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It Started In Summer

by Jacklyn Casey 2 months ago in Love
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I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept for years.

I can’t sleep.

I haven’t slept for years.

Presumably, I’ll never sleep again… not the way I want to. It doesn’t help that this mummified human beside me smelled of death, or that I was trapped forty-five thousand feet in the air, but I’ve accepted it. I have welcomed inconsequential things into the rabbit hole.

I’ve accepted my parent’s divorce; they weren’t happy and ostensibly never were.

Impending doom; being stuck in a tiny metal box forty thousand feet in the air. I have no choice but to accept that.

But the two things I couldn’t accept were moving several hours away from anything I’ve ever known and being forced to live with the mannequin.

On a need-to-know basis, the mannequin is unfortunately my mother. I just avoid calling her such a thing, Mothers are affectionate, understanding, and gracious in their ways.

Natalie is not one of those things, she is cold and withdrawn. The only means of communication between her and I lacked that of emotion, of love –

‘’You know, it’s very rude to stare.’’

Did this feeble being beside me just speak?

Mummified non-human, powder-white hair, moth-eaten clothes, rheumatic fingers. I was taken back when she spoke, but more so when the tiny spiders with angular legs didn’t spiral out of her mouth. ‘’-Pardon?’’ I spoke, but my hoarse voice made me sound like I swallowed a stack of hay. I must’ve been staring at her, unintentionally of course.

‘’I said, it’s very rude to stare.’’ She said, still no spiders with angular legs. Disappointment washed over me, liking to picture the creepiest situations happening, but this, this was not one of them. The lady wasn’t mummified, and she wasn’t so decrepit. I didn’t apologize for staring, not seeing any point. I wasn’t gawking on purpose; I was simply lost in thought.

Thoughts of impending doom and parents divorcing…

My parents were autonomous individuals with separate lives before me. Figuring maybe my dad had plans to travel the world, or climb a mountain, and maybe my mum wanted a life without children. Maybe, undoubtedly, I wasn’t supposed to be here, but it just happened. I felt guilty about their divorce, but I knew it wasn’t my fault. Dad told me in repetition that it was never because of me, as it turned out, they stayed together as long as they did, for me. Figuring I was so young, they feared damaging my view on what it meant to be family. I was in a magnitude of shock and denial, but those both feel the same in most situations. I thought I’d cry when I found out, but my emotions were absent as if they disintegrated into nothing. Dad even sent me to a therapist, but they just proceeded to tell me I was depressed.

I didn’t feel depressed. I didn’t feel much of anything, as if I was anesthetized against emotions.

‘’Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you or the overhead bin. Please take your seat and fasten your seatbelt.’’

The seatbelt light above my head flashed once, and then a second time. The deafening high-pitched voice of the flight attendant woke up a lot of cantankerous people. Even waking a baby, its vociferous cry heard from back end to front end.

I wanted to scream, or maybe hit something, or both, but I couldn’t tell which one.

I felt irate. It could have been the long hours in a tiny metal box, the uncomfortable plane seat, the waspy flight attendant, or the simple fact that I was being forced to move however many hours away and live with the mannequin.

Feeling the pressure from my clenched jaw move into my head, pounding followed. The ache from the length of time I had been grinding my teeth was noticeable as I began powering down my laptop.

‘’You heard the attendant.’’

Oh, this old cow.

‘’Turn off your phone or whatever nonsense that is.’’

If human bodies were physically capable of rupture, I would have blown up the plane. Instead, I blew up at the mummified lady who had been seated beside me for the duration of my trip. ‘’Listen, you cow.’’ No holding back now. ‘’Shut up.’’ I fastened my seatbelt, and slammed my laptop shut – this was it; this was the detonation. It had been building, the very fabrication of it. Up to this moment, this very comic, very sudden moment. The look on this woman’s face, I would have laughed if I wasn’t so poignant in my state of mind. ‘’- I don’t care what you have to say.’’ I bit. ‘’Being as versed as you are, maybe you should be the one keeping your mouth shut instead of telling me what to do, just because you have some presumptuous idea that you and every old fart, are privileged to be treated a certain way, doesn’t give you any right to tell me what to do. I heard the fucking attendant, lady.’’

