I'd settled into an unoccupied seat at the back of the room a good eight minutes before the final bell would ring. Other students milled around, talking, chatting, laughing, cussing. Nobody seemed to notice my presence, and I was relieved.
The secretary in the office had offered to give me a quick tour of the building, but it was small, so I figured I wouldn't have any trouble navigating it. I found my first hour class with ease, and apparently, minutes to spare.
I sat back in my chair and hooked my feet around the legs of the desk as a girl took the seat beside me.
"Hi," I offered, forging up a quick smile when she glanced up at me from beneath a curtain of dark hair.
She smiled back. "Hi."
"Does anyone sit here?" I asked, tapping the desk's scratched wooden surface with my pencil.
She shook her head, then leaned over and slid a few thick books onto the metal rack under her chair. "Nah, you're good."
I nodded slightly. "Thanks."
"So you're new," she said as she sat up, stretching. Her back cracked loudly and she giggled.
"Yeah." I nodded again. "I'm Serena."
"Emily." She grinned lopsidedly. "Nice to meet you."
I opened my mouth to respond, but was cut off by the bell. Other students rushed to their seats and an elderly man who I assumed to be the teacher sauntered into the room, pulling the door shut behind him.
"Everyone, take their seats. We've got a lot to get through today, and, we have a new student," he said, shuffling papers as he made towards his desk. He looked up suddenly, adjusting his glasses, and peered around the room until his gaze came to me. I sat straighter. "Oh, she's already here," he said with a quick smile, then motioned. "Serena, why don't you stand up and introduce yourself?"
A part of me had been dreading this, but I nodded and stood up anyway. Most everyone was staring at me now, with various expressions that I didn't care to analyze, because that would've just made me more nervous.
"My name's Serena Ramsey," I began, absently fidgeting with my hands. "My family just moved here from New York." A pause. "Buffalo, New York."
"How the hell'd you find Ravenwood?" a boy from the front row asked with a scoff. "It's not even on the map."
A strange smile claimed my lips and I shrugged. "Good question." I still wanted to know that myself.
"Anything else you'd like to tell us about yourself?" the teacher - Mr. Rhodes - asked. He was sitting at his desk now.
I shook my head. "No, that's it."
"Alrighty then. Have a seat."
I did, leaning forward in my chair a bit. I could still feel the eyes of other students on me, but I ignored it. It was only natural to stare at the new kid, right? They'd get over it before the period was over.
Class continued on, and a copy of The Turn of the Screw was passed out. I had eighty-six pages to catch up on by tomorrow. After the reading and analysis - both of which I was completely lost on - Mr. Rhodes called for informal discussion and Emily immediately turned her attention to me.
"Isn't it spooky?" she asked, swinging her legs back at forth.
I shrugged. "I'm kind of lost, actually."
"You haven't read it?"
"Really?" She made a sour face as she set the book down. "I thought all the of the big city schools were supposed to be ahead of us."
Again, I shrugged. My fingers traced the scratches in the desk. "I think they're all pretty much the same."
She gave a laugh and someone sitting on her other side tapped her shoulder. She turned to them and started chatting. I stared at my blank worksheet, skimming over the questions. After that got boring, I sat back in my chair and gave my new classmates a good once-over. They weren't as trendy or stylish as my peers back home - well, my old home, I guess - but I liked it, because I was pretty much a non-participant when it came to that sort of thing.
I guess that was one less thing to worry about.
By the time lunch came around, I was incredibly tired. I'd trudged through the lunch line and found a seat alone at one of the tables near the exit.
Voices swirled around me; laughing, joking, whispering, shouting. The noise was familiar and comfortable and I ate my shoddily put together meatball sub in peace, occasionally glancing around.
There was always someone watching. I'd learned that pretty well during my first three classes; there was always someone interested in the new student. I didn't mind, since I'd expected it, but I couldn't help but feel that those intent eyes were just watching. They were looking for something. Maybe to see if I was a snob, since I came from a big city. Or maybe to see who I would approach on my own accord. Maybe they were waiting for me to make the first step, or maybe they really were just sitting back and coming to all their own conclusions.
I wondered how Jaymie and Laura was doing. Jaymie was probably fine. Right at this very moment, she was probably pouting a corner somewhere with her arms crossed and brow furrowed. Laura was most likely getting along the best. Although she was shy to new things, she was also open; she made friends easily. She was definitely her mother's daughter.
