When Lightning Strikes (Lightning Series Book 1) (2 page)

She sputtered and coughed.

He shook her. She gagged, swallowing the bitter taste. A wave of cold fear washed over her. The man might hit her if she got sick.

“Are you dumb or something, boy?”

Julie opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

The man shook her again, and her hoodie slipped off. A lock of auburn hair fell over her face. He grabbed the hair, and his eyes went wide. He leaned in, his breath coating her skin.

“You ain’t no boy.” Something nasty sparked in his eyes. A smile came over his chapped lips.

She willed herself to move or run—do something. She screamed.

“Hey.” He winced, and his hold on her arms slackened for a moment.

The scream broke her fear. Julie wrenched herself free, spun around, and ran. It was a few seconds before she realized that she went straight down a dark alleyway.

Boom.

The storm lit up her surroundings. She started, stumbling a bit in her run. For a moment, she saw trashcans lined neatly along the alleyway’s sides. The rain was making a grimy rivulet down the middle. There was a loud crash behind her.

“Stupid trash can.” He kicked away the trash can he’d stumbled over as he came after her.

Boom.

The light blinded her again, but she kept straight. He was fast. He wasn’t drunk. Maybe he was on something else. Her eyes adjusted back. She could see the other end of the ally. The streetlights beyond the dark rectangles of the two buildings to either side of her shone like a beacon.

The next street was like the one she was on. Deserted. At least she would be out in the open. Why hadn’t she run down the other street?

Pain cut across her chest. She couldn’t breathe. Something held her tight—the straps of her bag. Her feet still moved, but she didn’t.

“Gotcha.” He wrenched her around and threw her to the ground, dropping down on top of her.

I have got to pee on myself. They always say you should pee on yourself.

Her bladder felt shriveled to the size of a pea as wave after wave of cold fear washed over her.

How the hell am I supposed to pee on myself?

A hysterical giggle started to rise in her throat, but she cut it off with a squeak. She had to think.

The duffle softened her landing, but she lay at an awkward angle with her right arm pinned by the bag’s strap. He easily held her left arm with one hand. Pain lanced along her left leg, and spasms clenched her calf muscle.

She sucked in a breath and gagged. His foul, chapped mouth smashed down on hers, forcing her head back into the alleyway’s rivulet. She choked back another gag while trying to keep her lips tightly sealed.

She could bite him. But she couldn’t bear the thought of her teeth cutting through his greasy skin and his blood getting inside her mouth. Instead she gritted her teeth and pushed her face as far to the side as possible. The dirty cold water trickled against her mouth and into her ear.

“Don’t fight it, and it will be easier.” He laughed as he wrapped his other hand around her long ponytail. Julie opened her mouth to scream. He jerked her head back painfully and pulled out a small knife from one of his jacket pockets. He pressed the end to her exposed neck and jabbed it against her windpipe. “I can cut that scream off. You better remember that.”

She closed her mouth with a sob. Her heart clenched painfully in her chest as she tried to suck in her next breath.

He ran the hand with the knife down her chest. His bloodshot eyes stayed fixed on her face as he found the bottom of her hoodie and put a hand underneath. The butt of his knife pressed against her stomach as he searched for the edge of her leotard. “What’s this?”

“It’s all one piece.” She was unable to keep the happiness out of her voice.

He smashed his fist straight down on her face. Pain arced across her left cheek, and lights danced along her vision as everything went dark.

Cold water running into her ear woke her up a few minutes later. She felt something sharp scrape along her leg. Her pants were down, and the man was trying to use the knife to cut away her leotard. His pants were already down.

Julie screamed.

He lurched up and smashed her face over and over. Her head jolted from side to side. She started to black out again.

If he kept hitting her, she wouldn’t remember. Maybe that would be better.

Fight, Julie. Fight it.

She tried to move her arms. Her fingers curled, but her arms seemed detached from her. She blinked back the dots dancing across her eyes and gagged with dizziness.

