Chapter 1:

I May or May Not Be Prone to Overexaggeration and Melodrama

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2006

The world is ending. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. The mother effing Rapture. The earth is going to open up and swallow the entirety of my life and all the remnants of semi-organized civilization.

Okay. Maybe I should back up? Because before I realized the Rapture was upon us all, life was pretty status quo.

I woke up that morning as I do most mornings: my mother had been harassing me to the point where I thought a Social Services form might need to be filed. I mean, really? I am seventeen years old. If I so choose to sleep until I have just enough time to roll out of bed, dress and clean myself and still be just shy of tardy for class - then that is my god given right!

Okay, maybe not god-given, but hormonally-erratic-enthusiastically-bankrupt-teenager-given for sure.

I mean David does it all. The. Time. And she doesn't care about him doing it! But he's the blessed oldest child. He might as well be the second coming in my mother's eyes, because that's what she treats him like. Not that he really wants it. Poor guy showed a gift for math and chemistry in middle school and the entire family has been trying to preserve him like mummified remains until he can get to college.

David fully appreciates it, but it definitely wears on him. Everyone's counting on him to get off the res and 'make something of himself'. Like all we do here is smoke peyote and go on the dole. I mean, this the only place I've ever lived, but we are damn productive people! But David? No pressure, right? Maybe that's why Mom let's him be...

Regardless, I'm hardly in here sacrificing kittens or trying to dress like Ziggy Stardust or something. My mom thinks there is something inherently wrong with me and therefore has to counteract by trying to wake me up for school even earlier than is necessary. I fulfill my teenager programming by ignoring her and waking up as late as possible.

"Kimberley Elizabeth Connweller!" my mother shouted from the kitchen. "Get your butt out here or so help me, I'm taking every battery pack for every camera you own!"

I sat bolt upright, my tangled mess of shaggy hair everywhere. Low blow, Mom. Low blow. I glanced over at my bookshelf, haphazardly re-engineered by yours truly to fit my assortment of film equipment. When I was young, I went through disposable cameras like a crack fiend until my tenth birthday when my parents got me my first "big kid" camera. I didn't use it anymore. It was a pretty basic run-of-the-mill point and shoot. It was the last present I'd ever gotten from my father before he passed away. I now kept it on the top shelf like an antique. It was one of my favorites. A prized possession, you might call it.

I saved up my money from holidays and birthdays and every six months I did a couch dive and gathered a heck of a lot of spare change (it wasn't until high school that I realized the mother load could be found in the deposit of our dryer). I bought myself a pretty decent SLR and was glued to the other side of a viewfinder until eighth grade.

After that, I got frustrated with the still frame photography. I am by nature not a still person, and a single shot just never did it for me. The summer before my freshman year I mowed lawns, cleaned gutters, detailed cars and even painted Old Quil's shed for the money to buy myself a miniDV camcorder. In the three years since, I've acquired - mostly through other people's tossing of things out - a variety of other cameras, video cameras and their various parts. All of which litter my decrepit bookshelf.

I wouldn't put past my mother to fulfill her regularly dispensed threats and had been seriously considering a gun locker for storage as my next investment.

I growled absently and rolled out of bed, knowing better than to raise her ire so early in the morning. She had to work first shift today at the hospital. My mother preferred second shift, so we would only be alone in the afternoons and she would be able to get things done around the house in the mornings.

But not today. First shift meant she would have to wake us up and would be home just in time to see me huddled over my laptop, editing film and David on his way out to play football or partake of some other masculine right of passage.

I stumbled out of my room and shivered as the cold air hit my bare legs. I traipsed into the kitchen and attacked the coffee maker with chimpanzee-like grace as I attempted to wrangle my morning fix.

I had a serious caffeine addiction, which I'm sure sprung from the countless hours I spent bent over a computer editing milliseconds of scene transitions in my recording. My mother didn't particularly care for it, but as I'm largely sure she was just biding her time until I picked up more serious addictions, she tolerated my coffee consumption.

I felt bad about that, I mean I'm crazy not stupid but sometimes my mother worries unnecessarily. I shouldn't have asked her if caffeine could've been issued directly into my bloodstream via IV. But really? She's a medical professional! I was just wondering!

"Mornin' Mom," I muttered over my mug of black coffee.

"Good morning, dear," she replied in distracted haste. She was about three minutes late from her usual departure time, I noted, and was therefore pretty frazzled. My mother is a woman of organization, neatness, order and reason. Therefore, I don't make a lot sense to her most days.

"Please do something with your hair, today, Kim. If you insist on chopping it all off, the least you can do is not look like a teenage boy." she snatched her bag from the table and kissed the top of my head. "Make sure David gets to school. He has an exam."

