It wasn’t often that the two of us were alone together, and I suddenly realized how small the inside of the truck was. His presence seemed larger than the truck had capacity for.
“So a bunch of us are getting together and pooling money for a limo for homecoming. I was wondering if maybe you’d like to get in on it,” he said as he turned onto Main Street.
“Uh,” I replied, feeling the familiar blush creep up my cheeks again. “I-I don’t know.”
“Mel is in already,” he continued, stopping at a light and glancing over at me. I scoffed. Of course she was. Chad Stevens, one of Kellin’s friends and Mel’s boyfriend, had asked her to the dance last week.
“I’ll have to let you know,” I answered feebly. Now I really would need to find a date. Unless I didn’t go. It was a viable option, but one Mel would not allow me to choose. The thought of not going was better than going alone, that much I was certain of.
“How’s the hunt for a date going?” he asked, accelerating quickly when the light turned green.
“Great,” I lied, not wanting to sound pathetic.
“Still nothing then, huh?” he replied, sympathetically glancing over at me as he turned into the parking lot of Lincoln High.
“No,” I mumbled, looking down at my hands in embarrassment.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. You’re used to going to things without a date anyway. Besides, you still have a few weeks left, right?” he encouraged good-naturedly.
“Yeah. Yeah, of course,” I said, waving my hand dismissively as if none of this was a big deal. I knew he was trying to be kind, but it didn’t help.
Kellin pulled the truck into a parking spot near the front and turned his baby blues on me.
“Well, you can still come with us. You don’t need a date to go to homecoming. It’s nice to keep your options open anyway. Besides, you’re too free-spirited to be held down with anyone,” he continued, a grin on his handsome face.
“It’s our senior year, Kellin. It would be nice to attend at least one school function with a date. It’s not like I purposely set out to be alone all the time,” I said softly, trying to keep the smile on my face. I’m sure it looked more like a painful grimace, though.
We were quiet as he regarded me silently with a strange look.
“I wish I’d have known you wanted a date. I’d have asked you,” he spoke, breaking the silence, his voice barely above a whisper.
I stared wide-eyed at him, my heart jumping around in my chest at his words.
“I thought I was too free-spirited to be held down with a date?” I joked weakly. Maybe I gave off the air of one who didn’t care about having a date, but lately, it was starting to bother me to always be alone.
“Well, I’d hope you’d make an exception for me,” he replied easily.
“Who are you taking?” I blurted out without thinking.
“Oh, um, I asked Courtney,” he answered, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
I nodded, biting my lip and wishing I hadn’t asked.
Courtney Fox was our cheer captain, and she was an all-around bitch. She was exactly like the stereotype depicted in those corny high school movies. Cheerleader, beautiful, and meaner than a junkyard dog. I wasn’t surprised he’d asked her. Together, they were the high school dream team, and it was widely known Courtney and Kellin had been off and on since sophomore year. It made sense for them to go together. They were in the running for king and queen anyway.
“Oh,” was the only thing I could say. I grabbed my bag and opened the door to the truck.
“I was serious,” Kellin said, his voice stopping me before I climbed out. “I’d have asked you. I didn’t because I figured you’d probably just go alone to it like everything else.”
“Yeah, I do that a lot, don’t I?” I murmured. “I guess I don’t want to go alone this time.”
Kellin rubbed the back of his neck and looked away from me, apparently fighting some sort of internal battle with himself.
“Then I’m sure you’ll find someone to take you. I mean, come on, Ana. You’re beautiful. I’m honestly surprised no one has asked you, but I guess your loner reputation precedes you.”
Kellin thought I was beautiful! I smiled despite myself and ignored the loner reputation comment.
“Thanks,” I replied softly. I got out of the truck, closed the door, and walked to the sidewalk. Kellin caught up with me easily and walked beside me as we went into the school.
“I meant what I said,” he continued, stopping at my locker. “You really are beautiful. I’m sure someone will ask you. I can see if Jared has a date—”