In Dreaming Reality

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Puzzle Pieces

Over the next few days I went in and out of consciousness; I knew this because sometimes I was there-- in a hospital room with my parents and other times I was not-- and when I was not… I was on fire in a lake of lava, where I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream… and always there was a pair of red eyes gleaming out of black smoke. In the ‘there,’ I could see a tall black tower on a cliff overlooking the lake-- and the eyes taunted me, daring me to pull myself out of the lava lake and come to the tower-- but I knew that what waited for me at the tower would be far worse than burning alive in the lava lake; the eyes communicated this to me. I saw myself dead; torn open from the inside. I always came from this unconscious delirium, this ‘there’ with a burning a fever… the doctors didn’t know what to do with me. Every time I did see my parents instead of the hordes of doctors and nurses; I wanted to ask my parents about Annabelle but whenever I tried to even speak my mother put a finger on my lips and told me to sleep, to rest. After I had regained ‘consciousness’ following my blackout from the car accident; they kept me in the hospital for three days. Over this time the only useful information I could gather was that I had been out cold for a week, and before that I had apparently been missing for six days… I don’t think they realized I could hear them talking about me in hushed tones but not once did they mention Annabelle.

It was strange really, so much time had past. I mean so so so much time, a week’s worth apparently and to me it had been in that insane place only a day, only a few hours, in either the fairy-tale place or the pit of hell… It was as if I was someone like the Time Traveller in that movie or like my fav Doctor from Doctor Who, which was totally crazy so I kept my mouth shut. Lots of doctors came to talk to me about where I had been-- why I had been missing… they wanted to study me-- especially because of my strange fever which had my temperature soaring through the roof; yet I remained ‘fine.’

I lied to all of them. I made up excuse after excuse, every time they just nodded, cleared their throat and wrote down notes on pads of paper. Sometimes I felt like they wanted to believe me, other times I felt like they were shouting with their eyes ‘CRAZY’ at me. That they wanted to put me in an insane asylum; and that was without telling them I was a make believe princess or that I was being tortured by repetitive burning in a lake of fire by some black winged creature that wanted to make me it’s evil mistress.

My parents weren’t much better. “Do you think she’ll be ok to start school?”

I didn’t hear the hushed reply, but my guess was a cautionary ‘yes,’ with a warning that I should see the school counsellor once I was ready.

No one spoke to me much after that, and while I didn’t dream myself back into that fairy-tale place-- hell was always near me, once I closed my eyes.

When I was finally released from the hospital mom took me home. They gave me strict warning about trying to walk or get up too fast, I was surprised they didn’t put me on strict bedrest after my fever incidents. They gave me a list things I should eat to help speed the healing process, that I should wear flat shoes and avoid wearing heels for a while-- better for my balance or something like that, avoid people who were sick so my immune system had a chance to become stronger etcetera... I tried to take it all seriously-- but it was difficult to do when I was handed a note from the doctor to give my mom for counselling as I left. I crumpled it up in my fist and causally dropped it on the floor as they wheeled me out of the hospital to mom’s new car. They gave me crutches and told me to use them and keep as much weight off my feet as possible. There was no way I needed counselling-- I knew what I saw, and I knew it was real, both places. No one else needed to know that.

The drive home was quiet. Mom didn’t speak, she just kept looking at me and almost starting to cry. I tried to smile but my face wouldn’t obey me. I knew something was wrong, besides my massive insanity trip. I couldn’t put my foot on it, metaphorically speaking, literally my legs were so covered in bruises that it ached to move them. As we drove into the driveway I noticed a blue mini cooper parked in front of our house. My heart jumped-- I wasn’t sure I wanted to or was ready to see Topher…

Mine.”

Of course the voice would come back now… gah. Like I needed to have any other problems.

Our house, which instead of making me smile now made me frown-- it’s castle shape reminding me too much of the other castle I had been at twice now, once in my dreams and once some how in reality. I glanced at my mom questioningly and then back at the car. Mom gave me a fleeting smile but it didn’t reach her eyes.

“So I didn’t want you to sit and be all alone at home. So I took it upon myself to invite Topher and Marissa over to keep you company, since I know you know them. Friendly faces...”

The car stopped in front of the house and mom sat still for a moment. I swallowed. Something was incredibly wrong.

“Do you have to work or something? I can come with you if you have deliveries to make for your business-- or if you have to run errands! I can just stay in the car!!! It’s not like I can actually do anything else...”

Mom shook her head.

“Oh-- okay... Well its ok to leave me here with Anna if you have to go out. I really don’t feel like being with people I barely know...” I shivered as I ran my hand over the spot where Topher’s bare touch had scalded my skin.

Marked.

Mom reached over and squeezed my shoulder, turning her face away from me. I shuddered under her tight grasp. Nausea danced in my stomach and throat. Though from what I was afraid of or for… I’m not sure.

“Mom. Where is Annabelle?”

I couldn’t turn to face her. I was too afraid she would say something awful. The car engine purred, air conditioning pulsated, and I felt like a fish in a bowl about to be flushed.

“Oh honey.” Mom sniffed out. “Oh, my baby.” Her hand reached out and patted my head patronizingly.

“Mom?”

“Anna is still missing. They found my car crashed into a tree, but there was no one in it. They have been searching the ravine but-- Look I’m going to join your father back at the police station. Maybe they’ve found something. I pray that they have found something ... anything.” Her hand dropped from my head.

