The Guardians of Hayden, Book one, Chapter one to three

Hi everyone,

I want to share the first three chapters of the first book of my book series “The Guardians of Hayden”.

Be aware that all contents are copyright and not to be used in any circumstances.

Let me know your comments below and you can find the whole novel and the other books in the serie on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.

 

THE GUARDIANS OF HAYDEN

Book 1: The Protector of Mankind

By Nadege Chouteau

 

Copyright © 2011, 2013 by Nadege Chouteau
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

First Printing, 2011

Second Printing, 2013

 

There is no end in nature, but every ending is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens. This fact, as far as it symbolizes the moral fact of the Unattainable, the flying Perfect, around which the hands of man can never meet. . .

Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Circles”

 

THE CREEK

 

I was climbing over the window to get down to the front of the house. I was so scared that my arms started shaking. I had to reach the car parked down the street and get to the seafront as fast as I could. I progressed down, still rushing. I knew that he was not far behind me. He was getting closer and closer. All would be over if he reached me before I had the time to escape. He was like a hit man, coming for me and me only, and he would never stop until the target was eliminated. I could see the ground beneath my feet. As I put one foot on the grass, someone wrenched my hips as if to help me go down faster. I turned my head in shock, otherwise paralyzed by fear. I was sure that it would be my last breath.

“You need to run, Alexia, please trust me. I don’t have the time to explain, you need to run now,” A young man stood there, his eyes filled with worry and fright.

I stared back at him. My whole body seemed to be buried in the ground. I could not move.

“Come on, leave now! He’s here!” he shouted at me, fading away.

“I can’t move!” I shouted back at him, frightened. I looked down to free my feet, and by the time I looked up he was gone.

“NO, don’t leave, come back…please HELP ME!” I yelled in despair.

I woke up, startled, and horrified. It was always the same nightmare all the time. What did that mean? And who was that young man who was trying to help me? It was a weird feeling, it felt like I knew him, he seemed so familiar, but every time I woke up, I forgot what he looked like and his picture was only a blur in my mind.

Those weird dreams or nightmares had started a while ago, but apart from that, I had the most normal life a teenage girl could ask for: cool friends, best friends, and a soon-to-be boyfriend. I was seventeen, and I did not know which turn my life would take or which path I should follow. High school was great, though annoying at times. I preferred spending my free time with my friends. It was my senior year in high school, and already everyone was talking about prom in May. I felt sad thinking that it was my last year; I got on so well with so many people, and I hoped I was not going to lose those connections.

I gazed out the classroom window.  The leaves were blowing away. Fall was coming. It was so beautiful outside. I knew the landscape by heart, so well that I could close my eyes and all its shapes, each inch of it, would fit perfectly into my mind.

The forest had never been so verdant and alive even though it had not rained for a long time. I loved the rain; perhaps I was the only one. All my other classmates kept complaining about their makeup being ruined and their hair messed up.

I could see the valley from behind the trees. All of nature became one: the animals, the plants, the sky, the river, and the quiet creek that I had found…my creek. Luckily, that creek was deep under the thick forest and nobody seemed to know about it. That place was preserved and remained untouched. I discovered it for the first time during the summer break last month while I was hiking.

I had decided to walk on my own, not thinking about how far I would go, walking, not knowing where, not knowing for how long…in some ways looking for something, not knowing what was lying there, yet wanting to get to the unknown. After a while, a higher land stood in front of me, the clouds spreading to each border of it. I walked slowly towards it and there it was, standing majestically. I could still picture the mist floating and dancing above the water with so much grace in the morning’s first light. Each time I went there I was left speechless, feeling awed by such great surroundings.

But here I was instead, seated on my chair, gazing at the classroom window! If only the bell would ring, I could get away from here and go back to my paradise…

“Miss Ackerley, would you mind coming back to earth, or would it be wasting your precious time?” Mrs. Brown said dryly. All my classmates turned to stare at me. Why did she have to put me at the center of everyone’s attention? I looked down at my book, avoiding everyone’s eyes.

“Can we say there is an opposition between passion and reason? Miss Ackerley?” The class went on as the teacher put me on the spot once again. I liked philosophy, for the most part. I found there were some things that I liked about it, but I did not agree with many of the prevailing opinions. Anyhow, I had always thought that the point of philosophy was to argue about everything and every point of view; there were no definitive answers, only floating ideas.

“Well, Kant’s point of view was kind of pragmatic. For him, passion was like the soul’s main disease, leading to the total destruction of the human being. Passion clouded people’s minds until the reason was totally lost. When you lose reason, you lose control of your life; therefore, your life itself becomes meaningless.” I realized that my point of view sounded kind of dramatic and negative. I could feel that deep inside of me, I had a vision of life and of the world which was clouded and blurry, though I tried to remain positive and hopeful about life.

“Mr. Benton, an opinion on the subject?”  Mrs. Brown asked, looking for a different point of view. Christopher turned eighteen last month, in August. He was not only very handsome but also very clever. He was, in fact, the best-looking guy in school. Every girl was chasing him and would have sold her soul for a date with him. He had a five-foot-nine-inch frame and a medium build, with brown hair and beautiful hazel eyes. His haircut was a casual, short, straight hairstyle, with the back and sides shorter than the top. I had always loved his haircut and it looked very handsome with a little wax. The cutest feature about him was the dimple in his chin. He did not have any particular style; he was the type of guy that always looked amazing, whatever he was wearing.

“According to Descartes, passion is part of the soul itself. All our emotions, pleasures, and sufferings are states of passion which gather into our physical existence. It is indeed impossible not to feel any passions or emotions because we have a body, we are flesh. There’s also a good theory by Hegel saying that men could never do anything good without passion; therefore, we should follow our passions and be true to ourselves, as something good will always come out of it.” Christopher smiled at me as if he was sending me a message. I could not refrain from smiling back. Christopher and I had known each other since kindergarten, and we were very close. Our parents were good friends. We grew up together, and yes, I had to say that I had always had a crush on him, but I did not want to admit it to myself. It was still difficult to cross the bridge going from the best friend shore to the boyfriend one. I guessed that it was also one of the reasons that I had many enemies among the girls in school. I was envied and hated, perhaps because I did not return the attention that he was constantly giving me or perhaps because he would not give up on me and chase some other random girls.

“Okay guys, I want your essay about passion on my desk next week!” Mrs. Brown added, closing her lesson.

“What were you staring at earlier on?” Hannah asked curiously. Hannah was my best friend, always trying to look out for me. I actually considered her as a sister more than as a friend. She had long, straight, pale blonde hair and bright blue eyes. We were not much different, but I was smaller, with a five-foot-five-inch frame, green eyes, and my dark blond, straight hair going over my shoulders. She was definitely one of the most popular girls in school, but that never bothered me. She was the leader in the cheerleading squad. I actually enjoyed going and seeing her jump around the football field. She was a real aerobic girl, and I was more the sporty type. I had taken martial arts lessons for six years; in the world we live in, I wanted to be able to defend myself, even though in a town like ours nothing much ever happened.

People always say that different types of people are attracted to each other. Hannah and I were kind of the same but were so different in so many ways; however, we had been best friends since we were four and nothing would ever change that—or so I thought.

“Nothing Han, just wondering if Dad will come and pick me up today.” I grinned. I could not tell her about the secret creek, not yet anyway. I wanted to linger there a bit longer. I could not bear to imagine that it would become one of those touristic areas one day, crowded with visitors. I recoiled at the idea.

“I could drive you home, no problem. You know that!” She said, smiling. I knew it was probably an ostentatious offer; she just wanted to show her new car around. Her family was wealthier than most in town. They owned a lot of land around Hayden. Her father was a CEO who travelled around the world, and he and her mother decided to buy her a Mercedes SLK 200 for her eighteenth birthday last month. She was crazy when she got it. She loved the sport aspect to it and used to drive around town with the roof down. At first she was not allowed to take it to school, but eventually she managed to convince her parents that it would not matter to other people what car she drove. As long as she could get her own way, she did not care about people’s opinions. She was always sympathetic, though, perhaps the only one who could see clear through me.

“It’s okay, I’ll walk down. A bit of fresh air will do me good.”

“Hey girls, Chris will be throwing a party next Friday. Do you want to come?” Kate asked us, excited about the news as she turned around in her seat. She was in the cheerleading squad with Hannah. She had long, straight, brown hair, blue eyes, and was tall and thin. She was obsessed with wearing all the new fashionable clothes from designers. I could not imagine how much money she must have spent on all the clothes she had, but she knew for sure how to make the best of herself. She always had to compare herself to Hannah, needing the best haircut, the best shoes, and the best clothes. They used to fight over boys all the time.

“I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know,” I responded indifferently. Kate was no friend of mine. I knew that she only asked to find out about Hannah’s plans. She certainly did not care about mine, and something inside me was telling me that it was all down to the same reason again…Christopher. As pretty as she could be, I did not see her as a threat or a rival; I was actually a bit sad for her. She would have done everything to get him; however, he was not interested in her.

“I might be going. I’ll check out all the details with Chris later,” Hannah said wryly, knowing that it would drive Kate mad if she got near Christopher. Girls’ competition was a cruel world to be in, and I was happy that I had no part in it.

I packed my books and headed out. I had never rushed so much to get out of school.  The creek was like a drug to me; my eyes and my whole being could never get enough of it.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, have a good evening Han, take care,” I did not let her say anything back to me, and I was out of the building in no time.

“Hey Ally, wait up!” Christopher called, running after me. Caught on the spot! I wanted to get away without anyone interfering or following me, and now my initial plan had fallen through. I had many flaws, but I wasn’t ignorant. I certainly liked him a lot, and would have loved to spend more time in his company, but the creek was desperately calling me. I had to get there, and I knew that I could not take him with me.

“Hey Chris, what’s up?” I tried to look hurried, still walking at a fast pace.

“Wow, you do rush a lot recently. I could hardly catch up with you!” he said, out of breath.

“I’m sorry, I’ve got something planned right now. Is everything okay?” I asked, concerned, wanting to make sure he was all right before going my own way.

“I was wondering if perhaps you could help me out next week for my party. I could use a hand to set everything up, and I would be glad to spend some time with you.” He said this with his usual cheeky smile, knowing that nobody could resist that, and most of all he knew I could not turn down a best friend.

“Of course; you know you can count on me,” I answered with a smile. It would be a good thing to spend some time together. I had isolated myself too much lately and needed to spend more time with my friends.

“Okay then, that’s great. I’ll stop by your house to let you know what time we can get everything ready. See you!” He grinned, leaving without giving me time to react or say anything. We were only living a street across from each other so he always used to find some excuse to stop by and see me. I was always happy to spend some time with him, but lately the creek was all I had in mind. I continued walking and started to hurry downtown when I heard a car slowing down behind me. The car suddenly honked its horn, making me jump. I did not have to turn back; I already knew who it was.

“Hey sweetheart, where are you running off?” A sweet voice came down from the driver side.

“Hey Dad!” I sighed. If I did not know better, I would have thought that he was spying on me. My dad was still quite handsome for his age. He was in his late forties, had short brown hair and brown eyes, and was tall with a medium build. He always made sure to be clean-shaven before going out of the house.       “Get in, I’ll take you home.” He smiled and came out to open the passenger door for me, not giving me an alternative.

“You don’t have to, Dad. I can walk, you know. I’m not a child anymore; I’ll be eighteen in May!” I tended to lose patience with him. He was so overprotective.

“Thank God you’re still seventeen and my baby girl!” he said sarcastically, and started driving back home.

Dad and I were very close, even though we had difficulties expressing our feelings. As far as I could remember, it all started about ten years ago. Actually, it would be ten years next year. How could I ever forget that day? I was eight years old. It was a Friday, and I was playing in my room when the night appeared out of nowhere. I was still unsure if that had been real or if it was only a figment of my imagination. The sun stopped shining and it was so dark. I had decided to have a look outside, remembering that Mom was in the garden. That’s when I saw her. Her pale and cold body was lying across the back of the garden by our wooden door. I tried to scream but no sound would come out. I ran to her and stayed there hugging her, trying to warm her up. She was so cold. I did not move from her side until the sheriff and the ambulance arrived. A neighbor must have wondered what was happening to both of us and called them…

He looked at me, smiling. “I wanted to talk to you for a bit. I know that I haven’t been very available recently…” He started saying as I interrupted him.

“Dad, it’s okay. You don’t have to justify yourself, I know you’ve been very busy.” I did not have time to add anything before he continued talking.

“Well, I have this big seminar in New York coming up next week, and as you know I’m not happy about leaving you home alone. The neighbors won’t be in this time, but I had a phone call from Melinda, your mom’s sister, this morning. She told me she’ll be coming to town tomorrow with her nephew, Sam, so she could look after you while I’m gone. Would you like to come with me to greet them at the airport? She might be staying in town for a few weeks. I hope you don’t mind, I told her you’d be happy to meet Sam… and I would feel better to know you’re safe with them.” Melinda was mom’s older sister. She worked as a doctor in Third World countries. I had not seen her for almost ten years. I had always had good memories of Melinda and Mom when I was a child. I felt disappointed, though. My plans for the weekend had been shot and I would not be able to go to my creek.

“Sure, I would,” I said, smiling but feeling disappointed.

Our house had never changed. It had been the same as long as I could remember; nothing had changed apart from the fact that there were only the two of us now. It had felt so big and empty at first.

It was a new-style house, with a beautiful white porch and a comfortable white swing. Dad bought it for Mom when they got married, and he rebuilt everything inside to her taste. Everything in there smelled and whispered of her in every corner. It was sometimes unbearable. I would expect her to come out of the kitchen with a baking tray full of homemade cookies or remember her gardening in our backyard, trying to teach me a few things about plants and the nature surrounding us. In everything she did, she always used to smile, no matter what. She was a kind and loving person. I had never heard Dad and her arguing about anything. We were a peaceful and happy family.

The windows in all the rooms of the house were very open to nature and let the light in at every corner. Mom used to spend all her spare time outside. I got my love of nature and the need to protect it from her. My room was at the top of the stairs with my windows facing the side and the back of the house. I loved it; I used to climb out and sit down at the bottom of the roof below my bedroom window and stare at the stars for hours, waiting for a shooting star to pass my way. I had never been lucky enough to see one. Hannah used to come around and stare at the night sky with me. She would bring some soda and sweets along. We used to look at the night sky, thinking about what we would wish for. Most of Hannah’s wishes were about boys, which never surprised me. As for me, I never had any particular wish; maybe that was the reason I had never seen any yet. That was a good time to remember, though. I did not know why we stopped. Perhaps we had become older and thought it was a childish thing to do. I still missed it sometimes.

“They’ll only be staying for a week or two and we have two empty bedrooms for them in the house if they have nowhere else to stay,” Dad explained, eager to have new guests.

“You can invite whoever you want, Dad. Why are you looking for my approval?” I was annoyed at the thought of being stuck at home and not having the freedom that I wished I had.

“She’s your mom’s sister, Alexandra, and she has not seen you for so many years. Besides, it will be nice for you to meet somebody new. Sam is a bit older than you are—I think Melinda told me he was twenty years old—but you could show him around and introduce him to your friends, couldn’t you?” he asked. I knew that he was getting serious when he called me by my full name, but I couldn’t care less at that point. I was already in a bad mood and I knew my face would let it show.

“Dad, come on!!” I was exasperated. First he ruined my evening and my weekend, and on top of it I had to babysit now. I was mad as I thought about the party next week and the free time that I could have had with Christopher, which was now out the door.

“I am not going to take him all around! I had plans, you know. I have a life and would like you to respect that!” I added, upset, and went to my room.

“May I come in, Ally? Please, don’t get yourself in such a state!” He pleaded sincerely at my door. Dad respected my privacy and never went into my room, no matter what, and I was thankful to him for that, but I did not feel like talking to him right now.

“I’m okay, I’ve got some homework to do,” I said gently to reassure him.

“Okay sweetie, don’t be up too late then. I’ll leave you some food in the kitchen before going to work,” he sighed, going back downstairs. Dad worked as a surgeon at Steamboat Spring Hospital. It was about a thirty minute drive on Highway 40. He was hardly home. He was a very busy surgeon but he loved his job, trying and doing his best to save lives. He also worked as a doctor for the town. People liked him for his professionalism and his efficiency. They knew they could come around or call him if anything happened. He had been the town’s doctor for almost thirty years now.

I knew he felt guilty that he had not been the one who found Mom; perhaps he could have saved her. I myself had tried to think about different ways that tragic day could have turned out, what could have been avoided. What if I was with her in the garden at that time? It might have never happened.  We would be a happy family now. The reality was cruel, as none of these happy scenarios could ever happen. Nothing could be done that would bring Mom back to us.

I started feeling guilty about the way that I spoke to him. Sometimes I would take advantage of our situation; being the only woman in the house made it easier for me to get things done my way. I think he was worried that I might leave one day if we argued too much. All I could think of, though, was my creek… I had not gone there since last week, and it was already too long. It was like I was being pulled towards it like a magnet—like a pure glittering magnetic field.

