Rose

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CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 2

1

A couple hours passed by as Chris continued looking through website after website, looking for houses in Redwood Hills that were within her price range. It had been a few days since she had gotten the credit card and checkbook, and, after that, she had gone to the bank to get a finance; they approved on Wednesday. Now, today, she was looking through websites, trying to find a good house. Most of the websites gave little to no information on any houses for sale in Redwood Hills, while others mostly gave pesky pop-up ads. Chris huffed in irritation, and rubbed her eyes that were starting to ache from looking at the computer screen.

Her mother had headed off to her job at the bridal shop, London Bride Couture, while her father sat on the couch, completely in-tuned to the television, watching the football game. Chris had been to the bridal shop once before, when she was fifteen, and her sister had been eight. The two of them had been driven there by their father, so they could drop off their mother’s lunch. The store had a black and white striped marquee, with large, white letters that read London Bride Couture. In the windows were beautiful bridal gowns that were either pure white or ivory, and had white lace. Once they stepped inside, a few of their mother’s coworkers led them to her, and their mother showed them around the store. Chris’ sister, Erin, was looking at the colored dresses, and was chattering away happily at a peach-colored one with a mermaid skirt that was quite pretty, while Chris fell in love with a strapless white-lace dress with a sweetheart neckline. After that, their father drove them home.

After remembering this wonderful memory, Chris snapped back to reality, and clicked on another link to a website. This one actually had information on houses for sale in Redwood Hills, but the first few she found were above her price range. Her price point was at $70,000 and below; the first few houses she found were $160,000 and above. She finally got up from the chair and went into the kitchen, where she poured herself a glass of water. Her father looked over at her from his spot on the couch.

“Chrissy, have you found a house yet?” he asked. Chris looked back at him, and slowly shook her head. “Well, don’t worry. You’ll find one.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” she said, taking her glass with her back to the computer. She scrolled down the page when she sat back down, and found what she believed to be the perfect house.

The house seemed old, but in pretty good shape. It was made of wood, and was painted white. It had a large, wooden porch that had a porch roof above it that was suspended by four columns, and the door was to the left. Resting on top of the porch roof was one section of the house with a gable roof, while the parts of the house to the left and right of this section was all roof, slanted toward the front, and each side had one window. It was a beautiful house, but what caught Chris’ eye was the price: the house cost $60,000, $10,000 below her original price. Chris smiled triumphantly at this discovery.

Erin had gotten up at 9:35 in the morning, and was eating waffles for breakfast while Chris was looking for a house. Her red hair was all tangled, which usually meant that she had had a good night sleep. She came over to Chris, eating the last bite of her waffle.

“Did you find your house yet?” she asked. Chris looked over at her, smiled, and nodded.

“I do believe I have,” she said, and she turned to look at her father. “Daddy, I found the perfect house.” Her father got up from the couch, and looked at the house. He studied it, looking at every detail, then looked at the price, the number of rooms and bathrooms, and the amount of square feet.

“It’s definitely a beautiful house. But it seems a little small. Only three bedrooms and one bathroom. Although, it does have a large amount of square feet,” he said.

“I know it’s small, but it’s just going to be me living in this house. I don’t think I need more than this,” Chris said.

“All right, then,” her father said. Chris looked back at the computer screen, then back at her father.

“Now that I’ve found a house, what do I do?” she asked.

“Have you approved for a finance?” her father asked. Chris nodded. “Well then, call a realtor. There should be a number in the phone book.” Her father went into the kitchen, opened a cabinet, and pulled out the phone book, then opened to a page, brought it back, and pointed to a number. “There it is. You go ahead and call in to get a look at the house. Then, if you like it, you go buy it. Now, I’m going to mail a couple of bills at the post office. I shouldn’t be gone for more than five minutes.”

“Can I come, Daddy?” Erin asked.

“Sure thing, Erin,” their father said. Erin then raced upstairs, and Chris heard her open her door. Her father placed a hand on her shoulder.

“So, just tell the realtor that you want to look at the house, and you can meet up with them there,” he said.

“Okay, Daddy,” she said. Erin came trotting downstairs, dressed in a light-blue sweater, her jeans, and her yellow Wellington boots. She went to the closet, and dressed in a pink winter jacket. Their father dressed in his tan jacket and his lace-up work boots. After a moment, the two of them were gone, and Chris went into the kitchen and picked up the phone, and went back to the phone book to get the number of the realtor.

“Found a house?” Gabby asked as she trotted down the stairs. Chris turned to look at her. She was now dressed in a fitted black double-breasted military style coat, a pair of black skinny jeans with laces going up the sides of the legs, and a pair of black round-toe lace-up boots. Might as well call her the Woman in Black, Chris thought.

“Yes, I found a good house. You can take a look at it. I’m calling the realtor,” she said, dialing the number into the phone. After a few moments of ringing, someone finally picked up the phone.

“Hello, Residential Realtors,” a man’s voice said.

“Hello, I’d like to talk to someone about a house in Redwood Hills,” Chris said.

“And, what house would that be?” the man asked. Chris looked back at the computer to get the address.

“It’s 1255 Birch Avenue,” Chris said, reading the address from the computer.

“All right. And, where are you calling from?” the man asked.

“From my home in London,” Chris said.

“And, how long will it take you to get down there?” the man asked. Gabby was listening in on the phone call now.

“Tell him ‘An hour and a half,’” she whispered.

“About an hour and a half,” she said.

