Chapter One: Meg
Meg Callahan stood on the lawn of the Brookridge University campus with her two best friends, Emma Dawson and Vivian Jones. The girls had been inseparable since childhood; after graduating from high school the previous year, they rented an apartment together and attended the same college. Tonight, the three friends were enjoying a party on campus celebrating the beginning of spring break.
“You guys, in less than one hour we’ll officially be on spring break!” Meg cheered and threw her hands in the air to celebrate.
Emma laughed, and the curls on her long, blonde hair bounced. “Yeah, but if you really think about it, spring break began when our last class ended.”
Meg rolled her eyes. “Leave it to Emma to go all technical on us,” she said to Vivian, who shrugged in response.
It was a Friday night in March, and the air was cool and crisp. A slight breeze drifted through the air, carrying with it the sounds of the celebration. In the distance, music blared from the speakers of an expensive stereo, and a few students danced along to the rhythm. Clusters of people stood around in circles, shouting to each other over the noise.
Meg stood on the outskirts of the crowd with her friends, taking in the scene. The vast area of grass they stood on was known among alumni as The Lawn. On any given day, students could be found socializing, studying for a test, or eating a meal underneath the many oak trees lining The Lawn.
For the more active students, a concrete walking path led into the woods surrounding the property. Photography majors occasionally walked the trail, looking for objects to capture, but most visitors chose to use the campus’ built-in gym to exercise. Meg and her friends enjoyed walking the trail, listening to the birds, and spending a few minutes in nature without other peers distracting them. Tonight, the woods were empty. Everyone was celebrating the beginning of spring break, and Meg wanted to remember as many details as possible.
She wanted to remember the hour and a half it took for her to finally pick out the perfect outfit for tonight. Deciding on a shirt was the easy part. Meg’s favorite color was pink, and she loved how it looked with her long, flowing brunette hair. Meg had searched through her closet in the small apartment she and her friends shared and found the one she was looking for. A pink Miss Me shirt adorned with rhinestones was paired with her favorite Hollister blue jeans. Her outfit wasn’t over-the-top, but Meg had Vivian for that.
Viv chose to wear a purple form-fitting dress with black tights that brought her long, supermodel legs to attention. Around her neck, she wore a piece of jewelry she had made herself. Smooth, black beads made up the necklace itself, but in the middle, two paintbrushes were joined together with wire to form a cross. Meg had been there when Viv spray painted them black. Just like her personality, Vivian always found a way to make an outfit original.
To Meg’s left, there was Emma. Clad in black Bermuda shorts and a white pinstriped button-up shirt, Emma was the more polished girl in their group of friends. It was she who had planned a trip for the girls the next day. Emma was a self-proclaimed perfectionist who lived by to-do lists and schedules. Somehow, her tactics worked because Emma had a 4.0 GPA in all of her classes. Meg was just grateful Emma could help her with her class work.
“Not to ruin the mood, but if we’re going to leave by eight ‘o clock tomorrow morning, we probably shouldn’t stay out much later,” Emma hinted, tapping on the faceplate of her watch.
Meg, who hated being told what to do, was about to remark when she felt an all-too-familiar sensation. She was being watched; Meg was sure of it. Looking over her long eyelashes, Meg’s eyes scanned the lawn full of students, searching for her secret admirer.
Her eyes landed on a tall guy who stood only a few yards away. His thin frame leaned against a nearby tree, and his tan arms were crossed over a red tee shirt. Meg couldn’t help but notice the muscles in his arms as her eyes made their way to his face. Surrounded by short, black hair cropped around his face, a pair of hazel eyes stared back at Meg.
Never one to shy away, Meg flashed a smile at the boy, revealing straight teeth only braces could produce. She turned to Vivian and Emma and twirled her silky, smooth hair, using her arm to block her mouth just in case the boy tried to read her lips.