"Sure thing, Mom."

After she bustled out the door, I propped my feet on the chair opposite me and enjoyed the few moments silence as I finished my coffee. I got up, poured David a cup - black, two sugars - and proceeded into his room just next to the kitchen.

"Rise, shine and greet the day, Brother Bear. Ma says you got a test today." I placed David's mug on the table beside his alarm clock and opened the shade above his bed, letting the light pour inside.

Despite his mathematical genius - or maybe because of it - David is just a regular eighteen year old guy. He eats, sleeps and breathes sports; you need the jaws of life to wake him up everyday (he's worse than me); and he loves his car and pretty girls. He's pretty standard issue as far as males go. He just enjoys Calculus.

Girls at school tell me how good-looking he is all the time and I just make weird fish faces and gagging noises because he's my brother? Help a sister out!

"It's an English test," David muttered into his pillow. "I speak English real good."

Apparently.


David and I rattled to school in his arcane hunk-a-junk just in time to disperse and greet our loitering friends before first period.

Tabitha - my best friend since diaper days - was steadfastly trying to maneuver her history book out of her locker as I approached. She used the length of one leg to hold the four foot pile of junk inside as she wrested the textbook from its demonic clutches.

"I don't know how you manage that every year, Tab. You never bring anything to school." I leaned against the locker bay and snapped a brief photo of her locker's innards before she successfully snapped it shut without anything spilling out.

"Search me," she replied in a huff as she tossed her long black hair over her shoulder and picked up her bag. "It's inevitable really, but wait a moment..." she paused before getting completely sidetracked by my comment. A wry smile crept onto her face before she spoke again. "I was in the Main Office today and guess who's transferring into our history class," she waved the textbook in front of my face.

"RuPaul?" I guessed.

"Cute, Kim. Cute," she replied. "No. Lover Boy."

"What?" I choked. I swallowed quickly before speaking again, trying to hide the change in my voice. "Why would I even care, Tab? Remember, I told you at the beginning of the semester, I am over him."

"Oh, bull shit, Kim Connweller. Just because you don't talk about him nonstop anymore doesn't mean I don't notice your attention toward him hasn't changed an iota."

This was true. In a moment if total girly pathetic-ness, I'll admit that I'd been in love with Jared since approximately the fifth grade. Despite the fact that our entire school housed less than one hundred kids - and less than thirty per grade - he had never noticed me. And because I'm so severely out of his league to the point where we actually inhabit separate time zones, I have never said anything to him about it. Obviously.

Sure we've talked casually enough. In a school this small it's impossible not know or talk to everyone. Being in the same year we've even had a few projects together. Because of the way QTS does classes all the courses are shuffled and everyone gets the same major classes the same year. They just shuffle around the grades and you could have class with seniors and freshman. Math classes are the only exception.

Coincidentally none of Jared or I's classes overlapped this spring semester and I never saw him. I decided to use this time to my advantage and to work on getting over my - as Tab called it - 'obsession'. It has been going well insofar as I haven't actually mentioned him to her since classes began two months ago but that doesn't mean that I haven't noticed how he hates tuna salad day in the cafe or that he is prone to knuckle cracking when he's nervous or that he's experienced some major growth spurt these past few weeks turning him into some kind of body builder or that he has been absent from school for two. Whole. Weeks.

Don't judge me.

I have been pining after this boy for six years. I pick up on these things. It doesn't matter that he's not in any of my classes; I can sense his lack of presence. He's absolutely gorgeous and he has this wonderful white smile all the time because he's just such a happy person and whenever I see it, it makes my heart melt and leak into my shoes. He's polite and holds doors for people and stuff and he even caught my lunch tray once when I slipped on a bologna slice in the café last year.

Issues. I have them.


The fact that Jared was the only thing in this world to make me shy or uncomfortably awkward about anything was exacerbated when I sat down in our history class, only recall that the one empty seat in the room was directly behind me.

I almost swallowed my tongue.

Because the world didn't hate me enough that I actually had to cohabitate with Jared for a full forty-five minutes a day, he was going to be forced to sit behind me. That was the worst! He could see me, but I couldn't see him. So god only knows what he was actually seeing or thinking. Would he find me repulsive? Would he even care? Did I smell? I mean, I did have really awesome shampoo but still!

This is why I wanted out of this tangled teen-love-crush-obsession. The boy scrambled my mind matter and he didn't even know it. I couldn't live like this. I needed enough brain capacity to sustain conversation, sit upright and not go cross-eyed. I needed to be able focus through the rest of my history class because I was fond of passing grades and I couldn't do that with Jared literally breathing down my neck! But he would also be very close to me... Sigh.

