Author's note: I started studying emotion and stress for a class project and wanted to apply aspects of psychology in a book.
Chapter 1There he was.
Sara stared across the crowded lunch room toward the noisy bunch of lacrosse players. Evan O’Nally, with his perfect smile and gorgeous golden hair, was sitting at the end of a table laughing over a joke with his teammates.
“Sara?” Startled, she jumped in her rickety folding chair.
“Yeah?” Sara looked at her two friends for the first time that day. Henley and Jack were the only people who ever spoke to Sara in high school. They had a small wooden table in the corner of the lunch room where they sat each day. No one ever bothered to speak to the three of them. Except for Evan...
“You were saying something about getting your sister after school?” Jack gazed at her with his stormy gray eyes. His history homework was splayed over the table. The Vietnam War. Sara had detested that unit.
“Oh. Right. I need to take Darcy home from school later instead of going to the river. I don’t want to take any chances letting her walk home alone.”
The river was their sanctuary. Sara, Jack, and Henley ran out of town after school to climb underneath a traffic bridge and up a path into the woods where the river flowed off of boulders like a waterfall. They skipped rocks and did their homework there almost every day since Sara discovered the place years ago.
Today, however, Sara was worried about the rise in gang activity in town. There were always horrible things creeping through the streets of Ernestville. Gangs, robbers, and –worst of all- dogs. Sara had been attacked by a dog and the horrible creatures had frightened here ever since. The strong jaws, sharp teeth, and small glaring eyes filled with hatred...
“I think it’s so sweet that you walk her home every day,” Henley commented, yanking Sara back to reality once again. Henley pushed her neon pink locks behind her ears. She changed her hair color almost weekly. Some days it was midnight black and others it was blood red.
“It’s not like my parents would bring her home if I didn’t,” Sara mumbled.
Henley’s face darkened. “Does your dad still go out to the Ground every day?”
“Yeah, he does.” Sara hated the Ground. It was a deserted warehouse on the south edge of town with a deep basement where her father went to drink and gamble the family money away.
Henley bit into the red skin of her apple and chewed thoughtfully.
“You still work, right?”
Sara nodded. “I still go out every Saturday to work at the diner.”
“At least you have some income in case he loses everything,” Jack finally chimed in after finishing his sandwich.
Sara nodded absently and ate her salad despite the limp sogginess of the lettuce. Cafeteria food was horrible, but she was often too hungry to care. One of the consequences of her father’s gambling was a lack of food. Sara didn’t want her little sister to starve, so she would often skip breakfast to make sure her little sister could eat properly.
A teacher’s aide entered the cafeteria, swinging the doors open and letting in a brief gust of air that ruffled Jack’s history papers. The breeze had been cool and refreshing compared to the stuffy air inside the cafeteria. Sara felt like she was sitting inside an oven. She began to slide up the left sleeve of her jacket, but quickly pushed it down again. A light pink stripe above her wrist reminded her of why she kept her jacket on. That was stupid, she scolded herself.
She glanced to where Evan sat to see if he had been watching. He was arm wrestling another lacrosse player. Showing off his strength. Tossing his blonde hair to the side. Watching his opponent’s hand fall back with eyes that she knew were an intense shade of blue...
“Why do you still do that?”
Sara turned her head to see Jack glaring at her sleeves.
“Still do what?”
“Refuse to take off your jacket or roll your sleeves up when it’s hot?” Jack asked.
Sara tugged on her jacket sleeve and slid her foot in little circles on the floor, looking at Jack’s textbook as if it held the answer to his question.
“I don’t want anyone to see my arms.” Why is he pushing this? Sara thought.
“I think you mean what’s on your arms.” Jack turned in his seat to face her and whispered his last comment so only she could hear. “Why do you still hide? Shouldn’t everyone know what he did to you?”
Sara grit her teeth together. He was her friend, but he had to stop bringing this up. “I chose to do it. You know that.”
Jack slammed his fist on the table, making the legs shake and startling Henley while she was applying some lipstick with a small mirror. Her hazel eyes were stretched wide as they darted from Sara to Jack and back to Sara again.
“Stop defending him! We both know you wouldn’t have done it without him pressuring you.”
“He didn’t pressure me! It was my decision, Jack! Let it go already!”
As their argument grew louder, Sara noticed a handful of students staring at them. They were still finishing their lunches and smiling excitedly. They were waiting for the only entertainment available in Ernestville.
Henley noticed the bystanders and leaned over the table. “This really isn’t the place to argue, you two...”
Jack glared at one of the kids watching and roughly shoved his chair back to stand up. He shoved his homework into his backpack before stomping out of the cafeteria without saying goodbye. Sara could only stare at the table while Henley tried to comfort her. She studied the grooves in the old wood to avoid eye contact with anyone and pray that Evan hadn’t witnessed the scene.