Kids with superpowers and a little bit of romance chucked in
I think I’d always known. Always had this feeling something like this would happen. That one day, after all that had happened, I would end up lying on the cold floor, wishing that it would end. I knew that one day would come when I’d feel so dead, I couldn’t hold on anymore. But it still shocked me, like an electric current running through me, a shock so harsh. It shocked me that it would actually end. You get these premonitions when you know you’re about to do something so stupid, it would finish your life. I closed my eyes and thought of the one person I had counted on to save me. Where were they now? Had everything I’d been fighting for been a lie? Or was the truth just a different story to what I had expected? Was it really happening, that everything good that had happened, was about to stop, just like that? Curious how the dark, my faithful coat when I felt everything was falling apart, was now the stage upon which I would die. My head spun as I tried to open my eyes, and gaze.
Into the face of my fears.
It was a strange thing, being alone, I thought, as I sat in the departure lounge, sipping a hot cup of watery liquid, that was supposed to resemble tea, the latest edition of Vogue balanced haphazardly on my knee whilst I texted a final farewell message to my best friend Ella. Leaving home for the first time might have seemed normal except under my own circumstances, this was definitely not normal, and in fact, far from. For I had discovered that being alone is the one thing that makes us realised who we are as a person. I knew that I was outspoken and very outdoorsy, but I had never known I was so independent until my mother and father died. At different times, but nonetheless, both deaths were shocks to me, and being a somewhat only child, I was reluctant for change. So I couldn’t regret having to meet a stranger I’d never known. A stranger with whom I shared my blood, my American heritage. Because as much as I missed my parents, my mother most of all, I had a suspicion this was the right thing. That by following my heart for, surprisingly, the first time ever, I might be happy. This was to be experimented.
My flight was called.
After two movies, two trays of synthetic food and the most uncomfortable six hours sleep I’d ever had, I finally sat on my three suitcases in the thickly blanketed city that was Denver. The snow fell in fat clumps and as much I hated English weather most of the time, I would have given anything for something milder. I wore jeans and a t-shirt, my hoodie was tightly packed into my rucksack, and I didn’t want the effort of getting it out. But the longer I sat outside the airport, the more I wished I had the energy to be bothered. The dark was approaching ominously over the mountains in the distance, which, for all I knew, were my new home. I didn’t know what Will, my brother, looked like, whether he still had an English accent, where he lived, anything. The reply to my e-mail had come quickly, the simple ‘Yes’ hanging between us like a barrier. I didn’t even know if he wanted me, or if he just felt pity for his little half sister. I sighed and pulled out my mobile, I had no reception, and even if I did, my contract wouldn’t let me use international calls. One of my father’s ways to stop me wasting his money. I slid it back into my pocket; I would just have to get Will to get me a new SIM card. I hoped he had enough money to look after us both.
I pulled my pashmina closer around my neck and closed my eyes, leaning back against the wall. I could have a nap until he got here. He was already an hour late; I didn’t have a clue when he’d get here.
I slept for another hour when the screech of snow chains on grit woke me up into silence. My head spun with an unfamiliar chill and grogginess. I held a hand to my temples, which throbbed. Obviously the cold was getting to me. I opened my eyes to the enveloping darkness around me. It had gotten so dark, and so quickly. Night had pretty much descended and I was alone, save the blue jeep in front of me. The car wasn’t parked, but merely stopped in the emptiness of the car park, that was smothered in a layer of cold white snow. I shivered and waited for the car to turn off its engine. As I waved sheepishly, the vehicle shuddered to a stop, and sat silent. The door opened and I held my breath.
He wasn’t what I expected. I expected my brother to be like myself, but in male form, brown hair and blue eyes. But when this figure walked towards me, until, standing under the shelter, he took off his hood, I was surprised. The boy who stepped out didn’t look anything like my mother. His black hair was thick and stood up in scruffy tufts. His face shape and deep mahogany eyes reflected some native heritage but his skin was fair. Strange, despite the fact my mother was of Native American descent, and had dark tan skin.
I stood up, still tired and unsteady, and smiled feebly. He approached slowly, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. He did not look twenty nine, probably about nineteen, and very happy; he had a beam spreading from one ear to the other as looked me up and down.
“I’m Ash Gensky,” he stuck out a big hand. I took it unwillingly and looked up at him; he towered at least five inches above me.
“Lyla Shure,” I replied, shoving my hand back in my pocket. “Sorry, but I thought your name was Will?” I asked, even though it was obvious this was not my brother.
“Yeah, well Will and my brother are back at the house watching the football game; he paid me to come get you. But looking at the weather, and the fact my truck nearly jumped off the mountain, it’s not really enough,” the boy explained, trailing off at the end, motioning towards the car. I looked past him to the mud covered jeep that was sitting on the snowy tarmac, looking lethal and uninviting.
“Let me put your bags in the back,” he started, heading towards my luggage. I stepped in front of them quickly.
“Are you sure it’s safe to drive?” I blurted out. I wasn’t so worried that I was getting a lift with a guy I’d never met, but the road looked icy and the chains, well, not so reassuringly sturdy. They were coloured a strange brown shade. Rust or dirt? I wasn’t really in the mood to know.
“Yeah, it’s fine. Look I just drove two hours down the mountains to get you, and to be honest, I’m not going back alone,” he said, cocking his head to one side.
“I’m not comfortable with it.”
“How so? Is it the fact you don’t know me? Because I can handle doing the trip in silence if that’s what you want.”
“No, not you. Though I’m pissed that Will couldn’t be bothered to come get me!” I snapped. “But are the snow chains strong enough?” I couldn’t hide the slight waver in my voice, and Ash noticed.
“Is everything OK?” he asked, patting my shoulder. I edged away slightly, to pick up my rucksack.
“Yeah, forget I said anything,” I finally said, marching into the falling snow to get into the truck. I didn’t want a random guy pressing into my dark thoughts and resurfacing all my hideous memories. I frowned to myself and turned around to watch the boy pick up my bags with ease. The bags that I was so sure weighed a ton when I packed them. I swung around again and opened the jeep door. From the looks of it, Ash could definitely handle my cases.
He rolled them into the back seats with ease, even though they contained my whole life. I sighed and put on my seatbelt. Then they came.
Mum getting in the car, putting on her belt, checking her hair in the mirror and finally pulling out of the drive, the way she always did.
The A3, empty and foggy, all the way back from Guildford. The lights in the lanes hardly visible in the fog. Robert and Ella in the back, arguing about a film they’d seen, and who the actor was playing some minor part.
Me turning round to tell them to shut up. Mum telling me to turn around, it made her uneasy.
Me swatting her hand away as she pulled my hood of my jumper, trying to get me to face –
The ambulance stopped beside our overturned car, a solid gridlock next to our incident. Mystery cars that were invisible on the road earlier, now right before us.
Me walking across the field, whilst Robert called my name. Ella on a stretcher, calling for me too. Mum; covered by a white sheet.
“Ready?” Ash asked me. I hadn’t seen him get into the seat next to me, and turn the keys in the ignition. The car shook beneath us and I broke away from my thoughts. I looked at him. He grinned at me, and I tried to smile back, but my lips were frozen in that look of horror and fear, my eyes shining with tears, trying to break free from my body, but I wouldn’t let them.
“I guess,” I mumbled, and looked out of the window as we drove away from Denver International Airport, and to my new life. Whatever that was.
The trees were still and much taller than anything I’d ever seen in the concrete metropolis that was London. The journey had been long to me, and we’d only been driving for an hour. Ash turned off the main road, that somewhat resembled a motorway, except it was desolate. Completely alone in our car, Ash had turned on the CD player, turning it up extra loud, because if I didn’t make a fuss, I obviously wasn’t bothered. As much as I wanted to be, I didn’t mind at all. The rock music was my favourite type, loud enough to make your heart beat faster, but not so heavy metal it made you feel an urge to go and cry and pop some pills to make the tears stop. The lead singer of the band sang words that seemed to echo out of the jeep and bounce off the surrounding mountains.
