kaleidoscope, kaleidoscope excerpts

My birthday present to YOU

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You're welcome.

7 days...

(I can't say that without thinking of The Ring...7 days....)

Chapter One

            The thumping in my chest woke me bright and early, pulsing so strongly it pounded in my ears.  It branched out, streaming down my arms and legs, beating steadily through every vein and artery in my body.
Who needs an alarm clock when yours is internal?  But it wasn’t just some internal alarm clock.  It was a sensation I knew couldn’t be normal; shouldn’t be normal.  Yet it was a part of me.  Something I expected every day.  It was followed by this strange impulse to get out of my house and be outside.  Once I felt the breeze lick through my hair and my lungs filled with the fresh scent of nature, the pulsing would subside, but I still wouldn’t be sure what I was supposed to do.  The cool blaze in my veins would diminish and I would be at peace. 
Momentarily.
            I dragged myself out of bed and looked at my alarm clock on the nightstand.  Six o’clock.  I didn’t have to be up for school for another thirty minutes, but it was pointless to go back to sleep.  Not that the pulsing would let me anyway.
            Growing up I hadn’t realized the pulsing wasn’t normal until one day when I mentioned it to Cameron.  We were eleven years old at the time and had been playing cards at my kitchen table when the subtle pulsing started in my veins.  I looked over at him and told him I needed to go outside for a minute. 
He gave me a strange look as I excused myself.  When I came back inside he asked, “What was that about?” 
“The pulsing was getting annoying.  I needed some air.”  I shrugged.
His eyebrows scrunched together and he told me I was crazy.  After that I never mentioned it to anyone.  My parents had never questioned it before so I assumed it was normal. 
I know differently now. 
It seemed to only get stronger as I grew older.  What started out as a subtle itch now felt like another vital organ—only stronger because it made its presence known in the center of my chest every minute of every hour of every day.
            I hopped in the shower, letting the cool water wash away the urge and clear the fog in my brain.  It didn’t work, but it was worth a shot.  When I got back to my room I aimed for the next best thing—the window that overlooked our backyard into a deep forest of Walhalla. 
Once I shoved it open and took a deep breath, the thumping began to withdraw, beginning with my fingers and toes, then slowly traveling to the source in my chest.  It took a few moments, but finally the pulsing was satisfied. 
For the time being.

