I am posting the first chapter of Mortal Obligation. Please keep in mind that this is unedited, and only the first draft. A lot of people have been asking me about the book and I thought this would be a good way to share. I have to admit that this makes me more than a little nervous. Up until this point, only family and friends have read any of the book. But, it is time for that to change. I value your feedback, and would love to hear what you think.
Ok, I'm going to post this now before I loose my nerve.
The spot just between her shoulder blades had been itching and crawling all night. She had the creepiest impression that she was being watched. Continually growing stronger and stronger. It was an unnerving feeling, all most tangible. More than once, she had found herself looking over her shoulder, trying to pick out the eyes that were fastened on her back. She had thought that it would go away, but since she had arrived at the restaurant with her friends, it had only intensified.
She shivered and looked down at the goose bumps on her arms as she pulled the sleeves of her black sweater down to cover her wrists. She had to be losing her mind. No one in the restaurant was even looking in her tables direction. Her mouth pressed into an irritated line. It was happening again. Seeing things that weren't there. Imagining that people were following her. Her dreams had become so realistic that she woke sweating, once crying out as she sat up in bed. Every year at about this time things always seemed to become strained. She chalked it up to the time of year. There was always a strain on the whole family just after the winter holidays.
She looked out the window, into the dark of the parking lot. As she looked at the cars, something moved to the left of the window. Dark, and quick, she couldn't be sure that she had even seen anything. She licked her lips nervously and craned her head to try and see better around the cars. There was a flash of movement in the back of the parking lot as something obscure seemed to disappear behind one of the cars. Her heart skipped a beat and her breath caught in her throat.
“Ree? Hello. Are you listening?”
Riana jerked her head around, blushing and looked at the people sitting at her table. She gulped and looked at the faces of her friends. Most were looking at her in amusement. “Sorry. I completely zoned. What are you talking about?”
“Geez, Riana. I asked if you had heard that new song they're playing on the radio. Doesn't it sound just like the beat for Impossible?” Weylin asked. Her friend looked at her intently with his brown eyes as if trying to force her agreement.
“Um, I'm not sure that I've heard the new song,” She tried to not look lost but Weylin just shook his shaggy head and moved the conversation along.
A couple of the people at their table chuckled and rolled their eyes. Riana was often in another world, a glazed expression on her face as she imagined some scene for a painting. No one really thought about her being in Lala land anymore. The only problem was that this time, Riana hadn't been lost in some painting, or planning some other work of art. She had been trying to figure out who was staring at the spot just between her shoulder blades.
She looked out the window again, and took a deep breath before turning to concentrate on her friends. The guys were arguing the comparisons between the band that they were going to see that night and some lesser known band. Juliette was laughing with Melanie as they watched Bryce flail his hands out in denial. Weylin was hunched forward trying to make his point by drumming the beats of the two songs on the table. Ree smiled watching them, and the tension in her shoulders lessened by a few degrees. She loved being with her friends. They always had a good time.
The person sitting directly on her right laughed loudly. It was a warm sound that made Ree's smile grow even more. She slid her eyes to the side so that she could covertly study his profile. Paden was tall, with brown messy hair that seemed to enhance the focus of his dark green eyes. He had a rugged quality that made him look dangerous, and she had to admit, sexy.
She had grown up with Paden watching out for her. It was only a few years ago that Riana had finally understood why all of her friends swooned when he showed up at her parents home. How she had missed the appeal that Paden held for all of those years still surprised her.
Listening to him laugh eased a little more of the tension gripping her shoulders. And she decided to try and forget her nerves and just enjoy the company. She swirled the straw in her cherry soda, and looked around the room. She grimaced when she saw a group of people approaching their table.
Michael and his girlfriend Shannon were in the lead, with some of their friends trailing behind. Ree paused as she scanned the group. Something about those two always struck her as odd. They made her uncomfortable, and not just because she didn't belong with the popular group. In the hierarchy of high school she was clearly labeled as an art geek. But Michael and Shannon weren't your typical evil popular kids. They never really did anything outlandish or horrible to anyone. It was something that just emanated from them. It probably didn't help that she swore she could see black swirling around them at different times.
Shannon made eye contact and gave her a small smile. On the surface it looked friendly, but something lurking in her eyes made Ree swallow. How could such a little person look so scary? Shannon's smile grew, turning into something all together frightening, then she winked. At that point Michael looked at Ree and jerked his head in acknowledgment of her stare and then went back to speaking to the friends that they had brought for the concert.
