December 27

Chapter 1 – Transfer Student

Waking up at 5:45 AM was a slap in the face, and had been every weekday since Ben had started high school.  He thought it would get easier with time, but every single day when his alarm went off, he moaned and tried to think of any reason he could to skip school.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like school; in fact, you could say that he liked it more than most of his peers, it was just the waking up at 5:45 in the morning that was so brutal.  His parents weren’t even awake when he left the house on most days, and they had work at 8.

Ben sauntered to his car, hopped in, and sleepily stared at the dashboard, just like he did every morning.  He was certain that he was fortunate for a 17-year old.  He had loving parents, great friends, and the car he was sitting in, but he would’ve felt so much more grateful for all of these things if he could just sleep until 10 AM.  Was that really so much to ask?

This was somewhat of a morning routine for Ben that some may have found bizarre.  He’d just sit in his car for a least a few minutes assuring himself that his life was great even though he wished he could be asleep for the next three and a half hours – all of this before even putting the key into the ignition.  Sometimes he’d imagine driving to school and being told that today was “nap day,” and that everyone could sleep until lunch time.

Ben’s phone buzzed in his pocket, breaking him away from his morning daydream.

“hey man, can you pick me up?  my car won’t start.”  It was Chuck, his best friend of at least seven years.

This was an odd departure from Ben’s normal morning routine.  He still hadn’t started the car, nor had he gotten to school and daydreamed about going back to sleep all over again while sitting in the parking lot.  But of course, Chuck was his friend, and he could spare the second round of daydreaming this one morning.

“caught me just in time.  headed to your house now.”  Ben put his phone back in his pocket and started the car.  It came to life without a fuss, and Ben mentally added this to his list of things to be grateful for.

Chuck lived a few streets over, and though carpooling every day would’ve been incredibly easy to coordinate, they both wanted to drive to school.  Their parents figured it was part of being a teenager, and if you’d asked either Ben or Chuck why they didn’t carpool, they would’ve hated to admit that it was for appearances, but there is no doubt that this was the real, true reason that two friends with the same schedule that lived just a few minutes apart did not carpool to school.  They were teenagers in high school, and appearances were everything if you cared about that kind of stuff.

In fact, Ben and Chuck went to a school that had a somewhat small student body, and most people that drove to school even knew other people by their cars.  Everyone knew that Heather drove a red sedan with a big dent in the rear passenger door.  Most knew that Jack had the brand new Scion tC, and that Kyle had that weird wagon with the rust on the hood.  This knowledge was accumulated merely by being another student that drove to school.  The already small school had an even smaller parking lot, so you could almost bet on which cars you’d see when you arrived, assuming you arrived at the same time most days.

“Morning dude.  Thanks so much for this,” Chuck said as he climbed into Ben’s car.

Ben shifted to reverse, and, without really thinking too much of this incredibly small favor, replied, “No problem.”

On this particular day, Ben had already deviated from his usual routine, which wasn’t a big deal and certainly wasn’t weird to any normal person, but it was out of the ordinary.  This made it slightly more strange when both Ben and Chuck immediately noticed a different car in the parking lot.

“Whoa, whose car is that?!” Chuck said.

Ben had already seen it before Chuck had said anything, and he was making every effort he could to not crash his own car while also staring at the brand-spanking-new C7 Corvette Stingray sitting in the student parking lot at his high school.

“Who the heck has enough money to buy one of those, much less drive it to school?” Ben said.

Chuck ignored the question.  “Holy crap dude, that car is beautiful.”

Chuck and Ben didn’t know anything about cars, and though they had heard of this car before and seen pictures on the Internet, they didn’t really know what they were looking at other than something that was aesthetically pleasing and certainly very fast.

Ben parked his car and Chuck practically jumped out, making a sprint straight toward the new Corvette.

“Be careful man,” Ben said as Chuck bent over to peer inside the passenger window.  “That thing probably costs more than your both of our families’ cars put together.”  It didn’t, but Ben wasn’t far off.

“Does someone at school have rich parents?”

“I think Jake does,” Ben pondered, “but his car is over there.”  Ben’s finger directed Chuck’s attention to a small, silver sports car with a Nissan logo on the front.

