I'd Rather Not Be Dead, page 1
I'd Rather Not Be Dead
I'd Rather Not Be Dead
Copyright© Andrea Marie Brokaw 2012
Published by Hedgie Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-0984702138
Hedgie Press logo by Amanda Ulevich
By the same author:
Pride, Prejudice and Curling Rocks
available at most online booksellers
thanks for believing
(and everything else)
Once upon a time, I was a perfectly happy, reasonably normal human being. For the most part, I got along with other people, even my sisters. I wasn't the most popular girl in school, but no one seemed to hate me. I had hobbies and friends and a life.
Then my parents got this horrible idea to move to my dad's hometown, this tiny little hell hole in the middle of the Appalachians, and before you could say, “This place sucks,” I became your stereo-typical moody outsider. They tell me it's my attitude that makes this place so awful, but what else can they say? If they paid enough attention to notice that they were wrong, that this town really is that horrific and stifling, then they'd have to admit that moving me here constituted criminally bad parenting.
I trudge up the steps of Pine Bridge High and glare at each stone tile along the way. My mood gets even worse when I slipped through the open doors into the school itself. There are people in the hallways, not there waiting for the day to start, but changing classes. Which means I'm so far beyond late that it's not even remotely funny.
Each step made agony by the newly formed blisters on my feet, I stomp through the halls with my eyes open for my so-called best friend. He's easy to find, a punk rock needle in a haystack of hicks. He's lounging against the chipping paint on his forest green locker and leering at my younger sister. Or at her tight sweater, anyway. My hands clinch into fists as I bear down on him. “Cris! What. The. Hell. Happened?”
He leans closer to Bobbi, whispering something to her. She tosses her hair with a haughty look. “Just tell my loser sister Dad says the car's mine this weekend.”
I grind to a halt next to them, shaking with emotion. Neither so much as glances at me.
“And stop looking at me like that, Crispin.” Bobbi wrinkles her nose. “It's creepy.”
Cris watches her leave, his eyes locked onto the spot where her miniskirt slaps against her legs. She's right. His expression is creepy. Very slasher-film stalker. It's completely messed up. He turns to his locker without acknowledging me.
“What?” My stomach churns as I cross my arms and deliver my deadliest glare. “Why are you mad at me? I'm the one who should be pissed. I'm the one who woke up alone. On the ground. Miles from town out on the stupid Parkway. I'm just lucky this place is too boring to have mass murders or serial rapists lurking around.”
He rummages for a book, slides it in his bag, and slams the locker shut without comment.
“What did I do that was worth that? Seriously, Cris. I don't remember last night.”
He yawns, stretches, and starts down the hall. Then he curses and turns back, returning to his locker, but still pretending I don't exist.
“This isn't funny.” Somehow, I manage to keep from punching him, but my fists jerk at my sides with the temptation. “You abandoned me. Why are you acting like I'm the bad guy?”
He yanks out a notebook and mutters to himself, too quiet for me to catch the words, before turning a smile toward me. Where the leers he aimed at Bobbi were strictly predatory, this smile is relaxed, comfortable, and assured. He closes the locker door with a clink. “Hey, babe.”
“Hey, babe? Are you freaking kidding me?”
“Hey, yourself,” my voice responds.
My eyes narrow and my skin erupts in goose bumps as I turn around and see myself smiling back.
The girl's a perfect replica of me, from the narrow stripe of pale roots showing in her blackened hair right down to the boots gracing my feet. There's a flower on the ankle of the left boot, a thorny rose drawn in silver sharpie against black leather. Her gray eyes dance for Cris, their depths brought out by a smattering of black eyeliner. My favorite pair of jeans, black with metal laces streaming down the legs, cling to hips that are too thin but undeniably, if tragically, mine. “No sense in being pessimistic,” my girlie-fit shirt proclaims across her underdeveloped chest. “It wouldn't work anyway.”
At least she's not wearing the same outfit I am. Just my face, my body, and my boots.
“Who the hell are you?” I demand. She doesn't so much as blink at me.
While I'm wondering how she'd respond to being punched in the face, my look-a-like's smile turns to a sneer and her eyes fill with disdain for something a few yards down the hall. “What are you staring at, jock boy?”
Jock boy? That can only be Cooper Finnegan. I look over my shoulder to see the star athlete in question moving his head toward his locker. Shoulders that are normally straightened cockily slump in mute shock. His mouth is slightly open, his skin pale. His head moves back slowly, his eyes drawn to me. This me, not the other one.
“Stop looking at her.” Cris shifts his stance closer to the replica of me.
Cooper Finnegan shakes his head and forces his attention back to his books as I walk toward him. “What's going on?”
He whispers something in response, but I don't catch it.
Swallowing hard, he looks me in the eye. There's something in his gaze I don't understand. It's a little bit like pity and a little bit, just a hair, like loss.
“What's happening?” I ask again, nearly pleading.
The other me snarls. “I told you to stop looking at me.”
