Since the release date got pushed until November 25th I decided to go ahead and post the whole first chapter! Enjoy!
The thing about starting over is it isn’t as easy as people say.
It’s impossible to become a completely different person.
You can change your hair.
Even your name.
But at the end of each and every day you’re still the same person you were yesterday, and the day before that.
I’d spent the last year trying, and failing, to become a different person. The shitty events of my life had certainly changed me and I wasn’t the same carefree girl I used to be, but I was still Rachael—or Rae as I preferred to be called now—because no matter how far we run we can never escape ourselves.
It might’ve been stupid but I felt like hiding behind the new nickname gave me a bit of anonymity. Not that anyone at Huntley University was going to know who I was or what I’d done.
My eyes fluttered closed as I felt the breeze tickle the skin of my cheeks and I inhaled the scent of lilac.
For the first time in a year I felt peaceful and centered. Like maybe I was where I belonged—which was funny, since I hadn’t wanted to even go to college after everything that had happened.
I opened my eyes and grabbed one of my duffel bags from the car and my camera case.
My camera had always been like a limb to me—an extension of who I was. Even after everything that happened last year I’d never been able to give up photography. It brought me peace when everything else in my life was chaos. I slammed the door closed and locked my car, since I’d have other stuff to get later and I didn’t want anyone trying to steal something. For now, I just wanted to get to my dorm and check things out.
I pulled the piece of paper out of my pocket with the housing information on it. I already had it memorized, but for some reason I found it necessary to read it again. It brought me some strange sense of peace. Like it was a lifeline or something.
With my head bowed I stepped onto the sidewalk.
I hadn’t taken more than two steps before I fell.
Only, I didn’t fall—I was knocked to the ground by the force of a very heavy male body.
I could smell his sweat—even more potent than the lilacs dotting the campus—and it wasn’t the stinky kind of sweat, oh no, he smelled delicious. Like he’d been rolling around the sheets naked for hours having the hottest sex imaginable.
“Fuck, I’m so sorry!” The guy exclaimed, rolling off of me. He reached down to pull me up, and when he did I ended up plastered against his chest. It was hard and smooth, not a blemish in sight. He kept a tight hold on me so I couldn’t scramble away. “Are you okay?” His eyes roamed over my body as he surveyed any damage he might’ve caused. His eyes lingered longer than necessary on my body.
“I’m fine,” I assured him, finally looking at his face and—holy-hotness, it should be illegal to be that good looking. Brown hair hung in his eyes, eyes that were so blue that they could only be categorized as cerulean. Stubble dotted his defined jaw and his lips were kissable. They didn’t make guys like this where I was from. Not. At. All.
Clearing my throat I took a step back, bowing my head so that my hair hid my suddenly flushed face. I couldn’t believe I was ogling the guy who’d just knocked me down. Or any guy for that matter. I hadn’t allowed myself to look twice at any guy in over a year. Not since…
I shook my head free of my thoughts and reached down for my camera case. Luckily it was heavy duty and I didn’t need to worry about my camera being damaged.
Without a second look at the guy that had knocked me over I dusted the dirt off my camera case and walked away. He might’ve been hot, but I wasn’t going down that road.
He jogged after me. Of course. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he grabbed my arm, “you’re not getting away that fast.”
I looked at him and then at the spot where we’d fallen. There was a football lying there and I assumed it was the reason he’d run in to me.
“Uh,” I pointed to the fallen ball, “it looks to me like you have a game to get back to.” My pulse thudded in my throat at the feel of his hand on my arm. I felt a light sweat break out across my skin. I couldn’t understand my body’s reaction to the stranger. For the first time in a year I felt…alive. It made no sense.
I pulled my arm from his hold, since he still hadn’t let go. Unfortunately it did nothing to alleviate the feelings he produced inside me.
He saw the ball and looked behind him. That’s when I noticed the other sweaty guys watching us. They were all good looking but they had nothing on the Adonis in front of me.
“They can wait,” he grinned, looking boyish. “What’s your name?”
I couldn’t understand why Hottie-McHot-Pants was talking to me. I was nothing special. From the looks of him he had to be a junior or a senior and I was a freshman. Besides, if he was interested in an easy lay he needed to look elsewhere.
“Why do you want to know?” I countered.
He chuckled. “I mean, I did lay on top of you, so I figured I should at least know your name.”
