“Cellar then?” Jayden suggested – finding nothing mistrustful or suspicious again.
“I guess.” I sighed fatigued – having a thoughtful expression on my face.
“I still don’t get it, except those letters - which are clearly not sent by that gang – we’ve found nothing, nothing at all. Are we doing anything wrong or ...? No, I don’t get it.” I rambled – turning around to see the same facial expression on Jayden’s face.
“I think that we are evidently missing something - something big.” He answered, sounding a little desperate to find something, but something in his voice told me that he wasn’t lying and that he was certain that something was there in one of the mansions.
“But I still have hope, hope to find something, we don’t know what’s on the letters and we still need to go to the basement, so don’t make that sad face.” He said, letting his - compared to my lips - giant thumbs point the corners of my lips up, letting his other fingers rest on the back of my head.
“Come on,” I said, taking his fingers from my face. “We need to continue.” Instead I took his hand in mine and started pulling him with me, quickly turning the lights off and descending the ladder again, instantly grabbing his hand in mine when we both stood on the solid ground – not wanting to let the nice, warm tingling feeling go from my whole body.
“What do think is in the letter?” Jayden decided to break the comfortable silence. “And from whom?”
“I have absolutely no idea.” I asserted. “But I recognized the handwriting from somewhere.” I confirmed, while trying to figure out who’s calligraphy it was in my head. “No, it really doesn’t recall anything.” I murmured, letting Jayden go first to walk down the staircase.
“That’s okay, we will solve everything at one point.” He reassured, looking me warmly in the eye, also giving a guaranteeing smile.
“Thank you.” I whispered - a little muffled - smiling warmly.
“Come on.” I whispered, lightly pulling at his hand – it was just now that I realized that we were standing still.
“Yeah, sure.” Was what I breathed, our eyes not leaving each other.
Jayden abruptly let my hand fall and turned around.
“What?” I asked – a slightly hurt tone was heard. But he just shook his head and started walking away.
Confusion, that was the expression you could read from my face. ‘Did I do anything wrong?’
My question was answered, not even a second later.
“And?” Harper. Jayden just didn’t want them to see us like that, but why?
“Where is Alice?” Now Ashton asked, waking me up.
“Here.” I said, jumping from the few last steps, but of course my clumsiness made me fall. I lost my balance, causing me to feel myself dive forward. I was only a few inches away from the ground, but something hard caught me just before my torso met the ground.
I opened my eyes bit by bit - not sure what to anticipate around me – but the only thing that captured my eyes were the enchanting green orbs staring with worry in mine.
‘Why is this so cliché . . .?’ I thought, but that disappeared soon.
“Watch out, tiny.” His voice cracked the strange tension, adding a soft chuckle, putting me back on my feet.
When I looked up again, I saw Ashton with a still shocked expression while Harper’s was mixed, she too was shocked, but she was also grinning lightly, like she knows something we- I didn’t.
‘Am I that predictable?’
“Uhm . . . I am sorry.” My hand guided itself behind my neck, adding a light chuckle at my apology. “So, did you guys discover anything?” I added, not wanting their eyes on me anymore.
“Uhm . . . Yeah, we wanted to hand you the letters. We didn’t read the ones from your siblings nor from you.” Ashton spoke, handing them all to me.
“Thanks.” I mumbled, looking directly at the papers in front of me.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” Jayden asked, referring to me putting the letters in my pants pocket. A confused tone was heard in his voice just like it’s showing on his face.
“No,” I shook my head. “I want to do it later, so I won’t be inattentive.”
“Reasonable.” He hummed, letting all the muscles in his face relax again.
“We’re going to my house then.” Harper declared, giving me a gleam, when she allegedly winked at me. Shaking my head slowly at her naïve behavior, when she started chatting with Ashton.
“Come on.” Jayden said, delight openly heard in his tone. “Lead me the way.” He added, spinning back to face me on his heel, perhaps not identifying the route.