“Okay, we’ll send a realtor down there,” the man said. Chris smiled a little.

“Okay, thank you,” she said, and hung up. Then, she dialed her father’s phone number, and waited patiently as the phone rang.

“What is it, Chris?” he asked.

“I called the realtor. I’m heading down to Redwood Hills to check out the house,” Chris explained. “I’ll be home later.”

“Okay, I’ll see you later,” her father said.

“Bye, Daddy,” Chris said, hanging up the phone. She then looked down at herself; she was still in her pajamas. “I’d better get dressed. I can’t go there in my pajamas.” Gabby giggled a little.

“I see my sarcasm has passed on to you,” she said in a sarcastic tone. Chris smiled, and hurried upstairs to her room. She dressed in a grey loose tunic that had batwing sleeves, a set of black patterned tights, and a pair of grey knee-high boots. Then, she pulled her black jacket out and slipped it on. Then, she went into the bathroom, brushed her hair, and put it up in a ponytail, and brushed her teeth. She then went back downstairs, and grabbed her keys, her phone, and her credit card and check book.

“Can I come with you?” Gabby asked.

“Sure, why not. But, I think you should wait in the car while I’m looking at the house,” Chris said. Gabby nodded in understanding.

“Sounds good to me,” she said. The two of them headed out, and down to her car.

2

The drive down to Redwood Hills didn’t take as long as Chris had expected. It was pretty easy to find, since her car had a GPS built into it. She had gotten there in an hour. Fairburne Forest was very large; that was how it seemed, even from half a mile away. Chris turned on the dirt road, and followed the GPS’s directions through the town to the house.

The town seemed very lively. There were a lot of people out and about. The town had a large library, a post office, a supermarket, a medical center, a morgue, a cemetery, a dentist, a bank, a florist, a hairstylist, a park, and many houses. Chris drove the rest of the way down. The house was way back, with the backyard being all the rest of the forest. Chris parked the car in front of the house, and got out.

The house was much more beautiful in person. She looked around at the surroundings: to the right were more house, while the left was nothing more than forest. The realtor wasn’t there yet, and Chris was left waiting. She looked down the road to the right; a girl was jogging down. She had long, black hair pulled back into a ponytail and dark eyes, and was dressed in a black workout hoodie, blue workout capris, and a pair of pink running sneakers. She stopped and waved at Chris, then a look of revulsion crossed her face when she saw the rose. Chris shoved her hands in her pockets, and looked down at the ground. Great, another town that thinks I’m a freak, she thought. She then heard footsteps approaching, and looked up. The girl was coming toward her.

“Sorry. I’ve just never seen anything like that before,” the girl said, pointing to the rose. Chris reached up and touched the soft rose petals.

“Yeah. A lot of people back in London haven’t either,” she said.

“How’d you get it like that?” the girl asked. Chris looked down at the ground, and sighed silently.

“I have no idea. It just sprouted one day,” she said. The girl focused her attention on the rose, then smiled sweetly.

“Well, it sure is pretty,” she said. She stuck her hand out. “I’m Fawn Dukes. Are you just moving here?” Chris took Fawn’s hand, and shook it.

“Well, I have to buy it first. I’m just checking it out,” she said. Fawn giggled a little.

“If you are moving in, then that means we’re gonna be neighbors. If you ever need to know your way around town, just ask,” she said. Chris smiled.

“Sure, I’ll do that,” she said. Fawn looked down the drive that Chris had just driven up to the house.

“Well, I’ll be going now. The things we girls do to look good, huh?” she asked with a giggle. Then, she waved goodbye, and took off jogging down the road. Chris turned to loom back up to the house, and walked up to the porch, and peeked into the window. There was no furniture inside, only what looked like an empty living room.

She heard a car door slam from behind, and turned to see who had parked. It was a woman who had to be in her mid to late forties. She had fading brown hair that was pulled up in a bun, and brown eyes behind a set of glasses, and was dressed in a white blouse, a red blazer, a black pencil skirt, and a pair of black boots.

“Are you the girl who wants to look at this house? The girl from London?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s me,” Chris said. The woman came up and shook Chris’ hand.

“I’m Clarissa Clifton. I’ll be showing you this house,” the woman said.

“I’m Chrysanthemum Beckett. Just call me Chris for short,” Chris said. The woman smiled.

“Okay Chris. Let’s get inside,” Clarissa said. She pulled out a key, and opened the lock box, and pulled out the keys to the house, and unlocked the front door.

The inside of the house didn’t seem as aged as the outside. It seemed to have been recently refurbished. The floors were hardwood, and had a thin layer of dust. Clarissa led through the front door: to the left was a set of stairs, and there was a foyer to the right, and straight ahead was a set of doors. The first door was beneath the stairs while the second door was in a wall beside the stairs. Above was the stairs’ landing and a dusty chandelier.

“So, behind this door under the stairs is a closet,” Clarissa said. She led the way to the second door. “This door leads to the kitchen and living room.” Clarissa opened the door.

The kitchen had a wooden countertop that had a thin layer of dust like the floor, a stove, and a refrigerator. There were wooden cabinets above the counter. In the center of the kitchen was an island with a built-in bar, sink, and dishwasher. Over beside some cabinets was the pantry. The kitchen was to the left while the living room was to the right, the two rooms connected. On the back wall was a glass sliding door, and, out back, Chris could see a rope swing tied to the branch of a tree.

