Beautiful Experiment

Six unruly teens are kidnapped, sent to an uncharted island. Caretaker, Brook, is hot. Father is mysterious. Will they find a way home before the island is overrun with demons?

Greed is so destructive. It destroys everything.

––Eartha Kitt

“Armageddon? It has to be a nightmare. So I’m just going to let the ocean engulf me. When I begin to suffocate, I’ll wake up.”
—Brook Knight

“Do you see him?" Surfacing, I'm screaming. Waves are crashing. My eyes and ears are full of water. My voice must cover the distance, because I recognize the look of terror on their faces when they realize I'm alone. A fist inside my chest clamps my lungs shut, and as my body revolves, I know I look frantic, with eyes darting in every direction, pleading for a sign of life. I'm staring at the five heads hanging as far over the bluff as possible without falling over. "He might be tangled. I'm going back down." My voice carries easily, because adrenaline is pumping through my veins, enlivening my abilities. Every ounce of strength is thrust into my legs as I lift them toward the sky and head down, cut through the ocean. As I descend, I'm watching for a sign of him. But there's not even a fish in sight. I surface dive again and again, increasing the distance I'm covering. I'm diving in circles, growing dizzy. Where the hell could he have gone? My mind's screaming. My body's shaking. I surface and expand my lungs with a massive amount of much needed air, only to find myself farther from the bluff — their faces, their voices — everything is fading. The current's wrapping my body like shrink wrap covers meat. It's trying to drag me out.

Keep your cool, I'm thinking as I focus. Gabriella is throwing her head from side to side, frantically swinging her arms. She's trying to tell me something. Is Reese up there with them? I'm filled with hope.

Chapin's hands are shielding her face and then they're all screaming and pointing. I turn and freeze when I catch sight of the dorsal fin not ten yards away. It's moving fast. No wonder their screaming makes the rounds in my head. Why am I even thinking this?

My mind shuts down, and I'm on autopilot again. My teeth clench the bamboo knife tighter. Ironically, the blade is shaped like the fin I'm considering slicing into, but the serrated edge nicks the side of my mouth before my brain sends the vital warning. Terror fills me as I taste my blood. Warm. Metallic. I'm swallowing like mad, trying not to spread the appetizer. From the size of the fin, my knife will have no effect, so my senses struggle for another way out. Calm, I tell myself, you've been in worse situations. But those were with Father standing on the dock, spear gun in hand.

Through my fear I realize I have built-in weapons. Fangs and claws. But how do I control this gift of mine? I'm feeling around with my tongue. Raking my fingers along my neck. Nothing. Where are you when I need you?

Suddenly, they're throwing rocks over the side of the cliff. Hands, arms, waving, jerking, flinging. Boulders are airborne, hitting the water like bombs. Narrowly missing me before they sink like the solid rocks they are. What the hell? Now I'm ducking. I assume the shark is as frightened and confused as I am. I think the fin is receding, but then it might just be circling.

With hasty strokes I'm heading for the wall, hoping the shark doesn't feel my vibrations, or taste my blood. I'm running out of breath faster than I can suck it in. Almost there. Two strokes away. I'm scrambling up the side of the cliff, jerking my head to see if the creature is behind me. Within reach. Each time I feel myself slip, I brace for the jaws. Then I get the shock of my life. I know I'm about to die. I feel the sandpaper hide slice through my leg, or is it a tooth? Yup, I'm about to die. And I'm suddenly calm. Accepting. So much for eternity.

"Get a grip, asshole!" I hear the voice and whirl, expecting to see Reese. But it's my voice. When I dare to look down, I see blood gushing from my thigh, and I wonder if he got an artery. Then I notice it's dripping off the jagged rock that sliced half of my thigh open. Great. More blood to flow into the water. Two steps forward, three back. I'm slipping and sliding like bare feet on a muddy slope. Like the ravine in a thunderstorm. I remember being caught once. Vowing it would never happen again. Funny, I never considered the bluff in that nightmare.

