Newark, New Jersey; June 26th, 2012
The sleek, black BMW raced across the highway toward the nearing line of traffic leading up to Newark Airport. Inside, a young woman sat alone in the backseat, tapping her foot impatiently against the floor, leaned back in her seat so far that she was practically laying on it. Her statuesque figure was bedecked in her high school’s uniform of a dress shirt, blazer, pleated skirt, and knee-high socks in shades of blue and grey, but the once crisp ensemble was disheveled and her shirt hung halfway out of her skirt. Her striped, blue tie lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. The girl’s long, curly hair was as gold as the sunlight and pulled up into a ponytail, bearing her sky blue eyes, porcelain skin, and angular face. The faint pink flesh of the birthmark over her heart peaked out from beneath the collar of her shirt.
Claire stared at the screen of her cell phone as it vibrated in her hand. She didn’t want to answer, knowing it was her best friend, Alex, calling to berate her for being late, again; in the back of her mind, she knew she deserved it, but Claire was getting really sick of apologizing to Alex and enduring her constant scolding. Sighing deeply, she answered the call and held the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
The shrill crow on the other end was a startling contrast to the high-pitched bell voice Claire had answered with. “Where the hell are you, Claire!? If you miss this goddamn plane, I’m gonna break your goddamn neck!”
Claire held the cellular away from herself when Alex’s voice made the phone crackle and shake with static. It didn’t make much of a difference, though, since the voice came screeching out like it was on speaker. “Alex?” she called warily.
The voice on the other end ranted on as if she hadn’t spoken. “I swear to God, you’re late for everything! I knew you should have slept over last night; if I’m not there, you’re always late!”
“Alex,” Claire sang, studying her nails.
“The plane leaves in a half hour! How the hell are you gonna get through security and on the plane in a half hour? You always do this and it’s really starting to piss me off!”
“Alex!” Claire yelled, successfully shutting up her livid friend waiting at the airport and startling her father in the front seat. “I’m s…stuck in traffic outside the b…building.”
“Well you better get out now, otherwise there’s no way you’re making this flight on time,” Alex advised, curtly snapping her phone shut.
In the terminal, the rest of Claire’s group sat around the rows of chairs while the other passengers on the 9:00 a.m. flight to Paris lined up at the doors, waiting to board the plane. In all, there were six of them, sitting in a circle around their baggage. Each of their faces was painted in escalating degrees of irritation as they listened to Alex reprimand their missing friend. They looked up at the annoyed crack of plastic hitting plastic.
“Well?” James demanded.
“She’s on her way in, now.”
Alexandria Clove held her head in her hands, wishing that she’d learned since the last time they’d gone through this ordeal that she couldn’t trust Claire to responsibility. Alex was a short girl, barely passing five feet tall and the floral dress and flats she wore emphasized it, painting her out to look like a doll. Her long, dark hair was loose around her, falling in smooth waves, except in the front where it cut off abruptly over her frosty, green eyes. Her golden skin had turned ashen with exhaustion and worry, but she remained an obvious, exotic beauty.
Alex’s boyfriend, James Bellman, sat beside her. His empty hand sat palm-up on the armrest between them should she decide to relax and take back her grip on it. He had a kind face, marred only slightly by the grimace that had taken over his full lips. Other than that, James was unnaturally beautiful, if not slightly feminine, like an angel face sculpted from marble.
His brown eyes flickered from Alex to his hand as he yearned for her to relax. He clenched his fist when she didn’t so much as look at him, wondering what the hell was taking Claire so long. Though he wouldn’t call himself an impatient man, he was beginning to feel the sting of irritation crawl under his skin. He glanced down at his hand, feeling it grow hot under the weight of his burden. As he did, his eyes fell on the blue gemstone of the ring on his finger. It glowed blue. Inconspicuously, he tucked his hand under his leg, hoping no one would notice the ethereal light he couldn’t suppress.
In a row across from them, wrapped up in each other like the high school sweethearts they were, Alex’s cousin, Hayden Clove, sat on her boyfriend, Scottie’s, lap. While she was blonde-haired and brown-eyed, Scottie Caldwell was her opposite with thick, black hair falling into electric blue eyes. It was difficult to notice much else about him when he was seated and his face was stuck so closely to Hayden’s; close enough that no passersby could tell where one’s face began and the other’s ended. Alex envied them that they didn’t seem to feel any of the negativity surrounding their party in a vicious storm cloud.