One of the fluorescent lights that hung above my table flickered momentarily, and I glanced up at it. It reminded me of the book in Mr. Rhodes' class. A ghost story. I'd never believed in ghosts, but I could see why some people did. It would be nice to have an excuse for all the unexplainable things that happened in the world. The fear of the unknown was something entrenched in humans since the beginning. It was unsettling, and it was easier to just blame it on supernatural things.
The very thought unnerved me a little and I continued eating again as a shiver crept down my spine.
A shadow fell over me and I turned around to see Emily hovering.
"Do you want to sit with us?" she asked, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. I wasn't sure what she was indicating. "Me and my friends, I mean."
I swallowed quickly, feeling a bit stupid, and then gave a slow nod. "Sure."
A smile lit her face. I was having a hard time reading her expressions; I couldn't tell whether they were genuine or not. "Great."
I gathered my things and she ushered me to a table where another girl and two boys sat. They were all watching curiously.
"Guys, this is Serena," Emily said, putting her hand to my shoulder. I eased out a polite smile. "She's new."
There was a chorus of varied greetings as Emily urged me to sit in the seat beside hers.
"You were in my Calculus class," one of the boys said; he slouched back in his seat and folded his hands behind his head as he regarded me. His eyes were a muddle shade of blue-gray and his auburn hair was cut short in a buzz cut. "New York, right? Shit, this place must look like - "
"Ravenwood is beautiful," the redheaded girl next to him said, tilting her head towards me. "We take pride in our small-town charm."
I opened my mouth to respond, but Emily beat me to it.
"Where do you live?" she asked suddenly as she shook her carton of chocolate milk. "The new suburbs? They just put those in right at the edge of town."
I shook my head. "No, it's kind of out in the middle of nowhere."
"What's the name of the road?"
"Um, I don't really remember."
The redhead's eyes shot to me. They were green; pretty. "I'm Anabel, by the way," she said. Her tone was pleasant, but there was no smile to accompany it. "The idiot next to me is Tyler. And the fine specimen here," she paused, gesturing dramatically with both hands to the boy at her right, "is Mike."
Mike gave a slight nod and Tyler started to talk with his mouth full of what looked to be macaroni.
"I'm already taken, sorry," he said, to me, raising his hands and shrugging. "I know you were wondering."
I gave an obligatory chuckle and paid attention to eating again as they shotgunned a horde of new questions at me.
I guess I didn't have to make the first move after all.
I had phys. ed. for fifth hour, and apparently so did Anabel. She quickly found me in the locker room.
"Hi again," she said with a small smile as she leaned against the lockers. Now that I was seeing her standing, I realized how thin she was. She was one of those girls that could make a mannequin look fat.
I quickly pulled on my shirt. "Oh, hi."
"Thanks," I mumbled, trying to pull them down a little. I hated these bike shorts, but they were the only ones I could find this morning.
"We're playing flag football today." Her brow raised and a smirk graced her lips. "Think you're up for it?"
"I guess I don't have a choice," I replied as I pulled my hair back into a ponytail.
"If we're lucky, we'll be on Mike's team and we won't have to do anything," she said with a giggle. When I finished with my hair, we walked out into the gym together and down the hallway. "If Coach had it his way, we'd be playing football every day," she explained in a tired tone as she pushed open one of the heavy doors that led outside. A cluster of students had already gathered on the football field that sprawled down a small hill. The grass was still a little wet from last night's rain and the ground gave way ever-so-slightly under our shoes. "So why'd you move?"
"I guess my parents wanted a change of scenery."
"Well they picked a good place." She kicked at a stray pebble on the lawn as we reached the field. "I think we got some recognition for having the most varieties of trees or something," she said quickly, "a couple years ago."
I nodded and wondered if it would be stupid to ask about the crows. The town was named for them, after all, so it probably -
We both looked up to see someone jogging towards us. As he got closer I realized it was Mike. He was tall with black hair and a sturdy build. I had a feeling a lot of girls had a crush on him.
"Guess what?" he said with a wicked grin as he reached us. "Coach can't find the belts." It turned into a smirk. "It's tackle now."