When I finally make it to the top of the cliff, my palms are bloody, skinned knees burning. Hands are reaching out for me. Grabbing my shoulders. Pulling my arms. My body's stretched. Half of me is dangling. "I can do this," I want to say, but I'm beat. Cheers erupt when my legs are finally up and over. Onto solid ground. Gabriella is right here to welcome me. Kneeling beside me as I drop and roll onto my back.

"Brook. Are you okay?" She's leaning over me, crying.

Through my blurry eyes, she's more beautiful than ever. All I want to do right now is stare at her while I catch my breath. "Yeah. Just got a hell of a gash on my leg. A rock." I'm trying not to pant. "In my bag ... a tourniquet."

Her soft lips are at my ear. "I thought you were dead," she's whispering, choking back sobs. I feel the pressure of her hands running over me, assuming she's stemming the flow of blood from my leg 'til the others can choke the artery closed. She stuns me, though when she says, "There's nothing there." Her voice is filled with laughter.

"What?" I run my fingers over the cut on my mouth, followed by my tongue. I don't taste blood. Maybe a mouth heals fast ...

"Now you're hallucinating, bro." Albatross is so close he's breathing down my neck, and my head's swimming, because I saw the blood with my own eyes.

Maybe I am hallucinating.

"Is he here?" I gasp. My eyes plead for Gabriella to give me the right answer.

She shakes her head. Bites her lip. And her eyes explode with tears again.

"I was hoping he'd be back by now." My voice is echoing in my head. Making the rounds. I'm trying to figure things out. Why the fuck couldn't I find him?

"Come here." Her arms go around me. "You're shaking."

I'm sitting in the dirt, surrounded by arms. Voices. But I feel no comfort. Albatross is patting me. Katrina's rubbing life back into my limbs. Zac's arms are going around Chapin, who is losing it.

"What could have happened to him?" Chapin is screaming. So Zac shakes her like a ragdoll. "He couldn't just disappear," she sobs, her voice vibrating because he's still trying to jolt her out of hysteria.

"He probably drowned." Albatross is on his knees beside me. His voice is flat. When I look at him, I see a defeated young man with fine lines crinkling around his eyes.

"Shut up," Zac snaps, pulling his hands from Chapin long enough to shake his fists at Albatross, who then shrinks into the distance.

"I've got to find him." I groan a few times while I'm hopping to my feet. I'm in great shape, but when I pull my legs up, my muscles ache. I've been beaten by waves. Slammed against rocks. Almost devoured by a shark. Yet I don't have a mark on me.

Zac shoves Chapin into Katrina's arms and follows me to the edge of the cliff where I'm looking down, holding my head that keeps shaking no. "Christ, man. I'm sorry." He's shaking his head, too. His arm comes around my shoulders. He must read my mind because he says, "You can't go back down there. It's like Hell's Kitchen. You'll never come up again."
I look into his eyes, not sure what I'm seeking. Then he releases me from the guilt that's building in my gut.

"You did all you could, Brook." He's pulling me away from the cliff. "C'mon, bro. Let's sit for a while." His voice is almost as soft as when he comforted Chapin, but without the romantic tone.

So we sit. We wait for me to catch my breath. Gather my thoughts. Forgive myself. "I can't believe I let this happen again." I'm rocking my head in my hands.

"Reese is a fuckup. We all saw it from day one in the SUV, before we even landed here. He's one of those guys who walks the edge and, nine times out of ten, gets somebody else killed. I'm glad you made it out." Zac's calm sense of reasoning should belong to someone much older. He's interrupted the tension. My morbid thoughts.

"I'm still shaking. I need to pull it together," I confess as Gabriella passes in front of us, shooting me a consoling smile. Then she's at the edge of the cliff, smack beside me, looking down. I don't think anyone can believe what just happened. Now that the shock is wearing off, she has developed a zombie-like appearance. Unnatural. Dead-eyed. I never thought I'd ever see those blue eyes dull. It breaks my heart even more.

"She's a cool chick." Zac hitches his head. "So is Chapin. Too bad they're trying to kill each other." He lets out a cynical chuckle. I think it's his way of sorting the afternoon. "They've got a lot in common."

I'm trying to grasp his meaning, because to me, they couldn't be farther apart.

"Both beautiful and intelligent," he clarifies when my brows crunch.

