Afterburn: Chapter 1
Continuing from Afterburn: Prologue
Sarah Meyers had a problem with fire. No, she wasn't afraid of it nor did she tote around matches to satisfy any psychological pyromaniac desires, regardless what her therapist thinks. Sadly, her problem was much crazier than her poor therapist could comprehend. Sometimes, if she was angry or scared enough, things around her tended to catch on fire. Sometimes it just happened to be a small trashcan, but other times it could end up being an entire barn. Outside of the possibility of being delusional, which Sarah doesn't buy, she isn't the typical teenage girl. The barn fire forced her father to move the family to his hometown of Sanctuary, Rhode Island, hoping the family name and history would be strong enough to dampen the actions of his delinquent daughter. Now, Sarah has to start the game all over again. New school, more people to avoid, and try desperately to keep herself from setting anymore fires. Sarah soon finds out that some of the kids are not quite like the rest of the others, either. No, there is an old secret in this town that may provide Sarah with answers, but what she may find could be more terrifying than high school, and that's pretty scary.
“Sanctuary, Rhode Island has been around since the first immigrants and pilgrims came to America,” My mother said as she hung the clothes she just unpacked into my closet. “There’re still a lot of books and artifacts that your grandmother left with the house. Your father always says that the museums have been hounding her for the collection for years. He’d sell them himself if he wasn’t so afraid that your grandmother would come back to haunt him for doing it. They’ll all be yours someday, since she has dictated in her will that they stay with the family.”
I just smiled and nodded, but continued folding clothes and placing them in my dresser. This was my mother’s daily attempt to try not to alienate me. My new therapist, she apparently went to the same school as my former psychiatrist, told them that in anger and confusion over my actions, there comes alienation, a compulsion to separate oneself from the problem. The psychiatrist then promptly assured me that I was not the problem, just my actions, which is why my mother has barely stopped to breathe in the last two hours as she has helped me unpack my room. I already knew that this house, though it should really be called a mansion due to its massive size, used to belong to my grandmother and has been in the family for several generations. My mother was excitedly telling me about my family history, excited, because, for once, she had something to talk to me about and something to occupy her, my room, during today’s anti-alienation attempt. My ancestors, the Brannellys, fled their homeland of Ireland to escape persecution, yadda, yadda, yadda. The family line has always been known for the boys they produce. Rarely is there ever a girl. In fact, my grandmother was the first female in five generations, making myself an anomaly as well. The men in the family, including my father, tend to be enigmatic, but the females seem to take a more recluse route, as with my grandmother, and so shall it most likely be for me. This mansion may one day be my only refuge, just as it was for dear old granny.
I never actually met my grandmother. I always got the impression from my parents that she wasn’t quite sane, something they never seem to forget during my therapy sessions. Dad was obviously left the house after she died six years ago, but was too ambitious in Maryland to ever want to leave. That was, at least, until I set a barn on fire. I think my father is hoping that the names Meyers and Brannelly have enough presence to overshadow my faults, and he and my mother can go about normal lives even with a crazy daughter. If the house is supposed to stay in the family, then that means I’ll always have a home, even if I end up a total recluse. After the barn fire, I don’t see a whole lot of other options for my future. It is a dreaded fate, but being a freak and forced to be a new girl at a new school is far more dreadful.
I had tried to talk my parents into hiring a private tutor, playing the crazy card, but my therapist told them that my obsession with fire has only been a threat to myself. No one has ever been directly a target. Emersion into a scholastic environment will only encourage socialization of some kind and will be a great benefit to my self-esteem. Apparently, my therapist was homeschooled, because high school is never a benefit to anyone’s self-esteem. I am especially not looking forward to school, because my therapist is forcing me to make a friend. I am stuck with choosing the better option of making a friend having them find out that I am either a freak who will possibly endanger them or continue to remind my parents of the failures they are for producing such a child with destructive tendencies.
The key to this decision is that the therapist said she would consider reducing and eventually quitting all medications that I am currently prescribed. The fact that I don’t actually take any of the medications isn’t important. It’s just that my parents also think I take them as well as the school I will be attending. It’s always easier to stay under the radar unmedicated as opposed to medicated, and it will give some peace of mind to my parents.
I cut my mom’s ramblings off when I finished putting away everything in my dresser to ask if I could take a bike ride around town. Most of the time my mother knew that she or my father had to force me out of the house. Since the anti-alienation started, I’ve begun feeling quite smothered, and my only option was to leave the house in search of a secluded, quiet spot. She was all too eager to allow me to leave and even gave me twenty bucks to spend as I liked. I was zipping up my hoodie and about to leave my room when she stopped me.
“Sarah, sweetheart, this is a fresh start for you. Try to make the most of it and find a friend,” she said.
“Sure, Mom. I’ll try,” I replied, forcing a smile.
