Grinning, I turned to Eric, about to drag him on the dance floor after me, but my plan was cut short. He was already halfway across the room! With Mandy! Seething, I went to get a drink, attempting to decide whether or not to chase and ream him. Then I realized that I would have nothing to say to him, since we weren't technically boyfriend and girlfriend. Well, now we weren't anything. I downed the rest of the Pepsi and went out onto the dance floor. In the next half an hour, only two guys asked me to dance, and one of them was trying to see if he could dance with every girl there. The next song was a fast one, Short Skirt/ Long Jacket, which happens to be my favorite, so I danced alone. Amidst the throng of people being bumped and touched, even if it isn't accidental, can be expected and brushed off, but the icy hands around my waist stopped me dead in my tracks.
I should have screamed, but it wouldn't have made much difference, considering that most people were shouting to be heard over the crashing that happened to be music. My scream would be heard and dismissed, and those around me would assume I was just startled by my friends sudden appearance. Unfortunately, this guy was not my friend, and I was more than a little startled by his rude paws. To my dismay, he pulled me closer, so that my back was pressed against his chest, holding me there with an arm around my belly. His other hand he clapped over my mouth, stifling any attempt of mine to be heard. Out of habit, one I acquired from wrestling with Jeff, I sank my teeth into the flesh of his middle finger. My reward was a quiet hiss, and his arm tightened. At that point I chose to conduct an experiment to see how strong my new dance partners grip really was. Turns out it was quite a good grip. My head remained its usual five and a half feet above the ground, even though my shoes were about two feet away from where they were supposed to be. Finally giving up, I let my feet drop slowly to the floor. I relaxed and waited, wondering why nobody had noticed this odd display of behavior. The arm around my waist relaxed to a more comfortable grip.
"Shh," Hissed a voice in my ear. It was big and deep, alluding to a figure to match. It was also not the voice of a high-school student. There was an amount of intensity that was overwhelming, but almost familiar to me. I had heard my father give speeches, and when he truly believed what he was speaking about that same intensity could be heard. "Soon They will see us, so act casual. Turn around, smile, and pretend to dance with me." He dropped the hand covering my mouth, and instead of letting me turn myself around, he used the hand on my waist to spin me towards him. A slow song had started sometime during the brief fiasco, so I tried to assume that huggy-thingy most people call dancing... but I couldn't reach him. He didn't strike me as the type to slouch. When I looked up to see his face, it seemed I was looking up forever. The sheer mass of him, caused me to fall back a step. A strong hand moved to the small of my back, but there was no smile to go with the friendly gesture. He bent slightly to whisper in my ear. "Finish the dance, then we'll go talk."
"Okay." I said, not allowing my voice to acquire the same knot that my stomach had. As I stepped closer to finish the dance, placing my head on his chest, I wondered how he defined talking. This was beginning to feel like X -Files material. I just hoped that I got to be Mulder or Scully, instead of one of those dead bodies they keep finding. In effort to control my fear I focused in on the strangers heartbeat, and carefully counted the beats until the end of the song. There were 89. The instant the last note faded out, he grabbed my hand and essentially dragged me out of the building.
"You know, once we are out we can't-" I began to protest, but he cut me off with a sharp glare. I shut up and followed him, all the way around the building twice, taking a crooked path then down to the marsh at the very back of the school. He sat down abruptly, jerking me down next to him. Finally, he let go of my hand and turned to face me.
In the faint moonlight and scant light from the parking lot, I could see his profile for the first time. His jaw line was strong, with just that hint of that stubbornness that so many people describe. His hair was very dark and seemed to gather what faint light there was and hide it away amidst a mass of curls. His eyes, when he turned them on me were an intense piercing blue. I met their gaze, but shuddered involuntarily. It seemed as though my entire being was laid out before him and he was analyzing it for flaws. He mistook my shudder as being from the chill, and the hand that offered the jacket was tanned a medium brown. I accepted the proffered article and only then did I realize how cold it was. It seemed almost snow worthy, and I was in a short skirt and thin tank top. Once I was wrapped in the jacket that was big enough to be a tent, I looked up, ready to demand answers.
"You must be somewhat startled right now." He said quietly, his voice lacking the intensity that had been there before. His eyes lost none of it however and continued to scan my face, as if looking into my soul to judge my reaction to his words. "I know I was, when this happened to me."
"What is this mysterious "this" we are referring to?" I inquired cynically.
"Who that "they" you are always afraid of?" He replied just as rudely. It didn't seem like the time for twenty questions, but it is my nature.
"Well, while we are discussing mystery, why don't we start with you?" I demanded.
"You don't need to know about me." His tone was dark now and the night sky seemed to darken along with it. "Save that my name is Daren and I am to be your Guide." Although I still had no idea why he was here, at least I had a name to fit into the mystery.
"Well," I said, only a bit sarcastic. "It is nice to meet you." He extended his hand, taking my words at face value. I shook it, marveling again at how strong his grasp was, also noting calluses across the wide palm. "My name is-" I began, but had no chance to finish.
"Corri." He interrupted smoothly. "I have been watching you for some time. But then again, so have They." The words were threatening and the voice that spoke them was ominous. Once again, I shivered, this time keeping it hidden underneath the folds of the jacket.
"Why?" I asked quietly. Daren sighed, the first sign of weakness, of fatigue that I had gotten from him. He took the blues lasers that he used for eyes off of me (finally!) and looked up at the moon.
