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Rose

By Pandora Banister All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Fantasy

CHAPTER 1

Rose

By

Pandora Banister

CHAPTER 1

1

The walk to school from home seemed to stretch on forever, despite it being a rather short journey. She was dressed in her school uniform, with her black cloak on over that. Now this wasn’t quite the appropriate thing to wear, especially in the dead of winter, but she rarely ever got the feeling of being cold; it had been that way since she was a little girl. And since it was quite a short walk, there was no need to take her car. But even so, the walk seemed endless.

Across the street, a woman was walking by, pushing a baby in a stroller and talking on her phone. She was dressed in a fancy raspberry-colored coat that Chris imagined her mother would wear. From where she was standing, she could hear the giggling of the baby, and the jingle, jingle, jingle of the Jingle Bells rattle it was shaking. The woman glanced over at her, and a look of horror and revulsion crossed her face when she saw the rose that peeked out from behind a lock of Chris’ hair, then quickly faced forward again. Chris sighed a sad and silent little sigh, looked straight ahead again, and continued walking.

The sound of her tiny alarm on the watch gave the indication that it was fifteen minutes to eight, and that class would start in five minutes, but made no move to rush. It was always the same at school: teasing, name-calling, pointing and laughing, and an occasional beating. Everyone turning away from her like she was a freak. I’m not a freak. I’m not, she thought. She hardly believed herself, but knew on a deeper level that it was true. She wasn’t a freak. Nobody was. Everyone was special in their own way, but there were people who were too blind by their own inflated vanity and self-worth to see how special they really were.

Every so often, she could feel a dark presence, a malicious aura, looming over her, but resisted the urge to look. She knew the evil was there, but, whenever people were around, they never saw it, nor felt it, and that would lead to more sniggers and disapproving glares. She could feel its hot breath on her neck, and had never felt more truly terrified. It was at the point where she felt a boney hand on her shoulder that she finally took off running down the street without ever looking back, and without ever screaming.

She stopped running at the end of the block, where her school was in view. It was a large and rather beautiful building: it was made entirely out of bricks, aged, columns in the front, and a large spiked fence around the entire perimeter. In front of the building was a brick sign that read Madame Adelaide’s School for Girls. She didn’t want to go, but knew she couldn’t just not go. She pushed herself to go up to the open gate. She looked down at her watch to check the time, stealing a glance at the tiger rose, with its beautifully patterned petals; the time was thirteen minutes to eight, and she only had two minutes to get her books and head to class. She stared up at the school as she passed through the open gate door and walked up the steps that led into the school.

She took a deep breath as she placed a hand on the doorknob, ready to step inside and face the people that would torment her so severely, and opened the door. All eyes landed on her, and a few people turned away with a look of disgust crossing their faces, and others sniggering. A few people pointed and laughed.

“Hey, it’s Rosy Rascal,” someone called out. Chris couldn’t be sure who, but chose not to question it. She made her way down the halls of the school, passing people who turned and sniggered as she passed, while others pointed and laughed. Many of them simply ignored her and hurried off to their classes. Chris got to her locker, and twisted the combination into the lock to unlock it, and opened it, where her books sat. She removed her cloak, neatly folded it, and placed it inside, then grabbed the textbooks for her first four classes before lunch: Algebra II, English, Biology, and World History. She stared at the design on her Algebra book; a large bridge with the lights that could’ve been cars passing streaming across it, and the large words ALGEBRA II printed over the design.

As she studied the design, the books were slapped out of her hands, and a sinister snigger came from beside her. Chris swallowed the lump in her throat, and turned to face this Woman in Black, as she called her. She had never learned this girl’s name; she had never bothered to ask, and the girl never bothered to tell her, and so Chris nicknamed her “The Woman in Black,” after a novella she had read, since this girl had long black hair, and, outside of school, always dressed in dark or black clothing. Chris stared up into the evil eyes of The Woman in Black, her eyes piercing straight into her soul, and a sinister smile plastered to her face.

“What’s the matter, Rosy? Too much of a mouse to fight back?” she asked, giggling as she said it. Chris simply stared at The Woman, not daring to speak a word. She wanted to say something like My name is Chris, or Please leave me alone, but she was too afraid to speak a word to this girl who reminded her of the ghostly apparition in the novella. She could hardly speak a word to anyone; everyone frightened her.

The Woman tugged at the short stem of the rose, and Chris gritted her teeth to keep in a pained yelp, and smacked The Woman’s hand away. The Woman rubbed the part of her hand that had been smacked, and glared down at her.

“How are you not dead with that thing growing out of you? I can imagine the roots have grown around your heart and dug their ways into your veins. Eventually, you’ll end up dead,” she said in a deep, threatening voice with an evil grin on her face. Chris touched the petals of the rose, and knelt down to pick up her books, placing them one-by-one into her book bag, and stood back up, avoiding eye-contact with The Woman, and facing her open locker. And, without warning, she was pushed forward, her forehead hitting the edge of the locker door. She put a hand to the bruised part of her forehead and started rubbing it, hearing The Woman’s spiteful sniggering, and her fast footsteps as she hurried away. And, once her footsteps faded, Chris closed her locker, and allowed a single tear to trickle down her cheek.

The bell rang not long after that, and she walked to her first class, letting out a silent exhale as she got to the door, and opened it. The teacher was already taking role, and gave Chris a stern stare when she entered.