My cheeks heated further and I bit down on my tongue. Something told me he wasn’t going to leave me alone until I told him my name. “Rachael,” I answered automatically. “But I prefer to be called Rae,” I hastened to add.
“Rae,” he repeated, a small smile causing his lips to crook at the corners, “I like it.” He held out his hand. “I’m Cade.”
I looked at his hand and then at his face before taking a step back. “I didn’t ask for your name.”
He let his hand fall and smiled like he wasn’t at all upset by my actions. Chuckling he said, “Well, now you know it.”
Giving him an awkward smile, I turned to leave.
I only made it three steps before he called, “Rae?”
I swiveled around to face him and tilted my head to the side. “Yeah?”
“I’ll see you around.”
It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. I could tell Cade was the very determined type. Unfortunately for him, I was very determined not to know him or anyone for that matter. I was here to get my education and disappear again. I wasn’t looking for any connections. Connections meant feelings, and feelings meant attachments, and attachments made you do stupid things.
I’d lost the piece of paper with my dorm information and I almost went back to get it. But since I had it memorized, and going back meant taking the chance of running into Cade again, I decided not to.
The amount of people bustling around campus made me feel a bit uncomfortable, but it was easier to blend in and appear normal so I’d have to learn to deal with it.
I jogged up the steps of my dorm building and breezed inside.
I was nervous, but you wouldn’t know it if you saw me. I was a master at concealing my emotions.
Muttering my room number under my breath, I stopped outside the door when I found it.
I took a deep, steadying breath, and wrapped my hand around the knob.
This was it.
This was the moment that would forever change my life.
I knew it.
And then I walked into an explosion of Pepto-Bismol.
“What. The. Fuck?” I gasped, looking around at all the pink.
Pink bedspread. Pink rug. Pink pillows. Pink blanket. Pink chair.
“My eyes!” I cried as I slapped a hand over my face.
“You must be my roommate!” An overly chipper voice sing-songed.
I lowered my hand and— “Gah!” I gasped in shock. The pretty strawberry blonde in front of me even wore a pink shirt. Thank God her shorts weren’t pink or I might’ve had a heart attack. Death by Over Exposure to the Color Pink—now that was a headline.
I couldn’t believe I was going to have to live with this for the next ten or so months of my life. Kill. Me. Now.
I looked down at my dark hair and black clothes. I didn’t see how I was going to get along with the Barbie Doll in front of me. We were clearly polar opposites.
“I’m Thea,” she held out a hand. What was up with everyone wanting to shake my hand today?
Skirting around her, I headed towards the plain side of the small room.
She followed me, either oblivious to the brush off or ignoring it. “You must be Rachael.”
“Rae,” I corrected her, dropping my bag on the bed and refusing to turn around. “I prefer to be called Rae.”
“Oh, okay. Rae is a pretty name. I mean, so is Rachael, but Rae is cooler. I—”
“Do you ever stop talking? Or breathe?” I wheeled around to find her all up in my personal space.
“Sorry,” she frowned. “I’m nervous.”
“Obviously,” I muttered. “Look, Thea?” She nodded. “I’m not here to make friends. So, don’t expect any late night talks with me, or nail painting, or whatever else it is you’ve conjured up in your head.”
“Oh.” Her face fell.
I turned back to my duffel bag and dumped my clothes on the bare bed. I needed to go back out to my car and get everything else. My mom had made sure I had everything I needed, since she knew I’d never do any shopping on my own. I had changed a lot in the last year, and I no longer cared about much of anything.
I hadn’t always been such a depressed person, but then life dealt me a pretty shitty card and I handled it my own way. Nothing I did could make me forget that day.
Once all my clothes were put away, I headed towards the door.
“Where are you going?” Thea spoke up from where she lounged on her bed. I still had to repress my gag reflex from all the pink.
“To my car,” I answered, glaring at her.
“Cool, you want some help?” She asked, bouncing up. Before I could answer, she invited herself by saying, “Okay, good.”
She was like an over eager golden retriever. I didn’t quite know what to do with her peppy personality compared to my doom and gloom one. Something told me this was going to be a long year.
As we walked through the building, she said, “My brother goes to school here. He’s kind of a big deal.”
“Is that so?” I asked, not interested at all in hearing about her brother.
