Monday, May 16, 2011

Chapter 3

Hi everyone.  Here is Chapter 3 of Pure.  You can find the first two chapters in the two posts below this one.

At the end of class, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I jumped.
            I turned to see Charisse standing next to my desk.  The lights were on now.
            "It's okay, Katie.  The movie has been turned off."  Charisse was staring at me quizzically.  "Why did you have your eyes covered? Are you feeling all right?  You don't look very good."
            "I'm okay."  I began gathering up my things quickly.  "Let's just get out of here."
            "I can take you home," Charisse said.
            "No, I'm fine," I replied.
            We walked out into the hall.  Charisse was eyeing me just as Irina had – as if I were in imminent danger of collapsing.
            I made an effort to smile.  "I'm better, really."  I decided I would make that be true.  I still felt unsteady, but the strange night call had subsided.  At the very least, I felt like I could think straight.  As long as I avoided reflective surfaces and the face of the harsh-featured man, I would be fine.
            "What happened in the middle of the movie?  Why did you run out of class like that?"
            I knew I couldn't tell Charisse that I was losing my mind.  "I-I suddenly felt very ill.  But luckily, it wore off."
            I figured it would be a good idea to change the subject.  I didn't want to discuss the weird things that were happening right now.  Charisse would never understand.  "So where were you and Branden?  It's not like you guys to cut it so close.  You were almost late, and you know that's an automatic detention."
            Charisse smiled mysteriously.  "Branden had a question to ask me – something very important."
            "About the quiz?"
            Charisse giggled.  "No."
            "Then what was it?"
            "I'll tell you later.  Right now, it's a secret."
            "I'll tell you, I promise.  I'm not trying to be mysterious.  I just told Branden I wouldn't tell anybody until he gets everything ready."
            "You know you're only making me want to know more."
            Charisse laughed.  "The news will be worth the wait, trust me."  She paused in the busy hallway and looked at me closely.  "Are you sure you're okay?"
            "Yes, I'm fine."  Charisse continued to stare at me.  "Really."
            "All right," Charisse said.  "I'll see you at lunch.  If you still aren't looking good then, I am definitely taking you home."
            I spent the next two classes avoiding glass or anything that could hold a reflection.  I was still a little rattled, but I was feeling close to normal again as I made my way into the cafeteria for lunch.
            I went through the line and bought a bottle of juice and a pack of crackers.  I wasn't quite feeling up to a full meal yet.  I spotted Charisse and Branden at a table and began to walk toward them.
            Someone stepped into my path, and I was startled.  I looked up, and I was relieved to see it was only Simon.  Of course it's only Simon, I thought to myself.  Were you expecting someone else?  I realized that for just a moment, I had had a crazy idea that the man from the mirror had found me.  I told myself not to be so jumpy.
            Simon held up a small envelope.  "This is for you."
            I looked at the envelope, puzzled.  I had no idea what could be in it.  "Thanks."
            Simon continued on his way toward a table where Irina sat waiting for him, beaming.
            I went over to join Charisse and Branden.
            Charisse looked up as I sat down.  "I'm glad to see you're looking better."
            "I'm definitely feeling better, thanks."
            "So what happened?" Branden asked.  "It looked like you were going to barf in English class."
            Charisse frowned and kicked him under the table.
            Branden winced and shot Charisse an injured glance.  "Ow.  There's no need for violence."
            "There is as long as you say silly things," Charisse replied.
            Branden and Charisse were glaring at each other playfully, so I opened Simon's envelope, knowing I wouldn't be observed.
            I pulled a card out with a big red heart on the front.  On the inside Simon had written, 'I'm thinking only of you.'
            I glanced up, looking for Simon.  I spied his table.  He was already watching me.  When I caught his eye, he smiled and waved.
            I smiled back.  The card was really thoughtful and so was Simon himself.  I felt a rush of affection for him.  At the same time, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me.  I wished my feelings for him were as strong as his were for me.
            I made it through the rest of the day without a repeat of the visual disturbances that had plagued me earlier.  I was in a relatively good frame of mind as I walked home.  I decided that if the visions of the strange man returned, that I would just ignore them.  I would be in control of my own mind.  But I was still worried about Simon's brother, James.  I hoped that he would return home soon.  I hoped, too, that James would be cleared of the shooting.  He really had been trying hard to straighten out lately.  James was a senior and wanted to go to college, but his past record was against him.  I wanted to see him make it.
            When I got home, GM was already there – she ran her graphic design business out of her home office.  So she was usually around when I returned home after school.
            I knew she'd be horrified if I told her I'd been seeing things that weren't there, so I didn't say anything to her about my strange day at school.  Instead, I hurried up to my room.  I figured I should do some research online.  I'd decided that I would ignore the dark-haired man if I saw him again, but I still wanted to know what was happening.  Maybe I could find out something about the legends of Krov that could explain what was going on with me.  Both my mother and I had been born in Krov – and apparently both of us had seen strange things.  Maybe there was a way to stop the visions from happening again.
            I searched, but all I found was frustration.  Not only was there nothing online about superstitions or folklore of Krov, there was nothing about Krov at all.  It was as if the town of Krov didn't exist.
            I thought back to what Aleksandr had said in the kitchen – he had mentioned spirits, vampires, and something called the Leshi.  Searching on spirits and vampires brought up more results than I could possibly sift through.  I did read some of them, though, but none of them seemed to be related to my situation.  Searching on the Leshi simply told me that he was a Russian nature spirit – a green-haired guardian of forests and animals who could change his appearance.  I read that when impersonating a human, he had bright eyes and wore his shoes on backwards.  As Aleksandr had said, he seemed to be a good fellow, but the Leshi didn't seem to have anything to do with me.
            I did a final search on visions, but that search had more results than I could realistically go through, too.  I decided to give up on my research.
            I sat back in my chair and sighed.  There really didn't seem to be any information available on people from Krov who had visions.  Could I have imagined the visions?  Could my subconscious have gotten carried away after Galina had suggested my mother was murdered?  I'd considered that possibility once before, and I was starting to lean in that direction again.  Maybe the scene in the kitchen had been harder on me than I'd realized.  Maybe I just needed some rest and things would get better.
            I got started on my homework, and then later that evening I helped GM make dinner.
            GM didn't seem to notice that anything was wrong with me, so I began to feel like things were back to normal.
            Right after dinner I received a text from Simon saying that James had returned home and everything was fine – he would give me the details tomorrow.  I was enormously relieved, and I texted back how happy I was that James was okay.
            As the evening wore on, the night calling remained at bay, allowing me to concentrate on my homework and finish it properly.
