Afterburn: Chapter 2
Continuing from Afterburn: Chapter 1
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.
It was Monday morning and my first day of school. To say I was uncomfortable would be an understatement. Wedged between my parents with a folder filled with psychological evaluations, a consent letter from my psychiatrist, and legal privacy documentation clutched tightly within my father’s hand was not how I imagined my first day of school. I figured I would be greeted by the principal and shoved into the hand of the poor student assigned to be my guide while I attempted to avoid as many people as possible. I guess there was still hope for the last part.
Because of the fire, I had to be approved by the school board for admission, much to my father’s annoyance, which was partly due to our name in the community and mostly due to legal reasons. The Meyers family has been giving a yearly, sizable donation to the school corporation, not to mention that the auditorium is named after my great grandfather, William Prescott Brannelly.
The fact that the school demanded medical certification of my sanity was insulting to my father. The lawyer in him not only has supplied paperwork concerning my psychological profile, but also several copies of legal literature highlighting my rights to attend a public school. I didn’t really mind so much. Who wouldn’t be scared of a girl that randomly sets things on fire and burnt down an entire barn? It’s only fair, especially since I’m not even aware of what I’m fully capable of. The school was looking for proof that I wouldn’t suddenly go up to some random kid with a lighter and set his or her recent blowout ablaze, not that I need a lighter.
I have been previously given a probationary period of six months and have to keep supplying updated consents from my psychiatrist. This is what the school board is standing by, but I have a feeling that after my father shoves the forms and contracts he brought with him under the principal’s nose, that all of this will be brushed off as a misunderstanding. He’s even going to let them keep the psychiatric evaluations, only because they say I am not dangerous to anyone, just to myself. I am sure my father knows how the angle of being forthcoming with that information will look in trial. I just wonder if he would have been so eager to hand it over if the information actually stated the opposite.
The long awaited Principal Addams, a stout middle aged woman without a hair out of place, finally graced my family with her presence, frowning after absorbing all the forms that were promptly placed before her by my smug father. My mother, the dutiful wife, continued to mirror my father’s expressions. After some short-lived tension, the principal finally addressed me by introducing herself and the school, then promptly called for the before mentioned poor soul who would have the pleasure of showing me around. I found myself being shoved out of the office into the presence of a short redheaded girl named Annie Anderson with only a quick goodbye to my parents.
Annie was definitely not the girl that I expected. The retro rock t-shirt paired with worn jeans finished off with a couple of marked up sneakers was the kind of outfit I’d prefer to be wearing right now instead of the flower tunic dress that my mother insisted on me wearing. I don’t really do dresses and wasn’t thrilled to be in one. This is what I expected my guide to be wearing. Eyebrow raised, Annie seemed to be having the same impression of me.
“Looks like we have home room together,” Annie said handing me my schedule, eyebrow still raised. “We have three more after that.” She paused for a second squeezing her eyes together and shaking her head quickly before smiling warmly at me. “Sorry, I’m Annie Anderson,” she said to me, holding out her hand.
“Sarah Meyers,” I replied shaking her hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she smiled. “As much as it blows being the new kid in such a small school, this place is virtually impossible to get lost in,” Annie snickered. She placed the pencil she had been holding behind her ear and grabbed my arm gently, guiding me through the halls, weaving in and out of the various teenagers. Every once and awhile Annie would throw her hand up in a wave or nod at a few students.
“Mr. Rick is our home room leader and history teacher.” She paused before continuing, running her fingers through her long red hair. “I think I’ll let you make your own judgments of Fuhrer Rick, and, yes, that is his last name, first name being Richard. I can only hope his middle name is Randy, cause that would make my day,” she waggled her eyebrows at me, blue eyes twinkling, and making me laugh. “A little advice, always do the homework whether it’s right or not and use footnotes on papers. That usually keeps the beast happy and off your case.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I replied. “Forgive me for mentioning this, but you’re not the typical overachiever that usually gets this job.” I said to her as we entered a classroom behind a couple of guys that Annie shoved playfully along.
“Oh, I’m an overachiever. Top of the class here, but that’s as far as I go with bragging. I like showing new meat around. I think everyone should be given the proper information to survive this hellhole. I’m a rebel like that,” Annie replied, pointing at a desk for me near the back and slid into the one next to it.
“I know you’re not what you seem either.” She chuckled at me when I narrowed my eyes at her. “Hey, no need to get testy. I was just letting you know that unfortunately not all of your secrets have remained as such. Gossip is an evil affliction that has consumed this town and not even I can escape it all the time,” she said, nonchalantly, which was actually irritating since she basically told me that the entire town knows how big of a freak I was.
“In my opinion, you learn quickly that not everything is what it seems in this town, and in your case, so you burned down a decrepit old barn. Sounds to me that you probably prevented it from falling down on some poor bastard’s head. I mean, you’re not the first person nor the last person with issues, right?”
“You don’t hold anything back do you?” I asked, slightly puzzled.
“Not in my nature, and time’s too precious to waste on BS,” Annie stated while shrugging.