“There's a guy over there who is totally gorgeous,” Meg whispered to her friends. “Where?” Viv asked, scanning her green eyes over her outfit. She used her fingers to scrunch up her black, bob-cut hair.
“He’s over by the trees,” Meg said. “Don’t be obvious, though. He’s looking over here.” Meg glanced briefly in the boy’s direction, but she noticed he was gone. She dropped her hand from her hair and openly began to search for him, her green eyes squinting across the crowded lawn. Where’d he go?
“I don’t see anyone,” Vivian said, looking back and forth at the crowd. “Maybe he realized you saw him and decided to hide.” She didn’t mean any harm, but Meg’s face turned a deep red anyway. Viv had a problem with controlling herself. Her mouth was like a loose cannon. As soon as a thought entered her brain, it usually found its way out of her mouth.
Meg sighed. She was tired of being ditched by boys. After all, only one week before she was scheduled to move to college, her long-term boyfriend broke up with her. Meg was crushed, and since then, no one had caught her attention. Nobody, that was, until tonight.
“One minute until spring break!” a student in the crowd yelled, and everyone began counting down the seconds until midnight. “60, 59, 58…”
It was in that moment Meg saw it; an orange glow had appeared a few feet away in the woods. As she watched, the light grew brighter. Meg nudged Vivian with her elbow, “Do you see that?” she whispered to her friend. Vivian followed Meg’s gaze. “Whoa,” Vivian responded.
“I see it, too. Do you think it could be a fire?” Emma asked.
Meg couldn’t take her eyes off the strange light illuminating from the woods. “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” she said with a firm voice. She didn’t have to ask her friends to join her; it was expected. The three girls always stuck together.
They made their way through the row of oak trees lining The Lawn and were soon standing on the path leading into the woods. The number of college students around them now was sparse. Most of the crowd had gathered in the center of The Lawn and was too busy cheering to notice the glow illuminating in the woods, or the three girls walking toward it. Instead, the unaware group continued to count down the seconds. “39, 38, 37…” they chanted.
The girls walked a few feet into the woods and noticed the glow was deeper in the woods, away from the path. Watching where they were going, the friends stepped off of the trail and followed the glow to a fallen branch on the ground. As they drew nearer, Meg, Viv, and Emma realized there was not a fire like they had suspected. Instead, the glow was coming from a small object on the ground. Nestled in the grass, against the decaying tree branch, sat a gem with the most beautiful shade of orange Meg had ever seen. It was the gem that was glowing in the night.
The girls were shocked. What was this strange object?
Meg didn’t speak for a while. All she could do was stare at the peculiar light. While Meg gazed, she felt a sudden urge to pick up the gem. “I want to look at it closer,” she said and bent down to pick up the gem.
Emma threw her hands in front of Meg, blocking her. “Wait!” she warned, finding her voice. “We don’t know what this thing is. It might be dangerous for all we know!”
The three girls stood in silence for a second and looked at the light. Once again, Meg felt compelled to pick the object up. “I’m sure it’s fine,” she assured Emma. Meg looked at Vivian, knowing she would agree with her. “What do you think, Viv?”
Vivian shrugged, but her gaze never left the jewel. “Well, you know what they say: finder’s keepers…” Meg smiled. She was glad she could count on Vivian to agree with her. “Exactly,” Meg stated and leaned over the gem. “5, 4, 3…” the crowd counted.
The moment Meg’s hands touched the jewel it turned the brightest shade of orange and immediately transformed into a white light. Little beams of light shot out from the gem and hit each of the girls before they realized what happened.
Then, Meg blacked out.
All at once, hundreds of voices began talking to Meg. She couldn’t understand what any of them were saying, and the voices turned into a thunderous roar. An image tried to reach the surface, but Meg’s conscience was too focused on the voices, which had combined together. Now, they sounded like waves crashing against the shore. Meg’s body began to roll as she tried to focus on the image in her mind, but the further she reached, the more clouded it became.
