SHE WAS TERRIFIED. I could feel it. Her fear floated from her body to mine, and when it reached me, it enveloped me with the softest glow of euphoria. Smiling with triumph, I took another step closer. The woman’s despair grew, and I watched with pleasure as she flailed…her eyes growing wide with horror, her mouth silent with the screams that wouldn’t come. The eerie sound of a shriek surrounded by low dark murmurs began fill the air. Everything turned grey, then black…
“No no no stop get out get out GET OUT!”
My own voice ripped me from sleep. Eyes flying open, I jolted up in bed and took in a big gulp of air, my lungs tight and burning, as if I had been underwater for too long. No, stop, get out, get out…the words rung in my head in time to my pounding heart as I tried to get my bearings, tried to convince my brain that I was safe, I was okay, I was home.
Safe, okay, home? HA.
Yeah, okay, maybe that was less than comforting, I thought, as I threw back the covers. Clicking the button on my phone, I looked at the time. 4:14 a.m.
Another one. My heart stopped in its tracks as I realized that my small dull hope was now truly dashed…there it was again, the proof. Another nightmare, another internal wake-up call at 4:15 a.m. This was becoming a pattern.
Slipping out of bed, I padded across the hardwood floor of my bedroom to the bathroom. Flicking on the light, I pressed a hand against my eyes to shield them against the glare of the light bouncing off the white subway tile, and felt my way over to the sink. Her face. Turning on the tap, I filled a glass with cold water and gulped it down. She was terrified. Setting the empty glass back down on the marble sink, I stared into the ink-black eyes in the mirror. And I had wanted her to be.
“I’m not that girl,” I whispered. “It was just a dream, Adie. That girl wasn’t me.” I stared a moment longer to make sure another different, haggard, horrible face wasn’t going to materialize. Then I flicked off the light and went back to bed.
“Morning,” I called out, as I entered the kitchen.
“Good morning, my Adie girl!” Vic cheerfully replied, as she flipped a piece of sizzling bacon from the frying pan onto a plate. She smiled at me, and I watched her give my outfit the once-over. “You’re looking smart today! Skirt’s a bit short, though, if you ask me.”
“Good thing I didn’t ask you.” I smiled at her and headed for the coffeemaker. “And besides, it’s the same thing I wear everyday.” Black knee-highs, black boots, black pleated skirt, black cashmere sweater over a white peter-pan collared shirt.
“Yes, well, I think Hawthorne Academy is a bit generous on their student’s interpretation of the school uniform. When I went to school, our uniforms were baggy and shapeless and they all had to be the same. Knee-high socks and boots would have gotten you sent to the headmaster straight away.”
Grabbing a cup from the cupboard above the coffeemaker, I smiled again, this time to myself. I knew this wasn’t true – I had seen pictures of her of when she had been in school. If anyone’s skirt had been too short, it definitely had been hers.
Vic – short for Victoria – is basically my keeper. She used to be my nanny, but I don’t think you can technically still call someone your nanny when you’re 16, so…keeper it is. She was my mother’s best friend growing up in England. She came over to the States when my parents learned that my mother was pregnant with me. And then after…well. Let’s just say she’s all I’ve got, now.
“So I’ve got loads of turkey bacon here, and there’s fresh apples in the fridge next to your lunch. Please eat something on your way to school today, because coffee does not count as a nutritious breakfast. Alright, darling? Else I’m going to have to start force-feeding you with a tube while you sleep…”
Pouring hot coffee into my cup, I tried not the think about that woman’s eyes. The dreams were always like glue…they didn’t just fade away when I opened my eyes against the morning sun. They stuck with me the rest of the day, sometimes the rest of the week, making things feel hazy and surreal, as if I were still in the middle of them, as if my everyday life and the people in it were merely a new part of it, an extension…
“What?” I jumped, splashing coffee on the counter. Shoving the coffee pot back into its console, I glanced at Vic. She was staring at me. “Sorry. I think I’m still half-asleep.”
“Are you alright, love?” Vic studied me with a quizzical expression.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said quickly, as I wiped up the spilled coffee with a tea towel. “Just tired.”
“Alright…well.” She paused, as if she were going to say something. Instead she walked to the fridge and grabbed my lunch and a couple of apples. “Make sure you eat a little something on your way to school. It’ll perk you up.”
“Yeah, okay,” I mumbled, as I grabbed the bag and the apples from her and shoved them into my school bag.
