The little girl dropped her butterfly net as her cherubic face twisted into a masque of horror. She threw her hands over her eyes and shrieked, the sounds of her meltdown echoing through the previously serene garden.
“Leafie! You’re hurting him!” She screeched. “Stop it!”
She pleaded with the older boy kneeling on the cobblestone pathway before her. His grin widened the more she screamed, and he continued dismembering the butterfly in his hands. He easily tore through the butterfly’s right wing, as if it were tissue. The girl screeched again, and tears began to stream down her cheeks. Just then, the boy’s twin came bounding through the garden, shoving his brother off the path and into the bushes.
“You’re being a jerk, Levi!” His twin said and turned to the little girl. “It’s ok Emmy, I saw a bunch more butterflies on the other side of the garden. Let’s go get another one to look at.”
She continued to cry.
“But --that one- was blue! There aren’t- any more blue–ones, Tristan!” She huffed between sobs. “Leafie’s a monster!”
The boy turned to his brother who was struggling to untangle himself from the bushes and smirked a bit.
“I saw another Emmy, I can catch it for you. Levi’s just a poop and doesn’t like it when other people are happy.” Tristan said.
Emmy giggled a bit then due to his word choice, and with that Levi flew into a rage. He launched himself out of the bushes and at Emmy. Emmy screamed and threw her arms up to shield herself from the attack, but it never came. Tristan had thrown himself in between his brother and her.
“Stupid little twerp!” Levi roared as he fought against Tristan. “You won’t be Laughing when I get you!”
He attempted to reach around his brother to get to Emmy and grabbed her hair in the process. She shrieked again as the boys continued to struggle and fell to the ground, taking a clump of her hair with them.
“Go get our mom!” Tristan Yelled. “Run! He won’t stop ’til he hurts you!”
Emmy gasped and began running through the garden towards the house, tears blurring her vision as she did.
Emmy turned around at the sound and saw Levi pushing himself up off the ground. His brother sat next to him clutching his cheek. She could see a trickle of blood running down the side of his face. She spun back around and somehow bumped right into Levi. She didn’t understand how he could have gotten in front of her so quickly. He grinned wickedly as he grabbed her arm. Suddenly an intense wave of fear swept through her. She had already been afraid, but now she was paralyzed with fear. Her breathing got faster, and she could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She wanted to scream for her mother, but she couldn’t get the words past her lips. Instead, she could hear the choking noises coming from her mouth and she could see Levi’s smile growing bigger and bigger, like the Cheshire Cat....
Falling out of bed wasn’t exactly how Emmaline Harrow was hoping to start her morning. She pushed herself up into a sitting position and peaked at the clock on her bedside table. 5:30 AM. At least she hadn’t overslept. She let out a drawn-out groan and scrubbed her face. I feel like a bear waking up from hibernation, I can sound like one too.
She sat there on the floor for a few moments, mentally preparing herself for the day ahead of her. She then got up and promptly made her bed. If she didn’t do it now, she would forget, and her stepmother would call her while she was at her internship and wouldn’t relent until she answered, and the batty woman could berate her about it. That was not how she wanted today to go. She wanted it as perfect as possible. Although, it had already started strangely.
She hadn’t thought about the Valdemar twins in years, before two nights ago. She frowned to herself as she picked out her outfit for the day. A soft blue blouse and gray slacks. She wanted to look professional. Emmaline recalled the dream as she got dressed and got ready for the day. It was as if her dreams were a video on repeat lately. It was a memory and a traumatic one at that. It was the first time she recognized the fact Levi wasn’t just a bad kid. There was something wrong with him.
His brother Tristan, on the other hand, had always been kind to her. He had often sought refuge from his brother with Emmaline and usually brought flowers, books, or bugs he had caught to share with her when they were young. All the time he spent running away from Levi ended up spent with her, and they had grown much closer for it. Levi had loathed Emmy for it, but couldn’t seem to recognize that he was the cause of it. It seemed the closer Emmy had gotten to Tristan, the worse Levi became, and the worse he became, the more Tristan was desperate to escape him.
He had posted up in the barn on her family’s property for an entire weekend when she was thirteen, and she was happy to hide him there. The boys. parents had been away, leaving them with a nanny and scant household staff. None of them ever did come looking for Tristan that weekend. It wasn’t until that Sunday evening that Levi found them. Their parents had come home and had sent Levi to find Tristan.
She and Tristan had just returned some of her family’s horses to their stalls after a late afternoon trail ride. Emmy had been filling one of the horse’s water buckets with the hose, through the bars on the stall when he’d grabbed her free hand and leaned in to kiss her. She had closed her eyes and began to kiss him back when she heard the snip of the garden shears behind her.
She had pulled away from Tristan when she’d heard the sound. Her head had suddenly felt entirely too light. She had reached behind her head to find her long Auburn braid entirely gone, and immediately began to wail. A snickering Levi appeared from behind her as she did. She remembered Tristan tackling his brother after that, and the two exchanging blows before Levi was able to wiggle away, sprinting in the direction of their family’s home. Tristan had darted after him, and for some reason, Emmy had followed.