I paused; a lull of silence followed. I had read a quote somewhere and it popped into my head as I watched the expression on her face. The quote read, ‘speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret,’

I don’t recall who wrote it, or where, but I didn’t agree. I didn’t regret anything I said, and I wasn’t planning on it anytime soon. I was buoyant. Resilient and satisfied with the reaction I pulled from this ramshackle of a woman. Maybe I lack empathy sure, but if someone went through half of what I was going through, I know, without a doubt, even the basal of things would set them off and this woman’s minuscule existence did just that, kaboom.

Luckily, my outbreak was muffled. I’d never been a yeller, even when I was younger. I’d cry, but I wasn’t obnoxious about it. My dad said I’d become so quiet; he would be the one asking what was wrong – but I’d never tell.

The flight attendant approached but barely got two words in before the moribund next to me opened her mouth, still no spiders though. My head was spiraling, along with my confidence, which I thought I’d grasped during the whole angry rant.

‘’No, everything is not okay miss.’’ – If the dead could talk. The woman already had one foot in the grave – maybe I should just push her and get it over with. ‘’-This girl is being very rude and will not put away whatever that is-‘’

Gesturing toward my laptop, I bit my tongue. I was getting to it. If this ill-advised half-wit had kept her mouth shut and avoided me altogether, there wouldn’t be a situation. ‘’It’s a fucking laptop.’’ I barked. My sullen tone gave away my bad mood. ‘’-A laptop, in its proper bag that I was in the middle of shutting down before this old bat opened her mouth.’’ My eyes were fixed on the flight attendant, but I could feel the burning eyes of death staring me down.

The attendant wanted to squash the dispute as quickly as humanly possible, knowing full well that if she bothered the captain over something so infinitesimal, so miniature, it would be her getting in trouble. ‘’It’s been a long flight, everyone is tired,’’

Several hours in a tiny metal box, several hours next to an ornery fossil, twenty-four hours with no sleep.

The second I got off the plane my knees nearly buckled. Legs gelatin as I walked. The pang shooting up and down my calves, you’d swear I was the fossil and not the woman I was stuck beside for all those long hours. I dodged the mummified bitch as I left, it was a breath of fresh air just to be back in an airport. A wide-open space where you could physically stretch your arms and not touch another human. I smiled, couldn’t help it. Stretching is better than the best thing ever, feeling the circulation make its way to the end of each limb. My back cracked, my toes, I swallowed. My mind flashed to that old woman, fear suddenly consuming me with thoughts of aging…

‘’Darling, here you are!’’

Natalie Hayes. My mother,

My fear of getting old molded into anxiety. I closed my eyes and braced myself as her arms wrapped around my entire body. I wasn’t very big. I was a little taller than average, 5’8, maybe 5’9, but Natalie was tall. I inherited her legs, which, I was kind of grateful for. Though, I’d never tell her that. The hug, though she meant it to be warming, was not. It was distant like we had only just met.

‘’I hope your flight wasn’t too long. I’m so sorry your father didn’t set you up in first-class. He should’ve known better.’’

As she pulled away, I tried to remember what she looked like. But the woman who just hugged me was not the same woman I remembered. ‘’It’s fine.’’ I lied.

‘’You look, exhausted darling, did you sleep?’’

I can’t quite explain the bizarre way Natalie held herself. She was dressed casually for a nice spring day, though it was summer, I noted her hair color. It was blonde, the Natalie I remember had dark, auburn hair, one that would match my natural color if I hadn’t coated it with a pastel pink dye. The blonde didn’t suit her, but it was the whole fabricated performance that threw me off. ‘’No, I didn’t sleep,’’ I said, I wouldn’t lie about the lack of sleep. Deciding it was best to be honest, considering the second we arrived in my new home, it meant I would be left alone.

‘’Oh that’s too bad,’’ Natalie said, though her voice lacked empathy. I swallowed, feeling as if I was about to go live with a stranger.

