So I stand here, gun in my hand, my finger poised on the trigger. How did I get here? It all began with that tiny, fragile piece of paper of power, holding so many lives in its scribbly, disjointed handwriting.
The thirteenth slip, creased on the edges and fading shade of white with “13” penned on its front, fell out of my locker on Tuesday. My face flooded blood red as the feeling of cardboard fumbled against my fingertips. I shoved the paper between the pages of my planner and shuffled to class.
Aliz twisted around in her seat in front of me as I plopped into my seat for the last class of the day.
“Jess, are you okay? You’ve got your stress shoulders on.” Z looked concerned. My face must have been more cheeky red than I realized and it heated up a little more as she raised her eyebrows at me, awaiting an answer. She was my best friend and I still had not told her about the notes. Maybe she would never need to know. Maybe they would stop coming. I hoped they would stop coming.
“Jess? You good?” Z nagged me again, confused at my ignorance to her comment. I nodded reassuringly and felt a shiver tiptoe up the small of my back.
“Okay, good, cause I wouldn’t want you all stressed out tonight. You’re coming at seven, right? I’m so excited.”
“Yeah, Dylan is picking me up at six-thirty, can’t wait.” I forced a smile, clenching the lies between my teeth. Then the bell rang and Mr. Chine started his lesson on some science-y s*** that I would never need to know in life. I put my earphones in and my hood up and drew tiny Mickey Mouse head sketches in the corners of my notebook pages, eyeing the clock tick away the 40 minutes of my last class that day.
I stopped by my locker after school to grab a few books before heading home. Suddenly, one hand lobbed firmly around my waist and another slipped gently over my eyes. Gaspint, my body tensed up and jolted out of the stranger’s embrace. Zipping around, I was met by the smiling eyes of Dylan. I let out a sigh of relief and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. I wanted to see you before you head home. You still want a ride tonight, right?” He asked after returning my kiss with one on my forehead.
“Yeah, see you at six-thirty,” I said and walked off, hugging my books across my chest. Once outside, I waved down the first cab in sight and asked the driver to take me to Maddrose Park. I lived right across from there on Crimson Street. It’s weird to say that- lived I mean. Technically I don’t live there anymore, or do I? I don’t know.
I raced up to my bedroom without saying hi to Mom or Nate, and thrust open the top drawer of my nightstand. The twelve notes that I had received over the course of the last twelve days were scattered about. My fingers shifted through the notes nervously until the blue slip of paper with the “1” in bold handwriting exposed itself. I unfolded it cautiously, as if expecting the message to change since its arrival. But it was all the same: the handwriting- scribbly and disjointed- the message, the terrifying ending.
“13 lives. 13 days. 13 notes. Then it’s done.
Much love, X”
My head shook in denial as I slid the note into my pocket. It was just some kind of Pretty Little Liars joke Z was trying to pull on me. So I threw myself on top of my bed and stared at the ceiling, my eyes straining to stay awake.
“Jess, Jess? Wake up!” My mom was pounding on my bedroom door, and I sprung out of bed. It was already six-fifteen. Dylan would be there in fifteen minutes.
After putting on eye shadow and mascara, my phone started ringing- Dylan, right on cue. I answered it with my free hand, my other hand scrambling to straighten my hair as quickly as I could.
“Hey J, I’m out front. You ready?” I laughed and he took that as I wasn’t ready after all.
“Okay take your time, I’ll wait out front.” With one last look in the mirror, I slipped on my favorite sandals and sprinted down the stairs.
“Home by one?” my mom asked, as if it were a question. She got up from her seat in the living room and scrambled to catch me before I was out the door.
“You look beautiful as always.”
“It’s my baby’s big 18th birthday party! Where has my Little Miss gone?”
“You called me Little Miss when I was four, Mom.”
“And you loved it.”
“When I was four. I’ll be home at one.” I slammed the door behind me on my way out. So much for being a mom. She was never home anyway. But of course after what happened last year she sparked this sudden interest in taking care of me, as if the months of my grieving prior took no toll on her whatsoever. Eighteen years too late, she decided to be a mom. Priceless.
Dylan leaned over to give me a kiss from the driver’s seat.
“Before you get swamped with hugs and birthday wishes at midnight, come find me for your birthday kiss tonight. Okay?” I nodded and forced yet another smile. My mind was circling around the final note I received today. Every time I looked at him, I got nervous. The last thing I wanted was for Dylan to get hurt.
“It’s just a game.” I reminded myself.
“What?” Dylan looked confused. I was so caught up in my thoughts I had not even realized that I said that aloud.
“Oh, sorry. Just thinking out loud.”
When we arrived, we both hopped out of the car and Dylan intertwined his hand in mine. Just as the door pushed open, he gave my hand a gentle squeeze, and then let go.
Hours of drunken fun and laughs passed by, and. after drowning in hugs from vodka-induced girls shouting “Happy birthday!” in my face a bit too excitedly, I slipped into an open bedroom at the end of the hallway. I took out my phone and glanced through my notifications. All the birthday shoutouts on Instagram were rather unsatisfying considering all I could think about was the note. My phone flashed 11:59 across the screen and a message from Dylan popped up.
“In Aliz’s little brother’s room.” I sat down on the bed and my foot tapped nervously on the floor.
The door creaked open and Dylan peeked his head into the door. His eyes met mine and he shut the door quietly behind him.
“Why are you sitting all alone in the dark?”
“Waiting for you,” my voice cracked into a laugh as I rose to meet him and took a step closer. Truthfully, all I wanted was to be alone, but my mind forgot that as his arm wrapped around the small of my back and pulled me close.
“Well happy birthday, beautiful,” he said with a smile, and leaned in for a kiss. He ran his fingers tenderly through my hair and pulled me into a hug. I tightened my grip around the neck of his T-shirt, my other hand resting gently on his chest. For a few moments I was so caught up in moment, I forgot everything I was worried about. I wanted to freeze time right then and there, a moment of serene tranquility- the two of us together, alone, calm.
My mind began to wander, though, wrapped around the note hidden in my pocket. Dylan must have felt me fading, because he stepped back suddenly and brushed the hair out of my face.
“What’s going on J, you’re tense.” My eyes wandered all across his face, trying to avoid his worried stare.
“What’s up? You can tell me.” Dylan moved his hand over mine, slowly moving his thumb forward, backward, forward, backward.
“Okay.” I whispered, as I pulled the little beige piece of paper out of my pocket.
“Dylan Jacobs,” he read. “Yeah, so this piece of paper says my name on it. What’s the big deal?” he said, his eyebrows furled. My hand reached for my other pocket, from which I pulled the blue piece of paper, the one with the number one written across it. I handed it to Dylan. He hesitated, then read aloud once more,
“Each day, a new name. Once there are thirteen, you’re all goners. Start saying your goodbyes now sweetheart.
13 lives. 13 days. 13 notes. Then it’s done.
Much love, X”
“What is this? I don’t get it.” I cut him off with a kiss. I didn’t want to talk about it. Now that he was a part of whatever happened next, I wanted to forget.
I felt Dylan’s cool hand slip over my eyes, and I pulled away from him and smiled.
“Dyl, what are you doing?” No response.
“Dylan, let go, why are you covering my eyes?” I said, starting to get confused, as my giggle turned into a frown. My hand up moved to meet his over my eyes, but was met with the hand of someone else. Before my mouth could open to scream for help, a cloth soaked in a stench of heavy chemicals covered it and I struggled to keep my eyes open as I faded into nothingness.