Chapter IV

And with the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes.
                            -William Shakespeare “Macbeth”

Something wasn’t right. Something was extremely far from right, actually. Something was very, very wrong.
    Norie had just turned the corner onto her street, and had stopped suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk. Which, of course, wasn’t a very good idea. Three pedestrians and a biker all had to swerve violently to avoid hitting her, but Norie didn’t care.
    There was a car in front of her apartment building.
    And there really shouldn’t be.
    Slowly, Norie started walking towards the door to the building, eyeing the car all the way. Yes, it was the car she thought it was, but what was it doing here?
    Norie got into the elevator and punched the number for her floor. The elevator dinged and she stepped out and over to the door of her apartment. She dug her keys out of her bag and turned them in the lock.
    She opened up the door and found —
    — exactly what she was expecting.
    There was a blonde woman sitting nervously on the sofa in the living room. She looked up at Norie with piercing eyes and smiled.
    “Norber —”
    ”Don’t say it,” Norie interrupted, more out of habit than actual recognition of the situation.
    The woman looked taken back.
    “What do you want?” Norie asked, rudely.
    “I came to see you,” the woman said. “Can’t I do that?”
    The woman looked nervous once again. “There are things that we should talk about.”
    “Yes, there are,” Norie said. “But I highly doubt that the things that you want to talk about are the same things that I want to talk about. And I’m certain they will not include the same word choice.”
    “Norbertta —”
    Norie clenched her jaw. “I told you not to call me that!”
    “Young lady, do not use that tone with me. Norbertta is your name. It’s very beautiful —”
    Norie shook her head. “We are not having this conversation right now.”
    Just then, the door to the apartment opened again.
    “Dad?” Norie asked, puzzled.
    “Hello.” His tone told Norie that he too had seen the car before he came in. Which meant that he too knew what he was walking into. Because both of them knew, as well as the other, that she couldn’t be here for any good reason.
    “What are you doing home this early?” Norie asked her father, temporarily side tracked from the surprise visitor in her living room.
    “I have an early meeting tomorrow, so they let me off early. I left a message,” he said, gesturing towards the phone. And sure enough the voice mail light was blinking. Norie looked at her father, who was staring back at her.
    “Norie, why don’t you do to your room and start on your homework,” her father said. “I get the feeling that this might take awhile.”
    Norie’s eyes widened and she looked at her father with outrage. She was being sent from the room? She stared at her dad, but he was relentless. Finally she surrendered and headed to her room. She glared at her mother as she went, until her mother looked away.
    In true red-blooded teenager fashion, Norie slammed her door.
    Norie grabbed a throw pillow and huddled up by the door, with her ear pressed to the wood. Her father could make her leave the room for the fight, but he couldn’t stop her from listening.
    But maybe he could. Her father must have foreseen Norie’s plan because he kept the argument at a low volume. Norie finally gave up, throwing the pillow against the wall. She sat down on her bed, glowering. She couldn’t believe that she was being left out of this.
    When sulking wasn’t good enough, Norie decided that she needed to rant. And she knew just who to call. Her older brother, Aiden, who was away at university in America. He was the only one who would get it.
    Plus, he was 2,000 miles away, and a trans-continental phone bill would be just the revenge Norie wanted on her father for making her sit in her room.
    Norie dialed the familiar numbers and waited as the phone rang.
    “Hey, baby sister,” Aiden said, laughing. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?” Aiden had always been a joker. But right not, Norie had more important things on her mind.
    “Aid, we’ve got a problem.”
    Aiden was quiet for a minute. “Uh-oh,” he finally said. “You’ve got mad voice.”
    Norie took a deep breath. “ Mom’s back.”