I sat on my bed, looking at the empty space. There was nothing special about my room. There were a bunch of books on some shelves. I didn’t seem to care anymore about all the material things that I had: computer, CDs, everything. I had lots of clothes in my wardrobe; I had never thrown any away. I did not dare open it, though, too afraid that all the clothes would fall out on me. I was terrible about that. I always used to look for a special outfit that I liked, leaving a big mess behind me. I must admit I was too lazy to tidy it all, as every morning it was the same scenario and panic as I tried to find what I would like to wear.

I thought about turning my computer on to check for emails but decided to rest my head on my pillow instead. I felt myself drifting off…“Come on sleepy head, time to wake up! The plane is going to land and you’ll still be in bed!” I heard Dad behind my door. My head felt so heavy. I could not see any light coming out from behind my blue curtains. Was it already morning? How could he wake me up so early?

“Come on Ally, its ten o’clock. I’ll wait for you downstairs; get ready to go!” He sounded so eager and happy.

“Yes, okay Dad, I’m getting up, I’ll be down in a minute!” I responded amiably. I could not be upset at him for only wanting me to come along with him to greet them at the airport. He was always doing and giving the best of himself in everything he did. I realized how lucky I was to have such a perfect dad, but happiness was the only part missing in his life.

After a good night sleep, I decided that I should try and change my behavior and be nicer to him.  I had never really thought about how he must have felt so lonely, and how happy he must have been to see mom’s sister again. I was eight when I saw her last. I didn’t think she would recognize me.

I tried to cheer myself up and please Dad for once. I had a quick shower and decided to wear an old green dress that used to belong to Mom. Dad did not want to throw her clothes away, so I decided to keep them so that a part of her would stay with me. Wherever she might be now, maybe she would be looking down at me and smiling. I could never have looked like her, though. She was so much more beautiful; she had the most amazing green eyes I had ever seen. I still could see them when I closed my eyes. They were like two big shiny emeralds. Her hair was long, strawberry blonde, and wavy, going all the way down her back. She was so graceful. Dad talked to me about her from time to time, telling me stories of the way they met twenty-seven years ago. She was involved in a car crash and her head had hit the steering wheel hard. Dad took care of her at the hospital. That is how they fell in love with each other. They got married soon after that, and Mom got pregnant with my sister Jenny the same year. My brother Jared was born about a year after, and I was the baby, having respectively nine and eight years difference between myself and them.

Mom told me that they never expected me to be born. She used to say that I was her miracle. The doctors did not think that she could have any other children after Jared. She apparently got very sick: some kind of a tropical disease, Dad told me. It was at the point that they thought that she was dying. She did not want to stay and die at the hospital, so she stayed home. Some days, when she had enough strength, she would walk down to the forest. She said it was the main thing she was living for and that it healed her to be close to nature. She was a strong woman. After a while and several exams, they discovered that she was pregnant with me.

I wish I could have gotten to know her better. She did not work but was taking care of people around her: old people, young people, teenagers who had problems with their parents, runaways. She always tried to show them the good side of life, how hope was important, and above all, love. She used to organize walks into the forest so that children would respect nature and their surroundings more. I did not grow up that way, though. I was soon to face the despair, pain, and nightmares of that tragic day when I found her. In almost ten years, I had enough time to get angry at life itself for all the regrets, the grief, and the hopeless feeling that I would never see my dad happy ever again. I had fought that feeling really hard for the past few years. I had got better, hopeful in some ways, and more positive. I had to realize that life was too precious and too short to stay miserable. Mom would not have wanted that for me.

“I’m here! Sorry, Dad!” I went rushing down the stairs.

“Oh…Ally!” Dad said, shocked, looking up and down at me.

“You look so much like your mom!” I could feel the blush coming on my cheeks.

“I mean you look so graceful…I guess time goes by so fast…and I don’t pay much attention to how grown up you already are…” he whispered, and looked at me straight in the eyes.

“Don’t forget how much I love you, okay?” His voice sounded so sincere, and kind of strangled, like he was trying to push away some tears.

“I love you too, Dad…but let’s go, or as you said, we will be late now!” I still was in shock about his reaction. I did not expect him to react as he did, but then I remembered that it was the first time that I wore that dress in front of him; and as for looking like Mom, I felt very far from it. She was a true beauty and I was just a simple girl.

“Yes, sure, let’s go, we don’t want to make them wait for us. I don’t want Melinda to be disappointed not to see us there. It’s a blessing to see her again after such a long time.” He sounded so cheerful and I didn’t want to spoil that for him.

“Of course it will be, Dad. By the way, I promise I’ll spend time with you over the weekend,” I grinned.

“You don’t have to Ally, but yes, I’ll be very happy if we could all get together.” He smiled, staring at the road ahead. We got onto the US Highway 40 heading to Denver International Airport; it was about 200 miles away. I put my favorite song on: Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. Dad looked over at me, shaking his head. It was not his kind of music, but even then I got him to sing the song with me.

The road was falling apart, but with his Ford F-150, the bumps and holes down the road felt like soft and gentle jumps that were only slightly perceptible. I actually liked the truck, even though I was not allowed to drive it.

The road was very clear. There were fields miles and miles around us, and then there was the forest. It was so green all over. I could see the city coming up above the valley. I did not realize we had already arrived.

“Dad, I wanted to know if, maybe, when you get back from New York, we could go to the garage again. They might have a nice car…” I started to say but he looked at me straight away. I guessed the word “car” got his attention.

“I don’t think so, Ally. Remember the last car you had? All wrecked? I’m not going to be able to live with it if anything were to happen to you…” he looked very concerned and serious. I guessed I should not have expected him to get over what happened to my last car so quickly.

“But please, Dad. I promise, I’m more grown up now. I’m not as reckless,” I insisted, I should have known better. On one hand, I understood why he would be terrified at the thought of losing me, but on another hand, I did not quite understand why he made a fuss about it because the car crash was not my fault. James Perkins, one of my classmates, did not stop at the red light and went straight into my car, sending me sliding down the road and into a tree. He was right that I had been lucky that time around, but I was more aware of my surroundings now.

“Dad, please, I deserve another chance. You know it wasn’t my fault.” I pleaded, as we reached the airport terminal.

“We’ll talk about it later. They’re going to be waiting for us. I’ll drop you at the front door while I go and find a place to park. Go and check if they have arrived, please, Ally?” While he spoke, I got out of the car.

“Dad, how will I recognize them? I’ll wait…” I did not have the chance to finish my sentence before he had already driven away. I felt stupid standing there. I didn’t know where to look. I had a vague memory of Melinda, but that was so many years ago. I headed towards the arrival gate and stood with the crowd. I hated crowded places. I felt like I was suffocating and it made me feel uncomfortable. I looked up at the arrival board. The plane was coming from Edmonton – Canada.

I went to see if I could catch a glimpse of them coming out of the doors, but there were so many people standing there, all waiting in a row, jumping round and about trying to check and analyze each person coming through the doors and waiting for the right person to come out: a daughter, or a wife, or a husband? It did put a smile on my face to imagine who they were waiting for. I felt so strongly the overwhelming impatience all around, the hearts beating hard, and then the explosion of love when the loved ones arrived…hugging…kissing.

An old man in the corner got my attention for a bit. He was looking down at his black bag, very impatiently and nervously, with two young children by his side. They looked like tourists to me. He was trying to get something out of it in a hurry and started shouting at his children out of frustration. As curiosity held me tight, I tried to get closer, when suddenly he took a camera out and took a picture of a lady coming out of the doors in front of him. The surprise on her face turned to anger. It was hilarious in a way, and I felt myself smiling.

“How? Why? What have you done? Don’t you realize I have worked hard all week? I look awful, look at the bags under my eyes and my fluffy hair! Delete it now, straight away!!”  She said, furiously trying to get the camera out of his hand. The poor man did not know what to say, desperate to be forgiven. I guessed that it must be his wife.

I could not stop laughing, when suddenly my eyes were drawn to another corner of the airport by a boy standing a few yards from me. He stood there, looking at me intensely and smiling. I frowned and bit my lip, thinking that he might have thought that I was mad laughing on my own. Something was different about him, though. He was about six feet tall with brown, short, straight hair. His haircut was kind of cute, with the sides and back left to sit over his ears and the top layers short enough to wear up and off his face. He had a medium build, but those eyes…I knew them somehow…

“Oh, dear Alexia!!! Is that you??” a hysterical lady shouted, running down the hallway towards me. I guessed she was Melinda because no one but Mom used to call me Alexia, not even Dad. I could feel the sting of pain break through my heart hearing that name. I stared into the empty space while she came rushing at me and then held me so tight that I could not breathe anymore. I felt trapped.

“Oh Alexia, it’s good to see you again. You look so much like your mom. I could never have missed you. Amelia would be proud, seeing what a lovely and beautiful girl you’ve become,” she said happily, kissing my cheeks. My eyes darted over her shoulder to that tall boy looking at me. He smiled, seeing my confused face.

“Hello Alexia, so nice to meet you!” The mystery was solved as I realized that he was Samuel, Melinda’s nephew. I felt surprised, at first, that he also called me by that name.

“Hey guys!” I said with a smile, trying to catch some oxygen between each word.

Melinda was as small as I was, with short blond hair going down to her shoulders and green eyes that were almost like Mom’s.

I was running out of breath in Melinda’s grip when Dad arrived like a savior. She then ran to his shoulder.

“Hi Mel! Hi Sam! How are you? Did you have a good journey?” he asked happily.

“It was very good, thank you!” Mel said, all excited about it. “The stewards were great with us, so different than others; these days, people can be very rude.”

“I know, Mel. Life can be difficult and that gets to people. I can see it from their behavior every day at work. Some people feel that their lives are purposeless,” Dad added, concern in his voice, but still with a smile on his face.

“How are you doing Sam? How’s college?” Dad asked in a cheerful way.

“I am taking some time off now, travelling around the world with Mel, discovering different cultures and people.” His voice sounded like an orchestra, like a soft music. I was standing there between them all, not knowing what to say. My voice sounded like a duck quack compared to his. I could not take my eyes away from him; he looked so familiar to me. I had never met him before, but somehow there was something about him that made me feel that I had. I knew him from somewhere, and I felt it in my heart.

“I guess it’s a different choice of lifestyle—a healthy one, anyway—and if you can afford it, go ahead, boy! Life’s short enough as it is!” Dad seemed interested about all their traveling. I wondered why they would come here when they could be in so many more interesting places… London, Paris, Rio. I stood there thinking about those places that I had never seen myself. Why come and visit here? There was nothing interesting here in Hayden, Colorado compared to where they had been.

“I’ve been thinking about sending Ally to a European college after High School. That would be a total change for her, new friends and new experiences, rather than wasting her time here with an old man like me!” Dad looked over me and grinned. How could he know what I needed? I stared at him and frowned.

“Whereabouts would you like to go?” Samuel said with great interest.

“Nowhere, really. I’m happy here. Dad is setting his hopes too high, trying to control my life once again, when he’s not on board the ship!” I rolled my eyes and tried not to get into an endless argument. It was not the right time. Nothing on earth could take me away from here. It was my home, always had been, and always would be. My main fear was to be away from the creek that I loved and far away from everything that I had always known.

“Come on, Ally, you know it would be good. You need to be more sociable and be more “open,” like you teenagers say nowadays!” Dad added, trying to convince me. At least that made Melinda and Samuel laugh.

“I think she’ll leave when she’s ready, don’t you, Alexia?” asked Melinda in a soft, kindly voice. My heart was crying out, “never in a million years!” but I nodded. There was no point in getting crazy over futile things, and besides, this was only theoretical; it was not like I was forced to take the next plane!

We started to head off to the car. Samuel was not speaking much, and neither was I. Melinda and Dad were talking for us. It was great to see him smile and laugh again. It seemed to be ages since I heard him laugh.

“Have you heard about Jared and Jenny? What are they up to now?” Melinda asked curiously while Dad was driving us back home.

“Last time they emailed Ally, Jared was travelling between Egypt and Israel, doing some work in Archaeology, and Jenny was in Paris working with art and paintings.” I could tell from his bitter voice that he did not like talking about them anymore. My brother Jared and my sister Jenny moved out as soon as Mom died. They could not stay in the house anymore, or in that town, for obvious reasons. I could not blame them for it. I guess I would have done the same thing, but I could not leave Dad behind. Abandoning him was not an option; and anyway, I was far too young to make that kind of decision on my own. So I endured it and stayed by his side.

Jared and Jenny were sixteen and seventeen when it happened, but we had relatives in New York so they went and lived there. There was a huge fight about it. Dad would not let them go, not that he had other choices. They were so unhappy here, and knowing them, they would have made his life hell, so finally Dad agreed it was in everyone’s best interest if they left. They were both living abroad now. They hardly talked to us anymore. They somehow blamed Dad for what happened so they had not contacted him since they left. I received a few emails from time to time. After ten years, they felt more like strangers to me than family.

“It sounds very good to me. Amelia always used to tell me how they both liked Art and History. It’s a good thing; they ought to go where their passions lead them to.” Melinda smiled.

“I guess…” he sighed.

“What about you, Alexia? What are your passions?” She asked, smiling.

“I have never thought about it, actually. I love nature, of course. I spend as much time as I can outside. The weather’s so sunny here. We’re so lucky to live in a breathtaking region…Rocky Mountains, Routt County and the Yampa River. There are so many things to do!” Her eyes were glimmering and her smile got wider as I talked.

“And is there any place you prefer going to more than any others here?” she added, interested. I felt a warm feeling going up my whole body as she spoke. I certainly could not tell her the truth about the one and only place that felt like home.

“Not really. Living here’s already a gift itself. I love it here; everyplace is beautiful… except maybe high school!” I said sarcastically, trying to steer the conversation another way.

“Don’t you like high school?” Samuel asked, curious and surprised.

“Well, there’s a lot of up and downs, of course, and I think I learn more things on my own. I’m good at taking care of myself, in spite of what some people think!” I said, wryly addressing a message to Dad. “Kids there can also be very cruel to each other, and I can’t bear it,” I added slowly, when suddenly Samuel started laughing.

“Did I say something wrong?” I asked him, looking confused. The feeling that I had when I was around Samuel was out of the ordinary, and I was not used to that. It was a comfortable, curious, and scared feeling, but I also found myself in awe around him, and I could not stop looking his way. I felt very awkward as I was sitting in the back with him. I was trying to get as close to the window as I could, holding my hands tight on my legs. As soon as he turned his head my way, I looked down, avoiding any kind of eye contact.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I thought you might get to know people there. You seem to have a pessimistic view of things and an altered perception of people. You are different from anyone I’ve met,” he responded calmly.

That was not something that I heard every day. I felt the burning feeling in my cheeks again. I did not want him to have a bad opinion of me.

“How am I different from other people? Am I different because I don’t like the superficiality and the artifice?” I asked, offended.

“I meant that many teenagers of your age love the parties, having fun…but you’re different in a good way. You’re not like anybody I know,” he said slowly, his hand trying to reach mine. My heart raced a triathlon in a second. I turned my head suddenly to the window, looked outside and kept my hand to myself. I did not know where that feeling was coming from, but I certainly had to avoid getting into that kind of situation with him ever again. I was afraid of that feeling, but I also felt safe knowing that he was there with me. I stayed quiet the rest of the way, glancing at him from time to time.

“We’re home!” Dad grinned. Finally, I thought. It seemed this road trip would never end. I was starting to feel claustrophobic in the car. Samuel and Melinda seemed to analyze all of my movements and words. I also had the feeling I was being looked at from every angle. I did not understand it, so I kept my eyes on the road, looking at the valley and the forest.

As soon as Dad parked the car in the driveway, I got out and went to the front door.

“Are you in any hurry, Ally?” Dad said, looking disappointed. I remembered I had promised him to stay, but I thought I could get away a few hours for the afternoon.

“It’s okay Daniel, I’m sure Alexia has a lot to do. We don’t want her to feel obliged to stay with us,” Melinda said, walking towards me. It was kind of her to understand my teenager needs.

“It’s okay, Dad, I won’t be long. I promised Hannah I would come and help her choose the right dress for tonight. She’s going on a date.” I was anxious for him to let me go upstairs. I did not want him to know that I was going hiking as he might decide to follow me, or worse, not let me go because he was afraid that I might get lost.

“No details, please! It’s girl stuff. I don’t want to know. I’ll see you later, then.” He said, feeling awkward. There were two things that Dad hated talking about: boys and girl stuff.

“Daniel, would you please show me around this afternoon? I’ve heard some nice shops have opened recently around here,” Melinda asked him. That would keep them busy and off my back for a while. They all went to sit down in the living room with a cup of coffee while I ran upstairs to get changed.

