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Author's note: This idea has been blooming inside of my head for years now. It is so exciting to see it finally coming to life!
Kathryn Griffith sat on her bed. In her hands was a small picture frame, the glass dotted with tears. The sobbing had subsided almost ten minutes ago, along with the pain, rage and frustration. Now, she just felt empty.
A sudden rap on her door snapped her focus away from her thoughts.
In the doorway stood Peter Grey. Kathryn took in his appearance, and saw that it was possibly even worse than her own.
His black hair was longer than most guys, the shaggy locks covering about half his face. He wore his usual dark jeans and tshirt. His mouth, set in its default frown, seemed more downturned than usual, but it could’ve been a trick of the light.
All of this was pretty normal, and not surprising to Kathryn. No, what caught her attention was his eyes.
They were green. Not grass green, but cateye green. And in those catlike eyes you'd see fiery yet controlled rage, and a determination unmatched by anyone Kathryn had ever met. Today, however, there was no fire. No will. Today, he looked just as he had upon their first meeting exactly one year ago. Today, she saw in him what she felt in herself - emptiness.
Without waiting for an invitation, Peter crossed the space of the room to where Kathryn sat on her mattress. She scooted over to make room for her. He climbed up next to her and put an arm around her as they stared at the picture frame in her hands.
A sigh escape Peter’s lips.
“She looks so happy.”
And she had been. The photograph had been taken three years ago, during a family photo shoot. The girl sat on a wooden beam, a log cabin behind her. Her wavy, mahogany hair blew behind her, but she didn’t seem to mind. Her crystal eyes glittered in the sunlight, and a playful smile danced on her lips. Nothing about her said insecure. She knew who she was and had no interest in trying to be anyone else.
Yes, she was happy.
Thinking of her brought fresh tears to Kathryn’s eyes.
“Oh, Laura,” she whispered. Then it all came flooding back. All the loss, all the anger and despair. As the sobs came, she hunched forward, her auburn hair spilling around her face.
Peter comfortingly patted her back, murmuring words like, “Shh, shh, it’ll be okay.” and “Don’t worry, we’ll make this right.”
She accepted his comfort until the last of her tears were spent. After a few shaky breaths, she lifted the picture frame with trembling hands and brought it to the level her eyes. Both she and Peter stared at it once more, marveling at how innocent and joyful Laura had seemed. They marveled at how impossible it was that one year after this photo had been taken, all their lives had been shattered.
Two years ago to the day, Laura had been kidnapped.
There’s a big difference between two and three.
Take a box of protein bars, for instance. There are six bars in every box. Say you eat two in one day. There’d be four left, which is more than half so it seems like a lot to most people. No issue there.
But, if you ate three of the six, there would only be three lefr. Half of the box would be gone! Suddenly you have people saying, “Hey! Where did all the protein bars go? I bought a new box just yesterday!”
If you’d only taken two, no one would’ve noticed, or caused a fuss. Except for me.
One of the Voices would’ve told me. That’s what I call them. The Voices - the people I see that no one else does. They tell me all kinds of interesting thing, like this morning, when Suzie pointed out that there were only four protein bars left in the box.
I’d been scouring the pantry for food.
“Tom,” I asked the middle aged man standing behind me. “What should I have for breakfast?”
The Voice peered over my shoulder, his beady green eyes carefully scanning over each of the packaged food items. As he turned his head, I noticed þat he’d gotten a haircut. Again. Tom always wore his brown hair as short as possible to avoid looking “bad boy.” Not that he could ever be seen that way with his professor spectacles. However, with his creepy eyes, pale skin, and ever-frowning face, he did remind me of a cross between a vampire and Professor Snape.
“Hmm ...” Tom mused. “I’d say to go with a protein bar. These ones have ten grams of protein, and will keep you fuller much longer than those nasty microwaveable pancakes! Bleck!”
“Yes, sir,” I giggled. Tom was very passionate about nutrition, and thank goodness for that! If not for his constant nagging, my BMI would have long since passed the “healthy fitness zone.”
As I reached for my breakfast, Suzie appeared next to me, looking as excited as always.
Suzie was, by far, my favorîte Voice. She was a hyperactive blond, only about five three, with brown eyes. She was loud and crazy, like a best friend who just got to sixth grade and can’t contain themselves.
Despite quite possibly being ADHD, Suzie was super observant. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when she said,
“Jane! Look look look!”
