Authors: Caroline Healy
This book is dedicated to you.
âThe bright day is done, and we are for the dark.'
Antony and Cleopatra
, William Shakespeare
Unbeknownst to Kara Bailey, it would take exactly two minutes and fifteen seconds for her to die.
Oblivious, she walked down the street, her eyes lowered and her pace even, the contents of her school satchel long forgotten. She was trying to make sense of what had happened earlier in biology class. Several thoughts crowded for attention at once.
We're just friends.
Lab partners, that's all
Ashleigh is going to freak when she finds out
A name repeated over and over, matching the rhythm of her footsteps.
One foot in front of the other.
Her brain teemed with questions.
Why did he ask
? Why now? What about his stupid rule?
Kara wasn't sure how she was going to answer his proposition. A thrill of excitement zapped from the top of her head all the way to her toes. He
the hottest guy in her year.
But what about Ashleigh?
Her best friend would not be impressed.
The air smelt of damp autumn leaves. Stepping off the footpath Kara moved to cross the street. She didn't see the car coming, failed to notice the shining front bumper as it sped towards her. She didn't hear the screech of tyres or register the look of horror on the driver's face when he realised he was going to hit her.
Over and over again in her mind.
It was the last thing Kara thought before slipping into total blackness.
Ben Shephard pushed thirty kilograms of weight over his head and exhaled. He liked to feel the stretch of the muscle as he strained, higher and higher. The sensation was uncomfortable and addictive at the same time.
He knew he should take it easy.
The torn ligaments in his knee had only just healed. He remembered the stabbing pain and shuddered involuntarily, dropping the weight back down quicker than he would have liked. He looked around the gym, worried that someone had noticed his momentary loss of control.
His right hand shook, the fingers twitching in tiny spasms. He balled it into a fist, closing his eyes. His body was getting cold; beads of drying sweat pricked his skin, the feeling almost unpleasant. It was the come down from the amphetamines. He could feel the last of the drug leaking through his pores. It left a stickiness, made his sweat smell sweet. As he stood there in the weights room, his eyes closed, it was easy to pretend that everything was OK.
He only had two tabs left. He would have to call Conor and ask for more. The first sports trial for St David's University was only a week away. He needed to make sure that his old injury stayed well and truly in the past.
was going to stand in the way of this scholarship, nothing and no one, least of all Ashleigh Jameson.
Earlier, just as the lunch bell rang, she'd cornered him by his locker.
âHi,' she said innocently. Ben had known Ashleigh for a long time, had even fooled around with her during GCSE year but then his dad died and things changed.
âHey, Ash. What's up?' Her lithe body was blocking access to his locker. He had no choice but to talk to her.
âI heard the head of PE is about to select candidates for sports trials.'
Ben frowned. Since when did Ashleigh start taking an interest in sport?
âYa.' He waited, unsure where the conversation was going.
âThe events committee has decided a theme for the dance. We should go.' Ashleigh leaned against the grey lockers, her lips parted ever so slightly. Ben could see the pink tip of her tongue between perfect white teeth. She smelt of strawberries.
âLike, as friends?' He shifted from one foot to the other, her direct gaze unsettling him.
âMmm.' She didn't actually formulate a response, her brown eyes large and unblinking.
He shook his head. Ashleigh Jameson was nothing but trouble.
âI think I have stuff on that night.' He moved her gently out of the way, focused on the combination of the lock. He had biology after lunch. He needed his course book.
When she spoke, her voice was syrupy, her breath hot near his ear. He knew, even without looking at her, that her cheeks were flushed, the glow of anger spreading across her skin.
âI heard somewhere,' her words breathy, âthat the head scout for St David's hates queers.' She laughed. âIf he suspects for a moment that any of his future stars are that way inclined, he wouldn't think twice about cutting them from his list.'
Ben stiffened, his back muscles tight, his heart thumping. He began to sweat.
Ashleigh sighed, as if bored. âMy father socialises with him at the club. You know, afternoon rounds of golf, luncheons. It would be terrible if rumours began to circulate.'
She stepped back, the tickle of her breath on his neck evaporating. Ben clicked the last digit of the combination and swung open his locker, reaching for his books.
He didn't bother to turn round.
âSee you later, Ben.' Her voice was light, sweet, like bubbled chocolate.
In the weights room, Ben returned the weights, reflecting on their conversation.
He had one rule, one cardinal rule: no dating. And Ashleigh had spent the last year trying to get him to break this rule. But he needed to stay focused on his priority, on his training. The scholarship was so close, almost within his grasp. There were three more games, three more, and then the scholarship was his.
Assuming Ashleigh didn't follow through on her veiled threat. What harm could it do? One date with her? Put to bed any rumours, get her off his case. The idea of having to capitulate to Ashleigh's blackmail left a bad taste in his mouth.
Ashleigh was gorgeous, the fall of her long, blonde hair, the smell of her perfume, the peak of her breasts inside her school blouse. She had a body to die for. It was a pity she was a total head case.
He wiped his neck and forehead with a towel, walking to the changing room. Ashleigh thought she could manipulate him. She assumed that she'd left Ben with no choice. But she was wrong. There was always a choice.
On the other side of town Kara bounced off the bonnet of the car before cracking her head against the ground.