The front door of our house opened and I blinked as I watched Marissa make her way to us. She opened my door and leaned in, her lavender perfume overpowering my senses.

“You going right away Angela?” Marissa asked my mom.

I sat perfectly still in horror or what mom had said. I didn’t see if mom nodded or not. Marissa helped me out of the car, put the crutches under my arms and helped me limp up the path to the house. Behind me I could hear the car backing up and then speeding away. Inside our house Marissa helped me sit on a couch. I was vaguely aware that Topher shut the door behind me and that they exchanged a look as I stared out into blank space but I didn’t care.

“She’s in shock.” Topher said finally loud enough for me to hear.

I stifled my urge to shout at him, enraged that he was talking about me like I wasn’t there.

Mine.”

NO! The voice was not allowed to be back! I tried again to silence it, praying it would be enough.

Marissa sat down beside me and pulled an afghan around my shoulders rubbing them gently. Marissa’s cold fingers brushed the hair out of my face. Everything felt out of whack.

“Christopher, please get a glass of water for Gen.”

I blinked. Turning for the first time to actually face her since I had entered my own house, I was met by a worried face, drawn tight with pain. Why was she in pain? Her tattoo swirled freely over her forehead and down her cheek. I watched it move, captivated. So I could still see her tattoo-- weird.

“What happened Marissa?”

I was aware that my tone of voice raised a few notches coming out like a squeak.

“Where is Annabelle?”

I wasn’t quite sure why I was asking Marissa where my sister was. As if she would know... but it seemed like the right question to ask. Marissa stared back at me unflinching.

“We don’t know.”

Topher stuck his hand out between me and Marissa with the glass of water that she had asked him to get me. I hadn’t even heard him come back into the room. Marissa frowned at him, took the glass of water and looked back at me.

“But.” She continued slowly. “It’s what we are trying to figure out.” She glared at Topher. “You were supposed to take care of this.” She spat at him.

Topher sat on the ground in front of the couch and refused to comment. I couldn’t look at him. He reminded me too much of Charles… and-- and… his face was the same shape as the red eyes man from hell. He cleared his throat.

“Speaking of taking care of things.” He began as Marissa glared at him. “Where the hell were you the week after the party?”

A muscle twitched in my cheek. I clenched and unclenched my jaw. Now did I tell them the lies I had been feeding the doctors, or the truth?

“Promise you will believe me no matter what?” I asked them.

Neither answered so I figured what the heck. I’ll just tell them-- part of the truth.

“I went outside. It was hot and cramped in the house. I saw movement in my parent’s car. So I decided to check it-- in case it was Anna. When I did get closer I saw it was her; but she was gagged and her hands were tied up. The car started to move-- I was screaming.”

I winced at the memory.

“I ran out after the car. For some reason it wasn’t going very fast-- or at least as fast as I had thought it would go.” My eyes narrowed. “I don’t know how long I followed them, but as I got closer to the car I saw why they weren’t going very fast. Anna was kicking the man who was driving in the back of the head. He had one hand trying to stop her and one hand on the wheel. From where I was following the car I could see her aim one last kick at his head and she must have kicked really hard because he turned and completely let go of the wheel. Then he turned to face her.” In my head I replayed the image. Tears now falling down my face. I was unable to stop them as I continued. “The car was spinning. It spun off the road and hit a tree, I-I-”

I sobbed, and took a deep breath.

“As much as I was angry at her for the way she had treated me earlier that day... she didn’t deserve what was happening to her! I would never wish harm on my sister.” I bit my lip. “I went running toward the crashed car, but I must have run too far. The next thing I remember is tumbling head over heels down a steep hill and being lost in a forest--”

I wanted to tell Marissa about the fairy-tale land I had been to, or even the lake from hell but didn’t want Topher to hear me, for some reason I had a feeling he would ask too many questions and I didn’t have the right answers, plus he would find out about Charles. And that would not only be weird, but creepy; and he would definitely want to know about the man with the red eyes...

Topher pushed himself to his feet and began to pace the floor.

“That can’t be possible.” He muttered. “And it still doesn’t explain where you were for seven days after that. I mean I couldn’t--” He stopped as if he had almost said something he hadn’t meant to.

I was angry. “What do you mean it wasn’t possible?” I growled. “I told it to you exactly how it happened!”

“Well you’re lying.”

Marissa rolled her eyes.

“If Gen says that’s what happened I think we’re just going to have to believe her.”

“Oh yeah?” Topher challenged her. “And where the hell were you in all this? I thought Gen went to the party with you?!”

I was suddenly glad I’d left off the part about explaining where I had been. Who knows what kind of reaction that would have gotten from both of them...

“I--I got distracted.”

“Hell you did.” Topher hissed. He stood and began to pace, growling as he did. “Look Marissa, I searched every inch of that ravine, there was no evidence of someone falling or even that a human had been down there in a long time. She can’t have been down there. I know she can’t have been.”

Marked.”

It took a full minute for me to realize that he was doing it again-- he hadn’t addressed me but was talking to Marissa as if I wasn’t there. He better watch it. I was getting pissed off. Marissa sighed, and looked at her cell phone.

“Dinner time.” She mumbled and helped pull me from the couch; placing a crutch under each of my arms she led me out of the front room and into our large spacious kitchen.

Topher followed us, but I was so mad and upset that I entirely ignored him.

As I sat in the kitchen at the table I smelled the scent of Lasagne coming from the oven. Marissa was busying herself about, cutting up garlic bread, looking like she belonged in this kitchen. Topher on the other hand looked so out of place in this setting. He stood very still leaning up against the doorframe, his eyes following Marissa’s back.