Appearing very out of place, the last two people traveling with the close friends were their recent acquaintances, the twins Russell and Natalia Marks. The pair sat awkwardly beside each other, facing apart while they played on their cell phones, Russell nodding his head to the music coming through his earphones and Natalia staring with a pinched face at a Candy Crush screen that she was pretending to play. Russell was rodent-like, with patches of fuzzy, brown hair occupying his scalp. His beady eyes were concealed by thick glasses.
Natalia, on the other hand, was very fortunate looking, if one overlooked the sarcastic gleam in her eyes and ever-present sneer on her face. Her eyebrows were light, too light in contrast to her gleaming, unnaturally straight, brown hair. Her vicious eyes were practically see-through in the light streaming through the window, their lightest blue blending into the whites of her eyes. They flickered up and over the screen of the phone, surveying the room for the first sight of Claire. She desperately hoped that the girl would get in on time; otherwise, her plans, and everything she’d been paid to do, were ruined.
Natalia and Russell had enrolled in their school back in January and had graduated with the rest of them the previous day. Alex wasn’t a huge fan of the twins, but when they’d practically begged to go to Paris with them in celebration of their graduation, the girls had been unable to turn them away. It had only been too perfect for Natalia. She fully intended to use this trip to her advantage, just as her employer had instructed over the phone, when he’d insisted that she tag along on the trip by any means necessary. She’d been all too happy to oblige, anticipating meeting Vilmore there and finding irrefutable proof of a higher power. Aside from the money she’d make from her employer, she’d make millions selling her evidence to the public.
“Last call for nine a.m. to Paris,” the voice over the intercom announced.
“What do we do, Lex?” Hayden whimpered, pulling away from Scottie to glance at her cousin.
“We can’t go without Claire,” Natalia interjected quickly.
Most of the party stared back at her without speaking.
Picking up on where his new coworker had screwed up, Russell scrambled to repair the damage. “How would you all feel if she went on vacation and left you here?”
“I’d be completely understanding if it was because I was the one who was late,” Alex hissed, standing and pulling James with her. She took the handle of her carry-on and sauntered toward the gate doors with James in tow. Looking for reassurance in each other’s eyes, Scottie and Hayden followed silently behind them, while the “twins” shared a look of annoyance.
“Petrov—” Russell whined.
“Shut up, Russell,” she snapped under her breath. “I’ll get her to the catacombs if I have to fly the plane myself!”
“There’s no way you’ll be able to—” he began.
Natalia rolled her eyes, “Christ, Russell, you are as whiny as your boss.”
“Not boss, teammate,” the mousy man corrected. “He’s my teammate!”
“Either way, you and Kierlan are getting on my last nerve, little man,” she hissed.
Their worries were unnecessary. At that moment, a scream over the rabble of the crowd turned everyone’s attention to the girl running headlong through the throng of people in the room. Her blonde hair was falling from its ponytail and she was hanging hunchbacked under the weight of her father’s sea-bag on her back, filled to bursting with her necessities. She dreaded the thought of having to fit it into the compartment over her seat, but there was no way she would have had time to check it in. “I’m here!”
Alex smiled and hid her laugh behind the back of her hand, disguising it as a cough.
Natalia forced a smile on her face and grabbed the back of Russell’s shirt in her claw-like fingers, hauling him to his feet as she stood.
Without hesitation, everyone convened at the gate to Paris gave in their tickets and made their way toward the entrance to the plane. Alex hung back as the rest of them stepped on, waiting for her best friend to come into sight in the long hallway. James gave her a look but shrugged as he continued on his way. With her hand still balled into a fist around the back of Russell’s shirt, Natalia led him to the back of the plane, where they could talk without the worry of listening ears.
Claire approached Alex with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry I w…was late,” she said as she passed Alex. The two girls stepped onto the plane, the last two, and got to work at shoving Claire’s enormous bag into the overhead compartment.
“Push harder!” Alex whined, her short stature keeping her from getting a better grip on the heavy luggage.
“I can’t,” Claire grunted, her frail arms shoving uselessly against the green canvas while the other patrons looked on.
Claire froze when she felt someone touch her shoulder. Giving up on her bag, stuck halfway in the overhead compartment, she spun, a bit too zealously, to face whoever had addressed her. Her swift movement stopped short when her forehead connected harshly with someone’s hard body.
“Ow!” she protested. A goose egg was already forming on her face.
The man before her chuckled; the hand on her shoulder moved up to her face, tracing circles where her forehead ached with a bruise. “Sorry ‘bout that. Guess I don’t know my own strength,” he said.
“Ya, why don’t you watch it, buddy!” Alex growled, tugging Claire away from his grasp.
“Relax, Alex, it w…was just an accident,” the blonde murmured as she opened her eyes.