“Sorry.” Cooper Finnegan takes a long breath, turns and leaves.
“Cooper Finnegan!” I scream after him. “What's going on?”
He stops long enough to glance over his shoulder and give me a tight smile. But he doesn't answer the question before launching himself into a group of other a-list celebrities.
“What's his problem?” The other me looks to Cris for an answer.
His arm slips around her shoulders. “You're just too hot for him to handle.”
“Who are you?” Forgetting about Cooper Finnegan, I hone in on the mystery girl, getting right up into her face. She has the same scar on her jawline as I have on mine, up near the left ear. My scar came from a skateboard trick gone wrong. Where'd she get hers?
She snorts. “Spoken like a man who wants in my pants.”
Cris grins and casts a significant look toward the door to the gym, which is vacant this period. The look gets him smacked on the arm while the other me laughs. “Maybe later.”
“It's always maybe later.” He dips his head and looks up through his eyelashes in a teasing pout.
My body trembles in anger and frustration. “Hey! She's not me!”
They walk together down the emptying hall and, biting my lip until it threatens to bleed, I follow.
No one pays any attention to there being two versions of Drew McKinney, no one except Cooper Finnegan. Thanks to the joys of assigned seating, he sits at a lab table across from mine in physics. Posture rigid and mouth in a mild frown, he keeps his eyes glued to the board even though there's nothing written on it.
I stand in front of the other me, where she sits in my seat. “You can't just have my life.”
My doppleganger doesn't react as she taps her jagged nails against the surface of her textbook. Is that what she is? A doppleganger? A double created by and sent
I glare at the dirty thief who's stolen my face and my life. It isn't much of a life, but it's mine. And I want it back.
I reach down to pick up her book to throw it onto the floor, but my hand passes straight through it, sending chill bumps rippling across every inch of my skin. No way that just happened. No. Freaking. Way.
Cooper Finnegan's eyes move. He gives me a soft, sympathetic, and sad smile.
“Seriously, dude.” The other me pierces him with a hard look. “What's your problem?”
He shakes his head and looks forward without saying anything.
I try to ignore my budding terror as I shift to stand between the jock and the blackboard. “What do you know?”
His lips press into a narrow line and I can almost hear the debate he's having on what, if anything, to tell me. He's got an explanation, though I have no idea why Cooper Finnegan ¨C obnoxious, arrogant, annoying Cooper Finnegan! ¨C is the only person who seems to know what's happening.
He gets up and goes to the teacher's desk as the bell rings. “I need a hall pass.”
If I'd done it, I wouldn't have gotten one. Even assuming the teacher saw me and heard the statement, she'd have informed me class had just started and I should've done whatever I needed to do in the break. But Cooper Finnegan? The Golden Child of Pine Bridge, North Carolina? She doesn't even ask what he wants it for before handing over a signed slip.
His hand shakes as he takes it.
I follow him out the door and down the hall to the empty gym.
“Sit down.” He motions toward the bleachers. When I fold my arms and glare at him rather than following the command, he shrugs. “I'll sit then.”
He does, leaning over spread legs with his arms resting on his thighs and his hands folded at his knees in one of those classic 'guy' poses. His gaze is on the ground.
I resist the urge to tap my foot. “Can we hurry this up?”
“I'm trying to...” All the air rushes out of him and his body slumps. He takes a long breath. His head shakes and his fingers flex. He opens his mouth a few times before finally coming out with, “I don't know what to say.”
My eyes roll. “I'll help. Here's a start. Drew, what's happening is...”
“You really can't figure it out?” The question is quiet and tired, not at all hostile or condescending, but I respond to it with a vicious glare anyway.
“If I had, do you think I'd be talking to you?”
He sighs and shakes his head. His lips press together, then relax. “Guess not.”
Impatient, I dig my nails into the fabric of my shirt and tap my foot as I wait on him to get to the point.
“I'm the kid from The Sixth Sense,” Cooper Finnegan informs the shiny wooden flooring.
“I see dead people?”
“Really? Well, boyo for you.” I always knew he was crazy, I just never cared enough to bother proving it. “Do any of them know who that girl is?”
He shakes his head. “You don't understand...”
“No, I get it. You see ghosties.” If he wants to hallucinate, that's his business. I couldn't care less.
His eyes move up and lock onto mine. “I'm seeing one now.”
My body feels like it's encased in ice.
“What do you mean?” I ask, even though I know.
He swallows. His eyes shimmer. “You're dead, Drew.”
Cooper Finnegan nods. “Sometimes the trauma that creates a ghost sends the ghost back in time. The other you, she's you. The living you, before you died.”
The absolute worst thing about this moment? That I believe him.
He quivers as he stands and gives me a long look.
“Drew, I'm sorry. I...” He draws an unsteady breath, shakes his head, and takes a step back. “I'm just really sorry.”
And he leaves me to think about what he said, almost running in his haste to get away.