“He walked out of that car alive, on two feet.” Topher said to Marissa. “Which means they’ve taken her.”

She ignored him, and well since I had no idea what he was talking about really, I ignored him too. I watched however Marissa’s back straighten and the muscles in her shoulders twitched.

“You know what that means don’t you?” Topher asked her his eyes narrowing. “They’ve taken a marked one. There will be consequences.”

Marissa spun around the Lasagne tray in her hands, the oven door slamming shut.

“Hungry?” She asked, her eyes livid.

Topher strolled into the kitchen and sat across from me at the table. “Of course I’m hungry.” He looked over at me, “How about you, my Princess?”

It was half in my mind to tell him not to call me that to even give him a piece of whatever sane part of my mind was left, when I was distracted by Marissa slopping a piece of Lasagne onto my plate and doing the same with Topher’s. Marissa placed the tray in the centre of the table on a hot mat and then brought the garlic bread over, her nose crinkled as she placed it before us. Then she sat at the head of the table, watching us.

“Gen, I was talking to your mom and she said you like health food, so I used gluten free pasta noodles and low sodium sauce.” She flashed me a smile.

“Thanks.” I mumbled at the same time Topher made a face and said;

“Ew Healthy.”

Marissa chose to ignore Topher’s comment.

“So.” I asked Marissa as I stabbed a piece of pasta with my fork. “Aren’t you going to have any?”

Topher coughed and nearly spat out his food as he laughed as if at some private joke. “Marissa doesn’t--”

A look from Marissa silenced him, she turned to look at me. “Actually I have to be going. I have something very important I must attend to, but I wanted to make sure you got something to eat in you before I left.” She glared over at Topher. “If I had left you with moron over here, well then he might have stuffed your face with all sorts of junk.”

Topher mumbled something I couldn’t quite catch, that sounded an awful amount like “Whatever.”

The warm food in my stomach felt good, it felt even better knowing that I was eating something that was slightly healthy.

“Do you have to go?” I whispered, terrified of being left alone with Topher.

Marissa nodded and stood; she reached out and patted my hand. “I’ll be back tomorrow to check up on you, plus I think your mom wanted me to go school shopping with you. School does start in like one week. Rest up. Get some sleep.”

I sat numb for a moment. I would have to go back to school? Deal with my parents trying to get me to talk to a school counsellor? Marissa squeezed my shoulder then quietly made her way out of the kitchen and left me a Topher by ourselves.

“Behave.” She hissed at him right before she left.

Topher ignored her and didn’t seem to mind that Marissa had gone, he kept stuffing his face with Lasagne and garlic bread as if there were no tomorrow. I ate my one piece and had half a piece of garlic bread and was full. I pushed my plate away and sighed. As much as I wanted to avoid looking at or paying attention to Topher, he was hard to ignore. His eating habits were-- well they needed help, even though it was quite amusing to watch him eat with such vigor. In spite of the circumstances I smiled.

“What’s so funny?” He asked licking his lips. I shrugged. Topher pushed his plate away and sighed patting his stomach. “Marissa sure does knows how to make a great meal!”

I grinned in spite of myself.

“Let’s do something.” Topher said as he pushed himself away from the table and stood, stretching.

I watched him; it wasn’t like there was anything else in the room to watch. I shrugged, I couldn’t really walk anywhere without crutches, and I wasn’t in the mood to play games and all I really wanted to do was sit-- I felt like a blob.

“I know.” Topher suddenly said. “We’ll watch a movie.”

I raised an eyebrow, and tilted my head, a movie? Topher walked around to my side of the table and scooped me up in his arms, leaving the crutches beside the table and was walking out of the room with me.

“Topher!” I moaned “What do you think you are doing?!?” His skin burned me.

Instead of reply to me though, he just laughed. I have to admit he is strong, and wow, did he ever smell like peppermint.

Mine.”

I thought I told you only to wear scarlet.” He whispered into my ear, his lips brushing against my face. I froze in his arms. He pulled me tight against him, his chest was broad and muscular, and everywhere he touched me I burned-- I was on fire and not in a good way.

I moaned.

“Don’t worry babe. Soon it won’t hurt you at all.”

Was I still coherent? Did he say what I just thought he’d said Or was that my pain meds? Surely he hadn’t -- was he the man with red eyes? Topher climbed the stairs two at a time with me in his arms, and turning the corner entered our movie room, which I had yet to explore. I was after looking curiously around pleased with the room. It reminded me of being in a theatre but yet at the same time, it felt homier than a theatre would. Along the front of the room hung a huge screen and on either side of it were bookshelves full of movies. In one corner was a snack bar, complete with a popcorn maker and mini fridge, all the furniture in the room was a deep chocolate leather. Topher dumped me gently onto one of the couches and walked over to the wall full of movies. As he released me the fire left my bones and I felt like I had plunged into an ice bath.

“What do you want to watch?” He asked from over his shoulder.

I shrugged. “Surprise me.”

He took a few moments to sort through his choices, and finally pulled one from the shelf. Ambling over to the blue-ray player he put the disk in, and walked over to where I was sitting. Picking me up off the sofa he positioned himself on the couch and pulled me onto his lap. The fire returned and my bones began to melt. I closed my eyes and saw a lake full of Lava-- and I was standing in its centre, the man with red eyes was there beckoning me towards him...