This is about where I realized my world was going to end. Yeah, the Rapture? I was well assured it was happening now because before my inner monologue could continue, the soap opera that is my life went into freeze frame mode. Because the remnants of my history class trickled in and included in that group was Jared. Or the artist formerly known as Jared.

Now, I had been in full-on status quo observational mode - though Tab calls it 'creeper' - until two weeks ago when he fell of the face of the planet. Before he'd disappeared he'd exploded. Legit. No word of a lie, the boy I had grown up with had gone from tall and lean to large and ripped – to the point where it scared me a little.

As I watched him cross the classroom, I couldn't help the drop of my jaw. I wasn't even sure I was seeing the boy I'd always known - the guy I'd convinced myself I was going to live with forever. All the softness was gone from his face – replaced by severe cheekbones and a rough angular jaw line. And his hair! His hair was all gone! He had it trimmed and buzzed. A jarhead.

But what startled me most was his demeanor. He was visibly on edge. He looked anxious and he carried that in his posture: upright, ridged. It only emphasized his enormous stature and intimidating build.

I shrunk back slightly in my seat, noticing the tension he carried in his face. Tears pricked my eyes and I immediately felt ridiculous. What did it matter to me if Jared developed a serious case of 'roid rage in a month's time? Why was it important to me if that natural light and happiness had gone from him? It shouldn't have been. He barely knew me, never acknowledged me.

But it did matter. It was important.

As time readjusted to the proper speeds, Jared crossed in front of the desk I had slouched into. I tugged my knees up, fitting them between my small frame and the desk's tabletop. I didn't look up. I only fiddled absently with the fringe of my hair as I felt him move into desk behind me. He stopped momentarily in front of my desk, but I refused to allow myself to look up. That embarrassment I wouldn't survive.

I don't know if I was going into to shock or rigor mortus or something, but I couldn't even hear him move behind me. I only felt the desk move slightly and couldn't help the small squeak that I emitted when his knees bumped into my back. Clearly he was still adjusting to life at six feet seven inches.

My jump had startled a film canister from my sweatshirt pocket and I quickly reached down to snatch it from the floor and stuff it in my backpack. When I glanced up through my bangs I met Jared's eyes and what I saw would've scared Voldemort.

He was staring - no, glaring - at me, but with this unidentifiable emotion on his face. I wouldn't call it anger... But it was like I'd cured the common cold or admitted to having a third arm or stripped naked in the middle of the room. A combination of Jared's stare and that latter thought made my face heat. I finally decided to stop the mind games as he stared at me open-mouthed and spun back around in my chair.

Class began and I focused entirely on breathing so I wouldn't pass out, taking vigilant notes and forgetting that Jared was leaning against his desk and only about four inches away from me. I knew, I could feel it. I don't know how though. At this point, I was fairly well assured that my brain was freebasing a serious amount of cocaine and had totally checked the hell out. Whatever my body was experiencing I was definitely making it all up. Because my name was now Alice, and I'd tripped down the rabbit hole.

Then I felt a burning on my shoulder. Concerned that my body was exhibiting signs of psychopathy and that I wouldn't be able to get through the rest of this class - let alone the semester - without convincing every one of my classmates that I was certifiable, I shrugged it off.

Then I felt it again. The burning accompanied by a distinct pressure. The devil! The devil was on my shoulder! What was happening to me? I blinked once and swallowed hard before turning to look at my shoulder.

I jumped for the second time this period, and was greeted by - not the devil, au contraire - but a very overheated, very close up Jared. His face was almost perched on my shoulder and then he spoke.

"Could I borrow a pen?"

"I- I- I-," my mouth moved but I wasn't able to process the English language at this point. Jared was right there. So close I could've kissed him. I could feel the body heat pulsing off him like a bonfire and he smelled delicious - like cedar and grass and soap.

Everything that I had ever dreamed of was slowly coming true and I couldn't even raise my IQ higher than cabbage in order to formulate a coherent response. My hands worked of their own accord as I felt in my sweatshirt pocket and continued to stare at Jared like a guppy. Finally, he glanced toward the desk, uttered a small laugh and reached up, pulling the pencil out of my choppy ponytail.

"You mind?" he asked showing me the wooden pencil.

I shook my head. "Not at all..."

"Thanks, Kim. I owe you one."

I turned around, guppy face still firmly in place. I tried to focus on the rest of the lesson - something about liberty or Liberia or Liberachi... But all I could think or process was the same tiny speck of data:

HE KNOWS MY NAME.