Perfect Stranger

 

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Preface

 HER dream always started out the same. 

She would be standing outside of a great White House, wearing a thin white slip and a frown on her face. She did not know how she could have ended up there. She did not realize who or what she was looking for. She only knew she had to find it, whatever or whomever it was, inside that house. 

The wind howled and screeched as she took a tentative step forward, her heart pounding. She shivered, but it wasn't from the icy wind. It was from the fear of not knowing what kind of fate awaited her inside that house. The rotted boards on the porch creaked under the weight of her bare feet. Wrapping her arms around herself, she slowly approached the door. The wind pushed on the broken screen door, forcing it against the wall with loud, grating noises.

She winced, grinding her teeth. She stepped through the door into the house. The floor was cold, the hallway extremely drafty. She wondered why she didn't have a coat, or at least a shall to fight off the chill embedding itself into her bones. There weren't any doors, just the cold hallway that seemed to stretch on forever. Without hesitation, she set forth towards the end. 

She seemed to have walked for hours and hours, though it could only have been a few minutes. The farther she got, the more she heard. Faint whispers. The creaking of floorboards. Faint screams and shouts of sheer agony. Her skin crawled, her breathing jagged. She had just stopped in the middle of the hall to lean against the wall, to rest, when she heard it.

Faint, almost inaudible music floating through the decayed walls. Her breathing slowed, and slowly she straightened her back. Someone was in the house with her. She looked in the direction she had come, but found only darkness. She looked in the direction she should be heading. From an open doorway came the music, and the faint glow of candlelight. 

She all but ran towards the light, hope swelling in her chest. Someone was here. They would be able to tell her exactly why and how she ended up here, at this house, at this time. Her footsteps slowed as she neared the doorway, but the music did not stop. She peered around the corner.

There, dressed in the finest of tailors suits, sat a man. No, not a man. A boy, about her age, his pale, slender fingers plucking away at the ivory keys, oblivious to the girl behind him. His raven head was dipped low over the keys, the dim candlelight casting his shadow over the wooden floor. She took a step forward. 

As soon as she did, the music stop. The boy straightened, his hands balling into fists in his lap. Slowly, he turned. Instead of seeing a soft, boyish face, she saw nothing. Darkness, deep and endless, engulfed his face.

She screamed.

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Chapter One

CHASITY awoke with a start. 

Sweat beaded her forehead, pooling underneath her. She sat up, grimacing at the harsh sunlight glaring through her window. Slowly she sat, the remnants of her dream clinging to her conscious. There was an all too familiar hollow feeling in her chest, like she was missing something. Missing someone. 

She slid out of bed, working out the kinks in her neck and the knots in her spine. She had thirty minutes to get ready for school, and she had better make it count. 

It only took her twenty to shower and get dressed, and my seven-twenty five she was downstairs with a pop tart in her mouth and her backpack over her shoulder. "Morning," said her mother, who glided down the steps in the gorgeous kimono Chasity's father had purchased for their twentieth anniversary.

"Morning," Chasity said around her pop tart. Her mother poured a fresh cup of coffee and turned to her daughter. 

"Big day today," she mused, taking a long sip. Chasity swallowed, and cringed. Today was the day she was meeting Alejandro, the boy her parents so desperately wanted to marry their youngest daughter off to.

"I guess," she muttered. Her mother chuckled, setting her coffee cup down. She crossed her arms, her chocolate brown eyes boring into her daughter's own. "It's just dinner," her mother said.

Just dinner. Ha! Right. Just a dinner where her mother and father expected her to accept his proposal, if he even dared to do so. Chasity wondered why they hadn't tried to marry off her older sister. If Chasity had to do it, why not Charity too?

"Fine," Chasity groaned. "Just dinner, she says. It'll be fine, she says."

Mrs. Mendoza rolled her eyes, taking her coffee and turning towards the stairs. "You're gonna be late if you don't go now."