"I wouldn't count on them falling in love any time soon." I shoot him a look and roll my eyes. I'm comfortable talking about Gabriella when she's standing right beside me, because I doubt she's hearing me. She's just staring straight ahead.

"I know Chapin is a pain in the ass. She needs to get her shit together."

"Don't we all?" I think of my situation, and get my shit together aren't strong enough words. "Did you know her before? I mean, you seem ..."

"We're not hooking up, if that's what you mean." He smirks. "Not yet."

I shrug as if it doesn't matter to me, because if I could hook up with Gabriella, I probably would. In fact, I believe that's what we both need right now. A good sweaty roll on the beach. "Yeah. I'd say she's got some anger issues."

"Her father and sister were killed in an auto accident last year. Her mother is a medicated zombie. Chapin is on her own in more ways than one. He had no insurance money, so not only are they grief-stricken, they're broke. Chapin was left an endowment for education, but her mother used it to send her to private reform school." He grits his teeth. "Imagine?"

I'm thinking about the day they landed, her expensive clothing. "It doesn't fit. I mean, the way she was dressed when she came here. The classy tude."

"She tried to keep up her lifestyle by shoplifting." He shrugs. "Her old man was DWI. Lawsuits wiped out the bank account."

"Sure sounds like the girl's got her share of problems. And she told you all this?" I'm listening and feeling worse by the minute. Reese's fate is now one of my biggest problems.
He nods. "You learn a lot when you're stuffed in the back of an SUV for over an hour with five other kids who want nothing more than to make it all go away."

"That sucks. Now I can understand why she hates the world. But not Gabriella."

"Gabriella has everything Chapin lost." He shocks me by asking, "So what about you two? You got something going?" He gives his head a solemn shake. "'Cos that's dangerous territory, bro. Doesn't look like you're leaving, and that would be one hell of a long distance relationship."

"I've got more going on in my life right now than women." Edging from the cliff, I sigh. "You never seemed like you belong here, Zac. Why?"

He rolls his bottom lip against his top, then lets out a troubled breath. "My story." He's shaking his head as if he doesn't believe the turn his life has taken. "It's not that interesting." His laugh is low. "I live with my aunt. She said the stunt I pulled in school reminded her too much of something her brother, my father, would do. She wanted to send me back to live with him. Since I really didn't want to room with an ex-con, I told her I'd do Smoke Pond for a month and promised to be a good boy if she'd let me stay."

We both laugh. I consider confiding in him about my newfound gift, but he's so levelheaded, he'd think I'm insane. Which is a possibility.

"I could use a cold beer and smoke," says Albatross. It's the first time he's spoken a word since Zac yelled at him. He's stepping toward us cautiously.

"Are you okay to walk?" Zac grabs my shoulder, as if testing my strength.

"I could jog a hundred miles, but I'm not leaving until I find him." I'm adamant. "Find something ..." my voice trails off. I don't want to verbalize what I'm thinking. Feeling.
When he sees the determined look on my face, he blows out a breath. Slowly shakes his head. "It's your funeral." Then he's walking back to Chapin.

He has barely moved a foot when I hear the rustling of brush. I spin in time to watch the lacy limbs to my left bend, the flowering bushes part. "Grab your spear," I'm whispering in a harsh voice, because whatever it is, I want to surprise it with the sharp end of bamboo. "There's something over there. It's moving fast."

Howling, growling, roaring, whispers in my ears, everything that's been haunting me attacks all at once. This time, I'm ready to take it on. Take what on?

Zac follows my lead. Spears set, we each drop into our own fighting stances. I'm crouched low, head alert, fingers wrapped tight, bamboo pressed to palm, ready to impale whatever appears. Man or beast.

"Don't shoot!" Reese emerges from a thicket with his hands in the air and a smug grin on his face.

"Holy shit," is all I can say. He's dry is the first thing to register. It takes me a minute to unlock my limbs, untwist my mind. I'm relieved to see him, but my temples are about to burst. I'm rolling up a fist.

The others are gasping. "Oh my God," is making the rounds. I want to strangle him on the spot.

"Dammit Reese! Where the fuck were you? What the hell happened?" I'm growling questions faster than his eyes are blinking.

