A/N: Written quickly for NaNo. It's long, I know
We ended up going to see a movie. We were allowed off campus for weekends and I could afford a taxi. Aunt Rose wasn’t rich, but she definitely had enough to keep me entertained here. Cora tagged along as well and honestly? It was pretty funny to see both Ben and Timothy lose their cool over her.
After the movie, we got dinner at a nearby restaurant, Timothy and I sat on one side of the booth, Cora and Ben were on the other side and the food was okay, but the service was good and we were having a good time. Cora was even laughing.
“So Cora, what do you do for fun?” It was Ben who asked this and I found myself leaning forward, I was ashamed to admit that I didn’t know myself.
“Well, I play piano. I like rollerskating. Mostly I just surf the internet. I like reading, I used to do gymnastics. I’m not really sure.” She looked a little uncomfortable with the attention on her, like she wasn’t used to it.
“You were a gymnast?” Ben’s emphasis on the word wasn’t negative or meant in a mean way at all, he was just shocked. I wasn’t too surprised. Cora definitely had the right body for it, with her short, thin and only slightly curvy figure. I could definitely see her flipping through the air on a beam or on a set of bars. Regardless, her cheeks reddened slightly and she stirred her coffee.
“So how do you two know each other?” I directed the question towards Timothy, gesturing towards Ben. He snorted at this, taking a sip of his coffee. Seriously, was I the only one on the planet who couldn’t stand the stuff?
“Well, Ben and I are roommates.” Timothy and Ben exchanged a look and I could tell they were making fun of us as Cora and I stared blankly at them. Guys had a way of doing that. That is, making fun of girls without them realizing. I could tell they meant it in jest, not in a rude way at all.
“Yep. So Cora, got any other friends besides Wyatt?” Ben leaned a little closer to her, not so subtly hitting on her. She didn’t seem to get it though and Timothy and I had to to cover our mouths with our hands to keep from laughing. I pulled out my phone and sent Cora a quick text.
He’s flirting with you!
A second later, Cora pulled out her phone, her eyes widening as she read the text. This was a new Cora. I was used to the roommate who got angry and wasn’t afraid to show it, the tough girl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. This Cora, the girl who felt uncomfortable with the spotlight on her, the insecure person who couldn’t talk to a guy? This was new to me and I wondered if she was usually like this.
Ben was still looking at her, still expecting an answer. She shook her head slightly as if to clear her head. This just made me giggle, she reminded me of a cartoon.
“Um, no. I don’t have a lot of friends. No boyfriend or anything.” Her face turned red and Ben nodded but I could see his eyes light up. This was just too funny.
“I’m about ready to head back to school, so if you guys want dessert, that’s fine. I put a ten on the table to pay for my share of the meal. Timothy caught on.
“I’ll go with you. Can you two get back okay?” He said this as he stood up, letting me out of the booth and helping me to my feet. They nodded and Ben looked absolutely thrilled to be alone with Cora. After Timothy put some money on the table as well, we walked out into the fading light and signaled a taxi.
“So those two seem cozy,” he joked as we shut the door and gave the cabby the school address. I nodded but settled in to my seat. I was exhausted, the nightmares the night before had kept me awake.
Eventually, I began to doze. The rocking motions of the cab lulled me to that in between state where you aren’t quite awake, but also not quite unconscious. My head lolled against Timothy’s shoulder and I felt him put an arm around me…
I woke with a jolt. The car swerved and I gripped Timothy as he jumped.
“Sorry about that,” the driver was addressing us, “A deer just came out of nowhere. We’ll be at your school in about five minutes.” He was an older man with graying hair, he looked like the sort of man who would be my Grandfather.
Timothy gently tugged at my wrist, bringing my hand away from his arm. I hadn’t noticed but my grip on him was so tight, my fingers cramped up and my knuckles had whitened.
“I didn’t see a deer,” he said quietly, “Are you okay?” I moved away from him, embarrassed that I’d gotten so close.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I whispered. For the last few minutes of the ride, I sat with my body pressed against the door of the cab, watching the dark trees fly by my window. When we got to school, Timothy waved my hand away when I tried to pay the cabby.
“You paid for the last ride, I got this.” Timothy paid him, and the cab backed away from the gate and towards the main road, leaving us in complete darkness. I’d never liked the dark, and now it seemed to consume us.
We walked back to school, arm in arm, nervously laughing about the great time we had. Neither of us wanted to acknowledge the creepy limbs of the trees that looked like skeletons, or the mysterious “deer” in the middle of the city that neither of us saw. I got a text from Cora just as we were approaching the doors.
Having such a gr8 time! We r going 2 go home now, c u soon!
I showed Timothy the text.
“I’m really glad they’re getting along. Ben’s had rotten luck with relationships and Cora seems like a nice girl.” We stopped outside the dorm just as he finished speaking.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “I had no idea Cora could be so shy. She just seems so blunt sometimes.” We stood in silence for a minute and neither of us spoke.
I took a step closer to him, wrapping my arms around his waist. He seemed surprised, but eventually returned the hug. Taking a small step back, my eyes watched his face, trying to memorize every feature. I saw the contours of his eyebrows, the glint of his blue eyes in the moonlight and the way his nose stuck out just enough to make him seem a bit more approachable. Eventually my gaze traveled down to the rich curves of his lips and on down to the dimple in his chin. For a moment, I thought he was going to kiss me.
