Paradox (Unearthly Paradox Series)
With my heart in my throat, I climbed over the railing. I wondered how on earth I had gotten myself into such a situation. A few days ago, I would’ve thought there would be no way in hell I would be standing on a bridge about to let go. But there I was, and there was no backing out.
“Stop being chicken shit and jump, Zara,” Emily taunted.
My legs were shaking, and my heart was beating so fast I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
“If you don’t jump now, I’m going to come over there and push you off myself!” she yelled.
The water looked to be fifty metres below rather than the ten metres I knew it to be. I turned to my left and saw the three girls I’d only met the day before. They had claimed to want to be my friends, but I had serious doubts after seeing the wicked grins on their faces. They looked as if they would be more than happy to rip my fingers off the rail and throw me off the bridge.
“I’ll do it,” I said, trying to save what little face I could. I was probably already going to be the joke of my new school, and I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was too scared to do what the rest of the kids did for fun. “Bridge jumping. What the fuck,” I muttered.
When Emily and Phoebe stepped toward me, I took a deep breath and jumped. I screamed all the way down until I plummeted into the warm, murky water, praying I wasn’t going to land on a shark. Thanking God that I was still alive, I swam to the surface and inhaled deeply. The girls cheered.
Amy pointed to my right, where the boys were still in the shallow water after their jumps. “Now swim over there and get your ass back up here so we can jump together,” she yelled, brushing her blond curls away from her face.
I started swimming the thirty metres back to shore. I hoped I wasn’t going to get attacked by a bull shark, since they were known to swim the Gold Coast canals. Why on earth the other kids thought it was fun to jump off a bridge was beyond me. The kids at my old school in Sydney would never have dreamed of doing such a thing. Their idea of fun was doing coffee, going shopping, and hanging at each other’s houses—not jumping into shark-infested waters. Okay, so maybe there really weren’t sharks swimming everywhere, but the thought that there had been a couple of sightings a few miles away scared the crap out of me.
“For a minute there, I didn’t think you would jump,” Tyler said when I got close to the boys. He drifted toward me, making my heartbeat go crazy again.
What the Gold Coast had that Sydney lacked was seriously hot guys with their shirts off all the time. I couldn’t believe what everyone wore, or I should say, didn’t wear. Teenagers didn’t care about being seen in their underwear, and the shops were always filled with girls wearing bikinis and guys in nothing but boardshorts.
Tyler stood, revealing his washboard stomach that was probably thanks to countless hours out in the surf. “So how was it?” he asked, brushing a lock of brown hair away from his eyes.
“How was what?” I mentally slapped myself for the way my mind went to jelly around him.
He gave me an easy smile that sent my stomach into a quivering mess. “The jump. How was the jump?”
“Um, yeah. It was good.”
He chuckled. “Good, huh?”
“Yeah.” I stood, the water coming halfway up my stomach. When I saw Tyler’s eyes drop, I looked down at my chest and realised I could see my bra through my white sports uniform shirt. “Crap.” I sank back into the water.
Tyler laughed. “Maybe next time remember to wear your swimmers if you’re going to get embarrassed.”
The four other boys drifted over and flanked Tyler. “There’s no need to be shy around us,” Alex said, sparking a sense of danger I’d never felt before.
All eyes were fixed on me, and it wasn’t in a good way. I crossed my arms over my chest, stood, and quickly waded toward the shore.
Alex grabbed my arm as I tried to pass him. “Not so fast.”
“Let go of me,” I said, trying to rip my arm away.
“We only want to talk,” he said, not letting go.
Adrenaline pumped through my body. I looked up, hoping to see the girls’ faces hanging over the bridge. They had to be wondering where I was and what was taking me so long. But I realized we were a little under the bridge, and no one would be able to see us from up there. Crap! I had to think quickly. “The girls are waiting for me. How about you guys come up for another jump with us?”
An evil smirk crept across Tyler’s face. “I don’t think so. They’re not up there anymore. They’ve gone back to school.”
I didn’t understand why they would leave without me, and I didn’t want to stick around tying to find out why. I tried to jerk my arm away again. “Let go of me.”
