Untitled: Chapter 1

She walked cautiously, being careful not to slip and make a fool of herself in front of the few students willing to brave the cold for a cigarette. She liked the way it felt when snow crunched beneath her thin sneakers, but her feet were getting wet from snow landing on the tops of her shoes and melting. She would have to remember to wear boots from now on--and maybe she ought to pay more attention to the weather forecasts.

The snow always made her think of strange things. Images struck her all at once: a face clouded by years of being shoved to the back of her mind, a voice shouting something barely audible. She wasn’t even sure these weren’t just memories of a dream anymore. A chill ran down her spine and she pulled her sweatshirt tight.

She looked up at the dark sky and it glared back, completely unforgiving. Why hadn't she worn a jacket rather than a pathetic sweatshirt? While it had not been snowing earlier, it had been cold enough to see one's breath. That should have served as an omen for the impending storm.

The wind bit at her exposed cheeks and moved effortlessly through the thin sweatshirt material. She reached her car, a small blue four-door vehicle, and fished for her keys in the depths of her backpack. Her heart raced. They weren't there! She unzipped the main pocket, fished around, and almost started to cry. Where the Hell were they? Then, with a sigh, she remembered she gave them to Charlotte earlier when Charlotte needed to get a math book from the back seat of her car. She felt stupid for forgetting them and even worse for panicking about it.

Not wanting to face the cold again, she took a second to feel sorry for herself, breathed in deeply (resulting in a short coughing fit), and headed back to get her keys. "How annoying," she muttered to herself as she walked.

Near the door, a boy in a thick black parka lit his cigarette and then looked right into her eyes. She turned away, trying to be polite (she always thought it was rude to stare), but something about him seemed so familiar. She looked again and his eyes were still upon her.

The boy had a gray scarf around his neck. His long shaggy brown hair fell around his face carelessly. His hand shook as he brought the cigarette to his lips. His cheeks and lips were red from the cold air. His blue eyes were like Christmas lights upon his pale face.

Reiya smiled slightly as she walked by, so as not be rude. She was relieved when she passed him. Something about him was out of place.

"It's not the cold that irritates me," he said suddenly.

Reiya stopped and turned to make sure it was her he was speaking to. She didn't know him.

His eyes were cut into her, probing her. She could feel their heat move over her as he looked her up and down. He then turned his attentions to the cigarette held so carefully in his hand and put it to his mouth. Without looking at her, he said, "Winter is no time for flowers to grow. Should they be plucked out of the soil by their roots, it's an act of mercy. Don't you agree?"

Reiya shivered again. “I—I guess,” she said, just to say anything so he would leave her alone. She moved her feet inside her shoes; the water inside that had reached her socks was beginning to ice over. For a spilt second, she pictured her toes turning black with frostbite. "Have we met?"

"Surely, in such a small town, the two of us have crossed paths. But this time it means something.”

Reiya tried to avoid the urge to roll her eyes. She was cold, wet, and in a hurry. Why did the weirdoes always find her? She decided to back away slowly. "Well, it was nice meeting you. If you'll excuse me..."

He grabbed her upper arm and dug his nails into her skin through the thickness of the sweatshirt. She winced. She was shaking from the inside out.

"Such beautiful black hair..." he said softly. "Such stunning blue eyes...”

The boy's serious face suddenly contorted. For a moment it was twisted in a foreign manner and was unrecognizable. It then became friendly and frighteningly so. "The leaves won't stay up there forever." The boy took his hand off of her arm to point up to the treetops.

She moved away from him immediately, grabbed her arm, and ran inside. Once she was past the first glass doors, she turned and was relieved to see he was not following. In fact, he was walking in the other direction. Reiya breathed out deeply. Her arm was still in pain but her heart began to calm down.

The air inside, warm and welcoming, anything beat being outside. She took a moment to just stand, relax, and shake the incident. Her arm would probably bruise, but she was all right. Everything was fine.

Tables were set up all over the common area of the college. Chairs and empty drink bottles were littered around them. At the moment, the area was almost empty and only three of the tables were occupied. Reiya spotted the table Charlotte was sitting at, surrounded by other students who had their books flopped open on the table. None of them were even pretending to glance at them anymore.

"Reiya, are you all right?" Charlotte said, furrowing her brow to look as concerned as possible. Reiya nodded. “I thought you left. Is something wrong with your arm?”

Reiya shook her head. She asked if anyone knew who that boy with the straggly brown hair sitting outside was. She searched her own mind for any recollection of him but found none.

Lacey, one of the girls at the table mentioned that he used to go to high school with them but he dropped out in tenth grade. “Drugs,” she said. Amber said that he used to be a good student in middle school and she had been friends with him. Apparently, he got into heavy drug use and was never the same afterwards.

“His name,” Amber said, “is Karou. Just so you know.”

No one asked why Reiya had brought it up. She was glad because she wasn’t about to tell them about all the weird little things he had told her. She would just have to avoid him in the future.