A few others had stopped to stare at the Corvette by this point, and Ben wasted no time asking them if they knew who it was for.  This proved fruitless, though, because this was undoubtedly the first time the car had shown up in the school parking lot, and no one had even seen it in town before.  Eventually, the small group of students had to give up and walk to school, despite their inner protests and curiosity.

“We have to figure out whose car that is,” Chuck stated.

Ben turned back to look at the car one more time.  It was the most interesting morning he’d had in a while, because nothing interesting ever happened at Peak Point High.

“We will.  There’s no way someone would try to keep that a secret.  Hell, I’d be boasting about it.”

Homeroom began at 6:45 AM.  The early start time had something to do with the schools in the district sharing buses to save money, but Ben didn’t particularly care about the reason so much as the consequence – that his alarm was set to 5:45 every weekday.  His favorite subject – biology – was right after homeroom, though, so at least he had that to look forward to.

Students didn’t get to pick their schedules; rather, they picked a few elective classes and were automatically assigned to core classes.  This meant that Ben and Chuck could only try to coordinate their schedules so much.  Last year, they’d been pretty unlucky, only having 2 of their 7 classes together, but this year, they shared every class except for one – 1st period.

The kids all filed into homeroom and took their respective seats, most of them looking equally as tired as Ben.  Mr. Jackson was normally up in front of the class by now writing an inspirational quote on the dry erase board, but as if following in step of everything else that hadn’t been ordinary this morning, both the quote and Mr. Jackson were nowhere to be seen.  Ben rested his head on his hand and read the morning announcements as they scrolled by on the TV above the board in the front of the room.  Bake sale, who cares.  Club activities, not in any clubs.  Football pep rally, didn’t really care about football.

Just before the final homeroom bell was about to ring, Mr. Jackson walked in with a girl in tow behind him.  Ben had never seen her before, but he was instantly drawn to her fiery red hair and soft facial features.  He took note that she appeared to have no freckles, which he found odd for a person with red hair, but he was sure she was just wearing enough makeup to cover them.

The teacher stood in front of the class moving his mouth and gesturing around the room, but the murmur of the students settling into their desks and getting one last round of chitchat in before homeroom drowned out whatever he was saying.

BBBRRRRRRRRRRRRNNNNNNNNNNGGGG

Ben hated the sound of the bell.  It was a digital audio recording of an actual school bell from yesteryear, and it bothered him that they didn’t make up a new, less annoying sound to signal the change of class since they weren’t confined by technology anymore.

“Alright class, let’s settle down and get to business,” Mr. Jackson said.  The red-haired girl was still standing to his side, and as focus shifted to her, she started glancing nervously around the room, as if desperately trying to find something to focus on that wasn’t focused back on her.

“First, I’d like to introduce you all to Aubrey.  Her family just moved here from up north, and she’ll be joining us from now on.”  He turned and smiled at her.

“Hi everyone.  Nice to meet you all,” she stated.

Ben was surprised when she spoke.  He was expecting nervousness in her voice, a stammer, a stutter, something.  Instead, she spoke with clarity and even a hint of confidence.  But why did she convey such a different tone through her eyes?

“Aubrey, would you like to tell us a little about yourself before sitting down?”

“Sure,” she said.  “My name is Aubrey Renee Wyatt.  I’m 17 years old, and I’m from Massachusetts.  My family moved here to South Carolina because my mom has a health issue that makes it hard for her to bear the frigid northern winters.”

Ben was listening intently, trying to figure out why he was so impressed with the way she talked.  She spoke well for a teenager, no doubt, but it wasn’t just that.  There was a calming nature to her voice, and Ben felt immediately as if she was probably an excellent singer.

“Alright Aubrey, thank you for sharing that with us,” Mr. Jackson said, turning to the class.  “I hope you all will make her feel welcome.”  He turned back to Aubrey and gestured over in my direction, saying, “You can have a seat right over in one of the empty desks near the window.”

There were only two empty desks in the class.  One was behind Ben, and one was on the side of him.  No matter which she picked, she’d be sitting by him.  This had the effect of making Ben feel as if it were his personal duty to extend a warm welcome to her, or perhaps that was what he convinced himself of since he really just wanted to talk to the beautiful, red-haired new girl.