Chuckling lightly, I followed him, jumping up and down a few times, trying to get it a little warmer that way.
“I think I am going to change clothes later.” I disclosed, rubbing my arms over each other, welcoming a little warmth.
“Should I get you something?” He offered, pointing his thumb behind his back.
“No, please you really don’t have to.” I murmured, opening the door slightly.
But he kept insisting. “Okay, but then wear my jacket.” Shrugging his coat off, to hold it right in front of me with an awaiting, pleading look on his face.
I was too weary to resist or protest against his offer, so I swirled the leather jacket from his finger and threw it around my shoulders.
My mind was wandering away from everything, the main thing it was thinking was how smoothly my shoulders were adjusting to the heat and how quick my whole body relaxed at the feeling and smell of this cloth. Lazily putting my arms through the sleeves, now noticing his stare.
“Thank you.” I mumbled, drowning in the black leather.
Chuckling lightly while shaking his head mildly. “You’re very welcome, but I think we’ve lost enough time, let’s go in.” He nodded to the half open door.
“Sure.” I sighed, letting him pass first.
“Can you talk?” I inhaled, my breathing growing faster by every step I took. “Just distract me.”
He thought for a few seconds, keeping his head lower, finally arriving on the ground of the cellar.
“You know the fantasy game, me and Brook played?” He choked out, but directly showing a smile after.
“I think so . . .” I thought, focusing my eyes on his muscular back, not wanting to look around.
“Well I can explain it.” He continued, turning his head to me, showing a small smile.
“That’s fine by me.”
“I don’t remember it that well, but the thing I know is that we were always in our own little world.” He chuckled, opening one off the boxes in front of him.
“What’s this even doing here?” He asked holding up a plastic chicken. “You know what – no -never mind.” He stuttered, shaking his head and then putting the yellow thing back.
I now recognized it as my dog’s toy, she suddenly disappeared one day and obviously never came back. It was even before my parents started to come less and less home.
“But anyway,” Jayden continued. “we were some fictional characters, it always depended on where we were or what time it was and even our mood sometimes, but the thing that was constantly the same was the reason we changed. We were at school and something happened . . . but I don’t recall anything.” He trailed off, walking to the next dozens of boxes across the room.
My eyes left his back, suddenly noticing something on the ground.
“Jayden . . .?” I panicked, letting him directly look my way.
“Yes?” He answered instantly after he turned around and stepped a little closer.
“No, stop!” Putting my hand out as an ‘extra’ sign.
“What’s that?” I pointed out, not even two inches away from his feet.
“What’s what, I don’t se- you mean this?” He asked, pointing to the thing.
“I-I really don’t know.” I whimpered still backing away, not wanting to be near that red-brownish . . . stuff.
“I am not sure, but it looks like an imprint to me.” Jayden announced, still examining it - yet too close for my liking.
“Alice, it won’t bite you, you know.” Jayden joked; it was just now that I noticed that my back was against the dark wall.
“Sorry . . .” I squealed, taking small steps to come closer to him. When I finally dared to crouch next to him to get a better look, I noticed something.
“Why isn’t it totally brown? Look.” I pointed. “It also has some red in it. It’s . . .”
“Blood . . .” We whispered at the same time, both too concentrated to laugh or show any amusement, even any emotion at the coincidence.
“Where are they coming from?” I asked, after noticing that they were fading their way to the staircase.
“Behind these . . .” He mumbled, pointing his hand to the boxes, not turning around himself, but just staring blankly at the gray wall in front of him.
“I can’t look over it.” I whined, standing on my tiptoes, but still failed miserably to get a glimpse of anything, even jumping didn’t work.
“You won’t see anything, I can’t either.” Jayden finally spoke, trying to get a little glimpse but he too failed to see anything.
“You know we’ll need to ask them.” He sighed deeply, eying me once in a while, you could see an anxious glance in his eyes.