I didn’t even last through the previews. I lost consciousness and was dragged down by the darkness-- to the epitome of hell-- and this time the man with red eyes was Topher, and he had huge back wings. That was impossible! He pulled me from the lake of lava and laid me on the ground-- then he was standing over me telling me I was his-- that I was a scarlet woman

I’m not sure how I made it through the night but when I woke up light was streaming through my windows, I had no idea nor clue how I had gotten there and nor did I really care. I yawned and stretched. I achingly pulled myself into a sitting position, and saw that someone had set out clothes for me to wear for today. Remarkably they had set out a yellow summer dress with tiny flowers, which reminded me of the princess, dress I had been wearing in my dream… I slipped on leg from the bed and then the other. My legs were covered in bruises.

“At least their not broken.” I muttered to my empty room; and at least I am by myself-- no creepy eyes or ‘perfect prince’s’.

Getting out of the bed was; I found, the easiest part. Dressing myself and aching all over was the hard part. I pulled the cream knit sweater on over the light summer dress and putting a crutch under my arms limped to the door. Outside my room I could hear commotion in the kitchen. I thought about asking my dad to come get me or at least help me down the stairs, but thought about how weak that would make me out to look, so I instead slowly made it down one stair at a time. It took me roughly five minutes to get down the stairs and another three to get to the kitchen. In the kitchen mom was bustling about. She looked up at me and smiled, it wasn’t even a half smile. She outright beamed. She put the pot she was carrying down and walked over to me and enfolded me in her arms.

“They found her.” She whispered. “Oh Genni, they found her.”

I froze in my mother’s arms. I had gone in the last few days from utter shock to horror and back again. My body tried to feel something… anything, but I couldn’t. Mom held me back and smiled.

“They had to take her to the hospital, seems some creep tried to bleed her dry, though we don’t know why. Had her hooked up to an IV of some type that was taking her blood.”

I blinked a few times.

“Dad is there now, I sat with her all night, but I thought I would come home and make you breakfast.” She helped me over to the kitchen table then helped me sit down.

“How mom? What happened?” I asked her. My body slowly beginning to thaw.

Mom pushed my chair in against the table, and then sat across from me.

“Yes, I was wondering the same thing too.” Mom poured some orange juice in a glass for me and then some for herself. “It was late last night. We were at the police station-- when a call came in at about three o’clock in the morning. Some anonymous tipster said that they had come across an empty warehouse on the edge of town. Said that they saw movement inside, so they went to check it out.” Mom put a piece of toast on her plate and began to butter it. “But when they got there, there was no one around, until they lifted a sheet and found ten girls all unconscious and almost bled dry.” Mom shivered. “Ten girls, can you imagine? So we hoped that Anna was one of the girls only because then we would know what had happened to our baby.” Mom blinked rapidly, trying not to cry. “All the girls were rushed to the Hospital, and we went there and found Anna being brought in…” She turned to look at me. “Marissa was there helping bring them in, she said she had been going home when she saw us driving to the hospital so she came to see what was going on. She’s such a good girl. I really do like her.” She paused. “Funny though, she looked so pale last night. I hope that girl is eating enough.”

I nodded and sipped my orange juice. Mom shook her head and sighed, but then shovelled a big heap of scrambled eggs onto my plate. I sporked a blob of egg and ate it.

“Well in any case, Marissa is coming to get you to go school shopping with you. Anna already has her school supplies for this next year...”

I almost spat out my egg. “But I want to go see Anna too!”

Mom gave me that patronizing ‘you are not going to argue with me’ look, and I frowned.

“Gen you have to understand hun, the last thing your sister needs is to see you all bruised up.” She might as well have added in a host of other insults; by the way she was looking at me-- and I wondered what the doctors had told her when I had been released.

It didn’t matter because I felt like screaming, the last thing Anna needs? What about what I need? I need to see my sister alive and breathing to hell with what I might look like!! But I kept my mouth shut.

The doorbell rang.

“Ah that’s probably Marissa. Oh also Gen, congrats on having a hot date tonight! Mind you, I will be waiting up… can you blame me?” Mom called over her shoulder as she hurried from the room to answer the front door.

Good thing she left or she would have seen my reaction, my jaw dropped and my eyes flew open. I wasn’t going on a date?!?! There is no way I was in any condition to go on a date or that I was going to be letting any guy take me anywhere after what I’d just been through.

Marissa and my mom trailed into the kitchen.

“I promise to get her back in one piece, but there is this totally adorable dress shop I want to take her to get the perfect outfit to go out tonight with Topher.”

TOPHER? I didn’t want to go anywhere with that guy. Marissa turned and waved at me. I saw what my mom had said about Marissa; her face looked chalky and her eyes hollow. Strangely she looked like she was hungry, or at least ill with something.

“Ready to go?”

I nodded, but I wished that Marissa wasn’t here and that I could go hang out with my sister. I pushed myself off my chair and using my crutches hobbled out of the kitchen. Marissa had an amazing car. Neither of us spoke on the way to the store, but I didn’t mind the silence. I think Marissa likes silence. The trip was for the most part rather quick, I didn’t need a whole lot-- Marissa pushed the kart while I hobbled along beside it and she grabbed things off shelves for me and checked them off on a list from the school.

“So what is Acroft High like?”

Marissa shrugged. “It’s alright. I mean,” She said absentmindedly. “It’s like a private school-- basically, they make sure only certain people are accepted. It’s hard to get in.”

