Today’s the day…the day my fifth book, Because You Exist, is released into the world. I return to the world of Sci-fi for a fun, dark venture into the sub-genre of time-travel. Come on, I am a huge J.J Abrams fan, so we all knew this would happen some day.
Life is good for LOGAN MIDDLETON.
He’s quarterback of the Shepherd High football team, nephew of the town’s most successful lawyer, and boyfriend of Jenna Maples, a girl who has finally agreed to take their relationship to the next level. But nothing good lasts forever.
With only a few minutes of last period English left between him and a weekend alone with Jenna, Logan blacks out. When he awakens, he finds himself in a future where Shepherd High lies in ruins, nothing is what it seems, and everyone he loves is dead.
Logan is a shifter.
Chosen to travel through time, it’s up to him to figure out how to stop the terrible events that claimed his once perfect life. Of course, all of this might be easier if he wasn’t paired with the one girl who’d rather see him dead than help him, JOSEPHINE.
A girl he tormented during childhood. Strong-willed with biting wit, who lives in the shadows. Tough and dark, Jo is Shepherd High’s most notorious outcast and Logan’s opposite in every way.
Together the two must overcome their many differences to figure out why they’ve been selected for such an overwhelming task, and who selected them in the first place.
Before it’s too late…
“Hey. Where you at?” Jenna asked, tapping me on the chin. I had wasted time I could be spending with her thinking on all the crappiness of the day. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I needed to live in my present.
I placed my hand against her smooth, flushed cheek. “I’m right here,” I whispered. I was where I wished I could be forever.
Jenna rocked forward so she was up on her knees. She bit on her lip. “You gonna make me do all the work here?”
I couldn’t help but grin. “I don’t want anyone to say I’m controlling. Though I do have to comment on our lack of creativity. We have the whole house to ourselves. We could do this on the couch, or on top of the dinning room table…”
Jenna covered my mouth with her hand. “On the table that came with my great-grandmother from Germany?”
I laughed. “You’re right. Don’t want to get too crazy.”
There was something comforting about being with a girl who knew you. I know by most of my friends’ standards losing my virginity at seventeen was considered pathetic. I was QB1, and my so very supportive friends often reminded me that I could easily have lost the v-card anytime I wanted to lose it. But I had wanted it to be with Jenna. The whole idea of sex while alluring, and damn was it alluring, was kinda scary. There was no way I would be good at it at first. That wasn’t possible. I liked the fact we stumbled through it together. We were probably both bad, but with each other it felt good. Really good. I didn’t worry about making a mistake. I just wanted to be with her, and she wanted to be with me.
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you too.”
We always said this beforehand. Not because we had to say it, but because this was an act of utter trust. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. Sure, down the road maybe my thought process would change, but I only had the present.
I pressed my lips against Jenna’s, and I felt her lean into me. I shifted down so my head was against the pillow, pulling Jenna fully on top of me. I ran my hands up her back. Jenna pulled away. “I love you,” she said again. As always, her face flashed fear. This fear only lasted a moment, but it was always there. I never quite understood it. Maybe this meant something different to girls.
“How long did it take you to find me?” Carrie asked, pulling out one of her earplugs.
“What are you listening to?” I countered. I didn’t want to answer her question. I didn’t want to explain how it took me four hours to find someone who knew anything about Scary Carrie besides the fact that she loved hoodies and had zero friends. It involved one of those things where you call a friend who knows a friend who knows a friend whose mom also works at the public library. I used the JV football team as my slew of detectives. They were always eager to please me.
Carrie laughed quietly to herself, no doubt fully aware of the fact that I was avoiding her question. She turned her iPod so I could read the screen.
“Sia. Hmmm. Jenna likes her.”
“Wow,” she said shaking her head. “Why do you sound so surprised there, QB1? What were you expecting to see?”
Um. I don’t know. Maybe some screamo, emo band singing songs about death or how the world sucks, or maybe how conforming to nonconformity is rad. I mean if she was going to wear the hoodie and play out the loner routine, she might as well really commit to the performance. Soundtrack and all.