“She won’t bite” I encouraged “I hope . . .” I bit my lip after finishing my sentence, moving my head around looking for other stuff.
“She doesn’t need to go down here . . .” His voice still sounded unsure, like he was waiting for clarification.
“Yeah, you’re right.” I breathed, letting it vibrate softly.
In complete silence Jayden and I ascended the stairs, sending some glimpses at each other once in a while.
“I know it’s random, but how was your life at school, I mean socially?” He opened the front door, letting me pass first.
I minored the smile he gave to me. “I don’t really know.” I waited for him to join me by my side on the porch.
“I don’t know if I was really - let’s just say popular, but everyone knew me and otherwise. And even if I were popular, I didn’t really care, I just wanted to be with my friends back then.” Thinking back of those times made me smile.
I kept my head low the whole time, not even wanting to see a peek of anything around me.
“Are you okay?” He observed my strange mood.
I didn’t want to answer him, knowing that I would look up to see his expression, but if I didn’t respond he would make me look up.
“Yeah . . .” I sighed a few seconds later, trying to resist the urge to look him in the eyes.
No words, he just kept sending glances my way, I could feel my cheeks start burning as reaction.
I stumbled my way over the sharp pieces of the stone tiles, eventually looking up after not hearing Jayden’s footsteps behind me.
“What?” I didn’t spin around to face him, just took a few steps backwards to hear him clearer, while focusing my eyes back on the ground.
“Huh . . .?” He hummed, his voice not quite reaching my ears, probably facing the street.
“What’s on your mind?” I mumbled, now turning my head so I faced my house, making it a lot easier to hear him speak.
“Ah. Oh . . . Nothing.” He stammered, something on the edge in his reply. My head automatically shot up, ignoring my pulsing heart and the alarming voice in my head telling me not to.
Something in me panicked of the reaction I would show after looking around, afraid of all the nostalgic things that were going on in this street, scared of the differences, anxious of the recognitions. But that didn’t happen, the only thing that really did matter now was Jayden.
“Look at these people . . .” He pointed to a little family who were playing on the playground a few houses away. Two children were sitting in a swing, the father was pushing both of them, while the mother was holding a third child laughing at the sounds that were coming from the baby. At the sight of them - being a happy family – made a small smile appear on my face.
“Look how happy they are, like nothing’s wrong.” He smiled. “Because nothing is wrong in their world.”
“What are you trying to say?” I sighed, leaning my head on his shoulder.
“It’s just . . . I just feel jealous towards them, I think. If you compare my - our life with theirs, I think you would call theirs perfect . . .” He started to trail off, letting his face fall in a sort of trance. If I would just pass by, I swear I would’ve thought that he was sleeping with his eyes open, but he quickly shook it away, conjuring his lips up again.
“Sorry, we’re losing time.” He shook his head, the small smirk still on his face. “Time’s money, right?” He reminded, pushing himself up from against the wall.
“Harper! Ash!” I yelled after entering the now so much darker looking hall, Jayden just a few inches away from me.
“Huh . . .?” Harper’s head almost directly popped out of the doorframe, followed by Ashton’s.
“Uhm . . .” I tried to stifle my laugher, but it didn’t quite work, seeing the curios faces looking confused our way.
“We need your help.” Jayden said, his voice turning a lot more serious than mine, but still a small smirk showed on his face.
“Sure.” Now Ashton’s voice ringed, stepping out of the doorframe, Harper pursuing him without delay. Something was off, or just different at their behavior, but I couldn’t quiet detect it.
“Jayden?” I bounced forward, leaving a few feet in between us with Harper and Ashton.
“Yeah?” He answered, throwing his arm slowly around my shoulder to spin us around, walking on the still shattering path of the house.
“Your thoughts, from just now?” He hummed, before hearing the rest. “How do you get them? Or how do you get so far - do you know what I mean?” I babbled, stumbling over my own words.