I hadn’t seen my mother in three years. Not three hours, days, months, three full years.

That’s countless holidays, birthdays, and family outings, she even missed my graduation. Naturally, if I was a traditional teenager, I would hold a grudge impassioned with resentment…but I wasn’t, I was a blank slate. Aught in emotion, and I figure it’s because I haven’t physically seen or spoken to her in 1095 days.

I minded the way she walked, appearing confident in the way she swayed while I dragged my feet. I was exhausted, even before I got on that flight. Outside only to be brushed with fresh air, and I breathed it in.

‘’You’re going to love it here; our summers are just gorgeous.’’ Natalie bellowed in all the town’s glorious weather as we wandered through the parking garage. I followed behind, my body screaming at me to sleep. ‘’We moved out of the town and into a more secluded area.’’

I paused, had I heard her right?

‘’Sorry, we?’’ I asked, cocking a brow with curiosity. Did she mean her and me? I’d never been there before, I barely left the city…so when Natalie said we, panic washed over.

Natalie’s smile confirmed it. ‘’Oh darling, your father didn’t tell you. I’ve met someone.’’

Divorce is not an uncommon occurrence. At least 45-50% of people who get married, end up getting divorced. Whether the reason is infidelity, lack of commitment, or financial problems. Even getting married too young. They’re all reasons it happens and happens often. As I’ve mentioned before, I was shocked and in denial when I heard of my parent’s divorce, I figured okay, it happens, but when Natalie mentioned another person… I was apprehensive. How long had she been seeing this person? Why was she only speaking of it now? I chewed the inside of my lip as we approached her car. ‘’New car?’’ I asked, challenging her. It wasn’t just new; it was brand new. A Bentley, the SUV was glossy, lustrous in its polished glow. I chewed my lip harder, tasting blood.

‘’Yes, just got it.’’ Natalie’s smile was delighted. I wasn’t buying it. Opening the door to be greeted with that new-car smell. It made my dry throat worse. The whole fancy car and not seeing her for three years – I felt alien, it felt off, not right. As if at any moment I would wake up from this nightmare. Wondering what happened to the cordial mother I grew up with who would sit in her pajamas all afternoon and watch movies with me…

‘’Oh, and you’ll adore our new home too.’’ Natalie started the engine and reversed. Another new thing? I began to question how she could afford such things. Natalie used to be a nurse; I can remember her closet being full of scrubs. Matching ones and mismatched ones. I memorized her schedule too, four days on, four days off. She always knew when I wasn’t feeling well and always knew the best ways to make me feel better, but this Natalie was not my mother, she was a mannequin. A fraudulent act that I wasn’t buying.

The airport was in the middle of nowhere so when we pulled out of the parking garage all I could see were trees, much like on the plane but instead of blobs, it all became clear. I wouldn’t deny how pretty it was, it was beyond the point of nice to be off that plane, to begin with, and away from death itself. I listened to Natalie banter about how great the town is, and how happy she’s been. I wanted to throw up. I avoided checking the time, figuring it must have been the afternoon. The town was modest, some shops and cafes lined both sides of the street. The architecture aged, older as if the buildings had never been updated. Natalie pointed at different places, names rolling off her tongue, but I wasn’t paying attention, not really. Too focused on the stranger danger feeling in the pit of my stomach. ‘’So where do you live now?’’ I asked.

‘’About twenty minutes from here, but don’t worry, you’ll make lots of friends in September.’’ Natalie snickered; her knuckles white from grasping the steering wheel too tight… maybe she was uneasy too. Or maybe she was just that uptight. I looked back out to my right, thanking whatever Gods above for tinted windows. I wasn’t overly fond of my appearance. The people outside appeared friendly enough, but I didn’t see anyone my age and immediately doubted the possibility of making friends before the school year. The remainder of our drive was silent. I didn’t speak and Natalie ran out of things to say. You’d expect her to have countless things, but she remained reticent as if she was too shy to tell me what was on her mind.

‘’I have a surprise for you,’’ She finally spoke. I stared.