Aubrey walked over and eyed both empty desks for a moment, then chose the one behind Ben.  It was a good choice, also the one he would’ve chosen.

Ben turned around and smiled.  “Hi Aubrey, I’m Ben.  If you need help finding anything or have any questions about anything, let me know.”  Aubrey had been casually smiling ever since she’d introduced herself, but as the words escaped Ben’s mouth, her smile morphed into a bigger one, lighting up her whole face.  Ben would’ve stared – captivated by this simple emotional display – but he didn’t want to freak the girl out or anything.

“Thank you, Ben!” she gleamed.  “I actually would really appreciate if you could show me where my second class is after this, if it’s not too far out of your way.”

Ben hadn’t expected her to actually ask anything of him.  He was really only thinking he’d get a “hello” and a nod.  Not that this upset him.

“Sure, what  do you have next period?” he asked.

“Algebra II.”  Her voice was soft up close, yet it still felt confident somehow.

“Cool, me too,” Ben whispered back.

Mr. Jackson had started writing on the board by this point, so Ben smiled and turned back around so as to not get himself or Aubrey in trouble.

Class was interesting, as Ben usually thought it was. He found the biological sciences to be fascinating, as well as earth science. Physics, not so much, but he wouldn’t have to deal with that as much until next year. This class period though, Ben was kind of absentmindedly daydreaming about the car he’d seen outside, and wondering what Aubrey was like.

When the bell rang, Ben quickly collected his things and turned to face Aubrey. She smiled at him and continued putting her things into her bag.

“Sorry, I’m unusually disorganized today,” she said.

“No problem,” Ben replied. “Take your time. It’s not a far walk.”

Externally, Ben was cool and collected. He had to look confident in front of the new girl, after all, but internally, he was struggling for the right thing to say. Here was a girl he knew nothing about other than her age and her name, what could he say? What could he talk about?

“So Ben, what kinds of things do you do in your spare time? Have any hobbies?” Aubrey asked.

Such an obvious talking point. How had Ben overlooked it?

“Yeah, I guess. Video games for sure. I like trying to to build things, too.”

“What kind of things?”

Ben mentally raced through the list of things he’d both successfully and unsuccessfully created as Aubrey packed the last of her things.

“I built a house for my dog a few years ago,” Ben said. “I also helped my dad rebuild an outboard motor once, but I was mostly just handing him tools and watching. I had no idea what he was doing most of the time. It was fun, though.”

“Oh, is your dad into engines?”

Ben was surprised she’d commented on the engine and not the fact that he had a dog.

“Yeah, he used to rebuild them for work.”

“Cool, my dad is into cars. I guess that means he’s into engines too? I’m not exactly sure.” Aubrey laughed as she slung her bag over her shoulder.

“He’d probably really like that new Corvette out in the parking lot.”

“The Stingray?”

“Yeah.”

“That…um…” Aubrey paused. There was an obvious uncertainty in her voice. “That’s actually my dad’s.”

At this point, they were in the hallway walking toward Algebra class, but that did not stop Ben from halting in his tracks.

“Holy crap, really?”

Aubrey looked a little embarrassed. “It’s his, but I promise I’m not bragging or anything.”

Ben smiled reassuringly. “Of course, I’m just surprised. What’s it doing here at school?” It was the best he could do to contain his excitement over finding out who the car belonged to, and on top of that finding out that it belonged to Aubrey’s dad.

“We sold my car before moving because it was old, and my dad didn’t trust it for the drive. Everything has been so hectic with the move since we just got here a couple days ago; I haven’t had a chance to find out how the buses work, much less get my dad to help me find another car.”

“Wait a minute. Are you saying that your dad let you drive his brand new Corvette to school?” Ben was having trouble hiding the incredulous undertone in his voice. “Oh my God, no way. That’s so cool. I know you’re not bragging and all, but I can’t help but be a little jealous.”

“I can let you look inside of it after school if you want,” Aubrey said. “No rides, though. Dad’s rules.”