“Meg!” a voice shouted through the waves. Meg stirred at the voice; she recognized it. “Meg!” the voice called again. “Are you okay?”
Meg opened her eyes and saw Emma and Viv peering over her. Vivian’s hands were on Meg’s arms, shaking them nervously. Her gaze changed to Emma, whose eyes were filled with fear and relief. Whatever emotions she was feeling didn’t deter her from speaking to Meg. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” she persisted.
It took a second for Meg to realize the other voices in her head were gone. Had she imagined the whole thing?
“I’m fine,” Meg said, deciding she should answer her friend before she had a heart attack. “Just a little confused.”
“Well, you aren’t alone on that one,” Vivian said. “What was that?” Her voice cracked, giving away her uneasiness. She looked down at her chest where the beam of light had entered, but nothing was there.
“I don’t know,” Meg said. “Did y’all see the beams of light hit us when I touched the gem?” She looked at the jewel, but it was no longer shining in her hands. Instead, it looked like a normal piece of jewelry. Meg wondered if the light from the gem had entered into their bodies, and instantly, she felt powerful.
Vivian began to respond, but Emma cut her off. “Of course I saw the light! What just happened? Who knows what kind of damage that could have done to us? Thank goodness you woke up! I was about to call 9-1-1!”
Meg and Vivian looked at each other, and then returned their gazes back onto Emma. Something had happened to the girls when Meg touched the gem. Emma would never be that bold to them on any other occasion. She was the one who always kept the peace among the three best friends.
Meg remembered the feeling of power she got while holding the gem and wondered if maybe the other girls felt something when the light hit them, too. A strong feeling of certainty overcame her, and she knew it was true. The girls had received some sort of powers.
“Did anything happen when the light hit y’all?” Meg asked, even though she already knew the answer. “I had a strange feeling come over me, and I thought maybe you guys might have felt something, too.”
Vivian was the first to speak up. “I just felt a rush of energy come over me. It’s hard to describe. I just feel very… open.”
Meg nodded her head, and she and Vivian looked at Emma, waiting for her response. “I told you not to touch that thing!” Emma said. “Now y’all are feeling weird, and once again I was right!”
She must be scared, Meg thought. “Emma, did you feel anything?”
Emma was quiet for a second, and then she sighed. “Of course I did,” she said in a hopeless voice. “Can someone please just tell me why instead of freaking out about this all I can do is feel excited about it?”
Meg and Vivian smiled. They were both relieved that Emma was okay with what was going on, even though they still were pretty unsure themselves.
“I can explain,” Meg said, “but I think this is something we should talk about at home where we’re alone.” She nodded her head toward the party where the students had begun talking in lower voices again since the excitement of midnight had already passed.
“Alright. Let’s go,” Emma said. Meg pushed the jewel inside the front pocket of her blue jeans and pulled her favorite pink shirt down over it.
The girls walked at a casual pace away from the woods just in case someone had seen the orange glow, but their efforts weren’t necessary. Nobody even noticed when they reentered the crowd. Emma already had her keys in her hands, and Vivian was trying to convince her to pick up some food for the ride home.
Meg was following behind them when she glanced over at a group of people laughing and having a good time. Her heart felt like it sank when she recognized a face in the middle of them. The cute boy she had seen earlier was listening to a girl in a miniskirt, looking away and seeming uninterested in the conversation. She wondered if maybe he was looking for her.
Meg wished she could stay and meet the boy. She knew the exact moves she would have used to get him to walk over to her. Then, Meg would have found out his name. Maybe they would have talked all night. She might have liked him.
Meg shook her head and turned back toward her friends. None of that was possible now. There were more important things going on. For a second, Meg regretted picking up the gem. It felt heavy in her pocket. What if the jewel got in the way of everything she wanted?
Meg looked once more at the boy. It probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway, Meg thought. Then, she got into Emma’s car without another glance back.