I put my blue jeans, a casual blue top and my hiking shoes on. I tried not to make a noise going down the stairs so that they would not notice the way that I was dressed. It would have been awkward to explain the reason I was wearing hiking gear to go girl shopping. Once I got to the door, I opened it quickly.

“See you later, have fun!” I shouted over my shoulder, ready to run outside.

“You too, Ally!” Dad responded, as I stepped out of the house and tripped on one of our guest’s pieces of luggage at the front of the house. Samuel caught me in his arms and saved me from a very bad fall. The way that I rushed out and went flying over the luggage, I could have certainly injured myself quiet badly. What were the chances of him standing there? Also, why would that luggage be in front of the door, right in my path? He held me tight, looking at me concernedly.

“Are you all right?” he asked, looking me up and down for wounds.

“Yeah, I think I’m still alive,” I said wryly, getting back on my feet and trying to keep my distance from him. I felt grateful that he was there, but I was also embarrassed that he had witnessed my lie and my clumsy runaway. I could not look down this time. I had to look straight back at him. I tried to walk away but suddenly I felt dizzy and my head felt heavy.  I felt his arms suddenly catch me up again and hold me.

“Are you sure?” he asked, still worried about me. He was looking straight into my eyes as if he were trying to read my thoughts. A warm feeling wrapped me all around. Those eyes… they were the most beautiful that I had ever seen in all my life, so intensely and perfectly blue. The perfect touch was all these golden stars staring at me, melting in a strange way into a blue ocean…so much blue…and so much gold. It was like a constellation of flashing golden stars in a blue sky. My breathing was getting heavier and my heart was beating fast.

“I’ll be fine. I didn’t have anything to eat all day. Nothing to worry about!” I smiled, trying to avoid eye contact as I felt I was losing myself there. I could not believe that I missed breakfast and lunch and I did not realize it until now. I had been so preoccupied with all that had happened that I had forgotten about my basic needs. My mind was definitely not in the right place.

“I don’t know about that. Give me a second,” he said, walking back to the door, putting the luggage inside the house, and coming back out.

“What are you doing?” I asked, confused.

“I’m not going to let you walk downtown on your own. I don’t want you to faint on the way or have something bad happen to you. I’d never forgive myself. I’m coming along with you,” he said in a decided tone, looking deep into my eyes.

“If you feel you have to,” I answered, starting to walk down the street. I knew that I could not win that fight with him; first, he had seen me in my hiking gear, and second, I knew in my heart that nothing could happen to me as long as I was with him.

“I can see…you indeed need to go shopping!” he teased, looking me up and down.

“It’s none of your business. I can wear whatever I want!” I said, offended. Somehow, it hurt more coming from him than if it would have from someone else.

“What a temper!” He seemed surprised and shocked at my reaction.

“I mean your look is…” he said in a nicer voice, but I was too upset to let him finish his sentence.

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint. It’s laundry day; that’s all I found to wear!” I said ironically and walked off.

“Wait, Alexia!” he called, running after me and laughing, keeping pace with me.

“Even with hiking gear you are the prettiest girl ever,” he added, smiling. I looked back at him and could see that he was trying to make up with me.

“Look, I do apologize if I said something that offended you. You seem to be very short-tempered. You need to let people finish their sentences before assuming the worse. I was about to say your look was very natural and pretty,” he said softly with a smile. I did not know if I should take it as a compliment or an insult. Short-tempered? Pretty? But he was right, though; I did not give him the chance to explain himself and finish talking to me.

“I’m sorry. I don’t take criticism very well,” I admitted, looking away, omitting to confess that I did not take criticism very well from him for some odd reason. I was starting to realize that his opinion seemed to matter a lot to me.

“You should learn from criticism, though. It would build your personality. You are a very smart girl, Alexia. You need to let people talk and not storm away because you don’t like what they say to you. You need to listen, and you also need to express yourself, share your feelings,” he said calmly looking for an answer in my eyes.

“Well, I haven’t learned that lesson yet. It might be in the upcoming chapter of my life,” I answered wryly, thinking about sharing what was in my heart. That was something that I had always struggled with. Every single time an opportunity came up, I took the easy way out and ran away from those feelings; I went back into my shell to protect myself of the “outside world.” I was certainly good at that: hiding my true feelings from others so I wouldn’t be hurt. I had years of practice, and facing the truth was always the hardest thing to do…and I was so good at running.

“I’ll help you. It will become easier with time, that I can promise you,” he answered, confident and smiling.

“So, why didn’t you tell your dad the truth about where you were off to?” he suddenly asked, curious. I felt trapped, and for some reason I did not want to lie to him as well. Something inside me was telling me that I could trust him.

“I didn’t want him to freak out on me and get all worried because I like going hiking in the woods,” I said, feeling guilty that I had lied to my dad about a thing that might have seemed insignificant to Sam.

“You should have told him. I understand you can’t tell your dad everything, but at least tell him where you go or what you do. You don’t need to go into detail, but just so he knows you’re safe. He’d trust you more if he saw you trusted him. Trust in each other is the basis of everything,” he said seriously, trying to convict me of my wrong actions.

“I know all that, and you’re right, but you don’t know how my dad is. He’s overprotective, and if he could have me at home every single hour of every single day he would. Since what happened to Mom, who could blame him…” I stopped, looking away, not knowing where that conversation was going.

“I apologize…I shouldn’t have brought that up. But anyway, let’s not worry about it. You’re with me, and you’re safe,” he said softly, looking deeply in my eyes.

“Thanks for that. Thank you for coming along.” I smiled as we were about to take the turn into the forest. We had only spoken for a few minutes and all the frustration that I had felt earlier disappeared. I felt safe and at peace. I knew that I could tell him everything and that he wouldn’t judge me, and I could tell that he was trying to reach my heart by showing me the right things to do. I had made a lot of mistakes in the past few years, but I had tried to learn from them and move forward, hopefully to a better me.

“And thanks for catching me earlier on,” I added gratefully, turning to smile at him, but he was gone. He was there walking by my side a second ago and now he had vanished.

“Sam?” I called, confused. There was no one around but an old man slowly walking the opposite way. I thought it was very rude to leave me that way after telling me that he would walk along with me and that I would be safe with him! He could have at least said goodbye to me. In some ways, I was relieved to go to my creek freely, with no one by my side. I smiled as I walked into the thick forest.

I took the first turn to my right and got deeper into the forest. The smell of wet grass surrounded me; it felt like being home again. I stopped for a second, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I never got enough of this place. I did not know exactly how many miles I had to walk to get there, I felt myself slowly drifting to it; it was like following the most beautiful voice. I certainly had not known of the place for that long, but it seemed to me that I had always been there. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it truly was a coincidence that I had found it…or perhaps the creek found me.

To me it was the only place there was oxygen, the only place where I could breathe. I still could not explain to someone how to get there; I was not sure myself.

There it was…my creek. I walked out of the forest slowly, and the most unbelievable blue water was spreading out in front of me like a smile. My heart was filled with joy and respect. How could a majestic and heavenly place as that be created on Earth? I had never seen such beauty in my whole life, and I felt so lucky to be part of it. Everything was gathered together, the river, the forest, the breezes, and a deer dared pass me to go and drink at the river. It was not scared of me, or perhaps it was not aware of my presence. In some ways, I was like that deer, thirsting; not for water, though, but something bigger. My whole heart was wide open there. I could feel every single leaf flying in the air and landing slowly on the surface of the water. The falls were singing praises and their roaring sounded so clear to me. I thought the smallest one might have been about thirty feet high and the tallest one about 200 feet high. The water flow had decreased as it had always done during fall. It was still an impressive sight. I could only imagine the spring…the waterfalls swollen with the melted winter snow, thundering and rushing down.  The mountains and the valley were standing high, densely covered by the forest.

The stream was sparkling clear and the blue sky was reflecting into it. I walked slowly towards the clear water and sat down on a stone which was shaped like a chair. I remembered the first time that I had seen it; the stone was there in front of the water like it was waiting for me. It seemed to be a place of meditation and communion.

I looked all around me, and all the colors seemed to mingle together: blue, green, brown. Fall was my favorite time of the year because of the wonderful landscapes spreading out in front of my eyes. I had always been overwhelmed by the idea that I was part of this wonderful creation. The foliage of the trees had been transformed into a vivid palette of reds, oranges, golds and browns. The maples were of a brilliant scarlet, and some were of an orange-reddish color. The sourwood over the mountain looked crimson. It was like a beautiful painting, but full of life; I could not think of words strong enough to describe the beauty of it all. I stared into the water, letting my thoughts fly by.

I suddenly noticed movement in the water. There was a fish swimming towards me. As it got closer, I saw how unique and original it was; it was all blue and its back and tail were gold. It stared at me through the water for a while. I remembered my biology course last year when we had to do a report on tropical fish. This fish looked like a Blue and Gold Fusilier from the Indo-Pacific. I remembered that kind well because of their amazing colors. I was intrigued about how it got here in Colorado. Those fish stayed in deep lagoons, along seaward reefs. Perhaps someone got it from there and abandoned it in the creek to get rid of it…poor little thing. I bent my fingers and rolled them on the surface of the water to try and get to him, but I made him flee.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Samuel was standing behind me. I did not hear him come out of the forest. I turned and stared at him, confused, wondering how he managed to find me there. He was looking at the breathtaking view in front of us.

“Do you mind if I sit here with you?” he asked, smiling. At that point, I could not think straight and I did not know how to react to that surprising but pleasant apparition.

“How… How did you know…? Did you follow me? You disappeared…” I was so shocked that I could not end my sentences before starting another one. This place was so quiet—–in spite of the constantly roaring falls—that hearing and seeing someone else here with me seemed out of the ordinary.

“I know, and I apologize for that. Something came up and I was needed…Are you all right?” he asked, looking at me concernedly. My jaw must have fallen to the floor after such a surprise. For sure the look on my face was priceless.

“I think so…but how…how did you know where I was?” I asked, totally confused and disappointed; I had thought all along that I was the only person to know that place.

“I found this place years ago. I felt so much in awe here that I’ve always wanted to come back at some point in my life…and I also figured you might be around,” he said, skimming some small stones over the water.

I turned my eyes back to the water to look for the fish but it was long gone. Samuel sat down on another stone close to me, trying to figure out what I was looking for.

“It might have gone back home,” he whispered, smiling.

“Did you see it too? Those kinds of fish cannot be found here, can they?” I asked curiously.

“Maybe it didn’t belong here; but who really does belong anywhere?” he answered me, looking at the water. I did not understand what he meant by that and must have looked even more confused.

“I mean that people are free to go wherever they want nowadays. There are no boundaries anymore, and some people travel the world to try and find a place to call home without ever finding it,” he smiled looking all around us while I had my eyes riveted on him.

“You know, Alexia, you’re not characterized by the place you come from…only your heart can tell where you come from and who you truly are,” he added with a smile, looking deeply in my eyes.

“I’m going to have a long road ahead of me, then,” I said wryly, looking away. He certainly did not know about the pain and sadness in my heart.

“Don’t think that way. Whatever burden’s holding your heart down, you should let go of it and set your heart free. Feel free to talk to me about anything. I’ve always been told I’m a good listener and adviser!” he said with a grin, which made me laugh.

“Yeah, I sure can tell!” I laughed. That place soothed me so much. It made me feel different, calm and peaceful. Samuel made it look even better, to my great surprise. He had that little sparkle in him, and he brought so much light to his surroundings.

“So tell me, do you often come here? How have you found this place?” he asked more seriously.

“Well, I try to come here as much as I can. I love it here; it’s so peaceful. This is the only place where I hear everything and nothing, if that makes sense.” He nodded in agreement, but was waiting for more explanations.

“I found it about a month ago. I went for a walk downtown but decided to turn into the forest and I walked and walked, without knowing exactly where that would lead me. I remember I saw a stream and decided to follow it, and I ended up here,” I added, slowly smiling. This place was the best treasure any person could have found.

“Weren’t you scared of getting lost in the forest, though? It was very reckless and dangerous to go on your own.” His voice was now full of concern and worry.

“I can’t explain it. I knew I’d be fine. It was like I had already been here,” I said, daydreaming about that day. I could picture myself all over again, walking down to the forest, following a path that was totally unknown to me until then.

“Did you feel the same way when you first came here?” I asked, finally happy to share that precious place with someone. He looked away and seemed to think about my question for a moment.

“Sam?” I called, wondering at this silence and the empty look in his eyes.

“It’s been a while…I am not sure…It certainly felt familiar,” he answered, looking back at me and smiling. I did not feel that his answer was good enough, and I knew that he was not telling me the entire story, but I did not want to be too intrusive.      “Someone said a long time ago, ‘The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food.’ That describes what I felt,” he said, thoughtful.

“That’s beautifully said,” I answered, impressed by so much wisdom, and I remained quiet for a moment, realizing how lucky I was to be there, in the middle of so much perfection and greatness.

“How long do you and Mel intend to stay in Hayden?” I asked curiously.  I had only known him for a few hours but I did not want him to leave yet. We had so much in common; I wanted to find out more about him and the reason why I felt we had always known each other.

“I’m not sure yet. We need to sort a few things out first, so maybe a few weeks,” he responded with a smile. I tried to control my curiosity, but it got the best of me.

“What kind of things do you need to sort out?” I needed to have as much information as I could get about him, and if these things that he had to sort out took more than a few weeks, I would certainly not complain.

“It’s a family matter, actually. I wish I could tell you more about it but I can’t,” he replied gravely. Why was he being so mysterious all of a sudden? I looked in his eyes and saw that he was saddened not to be able to tell me more about it, but also that I should not try to find out more about the situation that he had referred to. I decided to give up on the matter, as I did not want to take the risk of losing his friendship, or the start of it, just to satisfy my curiosity.

We stayed there for a while talking about Mom and Dad, how things went in our family when Mom died, and about Jenny and Jared. He talked to me about some of the countries he went to.

“We should head back now. The sun’s going down, and Daniel’s going to wonder why it takes you so much time to shop for clothes,” Samuel said in an amused tone.

“Yeah, you’re right. Time flew by. I wish I didn’t have to face him and all his questions about my hiking clothes!” I did not want to lie to him again—I had been feeling guilty enough about it—but the thought of facing all his questions and the surely coming “prohibited to go out ever again” punishment was not an option.

The sky filled up with pink and purple, spreading across the horizon and all over the mountains and the forest. It was so beautiful and breathtaking.

“That’s no problem. We’ll deal with it once we’re there,” Samuel whispered to me.

The walk back home seemed shorter with Samuel by my side. For once I had found someone who liked nature as much as I did, and he was so wise and had so much knowledge.

Once we arrived at the front door, I looked at Samuel, hoping that he would back me up if I needed him to.

“Moment of truth,” I whispered, as I opened the door. I walked in, Samuel right behind me, and looked around, but neither Dad nor Melinda was anywhere to be seen. I looked at Samuel with a huge smile across my face, happy that I would not have to give any explanations this time around.

“Go ahead. I’ll be here waiting for you,” he said, smiling, showing me the stairs.

I rushed up the stairs into my room, got changed back into my green dress, and put my hair back down.

As soon as I got back downstairs, I saw Samuel waiting for me at the exact same spot I had left him at. He looked at me, half frowning and half smiling.

“Is there something wrong?” I asked, worried and wondering if there was something wrong with my dress.

“Well…I’m unsure…” He paused, thinking, which drove me crazy. It was not the right time to test my patience.

“I don’t know if I prefer the hiking girl or the pretty-dress girl!” He smiled and laughed, noticing my impatience.

“Thanks for the heartbeat rush!” I said sarcastically, walking into the living room.

“Don’t you worry about your heart; it’s in good hands,” he said, sitting down on the sofa and leaving me standing in the middle of the room, wondering at the true meaning of what he said.

“Hey guys, you’re already back?” Dad asked as he walked into the room. He seemed very joyful this evening.

“It’s nighttime, Dad. Where have you been?” I said mockingly pointing out at the window.

“I was showing my old cars collection to Mel,” he said proudly, which made Melinda smile. Dad was obsessed with old cars. He had a few old cars like a Chevy Impala and a Camaro. He loved spending his spare time fixing the engines.

“We’ll leave you two now. Sam and I have much to do before we leave,” Mel said, looking at her watch. I looked at Samuel as he stood up, very confused. He told me that they would stay in town for a few weeks!

“Why the rush? You’ve just arrived in town!” I looked at both of them, upset and confused.

“You and Sam can both stay and sleep here you know; the house’s big enough for all of us. Ally and I would be glad to have you as our guests,” Dad said suddenly, trying to convince them to stay. I realized that I was not the only one to want them to stay with us.

“It’s very kind of you, Daniel, but we’ve already made some arrangements. Thank you again, though. It was very thoughtful,” Mel replied, sincerely touched by Dad’s thoughtfulness.