As Kara's blood seeped from her nose to the dark tarmac, Hannah Quinn hurried along the school corridor. She was late. Her parents would be expecting her home promptly from after-school study. Her fingers fumbled with the strap of her satchel. She could barely close the bag around all the books she was carrying.
With her free hand she pinched the bridge of her nose, keeping her gaze downcast. She was getting a headache.
Please don't let it be a migraine.
The thought made her hurry â half stumble, half jog â towards the main exit.
What if someone saw her? Fearful, she slowed down. She had to seem indifferent, had to make people believe she was mundane, less than mundane: forgettable.
The stigma of having epilepsy was bad enough. But it was the attention of Ashleigh Jameson, and for all the wrong reasons, that made her life hell.
Only one more year to go, then she'd be eighteen and legally independent of her parents. No more school, no more medication, no more Dr Morris. The Institute for Cerebral Abnormalities â Hannah would never have to set foot inside its revolving doors again. But, until then, she had to melt into the background, remain unnoticed.
At least Ben Shephard had no idea who she was. He walked right into her at lunch, stabbing her bicep with the corner of a science book. He'd looked at her blankly, a small frown forming on his almost perfect brow, as if his brain was struggling to remember. What a cretin. She sat two seats in front of him in English class and had done so for the last year. Not that she ever expected a guy like
to remember her.
Her headache was getting worse. The dreams were back. It was a girl, a college student this time, alone, in the cold, afraid. Hannah ran her hand across her forehead, attempting to smooth away the dream memory, the sensation of fear. She needed to get home. Walking down the steps of the school building, she let her long hair conceal her features, her shoulders rounding against the evening chill. Mousy Hannah Quinn, nondescript â that was the way she liked it.
As Kara's legs twitched in unsightly convulsions, Mrs Rosemary Bailey pushed a shopping trolley around the supermarket. She was trying to decide what to make for dinner. Not that it mattered â Kara rarely ate anything substantial after a day at school anyway. Rosemary considered phoning the clinic, mentioning Kara's lack of appetite to them. It wasn't something
important but the counsellor had told her to keep an eye out for
Since her stepdaughter had moved to St Aloysius' School, things were much better. Kara was staying out of trouble. There were no fits of rage, no fires, only occasional, quiet anger. Kara seemed altogether more placid, thanks in part to the counselling as well as the move.
Maybe things were beginning to turn around. Finally.
Rosemary stopped to pick up a copy of the daily paper, the front-page headline catching her eye. A missing girl, a college student, had disappeared on her way home from the campus library. That was the second missing person in a month.
Rosemary dropped the newspaper into the trolley, rounding the corner to the tinned-food aisle, beans on toast for dinner. As she reached to the top shelf for a tin, Kara's lungs constricted, desperate for oxygen-drenched air on a tree-lined street on the other side of town.
Kara's heart weakened and slowed its furious pumping while Ashleigh Jameson strutted down the corridor of St Aloysius' School at the end of another great day. She paused occasionally to allow her manicured hands to brush through her blonde hair. She liked the way it moved, fanning around her shoulders when she walked.
She smirked to herself as she spotted Hannah Quinn scuttling in the opposite direction. She hated that girl. There was something about her, always lurking, watching with those grey eyes. It made Ashleigh feel ill at ease. She spent so much time scheming that the thoughts of an observer, ever watchful, made her uncomfortable.
However, there were always ways to make the likes of Hannah Quinn irrelevant.
Her phone pinged in her pocket. She retrieved it, sliding her finger across the screen. A text message from Jenny:
OMG Ash. Just heard news. BS asked Kara to Halloween dance. FB me when u get home! J
Ben Shephard had asked Kara to the dance. Ashleigh stopped in the hallway, stunned.
The concept was unimaginable. What was he thinking? Everyone knew Ashleigh was better-looking than Kara, more popular than Kara, more fun than Kara. In fact, if it wasn't for Ashleigh taking Kara under her wing when she moved to the school after her meltdown, Kara would be a nobody like Hannah Quinn.
âThat little back-stabbing bitch!'
Ashleigh's voice carried in the empty corridor, the words echoing. Her jaw clamped tight, her teeth grinding. She thought of her anger-management classes and tried to count to ten. The last thing she needed was to lose it in the middle of the school corridor. Her father paid a lot of money for her to keep her temper in check.
Taking a few shallow breaths, she steadied herself for a moment, putting her manicured hand on the wall. Something would have to be done to remind Kara how to be a better friend.
Ben should have paid more attention to their earlier conversation at his locker. Clearly he'd underestimated Ashleigh's intent. She would make him pay, make them both pay.
Kara's heart stopped. Her body jerked once, then lay perfectly still.
He was paralysed, enveloped in total darkness. He could not open his eyes, could not move, but he could smell others close by, could hear, acutely, all their conversations
He was powerless and it made him think of that night, on the roof, almost two years ago. It wasn't his fault; he hadn't been in control. He kept telling himself that, over and over again
Sometimes the guilt was so heavy it pressed down on him like a tombstone.
Now, it was almost time, no room for memories, only retribution. It was his burden. And he would bear it to the end, no matter what happened
He was growing stronger by the day â he could feel it
He had a plan
destroy it. Free himself
It was nearly time to wake up