“So, this is basically all that’s downstairs. Would you like to see the upstairs?” Clarissa asked. Chris looked around at the living room and kitchen once more, then turned to Clarissa and nodded. Clarissa then led the way up the stairs.

There were two doors and a large bookcase. The master bedroom was around the corner beside the stairs. It was pretty large, but not very. It had a master bathroom, and a walk-in closet. The second door was right across from the stairs. It was small, and shaped in a perfect square. Unlike the rest of the house, it had a white carpet floor, and imprints from what was assumed to be a bed, a nightstand, and a dresser. This room also had a walk-in closet, albeit a small one, about the size of a broom closet.

“Miss Clifton, I thought there were three bedrooms. There’s only two doors up here,” Chris said. Clarissa chuckled softly at the back of her throat.

“The third is a hidden room. Follow me,” she said. She led Chris to the bookshelf, and pushed it in. The bookshelf acted as a door, and it did, indeed, lead to another room. This room had a large window with a window seat beneath it that showed the other houses to the right of the house, and most of the road below. On the other side of the hidden door, there was also a bookshelf. Chris smiled.

“I love this room,” she said. “I can read my books in here.” Clarissa smiled sweetly.

“So, what do you think?” she asked. Chris took another look around at the room, then back at Clarissa.

“I think this is the perfect house. I’ll take it,” she said. Clarissa smiled.

“Okay, let’s get it done,” she said, leading the way out of the room.

3

The signing of the papers took quite a while, and she had to give a down-payment of about 10%, but she finally finished, thanked the people for their time, and left back to her car. Gabby was patiently waiting in the passenger seat of the car. She smiled sweetly when Chris opened the door and slid down into the driver’s seat.

“So, how did it go?” she asked. Chris smiled at her, a triumphant smile, and giggled.

“It’s my house now,” she said. “Now, I just have to get the furniture.” Chris put the key in the ignition, and turned it, and drove off down the road. She smiled when she saw the children laughing and squealing on the playground. Gabby saw the amused smile on her face.

“Well, someone’s in an especially good mood today,” she said.

“Well, I did just buy a great house. I have the keys in my pocket, and I still have enough money to buy furniture. So, yes. I’m in a very good mood today,” Chris said, the triumphant smile still plastered to her face. Gabby smiled.

“Well, that does sound like a good thing,” she said. Chris smiled, and giggled.

“Yes,” she said, and turned out onto the main road that would lead her back to her parents’ home.

4

Chris still had the triumphant smile plastered to her face when she got home. She walked through the door of the apartment, and held up the keys to her new house. Her mother and father were hugging her happily, proud that she had bought a house of her own. Erin gave her a drawing of her in front of the house with a smile on her face. Chris smiled and thanked her for it.

That night, her mother made Chris’ favorite dinner: steak with a side of mashed potatoes and broccoli. Chris ate it with relish.

“So, Chris, what’s this house like?” her mother asked.

“Well, it’s pretty old, but the inside seems to be recently refurbished. It looks like a nice neighborhood,” Chris said.

“The house did seem nice from the picture,” her father said. Erin finished off her dinner, and carried her plate to the sink.

“Chrissy, when are you going to move there?” she asked from the kitchen. Chris looked back at her, and smiled.

“Well, I’m not really sure. I have to get furniture and food. It could take a while,” she said. “I’ll start looking at furniture tonight.” Chris then took her dish to the sink, and went back to the computer, and pulled up a couple websites. She found a website that sold furniture, and went and got her credit card, and bought a bed, a dresser, a nightstand, a table with chairs, and a couch. Down below the applications for buying these things were amounts of time in which they were to be delivered. They ranged from a month, to a couple weeks, to a day. Chris chose for them to be delivered in a day. Her father came and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Did you just order some furniture?” he asked. Chris looked back at him and nodded. “Okay. Well, I’m going to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.” Her father planted a kiss on the top of her head, then headed upstairs to his bedroom. Chris turned off the computer, and headed upstairs to her room. She opened the door, and turned on the light.

The curtains were closed, and she got the strangest feeling that something was on the other side. She took a deep breath, got up on her bed, and approached the windows, slowly putting a hand up to the curtains, then quickly whipped them open.

On the other side of the window was nothing but the view of the street outside, and the lit windows of other buildings. Chris sighed in relief, and closed the curtains, then changed into her pajamas, turned off the light, and laid down in her bed, staring at the ceiling. Her thoughts were flooded with images of the house and daydreams of living there, making new friends and, for once in her life, feeling happy.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the door opening, and she turned to see who had come in. It was too dark in the room to see who it was, but she knew who it was without having to see them.

“What is it, Erin?” she asked. She sat up and opened the curtain, allowing the moonlight to illuminate the room so she could see her younger sister. The luminescent grey glow made Erin’s green eyes seem like they were glowing.

“Chris, are you going to move out tomorrow?” she asked in a soft voice. Chris looked at the digital clock on her nightstand; it read 10:24 at night. Wow, I’ve been daydreaming for longer than I thought, she thought.

“I think so. I already ordered the furniture and they’ll be delivered to the house tomorrow. So, probably,” she said. The expression on Erin’s face made her seem sad and alone.

“Chris, when you’re gone, I’ll miss you,” she said.

“I know. I’ll miss you too,” Chris said.

“Then, why don’t you stay?” Erin asked. Chris sighed silently, and pushed a strand of hair from her face.