            I went to bed feeling more normal than I had in weeks.
            In the morning, I woke up with the alarm and approached the bathroom and its mirror with more than a little apprehension.  I didn't want a repeat of the weirdness I had gone through yesterday.
            I took a deep breath as I switched on the light and peered into the mirror.  I braced myself for the reappearance of the dark-haired man.  But the man's face did not materialize, and I was able to finish my morning routine without anything bizarre happening.
            I thought longingly that I could get used to that.
            I made my way to school, feeling cautiously optimistic about the day ahead.  As I entered the schoolyard, I spotted Charisse and Branden at their usual picnic table.  Charisse was sitting on the table, and Branden was standing in front of her.  They were leaning their heads together so that their foreheads were touching, and both sets of their hands were intertwined.
            I stopped just short of the picnic table.  I decided not to bother them – they didn't look like they were in the mood for conversation.
            I turned around, looking for Simon.  As I did so, I was startled to spot someone who was familiar in exactly the wrong way.  Just behind a small group of students was the dark-haired, blue-eyed man.  In the flesh he was tall and younger than he had appeared in the mirror – he was clearly my age or a year or two older – but his features were still set in harsh lines, and the look in his eyes was still dangerous.
            His gaze met mine, and I saw anger flash in his eyes.
            A stab of fear ran through me, but I started toward him.
            Whoever he was, I was going to find out what was going on.
            I turned to see Simon walking toward me, grinning.
            I was happy to see him, but I couldn't lose sight of the strange guy who'd been invading my mind.
            I turned back quickly, and although I was facing the same group of students, I could no longer see the guy from the mirror.  I stood on my toes and scanned the crowd.
            He was nowhere to be seen.
            "Who are you looking for?"  Simon was standing beside me now.
            "Uh, no one," I said.  Could I be hallucinating?  Maybe I wasn't back to normal like I had thought.  I looked up at Simon.  He was still grinning and didn't seem to notice that anything was wrong.  I pushed my worry aside.
            "Hi, Simon," I said.  "So, James is okay?"
            "Yeah."  Simon sighed in relief.  "It was a pretty weird set of circumstances, but he made it home safely last night.  And we know for a fact that he didn't shoot anybody.  He's even back at school today.  We rode in together."
            "I'm really happy to hear that, Simon.  What happened?"
            "Well, like I said, it was kind of weird.  You know Derek Finlay?"
            "The guy who takes all the photographs?  He's a senior?"
            "Yeah, that's the one. He and James are friends, and James went out with him on Sunday to help with something called a 'mentored advanced project' that Derek has been working on."
            "Wow.  James really is getting serious about school, isn't he?"
            "Yeah.  The two of them went out to the forest – to that stream that runs through a fruit grove to take some photos.  Supposedly, there's been some paranormal activity in the area.  They wanted to see if they could photograph something cool.  You know – it's the spot where they say that witch Elspeth hid before she founded the town."
            "Elspeth wasn't a witch," I protested.  "That was narrow-minded superstition on the part of her accusers."
            Simon smiled.  "Okay, then.  So, she wasn't a witch.  Whatever she was, James and Derek went down to the spot where her original hiding place was supposed to be in the Old Grove.  They found two men in the grove already.  They were standing in front of a huge fire.  James said it was nearly as big as the bonfires they have around homecoming games.  One of the guys was dressed pretty normally, but the other was wearing a ton of furs.  He even had a fur hood that covered his face.  James and Derek figured the fire was dangerous and watched the two men for a few minutes, trying to figure out what to do about it.  While they were watching, the guy in the furs suddenly took off and ran away into the woods.  The other guy went after him.  James and Derek chased them – you know, trying to get them to come back and put out the fire.  They couldn't catch the guys, though.  So, James and Derek went back to try to put out the fire themselves.  And that's when the police showed up.  Followed by the fire department."
            "Oh, no," I said.  "The police showed up just in time to get the wrong impression."
            Simon smiled ruefully.  "Exactly.  Somebody saw the fire and called the police.  And they caught James and Derek with the fire and didn't believe them when they said they didn't set it.  So, the two of them stayed in a holding cell overnight."
            "Overnight?"  I asked.  "They didn't call your parents or Derek's?  They just let you guys worry?"
            Simon sighed.  "They're both eighteen, and they were both embarrassed.  They didn't want anybody to know they'd been hauled in.  So, they didn't call anybody.  On Monday, the original witness – the woman who called the police came in and said they weren't the two she saw start the fire.  She described the normal guy and the one in the furs.  James and Derek were free."
            "So, James wasn't anywhere near the liquor store robbery Sunday night," I said.
            I was puzzled.  "Why did they think it was James, then?"
            "The guy who shot the clerk was about the same height and weight and was wearing a ski mask.  And James had been in there several times in the past trying to buy alcohol and had been turned away for being underage.  The last time James was thrown out – which was some time ago – he'd gotten really angry and had made threats.  The clerk just kind of guessed."
            "That's quite a guess," I said.  "But if the police had James in custody already for the fire, why were they out looking for him in connection with the liquor store robbery?"
            "The state police are the ones who arrested James and Derek in the forest – the forest is a state landmark or something, so it's under their jurisdiction.  The county police are the ones who were called about the liquor store robbery.  So, it was two separate groups of police.  And since the state police can vouch for James's whereabouts, the county police know for a fact that James is innocent."
            "Wow.  That really is a weird set of circumstances.  You and your parents must be really relieved."
            Simon ran a hand over his face.  "We are.  Believe me.  Oh, and get this.  There was a break-in here at the school on Saturday night.  Someone broke into the main office and stole all of the permanent records.  Whoever it was broke into the library, too, and stole all the yearbooks."
            I was surprised.  "Someone stole all of the yearbooks?  Who would want them?  And why didn't anybody tell us?  I didn't hear anything about the school being broken into."
            "Yeah, well, the school's trying to keep it quiet.  The only reason I heard about it was because the police came by again last night to question James about it.  They didn't have anything definite – they thought maybe he was trying to get rid of his permanent record or something.  Of course, the records are all kept electronically, too.  The paper stuff's just back-up for people who like things done the old-fashioned way."
            I had to shake my head.  "I know this is a small town, but this is starting to get silly.  James is hardly the only troublemaker in town."
            Simon gave me an injured look.
            "Sorry," I said.  "He's hardly the only former troublemaker in town.  Which police came looking for him this time?"
            "County.  But Simon was with me Saturday night.  I was free since you were busy."
            I felt a momentary twinge of guilt, and Simon continued.