I tried not to look shocked. “Only certain people are accepted?”

She nodded and looked into the distance, but didn’t speak again. I pondered this thought as we shopped, and even once we were in her car again.

For the most part I didn’t know which way she turned or drove as we left the store, but we ended up in a really nice end of town, in an artsy looking area I would love to explore on day; by myself-- when I had time to wander aimlessly and contemplate life. Marissa parallel parked her Mercedes in front of a store named Irisia. I tried to see in, but thick burgundy drapes covered the inside of the glass window. Marissa exited the car, and helped me out and hobble to the sidewalk.

“Now since your legs are bruised you’ll have to wear stockings or leggings but when I was here last they had a dress I can see you wearing.” She took a long look at me up and down. “It might be too short though.” She shrugged, and we walked, well she walked-- and I hobbled up to the shop front.

“Marissa, I think they’re closed.” I murmured when we got closer.

“No they’re open.” She raised her fist and knocked, once, twice, three times.

Know in those creepy movies where there is a person at the door and they do that weird knocking thing and then there is scuttling noises and the door opens inward but you can’t see the person who opens the door and it slams shut behind you and you are left standing in the dark? Yeah well, that was what happened at Irisia the store Marissa took me to. In the dimness of the room I could make out that we were standing in an open area which at one point must have been a store but now was empty, while just in front of us was a large staircase, and from here I could see a light and hear music at the top of the stairs.

“Well come on,” Marissa urged. “Let’s go up.”

I swallowed but followed her slowly up the stairs.

At the top of the staircase I was pleasantly surprised. The room was brightly lit, its walls shone of a new coat of lime green paint. The whole floor had been arranged into dress shop, at one end there was neon pink curtains strung up cutting off the end of the store-- must be fitting rooms. And at the other was a counter where a radio sat atop it and sixties music was playing. There was currently no one else in the store; I mean I couldn’t even see a clerk or anything.

Marissa smiled and bobbed her head to the tunes coming from the radio, she moved from the staircase weaving through dress racks full of all sorts of types of dresses, some in bright neon colors, others were dark and deep hues. Reminded me of what the people at the party had been wearing ... maybe they all shopped here? Well -- that might be ridiculous; surely they didn’t all know about this store… it was like one of those rare gems-- a hole in the wall shop that you loved because it was such a unique find.

I followed Marissa quickly, or as quickly as I could. She had stopped at the end on an aisle closest to the neon curtain pink fitting rooms. I joined her and stared at the dress she was looking at. It was a deep red almost scarlet, low cut, clingy dress and as if that wasn’t enough it had triangle cuts along the sides of the dress which would expose small patches of skin. My jaw dropped as she pulled the dress from the rack and turned it around. That was when I realized it almost had no back.

“I don’t think so.” I said shaking my head. “The color? I mean it’s-- it’s scarlet…”

Marissa smiled a sneaky smile.

“I already told Christopher you will be wearing scarlet, so too bad. Besides it would look stunning on you.” There was a worried look on her face for the briefest of seconds, then it disappeared.

I wanted to hit her, then throw up-- then hit her again! She had already told Topher? She told him I would go out with HIM?

Mine.”

Seriously? Irritation grated in my chest-- I almost couldn’t breathe I was so aggravated.

“Fine.” I snatched the dress from her and almost lost my balance with my crutches. Marissa helped me into the fitting room.

“I’ll be right back.” She told me as she pulled the curtain shut.

Great. She was leaving me all alone, what if I couldn’t get this dress on, or if I fell over or something? I put my crutches down, took my sweater off, and slipped my loose summer dress off. Picking up the scarlet dress I stared at it--

My scarlet woman.”

This sucked. It was exactly what Topher wanted; and nothing like I wanted to wear at all-- I almost missed the stinking princess dresses in the Fairlands. I sighed then pulled the dress over my head and wiggled it down from side to side until it was on me. Just as before I felt naked, like too much of me was exposed. I peeked out the curtain flap, looking for Marissa. I saw her at the front desk, where she was passing something to a tall thin blond woman, who nodded and took whatever Marissa was passing her looking rather pleased. I wondered where she came from or where she had been hiding… probably in a back room reading Archie Comic Books...

“Marissa?” I called out. “I have that dress on.”

Marissa looked over at me and smiled; she shook hands with the blond woman and then jogged over to me.

“Well let’s see it.” She said looking at me rather bemused.

I hesitated, and let the curtain fall open, she grinned at me.

“Now if he doesn’t tell you that you look stunning, smack him for me, will you?”

I blushed. I didn’t want him to tell me anything of the sort, but it was nice to know someone thought I looked good even with all my bruises.

“My boy toy was trying to get me to buy that ages ago, but--” She shrugged. “I like black.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Your boy toy or boyfriend as in Sebastian?” I asked cautiously.

Marissa’s licked her lips and looked slightly surprised. “You caught that huh?” She shrugged. “Yeah we’ve been on off for ages, only because we don’t always see eye to eye.”

I wondered what she meant, but then thought of Topher.

“You mean he doesn’t like your friends?”

She didn’t answer, instead she helped me over to a mirror. I watched her.

“What’s Sebastian’s dealio anyways? I mean his hair is--” I paused to find the right words.

Marissa looked smug. “Perfect.”

I turned to look at my reflection and saw a gorgeous girl with big violet eyes looking back at me, and didn’t know if Marissa meant I looked perfect or Sebastian’s hair was perfect. I didn’t bother asking her which it was. I couldn’t believe that the girl in the glass was me-- she looked like a foreigner. Was that really me?

