Read Stand Alone Online

Authors: P.D. Workman

Stand Alone

STAND ALONE

p.d. workman

Copyright © 2014 p.d. workman

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher. You must not circulate this book in any format.

To all those who feel they stand alone

Acknowledgments

I wish to personally thank the following people for their contributions and knowledge and other help in creating this book:

My beta readers, Linda S. Moore, Desiree Putaski, Lena Hillbrand, Nichole Betourney, Lisa Comin, and Hazel Grusendorf.

Tom Grusendorf, Jr. for copy editing.

Angie pro_ebookcovers for the cover design.

C
HAPTER
1

S
HE
AWOKE
IN
THE
dim light of dawn. Everything around her was quiet. There were distant sounds; a television game show, raised voices, the sounds of traffic. But in her cocoon, there was nothing. No movement. No breathing. Just silence.

She pulled the blanket off, bunching it in a ball at her chest and pressing it to her face for comfort. Even though there was no one around, there was a presence. She was afraid. A dark sense of dread squeezed her stomach and made it difficult to breathe, forcing her to take short, shallow breaths. She tried to keep her breathing quiet. Not to let the presence know that she was there. If anyone knew that she was there, something awful would happen. She didn’t identify in her mind what the something was, but the intense anxiety and anticipation made her heart thump loud and fast. She cuddled the blanket to her face for a couple more minutes. Then she finally pushed it away and started to move. She crept along the floor, senses alert. The apartment was dim. Rank smells seemed to slice right into her forehead, but there was nothing to be done about them.

Hunger grew inside her. She sobbed a little with the pain and the urgency of it. There was nothing to eat. Footsteps thumped down the hallway outside, and she froze and waited. They didn’t stop at the door. They didn’t come in. She resumed her trek, crawling, inching across the floor. It took ages to get from one side to the other. She was weak and had to stop to rest frequently. At every noise, every scrape of a shoe or creak of the building, she stopped and listened, waiting for the end. Waiting for pain. Dreading the worst.

She used a cup to dip water from the bowl. It was cold and flat and nasty tasting, but that had long since ceased to matter. It cooled her parched lips. Soothed her aching throat. Filled her hard, empty belly. She gasped for breath between each cup full, out of breath with the urgency of filling her stomach, even though the water wouldn’t keep her satisfied for long. Then she lay down and curled up, eyes heavy.

There was a loud pounding on the door that awoke Justine with a start. She sat up, gasping in surprise. She stared at her bedroom door for a minute, disoriented, trying to figure out where she was and to separate dream from reality. Again a knocking, and her mother’s exasperated voice.

“Justine! Wake up! It’s time for school!”

“I’m up already,” Justine yelled back, her disorientation and the fear from her interrupted dream fueling her anger. “Leave me alone!”

“You’d better be showered and dressed in ten minutes.”

“I don’t think so,” Justine muttered under her breath. Em was always trying to rush her.

She lay there in the warm, soft bed for a few minutes, closing her eyes and trying to remember the details of the dream. She had this dream, or similar ones, often. She hated going to sleep at night, knowing that she might dream. She would dream it again and again, all night long. When she woke up in the morning, it would still be there, on the edges of her consciousness. Justine would be tired and drag through the morning at school, struggling to focus on the mundane tasks the teachers set her. Pointless, useless stuff. So why was she trying to remember the details? To feel the way that she felt in the dream? If it was a nightmare that she avoided when relegated to bed every night, why was she seeking it now? It didn’t make sense. But it was a part of her. Part of who she was, and she didn’t understand it. She wanted to understand herself, understand where all of these feelings and dreams came from.

She was sort of dozing, drifting off to sleep again, starting to approach the edges of the dream. Disjointed images flashed through her mind, just out of her reach, just beyond her ability to comprehend and string them together.

“Justine!” Em shrieked, and the pounding on the door renewed.

“I told you I’m up!” Justine shouted through the door. She threw off her blanket and left it in an untidy heap on the bed. “I’m out of bed, so you can quit harassing me!”

“You’re going to be late for school. And you’re going to make me late for work!”

“I don’t care!” Justine snapped.

“Justine!” Her mother’s voice was filled with frustration and barely-controlled fury. “Get your butt out here! Now!”

Justine smiled in grim satisfaction at her mother’s anger. It served Em right for being so tyrannical. Justine kicked at the clothes piled around the bed. Something for school. She fished out a worn pair of wide legged jeans. They were reasonably clean. The administration was bound to get after her for the holes in the knees, but Justine didn’t care. She pulled off the ratty sweatpants and t-shirt that she had worn to bed. She put it on, and looked for a shirt. A wrinkled, long-sleeved blouse sufficed. There was a splash of tomato sauce on the front, but it would wash out if she bothered to dab it with a cloth. Justine left it untucked and grabbed her favorite hat from the pegs on the back of the door. Crocheted, with a visor that shadowed her face and made her look something like a villain out of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. She pulled it on over her head. Then she exited her room.

Em came out of the kitchen and looked at her when she heard Justine come down the stairs.

“Justine,” her voice was heavy with disapproval. “You can’t go to school looking like that.”

“What’s wrong with it?” Justine challenged. “I’ll get the spot out. No one cares what I look like.”

“You should care what you look like. This is just
  


you look like you’ve been sleeping in that for a week. People will think I can’t take care of you properly.”

“Well, you can’t,” Justine pointed out.

“You didn’t shower.”

“No. I’m late, I don’t have time.”
 

“When is the last time you had a shower?” Em persisted.

“I don’t know. A couple of days.” Justine shrugged it off.