“Yeah, he’s the quarterback of the football team,” she bounced along.
“Is that important? I don’t really like football.”
She stopped walking and grabbed my arm. Her mouth hung open in shock. “How do you not like football?”
I shrugged. “I just don’t.”
In another lifetime I had liked lots of things that I didn’t anymore.
“Are you from here?”
Here happened to be Colorado.
I huffed, irritated with all her questions. “Yes.”
“And you don’t like football?” She gaped. “But it’s like…necessary to the way of life.”
I snorted and tilted my head. “Oxygen is necessary for life, not football.”
She shook her head and started walking. I didn’t know where she was going since she had no idea which car belonged to me.
I pointed to my car when we reached it. “It’s that one.”
“It’s cute,” she smiled.
I laughed at that. Cute was certainly not the word anyone would ever use to describe my clunker of a car. Looking at Barbie I was pretty sure she probably drove a cute little Volkswagen. I had a cute car once, but that had been before.
Before I destroyed everything.
With Thea’s help it wouldn’t be necessary to make another trip out to my car. We walked back to our dorm and I noticed the guys playing football were gone. Maybe if I were a normal girl I’d tell Thea about Cade. Then we’d laugh and talk about how hot he was. But I wasn’t normal, not anymore.
Luckily, Thea didn’t talk much on the way back.
She ended up spending several hours on her computer while I fixed up my side of the room. There was nothing personal on my side. It didn’t scream This is Rachael Wilder’s Room! It could have been any girl’s room on any campus at any school. The day that ruined my life effectively stripped me of my identity. I ghosted along, a fragment of the girl I used to be. I think my parent’s had hoped college would snap me out of this ‘phase’, but day one was a resounding failure.
“I like your comforter,” Thea said, looking over at my side of the room.
I eyed her bubblegum confection of a bedspread and looked down at my gray and yellow one. “Yeah, it’s the life of the party.”
She let out a laugh and looked around at all the pink. “I guess we can’t all be as bright and colorful.”
“And thank God for that,” I cracked a smile, smoothing my hand over the bedspread before sitting down. “One of us has to be tame.”
“So,” she bit her lip, closing the lid on her laptop, “I was wondering if you’d want to go to a pool party with me?”
I narrowed my eyes. “How on earth is there already a party at this place? Isn’t today the first move-in day?”
“It’s not tonight,” she corrected me. “It’s Sunday, and it’s kind of a big deal around here. Only certain people get to go, because it’s invite only. Since my brother is, well my brother, I was invited, but I won’t know anyone but him and his friends and I don’t want to be alone. Please, come?”
A pool party was not my thing, and I hadn’t worn a bikini in a year. Looking at her pitiful face and pleading eyes made it impossible to say no.
“Fine, I’ll go on one condition,” I warned, staring her down so she didn’t get too excited.
“Thank you! Whatever it is, I don’t care!” She clapped her hands together.
“I’m not swimming,” I told her. “I can’t swim,” I added, to avoid any possible questions about why I didn’t want to swim.
“What do you mean you can’t swim?” Her perky nose scrunched together. “Everyone knows how to swim.”
“Not me,” I sighed. I could swim, but I wasn’t the strongest swimmer. The real reason for not swimming had more to do with not wanting anyone to see the scar on my abdomen than with my weak swimming abilities.
She frowned. “Well, that’s fine. Most girls lounge around anyway or at least that’s what my brother said, but he probably just doesn’t want me to wear a bikini. He gets all pissy when guys look at me,” she rolled her eyes. “Typical brother.”
I didn’t have a brother, so I didn’t know. I shrugged, because she seemed to want some kind of response.
Thea stood from her bed and stretched her stiff muscles. “I’m starving. Do you want to grab something to eat?”
Food. I’d completely forgotten about dinner…and lunch for that matter. All I’d had at breakfast was an apple. My mom would’ve clucked her tongue and given me a lecture for already failing to take care of myself on the first day of school.
I was a bit afraid to agree to go with Thea, though. Despite my warning, she seemed all too eager to band together and become besties.
But I’d hate myself if, God forbid, I let her go by herself and something awful happened to her. I didn’t need a fourth death on my hands. Yes, fourth.
“Fine,” I agreed grumpily. “Let’s go.”
She smiled and tucked a piece of her strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. She grabbed her purse—and guess what? It was pink. Of course. Its bright color was a stark contrast to my skull and crossbones messenger bag.