    The next morning Brina woke up, and she felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and also very surprised that she could think of such obscure adjectives to describe her mood.
    And then it hit her.
    She hadn’t had the dream. She hadn’t woken up in the middle of the night, sweaty and uneasy. In fact, Brina didn’t think that she had dreamed at all.
    Well, nice to know that things were back to normal.
    And they were, Brina’s routine went on like any other day. She took a shower, got dressed, grabbed something to eat, took the bus to school, ran from the bus stop, and yet still managed to be late.
    But there was something odd about today. Norie wasn’t waiting at Brina’s locker like she usually was. Norie’s father drove her to school in the morning, when he was on his way to work, and Norie always got to school before Brina did.
    Brina looked around, waiting for Norie to pop out of one of the rows of lockers, but she never showed up. Brina spent so much time looking for her, that when she heard the first period bell, she realized that she hadn’t even opened her locker yet. Brina rushed to her locker, whirled the lock, threw her stuff inside, then sprinted down to the gym.
    But, of course, she was still late. Brina was quickly learning that she might have a problem with punctuality.
    Coach McKellen, anticipating Brina’s tardiness was waiting in the hallway. Unfortunately, unlike Norie, Brina didn’t derive as much pleasure from watching the vein pulse on Coach McKellen’s forehead as Norie did. She, did, however, have to resist the urge to tell Coach McKellen that she probably got a better workout running to the gym than she usually got in the entire gym class. But some little voice in the back of her head warned her against it. And it was probably a good thing that she listened to it. 
    But if Brina thought that gym was bad without Norie, English was pure torture. As Mrs. Howling droned, Brina sat and stared out the window, careful not to make eye contact with Thomas. The kid seemed subdued enough, but Brina didn’t want to deal with him without Norie here. She still wasn’t sure what they were going to do about him.
    Brina made it through her next class, and then it was lunch time. Brina walked out of the classroom, and down the hallway, but instead of heading down to the cafeteria, Brina turned and walked straight out of the school.
    Of course, once Brina got outside, she realized what she was doing. She immediately swirled around to head back into the school, but she stopped. No, she had already come this far, she might as well go through with it.
    Brina walked down the sidewalk in front of the school. She got to the bus stop and she sat on the bench to wait for the next bus.
    As she waited, Brina worried. She worried about where Norie was, what was wrong, or what kind of trouble she had gotten herself into now. Brina worried a lot. Her mother often told her that her forehead was permanently wrinkled.
    The bus arrived, and Brina got on. The bus driver gave her a funny look, probably wondering what she was doing out of school, but seemed to get over it, and the bus started forward.
    Brina spent the majority of the ride trying not to think about all the horrible scenarios’s Norie could have gotten herself into.
    When the bus lurched to a stop, Brina hopped off and headed down the sidewalk to Norie’s apartment.
    Brina stood in front of the large door and pressed the button for apartment 8, Norie’s apartment. The intercom crackled and screeched when a voice finally came through from the other side.
    “Norie?” Brina asked.
    “Brina? What are you doing here?” Brina could barely make Norie’s voice out over the static.
    “Buzz me up, please, Norie.”
    “Buzz me up!”
    “Hold on.” The intercom screeched as it turned off. Then a buzzing noise assaulted Brina’s ears, causing her to cringe as she pulled the door open.
    Inside it was much quieter. There was a hum coming from someone’s air conditioning, and a soft jazz melody playing out from another apartment. Brina pressed the elevator button and stepped inside. She waited for the elevator to make the quick ascent to the second floor, tapping her foot in impatience and cursing the elevator music.
    Brina quickly got off the elevator and turned the corner, expecting to see a familiar door. But instead of wood and brass, she found Norie leaning against the door frame, waiting for her.
    She looked well enough, a little tired maybe, but mobile and alive, which was more than Brina hoped for.
    “What are you doing here?” Brina could tell that Norie didn’t mean this in a mean way, she was just surprised.
    Brina shrugged. “I came to see you.”
    “Oh.” Norie paused. Then a small smile started to form on her lips. “You do know that today is a school day, right?”
    “Yes,” Brina told her, proudly. “I left school to come and see you.”
    Norie shook her head in open disbelief. She pressed her hand to her chest, saying, “You left school to come and check on moi?” Norie stopped and smiled more naturally now. “Wow. I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally corrupted the incorruptible. I am amazing.”
    Brina laughed and shoved Norie back into the apartment.
    Norie shut the door behind them. “So, Brina, how does it feel to be bad?” She asked, holding out a pretend microphone.
    Brina grinned again, but recovered quickly. She looked at Norie seriously. “Why weren’t you at school?”
    Norie froze for an instant. Her smile fell, but only for half a second. It was so fast that Brina couldn’t tell if it really happened or if it was merely a figment of her imagination.
    “I just felt like taking a day off,” Norie explained. She flashed Brina a quirky smile, but this one didn’t make it all the way throughout her face.
    Something was wrong, and Brina knew it. She looked Norie over again, paying more attention to detail this time.
    She was clearly still in her pajama’s, her hair was tangled, and she wasn’t wearing any makeup.  Her fake smile was still painted on her face, and when Brina followed it she realized what was off.
    Her eyes.
    Norie’s eyes weren’t right.
    Physically, Norie did look fine, but Brina missed Norie’s eyes on her initial inspection. She had been to preoccupied checking to make sure that her friend still had all her limbs. But now that Brina looked more closely, she saw that Norie’s eyes weren’t the bright, luminous gems that they usually were. They were softer, duller.
    Norie’s eyes had always been disconcerting, even to someone who saw them as often as Brina. They were such an odd, off-putting color that you couldn’t help but stare into them. The deep indigo color was intriguing, and it was usually vibrant and expressive. But not today.
    “What’s really wrong?” Brina asked, solemnly. She looked at Norie in a way that told her that avoiding the question was not an option.

