Standing on that beach in the early morning hours, I felt like a prisoner. I had been caught trying to escape from the chains that bounded me to my friends. I knew I was in trouble - I knew I should have just let 'things' be.
Maybe this Simon kid wasn't worth all the fuss.
Mackleby zipped up his black leather jacket and cleared his throat. His eyes were filled with rage. I didn't know what to say. I was positive he was more embarrassed than anything. He acted like he was the perfect teacher with the perfect students. He was the type of guy who trusted everyone - and I guess he felt that trust earned him respect. Yeah, I respected him I guess, but our reasons for being out in the middle of the night were not for spite - we weren't out to piss the dude off.
"Sorry," I mumbled under my breath.
"Pardon me?" Mackleby turned the light back on my face, stepping down onto the beach. "You're sorry? Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for the three of you to be out here in the middle of the night?"
"You mean morning, sir?" I replied. I had no idea why I said that.
"Nothing." I closed my eyes and imagined myself in bed. There was no way this was happening. I was a victim, plane and simple. Somehow, the jerks who pretended to be my friends were probably sound asleep dreaming about how cool they were for harassing Simon and here I was, getting ready for the wrath of Coach Mackleby.
Maybe this was a sign.
Maybe I shouldn't interfere with the inevitable. Simon was a loser, enough said. Trying to help him was just going to make my life worse.
"What's with you, huh?" The coach's flashlight flickered. He tapped it a couple times and pointed it out to the lake. "Are you trying to see that ghost? Is that it? You think that story was real?"
I shrugged and looked down at my saturated running shoes. The light from the horizon bounced warm reds and browns onto the ground. The sun was beginning to take over the night sky.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" Mr. Mackleby tilted his head and leaned in to me.
"I guess," I whispered.
"Yes, I do." I looked out at the water - to the cluster of rocks surrounded by a low-hanging fog. My mind hadn't yet figured out what happened out there. I was pretty sure MIchelle and I did see a ghost. That dark figure must have been him.
Coach Mackleby straightened up and rubbed his chin. The beam flickered again on his flashlight. He turned to Simon. "What about you? I'm surprised to see you out here?"
Simon shrugged and pulled his hood over his head.
I had never seen the coach so scary before. I guess his whole 'cool guy' act was just that - an act. Or maybe he just hated getting up early.
"Mr. Mackleby?" Michelle stepped forward, brushing her arm past mine. "We were helping Simon. That's why we were out here. We know the rules, we know it's dangerous to be out past bedtime, but we...we heard Simon was in trouble. We came out here to help him."
Man she was beautiful - the way she spoke, the way she held herself. Every time I looked at her - every time I heard her voice, I wanted to capture it - somehow.
"I don't want to hear it." Mackleby shined the light on Simon and then back to Michelle. His plaid pajama-pants flapped about in the wind from a cold rush of air creeping up through the trees. He looked ridiculous with his motorcycle-gang jacket and his circus clown PJs. "I got a good mind to call your folks right now and have them drive up here and take you all home."
"Don't you wanna know what happened though, sir?" Michelle folded her arms.
I knew it would be pointless trying to explain anything to him. By pulling Brandon and the guys into this was only going to make my life a living nightmare. Like I said before, Mackleby was clueless about the problems us kids went through. All the teachers were the same, they figured they could help us grow into young adults by either yelling at us until we were too petrified to argue back, or ignore the problems altogether.
"We're sorry, we won't do it again." I nodded, forcing myself to look at Mackleby in the eyes.
"That's right. You won't." Mackleby pulled the flashlight away from our faces and pointed it at the cabins through the woods. "Go back to your rooms, I need to seriously think about a consequence for the three of you."
Part of me thought this whole thing was my fault. The guy had it in for me, ever since last year. He labelled me as trouble for the simple fact I hung out with 'that' group. Michelle and Simon didn't deserve this, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Or, maybe not.
Maybe this whole mess was Simon's doing. The kid was a freak - no one liked him, he had no personality.
Why did he have to come on this stupid trip anyway?
Chaz and Ms. Finch remained on the hill - their eyes half open - I was pretty sure they were wishing they were still nestled in their warm beds.
Simon dropped his broken stick and stepped up onto the boardwalk - his shoulders slumped as he walked back toward the cabins.
"Hey!" Mackleby called out. He slapped the back of the dying flashlight and then shined it on Simon. "Where are you going? I'd like to talk to you."
Simon stopped on the boardwalk and slowly turned around. The straggled hoodie covered most of his face. Shifting his weight from side to side he glanced back at the coach. "I don't feel like talking."
Another chilling breeze slipped out through the twisted branches, pulling up grains of sand from the beach. Mackleby covered his face before shining the light back along the boardwalk.
However, like the ghost of Riley Grayson, Simon Partridge was gone.
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