“Cutting it close, aren’t we, Chrysanthemum,” she said, checking Chris’ name off the tablet. “Well, would you like to explain what made you late?” Chris paused, and looked down at the white linoleum floor. She glanced up at the class, and spied The Woman, who glared at her, and made a slitting motion at her throat, then quickly looked down at the floor.

“I…I…um…I was returning an overdue book at the library,” she said. This was a lie, as she didn’t want to risk another more violent meeting with The Woman in Black. The teacher looked her up and down for a moment, then nodded.

“All right. Go ahead and take your seat,” she said. Chris’ seat was in the front row, right next to a set of windows. Some days, she would see creatures fighting outside, or epic battles between knights, or evil figures staring in at her. However, when she saw these, no one else saw them, and no one else believed her when she said they were there. As she took a step toward the desk, she saw it: a black creature with a decayed face, one eye was just an empty socket while the other had an eye the color of coal, and it was dressed in a raggedy cape with a hood. It grinned an evil grin at her, and she stood frozen in that spot, not daring to get any closer to this hideous creature that stared and grinned at her.

“Chrysanthemum? Are you listening?” she could hear the teacher say. But she sounded so far away as she focused completely on the creature.

As suddenly as it appeared, the creature broke the glass, and made a leaping lunge toward her. Fear completely took over her mind, and she shrieked and fell backward to avoid the creature’s bony claws that swiped at her. She backed up into a corner as the creature cackled and croaked at her, taking limping steps toward her, swinging its claws at her. She shrieked again, and crossed her arms in front of her to shield herself from the creature’s attack. She could feel tears flowing down her cheeks in fear, and heard people laughing at her. She could feel the creature grabbing her shoulders and shaking her. But, upon opening her eyes, saw that it was the teacher.

“Chrysanthemum, I don’t know what is causing you to behave like this, but there is nothing here. It’s all in your head. There’s nothing,” she said in a stern voice. Chris looked around at the classroom. She was right; whatever this creature was, it was gone. The shattered glass of the window was gone as well, and the window was completely intact, like nothing had ever happened. However, there were plenty of people laughing and pointing at her. She wiped the tears from her eyes, and stood up, and headed over and sat down at her desk. The teacher watched her for a moment, a small glimmer of concern in her eyes, then turned her back and started writing on the whiteboard. She wrote RATIONAL EXPRESSIONS on the board, and went on, explaining what the lesson would include, and ordered everyone to open their books to the required page, so that they could continue on with the lesson. Chris opened her book to the page, but could hardly focus on the lesson. Outside, she could see a knight in shiny armor, with a large shield with the crest of the school, and a long sword, fighting a dragon. The dragon roared, and breathed fire at the knight, to which the knight shielded it with the shield. She looked back at everyone, but no one else seemed to hear the commotion, much less notice it. She continued to watch this glorious fight, until the knight ended it, with a quick swipe of the sword that sent the dragon’s head several feet away from the rest of its body. After that, Chris turned back to the teacher, and listened to the lesson.

2

As she sat in English class, she couldn’t help but think about this creature that had tried to attack her in Math. Her mind drifted back to its decayed face that was missing an eye, its croaking cackle, and its claws. It’s all in your head. The teacher’s voice came back into her mind every so often, telling her the same thing over and over again. It can’t be in my head. I heard the glass shatter. I heard its laugh. It was so real, she thought. She couldn’t figure out how something so real could have been nothing but an illusion.

She barely paid any attention to the lesson; the book they were reading was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and she had read ahead of the class. It was definitely an interesting book, but she loved to read books by Stephen King the most. Why do they never have us read any Stephen King novels? she wondered. Because he’s a schmuck. This voice came out of nowhere, and Chris looked around at the class. No one was looking at her, and everyone was paying attention to what the teacher was saying. She was irritated that this voice had insulted Mr. King in such a way. How dare you! He’s not a schmuck. He’s a genius, she thought. After a moment, the voice returned. It was a soft yet taunting and sarcastic voice. Sure, like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was a sad movie. This made her absolutely enraged, but she didn’t show it outwardly. It was a sad movie. When I saw it in theaters, everyone was crying, including my father, she thought. She waited a moment, and the voice was gone, and she turned back to the teacher, who was going over the questions in the study guide for the book, and she pulled it out.

3

The first class periods before lunch had passed pretty quickly, and lunchtime was here. They were serving chicken salad sandwiches with a side of greens and milk to drink. Chris barely ate her food; there was too much to think about. She could never put together why people couldn’t see the remarkable and terrifying things she saw, or hear these voices she heard. Everyone was totally oblivious to these things, yet they seemed so obvious. She picked at her food, pushing it around on her plate, and taking a few bites of sandwich, and a few bites of greens.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a couple girls coming toward her, and she made a silent groan at the back of her throat, and looked down at her barely eaten food. She could feel them standing over her, and wished for them to go away.

“What’s the matter, Rosy? Afraid we’re going to rip that flower from your neck?” one girl asked in a sarcastic tone. Chris knew who this girl was; she always wanted to take this rose from her, but Chris would never allow it. She then felt a hand yank at her hair, and made a small cry of pain.