    Norie knew she was caught. She closed her eyes and sighed. She looked up into Brina concerned blue eyes.
    “My mom came back.”
    Brina blinked, not knowing how to respond. “Your mom?” She tried out the words, not having used them that way in a long time.
    Norie nodded.
    “Last night. She was here when I got home from school. Something happened between her and my dad, but he made me go to my room.”
    That was a big deal. Norie’s father never sent her to her room. He and Norie were close, and she was hardly ever punished.
    Norie was well aware of this too. Even more aware than Brina. She knew that only special circumstances would cause her father to ask her to leave. She was privy to anything and everything she wanted to be in this apartment. Secrets weren’t really allowed or desired.
    “So, you don’t even know why she’s back?”
    Norie shook her head. “She might have tried to tell me, but you know me and listening.”
    Brina knew what she meant only too well. “So you just decided to skip school today? What is your father going to do?”
    Norie shrugged. She looked guilty, but not remorseful. “My father had an early meeting today, so he was gone before I got up. And he’ll be back late as well, so I don’t see any reason that he needs to find out.” Norie paused for a second, thinking. “But if he does, who cares? When my estranged mother comes back, I’m expected to be upset and distraught. And I think that warrants a day off from school.”
    Brina thought about this as well. It made sense enough to her, but how would it be received by the parents? She fully intended to tell her parents that Norie had been in psychological pain and required her support. That seemed like a good enough reason to her, but Brina had learned that what seemed like a good alibi to a teenager, may not sound like a good alibi to the parent.
    But, well, Brina’s parents would just have to deal with it. Brina never did anything wrong. This was the first time she’d had ever skipped school. Norie had been skipping it sporadically for years, but, until now, Brina had always resisted.
    But today, today she had known. Known that Norie had needed her.
    And Norie did need her, no matter how much she denied it. She didn’t have to say it, Brina knew that Norie was glad that she was there.

    Norie was generally an expressive person but she was also excellent at bottling her feelings up. Things were generally written all across her face, but when she was really, truly upset about something, she was able to bury it deep inside, where it would slowly strangle her.
    Sure, that sounded morbid, but, well, she wasn’t really in a cheery sort of mood.
    She and Aiden had talked for awhile yesterday. They didn’t really formulate a plan or anything, but they talked about the situation. There was nothing that they could really do, they decided, but wait until things played out further.
    And Norie hated that. She hated waiting. She hated having no control. She hated her mother for coming and dredging everything back up again. She hated it all.
    Norie hadn’t spoken to her father since he had banished her to her room last night. She heard her mother leave, and she heard him coming towards her door, but she flicked off the light and pretended to sleep. She didn’t want to have that conversation with him again.
    Norie knew that she was acting childish and peevish, but she didn’t want to act mature or grownup. Because if she did, she would have to be calm and rational, two emotions that were nonexistent in her.
    And it wasn’t that she didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t scared of not knowing how to act, what to say. Norie knew exactly what to say. She just didn’t want to say it.
    But she didn’t need to think about all of that right now. Right now, her life could be just the way it always was. Her mother wasn’t there and Norie could just forget about her.
    Norie looked up and smiled at Brina, who was sitting at the kitchen table. She was so grateful that she was here. It was very un-Brina-like for her to skip school like this, but Norie was glad she had.
    Sometimes Norie felt like only Aiden and Brina truly understood her. Her father and her got along, but Norie couldn’t tell him anything. Her brother and her best friend were her only two, true confidantes. And with Aiden 2,000 miles away, well, Norie had to trust Brina inexplicitly.
    Norie closed her eyes and screwed up her lips, trying to focus on something less intense then her soap opera life.
    “How did you sleep last night?” She asked Brina.
    Brina looked surprised — and suspicious — to report, “I slept fine actually. I didn’t dream at all.”
    “Good,” Norie said.
    Brina nodded, but she didn’t look like she meant it. Norie wasn’t sure what was bugging Brina so much about this dream, but apparently it was pretty serious. It took a lot to fluster Brina.
    Norie wanted to know what it was that the dream was about, but she also didn’t want to bring the subject up anymore, especially if the dream was going away.
    But she couldn’t shake the odd feeling she had about her friend. Something wasn’t right with either of them.
    And maybe that’s what Norie hated most of all, the fact that things were changing. Her life had been really good, and now it all appeared to be falling apart.