She looked at the new faces in curiosity. Michael introduced them as friends, and that was all. Because Michael was on the soccer team with Paden and he mainly addressed him. When she looked around the table she was pretty sure that everyone else was happy with that set up. No one really said much about Michael, but everyone knew that Juliette couldn't stand Shannon.
As for the people with them, they weren't their normal entourage. She had never met the tall, thin guy, nor the much shorter young girl. Paden seemed to know the guy named Adam, but didn't speak to the younger girl. She was short, and average looking. The dark circles under her eyes caught Ree's attention, making her wonder if the girl was sick. She jerked every time the waitress came near, and had seemed to shrink in on her self when ever anyone addressed her directly.
“Alastriana, how is the new job going?” Shannon asked over the guys conversation. Ree growled quietly and rolled her eyes. Why did she always insist on using her full name? She would never understand why her mother had given her such an odd name. Really, what had her mother been thinking? And while Shannon's tone was friendly, she knew that she did it just to irritate her as much as possible. They were in the same grade, and had shared many classes over the years. Shannon never made an attempt to conceal that she thought she was better than everyone. Her imagined superiority was always there, waving like a banner for everyone to see. Using her full name was just another little way of saying that Ree was a weird art freak. That was all normal for Shannon but this time, her voice sounded odd, like she was attempting to hurt Ree by using her whole name. Everyone at Ree's end of the table stopped speaking and turned to look at Shannon. The air in the room seemed to thicken for just a moment, as Ree decided how to answer.
“Well, everything seems to be going well so far. The boss seems really comfortable working around my school schedule.” In fact, Sophie, had been really awesome so far. She had even insisted that Ree take the night off to go to the concert. Looking around the table briefly there were almost angry looks on her friends faces. Paden rubbed a hand over his arm, and Riana noticed that he had goosebumps.
“You don't actually work with the antiques, do you? My mother has a chair there for repair. I know she would have a fit to know that a high schooler was playing with it,” Shannon sneered.
“Don't worry Shannon. Antiques can't find better hands than Ree. I'm sure she treats everything like it is special.” Padens deep voice brokered no argument. He turned to look at her, his eyes had an odd intense quality. She gulped. “Isn't that right Ree?”
“Um, yes. Such old things deserve a lot of respect and care.” She didn't look away from his eyes. She wanted to understand what was going on in his head. But the conversation and the serious look just didn't match. She wondered if he even knew what he was thinking.
Melanie cleared her throat before asking Weylin if he was going to finish his desert. He looked at his half eaten plate, then pushed it towards his cousin. No one really looked very hungry after that odd exchange. Mel ate a few bites of the pie and then loudly proclaimed that she was stuffed. Thankfully Michael and Shannon left soon after that, apparently they had tickets for the concert as well. Bryce asked for the checks when the waitress came back, and everyone rose to go pay their bills.
Paden grabbed Ree's bill before she could even look at the total. “I asked you to come, I will pay.” Ree sighed. He was always trying to take care of her. When would he realize that she was practically an adult? She was a junior in high school, with her very own job. Just because he was a year older didn't make him any more mature.
“Really Paden, I can pay for my own dinner! Besides I'm getting a free concert out of the deal because your friend bailed on you. I should probably pay for your dinner.” She put a hand on her hip, and gave him her stubborn face.
“I don't think so Ree. I'm paying.” He flashed his lopsided grin before turning to follow the others. He turned back to look at her over his shoulder and jerked his head to signal she should follow.
She sighed and joined every one at the counter. Bryce and Juliette were standing behind Michael and Shannon waiting to settle their bill. Bryce was running his hands up and down Juliettes arms in an attempt to warm her up.
“Are you cold? Why don't you put your jacket on?” He asked her.
She shrugged. “I think I'm just standing in a draft. I got goosebumps all of a sudden.”
Shannon snickered and turned to look at Juliette.
“Jules, are you not feeling well? Maybe you are coming down with something,” she smiled like that was a joke.
“Yeah, probably a stomach virus. I suddenly feel like I might puke.” Juliette scrunched up her face and looked around the room. “Or maybe I'm just allergic the cheap perfume that I smell.” She glanced back at Shannon and sniffed loudly in her direction. “Yep, most definitely something cheap.”