“Erin, I’ve been unhappy for a long time. Everyone at school torments me. I’m done, physically, mentally, and spiritually. So, this might be the best thing to do,” she said. Erin looked down at the floor.

“Can I sleep in here tonight?” she asked. Chris smiled a reassuring smile to her younger sister.

“Sure, she said. Erin crawled under the covers of Chris’ bed, and curled up close beside her. Chris laid back down and continued to stare up at the ceiling. Not even on an important night, a night when she needed to get some sleep, she just couldn’t. She could hear the sound of Erin’s peaceful sleeping breathing, and turned to look at her; she was already sound asleep.

Chris sat up in bed and looked out the window. The world outside was dark and silent, with only a few cars passing by on the street outside. Up above was the moon and stars, the world’s nightlight. There were only a few wispy clouds in the sky, and they were illuminated by the moon, making them seem like light-blue swirls in the night sky. Chris looked down at the rose, and touched the soft petals.

“Are you excited for tomorrow?” Gabby’s voice was softer now, but it still spooked Chris. She turned to look at Gabby, and smiled.

“Yes. I’ll be moving into that house tomorrow. Did you see what the town looked like when we drove there?” Chris asked.

“Yes, it looks like a nice town. Perfect for you,” Gabby said. Chris giggled softly.

“Yes, that’s what it looked like,” she said. She slipped out from under the covers, and crawled around Erin to the nightstand, and pulled the Stephen King novel Rose Madder out from the drawer. It was about a woman who escapes her abusive husband and moves to a new town, and buys a painting of a woman in a rose madder chiton gown, then travels through the painting and must save the woman’s baby from a bull monster. It was definitely a favorite novel of hers. She laid back on her pillow, and began reading.

5

It was a very emotional and long goodbye before Chris left. Her mother was wiping away tears with a tissue, and Erin had tears flowing down her cheeks, wiping them away with the sleeve of her sweater. Chris felt like crying, but no tears came out. Her face remained blank, but she smiled at her family, said goodbye, and climbed into her car, and drove off. She was smiling the entire way there, and would occasionally look over at Gabby, who was looking out the window, watching the world get whipped by as the car passed.

“So, on a scale of one-to-ten, how excited are you to be moving to this house?” Gabby asked. Chris smiled.

“About a ten,” she said. “I’m finally free from those hyenas. If we’re lucky, they’ll run into hunters and learn the errors of their ways.”

“You are scary happy right now,” Gabby said, giggling a little. Chris looked over at her, smiled and nodded, then turned back to the road.

6

Chris arrived at the house in the same amount of time as when she first arrived to look at it. Out in front were some discarded cardboard boxes; earlier in the morning, Chris’ father had called the movers to have them set up everything inside the house, so Chris wouldn’t have to put everything in place by herself. She parked the car in the driveway, and got out, putting the discarded boxes in the recyclable bin, then pulled the keys to the house out of her pocket, and went up and unlocked the door. She went into the living room, and found the couch set in place. It was brown, and made of a soft fabric, and came with matching pillows. The kitchen had a table and chairs, made of Brazilian Walnut wood. She headed upstairs, and went into the master bedroom; the bed was set in place, as was the dresser and the nightstand. The bedframe, dresser, and nightstand were made of polished cherrywood, and it had a gleam in the morning light. Chris smiled, then headed back out to the car, and got her things from the car. First, she got the suitcases and brought them up to her room. Then, she got her boxes and brought them into the foyer.

The suitcases had her clothes and shoes, while the boxes had some things from home, like photographs of family, her books, and her bed sheets. Chris put some of her clothes in the dresser, and other clothes in the closet. She went to the secret room, and placed her books on the bookshelf, then back to the master bedroom and put the bed sheets on the bed, and the photographs on the dresser. Gabby walked through the doorway, and small smile plastered to her face.

“Okay, now that you’ve finished setting everything up, I say we go shopping for food,” she said. Chris looked back at her, smiled and nodded, and followed her down the stairs, slipping on her jacket as she made her way down. She looked back at Gabby, who was dressed in a black, long-sleeved dress with white lace trim on the hem of the skirt, black tights, and a pair of black combat boots.

“Aren’t you going to be cold in that? Shouldn’t you put on your coat?” Chris asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Gabby said. Chris looked her up and down, shrugged, and nodded, then opened the door and led the way to the car. She turned back to say something to Gabby, only to find that she was gone, and she turned back around, climbed in the car, and drove off.

7

After shopping for food, Chris found that she was hungry, and decided to head off somewhere for lunch after putting the food away. She drove around town for about five minutes before finding a quaint little pub called Jerry’s Pub. It was a small brick building with large windows, and the Jerry’s Pub sign was lit up in big neon-green letters. The front of the store had a glass door with large windows on either side. Beneath the windows were a set of bushes. Chris parked her car in the parking lot, and went inside after locking it.

The walls were painted a neutral shade of red, and were decorated with photographs of the pub’s past owners and its customers. There were small tables and booths everywhere, with a large bar in the center, and, in the back, a stage with a microphone on a stand, and a small chalkboard sign that read “Come up and Sing. Karaoke Night!” written in pink and green chalk. Chris took a seat at a small table next to the stage, and ordered an iced tea.

A man came up to her, holding a clipboard with a pen and paper, and a large paperback book. He had to be in his mid-fifties, and was short and round. He had black hair that was fading to grey, and dark eyes with bags under them. He was dressed in an orange button-up shirt with a black bowtie around his neck, some khaki pants, and a pair of dress shoes.

