On March 20, 2012, I found out that I had officially made it to the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Here is a picture proving that:
I am now one of 250 people who are going to be considered for the award. Next come the Semi-Finals, where 250 will be reduced to 50. I don’t much care. I didn’t expect to make it this far, and now that I have, I’m pretty sure my journey ends here. Despite that rather depressing sentence, I am very happy, as evidenced by the two exclamation points in the title of this post. I will repeat that I did not expect to make it this far. The fact that I did makes me happier than I can really put into words, and I’m a writer, so if I can’t put something into words, you know it’s got to be big. To me, I’ve already won. My work was recognized as being worthy of consideration. There were 5,000 entries in my category when the contest started, which means I beat 4,750 people for this position in the Quarter Finals. That’s great. I’ve won. I am so happy that I am going to post the second chapter of Hellbound here for you to read. You can find the prologue and chapter one by clicking here if you have not read them yet.
That’s all for today. (Find Chapter 2 beneath the Word of the Day)
Word of the Day: Beatific (adj) – bestowing bliss, blessings, happiness, or the like.
Elysia was having nightmares again. They hadn’t been this bad in months. They were so terrible, in fact, that she was actually relieved to hear the jarring blare of her alarm clock in the morning. Until she realized it was Monday and she had to get up for school.
“I hate my life,” she muttered into her pillow.
Rolling onto her side, she smacked the snooze button and was asleep again before the alarm even stopped ringing.
The next time it went off, she grudgingly got out of bed and got dressed in jeans and a black tank top. Senior year, so far, had not proven to be any different than the last three years of high school. True, the semester had barely begun, but she doubted anything was going to change anytime soon.
While she was brushing her teeth, she glanced at the streak of red in her disheveled black hair and thought maybe it was time to re-dye it. It was starting to fade into pink, and she hated pink. She considered putting on makeup, then decided against it. Mondays didn’t deserve makeup. Maybe Friday would.
Elysia stopped at her mom’s bedroom on her way out the door.
“Mom! Wake up or you’re going to be late!” she called, knocking quickly.
She didn’t wait for a response, because she, too, was running late. With twenty minutes left before homeroom, she jumped into her crappy, old Toyota and sped out of the driveway.
She made it just in time, which meant she got to be surprised with the rest of her class when her teacher announced that they had a new student. Aiden Reditor sat at the back of the room, his golden eyes calculating as he watched them watch him. His expression wasn’t bored or hostile like Elysia expected a new guy’s would be. Instead, he seemed almost curious, but he hid it behind a mask of indifference. She was among the first to turn back around after getting a good look at him. He was nothing special. Handsome, yes, but no doubt cut from the same arrogant, piggish mold as the rest of the guys in that school. She had had enough of them.
“There’s a new guy?” Danni asked. “Is he cute?”
“He’s downright gorgeous,” Elysia replied in a bored tone.
“Wow. Where’s he from?”
Elysia looked at her best friend from over the top of her locker door. Danni was running her fingers through her short hair, which she had recently bleached again. It was now the color of corn silk, with bright orange tips.
“We were in homeroom together,” Elysia said. “Not group therapy. How the hell am I supposed to know where he’s from?”
“Only you could remain cynical in the face of new eye candy,” Danni said, bopping Elysia on the head with her binder. “We’ve been staring at the same pimply, unwashed mass for the past three years. Aren’t you at least a little bit relieved that something finally changed around here?”
Elysia shrugged. She wouldn’t admit to herself or anyone else that she could still see his eyes in her mind, as if she were still looking right at him. She’d never seen eyes quite like his before.
Aiden wasn’t in Elysia’s first period AP Bio class. He didn’t share her second period free, or her third period U.S. History, but he did have fourth period English with her, much to Danni’s delight.
“Oh my God, you weren’t kidding,” Danni whispered when she saw him enter the room. “That boy does not have a single flaw on his body.”
“Then he’ll be easy pickings for Nicolette and her worshipers,” Elysia said.