            White light shimmered around his face and a chorus of angelic voices burst out in a sweet melody when he turned in his chair to face me. 
Technically, that didn’t happen, but it might as well have.  That’s how my mind saw it.
It was that day in my third period science class that I knew I found true love. 
A week into our sixth grade year Cameron asked me to be his partner for a science project and I knew there was no turning back.  We were going to live happily ever after.  Most don’t believe you even know what love is at the ripe old age of eleven or that you can even find your true love at that age, but they’re wrong.  I was living, breathing proof of you could.
Almost seven years later, we stood by our neighboring lockers on the first day of our senior year and I watched him tuck a piece of Isla’s golden hair behind her ear and stare lovingly into her annoyingly sparkly blue eyes.  His smile spread widely on his face as she whispered something in his ear.  Obviously it was something hilarious because he started to laugh that heartwarming, stomach tingling, contagious laugh—a laugh that whether the joke was funny or not, you laughed because it felt good to laugh with him.  You wanted to hear him laugh more.
Isla was different from the others.  She was real.  No fake tans or pounds of make-up.  She didn’t gossip or flaunt her perfect cheer body.  She didn’t make you want to poke out your eyes with her abbreviation of every other word.  You know my BFF, Tiff, totally needs a BF for real.
Cameron had gone through many, many…many girls, but none of them were like Isla.  It didn't take much to see the difference.  I saw it in the way he smiled.  I’d been friends with him long enough to know I’d never seen that smile before.  And it scared me.  I had been waiting patiently for that smile.  I knew it was in there somewhere being reserved for that special someone and had waited years for it to be directed at me. 
“Callie.” Cameron waved his hand in front of my face. 
Oh, great.  How long had he been doing that?
“Cal,” he said a little bit louder, looking at me like I was an idiot.
I could still see little Cameron in his face.  It was all in the eyes.  They never changed, still the penetrating sapphire I fell into that first day.  Though his baby fat cheeks had thinned out into a chiseled jaw and his light blonde hair was a little darker and a little shaggier, he was still the Cameron I fell for on day one.
“What?” I responded irritably pretending I had heard him say my name over and over again and was agitated to be interrupted from whatever I was doing.  What had I been doing?  Staring?  I so was.  I cringed inwardly and gave myself a mental scolding for zoning out.
“Isla and I are heading to class.  We’ll see you at lunch.” 
“Yeah.  Whatever.  Cool.”  I attempted to feign indifference.
He nodded, his hair flickering across his forehead and tossed a wave before wrapping his arm snugly around Isla, escorting her down the hall.  She giggled, her head leaning into him as he nuzzled his face into her neck, whispering sweet nothings.  Well, they were probably sweet nothings. 
My heart sank a little.
Isla looked over her shoulder and smiled genuinely at me, delicately waving.  “See you later, Calliope.” 
I despised the fact that I couldn’t even hate her.  She was too gracious.  Nothing like Myra or Dana or Blair or any other skank Cam had been with—girls that made themselves easy to hate.
“Bye, Isla,” I said as politely as I could manage. 
I couldn’t even bring myself to be semi-snarky with her.  She didn’t deserve it.  It unnerved me.  She was hard to hate even if she was with the boy I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with.  It made me want to gag.  I had to believe that I would get my turn.  I convinced myself there was still time.
My classes dragged on, as one would expect on a first day, teachers droning over the syllabus and about what was expected throughout the year.  The expectations were tripled as a senior since there were no second chances if you wanted to get into a great college and graduate with the rest of your classmates.  I wasn’t really worried about that.  I’d get into some college close by.  Some place I could keep an eye on Cam.
I felt protective of him.  Not as a form of jealousy—though I knew it was a tiny part—but because aside from his dad, I was the only constant in his life.  And I planned to stay that way.  He needed me just as much as I needed him, even if he didn’t see it the way I did; even if I were more of a best friend/sister in his eyes than someone he could spend the rest of his life with.

My eyes were initially blinded when I walked outside for lunch.  I blinked away the brightness, waiting for my eyes to adjust.  I breathed in the sunlight, the warmth soaking into my body, nourishing my skin with its touch. 
“Hey, Callie,” Lia greeted, falling into step beside me. 
            “Lia,” I said.  “Hey.” 
            “We own this school this year.  Doesn’t it feel great?  We are no longer the underclassmen.  We’re finally on top.  This is our year.  Our lastyear.” 
            “Yeah.  Feels good, huh?” I said with half of the amount of excitement she oozed with. 
            Lia sighed happily.  So good.”  She linked her arm through mine.  “How’s your first day so far?” 
            “Overwhelming.  But I only have one more period and then I’m done for the day.” 
            “Jealous!  I should have taken extra classes with you last year.” 
            “As if you could have added that to your pile of AP classes and extra college credit classes.”  She shrugged.  “I’m really glad I did though.  It’ll help this year fly by.” 
I caught sight of Cameron and Isla sitting under a shady oak tree, playfully shoving each other and laughing.  I wanted to throw up.  That should be me—but less nauseating.
            “I can’t believe I dated him,” Lia muttered.
            It was my fault that they met in the first place.  Lia was new our freshman year and I figured I should be polite and introduce her to some people to make her feel welcome.  Cam, of course, jumped right on that bandwagon.  Her long dark red hair and big beautiful hazel eyes had him at “hello.”  Half of the school fawned over her and what I loved most about Lia was that the attention didn’t faze her.  She focused on getting into Harvard or Princeton or one of those Ivy League schools that I could only dream of.  Then she was bound for medical school to become some world-renowned surgeon that cured cancer or AIDS or some terminal illness.
            “To be honest I can’t believe you did either,” I chuckled.
            “A definite lapse in my judgment, but he looks so happy now.”  She followed my gaze.  “You doing okay with them?” 
            “Yup.” 
            “All right.”  Lia knew not to pry.  We were close enough that I never had to tell her about my feelings for Cameron.  She figured it out on her own.  It was also one of the reasons she had ended it with him, though it definitely wasn’t the only one.  And boy, did that throw Cam for a loop.  He got dumped?  That never happened.  But he was over it within a week when Blair Vander pounced on him at Jake Winter’s birthday bash the following weekend.
“He could do worse,” she encouraged.
            All I could do was nod.  He had done worse.  I should be happy for him, but I had never come second to a girlfriend before. 
            “Shall we sit or…?” 
            I cleared my throat.  “Yeah.  Let’s go.”  I thought about sitting with the lovebirds, but I already needed a break.  We headed to our own shady spot on the opposite side of the lawn, out of sight from Cameron and Isla.
           
