FLICKER: Prologue & Chapter 1

Prologue

Sunlight pulses across the dashboard—light, dark, light, dark—and catches the dust dancing on the imitation leather.

My eyes stutter, but I blink it away. My heart jumps around in my chest. I stroke the grainy piece of cement stuck between my back teeth with my tongue.

The orthodontist swore he got it all, but that was as true as his promise that it wouldn’t be uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable. Right.

A tingling sensation pricks the tips of my fingers. I press them together, watching the blood shift beneath my skin. The tingling turns to those sharp needles that remind me of anything but sleep.

I press harder and my toes start tingling too. What the hell?

The dancing on the dashboard gets faster. The trees here are taller, straighter, and the sunlight strobes through the branches. My breath catches and a sudden heaviness pushes me deep into the seat.

I glance at Mom but she’s concentrating on the road, humming along with golden oldies or whatever the hell it is she listens to, oblivious to the fact that something very weird is happening to her daughter.

To me.

I close my eyes. The heaviness lifts. Too much. Now I’m floating and—

“But Mom, I’m fine.”

Mom crosses the kitchen and leans against the counter. “Biz, you’re going. The dentist said your face will change if you don’t get braces. Your entire face could look different…”

A sense of déjà vu slams me over the head. I’ve had this argument. Next Mom is gonna grab the stack of mail that Dad left on the counter and toss it in the basket.

She does.

“Biz?”

The words tumble out of me. “Mom…” The déjà vu doesn’t lift. This isn’t a memory. I’m not in the car anymore.

I’ve gone back to yesterday.

 

 

Chapter 1

I’ve been flickering—jumping back to yesterday—since I was thirteen. The first time I thought the orthodontist gave me more laughing gas than he was supposed to, but in the four years since then I figured out I can use the light to my advantage. I’ve retaken tests, undone fights with friends, and repeated more than a few memorable dates.

Unfortunately this is not one of those times.

Music blares from a speaker in the corner of the gymnasium, the heavy bass vibrating through me and everyone else flailing on the dance floor. A disco ball throws flashes of light spiraling off every surface in the room. I throw my head back and close my eyes, pretending to lose myself in the music, when really I’m just trying to block out the damn light.

“I love this song!” Amelia, my best friend, grabs my arm and bounces next to me. Her dark wavy hair sways with the music, unlike mine which hangs limp over my shoulders.

My eyes open a slit. “Didn’t disco balls go out in the 70s?”

She laughs, a throaty giggle that makes me smile. “So keep your eyes closed. I won’t let you run into anyone.”

Yeah, right. I sway next to Amelia, scanning the crowd for Robbie, my boyfriend, and spot him against the far wall laughing with a couple friends. His blond hair practically glows in the blinking lights. He notices me watching him and smiles. As I lift my hand to give a half-hearted wave a low chuckle behind me makes me turn.

“How long did you promise to dance?” Cameron, my other best friend, stands flat-footed with his arms crossed, indifferent to the movement surrounding us. His dark eyes twinkle, a smile lifting the corner of his mouth.

Amelia spins, sending her hair flying. “Three songs! This is number two.”

“And thank god it’s almost over.”

She laughs. “Come on, Biz, you love it.” She throws an arm over my shoulder and we knock hips.

Cam nods at our friends near Robbie. “I’ll be over there.”

The song ends and the blinking lights slow to a lazy loop around the room. Crap. I also promised Robbie one slow dance, and from the look on his face as he weaves through the couples already pressed close together, I’m not getting out of this.

He smiles. “They’re playing our song.”

“We don’t have a song”

“I know, but I requested it so that makes it our song.” His lips graze my cheek and he places my hands behind his neck. Our bodies brush as we turn in a small circle. “Is this really so bad?” he whispers.

“No.” I rest my head against his shoulder. My eyes close but my thoughts are anything but relaxed. This is supposed to be what I want. A boy who wants to dance with me and spend time with me and seems to think I’m cute. So why do I feel so antsy when he’s around? I mean, I know why—he’s hardly the first boy I’ve dated and I always get this feeling after a couple months. But why can’t I just be happy?

Robbie trails his fingers up and down my back, then pushes my hair off my shoulder. His warm breath on my neck gives me the shivers, but it’s not the reaction he was going for.

I pull away. “I think I need to get some air.”

He looks at me tenderly, misinterpreting my signals. “Okay.”

I turn away and push through our classmates, but he grabs my hand, stopping me. I face him.

His eyes are clearer, the smile gone. “You don’t have to run away from me. I’ll come with you.”

Whatever. I let him lead me into the hallway, but he turns around a corner into a darker corridor. “Robbie, wait.” I stop, his fingers still linked through mine. This isn’t what I want.

“Biz, you just said you wanted to get some air.” He does air quotes around the last part.

“It wasn’t code for making out. I really needed to get out of there. The lights…” My fingers touch the side of my head. That’s the downside of flickering. I get wicked migraines that sometimes last longer than the time I flickered. But it’s usually worth it, and I’ve gotten used to the constant headaches.

He rolls his eyes. “It’s practically pitch black in there.”

I’ve never explained my deal with light to Robbie, and I sure as hell am not going to clue him in now. “Forget it.”

His hand snakes around my neck and he tries to pull me close.

My hands flatten against his chest. “Robbie…” I warn.

A noise behind us makes me turn. Cam is standing at the end of the corridor, bathed in light from the main hallway. And he’s glaring at Robbie.

Robbie looks at Cam then scowls back at me. “If I didn’t know better I’d think he’s your boyfriend.” He releases my neck and stalks down the dark hall, away from me and Cam.

“You know that’s not true,” I say to his back.

“What do you see in him anyway?” Cameron’s at my side, his hands stuffed in his jeans pockets. His hair falls over his eyes as he looks down at me.

“I don’t know anymore.”

He smiles. “Well you still owe Amelia one more dance, then everyone’s heading to the boat ramp for the after-party.”

I sigh dramatically. “Fine. As long as you promise to help me drag her out of there. She’s eyeballing the soccer team and if I know her she won’t want to leave until she talks to one of them.”

“Deal.”

I glance over my shoulder to see if Robbie’s still there, but he’s gone. I should probably feel guilty or worried or something, but all I feel is relief.

*****

On Monday Robbie stops me in the hall after trig class. “How’d you do on the quiz?”

I guess he’s not mad at me anymore. “Not well. Why’d Bishop make you stay?”

“Just giving me crap because I didn’t finish.” He slips his arm around me and tugs me down the hall.

I don’t mean to stiffen, but my body pauses. I avoided his calls all weekend but I guess he didn’t get the hint.

“What?” Frustration laces his words and the corners of his eyes crinkle the way they do when he’s about to go off on someone.

“Nothing. I just…” Don’t like the fact that you’ve gotten too close to me. “I didn’t finish the quiz either and I’m worried I’m gonna fail.”

Robbie follows me to my locker and waits while I switch my books. “That’s not it. You’ve been acting weird since before the dance.” He touches my arm, a gesture that used to send ripples through me but now makes me want to scratch where he touched, as if that would undo his caress.

I turn to look at him. “It’s nothing. I’m just worried about my dad.” I hate myself for playing the sympathy card, but it’s the easiest way to deflect attention from what’s really bothering me.

He drops his hand and his eyes soften. “Did something happen?”

I close my locker. Nothing happened, but that doesn’t mean I don’t live in an eternal state of worrying about my dad, something most of the kids in school would never understand. “No, but thanks for asking.” I hurry down the hall before he can press further, his eyes burning into my back. I feel like a complete bitch for not telling him the truth.

 

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