At first, he gave me a dumbfounded, confused glance, but that quickly replaced itself by a tiny grin. “I think I do understand what you mean.” He beamed, but that dissipated as soon as it came. “Our neighborhoods really look alike.” – he sighed – “Some memories just came back.” His face dropped completely now, no ray of positivity was showing on his face, not even an emotion. I felt really guilty for breaking him like this, and I think it was even showing it on my face clearly.
“Brooklyn and I used to hang with our neighbors all the time, it was a really good time.” The tiny smile made its way back to his face. “Sorry, I was being distracted, again.” He shook his head. We were descending the stairs again, both just noticing it.
“Wait. Harper won’t come here.” I stopped, wanting to turn around, but being stopped by a voice.
“Thank you, Alice, but I think I can go in here, I need to help, right?” I stood stock-still. Never ever did she change her mind about anything, not even the small things, never.
“Wut. . .?” Was the only thing that managed its way out of my mouth.
“Are we just going to stand here or . . .?” Harper pushed, making me even more confused, if that was even possible.
“Alice?” She asked again, my brain finally processing her words, making my feet move forward.
“Sorry.” I squealed, letting my shoulders fall down, making me feel so much more tired, but most likely weak.
Jayden’s worried eyes captured mine, his face showing the same expression as his eyes. “You okay?” He whispered, almost inaudible, even for me who was almost standing under him.
“Yeah.” I hummed, exhaling deeply, our eyes not leaving each other, not even for a brief second.
“Come on.” Harper murmured, propping herself in between me and Jayden, making Ashton start cracking up from behind us. “No time for ‘love’.” She quickly added.
“I suspect that you’ve found something so, what’s the issue?” Ashton coolly asked, suddenly standing next to Harper.
“Wait, look under your shoes.” I realized that we needed to watch out for the prints.
“Shoot.” Jayden mumbled, standing on the edge of the bloody, brown stuff.
“Luckily not the whole thing.” I returned, crutching next to it.
“What is it supposed to be?” Harper spoke up now, bending next to me.
“A footprint, with what we presume is blood.” Jayden pointed at the red trail in the print, it made the already unsafe, anxious feeling in my chest bigger. I needed to put my hands on my chest trying to suppress and reduce my -too fast- beating heart. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but if I really needed to put a sticker on it, I would describe it as if my heart were beating my rib cage broken, which luckily isn’t possible.
Jayden – again – gave me a worried look, perceiving the half choking reflex I’ve just had. His mouth ready to say something, but I just nodded my head, still clenching my arms tougher around my ribs.
“Yes?” Harper said, wanting Jayden to proceed, but he kept staring, no words passed his lips.
“Jayden . . .?” I asked, feeling my heart bounce even harder, but this time it felt different, this time it was a warmer feeling. My cheeks started to burn again. Trying to forget all the three people staring at me, I let my eyes linger at the gray, smudged walls.
“Yeah-” He cleared his throat. “We assume that there is something behind these boxes, but we can’t look over them.” I put myself back on my feet, still not so stable. I carefully wobbled my way to the boxes, trying to avoid as much dirt on the ground as I could.
“Let’s start then.” Ashton said firmly, already with cardboard in his hands.
Noiselessly, we started to unstack, the only things that were heard were our stroll, our breaths and for me my already slower -but still too fast- bouncing heart.
“Can you see something, Jayden?” Harper questioned him, knowing that he was the tallest of the four of us.
“Almost.” He rumbled, stabilizing himself on the tips of his toes. “Two more rows, and we can all see it.” He eyed everyone, his eyes staying a little longer on my face, but left hoping that nobody did notice, little did he know.
I felt kind of strange, I was not really used to the kind of attention Jayden gave me, the way his eyes traced my face, how his orbs could lock in my eyes, the hart-warming smiles he infrequently gave, but somewhere very deep I knew that I liked it, that I loved the things it did to me. I didn’t know what this was supposed to be, but I knew that I’d figure it out.