‘’A surprise? What, did you get a puppy?’’ I asked, avoiding her gaze that bore into me like heat from the sun. I hated being stared at, especially by her. Natalie was not my mother, I detached myself when she left the first time, but now, being here, having to live with her… I was uninvolved and cold. Much like she was, only I wasn’t pretending like her. Pretending to relish the idea that I was in a new place, a new home. We drove off the highway through town and over what looked like a neglected bridge. The lack of support I felt as the tires moved over the old wooden planks made me nauseous.

That would be the icing on the cake, plunging to my death off a crumbling, decomposing bridge with a narcissistic mannequin mother. ‘’Is this safe?’’ I asked, I had to. If Natalie stared at me any longer, I would scream.

‘’Don’t worry darling. They replace that bridge every year or so.’’

The road following the bridge was paved. I unrolled my window and looked left, and then right. There were three houses. Two of them resembled castles, while the third looked more like a log cabin. Swallowing, I realized we were pulling up to one of the castle-like homes. Was the surprise maybe the lottery? ‘’Um, did you come into some money or something?’’ I asked, I couldn’t keep silent. My heart was pounding, the house was at least four stories, double doors with beanstalk windows didn’t lie.

‘’Something like that,’’ Natalie parked the car and stepped out.

I gawked. My mouth agape as I stepped out onto the slab of concrete. The driveway had two other vehicles, so Natalie didn’t win the lottery… but she lived in a mini-mansion and owned three extravagant cars? Something didn’t add up. ‘’I thought you said you didn’t win the lottery.’’

‘’No, I met someone.’’ Charlotte closed her door, walking over to me to brush a strand of hair from my face. It was unusual and made me anxious, so I stepped away.

‘’Who is this person?’’ I was defensive, I needed to be. This was sudden and didn’t make sense. What kind of sane person doesn’t inform their only daughter that they met someone, not only meeting someone but living together too in a castle-home with fancy cars. ‘’I don’t get it mum; you and dad separate two years ago and only now have you decided to get a divorce? To finalize it. And suddenly you’re living with a random guy? Is it a guy?’’

‘’Please Eleanor, don’t be so dramatic.’’ Rolling her eyes, Natalie forced another smile, trying to play off her annoyance with laughter. I didn’t buy it. No one would, it was unwilling and unconvincing. I hated that she used my name in such a tone, how was I, in any way being dramatic?

‘’Me, dramatic? Please. You quit your job as a nurse, leave me and dad, move to the middle of nowhere and suddenly you’re with someone new? Yeah – I’m being dramatic.’’ My arms were crossed, my brow furrowed, and my heart drummed in my chest. I didn’t blame my father; I blamed my mother. My mother was the one who left, left dad, left me. I was vehement and heated, and Natalie knew. Natalie knew the second I went on my rant, but even as distant as she made herself, she still knew me like the back of her hand. ‘’-I can’t be around you right now.’’

‘’Elle, Darling-‘’

‘’Stop. What is with you? Don’t call me darling. It’s so fucking weird and not like you.’’ I snapped. ‘’I cannot be around you.’’

‘’Don’t you think you’re being a little-‘’

I shook my head. ‘’-being what? Because if Dad did what you’re doing, I know you’d have a lot to say about it, so just don’t. I need to be alone.’’

Storming off, I was so blinded by rage, I hadn’t realized where I was going. Ending up across the street, in the woods. The smell of pine overwhelmed my senses, my anger slowly subsiding as I walked, but not quickly enough, I threw my phone and threw it far in the heat of the moment.

The second it left my fingertips though, I panicked.

Why did I throw my phone?

Staring in the direction of where I threw it, I started looking. I’d never seen so many shades of green.

‘’Looking for something?’’

Great. Now I was hallucinating. Jumping at the sound of an unfamiliar voice, unable to help it. Anyone would jump if a voice came out of nowhere in the middle of nowhere. Maybe I got lost, or maybe I hit my head, and this was all just a bad dream, or so I hoped. I grabbed the first branch I could find and whipped around in the direction of the voice.

