Hallie is an ordinary girl. Quiet, solitary, and bearing a soul-crushing sadness, she isn't sure she has much left to live for. Until a chance meeting with a stranger turns her world upside down and has her questioning who and what she is, as well as whether her life is worth fighting for.
The steady pitter patter of rain beating down against my bedroom window thudded out the acoustics of my morning. Why did it have to rain? I sighed, glancing at myself in the mirror. Plain. Average. Boring. Being plain, average, and boring kept me out of trouble, though, and for that I had to be thankful, but it also kept me out of anything interesting. Like parties. Spring break road trips. Extracurricular clubs.
Another sigh ghosted across my lips as I pulled my hair up into a ponytail, the hazel strands just brushing my shoulders. I’d tried putting blonde in it once to make it more interesting, but it hadn’t suited me.
A quick glance at my umbrella sitting mangled in the corner of my room, the spokes sticking out an unnatural angles like broken bones, told me I was in for a wet morning. God bless freak thunderstorms, right?
I shrugged on my winter coat—a great big fur-trimmed parka with more stuffing than one person could ever need—and hefted my backpack over my shoulders, the thing weighing me down like a boulder made of calculus and English assignments. The thing that kept me tethered to an empty house and an empty life.
I didn’t bother saying goodbye as I left—it was only my dad and me, and Dad was away on business in California. I didn’t know when he was going to be back. I rarely did until I came home from school and found him in the kitchen cooking dinner already. But I didn’t mind. Much. He’d thrown himself into work when my mom died, and while it sucked not having him around most of the time, I could understand why he’d done it.
He always told me I looked just like her. I never believed it—I’d seen pictures of her, and she was far more beautiful than I was—but it hurt less to say that was why he wasn’t around much. I can’t say that I would have done the same, but I understood, and the moments that we did have together were all the more precious for it.
Pulling the hood of my parka up, the first globule of rain splattered against my sneaker, soaking the material and my foot underneath it. Today was going to be a shitty day, I could already tell.
Four miles and one hour later, I finally arrived at Apollo’s Arrow High School, looking every bit as much of a drowned rat as I felt. The high school sat like a sleeping giant, the shadow of the three storey building blotting out the grey skyline and what little sun braved its way through the thick, black clouds. I don’t think there was anyone in the whole of Apollo’s Arrow that enjoyed seeing the antique building. I couldn’t help the envy that flowed through me as I watched the other kids get out of their nice dry cars, while I could do nothing but hope the spare pair of sneaker I’d stuffed in my back were still remotely dry. Given the thorough drenching the rest of me had gotten, though, I highly doubted that was the case.
I squelched my way down the corridor to my locker, staying well out of the way and off everybody’s radar. That was another perk of being plain, average, and boring—there were always easier and more interesting targets to pick on. Bullying had never been something I’d had to deal with, but neither had being included in things. I was just overlooked. My homeroom teacher had even called me Annie for most of the school year, and had only recently learned it was Hallie.
I stuffed my backpack in my locker and pulled out a few textbooks, all of them drenched beyond repair. I guess that teaches me for trying to study at home, huh? Wedged between the pages of one of them was my algebra homework, which was now a soggy mess of mulched paper and bleeding ink. Shit. You know when you’re just having one of those days that make you want to curl up into a ball and cry? Yeah, today was one of those days.
“Where’s your homework, Hallie?” asked Mr. Davis, my algebra teacher.
Everyone else had handed theirs in, the sheets of paper stacked in a neat pile on the corner of Mr. Davis’ desk. And mine? Mine sat decomposing in the trash where it belonged. I’d tried to salvage it and copy my answers down onto another piece of paper, but the rain had warped it so badly that most of it was completely and utterly illegible. I’d hoped he wouldn’t notice mine was missing from the pile, but I was already having the day from hell, and it seemed the universe was conspiring to make it even worse.
“It got soaked in the rain. I had to throw it away,” I said meekly, not meeting his bespectacled gaze but rather looking just above it at his forehead. His hair. The chalkboard behind him. Anything but his eyes.
“That’s very convenient, Miss Brady,” he said, rising to his feet and ready to stalk over to my desk.
At six foot five, he was the tallest and subsequently the most intimidating teacher in the whole school. If you’d done something wrong and he stood up to his full height, you knew you were in big trouble.
“I know, right?” I laughed weakly. Everyone’s eyes were on me now, and the attention had my voice catching in my throat, cold sweat beginning to bead on my already damp skin, still wet from the storm. “I can do it again, Mr. Davis, I just need a new copy of the questions.”
“Couldn’t you have borrowed it from a friend?” he asked.
My mouth went dry. Everyone was staring. I thought I even saw a couple people whispering, but I could have imagined it. My tongue felt heavy and thick in my mouth, and rough like it was coated in sandpaper.
“Uh, no, Mr. Davis, I couldn’t,” I managed out just barely.
I made the mistake of glancing away from Mr. Davis’ chestnut haloed head to come face to face with Morrigan Gray and her infamous icy stare. That was the final nail in the coffin. Morrigan was one of those people who are just effortlessly cool. She wore the crown of ‘most popular girl in school’ and she’d never even really spoken to anyone. Maybe that was what made her so cool—the fact that she didn’t care.
I couldn’t seem to tear myself away from her stare, her brown eyes so dark they were almost black. I had never been on her radar before, but I had certainly gotten her attention now. A wave of nausea rushed over me at the thought of it, and it was a struggle to keep my breakfast down. And I highly doubted anyone wanted to see the remnants of a half digested bowl of oatmeal.
Mr. Davis sighed, snapping me out of my trance. Most of the class had lost interest by then, but I could still feel Morrigan staring at me, like she was boring a hole in the back of my head with her gaze alone.
“I’m not happy about this, Hallie,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose and adjusting his glasses in one move. “You can stay after school today to make it up.”
“But Mr. Davis-”
“No buts. It’s this or detention.”
I sank back in my seat, and Mr. Davis went back to teaching, I couldn’t focus on the class. I was still too worked up about Morrigan staring at me, and now I had to worry about getting my algebra homework finished in enough time after school. I was sure Mr. Davis would keep me there for as long as it took, but I had a deadline of my own. Sunset.
I’m not scared of the dark, and it’s not like there was anyone around to enact a curfew for me, but there was a walk through a forest to get back to my house. Not a very big forest, in the grand scheme of things, but still dense enough that it gave me the creeps after dark. The town of Apollo’s Arrow often went unnoticed because of it, because the thick ring of trees encircled the entire town. The richest people in town lived way out on the outskirts, in big houses with manicured lawns and white picket fences. Pristine rosebushes. Pools in the backyard.
Those less fortunate lived in the centre of town, usually around Sunset Square, in smaller houses. Some of them are old fashioned Victorian terraced houses, but I’ve never seen anyone coming in or out of them. As for Dad and me? We lived somewhere in between, the grey area of the real estate world. Our house was small and secluded, buried in the middle of the forest. Dad said it was because he liked his own company and didn’t want other people knocking on the door whenever they pleased, but I’d always had my doubts. Not that I ever voiced them to him.
But the idea of walking through that forest by myself in the dark wasn’t really a comforting one…