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Authors: Melanie Marks

The Stranger Inside

BOOK: The Stranger Inside
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THE STRANGER INSIDE

By Melanie Marks

 

 

 

Copyright 2011 Melanie Marks

 

 

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Cover image
©
Mai Thao

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

I was being kissed. That was the first thing I noticed. The second thing was,
I’m thirsty.
But the kissing part—that was weird. Grey didn’t usually kiss me. Hardly ever. And when he did, he didn’t go on and on like this. He’d kiss me, and then push me away, as though he’d just committed a major felony, as though he was going to burn for it.

But not now, tonight … or today, or whatever it was. He was all over me, as though he couldn’t get enough. Not that I minded. I didn’t. It was nice. Only, I was thirsty.

“You smell good,” he murmured.

His voice sounded far off, distant, as though it was coming from the bottom of a well.

I’m dreaming. I
must
be dreaming
.

I couldn’t think clearly. But nothing seemed real—or right. For one thing, I was pretty sure this guy wasn’t Grey. Grey was really lean. This guy was brawny. It was as though I was entwined with a football player.

And his hair felt different, thicker, coarser. Grey’s hair was baby fine. I tried opening my eyes, but couldn’t. I was too tired. They wouldn’t open.

“Yeah,” I told myself lazily, “this must be a dream.”

The kissing continued, on and on. I just went with it, enjoying it pretty much, but the thing was, my thoughts were beginning to focus. This wasn’t Grey. It couldn’t be. Grey was in New York. I was … somewhere else.

Where was I though? That was the question. I could almost remember, almost, but not quite. My father. Something about my father.
Oh!
My heart gave a painful squeeze as realization washed over me:
He’s dead
.

A chill raced down my spine. In a rush it all came back to me—his death, my move to Washington, stuck living here again with my mom and stepfamily, the Shades. I remembered everything, everything except why I was here being kissed by a boy.

My heart ricocheted off my chest.
WHO AM I KISSING?

I jerked my eyes open. Suddenly, I could do it easily, as though waking from a dream. Only I hadn’t been dreaming. There
was
a guy on me.

“Hey, get off me!” I said, pushing at him.

“Why?” The guy pulled away, looking bewildered. Concerned, even. “What is it? What’s the matter?”

His face was flushed and his hair disheveled, but he was good looking—not my type, but good looking. Big, with blond hair and wide, blue eyes. He was staring at me, definitely confused. Frantically, I tried to place his face, but couldn’t. He was a stranger. I’d never seen him before in my life.

My breath caught in my throat. I scrambled to a sitting position on the bed, trying to get as much distance from him as I could. He was a
stranger
… and he’d had his hands all over me. I brought my knees up to my chest, wrapping my arms around them, tight, tight, tight. This had to be a dream. It had to.

But there the guy was, still only inches away, looking pretty real, totally real, studying me as though I was nuts. He cocked his head, glancing from me to the distance I’d put between us, then back up to my eyes. He raised an eyebrow. “Did I miss something?”

No, it was me.
I
was missing something—definitely. Like, how did I get here?

The mall. That was the last thing I remembered … being at the mall. Now, somehow I was here, on this guy’s bed, full-on making out with him—a total stranger.

This was spooky. Seriously. Terrifying. For all I knew, he could be a killer or something. Frantic, my gaze cut away from his bewildered face, scoping out his room, my eyes darting from his infinite collection of CDs to his over-flowing clothes hamper to the basketball hoop over his door—not exactly the room of a psychopath.

In fact, on his wall near the door, there was a framed picture of him as a little boy, apparently with his mom. They were holding hands and he was smiling, big and proud in a Boy Scout uniform. Seeing the picture eased my pounding heart a little.

The guy used to be a boy scout. For some reason that reassured me, somewhat. That or maybe it was because the picture made him look so sweet and happy to be with his mom. In any case, it was good the photo was there because the rest of his walls were covered with posters of scantily clad girls and tattooed guitar players. Not exactly scary stuff, but at the moment I needed a boy scout. Nothing else would do.

As it was, with the picture, and the sweet smile, and not an axe in sight, I was able to breathe a little more calmly, not quite so scared. I was just confused. Really, really confused.

I rubbed my eyes with my shaking fingers, still needing a drink. I was dying of thirst. But I couldn’t bring myself to ask him for water, ask him for anything. I mean, who was he? What was going on? Why, why,
why
were we kissing? Kissing!

I stole a quick look at him, then darted my gaze away, staring at my hands as though they were the most fascinating things in the world, but I couldn’t really even see them. I was too messed up, too disturbed. The guy’s hands had been all over me.

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to block out that memory, but at the same time scrambled to remember everything else. How did this happen? How did I get here? The questions went on and on and on, bouncing around in my brain.

“Who are you?” I finally asked.

I watched the guy’s concerned expression change to skepticism.

“I’m Sawyer—remember?” He said this somewhat dryly, as though he thought I was playing a game with him. As though he didn’t care for the joke, but was willing to play along … for a while.

Unfortunately, learning his name didn’t help. At all. I just didn’t know the guy. Or where I was. Or how I got here. Anything. With sweaty hands, I clutched tighter to my knees.
This is a dream. It has to be.

For a moment Sawyer was silent, just watching me. Finally, he asked with a puzzled smile, “What’s going on?”

I shook my head grimly. “I don’t know.”

I glanced around his dimly lit room again, desperately trying to remember leaving the mall. That’s really, truly the last place I could remember being. At the mall, hunting down applications for a job. Like I’d promised Mom earlier that morning before she ran out of the house, ignoring me as usual. How did this happen? How did I end up here? In this guy’s house, making out with him—making out with him!—and not have a clue who he was?