“Nicolette is way too busy with her brand new acting career to even think about boys.”
“Then I guess he’ll be left to her followers. It was nice knowing him.”
“That would require them to stop drooling over her long enough to start drooling over him.”
“You’re right,” Elysia said with mock solemnity. “It’ll never happen. Guess he’s safe.”
Danni pressed a hand over her mouth to suppress her laugh while their teacher attempted to get the class to stop talking. Elysia looked over to see what Aiden was doing, but he was just as silent and inexplicably curious as he had been in homeroom. He had a notebook and a copy of Wuthering Heights on his desk just like everyone else, but his eyes kept sweeping the room, as if he’d never seen anything like it. When they landed on her, she quickly looked away, hoping he hadn’t noticed her staring.
Lunch was utter mayhem. It had been a week since the first episode of Nicolette’s new soap opera – The Colors of Love – had aired, and she was still being mobbed with people. Elysia actually felt pretty bad for her. She’d always liked Nicolette well enough, though that didn’t stop her from poking fun on occasion with Danni. She was a sweet girl, and actually a little on the timid side, which was one of the reasons Elysia had been so surprised when she’d gotten the part in the show last year. She’d taken two months off school to do the filming, and even though she hadn’t exactly been bragging about it, word got out about why she’d taken all that time off. On her first day back after winter break, she’d been swarmed with new friends. Elysia hadn’t realized that that swarm had been a mere cluster compared to the attention Nicolette was getting now.
“She wasn’t even that good,” Danni muttered. “I honestly have no idea how she got the part.”
She and Elysia had watched the pilot episode of the show together, and had enjoyed making fun of it every chance they got.
“She is pretty,” Elysia offered. “Maybe that’s all they wanted. Besides, soap operas aren’t well known for their A-list actors.”
“True. Oh, look, Ben Fletcher is still trying to get in on the action.”
Elysia shook her head as she watched the short, pimply boy squeeze into Nicolette’s entourage, the only male in a sea of females. It was no secret that he had a huge thing for Nicolette. Everyone knew. Everyone except Nicolette. She remained blissfully ignorant of Ben’s constant attempts at wooing her.
“That’s just pathetic,” Elysia said, shaking her head.
“He should really just settle for Lauren Ingles. They could go on dates and bond over how much they both adore Nicolette. It could work if I wasn’t so sure that Lauren wanted to bone her just as much as Ben does.”
Elysia snorted and turned to look anywhere else but at that table, and ended up looking right at Aiden. He was sitting alone, a few tables down from hers, and he, too, was staring at the throng of people around Nicolette. Elysia wasn’t surprised that it had caught his attention, but she did find it odd that he was sitting alone. New kid or not, she thought he’d fit right in with the guys at her school. Weirder still, he seemed perturbed in some way by what he was looking at. His brow was furrowed, like he was concentrating really hard or thinking something over, and he hadn’t touched his food.
“See? Eye candy,” Danni said.
Elysia jumped and looked at her friend, who was smiling smugly.
“I wasn’t admiring him!” she insisted. “I was just…wondering.”
“Wondering, huh?” Danni asked, biting into her sandwich. “About what?”
“You don’t think it’s weird? Him sitting alone like that?”
“Well, he is new. Maybe he’s shy. Oo, like one of those strong, silent types.”
“Danni, could you keep it in your pants for like two minutes, please?”
“Sorry, darling. No can do. Not with such a fine piece of man meat sitting so close.”
Elysia rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. She loved how candid Danni was.
“Oh, did you want a ride home today?”
“Nah,” Danni said. “Matt’s picking me up. He’s got a job interview near here, so mom made him agree to take me home before he went to it.”
“An interview. That’s big.”
“Not really. If he actually got a job, now that would be big.”
“Fair enough. Let me know how it goes.”