            "We went out for pizza, and then we came home and played a video game – Realms of Night.  We could even tell the police exactly where we left off in the game.  Our parents were home, too."
            "So, James had a solid alibi for the Saturday and Sunday night robberies here in Elspeth's Grove."
            "Yeah.  We're all pretty grateful for that.  James is doing so well that we don't what to see anything get him off track."
            The first bell rang warning us that it was time to head inside for homeroom.
            Simon reached down to pick up his backpack, and I turned to look at Charisse and Branden.
            The two of them remained as before with foreheads touching and fingers intertwined.  As far as I could tell, they hadn't moved at all.
            I turned back to Simon.  "I think we shouldn't interrupt our two lovebirds over there.  I have a feeling they'll make it in on time somehow."
            Simon glanced at them and then looked back and me.  There was a strange expression on his face.  "They look happy."
            I felt uncomfortable under his gaze.  "They do."
            I looked away and went inside with Simon following me.
            We stopped at my locker.
            "I still have to make it up to you for missing lunch yesterday," Simon said.
            "Simon—" I began.
            "I insist."  He walked off, grinning.
            I rested my forehead against the cool metal of my locker and felt another twinge of guilt.  I liked being with Simon.  A lot.  But what I felt for him was warm and comfortable rather than all-consuming.  It was certainly nothing like what was going on between Branden and Charisse.  I had a feeling I should talk to Simon about it, but I also felt like I should give him some time.  After what he'd been through with James, he surely needed a few trouble-free days.
            I went to homeroom and first period, and my mind kept drifting back at intervals to Simon.  I was still thinking of him when I reached second-period English.  I paused before the door.  Suddenly, I remembered that we were scheduled to watch the second half of the play today – we'd only made it through the first half yesterday.
            A flash of panic ran through me.  I didn't want to see the strange guy in the TV screen again – especially not now after I'd hallucinated seeing him out in the schoolyard.  What if I saw him step out of the screen?  I bit my lip.  I ordered myself not to panic no matter what happened.
            I went into the classroom.
            I was surprised to see a strange man sitting at Mr. Del Gatto's desk – but it was not the one I'd feared seeing.  The man at the desk was clearly a substitute.  He was young and his hair was so sleek and flattened with gel that it was hard to tell what color it was.  He had a deep tan and wore a large, ostentatious ring with a red stone in it.  I had a feeling a lot of the girls in the class would find him good-looking, but to me he was just a little too sleek and glossy.
            Looking at him, I felt my heart sink further.  If he was indeed a substitute for Mr. Del Gatto, not only were we going to finish out the play – which wouldn't last the entire period – we might even start another movie, so he wouldn't have to teach anything.  I wasn't going to be free of the TV screen for the entire period.
            As I sat down at my desk, the sub looked up at me and flashed me a bright white smile.  I looked away.  The man was giving off a decidedly oily vibe.
            I glanced around the room.  Charisse and Branden hadn't arrived yet.  I figured that the two of them would come very close to being late again, and I wondered if the sub was the forgiving type or the kind who gave out detentions to let everybody know there would be no hijinks just because he was a sub.  Theoretically, teachers were supposed to give detentions automatically to students who were late.  Was this sub a stickler?
            I glanced over at him and found he was staring at me.  I looked away again quickly.
            I became very interested in the rest of the classroom again.
            Turning in my seat I saw Irina standing by the door, making a show of talking to her two best friends, Bryony and Annamaria, and playing with the silky white scarf that she wore.  I thought for a moment that they might be talking about me, but they glanced at the teacher's desk several times and giggled.  I realized that they were enamored of the sub.
            For his part, the sub was still looking at me.
            I turned back around in my seat, feeling the sub's eyes on me, and I opened a book and hid myself behind it.  I couldn't wait for English class to be over.
            Eventually, the bell rang, and the sub got up and closed the door.  I sneaked a look around.  Charisse and Branden had made it in on time.
            The sub walked up to the board at the front of the room and wrote 'MR. HIGHTOWER,' while his big red ring winked at the class.  Then he turned to face the room.  He smiled, revealing his gleaming teeth.
            "Folks, as you can see, I'm Mr. Hightower.  I'll be subbing for Mr. Del Gatto for the next few days.  He's going to be out for a little while."
            I felt my spirits sink.  Mr. Del Gatto must be really sick, and we would be stuck with the shiny Mr. Hightower.
            "Now, unfortunately, I'm going to have to ask you to call me Mr. Hightower.  School rules.  But if you guys were in college, you could call me 'Tim.'  And honestly, you guys look a lot more like college students than high school kids to me."
            An appreciative murmur rippled through the class.
            Mr. Hightower continued.  "Since you guys are so sophisticated, I'm going to skip taking roll – they don't always take it in college.  And just so you know, I'm likely to skip it tomorrow, too."  He winked at the class.  "I understand from Mr. Del Gatto's notes that you're finishing up watching a play for the first part of class today.  I have to say, you're making it really easy on the new guy."
            The class laughed.
            Mr. Hightower wheeled the TV and DVD player to the front of the room in one swift, fluid movement.  Then he flicked on the play and glided to the back of the room to turn out the lights.
            I braced myself for what I might see in the screen.
            I could feel my heart pounding as the action resumed, and the actors recited their lines.
            I waited, on edge, and watched.  But no shadow appeared, and there were no faces that did not belong.
            As time passed, I began to relax.  Before I knew it, the play was over, and Mr. Hightower had turned the lights on again.
            I blinked in the sudden brightness and took a deep breath.  I hadn't seen a single thing in the TV screen that shouldn't have been there.  I was unbelievably relieved.  I had even been able to enjoy the end of the play.
            Mr. Hightower addressed the class.  "Folks, we still have some time remaining together, but I have no specific instructions for the rest of this class.  So, I propose that we make the rest of the period a free period.  But you guys have to promise to keep the noise level down to a dull roar."
            A ripple of laughter ran through the class.
            I got out my Social Studies book and began to read.  I had a feeling we wouldn't be doing much work in English class for the next few days.
            At long last the bell rang, and I jumped up and swept my stuff into my backpack.
            Mr. Hightower's voice rose above the clamor of the class as everyone packed up.  "Katie Wickliff, can I see you for a moment?"
            I froze.  The last thing I wanted to do was talk to the unctuous Mr. Hightower.  I pulled on my backpack, fixed a polite smile on my face, and approached his desk.
            "You wanted to see me, Mr. Hightower?"
            Mr. Hightower gave me another of his blinding smiles.  "Don't worry, Katie.  It's something good.  Mr. Del Gatto told me that you're one of his favorite students."