    Norie Malin wasn’t at school today. This bit of information was mesmerizing to Thomas. He couldn’t stop wondering where she was. It wasn’t any of his business, and he didn’t think that he actually cared about why, it was more that he just wanted to know.
    Norie was such a strange girl, such a unique person. Thomas hadn’t known her for very long, but he still couldn’t picture her sick. No, she didn’t strike him as the diseased type at all. It was possibly more probable that she had merely ditched school. Now, that did seem like something Norie Malin would do.
    Of course, Thomas had no idea what was really keeping Norie away from school. He was right in his assumption that she was not sick. He was also right in his evaluation of Norie’s health history. She had never gotten sick. Anytime that she missed school it was for sheer enjoyment.
    This was all unbeknownst to Thomas, of course, but his lack of knowledge didn’t stop him from pondering what it was, exactly, that was keeping Norie from Pala High School.
    Of course, Thomas wasn’t regarding the situation with even a sliver of seriousness, so all of his scenarios were centered around ninjas or secret spies.
    English was much calmer without Norie there, but also less interesting. Her sidekick, Brina, seemed upset. Maybe she didn’t know where Norie was either.
    All through English the awareness of the empty seat next to him nagged at Thomas. He finally worked up the courage to ask Brina about it at lunch, but he couldn’t find her in the cafeteria.
    Or anywhere else for the rest of the day.
    But what really bothered Thomas was how much that bother him. He didn’t need to know where they were. He didn’t care what they were doing.
    Or at least that was what he was telling himself.
    If he was going to be honest with himself, he would say that he really was curious. Because, despite his previous interactions with Norie, he still felt compelled by her. Not necessarily in a romantic way, but rather just in a general interest. He thought she was fascinating.
    But, only if he was being honest with himself.
    And Thomas Foster was hardly ever honest. Even with himself.   