She had almost caught up to them when she began to smell the smoke. The boys had just kept running, one sprinting after the other as the smoke thickened in the air. Terrified, Emmy kept after them. As their home came into view, it was clear it was burning, but Levi and Tristan only continued running towards the blaze, sprinting through the back gate and up the smoking back porch into the inferno as if possessed. It was the last time she had seen the Valdemar twins.
Emmaline wasn’t quite sure what happened after that. All she knew was that she was found just outside the back gate of the Valdemar home, covered in soot and with third-degree burns all the way up her left arm to her shoulder. The rest of her was miraculously unscathed, except for her hair of course. She recalled all of the confusion it had caused just after she was found. Her cropped, soot-darkened hair had made first responders think she was Tristan when they had first arrived. It wasn’t until she had been put in the back of the Ambulance that they realized their mistake. All the Valdemars had perished that night.
Deep down, Emmaline always believed that Levi caused the fire. He had always been an awful child, and sometimes she wondered if he had been a psychopath. Mostly she thought it was because he was terribly spoiled.
The Valdemars had always been a wealthy family. The twin’s great-great-great grandfather had been one of the founders of the city of Worcester and made a good amount of his money in real estate. His son made his own vast fortune running the growing city’s only bank. The rest of their family mostly went on to be bankers or doctors, growing their fortune throughout the years. The boy’s father was a biochemist who helped develop a miracle drug to treat neurological disorders and their mother was a very well-respected psychiatrist. Emmaline Smirked to herself. It was silly of her to think that Levi could have been a psychopath. Somebody in the family would have noticed. Definitely spoiled, she thought.
After all, generation after generation of their family had lived in a huge ancestral mansion. Levi and Tristan always had the newest and best toys too, and Levi was always hoarding them. She thought about their childhood compared to her own and immediately felt silly. They hadn’t lived all that much different. Emmaline’s father was also a biochemist who worked on the same project as the Valdemar’s and he had continued to be very successful in his field. She didn’t end up spoiled and bratty due to her family’s fortune though. Then again, neither did Tristan Valdemar. Maybe it was just Levi. She had truly hated him as a child, but she would never have wished death on him.
When she found out about the Valdemar’s deaths, she felt a profound sense of loss for Tristan. She would never see her very best friend again or know if her first love would have lasted, or if it would’ve fizzled out. She liked to think that they would have gotten over their crush, but that they still could have remained the best of friends. Or maybe like siblings, but not like how Levi treated him.
Emmaline felt like she barely knew her own brother. Her mother had died after a long battle with cancer when Emmaline was only four and her father had re-married just a few years later. Evan had been 11 then, and he spent the majority of her childhood away at boarding school, and the majority of her teenage years in college or in medical school. He and her stepmother just couldn’t seem to get along, but at least Denise could brag about his accomplishments. Though her stepmother wasn’t a terrible woman, she was a narcissist at best, and keeping up appearances was of the utmost importance to her. Emmaline recalled how Tristan used to make fun of the woman’s over-the-top makeup, haughty personality, and silly-looking hair together.
She smiled to herself as she finished getting ready. She preened briefly by her mirror, ensuring that her blouse hid her scarred arm appropriately, and headed downstairs. She found a note from her father telling her that he would have a driver sent over to pick her up to take her to and from the city. The same one that they used when they went to special events sometimes. Awkward. She sighed. Sometimes she felt he was a bit too overprotective. Being chauffeured there was embarrassing, but she would have to deal with it. Her stepmother was probably still sleeping and wouldn’t want to drive her anyways. Although it was her fault, she didn’t have a car right now. The woman had totaled her own car last week and demanded that she not be without a vehicle and suggested Emmaline’s car as a replacement.
Emmaline glanced up at the wall clock in the kitchen and groaned. Breakfast would have to wait. Her ride would be here any minute. She grabbed a light jacket and then went to wait by the door. She was on edge with excitement and nerves. One more hour until she started her internship at the oldest and most respected mental health institution in the city of Worcester. She would be shadowing the head psychiatrist and spending time with some of the more easygoing patients. She was certain that this opportunity along with her impeccable grades would gain her access to universities with some of the best psychology programs in the country. She couldn’t thank her father enough for setting this up for her. He had been sickly for months and somehow still had managed to keep working and arrange this internship for her.
Her ride arrived and her nervousness increased tenfold. It wasn’t until the driver confirmed the address with her that she realized that her internship was at the same place where the Valdemar’s mother used to work. That was probably one of the reasons why her father had been able to set the internship up. Their families had been close.
As the car pulled away from her driveway, she found herself wondering what things would have been like if the Valdemar family had survived. She couldn’t help but think that things would have been very different in the strangest ways.