The person across from me was grinning. ‘’You think you can protect yourself with that?’’ He asked hands on his hips.

‘’You can’t scare people like that!’’ I had the intention to sound threatening, but my voice was the last thing from threatening, especially to a guy… I then noted how skinny the twig was that I held in my hand before tossing it down. ‘’-I grabbed whatever was necessary.’’

‘’I mean, if you wanted to poke my eyes out maybe…’’ Laughing, this guy picked up the twig. ‘’It’s quite pointy.’’

I ignored him, I tried to anyway. He was persistent.

‘’Really though, what are you looking for?’’

‘’My phone,’’ I said.

‘’Oh,’’ I could feel him staring at me. ‘’-Did you lose it?’’

This guy was relentless. Or maybe curious, I couldn’t tell. Why did he care what I was doing, bent over, scattering leaves? ‘’I threw it.’’

‘’Oh, so why are you looking for it then?’’

‘’Because’’

‘’Because why?’’

Aggravating wouldn’t begin to describe this guy, vexatious in his nagging… why? Why do you ask so many fucking questions? I wanted to kick him. Previously tormented by a long flight, a mummified kook, AND a mannequin mother.

I wasn’t in any mood for the constant curiosity of why I may be looking for my phone. ‘’You should mind your business,’’

‘’I’m not normally like this, but you’re in my backyard, so I thought I’d see who was trespassing.’’

Shit.

Of course, I’d be in someone’s backyard. Feeling my face turning red, how was I supposed to know it was a backyard? It looked like the woods to me. ‘’I didn’t know,’’ I said.

‘’Yeah, so do you mind not trespassing?’’

‘’As soon as – ah, found it.’’ Relief washed over me when I found my phone, not that I had any missed messages or anything. ‘’I’ll be leaving now.’’

Pushing passed this guy, he was still grinning. I’d never seen someone find humor in just about everything.

‘’Right, I’m Roland.’’ He said. I didn’t care.

‘’Right,’’ I said, still walking. Roland followed me. This guy was daft. I didn’t care what his name was or who he was. I just wanted to be alone.

‘’Don’t you have a name?’’

Grabbing my arm, he stopped me from walking. I stared at him, noting his gorgeous blonde hair, ocean blue eyes, and the tiny freckles that lined his cheeks and nose. I turned red. Why did he have to be so pretty… ‘’Why do you want to know my name?’’

Why did he want to know?

Roland took his hand away. ‘’I may as well know the name of who’s trespassing.’’

I thought about every incident leading up to this one, including the drive-through town. Recalling the lack of young faces in the crowd, and the sinking feeling I wouldn’t make any friends before September, this guy, as weird as he was, maybe was harmless. Appearing friendly with that wicked smile and playful demeanor. I decided right there, right then. I wouldn’t call it impulsive, not really.

‘’It’s Elle,’’ I said, continuing to walk. Roland walked beside me, hands in his pockets.

‘’Elle huh, pretty...’’ Roland paused. He was talkative, I sort of wished people had a mute button when it came to blabbering. ‘’My mum named me, but she’s dead so I can’t ask her about it.’’ He said.

Stopping, I looked at him. Had I heard him properly? Who openly talked about a dead parent? Death filled my head, and I chewed the inside of my mouth. Bad habit, but I can’t shake it no matter how hard I try. ‘’Um, is it normal for you to tell people your mother is deceased?’’ I asked.

‘’Yes.’’ Roland smiled. ‘’It wasn’t on purpose, she died because of me.’’

Well that escalated, great. I’ve trespassed into a serial killer’s backyard and now this guy was going to murder me. The sprint instinct took over, but something stopped me. They say curiosity killed the cat, but for me, I always needed to hear the details, even if my whole core told me to run. ‘’Why, did you kill her?’’ I played along.

‘’I guess so,’’ Roland admitted, looking away. ‘’during childbirth.’’