“Give me the rose,” the girl demanded. Chris looked up at her with fear visible in her eyes, and shook her head. Anger was very visible in this girl’s eyes, and she pushed Chris’ face down into her plate of food.

The mess hall was alive with laughter as Chris sat back up, mayonnaise and mustard smeared on her cheeks with a little bit of greens stuck to her left cheek. She quickly stood up and ran out of the mess hall, hearing the girls’ footsteps behind her. She continued to run, until she felt the girl elbow into her back, and that sent her falling to her hands and knees, and, again, her hair was being yanked. She reached up and guarded the rose with her left hand, using her right hand to smack away the girl’s grabbing hand.

“Give me that bloody rose! They’re incredibly rare,” she demanded. She was yanking Chris’ hair with full force, and Chris was making small cries of pain.

The both of them heard a door open from down the hall, and the girl let go of Chris’ hair, and pulled her friend to run away. Chris rubbed her head where it was sore from having her hair pulled, and wiped the condiments and greens from her face. She heard the sound of fast footsteps, and saw a teacher racing towards her.

“Good heavens, are you all right?” the teacher asked. Chris didn’t know what to say, to confess that the girl had assaulted her to get the rose, or to simply say that she tripped and fell. She chose to say neither, stood up, and ran for the door, hearing the teacher’s voice telling her to stop. She ran out of the school, down the steps, and out to the gate. It was closed and locked, but she climbed up and over the gate, and ran away from this wretched school, and down the block. She hated this school, and had no intention of going back.

She didn’t stop running until she was as far away as she could possibly get, and entered Hyde Park. It was a pretty day out, even if it was a little chilly. Only a few birds were around, flapping their wings and chirping their songs. She walked through the trees, looking up at the sky through the branches of the trees overhead. She thought she could hear people calling her name, and thought she saw something out of the corner of her eye, but did her best to ignore it. She approached Serpentine Lake, where she most often sat and daydreamed, staring at the light reflecting off of the rippling surface of the lake. But there wasn’t a sun today; it was completely covered up by clouds, and the lake seemed dull. Chris took a seat on the grass a few feet away from the shore and sighed. She could feel the tears streaming down her face, and vainly tried to wipe them away, but couldn’t keep them from coming out. And so, she sat there, sobbing silently.

“Why are you crying, Rosy Rascal?” a voice asked. Chris groaned slightly, wiped her tears away, and looked up to see who was talking to her. It was a girl with black hair and blue eyes, and dressed in a black and red dress, black boots, and a golden cross around her neck. It was Gabby.

“I keep telling you not to call me that. You know better than to call me that,” Chris said, to which Gabby sniggered a little.

“I know. I just like to mess with you sometimes,” she said. Her tone remained sarcastic. She took a seat next to Chris on the grass, and placed a hand on her shoulder. Chris wiped another tear from her eye.

“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” Chris said, rubbing her eyes that were irritated from the condiments and tears. “I’ve been at this school for eleven years, and not once has this torture ceased. Why do people treat me this way? What have I done to deserve this?” Gabby stared at her with eyes full of understanding, then turned to look at the lake.

“Really, these things never have a reason. People will pick out people that have a certain flaw or are just completely defenseless, and they’ll continually torture them just to feel better about themselves, or just to feel cool. You know, they say that suicide is a cowardly act, but, the truth is that it isn’t. A cowardly act is torturing someone so severely, that that person wants to end their life. Don’t let these people get to you.” Gabby’s voice was very reassuring, not her usual sarcastic tone. Chris wiped the tears from her eyes, and let out a deep exhale.

“But, I don’t think I can handle another semester of this bullshit. I’m running ragged. I feel like I’m about to go insane. I just don’t know what to do. These girls always tease me and beat me, and I don’t know what they want with my rose. I feel like I’m a freak, and that’s what I’ll always be.” Her voice had returned to sobs. “I just don’t know what to do.” Gabby stared at her, studying her for a moment, then turned back to the lake.

“Do you know what I suggest you do?” he asked. Chris looked up at her, the tears still apparent on her face. “You should just leave. Go to a place far away from this city, and start a new life. You’ll be happy, I guarantee it,” she said.

“But, where would I go?” Chris asked, slightly surprised.

“Go to Redwood Hills. It’s a quaint little village in Fairburne Forest in the southest part of England. And, it’s actually a very nice place. Trust me, you’ll love it there” Gabby said. Before Chris could say something, the sound of school bells was heard, and Chris looked back in the direction of the school. She thought about this, about what Gabby had instructed her to do. Start over? she thought. It sounded like a good idea, and she didn’t want to stay in this school any longer, and, when school was out for the winter, she had no intention of going back.

“Okay Gabby. I will,” she said, turning back to where Gabby was sitting. But she was gone, and Chris was alone. She stood up, and began running back to the school, hoping she would make it before she was late for sixth period.

4

The final periods for school had gone by pretty quickly, and Chris was finally free from school for a good three weeks. She loved winter break, where she had temporary freedom from the hyenas that tortured her with their laughs and claws. She started the short walk back to her family’s apartment. She could hear people sniggering, but, when she looked around, there was no one on the street, and she was alone. She looked down at the sidewalk in front of her, keeping focused on where she was going. She scratched at the place on her neck where the rose sprouted, where it often itched. She remembered the day when she had the seed put in.