"I took a dive — then found a shortcut ..." He's got an absurd look on his face. "Christ. Stop looking at me like that. You'd think I committed murder or something." He sucks in a breath. "What's up with your eyes? They look like ..."

"Like shit? Like your face is gonna look when I'm done with you." I'm almost on him when the burning kicks in. Brook, you've got to control this, is playing loops inside my head. So I roll my lips to hide my fangs, and pant away anger.

"Brook could have died, looking for you!" Gabriella looks like she wants to pounce on him, but starts poking him in the chest. I'm relieved she's no longer zombified. "You're an ass, Reese Daniels. You could've killed yourself." Her tough girl voice is cracking. Is she about to fall into his arms?

"Whoa, little one," he says, grabbing her hands, pinning them to his chest. "I didn't know you cared."

I'm freaking, fuming. "That was a stupid stunt you pulled." I steady my voice, because I'm not about to let them see me lose control. Maybe fully sprout my gift. Glowing eyes are bad enough, but in sunlight I can get away with that. When I grab his shoulders, he releases Gabriella. "You risked both of our lives." I'm breathing all over his face. Then my hands drop to my sides because if I start shaking him, I might not stop.

His face floods with relief. Surprise. "You came after me?"

"Of course I did." I try to slow my heartbeat, which is faster now than when I swam for my life. If I don't move away from him, I might do something regrettable. Like throw my arms around him, because he's not dead.

"Lighten up, dude. No one got hurt." He starts to tag my shoulder, then stops. He's so damn cavalier. Is it the look on my face? Are my eyes still glowing? I can feel my fists tightening at my sides. Maybe that's why.

My first instinct is to tackle him, grind his face into the ground as I did on the beach. Apparently, I'm not the only one, because the others are crowding around him.

"Get over it already," he says, backing away. His face flushes rosy tan.

My head is still pounding. "Push me again, and you won't get off so easy. I can promise you." I'm working my jaw as I talk. I feel Gabriella's body pressed to my back. Her arms come around my waist from behind. Now my head's really spinning.

"How about a real swim?" Reese's frown levels, and his eyes light. "Wait till you see what I found." He's grinning like a boy who discovered sand piles and toy trucks. The thought brings on a flashback of Hunter and Ash, and the fun we had. I'm wondering if our playthings are still locked in the shed behind the old playground. It's so overgrown, I wonder if anything still stands. The swings, the slides. The jungle gym.

One look at Gabriella and I'm back in the present. I know Reese is referring to the waterfall that feeds the lagoon. No way ... No fucking way.

"You found a swimming hole?" Chapin gasps. "Oh my God, that would be amazing."

"Sounds good to me," Albatross says. "I've never been so hot and tired. I'm dying of thirst."
Zac wipes perspiration from his head. I know he wants to join them, but he doesn't voice an opinion. Maybe he doesn't want to look like a traitor since we kind of bonded. Bonded with a wayward, I have to laugh. Father would love this one.

"We don't have time to swim and fish." I'm not about to mention the footprints, and the fact that we've been banned from the forest which surrounds the lagoon.

"Killjoy," Reese says, but he's half smiling.

"That was a lame prank," Gabriella comes to my defense and my side. "The least you could do is thank Brook."

Reese groans and turns his back.

The others are waiting for me to make a decision, which shocks me. I would have thought they'd be following Reese right now. But they're not. They've accepted their leader. I'm filled with a mix of pride and relief.

"Whatever. If you want nothing but cereal tonight, it's your choice. I see I'm outnumbered." I try to sound hard ass, but a grin is about to break my face in half. The fact that swimming is so appealing is humorous. The thought is enticing, though. "So what are we waiting for?" I shrug. "Sundown?"

We head out on the trail leading down the side of the mountain, carefully managing the slope. We dip into the ravine, walking cautiously. The sides are slick and steep. Balled roots hang like ornaments. We splash across the stream. Climb the side of a hill. I'm not about to take Reese's shortcut, which slices through the heart of the forest. I watch his legs, moving like a jungle cat and think of what a trap could do to one of his ankles.