I tried my best to stifle a laugh. “What is it, Suzie?”
“Looooook!” she repeated and pointed to the box of protein bars in my hand. “There’s only four left!”
I peered inside and immediately saw she was right.
“We bought them yesterday,” I contemplated. “And I only ate one.”
“Oh, that Jeff!” Suzie slapped her knee in a fit of giggles. “He spent thirteen minutes in the store telling you how disgusting those things are, and how he’d rather eat microwaveable pancakes for the rest of his life than one of those.”
“He’s a hypocrite and will suffer protein deficiency. Not to mention other terrible medical complications if he doesn’t start balancing his diet!” Tom huffed. That started a long debate between the two Voices about whether protein bars were tastier than pancakes. It was a riveting argument, but my was elsewhere.
My guardian, Jeff, wasn’t someone to change his mind. He was almost sixty, and was stubbornly stuck in his ways. I couldn’t see him doing anything that would contradict himself. He was too prideful and hated my guts too much to do that.
But Suzie was right. There were only four boxes left in the box. I searched my memory, but I was sure I had only eaten one yesterday. So that begged the question ... who ate the second?
I turned to see Jessica sitting at the kitchen bar. Her sleek black hair reached her mid-back when it was in a high ponytail. She had brown eyes, like Suzie, but hers were filled with craftiness and gossip. Jessica was tall, probably about five-nine, and that was when he wasn’t wearing heels. Her skin was pale, but she knew how to work her way around a mall. Instead of looking like a goth, or a vampire, she could pass for a magazine model.
“So Jane,” Jessica studied her manicured nails casually. When she finally looked up, there was a mischievous gleam in her eye. “Do you know who ate it?”
“But Jessica, it was Jeff. He’s the only other person who lives here,” Suzie argued. It was as if she had been focused on us the entire time, and not laughing her head off at something Tom had said.
It was true though. Jeff and I lived alone in a cabin about a mile away from the school. We were surrounded by woods, not to mention completely isolated from the world. We only dared make the grocery trip a few times a month. It was definitely not my style of living.
I once asked Mr. Rollins why I couldn’t live at the school during the summer - it was a boarding school, after all. But he just smiled and explained to me that I’d be lonelier in a gigantic, empty (not to mention mysterious) school than a cozy, tucked away cabin in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to argue that at least on campus I could talk to the Voices without Jeff looking at me like I was schizophrenic or something.
Jessica rolled her eyes at Suzie, who’s confusion rivaled that of any stereotypical blond. “Don’t you know anything about people?” she sighed in exasperation. “Jeff is old, stubborn, and stuck in his ways. Plus, he’s got some serious pride issues. He hates our little Jane to a fault, and would never do anything to prove her right, or contradict himself.”
The Voices had an almost creepy way of taking words right from my mouth ... or head. I’d always wanted to ask how they do it, but every time I work up the courage, I chicken out. I guess I’m too afraid of what I’ll learn.
“Also,” Jessica plowed on. “When did you last see or hear from dear old Jeffery? Isn’t he usually flipping through the television channels about this time?”
Struck by a sudden curiosity, I left my place in the kitchen to search for my so-called “guardian.” The door to his room was locked. But that wasn’t so unusual, was it? He often liked to sleep past the time I was already up and about. So, he sometimes locked his door.
My head told me it was probably nothing. My gut whispered otherwise.
I probed the house for signs of normalcy. Anything that would prove to my churning stomach that there was nothing out of the ordinary going on. Boy, was I disappointed.
Now that I was paying attention, I could clearly see all the clues I’d missed. For one thing, the place was as neat as a pin! Jeff was a total slob, never picking anything up if he could help it. Sometimes I’d complain about having to do all of the chores, which only earned my a gruff,
“Builds character, kid.”
Tired of his stupid attitude, I’d finally started to sprout a backbone. I decide that if he wasn’t going to pitch in, then neither would I. We would see who would crack first. And I prided myself on having excellent willpower.
The stand off had only begun two days ago, so besides the kitchen sink, there hadn’t been a ton of damage done yet. I hadn’t picked up on it immediately, since I was so used to living in a clean house. It just seemed natural that it wouldn’t be a mess. Oddly enough, someone had indeed vacuumed, dusted, and tidied up, as well as wiped down the windows and counters, cleaned the kitchen, and scrubbed all the toilets.