Alex dug his fingers into my arm as the boys began to form a circle around me. I started to panic.
“What are you doing?” I asked nervously.
Tyler’s smile turned my blood cold. “I think you’ve already worked that one out.”
I felt as if my breath had been punched out of me. “No,” I murmured, shaking my head in disbelief.
Alex tripped me and pushed me under the surface. My mouth filled with water as I desperately tried to get a breath of air in before I was fully submerged. A moment later he brought me back up. My lungs felt as if they were on fire as I coughed up the water I’d taken in. As soon as I resurfaced, I felt hands grab at my wrists and ankles, pulling my legs to the surface.
“Please don’t do this,” I cried between spitting out mouthfuls of water.
Tyler moved to stand between my legs, running his hand up the inside of my calf.
“Leave me alone!” I yelled. I bucked futilely as he slipped his hand up my thigh and fingered the hem of my panties.
“Now we can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way.”
I looked at each of the five boys, hoping to find a compassionate face, someone who would say, “That’s enough,” or that they were just messing around with me. But all I saw were cold, lustful eyes staring at my crotch.
“Please don’t do this.” I started to cry.
I thrashed hopelessly as Tyler ran his hands up my hips and grabbed the elastic of my panties. I was completely at his mercy, unable to get away. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I realised that my life was about to be changed forever. There was only one thing I could think of to do. I knew I would probably pay for it, but I had to try.
“Rape!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
Alex slapped a hand over my mouth and shoved my face under the water.
I tried to kick my legs free and break the hold they had on me, but my efforts were futile. The guys weren’t letting go, and I was running out of air. I pushed my face up as high as I could, but it still wasn’t enough. My vision started to blur as darkness crept over me, a sense of peace settling my panicked state, until I could see no more. Then boom. Bright lights suddenly illuminated all my senses, and that was all I knew.
I came to, treading water and gasping for air. The boys were racing for the shore. Somehow I was out in the middle of the canal, but I had no idea what had happened or why they’d let me go. I put my hand under my skirt, praying my panties were still there—they were.
“You’re a fucking crazy bitch!” Tyler yelled as he and his mates scrambled up to the bridge with fear in their eyes.
He had tried to rape me, but I was the crazy one? I stayed in the water a little longer, afraid to swim to shore in case they came back to finish what they started. Finally, I decided I had to risk it. I couldn’t stay in the canal forever.
As I walked out of the water, I looked back and just about peed myself when I saw a guy about fifty metres out, looking directly at me. His eyes never wavered from mine as he slowly sank under the water. What had freaked me was not that someone was watching me—it was his eyes. They were solid black.
I rubbed at my eyes, thinking there was no way I could’ve seen right. I stood there waiting for him to resurface, but he never did. The way he had looked at me was unnerving. And his eyes… no matter how freakish they were, there was something familiar about them.
Shaking off my obvious oxygen-deprived hallucination, I walked up the bank to the path and then over the bridge, grabbing my bag along the way. There was no way I was going back to school, so I headed home.
By the time I arrived, I was completely dry. I dumped my bag next to the hall table and went upstairs to my bedroom. I locked the door behind me.
I expected to fall to pieces the minute I was alone, but I didn’t. The whole thing felt as if it had happened to someone else. I remembered my fear and that feeling of helplessness from when they had held me down, but the emotional connection I should have felt didn’t exist.
I could’ve put it down to denial, but something had happened after I blacked out, and I knew whatever it was would explain why I didn’t have the emotional connection to the incident. Incident? What the hell was wrong with me? Rape! I was almost raped, and yet I was referring to it as an “incident.”
After grabbing a pair of shorts and a tank top from my closet, I went into the adjoining bathroom. We had only been in our new home for a week, and nothing seemed to be going how it should’ve for me. I thought I had made some new friends, but those girls had set me up.
All I wanted to do was go home, back to Sydney, where I had been happy and where all my friends were. But my father had gotten a CEO position earning a lot more money than we would ever need. The fact that he was screwing up my life in the process didn’t bother him. I had been days away from finishing school and still had numerous exams, but nothing stood in the way of his career.