"No way, they can't do that," Anabel half-whined, half-groaned, slapping him on the shoulder.
"Go ask him yourself." He motioned to where a pot-bellied man stood near the center of the field, whistle in mouth.
Anabel and Mike had a brief, light-hearted argument before "Coach" blew his whistle and divided us into teams. I ended up on the team opposite them and hesitantly slipped on the worn red jersey I'd been handed. I recognized a few of my teammates as being from other classes I'd had, but there was nobody I knew, so I kept to myself and stayed out of the way as a stocky boy with tree trunks for arms decided on who would play what position as the girls griped and objected.
I was kind of worried, because Coach never mentioned me. He didn't even take attendance. Did he know I was here? Was I actually supposed to be in a different class?
"Remember, this is just for fun," he said, standing at the sidelines. "Yes, it's tackle, but go easy on each other. We don't want any broken bones, got it?"
A collective murmur of agreement was his answer and there was a quick game of rock-paper-scissors to see who would start with the ball. My team won and I hung back with a group of other girls as the game officially was underway.
Nothing happened in the first ten minutes and I spent most of my time slacking off with the other girls and watching as shadows from the trees played over the field and shuddered in the wind. I could hear the cawing of crows from somewhere within.
A couple of minutes later Coach called a timeout and chewed out most of the girls for sitting out. He told us to be more involved, and so when the next play started, I found myself near the forty-yard-line with nothing to do other than twiddle my thumbs.
Our team sucked, apparently, and so when we finally had possession of the ball, no one quite knew what to do. A horde of blue-jerseys mobbed the boy with the ball and he raced around in a frantic zigzagging manner, probably trying to think up a plan. His eyes searched wildly and targeted me. I fervently shook my head, but before I knew it, the ball was hurtling towards me. Somehow I managed to catch it and I sprinted towards the end zone. After a few moments, I caught motion in my peripheral vision. I chanced to turn my head and a girl in a blue jersey caught up to me and lunged like a panther going in for the kill.
We both went down in an incredibly ungraceful way. Something jabbed me in the side and I landed on my knee at a very awkward angle. Not to mention the girl was on top of me. She got off and I sat up slowly as someone else snatched up the ball.
Coach blew his whistle about ten seconds too late and by then Anabel was already at my side as I stood.
"Are you okay?" she asked, a hint of a smile teasing her lips. She suppressed it and kicked at a clump of grass with her shoe.
"I'm fine." I brushed off my shorts, even though I knew the mud was ground in. I'd have to take a shower once we got back to the locker room to get it off my skin.
"You're fast," the girl who tackled me said, beaming as she straightened her jersey.
I shrugged. "Not as fast as you."
Classes let out, and I dreaded the ride home because my side and knee still ached from getting tackled. I languidly made my way to the bike rack. There weren't many bikes left, but all of them were toppled over. A boy was crouched over at one end, picking them up. I came closer, doing a quick visual search to see if my bike was part of the mess of knocked over ones.
He noticed my presence and flinched. "Oh, sorry." He looked at me, dark eyes squinting, then back at the bikes and laughed. He had one of those faces - not strikingly good-looking or ugly, but one of those faces that you'd forget just as soon as he was gone. "Is yours somewhere in there?"
I nodded and pointed ambiguously. "The green one." He seemed to spot it and made a move for it, and even though he wasn't looking my way, I shook my head. "No, that's okay. I can get it."
"I've got it," he said, his voice lacking the irritation that I'd been expecting. He moved some of the bikes away and stood mine up. "No matter how careful I am, I always end up knocking them all over."
I smiled faintly as he glanced at me. He frowned for a moment, then turned his attention to the bike again and asked, "Are you new here?"
"Yeah." I adjusted my backpack strap. "Today was my first day."
"I'm Ian." He wheeled out my bike, and I mumbled my thanks. "Do you know anyone around here yet?"
"Um," I was tempted to say no, but didn't, "yeah, kind of."
"Oh." His smile faded a little, losing some of its power, but still remained. "That's good."
"I'm Serena," I said after a moment, tapping my fingers against the seat of my bike. I wasn't nervous, it was just more of a hint that I could hold the bike up on my own. It felt weird with both of us holding it. "Serena Ramsey."