Elysia and Danni had a free period after lunch – a huge benefit of being a senior was the lack of P.E. and the extra free period – which they both used to do homework for their respective classes. Elysia always found it easier to do her homework at school than at home. At school, at least, she was in the mindset of doing work and thinking, whereas when she was at home, all she wanted to do was relax. She got her work done quickly, and spent the rest of the free listening to music and bothering Danni.
The two friends parted ways after that, Danni going to Spanish while Elysia went to Statistics, which she shared with Nicolette and a huge chunk of her fans. There was already a problem on the board when she got into class, and as soon as the majority of people were there, their teacher told everyone that they were going to work in pairs to solve it. Elysia saw how uncomfortable Nicolette became, because almost the entire class instantly began trying to get her attention, including Ben Fletcher and Lauren Ingles. Feeling bad for her, Elysia leaned over and tapped her hand.
“Wanna work together?” she asked.
“Sure,” Nicolette said, her expression relieved.
“Alright, so I think we should both write it down, just so we can see it easier and have it right in front of us, you know?”
“Yeah, okay,” Nicolette said slowly.
She turned to her own notebook, and they both wrote in silence for a minute. When they were done, Elysia started drawing a graph, and they worked together for the next ten minutes, solving the problem in little steps. Elysia was surprised at how good Nicolette was with math. She hadn’t known the girl was smart as well as overly friendly. They ended up being one of the few pairs to get the problem done, and get it right, in the allotted time. Elysia caught a few of the girls who normally crowded around Nicolette glaring at her as if she’d committed some terrible crime by working with their idol.
Nicolette was either oblivious, or chose to ignore them. She just smiled at Elysia and picked up her pencil so she could start taking notes.
After class ended, as Elysia was packing up her things, Nicolette tapped her on the shoulder, smiling shyly.
“I just wanted to thank you,” she said.
“What for?” Elysia asked.
“For being so chill, I guess. Everyone’s just been so over the top lately, trying to suck up to me and stuff, and I just thought it was really cool that you treated me like a person. So, yeah, thanks.”
“No problem,” Elysia said, offering the girl a small smile.
“Maybe we could work together again next time there’s a group assignment.”
“Sure. I’d like that.”
“Great! I’ll see ya!”
Nicolette picked up her purple messenger bag and walked out the door. Elysia shouldered her tattered, navy backpack and followed her out.
As soon as Elysia got home that afternoon, she flopped onto the couch and fell asleep. These nightmares had left her just as exhausted when she woke up as she had been before she went to bed. Try as she might, though, she couldn’t remember what they were about. That was the frustrating thing. If she could figure out what they were about, maybe she could find a way to stop them, but she never remembered anything after she woke up. Occasionally she got a flash of fear, or an image she couldn’t quite place, but that was useless.
She woke up when her mom got home from work.
“Long day?” she asked when she saw Elysia’s bleary eyes peer over the back of the couch.
“Nightmares,” she mumbled.
“Are you sure you don’t want to see someone about this problem?” her mother asked for what must have been the fiftieth time.
“I’m sure, mom. They’re just bad dreams. They’ll go away. They always do.”
“It couldn’t hurt to see a doctor…”
“Maybe not, but I really don’t want to bother.”
“Ok, well…why don’t we order pizza for dinner? That might cheer you up.”
Elysia smiled and got up to hug her mom.
“That sounds perfect,” she said.
Her mom kissed her on the forehead, and then made a show of counting her piercings, like she’d done almost every day since Elysia’s eighteenth birthday. Thanks to this little ritual, Elysia was never going to forget that day.
She’d gotten herself a birthday nose piercing, since she already had four holes in each ear, and her mom had nearly had a fit. But in the end, she got over it, warning Elysia that she was not to puncture her body anymore. After that she’d started counting Elysia’s piercings every now and then, as a joke, just to make sure she hadn’t gotten any more.
“Still nine, mom.”
“Make sure it doesn’t become ten,” her mother replied.
Elysia liked the look of her face now. She didn’t like any other facial piercings besides the nose and ears anyway. Plus, she had the hair dye, which her mom let her do as many times as she liked.