She was about three years old. When she was born, she had been born with a hole in her heart that required surgery to close it up. When she had turned three, her parents had gained enough money to go through with the surgery. She had been taken to the hospital, and she was going under the anesthesia. As she fell into unconsciousness, she saw it; a creature that resembled somewhat of a fairy, but a fairy made of flowers. Its head was a flower, it’s clothes consisted of petals. This was the last thing she saw before going under. She dreamed of fairies surrounding her as the doctors went to work, cutting open her chest and working on her heart. And, one of these fairies, just before the doctor sewed up the hole a fairy swooped down, and dropped in a single seed. And, when she awoke, her family were standing around her, smiling, and she managed a weak smile. After the surgery, she started feeling a tingling, itching feeling in her chest, and, when she turned seven, the rose bud had sprouted from her neck. And, even now, she couldn’t decide if these fairies, and what these fairies did, was real or simply a hallucination caused by the anesthesia.

As she got to the street her apartment was on, she looked up at the buildings as she passed. Most of them were very old and had chipping paint, while others were newer. She finally saw the familiar building that housed her apartment. The only building on the street painted bright yellow. She stepped through the doors of the building and into the lobby. The person behind the counter smiled and tipped her hat to her, and Chris waved back politely, stepping into the elevator, and pressing the button that read “5.” The doors closed, and she felt the car going up for a moment, then stop, and the doors opened, and she stepped out and walked down the hall. The doors she passed had wreaths on them, preparing for Christmas. Chris’ family didn’t keep a wreath on the door; they kept an over-decorated door swag garland, one that was decorated with popcorn garland, multi-colored bows, and glittery stars. She came upon this door with the over-decorated door swag, pulled the key out of her cloak pocket, and pushed it into the keyhole and twisted it. The door unlocked with a loud clunk and she went in.

Her father was sitting on the couch, watching sports on the television. Her mother sat in one of the armchairs, reading a book that Chris couldn’t be sure what it was. It was one of those books that had a plain canvas cover with no picture, and the title stamped on the spine in gold. Her younger sister sat at the kitchen table, doing her homework. Her mother looked up when she came in.

“Hi, sweetie. How was school,” she asked. Chris decided against telling them about the incident that happened at lunch, and simply shrugged her shoulders, heading down the hall to her room.

“Don’t forget, you have to be at the hospital at half-three,” her mother called.

“I know. I’m getting ready,” Chris called back. She had gotten a job at the hospital. She decided on getting a job as a nurse at the hospital after being intrigued by what she had learned in Health class when she was fourteen. They were, at first, skeptical about having a teenager work there, but she had impressed them with her knowledge of the medical world. After doing well in Health class, she had done research on certain things for the medical world, like what to do for certain injuries, or what to do if someone suffered a seizure or a heart attack or if someone was choking. She also did research on certain medications, their effects on the human body, and the proper amounts to be given, either by pill, injection, or nasal spray. Her knowledge on these aspects allowed her to be hired. She had been working their for three years going on four.

In her room, she changed out of her school uniform and into a long-sleeved white shirt and skinny jeans, and, over that, the scrub outfit that all nurses were required to wear. She changed out of her canvas sneakers that went up to the knees, and put on a pair of sneakers with memory foam insoles. She went to her dresser with a mirror, and brushed and pulled her hair up into a ponytail, making the rose much more visible. She stared at it in the mirror. It was rare to find tiger roses, and this one was so beautiful. The pattern on the petals looked like red patterns on a white rose, like blood had dripped onto its petals. After a moment, she went back out to the living room, and went into the kitchen. She was still hungry, and she hadn’t eaten very much of her lunch. She went to the fruit bowl, and grabbed a peach, and bit into it. It tasted sweet, and she took a seat on the couch next to her father. He looked over at her.

“Are you okay?” he asked. Chris looked up at him.

“Fine. Why do you ask?” she asked.

“Your eyes are red. Were you crying?” he asked. Chris looked down at the peach in her hand, then shook her head.

“I tripped during PE, and got dirt in my eyes.” That was a lie, but she didn’t want to tell them that she’d been crying. Her father seemed unimpressed.

“Really, because I got a call from school, saying that you left” he said. Chris took another bite out of the peach. She knew she couldn’t weasel her way out of this.

“I’m really sorry. This girl attacked me and tried to take the rose, and I ran to Hyde Park. And, when I was there, I talked to Gabrielle, and she told me something that I’d have to do,” she explained. Her father shook his head.

“You met Gabby again, huh?” he asked. Chris nodded. “Well, then we’ll talk about this when you get home from work. Because it’s about nearly half-three now.” Chris looked up at the clock, where the big hand was approaching the six, and got up, grabbed her bag and packing it with a plastic baggie of strawberries and cherries, and a bottle of water, and headed for the door, taking her car keys with her. She turned to take another look at her family, who smiled and waved goodbye to her.

“I’ll be home later,” she said, and left.

5

The hospital was farther from her home than the school was, and required Chris to take the car. She climbed in, put the key in the ignition, and turned it. It started with a low purr, and she backed out of the parking garage, and started to the hospital. After the three years of working there, she was still required to shadow Miss Hill, her superior. She had been learning so much, and was nearly ready to handle the simple tasks of being a nurse on her own. But, that would have to wait for another day, and she was stuck shadowing a superior. She had the radio on, and they were playing Christmas music. The song that was on currently was Silver Bells, and she hummed along to its cheerful tune.