I grumbled quietly under my breath. The sudden rush of cold I’d felt, and the napping without a coat on, made my nose run, to put it plainly. I sniffed. I needed a tissue, in true English manner. I looked about the car. None.
I lifted my hand and opened the compartment lodged in the dashboard. Several records fell out and I rushed to catch them. Next to me, I heard Ash stifle a laugh and I pretended to ignore him. I shut the latch again, still clutching about five CD’s. My cold was forgotten as curiosity took over, a natural instinct that my father used to say was my undoing.
I flicked through them, my eyebrows raised at a couple. He had all my favourites, Blue Foundation, Paramore, Yellowcard, and the like. When I took more out for further inspection, I found a few CD’s by the same band, one I’d never heard of.
I glanced sideways at Ash; the corner of his lips was turned up in a small, crooked smile. I decided that even if he was a bit overfriendly and weird, he was cute, in a totally random and non-meaningful way. I plucked up the courage to speak; maybe it would take my mind off the wailing wind outside, and the way the jeep took at least ten seconds to brake on the ice.
“So, um, Ash. Who are ‘Superpower’?” I asked, holding up the album that had an image of an eagle on it. Ash looked at me with slight awe, and took the CD from my frosty hands.
“Oh, they’re this band from our area,” he muttered, clearly embarrassed. I raised an eyebrow, what, is this his band? I knew what boys meant when they were trying to be modest and mysterious. I nodded anyway and took the plastic case back, as Ash needed to change gear.
“Do you mind if I put them on?” I enquired sneakily. He blushed slightly. I giggled inside; this was fun to make a boy flush.
“I guess, but make sure you put the CD that’s in there back in its original case.” He didn’t seem so funny now. I nodded again.
Taking a record out seemed a challenge for my numb fingers but I got it out in the end. I read the name, Raising Stars, and searched through the mini towers of cases until I found the right one.
The opening chords of the first song by Superpower were slow and soft, and then a husky voice began to sing, words that suddenly touched me.
Taking back the rain
The tears I caused you
Never seeing you again
It’s not that right to hold you back
To take your smile in
When all you had
Was done and broken
Final farewell and you are alone
Take your countdown, finding your home
It’s not that far or different to be
Where you belong, without me.....
I closed my eyes as the songs rolled through, the band was good, really good and as I smiled with every new song, Ash was singing along. It didn’t take long to realise it was his own band, and he was the singer.
When I opened my eyes again, we were driving down a long road, winding down a mountain into a valley, where lights twinkled in the darkness. I leant forward to get a better look.
“That’s Estes Park, where Will lives,” Ash said. I nodded silently.
“Is it big?” I whispered. “Is there lots to do?” I didn’t think I could hack it if I was alone and bored for too long. I might be tempted to actually fly home. But getting a lift back through the mountains seemed a pitiful thing to do when I could just try and like it here.
“Well there’s loads of things in the woods, and up in the pass. But honestly, the valley gets a little repetitive. It’s bit of a hikers trap in the summer, but in the winter it’s practically asleep. No one in their right mind would go hiking in this temperature and weather.”
“The pass?” I repeated.
“Yeah, it’s the highest trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park; Estes Park is just on the border. But it’s so easy to get lost off it. There’s only a few of us who’ve done it.
“Us? You mean you’ve walked it and others haven’t?” I asked. There a small pause, only recognisable because the music had stopped to allow a different song to start, and there was a frost in the air between us, a sharp silence.
His voice wavered, in the way one does when someone is trying to make a lie. “Well, I was brought up on this mountain, and with all the new GPS technology, my parents weren’t afraid to let me hike all around. But the older men who’ve been here their whole lives have known many a person get lost and die up there, so they don’t dare it.” It sounded a reasonable story, so the lie premise was disposed of.
I looked out of my window to the right. It felt strange, to have to sit on the opposite side.
“We’re nearly there,” Ash remarked, and he was right. The road ahead was descending into a steep drop before going back up again and a stone sign signalled our entry to Estes Park.
“So where does Will live?” I asked Ash, starting to think that this kid was pretty alright.
“He lives just up this road a bit, sure, it’s out of the centre of town, but there’s a path leading away behind the house, which takes you into the mountains to your left.”
I leant over Ash and looked into the darkness. The trees were being swallowed by an inevitable blackness. I loved the dark. It made you feel alone and invisible, which was sometimes comforting.
I remembered the day my father had died; I had wanted to shrink away into the dark. People were constantly asking me how I was; I couldn’t walk down the street without someone offering their condolences. I treated it as if he had just had an accident and was in hospital, it softened the blow. Although I knew inside that cancer was not an accident that could be fixed with a cast and a splint. I knew inside he was gone. But it shocked me how many people my father had known.
So at night, when Ella and her family thought I was safe and warm in their guest bedroom, I was walking the streets, sitting in the park, looking over the pond, thinking about how even London stood still for an hour at night and I was content with the notion that I was the only one out there. I smiled again at the thought.
Ash coughed, and I realised I was nearly completely lying over him, his hands were lightly touching the wheel and I smiled awkwardly and leant back. Ash laughed.
“It’s pretty scary isn’t it?” he asked, and I knew he wasn’t referring to the menacing looking woods next to us.
“I suppose I’ll have to get used to it,” I replied, looking down at my hands, and we sped along, the speed dial climbing higher and higher.
“Why did you come here? I mean, I don’t want to press into your thoughts or anything, but Will told me your dad died. Couldn’t you stay with your mom?”
I sucked in a breath through my teeth, and it made a hissing noise. I blinked furiously as the tears came, to the back of my eyes, stinging and uninvited. I forced them to retreat in anger.
“My mum died too,” I whispered. I looked at the side of Ash’s face, his profile. His cheeks and chin were sharply angled, his eyes deep and honest, his mouth wide and smiling, but now it had fallen.
“I’m really sorry Lyla; I didn’t mean to bring it up. But god, losing them both at the same time.” Instantly he looked down for a second, he was guilt ridden. I got the feeling he didn’t know what to say to make me feel better. I felt bad because he felt bad. Was it wrong to feel that after just meeting someone?
I broke the awkward silence.
“Ash, don’t worry. Plenty of people say that kind of thing to me, and it’s kind of just numbed in now. Anyway, she died a while ago.”
“Oh,” was all he said. We were silent again, and it unnerved me. Why did he feel he had to apologise, it wasn’t like he knew her or anything. I was used to it now.
“She died when I was eleven, so it was a long time in the past.” I sighed. Thinking about my mum made me feel weirdly empty inside, a feeling I neither welcomed nor dismissed. The tugging edges of me felt they were starting to fray when someone mentioned her name, but thinking about the good memories I had of her, slowly made them mend. It was an even situation on any road. The feeling the edges might fray away completely, the feeling that I might forget her someday, terrified me, and I was oddly grateful that people mentioned it now and again.
“So Will must have been twenty three?” Ash mused. Then his face became animated again.
“I remember now,” he started. “When I was about thirteen, Will went into this state of depression for a while, I remember my brother trying to convince him to get some sort of therapy. But Will wouldn’t, instead he just went away for a while. Whatever he did must have worked because he came back as good as new. He still hasn’t told anyone where he got to, he just up and left.”
I sank further down into my seat. Will actually felt something when our mother died? From what my dad had told me, Will had been a pretty useless child, hated his mum and had tried to leave the moment they’d got married. It suddenly made sense that my dad had not been Wills favourite person in the world.
Sure, my dad had a stubborn streak, but so did I. And my mother had always been a bit of a softie. Did Will think our mum had settled down with another man too quickly after his own father had left? Did Will blame me for the fact he never saw his mother again? Because another new child in the family, well, that just brings up all kinds of unwanted emotion. Neglect, isolation, forgotten memory.
I took a second to think of Will’s side of the story. All I knew of Wills dad was that he was from this area of Colorado and had been an avid mountain climber and a travel writer. I didn’t know his name or how they’d met, only the reason he’d left.