The push to run vanished, replacing a sadness. I lacked empathy, but stranger or not, I felt culpable for being so unkind. What kind of a world would you live without a mom, swallowing, I forced myself out of the spiraling dark thoughts. ‘’I’m sorry you lost your mum.’’

‘’I didn’t know her, but my uncle tells me good things.’’

‘’Uncle?’’ I pried. I had to. ‘’Where’s your father?’’

Roland threw his hands behind his head. ‘’He’s dead too.’’

Speechless, I assumed that maybe I was on some kind of a comedic show. Everyone was a hired actor, including mannequin Natalie, so the fact that this guy’s parents were dead, was fake. I wasn’t forced to live a gazillion hours from the only friends I’d ever had, and my parents never even considered separating and getting divorced.

‘’So! Elle, do you live around here?’’ Roland asked, distracting me from my thoughts. He avoided talking about his father’s death and I didn’t pry, even if it was eating me alive. ‘’-I didn’t think you were real, at first…’’

I blinked, what about me wasn’t real? Mirroring his ocean blues, he probably thought my pastel pink hair was a figment of his imagination. The dye was an act of anger, I rebelled and dyed it a permanent color, but I wouldn’t tell him that. ‘’Why didn’t you think I was real?’’ I asked, not realizing that we had walked the length of his backyard and back to the road. The woods felt never-ending, noting where we were when I felt the hot concrete sink through the fabric of my pants, pushing up against my legs. It felt nice, but I couldn’t tell how long we’d been talking.

‘’No one comes to this neighborhood. We’re in the middle of nowhere.’’ Roland shrugged, leaving back on the grass, staring at the not-so blue sky as the sunset. ‘’It’s pretty quiet.’’

‘’I live over there,’’ I pointed.

My new home was a chateau, a medieval fortress. A renaissance palace, something out of the 19th century. Reminding me of royalty. I doubted it had a great hall, but I would bet money that it had endless rooms, the house behind us resembled it, just a different build. I assumed Roland lived there, the houses sat diagonal from one another. Both were built with brick and were most definitely haunted, no way they weren’t.

As logical as I am, I do believe in ghosts.

‘’The house is way too big,’’ I added, looking at him and his reaction.

‘’…You live with the Sullivan’s?’’

I only assumed the Sullivans were my new family. Natalie never mentioned there being more than one. I bit my tongue. I wouldn’t get mad in front of a stranger, so I played it off as I knew. ‘’Yeah, I guess.’’ I stared at my feet. ‘’I just found out, I moved here from the city…and my mom is dating I don’t know his name.’’

‘’Wow,’’ Roland was sitting up. I was staring at him; he just shook his head. ‘’Your mother is dating Chester?’’

‘’What’s wrong with Chester?’’ I asked. Roland shook his head and fear flooded my mind.

‘’It’s nothing.’’ He said, refraining from the details. I was persistent, had to be. The way Roland’s face sunk in made me doubt this situation more than I already had.

‘’Tell me,’’ I demanded, but Roland was already pushing himself up off the curb. ‘’-Roland! You have to tell me!’’

‘’-Come visit when you’re all settled in!’’ Disappearing into his house, I cursed under my breath. On the plus side, I’d made a friend, but now I had to wonder what kind of a man Chester Sullivan was.

I glanced back across the street. Natalie must have turned on the lights in the gargantuan castle, seeing them in the dim light of the sky. I lived there now. That colossal building was my home. It was something out of a fairy tale, and not the happy ones. The real fairytales where Cinderella’s evil stepsisters chop off their toes and heels, or when the little mermaid turned to seafoam. Maybe Chester Sullivan was like the hunter in snow white, and planned to cut out my lungs and liver for mannequin Natalie to eat… As I crossed, I hesitated upon reaching the house. The double doors rusting looking with hand-carved designs top to bottom.

The longer I stood with a hand gripped around the handle, the more nauseous I felt. None of this felt okay. I hadn’t heard from my tenuous father since I arrived, and I doubted I would. Being a lawyer means you’re beyond the point of being busy and swamped with work. Who wanted to spend their time helping criminals anyway?

I opened the door and stopped moving.