She parked in the parking lot of the hospital, and got out, taking her bag with her. It was definitely a large building, but, then again, they had to be large, for the many patients. She entered the lobby, where the door person sat behind the desk, smiled, and said “Good afternoon.” Chris raised a hand politely to him, and got into the elevator and pressed the button with the number three on it. Her work was on the third floor, where she shadowed Miss Hill. The doors closed, and the car went up for a moment, then stopped, and the doors opened again. She stepped out, and walked down the hall until she reached the doors that led to the rooms inhabited by patients. Patty looked up from behind the desk, and smiled and waved.

“Hello, Chris,” she said, brushing her black bangs from her face. Her hair had been cut shorter to a pixie-cut, and it fit her complexion quite well. Chris smiled and waved back.

“I like what you’ve done with your hair, Patty,” she said in a polite tone.

“Thank you. No one’s complimented on it yet. I’m glad you like it,” she said with a smile. Chris giggled a little, then looked around.

“Where’s Miss Hill?” she asked.

“She’s setting in another IV bag for Darrel,” she directed, pointing down the hall. Chris nodded, and headed down. Inside the room, Miss Hill had set the IV bag in place, while Darrel laid in bed, watching a show on the television. She softly knocked on the door, and Miss Hill and Darrel turned to her.

“Ah, Chris. Here at last,” Miss Hill said in a stern voice. Chris took a few steps into the room.

“I hope I didn’t miss anything important,” she said.

“No, nothing really,” Miss Hill said. Darrel raised a hand to Chris politely, and Chris raised a hand back.

Darrel was an elderly man who had been diagnosed with Lymphoma. He was going through chemotherapy, and most of his hair had fallen out. Even though he was still weak and sickly, word among the other nurses was that he was doing very well and the cancer cells were disappearing. At some points, Chris would bring him cherries, hearing that cherries made cancer cells kill themselves. Darrel pointed to a book he kept on the table next to his bed.

“Can someone read me the next chapter from this book?” he asked. Miss Hill looked to Chris.

“Can you take care of it? I have to tend to the other patients,” she said.

“I’m supposed to shadow you,” Chris said, a little cautiously.

“Yes, I know. But, this can help with you getting bumped up to being able to handle tasks on your own,” she said. Chris knew this was a lie, but chose not to say anything. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to tend to Mrs. Harrison.” She exited the room, and Chris crossed to the little table and picked up the book. It was an old copy of Lord of the Flies by William Golding, a book Chris remembered reading in sophomore year at school. She had read the first few chapters to Darrel before, while another few were read by other nurses. There was a bookmark between the pages, and Chris took a seat on a chair that was in the room, and opened to the saved page.

It was Chapter 7, the chapter where the boys continue to the mountain to hunt the beast, and ran into a boar, where they fought it, and, later, reenacted the fight with a boy named Robert, forgetting it’s only a game and almost killing him. As she read, she would occasionally look up at Darrel to see if he was awake or asleep, then would continue on with the book. At the end of the seventh chapter, she placed the bookmark in, and put it back on the table next to his bed.

“Thank you, Chris,” he said in a weak voice. “Did you happen to bring any cherries?” Chris opened her bag that she had yet to put away, and pulled out the plastic baggie of strawberries and cherries, and pulled out the cherries one-by-one, and handing them to him. He ate them with relish.

“Thank you. I can’t stand the terrible food they give you here. And, I think the cherries are helping. I’m feeling better all the time,” he said, eating another cherry.

“I think you can also thank the chemo. It’s also helping,” Chris said. Darrel’s eyes centered on the rose.

“How are you feeling? Light-headed? Cold?” he asked. Chris reached up and touched the soft petals of the rose.

“I’m feeling fine. The rose isn’t too much of a problem, except for the bullying,” she said.

“Well, I’m sorry about that,” he said. Chris shrugged.

“It’s okay. By the way, I’ll probably be leaving at some point. I’m moving to Redwood Hills to get away from this life,” she explained. Darrel studied her a moment, then smiled warmly.

“Redwood Hills is a wonderful village. My granddaughter lives there. Be sure to say hello for me. Her name is Evelyn,” he said. Chris smiled, and Miss Hill appeared in the doorway.

“Chris, come on. I need your help,” she said. Chris politely waved goodbye to Darrel, and followed Miss Hill out. As they walked down the halls toward another patient’s room, Chris tapped Miss Hill on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, Miss Hill?” she said in a small voice, and Miss Hill turned to her.

“What is it, Chris? And make it quick. I have to give Mrs. Brown her medicine,” she said, grabbing a cart that had a syringe and a tray of food. “You can give her her food.”

“Well, I’m going to be talking to my parents about moving away. And, I just wanted to tell you that I’ll call in tomorrow if they allow me to,” Chris explained.

“Where are you planning to go?” Miss Hill asked

“Redwood Hills,” Chris explained. Miss Hill pushed a loose strand of blonde hair out of her face, and sighed.

“You do realize that you’re going to need a lot of money to settle in a house on your own. And, at such a young age, too,” she explained.

“I know, but I’ve saved up money from every Christmas and every birthday, as well as the money I’ve earned working here. I might be able to do fine,” Chris said. Miss Hill shook her head.