“Hello, young lady. Are you interested in singing on Karaoke Night?” he asked. His voice was deep and raspy. Chris thought about this for a moment, then looked back up at him.

“Sure,” she said. The man handed her the clipboard with a paper and pen, and the paperback book.

“Write down your name and what song you’re going to sing,” he said. Chris opened the book, and looked through it, and settled on the song “Arms,” a favorite song of hers from her favorite singer, Christina Perri, then signed her name, the name of the song, and the artist to the piece of paper on the clipboard.

“All right. You’ll be going up fifth. And good luck,” he said, and quickly walked away. Afterwards, Chris was met by a waiter, and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich.

After about five minutes, the man was up on the stage, the clipboard in hand. There was a dim spotlight focused on him, and he pulled the microphone from its stand.

“All right, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Friday again, which means it’s, once again, Karaoke Night at Jerry’s Pub. So, first up to sing is a regular customer. Janny Black, and she’ll be singing “Give Your Heart a Break” by American singer, Demi Lovato,” he announced, and he passed off the microphone to a girl more or less Chris’ age.

She had fair, flawless skin that seemed to glow in the spotlight, and brown eyes that sparkled. She had light-brown curly hair that was pulled pack in a ponytail. She was tall and thin, with long legs, and was dressed in a white t-shirt hidden under a black coat, denim skinny jeans, and a pair of low-top white sneakers. She was a pretty thing, like she was a professional model. When she got up onstage, and the music started, she began singing, and had a voice like a new bronze bell. Her tone of voice matched the rhythm of the song quite well. Chris had never heard anything like it before. And, when she finished, she bowed low, and the audience applauded, and, once again, the man returned to the stage with clipboard in hand.

“Okay, that was Janny Black. Up next is another regular customer. Edith Carpenter, and she’ll be singing “Get Yourself Together” by American singer, Christina Grimmie,” he announced, and he stepped down, passing the microphone to another girl more or less Chris’ age.

This girl had dark-tan skin with cheeks full of freckles, and brown eyes that highlighted her skin tone. She had long, black hair that was pulled into two braids. She was dressed in a white t-shirt, black faux-leather jacket, beige skinny jeans that were ripped on the thighs and shins, and a pair of black combat boots. On her head was a white cowboy hat. She was more on the petite side, about a couple inches shorter than Chris, herself. Once she got onstage, and the music started, she started singing the upbeat song. Her tone of voice was smooth and medium-toned, and it complimented the song perfectly. Everyone applauded her, and Chris clapped politely.

After the Edith girl performed, the man announced another performer, Evelyn Sanchez, who would be singing “17” by American singer, Avril Lavigne. This girl had blonde hair with a section of bangs pulled to the side, and her hair tied in a ponytail. She had fair skin, and brown eyes. She was dressed in a peach-pink coat, black knitted tights, and a pair of knee-high black boots. Her singing voice was incredible, a little high-pitched, but beautiful nonetheless. When she finished singing, everyone applauded. After Evelyn, a familiar face came onstage. The girl Chris had met when first looking at the house. What was her name? Fawn. That’s it. Fawn Dukes. She had her black hair pulled to the side in a braid, and was dressed in red coat with black faux-leather sleeves, a pair of black skinny jeans, and a pair of red sneakers. She was singing the song “Tomorrow” a fairly recent song from the Irish rock band, The Cranberries. Her voice was very clear and toned, a perfect match with the song. When she finished, everyone applauded, and Chris clapped politely. Then, the man came back onstage.

“And, finally, we have a new customer who will be our finisher. Chrysanthemum Beckett, and she will be singing “Arms” from American singer, Christina Perri,” he announced. Chris got up on stage, taking the microphone from the man. The spotlight was on her now, and she couldn’t help but feel a little anxiety. She could hear a few people snickering and whispering. The music was taking a little time to come on, and the man came back onstage, taking the microphone from Chris’ hand.

“It seems we’re having some technical difficulties with the music,” he said. A few people were a little discouraged, while a few others laughed. Then, an idea sprang into Chris’ head. Let’s see if those three years of music lessons are good enough today, she thought. She then turned to the man.

“Do you have any instruments?” she asked. The man looked at her.

“We have a couple guitars and keyboards in the back room. Why? Can you play your own music?” he asked. Chris nodded. “Well, terrific. Do you need a guitar or keyboard?”

“Guitar, please,” Chris said. The man gave her back the microphone (which she placed back in the stand), and the man left the stage briefly, then came back with a guitar in hand. It seemed brand new. He handed it to her, along with a guitar pick with a little image of a rose on it. Chris turned back to the audience, and began to play.

8

To Evelyn, this girl seemed a little strange. She was dressed in grungy clothing that consisted of a black thermal shirt, black Capri leggings under a pair of boy’s camo cargo shorts, and black canvas sneakers that went up to the knee. But, what was the strangest was the flower growing from her neck. It was a tiger rose that was colored red and white, and very pretty. But, it was an odd place for it to be. Aside from these strange aspects of her appearance, she was very pretty. She had pale skin with no blemishes or freckles; completely flawless. Her hair was long and cherry-blonde, and pulled up in a neat ponytail. And, her eyes were a pretty shade of pale blue-grey. Why would such a pretty girl dress in such grungy clothing? she wondered. Then, this girl started to sing.