“Oh, and I tried to find that photo album of your mum’s for your drawing assignment, but I haven’t tracked it down yet BECAUSE SOMEONE SEEMS TO HAVE MOVED IT FROM THE PLACE WHERE IT SHOULD BE,” Vic yelled, directing her eyes toward the ceiling. Things moved around in this house a lot. We often found it useful to yell about the things we couldn’t find, so as to alert the culprits that we were on to them.
“It’s fine. I’m sure it’ll turn up.”
“IT BLOODY WELL BETTER TURN UP, AND IF IT DOESN’T TURN UP BY THE END OF THE DAY, I’M CALLIN’ A BLOOMIN’ PRIEST AND WE’LL BE HAVING A RIGHT GOOD EXORCISM PARTY BEFORE YOU CAN SAY JACK ROBINSON.”
Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I flashed her a quick smile and turned to leave the kitchen. I was going to be late if I didn’t hurry.
I had just made it to the door and was flinging on my cloak when I heard Vic call for me.
“Adie!” She said, rushing into the foray. “Adie, I forgot to tell you. Well, actually, never mind, that’s a lie, I didn’t want to tell you, but there’s no helping it, so,” She paused, then said, “Nathaniel Quinn wants to see you today.”
Without even being conscious of it, my shoulders slumped, causing my bag to slip off my shoulder. I quickly shrugged it back on.
“I told him you’d meet him at the Staghead after school.”
“Ah ah ah,” she said, wagging a finger at me. “Don’t try to tell me you have to work today because two days ago you said today was the one day you didn’t have to go to the Quill.” Seeing the look of defeat on my face, she added, “He said it was important, Adie. Otherwise you know I would’ve shoved him off.”
Not saying anything – what was there to say? – I simply nodded and then walked out the door, but not before I heard Vic murmuring “Hard roads, poor girl” as she watched me leave.
The morning sky was overcast with dark clouds. A murder of crows took off from the trees as I slammed the house gate shut. Tilting my head up to the sky, I watched the crows lift up into the air as if they were one, their thick mass of black wings silhouetted against the grey sky. Crows were smart. They saw everything, and talked to one another about everything they saw. And the trees…trees love to gossip. My father had told me that once, long ago, when I was small. Back when he was still magic, and everything he said was true.
I hated remembering things like that, now.
Pushing it and him out of my thoughts, I took a deep breath in and prepared myself for another long school day as Hawthorne Academy came into view. To both my relief and dismay, kids were still hanging out in the courtyard, which meant the first bell must not have rung yet. I should’ve had another cup of coffee, I found myself thinking. I always tried to hit the sweet spot between the first bell and the second, when everyone was rushing into school and didn’t have time to notice anyone else. I took in a deep breath and quickly walked down the cobblestone path from the Academy entrance to the school doors. Thick groups of kids congregated around the benches, throwing envious glances at the ones who were lucky – or early – enough to score the coveted spots by the fountain. The ones who didn’t care were leaning up against the old stone of the main building. No matter what position in the courtyard they guarded, however, everyone stopped and watched and whispered as I made my way toward the doors. Adie Hawthorne…such a snob…I heard her dad…rich bitch…weird in class… The same things every single person said about me every single day floated from their mouths to my ears. It never changed.
But it also never got easier to hear, either.
Sometimes I wondered what it would be like, to want to get to school early enough so you had time to hang out with your friends before the first bell. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like just to have friends. But who wants to have weird, snobby, rich bitch Adie Hawthorne as a friend? I thought, as I pulled open the heavy, ancient wooden doors and walked inside.
Nobody, that’s who.
Every other day of my high school existence, I pray for the day to fly by and am always rewarded with an excruciatingly slow schedule of seven classes that only seem to drag on into eternity. So it made perfect sense that, on the one day when I want school to last forever so I wouldn’t have to see Nathaniel Quinn, it was over in a flash.
The coffeeshop was bustling with people. Sidestepping the line as I made my way inside, my eyes scanned the dim, crowded space for an open table. A hand rose above the crowd, beckoning me. Sighing, I made my way around the leather couches, gilded coffee tables, and overstuffed velvet chairs to a small wooden table toward the back, where he was sitting.
“Adora,” Nathaniel Quinn said. He stood up and watched as I took my seat, then sat down and smiled at me. “Thank you for meeting me.”
“I’ve told you before that no one calls me that now. It’s Adie.”
Dropping his smile, he nodded. “Of course. Sorry, Adie, for the mistake.” He gestured at the cup in front of me. “I took the liberty of getting you a coffee. Large, black, dark roast, yes?”