“Okay, we’ll see you tomorrow if you’re not too busy. I’ll get back to the hospital then. Ally, will you be ok to stay here on your own?” Dad asked, concerned. It was not quite what he had planned. He had never liked leaving me alone in the house overnight and usually called for one of his friends to come over. It was such a short notice, though, that he had no other choices.

“Sure, Dad, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me,” I responded, smiling and trying to reassure him.

“I’ll stay with you tonight until Daniel comes back. I’m sure there must be a good movie on, and we can order a pizza,” Samuel said happily, coming to stand close to me. My heart was racing, but I calmed down very quickly as I thought that even though I had never wanted to be with a boy by myself in the house, Samuel was different, and I just knew that he would not try anything on me. I could definitely trust him, and I was at least safe with him. Melinda turned suddenly towards Samuel, looking surprised.

“I’m not sure that it would be a good idea. We have a very busy schedule, Sam,” she insisted.

“We do, and I’m sure that busy schedule can wait one more day,” Samuel responded, looking at the pizza menu. Melinda remained silent for a moment.

“You’re right, and I certainly don’t want Alexia to stay alone,” Melinda finally said, looking concerned.

“Well, I guess that’s all settled. You can reach me at the hospital if you need anything. Have fun, kids,” Dad said, relieved, and rushed out of the house.

“’Bye Alexia, see you soon!” Melinda smiled at me and followed Dad out.

“Do you want me to drop you anywhere on my way?” I heard Dad asking Melinda at the front of the house.

“Thank you; that would be very kind of you.”

“So, will it be chicken or pepperoni and cheese?” Samuel asked, smiling, his cell phone in his hand.

“Why not half-half?” I said, walking to the kitchen to get some soda while Samuel called to place the order.

“The pizza should be here in about twenty minutes,” Samuel said as he stepped into the kitchen and took the soda and glasses into the living room. Okay, so he was handsome, had stunning eyes, an amazing smile, was the wisest person that I had ever met, and on top of it he was so gentlemanly and well mannered…

“By the way, I want to thank you for staying here with me tonight, and for all you’ve done today; you know…catching me …twice,” I said gratefully as we sat down on the sofa.

“That’s nothing.” He smiled at me and was about to pour his glass when I took his hand, looked deeply into his eyes, and added, “Thank you very much.”

“You’re more than welcome,” he responded, feeling a bit embarrassed. He seemed not to expect me to be so thankful. I soon realized that this was an uncomfortable situation to me; the way he looked at me with his beautiful eyes, and the way I was starting to feel…so attracted to him.

“Okay, so let’s see what kind of movie’s on,” I said as I took my hand back and reached for the remote control. He sat back down and his eyes stayed on me until the pizza arrived, which freed me from this awkward situation. I did not know exactly how I managed to get out of that, but I felt pulled towards him, and I did not think that anyone could resist him. He was not like the other boys that I had ever met. Now I was sure. He was out of the ordinary, and something was driving me towards him uncontrollably.

“I’m starving!” I said, eating a slice while watching the movie.

“I’m not surprised. You didn’t eat all day,” Samuel said in a joking way. I smiled back at him as I felt that the atmosphere was friendlier between us now. We had some more pizza as we watched the movie and joked around.

“You should go to bed. Your eyes are closing,” Samuel whispered to me once the movie had finished. I was falling asleep on the sofa, but I did not want to leave him alone.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be okay here. I’ll wait for Daniel to come back before leaving the house, so you can sleep tight.” He smiled as he took some more pillows from the other sofa across the room.

“Thank you so much,” I yawned as I went to the closet to get him a cover in case he was cold during the night.

“Sleep well, Alexia. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he whispered, smiling as he slowly stroked my cheek with his hand.

“Sleep well, Sam,” I managed to whisper back, trying to control my emotions. I walked slowly upstairs, got into my room, and stood there behind my door. My hand was on my cheek and I could not take it off. I wanted to feel that hand on me all over again. I did not react or move when he touched me. His hand was so soft and warm. It felt like I was in a slow-motion movie and I did not have the time to think or act beyond that moment. It took me a while to get out of that dazing feeling.

I sat down by my computer to check my email and to get my mind onto something else. The inbox notified me of twenty unread messages, all junk. I sometimes expected that Jared or Jenny would drop me a line, but I had to accept the fact that they were busy and did not bother much about us here anymore. I decided to start working on my philosophy essay for next week. I surfed on the Net and Googled a few things to find my inspiration, but exhaustion was too powerful. I lay down on my bed and looked up to the ceiling in the dark room. I still could hear the roaring sound of the falls in my head. It was as if I was still there, feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin…Samuel’s hand… What was going on with me? My eyes wandered around to take in as much memory as I could for the day. I started humming one of my favorite songs as I closed my eyes.

 

 

BIZARRE EVENT

 

I woke up several times that night due to nightmares. My eyes opened to a bright and shining sun, the light swirling the blue and orange of my curtains into each corner of my room. I did not feel like getting up right away, so I stayed a bit, lying there in the middle of that ballet of colors, my eyes getting used to the bright sun. I then realized that I had not heard Dad come back from the hospital.

I went downstairs slowly, trying not to wake him up. He deserved a good morning’s sleep to recover from all his hard work.

“Good morning, Ally!” Dad welcomed me cheerfully as I walked in the kitchen. He was wide awake, standing by the kitchen counter.

“I’ve made you breakfast.” He smiled at me, drinking some orange juice.

“You shouldn’t have, Dad. I could have made it myself. How come are you up so soon? You need to get some sleep,” I said, surprised to see him there. He did not look that tired at first glance.

“I slept for a bit. Don’t worry about me. I finished work earlier this morning and as I drove downtown on my way home, I saw Mel with two of her friends, so we all had some coffee… oh, before I forget, Sam told me to tell you that he’ll come and see you later. Such a nice guy, bless him, he was asleep on the couch when I came back home. I thought it would be a good idea to have a walk down to the forest to show them around. What do you think?”

I nodded quietly. I was too absorbed in trying to peel my orange. I hated doing it. It fell apart every time and I ended up with lots of juice all over me. If I had any doubts about attracting boys, at least I attracted food.

“Did you hear what I said? Ally?” I could tell that he was already losing his temper, which showed me that he did not get enough sleep.

“You should go and get some sleep, grumpy,” I whispered.

“You’re probably right; not about the grumpy part, though! I thought it would be nice to do something different together for once,” he responded, a bit disappointed, and he headed to the bathroom. I wondered if he meant to do something with Melinda or with all of us. I had noticed the way he looked at her. She was very pretty for her age and did look slightly like Mom. It was not easy to communicate or have an open conversation with Dad; it was like walking on eggshells. He had a good character and a big heart but he was no open book. I had already finished my blueberry pancakes when Dad came back into the kitchen, talking on his cell phone.

“Yes of course Johnny, I’ll be right there. It’s not a problem. I’m on my way.” He hung up and grabbed his car keys, which he had left on the counter. Johnny was one of Dad’s old friends who had a diner not far from the forest.

“Duty calls?” I asked, taking a sip of my coffee.

“Yes, Johnny told me there’s been an accident. A person got burned, and the other one’s unconscious. I’m sorry sweetie, I’ve got to rush out to go and check on those kids,” he said seriously.

“Go on now. I love you, Dad.” His facial expression had changed altogether, going from the cheerful and happy man that he was to a very grave and shadowy person. He was a very strong man for forty-eight years old and always worked the extra shift, but I was his daughter and it was my job to worry about his well-being.

“Take an orange, Dad, full of vitamins for a hard day’s work!” I smiled, throwing it to him.

“Thanks Ally, you’re an angel. By the way, a reminder about fire…” I stopped him promptly, saying, “Dad, I never ever play with fire. I’m scared of it, so please stop worrying! Go, I’ll see you later,” I said, pushing him out of the door.

“See you later Ally! Try and enjoy the nice weather!” he said, pointing to the blue sky as he walked to his car. I looked up at the sky and the small cotton white clouds that took the shape of a wave. Dad was right. I should be outside today and make the most of it before winter came. I went upstairs, had a shower and got dressed. I put on my light pale pink dress, colored like a cherry tree blossom, to match the outside atmosphere.

As I opened the front door to go out of the house, Hannah was standing right in front of me, her hand up, ready to knock. She did not look herself and seemed tearful.

“Hey Han, what’s wrong with you?” I asked worriedly, waiting impatiently for her explanation.

“I’m sorry to bother you on a Sunday morning, Ally. I should’ve called you; I’ll come back later if you were going somewhere…” she said, looking at my dress.

“No, no it’s okay. I wasn’t going anywhere in particular,” I answered to reassure her. I would certainly not let my best friend down when she needed me.

“Do you want to walk with me for a while?” she said, starting to walk along the path of the house. I nodded and smiled, following her.

“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong or are we going to play charades?” I joked, trying to make her smile.

“Well…I’ve seen what happened…well, part of it,” she mumbled, but her words did not make much sense.

“I don’t understand…I would have never thought that could exist…that such things could happen in our little town!” she added, looking at me intensely as I remembered Dad talking about an accident downtown.

“Is it about the accident, the guy who got burnt? Dad’s with them. I wouldn’t worry if I were you,” I said in a very convincing way.

“Oh…so you know about what happened…and you don’t think it’s bizarre?” she frowned.

“Well, that kind of thing happens. You play with fire, you get burned. You’re not careful where you walk, and you trip.” I rolled my eyes, amused, in such a good mood that I was taking things very lightly.

“NO, no you don’t get it at all!” she protested shrilly. I looked at her, confused.

“Look…I was walking down the street along the sidewalk to the forest, and there was this guy and this girl playing and chasing each other on the edge of the forest. And all of a sudden, I heard screaming, so I turned again to face them, and the guy’s jacket was on fire, and the girl was knocked out on the ground. I didn’t see if she fell or what happened, and out of nowhere another guy in his twenties came running and put his jacket over the guy to put the fire out.” She hardly breathed, trying to explain everything to me vividly. I listened to her carefully, feeling sad that the guy got hurt, but I could not understand why Hannah was taking it so hard.

“And when I went to check if she was all right, there was a big clear oily patch all around her,” she added quietly, thinking.

“Do you know them?” I asked out of curiosity, but she turned her face the opposite way and looked around.

“Some people from the diner came to check on them, and that guy and girl eventually looked okay. I couldn’t tell who the girl was as she had her back turned to me afterwards, but the guy was James,” she eventually whispered, upset.

“James Perkins? Your boyfriend?” I was happy to hear they were both fine but also shocked to hear he was flirting with other girls once again. This guy could not let his heart belong to only one person, could he? Or was it truly his heart commanding him? Hannah did not respond but only approved with a nod.

The good feeling in my heart suddenly disappeared as I sympathized with her. I could not imagine how betrayed she felt, even though she cheated on him before too. It happened a few months ago and was a one-time thing in a moment of weakness. It was different with James and she tried so hard to make it up to him; she was different. She was committed, willing to make it work with him, and now he had fooled her.

“I’m sorry Han, so sorry…I can’t imagine what you must be feeling, but I’m here for you, okay?” I said, holding her in my arms.

“You know, he might have a good explanation for you, or perhaps he wasn’t the right person for you. You’re one of the prettiest girls in town. Believe me, that would be his loss. You deserve so much better! Plus, there’s plenty more fish in the sea!” I joked, trying to get a smile from her and cheer her up, and we carried on our way down the street.

“You could have just said ‘the prettiest’!” she laughed back.

“Big head!” I responded, laughing. It was a good feeling to know that I managed to make her feel better. I had known Hannah for so many years, and she used to overreact a lot to any kind of situation…well, let’s say the situations that did not go her way. Cheating, though, was not on my “its okay to do” list, and I could understand her pain. However, she had to remember that she did not know the whole of the story and that sometimes certain things seemed worse than they truly were. We had to get to the bottom of it and find out the truth. We could not make our own supposition and disguise it as a truth in our hearts or we would only end up empty–feeling and dead inside.

“So, what about you, Ally Ackerley, where’s your fish?” She suddenly giggled, looking at me. I had always been embarrassed to talk about my feelings and boys to anyone, and she always liked to play with that. She knew where to press the button to make me react. I believed that she might have expected me to talk about Christopher, but he was not the first one who popped into my mind.

“What about it? The same old thing, nothing new.” I tried to avoid the subject, as it would take too long to explain to her. Besides, I did not think that she would have understood what was in my heart…neither did I.

“You’re not telling me everything, Ally! I saw you with him!” she said, curious and still giggling. I tried hard to think of a way out but I was trapped. Why was it so difficult to talk about him, though? I did not know him that well, so how could I feel anything for him anyway?

“It was nothing really,” I whispered, trying to buy time as I noticed that she was not going to give up until I had given her more details.

“Yeah, right! Ally, the guy’s been chasing you for years, and everyone saw him running after you on Friday! The truth will come out, believe me!” she said more seriously. She did not have much patience, but I was relieved to find out that she was talking about Christopher all along.

“Just like I said, there’s nothing to talk about, Han. He asked me to help him out for his party, nothing more,” I said, happy to be out of that conversation.

“Why wouldn’t you take that opportunity to make it official? You know…” She teased me even more.

“Look, Han, please don’t insist. I don’t have anyone in my life and I don’t think I ever will. Look at my dad, all that happened to my family; he’s been a wreck without Mom. I tell you, love is dangerous and lethal!” I said wryly, and she burst out laughing. Mom and Dad had been lucky to find each other, and they had been happy, but our family seemed cursed. Since that moment, all I had seen around me was the pain and grief of people giving their whole hearts to someone only to have them taken away and ripped apart into a million pieces. I did not want that to happen to me, even though I was hiding a hope deep inside that one day, I could also find my other half and be happy.

“You and looooovvvveeee!” She laughed even more. “But seriously, it’s better to have known true love for a short moment and to lose it, than to have never found it at all.”

“Precisely, so when I find him I’ll send you a note,” I said sarcastically.

“Seriously, Ally, Mr. Right’s waiting for you somewhere, and I’m sure you’ll find him. You more than anyone deserve happiness,” she added, smiling at me.

“I don’t know if I would appreciate losing it, though. I’d choose the second option: better not to have known so I could live in peace!” I joked. Hannah’s words kept going around my mind. I started thinking about what it would be to truly live without love in my life at all; after looking at Dad’s life, I could see the wreckage that “love” left behind, and that was not a pretty sight.

“Who would ever like to lose their true love, silly? As for me, I’d be too bored without love, and that’s a fact!” She laughed.

“If there were a Mr. Right for me out there, my heart would call out to him and he would call out to me…but dreams are meant to stay dreams.” I said in a dreamy way.

“Hello Alexia!” Suddenly a soft voice echoed in the air from behind us. I turned around, recognizing the voice, and smiled when I saw Samuel standing there in front of me with his amazing smile, while Hannah giggled, noticing my blushing cheeks.

“Hi Sam!” I said happily, surprised to bump into him there.

“Hi, I’m Sam, a friend of the family,” he said, smiling at Hannah.

“I’m Hannah. Nice to meet you. Ally didn’t tell me she knew such gorgeous men!” she said in a cheeky way.

“Thanks, but I can’t beat this lady here!” He winked at me and smiled.

“Well, now you’ve been properly introduced. Sam, what are you doing here?” I asked, trying to get the conversation to go another way as I could see that Hannah wanted to question him more.

“I told you last night I’d be seeing you today, and here I am,” he responded, smiling.

“Last night?” Hannah asked, excited about the news.

“Let’s not get carried away here!” I said, trying to cut off Hannah’s curiosity.

“Mel’s gone for the day and I thought you could show me around town if you’re not too busy,” he asked nicely, but in a persuasive way too.

“That’d be great,” I answered, getting closer to him, to the point where I could get lost in his eyes.

“I’ve got to go and check on James. I’ll talk to you later,” Hannah said with a grin.

“Nice to meet you, Sam!” she added, hand signaling me to call her later.

“So, where would you like to go first? It’s nothing compared to Paris or Athens here!” I said sarcastically, as there was not much to see in my town. It was a calm and peaceful farm town. A nice and warm feeling took me over at the thought of spending the whole day with him. I could not think of a better companion than Samuel.

“Well, I thought we could maybe go to the creek again,” he whispered to avoid eavesdroppers.

“You couldn’t have picked a better place. You’re making my day here!” I said, so happy to think that we both loved the same place and that the creek called both of us at a different moment in time.

“So, don’t you believe dreams can come true?” he asked, smiling.

“Let’s say that none of mine have ever come true,” I said, thoughtfully looking away.

“God only knows how much I’ve prayed…” I added sadly, still looking away from him, thinking about Mom and my scattered family.

“I believe prayers take time, patience, and above all a lot of faith,” he said, looking into my eyes.

“Yes…or maybe no one’s there to answer them,” I said in a mocking way, which seemed to hurt his feelings.

“Or maybe you’re not asking the right things,” he answered back, looking upset.

“So, who’s your fish then?” He asked with a smirk, changing the subject altogether.