“That would be awesome!” Ben replied. He’d never been inside of a sports car, and though the mechanics of it were lost on him, he was still excited to check it out.

“What’s your-” Aubrey began, but the sound of her voice was suddenly swallowed by a very uncomfortable, high-pitched noise over the intercom. Everyone in the hallway immediately covered their ears, and after a few moments, some even ran for the doors. Aubrey shot Ben a look, as if to say, “what the heck is going on?”, and all Ben could do was shrug and continue to cover his ears, just as clueless as the next person.

The noise abruptly stopped, and cautiously, the students and faculty in the hallway began uncovering their ears.

“What the heck was that?” Ben said. Both his and Aubrey’s ears were still ringing as the noise enveloped them again. This time, though, it seemed louder. More people began rushing for the exits. Some fell to their knees. No doubt, it was painfully loud.

“I…can’t…” Aubrey winced.

“What?” Ben said. He heard what she said, but he didn’t understand what she was talking about, or why she was trying to talk over the noise.

And that’s when Ben noticed that Aubrey’s bag was levitating. She was trying to hold it down as nonchalantly as she could, and while others may not have noticed, Ben was right there, and he did notice. He might’ve said something right then, even with the noise still assaulting their ears, but all of a sudden, every classroom door, every locker, every object with a hinge slammed shut.

Aubrey grabbed Ben by the wrist, and for a brief moment, she stared into his eyes. He’d seen her eyes earlier very closely, and they were warm, clear. Now, they were bloodshot and intense.

“Come on!” she yelled. “Take me outside!”

Ben didn’t know what was going on between the noise and the levitating bag and the slamming doors, but for some reason, it seemed like Aubrey did. He reversed the grip she had on him, and ran for the emergency exit instead of the normal doors that everyone else was using. Ben wasn’t particularly concerned about the emergency alarm going off at that point.

The emergency exit doors creaked and, despite some initial resistance, opened, finally allowing Ben and Aubrey to emerge into the back schoolyard. They weren’t free of the sound, but outside, it was much, much lower.

Aubrey, however, was breathing heavily, her eyes still bloodshot, seemingly freaking out even more than she was inside.

“Aubrey, are you okay? What’s wrong?”

She looked up, absolute terror in her eyes. “You…should run…” she panted.

“What?”

“Just get out of here!” she screamed.

“I can’t just leave you here when something is obviously wrong!”

“You don’t understand,” she said, her eyes still bugging out. “I might hurt you if you don’t!”

Ben was slightly taken aback. “Why would you do that?”

“It’s not on purpose!” Aubrey was growing frustrated, but what could Ben do? Just run away.

“I must outweigh you by 30 or 40 pounds, you probably couldn’t hurt me if you tried.”

“You don’t know what I’m capable…” Aubrey began, but as she looked up, the words froze in her mouth and transformed into, “BEN! MOVE!”

Behind Ben, the flagpole had slowly begun falling, and if Ben didn’t relocate himself within about 5 seconds, it would be falling on his head.

But 5 seconds wasn’t enough time to react. Ben turned around, 4 seconds left. Ben took notice of what was happening and began processing it, 2 seconds left. Ben started the muscle movements required to move his body out of harm’s way, no time left. He shut his eyes, braced for impact, prepared for what was surely death. 17 years old wasn’t long enough, what about his mom, his dad, his sister, his friends? His entire life should’ve been ahead of him, not behind him. It wasn’t fair, it couldn’t be happening.

And, in fact, it wasn’t happening. Ben realized it had been too long. The pole should’ve fallen by now, and if it had missed him, he should’ve at least heard it slam into the ground. He slowly opened his eyes, but he might as well have kept them closed, as he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“What…what is happening?” he said, bewilderment practically written across his face. The pole was less than a foot from his head, defying gravity at an angle to the ground that shouldn’t have been physically possible. He turned around to find Aubrey crouched down, one hand on the ground with the other in front of her, glaring fiercely at the pole.

Ben stammered, “W…what’s…going on?”

Aubrey moved her hand slowly to the side, then brought it down. The pole fell to the ground beside Ben with a thud.

“I’m back in control, that’s what.”