I’d gone to bed around ten the night before, and the house had still been gross. It had to have been done between then and when I woke up in the morning.
It didn’t bother me that I hadn’t woken up - I was a deep sleeper. What irked me was that someone had been in my house! Like Suzie and Jessica had pointed out, Jeff and I were the only residents, and he would never - could never! - change so drastically.
My curiosity quickly shifted to paranoia. Had anything been stolen? Where was Jeff? Had he been hurt? Who had come into my home? How?! Jeff and I had the only keys! What did they want? What if ... What if? What if?! WHAT IF –?!
"That's right, Jane," Jessica jeered. "The meticulous cleaning monster is so out to get you. You'd better call the police, then hide under your bed 'till they get here."
I gave a shaky laugh, feeling pretty silly. Again, Jessica had practically read my mind, pulling me out of my escalating panic. I mean seriously, why would someone who wanted to hurt me come by the night before and clean my house? It sounded ridiculous, even to me. So I calmed myself down and turned to the three Voices behind me.
“Well,” I said. “How would you all like a field trip?”
The walk to campus took about an hour, during which the four of us trampled along a barely visible path, surrounded by thick trees and shrubbery. Our groundskeeper, Earl, tended to neglect our little patch of forest. Headmaster Rollins was too busy prepping for the new school year to badger him about it, so he simply didn’t, making it quite an interesting game of twister getting from the house to the school.
Weaving over, under, and in between thorny branches, I was more than a little jealous of my companions. While I contemplated the easiest and least painful way of navigating the underbrush, Jessica, Suzie and Tom would simply POP over to the other side. So a walk that should’ve only been twenty minutes walking at a mild pace ended up taking us three times that.
I was beyond relieved when I stepped out into the clearing. The difference between where I’d come from and where I ended up was stark. The grounds were a perfect circle, fenced in by the untamed forest. The grass was an uncanny shade of green, and beige footpaths twisted around glittering fountains. There were no paved roads. Instead, we had helicopter landings and airstrips out back. Rule number 1: no driving. Students and staff alike were all flown in by private airlines. What could I say? We were a prestigious academy, with a strict code of confidentiality. We couldn’t just go handing our location out to anyone.
No driving also limited who could visit when. Take the summer, for example. With a few notable exceptions, only certain staff members were allowed to be on campus during the months of June through to the end of August. Since the academy owned and oversaw all the jets and helicopters working for them, they could make sure that they would have no surprise visits over the summer. That also meant that I was left with no way to see my friends over break.
Sure, I could email, text and Face-time them. And sometimes, that was enough. But then everyone came back, and for the first week all I heard were stories of So-And-So going to Paris for a month with Whoever, and Her spending a weekend at a beach house in Barbados with Them. When it finally came time for me to tell all about my summer, I had nothing. What was exploring the woods behind my cabin to snorkeling in the Bermuda? So until a few weeks passed and everyone was drowning in coursework, I laid low. Like, hanging out in broom closets to avoid lunch with my roommates, low.
I took the pathways up to the door, in case Earl was spying from one of the windows. So much as taking a step onto the grass, or dipping a finger into the fountain could earn you a week’s detention. The closer I got to the school, the more my anticipation grew. By the time I made it through the doors, my mind was so single tracked that I barely cast a glance around the front room and bolted for the main stairs.
Within a matter of seconds, I’d bounded all the way up to the third floor and stood in front of Headmaster Rollins’ office. After all that big talk about getting answers, and anticipation gnawing at my gut, I suddenly felt more nervous than anything.
I felt a hand fall onto my shoulder. Turning around, expecting to see Suzie, I was surprised to see Jessica, her face a mixture of severity and sympathy.
“Jane,” her voice was just above a whisper. “Whatever happens in there, remember: you are not who you were, but you’re not who you are, either.”
I stared at the person I had considered on many occasions to be my least favorite Voice. She was cruel, manipulative, rude, and condescending. Yet here she was, giving me sincere - heartfelt, even - words of wisdom. Kooky advice I couldn’t understand, but advice nonetheless. So I listened, because this was not Jessica’s normal attitude toward life, and because she was good with people. She could read a stranger like a book, and if she took the time to tell me about myself, there was no way I was going to disregard her.
“There are so many people that love you, and you must never forget that. However, most of them will fall into one of these categories - those you don’t know, those you know, and those you thought you knew.”
