The figure in the shadows was still bothering me later that evening. It had distracted me so much that doing homework seemed out of the question. I can never focus on important things while my mind is running away with me. Luckily, my mind was drawn back to the present when the door to my room opened and my little sister, Maggie, hurried into my room, jumped on my bed, and gave me one of her great big hugs.
“Maggie!” I cried, squeezing her back.
“I missed you at school today,” Maggie told me, pulling away to beam at me. My little sister is the sweetest. She had the biggest blue eyes on her tiny face and brown hair only a bit longer than mine.
“How was school?” I asked, grinning at her. “What did you learn?”
“Nothing,” Maggie replied.
“Nothing!” I pretended to be shocked. “Then what are you in school for!? Don’t you go to school to learn new things?”
“No,” Maggie said, shaking her head.
“No!” I said then moved in and started tickling her. “No! No!”
“Noooooo!” Maggie wailed, trying to escape from my tickling clutches.
“Come on, Gina, leave her alone or she’ll never settle down,” said a voice from the hall.
“Hi John,” I called as my stepfather came into the room.
My stepfather, John McNamara, was one of the coolest and nicest of guys. He married my mom when I was nine and they had Maggie when I was twelve. He had red hair and freckles and looked a bit geeky. Truth be told, he kinda was. He likes computers and is pretty good at managing them.
“Hey,” he said, smiling. “How did the talent show go?”
“Great,” I told him. “It went really well.”
“Oh, good,” John said. “I’m glad. Sorry none of us could make it to the show. Sounds like it would have been great.”
“I wanna see Gina sing!” Maggie protested, pouting her thin lips. “You always go sing after Mommy says that it’s bedtime. It’s not fair!”
“Sorry,” I said. “Next time there’s a talent show, you can come.”
“That’s not soon enough,” Maggie complained.
John laughed. “Come on, Mags, let’s have dinner ready for when Mommy comes home and let Gina do her homework.”
“I wanna help Gina!” Maggie said and squatted down on my bed and folded her arms to show her determination.
“Oh,” I said, slyly. “Okay, Missy Miss. Can you tell me what the square root of 1296 is?”
Maggie stared at me for a few seconds, her eyes blank. Then she opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, closed it, then hopped off my bed and ran from the room. John laughed and followed her out, but before he rounded the corner, he turned back to me and mouthed “36!”
I winked at him to show my appreciation. The story of how Mom and John met is actually pretty romantic and it involves me. When I was six, Mom went to a department store to shop for clothes. When she went into the changing rooms, I wandered off by myself. Needless to say, I got lost. It was a big mall and I thought it would be fun to ride up and down the escalators and wander into other stores. By the time I wanted to go back to Mom, I was completely turned around and had no idea where to go. It just so happened that John was working in the store that I’d wandered into and he heard me crying. He was the one who helped me find Mom again. He brought me back to the store where Mom was. Now, I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but Mom and John had something pretty close to it when she thanked him for bringing me back. They started talking for a bit and when we left Mom almost forgot to berate me for wandering off (but, then again, I must stress the word almost).
They started dating awhile after that and got married shortly after I turned nine. He's a really good stepfather, though I don’t think he’s said two words to my real dad and they’ve never met in person, and he was a nice dad to Maggie. So, yeah. Life is good.
I’d just finished my math problems when I could smell dinner cooking in the kitchen and, a few minutes later, the sound of the front door opening and closing. Mom was home. I left my room to greet her and join my family for dinner.
“Hi Mom,” I called as I entered.
“Hello everyone,” said Mom, beaming around.
“Mooooooooommyyyyyyyyy!” shrieked Maggie, throwing herself into Mom’s arms.
“Hello baby,” Mom said, hugging Maggie tightly. Mom and John both work, but John has fewer hours than Mom, so she’s usually the one home last. When Mom had finished hugging Maggie, she put her down and came over, hugged me, and kissed John on the cheek. “It’s so nice to be home! And something smells good in here. What’s for dinner?”
“Chickorn chowder!” Maggie replied brightly, running her words together.
“Sounds good,” Mom replied. “Alright, let’s eat.”
This is what most nights are like at my house. Mom’s really strict about eating at least one meal together as a family every day. Until we’d eaten a meal as the four of us, John wasn’t allow to make important telephone calls, I wasn’t allowed to go out and hang with Ria, and Maggie wasn’t allowed to watch cartoons. We talk about random things, like how everybody’s day went, etc. John’s cooking was something for the books, I can tell you right now. You see, he doesn’t believe in the cheap “Heat it up, instant dinner” stuff. What he makes he makes from scratch and it is good! I never have a problem with family meals.