The bell to my last period class rang and I heaved a sigh of relief.  One day down, only one hundred and seventy-nine days to go.  Putting it into a number like that only made it sound worse.
“Hey, Callie, you headed home?” 
I looked up to see Cameron without his second half.  “Yeah.” 
He draped his arm casually over my shoulder and leaned his head down to mine, smelling like his familiar fresh, soapy self.  “Can you do me a hugefavor?” 
“That depends.” 
Cameron had to know he had me wrapped around his finger.  I had tried my best to conceal my feelings, but I wasn’t sure how well that act worked.  We were two sides of the same coin.  We could practically finish one another’s sentences.  He had to know, didn’t he?
He rushed on.  “Isla has to stay after school for some mandatory cheer meeting or something and we drove to school together this morning because my jeep’s at my dad’s shop.  So…”
“You’re a little bit stranded.”  I looked up at him, arrested by his blue eyes.  I looked away to break the connection before it was too late and I showed him a glimpse of me. 
I could hear the partial smile in his voice.  “A little bit.” 
“What about your dad?”  It was a long shot and I knew it.
“He can’t leave the shop, you know that.  His mechanics are lost without him.” 
Cameron’s dad’s auto repair shop had become his life when Cameron’s mom left.  His dad ate, breathed, slept and drank cars.  Where did that leave Cameron?  It left him with me. 
Until Isla.
I let out a deep breath.  “You want me to go home and then come back and pick you up just to drive all the way back home,” I said dryly.
“C’mon, Cal, please?  Pretty please?” 
Cameron only lived a couple streets over from my house.  I knew I wasn’t going to say no.  He knew I wasn’t going to say no, but it was pleasurable to see him beg anyway. 
“Fine.” 
“Thanks!”  He planted a quick peck on my cheek.  “You’re the best.” 
“Tell me something I don’t know.” 
He laughed.  “I’ll see you in a couple hours.” 
I waved him away as I headed for the front of the school and to my car.
Throughout our high school years everyone had tried to tell us a boy and a girl couldn’t be best friends without some friction between them.  “There’s always some sort of sexual tension from one or both sides,” they’d say.  I’d casually brushed them off because I knew perfectly well they were right, but Cameron would laugh and wrap his arm playfully around me, hugging me so close to him I felt like I could melt into him and say, “Callie and I have done it so far.  Haven’t we, Cal?” crushing my heart more and more every time.
I’d nod and wryly say, “Who’d want to date this guy?” while inside I would be screaming, “Me!  Pick me!”
So desperately stupid, but such is my life.