I looked down for a price tag but couldn’t find any.

“Don’t worry. I grabbed the bill already.” Marissa told me.

I glanced up at the front desk but the blond woman was gone.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, it’s all good.”

I wish she had told me how much it was before ripping the tag off, because then at least I could pay her, but she was so adamant that I let her just give it to me as a present. I stopped complaining, and once I was back in my summer dress we left the shop and descended into the darkness below. Marissa opened the front door and let us out into the sunny afternoon light.

When we got back to my house Marissa made sandwiches and tea-- while she gave me all the food, she only had tea. She was paler now then this morning.

“Aren’t you hungry? I mean you can have some if you want.” Wondering why for the second time she was making me food and not having any herself.

“Naw I’m good.” She told me with a grin. “So while you eat, let me tell you about the place you’ll be going tonight.”

I sighed, and stuffed a small piece of sandwich in my mouth. I didn’t want to think about it-- my ‘date.’ I should really just get Marissa to cancel it for me…

“So it’s this place that’s totally electric, the music is pounding, the DJ is spinning tunes and the drinks--” She stopped as I frowned. “Well even if you don’t drink, I think you’ll find the atmosphere energetic and almost hypnotizing. In fact I can still remember the first time I went there.” She purred the word hypnotic and as if playing with its sounds on her tongue her eyes glazing over slightly as she drifted off deep in thought. “Christopher will be here at around five to pick you up and take you for dinner, not sure where, then you’ll go to Plumanara.”

I swallowed my sandwich. “I’ve never heard of this place.” I said slowly.

“Not many people have.” She replied smiling at me as if she knew something that only a gifted few could know. “But first I am going to tackle your hair and makeup, not that that should be challenging. And then we’ll have to find the perfect shoes for you.”

I groaned. I wasn’t allowed to wear heel for the next few months. “Marissaaaaa!” I whined. “Can’t you just cancel this supposed ‘date’? I really don’t feel up to it.”

Marissa rolled her eyes. “One does not simply cancel a date with Christopher Farrelli; least of all you.” She paused and let out a huge sigh. “Now let’s work on making you look spectacular.” I wasn’t blind-- her eyes fell onto my arm where Topher had grabbed it the first day I had met him.

“Marissa is there something you aren’t telling me?” My hand fell over the spot on my arm her eyes had grazed over-- it still burned.

Marissa’s lips pulled into a straight line. “None of us can run from our destinies-- so it would seem.” She looked so far away in that moment that I was afraid.

What was she not telling me? “Marissa?”

“Oh, don’t you worry-- you’re going to have fun, at last for a little while ...while you still can..” She smiled but it didn’t reach her eye, and pulled me into the bathroom. I kept asking her what that was supposed to mean but she refused to answer so I let myself be pulled on, poked and prodded for the next hour.

I don’t know how, but somehow Marissa managed to pull it off. She did my hair ‘fixed’ my face, and found me the cutest pair of shoes. And hell they had a tiny heel but I didn’t care. I then practiced walking without my crutches. I probably shouldn’t have, but I didn’t really want to take my crutches with me, especially to this Plumanara place. By five-pm sharp I was more than ready to leave the house, even if I didn’t want to be leaving it with Topher. I peered out the front window and saw Topher’s blue mini pulling up the driveway.

Marissa walked up behind me and draped a black sweater over my shoulders. “To keep you warm.” She told me.

I was thinking, to hide my back. Marissa helped me to the door.

“If you need me or anything, call my cell number, I’ve put it in your purse.” She handed me a tiny scarlet clutch and opened the door.

I could see Topher before he could see me. He was wearing dark tight black jeans, a white button up top and a black leather jacket. He pulled off his wraparound sunglasses and nodded at Marissa.

“Hey, where is Genevieve?”

Marissa stepped out from in front of me and gave me a small nudge toward Topher. I smiled at him, my face probably as red as my dress, I know my lips were… I had never seen such bright lip stick in all my life. Topher’s jaw dropped.

“Dang-- you actually listened to me; that’s more like it.”

My scarlet woman…”

Marissa growled.

“I mean-- You look gorgeous.”

“Mine.”

From behind me Marissa groaned. I knew she was probably thinking-- ‘Damn, now Gen doesn’t have a reason to smack Christopher.’ I snorted and rolled my eyes.

Topher looked confused. I shook my head, and took his outstretched hand to steady my aching legs not because I wanted to actually take his hand-- his skin as usual burned my skin. I stepped out of my house, and Marissa shut the door with a smack behind me.

Topher helped me into his car, and got into the driver seat. He sat still for a moment his hands resting on the wheel, then he looked at me his head tilted slightly to one side.

“I have quite the evening planned, but if you get tired and want to go home, let me know, because we can always do the other stuff I had planned later.”

“We have all time in the world, now that you’re mine.”

I nodded, my thoughts far from happy as he stuck the key in the engine of the car and we took off.

The place he took me for dinner was a little place just out of town along the outskirts of the business district. At first glance the place had looked deserted, old and creepy, but I followed his lead into the building and found once we had entered we were standing in a reception area where there was a vaulted ceiling with sky light, and a huge crystal chandelier hung from it. The floor was black marble and the walls were burgundy. Dark wood panelling ran around the base of the walls and along the top of the walls along the ceiling.