“Were you listening to our conversation?”  I asked, upset and embarrassed that he had listened to what Hannah and I were talking about.

“It wasn’t my intention, Alexia. I didn’t hear much,” he responded.

“But you still heard us talking,” I insisted, wanting to make sure of what he had heard.

“I was too far behind to hear anything, really. I only heard a few things because of your friend. She’s quiet loud,” he laughed, looking at me.

“I have to admit that she is,” I said, giving up the argument. I had not thought at the time that someone was walking behind us.

“To answer to your question, I don’t have anyone. Guys are too gloomy and selfish here,” I said, trying to put an end to the path the conversation was taking. I did not want to embarrass myself even more.

“And again, here is your dark perception of people coming up,” he said wryly with a smile.

“I don’t have a dark perception of anything, it’s the truth,” I insisted, defending my point of view. I was not a negative person. I was good at perceiving people’s characters, and actually the behavior of some of the people here could easily give it away.

“It’s only presumptions, Alexia. How do you know what’s on someone’s heart? What they think or feel deep inside? Don’t let the outside flesh fool you,” he said soberly as we were getting close to the forest. I did not know what to respond to that, so I looked at him, thinking about what he had said. For someone I had only known for a short while, he certainly knew what to say to make me reflect on my actions and my old ways of thinking.

“There’s someone who’s been in my life for years…” I suddenly said, thinking about Christopher. I had to be honest with Samuel, considering how much room he had already taken up in my heart in such a short time. Christopher was part of my life as well and always had been, until now.

“Are you happy with him?” he asked, looking into my eyes.

“I’m not with him the way you think! Chris has always been there in my life, and he means a lot to me in some ways. He’s one of my best friends and I don’t want to waste what we have,” I said sadly, thinking about the friendship I might lose at some point, as I knew that Christopher had always wanted to be more than just friends.

“Just remember not go against what your heart tells or shows you,” he said, smiling.

“I’ll try to remember that,” I said, amusedly thinking about Hannah and all her love stories. It was unusual for me to be in that spotlight and especially to be talking to a guy about my own feelings.

“What’s funny?” he asked, confused.

“I would’ve never imagined I’d talk about guys to another guy. Hannah’s always been the one with all the ‘boy stories’ and the soap opera type of life,” I responded.

“Don’t compare yourself with others. If you looked into others’ eyes you’d see how perfect and wonderful you are,” he said, looking into my eyes and walking along the path leading to the forest.

“Wow, stop there! Perfect’s not a word to characterize me!” I said, surprised by what he had said. I could feel my heart exploding down my chest and the blush bursting out my cheeks. I was not used to that many compliments.

“People can be perfect in a lot of different ways,” he said, smiling and stopping at the first tree on the edge of the forest.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Hannah found out today that her boyfriend cheated on her and had an accident on top of it, or maybe it was the punishment for what he was doing,” I said wryly, as I had never liked James. He was the type of guy who was always so sure of himself—a proud, greedy, show-off—and would not hesitate to kick you when you were down, like he did when he caused me to have my car accident.

“What happened? I wasn’t aware of any accidents,” he asked, concerned.

“She witnessed the accident downtown this morning. She was upset to see it was her date flirting with another girl at the edge of the forest,” I explained slowly.

“That’s terrible for her, but what was the accident about?” He asked impatiently, looking into my eyes.

“I’d say it was more an incident than an accident. James’s jacket caught fire so someone ran and put the fire out, and I believe the girl fell down on the ground. It didn’t seem to be anything major, though. James was lucky that someone was across the road to save him from the flames. He seemed ok,” I said.

Samuel looked very concerned and even looked spooked while I was talking. He remained silent and seemed to ponder what to say next.

“The main thing is that they’re all right,” he said, smiling again. His behavior seemed so lunatic at times. He looked so grave and surprised a second ago, and now he was smiling again.

“I remembered that I have to check on something important. Could you please wait for me at your house? I won’t be long, I promise,” he said, smiling, but I could see some concern in his eyes. I felt very disappointed to not go to the creek; I was so close to it now, but I did not want to miss Samuel back home. The concern in his eyes had opened a door of curiosity, and I wanted to know what was going on with him. There was still so much to know about him, but I would have never thought that he was the type of person to forget something supposedly important.

“Okay, I’ll be there,” I said with a smile as he walked back into town, looking thoughtful. I started to head back home, thinking that it was not that late and that perhaps we could go together to the creek later on during the day. Once I got home, I went into the living room and put the TV on. I took one of the sofa pillows, put it underneath my head and lay down on the sofa. I felt very tired all of a sudden, perhaps because of my lack of sleep. There was nothing interesting on, so I switched through all the channels over and over again until I fell asleep.

I was climbing over the window to get down to the front of the house. I was so scared that my arms started shaking. I had to reach the car parked down the street and get to the seafront as fast as I could. I progressed down, still rushing. I knew that he was not far behind me. He was getting closer and closer. All would be over if he reached me before I had the time to escape. He was like a hit man, coming for me and me only, and he would never stop until the target was eliminated. I could see the ground beneath my feet. As I put one foot on the grass, someone wrenched my hips as if to help me go down faster. I turned my head in shock, otherwise paralyzed by fear. I was sure that it would be my last breath.

“You need to run, Alexia, please trust me. I don’t have the time to explain, you need to run now,” Samuel stood there, his eyes filled with worry and fright.

I stared back at him. My whole body seemed to be buried in the ground. I could not move.

“Come on, leave now! He’s here!” Samuel shouted at me, fading away.

“I can’t move!” I shouted back at him, frightened. I looked down to free my feet, and by the time I looked up Samuel was gone.

“NO, don’t leave, come back…please HELP ME!” I yelled in despair.

My eyes opened abruptly, and I almost fell down off the sofa. The music channel was on, and the sound was so loud that it started giving me a headache. I had sweat all over my face and found that a blanket was on me, but I was sure that I did not put it there. I must have been sleeping for several hours; it was getting dark outside. Samuel was seated on the armchair next to me, staring at me concerned and speechless.

“Are you okay?” he whispered to me softly. I looked around, trying to get my mind back to reality. I felt disconnected from the world for a few minutes.

“Yes…I think I am,” I managed to say quietly. I sat down on the sofa, facing him.

“You seemed so peaceful for a moment and then you were so agitated in your sleep. What did you dream about?” he asked, concerned.

“Not dream… It’s all these nightmares I’ve had for the past few months. It’s not every night, but it feels so real when it happens. It’s like the Freddy Krueger movies when he kills you in your dreams and you can’t do anything to escape him. I’ve experienced firsthand that kind of helpless feeling,” I responded quietly.

“What was this one about?” he asked, looking worried.

“It’s always the same scenario of me being chased by this shadow man. And he always seems to get me at the end, no matter what!” I responded, troubled.

“What’s he like?” he asked curiously.

“They’re just nightmares. I don’t want to talk about it anymore, please.” I did not want to get mad at him over that and I certainly did not want to go into too much detail. I was very confused to find out that he was the young boy from my dream, trying to help me, and I did not understand what it meant, but at the same time, I did not want to ask him or tell him about it.  He would think that I was nuts or something. The other part of me wanted to get over it. It was just a bad dream, they would eventually stop…

“You don’t look well. You should get some rest and go to bed,” Samuel said to me. I tried to stand up and fell down on the sofa right away. My head felt so heavy and I started feeling dizzy, so I put my head into my hands and bent over forward to breathe better while Samuel turned the TV off and came down on his knees in front of me.

“Did you eat something today?” he whispered to me. He understood that loud noises would make my headache worse.

“No…that must be why I feel this way. I feel very dizzy,” I responded slowly, still looking at the floor in between my legs.

“Okay, let me go and make you a sandwich. You’ll feel better then,” I saw his kind smile between my hands. The sound of the knife and the fridge door opening echoed in my head. I felt like I was in a cave.

“There you go. Eat please; there’s some water too.” He put the tray in front of me on the coffee table and went back to sit down on the armchair. He had made me a chicken and cheese sandwich, and I started feeling better as I ate. His eyes did not let go of me while I was eating, checking to see if I was all right or if I was going to faint. I looked through the window and realized that it was already evening.

“How long have you been here? Why didn’t you wake me up?” I asked, confused and also annoyed to have missed the opportunity to go to the creek.

“Well, as I promised you, I came to your house about two hours after I left you. I tried to knock but you didn’t answer, so I thought you might have gone to the creek. I then went there to check but you were nowhere to be seen. Afterwards, I came back here, and as I tried to knock again, the front door opened. I found you on the sofa asleep. I did not want to leave you by yourself so I decided to stay here and wait for you to wake up,” he explained slowly.

“What about the blanket? Why didn’t you wake me up? I thought we planned to go to the creek together,” I questioned, upset, realizing that I had lost a day.

“You started shivering when I arrived so I went to get this blanket from the closet and you seemed to sleep so well, I couldn’t wake you up. I thought you needed some rest. You looked so exhausted,” he said, smiling at me. I could not be angry at him for feeling concerned about my well-being.

“Yes, well, you let me sleep and have this awful nightmare, thank you very much. And it’s so dark now,” I sulked.

“If I had known you were having a bad dream, I would have woken you up. I was watching you sleep, and you looked so peaceful,” his voice was full of apology.

“Next time, please do wake me up,” I said, but I realized too late that I said those words out loud. Next time he watched me sleep? How embarrassing that was; what was I thinking? I did not have the time to make it right before he chuckled.

“I’ll wake you up next time, but what if it was a good dream? I wouldn’t want you to beat me to death,” he said, amused. I nodded and smiled, still embarrassed about what I had said, when the front door opened. Dad was back from his shift at the hospital.

“Hey kids! Did you have a good day? What have you been up to?” he asked cheerfully.

“Not much, Daniel. We went for a walk downtown and came back to watch TV,” Samuel said happily, without giving me time to respond to him.

“You don’t look well, Ally; are you all right?” Dad said, concerned, looking at the blanket I had on me and the half a sandwich on a plate by my side.

“I’m okay, Dad. I didn’t have anything to eat since this morning and I know it was silly of me. I just feel tired right now,” I answered, trying not to worry him too.

“You should go and get some sleep. I have to go and see our neighbor; their son has a fever. I’ll go and check it out. I won’t be long. Sam, look after her for me please.” Dad was always working hard and work was never over for him. He was so devoted to it.

“I’ll make sure she goes to sleep now,” Samuel replied with a smile as Dad left the house.

“You should get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow if you’re not too busy, and we could go to the creek,” he whispered to me.

“That’d be great.” I smiled back, looking into his eyes. I tried to get up, when I suddenly felt my legs shaking and the dizziness coming back.

“Here, let me help you,” Samuel said quietly as he took me in his arms to carry me up the stairs. I did not have the strength to fight back and my eyes were half closed, but I could still feel his warmth and see his beautiful eyes and smile. He put me back on my feet in front of my bedroom door.

“You can walk to your room, right?” he asked with a smile.

“Yes, thank you. I’ll take it from here. See you tomorrow,” I smiled back. I opened my door and headed directly for the bed. I heard voices downstairs and tried to focus and listen. It seemed that Dad was back from the neighbors already.

“I’ve helped her up the stairs, but I don’t know if she’s all right. I left her in front of her door. I hope she had the strength to get in bed.” I could hear Samuel worrying.

“Thank you ever so much Sam. I’ll go and check now. It’s so kind of you to take care of her when I can’t. You know it’s not easy with everything that’s happened in our life. She has her own little world and has grown up so detached and independent from the others. It’s good to know I can count on some people to take care of her,” Dad said gratefully. It sounded like a dream, all these voices in my head.

“She’s a great girl, Daniel. I’m sure she’ll be all right. I’ll introduce her to new friends soon. It’ll be a whole new change for her.” I then heard someone go up the stairs slowly and silently open my door. A blanket was put over me and the steps went back down.

“She’s in bed. A good night’s sleep will do her good. Thanks a lot, Sam, for your help.”

“You’re welcome, anytime. Good night.”

“Good night, and say hi to Mel for me.” I heard the door open and close. The voices were now gone; there was just silence and darkness left around me. I struggled to get back to a deep sleep, so I lay my head on the pillow and looked at the ceiling, imagining the creek on a sunny day: the birds, the deer and the blue sky. I felt lighter, and peaceful.

 

 

OPEN UP

 

My eyes opened at first light. I sighed, feeling the warm sunbeam on my skin. It was like a morning hug. I looked at my alarm clock by my bed.

“7:25 a.m.!” I whispered. It was already time for me to get up and get ready for school. I got into the shower and held on to the wall in front me, letting the water slowly run down my back. I did not want to move. It felt so good. I eventually got out and dried my hair. I was then faced with the crucial decision of each week’s start: what clothes did I want to wear? I went to stand in front of my messy wardrobe and opened it slowly. A tidal wave of clothes fell all over me.

“Damn!” I shouted angrily, as I knew it would make me late. It was not what I would call a good start for a Monday after all. My evening was already planned to tidy up the mess. Selecting the first pair of casual clothes I could find that were suitable enough for the day, I put on a pair of jeans and a black sleeveless V-neck top. I quickly grabbed my bag and my creamy suede jacket from my desk chair and ran downstairs. I could not go to school without filling my stomach up. The bad experience of the weekend reminded me that food was important. I was not used to having breakfast, but Dad got on my case so much that I had to surrender. He knew, as a surgeon and doctor, that the first meal in the morning was the most important one of the day, and he was right. As I ran downstairs, I smelled the fresh orange juice and hot toast. That was my favorite, with chocolate spread and peanut butter. I used to like mixing both together to give it a better taste.

“Morning, Dad!” I said cheerfully, coming through the kitchen door.

“Good morning, sweetie! You’re in a good mood today,” he grinned.

“Yeah, the toast makes me in a good mood,” I winked.

“I got your breakfast ready,” Dad said, finishing his coffee as he stood by the table. Just as I thought: fresh orange juice, chocolate-spread toast and some fruit for me to take to school if I had the munchies.

“Thanks, Dad.” I smiled as I sat down and started to eat. I had to keep an eye on the clock by the door so as not to run too late for school.

“I’m leaving at lunchtime for New York, so I’ll call you tonight to check if everything’s okay,” he said while getting a mug out of the cupboard and putting it down on the table. I giggled as I looked at it.

“I can’t believe you still have that mug,” I chuckled, and remembered that I bought that mug for him as a Christmas present three years ago. I found it so cute at the time. There was this little drawing of a doctor with a stethoscope to his heart and at the top it said, “I live for you,” and when you turned the mug around, the stethoscope was not listening to someone’s heart but to a big cowboy concert with small people wearing boots and cowboy hats. Dad was a big fan of country music. He used to attend a lot of concerts with Mom, but he preferred work now. I had always thought that it was because a lot of songs would have reminded him of the past.

“I’m actually going to take it with me to New York. I always bring something that reminds me of home when I’m away. This time, it’s your mug.” He smiled proudly.

“Anyway, I’m only leaving for two weeks. I’ll be back soon if everything goes according to plan. I’ll stay over at Elizabeth’s for a few days as well. I haven’t seen them all in a long time. I’ve left you the number on the fridge if you need to reach me,” he said, pensive.

Elizabeth was Dad’s older sister. She lived in Manhattan with her husband and her two daughters. It must have been about five years since last time we saw them. They came and visited us for a few days, but I had never really gotten on with my cousins. They were city girls, so to say, always complaining about the hot weather, the bugs, or some mud on their shoes. We had grown up in two different worlds. They were also about four years older than me, so we did not have the same interests. Elizabeth was in charge of the marketing department in a famous firm, and her husband was a biologist. They were nice people, and Elizabeth had always been by Dad’s side, doing her best to help him through his grief and difficulties.

“Say hi from me,” I said in between two bites.

“I will. Mel and Sam are there for you. By the way, for this time only, I give you the right to invite some friends around…if you want Hannah to sleep over,” he said to me.  I looked at him, my eyes wide open, and jumped to his neck.

“Thank you so much, Dad!” I said, in a happy mood.

“Remember the main rule, though: no party, and above all, NO boys staying overnight!” he said to me more seriously.

“Yes! Sure! I promise.” I smiled.

“Okay, I’m going now. I have to stop by the hospital on my way to the airport. How will you get to school this morning?” he asked as he put on his jacket.

“As I do every day; I’ll walk and get a bit of sun. I need to try and keep my nice tan before winter arrives,” I joked, showing off the tan line on my arm.

“Okay, be careful. I’ll be back soon and I’ll call you tonight. I love you” he said, kissing my forehead.

“I love you too, Dad,” I smiled and drank my orange juice quickly, as I noticed that it was also time for me to get going. I put my jacket on, got my bag and I was off. It was so sunny outside and still felt warm. It did not feel like fall yet. I eventually took my jacket off and put it under my arm.

“Hey Ally!” Christopher shouted from the opposite side of the street. I slowed down to wait for him while he checked for cars before running towards me.