            Before I went back to get Cameron I figured I would get a head start on some homework.  You would think teachers would at least give you a day to get back into the swing of things, but apparently there was no time to waste in order to get everything accomplished by graduation.  I had the first act of Macbeth to read through; an essay for home economics on what I thought it meant to be a parent; the first chapter of physics to get acquainted with; and my first worksheet of Calculus to work through without any instruction.  My calculus teacher wanted to get a feel for what we already knew.  As if I would be taking calculus if I already knew the subject. 
            I spread out a blanket on the grass in the backyard near our gnarly old oak tree to appreciate what sun I had left before evening came.  The tree swing hanging from the oak swayed slightly in the light breeze. 
Sometimes by going outside before the pulsing started I could beat it and lessen the urge.  There were few places that made me feel as relaxed as when I was near our trees.  It could have been the peaceful sound of the chirping birds or the fluttering leaves, but I could never place it.  It was like the warm river flowing through my veins craved to be among nature.  I knew it sounded weird, but I wasn’t sure how else to explain it.
I nibbled on an apple slice and flipped through my physics book, scanning the pages on matter.  There was a rustling in the woods, which normally wouldn’t startle me, but the breeze had stopped and it only came from the left side of the trees.  My gaze lifted to the forest lining the back of our property.  Our yard backed right up to preserved woodlands.  They stood silently now, undisturbed. 
I flicked the light of my cell phone on to check the time.  There was still an hour before I needed to leave to pick up Cameron.  I bowed my head down again, finding where I left off, trying to become enthralled with atoms and molecules and yada yada yada.
It wasn’t more than a minute when I heard the snap of a twig.  This time I sat up and scanned the grove of trees from one end to the other.  Animals heavy enough to snap a twig never came this close to civilization.  But everything was eerily quiet again.  No motion of the greenery or movement between them. 
Crack.  The branch of a tree creaked.  My eyes darted to the sound on the opposite side of the forest from where I heard the twig snap and yet all I saw were the soaring trees and thick shrubbery.
“Hello?” I asked uncertainly.  I sounded ridiculous, calling out into the forest at nothing.  But I felt something there.  Tentative footsteps sounded, growing fainter and fainter.  But I couldn’t see a thing.  I stood up to get a better view.  “Hello?” I asked with a little more confidence.  There had to be someone there.  And most likely I didn’t want to wait to find out who, but curiosity is like a plague, completely unavoidable.
“Calliope?” I gasped and spun to see my dad’s curious gaze from the back deck.  “What are you doing, sweetheart?” 
I fussed with my hair nonchalantly.  “Nothing.  Just working on some homework.” 
He looked at me skeptically, as if he didn’t believe me.  “Did you hear something out there?” 
“It was probably just some squirrels.”  Giant squirrels.
“Come on inside.  I really need to build a fence along those trees.  I don’t like you being out here like a sitting duck.  You never know what’s lurking in those woods.” 
I stood up and snagged my books and the quilt from the grass, tucking them under my arms, cell phone in hand.
“Let me help you,” Dad offered when I got to the deck, reaching for the blanket.
“Thanks.” 
“I forgot that you were getting out early this year.  I wanted to be here when you got home.” 
“It’s okay,” I said.  He rested his hand on my shoulder and kissed my forehead.
“I just had to run to the grocery real quick.” 
I nodded.  “What’s for dinner?” 
“I’m making vegetable lasagna.” 
“Cool.  Do you need help bringing in the groceries?” I asked and dropped my books on the kitchen table.
“I got them all,” he said.  “Thanks though.” 
“When’s Mom going to be home?” 
He opened the fridge and finished putting away the groceries.  “She’s going to have a late night tonight.  Probably won’t be home until after eight, big case she’s working on.  The trial is coming up in a few months.  I don’t know the details, but from the sounds of it, she’s prosecuting a man for horrendous things…child abuse, battery, murder, you name it.”  He shook his head and sighed.
Our family defied all family stereotypes.  My mom was a lawyer and my dad stayed home.  Not because he had to, but because he wanted to and my mom wanted to work.  He didn’t go to college.  She did.  She was in law school when they met. 
The lines were still blurry on how they met exactly.  My parents met in some park in North Carolina where my mom often studied during law school.  They noticed each other and clicked.  Something like that.
I didn’t know much about my dad’s past.  All I knew was that he was an orphan.  His parents abandoned him at birth.  I guess it was something he didn’t like talking about and I didn’t pry.  My dad did a few odd jobs on the side to keep himself occupied.  He designed landscapes in his free time.  He loved the outdoors, like father like daughter.
“She’ll be pretty stressed out until then, huh?” 
He nodded.  “She’s really committed to this case and getting this guy locked up.  But, it just means more time for us.”  He smiled to try and lighten the mood.
Yay.  Not that I didn’t love spending time with my dad, but a girl just needed her mom sometimes.  Moms got things in a different way than dads.  And it had been too long since I’d actually spent any bonding time with her.  I really missed her.