Mum had been a wild girl when he’d met her and by taking her to England, he felt she’d been tamed, and was no longer the same woman. He thought they were too different to be together, and she felt the same, even though she cried every night for years after I was born. It wasn’t until I was seven that she finally must have moved on and accepted that he was gone completely. That was when she threw away the letters, the photos. He had been a very handsome man. But obviously very trivial.
“We’re here,” a voice nudged into my mind. We turned down a long drive, away from the faint glow of the main street. There was no light whatsoever coming through the trees now and it made me wonder how Ash could see where he was driving.
“Hold on, it’ll get a little bumpy now. There’re holes in the track, and Will has never really thought it smart to fill them in, or cut down a few trees. Thinks he’s ruining the natural beauty or something. Total wacko,” Ash explained as I clung onto the ceiling handle. As Ash predicted, the jeep took a short, sharp plunge into a hole and soon enough we were out of it. I was happy it was dim, so I couldn’t see the dangers in front of us.
Then suddenly, a soft glow emerged from behind some trees. Ash smirked as I gasped at the sheer enormity of a house that sat in front of us.
“Wow, is this seriously where I’m going to live?” I pondered out loud.
“Don’t get too excited,” Ash mumbled as the jeep turned swiftly to the right. The house disappeared quickly as we sped down a smoother track. In front of us now was a small and dainty dwelling, and despite the smaller size, it looked so much more like a home.
The house sat in a throng of birch trees, surrounded by larger trees, pine or fir, I couldn’t tell in the dark. The walls were a shadowy grey stoned, but the two big flowerpots outside held an array of multicoloured plants that livened up the dreary exterior. The windows didn’t have curtains, and if they did, they were not drawn. I could see four figures slumped on a settee in the front room, occasionally leaping up and moving around. I grinned. Probably some kind of sport, I know my father had been a fanatical football fan, utterly dedicated to watching his team, Blackburn, play whenever he could. Frankly, I couldn’t understand the fixation. Then I remembered they were watching a football game, as Ash had told me earlier.
“Who’s playing?” I asked, smiling. Ash unclicked first his seatbelt and then mine.
“Colorado Buffalos and the Idaho Vandals, I think,” he answered, swiftly opening the door and turning off the engine. I looked down at my hands. They shook violently. I had no idea I would be so nervous to meet Will.
“You coming?” Ash poked his head around the door again, two of my bags in his hands. I nodded and got out. The air was unpleasantly cold and rapidly dropping in temperature every minute; the harsh wind an uninvited visitor to my skin.
I heaved my rucksack and last case out of the bag seat and slammed the door shut. As much as I wanted to simply gaze at my new home, the hairs standing on end on my arm thought otherwise, and I hurried over to where Ash stood in the open doorway.
“Look, I’m sorry you felt a bit weird when you first met me, but give us all a break ok? We’ve been just as nervous as you are. You’re about to change our lives forever, and we don’t even know how. But you can bet on it happening.” Ash ran a hand through his scruffy hair and grinned.
What he said hit me like a rock. Was I intruding that much?
“I’ll try,” was all I could manage, my breath coming in raspy pauses.
Ash straightened up and took a few steps into the house.
“Will?” Ash called out into the house. A faint noise carried down the hall and as I stepped in further, Ash shut the door behind me. I rubbed my arm with my free hand and looked around the hallway. The light colour made the house seem bigger and it was decorated with a couple of movie posters, and some framed pictures of guys and a couple of a girls.
“Dude, I’m through here,” a low voice trailed in from an archway. Ash winked at me and I followed him into the front room, and to my brother.
To be honest, I had expected worse. I had expected a sullen teenage like lad, who, unlike Ash, would care little about how I felt after my father had died, or how I felt to be here, in his care. I drew in my breath as I stepped over the threshold of carpet from floorboards, which separated the hall from the living room. Ash put his hand on my shoulder, out of support or just to stop me falling over, I didn’t know, but it felt oddly comfortable. I took a small step back and looked around the sofa to steal a glance at the face of the figure standing up. He turned around, beaming, and strode forward, taking me into a tight embrace.
“Lyla,” he breathed with relief. He sniffed heavily and pulled away. My eyes were cast down towards the floor, as much as I felt the urge to, I couldn’t look him in the eyes. What would I see there? My mother, staring right back at me? Myself, a girl just wishing she had stayed in England with Ella Ford, or a brother so overwhelmed to see his long lost sister, he was on the brink of crying?
What are you thinking Lyla? He’s your flesh and blood. He’s not going to care what you think, I thought. I looked. The shock that ran through me, that my answer to myself was number three, boy on verge of tears, was sharp.
“I’ve been waiting for hours! Ash what the hell?!” he directed at the boy behind me, who now removed his hand from my shoulder and stepped forward to explain.
“Dude! Have you seen the snow outside?” he said, throwing a fast gesture at the window. The three guys on the sofa laughed. I ignored them and looked back at my brother, who now stared me straight in the eye.
It was nice to see he was tanned like me, I felt slightly more belonging, and his eyes were the same almond shape as mine. But where mine were light from my blue eyed father, his were a dark green, obviously from his own dad. They glimmered in the bright light above my head.
“It’s really nice to meet you, I’m Will,” Will said, holding out his hand for me to shake. Instead, I just held it for a while, marvelling in how we had the same blood running through our veins, and I smiled at him. His hair made me laugh, dark brown and sticking up in all directions, long, down to his chin, and very thick. It looked like he’d stuck his finger in a socket and been shocked by the static.
“Everyone happy with the introductions now? Wait, No! We’re still the three randoms on the couch. Man, establish us to your new, superior sister!” the lad on the left of the sofa yelled. I cringed. I hated that people assumed that London born Brits were all posh and well brought up. I mean, I had been brought up in a richer area of the city, but assumptions were always infuriating.
The guys got up and marched their way over to where we stood, congregated on front of the archway, and they all in turn shook my hand and smiled at me.
Laurie was the tallest boy, and obviously Ash’s brother, for the similarities in their appearance was uncanny and very clear. The fact that Laurie was not smiling at me was a strange difference. Where Ash was constantly happy, and by my side at every moment, Laurie gave me a look that seemed to say, we don’t want you here. I decided that maybe I should keep out of his way for a while, until I could suss what was up with him. The other two were Jack and Emmett, brothers too, but Emmett was nineteen, which is how I figured out that Ash was the same age. He smiled at me in a knowing way, and the way he looked at me was unnerving, like I hadn’t left school, where I’d had a small share of boyfriends, none of whom ever dared to look at me with this kind of intensity. As pathetic as it sounds, I felt the attraction there and then, Emmett’s sharp gaze made my stomach flip.
“Shouldn’t you be at college?” I asked Ash as we made our way into the kitchen, I hadn’t eaten since the flight.
“We should. But we don’t feel we need to go. I work at the ranger post with Laurie; it’s the only job I’ve ever really wanted, looking after this part of the park. And Jack owns a workshop in the town. Emmett is his partner in business.”
“Emmett’s already got a business partnership?” I asked, impressed that someone could have that much responsibility already.
“Yeah, but honestly, he mistreats it loads. He never goes in to work, just spends his time annoying me and Laurie at work,” Ash laughed.
“Why don’t Laurie and Emmett just switch jobs then?” I suggested, smiling at Ash. Ash grinned back and walked over to the sink, filling up two glasses of water for us.
“Laurie’s lazy. His job is perfect because he doesn’t do anything.”
“Looking after a national park is easy work? I never would have guessed,” I replied, still smiling, Ash was fun to talk to, now that he wasn’t picking me up in a country I’d never been to, to see a brother I had only hoped really wanted me.
“It can be,” Ash replied slowly, whispering this in my ear. I looked up the see Laurie leaning in the doorway, giving Ash a glare that really embodied the phrase, if looks could kill.
“Guys! Sit down! I’ll get you all something to drink!” Will swung his arms around me and Ash as he burst into the room. As I followed Ash to the round table in the centre of the room, I failed to notice Emmett was now at the other end of the kitchen, when in fact; he’d been right behind me....