Massive was an understatement, my jaw dropping almost to the floor as I tip-toed in.

I had never seen such a place. Floors are wooden and polished, gleaming with gloss. As if no one had stepped foot inside. Three chandeliers in my line of vision, one above my head made with crystal, were much more luxurious than the one on the second floor I spotted in my peripheral vision. It was lined with a grand staircase, curving up, even the railing was grandiose and fancy.

As I stepped further into what appeared maybe to be a dream, I noted the spiral staircase just behind the upper-level chandelier.

How many floors were there?

I didn’t doubt the possibility of the second floor being a second home, questioning how anyone could afford such a mansion. I had to be dreaming. Every step, every noise, echoed. It was hollow, soulless. I was breathless just wandering through. There were populous paintings on the walls, some artsy, some not. I was so distracted; I hadn’t noticed where I was until I came face-to-face with a painting of a woman.

It was dated, but not by much. The detail was so fine, that I did a double-take, thinking it was a picture and not a painting. The woman in the photo was indescribably beautiful. China-doll skin, so porcelain you’d swear she was translucent. In contrast to her dark hair, her eyes were just as dark if not darker. I wonder who she was, the painting dated back several years, but no name was written anywhere. I envied her beauty as I came down off my curiosity, noting where I wandered.

There was no television, no computer either. The furniture reminded me of an 1800s horror movie, and it was quiet.

Too quiet.

Leaving as quickly as I entered, I dipped through each room of the house, twirling about as I examined all the fine details, until a closed door.

I found the basement.

Tombs and vampires flooded my mind as I lurked, gliding down the stairs.

To my disappointment though, the basement was very modern. Television paired with a game system, a pool table, and bean bag chairs, instead of coffins and torture devices, the walls were made of stone, the floor of marble. It smelled new, figuring they must have added the basement, but I couldn’t tell. I sighed, defeated. Oddly, I wished there was some kind of dark deadly thing, it would make more sense if the people who previously owned the house were monsters. Turns out, Chester was just wealthy. The name Sullivan shouted royalty, but I figured maybe he just had a good job.

Feeling Deja’s view when I saw the same fireplace I had seen upstairs in the ominous room with the painting. It looked used, unlike the one upstairs. Following the detail of it, I could just picture it. Mannequin Natalie sitting there while Wealthy Chester Sullivan frolicked around with talk of work – totally boring. Before taking my leave entirely, I noticed a door I hadn’t noticed previously, I even did a double-take.

Fear crept back into my paranoid thoughts, and thoughts of ghosts and ghouls returned as I approached. It was a double door, no surprise, every door in the house had double doors. I inched closer, hand on the doorknob, but to my dismay, it was locked.

Damn.

I shifted.

I shifted so my ear was pressed up against the door, heart pounding like a hammer to cloth, but as I listened there was no sound, just silence. Why would there be a locked room in the basement? My dad never locked any rooms, just a cabinet in his office. Inching away, I eventually found my way back upstairs into the kitchen. The very stunning kitchen. The number of chandeliers though is bizarre. No home, no matter how large, needs a fucking chandelier in the kitchen or dining room… but apparently, Chester and Natalie needed fancy, impractical things.

It was then that I noticed Natalie, she was sitting on a bar stool with legs crossed and a stack of paper in front of her. I didn’t question what the papers were, I only assumed it was divorce-related and I wasn’t interested in having that conversation yet. So I inquired about the house instead. ‘’Why is the room in the basement locked? Who is the woman in the creepy painting? Do we have a maid? How many floors does this place have?-‘’

‘’You suddenly have a lot to say.’’ Natalie teased; I was not amused. ‘’Alright,’’ Patting the seat next to her, Natalie explained. ‘’The room in the basement, it’s Grants. He locks it, he’s the older brother.’’ She paused while I was trying not to freak out. There was more than one sibling by the sounds of it. Defeat – no vampires, no tombs, I was hoping for some kind of horror story from her, but no talk of spooky history. ‘’-The woman in the painting was Chester’s Wife, she died.’’