Ree bit her bottom lip to keep from chuckling, knowing that Jules couldn't stand Shannon. When pushed she never could give a good reason. She said it was just natural, like rain, the sun, and Adam Sandler's jokes. She had a thing for Sandler. Which was really lucky for Bryce. There weren't very many combinations of beautiful, smart, athletic, girls that also enjoyed a good fart joke.
She looked up at Shannon and her smile froze. The short girls eyes were dark, too dark. She tilted her head towards Juliette and made a sound that was something like a quiet snarl. Jules stood her ground, bared her teeth in a weird grin, and said, “I should have known that you had escaped from a zoo.”
Michael turned around and put a hand on Shannon's shoulder. “Now, now you two. You guys really could get along if you tried, you know. I bet you have lots in common.” Shannon straightened up, and tossed her dark hair out of her face. She sniffed and turned around without saying anything.
“Yeah, only if I ate out of a dog bowl,” Jules muttered. But it was quiet and she didn't take her eyes off of Shannon. Ree was still looking at Michael, unable to look away. There was a cloud of black circling around his head. She blinked, but it didn't vanish liked she had hoped. As if drawn by her stare, he met her eyes and his mouth pulled at the corners in some form of a smile. For the third time that night, Serene sucked in air through her teeth. Michaels eyes were black. The pupils so dilated that you could not see the normal brown. He chuckled after looking at her face, and then turned back to the cashier to pay the bill. Okay, that was just freaky.
Bryce turned and looked at Ree, his eyes wide. “Holy crap. Did you see that? He had, like, black eyes or something. Do you think they are on drugs? Maybe that is why they are so weird,” he said quietly.
Michael and Shannon walked off towards the exit, his arm around her shoulders. They caught up with their friends and headed out the doors. The smaller girl turned and looked at Serene. She glared at her, her eyes flashing with something dark. Finally she smiled, stuck out her tongue, and the ran off after the others.
“What is with them?” Ree asked. “They really give me the creeps.”
“They smelled odd. Did you notice that?” Juliette said quietly.
Ree shook her head and looked towards the door where Paden was waiting. He had paid before Michael and was waiting patiently for the others to get finished. Weylin and Melanie settled their bills and they all went out to the parking lot. Melanie, Weylin, and Juliette rode in Bryce's SUV. Serene made her way to Padens Toyota Corolla, and waited for him to hit the unlock on his key ring.
“We'll see you at the Civic Center,” Paden called as he walked to the passenger side of the car. Riana raised an eyebrow in question, but he merely shurgged then held the door open for her. This was somewhat new. She didn't really know how to respond, so she bit her lip and sat down in the seat before buckling the belt. He closed the door gently behind her. She looked up at him through her window as he turned around. For just a moment he paused, looking quickly about the parking lot and then shrugging to himself. He made his way to the drivers side and reached for the handle. Again he paused, looking around the parking lot. His gaze lingered on the dark corner that Ree had watched earlier, and she felt a thrill of fear. Could he feel it too? Had he seen something? Finally he opened the door and sat down in his seat. She immediately hit the automatic lock making him look at her and smile.
“Afraid of the dark?” He asked with a quiet chuckle. But she noticed that his eyes looked a little tense, and his smile a bit strained. He put the key in the ignition to start the car.
She rolled her eyes trying to be nonchalant. “Just random muggers, vampires, and aliens.”
He laughed and turned the key to start the car.
Suddenly a violent shudder racked her body causing her teeth to chatter. Her hand gripped the handle bar on the door, her knuckles white. If the feeling of being watched in the restaurant had been intense, it did not come close to explaining the fear that coursed through her body at this moment. Something dark ran in front of the car, barely brushing the bumper before the headlights came to life.
“What the hell was that?” Paden exclaimed, looking towards the moving bushes.
Ree shook her head and did her best to slow the beating of her heart. For the first time in her life, since all of the weird things had started happening to her, she prayed that it was all her imagination. Nothing more than an overactive fantasy life. She had always wanted proof before, that she wasn't insane. But now she would be happy to know that it was only shadows just out of sight. In fact, she was pretty sure that a lot of artists were insane on some level. She took a deep breath, and tried to calm her heart. Yeah, she could work with the whole quietly insane artist thing. Padens hand touched her arm causing her to jump. She curse and looked up at him, her eyes wide.
“It's alright Ree. Probably just a bird, or something. Hell of a timing, though.” He shook his head ruefully and pulled out of the parking lot.
Thank you for taking the time to read. I hope it peaks your interest.