Taking me to the side of the room Topher sat me on one of the many wooden chairs lining the space, with the same matching color of silk covering the seat cushions, then went to the front desk and rang a bell. Behind the front desk I could see the place was packed, waiters in white and black were running around to serve the numerous patrons. All the guests looked like they were dressed like me, or-- how should I put it. They were in formal attire. A woman in a low cut deep purple dress appeared at the front desk, her eyes a stunning yellow green.

“I have a reservation for two, name; Christopher and Genevieve.” Topher told her, she looked down at a list in front of her and nodded.

Topher walked over to me and helped me to my feet. I cringed as we walked. The hostess escorted us to a booth along the wall, and after seating us seated left us alone. I frowned, shouldn’t she say; ‘the waiter will be right with you?’

My black sweater slipped from my shoulders. I could feel Topher staring at me. It brought goosebumps to my skin. I didn’t look at him though; I looked around the interior of the restaurant. Who would have known this amazing place was hiding in what once had been probably an abandoned building? There were other couples sitting and holding hands, families, couples necking, I blushed and looked away, right back into Topher’s eyes.

He opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment our waiter appeared. Our waiter was tall thin and needily. There was something foreign about him to me, his skin was almost white and his hair dark and vibrant. He looked like a live dead man would look, and his eyes were almost entirely black. Contacts again?

“Wine?” He asked.

Topher shook his head no. The waiter nodded.

“What would you like for dinner?” His voice was nasally like he was either French or just had a cold.

Topher cleared his throat. “We would like a healthy meal and something big and full of meat for me.”

I stared at Topher, seriously, that was how he was going to order? But the waiter nodded.

“That should be ready in around fifteen minutes.” He told us then took off and went to another table.

“Aren’t there menus here?” I asked.

Topher shook his head. “Nope. You just tell them what you want, and they get it for you.”

It was strange sounding to me, but I nodded as if it made sense. From across the table Topher took one of my hands. God-- I hated him touching me; it hurt too much.

“Are you really ok, I mean you’re being so quiet…” His hand was so much larger than mine.

Marked.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to mention the whole Fairland experience but then thought better of it-- I thought again of the red eyes. Would I ever feel sane again?

“Yeah I’m fine. I’m just worried about Anna.”

He nodded, and let go of my hand; instantly it felt ice cold.

“Do you know what happened to her?”

“Now Genevieve-- why would I know what happened to your sister?” Topher leaned back in his seat and instantly he was the cocky man I met in Starbucks.

“Because you said something about her being ‘marked’ or whatever… Don’t think I wasn’t paying attention!”

He shrugged. I wasn’t going to be getting anything out of him-- just like I hadn’t been able to get anything out of Sebastian-- Marissa it was the only person it seemed who either told the truth to. The peacemaker. If only she was here right now and could back me up!

“Seriously? You’re not going to answer me?”

“Look Gen-- it’s really none of your concern.”

“She’s my sister!” I hissed.

“Leave it be. You’ll understand someday-- hopefully soon.”

I wanted to reach out and punch him-- but I knew that I would hurt more than he would from the punch so instead I changed the topic-- “How on earth you found this place?”

He shrugged and looked slightly uncomfortable, like he didn’t want to admit how he had come about finding it, but happier than he had been when I had been asking questions he didn’t want to answer.

“It’s one of those art deco restaurants, which is privately owned by some wealthy donor who spent millions fixing up the inside but keeping the outside the same so that only those who are invited can find it or hear about it by word of mouth.” He was watching me again, but I didn’t know what to say.

“Art deco?” That had to be a lie right?

He nodded at me, his blond hair shaking slightly. I turned to face him.

“So what is up with Marissa? I mean I’ve never seen her eat, and her boyfriend is creepy looking.” Maybe he was capable of being kind where Marissa was concerned.

Topher laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with her, you just get used to the fact that she never does eat.” He said it as if it should mean something, but if he was hinting at something, my mind was drawing a blank. “As for her boy toy Sebastian, well they’ve been together for longer than I have known her, so that makes them practically married.” He said sarcastically. “I don’t know much about him, only that sometimes he and Marissa fight, and when they do-- I stay the hell away from them.”

“Oh.” Was all I could say in reply. Well that was interesting. “How did you two become friends?”

Topher shrugged again. “We were in the same place at the same time and had similar ideas about the world.”

It was another vague answer but the food arrived just then and that put an end to our conversation; as Topher dug into his huge platter of food. I looked down at my plate, a small serving of rice, a heap of carrots, broccoli and cheese sauce, and lightly glazed chicken. My stomach rumbled, and I dug into my food, though not as heartily as Topher.

After our meal we left the restaurant and I was surprised that outside the afternoon light had faded and it was now darker, the sun having set at least an hour ago. Topher drove us downtown into the heart of the city, turned and veered towards the edge of downtown. The buildings were more run down here, and I wasn’t very sure it was safe. It was either risk the sketch alleyways or hang onto Topher-- and even though the thought of burning really wasn’t ideal-- it was less appealing to have someone grab me like they had my sister… So I kept my hold on Topher’s arm and followed him across a shadowed alleyway. He had parked the car a few blocks down in what I felt was a safer atmosphere. Once across the alley we came out and onto what appeared to be an empty street, until I saw the line of people along one of the buildings.

As we got closer I could hear music, and there was bright lights flashing out an open door which was currently being blocked by a bouncer. I recognized the man before we had even got all the way to the door. Topher bypassed the line dragging me with him-- he approached Sebastian. Knowing or at least assuming that Sebastian and Topher didn’t get along I held my breath as Topher boldly walked up to him.