            Inwardly, I doubted it.  If Mr. Del Gatto were sick enough that he was going to be out for several days, I wouldn't think his students would be on his mind much.
            Mr. Hightower went on.  "You're one of his favorite students because you're one of the best."  He leaned forward in his seat and rested his elbows on the desk, lowering his voice confidentially.  "In fact, he said you're one of his best ever.  Since we'll have a few days without Mr. Del Gatto, how would you like to do some extra credit?"
            I eyed the man in front of me carefully.  His voice was friendly, flattering, but there was something watchful about him.  I folded my arms in front of me.  "What kind of extra credit?"
            Mr. Hightower turned his red-stone ring on his finger in a complete revolution.  I watched as the red stone disappeared from view and then made its reappearance.
            "You live with your grandmother, right?" Mr. Hightower asked.
            I nodded, but the question made me feel uneasy.  How did he know that?
            "Anna Rost?"
            I nodded again.  I really didn't want to answer the questions.  Nodding was easier than speaking.
            "Well, everyone knows your lovely grandmother is from Russia.  Since your class is doing a unit on local writers and stories, why don't you ask her if there are any old stories from her hometown that she remembers.  You could write an essay on that.  Does that sound like fun?"
            Mr. Hightower was staring at me without blinking.
            I was growing more uncomfortable by the second.  "I don't think so, Mr. Hightower."
            Mr. Hightower nodded and smiled – this time concealing his dazzling teeth.  "A great student like you must have a pretty packed schedule.  Let me know if you change your mind.  The offer's open all week."
            I nodded again, and Mr. Hightower unleashed his brilliant grin.  "I always like to encourage the brightest students, kiddo."
            I turned to go.  Charisse was waiting for me by my desk.  Irina was standing just behind her, glaring at me.
            As I walked toward Charisse, Irina sailed past me, flinging her scarf over her shoulder.
            "Oh, Mr. Hightower," Irina said.  "I have a question for you."
            "Shoot, kiddo," he replied amiably.
            "What did Mr. Hightower want?" Charisse asked.
            "Let's just get out of here," I said, walking toward the door.  Charisse followed.
            Feeling someone's eyes on me, I glanced over my shoulder.
            Mr. Hightower was watching me as he listened to Irina.
            I walked faster.
            As we moved out into the hall, Charisse touched my arm.  "Katie, you seem freaked out.  What happened with Mr. Hightower?"
            Now that we were out with the chattering mass of students, I began to feel a bit silly.  "Nothing really.  Mr. Hightower offered me some extra credit.  He just seems a little creepy to me."
            Charisse giggled.  "He is a little over-gelled, isn't he?"  She gave me a playful tap on the arm.  "Why did he offer you extra credit?  Why not me?  I'm the one who could use it."
            "I don't know.  It was weird," I replied.  Suddenly I realized what was bothering me, and I drew in my breath sharply.  "How did Mr. Hightower know my name?  I've never seen him in my life.  How did he even know who I was?"
            Charisse blinked in surprise.  "What do you mean, 'how did he know'?  He's a teacher.  You're a student in his class.  Of course he knows who you are."
            My uneasiness was growing.  "But Mr. Hightower never called roll.  He said we were too cool for it or something – so he doesn't know who any of us are.  He also said Mr. Del Gatto told him what a great student I am."
            "That must be how he knew you, then."
            I shook my head.  "Can you imagine Mr. Del Gatto bragging about any of us?"
            "Hmmmmm.  Now that you mention it, not really, no."
            I went on in a rush.  "And Mr. Hightower knew I lived with my grandmother."
            "A lot of people know that," Charisse said.  "Maybe he knows her.  Maybe she told him about you."
            "I-I.  Maybe.  I don't know."
            Charisse gave me a concerned look.  "What is it that worries you about Mr. Hightower?"
            I sighed.  Maybe I was overreacting.  Maybe I was just tired from seeing strange men all over the place.  "I'm not sure.  It's probably nothing.  Things have just been weird lately.  Sorry I've been rambling on about this.  How are you?  When are you going to tell me what your big secret is?"
            Charisse gave me a conspirator's smile.  "I'll tell you tomorrow.  I promise.  Branden will be ready for everyone to know by then."
            I glanced behind us.  "Speaking of Branden, where is he?  I haven't seen either one of you without the other in ages."
            Charisse grinned, showing her dimples.  "Branden had to see a guy about a thing."
            I nodded.  "Very enlightening.  I must say, so far you've been good at keeping your secret.  But then, you've always been good at keeping secrets."
            Charisse seemed pleased.  "Thank you."
            I gave her a serious look.  "That may not always be a good thing."
            "Katie, there is no way you are tricking me into giving away my secret early.  It'll be worth the wait."
            "That's not what I'm getting at," I said.  "I’m worried about you.  You haven't breathed a word about your parents' divorce since you first mentioned it.  And it must have been brewing for some time, and you never brought it up until it finally bubbled over."
            Charisse laughed.  "Is that all?  You really had me going there.  My parents have always argued.  You know that."
            "But Charisse, things must have escalated to lead to the break-up of a nearly twenty-year marriage."
            "Honestly, I've been expecting this my whole life.  And I’m okay with the divorce.  I did think it was weird that I reacted so well at first, but I realized that's just the way I am.  I accept things and move on."
            As I looked at her, Charisse's eyes softened into sympathy.  "I can understand how hard family things must be for you.  You barely had any time to spend with your parents before they were gone.  Divorce probably reminds you of that loss.  It's not so bad for me.  Besides, I've got it covered."
            Something in Charisse's tone caught my attention.  "What do you mean, you've got it covered?"
            Charisse smiled brightly and stopped at the hallway that led to her next class.  "I've got to run or I'll be late.  Everything will be fine.  I have got it covered."
            She walked off and I stood staring after her.  Something wasn't right about the way Charisse was acting.  She glanced back at me and must have seen the expression on my face.
            "Katie!" she shouted.  "I know what I'm doing!"
            I watched her disappear into the crowd.
            I wasn't so sure that she did.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chapter 2

Hi everyone.  Here is the second chapter of Pure.  Chapter 1 is in the post right below this one.

Chapter 2.

I was awakened in the morning by the harsh, persistent beep of my alarm.  After I shut it off, I sat up and brushed my hair away from my face.  My dreams were still fogging my mind.  And there had been something in them – the same strange longing that called to me every night now.  This was the first time I had felt it in my sleep.
            I frowned.  There was something else that was different.
            There had been a presence – a shadow of a figure.
            Someone had invaded my dreams.  I was sure of it.
            I shook my head.  That was a crazy way to think.  I forced myself to think of school.  I still had my quiz in English.  And I would see Simon.  Just being around him always helped to calm my nerves.