Chasity spit out the remnants of her pop tart—which wasn't much—and scrambled for the door, her amused mother's chuckles following her out.

•••

Chasity had never liked school all that much. Too many people, too much drama. She didn't really have friends either. Sure, she talked to some people in her class, but no one invited her out and sat next to her at lunch. She was okay with that. She didn't have a problem. What she did have a problem with, however, was the hallway. The hallway was always congested with people. Sometimes, it would be congested with people who did not know what a stick of deodorant was. Sometimes, it was congested with people who should have never found out that cologne or perfume existed. Chasity just disliked hallways with a burning passion. 

She fought through the crowd all the way to her locker, ignoring for the most part the faint whispers traveling from people's lips into someone else's ear. However, once she got to her locker, she was no longer able to tune them out. There were two girls from Chasity's AP English class and, for the life of her, Chasity could not remember their names. They were both blonde and pretty, one of the girls most guys would lust after. Not Chasity's type of people. Not that anyone was her type of person. The two girls were leaning against one of their lockers, talking. About who, Chasity didn't know. But it was definitely someone. "I heard there is two new guys coming today," said one girl, flipping her hair over her tanned shoulder.

The other popped her gum in disbelief. "Where did you hear that?"

The first girl shrugged, flicking the dirt from under her perfectly manicured nails. Chasity opened her locker and shuffled some books around to seem busy. "My mom is friends with the office secretary, remember? They enrolled last week."

"I hope they're hot," said the other. Chasity paused. New students? There hadn't been a new student at their school in five years, including the year Chasity had not attended. She would have to ask Charity when she got the chance. Her sister had been at the top of the food chain when she was there. She would have known if anyone was new right? The girls continued.

"Ugh, they better be. None of these bozos," said the first, eyeing the group of football players nearby with disgust. "Are a good lay."

Chasity gagged, covering it with a cough. Both girls turned to look at her, the confusion in their eyes not quite matching the ugly frowns on their faces. "Are you okay?" the second one asked. Chasity now could recall her name. Her name was Ava Henley, and she could be super nice, and she could be super mean. Right now, Chasity didn't know which. Her companion was Leslie Burn, her attached at the hip best friend. They both stared her down, unsure as to why she was there and  who she was. Chasity blushed, shutting her locker. "Yeah, I'm okay. Just, ah. Never mind. Have a good day!"

Chasity pivoted on her heel, speeding towards the girls restroom. She stumbled against the door, her cheeks burning. Thankfully, there wasn't anyone inside. Chasity collapsed against the door, sliding until her butt hit the floor. Burying her face between her legs, she took deep breaths. It's okay Chasity. You aren't weird. You're not weird at all. She giggled hysterically, clutching her bag close to her chest. She was definitely crazy. No wonder she lacked in the friends department. She stood to her feet, her giggles dying out. She splashed her face with cold water to bring some color to her cheeks and pulled open the door. She shrieked.

There was a boy, about six feet in height, with his hand raised, as if to knock on the door. He looked confused as he looked her up and down, his mouth twisted into a concerned frown. His hair was dark, so dark it looked like it had been doused in ink. His eyes were the clearest blue, so blue they looked like they held the ocean within their depths. The boy cleared his throat, lowering his hand. Charity's brow furrowed. She had never seen him around before. Then it dawned on her. He was one of the new boys. Where was the other? Chasity peered around him, but found no one but other gawking students. The girls were sulking in disappointment, and the guys were relishing in the fact they did not have competition. They were surely wrong.

The boy had sharp, angular features. His jawline was chiseled, her eyebrows perfectly arched, his mouth pink and soft-looking. He had the longest eyelashes she had ever seen, and what he lacked in muscle he made up for in height. His jeans and his shirt were tight around his body. He wore a leather bracelet around his left wrist, which was clutching the strap of his backpack. He swallowed uncertainly before he spoke. "Um...are you okay?"