After a pizza dinner, Elysia did some homework, saving the rest for her free periods, and used the last of the red hair dye on the fading streak. Her nap had refreshed her, but by one in the morning, she was prepared to try sleeping again.
The nightmares were worse.
When Elysia woke up to her alarm, she jumped out of bed, fearing for a moment that it was on fire. Then, when she thought about it, she couldn’t remember why she’d thought that at all. There was a red streak on her pillow, and she realized it was because she’d sweated so much that she’d caused some of the dye to run out of her hair. When she looked in the mirror, she saw that there was a similar mark on her cheek.
“Fuck,” she muttered.
She had to wash her face twice before all the dye came off. These nightmares were really getting to her. Then again, they had gotten her out of bed on time. For once in her life, she didn’t have to rush to get to school. She was even able to grab a banana for breakfast, and her mom was going to be on time to work because of it, too. She knocked on her mother’s door ten minutes earlier than usual, then trotted out to her car, and left for school.
When she got there, the parking lot was much emptier than she was used to seeing it. As she pulled into a prime space, much closer to the school than usual, she began to think that getting up earlier wasn’t such a bad idea. She leaned over to the passenger seat to grab her bag and got out of her car. While she did that, a ridiculous-looking VW Bug that she’d never seen before entered the parking lot and pulled into a space a few down from hers. It was bright red with black racing stripes. Elysia was so shocked by the car, that it took her a second to look at the driver, but when she did, her jaw nearly dropped.
Aiden was getting out of the ridiculous Bug, and she could not believe it. He turned, saw her looking, and averted his eyes as his face turned bright red. Elysia smiled, thinking maybe she’d sized this guy up wrong.
“That’s an interesting ride,” she said as he approached.
He paused, looking back at the car as if he were annoyed with it or something.
“It’s a loaner…from my dad. Not my first choice, but, you know…”
His voice trailed off, and then he looked at her, and when his eyes met hers he actually jumped a little bit, as if she’d shocked him.
“Is everything alright?” she asked.
“Um…yes. Sorry. I just realized that I forgot to do something.”
“Sorry,” he said again, and walked away with quick, determined strides.
“Weird,” she muttered.
She met up with Danni after homeroom, but only to exchange hellos. Danni said Matt’s interview had gone well, according to him, but he wouldn’t hear back from them for at least a couple weeks. After she said that, they went their separate ways, only to see each other again in English. Was it just her or did Aiden seem anxious?
“For someone who’s not interested in him, you sure do stare a lot,” Danni whispered.
“He just seems…agitated,” Elysia said.
Danni looked over at him for a moment.
“He does seem tense. You gonna do something about that?”
“No! Of course not,” Elysia hissed.
“Then why are you staring?”
“You know what? I don’t know. But I’m going to stop now.”
And she did. Hard as it was, Elysia kept her eyes on the board or on her book throughout the rest of the class.
She didn’t look at him or Nicolette and her fans during lunch, either, and she beat Nicolette to Statistics later. When the actress walked in, she actually sat next to Elysia even though there were plenty of open seats.
“Hi!” she chirped.
“Hey,” Elysia said, smiling.
This girl kind of reminded her of a puppy.
“How are you?”
“Fine, and yourself?” Elysia replied courteously.
“Tired! Ever since school started up again, I’ve just been losing a lot of sleep, you know?”
“Yeah, I get that,” Elysia said.
“And we have to apply to college!”
“College?” Elysia asked, surprised.
“Yeah, aren’t you going?”
“Yeah, I am, I just thought you…I mean with the acting…”
“You thought I wouldn’t want to go to college? Hell, I may have caught a lucky break, but I’m not stupid. Getting a good education is my top priority.”
“Well, good for you.”
Elysia was beginning to genuinely like Nicolette.
Class started then, so they weren’t able to continue talking, but Nicolette started up right where they left off the moment it was over.
Elysia looked up expectantly from putting her books away.
“I was planning on going to the mall this weekend, you know just to shop and maybe catch a movie. Did you want to come?”