We were now sat around Will’s, and now I guess, my, kitchen table, Will going through a box of photos and letters my mum sent to him, with pictures of me, his little sister, growing up. He grinned as he passed them round.
“I came to visit you once. I really missed Mom, and wanted to see you,” he explained when I questioned his absence. He sat next to me, his eyes full of wonder and awe, as if I were the most amazing thing on the earth he’d ever seen. I blushed every time I caught him looking at me; in fact, all the people around the table sat staring at me. It was nursery school all over again, and it looked like I was the latest toy.
“I had no idea,” I sighed, looking down at my hands, which were now wrapped around a steaming mug of brown liquid, but I was unsure if it was coffee or hot chocolate. I didn’t really want to test it to find out; I was allergic to coffee.
“Things didn’t go as smoothly as I planned,” Will’s face turned serious, and he looked at Jack, who returned the solemn look.
I pretended not to notice.
“Why not? Was it my dad?” I pressed on further, eager to know why I’d grown up without a brother to look out for me, annoy me, and love me.
“He just didn’t agree with me on anything. We were two similar people living two very different lives. He also supported Blackburn, and not Fulham,” he added, with a wicked grin. I laughed. Who knew that even after seventeen years in the USA, Will still found time to support a low profile football team back home.
“That sucks I guess,” I muttered, looking at the swirling liquid in my mug. I looked up then to see Will texting on a mobile, guessing, it was his. Jack looked away out of the window into the deep blackness, Laurie was standing by the sink, washing up the used cups, and Emmett and Ash were looking at me.
“So, can I see my room?” I asked quietly. Ash got up instantly.
“Sure, I’ll save you from the never-ending interrogation that you were about to get,” he mumbled, taking my elbow and dragging me into the hallway. Ash took off his jacket and hung it on a brass hook behind the front door, revealing a pale yellow t-shirt, and a long scar running up his right arm. I reached over and touched it lightly.
“What happened there?”
“Oh, I had a – erm – run in with a bear in the forest,” he shrugged.
“I didn’t know there were bears around here,” I mused, picking up some luggage.
“Well, it was much unexpected,” he replied, through clenched teeth. “Come on, I know which room is yours. I helped paint it,” he continued smugly, picking up my last remaining cases and bounding halfway up the stairs.
“I hope you like it Lyla,” he said, before turning back up the steps.
The landing was similar to the hallway, but there was a large canvas painting of a woman hanging opposite the stairwell, and a couple of picture frames, now containing Will and this canvas lady. I shrugged as I walked past them. Maybe he’d tell me who she was later.
My room was at the far end of the landing, where the windows stopped letting light in, and the door was shrouded in shadow. Ash hesitantly swung open the door to reveal a brightly lit room with spring green walls and white curtains. I couldn’t see the window view because of the trees masking the house from moonlight but I made a mental note to check it out as soon as I woke up. All in all, the bedroom was lovely, and felt fresh, like I really was starting anew.
“Thanks Ash, I love it,” I said, looking around in happiness. Ash stretched and laughed.
“It’s not much, but give it a month or two, our faces will be plastered on these walls,” he answered, handing me a box that sat upon a shelf next to the window.
I frowned at him. Was he trying to give me gifts already?
“Don’t worry Lyla, it’s from your brother, to get your new life started,” he clarified. I sighed and nodded, opening the flap of the box and pulling out a mysterious black lump, plastic and metal.
A Polaroid camera.
I laughed and held it up, snapping a picture of Ash, standing by my door, looking simply bewildered by my excited reaction to the present. I was a complete sucker for photography. The picture rolled out of the camera and I peeled off the sticky adhesive tape on the back, smacking it right above the pine desk, giggling.
“How fetching,” Ash muttered, giving it a thumbs up. I shoved him lightly in the side and flopped down on the bed. Having a definite place to live was a relief and I smiled up at the ceiling.
“Warning, Lyla has gone mad and is now laughing at the own jokes inside her head!” Ash joked, lying down next to me.
“Shut it, cowboy,” I said, closing my eyes.
We lay like that for a little while before Ash broke the silence.
“Glad you made the choice?” he asked. I nodded, and turned over to face him.
“Definitely,” I responded, grinning.
“I know you miss it.”
I looked up at the ceiling. There was another silence. Inside my heart was pounding, I wanted to admit I missed London. I missed Ella and all her quirky happiness. I missed Rob with his overprotectivness and warmth. I even missed the cold weather, the rain, because as much as it bothered me then; it was nowhere near as cold as this. But Ash was a fast becoming friend. So I took the easy route out of awkwardness.
“But this is my new home. And I love it,” I simply said. I faced him again and smiled. He had nice eyes, I could see his friendliness in them, his supportive nature glistening from inside.
Ash returned my smile and inside I could feel myself saying yes, this was exactly what I wanted, family and new friends. Good new friends. I drifted away......
Lights flashing. Sirens wailing. Friends crying. It’s all I could hear. All my brain could register. I could feel myself falling. Into this big pit that never seemed to end. It was so vivid, I had seen it, felt it, before. Every night since my father’s death. It had just brought back every bad memory I had.
I turned. Something warm was pressed up against me. I frowned. This wasn’t my bed. My bed in London was against the wall, cold and hard. I flickered open my eyes. A large soft toy took up most of the bed, and I sat up slowly. I remembered these green walls, that camera sitting on the desk, that photo of that boy. I sniggered.
Getting out of the warm bed was a hard task to finish. The snow was still falling outside my window and it made me shiver. I didn’t want to get out and feel cold. Reluctantly I swung the duvet off me, and got out. Warm air hit me like a wave. I guess Will wasn’t a fan of cold mornings either. I grumbled as I searched through my cases for some trackies, socks and a jumper. Then I made my way, very uncertainly, downstairs.
“Lyla!” Ash got up when he saw me enter the kitchen. “I was just gonna come wake you up. It’s like two in the afternoon!”
“That means she’s tired! So keep your voice down Ash!” a woman’s voice trailed into the room from a doorway. I raised an eyebrow at Ash and he winked. I looked at the open mahogany door and watched it swing shut, to reveal one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen.
Her skin was pale white, her cheeks rose petals against her face. Her eyes were a dark brown, a complete contrast to her complexion, and she had long red hair that hung thick, past her shoulders, and ending in soft curls. She moved lithely across the room, her feet bare and pattering softly on the wooden floor. I tried to look away and take a seat at the table, but my eyes kept on drifting to her. Who was she exactly?
“I hope you like omelette, since it’s the only thing Laurie eats at the moment. Men and their picky appetites!” She laughed a sound that rang like wind chimes in my ear.
“Romena,” Ash mouthed to me, as she slid huge omelettes onto our plates. I cocked my head and smiled at him, raising an eyebrow.
My head spun with theories, she was too unique to be another sibling of one of the boys, and she had to have been only twenty or so, about Emmett’s age I guessed. As my mind played out the thought that she could be with Emmett, my heart gave a little flutter. Emmett was beautiful for a boy, I knew that, but this woman was just, exquisite. A niggling feeling tugged at my heartstrings as I glanced over at Emmett again.
“Morning gorgeous,” Will strode into the room and kissed Romena on the lips. I hung my head and pretended not to look. That kind of love was hard to watch, especially when you wish you’d had it.
Ash stuck out his tongue and pulled a face at Will, who, in return, gave him a whack on the head. Romena giggled and went back to cooking breakfast. Will gave her a last look and took a seat next to me, where he pulled my plate away from me and tucked into my omelette.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, giving my newly found brother a light tap on the arm. He gave me a wink, as if he knew that I hated omelettes and didn’t want to eat it. I grinned and looked down at my hands, my paint chipped nails, my left thumb which had a brand new union jack painted on it, for a Proud to be British party I attended a week ago. I sighed.