Before it's visible, I hear it. A thunderous roar. I breathe deeply. The invigorating scent of fresh water fills my lungs, something like the air and trees after a heavy rain. The forest has a fragrance like no other. Pungent. Sweet. Inviting. Almost like a woman.

They're screaming with excitement, hopping up and down so hard they're raising clouds of dust. I have to laugh. What's second nature to me, is incredible to them. I wonder how I would act in their world.

"The waterfall must be two hundred feet high!" Katrina shrieks. "Imagine going over that in a barrel?"

"Screw the barrel. I'll body surf." Reese is loping through the knee-high brush. He'll be the first to hit the sandy shore.

"You've caused enough trouble for one day." I shoot him an eye to match my scowl, but all he gets is my voice because I'm looking at his back. "A quick swim is all you're getting. So make the most of it," I yell.

"I intend to," he shouts over a shoulder, taking bushes like a runner jumping hurdles.

Gabriella is tugging at my arm, squealing, "Wow. We don't have anything like this in New York! I think I'm on vacation. Can we go in?"

We're standing at the foot of the waterfall that supplies the lagoon, and us, with fresh water. The scene is almost indescribable. Around us. Overhead. There's no sky. Just trees. Branches with massive leaves. Green canopies. Vines dangling like fur. The most beautiful shelter anyone could ask for. Refreshing. Lush. Sunken into the center is the clearest body of water, taking its color from the surrounding vegetation. Not only is there one waterfall, but eye level walls of others. Modest falls, like fountains, cascading over rocks, pouring billions of crystal threads into the sparkling lagoon.

I release the air from my lungs in one noisy groan. "You can go in if you want to, Gabriella." Then my scowling mouth spreads into a grin. The look in her eyes is disabling. The forest has done something to deepen their color. "I'm teasing. Of course we're going in." In one clean sweep, I'm lifting her off the ground like she's weightless, holding her over my head. We're spinning. "Ready?" I'm laughing.

She's screaming, squirming. "No! Not ready! Put me down! I'm dizzy!"

I don't want to, but I set her on her feet and steady her, because she's teetering. We're both still laughing, my arms encircling her waist. Our eyes meet, and suddenly we're locked in a magnetic stare. My lips are ready to drop onto hers. Her eyes are telling me she wants to kiss me as much as I want to kiss her, but can't, because we're not alone. That's when my mind breaks into a trot, conjuring all kinds of excuses to take her out tonight.

"Go, Brook!" Katrina's heckling is distracting.

I snap out of Gabriella's eyes and immediately dive into the lagoon, perhaps to escape her. Maybe to recover. I swim to the middle and tread water. I have to admit, it is fantastic. I haven't been here in ages.

Reese finds a vine that will hold his weight. Letting out an idiotic yodel, he sails through the air, landing with a splash beside Albatross, who's flapping like a grounded fish.

"I thought you wanted to swim," I call to Gabriella, who is standing on the shore. She's taking it all in, sucking on a finger. "Come on in." I laugh, because she's got this look of panic on her face. Oh God, is it because of me?

"Are there snakes in there?" she yells. She looks so cute and timid. I can't decide if I like her this way or fiery. Either way, I like her.

"Only in the trees," I reply, and her eyes bulge. I decide to swim to the shore to coax her in. I'm zeroing in on one of her ankles, ready to grab it.

"Yeah. Go for a swim." Katrina comes from up from behind and shoves her full force. Gabriella's face is a mixture of laughter and shock. Then she's screeching, falling into my arms, shouting, "Katrina! What are you doing?"

"It's what you want, isn't it?" Katrina laughs and follows with an awkward dive.

For a delightful moment, Gabriella is floating in my arms. "Are you okay?" I chuckle. Our eyes meet and lock again, but before anything can happen, she's squirming free.

"I'm fine." She breaks the surface with a powerful swan dive, then she's swimming across the lagoon like a pro.

Chapin is still standing on the hill, eyes hard, watching with contempt. Her jaw is set, her hands are on her hips. "And the bitches swim together."

"Come on in, Chapin," Katrina shouts. "Don't be such a crab. It's awesome!"