The mall. Elysia wasn’t big on shopping, but Nicolette was giving her puppy eyes. She looked like an angel, with her wavy blonde hair and bright blue eyes.
“Sure,” Elysia found herself saying. “I’ll give you my cell number. You can text me later so I don’t forget.”
She took out her phone and Elysia recited her number, wondering how Danni was going to react to this.
“I think it’s cute that you’re doing charity work!” Danni said laughing as they walked to the car later.
“She’s actually nice if you get to know her.”
“Elysia, I can’t believe you’ve developed a soft spot for our resident actress.”
Elysia looked over the roof of her car to see if the Bug was still there, but it was gone. Aiden must have left already.
“It’s not a soft spot,” she grumbled as she climbed into the driver’s seat.
She drove Danni home with the radio turned up so her friend would be more occupied with singing off-key than teasing her about Nicolette. At least she wasn’t mad. Elysia hoped it would stay that way, because she did actually like the idea of hanging out with Nicolette a little more.
She got her wish the next day at lunch. Nicolette actually plopped down right next to her with her own tray of food.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” she asked.
Elysia looked to Danni, but she didn’t have any reason to be worried. Nicolette’s puppy-dog eyes had apparently wooed her best friend, because she was shaking her head, as if in a trance.
“Not a problem,” Danni said. “Though your other friends might not be too happy.”
Nicolette looked over at her usual table from which a dozen or so pairs of eyes were glaring.
“Screw them,” she said, taking a bite of her sandwich. “I just need some peace and quiet for now, you know?”
“Sure,” Elysia said.
That peace didn’t last long. Lauren Ingles was not about to let her idol slip through her fingers, so when she walked into the cafeteria a few minutes later, she made a bee line for Nicolette.
“Hi, Nicolette,” she said with false cheeriness. “Aren’t you going to sit with us today?”
At first glance, Lauren Ingles wasn’t a very intimidating person. She was on the short side, with long, mouse-brown hair, and she wore a pair of simple, black glasses. A few freckles dusted her nose and forehead. The overall effect made her easy to miss in a crowd – usually. Today, she was giving off an aura of pure malice, and it made her happy façade seem almost sickening as a result. Nicolette just smiled her most innocent smile at Lauren.
“Not today,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll still have lunch with you guys most days. You are my friends after all, right?”
But the look she cast Elysia over Nicolette’s shoulder was anything but friendly. Elysia actually felt a shiver run down her spine as Lauren stalked off. When she looked back at that other table, where Lauren was currently seating herself, everyone still looked really pissed. It was kind of unnerving. After a second, she shook herself a little and went back to her lunch. She had no idea what had come over her, but she wasn’t about to let some crazy fangirls intimidate her.
Nicolette definitely wasn’t fazed. She chatted happily and obliviously all through lunch, even engaging the cynical Danni in conversation.
“I’m really excited for Saturday,” Nicolette told Elysia later during stats. “You can invite Danni if you want. She seems really nice.”
“Maybe next time,” Elysia said. “I think Danni’s busy this weekend.”
That was a lie, but she didn’t want to offend Nicolette, and she still wasn’t sure where Danni stood in this case.
“That’s cool. Thanks again for letting me sit with you at lunch.”
Oh my God. Problem.
It was after stats. Elysia had just opened her locker, and a note had fallen out. All it said was, “Stay in your place, bitch, or I’ll kill you and make it look like an accident.” It was typed, so there was no way of identifying the handwriting. Elysia stared at the piece of paper with her heart pounding out a terrifying rhythm in her ears. She glanced around really quickly, but didn’t see anyone watching her. Everyone was really busy trying to get away from school as fast as possible. Elysia looked back at the note and reread it.
Someone was really unhappy with her, and she had no idea why. The only reason she could think of was that she had started hanging out with Nicolette, if the words, “Stay in your place,” were any indication. She almost hoped this was Danni pulling a prank on her, because the alternative was that someone was truly threatening her.