Charlotte was still looking at Reiya questioningly. "Are you sure you're okay?"

“Fine, but I need my keys. You still have them.” Reiya forced a smile, although she thought she might sit down and wait a while before heading out those doors.

Charlotte fished around in her pockets and retrieved them. “Sorry, I forgot. Hey, don’t forget to dig out that pink bag, okay?”

Reiya nodded. She had used a pink backpack in middle school, which was now buried in the depths of her closest. She was going to use it for a skit they were doing in their Comedic Acting class. “Rehearsal is tomorrow at 6, right?”

“Right. Don’t be late.” Charlotte plopped the keys into Reiya’s waiting hands. Their warmth made her realized how cold her hands were.

Outside, Reiya found herself looking up at the treetops watching the sun sink below the mountains in the distance. She remembered Karou's haunting words about leaves. Only these trees were all the pine trees so commonly found in the mountains. They had no leaves, only pine needles. While they did turn orange and come off in the fall, pine trees never went naked like trees with leaves.

"To pluck a flower in winter is an act of mercy," Reiya repeated, but she saw no flowers on the ground nearby.

She shook her head and walked on towards her car. Something was not right with him. It wasn’t just drugs. She had looked straight into his eyes and he had not looked stoned then. It was that he looked distant, detached. His eyes were cold. She had seen eyes like that before, but her mind wouldn’t reveal whom they had belonged to.

Ridiculous, she told herself.

* * * * * * *

Karou’s head spun around like a CD. His brain felt like it was too big for his skull and pounded to get out. My head is going to explode, he thought, and laughed. Wouldn’t that be cool to see? Brains everywhere. Every part of his body ached with cold. He shivered.

Karou’s feet were on the pavement, but he was seated and slowly sinking into a snow bank. He jumped up and started to brush the ice off of his clothes. His jacket kept most of his back and bottom dry, but snow had landed on top of him. Not much, which led him to believe he hadn’t been there long. His right hand had been stuck straight into the snow and was now red and numb. He shook it and rubbed it against his coat to warm it up.

His head pounded relentlessly. He wanted it to stop. He had been getting migraines since he was eleven, but they were getting worse. Pain so bad he wanted to beat his head against a wall and knock himself out just to make it stop. He tried not to concentrate on the pain. He had to think. Where was he? What was going on?

I’m at the college, he realized as he looked around. The day was gone and now the only light came from the dull street lamps around the campus. He vaguely remembered going to history class and then leaving early, because he could no longer stand the lecture. He looked at his watch. That had been three hours ago. He remembered going to smoke a cigarette at some point. Maybe he had passed out and fallen into the snow bank, and since the college was pretty empty at night, no one had noticed.

He searched his mind for any clue as to what might have happened, but nothing stepped forward. After leaving history, everything was a black hole in his mind.

His hand was gradually warming up and now it stung, like it was being stabbed with hundreds of needles. Just what I need: more pain, he thought and sighed. He headed for his car.

The whole campus seemed abandoned at night. Only a few people took night classes and even fewer people hung around after 6 pm. The snow seemed to absorb any sound. Nothing in the sky was visible through the clouds, which were a shade of pink.

Out of nowhere, a girl’s face came to mind. He didn’t know her—at least, he didn’t think he did, although she did look slightly familiar. She wasn’t gorgeous, but she wasn’t ugly. Her eyes shook and she looked frightened. He wondered what she was afraid of. He felt sorry for her.

Why feel sorry for her? Do you know her? he asked himself. No, he didn’t think that he did. But how could he be sure? He might have been talking to her before he passed out. He didn’t know. Hell, he might have even fucked her. She was pretty hot, the way her open sweatshirt hung off of her breasts and the way her lips trembled slightly. He doubted he had, but there was no way to be sure.

Sadly, his blackouts were not unusual anymore. They started about five years ago, for ten minutes at a time. He never thought much of it, but as time wore on, they grew progressively longer. Before he knew it, he would wake up somewhere and have no idea what he had done for the past three days. Once he even lost an entire week. He started doing drugs, under the impression that they were helping both his headaches and the blackouts. Eventually he realized they had no effect and only caused more problems, so he gave them up. Well, most of them.

He pulled out his cigarette box, an old Altoid mints box he had painted black, and shook it. Sounded almost empty. Inside, only one cigarette remained. God, he hated waking up to find all of his cigarettes gone. He almost thought someone must have been stealing them, but who would be there to take them every single time he passed out? He assumed he just chain smoked during the periods of time he couldn’t recall.

He imagined the girl again, only this time he tried to picture her in lacey white underwear, pouting at him. The desire to find this mystery girl became stronger. Maybe he had slept with her. Or maybe he would if she’d let him. The girl in his mind smiled naughtily and mouthed something he couldn’t make out.

With that, he resolved to find her. He could check all of the parties, ask around. Eventually someone would know something and she would be as good as his.

He liked the sound of that. She would be his. He smiled. And somewhere in the back of his mind, a little voice started laughing.

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