I missed my friends, Ella and Rob. I missed Ella’s little jokes and her overly flirtatious ways. I missed Rob’s hugs and the way he knew me inside out, since he’d been my first boyfriend, until we decided it was too weird and stuck to ‘just friends’. I missed Miranda Ford, and the way she treated me like her own daughter, even yelling at me when I tipped cheese sauce in a pair of boots I was so sure were Ella’s, when they were in fact Miranda’s. I missed my school, the underground, Camden Market, the Astoria 2, walking down the Strand at night, looking off Tower Bridge at 3am, wishing everything could be different. I hadn’t expected change to come about so quickly.
“Earth to Lyla? Still with us?” Ash was stood behind me, and ruffled my hair when I snapped out of my thoughts,
“Sorry, daydreaming. Do it all the time.”
“Go get dressed. I want to show you something.”
I did as he said and went upstairs. My biggest case was open on the floor, where I’d been looking for a toothbrush last night. I picked out a pair of jeans, some snow boots and a Jack Wills jumper, then sprinting downstairs, shoving my hair in a messy bun. Ash was waiting by the door, already with his coat on.
“You look nice, Lyla. Designer sweater?” he asked, reaching for the door.
“Err, kinda,” I began. “Where are we going?” I asked, shutting the front door behind me, as Romena called out goodbye.
“Get in the car,” Ash winked and motioned for me to climb in.
I did as I was told and sat there for a moment, and waited for this strange boy to actually drive me somewhere.
Just as I was about to call out, Ash got in.
“What are we doing? I’m freezing Ash!” I cried, rubbing my arms, wishing I’d worn more clothes under the coat and jumper.
“I’m going to show you your new home. In daylight.” He sat frozen for a second, smiling and happy, as if waiting for me to respond. When I didn’t, he just sat back and put on his seatbelt, still grinning.
“Ok then,” he said, and we set off into the bright white day.
“So I’m thinking a bit of Superpower?” I asked, pressing the power button on. Ash shrugged and kept his eyes on the road. The music flooded the car with a soulful voice and well placed guitar chords.
I listened closely as Ash drove the car along the roads. The snow had stopped falling, and it was getting brighter and brighter outside, the beauty of the day dawning on us, in the valley of the mountains. I smiled out of the window to myself, letting the music flow into my mind. Ash was softly singing along, and it was the first time since I’d arrived, that everything seemed vaguely normal. As if it was just another day driving with another friend, like Rob. Except Rob’s idea of good music was The Kooks, Bloc Party or Kasabian, music I doubted Ash would ever had heard of, let alone listen to. Ash’s taste in music was familiar, and as much as I’d always known my idea of good tunes would be better recognised in the United States, I hadn’t realised I’d have that much in common with people.
“Who else is in your band?” I asked Ash, flicking through the tracks, to find one that suited my happy mood, something upbeat.
“Well, Emmett plays the drums but the other two guys don’t live around here, they have a house up in the mountains; really big. Father’s a record producer,” he replied, turning to look at me as he answered.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” I warned, before continuing, only after he had faced the view again.
“So has their dad signed you?”
“No, he’s more of a rap and hip-hop label, it’s really small anyway. The other guys want to make it big but me and Emmett are actually happy just playing around here. I’m not holding out for fame, when I’ve got everything I want right here.” Ash grinned. “And besides, we wouldn’t suit the spotlight. We’re too weird.”
“I don’t think you’re weird,” I muttered, musing over his words. I thought back to Emmett, what I had seen of him, and how he seemed. He looked like a strong and silent type, with his height and his well-built stature. He hadn’t spoken much, just introduced himself, and besides the staring over the table last night, which I couldn’t exactly blame him for, the others were just as bad, as if I was a shiny new toy they wanted to play with, he had left quickly, and I hadn’t seen him since. The overwhelming events of my arrival had caused me to forget his features, so I shoved him out of my mind and looked over at Ash who was smiling one of those private smiles, the ones that happen when you think of something you love, and no one else can guess what you’re thinking. Those smiles mean the most.
We were approaching the Estes Park sign, a green board that blended in too much with the surrounding fir trees. Elevation, 7522 ft. I shuddered with anticipation. Back home I’d been an avid rock climber, hiker and active outdoorsy girl. The mountains looked harsh and forbidding, yet I wanted to get out and attempt to get up them with all I had. The looming shapes were blanketed in snow and trees, and as I thought we were going to continue on into the town, Ash’s jeep took a fierce swerve up a steep track. I gasped as the car lurched forward and Ash’s face was now one of concentration as he focused on getting up the winding path. I held on to the dashboard and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” he said, frowning out at the track.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” I cried, my arms flailing about as the car jerked around, sinking into potholes and riding over bumps.
“I don’t under—“
“It’s been years since my mum died. And ever since, I’ve been afraid of driving, afraid of cars. I’d only ever drive with my dad or my friend’s mother. And now,” I hesitated, stopping to laugh again, “Now here I am, driving up a mountain on an unstable path in a falling apart jeep with a boy I barely know. And I wonder what my fear was all along.”
We were silent for a while, the car making a disagreeable groaning, the music getting louder and louder, the tension building until suddenly Ash swerved us right off the track into the centre of the trees.
“WHAT THE HELL, ASH!” I screamed, as we narrowly dodged trees and bushes, my eyes widening and Ash smiling.
“SLOW DOWN! GET BACK ON THE ROAD! I TAKE BACK EVERYTHING I JUST SAID!” I continued, but Ash ignored me.
My protests carried on until we reached a break in the forest, and Ash pulled the jeep to a severe halt. We were right at the edge of the mountain, high up, and overlooking the whole of Estes Park, the valley. The sun had come out, and was shining brightly on the snow, giving the town a surreal image and the mountains looked striking.
“You going to get out or what?” Ash smirked, opening his door and clambering down onto the snow covered forest floor.
The ground crunched under my snow boots, and I was bloody freezing, but rather than dwell on that subject, I walked over to the steep precipice and gazed over my new home. The sun was reflecting harshly on the brilliantly white snow and I had to shield my eyes from the rays. Ash was beside me in an instant with two pairs of sunglasses. I rolled my eyes at his perfect timing.
“I always know what’s up,” was his response.
We then stood there, in silence, looking over our world. Our miniature planet that was ours for the taking. I had yet to acquaint myself with the town, but already I had the notion that it was far more spectacular than London.
Of course it didn’t have the sheer magnitude that London possessed, the overwhelming amount of people crowding its little American streets, unlike the popular trawls of the city, Knightsbridge, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Hyde Park. London was surrounded by the urban scrawl of life, trees encased in concrete districts, perhaps the only pieces of greenery for miles. Hyde Park made that slight exception, with the acres of grass and the wide river running through the middle, the annual spot for the Red Bull air race, which was my favourite event of the year, besides Christmas and birthdays.
And then there were the odd little parks around Notting Hill, Primrose Hill, Kensington, all those little trendy places Rob would call the New York of London. But there were the few places I wouldn’t miss spending time about so much, Camden or Brixton, where Rob also said the nutters and gangsters were abundant.
“What do you think of your new home Lyla?” Ash nudged me with his elbow. I nudged him back, laughing.
“It’s beautiful. I can’t believe my mum traded all this in to stay in the UK. But I guess I wouldn’t see it if she hadn’t.”
“I know what you mean. I haven’t been out of Colorado for three years. We went on a vacation, me and Laurie, to New York, and just seeing the crowds, and all the buildings, the cars. It just made me realise that, why bother going anywhere, when everything I’d ever need, and want, is right here.”
“Oh, well,” I raised an eyebrow and pulled a mocking face. “Does this have to do with a girl?”
“It didn’t use to be. But maybe things will change,” Ash replied, pulling me a little closer.
I didn’t feel that way about Ash, and he probably knew it. I mean, he’d known me for less than twenty four hours. But I had to admit, the cold was getting to me, and Ash was warm.
We stood like that, huddled together, overlooking the valley until my phone started to vibrate in my pocket. I grinned as I saw Ella’s name flashing on the screen.