Dimly, she heard him cursing as he kept trying to cut away her leotard. She shut her eyes, feeling like she was about to float away from the dizziness and pain. It made what was happening less real.

Then something inside of her—something balled up—unraveled.

Boom.

White light filled her vision, even behind closed eyelids. Every vein stood out in stark relief. Every hair on her lifted at once. The cells in her body vibrated as if they were dancing in a warm water stream that washed over her, wave after wave after wave.

Was she dying?

Then it stopped. It was brief and intense but not painful. A feeling of release swept over her, like some secret locked up place in her soul was now blissfully open. Her whole body relaxed.

Boom. The sound brought her back to reality.

The man stilled. His grip on her left arm tightened convulsively and then slackened. He collapsed. His face smashed down on her chin, cutting her lip open, and his weight pushed her further into the muddy water.

Julie sucked in a few breaths. The strong odor of singed hair filled her nostrils, and she wrinkled her nose. Where was it coming from?

It took a moment for her to realize that the man wasn’t moving. He wasn’t even breathing. The singed smell was his hair, his skin. Her stomach roiled up in a heave. The movement caused his face to roll over on her chest. His eyes were wide and blank.

She screamed.

Pushing at him with her free arm, she was able to move him off her a little. He seemed impossibly heavy—he didn’t look that big. Or she was too weak to move him.

The movement made her head spin. Another wave of nausea came up, and Julie leaned to the side to retch. Stomach acid burned down her cheek, mixing with the dirty water in her ear.

She pushed at him again, trying to roll him off. It was harder this time to move. Her arms and legs felt weighed down, even where the man wasn’t lying. She strained her arms until they wobbled and gave out.

Her eyes rolled back as a stronger wave of nausea washed over her. She vomited until her throat felt raw. Little white spots danced across her vision. Her head pounded. Another wave of nausea swept over her, and she retched again.

“Help,” she croaked out. “Help.”

The alley stayed quiet around her. The steady drip of moisture falling off trashcans and drainpipes was the only sound. No lights came on in the surrounding windows.

“Oh my god, please help me. Please someone help me. Please find me.” Her words barely made it past her bloody lips. Tears mingled with the dirt and vomit on her cheeks. She started to shake as another wave of nausea hit. Her stomach ached.

Julie took a deep breath. She needed help. She needed…her phone.

She forced her hands to move to her jean pocket where she normally kept it. Instead, her fingers found the slick fabric of her leotard.
Shit.

He must have been lying on top of where her phone was. She blinked back tears and stopped a sob at what had almost happened.

She hesitated. A wave of nausea hit her again. Her head throbbed, and she could barely keep her eyes open. She wanted to slip away.

She could do this.

Carefully, trying not to think about it too much, Julie wiggled her free hand between herself and him. She sniffed and tried to squeeze back the tears.

She found the top of her jeans and felt a small lump that had to be her phone. Her hands worked around, trying to find the opening to her pocket. Her fingertips closed around the smooth plastic case.

Another wave of nausea hit, even stronger than the last. The stomach acid left a bitter taste in her mouth. More of it dribbled down the side of her face, stinging both her cut lip and her cheek. She blinked back more tears.

She wiped her face with the cuff of her sweater but pulled it away quickly. It smelled like old sweat and burnt hair. Like him.

The misty rain continued to pour down and slowly washed her face. Her eyelids started to close. Her fingers struggled to keep a tight grip on her phone.

Julie pressed the green button, knowing it will go to her last call. Her mom. Somewhere her mom’s cell rang. She saw the call connect through narrow slits. Finally it picked up. She let out a sigh of relief.

“Mom?”

“Hello, you have reached…”

She shook as she started to heave again, and her eyes closed.


Chapter 2: Acquaintances

≺≻

“W
ake up. You’ll be late to school again.”

Julie groaned, pulling the pillow over her head in response to her mom’s voice.

“Fine. Stay in bed. Be late. But remember that every time you are late to school, we take away dance time.”

“Okay, okay.” She threw the pillow off. Her parents took school seriously and always threatened dance time. She didn’t get the big deal. Why worry about school at all when she was going to dance?