When we had enough, it was my job to do the dishes. I had to have begged my mom a thousand times to buy a dishwasher like everybody else in the whole world has, but for some reason, she refused to do it. “You’re my dishwasher, Gina,” she would say, much to my irritation. She believes that chores build character, but really I just think she’s trying to annoy me.
I was rinsing out the last of the plates and grabbed the towel to dry my hands before I finished with the plate. I hated the feeling of dish-pan hands. I remembered that, tomorrow night at least, I wouldn’t have to do this. Mom had given me permission to leave right after dinner to go to a local pizza place with Ria. It was karaoke night and Ria and I were going as the Twisted Witches. Ria’s parents wouldn’t set foot in a pizza parlor, so it was safe for her to go and Mom said it was alright as long as I stayed and had a little dinner with the family.
I picked up the damp plate and started wiping it off, thinking about what songs we were going to sing tomorrow when I suddenly felt really, really cold. It wasn’t another one of my chills…it was suddenly just…really cold in the kitchen. I made to turn my head but I suddenly started shivering so bad that I could barely move.
What was going on? My insides suddenly got cold too, and felt tight, like they were shriveling up into themselves against the cold that had take over me. My heart started to beat uncomfortably inside me and my nerves were starting to get worked up. I fought of my shivers and turned my head to look out the window to my left, leading outside.
There was a face staring into the black kitchen window. A pale white, young-looking face with two gaping black holes where eyes should have been. I heard the breaking glass first and my scream second. I glanced down and saw that the plate I’d been drying was now in shards at my feet.
I heard hurried footsteps and my mom and John came into the room, quickly. “Gina? Are you alright?” Mom cried. “Did you hurt yourself? Oh! The glass! Gina, be careful.”
“M-Mom,” I stammered as I tried to find my voice. “Mom, there’s…there…”
I turned back to the window to show them what I had seen, but there was nothing there. The face was gone just as quickly as it had appeared. “Mom…there was…there was a…”
“Be careful, Gina,” said John, coming over and moving me carefully away from the broken glass. “What happened? Are you alright?”
“I…I was…I…could have sworn I…” There was no way I could string two words together. It just didn’t make sense.
“Did you see something in the window?” John offered helpfully, looking to where I was pointing.
“Y-yeah,” I said. “I saw…I saw something and it…it scared me.”
“What was it?” Mom asked. “Was it like a cat or something?”
“I…don’t know,” I said, now starting to feel lame.
“Don’t worry about it,” said John, kindly. “We’ll clean up in here.”
“Th-thanks,” I said, dully. I got carefully out of the kitchen as Mom and John started to pick up the pieces of the broken plate. Outside the door, Maggie was waiting.
“I heard glass,” she said, looking concerned. “Were you not careful with the glass, Gina? Did you get cut?”
“I’m not cut,” I told her, putting on a smile to comfort her…and myself. “It was nothing. Something went by the window and scared me and I dropped the plate I was holding.”
“Oh,” said Maggie, wisely. “Okay.”
Later that night, as I got ready for bed, I tried to think of just what I had seen in the window. There was no way it had been a cat. That had totally been a face. I’d stake my life on it being a human face. But who would press their nose up against our kitchen window?
I shivered as I slid under my covers. Whoever it was, if I knew them, I’d give them a piece of my mind the moment I got the chance. I hate scary pranks. I hate, hate, hate them. Ever since I was little and a couple of friends convinced me to go into one of those fake, Halloween haunted house when I was six. The costumed people inside jumped out and grabbed me several times and one guy even sprayed fake blood on me. Ever since, I never wanted anything to do with scary pranks again. I don’t even like scary movies or anything like that. The fear just makes me ill.
The shock of the face in the kitchen would, I knew, hinder my ability to sleep. I never could just fall asleep when I’d been scared recently. My whole body was on high alert and calming down would take awhile. I listened to my iPod for awhile and then read a book to make my eyes tired. At eleven-thirty, I decided it was time to give sleep a try. I turned off my lamp, yawned, and lay down on my pillows and thought only happy thoughts go lull myself to sleep. It was starting to work too. I felt myself relaxing into my bed, my thoughts blurring into oblivion. I may have even started dreaming because I could have sworn that I heard a voice I didn’t recognize, far away but clearly audible…“I knew you could see me.”