A few more kids were shuffling through the room to their seats. I knew that I needed to regain my stoic demeanor. I don’t think I talked to anyone this much in the first few months of a new school let alone the first day. This blunt conversation I was experiencing was definitely throwing me off. Immersing myself back into school was my only option right now. Unfortunately, the way to get started in this would be to ask someone about it, and Annie was the only person available. A couple of kids laughing as they came through the door caught my gaze before I could ask Annie about what we were studying, and who other than Alton should come strolling in behind them. He brightened when he caught my startled gaze and headed for the desk right in front of mine.
“Just the boy I was looking for,” Annie said happily to Alton, giving me a chance to regain my composure. “The Fed and I were thinking about getting a bunch of people together to see the new horror film tonight. You interested?” she asked him, propping her head up on her hand.
Alton squeezed his eyes together dramatically, pretending to be deep in thought, before answering, “Yeah, I can come. I don’t have any plans.”
“Cool, but you know the rules. I only let you slum with us outcasts as long as you don’t bring that dickhead cousin of yours or that revolting female who insists on drooling on your shoulder at lunch,” Annie pulled out a pencil from behind her ear and pointed it menacingly at him. “I don’t want to have to hit anyone on my night off.”
Alton smirked then clutched his hands to his chest and replied, “Ah, Anderson, I’m touched that you would have those feelings for me. Here you are confessing that you stare longingly at me during lunch.”
“You’re adorable, Alton, really,” she exasperated, “Just let The Fed hear you say that. Do you know how hard it is to ignore a screeching cockatoo that squeals out ‘Oh, Alton’ every five minutes when you’re trying to execute your basic right of digesting?”
“Tell me how you really feel, Annie,” Alton chuckled. Turning to me he asked, “What about you? You should come, too.”
I shifted uncomfortably under his eager stare, before answering, “Probably not. I, uh, still got a lot to unpack at the house. I should really help my mom out with that first.”
I knew exactly what movie they were talking about, and a part of me was tempted to say yes, because I wanted to see it that much. I didn’t know what was going on here. When I started my last school, I just got pointed in the right direction of my classes. The only people to actually talk to me extensively were the teachers, concerning caught up assignments. I instantly established myself as a pariah. Here, even with the knowledge of a barn fire flying around faster than a fighter jet, I’m getting asked to hang out, and my first class hasn’t even started.
Alton gave me a knowing smile, easily reading through my fib. If he wanted to call me out, he never voiced his opinion. It was odd, but nice. I may want to be left alone, but I never wanted to be known as a bitch.
The lively classroom quickly settled as a short, stocky man blew open the classroom door, wearing a suit that hadn’t seen an iron in the last ten years. His very presence cast a ripple of silence across the students. Alton immediately faced forward and began pulling out his textbook and notebook, an action that the rest of the class mimicked. I glanced quickly over at Annie to find her pointing at her own books and gesturing to me warily.
Setting his briefcase down loudly on the front desk, Mr. Rick cleared his throat obnoxiously, clearly trying to maintain the fear he had over the class. People like him didn’t faze me at all. It is kind of hard to worry about what a teacher thinks about you when you know you can burn down his house…accidently of course. He stared around the students before finally saying, “I hope that you all are eagerly awaiting to hand in your research papers. Especially you, Mr. Donavon.” Mr. Rick smiled haughtily at a sleepy looking kid in the third row. “I always await what gibberish you tend to fill multiple sheets of paper. I’m always torn between amusement and general anger over having wasted my time,” he sneered.
It didn’t take long for the teacher’s eyes to find me in the back, causing him to smile, sickly, before saying, “It looks as though we have been honored with a new student. Come forth Miss Meyers, so that we can get to know you.” He beckoned me forward using his hand.
I got up slowly, Alton giving me a reassuring smile as I passed, which seemed to do the opposite of helping. I definitely have never been put on the chopping block before. This teacher seemed to revel in superiority and making sure that others were always aware of that.
Mr. Rick met me at the front of the desk, sizing me up before remarking to the class more than to me, “Miss Meyers, in this classroom you will find that it matters less who you are and more what you know, so tell me, dear, what do you know of our current subject, the Women’s Suffrage movement?”
I shot a look at the staring faces that awaited my answer before swallowing hard and replying, “One of the first major victories was prohibition, even before gaining the right to vote.”
Mr. Rick nodded his head slowly in agreement before addressing me. “I can see that some intelligence resides within you. It is a wish I have of every student I have to encounter. Please don’t disappoint me, Miss Meyers, now that you have set a standard for yourself. I find myself satisfied, so you may take your seat,” he said stately, raising his arm in the direction of my seat. “As for the rest of you, turn to chapter fifteen in your text.”
* * *
I found myself in a blur of textbook readings, until at last it was lunch time. Annie, who had promptly met me outside as she had done all day, helped me find my locker again and then steered me towards the lunchroom. Once we collected our meals of overly square shaped pizza and lukewarm fries, Annie did not give me the option of finding my own table, but dragged me to one where a boy with shaggy brown hair sat devouring pizza.