Chapin swings into the lagoon the same as Reese, on a vine. When I see her target is Gabriella, I hold my breath, waiting for the impact. It happens so quickly, I can only manage to yell, "Gabriella!"

Chapin lands so hard beside her, they both disappear underwater. I make a quick nosedive, then swim like hell. They're struggling, pulling at each other. I'm trying to figure out who's holding whose head down. Then I assume they're both hanging on for dear life.

Gabriella surfaces, with Chapin on her heels, literally. Both girls are gasping for air. Gabriella is screaming, "What the hell is wrong with you? You could have broken my neck, you cow."

"Cow?" Chapin draws back a long arm. Gabriella dodges the blow by diving.

Next thing I know, she's propelled her body up and out of the water, coming down on Chapin like a flying fish. The lagoon is erupting. Gabriella pushes Chapin under and holds her head down. Chapin is kicking herself free. Gabriella is still screaming, even though Chapin can't possibly hear her, because she's submerged.

Reese is shouting, "I'm on my way to save the day."

"I'll break it up." Albatross spits an arc of water and air. With furious strokes, he beats the lagoon, attempting to reach them before Reese. Before me.

"Let her go," I'm screaming to Gabriella. "You'll drown her." My eyes are about to roll back in my head. I'm a caretaker, not a referee.

Chapin comes up sputtering, cursing like a sailor. She's threatening to slit Gabriella's throat. I'm between them, taking punches. Zac appears and grabs Chapin. She's still flailing, so now he's taking punches as well.

"Do I have to tie both of you up?" My voice drops an octave, but I'm thinking, holy shit, I admire these girls. They can take care of themselves, which is good when you're stuck on an island. Maybe more so, in the world they'll be returning to. I've been screaming so loud my throat burns. I'm coughing. "Let's go. Out of the water. Back to the lodge. You're both about to be locked in for the rest of your stay."

"Time out." Reese is beside me. "Let me help." He shoots a stream of water at Chapin with cupped hands.

"I'm gonna kill you!" she screams. I'm not sure if she's yelling at Gabriella or Reese.

"She attacked me!" Gabriella's wiggling from my grasp. "You almost drowned me, psycho." Better to throw words than fists, I'm thinking, finding it difficult to restrain Gabriella. She's got her hands on my head, pulling herself up, and I'm drinking the lagoon.

"You're both about to kill me!" I'm now at their level. I've lost every ounce of dignity. "I'm about to drown both of you myself!"

Albatross is laughing hysterically, shooting water from his mouth like a fountain.

"C'mon, babe. Cut the shit." Zac is finished coddling Chapin. Arm under chin, he tows her to shore.

They're on the grass, locked in each other's arms. No physical contact, runs through my mind, but when I look at wet and glistening Gabriella, I know how Zac must feel. She has a hell of an effect on me. Submerged in cold water, my body is still swelling.

While the others are doing laps, I head directly for the falls, hoping the force will pound some sense into my head. I dive and surface again and again until the only urge I have is to go home.

From the corner of my eye, I catch Gabriella. She must think she's sneaking up on me. Her smile is crooked. "Are you still mad at me?" She pouts, then I'm feeling the impact of the water she's splashing at me.

"You want to play, huh?" I laugh and cup my palm, cutting across the surface, sending streams into her face which already glistens with fresh water. Her hair is glued to her head, streaming down her shoulders, covering her chest. Thank goodness, I groan inwardly, because if I had to see the contours of her body this close, I might snap. Worse yet, turn into Reese.

She screeches and dives, circling my legs. She's tickling me, and I am laughing so hard I can barely breathe. I'm spinning, trying to grab her, but she's slippery as a fish.

The next thing I know, her fingers are pinching my toes like a crab and she's tugging me under. I pull myself free, take a deep breath, and I dive. Our faces are inches apart. Her eyes are open and her lips are sealed, but still look inviting. Her hair, taken up by the water, fans out, swirling around her head like liquid gold. I can't help but notice  her shirt has also risen and is caught beneath her arms. It wants to break free and float away as much as I want it to. I struggle to focus on her face, but it's impossible. I doubt a male in the entire world could witness such a sight without losing his mind. I've never seen anything so beautiful, so tempting. Blood is coursing through my body. My desire for this girl is sure to be the death of me.