The first thing she saw when she did was a blindingly bright smile shining down on her, the man’s face unaffected by Alex’s comment. Her eyes traveled up, finding his own stormy grey ones and she was immediately transfixed, seeing a face more gorgeous than she’d anticipated surrounding them. His head was shaved, but, in Claire’s opinion, it only added to his appeal. Her heart hammered in her chest, her shyness turning her face a bright red.
“Sorry I h…hit you,” she squeaked, forcing air back into her lungs.
The other passenger laughed, but rubbed the shoulder she’d hit with mock protest. “You should be! It’ll take months to regain full use of this arm!”
She couldn’t help but give a slight, shy smile.
He awkwardly trailed off in his laughing, realizing that she wasn’t going to join him in it. He rubbed the back of his neck, clearing his throat. “Anyway,” he continued seriously, “I was just coming over to see if you needed any help?”
Claire nodded, her eyes flickering away from his face.
“What’s the magic word?” he joked, trying to make eye contact with her again.
Alex stepped in, as she usually did, when Claire’s shyness stole her voice. It wasn’t the first time Claire had gone silent in the presence of a boy who was, obviously, flirting with her. “Yes, we need help. Please.”
Kierlan’s face fell the slightest bit, but, before Claire could find his smile any less than perfect, he turned to the overhead compartment. He easily shoved the bag into its place, pulling the door back into place. “There ya go,” he murmured, looking back at the beautiful blonde for praise. He liked praise, especially if it was from someone as hot as her.
“Thanks,” Alex said.
“Thanks,” Claire repeated without looking at him.
Kierlan frowned, stepping toward his seat in the row behind them. “Welcome.”
Averting their gaze from the man behind them, Alex and Claire took a seat beside James and waited for the plane to take off. Alex nonchalantly flipped through Sky Mall while the ground disappeared beneath them out the window.
“What happened?” she asked without looking up.
Claire put one earphone into the ear furthest from Alex as it popped. “I s…slept through my alarm clock, again.”
The other girl closed the magazine in her hand quickly as she turned to face Claire. “Did you have the dream again?” she demanded urgently, pulling her friend’s hand into both of hers. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she assured her. “Same d…dream, as usual.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” she repeated. “I must be getting used to it, ‘cuz I didn’t even n…need my inhaler this time.”
Alex nodded as she studied the dark circles under Claire’s eyes. It had been five years since the blonde had started having the recurrent dream that brought on her infamous panic attacks and made her continuously late to school. As she studied her, though, Alex couldn’t help but dwell on her friend’s choice of attire. With a chuckle, she asked, “What are you wearing?”
Claire, startled, looked down at herself and burst out laughing. An older woman a few rows up gave a loud shush and Claire grimaced apologetically. “I f…fell asleep before I could change and I left in s…such a hurry this morning that…”
“You didn’t realize that you were still in your school uniform?”
“I’m t…telling you, Lex, when I have that dream, it…” she struggled for words. “It…takes over. It’s like I’m n…not asleep, at all. It’s like I’m living there, as the girl. When that knife comes d…down into her heart…I can feel it. I can f…feel it and that’s what wakes me up! That pain in m…my chest. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s l…like a past life or something.”
“That doesn’t sound crazy to—” Alex began.
James broke in when he began to feel uncomfortable. “I think you might want to get that checked out, Claire,” he gave a tight chuckle, folding his hands in his lap with a force that turned his skin bone white. “Night terrors aren’t good, and when they start to impact your life, you should probably get it checked out, right? Right.”
Alex raised her eyebrow in question. James wasn’t good at concealing secrets, and he definitely wasn’t good at diverting attention from one. They had been dating long enough for her to know that something wasn’t right. “James—” she began.
“Right?” he asked, his question directed only at Claire.
“You’re probably r…right,” she relented, pushing the other earphone into her ear as she tried to fall back to sleep. She felt like she hadn’t slept in days.
When she was sure Claire was asleep, Alex turned to her boyfriend with crossed arms and a pout on her face. “Alright. Spill.”
The clack of James’s teeth snapping together was audible despite the noise coming through the vents around them and the voices rising up over the rows of seats. Ignoring her question, he looked away, choosing instead to stare silently out the window, into the white mist surrounding the plane. Letting a string of profanity slip through her lips, Alex leaned over him to pull the cover down over the glass.
“Damn it, James, tell me! Please!”
“There’s nothing to say,” he insisted. “B…but recurring dreams aren’t normal. She should see someone about that.”
She scrutinized his face with narrowed eyes. “I don’t believe you.”