“Yeah, right.” I glower at the empty bleachers. “Like Cooper Finnegan would care if I died. He's obviously making things up. Obviously.”
I sit, draw my knees up, and I cry. I cry until the next period, then I cry some more as the freshman storm the room for gym class. And then I laugh, because the only thing I can think is, “But I don't believe in ghosts.”
The cafeteria at my old school was at least three times the size of the one at Pine Bridge and we crammed six times as many people into it. So that's one thing that Pine Bridge has going for it, being less crowded. It's probably the only thing better about this place. Well, okay, that and the view. My old school looked out at the back of a factory that had been around since the eighteen hundreds. The view out of the windows of Pine Bridge is more like a post card. Mountains, check. Trees, check. Happy fluffy clouds, check. There's even a river lazing its way past under a trestle bridge.
I find myself having lunch and sit down beside me.
Okay, thinking like that's going to drive me very crazy very fast. I think I'll try that thought over again..
I find the other me having lunch and sit down beside her, trying not to think too hard about why I can sit on furniture and walk on floors but can't touch things like people and text books. The other me shakes her head in exasperation. “I don't have your weed!”
Cris's eyes narrow. “I gave it to you Monday.”
“No, you didn't.”
They do a few rounds of did-too-did-not while my head throbs. If this is my past, shouldn't I remember it? Is memory loss is a side-effect of death trauma?
Death trauma. Shit. Deep breaths, Drew. Don't lose your cool. One lapse into weepy hysterics was enough, no need for a repeat. Maybe Cooper Finnegan's wrong, it would hardly be the first time. Or maybe he's lying. Maybe this is his idea of a joke.
I turn my stare to him and catch him looking away. He's all pale and somber and doesn't strike me as someone who's pulling a prank.
Cris makes an annoyed sound. “Why does that ass keep looking at you?”
“Because I'm dead,” I answer.
“How should I know?” the other me asks.
The real question is why does he seem thrown off balance? Surely he sees ghosts all the time. I can't be the only spirit near here, we're in the Appalachian Mountains. If the Appalachians are famous for anything it's... Well, it's moonshine. And then blue grass, I guess. Outhouses, incest, improper English, and lack of dentistry... But somewhere on the list of things everyone knows, or thinks they know, about this area is that the hills are haunted. And if people don't know it, they figure it out the first time they stop at a local tourist trap and see the wall ghost stories.
As the other me argues with Cris over whether or not she's encouraging Cooper Finnegan to stalk her, I get up and cross the room to where Bobbi stands next to a table peopled by a large section of the football team. “Y'all are totally gonna to trounce Mitchell. They don't have anyone half as good as you, Finn.”
He gives her a polite smile, but takes his attention away from his sandwich for less than half a heartbeat.
When we were kids, Bobbi used to stare at the oven as Mom baked cookies with this completely riveted expression, all full of longing and hope. It's the same expression she watches Cooper Finnegan with now, but if he notices, he doesn't give any indication of it. Guess he expects girls to fawn over him and only notices those of us who don't. He meets my eyes and stops chewing.
“What are you doing after the game?” Bobbi asks, leaning close like she's worried she won't hear his answer.
Cooper Finnegan's throat bobs as he swallows.
“If I'm dead, why don't I remember dying? If this is the past, why don't I remember it?”
He turns his eyes to my sister. “We'll talk about it later.”
She absolutely preens. Stupid cow.
“I think you're lying.” I take a seat on the table, next to Copper F
“You okay, Finn?” one of the players asks.
He clears his throat and adjusts his chair, forcing me to change position. “Yeah. Fine.”
Being boys, his friends accept the answer even though he's lost all color and looks kind of shaky. Bobbi parts her lips like she's going to argue, but she gets cut off by the running back. “Do they have anyone as good as me, Bobbi?”
She smiles for him, but the expression's nowhere near as bright as the one she wore for Cooper Finnegan. “I don't see how they could.”
“By raiding the ape house at the zoo?” The words are pure instinct. I get near these people and I can't help but think mean things. And mutter them.
“I need some air.” Cooper Finnegan leaps to his feet and stalks to the exit with no more warning than that one statement.
“He's a good guy,” he whispers when I've caught up. “He may not be as smart as you are, but that doesn't make him worthless.”
May not be as smart as I am? I'm impressed he's figured out how to read. “Whatever.”
The quarterback's stride gets longer.
“Where are we going?”
His hands slam into the dull metal bar of the door and it crashes open, allowing us to blast outside. The other me's out here, smoking with Cris. People used to tell me I shouldn't smoke, that it would kill me. Bet I showed them. I may not know what I died of, but I don't think it was something as prolonged as lung cancer. Assuming I really did die.
“Why don't I remember this day?” I wave my arm toward the other version of me.
Cooper Finnegan shakes his head as he looks toward her. She notices and scowls. Cris notices and sends the jock a glare of pure venom. Cris and I aren't a couple. He's been very, very clear on that score. But he cares enough to be territorial. That's something.