Chasity glanced sheepishly back at the bathroom door. He had probably heard her giggling for no reason. There was clearly no one else in the restroom besides her. Great, she groaned internally. New boy thinks I'm crazy. She shot him a nervous smile. "I'm fine, thanks for asking."

The boy cocked his head, eyeing her warily. "You didn't seem okay," he said softly. Well, no. His voice was naturally soft, barely inaudible. It was low and deep and Chasity didn't not see how it could even carry across the small space between them. They were so close. Chasity could smell the toothpaste and aftershave on him. Chasity raised her eyebows.

"All good."

The boy extended a hand. "I'm Cole."

Chasity allowed herself a smile. Cole. Cole was nice. She liked Cole. She took his hand. His grip was strong and his hand was extremely warm and soft, softer than any male hand she had ever felt. "I'm Chasity. Nice to meet you Cole."

Cole smiled, dimples and all. He pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, shoving it into her hand. Chasity straightened it out. It was his class schedule. They had every class together. Chasity's heart jumped in excitement. Maybe, just maybe, she had found a friend. Someone to sit with at lunch. "Do you mind walking me to my first class?" Cole asked, his voice shaking. Chasity smiled, handing him the schedule back. She glanced up and down the hallway, which was slowly starting to empty out as the first bell rang.

"No. I don't mind at all."

 

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Chapter Two

THE supposed other new kid hadn't shown up. When Chasity had asked about him, whoever he was, Cole had shut down, his face darkening. She hadn't asked again. Now, she was sitting on the bus, dreading going home. She didn't want to have to put on a fancy dress to please Alejandro and his family. She could care less if they liked her or not. She didn't like him, she was sure he didn't like her either. It didn't seem like the type of relationship anyone wanted to have. At least Charity, her older sister, was in love. Sure she was in love with a guy who didn't have a future, but at least they loved each other right? Right.

As soon as she stepped through the door, she could smell her mother's cooking. Gorditas de chicharron, her specialty. Her mouth watered, and she grinned. However, as soon as she saw who was sitting at her dining room table, talking with her father, her grinned faded. Alejandro sat next to her father, grinning and using his hands to talk. To anyone else, Alejandro would be very attractive. With his wavy black hair, and his crystal clear green eyes. He was impeccably tan and well built, and two years her senior. He was studying to be a doctor currently. He would provide her with a stable future, said her mother. Like anyone else couldn't. When he saw her he smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners. 

"Hello, Chasity," he drawled. His voice was thickly accented from many summers spent in Mexico. 

Chasity gave him a curt nod, giving her dad a withering look. Her dad gave her a tight smile, his eyes as hard as stone. Don't mess this up, they seemed to say. With a stifled groan, Chasity accepted Alenjandro's warm hug. "You're looking beautiful this evening."

Chasity pretended to blush, glancing down at her jeans and t-shirt. "Thanks," she muttered. Alejandro smiled down at her, his hands lingering on her shoulders.

Mrs. Mendoza shuffled out of the kitchen wearing her yellow Kiss The Cook apron, smiling. "Chasity! You're home early!"

Chasity blinked. "No, I'm not."

Her mother blushed, setting the steaming dish on the table. Chasity couldn't wait to dig in. "Oh, well, I'd advise you get ready for dinner."

Chasity rolled her eyes, shooting Alejandro a long, confused look before shooting up the stairs. His parents weren't with him this time. Oh no. Realization of what might be happening stabbed her in the gut. Today was probably the day he would ask her on a date. Or worse: kiss her. Chasity shuddered at the thought of his lips on hers. Even thinking about it made her skin crawl. She showered quickly and threw on the dress her mother had laid out for her. It was purple and was tight in all the right places, but not too tight. Chasity slipped into her heels, swiped lipgloss across her lips, and headed back downstairs. By then her mother had consumed at least one glass of wine, and was nursing her second. She was laughing at joke Alejandro had just said, her face flushed. Alejandro's jokes were never funny. She took her place across from Alejandro, ignoring his intense gaze. He was drinking her in, and slowly. She didn't like it.