I threw my clothes onto the ottoman then turned to the sink. When I saw my reflection in the mirror, I almost peed my pants. My normally brown eyes were solid black, not just the irises, but the whites, too. I rubbed my eyes with my fists then looked again. My regular brown eyes stared back at me.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I muttered.
Turning my back to the mirror, I walked over to the shower and twisted the taps. I grabbed my towel and slung it over the frameless glass panel then undressed and hopped under the steaming water.
I tilted my head back, letting the water run down my face. The moment I closed my eyes, images of hands groping me flashed through my mind. I was going under, but I wasn’t afraid. I felt at peace.
The next thing I knew, I was going down. Literally. I smacked my head against the tiles and passed out.
Cold water jolted me awake. I looked around and realised I was still in the shower. I groaned as I tried to sit up. My head felt as if there were a jackhammer pounding against my brain, and my body ached from lying in that contorted position.
I pressed the palm of my hand against my forehead, hoping the pressure would alleviate the pain, but it did nothing to stop the constant hammering against my skull. I clambered to my feet, turned off the water, and stepped out of the shower. Grabbing the towel off the rail, I wrapped it around me then picked up another for my hair. I changed into my clothes and looked in the mirror. My brown eyes stared back at me. I thought maybe what had happened in the canal would have had some kind of effect. Of course it did, you idiot. You don’t just get over something like that. It stays with you for life.
I wished there was someone I could talk to about it. But I had no friends on the Coast, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell any of my friends back in Sydney. What could I say when I didn’t really know what had happened? One second, I was about to be raped, and the next, they were calling me a crazy bitch as they ran away. I didn’t get why they would say that or how I could’ve stood a chance against five guys. Maybe it had something to do with the guy I saw disappear under the water.
I laughed. The “guy” had probably just been a bull-nose shark, and I was lucky not to have been bitten by it.
I went down the stairs to the kitchen. The sun had almost set, but of course, my father wasn’t home. He hardly ever came home before nine p.m.—if he came home at all. He wasn’t a practical parent. Hell, I could barely call him a parent at all. He was more like a housemate that I never saw. Where he sucked in parenting skills, he made up with other things. He thought money could buy happiness, so he’d given me a credit card, and he never questioned the bill. He’d even bought me a new car for my eighteenth birthday. But I was too embarrassed to drive to my new school in a Mercedes when so many other kids didn’t even have wheels. What he never understood was that I would’ve given up all of those things for a father who actually gave a damn about me.
I got some painkillers from the pantry and a bottle of water from the fridge. I threw the capsules into my mouth then washed them down with the water as I went back upstairs to my room.
I lay on my bed and tried to relax. Sleep eluded me as I kept thinking about what happened in the canal and if it really was a guy that I had seen disappear into the water. I didn’t know why I was so fixated on him when there were bigger things I should’ve been worried about, but I couldn’t seem to help it.
Eventually, I drifted off, only to dream about the shark guy. His black eyes pierced through to my soul as he watched me intently.
The next morning, I woke up on the couch. I didn’t remember going back downstairs, but I often sleepwalked. The kitchen lights were still on, which meant that my dad hadn’t come home last night.
I rolled over, grabbed the TV remote, and turned on the morning news. They were showing the weather report. We were going to have another hot, sunny day. Well, I certainly didn’t plan on seeing it. There was no way I was going back to school after what had happened, even if it meant failing.
I picked up the ducted air con remote from the coffee table and turned down the temperature then grabbed the blanket off the back of the couch and snuggled underneath it. I stayed that way for the rest of that day and the next, only venturing out to get something to eat and use the bathroom.
When my father finally came home, he stood in front of me, hands on his hips, blocking the TV. He was still dressed in his business suit, and his short, dark-brown hair was styled to perfection. He liked to be intimidating, but I never saw him that way. I felt sorry for him. How could anyone be truly happy when he ignored the people who he was supposed to love?
He couldn’t even be bothered to sit down to talk to me. “Why would your school be calling me about your absence the last few days?”