It was then I noticed how her hood was off her head. Her curly, red hair was pulled into a ponytail that lay in front of her shoulder. Her face was flushed. She almost looked like breathing wasn’t the most painful thing asked of her. She was almost…
Don’t go there.
“Listen. Um. Can we talk?”
She laughed again. “Sort of late to ask me that, Mr. All-American. Since you know…we’re already talking.”
Carrie didn’t wait for me to continue. Instead, she pushed her cart of books further down the aisle and began to place the books on the self.
“So, I was thinking we could talk about…you know…that thing…that happened to us.”
“You want to talk about that thing that happened to us!” Carried exclaimed in a louder than needed voice, waggling her eyebrows.
I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. “Very funny,” I muttered.
“Oh, calm down, Die Hard. It’s not like any of your friends spend their Saturday afternoons at the public library.”
“Loving the nicknames,” I replied dryly.
She didn’t respond.
“So. Um. How long have you been working here at the library?”
Why was I so nervous?
I had talked to like a million girls before. Granted, never about the end of the world though.
“Don’t,” she warned.
“Play the I want to get to know you act.”
Count to ten.
Why does she have to be such a bit…
She lifted a book from the cart, but I grabbed it out of her hand. “Enough.”
I was down on the ground before I even had a chance to make sense of what was going on. The side of my head was bleeding. Someone had punched me. One of the survivors was sitting on my back as I struggled to lift my head to see what was going on.
Our new friend stepped towards Josephine. She didn’t make a noise, her face remaining emotionless. It was as if something snapped into place within her, like a shield or force field. If she was feeling scared you couldn’t tell. The only sign of any emotion at all was her breathing. Her chest rose quickly up and down.
“Let’s see what’s under the pretty wrapping paper,” the leader said, stepping even closer to Josephine. He grabbed her by the pocket of her hoodie and pulled her close to him. He reached up and forcefully yanked down the zipper. Still Josephine didn’t protest. I continued to struggle to get up, but the man on top of me only laughed and pushed me back down. For every second that Josephine sat there still and quiet, I thrashed around more violently and cursed louder. The leader of the group grabbed underneath the shoulders of her jacket and pulled it off like a magician would when revealing his great trick.
“Hot damn,” he sang.
I stopped thrashing about. Under the hoodie, Josephine was wearing a tight-fitting, sleeveless tank top sporting the Shepherd High emblem, no doubt part of her track uniform. I couldn’t stop myself from looking. The girl had a body. Her arms were slightly defined, the arms of an athlete but not in a scary way. She also had a great pair of boobs. Yes, I noticed. I only looked for a second because I knew she didn’t wanted me to look at her.
“It’s been so long since we’ve had a girl,” the man said, slithering closer to Josephine. He reached out his palm, running it down the side of her face until he reached her neck. He wrapped his hand around her neck. Josephine still didn’t react.
“Don’t touch her,” I yelled out. Maybe we weren’t friends, but she was all I had in this world. I wasn’t going to sit back and let anything happen to her.
“I wonder if you’re the dark one?” he asked her, choosing to ignore me entirely. “I hope you’re the dark one. I’ve only ever had me a light girl before. They say it’s bad luck to mess with you shifters, but I figure we already have had our share of bad luck.”
“I remember the light one. I remember the light one. I remember the light one,” the third man began to chant.
“She didn’t even fight back. Fighting back is what lets a man know he’s alive. You know what I mean. Don’t you kid?” he said finally turning to me.
“Go to hell,” I replied.
This caused the men to begin to laugh. “Hell doesn’t want me, kid. Neither did God. If God wanted me I’d be dead like the rest of them. At least that’s how I look at it. You’re the hell and you’re the heaven. We’re just what’s left.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but the longer I kept him talking the more time I had to think of a way of getting out of this. Why couldn’t I shift at will?
“What did you mean about a conductor?” I asked, trying to stay focused even though the blood that was seeping out of my head wound was beginning to run into my mouth.