“How are you? How was your weekend?” he said with a broad grin. He looked so cute and attentive to me.

“It was okay, didn’t do much. Where’s your car?” I asked, confused, as I had never seen him walking to school before. I wondered if he had a problem with it.

“I’m having some problems with the ABS, so my dad is taking it to the garage today,” he responded, smiling.

“I hope you get it fixed soon,” I said, trying to walk faster so as not to be late for school.

“So, what about your weekend? You didn’t do much, did you?”  he asked curiously.

“Dad and I picked my aunt and her nephew up from the airport, and I had a few walks around. That was it. What about you?” I said, looking in front of me and trying to look indifferent to his charm and sparkling hazel eyes.

“I went to Denver and went shopping for new clothes, got some stuff for my party this Friday, and I spent some time with my brother,” he said, trying to keep pace with me. I did not want to be late, certainly not on a Monday. My first class was biology with Mr. Likensen, and he had the habit of kicking out the latecomers.

“I thought I could come and pick you up Friday afternoon to get all the decorations up,” he suggested softly.

“Yes, that will be fine with me.” I looked at him and smiled. I had already committed myself to helping him out with his party. I could not go back on my word, even though the temptation of being at the creek with Samuel was strong.

“By the way, you know a lot about gardening stuff. Do you think you could give me some advice on buying a garden shed? Dad asked me to find one,” he asked.

“Yes, sure, we can have a look sometime.” A car passed us, honking its horn, and I recognized Hannah, waving as she slowed down. She was going to question me later about why Christopher would be walking by my side on our way to school.

“Was it Hannah?” Christopher asked, perplexed.

“Yes, that was her,” I responded as we arrived in the school parking lot. Hannah was standing by her car, waiting for me. She looked beautiful today. She had her leather boots on, a nice white skirt with a blue sleeveless top, and she let her long blond hair float in the wind.

“Hey Han, you all right?” I asked, smiling, as Christopher remained by my side.

“Yes, thanks; you?” she asked with a smirk, glancing at Christopher.

“Hey, Hannah!” he said cheerfully, while I noticed Kate driving into the parking lot. As she passed by us, she gave me an evil look. She did not like the fact that Christopher could talk to me. She parked by Hannah’s car while Hannah and I were talking about the weekend.

“Did you go to see James yesterday? Was he all right?” I asked her, wondering if they had made up or if he had given her any explanation about what happened.

“He came around my house last night. He was fine, it was only his jacket that caught fire, he didn’t have a scratch. He explained everything to me, saying she was just a friend and that he didn’t see me until the ambulance arrived. He looked pretty shaken, but okay,” she said, smiling as Kate got out of her car and walked towards us.

“Yeah, I heard what happened to him and went to see him last night. That must have been frightening, to catch fire suddenly like that!” Christopher said, concerned.

“Did he know anything about how it happened, who saved him, or if that man saw what happened?” I asked, perplexed.

“No, the guy left before the police and ambulance arrived. James remembered that he was tall with wide shoulders, kind of muscle-bound if you see what I mean, with black hair and bright green eyes. He must have been in his late twenties. That’s all James could recall; he was still in shock. Hopefully, this guy will let himself be known and bring more information about the accident.” Hannah explained, worried about James. I tried to picture that person in my mind while she spoke, but the thing that seemed to bother me the most was, why would someone leave an accident scene so fast? Had this person seen what happened or was he trying to run away from the police?

“Hey Chris!” Kate said, standing by Christopher’s side, her eyes fixed on him.

“Hi Kate,” Hannah and I said together, but she could not take her eyes off him.

“Nice dress, Kate.” Christopher glanced at her before moving his eyes back on me. She did look nice with her yellow and green floating dress. It fit so well with the nice brown tan that she got in Mexico during the summer. She had her long dark hair pulled into a ponytail. I was starting to feel underdressed.

“Thank you. I got it this weekend,” she said, turning around and showing it off.

“We should go, Han, or Mr. Likensen will get mad,” I said, ignoring Kate flirting with Christopher.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Hannah said, looking at Kate. We walked towards our building, but I did not notice that Christopher followed me and was coming to walk by my side.

“Do you have plans for tonight, Ally?” he asked, catching up and smiling. Kate was not far behind him, clearing her throat loudly to make herself known. I kept silent for a second, wondering what I could answer to that. I did not want to tell him that my dad was out of town for two weeks or he would always be around my house, and then there was Samuel…I looked at Hannah in despair.

“Actually, I asked Ally yesterday to have a girl night tonight,” Hannah responded, joining the conversation.

“No problem; if you change your mind, we could go for a walk down the river.” He smiled, looking in my direction as I glanced toward him. Kate remained silent behind me, but I could feel her sulking.

“Thank you!” I whispered to Hannah as we walked into class. I went to sit down at the far corner with her.

“I don’t know what I would have done if he had known that I had the house to myself for two weeks,” I sighed, relieved.

“Is that not the whole point?” She winked.

“Please,” I said, rolling my eyes at her.

“Okay, he’s a bit pushy when he sets his sights on someone, but you’re very lucky. He’s so gorgeous, and he’s been crazy about you for so many years! You can’t be human!” she joked and laughed as Mr. Likensen came into the classroom.

“I don’t see why it had to be me, Han. I’ve got nothing special. And look at Kate; she’s literally crawling at his feet!” I whispered back, but Hannah could not stop giggling.

“Kate’s a viper! If she could poke you with her venom, she would,” she said, trying to control her laugh. “She’s too easy, don’t you see? Besides, she’s certainly not as pretty as you are. She tries too hard. Believe me, she’s nothing compared to you. You put yourself down far too much, Ally! Can’t you see all the guys around you trying to get your attention?” she said more seriously, looking at me intensely.

“Honestly, I don’t pay much attention, and I’ve always known only one guy interested in me,” I added, looking at the front of the class.

“Yeah right, one…and the gorgeous and manly older guy you were with all weekend.” She smiled, looking at me.

“Miss Felkins, may I have your attention, please?” Mr. Likensen said gravely from the front of the class. We remained silent for the whole hour, our heads down in our books so as not to draw too much attention to ourselves. As the hour finished, we started packing our books.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve got plans with James for tonight. I just tried to give you a way out,” Hannah said, apologizing.

“Of course not; you saved me already. I don’t want you to sacrifice your evening for me.” I smiled, thinking about the plans that I already had in my mind.

We managed to get out of the classroom before Christopher did. I enjoyed his company, but I could see that he was starting to be over-friendly, and that made me feel uncomfortable. We had an hour to wait before our next class because the teacher had gotten sick. We decided to go and sit outside on the bench; it was so sunny and it would have been a shame to stay inside. I sat down with my eyes closed, feeling the warmth of the sun like a nice blanket around me. Hannah went to sit in front of me and got some of her books out to work on her philosophy essay. She played, clicking her pen on and off and rolling it over and over, which was driving me crazy. I gave her a frustrated look to make her stop.

“Sorry, but I have no inspiration whatsoever. If my grades don’t get better, the squad won’t keep me,” she said, annoyed. I had never understood why the cheerleading squad was so important to her, but I had always supported her so far. Her obsession with cheerleading and boys got her grades down last year, which showed her that she could not both work hard at school and have fun all the time.

“Get your priorities straight, Hannah. You wouldn’t want to miss graduation next year, so don’t mess it up,” I advised. I did not want her to fail her essay so I helped her for a bit, trying to show her which key points she could use and how she could develop the concepts and ideas. My help did not last very long, as she soon got bored and started sunbathing instead.

“I forgot to tell you, I’ve seen some new people starting today. They’re so doomed coming here! I heard that they came from a school in Europe and that their parents had to move back here for work, so they followed,” Hannah said, excited to be the first one to gossip and spread the word.

“I didn’t see any new faces,” I said, looking around, when I noticed two girls and a boy at the far corner of the building waiting for the next class to start. Hannah looked over to them, smiled, and giggled at me.

“I see; I’ve never seen them around here before,” I added, looking at them.

“The boy’s so in shape! Chris is going to have huge competition there.” Hannah was a good observer; he was indeed very handsome. He was of average height, with tan skin. His hair was short, straight, blond, and was styled to fall over his ears and forehead. He looked very smart, wearing jeans and a very nice black shirt. They must have noticed us looking at them, because they started walking towards us. One of them aimed straight for us, waving and smiling.

“Hi, I’m Selena,” she said happily. She was very pretty. She had wavy brown hair down to her shoulders and sparkling blue eyes. She was not as tanned as the boy was, but still more than we were. The boy was more the Californian surfer type. She was also smaller than him, but taller than me.

“Hi, I’m Ally, and this is Hannah,” I responded. It was amazing how she exuded happiness and joy.

“Nice to meet you both,” she added, still smiling and joyful.

“This is Simon and Lucille.” Simon got closer so I could see that he had about the same eye color as Selena. Lucille was totally different from the two of them. She was tall and thin, very pale, with straight ginger hair going down to her shoulders. She had blue eyes, but her look was so icy.

“Hi.” I smiled to them.

“So, how is it going for your first day in Hayden High?” Hannah asked cheerfully.

“Very good, thanks. To be honest, we don’t know anyone, but it’s not a real challenge. People here are so welcoming,” Simon grinned.

“When did you arrive?” I asked curiously. In a town like ours, I was surprised that their arrival was not mentioned in the daily town newspaper.

“We arrived last week. Our parents moved back here from Europe,” Lucille said expressionless. If I had known better, I would have thought she was a ghost. It was scary to see someone so white and inexpressive. But somehow, I could feel some sadness in her eyes and in her tone of voice.

“So, Ally, do you know some nice places around here? Where can we have fun? I love restaurants; are there any good ones?” Selena asked, all excited. I felt stuck in a way, as I did not go out much myself. I was more of an outdoor person.

“Well…there’s a cinema and some nice restaurants in Craig and in Steamboat Springs. And you also have all the surroundings, like the river and the forest—that is, if you like hiking, of course.” I smiled. I did not know many people who enjoyed it; well, none of my friends did anyway.

“Oh!! That sounds so exciting!” Selena said, hyperactively jumping around.

“We’ll have to check it out then.” Simon smiled, taking Selena’s hands into his. At least he made it clear straight away where his heart was. It was very cute to look at them. They fit so well with each other. I saw that some girls had gathered a bit further away to look at him but continued on their way when they noticed that he was obviously with Selena.

“There’s Denver as well. It’s a bit farther away, but you can have a hell of a shopping day there!” Hannah said, thrilled. Lucille remained still while Selena got excited about a shopping trip.

“That’s great, let’s go there sometime,” she said, looking at me as if she was asking me to come along.

“I’m not really into shopping, and I’m nothing close to a big city girl,” I said honestly to her, which made Hannah giggle. She knew I only shopped once a year.

“Okay, well there’re plenty of other things to do,” Selena added, still smiling.

“Where do you come from?” Hannah said curiously, fishing for more information.

“We were in Italy for a few years, then in England and Greece, and this year in Israel and Egypt. Our parents move a lot because of their jobs. We like it, though. We get to meet new people, and it’s very entertaining,” Simon responded, smiling.

“What are your parents’ jobs?” Hannah had her list of questions ready to throw at them.

“They do some prospect-archaeology type of jobs,” Lucille said slowly and icily.

“That sounds interesting. You’re so lucky to have travelled that much,” Hannah said enviously.

“My brother’s an archeologist and he’s in Egypt right now. What are the odds?” I said with a smile, realizing what a weird coincidence it was.

“That’s an amazing coincidence indeed,” Selena responded, glancing over to Simon.

“We never stay more than a year in one place, though. It can be very lonely at times, and annoying, as you can never settle anywhere and live proper lives like everyone else. But we like it that way so we don’t complain,” Selena added, smiling.

“How old are you, though? You don’t look like triplets,” I said wryly, looking at them and trying to determine how old they were.

“Simon and I are eighteen. We’re not brother and sister, though. Our parents have worked at the same place for years now and are very good friends. They’ve managed to move to the same places so far. Lucille’s seventeen, but she’s such a genius that she skipped a year.” Selena smiled while I glanced at Lucille. She looked a bit older than seventeen to me!

“Everything’s far too easy,” Lucille added, looking deeply into my eyes, which sent cold shivers down my spine. Her look was so cold and dark.

“So you say,” Hannah said sarcastically.

“Han’s got study troubles,” I joked, smiling at her. Selena laughed at Hannah’s expression as she made a funny face at me.

“Well, you said it earlier; I have to know where my priorities are,” she joked, throwing her hands in the air and mimicking a pompom shake.

“Are you a cheerleader?” Selena asked Hannah with great interest.

“Yes I am. It’s been three years now,” Hannah responded proudly.

“I’m very impressed. It’s not an easy thing to sign up for.” Simon smiled. It did take her a long time to get in. I remembered how hard she had to work, how long she did aerobics after school to be supple and graceful. I was proud of her when she got in. That had always been her dream, and she deserved to fulfill it after all her hard work and commitment.

“What about you, Ally? Are you also on the team?” Selena asked curiously.

“No, I prefer watching. It’s actually more fun.” I smiled. Hannah tried to convince me to do it with her for a while, but she gave up. That was a superficial thing to me, and it did not interest me whatsoever.

“We should go to our next class now,” Lucille said slowly, looking at Selena.

“If only the teachers got sick more often, we’d stay and talk in the sun,” Hannah said, disappointed. She was a tan maniac. Dad complained about me spending too much time in the sun, but Hannah was much worse.

“The sun will still be here in a few hours, now move your cheering butt!” I joked, pushing her forward to the building.

We started to walk all together to our next class. Selena stayed by my side, asking me a lot of questions about my life, my family, what I liked doing, the kind of music that I listened to. It seemed to be an endless conversation about everything and nothing. We noticed throughout the day that we had almost all of our classes together, which was a good thing as I got to know her better. I never had met someone so positive about everything. Simon was very sweet, constantly holding her hand and they were always keeping an eye on each other.

Philosophy was fun with them, to say the least. They kept Mrs. Brown busy the whole hour. Their answers were so developed that I could not stop wondering where they learned all those things about life. They had so much knowledge. I was happy that at least Mrs. Brown got off my back, not asking me to turn my head to the class instead of glancing outside the window. I must admit that I paid more attention to Selena’s questions. It was a funny picture to see Mrs. Brown thinking hard, frowning and looking for her answers. That caused a lot of giggling in the entire classroom. Once the class was over, Selena came and stood by my desk, like she had done the whole morning, to wait for me before walking to the next class.

“Who’s that guy?” Selena prompted, looking over to Christopher. I did not notice at first, but he kept staring into our direction.

“That’s Chris. He’s just a friend,” I responded indifferently, which did not seem to convince her. I was surprised to see her look at me and her smile slowly fade.

“He doesn’t look like just a friend, Ally. A blind man could see how much you mean to him,” she frowned.

“I know, but as I said, he’s one of my best friends. Besides, my heart’s somewhere else,” I said, daydreaming as I packed my books into my bag. I looked back up and her eyes were sparkling again.

“Who is he?” she giggled, curious. Hannah turned around to face me and winked.

“She’s found a very handsome older guy,” she said to her. I could not believe that they were gossiping about my life with me standing in the middle. I rolled my eyes to both of them and walked away. Selena and Simon were back by my side as soon as I passed the classroom door, Lucille following, quietly staring at me. The way she looked at me made me feel uncomfortable. I kept looking to see if I had a stain on my top from my breakfast or something in my hair. The way she looked at me was so intense.

The day flew by very fast. I was happy to get to know my three new classmates better. They were so clever and knew so many things. We were not together for the last class of the day, so I went back to Hannah. I did not want her to think I neglected or ignored her. I decided that I would head back home after school and wait for Samuel there. I remembered him telling me that we would go to the creek together.

Hannah and I walked out of our building to the parking lot when I saw that Samuel was standing there waiting. He looked so handsome, even though he always had casual clothes on. I liked his style. Today, he had on dark blue jeans and a dark blue T-shirt with a black long sleeve shirt on top.

“There’s your prince,” Hannah said, chuckling. I looked at her and frowned, which made her laugh even more. He stared and smiled at me as we were walking towards him.

“Hi Alexia. Hannah, how are you today?” he asked, using his proper gentleman tone.

“I’m all right, thank you. I’ll leave you two to it. I can’t have my date waiting for me!” She smiled.

“I’m happy to hear you got everything sorted,” Samuel said to her.

“Ally, will you come with me to my car? I forgot to give you your CD back,” she prompted, trying to push me away from Samuel. I gave him a confused look, shrugging my shoulders.

“See you later, Sam!” she smiled. I had never lent her any CDs, and I was getting very confused.

“’Bye,” he responded as I walked her back to her car. She sat down on the driver’s side, reached for a CD in her glove box, and handed it to me.

“That’s not one of mine,” I said, confused. I certainly did not listen to black metal.

“I know, but I needed an excuse to drag you here,” she whispered with a smirk. I rolled my eyes at her.