Her voice was deep, but clear and soothing, like a new silver bell. It matched the tune of the song. Evelyn looked around at everyone; everyone was completely mesmerized by her voice. It sounded like an angel from heaven. And the fact that she was playing the guitar instead of having the music played for her was even better. Every high note was perfectly pitched and every low note was very toned, without it sounding like a mumble. And, when she finished, everyone stood and applauded. Evelyn looked over at Janny and Edith.

Janny did not look pleased at all. She was staring at this girl with a look of anger and hatred. Oh no, there she goes again, she thought. She looked back at the girl as she made her way back to her table, then watched as Janny and Edith headed over to her.

9

Chris was surprised that everyone loved her singing. When she had sung the same song in eighth grade, she could hear a few people laughing, and had gotten third place. After that experience, she would sit alone in her room and practice her singing, but refused to sing in front of others, only because of that experience. And, now, people were applauding her, and she was happy about this. She took her seat, and continued eating the rest of her food. Then, she saw the two girls coming over to her.

It was the Janny and Edith girls, and they had a sort of dangerous smile on their faces. They were standing over her, looking at her with those same smiles. Chris didn’t know whether to say hello, or to run, but she simply sat there, staring at them with terror in her eyes.

“It looks like we’ve got new meat,” the Janny girl said. “Allow me to introduce ourselves. I am Janessa, but you call me Janny. And that is Edith.” Chris stared at these two for a moment, and politely raised a hand to them. Janny looked at the rose, and reached for it, but Chris blocked it with her hand, and Janny took her hand away, and put both hands on her hips, looking Chris up and down.

“You are a pretty little thing,” she said, then grabbed Chris by the collar of her shirt and lifted her up and out of her chair. Chris was trembling in fear, unsure if these girls were going to hurt her or kill her.

“Listen here, you little bitch. You don’t belong here. I’m the prettiest girl in town, and nothing is going to change that. Do you understand me?” Her voice was very threatening, not like the crisp and clear voice from her singing onstage. Chris tried to speak, but found that no words could come out, and simply nodded slowly. Janny chuckled sinisterly.

“Just to make sure you do understand, I’ll give you a warning blow,” she said, raising a fist. Chris closed her eyes, waiting for the feeling of knuckles colliding against her cheek.

“Janny, leave her alone,” a voice said. Chris opened her eyes, and looked toward where the voice had come from. It was the Evelyn girl that sang the Avril Lavigne song. She didn’t have a British accent like everyone else, which was strange to Chris. She was standing there, glaring at Janny, with Fawn by her side.

“And, why should I listen to you?” Janny asked, still holding onto Chris’ collar, one hand still raised and balled in a fist.

“I know about when you pissed your pants for Annabelle. If you don’t leave her alone right now, I’ll tell everyone,” the Evelyn girl said, smirking as she said it. Janny looked at her with a stunned expression on her face, then turned back to Chris with an angry grimace, and shoved her back into her seat.

“You better keep on your guard, Rosy. They can’t protect you forever,” she said, walking away with Edith and laughing. The Evelyn girl and Fawn watched them go, then turned back to Chris, who was adjusting her shirt collar.

“Are you all right?” she asked. Chris looked up at the Evelyn girl, then looked down at the floor shyly.

“Don’t worry, Chris. You can trust Evelyn,” Fawn said, placing a hand on Evelyn’s shoulder. Chris looked back up at these two girls, and nodded a single nod of the head.

“Do you mind if we sit?” Evelyn asked.

“Sure,” Chris said, and Evelyn and Fawn took their seats. Evelyn extended a hand to Chris.

“My name’s Evelyn Sanchez,” she said. Chris looked back up at Evelyn, and took her hand and shook it.

“I’m Chrysanthemum Beckett, but you can call me Chris. It’s nice to meet you,” Chris said. Evelyn smiled.

“Chrysanthemum? That’s a nice name,” she said. Chris looked up at her, and smiled a small smile.

“Thank you,” she said.

“I assume you remember me,” Fawn said, smiling a kind grin. Chris giggled a little.

“Yes, I remember you,” she said, then turned back to Evelyn. “You don’t have an accent.” Evelyn smiled a little.

“That’s because I’m from America. My parents divorced when I was sixteen, and my dad won custody and we moved here,” she explained. Chris nodded in understanding. Then, an idea sprang into her mind.

“Do you have a grandfather who lives in England?” she asked. Evelyn nodded.

“Yes. His name is Darrel, and he lives in London,” she said, shaking her head disappointedly. “He has cancer, but I heard he’s doing well. Why do you ask?” Chris touched the soft petals of the rose.

“I know him. I used to live in London, and worked at the hospital he was staying at. He asked me to tell you he said hello,” she said. Evelyn smiled a happy smile.

“That’s great. I should call him later and tell him I got to meet you,” she said. Chris smiled, and the waiter came over, and asked if she was finished and ready to pay. Chris confirmed that she was, and the waiter left the bill. The food cost $23.45, and Chris paid with cash, then gathered her things to leave after the waiter took the money away.

“I guess I’ll see you guys around,” she said.

“You’ll definitely see me around. I live down the street from you. By the way, are you living in that house you were looking at?” Fawn asked. Chris nodded. “Okay then. I’ll see you later.” Chris waved goodbye to the two of them, and headed out.

10

Back at home, Chris found Gabby, sitting on the porch, awaiting her return. She was still dressed in her black outfit. Chris stepped out of the car, and headed up the steps to the door, pulling her keys from her pocket. Gabby followed her.