Mindlessly, I close the gap between us. Blood is pounding in my ears, while my arms are reaching out, about to pull her against me. My body begins to throb, and my heart is pounding so hard, I feel it's ready to burst, along with another part of me.

I'm losing my breath, but I don't want to surface ... ever. I never want this moment to end. I remember our discussion about eternity. Forever, is looping through my head.

I'm certain she's feeling the same, because she has this dreamy look in her eyes. Then she must feel her bare chest. Or does she realize she's half naked because I can't stop staring at the most beautiful breasts I've ever seen? She tugs at her shirt, attempting to cover herself, but the fabric continues to float. Slivers of air escape from her nose, while her body hooks into a graceful somersault. I feel like I have just glimpsed a mermaid. Then she's gone. I have to shake myself back to consciousness.

When I come up for air, her eyes barely meet mine. I can imagine how she must feel. I sure as hell know how I feel. To give her space, I swim to the other side where I can be alone. Try to recover from what she's just done to me. To my body. You were that close, my mind taunts. She'll never be yours, so forget it.

When I surface, I zero in on her, but her back is to me. She's with Katrina in serious conversation. The others are splashing and playing as though it's their first encounter with water.

I pull myself from the lagoon. Drop onto the padding of grass. Let the air dry my clothing, because there's no sun. I'm still struggling to extinguish the fire she has ignited. But it's only growing. I know in my heart — after today — I'll never be the same. In a matter of days, I've grown from boy to man.

Reese Daniels. Hair: blonde. Eyes: brown. Height: 6' 2". Weight: 200 lbs. Hobbies: Motorcycle racing. Football. Origin: Nevada. Offense: Forgery. Destination: Smoke Pond Manor Alternative Education.. Pickup Location: Louisiana. Impression: Unmanageable. Aggressive behavior. Distinguishing features: inch long scar across right eyebrow. Black tattoos on shoulder blades, neck, and knuckles.

Earl Albert Ross aka Albatross. Hair: black. Eyes: blue/gray. Height: 5' 10". Weight: 185 lbs. Hobbies: Art. Music. Origin: California. Destination: Smoke Pond Manor Alternative Education. Offense: Grand theft auto. Pickup Location: Louisiana. Impression: Use of street drugs. Minimal IQ. Passive. Manageable. Distinguishing features: Quarter sized strawberry birthmark on left neck.

Gabriella Winslow. Hair: blonde. Eyes: blue. Height: 5' 7''. Weight: 120 lbs. Activities: High School Debate Team, Student Government. Origin: New York. Offense: Possession of cocaine. Prostitution. Pick up Location: Louisiana. Destination: Smoke Pond Manor Alternative Education. Impression: Reserved. Intellectual. Distinguishing features: None. Note: Does not fit criminal profile.

Katrina Lewis. Hair: auburn. Eyes: hazel. Height: 5' 5". Weight: 145. Hobbies: Painting and Sports. Origin: New Jersey. Offense: Assault and battery. Pickup Location: Louisiana. Destination: Smoke Pond Manor Alternative Education. Impression: Intelligent. Amicable. Excellent candidate. Distinguishing features: Muscular build. Freckles on bridge of nose, chest and back. Dragonfly tattoo on lumbar spine.

Zachary Hart. Hair: brown. Eyes: hazel. Height: 6'. Weight: 195 lbs. Hobbies: Electronics, hockey, sailing. Origin: Massachusetts. Offense: Computer hacking. Pickup Location: Louisiana. Destination: Smoke Pond Manor Alternative Education. Impression: Withdrawn. Above average intelligence. Emotionless.  Distinguishing features: Both arms sleeved with tattoos. Back and neck tattooed with tribal art.

Chapin Wrenn. Hair: chestnut. Eyes: brown. Height: 5' 10". Weight: 125 lbs. Activities: Drama. Choir. Origin: Kentucky. Offense: Shoplifting. Pickup Location: Louisiana. Destination: Smoke Pond Manor Alternative Education. Impression: Intrepid. Arrogant. Distinguishing features: RECKLESS tattooed across lower abdomen.


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