I picked up my mobile phone and checked the screen—four missed calls from Dad. “I don’t want to go back.”
He glared at me. “You’re going back.” He turned around and walked toward the garage door. “I’ll be in China for the next week, and if I hear you haven’t been at school, then I’m going to hire a babysitter to make sure you get your ass there every day. I mean it, Zara.” He stomped out and closed the garage door behind him without so much as a goodbye.
“Yeah, Dad, there is something wrong,” I muttered.
“Oh really? What is it, my dear darling daughter?”
“I was almost raped, Daddy.”
I choked on a laugh. As if that conversation would ever happen. He’d probably accuse me of being stupid for getting into a situation like that in the first place—if he even believed me.
Too pissed at my dad to sit there any longer, I went into the kitchen and grabbed a tub of ice cream from the freezer. I took it out to the back deck and sat on one of the sun lounges.
The salty sea breeze and rhythmic sound of the waves crashing against the shore stripped away all my pent-up anger. Of course, the chocolate-fudge ice cream that I was shovelling down didn’t hurt, but that sounded too clichéd. And I didn’t do clichéd.
The sun had started to set behind me, leaving a pink glow across the sky. People were jogging down on the beach, going about their day as if everything was normal. But I guess nothing did happen to them. It was me. And tomorrow, I would have to face the jerks and bitches again at school.
I threw the half-empty ice cream tub on the patio table and stood up to go back inside. As I turned, I saw the black-eyed boy leaning against the wooden fence of the pedestrian path leading down to the beach. But when I did a double take, he was gone. I looked down at the beach but didn’t spot him. He’d probably never been there at all.
God! What the hell was wrong with me? I was seeing that guy everywhere. I couldn’t even escape him in my sleep.
I shook off my thoughts and went inside, locking the door behind me.
The next day came all too quickly. I stood in my bedroom, staring in the mirror and trying to convince myself that I was okay. I would be okay at school. I wouldn’t run into the jerks that I had thought were my friends. And I wouldn’t have a crap day at school. Yeah, right.
I waited until eight thirty before I hopped in my Merc and drove to school. I had sworn never to drive the car to my new school, but back then, I hadn’t needed a quick method of escape.
With the top up, I drove the five minutes to school and still managed to get a decent parking space thanks to my being one of the few students with a car. Before getting out, I quickly looked around, making sure that no one I didn’t want to see was nearby. Apart from the few stragglers, the coast was clear, so I grabbed my bag off the passenger seat and got out of my car. I made a quick dash through the school gates.
I didn’t know my classes by heart, so I fetched the timetable out of my bag. My first subject was art, and fortunately, none of the people I was trying to avoid were in my class. Just as the second bell rang, I ducked into the classroom and found an empty seat in the back corner.
The teacher was late. I heard hushed whispers about the crazy new girl and how she’d attacked Tyler when he turned her down. What the fuck? I attacked him? He attacked me! With four of his friends for backup! I wanted to scream it to the world, but I knew no one would believe the new girl. And of course, I had no proof—unless I counted the black-eyed guy.
Finally, the teacher walked in through the door and shushed everyone, but it didn’t stop the occasional glance from curious students. We spent the next hour drawing various pieces of fruit with charcoal. I was just thankful that we didn’t need to pair up with someone to complete the task.
My next class was English, and I wasn’t so lucky. One of the bitches was in my class, and the only seat left was in the one in front of her. I briefly considered turning around and leaving, but the thought of my dad hiring a babysitter quickly killed that idea.
I took a deep breath, held my head high, and walked as confidently as I could over to the seat. Amy glared at me. I held her gaze the entire way and only looked away when I turned around to take my seat.
“Slut,” she said under her breath.
I thought I would take the higher ground and not give into her taunting games. But about twenty minutes into the class when she leaned forward and whispered, “Do you have a dick down there? Is that why they wouldn’t fuck you like the whore you are?”
Anger boiled inside me, and all I wanted to do was slam my fist into her face. But I wasn’t going to lower myself to her standard. I slowly turned around and opened my mouth to say something, but her fearful expression rendered me speechless. She looked at me as if I were a demon or something. The colour drained from her face, and an odour that I couldn’t quite place wafted from her direction.