“Just take it, will you?” she said, putting it in my hands.

“Look, my sixth sense is never wrong, and this guy’s definitely into you,” she whispered.

“What are you talking about?” I responded naively, glancing back to make sure that Samuel was still there and we were away from eavesdroppers.

“Just be careful. I’ve got this feeling about him, like I know him from someplace; I can’t really put my finger on it yet. Anyhow, he’s older than you. I’ve got to go…don’t do anything I won’t do!” She winked and closed her door with a broad grin over her face. I walked slowly back to Samuel, thinking about her advice. It was a weird coincidence that even Hannah had an unusual feeling about him. Perhaps he had the kind of look that seemed familiar to everybody. I felt slightly disappointed, though. I thought that there might have been a meaning behind that feeling that I had about him.., but if Hannah had it too, I must have been wrong.

“Got my CD,” I chuckled, embarrassed.

“Black metal?” he said, looking at the CD, and gave me a perplexed look.

“So, how are you today?” I asked, trying to change the subject before he could ask any more questions.

“I’m okay, thank you, but what about you? Do you feel better?” he asked, concerned.

“I’ m much better, thanks. I even slept in too much.” I smiled at him and noticed that he was looking over my shoulder in a grave way. I turned to look at what was drawing his attention and saw that Selena, Simon and Lucille were slowly walking our way, staring at us. I smiled at them and turned back to face Samuel.

“You needed to rest for sure. Has Daniel gone yet?” he asked, turning his eyes back on me as we started to slowly walk away from the school.

“Yes, he left this morning,” I responded, trying not to look into his eyes for too long so I would not be dazzled.

“He’s not gone for long, anyway,” he said kindly. I nodded, glancing at him and then looking back ahead, wondering why he looked so grimly at my new friends.

“Do you know those guys? I mean, by the way you looked at them, it seemed you knew them somehow,” I asked, trying to look at the expression on his face. It was frustrating, as I could not tell what he was thinking.

“They looked familiar. I’ve traveled so much and met so many people.” He smiled, looking at me. I started thinking about all those places that he visited all over the world. I got lost in my thoughts, looking at the bright blue sky.

“Would you like to go and see Mel? You could meet our friends,” he asked softly. That would be a good opportunity for me to spend more time with Melinda. She was the only relative on Mom’s side that I had left. I felt a bit disappointed that once again I could not get to my heavenly place, but I had enjoyed Samuel’s company so much over the past few days, and I wanted to spend more time with Melinda. “Yes, sure,” I said, happily smiling.

“I need to get changed first and I’ll be all yours,” I added quickly, realizing that I did not want to wear the same school clothes for the evening.

“I’ll wait for you,” he said. We were walking side by side along the street to go back to my house when Kate passed us, first slowing down and then speeding up, giving me some more evil looks. She seemed very disturbed.

“How rude was that!” Samuel said, shocked.      “People don’t stare that way. Did you see the look she gave you? What’s her deal?” he added angrily.

“Don’t worry, I know her. I think she’s late to take her little red pills,” I joked, pretending she had mental issues, but he looked back at me, confused.

“She’s in my class. She bears me a grudge because the guy she’s interested in keeps trying to flirt with me.” I did not know how to make sense of all that without making him think that Christopher and I were seeing each other, which was not the truth in any way.

“Why haven’t you given in?” he asked curiously, looking straight in my eyes.

“Well, as I told you yesterday, he’s nice and very kind, but there’s something telling me I shouldn’t be more than just friends,” I said, slowly trying to explain the best I could, while he looked away and continued walking. I did not feel that it would have been right to have told him too many details about how I had always felt for Christopher. Moreover, I had never been good at sharing my feelings, so I did not want to confuse him. I tended to bottle everything up and keep it inside. It seemed to be an overprotective-subconscious thing, but what I had started to feel for Samuel was different, as if I had known him for years. As I looked back up, I saw that we had arrived in front of my house. I opened the door and he followed me in.

“You can watch TV or grab a snack while I get ready,” I said as I turned to face him.

“Thank you. I’ll wait for you here.” He went to sit on the recliner in the living room, at the exact spot he was in last night, when he watched me sleep.

“I won’t be long.” I rushed up the stairs, jumping them two by two. As I opened my bedroom door, I realized that I had forgotten about the mountain of clothes all over the floor. It was a mess, and I did not know how I would find anything good there. I eventually located a light blue dress with very small white flowers on it. It was very warm outside for a September afternoon, and I needed to feel comfortable. I put it on with my cream-colored summer shoes and went back down.

“I’m done.” I smiled as I went into the living room. He stood up with his eyes fixed on me and smiled back.

“No need to say how beautiful you are; it’s beyond any words,” he whispered, as he started walking towards me. My eyes were lost in his as he took my hand gently. I knew at that moment that I would never get enough of his deep blue ocean eyes. I surprised myself, trying to count the golden stars sparkling in his eyes. I could not hold my gaze long enough, though; I felt intimidated, and I was not sure that my heart could stand the whole pressure of that sensation.

“Shall we?” he asked softly, showing me the way out.

We walked slowly into town. The weather was so warm and felt so nice that we did not want to rush but make the most of the last days of the summer. We stopped at the edge of town in front of a new white house. The porch roof was held up by two white columns. There were two palm trees on either side of them. It did not look like the other houses that I had ever seen around here.

“Here we are,” Samuel said quietly, smiling at me. He opened the front door slowly to let me go in first. The inside was so light and bright, it looked brand new. It seemed that the house had just been redecorated. There were a few paintings in the hallway. I recognized the Irises in Monet’s Garden. Claude Monet was a talented impressionist landscape painter. I did not know much about art and paintings, but Mom taught me a lot about his; she loved how he gave life to the landscape in his paintings. I stopped and looked at the details on Monet’s Water Lilies. The mix of colors was beautiful and outstanding.

“Do you like Monet?” Samuel asked curiously, standing by my side in front of the painting.

“Yes, I do. See the pallet of colors he used on this one. It’s an amazing work.” I smiled, looking at every detail.

“He’s my favorite painter. That’s the reason why I advised Mel to get some of his,” Samuel said.

I looked back at him, confused, wondering who the house I was in really belonged to. I was about to ask him when Melinda came out of the kitchen to greet me.

“Hi Alexia, how are you? I’m so happy that you are here,” she said, full of joy, hugging me so tight again that I could hardly breathe.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I responded, smiling after she let go of me. “This house is amazing!” I told her, my eyes wandering around.

“I know. That’s why I bought it,” Melinda said proudly. My eyes opened wide as I realized that it belonged to her.

“I know I should’ve told you and Daniel about it but I wanted it to be a surprise. Do you like it?” she asked, excited.

“Yes, it’s great! Does that mean you’re going to move here permanently?” I asked assuming they were going to stay in Hayden now.

“No, I’m not. I’ve got too much work waiting for me all around the world. It’ll be my holiday home, but I wanted it to be big enough for my friends to stay here when I’m not around,” she added, smiling.

“I’m getting the meal ready for tonight, so I better get back in my kitchen before I burn everything. Do you want something to drink?”

“No, thank you, I’m okay,” I responded, smiling looking around. I was eager to explore the house. I had never been in this type of house before. The ceiling was so high that it made me feel small. The hallway was big and in the middle were some white marble stairs, like in a mansion or in fairy-tales. It was divided on the first floor into two corridors going right and left.

“Let me show you around the house,” Samuel whispered to me. I guessed my eagerness was easily revealed.

“It seems like you’ve been living here for years. It’s hard to believe you only got here last Saturday. You seem to be very close to Melinda,” I said, smiling as I noticed that all their personal belongings were carefully tidied all over the house. There were plants in the hallway, Melinda’s and Samuel’s pictures of some holidays on the wall. It was so homey.

“Yes, you could say she’s like a mom to me. Our friends helped us settle everything for our arrival, and Melinda did the rest,” he said with a smile. I walked slowly towards what seemed to be the living room. It was divided into two areas covering the right-hand side of the house. A big flat screen TV was at the end of the room, surrounded by two sectional sofas. There was a lot of sitting space. There were mountains of movies at each side of the flat screen with black columns at each corner of the room for the surround sound. The white, sheer curtains were floating by the bay window, which opened on the garden. The other open area was a dining room. A modern-type rectangular table was in the middle with ten black chairs around it. I saw two more paintings from Monet there. At the back of the room, some white wood hutches with glass windows stood tall, showing plates and crystal flutes in one of them and pictures and crafted books in the other one.

“There’s so much space, and it’s so bright.” I looked back at Samuel, amazed.

“I know there is.” He smiled. “It doesn’t change the fact we spend most of our time outside. These are only material things, you know; they don’t mean anything. This is only a place to gather together,” he added, looking intensely into my eyes. I was not a material person—far from it—but that house was amazing. I could tell, though, that Melinda had chosen this house; she seemed to like her comfort and a lot of space. I knew by now that Samuel would have rather lived in a cabin in the forest. He was different from any of my friends or acquaintances. He did not seem to care about anything but people themselves, and though his looks fit well into those wealthy surroundings, his character and his heart did not match with the house. He preferred simple things.

I walked out of the room into the hallway, and Samuel followed me slowly.

“How many rooms do you have up there?” I asked curiously, not daring to go up. I did not want to intrude into their private space.

“There are seven bedrooms,” he said with a smile. I could certainly not compare it to Dad’s four bedroom house.

“Seven…” I repeated in awe, looking up the stairs.

“You and Mel do have a lot of friends!” I exclaimed, wondering what it would be like to have a house full of guests.

“You could say that,” Samuel chuckled. It looked bigger upstairs, and I imagined how many bathrooms there might be for those seven bedrooms. We walked slowly to the left-hand side of the house where the kitchen was. It was a standard American kitchen, with a table at the center. The furniture was light brown and varnished. The walls were of a pale orange and the bright orange/reddish sheer curtain fit perfectly in the room, making it feel warm and welcoming. Melinda was cutting some carrots and potatoes on the island when we came in.

“Do you want some fruit juice?” Samuel asked, as he headed toward the fridge.

“Yes, please,” I responded as I sat down at the table. He filled up two glasses and sat down in front of me.

“Would you mind getting some glasses from the living room, Sam? Our guests should arrive soon,” Melinda said, still busy cutting some vegetables. Sam frowned and made such a funny face that I spit out some of my juice choking with laughter.

“Are you all right?” Melinda turned around and looked at me, concerned.

“I’m okay, wrong pipe,” I said, clearing my throat while Samuel laughed quietly at me. I was lucky that I did not stain my dress. Melinda came to clean the side of the table.

“We’re going to get the glasses out,” Samuel said to Melinda, standing up. I finished my drink and followed him into the living room. As I walked behind him, I could hear him laugh.

“You were so funny, spitting your juice! You almost got me!” He laughed, looking at me as we went into the living room. That was another side of him that I had appreciated from the start. He was funny and had a good sense of humor.

“YOU made me laugh!” I retorted, embarrassed.

“I’m sorry,” he said in a more serious tone, caressing my cheeks gently with his hand before bursting out laughing again.

“Will you stop it? It’s not nice being made fun of!” I frowned, starting to feel like I made a fool of myself. He tried to control his laughter and looked at me seriously.

“I will never make fun of you. I respect you too much to ever make fun of you or let anyone else do so. I’m sorry; I was out of line there,” he said, leaving me confused about that mood swing. I had no idea that he cared so much about me.

He started taking some glasses out of the hutch and putting them on the table.

“Who are your friends?” I asked, trying to fill up the blank in the conversation.

“Some old family friends,” he said with a smile, setting the glasses around the table. I walked to the window to have a look at their garden.

“By the way, the blue suits you perfectly,” Samuel whispered, making me jump, as he stood right behind me. I started blushing. I was not used to that much flattering.

“Thank you,” I eventually responded, looking at him. Blue was my favorite color, even though I also liked green, orange and yellow. They were lively colors to me; they made me feel warm.

“What’s up there?” I asked, pointing towards the back of the garden as I noticed a fountain behind a willow tree.

“Come! I’ll show you,” he responded, smiling. We walked out slowly through the bay window. The grass was so green and soft to the touch that it tickled my feet. We walked side by side, following a nice path made with circle-shaped stones. The weeping willow, in the middle of the garden, was hiding a beautiful fountain in white marble. On top of it was an angel looking at the sky, his hands up high, his eyes closed. His wings were opened, ready to fly back up. The water was coming out of his hands, making a nice splashing sound when it reached the marble. The garden had been well looked after. It was full of iris, lilies pansies and roses on the edges. The colors were so bright, filled with yellow, orange, pink, violet and white. It seemed to be a peaceful place to rest.

“It’s wonderful,” I said, amazed by my surroundings as we sat on a wood bench by the fountain. I looked at the white angel, his eyes closed as if he was praying, with his chin raised up to the sky. His hands seemed to call on something.

“It is…but not as wonderful as the place you’ve found,” Samuel added, smiling. I did not think that it was comparable. The creek was surreal. It was a safety haven.

“It’s the best place in the world, for me anyway,” I said, smiling back. “Can I ask you something?” I asked shyly, not sure how to express what I truly meant.

“Yes, anything.” He smiled.

“Well, I am a bit confused. Dad told me you were one of Melinda’s nephews but I don’t see the connection, and you seem so present in this house, I mean with the photos and everything,” I said, perplexed, trying to figure out where he was from.

“Melinda welcomed me into her home not long ago. I had nowhere to go at that time, and we’ve grown a bond since. She considers me the son she’s never had, and we agreed it was best just to refer to me as a nephew.” He smiled.

“But where do you come from? And what about your true family? Aren’t they worried about you?” I asked curiously, trying to find out more about him. I wanted to know the reason he seemed so familiar to me. Perhaps I had seen him somewhere at some point.

“I don’t have any family or relatives left alive. I was from Europe but I’ve travelled a lot, so I haven’t set roots anywhere yet.” He added, still smiling.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know,” I apologized, feeling like an idiot. I felt embarrassed and bad to have brought it up.

“Have you planned anything after school this week?” Samuel asked softly, still looking at me, perhaps in a way to change the topic of the conversation.

“Spending some more time with you?” I responded with a smile, hoping that I would have the chance to get to know him more.

“I’ve got to check my agenda, but I trust that’s doable.” He winked. A part of me wanted him to know that I wanted to spend more time with him, that somehow I was attracted, and that I had the feeling that I had known him for years.

“Doesn’t your friend spend any time with you, though? I don’t want her to be mad at me for keeping you to myself,” he joked, his eyes still fixed into mine.

“Hannah? Oh, no. She’ll be very busy next week; her cheerleading training is starting again,” I said. I knew that Hannah was going to be very busy in the coming weeks and that if she had the opportunity to push me into his arms, she would do it.

“Don’t you want to join them?” Samuel asked curiously.

“Me? In the cheerleading squad? No way!” I laughed, imagining myself shouting and jumping around with a pompom. That was not my thing at all, and I would have looked silly anyway in one of those cheerleading suits.

“Aren’t you interested in it?” He asked, wanting to know more about me, looking at me deeply to try to figure out what I was thinking.

“NO, a hundred percent sure, no! I don’t mind going there to look at them because I think it’s funny, but I’d certainly never want to become one of them!” I insisted more seriously. “But what about you? You have been travelling so much, met so many people, and still you have no one in your life. How can this be?” I asked, trying to know more about his love interests. He looked at me, sighed, and looked away. I started to feel awkward. It seemed that I had asked the wrong question. After a pause, he finally answered.

“There was someone, a long time ago, but I lost her. You know…you can see a lot of different people during your life, but only one is destined for you. The difficulty is to recognize that person when you cross her path,” he said gravely, looking into my eyes.

“I’m sorry. What happened?” I asked concernedly, looking deeply into his eyes.

“We were together and I loved her so much, and then she got taken away from me. I looked for her for a very long time but I never found her,” He answered thoughtfully, looking away.

“So, you’re just giving up on her?” I asked, confused.

“It belongs to the past now. Let’s go back to you, though. Why aren’t you interested in anyone?” he asked more seriously. I wanted to get back to his past love and know more about what happened, but I could tell by his expression that it was a sensitive subject. I did not want to upset him. I took a moment to think about an accurate and straight answer. He looked at me eagerly, smiling.

“I’ve already told you… I’ve only been close to one person but I don’t want it to go any further than friendship. I wouldn’t want to lose him as a friend,” I said, slowly looking away.

“Are you afraid of being hurt?” He asked, concerned. I looked at him, surprised by how well he could read me. I seemed to be like an open book, and that started worrying me. I did not want him to find out about all my feelings.

“Maybe,” I said slowly, looking in his eyes.

“Why would you be afraid?” he asked once again, reaching for my hand.

“I’ve seen what being with someone has done to people around me; there’s pain, deception, sorrow…I don’t think I could take it,” I responded calmly.

“You shouldn’t be afraid. Once the right person comes along, you’ll be just fine.” He smiled, holding my hand tightly but gently.

