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Contamination | Invasion Survivor Book One | Chapter Two

Chapter Two

I’m going to die of math boredom. Paige sighed, tapping her pen on her open book. She so badly wanted out of her Mathematical Statistics class.

Not so great of a first day, she mused.

Glancing at the notebook in front of her, she realized she’d completely spaced out and hadn’t taken any notes during class. She had written Johnson’s initials—AJ—with a heart around them, instead. Over and over again, like she was a girl in freshman year of high school.

AJ was late to class, which was out of character for him. Paige wondered if he was okay, then looked back down at her masterpiece.

What am I? A twelve-year-old girl with a crush?

No, you’re an idiot, a freaking senior in college with a childish crush, she corrected herself.

In all honesty, she didn’t even want a boyfriend. The last jerk she’d been with really broke her heart, and that left her too timid to even try.

Suddenly disgusted by the evidence of her weakness, Paige ripped the paper from her book with unnecessary force. The sharp ripping sound echoed through the classroom like gunfire.

“Really smooth, Paige,” she mumbled to herself while all her classmates turned to stare at her. More like glare, actually, but she ignored the obvious.

To those who were more persistent, she gave her trademark “what?” look, and that made them back off.

They all acted as if she committed murder or something. All she’d actually done was rip a single page, though that, in turn, woke the bunch of them who had all no doubt been zoned out as well.

Still, Mrs. Wilson’s reaction was the best. She jumped slightly and yelped at the same time, managed to misstep, tripped, and had to hold onto the writing board so she didn’t fall. Naturally, everyone laughed.

Paige included.

Some reenactment would inevitably follow, but their professor called out for order quite sternly, and everyone settled down—once she regained her equilibrium, that is.

Paige found something else that intriguing, though. Mrs. Wilson’s reaction was so over the top as if she had just woken from a sleep. Paige wanted to giggle thinking how the old woman’s lecture was so boring she even put herself to sleep with it.

That little unintentional stunt of hers really helped in brightening the mood in the classroom, because up to that point, it had been quite depressing.

The first day of school after spring break could be like that. Everyone was still dreaming about vacations and lamenting that they had to be in stifling classrooms instead of on beaches or mountains.

Paige didn’t have a problem with that. She wasn’t sad about being back at school because she never left, but she was bored out of her mind nevertheless.

Once upon a time, she’d enjoyed math and solving all kinds of mathematical problems but of late, even the advanced classes didn’t provide a challenge. Not as much as one would wish or expect from a place like this.

Her phone vibrated, and Paige took it slowly out of her pocket. At the same time, she made sure Mrs. Wilson didn’t see and surreptitiously checked the text she’d just received.

It was from her little sister, Willow, and it was simply a bunch of emojis piled together. They played that little game sometimes—communicated through pictures or emojis—and Paige knew this would take her some time to decipher so she put it away for later.

The classroom door flung open in a hurry. AJ closed it quickly and made a beeline for his seat.

“Sorry I’m late, Mrs. Wilson,” he said hastily as he sat down. His hair was all untidy, which again, wasn’t like him. He smiled sweetly at Mrs. Wilson. No one in their right mind couldn’t forgive AJ with that smile.

Mrs. Wilson waved at him. “Is everything okay?” She seemed concerned.

AJ nodded without his usual charming comment. He must be sick. Or he’s just a normal person who slept in…no, he must be sick.

Mrs. Wilson continued with her lecture as Paige gazed at the back of AJ’s head. His hair was freshly cut and revealed the white skin which hadn’t seen the sun.

She looked around the class and was slightly envious of her classmates because they had all gone somewhere on spring break. They did things and experienced new places, only to return, while she was stuck there constantly.

She couldn’t leave Charles Rosehill, which was in Connecticut and was one of the best and most prestigious colleges in the country, during her spring break. The Ivy League had nothing on this place, where kids from all around the world practically fought tooth and nail for a single place.

And since it was so exclusive, it was filled with celebrity kids or royals. Paige, regretfully, was neither of those things.

Her mom had selected this college for her after basically scouting the whole world for the perfect place, and her grades ensured she got it. But her dad was still pretty annoyed when he got his credit card statement.

And why was she abandoned during spring break?

As a small child, she’d lived in Philadelphia with her parents. Once they’d split and Paige started college, they sold the house and didn’t quite have a home base anymore.

Her dad worked for NASA and was usually too busy, which was understandable considering where he worked.

Their schedules were always far too crazy, so planning a vacation with him was difficult, to say the least. Still, she loved him very much and was grateful he let her stay at Charles Rosehill, but that didn’t stop her from missing him.

Besides, they Face Timed a lot nowadays, so it was manageable.

There wasn’t a chance in hell she would stay with her mother at the Institute, so Paige ended up staying in her college dorm.

Willow also stayed at her school over the break. It was located only a few blocks away, a lucky coincidence for the sisters. They managed to spend a lot of time together simply goofing around and enjoying their time off.

Paige sighed. Thinking about her family was never a good idea because they were so close—in a very odd sort of way—and yet lived so far away from one another. She banished those thoughts and the sadness they brought and concentrated on the task at hand.