Ignoring the gesture, I asked, “What is it that you wished to see me about, Mr. Quinn?”
He stared at me for just a beat, then reached into his leather satchel and pulled out a thick stack of papers. He placed them on the table in front of me.
“These need to be signed.”
Staring at the stack, I tried to keep my expression placid. “He agreed?”
“Yes. Your father pleaded no contest. He signed the papers last week. All you have to do now is sign them and then you’ll be…” he paused, as if deciding the right choice of words. “Free.”
“Do you have a pen?”
“Ah…yes, of course.” He dug into the leather satchel again, producing a heavy, obviously-expensive pen. He handed it to me. I grabbed the stack, and quickly flipped to each small, plastic yellow tab that pointed to a line I needed to sign on.
When I reached the last tab, I hesitated for just a moment, thinking about what this would mean. Then, before I could change my mind, I scrawled my signature on the line.
Dropping Nathaniel Quinn’s pen to the table in front of him, I stood up and gathered my things.
“Adora, even though these emancipation papers technically mean you’re responsible for your own well-being now, I want you to know that there are people looking out for you. And you must know that Alex…excuse me, your father…only agreed to this because he really does want the best for you.”
“We both know that’s not true,” I retorted. “And again, it’s Adie. But maybe it doesn’t matter, since now that this is official, I plan on never having to see you again. Please have the final copies couriered to me at the earliest convenience.”
“Adora, wait-” he said, standing up quickly. He placed a hand on my arm to stop me.
“Don’t ever call me that again,” I hissed, smacking his hand away from my arm. I turned and swiftly made my way through the Staghead, the bell above the door ringing as I threw open the door and walked out.
The sun had almost set when I walked up the small hill to the family plot, the autumn leaves shuffling and crackling with each step. White stone spires and large marble markers gathered around the stone angel, and again, I found myself standing in front of her, staring up in wonder. I had once read that, when good old great-great-great grandfather Alexander Hawthorne had commissioned the angel, he had wanted to ensure that the family would have one of the largest and most-attention-grabbing spires in all of King’s Cemetery. And still, even in this eerily beautiful place so full of spires and statues and mausoleums that it looked more like a garden museum than a final resting place for the long dead, no one had managed to top him. She must have been gleaming white when she was new, but now she was grey with age, dark green mold growing over her eyes and in the cracks of her long flowing ringlets. Her delicate hands were also spotted with mold, and more than one finger had broken off, probably the trick of some stupid kid prankster. But she still stood, staring pleadingly at whatever visitor – alive or dead – might cross her path.
All around her lay my ancestors…all the generations of my father’s family, all in a row. Alexander and Adeline, Victor and Elizabeth, Fox and Lucy, Richard and Lauren, and finally, Emmaline Scott Davies Hawthorne.
Emmaline was my mother.
I don’t remember her. It’s what everyone wonders, and wants to ask, but doesn’t, out of politeness. I used to think I had hazy, misty memories of her singing to me sleep when I was small, and the sight of marigolds always makes me think of her. But I think those are things that I’ve either gleamed from the stories I was told of her, or I just simply made them up.
There’s actually not much that I even really know about her. I know that she died when I was two. I know that she was killed one night while driving home in the rain, hit by some teenage boy who then ran from the scene. I know they never found him. I know from seeing photos of her that she was beautiful, with golden hair and bright blue eyes. I know that she loved me. I know that my father was never the same after she died…that he was charming, kind, and talented, but slowly, he began to search for every dark corner he could find to hide in. I know it’s been said that when my mother died, a part of my father died with her. Which was obviously really great news for me…but then again, it wasn’t as if I ever needed anyone to tell me that in order to figure it out.
And I know he used to love me, but he doesn’t anymore.
Dusk began to fall and the wind began to blow through my hair as I stood and stared at my mother’s gravestone, wondering what she would think if she knew. I’ll never have a mother, and I’ve always known that. But I always hoped, wished, that I would at least get a father. That I would get him back. And now I knew that would never happen. It was just me, now…little orphan Adie, as Vic always used to say, when she thought I couldn’t hear her.
The wind grew stronger, whipping up my hair and tossing my cloak back from my shoulders. Feeling a familiar chill crawl down my back, I looked up and around, half-expecting to see someone standing nearby. It was easy, in King’s Cemetery, to feel like you weren’t alone.
“Oh, but you are, Adora…” I heard the wind whisper as I turned and walked back down the hill, towards home. “You are and will always be alone.”
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