So I waited. And waited. I even closed my eyes for a few seconds. But when I opened them, Timothy was looking at me strangely. He looked a little embarrassed so I took a step back, trying to give him his space.
“Well,” he said, “Goodnight.” I waved to him before walking inside the building; we parted our separate ways.
That night when Cora waltzed in, talking about how dorky and cute Ben was, I said nothing about the moment with Timothy. I smiled and asked her how dessert had gone, what they had talked about, things like that. I wasn’t used to Cora being so happy. She had finally let her guard down, allowing her rough exterior to be softened with trust and some new friends. I was excited for her, despite the end of the evening with Timothy. Even with that at the back of my mind, I still couldn’t get the “deer” out of my head. It didn’t make sense to me.
Cora eventually stopped talking about Ben and left to take a shower. I pondered the strike of lightening and the fire. I thought about the possible connection to the fire my Mom lost her artwork in. My mind traveled on to the deer, and other bizarre things that had happened to me while at Jenkins prep. Was there a reason I was having nightmares? A part of me told me this was all connected. My Mother used to tell me that everything happened for a reason and I believed that, I just couldn’t figure out what that reason was. The information kept spinning around in my head. I felt like I had the pieces to a puzzle, the border put together and all the middle pieces were missing. Only, I didn’t have the picture on the box, so I didn’t even know what to look for.
So when Cora came back to the room and we turned out the lights, I fell into an uneasy sleep. Hoping the morning would bring some answers, and possibly a miracle.
The next day was Sunday. Timothy and Ben went to church. Which meant, of course, that Cora went to church. My guess was she would be inseparable from Ben until she got over her crush. I, however; did not go to Church. My usual Church was the one I went to with Mom and Dad. God took them away from me. Why should I worship the Being that took away my family? My life?
So I spent the time in the library, researching campus history. Apparently there had been a fire in the girls dorm when my Mom was at school. The school newspaper covered it, back when there was a school newspaper and websites weren’t a thing yet. I figured that must’ve been the fire she lost her artwork in.
The weird thing was, the fire that involved my Mother had the same cause, same point of origin. It started in the girls dorm on the top floor by a freak bolt of lightning. The only difference was, the fire in my Mom’s day was much more serious. Someone was seriously injured. A girl named Helena, Helena Lloyd.
When the article was written, it said that Helena was in critical condition in the ICU at a local hospital. A hospital pretty close to the school. There weren’t any other articles, apparently the school newspaper had been discontinued. The school wouldn’t pay for any more copies to be made, that’s when funding for the upper floors of the rec hall was an issue, so the “not important” school clubs got cut. There was an article about that in the issue I read as well.
Maybe Helena could tell me more about the fire? I kept battling back and forth in my head. The article had said she was in critical condition, but since there wasn’t another addition I couldn’t tell if she’d survived the fire or not. Even if she were alive, there was no guarantee she would be nearby or even willing to answer my questions.
The buzzing of my phone made me jump. As I checked my phone to see who was calling, I recognized Haylie’s number. I hit the “Accept” button.
“Hey, sister,” Me calling her sister was the most natural thing in the world. I’m pretty sure I called her sister more often than I called her Haylie. “What’s up?”
“Aunt Rose called me to tell me how you were. She told me about the thunderstorm and the nightmares you’ve been having. You okay, kiddo?” I’d missed Haylie. She and I were super close and I’d been hoping she would call soon.
“I’m as okay as I can be,” I said, “How are you?”
“College is okay. I got a new roommate after you left. I didn’t want to be alone after what happened…” Her voice got quieter and quieter before she trailed off, becoming so low she was almost whispering.
“Yeah. It’s been difficult because of that.” We were quiet for a moment and I listened to her even breathing over the phone.
“I miss Mom.” It was the first time I’d ever said it aloud. I knew it had been pretty obvious that I missed my Mom, but I’d never actually admitted it to anyone before.
“Yeah,” she laughed without humor, “I wish I’d told her that more when I was your age. I used to be such a bratty teenager. I wish I’d appreciated Mom and Dad more.”
“Mom knew you loved her,” I wasn’t just saying that to make her feel better. I knew what I said was true. “And they loved you very much. But they knew you well enough to know how independent you are.” That was true as well. Ever since I could remember, Haylie was off on her own adventures.
“Thanks chickadee. So I was wondering, I know things must be awkward with Aunt Rose and everything, do you want to come stay with me for your winter break?” I nodded, momentarily forgetting that she couldn’t see me.
“Yeah, I really miss you too. Of course I’d like to come see you!”
“Great! I gotta go, kiddo. You gonna be okay?” Her second use of the affectionate nickname made me smile just a little bit.
“Yeah, sister, I’ll be alright. I love you.”
“Love you too, Wyatt. Bye” I hung up the phone, once again turning back towards the newspapers.
I thought about what Haylie had said, about wishing she had appreciated Mom and Dad more while they were here. It made me sad to think about them again and I felt a little guilty at the same time.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but I was determined to find out where Helena Lloyd was and her connection to my mother. I had to, for them.