Which was destroying the evidence of her stupid crush, of course.

She rolled the paper she’d previously ripped in a ball, ready to throw it away. Once again, everyone was aware of the gesture, as if they watched her every movement.

It felt like when she tried her best to be silent in a movie theater while eating chips, but in reality, she only sounded louder than ever. Every crunch was more like an earth-shattering scream, and she simply wanted to kill herself rather than try to take another bite. Even if she was starving.

It was exactly like that, she decided, only more embarrassing since the lights were on.

I’m really on a roll today, Paige thought sarcastically while she ignored her classmates who, for some weird reason, seemed quite irked by her behavior.

The one person she couldn’t completely ignore was Chen.

She turned to look at her, and she wondered if she would scowl or roll her eyes at her. It was a constant thing between them—a game of sorts—and sometimes, she really enjoyed it.

She liked Chen, who was super smart and a good friend.

As they still eyed one another, she bet on scowling but suspected Chen wanted to do both.

Go on Chen, you can do it, roll your eyes just once, Paige urged her mentally but then something else caught her attention.

A single red drop of blood trickled slowly from Chen’s nose, grew bigger, and fell on her notebook. Even from where she sat, Paige could see it had destroyed a whole section of her perfect handwritten notes.

She frowned because that was such a shame. Chen put a lot of work and effort into those.

“Chen,” Paige whispered and nodded toward her book in an attempt to bring her attention to the matter at hand. Or nose, as it was.

Chen turned pale, almost ghost-like, and Paige felt nervousness rise slowly in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t like what was happening one bit.

And who knew a simple nose bleed could freak her out so much.

Especially as Chen simply continued to stare at her with her almond eyes—like she actually looked right through her—not bothering to wipe the blood off her face or try to stop it in any way.

On impulse, Paige looked quickly behind her to make sure no one was there. Satisfied that she had no lurker creeping up on her, she turned to look at Chen again. The strange behavior puzzled her.

She’d never heard that a nosebleed could cause mental damage.

Luckily, as if Paige’s movements woke her from her weird trance, Chen finally blinked and noticed the blood.

She rubbed at it as if she needed to make sure it was real, which only caused it to smear completely across her notes.

Paige watched all of this in confusion because her friend was not acting like herself. At all.

Another drop fell. It landed on the back of her palm and she finally raised her hand over her face as if to stop it.

Still, that wasn’t enough.

Chen’s pale hand turned scarlet as the blood seeped through the gaps in her fingers, soaking everything in its path. Even Paige, with her limited experience, could see there was way too much blood.

“Oh, damn, Chen,” Paige exclaimed, worried now because Chen looked like she would bleed to death in a matter of minutes. Which was ridiculous—as if she could die from a nosebleed.

“Mrs. Wilson,” Chen raised her other hand to be noticed.

Even when her nose is gushing blood, she is still polite, Paige thought in exasperation.

“What is it?” Mrs. Wilson asked as if she irked that she was interrupted.

“Her nose is bleeding,” Paige replied so Chen wouldn’t have to bother. The blood was everywhere by now.

Naturally, all heads turned in their direction in fascination, and Paige suppressed a groan. She wished they were in one of those TV dramas where one of her friends would yell, “I’m a doctor,” and would rush to help. But this was a reality, so they all remained silent and seated.

Usually, Paige wouldn’t interfere at all, but Chen looked beyond scary and like someone who needed some medical attention. STAT.

“Go to the nurse’s office, Chen,” Mrs. Wilson ordered.

Sending a grateful look at Paige, Chen grabbed her backpack with her somewhat clean hand and got to her feet and made a beeline toward the door. In her hurry, she didn’t seem to notice that she’d left a clear trail of blood from her seat to the exit.

She fumbled with the door but managed to get it open and went through it quickly. The heavy doors slammed closed behind her.

Still, in a daze, Paige looked at the blood that stained the floor and could only think how the whole place suddenly looked like a freaking crime scene.

Even the smell of blood, so strange and metallic, tickled her nose, completing the scene. And by the looks of her classmates, they were thinking the exact same thing.

I really need to get out of this place. Thankfully, a few seconds, later the bell rang. Mathematical Statistics class was finally over.

All the students tried to leave the classroom at once while avoiding the blood. A line formed in front of the door, and she understood the sentiment completely.

“Chen looked pretty sick.” River, her best friend, said as she approached.

River had very famous parents. They were both singers and they named her after their most famous duet.

Artists were so weird, especially when naming their children.

Paige, on the other hand, was simply Paige. There was no greater meaning to it but she liked it that way. It was up to her to give the name greatness, not the other way round.

Remembering what River had said, Paige nodded. “Yeah,” she replied. “I hope she’s okay.” She actually meant it, too.

“She was dripping blood everywhere,” River continued, clearly not done with this topic. Her voice and expression held some strange kind of fascination.

“Yeah,” Paige replied simply, not quite sharing her enthusiasm.

River linked her tanned arm with Paige’s, making her look even paler than usual as they walked back outside and toward the tracks. They were both part of a track team. The scholarship went towards the costs of the school, with Paige’s grades and money from her parents. Oh, yes, and bank loans. Her grandchildren would end up paying off her loans unless she was able to land a top-paying job. That was what she hoped for.