            I got out of bed and walked toward the bathroom.  I was feeling tired after my too eventful night.  My eyes were burning, and they felt puffy, probably because of the crying I'd done last night, and I swayed around dizzily as I reached the bathroom and switched on the light.
            I turned on the tap in the sink, letting the water run, and splashed my face several times with cold water.  I'd hoped the water would make me feel more awake, but instead it just made me shiver, and the water as it streamed down the drain sounded unnaturally loud.
            I placed my hands on either side of the sink and let my head fall forward, my hair swinging down on either side of my face like a curtain.  I took a few deep breaths.
            After a moment, I felt better, and I swept my hair back with one hand and looked into the mirror.
            My face was a little paler than usual, but I really didn't look too bad.  I pressed a hand to my forehead and then to my cheek.  My skin was cool.  I was pretty sure I wasn't sick.  That was reassuring at least.
            My eyes looked just a little puffy, and as I leaned closer to examine them, I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye.  Some instinct made me turn around quickly, but there was nothing behind me but a towel rack.
            I dismissed the flicker as a trick played by my tired eyes.  I turned back to the mirror.
            As I leaned close to the mirror again, I saw another flicker of movement.  This time the flicker grew and coalesced into a dark shadow as tall as a man.  I blinked several times and squinted at the shadow in the mirror.  It was definitely standing behind me.  I felt a brief stab of alarm as I turned and looked over my shoulder.
            As before, nothing was there.
            I turned back to the mirror.  The shadow was still there.  I leaned closer.  The shadow began to grow thicker and more substantial.  Suddenly, there was a man standing behind me.  I could see him quite clearly over my shoulder – black hair, blue eyes, a handsome face set into harsh lines.  The look in his eyes was dangerous.
            A flash of panic ran through me, and I spun around, bracing my hands behind me on the sink.
            No one was there.
            I hurried out of the bathroom.
            I ran down the hall, intending to find GM, but I stopped myself at the top of the stairs.  If I told GM that I was seeing things in the mirror, she would say that I was letting my mind play tricks on me after all the strange things the visitors had said last night.  Would GM be right about that?  I decided I was being silly.  I took a deep breath and went back to the bathroom.
            Warily, I peered into the mirror.  The glass reflected only my own face and the towel rack behind me.  I leaned closer to the mirror, keeping my eyes fixed on the area over my shoulder.  Several long moments passed.  Nothing strange appeared in the mirror – no shadow, no man's face.
            I straightened up in relief.  I had been imagining things.  What was wrong with me lately?  I knew I had to hurry or I would be late.  I quickly showered and dressed.
            As I ran downstairs, I could smell cinnamon and sugar.  I wondered what was going on.  GM didn't usually approve of sweets.
            I saw as I entered the kitchen that all traces of the confrontation from the night before had been swept away.  GM was busy buttering two slices of bread on a plate.  In the center of the table was a freshly baked loaf of bread.  There were golden-brown swirls in the cut section of the bread with little black specks dotting the swirls.
            I couldn't help smiling.  GM had made cinnamon-raisin bread.  I was addicted to it – when I could get it.
            GM looked up at me.  Sadness and anxiety flickered in her eyes.  She clearly felt bad about the scene with the visitors last night and was trying to make up for it.  I felt a rush of love for her – I knew she was always trying to do what was best for me.
            I was sure now, too, that not mentioning the strange man I'd seen in the mirror was the right thing to do – I didn't want GM to feel any worse.
            I walked around the table and gave GM a hug.
            "Good morning, Solnyshko," GM said.  Solnyshko was her pet name for me – a Russian endearment meaning 'little sun.'  "Did you sleep well?"
            Pushing all my fears aside, I smiled brightly.  "Yes, thanks.  How about you?"
            GM relaxed visibly.  "Of course."  She waved the knife she held in a gesture of bravado.  "It is hard to disturb a mind like mine."
            I leaned closer to the table to inhale the aroma from the bread.  "I see you were busy last night after I went to bed.  Did you make this for me?"
            "Can there be any doubt?" GM asked gruffly, pushing the plate of buttered bread toward me.  "I knew it was your favorite."
            "Thanks, GM."  I sat down at the table.
            "I will pour you a glass of milk," GM announced firmly.  "I know you usually drink orange juice, but orange juice is no good with cinnamon raisin."
            The milk soon appeared by my plate.
            For her part, GM sat down and began cutting off two slices for herself.  Then she began poking raisins out of the bread with her knife.  GM had a strong aversion to raisins.  She only kept them in the house for me.
            I reached for my glass, and I watched in disbelief as a dark spot formed on the side of the glass.  Soon, a man's face appeared in muted outline on the glass.  I set it down, alarmed.
            GM looked up at me.  "Is something wrong?"
            "The glass.  Do you see that?"
            "See what?" GM asked.
            I looked again.  The face on the side of the glass had disappeared.
            "It's nothing," I said.  I couldn't tell her what I'd seen – or what I'd imagined I'd seen.
            I finished up quickly, putting my dishes in the dishwasher, and gave GM a peck on the cheek.  "Thanks again."
            I hurried to pull on my coat and backpack.  Then I was out the door.
            It was early October, just past my 16th birthday, and the weather was a little warmer than usual at this time of year, but it was still cold.  I walked down the driveway past GM's bright red sports car.  Against my better judgment, I paused and looked into the side mirror.  A black spot quickly began to appear behind my shoulder.  Soon the spot spread and evened out, revealing a man's face – dark hair, light eyes, sharply defined features.
            I cried out and spun around.  No one was standing behind me.  I looked back at the mirror.  The face was gone.
            I was definitely cracking up.
            I hurried down the driveway and turned onto the sidewalk to begin the walk to school.
            I told myself not to panic.  Turn back into normal Katie, I told myself.  Turn back into normal Katie.  What would normal Katie think of?
            I thought of the quiz in English – which I hadn't studied for as much as I would have liked, thanks to the distracting night calling.  And then there had been my troubled and insufficient sleep – that wasn't going to help my performance on the quiz, either.  Of course, Simon would say that I wouldn't need sleeping or studying in order to do well on a quiz.  He really was a good friend.
            I felt a sudden strange tug on my heart as I thought of Simon.  Was there something wrong between the two of us?  I had a feeling that there was – but what it was exactly, I couldn't pin down.
            I hurried on to school, feeling my spirits sinking steadily.
            As I neared the fence that surrounded Elspeth's Grove High School, I spotted an African-American girl sitting on a picnic table, talking to a tall, Caucasian boy with unkempt brown hair.