“I’ve got to take this,” I said, motioning to the trees behind me. Ash shrugged and pulled back the hair hiding his right ear, and revealed the Ipod headphone which lay surreptitiously beneath. He wouldn’t miss my company for twenty minutes. I turned and walked away into the woods, checking to make sure I could still see Ash in sight, and then leant against a fat pine tree.
“LYLA! WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL ME EARLIER?” A wild shriek echoed down the handset and I laughed.
“Because I know you hate being woken up at three in the morning. Plus, I haven’t really had time.”
“Fair dos, but you’re still going to tell me everything you know so far about this whole, new life thing.”
“It’s not a thing, Ella. It’s a paradise. If you’re idea of paradise is snow capped mountains and rugged forest scenery,” I added. I could hear Ella’s breathing loudly, and I put the phone on loudspeaker.
“It sounds great, yadda, whatever. I want to know about Will. Is he cute?”
“ELLA! He’s my brother!”
“Only by blood,” she replied, and I knew, rather than saw, that she was smirking, probably in her kitchen, making a cup of tea.
“Well he’s friendly. And so is his girlfriend. And his mates. And Ash.”
I had to turn the phone off speaker, in case the boy at the edge of the mountain could overhear.
“Yeah, he’s just a friend. Picked me up from the airport,” I explained.
“No wonder you were too busy to call. Is he cute?” As predictable as ever, all Ella cared about was boys.
“In a completely friends only, strictly no romance, kind of way, yes,” I teased.
“Oh! You’re killing me here. Ok, who have you met so far? Any girls? I need to be updated on potential new best friends, so I know that my replacement will be up to scratch.”
“Ella, no one is going to replace you,” I answered, smiling to myself. Ella could always make me feel better, and the fact she was fishing for a compliment on her best friendliness, was not far from the girl I had always known and loved.
“Well, that’s good to know. Listen, Rob wants to talk to you,” and she passed me over to my other soul mate in friendship.
“Hey-dilly ho, Lala. Up to much in the land of Mr Frosty?” Rob mocked. I laughed and turned to check Ash was still there. He’d moved from my sight, so I edged out of the trees again, ready to get on our way home.
“Just checking out my new territory really.”
“Or the new talent?”
Ok, make Rob just as predictable as Ella. I looked around again for Ash, and even the jeep which seemed to have mysteriously vanished. My heart beat a little faster, not fast enough for major panic overload, but enough to make me quicken my pace as I returned to the clearing.
“Lala, you ok? You’re breathing really heavy,” Rob’s voice squealed from the phone that was now clenched in my hand, hanging by my side.
“Yeah, I’m fine, I just, I have to go now.”
“Well we miss you!” Ella screamed down the phone, but I didn’t register it, as I flipped my phone shut, and peered out from behind a tree, into the clearing we stood in not too long ago.
Empty. Ash and the jeep were gone. This time, I really started to worry. How the hell was I supposed to get out of the woods, without even any warm clothes? I thanked God, I had the best woman’s intuition on this planet, but still, I didn’t know where I was trying to get to, and without an aim in my hike, I was pretty much screwed.
“Lyla, quickly!” Ash’s voice snapped from right behind me, so that when I turned around, he was pushing me towards the trees again.
“What—Ash, what are we—“ I stammered as I tripped over roots and branches, as we worked our way further into the woods, going in the direction I was so sure we had not come.
“I’ll explain later,” he mumbled, and he steered me towards a light, which I happily took to be the track. There the jeep sat, alone and frosty, and we quickly scrambled into it.
Ash turned to look at me. I looked back and saw an apologetic and slightly frightened face. The face of just a boy, staring at me so hard, it was as if he was speaking to me in silence. Telling me something I didn’t want to hear, but had to. Then he took my cold hands in his, and faced out of the front window again.
“I am so sorry,” were the only words he whispered the whole way home.
Ash decided not to mention the strange thing in the wood when we got home, so neither did I. Yet I couldn’t help escaping the feeling that the others knew anyway. Unless Ash had a way of telling them when I wasn’t around, and he was always around me, there was no way. I thought, in the end; why not just let it go. So for the next few days, I waited patiently in the house, for the next to come.
Monday came eventually, and it was Will who drove me down the mountain in the centre of Estes, to the high school. I shuddered at the thought of American school. I had seen the movies, the ones where Lindsay Lohan and Drew Barrymore got eaten alive at first. Even if Drew Barrymore hadn’t been a junior, but still. I had to wear my own clothes, which was a struggle in its self. What does one wear on its first day of high school that will represent the way the students see me for the rest of my time there? I was used to school uniform, black skirt, white shirt, individual tie for different schools, and blazer with school badge sewn on the front pocket.
“Stop worrying, “Will comforted me as he walked me up the front steps. I felt like everyone was staring. Which wasn’t exactly true, people were of course looking at me, but it was different. They couldn’t strike me off for having my brother with me, even if he was my new legal guardian. Plus, the system was different over the pond...
“Do I look ok? Do I just....blend in?” I asked him quietly. I looked up to see his face as he came up with an answer but it came right away.
“No, you don’t blend in. You stand out wonderfully. The awesome new girl from England, who lives with her even more awesome big brother. There’s nothing to care about. The kids here are really nice. None of that Mean Girl stuff here. No cliques as far as I remember. You’re not in London anymore. We’re all the same.”
I smiled and looked around at the other faces. Pretty girls in simple clothes, sitting about, occasionally throwing the odd curious glance. Expected. Boys throwing a football at each other, talking to the simple girls. These looked like the jock and cheerleader clique, except they said hello, to the majority of students who walked past. Instantly, it felt like the safest place to be.
Mr Vickel’s Office. The sign was painted in a harsh red against the frosted glass. I looked behind me at Will who was smiling.
“We’ll pick you up later,” he said. I frowned.
“Well I’ll probably ask one of the others. You need to become comfortable with them. They’re your new family too now.”
I turned back to the door, then quickly spun back and hugged Will. A catcall from down the hallway echoed, but it was alone. Will handed me my bag and pushed me in.
“Go!” he laughed, and then walked back the way we came, playfully nudging the whistler, who laughed and went back to his locker. The ethics of this school were confusing and strange.
I shut the door behind me, and faced Mr Vickel, a slight man, with thinning red hair and bright grey eyes, almost transparent.
“Hello, you must be Lyla Shure,” he said, without looking up from his paperwork.
“Yes, I am. I think I’m here for—“
“I know why you’re here. You’re living with your brother up the mountain in that darling little cottage, with his partner Romena, and you’ve made friends with the Gensky boy. You’re now ready to start our high school, but you don’t know where you’re going, so you need your timetable.”
“You need to get used to it. Things don’t stay quiet in this town for long. And this school is even worse,” he explained, finally looking up, with a friendly expression on his gaunt face. I smiled shyly back and stepped closer.
He handed me a slip of paper, with all my classes on it, a few errors and corrections etched in pencil and purple pen. Looked like I was scheduled to take Music. Right then I wished I hadn’t sung in the shower every day since I got here.
“Sir, I can’t really understand where these classes are.”
“It’s ok, we have assigned a fellow junior to help you out, she’s in your first class. I’ll take you now,” he said, standing up. He swung his jacket off his chair, and slid it on.
“If the phone rings, I’m in a meeting,” he called out to the women behind him typing. They all nodded silently and waved at me leaving. I was too stunned to wave back.
The high school in Estes is small. Smaller than my old school back in London, where it was almost certain you would go through five years without being able to name your whole school, and if you were lucky, you might be able to identify your whole year by first and last name.
Walking down the hallway here, I could feel a few people’s eyes on me, but luckily, the bell had rung, and most were settled inside classrooms. We traipsed down several corridors until we reached the point where the white linoleum flooring became dark blue carpet, and the walls were no longer lined with black lockers, but now with posters of people, and paintings. Leaflets of museums were pinned to giant corkboards, and displays held pieces of artwork and photographs. I smiled at one picture, a painting of a field, with two people standing in it, far apart, but facing each other. We kept on walking.