She walked up to me reaching out to touch my cheek, a ghost of worry hinting within her eyes. “You’ve grown up so much. I hardly remember how little you once were. Mmmm…it’s funny, but you look so much like your grandmother. You should look at her portrait when you get downstairs,” she smiled brightly, hiding her fear. She probably put my grandmother and me together, thinking, just as I had been, of my fate and the possibility of following in my grandmother’s footsteps.
“Too bad I couldn’t look like you, huh? That wouldn’t have been so bad,” I smirked but smiled as my mother gave me a shy smile that reached her golden brown eyes, and withdrew her hand from my face to gently brush her chocolate hair behind her ear. It was a rare and modest moment for my mother that only my father and I ever got to see. She usually spends most of her time as the perfect and glamorous housewife. I think it was tender moments such as these that made my father fall in love with her, probably because it brought the same side out of him.
“Um, thanks again, Mom, for helping me unpack,” I said tugging at the strings of my hood. “And, I really think that I can make a change here.”
“I’m glad to hear that, sweetheart,” she replied. “Have a good time.”
I nodded and made my way downstairs. I stopped in the foyer taking the time to look at my grandmother’s portrait. The plaque beneath it read, “Gabrielle Linette Brannelly Meyers.” A mouthful, I know, but my mother was right about me. I did look like my grandmother. She must have been somewhere in her early forties when this was painted. Her hair was the same deep auburn as mine. The painter even captured the same natural gold highlights I had. I did not, however, have the flipped out haircut that I can only describe as the precursor to the “Farrah” hair phenomenon, a fact that I am most pleased about. Though the hair did match the dark green one shoulder ensemble she wore in the painting, pretty saucy actually. Go Grams, get down with your bad self! There was one major difference between us, my eye color. My grandmother’s eyes were the same shade of green as her outfit, just like my father’s. Mine came from my mother. They were the same chocolate shade as hers, except mine had tiny golden flecks that highlighted them, much the same as the highlights in my hair. Other than that small flaw, I was staring at what I’d look like in my forties, and well, if I was stuck in 1974. That began to creep me out a bit, so I bid adieu to Gram Gabby and headed outside to grab my bike.
Fall was just about to settle on Sanctuary, but the summer warmth still had a lingering grip on the air. I was glad I chose to wear a tank top under my hoodie. The mansion had enough land surrounding it to give it a private and secluded feel. It was going to take me some time to get used to the neighborhood that immediately burst forth as I exited the gate. Our property sat at the end of a lane, easily the largest, but the other houses could never be considered small. I headed up the lane towards Main Street where most of the businesses in Sanctuary resided. Just as I was riding along a brick adorned wall that framed the front of a mansion a few places down, a black, sports convertible, carrying four teens about my age, barreled out of the driveway causing me to break hard and lose my balance, falling to the ground.
“You better watch where you’re going, girl. I could have easily got fifty points for tapping that fine ass of yours!” the blond driver cackled behind his sunglasses. I’ve been ridiculed long enough to know when to pick my battles. As offensive as he was acting, I opted to just ignore him, too concerned with my current state on the ground.
“Nice one, man!” his friend guffawed, the sun gleaming off of the coffee toned skin of his bald head. The guy even stood up, seatbelts apparently eluding him, to get a better look at me as I scrambled to right myself.
There was a well groomed blonde girl sitting in the back behind the gawker that tittered. Yes, she was actually tittering, well poised hand at mouth included. The other passenger in the back was the only one not smiling. Concern seemed to spread across his strong dark features.
“Are you alright?” he asked, brushing a hand back through his long, shaggy hair, while I was attempting to pull debris from my hair. His voice was deep and masculine, stealing my apt attention immediately. Partnered with his celebrity dark looks, it would be hard not to call the guy attractive. They were the same features that got me into my last mess and ended with a barn burning down. The guy did manage to convey a lot more concern in three words, than Paul Stanton ever managed in any of his conversations. That was probably because Paul was lying to me the entire time.
I decided to reply back to the guy since he was trying to be nice. Apparently, the tool in the driver’s seat thought that enough time had been spent and floored the accelerator leaving me hacking at the dust kicked up by the car. Well, the locals were sure friendly.
I found the drugstore easily enough. It was part of the largest building on Main Street next to the grocery store. I locked my bike to railing located in the front of the store and headed in. The inside was a mix of modern and old fashion. The owner seemed to prefer the original feel and touches of the drugstore with the maintained, oak woodwork throughout the space and only conceded to make new changes out of necessity like a small refrigeration and freezer section. I set off for the magazines and books to restock my supply. I may prefer to be antisocial, but I like to stay on top of gossip and pop culture, Movies and books have been my way of staying connected and even allow me to escape from the world that I created for myself. I tend to favor “weird” books or movies, as my father has dubbed them. They sometimes allow me to think that I’m not alone with my burden. The newest novel by my favorite author sat on the shelf beckoning me. It was a “weird” novel of course, but it was excitement for me. I had just picked it up and was reading the back flap when a male voice spoke from right behind my shoulder.