            I smiled when I saw them, and the girl noticed me and waved.  I was glad to see my friends, Charisse Graebel and Branden McKenna.  The sight of them made me feel normal again.  Somehow the two of them and crazy visions in mirrors didn't seem to belong to the same world.
            I hurried into the schoolyard and walked up to them.
            "Hey, Charisse.  Hey, Branden."
            "Happy Monday," Branden replied gloomily.  "Welcome to the beginning of our prison sentence for the week."
            "Ignore him, Katie," Charisse said.  "Are you ready for the quiz in English?"
            I sighed heavily.  "Don't remind me.  I'm really not ready for it today."
            Charisse smiled.  "Don't worry, over-achiever.  I'm sure you'll be fine."
            A false note in Charisse's voice caught my attention, and I looked at her sharply.  Her tone was superficially cheerful, and her smile was as bright was ever, but there was an unusual distance in her eyes.  I could tell Charisse's mind was elsewhere.
            Branden groaned.  "The quiz.  I forgot all about it.  I'd better get going."
            Reluctantly, he picked up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder.
            Charisse looked up at him in surprise.  "Where are you going?"
            Branden was rueful.  "Katie may be able to get by on a quiz any time, but I can't.  I haven't even read the play, yet.  I'm going to get some reading done – someplace where there are fewer distractions.  I can't study while you're around, gorgeous."
            Charisse stood up to kiss him on the cheek.  "Okay.  I'll see you in first period."
            Branden returned the kiss on her forehead and loped away across the yard toward the school.
            "You guys didn't talk about the quiz this weekend?" I asked.
            "No," Charisse replied dreamily.  "We were talking about other things."
            "You know," I said, "sometimes you two are horrifyingly cute together."
            "Some people think you and Simon are pretty cute together, too."
            I felt a blush rise to my cheeks.  "Simon and I are friends.  Close friends.  But still friends.  You know that."
            "I know he likes you.  And I think you like him, too.  You just haven't admitted that to yourself, yet, Katie."
            I felt a strong tug on my heart and an even stronger desire to end this line of conversation.  I glanced at Charisse's face.  The preoccupation was still there.
            "Charisse, is something wrong?"
            Charisse looked down at her hands.  "No.  And that's the problem."
            I was instantly alert.  "What do you mean?"
            "It's my parents.  They've split up."
            "What?" I said.  My shock was as great as if Charisse had just thrown a glass of cold water in my face.
            She sighed.  The sound was more wistful than anything else.  "They're getting a divorce."
            "Are you serious?"
            "Oh, Charisse," I said.  "That's terrible.  I'm so sorry.  Are you okay?"
            Charisse gave me an odd little smile.  "Yes, I am."
            "Well, what happened?" I asked.
            Charisse sighed again and shrugged.  "In a way, it was nothing out of the ordinary – my parents have always argued.  Lawyers, you know.  Neither one of them ever backs down.  But you know about that already."
            I nodded.  I did know that her household was pretty contentious.  I had witnessed it myself.  It was nothing really scary – shouting, slammed doors, passive aggressive comments – but it was contentious nonetheless.
            Charisse continued.  "So, after yet another argument, my dad left last night.  He went to stay at our vacation cottage until he can find an apartment.  My mom and I are going to stay at the house."
            "I'm sorry, Charisse.  You must be devastated."
            Charisse looked up at the sky.  "That's the weird part.  I'm okay with it.  My parents have been fighting my whole life.  I think they'll be better off apart, actually.  But people are supposed to be devastated when their parents break up.  And I'm not.  I have to wonder if something's wrong with me.  I don't even really want to talk about it.  But I did want you to be the first to know that it happened – you're my best friend."
            I was surprised by her answer, but at the same time, I wanted to be supportive.
            I gave her a hug.  "You have a right to your feelings – whatever they are," I said.
            But all the same I was worried.
            I glanced up and caught sight of a familiar blond head pushing determinedly through a crowd that had formed nearby.
            It was Simon.  His pale brows were drawn together, and his expression was stormy.
            Charisse looked up at him as he approached.  "Wow.  Simon does not look happy.  Did you guys have a fight or something?"
            "Charisse, of course not.  And you know we're just friends."  But I had had a feeling earlier that something was wrong with Simon.  It seemed as though I had been right.
            Simon marched up to us.  He glanced at Charisse and gave her a tight-lipped smile.  "Hey."
            He turned to me and pushed his hands into the pockets of his jeans, hunching his shoulders.  "Can we talk?  Alone?"
            I glanced uncertainly at Charisse.  "Will you be okay?"
            Charisse smiled.  "Of course.  Like I said, amazingly, I'm all right with it all.  I'll see you in English class."
            Simon waited with his head bowed while Charisse walked away.
            When she was gone, he raised his face to mine – it was a mask of misery.
            Something was really bothering him.
            "Simon?" I prompted.
            "It's my brother, James," he said abruptly.  "He did something wrong last night.  Really wrong.  This time, he's going to jail."
            I was startled.  "I know he gets in trouble a lot, but jail?"
            Simon nodded grimly.  A muscle in his temple worked as he clenched his jaw.  "It's bad.  It's as bad as it can be.  The cops came to the house last night, looking for him.  My parents ordered me to go to my room and stay there.  I couldn't hear everything, but I heard enough."
            Simon stopped and looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was close enough to eavesdrop.  He went on in a low voice.
            "Somebody robbed a liquor store last night and shot the cashier.  The police think it was James."
            Cold fear washed over me.  "He shot the cashier?  He didn't—"
            I stopped suddenly.  I didn't want to finish my question.  I was afraid of what the answer would be."
            Simon smiled bitterly.  "Did he kill the cashier?  No.  The cashier is in the hospital in stable condition.  They think he'll be okay.  Which doesn't change the fact that James shot somebody."
            "You said the police think it was James."
            Simon nodded.
            "But they don't know for sure?"
            "Then we don't know it was James yet.  Maybe the police have decided on the wrong person."
            Simon looked at me miserably.  "Then why didn't he come home last night?  We don't know where he is.  The police don't know where he is.  Katie, if he's innocent, where is he?"
            "Just keep an open mind."  I tried to sound reassuring.  "Maybe he just happened to be near the liquor store at the wrong time and was afraid he'd be accused of being involved the crime when he really wasn't.  With a record like his, you can understand why he might be nervous."
            Simon nodded again, and I could see the taut lines of his face begin to relax.
            I went on in the same soothing tone.  "James has been trying hard lately to pull his life together.  You and I have both seen how he's changed.  Please wait till you hear his side of things before you make up your mind."