She was tired. The horrible memories of the attack two weeks ago visited her every night in her dreams. During the day, she could keep herself distracted, especially with dance practice. Maybe it would be better if she didn’t sleep at all.

Julie was afraid to ask her parents for help. They might think she needed to take it easy and rest again. She had to practice. She couldn’t stand the looming feeling that something inside her was about to explode. Why it felt worse than ever was beyond her.

“Are you coming?” Her mother’s yell jarred her. For once she was grateful that Mom was bugging her.

With a sigh, she got out of bed, pulled on jeans and a sweater, and put her hair up in a tight ponytail. It didn’t feel right when it wasn’t pulled back. She caught a glimpse of her face and grimaced.

Light yellow bruises still spread over her right eye and across her left cheek and chin. She prodded at her lip. The split in it had healed nicely, but if she still looked like this tomorrow, she would have to use makeup on stage. It was so thick, and she hated it. Yet she would put it on if the stupid bruises were still there. She couldn’t have them distracting any scouts for the Academy.

Maybe when the bruises healed, she would stop thinking and dreaming about all of it.

It was hard to forget when she saw herself in a mirror. Or caught her friends or family staring at her a little too intently. Or the thoughts about what could have happened if that person had not found her lying in the alley when they took out their trash a few hours later. Or…pretty much all the time.

“If you want me to take you, you have to get down here now. You already missed the last bus.”

“Where’s Jamie?” Julie yelled back, hopping down the stairs.

Mom always tried to push her into wearing more stylish clothes. She frowned at the bulky sweater and jeans combo Julie wore. She wore a slim gray suit with beautiful aqua heels and matching purse. Her glossy brown hair had tasteful highlights and auburn lowlights. It was styled loosely around her youthful heart–shaped face. When her mother didn’t dress professionally, they were sometimes mistaken as sisters. Her friends’ moms always asked who her plastic surgeon was, but she didn’t have one.

She slipped on sneakers, and her mom’s frown deepened. Julie rolled her eyes. She didn’t seem to hear her the first time. “Where’s Jamie?”

It was a question Julie asked more and more lately. He was never around. Either she was at dance practice or he was at sports practice. It felt like they hadn’t spent any real time together for almost a year now.

She was actually starting to miss him, even if he was her annoying twin brother.

When she got to the bottom of the stairs, Mom wrapped her up in a hug and blinked several times. Her mother seemed to hug her every time she entered a room. She supposed it was from the attack.

“Jamie got a ride with one of his friends. Ethan, I think?” She finally let go and herded her out the door to the car. “Anyway, he is probably already at school by now. Come on let’s go.”

“So what are you doing at work today?”

“Oh, the usual. We have some new accounts, and I have some meetings today.”

“So, who are the new accounts?”

Julie never did quite understand what her mom and dad did for a living. They both worked at some kind of investment consulting firm in downtown Atlanta. It was where they had met and started dating.

Mom shrugged. “Nothing too exciting. A retail firm and a construction company we may invest in.”

It was quiet the rest of the way in the car. Julie thought about Jamie as she stared blankly at the old southern houses she passed every day. How long had it been since they had done something together, just the two of them? They used to hang out and talk in each other’s rooms or play video games together almost every day. It was different from other brothers and sisters—to be so close and share so much.

They were twins though, so they had always been each other’s playmates, confidants, and partners in mischief. Maybe it was part of getting older. Maybe the fact that she was too busy to notice until now meant that it was normal.

The car came to a stop. Julie braced herself for the goodbye hug–athon. “Bye, Mom. Love you.”

Her mom leaned over and kissed her on cheek, lingering. “Love you too, honey. Have a good day at school.”

Julie saw her brother standing in the courtyard outside the school. He and his friends usually parked themselves right next to the front flower planter. The stone benches were a great place to catch everyone as they went into the different buildings around the courtyard. As usual, his friends surrounded him, so it wouldn’t give her much of a chance to talk to him before class.

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