“So, how was lunch?” she asked as Chris unlocked the door, and stepped inside.

“It was fine, thanks. I think I made a couple of friends,” Chris said, keeping her jacket on, and heading into the kitchen toward the sliding glass door. “I’m going out to swing.” Gabby did not follow her into the kitchen; she stopped at the stairs, and started to climb them.

“You go ahead. I’m taking a nap on your bed,” she said, yawning a bit.

“Okay,” Chris said, closing the sliding door behind her, and going to the swing. She sat down, and began swinging, back and forth, back and forth. She hadn’t been on a swing since she was in elementary school, and had forgotten how fun it was. She giggled a little as she swung, swinging higher and higher.

Up above was what sounded like creaking, getting louder and louder. Chris finally looked up as she fell, and felt a sharp pain in her back, and the pain lingered and was stinging. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, and put a hand to her back, where it ached and stung. When she pulled her hand back, she found smears of blood on her fingers. She gasped, and looked back at where she landed. There was a broken and splintered piece of swing, and it was coated in smears of her scarlet blood. Chris looked back at the tree from which the swing was attached; the rope on one side had snapped. Then, she heard a small howl.

Chris turned and saw a wolf. It was a large wolf, big enough to kill her. It had fur with patches of black, grey, and white, and blue eyes. Chris knew wolves were dangerous, and, since she had drawn blood, it could probably smell it and would be much more liable to attack. Then the wolf started to come toward her. Chris tried to get up and run, but the pain was too bad, and she backed up away from the wolf, until she was backed up against the house. The wolf continued to come closer, until its face was mere inches away from hers. Terror took over her mind, and she closed her eyes, waiting for the wolf to attack.

She felt something wet and warm against her cheek, and opened her eyes to find the wolf licking her face. All she could do was sit there, frozen, unsure if the wolf was going to kill her and eat her remains or not. Then it stopped, and sat down next to her, staring at her with its piercing blue eyes. Chris raised a hand to it, and it allowed her to pet it. Chris managed a small smile.

“You’re a good boy,” she said, and the wolf seemed to smile the way that most dogs do. “I’ll call you Sid.” Hearing this, the wolf barked happily, and Chris giggled a little. Then, Sid’s ears perked up, and it turned to look at the forest, got down to a low crouch, then took off running into the woods, disappearing among the trees. Chris watched Sid disappear among the trees, then was reminded of the stinging pain on her back, and headed inside.

Gabby was still asleep on the bed, and Chris went into the bathroom, and lifted up her shirt to see the wound; it was just a little puncture, which was easily fixable, and Chris wet a towel, and cleaned the wound. She didn’t buy any bandages yet, and she left it as it was. She went back into the bedroom, passing by the window, when something caught her eye. She went back and looked.

There was a little girl standing out there, facing toward the forest. She seemed to be about eight or nine, and was tiny. She had long dark-brown hair that had loose waves. She was dressed in a pink nightgown that went down to her shins, and had red ballet flats on her feet, with red ribbons tied crisscross on her legs. Her arms were at her sides, and, in her left hand, was a tattered brown teddy bear. Chris didn’t know who this girl was, what she was doing in her backyard, or where her parents were. A girl this age was too young to be on her own. Chris hurried downstairs, and exited the house through the glass sliding doors. The girl was still there, and didn’t turn around.

“Excuse me, what are you doing here by yourself? Where are your parents?” Chris asked, taking a step toward this young girl. The girl turned her head slightly, then faced forward, and took off running deeper into the forest. What’s she doing? She can’t go there by herself, Chris thought. She took off, running after this girl.

It was strange. This girl was very fast; much faster than a girl her age could run. Chris continued to run, calling for her to wait and come back, but she continued to run, and Chris continued to follow her. After a while, Chris was tired of running, but could see the girl disappear behind a large bush and some trees. After stopping to catch her breath, she walked through the bushes, and around the trees, then stopped.

There was a large watering hole, with small trees and bushes surrounding it. Chris looked around; the girl was nowhere in sight. Then, she looked down at the watering hole. Did she fall in? she wondered. She stared at the water; it didn’t seem like the water had been disturbed in any way. Chris shook her head in confusion. Then, she heard a bubbling sound. She looked toward the water. In the center of the watering hole, bubbles were starting to come up, and were trailing in her direction. So she did fall in, Chris thought. She got down on hands and knees, and looked into the water as the bubbles stopped in front of her. She peered into the water, trying to see the little girl.

What came out of the water was definitely not the little girl. Out popped a long, black arm that had a hand with long fingers and sharp claws, and it grabbed onto the edge of the watering hole, next to Chris. It had come up so suddenly, that Chris fell backwards in shock. Then, the owner of the black arm with clawed hands rose from the lake. It was some sort of creature, with black skin. Its eyes seemed like a spider’s eyes; there were four of them, and they were red, the two biggest above the two smallest. It had a wide mouth, with rows over rows of razor-sharp black fangs. It had some hair at the top of its head, and down its arms. It had a large and muscular body, with two long arms, and smaller hind legs, each foot having black claws that were curved and sharp. Chris gasped in revulsion, shock, and horror. She had never seen anything like this beast before. It looked at her, and roared a deafening, screeching roar.