“So, did you speak to AJ while I was away?” River asked sweetly even though she already knew the answer to that question.

Which was a big, fat no.

Paige simply shrugged, not bothering with vocals. She already felt quite uncomfortable with the simple question and where it could lead them.

Knowing River, there were no innocent questions, only traps you could fall into.

“Paige,” she yelled at her, nudging her a little. “You promised. AJ!” she shouted, spotting the boy in question in front of them, making Paige panic.

“River,” she snapped back, moving away from her.

AJ turned and looked back at them, and as always, time slowed while Paige watched him. He stared at her. AJ had a very distinct grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes that got her every freaking time.

She waved at him with two hands, without thinking. Then wanted to smack herself across the forehead with that same hand.

What is wrong with me? she wondered, and not for the first time.

He rubbed the back of his neck and frowned, clearly confused by her reaction. She wanted to die then and there.

What on earth possessed me to do that? Why am I acting like a school girl anytime he is near me?

Because I’m an idiot, Paige screamed at herself. You’re swearing off boys, remember? She continued with her inner dialogue. But that was easier said than done when AJ stood so close to her.

Heat rose instantly to her cheeks, and she was positive she looked like a street light with all that red glow across her pale skin.

I really, really need a tan, she reminded herself.

Feeling embarrassed and angry, she turned toward her best friend.

“River, why don’t you worry about your own love life and leave mine to me?” Paige demanded in a tone that was almost a hiss, not wanting her voice to carry.

“You don’t have one.” River deadpanned, and Paige wanted to strangle her.

“Thanks for the reminder.” She headed off quickly on her own.

“Wait!” River yelled after her, but she ignored her, still pretty pissed.

Paige always did stupid things when AJ was around. But on the scale of remembering scenes, this was maybe a two?

Once, she’d tripped on the perfectly level floor in the cafeteria and practically fell into his lap while he was eating with his friends.

One of them even chuckled and remarked how dessert was served as well.

Now that was embarrassing, she reminded herself.

So, maybe this is progress?  Paige groaned inwardly, not liking any of it.

 

* * *

Paige had waved at him, and AJ found that endearing. It effectively took his mind off the odd—to say the least—morning. The normal class routine had helped him to put the weird hearing voices thing down to staying up way too late on his computer.

He’d been about to wave in response, maybe even give her his award-winning smile—his mother actually had an award for it from when he was a baby.

But something else happened which stopped him in his tracks.

Paige looked different—no, that wasn’t right…it was more that the air around her looked different. It gave her a kind of golden glow as if she had a burnished aura surrounding her.

No one else seemed to have noticed, so he tilted his head and looked more closely, but the glow didn’t go away.

Paige is glowing, and only you can see it. The realization effectively stopped him from making an ass of himself by mentioning it.

“She is your Seedling, AJ,” the voice said, intruding again like the proverbial bad penny. “Take her to the mothership.” By this point, he was beyond freaked out but had to pretend everything was fine. He didn’t want his friends, classmates, and especially Paige to think he’d lost his mind.

AJ still firmly believed Brad was pulling a rather elaborate prank on him. But he hadn’t seen the other guy the whole day.

He is probably hiding somewhere and laughing, knowing I want to kick his ass.

“Take her now,” the voice commanded with so much force, AJ practically took a step forward against his will.

No. He rebelled instinctively.

As the mental protest echoed in his thoughts, he had the weirdest feeling that he had company in his head, and whoever that might be could see through his eyes.

And if that wasn’t a definition of crazy, he didn’t know what was.

Snap out of it, AJ, he yelled at himself, happy to hear his own will for a change.

But the urge to grab Paige was almost overwhelming. She’d taken River by the arm, clearly not happy about something. Relieved, he watched as River led Paige further away from him.

“Do it now, AJ.”

I will not. And get out of my head, he added with conviction while his whole body shook—slightly, but enough to cause concern in case others noticed.

“You must take your Seedling,” the voice insisted. He literally felt a pressure inside his body, a weird compulsion to act, but he refused, gritting his teeth.

The hell I will. I will not take her or anyone else. I will not listen to anything you have to say. So leave me alone.

In the next instant, he felt somewhat lighter and the urge disappeared. The voice disappeared along with it.

Thank God. He signed with relief.

Not wanting to take any chances, AJ decided to get away from Paige as quickly as possible.

He ended up in a bathroom, and he locked the door behind him. Still shaking, he leaned against the wall and drew a deep breath. He seriously needed a moment of privacy.

Or a whole year.

“What the hell is happening to you?” he asked his reflection, turning on the faucet, and splashed his face with cold water. It refreshed him and helped to calm him a little, but AJ knew deep inside that this was a problem H20 molecules couldn’t fix.

Still, one thing was perfectly clear to him. He wouldn’t do anything to Paige, no matter what the voices told him to do. At the same time, he accepted that it was time to face the music. Brad didn’t have anything to do with it.

It was all him. Or something in him.

Either way, harming Paige in any way wasn’t an option.

“I will keep her safe,” he vowed. Even if that meant from himself.

***

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