“Room 20, Art,” Mr Vickel whispered, holding open the door for me to enter.
As the breeze from the fan blew into my face, I closed my eyes lightly and thought back in a flash to everything that seemed to be happening since I had arrived. The whole arrival, meeting Ash, the woods, meeting Emmett, getting my new car, which was a rusty Jeep just like Ash’s, yet a dark black colour, and a little bit more stable.
And this was just one more step in this whole new life, which was scary and unfamiliar. I opened my eyes and looked into this class of about twenty students. They all gazed back at me with indifferent faces, some even welcoming. I smiled a small grin and gave my timetable to the teacher at the desk to check over.
As she read my paper, I noticed she was wearing flip flops, despite the six inches of snow outside, and had a pencil wedged in her hair. I eyed her strangely, comparing her to the uptight teachers back in England, who walked around with uniform detention slips to hand if a piece of your uniform dared to be out of place. They were tall, never wore jeans, and spoke to you like you were vermin.
The teacher waved her hand to the large room in front of us and looked at me warmly. She had large blue eyes that clashed with her onyx black hair, which looked seriously dyed. It was tied in a messy bun, with a few curls falling onto her shoulders. The flip flops were not that out of place to her, it seemed. She also wore a sleeveless top with cut offs. I smiled and rolled my eyes as I turned to face the class.
“Lyla Shure? Tell us something about you to the class, please,” she said in a high voice. I swallowed. I swore that was just something they did in the films, but apparently not. I looked at all the curious faces, which were now lifted from the giant sketch books open in front of them. So they wanted to know something? There wasn’t much I could say. Then an image of Ash’s face swam in front of my mind, and I came up with something.
“I’m Lyla; I’m from London, England. And I’m into music. I’ve actually got a friend who is in a local band around here, so, I guess –“I stopped. “I guess that’s your little something about me.”
I tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ears and smiled. I had been carefully scanning the class so that when I was done, I had a place to sit.
“Thank you Lyla. I’m Miss Darling,” she said smiling warmly. I took my timetable off the teacher and she pointed to the two seat desk I had been eyeing up, next to another girl, and near a window, so I could just daydream, and wait for drawing inspiration to come.
I quickly went over, and sat down, slumping my Dunlop shoulder bag on the tabletop, making the girl next to me, who was deeply concentrated in her work; I had no idea if she’d even been listening to my introduction, jump. She looked up quickly from her sketch book, acknowledged my presence and moved some of her materials. I smiled and slid onto the stool next to her. I pulled out my notepad and scribbled down that I needed to get myself some pastels and paints.
Mr Vickel came by my desk and dropped a slip of paper in front of me, along with a sketch pad, like everyone else’s. I opened it, touching the blank white pages, grainy, yet soft, underneath my fingertips.
“You need to get this signed by every class teacher you have, and then bring it back to my office, hand it to Mrs Fraught; she’s the tall lady with red hair, at the end of the day. Have a nice first day here at Estes,” he muttered, before scampering out of the class. I seemed to be the only one who found him a little strange; the rest of the class had bowed their heads again and were working on their pieces. The teacher at the front sat filing her nails, which I had seen to be covered in paint and oil pastel. I picked up a fine liner from my bag and wrote my name in small letters. I hated my handwriting. It was scribbled and childish. The way I printed my characters gave the impression that I couldn’t write in cursive. I sighed and glanced at my neighbour’s book. She was busy drawing a huge pear, and had laid out the colours she was going to need if she wanted to colour it in. Her palette of oil paints was small and quaint, something that might cost you a fiver from WH Smiths in the UK. I wanted to ask her what I should do, but the deathly silence was too scary. I felt like if I spoke, I would be shunned for ruining the prime learning environment. Those ten minutes were worse than ten minutes might have been at St Trinians. At least if I were there, I would be in a familiar country.
“So who do you know who is in a local band?” the girl next to me said, quite loudly too. I looked at her and felt myself blush ever so slightly. She was looking at me intently, with bright blue eyes and rosy cheeks. I tucked my hair behind my ear and smiled.
“Ash Gensky? Do you know him?” I replied. She nodded and grinned.
“Sure, he’s really popular in town. Especially with half the girls here,” she laughed and added another pencil stroke to the leaf of her pear. How she was drawing something like that from memory was bizarre, it wasn’t even perfectly proportioned, it looked like a real fruit.
“Oh, well,” I began, not really knowing what to say. “He’s my brother’s friend’s brother, so he’s kind of my friend now. Have you heard his music much?”
“Yes, he and his band play gigs in town, and sometimes outside in the summer. They’re really into the whole outdoorsy thing, like they wouldn’t dream of living somewhere else. Me? I’d give anything for my parents to move somewhere a bit more up to date, like Miami. Or even Denver, I guess! Estes just gets so repetitive, but then I’ve lived here my whole life.”
I laughed a bit, and turned back to my page. I stared blankly at the white paper, and just as I was about to turn to this girl and ask her, her hand stretched out and wrote a big title at the top of my page, in a round, bubbly writing. Still Life. The Fruit. I blinked a couple of times then whispered, “If it’s still life, then how come you’re doing it from memory?”
“I forgot my real fruit. But they’re ones we grow in our greenhouse, it’s not like they look the same. I can make it up, if I’m good enough.” She bit her lip and then grinned again, a big wide smile that spread from ear to ear.
“Oh, trust me; I think you’re good enough.”
She looked back down at her work, and we drew in silence for a few minutes, despite the fact I had no idea what I was doing. I just let pictures flow from my charcoal. When I was halfway through, I felt a presence behind me.
“Lyla, this is very good. Not really what we’re doing. But I can see you have a flair for this subject,” Miss Darlings booming voice made me leap three feet out of my skin. Well, not literally. I blushed, as everyone gathered round to see my English country scene I had sketched. I had the sinking feeling the whole day was going to be like that. But as I was leaving, the girl next to me, held out a hand, expecting me to shake it and said with a sincere voice, “I’m Kendall. It was nice to meet you Lyla.”
I nodded and shook her hand, then went to my next lesson.
I was half right. Every lesson was quiet, and had a friendly face to sit next to. But I never had to get up and introduce myself. The other teachers decided that I wasn’t exactly too thrilled to do it, so they restrained themselves and let me walk in, a complete unknown. Or so I thought.
As it turned out, everyone knew I was coming. Ash had told a friend, who’d told a friend, who’d told a little sister, who’d told pretty much the whole school. People stared at me throughout the day; it was unnerving and slightly scary to be truly honest.
I waited until Ash picked me up that afternoon from outside the school, to vent my frustration. I waved to the girl from my art class as we drove away from the school building.
“Why did you tell so many people I was coming?” I asked him as we pulled out of the small road onto the main street in Estes.
“I don’t know, I thought it might be helpful if people knew before hand. Then they wouldn’t feel so shy coming to talk to you. You can be pretty hostile on first impressions you know!” Ash replied, keeping his eyes on the road, a smile curving his lips.
I sank down in my seat and fiddled with my scarf end. Maybe I had been a little shy, but had they mistaken it for hostility?
We kept silent the whole way back to the house. The big house was still there, looming in the trees, but now it was daylight, it looked far more impressive. I could see into the front room, the smart table and the vivid flowers. I could see a glimpse of a neatly trimmed garden through a wrought iron gate to the side of the house. I turned to Ash.
“Hey, does Will’s house have a garden?”
“Not technically, but the whole mountain is our garden. You’ll learn to love it. I know it like the back of my hand.”
I smiled and gazed up at my garden. It loomed gloriously over the little town, in magnificent splendour. As we turned the corner and stopped outside the house, I caught a glance of Jack in the kitchen window, laughing and smiling. I grinned and grabbed my bag from my feet. I wondered what the joke was.