“Ah, the new Beckman, just what I was headed over here for,” the familiar voice said, causing me to jump. I turned around to find the attractive guy from the car. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he smiled apologetically, while he reached for his own copy. “Um, are you alright from earlier? Blair didn’t give you a whole lot of time to answer. He likes to show off, especially with that car.”
The guy could have said more things to me, but I was a little too engrossed in staring into his eyes. They were a startling ice blue color and intense. I had never seen anything like it before. Distracting just didn’t seem like a strong enough word. I had to swallow hard before I answered, “For the most part. Just a little startled.”
“Well that’s good,” he smiled. Yep, this guy was going to be dangerous. “You’re Sarah, right, living in the old Brannelly place? I’m Alton,” he raised his hand out to me.
I took it hesitantly, because I’m not impolite, when what he said before his name sunk in. I snatched my hand back and demanded, “How did you know my name or where I lived?
He smirked clearly amused. “Easy, I’m not some stalker. It’s just the disadvantage of living in a small town. News like the Meyers heir moving back is the juiciest gossip the people of this town have had to chew over for a while,” he said sheepishly, raising his hand to run it through his hair absentmindedly. “Plus, it was outside my house where you almost got ran over. My mom stopped by yesterday to welcome your family to the neighborhood, because we’re neighbors,” he emphasized.
“Well, that’s a relief,” I said, hopefully convincing. I would have been happier if he came off as a creep, easier to ignore. I turned myself back towards the book rack fingering for the last book I wanted. “Damn, no new Calloway novel. I’ll just have to get it online,” I sighed.
“You like Calloway, too?” Alton asked. Yep, he was still there. “I am forever being criticized for reading that kind of stuff, nice to know I’m not alone,” he smiled.
“Not favorites of my parents either. That’s why I usually leave Jane Austen books lying about,” I said as I clutched my merchandise to my chest.
He laughed, “I do the same thing with Hemingway. If you want to get anything remotely decent here, you have to go to the library or as you mentioned buy them online. The library stays pretty well stocked. The librarian is good people and a fan of Calloway.”
“That sounds like a plan, thanks,” I replied. “Nothing sounds better than getting lost in some stacks with a book. Thanks again, Alton. It was nice to meet you.” I began to head towards the front when the warm gentle touch of fingers gently pulled my hand back.
“Look, I can show you where the library is,” Alton offered.
“I’m sure that’s not necessary. It can’t be that hard to find,” I smiled and turned for the register. Alton was fast at my heels.
“It’s cool, really, I have a few things I’ve been meaning to pick up there,” he smiled again as I handed the guy behind the counter a twenty. I should say no. Every instinct in my body told me that I should remember what happened last time. There was just something in his eyes when he smiled at me. Something that compelled me to trust him over everything which is why I nodded him a yes and found myself walking with him out of the store, directly in front of a black sports convertible with three people in it.
“You sure do walk better than you ride a bike,” the arrogant voice of the guy, I now assumed was Blair, rang out from behind the steering. His friends in the car found it just as amusing. This type of guy should be locked away in a zoo, because they have nothing to offer normal civilization. This was the same type of guy that made up most of Paul Stanton’s friends. I just figured out too late that a lot can be said about a guy by who his friends are. Not wanting to show any vulnerability this time, I replied, “I guess? It is what we learn first, so I’m just going to assume you walk better than you drive.”
“You’d be surprised to find out that they’re actually pretty even,” Alton smirked.
Blair didn’t seem to enjoy being made fun of by me, so Alton’s comment really got under his skin. “Always a comedian, huh, Alton? Get in the car. We’re meeting the rest of the gang at Cliff Pointe,” he growled, but kept his gaze on me.
“Nah, man. You go on ahead. I’m heading to the library. I’ll catch up with you later,” Alton said cooly.
“Oh, I see,” Blair replied slowly eyeing me with a smirk.
“Blair, you don’t always have to be an ass. I’ll catch up with you later,” Alton sighed, clearly frustrated.
Blair took this opportunity to start the motor and floored the gas pedal like a predatory growl. Before he began to maneuver the car back on to the road, he said, “Your loss, little cousin. Guess I’ll have to keep Handley warm for you. Unless,” turning to address the girl in the back seat, “You want to go to the library, too?”
This caused the girl, Handley, to grin like the Cheshire Cat. The sun practically beamed off her teeth threatening to blind anyone in the vicinity. “No,” she said, “there wouldn’t be any fun in that. Sorry, Alton.”
I swore I heard Alton mumble “I bet you are” under his breathe.
“Let’s motor, Gilk. I’m hungry!” the behemoth in the passenger seat cried out.
Blair floored the car in reverse before snapping at the guy, “You’re always hungry Terry!” The car took no time disappearing around a corner. I was just glad that this last exit didn’t leave me with more dirt to get out of my hair. I headed for my bike unchaining it and pulling it to my side. I turned to Alton to ask which direction the library was, when he gracefully took my bike from me. He rolled slowly down the sidewalk towards what I hoped would be the library. Once I got my bearings back, I ran to catch up, attempting to smoothly sidle up beside him like I’d been there all along.