2010 copyright; author retains all rights to the story. Please do not use the story without author's permission.
I touched true darkness for the first time when my Nana died. At eighty-seven and wasted with cancer, her passing was a blessing. Now I know that it was a gentle darkness, natural and inevitable. But then it was my first brush against the dark, and it frightened me.
I cried at her bedside, gripping her cool fingers, all skin and sinews. I cried again at the funeral, smelling gladiolas and trying to avoid the ugly cry behind the handkerchief Mom gave me. By the time we put her light blue coffin in the ground, I'd cried myself out and stood empty, like an abandoned cicada skin. It was April, but chilly, and a wicked breeze deflated my puffy cheeks, making me feel less like an overripe tomato.
When the service finished, just like Nana had asked, we released baby blue balloons to the sky. They caught in the pine trees dotting the cemetery, bouncing in the breeze until the needles popped them, leaving dead balloons and ribbons entangled in the branches like demented Christmas tinsel. Laughter rumbled deep in my belly, exploding from my mouth in a great blast, surprising me and the rest of the mourners. I ran around the corner of a nearby mausoleum, clutching my stomach and mouth to keep the giggles in, the glares of my parents and older sister, Katy, following me.
You know how sometimes kids who are grieving get all rebellious and crazy? Not me. I never caused my parents a moment's worry, other than that crazy giggle attack at the cemetery. I had good friends, geeky drama kids and brainiacs, ones who found their highs on the stage or in a 4.0 on their report card. That's why I didn't understand all the restrictions, all the rules. I was a good kid.
It didn't help that they both taught at Hawthorne College, the small, liberal arts college in my hometown of Harperville, Ohio, and saw their share of crazy coed behavior. I can't remember how many times I said, “But Dad, I would never do that. My friends would never do that. Don't you trust me?” I wish now they'd been more strict, more careful to keep the boundaries closer to home.
It's laughable, looking back, but our idea of a great party on Friday nights was having enough people to play a rockin' game of Dungeons and Dragons. We liked to pretend that magic existed, and if we just found the right key, the right word, the right spell, a veil would part and the secrets of the universe would pour out at our feet. We knew nothing.
So when I asked permission to take the car and drive a few of us to the library at the college, where we could do some extra research for a project, my dad handed me the keys, not even looking at me as he read the paper.
His voice rose over the top of the business section. “Just watch the yellow lights, Kris. Play it safe. Speeding through a yellow to save two seconds is not worth your life.”
“Got it, Dad. No yellows.” I grinned and rolled my eyes. I'd heard it so many times I could have said it along with him.
My friends and I sat at a table in the open study area of the college library, trying to look twenty to the guys who eyed us. Marti had her computer open, typing notes for her history paper, surrounded by books referencing butchering practices of the eighteenth century, ignoring everyone like always..
The rest of us were there mostly for company, though we had papers to write, too. But I already had an entire library at home about my subject. It helps when both your parents are professors of music at the college and never met a book they didn't like, keep, and catalog in our basement library.
One of the college boys walked past our table, his white blond hair falling in his face. His look reminded me of bands from the eighties, all those alternative rockers that synthesized all their music and dressed it tight plastic pants. I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing, but I must have made a sound, because Marti slanted a look at me, which I waved off.
I watched him talk to his two friends as he wove his way through the maze of chairs, all the while trying to imagine him dressed like Depeche Mode or a-ha. He must have felt me watching him, because he paused at the super tall doors and looked back at me. My smile froze when our gazes met and I suddenly felt very small, like a mouse in front of a snake. He looked away and left the library and I discovered I had forgotten how to breathe. I took a huge gulp of air which promptly gave me the hiccups.
I should have known he was trouble by the color of his eyes. They were owl eyes, wolf eyes, unblinking and golden as they took everything in. At the time I thought they were exotic and beautiful. I should have known what they truly were: the eyes of a predator.