“Time will tell.” I smiled and surprised myself by how calm I was. My shell was breaking off when I was around him and I did not need to protect myself because I felt at ease and safe.

“You walk a lot, but why don’t you drive?” he carried on, throwing his questions one after the other.

“Long story, but I had an accident last year. A guy in my class ran a red light and went straight into the side of my car. The roads were icy and I went sliding for a few yards, finally stopping against a tree. I got out unharmed. It was terrifying at the time, when I lost control…” I did not finish my sentence, as I remembered that moment so vividly that it felt like I was back there, stuck inside this sliding and uncontrolled car.

“But you were safe; that’s what mattered. So you’re afraid of driving now?” he looked at me, concerned.

“No, I’m not. I love driving, but Dad won’t let me. He’s the one who is afraid that something could happen to me again. One time lucky was what he said,” I said sadly.

“He’s just scared of losing you as well. That shows how much he cares,” he said, looking deeply into my eyes.

“I suppose,” I responded calmly.

“Give him some time, he might change his mind. So, what kinds of hobbies do you like: football, basketball…?” he carried on, questioning me even more.

“No, I’m not that much into sports,” I responded, looking away.

“I’m only trying to find out what your interests are, what you like,” he said softly.

“You already know who I like,” I whispered, realizing that I spoke my thoughts out loud. My cheeks seemed to be on fire, exploding with shame.

“I meant what I like, of course!” I quickly added, looking away, hoping he had not understood what I meant.

“Of course.” He smiled when I turned to look back at him. His bright blue eyes sparkled again as he looked at me, full of kindness and compassion. I had never felt like this around anyone before. I could not control my feelings when I was around him. It was like an overflow of emotions surrounded by a warm feeling. I felt so at ease that my mind was spitting everything out without giving me the time to properly think about what I was about to say.

“There’s still a lot I want to find out about you,” he added, smiling.

“And there’s still a lot of unknown about you,” I responded, slowly melting into his eyes for this brief moment in time. It was a whole new feeling to me, but I knew that I did not want to be anywhere else without him anymore. The sound of a car parking by the house took us back to reality.

“They’re here,” Samuel said, standing up. We walked back into the house as the front door opened and Melinda greeted their friends. I stayed in the living room with Samuel, silent, waiting for them to come in. A tall and thin woman came in first. She seemed to be in her early thirties. She looked very tan, with long, thin black hair and brown eyes. She looked like a Native American. She was very pretty, and she was wearing a black and white suit.

“Hello Sam,” she said as she walked in.

“Hello Sybil. This is Alexia,” he said gently, introducing me to her. She came towards me, smiling, and gave me a soft hug.

“Nice to meet you, Alexia,” I was surprised at her familiarity and endearment. A tall man followed who looked about the same age as Sybil, but he looked so different, though; he had a very dark expression which fit well with his black suit. He had brown hair and brown eyes. I could not stop noticing how pale he was.

“Hello Sam…Alexia,” he acknowledged us, glancing at me. He then kept his distance, staying away from all of us, looking around. There was not a hint of a smile or kindness on his face, which chilled me to the bone. He looked so severe. Even my teachers did not look as bad as he did. He brought a weird contrast with the floating kindness and caring from Sybil, Melinda and Samuel.

“Alexia, this is Jeremiah,” Samuel said to me.

“I’m glad we’re all together now,” Sybil said cheerfully as Melinda came back into the living room holding a tray with plenty of drinks.

“So am I. It is so nice to see you again,” Melinda said, putting the tray on the table.

“It’s been a long time indeed,” Sybil added, smiling at her. Samuel and I went to sit down slowly at the table with all of them. I sat by Samuel’s side, while Sybil and Melinda sat in front of me and Jeremiah sat at the end of the table. I felt a bit out of place and looked at Samuel, not knowing what to say to anyone.

“So Alexia, how’s high school?” Sybil asked, smiling.

“It’s okay, thanks,” I responded slowly, while Melinda was pouring glasses with fruit juice for Sam and I and red wine for Sybil and Jeremiah.

“Good, studying is an important step in a teenager’s life,” Sybil said, taking a sip of her drink.

“Mel, what is your wine? It’s delicious!” She added, surprised.

“It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon. You know me, I don’t drink anything else,” Melinda responded happily. I looked back at Samuel while I was drinking my juice and I remembered the funny face he made earlier on. Sybil looked at me, noticing that my eyes were on Samuel, and smiled.

I gathered my courage, feeling intimidated by Jeremiah’s look, and looked only at Sybil.

“Where do you come from?” I asked slowly. I did not dare look in his direction. He was sending very bad and negative waves, and that was making me very uncomfortable.

“We’ve travelled a lot, actually. We never stay in one place for long. As for now, we came from Peru. It was a wonderful place. I’ll have to show you the pictures, Mel; they are so breathtaking, and people are so welcoming. It was a real pleasure to spend some time there,” she responded joyfully.

“We’ve never been there, but I hope we will soon. I heard so many good things about it,” Samuel said with a smile.

“Where did you go in Peru?” Melinda asked curiously, her eyes filled with excitement.

“We went to Cusco, Iquitos, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. We stayed for over a year there. It felt more like a week to us,” Sybil chuckled, looking at Jeremiah, who was still unresponsive to his surroundings.

“What do you both do now?” Melinda asked, smiling.

“Still the same, Mel. We’re always helping people wherever we go,” she added slowly. I looked at Samuel, confused, as I did not understand what she meant by that.

“They both work for non-governmental organizations to help the needy. That’s why they travel so much,” he whispered with a smile. Melinda laid the table while she talked to Sybil about her work and her life in Canada. Jeremiah remained silent, still gazing at me. I was twisting my hand under the table, looking down so as not to meet his look. I was feeling very nervous. Samuel noticed my anxiety and gently put his hand over mine to calm me down.

“So Jeremiah, did you manage to make some friends in Peru?” Samuel asked wryly, winking at me.

“You know me, Sam,” Jeremiah responded with a deep voice.

“That means no,” Samuel whispered in my ear, pretending to turn around to look at Sybil so that Jeremiah could not hear him.

“I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning,” I suddenly heard Melinda saying to Sybil. My blood went rushing into my heart and I became livid at the thought of Samuel leaving so soon.

“Yes, I have a lot of work waiting for me. What would they do without me?” Melinda carried on talking to Sybil. I looked at Samuel with fear in my eyes.

“I’m not leaving, don’t worry,” he whispered calmly, which relieved me right away of the fear of losing him already. It surprised me in a way, though, thinking about the feelings that I had developed for him in such a short time, and how much I cared. Perhaps that was what I should have been afraid of from the start…

“Mel’s got to go back to work earlier but I’ve decided to stay here for a while,” he said with a reassuring voice.

“I’m happy you have,” I said, slowly taking my glass to drink. My throat felt very dry.

The meal went by quicker than I had thought, and it was delicious. Melinda used some of her Mediterranean recipes. She made some tomatoes and mozzarella with nicely seasoned olive oil for starters, pan-fried chicken with vegetables for the main course, and a peanut butter cheesecake for the dessert. That was my favorite, but high in calories. Samuel and I had a good laugh as he drew Jeremiah on his cake using his spoon. He portrayed him with a bouncing tail and a big, open mouth showing sharp teeth like a shark. Melinda and Sybil talked a lot about food and travelling while Samuel and I talked about school. He teased me again about the cheerleading squad, saying I would look cute in their outfit and that all the players would fall on my knees. Sybil seemed very nice to me. She asked about my dad, my friends, what I liked doing. It was starting to get very dark outside, so I looked at my watch, feeling that it was time for me to head back home. Dad said that he would call me, and I could only guess how worried he would be if I was not there to pick up the phone. I had my cell phone with me, but he had never written the number down or memorized it. He had always expected me to be home past a certain time at night, perhaps a way to make sure I was safe and not out and around.

“It’s getting late,” Samuel said, seeing me looking at my watch.

“Time flies when you have fun!” Sybil smiled.

“Yes, and I should get back home. Thank you, Mel, for that delicious meal,” I said as I stood back, ready to leave.

“My pleasure, Alexia.” Melinda smiled. Jeremiah was still gazing at me.

“I’ll take you home,” Samuel said, standing beside me, but I noticed his vexed expression. I looked at him enquiringly to find out what was wrong, but he shook his head slightly, rolling his eyes.

“Have a good night! Mel, have a nice trip back; I’ll see you soon,” I said, smiling to everyone and quite disappointed about not having spent much time with her.

“You will. Good night, Alexia,” Melinda said happily, giving me a good-bye hug.

“Good night, Alexia!” Sybil said, and Jeremiah said slowly with his deep voice, “Night,” while Samuel and I walked out of the room.

As soon as I passed the porch I took a deep breath and looked at Samuel, concerned. He still looked bothered about something. He suddenly took my hand and walked me away from the house. I could hardly follow his pace; he was walking much faster than me. When we got half way to my house, he suddenly let go off my hand.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked, irritated at being pulled away that way, and stopped on the footpath. He stopped walking and turned around to face me. He looked annoyed, but I could see there was something else…disappointment, maybe?

“Let’s walk you back, it’s getting dark now,” He responded dryly, walking back to me. He tried to take my hand again but I angrily took one step back.

“Did I say something wrong?” I asked slowly, confused, trying to remember my past actions.

“It’s not about you, Alexia. Jeremiah got on my nerves…the way he kept staring at you was out of order and disrespectful,” he said severely. How could I blame his reactions when I had felt so uncomfortable the whole evening for the same reason?

“Don’t you worry, he won’t do it again. I’ll speak to him about it. I’m so sorry, but I hated it, and I tried so hard to contain myself so as not to make a fuss in front of you or Mel. It was unbearable to see you so uncomfortable and anxious,” he added, concerned and still angry. I had no idea that he was upset and mad. He looked so cheerful and happy during the meal. I realized that he was very good at hiding his emotions, unlike me.

“I didn’t have a clue you knew how I felt back there,” I said, surprised but also happy about getting so much sympathy from him.

“I always have my eyes on you, even if you don’t see it. Why did you think I held your hand under the table? I wanted to calm you down. I couldn’t stand seeing you so anxious,” he said sincerely.

“What’s wrong with him? I’ve never met him in my whole life and he kept gazing at me as if I were his number one enemy!” I asked dryly as we started walking again. The thought of his cold and severe look gave me the chills.

“I don’t know. I’ll talk to him, don’t you worry about it.” He smiled, gently caressing my back to reassure me.

“Jeremiah’s always been an outsider. He lost his wife a long time ago and ended up on his own for a while. He’s become withdrawn. He never smiles or jokes and he always looks so severe, but that’s the way he is; we’ve gotten used to it. I’m truly sorry. I should have warned you about him,” he said sincerely, apologizing.

“It’s okay. I know how it feels to lose someone you love. I can only sympathize with his loss and pray for him so that he might change one day,” I said slowly, looking at him. I did feel sympathy for Jeremiah. I knew so well how it felt to lose someone you love: the pain, and the anger. It must have been harder being alone.

“Yes, you’ve experienced that feeling, but look at you. You’ve become a strong, beautiful and lively person. You’ve turned out perfect,” he said, smiling at me.

“Oh no, I’m very far from perfect, but I love my dad, my friends and my life, and I can’t feel or be miserable for my mom’s memory. Life’s so short; you can’t afford to waste it over anger or bitterness. There are better things to live for,” I said as we got to my front door. He looked at me, his eyes sparkling so much that I could see his golden stars shining brightly.

“Have I said something wrong?” I asked, confused by the expression on his face.

“You amaze me every day. We think so much alike,” He said, softly smiling. I smiled, opened the door and went into the warm house. The nights were getting colder now. As I walked down the hallway, the phone rang. I ran to the kitchen to answer it.

“Hey Dad! How are you? How’s your trip been?” I asked cheerfully while Samuel walked slowly into the kitchen. He stood in the doorway, looking at me and smiling.

“Yes, I’m fine, thanks. No, I was down at Mel’s house…Yes, she’s bought one here…I know, I was amazed too! You should see it, it’s all so gorgeous…yes, don’t worry, I will…good night to you too…don’t work too hard…love you too…’bye,” I hung up and turned back to Samuel.

“Sorry about that.” I smiled.

“It’s okay. So, how is he?” he asked, his eyes still sparkling.

“He’s fine. He got a bit worried; he tried to reach me but I wasn’t in, so I explained to him. The seminary starts tomorrow so he needs a good night’s sleep. It’s already late now in New York,” I said, glancing at the clock.

“I can’t believe how the time goes by so fast,” I said slowly, disappointed that the day was over, but also that I would have to wait until tomorrow afternoon after school to see Samuel again. That thought made me feel sad for a moment as I looked at his angelic face. It was unbelievable that a night and a day before going back to the one you want to be with could feel like a month. Time was a funny thing.

“I wish I could have the power to stop it sometimes. It would be nice to have all the time in the world with no constraints,” he said, yawning.

“Oh yes, it would be, sleepy head,” I said, laughing.

“You’re the one yawning here! You should go and get some rest,” I added slowly, uncertain about when I would see him again.

“Yes, I should, but…can I ask you something?” He looked at me intensely.

“Yes, sure,” I responded, curious about what he had to ask me now that could not wait for tomorrow.

“Do you mind if I stay here tonight?” he said while I stood there confused, thinking about what he meant. He looked at me waiting for me to respond.

“I meant stay here on your sofa!” He then added chuckling seeing my confused and panicked expression. I knew that my feelings for him were getting stronger than I would have ever thought, and that was one of the reasons I felt so indecisive about him staying for the night.

“Don’t you think I can take care of myself?” I said wryly. I did not mind him staying there on the sofa but I wanted to hear his reasons. I was reassured, though, to know he would be there, and perhaps I could see him in the morning before going to school.

“I’m not devaluating your capacities, but I don’t like the idea of you being alone in this house at night. I’d feel reassured knowing you’re safe.” He smiled. He was so considerate, worrying about my safety and my well-being. Something deep inside me was telling me that he was trustworthy. He also exuded so much kindness, caring and charm.

“We have a guest bedroom upstairs. It would be a lot more comfortable there,” I said, smiling, thinking about his well-being for once. Our sofa was comfortable, but not as much as a proper bed.

“That’s okay. I’ll stay here for tonight,” he responded softly.

“All right; if you change your mind, the room’s up there. I’ll go and get you a pillow and a blanket.” I smiled going upstairs to get everything that he needed. I went back down to the living room, and as I started to get the sofa ready for him, he gently took my hand to stop me. I turned to look at him and we ended up face to face, looking into each other’s eyes, silent. His hand felt like silk touching my skin. We were so close that I could feel his warm breath on my face.

“I can do it. You should go and get some rest,” he eventually broke the silence and smiled. I took my hand back slowly and put the blanket on the sofa, leaving it as it was. I did not seem to be able to control all those emotions, and at that moment, I felt like I needed to dig a hole and hide in it.

“Okay…sleep well Sam…see you tomorrow,” I said, looking away.

“Good night Alexia. No nightmares tonight,” he said softly with a smile as I walked toward the hallway. I turned back slowly, looked at him, smiled, and went upstairs to my room.

As I got into my room, I found a whole mountain of clothes was waiting for me. I totally forgot about this morning’s incident, and I was not left with many choices but to put them all back in the wardrobe. Once everything was back where it belonged, I took my clothes off and got my night clothes on before getting in my bed. It felt so cold at first, and I was shivering. I went over the whole day in my mind, thinking about the new friends that I had met, among them some nice ones, and some a bit less friendly. I felt so uneasy around Jeremiah, but losing someone you love could turn people around and change them altogether. My thoughts quickly got back to the angelic face that I could not stop thinking about. I wondered what he was thinking right now. Was he also thinking of me? As I closed my eyes, he was all I could see…his bright blue eyes…all the golden stars sparkling…his silky hand and gentle touch. I felt safe and warm.

 

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About N. M. Thomas

I was born in the West of France, a region I like a lot. We moved around a lot with my parents and ended up in Paris area when I was five. I lived around Paris area until I was twenty one and decided to move to England to improve my English (yes, just like that!) It wasn't easy to be in a country and a part of Britain itself (East Yorkshire)where I could not understand people talking to me. The accent was so important that it took me about a year to become fluent. I stayed there for four years and decided to go back home to Paris. I met my husband, who is American, and finally, only stayed just over a year in France as we moved to the United States. I've always loved literature and foreign languages. I speak fluent French and English, and know some Russian, Italian, Spanish and German. I started to write poems when I was a teenager. My dad actually influenced me a lot, he used to write beautiful poems in French (and I keep telling him he should publish them!)So, I carried on writing poems until I decided to start writing books. I've got two amazing children who keep me on my toes all day long so I only get some time to write at night, but I would not change that for the whole world! And I find inspirations from the music I listen, Lifehouse, Casting Crows, Fireflight and others, but also and mainly from instrumental music, original movie soundtracks (those I love!)
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