Chris finally found the urge to move, got up, and started running back to her house, hearing the ghastly beast thundering after her. She didn’t dare look back, just kept running. Then, she felt her feet get swept, and fell down hard on her chest. She turned and saw this beast coming, and tried to get up to run away. As she was getting up, she felt a sharp pain across her back, as if three swords had sliced through the skin on her back. She cried in pain, and fell back down again. Then, she felt the ghastly beast’s clawed hand wrap around her leg, and felt it pull her back. She turned to see the thing’s face over her, and kicked at it, trying to make it let her go. She gave it three good kicks to the face.

It looked angry. Its eyes glowed red, and it lifted its hand, which seemed to grow to twice its size. It grabbed her around the waist, lifted her up, and threw her hard against a tree. She felt the pain, and laid on the ground, disoriented and aching. She looked back in the direction of the beast, which was coming toward her. Its mouth seemed to widen in a smile, baring its dagger-like fangs, and it seemed to laugh in a screeching chuckle. This is it. This is how I die, she thought.

11

Out of nowhere came a loud bark, and Chris looked back. It was a wolf with black, grey, and white fur, blue eyes that glinted as it growled and snarled and bared its teeth. It was Sid; he was back. He charged at this beast, and began wrestling with it, making sure it had no way of getting to Chris. Every time the creature made a move toward her, Sid blocked it, and bit into the creature’s arms. Chris stayed frozen in fear, disoriented and afraid, when she felt a hand grab her arm, and pull her until she was standing, then pulling her to run away. She didn’t resist, and ran, never looking back at this creature that was being attacked by Sid the wolf. She didn’t stop until she was back in her backyard, and stood there, hands on knees, panting and sweating. She looked back, and was relieved that the thing was not following.

“Hey, are you all right?” a voice beside her asked. Chris looked to this person.

It was a boy about her own age. He was long and lanky, about four inches taller than her. He had fair skin with no blemishes. He had loose brown hair with bangs that almost covered his eyes, which were a deep green color. He was dressed in a grey hoodie and blue jeans, and he had black sneakers on his feet.

“I’m okay,” she said, giving away no indication that her back was aching from the scratches from the creature and the bruises from hitting her back on the tree. The boy looked back toward the forest, then back at her.

“What were you doing in there?” he asked. Chris looked back at the forest.

“I was following a little girl,” she said.

“It must have been an illusion. That’s what that thing does. It creates illusions to lure people to it,” the boy explained. Chris glanced back at him, then looked back at the forest. There was a distant, screeching roar that faded, and disappeared. When she looked back at the boy, he was holding out a hand to her.

“I’m Toby,” he said. Chris looked at him for a moment, then took his hand and shook it.

“I’m Chris,” she said. Toby gave her a funny look.

“Isn’t that a boy’s name?” he asked. Chris smirked a little.

“It’s short for Chrysanthemum,” she said, moving a strand of hair from her face. Her ponytail had come undone from the scuffle with the creature.

“Cool,” Toby said. There was then a bark, and both Toby and Chris looked toward the forest to see Sid trotting out, having a few small scratches.

“Sid, you’re okay,” Chris said in a slightly joyful voice. Toby looked back at her.

“You named him?” he asked. Chris looked back at him and nodded. “I’ve known this wolf for about three years and never came up with a name for him. That’s a good choice. It suits him.” Sid was now right beside her, and she scratched behind his hears.

“Thanks,” she said. Toby looked back toward the town.

“I gotta go. I’ll see you later,” he said, and took off running toward town, with Sid following close behind. Chris watched him run, and flinched when she felt a hand rested on her shoulder. She turned around, and sighed a sigh of relief when she saw who it was.

“So, you’ve finally woken up, huh?” she asked Gabby. Gabby smirked and nodded, then nudged Chris in the arm with her elbow.

“Somebody’s in love,” she said in a sarcastic voice. Chris scoffed, and removed the hairband from her hair.

“It’s not like that at all,” she said, putting a hand to her aching back, and heading inside, Gabby following.

“Please, I can see it in your eyes,” she said as Chris headed upstairs to her room and into her bathroom. She removed her shirt, wet a towel, and started to clean the scratches, giving Gabby a grim stare.

“I’m telling you. It’s not like that,” she said. Gabby looked at the scratches on Chris’ back, concern visible in her eyes.

“What on earth could’ve done that to you?” she asked. Chris shivered at the thought of this monster.

“It was so horrible. It was this monster, this big, black monster. It was all black and it had long arms with clawed hands, and four glowing red eyes and a mouth full of sharp teeth,” Chris said, almost shouting in fear. “It was so horrifying, and I thought I was gonna die. But, luckily, that guy Toby and the wolf Sid saved me.” Gabby had a bewildered look on her face.

“The wolf Sid? You were saved by a wolf? And you named it Sid?” she asked. Chris nodded, and dried off her back, then changed into a black sweatshirt with a white design of an atom and the word GENIUS printed beneath it.

“That’s so cool. Is it a friendly wolf?” Gabby asked.

“Yes, he’s very friendly,” Chris said. Gabby smiled.

“That’s really cool,” she said, and went back and sat down on the bed. Chris brushed her hair and put it back up in a ponytail, then headed downstairs and made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ate it with a glass of milk. She went back upstairs and went back to the secret room, pushing open the bookshelf door and selected the book The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon from the bookshelf, took a seat on the window seat, and began reading. The book was about a young girl who must survive when she gets lost in the forest. It was a favorite book of Chris’, and she loved to read it. As she was reading, a thought she didn’t think to think of popped into her head, and she dropped the book and sandwich into her lap, and looked out the window at the world below. How was he able to see that monster?

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