“And, just how much money do you have?” she asked. Chris went it over in her head.

“About in the hundred-thousands, somewhere around there,” Chris said. Miss Hill had a slightly shocked expression on her face.

“I would’ve expected that you wasted the money you earned here on clothes and shoes and makeup. You saved it all?” she asked, slightly surprised.

“I wanted to save it up for when I bought a house of my own. I knew that from when I was about eight,” Chris said. Miss Hill stared at her, then nodded.

“That’s very grown up of you. Now, let’s get to Mrs. Brown,” she said, pushing the cart into Mrs. Brown’s room, Chris following close behind.

6

Work ended a little after seven for Chris, as that was the end of her shift. She couldn’t work as a nurse full-time, as she had school, but she still earned the same amount of money as the other nurses: $32.66 an hour. Patty handed her her envelope of cash when she was on her way out, and the two said good night to each other. Chris caught the elevator down with a woman and her young daughter. Chris caught the daughter staring at the rose. The girl then turned to her mother.

“Mommy, why does that girl have a rose in her neck?” she asked, and the woman looked back at Chris and a look of horror and revulsion crossed her face.

“I don’t know, sweetie,” she said in a voice that sounded like it wasn’t trying to sound scared. The little girl then turned to Chris, who looked down with a slightly sad look.

“Why do you have a rose in your neck?” she asked. However, Chris never got to answer because the elevator stopped, and the doors opened, and the mother pulled her away quickly. Chris stepped out of the elevator, raised a hand to the door person, and stepped outside.

It had started to rain, and the raindrops were just sprinkling down. Chris made her way across the parking lot, and to her car. Inside, she could see a figure sitting in the front passenger seat, a figure with black hair, and dressed in black and red. It was Gabby; she was back. Chris unlocked the car, opened the door, and sat down in the driver’s seat, closing the door behind her. Gabby looked at her with a smile.

“And, how was work today? Did you get to cut open someone’s spleen?” Her voice was, once again, sarcastic, but Chris managed an amused smile.

“No, thank God. I just helped Miss Hill with getting patients their food, replacing IV bags, and giving them medicine,” she said, smiling, as she put the key in the ignition and twisted it, turning on the car. She pulled out of the spot she parked in, and drove off, back home.

“Are you going to talk to your family about Redwood Hills?” Gabby asked, staring out the window.

“Mm-hm. I’m just worried that they’re not going to let me go,” Chris said, keeping her eyes on the road. She could’ve sworn that there were figures on either sides of the road, but ignored them, keeping her eyes focused on the road.

“Oh, please. They’ll let you go. You tell them every night of the torture you go through every day when you’re at school. They’ll have to let you go,” Gabby said. Chris glanced over at her, then turned back to the road, shrugging her shoulders in one swift movement.

“I hope you’re right,” she said, stopping at a red light, and turning to look at Gabby. But, she was alone.

7

She parked her car in the parking garage, and made her way back up to the apartment. The rain was now pouring down, throwing itself against the ground, and the raindrops hurt when they hit her head. She quickly ducked into the lobby, and politely waved to the door person, then got to the elevator, pressing the button to go up, and patiently waited for the doors to open. As she waited, she heard a faint voice, soft yet threatening call “Chrysanthemum.” The voice came out of nowhere, and she looked around. There was no one except for the door person, who was texting, not paying attention to anything. As she looked around, the elevator doors opened, and she quickly stepped inside, and pressed the button with the number five on it, and the elevator doors closed, and the car went up. Whenever the elevator car went up or down, it made Chris’ stomach drop, like being on a fun ride at the carnival. Then, the car stopped, and the doors opened, and she stepped out. She made her way down the halls, passing by doors with wreaths, until she reached the one that had the over-decorated door swag, and pulled her keys out of her bag, and pushed the house key into the keyhole, and turned it.

She stepped inside, where her mother and father were still awake, sitting on the couch, watching a television show on the History channel. Her mother turned to her and smiled sweetly. Her father was too in-tuned to the TV, and only noticed her when she crossed in front of the TV to the kitchen.

“Welcome home, Chrissy. Your dinner’s in the oven,” her mother said, and Chris slipped on an oven mitt and pulled her warm dinner, wrapped in tin foil, out of the oven, and placed it on another oven mitt on the table. Her mother came into the kitchen, and poured herself a glass of water. Chris ate her dinner, slowly, then looked up at her parents as her mother took a seat on the couch.

“Mum? Dad? I need to talk to you about something,” she said, to which her mother and father turned to look at her. Her father turned off the TV, and the two of them walked into the kitchen, and both took seats at the table.

“What’s on your mind, Chris?” her father asked. Chris looked down at her half-eaten food, then back up at her parents.

“Today, at school, a girl tried to pick my rose. And, it just kind of crossed the line today,” Chris said, touching the petals of the rose.

“That sounds like it would. I’ll talk to the teachers about it tomorrow morning,” her father said.

“Well, that’s not really what I mean. What I’m trying to say is…um…I want to move out. You know, live on my own,” Chris said. She knew her parents would say no and couldn’t even look them in the face as she said this.

“Chris, you can’t do that. It’s only the end of the first semester. And, besides, you’re only seventeen. It’s a very big thing to move out on your own. You’ll have to have money, and lots of it,” her father said.