“Let’s go!” Ash laughed and slammed the door behind him. I got out of the car and followed Ash to the door. His hair blew about in the strong wind and I was pretty sure mine was a state too. I watched him move towards my house, and silently open the door to the warmth. I swung my bag onto my shoulder and traipsed into the hallway, a blast of heat hitting me like a wave. I shuddered at the sudden temperature change and dropped my bag on the couch that sat in the living room. Emmett was asleep in an armchair, and Romena was curled up on the sofa, watching The O.C. I smiled. I used to love that show, but I hated watching re-runs.
“How was your first day?” Will asked, dawdling in to join us. Ash had disappeared, but this barely registered.
“Fine,” I lied. The agony of the watchful eyes was too much to really tell my brother, who had tried so hard to help me settle down and fit in.
“She’s lying,” came a low voice from upstairs. Laurie ran down the stairs, bashing into a potted plant and ruffling my hair. Whatever had made him so apprehensive to speak to me the first day, was obviously not a problem now.
Laurie sat down on Emmett, who woke with a start, shoving Laurie onto the floor. We all laughed. My spirits rose, because the wholesome image of friends and family was something I hadn’t known for a long time.
“Well, maybe it was little awkward,” I admitted, blushing. Romena stood up and took my hand.
“Come on, let’s go get something to eat,” she grinned at me, and pulled me towards the kitchen. The smell of roasting meat was welcoming and I sat down at the breakfast table, taking off my coat.
“I know how you must have felt,” Romena said, in her velvet voice, from the oven. She pulled out a tray of something, and the homely scent overwhelmed me. My stomach roared into action.
“When I moved here, I was hoping I would just, click, fit in. But I really don’t see that happening any time soon,” I replied.
“Lyla, you forget that everyone is a newcomer in their lives. Whether its school, a new job, or even a new home. It happens to everyone.”
“You’re right; I just need to face up to this. I mean, they’re only kids, like me. It’s not like I’m facing death, right?”
Romena froze for a moment, and then continued her cooking duties. I bit into one of the pieces of shortbread she’d placed in front of me. It tasted so good, despite it burning my tongue. I nodded in appreciation.
“I’m glad you like it, I’m always stuck inside cooking,” Romena said, sitting down opposite me.
“How come? You should get out and give these to people. They’re great!”
Romena shrugged, her face a perfect vision, frozen with a half smile on her face. The smile quickly faded. I looked behind me, Will stood in the doorway, leaning against the wall casually. Ash walked past him and grabbed the remains of the food on my plate.
“Hey!” I hit him playfully and helped myself to another from the side counter. Ash came with me.
“Been having some good old girl talk with Romena?” Ash teased. I shoved him, he shoved me back. Ash had become in the last week probably my best friend here. Of course he couldn’t replace Ella and Rob, who’d always been there for me, but he was a perfect stand in for now.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I replied, grabbing a pear from the fruit bowl on the counter, and shoving it into Ash’s mouth. He winked at me and took a huge bite, before handing it back to me.
“Urgh, no thanks Ash. It’s got Ash cooties on it now!” I said, turning and running out of the kitchen. Ash followed me and pulled me playfully into a tight hug. I sighed and pushed him away, laughing.
“Ok, guys, lets calm the flirting down,” Emmett said, emerging from the living room, his bright blue eyes fixated on mine.
Well, I gotta go to work anyway. Taking over from Laurie. See you later Ly,” Ash called as he jogged back outside to his jeep. I waved and shut the door behind him. Emmett still looked at me. His mouth was pulled into a gentle smile and his hair was ruffled in a feathery style after his long sleep. I blushed and looked down at my feet. Emmett was way intense, and way cute. I didn’t want to stare at him and look like a total freak.
Emmett stood just under a foot taller than me, with a toned body, or as toned as I could imagine under his complimenting t-shirt. I had to hand it to his parents; they had made one good looking kid. Even his own brother couldn’t look his good. Where Jack had cropped brown hair, Emmett’s was sandy coloured and long. It fell softly into his eyes and he was always flicking it back with a notion of his head. I picked up my bag, which was now slung over the banister, probably Will’s doing. However young and cool he seemed to be, he was still very house proud.
I headed upstairs, fully aware of Emmett’s watchful eyes on me, until I heard Will call him, and he went into the living room again.
In all fairness, Ash had been a great friend to me the past week. His endless joking around, and his ease with me, was so casual and reassuring for me. Whenever I felt I was missing home, he’d be there in s shot, like he knew what I was thinking. As much as I wanted to tell him he was wasting his time, I wouldn’t like him in that way, I couldn’t. He was so hard to shake off, but the thing was, I didn’t want to shake him off. He was too good for me. Like a drug I needed to keep me going without my family. Except for Will. Will had tried so hard to help me fit in, feel at home, feel loved again. But I don’t think it would have worked if Ash hadn’t been there to support, and hold me up the whole time.
I mused over this as I lay on my bed, looking up at the glow in the dark stars I’d brought from home. Mum had given them to me when I was three, and I’d never been able to sleep well without them. Even Ella and Rob had accommodated to my sleep patterns, by buying exactly the same ones, and sticking them above their beds. They made me feel like I was far away from the problems I might have had. Far away where I could really see the stars. Away from the light pollution of the street lamps of London. I sighed. Did I miss London yet? The busy city, the tall buildings, the never ending stream of cars, which never died, except in the quietest of neighbourhoods, and at the dead of night.
Dark was falling outside. I walked over to the window that took up half a wall, and sat on the window seat, holding the white cushion that sat there to my chest. I pulled aside one of the curtains, opened the window and stuck my head out. I looked up. There really was no need for the glow in the dark plastic anymore. Every single star I knew of was above my head, glowing the darkness, sparkling for all of Estes. I smiled and leaned out further. I knew I was tempting fate, maybe I knew why I was doing it, to comfort myself, to warn myself. To give myself that shot of something I knew hadn’t come yet. And when I wobbled, and let go of the windowsill, and slipped, it was the hand that caught me round the waist that provided that shot, the shot of adrenalin. And the sensation grew stronger when I turned around and came face to face, with Emmett, his eyes serious and foreboding.
“And do you often take pleasure in trying to throw yourself out of windows?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. I looked down, deeply humiliated. Great, I thought, now he probably thinks I tried to kill myself. Any thoughts he might have had of me are now ruined.
“So? What, do you take pleasure in barging into girls rooms uninvited?” I replied, staring at me, hoping I looked challenging and not totally insane and suicidal. He held the gaze for a little too long, and then dropped his stare and laughed, removing one arm from around me and shutting the window and curtain.
“Touché.” Emmett said. He winked and set me down on the floor. I shook my head, some long forgotten snow had fallen into my hair during my life threatening escapade, and I assumed it looked like bad dandruff. I pulled off my boots and slipped into my newly unpacked slippers. Emmett sat down on my window seat and watched me fuss around my room.
I whipped around.
“I’m sorry. Did you want something?” I asked, a hint of a smile on my lips. Don’t get me wrong, I knew how to play it cool.
“Not really. But with all the attention you’ve been getting from Ash and Will, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you. Or officially welcome you to Estes.”
“Is there need for official welcoming?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips. I grinned and watched Emmett get up and make his way over to where I stood.
He got close. Really close. So close I felt confined to the one patch of floor that my feet occupied. As much as I wanted to tell him to step back, I didn’t feel I had the right. Which was stupid because it was my room. But I didn’t really want him to move. I could feel his warm breath on my neck. He looked at me, and it was then that I actually realised how tall Emmett was. He was nowhere near as tall as Laurie, or Jack, but still so tall I had to crane my neck upwards.
He noticed I was holding my head up, and he let out a small laugh, looking quickly around my room. He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets, then without warning, leant down and kissed me lightly on the cheek. He didn’t linger, as if he thought I would push him away. He then strode out of my room, pausing at the door.
“You have officially been welcomed,” he declared. And just as he was about to leave, I called out.
“By whose standards?”
“My own. And now we have to see a lot more of each other. It’s an official rule, if you like.” Emmett grinned and left me standing in my room, slightly breathless and very, extremely, positively, confused. I put it down to the clear air. And maybe his good looks had mangled his brain or something.