She paused, giving the words a second to sink in. How could people love me if I don’t know them, and they don’t know me? I wanted to quiz her, but Jessica wasn’t done yet.
“Here begins your journey to both the past, present and future. You will be tested in all the most excruciating ways, but you will remember worse times than these and draw hope from them. Trust the strangers that you know, and avoid the friends that you don’t. This is what will determine your fate, as well as your ability to forget the remembered, remembering the forgotten.”
On that happy note, she drew her hand from my shoulder as if she’d been burned. Her face unclouded, revealing the Jessica I knew and ... tolerated.
Suddenly back to herself, she gave me a too-wide smile before grabbing onto her bewildered companions and POPPing out of existence.
By now I was terrified. Did walking through that oak door really mean that my life wouldn’t be ... my life? It was like something out of a novel, where the main character has a terrible destiny they can’t escape, that begins with the single act of walking over a threshold.
I shrugged the thought away. The Voices were usually pretty normal acting, but they were still a part of me. I was feeling pretty weirded out today, so maybe that affected them, too. Sure, I was grasping at straws, but it did make me feel a little better. Okay, not really.
Well I wasn’t going to keep standing here like a lost idiot, so I rapped twice on the door before pushing my way into the Headmaster’s office.
It was a grand room, large enough for a complete personal library. All the wood furnishings were dark maple wood, which, in addition to the red everything-else, made the room appear formal and secretive. There was a window on the back wall, behind a desk. The light coming in made the sight I walked into all the more curious.
Headmaster Rollins sat behind his desk, his dark brown hair combed back. His smile caused the corners of his gray eyes crinkle. I lived for that smile, the one that said I was doing good. That he was proud of me. That I gave him no regrets. He was the person who turned my life around, and I would always be in his debt.
On the other side of his desk, all I could see was the back of a head. The hair was the color of charcoal, cleanly cut at the nape of his neck. His skin was pale, but not freckly, used to time indoors. I could tell, even from the back, that this guy was good looking. But who was he?
They were chuckling at something before Headmaster Rollins noticed me.
“Oh. Hello Jane.”
At the sound of my name, the guy across the desk jumped up and whirled around. Now that I could see him properly, he was definitely a long ways past ‘good looking’.
Like I’d guessed before, his black hair was cut in a style that said ‘I’m a good boy with money’ though it wasn’t completely tamed. He wore a black, three-quarter sleeved polo tucked into his dark wash jeans, held up by a black belt. It all highlighted his well toned arm muscles.
Then there was his face. From the lack of laugh lines around his eyes, I could tell he wasn’t a person who smiled very much. It was as if he had always frowned at life. I couldn’t help but wonder what he had gone through that made him see the world that way? I had been like that once, but Headmaster Rollins had saved me. Maybe he was saving this boy as well.
The last thing I took in was his eyes. His eyes! They were the most beautiful things I had ever seen. They were green. Not like emeralds or grass, but actually closer to a cat’s than anything. They almost seemed to glow in the dimness of the office. I was completely enthralled by them.
As the boy took me in, his expression became a mixture of shock, relief and ... was that grief? Definitely not the way I wanted a boy to feel seeing me for the first time.
I looked away in embarrassment while good old Rollins, oblivious to any of our feelings, introduced.
“Peter, this is Jane Doe.” I continued staring at the red rug while the boy - Peter - continued to stare at me. I felt his eyes burning into the side of my face, begging me to look at him. “She’s much more than a student to me. I personally found her and brought her here, out of a very nasty situation. Jane is my pride and joy.”
I allowed myself to smile at that. Headmaster Rollins was the closest thing I had to a father, and I knew that he had no wife or children. We were all each other had.
“And Jane,” Rollins now addressed me. “Allow me to introduce Peter Grey. He responded to an advertisement I recently published.”
I couldn’t stand it anymore. I looked up into Peter’s eyes and was beyond shocked by what I saw. A smile.
He never smiles. The thought popped into my head before I had a chance to actually process it. What the heck? I had never met this boy. I had no idea if he smiled often or not.
Desperate to get out of my head, I asked, “What position does he want?” I looked between my headmaster and the boy I had just met. Both held a conspiratorial gleam in their eyes. My stomach flopped over, and suddenly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer.
“Funny you should ask. The job I’m offering him-” Rollins paused, for dramatic effect, I thought. “is to be your guardian.”
My blue eyes snapped back to the green ones stunned. I could only manage one word.