Mrs. Mendoza danced around the table, serving everyone. Chasity finally took notice of the empty chair at the end of the table, next to her mother's spot. "Where's Charity?" Chasity asked casually, sipping her ice tea. Her father frowned, wiping his hands on his suit jacket.

"I don't actually know," he mused. He looked to his wife for clarification. She gave a tight smile, telling her father everything he needed to know. Charity was out with her boyfriend, Tito, and would not be back for a while. Her father coughed into his hand, displeased. Alejandro pretended not to notice, instead focusing on the meal in front of him.

"This looks good, Mrs. Mendoza." He smiled at her, his pearly whites glinting in the artificial lights. Mrs. Mendoza blushed, patting Al on the shoulder. Alejandro winked at Mr. Mendoza. "You're a lucky man."

Mr. Mendoza beamed at his wife. "I sure am." 

•••

Dinner was the worst. While Al and her father talked about the future and my mother listened intently, all Chasity could think about was Cole. He hadn't given his last name, though she had never particularly asked. No one bothered him at all; he wasn't all that they thought he would be. All day, he followed Chasity around, asking me questions about myself. She didn't get annoyed, or tired. How could you get tired of someone like him? He seemed completely and utterly harmless. And maybe even Chasity first and only friend. After dinner, mother ushered her daughter into the living room with Al, while she and dad did the dishes.

Al took Chasity's hand, and her throat tightened. She could never love this man. It would break her parent's heart, but she couldn't accept his dating offer. Chasity wanted to find her own love, her own dream man. She wanted to find someone like Cole. She grimaced. She had just met Cole, she shouldn't be wishing for someone like Cole. Al smiled, his green eyes glittering. "Chasity, you look positively beautiful."

She feigned a blush, looking away. Al gently reached under her chin and turned her towards her again. For a brief moment, she panicked. Would he kiss her? She hoped not. He was quiet for a brief moment before he spoke. "I would love to take you out sometime. Just us."

Chasity blanched. She had prepared herself to reject him many, many times, but now she found the words stuck in her throat. She couldn't disappoint her parents. She didn't want them to look at her like they looked at her sister. "I....I don't know what to say."

Al smiled in that way of his, brushing his warm thumb across her chin. Chasity nearly vomited. She hated herself for doing this, for what she was about to do. "Alejandro, I can't."

The smile on his face faded, and his hand dropped from her face. He didn't move, didn't speak as she jumped to her feet, desperate to explain. "I'm too young for all of this. I'm just trying to finish high school, do you understand? I'm on seventeen, and I have one more year before I'm allowed out of this place. I can't think of dating you or even marrying you. Do you really want a loveless relationship?"

"No," he said quietly, his Adam's apple bobbing. Chasity sank to her knees in front of him, taking his hands in hers. He didn't pull away.

"There is someone better out there, Alejandro. You just have to find her." Al nodded once, stiffly, his head hanging low on his shoulders. Chasity sighed. "Look, I'll tell my parents that I said no, okay? That way it won't be your fault. Just go. Find your dream woman or whoever, and don't come back. Never. Look. Back."

She pulled Al to his feet, pushing him towards the door. Her parents were still shuffling around in the kitchen, the soft cadence of her mother's voice filling up the hall. She opened the door as quietly as she could, and shoved him out. He shot out a hand to stop himself from falling. Bracing against the doorframe, he turned to her. "If you ever need a friend, you have my number."

Chasity allowed herself to smile. He stumbled out into the night.

•••

Chasity had the same dream. Same house, same wind, same music. Same everything. Only this time, the faceless boy had a face.

The face of Cole.

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Chapter Three

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Chapter Four

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Chapter Five

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Chapter Six

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