“Zara, please turn around and read page forty-five, section three,” Ms. Whatever-her-name-was said.
I turned back around and saw the teacher standing there with her arms crossed over her chest. She narrowed her eyes at me as if I had a big booger on my forehead. I quickly dropped my eyes to my book and started to read the paragraph. When I was almost halfway through, Amy rushed toward the door with her bag over her shoulder. Strangely, her jumper was tied around her waist. She couldn’t have peed herself, could she? She had looked scared enough and maybe that was what the strange smell was. But why would looking at me cause her to pee? My mind went straight to the black-eyed girl I had seen staring back at me from the mirror the other night and how I’d almost peed myself.
“And where do you think you’re going?” the teacher called after Amy.
Amy didn’t stop. She rushed out the door and disappeared from view. The class erupted in hushed whispers, and it wasn’t about me for a change.
“Okay, quiet, everyone,” the teacher said. I could tell she tried to sound authoritative. She seemed to think we still lived in the sixties when everything was peace and love, so her tone came off as a little pathetic, and no one listened.
Something I saw from the corner of my eye caught my attention. I quickly turned to look out the window but only saw a blur of rippling air. What the hell was wrong with me? I rubbed at my eyes, wondering if I should go to see a doctor about my hallucinations.
The rest of the double period went by without any further interruption, but as soon as the bell rang, my stomach turned to mush. It was lunchtime, and there was a huge possibility that I would run into someone from the canal.
Begrudgingly, I packed up my things and followed the last person toward the door. Just before I stepped outside, five girls I didn’t know shoved me back as they pushed their way into the room.
“Why were you trying to fuck my boyfriend?” a tall brunette asked, taking a step toward me. She stood at least a foot taller than me, and her friends were just as tall.
I knew what they were trying to do, but I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of showing my fear. Actually… I scrunched up my face in confusion. I wasn’t scared at all, which was really nuts considering I was pretty sure they wanted to beat me to a pulp.
“Don’t you fucking understand English, you whore?” Brunette spat.
I took a step forward, closing the distance between us to less than two inches. “I don’t know what planet you come from, but here on earth, we call what your boyfriend tried to do to me rape.” I took another step forward, forcing her to take a step back. “And I think you’ve gotta ask yourself: Why would your boyfriend want to fuck someone else? Huh?” I didn’t know why I said that, but damn, it felt good—even if I was going to pay for it later.
Without warning, she punched me in the face. I expected it to hurt, but there was no pain.
I raised an eyebrow and smiled a little. “Is that all you’ve got?”
The hatred in her eyes suddenly changed to fear. I quickly turned to look behind me, wondering if there was someone else there, like a teacher. But I only saw her friends, and the moment they looked at me, their faces paled.
I turned back to Brunette. “What?” My voice sounded strange. It exuded power, more than just being authoritative, but something I had never heard. By the looks on the faces of the five girls, they hadn’t heard such a tone before, either.
Slowly, they backed away, and I took another step forward. Their faces lit up with fear and they ran from the classroom, never once looking back.
A ripple of air that looked like the steam coming off a road on a hot day passed by the door. I quickly ran over and stuck my head outside. The girls had come to a standstill, staring at someone or something I couldn’t see. A second later, the rippling vapour blurred to the left and disappeared around the corner.
I had expected the girls to run again, but they started laughing and acting as if nothing had happened. I watched them for a couple of seconds longer then headed in the opposite direction toward my car. There was no way I was staying for lunch with so many crazy people around.
The car park was deserted, which didn’t surprise me. Being alone out there didn’t make me nervous, either. For some reason, I had a newfound confidence. Actually, it wasn’t so much confidence as presence. I felt whole, which was pretty unusual for an eighteen-year-old girl. I was pretty sure I should’ve been freaking out, worried what everyone thought of me, and crying that my life was over. But instead, I just felt good.