“I have a lot of money. I’ve been saving up my money from birthdays and Christmas, and my job. And, I can always get another job,” Chris said, still looking down at her food. She glanced up to see her parents looking at each other, then turn back to look at her.

“Where are you even planning to go?” her mother asked.

“Redwood Hills,” Chris said. Her mother looked back at her father, then back at Chris.

“Chris, why don’t you head up to bed. You’ve had a long and pretty stressful day. You need sleep,” her father said. Chris looked at her father, then her mother, and then down at her plate of half-eaten food.

“Yes, Daddy,” she said, standing up and taking her plate to the sink, and then headed upstairs. Her bedroom was at the end of the hallway, and she opened the door, and flicked on the lights. It was a pretty small room, with only a bed, a dresser with a mirror, a nightstand, a small closet, and a rather large window next to the bed. She changed out of the scrub outfit and the t-shirt and jeans, and slipped on an oversized white shirt and a pair of shorts, and a pair of knee-high white socks, then turned off the light, and laid back in bed, staring at the dark ceiling.

8

Rachel was still thinking about what Chris had said at the dinner table, and couldn’t stop thinking about it. The way she said it was very sad, and she sounded truly miserable. As she and William sat on the couch, watching the late-night talk show, she turned to him. He was very in-tuned with the TV.

“Billy, I can’t stop thinking about what Chris said,” she said. William turned to look at her.

“I know. I don’t know what those girls at her school hope to gain by torturing the poor girl. She didn’t exactly sound too happy about what happened either, did she?” he said. Rachel shook her head.

“I feel like she’s trying to run away from her troubles. You can’t do that,” she said.

“That’s the thing. I don’t think she’s trying to run away from her troubles. She just wants to start over. You know, find a new life. I think that’d be good for her. Healthy even,” he said.

“But, she can’t just leave. She still has to finish the school year. Are you suggesting that we let her leave?” Rachel asked.

“We can transfer her to their school. And yes, I am. Everyone needs time alone,” William said. Rachel looked down at her clasped hands in her lap.

“But, I’ll miss her. Where is this Redwood Hills, anyway?” she asked. William pulled up his smartphone, pressed in some things, read something, then turned back to Rachel, who was patiently awaiting an answer.

“It’s in Fairburne Forest in the southeast part of England. It’s not too far away that we have to take a plane or something to visit,” he said. Rachel was unconvinced.

“But, William, it’s Christmastime. That’s a family time,” she said. William placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Rachel, I just want our daughter to be happy, and she’s not. You heard how she sounded at the dinner table. She sounded completely miserable. I think this time away would be good for her. Redwood Hills looks like a nice place. She could meet some new friends,” he said. Rachel looked down at her feet. He was right. Chris wasn’t happy at all. She had no friends, and everyone at her school teased her. Rachel looked bak up at her husband.

“Should we tell her in the morning?” she asked. William nodded. “All right then.”

9

The hours passed by slowly, and Chris continued to stare at the ceiling. She could never fall asleep like she could when she was little. And, so, she continued to stare at the darkness that was the ceiling. She finally sat up, and looked out the window. Outside, only a few cars passed by on the street, the some of the windows in the other apartment buildings were dark, indicating that people were falling asleep. She thought she could see figures on the roofs of the other buildings, but blamed it on the drowsiness she felt. She looked up at the sky, where the rain clouds were parting, and the stars were visible. The moon was a crescent, and smiled down at her.

“Another sleepless night, huh?” Gabby’s voice came out of nowhere, and it made Chris jump. She turned, and Gabby stepped forward into the luminescent moonlight that made her skin pale and highlighted her eyes.

“Yes,” Chris said. Gabby took a seat on the edge of her bed.

“Did you talk to your parents?” she asked.

“Yes, and I don’t think they’re going to let me go,” Chris said. Gabby raised a finger, and shook it.

“Don’t be too sure,” she said. Chris shrugged, and crawled on her bed to the nightstand, and opened a drawer, and pulled out her favorite book from Stephen King, The Stand. It was about a super-virus that eradicated humankind, and a group of survivors had to choose between good with Mother Abigail, or evil with Randall Flagg. It was definitely an interesting book, and no one could deny that. And, she read, waiting for morning to come.

10

For the remainder of the early morning hours, Chris played Angry Birds on her iPod. The hours had passed by so slow, and she had endured those hours, making them pass by quickly by reading. And, now that she had finished The Stand, she was left with playing apps on her iPod. Angry Birds was pretty addicting, and she continued to play, yawning every once in a while. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Gabby come in, a look of concern on her face.

“So, no sleep?” she asked. Chris paused the game, and looked over at Gabby, and nodded. Gabby took a seat on the edge of the bed. She was eating a peach, and Chris imagined that it tasted very sweet.

“I just wish that, for once, I could get some sleep at night. I don’t understand,” Chris said, putting her iPod on the nightstand.

“I do. You suffer from insomnia, which is when you can’t sleep,” Gabby said. Chris looked up at her, slightly confused and shocked.

“Does it happen to everyone?” she asked.

“Not everyone, but to some people,” Gabby said. Chris looked down at her knees, when she heard the sound of footsteps approaching her door, and quickly laid down, closed her eyes, and pretended she was asleep. She heard her door open and her parents whispering

“Okay, she’s still asleep,” her mother said.