"I can't tell you." I began to protest his statement, but he repeated the pattern of the evening by stopping me short. It seemed he had an affinity for hacking off other peoples sentences. Out of anyone else, this behavior would be rude, but this strange man didn't seem capable of such an act. It merely seemed like what he had to say was obviously more important than what I did. I hate people like that. They make me feel stupid. Like I should shut up. So I did. "I can't tell you," He began again. "Because I don't know. You didn't need me to tell you about Them, did you?" It was a pretty rhetorical question, so I left it unanswered. "You knew They were there, just the way I did. Unfortunately They have the upper hand, because we are only just beginning to comprehend Them but They have known about us for a long time." Finally the whole creepiness of this meeting got to me, so I stood and shook off the loaned garment.
"You know it's been great Daren, but I have to be off." I said lamely, knowing how false my cheeriness really was. As I turned around, I could hear the sounds that signaled that he had risen also. I began to walk away, but once again I found his hands around my waist. I spun around to face him, unsure whether I was angry or frightened. He shifted his hands to my shoulders, in a gesture that seemed to indicate the seriousness of the situation.
"Corri, just listen for once in your life. I know this is hard to believe, but your future hangs in balance. It is a shocking thought to realize that one decision you are faced with, one choice you make, without any chance to prepare can forever change your fate. It is true that every decision you make will change your life to a certain degree but some more than others. When you make that choice tonight, you will never have a chance to go back."
The decision I made in those next thirty seconds was not the best one I had ever made. As a matter of fact, it ties for being one of the worst, with the time I hit my brother with a frying pan thinking he was a stalker. Did you know that 6'8 men with bad tempers do not appreciate having little girls laugh in their face? Neither did I, until those very same thirty seconds. I suppose I found it amusing that so many people had tried to change my life, none of them making any difference of course, and here was this complete stranger expecting me to change for him! Looking back, the hysterics were not the best thing at the time, but they sure felt good. Until he hit me.
I jerked my head up, laughter dead instantly. My cheek stung horribly but I forced my hands to remain at my sides, letting tears prick in the corners of my eyes, but doing nothing to remove them. I took a deep breath to make an attempt at steadying anger.
"How dare you?" I hissed vehemently.
"How dare you?!" He spat back, almost before I finished the end of "you". "You haven't even heard me out and already you laugh! I told Sensei that you were not the right one, but now it is too late." The words meant something to him, that was obvious, but I didn't pick up that I had been truly insulted until much, much later. For the moment his anger was blistering and he wasn't really comprehending what he was saying. I had dealt with this type of anger before though, and the best thing to do is just to wait it out. I slowed my breathing again, and tuned out the not- quite- bellowing voice of the giant before me. After a while I began to pointedly glance down at my watch, still waiting for the long stream of fury to slow to a halt. Suddenly Daren stopped, even more abrupt than the way he had started. He dropped the hands that had been forcefully shaking my shoulders and frowned down at his palms.
"Feel better?" I asked quietly, when I judged it was almost safe.
"No." He muttered, mostly to himself. "Now I feel worse." He continued to look sadly down at his palms, as though punishing them for what they had done. Even though I understood him, I felt no pity. The sin was committed, and there was little he could do about it. He knew all of this of course, that much was written plain as day across his face. What he did not know was the full extent of what he had just done. I knew that he felt bad, but I also knew that it didn't matter. Unless he pulled off a terrific performance in the next two minutes, there was no way I was going to do anything with him or for him.
"I see." I said, waiting to see what he would come up with in the way of an apology. It came, but not in a way I would have expected. My stranger looked up at me through bangs that were wandering their way across his lowered face.
"Corri," He began, self- pity gone from his features, true worry was beginning to surface in his tone. "It is very important that you listen, despite what you may think of me. You are the right one, and I should have known that from the start. Please, sit down." With that he turned his back to me, and sat exactly where he had been before. It was a gesture of faith, so I decided that it couldn't hurt to listen a little longer. I sat next to him and cleared my throat.
"Well, I suppose if we are going to rewind, we might as well start from the top, eh?" I asked with a grin. Forgetting the skirt, I bunched my knees up to my chest wrapping my arms around them. I was cold again, but it was up to Daren whether or not it was worth it to donate the jacket again. "I'm Corri."
"Hello." His tone betrayed his confusion. "I'm Daren. I am here to be your guide."
"Cool. Care to explain?" I asked, trying to stay calm. I looked down at my shoes, and unbuckled them setting them next to me and wiggling my bare toes in the wet grass. I glanced up at the big man next to me and saw that one of his dark eyebrows was raised.
"Sure," He said hesitantly. "I am part of a group, a group that knows more than the White House knows. We want you to join us." This time I didn't laugh. I kept my face straight, knowing that this was important.
"Me? I have a little itsy bitsy question... Why me? I am just the paranoid teenager who watched too many X - Files episodes when I was a kid." I raised my eyebrows and waited. He shook his head.
"No Corri, we did have a reason for picking you and part of it was for your paranoia. Sadly however, you must learn a few things for yourself... This is one of them. Sensei will be upset if I reveal all of his secrets." Daren tilted his head up and looked into the cloud filled sky. I followed suit, letting a thoughtful silence fall over us. A cloud shifted and the moon shone strongly down into the field.
"Every cloud has a silver lining." I murmured to myself, for these clouds certainly had theirs. Daren nodded, maybe to some internal thought, or maybe he overheard my comment, but who knows. Come to think of it, who cares? It wasn't important at the moment. All that really mattered was that this guy was asking me to join an amazingly powerful (according to him anyway) for some mystical reason. For the obvious reasons I was very flattered, but still very frightened.