            Simon took in a deep breath and let it out heavily.  His expression relaxed even more until he looked almost like his usual, cheerful self.  "You're right.  James has been doing better lately.  Maybe it is a misunderstanding."
            "Simon!"  A shrill voice suddenly sounded right in my ear, startling me.
            A girl was wedging herself in between Simon and me, forcing both of us to step back to give her room.
            I soon found myself facing a dark glossy ponytail.
            "Hi, Simon!  How are you?" the girl chattered happily.  "Are we still on for lunch today?"
            I sighed inwardly as I realized that I recognized the voice.
            "Irina?" I asked.  "Is that you?"
            The girl spun around.  It was, as I had suspected, Irina Neverov.  Her dark eyes glinted maliciously before widening into a convincing approximation of innocent astonishment.  A polite mask settled over her flawless features.  "Oh, Katie!  I didn't see you there.  Simon and I have a few things to discuss.  Would you mind giving us a minute?"  Irina flashed a bewitching smile.  "Thanks so much."
            I wondered as I had before how things had gotten to this point.  Irina and I had been good friends when we were little, but now that we were in high school, we had somehow become enemies – and as far as I could see, the animosity was all on her side.  I hadn't changed much over the years, but Irina had.
            Simon broke in firmly.  "I'll see you at lunch like I said, Irina.  Katie, would you walk inside with me?"
            "Sure."  Clearly, Simon still needed to talk.
            Simon took my elbow lightly and steered me across the yard and into the school.  He didn't say anything, and I could see that his earlier tension had returned.
            The two of us walked in silence until we reached my locker.  I glanced up at Simon's face.  His expression had gone impassive.
            "Simon?" I prompted.  "I assumed you still wanted to talk, but you haven't said a word."
            "There's nothing going on between Irina and me," Simon blurted out.  "You have nothing to worry about.  We were assigned as partners for a science project.  We're going to be meeting at lunch today and then after school for most of the week.  I didn't get to choose.  You're all that matters to me.  You have to know that by now."
            I felt guilt settling on me heavily.  Charisse was right.  Simon really did like me – a lot more than I had realized.  "Simon, you don't owe me an explanation.  You have the right to be friends with anyone you want to be friends with."
            Simon's face grew pained.  "But we're not friends.  That's what I'm trying to tell you.  We're having lunch together because we're using the time to work on the project.  That's all.  I should have told you, but I know you and Irina don't get along very well.  I don't want you to think there's anything in it.  You believe me, don't you?"
            The more Simon talked, the worse I felt.  "Simon, of course I believe you."
            Simon smiled and looked deeply relieved.  "I'll make it up to you, I promise."
            "Simon, you don't owe me anything.  It's okay if you want to have lunch with other people sometimes."
            "I insist on making it up to you," Simon said, smiling and backing into the crowd of students that were milling around in the hall.  "I'll see you later, Katie."
            I watched him go.  He'd been afraid I'd be jealous, but even after I'd heard he was going to have lunch with another girl, I'd felt no stab of envy.  I liked Simon.  I really did.  But it was definitely a friendship.  I felt another tug on my heart as I thought about Simon.  I realized what it meant this time.  Deep down, I must have known that his feelings for me were growing – and that I wouldn't be able to return them.  I got my books and shut my locker door.  The weight of my guilt was crushing me.
            Homeroom and first period passed quickly.  As I walked into second-period English I saw Irina sitting on my assigned desk, holding court with her two best friends, Bryony and Annamaria.
            "We're meeting practically every day after school this week.  Simon says it's just for the project, but I think Simon has an ulterior motive.  I think he's using the project as an excuse to get to know me better."
            Bryony and Annamaria giggled.
            Irina was clearly trying to provoke a reaction from me, and I had no desire to play out the scene with her.  I walked up to my desk and waited patiently.  I knew Irina and her friends would have to move as soon as Mr. Del Gatto came into the classroom.  I had seen him in the hall nearby talking to another teacher.  I didn't have too long to wait.
            Irina darted a furtive glance at me.  "You know, when we're together, Simon can't take his eyes off me.  I would say he's working up the courage to ask me out."
            I resisted an impulse to roll my eyes.  I wasn't upset by Irina's little show, but as I glanced around, I realized that she was attracting the attention of the rest of the class.  People were whispering and staring, and I got the uncomfortable feeling that everyone was eager to see if an argument would break out.  Apparently everyone else thought that Simon and I were a couple too.
            I decided it was wiser to end everything now, rather than wait for Mr. Del Gatto.
            "Excuse me, Irina," I said in a clear, firm voice.  "You're sitting on my desk.  I wouldn't mind sitting somewhere else, but you know how Mr. Del Gatto feels about his seating chart."
            Irina blinked in surprise.  This was clearly not the reaction she'd expected.
            Several people in the class giggled.
            Irina gave me a bright smile.  "Oh, Katie.  I didn't see you there.  It's funny how you seem to be invisible today."
            There were several more snickers.
            Irina shot me a triumphant look.
            I stood where I was, staring at Irina steadily.
            At first, Irina returned my gaze defiantly.  I think she still thought she could provoke me into having an outburst.  But as our staring contest stretched on, Irina's gaze faltered, and I watched as a flush crept up under her olive coloring.
            She slid off my desk and walked away with the eyes of the class upon her.  I sat down at my desk.  With the spectacle over, the class went back to talking about other things.
            A few moments later, Mr. Del Gatto walked into the room.  Just as he was turning to close the door, Branden and Charisse scurried into the room.
            "Miss Graebel, Mr. McKenna, so good of you to grace us with your presence."  Mr. Del Gatto was frequently sarcastic, but I knew that he really liked his students and his subject.  He was actually one of my favorite teachers.
            Branden and Charisse mumbled their apologies and went to their seats.
            "All right, ladies and gentlemen, come to order, please."
            The room quieted, and Mr. Del Gatto strode toward his desk at the front of the room.  He pulled a key out of his pocket, unlocked a drawer, and pulled out a stack of papers.  He set them on the desk with a slap.
            "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to call roll, and then I'm going to pass out the quiz.  None of this should be a surprise to you.  The topic is Lydia Grace's play, The Maid and the Moon.  We had a lecture on Friday, and of course, you should all have read the material – though I have my doubts about whether or not you all have done so."
            There was a collective groan from the room.
            "There's no use in your complaining to me," Mr. Del Gatto said.  "I gave you plenty of warning.  Put away your books.  You have a few moments to say your prayers while I take attendance."