A shiver ran down my spine as a terrifying thought crept into my brain. “Did you give me drugs or something?”

Sawyer raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t give you any.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Did I
take
any?”

“I don’t know.
Did
you?” A hint of irritation had crept into his voice, but he sounded slightly amused as well, like he thought I was a freak, but he was willing to wait around for the punch line.

“Look—Sawyer—I feel weird,” I explained, trying to stay calm. “I don’t do drugs. I just … I don’t understand what’s going on.” I rubbed my forehead. Nothing seemed real. Everything had a fuzzy edge to it—like when you’re dreaming and you know you’re dreaming, but you can’t wake up. Or like when I fainted one time. When I woke, this was how I felt. All hazy and weird. Unreal.

I looked up at Sawyer. He was staring at me, not ogling or anything. He just seemed to be trying to decide if I was a lunatic or not.

Maybe I am a lunatic
.
I feel completely bonkers
.

With trembling fingers, I rubbed my face, wishing I had a different explanation—like the drug thing. An easy excuse. But the bonkers thing—ugh!—unfortunately, that was probably it. At least sort of. A little bit. Probably the stress of Dad’s death was getting to me—worse than I’d thought. My therapist back in New York had warned me that if I kept stuffing my feelings, I’d suffer psychologically. I’d promised I’d find a therapist when I moved back to Mom’s, but I’d been here almost a month now and still hadn’t. For the most part I just wanted to forget about what happened—just keep it stuffed inside. And out of my mind.

Guess that wasn’t working, though. Shock. But wow, now I was actually blanking out and making out with strange guys? How psychologically screwed was that? I laid my head on my knees, trying to calm my heart.

Okay, I get it
.
Loud and clear.
Definitely time to flip through the Yellow Pages under “T” for therapists. Fast. Like immediately. Like, where’s the guy’s phone book?

I flicked my gaze back to Sawyer. He was watching me like I might start doing mime tricks or … have a seizure. He may be cute and normal-acting, but I was acting anything but normal. I just wanted to get out of here as fast as I could and never, ever see him again. Ever. I mean, this was seriously messed up. I just wanted to go home. Now.

But … where was home? I closed my eyes, then rubbed them with the palms of my hands, wishing I could disappear. And wake up in my own bed—my real bed—back in New York, my dad still alive. I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling light-headed.
Yeah, maybe this whole thing has only been a nightmare. Any minute I’ll wake up. Dad will freak when I tell him what I dreamed.

Meanwhile, here I was, in a guy’s room—a stranger’s room. I swallowed, pushing back tears. “Where are we?”

Sawyer was still watching me, apparently trying to decide whether to believe me or not. “My house,” he finally said.

He didn’t look old enough to have his own house. He looked about my age—still in high school.

I peered up at him skeptically. “You own this house?”

“No.” He furrowed his brow. “My dad does. It’s his house. I live here—with him.”

Made sense—a mom wouldn’t let the pizza boxes pile up like his were, or the chip bags, but maybe that’s why he had the picture of her on his wall. Maybe he didn’t see her that often.

Not that it mattered. I didn’t know why I was even thinking about that—the picture. I mean,
hello
I was slightly-to-completely bonkers with grief. Who cares about his living arrangements? I’d just come-to while making out with a stranger. I didn’t give a crap about who his custodial guardian was. He could live with Bozo the Clown for all I cared.

I glanced outside, then swiped at my eyes, pushing back ready to fall tears. It was getting dark out. I noticed that earlier, but at the time it didn’t register. I mean, there were other things on my mind—learning I was blacking out because of grief, for instance. But it was late. I’d definitely been away from home too long. Mom was going to kill me. If she even noticed I’d been gone, that is.

“What time is it?”

Sawyer glanced at the clock on his dresser. “Almost eight.”

Gulp! Mom was probably ballistic by now.

I shot up. “I’ve got to go!”

“What?” Sawyer sounded incredulous. He seemed to want to pull me back on the bed, probably make me stay and explain. But he didn’t do that; he didn’t touch me. Instead, he pulled back his outstretched hands and used them to rub the back of his neck, just watching me with his mouth slightly open, like he wanted to shoot out a bunch of questions but was resisting. With effort. In fact, the not-pulling-me-back seemed to be taking a lot of effort too.

On shaky feet, I headed for the door, but reluctantly turned back to Sawyer, realizing I needed his help. I was lost, completely clueless. “Listen, I have no idea where we are. Do you know where Westbrook Drive is?”

Sawyer blinked. “Westbrook? Yeah. It’s only a few blocks from here.” He inclined his head. “You live on Westbrook?”

I didn’t know why he found this so fascinating, but I didn’t care. I told him yeah and he gave me directions. Then he offered to give me a ride home, which was nice but I declined. Profusely.

He raised his hands slightly at my protest, like,
Take it easy Crazy Girl, just being nice
, but all he said was, “Okay.” He even laughed a little as he said it, and I could tell he would scratch his head about me for days. And talk about me with his friends. Which made my ears burn.

But he didn’t say anything else. He just silently watched me with his lips quirked and his eyebrows raised as I bolted across the testosterone-filled room and out of his house, fast as lightening. The last view I had of him he was rubbing his chin with his eyebrows scrunched, watching me like, “What the—?”

 

***

 

When I got to my house, I was panting and out of breath as I’d run all the way home. But I didn’t get yelled at for being late. Mom and my stepdad, Craig, were holed up in the study with the door shut. That was their office away from the office—and they were on a conference call that I could hear through the door. People were talking loud and heated. And probably no one realized I hadn’t been home. I could almost guarantee it.

BOOK: The Stranger Inside
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