No shit Natalie, of course, she’s dead or you wouldn’t be here. I leaned on the granite countertop, the cool of it giving me goosebumps as I listened.

‘’The painting is seven or eight years old; I’m surprised you noticed it at all. We don’t use that room.’’

‘’Why not, is it haunted?’’ I pressed on. Natalie laughed, what was funny about ghosts?

‘’No darling not haunted. At least, not to my knowledge. Anyway, the house is three floors, the second floor has our bedrooms, a gym, a library,’’ She paused. ‘’The third floor is Chester’s Office. If you can, please refrain from going up there. It’s his personal space.’’

I moved passed Natalie and wandered into a pantry. A pantry with a wine cellar below.

Natalie picked up her papers, ‘’Oh, we have a maid named Oakley, she comes two, sometimes three times a week.’’

Questions were pressing. I genuinely wanted to ask about every single detail, about Chester, but I didn’t. I didn’t allow myself to. If I asked her questions, she’d take it as bonding, and I wasn’t quite adjusted to my new life. To my knowledge, Chester had a son named Grant, such antiquated names, outmoded for this generation. I was impertinent about it, as much as I tried to refrain, word vomit came out on its own. ‘’So is Grant an only child?’’

‘’No, there’s Logan too, he’s about your age, Grant is about twenty-two.’’ Natalie said while I shoved a cookie in my mouth. ‘’-The both of them will be back a week before you start class, isn’t that lovely?’’

‘’No,’’ I swallowed. ‘’Men are dumb.’’

‘’Well, when they’re your age.’’ Natalie said, trying to be wise and give advice. ‘’oh! I saw you outside with our neighbor earlier. Roland is such a nice boy, it’s a shame he and Logan don’t get along.’’

My interest sparked. ‘’The weird boy next door.’’

‘’Yes, Chester said they haven’t been friends since they were young.’’

‘’But there’s no one else around.’’

Natalie stood, leaving me feeling like she wasn’t telling the entire story like something important was left out. ‘’Come with me, I’m going to show you where you’ll be staying. You’ll love it. ’’

Sure I’d love it. Just like I loved traveling several hours and giving up my old life, spot-on, mother of the year goes to…

‘’So do all the rooms in this house have double doors?’’ I asked.

‘’Yes,’’ Natalie opened them, and I followed.

My new room was bare with pearly white walls. It was clean, plain. No posters, no photos, no colors, no nothing. The oak floors matched the floors everywhere else. I had a balcony with wideset windows and a queen-sized bed.

‘’You have your bathroom right in there,’’ Natalie gestured, standing in the doorway. ‘’I filled your closet with new clothes.’’

New clothes? What about my old ones… debating internally to scream and yell, I decided it would be best to avoid a dramatic outburst right now. Natalie wasn’t being mean, not intentionally. I was too tired.

‘’This is all very nice, but mum,’’ Giving me her full attention, Natalie waited.

I just wanted to be alone.

‘’Think I could be alone?’’ I knew she wasn’t sure how to read me. The fact that we hadn’t seen each other for such a lengthy amount of time made everything uncomfortable. It was an odd feeling, almost a sad one too.

‘’Oh, of course, darling.’’

‘’And mum?’’

‘’Yes?’’ Natalie beamed.

‘’Can you please stop treating me like I’m not your daughter.’’

‘’Oh.’’ Cluing in, Natalie smiled but it was awkward, tense. ‘’-Sorry dear,’’ She got the message and left. No questions asked. I was finally alone, feeling homesick. I was so wrapped up in the chaos of it all, I didn’t envisage myself feeling so abandoned. My guard had been up, I hadn’t heard from any of my friends, or Anthony. My father being the hustling lawyer he was, I doubted I’d hear from him at all.

Kicking off my shoes, my feet felt tender.

This was my life now.

Thankfully, for my sanity, there was no chandelier in my new bedroom, just a normal light. I closed my eyes epitomizing the day that had just happened, wondering as I drifted in and out of consciousness if I’d live the same day tomorrow.

Love

About the author

Jacklyn Casey

Methodical writer.

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