I pressed the unlock button, opened the car door, and threw my bag onto the passenger side as I sat in the driver’s seat. When I leaned forward to start my car, I caught a glimpse of my face in the rear-view mirror. My black eyes were back.
Shit. I started the car and threw the gearshift into reverse. I slammed on my brakes when I saw my black-eyed boy in the reverse camera screen. He was standing behind the school fence, staring at me through his tousled dark-brown hair, his black eyes piercing through to my soul.
I put the car into park, opened the door, and stepped out. He had disappeared again.
Shaking my head, I got back in the car, reversed out of my parking spot, then pulled onto the road. No more school for me that day. I was going home and calling a doctor. The entire drive I couldn’t get the black-eyed boy out of my head. He looked at me as if he knew me or knew something about me that I didn’t. Shit.
I pulled into the garage, went inside, and threw my bag next to the lounge. Then I walked over to the huge hall mirror and looked at my reflection. My hair was still brown, my skin was still tanned, and most importantly, my eyes were still brown.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I headed to the kitchen, picked up the phone, and went out onto the patio. I sat at the table and called the local doctor’s office.
“Doctor Chan’s office. How may I help you?”
“Hi, I need an appointment with a doctor for today. Do you have anything available?”
“Yes, we have a three o’clock,” the receptionist said. “Would you like me to book you in?”
“Yes, thanks. My name is—”
The connection was dropped. I pressed Off then Talk, but, the line remained dead. I went back inside and fetched my mobile. I swiped the screen and saw the “no service” symbol.
“Shit.” My father was going to have my ass if I didn’t get a doctor’s note to say I was too sick to go to school. My only choice was to go to the doctor’s office or go back to school.
I grabbed my bag and headed to the garage. As I pulled out, I half expected to see my black-eyed boy watching me, but he didn’t appear. In the week I’d been at the Coast, I’d driven past the doctor’s office a few times, so I knew where to go. It also helped that the Gold Coast was pretty easy to get around in, considering they’d practically designed it that way for the tourists.
Once I arrived, I hopped out and walked to the doors. I grabbed the handle, but the door didn’t budge. I took off my sunglasses and put my face closer to the glass. The place was empty. I checked the office hours posted on the door—they should’ve been open. I had just called, so I wondered where the receptionist was.
“Shit.” I turned around and got back in my car. I had no idea where any other doctors were, and I knew without a doubt that my father would be checking to make sure I had gone to school that day.
I drove back to school, the whole way trying to think of a way to get out of the rest of my classes. By the time I arrived, I’d come up empty.
No students were outside, which meant the bell had already rung. I pulled out my schedule—P.E. Great. And I wasn’t even dressed for it.
When I got to the gym, there was no one there. I turned to leave and came face to face with the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen. He was at least one and a half feet taller than me with dark-brown hair, a golden tan, and a body to die for. He was wearing board shorts and a T-shirt, both of which left very little to the imagination.
Actually, my imagination was going crazy, but that wasn’t what sucked the air from my lungs. He was my black-eyed boy—only his eyes were brown. He said something, but I was too transfixed with his eyes to hear anything that came out of his mouth.
His lips curled up at the edges. “You didn’t hear a word I just said, did you?”
I shook my thoughts away, trying desperately to concentrate on what he was saying. “Um… you scared the shit out of me.” It came out as more of a question than an accusation.
He looked at me as if I’d been smoking something. “You’re new here, right?”
I nodded, attempting to pull myself together. “Um, yeah. I just started here this week.”
He leaned against the brick wall next to the door. “Well, if you’re looking for your class, they’re already down at the beach.” When I frowned, he added, “They do beach sports on Thursdays.”
“Great.” I looked at my watch. I was already ten minutes late. “What beach?”
“Broadbeach.” He pushed off the wall. “I’ll take you there if you’d like.”
I stepped back. “No.”
He narrowed his eyes at me, and I was sure they turned black for a moment. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Without thinking it through, I took a couple of steps closer to get a better look at his eyes. “You were there, weren’t you?”
Stepping back, he said, “I’ll see you around,” then turned and walked away, leaving me standing there, looking like the crazy person I was sure I was becoming.