“You had your chance to get your questions. I said give me the girl, and I would give you the answers. Sorry.”
“Let’s make a new deal,” I replied. I just needed more time. I could think of a way to get us out of this. I had to think of a way. I was still pretty sure that whatever happened to us in this present would follow us to our normal present.
And maybe there were things worse than death. These weren’t civilized men. I didn’t know if I could buy all his heaven and hell talk, but I did wonder how they survived. Was it purely because of their predator sensibilities—some eff-ed-up version of Darwin’s theory? Or had they been allowed to survive, chosen by the same people or thing that allowed us to be shifters?
“No deal. But I do want to play a game. Can’t say we get much in terms of entertainment around here anymore,” the leader replied, pushing Josephine next to me on the ground. Her eyes met mine and I saw fear for the first time since the men had showed up. I wanted to find her hoodie and enclose her in it. I wanted to protect her.
“Here’s how it will work,” the man continued as he circled around us. His friend still held me down, and while Josephine was free to move, I knew she wouldn’t leave me. “I will give you a five minute head start. You hear me? Five minutes. After that, game on. But you should know that we love to play rough. We don’t care if you’re shifters. As far as we’re concerned, why save the world when they didn’t want us around in the first place?”
The man holding me down must have received some signal from the leader because he let me up. I scrambled to my feet and held out my hand for Josephine, but she didn’t take it. She pulled herself to her feet and looked at me. I looked back.
We were screwed.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Five minutes started thirty seconds ago.”
“I know why they sent us here. Why this memory is important.”
“So, I could know you. So, you could trust me. We’re partners. Maybe the people who are controlling this aren’t doing it to play with us. Maybe they’re trying to make us strong. Ready for what’s to come.”
Just as quick as the emotions left Jo, they returned. Her chin wrinkled up and her eyes slammed shut. She dropped the rope and brought both hands up to cover her face. Her fingertips pressed into her forehead, her knuckles turning white.
She was fighting it.
She curled her fingers into fists. “Don’t try to justify them,” she spat out between her arms, her face impossible to see.
“I wasn’t trying—”
She yanked her hands from her face and looked straight at me. Enraged. “You were. You like things to have explanations. You need answers. Sometimes evil is just evil. Sometimes people just like making other people feel pain.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me off again. “I’ll never be normal. Never! I’ll always be this way. I am so thankful you saved me, but I can’t be happy to have to live this again. I live it every day. I’ll always be this freak. Stuck.”
“That’s not true.” Maybe it was. I didn’t know.
Her anger was soon replaced by defeat. She walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. She didn’t speak. She pulled her hands inside the sleeves of the robe. When she looked back at me, I was startled to see her look scared. Truly frightened.
“What is it, Jo?”
“I think I like him. Ben. I think he likes me too,” she said quietly, turning her face from me again.
I swallowed hard.
“I’ll never have what you and Jenna have.”
“You don’t want what we have. Remember? It’s not honest or something.”
Jo shook her head slowly. “What would I know? I’ve never been in a relationship. I watch people in relationships and read books. That’s all I can base my conclusions on. But I don’t want to be alone. I wish this wasn’t another thing my father could take from me.”
It killed me to say this. I didn’t like Bentham. He was cocky. He didn’t deserve her. But she liked him. And I would watch out for her. “Why don’t you tell Bentham? Be daring. Try an actual date before you ship yourself off to a nunnery. I’m sure he’d say yes. You two do talk like every minute of every day. Right?”
“It won’t ever mean anything. I can’t even wear a damn short sleeve shirt without panicking. Eventually, things will get…intimate.”
“If he’s worth anything, he won’t push you.”
“I know he won’t. But maybe I need to push myself. I’ve never told him about these things. I never told you, and you’re pretty much the only friend I have. If I can’t trust you, the person destined to my partner, how can I ever even hope to kiss a boy without wanting to throw up?”
“You’re talking now,” I offered.
And she was.
And I felt honored.
Honesty was tough, but it was also a gift.