            While Mr. Del Gatto called roll, I took a quick mental inventory of what I knew about the play.  We were doing a unit on local authors.  In the 19th Century Lydia Grace had written a play dramatizing the founding of our town, Elspeth's Grove.  Elspeth Quick had been born in the early 18th Century in a small community in New England.  As a teenager, she had been falsely accused of witchcraft and had fled south to elude an angry mob bent on her destruction.  Her true love, Christian Miller, followed her and eventually caught up with her.  The two of them married in a small town, but were soon forced to flee into the untamed wilderness to escape detection by a search party.  Following a thin thread of silver moonlight, Elspeth guided them through the forest to a fresh spring that ran through a grove of fruit trees.  The two of them spent the summer in the grove and waited out their pursuers.  Eventually, Elspeth and Christian found their way to a nearby town and established themselves there.  They moved back to the forest once they were prosperous and a town sprang up around them.
            How romantic, I thought, that they faced all those dangers together, and it was all true…
            My reverie was broken when Mr. Del Gatto slapped a quiz down on my desk.
            Before long, everyone had a copy of the quiz.  Mr. Del Gatto moved back to the front of the room.
            "In compensation for your great suffering today, after the quiz, we will watch a filmed version of the play.  While watching, the quick amongst you will realize which questions you got wrong.  Those less fortunate will watch in blissful ignorance, noticing nothing."
            Mr. Del Gatto glanced up at the large round clock above the door.  "Turn your quizzes over.  You have twenty-five minutes."
            I flipped the single sheet over and scanned the questions quickly.  I was relieved to see that there were no questions I couldn't handle.  I got to work.
            Shortly before time was called, I set my pencil down and leaned back in my chair, glad to be finished.
            I had a sudden strong urge to put my head down on the desk and go to sleep.  Disturbingly, I also felt the strange calling that had heretofore only come to me at night.
            "Time's up!" Mr. Del Gatto shouted.
            I shook my head, trying to clear it.
            Mr. Del Gatto walked around the room, collecting the quiz papers.
            "I expect to give my red pen quite a workout tonight."
            Mr. Del Gatto moved back to the front of the room and deposited the quizzes on his desk.  Then he wheeled a TV and DVD player out of a corner to the front of the room.  He switched on the movie.
            "Mr. McKenna, would you do me the honor of switching off the lights?"
            Branden extinguished the lights, and the room was plunged into semi-gloom.
            I propped my chin on my hand and tried to ignore the unnatural feeling that was pulling at me.  I forced myself to concentrate on the play.
            As the minutes passed, I began to feel better.  I watched the actors on the screen, and I felt myself drawn into the drama.
            I spotted a dark shadow in one corner of the picture and frowned.  I wondered if something was wrong with the TV.  The shadow grew and began to move around the screen.
            I looked around the room.  All eyes were facing forward and appeared to be untroubled.  No one else seemed to have noticed that anything was wrong with the picture.
            I turned back to the movie.  The shadow continued to move around the screen, growing darker and more distinct.  I watched it, feeling a chill run through me.  Suddenly the shadow coalesced into a clear shape.  It was a man – the same man I had seen looking over my shoulder in the mirror that morning.
            I bit my lip to stop myself from crying out and jumped to my feet.
            I stumbled toward the door.  "Mr. Del Gatto, I don't feel very well."
            Mr. Del Gatto looked concerned.  "Go to the bathroom or to the nurse – wherever you need to go.  Just take the hall pass, so no one stops you."
            I clutched at the little block of wood that served as the hall pass, and I flung myself out of the room.
            I ran till I reached the nearest girls' bathroom.  I pushed the door open and hurried inside, sinking to the floor in a corner, out of sight of the mirrors.
            I closed my eyes and the man's face rose again in my memory.  There was no doubt in my mind that I had just seen him in the TV screen.  I had now seen him in four different places.
            I opened my eyes and ran my fingers through my hair.  What could it possibly mean?  I wanted to call GM and tell her everything, but I knew it would really upset her.  Suddenly I thought of the mysterious visitors from the previous night, Galina and Aleksandr.  I wondered if they would know something about what was happening to me.  But I had no idea how to find them.
            I leaned my head back against the wall.  I would have to figure this out on my own.
            Using the wall for support, I climbed to my feet.  I eyed the row of mirrors and sinks in front of me warily.
            I would have to look.
            I took a few tentative steps toward the mirror, and then I forced myself to move.  I rushed forward, gripping the edge of a sink for support, my head down.
            I raised my head and looked into the mirror.  Only my own eyes stared back at me.  I was alone in the smooth sheet of glass.
            I breathed in and out slowly.  I looked down at my hands.  I realized I was shaking.
            I heard the door to the bathroom creak in protest as it was flung open.  I spun around startled.
            Irina stalked into the bathroom, her eyes sweeping over the area suspiciously, looking for me.  "Katie?  Mr. Del Gatto sent me to see if you were in here.  He says you're ill."  She sounded like she didn't entirely believe it.
            She caught sight of me, and I saw her eyes widen in surprise.  "You're so pale.  Are you okay?"
            My head was swimming, but I gave her a reassuring smile.  "Yes, I think so."
            Irina took a step closer, scrutinizing my face.  "Are you sure?  It looks like something's really wrong."
            I was surprised to see genuine concern in Irina's dark eyes.  "I'm not ill.  I just had kind of a spell."
            Irina frowned.  "What do you mean by a 'spell'?"
            "I don't know exactly," I admitted.  "But it's been happening more often lately."
            "Maybe you should see a doctor."
            I ran a hand across my forehead unsteadily.  "I think you may be right."
            "Are you well enough to go back to class?" Irina asked.  "Or I can walk you to the nurse if you're not up to it."
            "I can go back to class," I replied.
            The two of us walked out of the bathroom together.
            As we made our way back to class, I felt weak and unsure of my footing.  Irina kept a watchful eye on me, as if she feared I would collapse.
            When we reached the door to Mr. Del Gatto's class, I stopped.  "Thanks, Irina," I said.
            Her eyes narrowed warily and her usual mask slipped down over her features again.  She opened the door and swept into the classroom without a word.  She did not look back at me.
            I followed her rigid back into the room.
            "How are you feeling, Katie?" Mr. Del Gatto asked.
            "I'm okay now, Mr. Del Gatto," I said, though I wasn't entirely sure that was true.  I did know that I wouldn't be able to watch any more of the movie.  I didn't want to see that strange face again.
            The room was dark, and I could hear the actors on the TV speaking their lines.  I tripped over someone's backpack as I made my way back to my seat.  At least in the dark no one could see the blush that rose to my cheeks.
            I sank into my chair and covered my eyes with my hands.  I had no idea what I was going to do.