Stranger in the Woods

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Last summer, I had my first kiss. It was with Luke, my older brother’s friend. Luke was an okay guy, he was kind of a pushover, but he made me laugh and seemed to enjoy my company.

My brother, Alex, had an attitude problem, most teenagers did. I was a crybaby when I was little and he was insensitive, so we didn’t get along too well. Over the years, he’s mellowed out and my skin had thickened, but our relationship always felt like we were standing on thin ice. I’ve always wanted to have a more positive relationship with him.

I didn’t tell anyone about the kiss. It was meaningful to me and I didn’t want the local kids to know. I kept quiet, and so did Luke. He didn’t seem to care all that much about the kiss.

My twin sister, Grace, somehow found out about it, and was furious to know that Luke was acting as if he didn’t care at all. I told her I was fine with it, even though I was a little bummed out. And with some convincing, she calmed down. Her anger towards Luke lessened, but didn’t completely disappear.

We lived in Florida, and people associate that with hot, sticky, and humid. In some parts, they’d be correct, but the part I lived in would get casual breezes during the summer. It was just cool enough where you could actually go outside and not immediately die of heatstroke.

There weren’t a lot of trees where I lived, there would be a cluster of palm trees at the most. Sitting in the shade was almost nearly impossible. However, there was this giant lake that was located down the road from my neighborhood. There wasn’t enough trees to call it a wooded area, but it was relaxing to walk through.

A high school girl’s parents owned the area. So, while her parents were away on a business trip, the girl, Caroline, threw a party. I was surprised her parents left alone for the week, most parents didn’t do that around here. Maybe they didn’t care, or maybe they told their neighbor to check up on her from time to time. I didn’t know. All I knew was that I really wanted to go because Luke would be there. I knew it’d probably be seen as a little desperate, but my sister wanted to go as well so if the plan backfired I could always spend the night with her.

Alex was automatically invited, and let us come after we pestered him for hours. Caroline’s parents had a lake house, and was it was huge compared to our home. The lake itself was murky and dark. Of course, this was a high school party, so there were drunken kids already taking off their clothes to go swim in the dirty water.

Grace was excited to be there, she seemed to think that tonight was going to change her life forever. I just rolled her eyes at her overly-dramatic attitude and went searching for Luke. She seemed to already know who I was looking for when we first walked through the door. She had just clicked her tongue, then said gently but sternly, “Be careful.”

I quickly smiled at her before darting my way through the surprisingly small crowd of teenagers. Everybody was likely outside, getting drunk off their asses. I looked around the room, not letting anything distract me. When I saw him I tried to get his attention by waving, but then I noticed that Caroline and him were chatting. The conservation looked… heated.

I watched the pair for a whole two minutes, Caroline getting more and more handsy with him. His wide eyes landed on me, and our gazes locked very briefly before I turned around and quickly made my way towards the entrance.

“Hailey!” I heard him yell over the loud music, but I just shook my head in denial and walked faster.

When I saw an opening in the crowd, I ran down the front porch steps. I had been so happy to have Luke see me in my new dress, what a waste of $25!

“Hailey, wait up!” Luke called from behind me. “Please let me explain!” I didn’t listen though, I just kept running.

I was determined not to cry, at any means. I went out behind the lake house and let the empty trees keep me company. My flats were dirty from the damp dirt, so I took them off and threw them at the ground in frustration. I was also irritated by the sweat that had build up in the Floridian heat.

It was strangely quiet, I didn’t hear anything in the trees or bushes, just kids hollering near the lake. It was relaxing. I inhaled deeply, wanting to calm myself down. I went over to collect my shoes, which I had thrown further out into the trees. I wanted to hide behind one until the party was over and my brother came looking for me.

I heard footsteps behind me and I already knew who it was. “Just go away Luke. I don’t want to talk to you right now.” I felt Luke’s hairy arms wrap around me. That was a thing I usually joked about with him, about how he never saved his arms and legs, but everywhere else. I almost smiled, but the wet trails on my cheeks weren’t from happiness. “Just go back to Caroline.” The way I said it sounded kind of bratty but I didn’t really care at the moment.

A familiar, yet distant voice yelled, “Hailey? I’m sorry, okay! I fucked up! Where are you?”

I froze. My stomach dropped and my blood when cold. The guy behind me wasn’t Luke. I tried to break free from his arms, but his hold tightened. I smacked him upside the head with my shoes, but I was at a weird angle and it just annoyed him. A callused, sweaty hand covered my mouth before I could say anything. I felt a certain appendage press hard into my back. My heart was pounding as hot liquid leaked from my eyes.

I kicked at his hairy legs and clawed at the arms that held me. Red, angry trails were left behind, but he held on tight. I threw my head back at his face, hoping my skull would hurt him. The hand that covered my mouth loosened a fraction, but it was enough. I bit down as hard as I could, until I tasted blood on my tongue. The man let go of me for a split second, but by the time he realized I was free, I was already screaming bloody murder.

What happened next wasn’t that eventful. I found Alex and yelled at him to take me home or else I would tell mom and dad about the party. He glared at me, but I didn’t fucking care. I was crying and hyperventilating and I just wanted to go home. Grace was no where in sight, so my brother reluctantly went to go find her.

Luke found me, asking me what the hell happened when he saw that I was crying. I shook my head at him and sobbed. He offered to take me home and I agreed, not wanting to be at this damn lake house for any longer. He sent Alex a quick text, then led me to his car.

The car ride was silent, he didn’t ask about anything and I didn’t offer. Luke didn’t even finish parking before I got out of the car and ran towards my front door. I had a spare key attached to my necklace, and relocked the door once I was safe inside.

I don’t go out to parties anymore, not even the ones that are within my neighborhood and are indoors. I never told my parents or Alex about the man. I told Grace after five months of me getting terrified by everything. No one else noticed my jumpy behavior, that’s due to the fact that I spend all of my time locked inside my room now. I don’t like to talk about it. Grace said talking would help, but all it does is make me more scared to go back outside.

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