“The kids at school will be complaining that you stink. You’ll get a reputation. You don’t want everyone to think that you smell bad. No one will want to be around you.”

“That’s just fine with me,” Justine said flatly. She didn’t need anyone else. They could just keep their distance.
 

She pushed past her mother and opened the fridge, looking for something to snatch before school.

“Sit down and eat a good breakfast,” Em said firmly. “Do you want cereal? Eggs? Toast?”

Justine surfaced from the fridge with a slice of pizza and a bottle of juice.

“I don’t have time to sit down,” she said, “and you’d better get to work,” she looked pointedly at the clock, “or you’re going to be late.”

Em looked at the clock, well aware of how late it was getting, and looked back at her daughter.

“You’ll get straight off to school?” she verified.

“Yeah,” Justine swigged the juice directly from the bottle. Em hated that. Justine watched to see her cringe. “I’m going right now.”

“I don’t want to get a call that you’re tardy or absent. Comb your hair before you go,” Em directed, inching closer to the door. She grabbed her briefcase off of the table.

Justine rolled her neck, ignoring the instruction, and took a big bite of the pizza.

“Love you,” Em declared, and darted out the door.

At least she hadn’t tried to kiss Justine this time. Justine leaned against the counter, eating her pizza. She was in no great hurry to get off to school. She watched Em pull her car out of the driveway and get on her way. Justine ate the pizza and drank the juice at a leisurely pace. She put down the half-empty juice container on the table and left it there.

Justine went to the bathroom and looked herself over in the mirror. She was glad she didn’t resemble her mother. Em was a dark blond, pert, pretty, a neat little package. Em liked to look good. She didn’t like the increasing appearance of wrinkles and frown lines on her face, and blamed them on Justine. She’d never had wrinkles before Justine. Or gray in her hair. She often looked tired now, and sometimes couldn’t even rally the energy to fight with Justine.

Justine, on the other hand, had long, thick masses of dark brown hair. Her eyes were blue, but a deep, sparkling blue. Not Em’s pale, watery blue eyes. Her hands and feet were big, almost masculine, and her long, lean legs put her a couple of inches over Em’s height already. Justine supposed she got her physical features from her father, whoever he was. Or maybe there was another mother out there, one who did look like her. One that Em kept a secret from her.

Justine’s hair was in a long braid for sleep, the only way she could keep her tresses in order for the day. It sure beat out having to shampoo, condition, comb, and blow-dry every day. But Justine hadn’t taken any particular care in putting it up, and a number of tendrils had escaped the braid and hung in disorderly waves around her face. Justine removed the elastic from the end of the braid and started to work the hair loose, unraveling the braid and running her fingers through it to arrange it around her face and down her back. Good enough. She didn’t bother to comb it as Em had suggested. She dabbed at the spaghetti sauce on her shirt and got most of it out, leaving just a faint orange stain behind. Justine splashed some water on her face, rubbed deodorant in her pits, and headed out of the house.
 

She grabbed her long board at the front door. After descending the front steps, she put the board down, stepped onto it, and transformed. With the wind streaming her hair back behind her, Justine felt the negative feelings drop away from her. She was free. She was no longer Justine, Em’s daughter. She no longer even felt earthbound. It was as if the rushing wind filled Justine up like a balloon, lifting her up, letting her fly in the sky above the city. She blew out her breath slowly, savoring the brief moments of freedom.

The ride to school didn’t take long enough. Justine wished she had a couple more hours to just ride, letting the wind fill her and giving her warmed up muscles time to loosen and relax. Riding her board always felt like an escape. Skating was one of her only real joys. She kept riding after turning off of the city sidewalk onto the school sidewalk. Mr. Berkoff, the school janitor, was methodically picking up garbage from the grounds, and yelled at her.

“Get off the board!” he shouted. “You know there are no boards allowed on school grounds!”

“I’m not hurting anything,” Justine growled. But she did step off of her board and flipped it up into her hand. “I don’t see why they’re not allowed.”

“You could knock someone down,” Berkoff told her, starting to count the points off on his fingers. “You could damage school property. It’s disruptive to the students who are already in class
  


unlike you, who can’t seem to remember what time the bell rings.”

“Maybe I don’t have a first period class,” Justine said with a smile. “Maybe I have a spare.”

“You don’t have a spare,” Berkoff asserted.

It wasn’t like he was in administration. It wasn’t like he knew what her class schedule was. He was only guessing. Trying to look smart when he really wasn’t. All he knew was picking up trash. Justine gave him a mocking, superior smile, and went into the school. Once inside the school, she considered putting the board back down again and skating to her locker. But if she got caught, and chances were that she would, the consequences would be severe. She didn’t feel like staying after school in detention. She didn’t want to spend any more time there than she had to.

When Justine reached her locker, she stowed her board away, and pulled out the hodgepodge of books that she would need for her morning classes. She pulled out her phone to check the time. She wasn’t that late, only ten minutes past first period bell. She’d still be able to make most of the class.

“Miss Bywater,” a disapproving voice said, “you are rather late.”

Justine turned around to look at the vice principal. Mr. Johnson was tall and thin like a scarecrow. He looked slightly rumpled, as if he too had been late and had to run to get to his office in time. His thinning hair and wire rim glasses made him look older than he probably really was. He passed a hand over his forehead to wipe the glistening sweat away. Justine gave him a tentative smile.

“Sorry, Mr. Johnson,” she apologized in a voice that she hoped sounded sincere, “I guess I slept through the alarm after being up so late cleaning last night, and my mom wasn’t around to wake me up. I got here as soon as I could.”

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