“You’re going to let us in right?”

Sebastian shrugged, Topher’s eyes narrowed, he bumped into me slightly and I gasped, my sweater slipping from my shoulders.

Sebastian’s eyes bulged as he recognized my dress. He looked me up and down.

“Go on in.” He muttered and stepped aside.

Topher had my sweater over one arm, and the other was supporting me and my aching legs. As we entered I could feel Sebastian’s eyes on my bare back, I tried to ignore it.

Inside the music was loud and people were everywhere. Topher left my sweater with a girl at the front and then guided me into the mass of moving bodies. It reminded me very much of the party at Marissa’s friends’ place only this was on a whole different scale. The DJ spinning tunes was in the middle of the dance floor on a clear raised podium, and all along the exterior of the room was one long continuous bar with multiple bartenders, who all looked extremely busy.

From the ceiling hung disco balls and where there wasn’t a disco ball hanging there were lights of multi colors flashing. Topher had also shed his jacket and was now rolling up his sleeves to his elbows and undoing the top buttons of his shirt. He smiled at me and began bobbing to the beat. Damn, he was good looking. If only he wasn’t so creepy. He pulled me into the dancing mass and let me go-- I couldn’t have fallen over even if I had wanted to; the crowd was so thick here that I couldn’t help but stand. I forgot that I was there with Topher as I closed my eyes and danced.

I don’t know how long we were dancing for, or even how long I had been out with Topher, all I know is that I was finally enjoying myself. I probably could have stayed there all night long, only my legs slowly began to hurt more and more, and soon I was barely able to stand-- I fell into the people around me, but kept bouncing back-- eventually Topher noticed. He scooped me up in his arms and after collecting his jacket and my sweater we left.

Sebastian’s green eyes stared into mine as I passed him and his blue hair glowed oddly in the lights. He laughed as I shivered in Topher’s arms and his teeth shone like little white needles.

Topher was quiet on the drive home. I was sleepy, but mostly I just wished I had been out with anyone else-- someone who didn’t creep the bejesus out of me. When he finally left me at my front door he muttered.

“I hope you had a good time.”

Mine.”

I laughed. “I liked dancing.”

He grinned sheepishly. “Great. We’ll definitely do that again--” He murmured and left.

I held my breath until he left then I let myself in my front door, closing it softly behind me. Do that again? I didn’t think so-- I definitely wanted to go to Plumanera again though; I should tell Claire about that place-- she would LOVE it. I should Skype her; she probably thought I had died since she hadn’t heard from me in so long. I giggled-- she would be shocked I had gone on a date. When I looked up I nearly screamed. Anna was standing in front of me pale as a ghost.

“How could you?” She whispered looking me up and down. “He was to be mine. Wasn’t it obvious? I hate you. And I’ll never forgive you.”

I felt the happiness and color drain from my face. Was she really that blind? Couldn’t she tell I didn’t actually like him? And what was up with her anyways?

“What is your problem?” I hissed. “I ran after the car some idiot put you in after you were mean to me. I fell down a ravine and all you can think about is some stupid boy, who does not like you whatsoever?!? I risked my life for you.” I emphasized.

Anna shrugged. “It’s your job to protect me. If you get hurt doing that -- well then that is your own fault.” Anna turned and made her way back up the stairs.

I stood stunned in the hallway for a moment, and then nearly collapsed. I could smell hot chocolate from the kitchen, so I made my way over. Dad was sitting sipping tea at the table. Mom was just pouring some hot water into mugs, she looked up as I entered. I was suddenly glad I had done the buttons up on my sweater so she didn’t freak out about my dress.

“Hi hun. Want some hot chocolate?”

I nodded and fell into a kitchen chair sighing. Dad smiled at me and I grinned back.

“You have a good time?” He asked me as mom came over and set two steaming mugs on the table.

She pulled up a chair and stirred the chocolate liquid. Well I couldn’t tell them the truth-- when had I stopped telling my parents the truth?

“It was amazing.”

Mom and dad clasped hands and smiled. I cleared my throat, thinking of Anna and the way she had treated me since I got back, and even the way mom had been talking to be earlier that morning. Should I rock the boat? Should I ask them the question that had been burning in my head since my visit to the Fairlands?

“Quick question.” I asked slowly. If I ask and I was wrong-- nothing would happen and we’d laugh it off yet if I was to ask and I was right? I deserved the truth even if I wasn’t willing to share it.

Mom and dad looked at me. They had no idea what kind of question I wanted to ask-- dad probably thought I wanted a new set of books; mom that I didn’t want to go to school right away… Was I blindsiding my own parents?

“What is it?” Dad asked.

There was no going back-- not now I had started down this crazy path-- not since I got home from England. They wanted a changed daughter? Well I was changed alright; all these strange happenings... How could I not be?

“Am I really your daughter?”

Mom’s eyes shot wider and dad’s mouth opened slightly.

“What makes you ask that?” Mom asked.

And just like that I knew it was true from my mom’s tone of voice and the mere fact that she hadn’t denied it confirmed my suspicions. How could they have kept a secret like this from me? This was-- was… I was-- not from here? Could that tale really be the truth?

“Please tell me! If you don’t I will be left to my own devices and figure it out for myself-- furthermore; were you ever going to tell me?”

Dad cleared his throat. “We never meant for you to find out you weren’t ours.” He paused. “But I guess since you’re asking I should tell you the whole story.”

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