He let go, fingers gliding off of green-painted metal, and gave an awkward laugh before slipping his hands into his pockets. He was dressed in a fairly formal way; maybe he had something going on after school. "Okay, well, sorry about the bike thing." He scratched the back of his head and laughed again before he resumed picking up the rest of the bikes. "Hope you'll like it here."
"Thanks." I watched for a moment, not really having anything to say, before deciding that it was time to go. He seemed to catch on to that and turned around again.
"See you around?"
I nodded. "Yeah. Sure."
He smiled back and I returned it, then got on my bike and left.
It was raining, but the girl didn't care. She liked it, in fact. Not as much as she liked ravens, but she still liked it nonetheless.
She walked through the woods, umbrella loosely gripped in her hands, and watched her step so that she didn't slip in the mud. She was only bringing the umbrella because if she didn't, Mom would wonder why she was wet when she got home. That would make her angry, and the little girl would never do anything intentionally to make her mom angry. That was just, well, stupid.
After was seemed like hours, she reached the shore. Further along, she could see her destination.
Hewould already be there, she thought to herself, frowning slightly. She hadn't meant to make him wait, but it had taken quite some time to convince her mom to let her go out while it was raining. After all, what business did a little girl like herself have going out in the rain?
She didn't prefer to be thought of as a little girl, honestly. She didn't like it one bit. She was nearly halfway through elementary school, after all.
But one thing she
didlike was the lighthouse. She liked it because it was her secret. Well, not just hers alone. Hers and his. A place where no one else would come to bother, or find, or intrude in general.
She had considered bringing her other friends there - other girls her age from school - but the thought was too unsettling. They didn't have so much in common, like she and he did. She had always felt that the two of them were the same. Except that he didn't adore ravens as much as she did.
Then again, she didn't think
anyone liked them as much as she did. She simply didn't think it was possible. And if such a person did exist, she wanted to meet them. Right away. And if they didmeet, they would probably be best friends forever.
She was careful walking past the beach and onto the slick rocks. They seemed to get bigger the closer to the lighthouse she got, and a few times she slipped, but always caught herself before falling. A few minutes passed and she'd reached the base of the lighthouse. Sighing, she turned the handle carefully - otherwise it might fall off completely - and pushed her way inside.
It was dimly lit, as it always was, considering that there was no electricity there. At least none that worked that she knew of.
She closed her umbrella and quickly made her way up the old stairway.
When she had come to the lighthouse the first time, she'd been scared. Terrified even. It looked too old. The wood of the stairs looked too weak. The roof looked like it might cave in at any moment.
But she wasn't afraid now. She and the boy had climbed the stairs so often that she now raced up them without any hesitation whatsoever. Why
wouldshe be afraid? She had come to trust the lighthouse, and it would be pure silliness to be afraid of something that you trusted.
Besides. If she was too afraid to get to the top, she wouldn't be able to see him, and then she wouldn't be able to show him what she had been waiting to show him.
The door at the top was already open, and light flooded from within.
"I'm here," she sang out, startling the boy, who was standing at one of the long windows that ran along the room. He was wet and his hair looked much darker than it really was. She wondered why he hadn't brought an umbrella. She wondered, hadn't his mom made sure he had one with him when he left?
He looked surprised for a moment and then relaxed, laughing.
"What're you wearing?"
It took her a moment, but when she realized that he was referring to her new pink Hello Kitty rain slicker, she wasn't amused. "Daddy bought it for me," she said, pouting.
"You know what my Daddy says," she continued, going to the window beside him. She began to draw shapes in the fog that had formed on the glass. "My Daddy says that there's a secret passage that goes from here to my house."
She finished her drawing of a tree. "If we found it, we could use it, couldn't we?"
The boy gave her an incredulous look that she didn't at all appreciate. The expression dropped after only a moment, once he'd caught on to her displeasure. "That sounds like something from a ghost story," he mumbled.
The girl pouted and put her hands on her hips. "Daddy wouldn't lie to me."
"Did he tell you where it is?"
"Hm?" The girl hadn't been listening; she was watching the tree disappear on the window.
"Did he tell you where the secret passage is?" the boy asked. He turned and leaned against the window, slipping his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
"No," she replied after a long moment. "But I didn't ask." Suddenly, as if a switch had been turned on, she brightened. "But that's just it. We can look for it together. It'll be fun."