“Okay, I’ll head down to the bank. If she wakes up before I get back, stall her,” her father said.

“I’ll do my best. Just hurry” her mother said. And, the door closed, and the footsteps faded. Chris opened her eyes, and looked toward the door, then at Gabby, who still sat on the edge of the bed, finishing the peach.

“Why didn’t they see you?” Chris asked. Gabby looked back at the door, then back at Chris, and shrugged.

“Well, there is a piece of wall beside the doorway, and they were standing in front of the threshold. That might explain it,” she said, flicking the peach pit into the trash. Chris sat back up, and brushed a strand of hair from her face.

“Do you have any idea what it was they were talking about?” she asked. Gabby shrugged.

“Maybe he’s getting money to get you your birthday presents. Isn’t it coming up?” she asked.

“It’s on Boxing Day, which is in two weeks,” Chris said. Gabby got up and walked to the dresser with a mirror, and she started checking her hair, and making it more neat.

“I would expect you to get presents on Christmas, and then your birthday, but you only get them on Christmas. What a shame,” her voice had returned to its natural sarcasm. Chris looked out the window at the world below. The sun was rising, and there were a few cars passing by on the street.

“My birthday is right after Christmas. I wouldn’t expect them to keep presents hidden just because of that. I don’t mind only getting them the day before my birthday,” she said. Gabby scoffed, and pulled her ebony hair up in a ponytail.

“Who cares? As long as you get the presents,” she said. Chris slipped out of bed, opened the closet, and pulled on a pair of black knitted slipper-boots, then headed for the door.

“Remember, your mother is going to stall you so your father can get you your birthday presents,” Gabby said. Chris stopped herself from crossing the threshold of the door.

“Yes, I know,” she said, then exited the room and crossed down the hall, peeking into her little sister’s room; she was still sound asleep in her bed. Chris smiled, and tip-toed downstairs, where her mother was sitting on the couch, watching TV, and drinking a mug of hot coffee. She got down from the stairs, and crossed in front of her mother, who looked up at her in surprise.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” she said, giving away no indication that she was hiding something. Chris always felt her mother could’ve been an actress.

“Good morning. Where’s Daddy?” she asked.

“He went to the store to pick up milk,” her mother said. Chris nodded, and went into the kitchen, and poured herself a glass of coffee into a mug, then joined her mother on the couch.

“How did you sleep?” her mother asked. Chris darted a quick glance at her, then turned back to the TV.

“I slept fine. How about you?” she asked.

“Oh, not that good. I couldn’t stop thinking about what you said. You know what you’ll have to do when living on your own, right?” her mother asked.

“Paying bills, keeping the house clean, taxes, and things like that,” Chris said.

“Yes. It’s not as easy as you think,” her mother said.

“Mother, I know it’s not going to be easy. I’m willing to do this hard work. I don’t want to stay here, and I don’t want to go back to that school,” Chris said, trying to sound more grown up. She didn’t want to go back to that school, or to be in the same city as the girls who went there. She didn’t want to see The Woman in Black again, or any of the other hyenas that tortured her so severely. Her mother looked her up and down, then sighed. Then, the front door opened, and her father stood, holding something wrapped in his hand.

“Hi Daddy,” Chris said. Her father smiled and waved back.

“Chris, your mother and I have been thinking about what you said last night. Is it really that hard for you here?” he asked. Chris nodded.

“It makes me want to pull my hair out. Being tortured by those horrible girls is the worst pain I’ve ever had to go through, especially for this long, for eleven years. You don’t understand what they put me through,” she said. Her mother put her coffee mug down on the coffee table, and hugged her. Her father kneeled down beside her.

“Your mother and I have been thinking about this, and we’ve decided to let you move out on your own to Redwood Hills,” he said. Chris gasped in surprise. She couldn’t believe they were actually allowing this.

“Are you serious?” she asked. Her father smiled and nodded, then handed the wrapped object to her, and was told she was allowed to open it. Chris opened it, and saw that it was a checkbook with a credit card inside.

“You’ll need more then cash to survive on your own. So, we got you these, and they’re part of our account. Since you’re turning eighteen in two weeks, they had no problem with allowing you to have these. Now, are you going to have a good paying job in Redwood Hills?” he asked. Chris looked up at him from the checkbook, and nodded.

“I’ll find something,” she said.

“Good. When do you think you’ll move out?” her mother asked.

“Well, I’ll have to find a house there first. Once I find one, then I’ll leave. I don’t know how long it’ll take, but it shouldn’t take too long,” Chris said. Her mother then hugged her tightly and got up, going into the kitchen, and announcing that she was making pancakes with scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Chris then went upstairs, and reentered her bedroom, where Gabby was sitting on the bed, awaiting her return.

“Well?” she asked.

“They’re allowing me to go,” Chris said in a slightly excited voice, keeping her voice low, as to not awaken her sleeping sister.

“That’s great news,” Gabby said in her sarcastic tone. Chris changed out of her pajamas, and dressed in a white t-shirt, black leggings, a long white hoodie with a leopard-print pattern in the hood, a light-tan knitted beanie, and a pair of fuzzy winter boots with the same color as the beanie. She felt happy, and, for the first time in a while, she hummed happily, a cheerful tune she loved from the radio.

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