Annie smiled affectionately at the guy before sitting next to him and pointing a chair for me to do the same. As she patted his head, she said to me, “He may be an animal, but I can’t help but adore him.” She pointed at where I sat, tugging at the boy’s sleeve to gain his attention before saying, “Babe, this is the new girl, Sarah Meyers.” To me, she said, “This is my boyfriend, Jackson Federline, but everyone just calls him The Fed. As you can see, he’s not much of a talker. It works better that way for me.”
I gave a small wave to the boy, earning only a raised eyebrow before he returned to his lunch. His indifference was quite refreshing and more what I’m used to. Smiling, I turned to check out the rest of the lunchroom. Alton’s table was next to us as Annie mentioned before. He gave me a wave when we made eye contact. I just nodded back at him. He sat with a large group of kids that included the ones from the car. Arrogance seemed to flitter out from the table, which was the opposite of mine I discovered after scanning the rest of the room. Annie and The Fed really just didn’t seem to care about anything, while the rest of the student body continued to glance at Alton’s table with awe and envy. These were obviously the popular kids of the school.
When I glanced back at Alton’s table, I found the girl, Handley, staring back menacingly. She made no attempt to hide her emotions when Alton shrugged her away and got up to make his way towards, well me, which did nothing but earn me an even fiercer look from Handley. Alton just sidled up and sat in the chair between me and Annie like nothing was amiss.
Reaching across to shake The Fed’s hand before gesturing towards me and saying, “Well, I just had the best idea. After getting to know our new friend, Sarah, yesterday, I am aware that she is a kindred spirit of ours.” He said all of this without looking at me, which to be honest irked me. Unaware of my feelings, Alton said, “I figured she was bummed by not being able to see the movie with us. It just so happens that fate is working in her favor, and she can now. I was thinking we could grab food at the usual place and celebrate our new found friend here,” He finished by patting my shoulder affectionately.
What the hell is this guy talking about? I am not going to a movie with him or anybody else for that matter. My irritation was beginning to boil over at this point, prompting me to say, “Excuse me, but I clearly told you I had to help my mom out, regardless what you think you know.” My eyes bore into him to emphasis just how serious I was. I barely know this guy, and he just shows up and starts dictating what I can and cannot do? Did he really expect me to be okay with this?
Alton smiled charmingly at me before adding, “It’s cool. Your mom said you could go.”
“You talked to my mother?” I cried, incredulously.
Raising his hands up as a shield, he quickly answered, “Whoa. I didn’t ask her.” His cheeks darkened a little as those stunning blue eyes began looking everywhere, but at me. With a softened voice, he added, “My mom kind of did.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, wondering how only one person, a person I just met, could have caused me so much irritation in less than a day. Apparently, my face translated enough of my sentiments, because Alton began cringing.
He threw up his hands in a defensive gesture, and quickly stated, “She just called me during my free period to tell me that I would have to fend for myself for dinner, because she and my father were taking your parents out for dinner. I then told her I was fine, because I was already going out tonight to the movies.” The one breath he used for that sentence finally running out, he took in a quick ragged breath before continuing. “My mother,” he emphasized, “then informed me that she had a great idea. She said that I should invite you to come with me so that you could see the town and meet some of my friends. This idea was then immediately shared with your mother, who just happened to be right there with her. Your mother thought it was a great plan and signed off on it saying that you would have a great time.”
He paused then, looking at me strangely like I was a giant rubik’s cube he was trying to solve, before saying, “For someone our age, you seem to have a lot of trust issues.”
My eyes rounded in bewilderment as I took a small, sharp intake of air, when Annie chimed in, pointing a now cold French fry at Alton, “You picked up on that, too?” Seeing my permanently confused expression focus on her, she added, “Don’t be mad, okay? I’m just really intuitive. Being the new kid isn’t a bad thing. You get to start fresh. Be who you want to be.” Annie was waving the same fry up and down in her fingers like is was some kind of conductor’s baton, bouncing down on every word to emphasize her statement.
“Listen, your life is like a novel, Sarah. Sure you could flip back through the pages you’ve already read, obsessing over plots and scenes like you’re going to somehow change them. The problem is that you can’t, and you’ll miss out on the important part. The ending. An ending you’ll never discover, if you don’t take the chance and read the next page,” she said matter-of-factly, only to pop the entire fry she had been holding into her mouth.
What kind of twilight zone did I end up in? Who the hell were these kids? Regardless of how poetic and weirdly poignant that little speech was, what the hell kind of teenager talks like that?
I guess my face must have shifted from shock to confusion, because Alton decided to say with all seriousness, “That was just another fine example of why every single Ivy League school in the country has been hounding her with literature even though she’s only a junior.”
“Most of them even waived the application fee,” Annie added, brightly.
“This is definitely going to be an interesting school year,” I sighed dejectedly. With a half-smile, I picked up one of my own cold fries and began chewing slowly.