            Cam slid into the front seat of my little white Cabriolet.  I had the top down to feel the warmth of the sun.  She’d definitely seen her fair share of use over the years, but she had been good to me.  Maybe a little beat up but she was mine. 
Cameron and I had taken turns driving on road trips over the years: half in his old Jeep, half in my Cabriolet.  Not cross-country overnight trips, but daytrips to Charlotte, Myrtle Beach and Charleston.  We’d had lots of good memories in this car together. 
            “Thanks, Cal,” he said.  “I know you didn’t want to come back.” 
            “Don’t sweat it.” 
            Cameron threw his backpack in the backseat and combed his hand through his dirty blonde strands.  “Are you as swamped as I am?  I feel like I’m drowning in paperwork.  This was supposed to be the easy year.  The fun year.” 
            I chuckled humorlessly.  “And yet, I get out two periods early and I have twice as much to do as I did with all seven periods.” 
            “It’s a joke.” 
            “Yeah, on us.” 
            He slapped my knee coolly and kept his hand there.  “We haven’t really talked in a while.  What’s new?” 
            At that moment I really wished I had something to rub in his face, but I had nothing.  We’d spent the first half of the summer together, but he’d spent the second half with Isla. 
For whatever reason we’d gone to school with her since kindergarten and never had he ever noticed her.  Then at one random summer party they caught one another’s eyes and everything fell into place.  As if they were just at the right place at the right time.  She smiled and waved and he didn’t look back.  If that didn’t feel like complete desertion after six years of friendship I don’t know what did.
The second half of my summer was spent with Lia or my parents.  No hot dates or summer romances.  No exciting adventures or escapades to relay to him.  We didn’t even go on a vacation.  I should’ve just lied, told him something.  But what was the point?
            I shrugged, not unaware of the warmth of his palm on my thigh.  The simple touch had my nerves darting around my body like a pinball machine.  “Nothing really.” 
His hand squeezed my leg lightly.  “Well that’s lame.  No hot dates or thrilling adventures to relay?” 
            He knew just how to rub it in.            “Nope.” 
            Cameron took his hand back and crossed his arms.  “I just don’t get that, Cal,” he said, perplexed.  “You need to relax and stop being so intimidating to all the guys.  They want you, if you’ll just give ‘em the time of day.” 
            “Thanks for the words of wisdom.  I’ll try harder to change myself to be more appealing to them.” 
            “You know that’s not what I meant,” he said.  “You just turn the cold shoulder every time any guy wants to talk to you.” 
            I chuckled.  I did not.  “Why do you care so much about my dating life, Cam?”  Did I?
            “I don’t,” he said, looking away indifferently out the passenger’s side.  “It’s just now that I have Isla, I see what I was missing out on by not being serious about any girl before.  I can’t believe I never saw her before.  The blind man can finally see.” 
            Cut me while I’m down, will ya?  Maybe spit on me while I’m down there and rub a little salt in the wounds to top it off. 
            “The only guy worthy of my time will be the one who’s willing to work for it.  I refuse to give this away for free.”  I gestured to myself to get a chuckle out of him and it worked.
            “All right.  I see.  You’re worth more than that.  I know.  You deserve a really good guy.” 
            If only you could see that guy is you.
            I pulled up to his house and let him hop out. 
            “Thanks for the ride, Callie.  See you tomorrow.” 
            I nodded and waved. 
            It used to be—I’ll call you later; or—let’s hang out tonight.  I couldn’t even remember the last time Cameron called me just to chat.  Gosh, I missed him.