Thea and I headed to the dining hall. I was surprised when she didn’t fill every second with chatter. Instead, it was almost peaceful walking across campus with her at my side. She didn’t know who I was or what I had done. We were strangers and she couldn’t judge me for my sins. There was something comforting in that. For the last year I’d hated myself and the looks from others hadn’t helped in that—seeing the judgment in their eyes. My parents and therapist always assured me that what happened wasn’t my fault, but that was a lie. I might not have been in prison but I was stuck behind bars of my own creation.
I missed the old Rae—or Rachael as I was called then. I missed the girl that laughed and smiled with her friends. I missed the girl that loved her parents and didn’t resent them. I missed the girl that always looked for the positive in life. I missed everything about the old me, but I killed her when I killed them.
“Rae!” Thea called and I halted in my steps. I turned around to look at her and found her standing outside two glass double doors of a brick building. “The dining hall is this way,” she nodded at the building.
I backtracked hastily.
“It’s okay,” Thea smiled, despite the fact that I hadn’t apologized from my mistake, “I wouldn’t know where anything is if it wasn’t for my brother.” She opened the door and I followed behind her.
“You talk about your brother a lot, don’t you?” I commented, heading to the counter. I wrinkled my nose in distaste at the cheeseburger they were serving for dinner. If that was a cheeseburger than I was a duck. I picked up a bowl of salad. That seemed like the safer of the two options. Thea picked that as well.
I followed her to a table and took the seat across from her.
“I love my brother, so why wouldn’t I talked about him?”
I lifted my head, confused at first until I realized she was answering my question. I shrugged indifferently and took a bite of salad.
“You don’t talk much,” she stared at me.
I shrugged again. “I don’t have much to say.”
“Everyone has something to say.” She countered with a raised brow.
She sighed heavily and tossed her salad around with the fork. She was growing frustrated with me and I didn’t blame her. If roles were reversed and I had to deal with me I’d get huffy too.
After a few minutes of tense silence she spoke. Her pale green eyes seared me as she stared at me, her lips turned down in a frown. “You know, we don’t have to be best friends but we do have to live together. We should at least try to make it as civil as possible and try to get along.”
“I thought I was trying,” I grumbled. I looked away from her eyes and began to pick at the silvery polish on my nails.
She blew out a breath, causing her bangs to flutter against her forehead. Finally she cracked a smile. “If that’s what you call trying then you’re doing a pretty lousy job.”
“So…I don’t get an A for effort?”
“Definitely not.” She rested her head in her hand. “No stickers for you.”
“Stickers?” I asked with a raised brow.
“Yeah,” she laughed, and it was light and musical sounding. “You know, like teachers give school kids stickers when they do something good.”
I screwed my face up in displeasure. “What kind of school did you go to? No,” I held up finger, “let me guess, some preppy private school.”
Her cheeks turned pink—her favorite color, how appropriate.
“How’d you know?” She asked.
I narrowed my eyes at her fancy clothes. “You have rich kid written all over you.”
I left out the part that I was one of those rich kids. I just didn’t dress or act like it anymore.
“Is it really that obvious?” She paled, her hands fluttering over her body.
It was almost funny. Almost.
“No,” I said to put her out of her misery. It really wasn’t as obvious as I made it sound, but since I came from an upper-class family I could always pick out people who ran in the same circles.
“Oh good.” She visibly relaxed and we finished our meal in silence.
It had been twilight when we left our dorm but on the way back it was completely dark. Luckily, there were lights every few feet so you didn’t have to worry about monsters lurking in the shadows. I don’t know why I was worried. After all, all the monsters lived inside me now.
“I’m going to bed,” Thea announced when we stepped into our room, “it’s been a long day.”
I nodded in agreement. She grabbed some pajamas and went to change in the bathroom. We were lucky that our bathroom was only shared between the two of us. I wouldn’t have been pleased if we’d had to share with another dorm. I didn’t like people in my space and it was bad enough that I’d been stuck with a double.
I’d begged my parents to pull some strings to get me a single, but they refused. They told me I needed to stop locking myself away in suffering and make new friends. “Live your life, Rachael,” my mom told me before I left, her hands on my shoulders, “just because they’re dead doesn’t mean you are.”
But she was wrong. I was dead.