    That night, Brina’s house was insane. Her parents seemed to be spending even more time at work —  was that possible? —  and it was just Brina and her siblings. The nanny was taking the day off, and Brina was in way over her head.
    Maura was screaming, George was coloring the floor, and Hale was nowhere to be found. Brina let out an exasperated breath and headed for the stairs.
    “Hale! I know you’re up there! You better get down here, NOW!” she shrieked.
    Then she stormed into the kitchen and picked George up off the floor, kicking the crayons under the table. She strapped George into his highchair and set off the wrangle Maura.
    Hale materialized in the kitchen as Brina was dragging Maura in.
    “Where have you been?”
    Hale shrugged. “Around.”
    Brina shook her head. “Whatever. Take Maura while I figure out what to make for dinner. Any preferences?”
    Hale’s response was sarcastic. “Food.”
    Brina rolled her eyes. “Great.”
    Brina rummaged through the pantry, digging up some cans of soup. She wasn’t a very imaginative cook, but she could make soup. Brina kept Hale in charge of the younger siblings as she heated up the chicken and noodles.
    Dinner that night was different than normal. They ate in the kitchen, which was never allowed.  But Brina didn’t care. Her parents weren’t home, so their rules shouldn’t apply.
    Brina was shocked that she thought that. It was so much more like something Norie would say, or think, rather.
    Thomas came home that afternoon to an empty house, which was not uncommon.
    Thomas’ father was not what you might call a patient man. He wasn’t quite as bad as Norie, but he just had to be constantly moving. And to him, moving equaled work. He would only come home at night, usually late and the state of his mood varied.
    Thomas’ mother had died in a car crash on April 15th, 1991. She had been driving him home from day care. Thomas had been one at the time, and sitting in the back seat. He was the sole survivor.
     The car that had slammed into them head on had been driven by an eighteen year old who was going home from soccer practice. His girlfriend had been in the seat next to him. Both were killed. The girlfriend, a young girl named Vanessa Cole, had died instantly.
    The death of Julian Vincent Reyes was a bit more mysterious. He had been unconscious, but alive, when he had been pried out of the black BMW.  A helicopter had air lifted him to a hospital specializing in head trauma. It looked like he was going to make a full recovery. But on May 3rd, he died. The doctor’s had no idea why. An autopsy had never been performed; apparently his parents were religious in the extreme.
    This wasn’t something that Thomas brought up around his father. He didn’t even keep a shoe box or anything filled with the articles. He had long since memorized this information. He, unlike his father, didn’t deal with his grief by shoving it aside and cramming his schedule with everything imaginable. On the contrary, Thomas thought about his mother a lot.
    He wasn’t supposed to, he knew that. Not that his father had ever come right out and said it, but, like most male rules, it was unwritten and unspoken.
    Thomas and his father got along, most of the time. Thomas wasn’t a model child, but, then again, Thomas’ father had never been a model dad. So they got along pretty well.
    When he was old enough, Thomas started collecting newspaper clippings and pictures, anything that had to do with his mother. Thomas was only six, but he understood he mother was never coming back, ever. He never brought it up around his father, hadn’t in over 10 years. Eventually he threw out all the newspaper clippings about the accidents, everything he had saved of her. But it didn’t help. He could remember everything. He could still remember it all.

    It didn’t take Brina long to open her eyes. Her room looked exactly the way that she thought it would, dark and much too clean.
    The familiar voice was pleased with her tonight. Maybe because she was answering so quickly, responding faster than before.
    Brina knew that she should stay still, not move to see where the voice was coming from, but what was the use? She knew what would happen, might as well get it over with.
    Brina sat up quickly, and felt herself start to sink through the mattress. She closed her eyes again, waiting as she moved through the bed.

    The voice was different. Shrill now, not the silky tone that it had been before. It was even more familiar. Brina’s eyes flew open as she recognized this new voice.
    Brina tried to crane her neck to find her friend, but the blankets pushed her down, against her pillows, smothering her.
    She fell through the bed, granting her air, but sending her into a free fall.
    The light below her was brighter, and the heat was greater. But, just as she thought the light would blind her, and the heat would burn her, the cool arms were around her and she was flying away from the light.
    There were objects in the abyss around her. They twirled and spun, flitting through the air. They were even less clear than before, just blurry things floating in the darkness. The more Brina tried to focus on them, the less clear they became. One darted near Brina. She reached her hand out to catch it, but the frigid arms that held her lifted her away.

    Brina turned to ask what the flying objects were, forgetting the path her dream would take when she did this. As her eyes moved to look at who carried her, the light blazed up from below. Brina shut her eyes instinctively, and when she opened them-
    —  she was awake.
    Brina blinked at her clock: 4:30 am. She rolled over and buried her face in her pillow, resisting the urge to scream into it. This needed to stop.
    Brina didn’t really believe in the supernatural. She didn’t think that her dreams could tell her things. How could her subconscious know or understand something that her regular conscious couldn’t? It just didn’t make any sense.
    But, what other explanation was there for this dream? Why did it keep coming back? Dreams weren’t suppose to do that. They were suppose to occur, and then be locked away in a vault with all the other nocturnal fables Brina’s mind had conjured up. They were like Kleenex. You use them once, and then you throw they away. You don’t keep using the same Kleenex over and over again. That would be gross.
    And that was what this dream was to Brina. A nasty, all-ready-been used Kleenex that needed to be thrown away.
    The problem was it keep jumping out of the trash can.

The End

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