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11 July 2008 @ 09:14 pm
Index of Chapters

Chapter Five – Stories


      The week following moving in was devastatingly boring for Samantha. While she was extremely busy, she couldn’t envision a more monotonous life. Laurel was a social butterfly and wanted them to do everything together. So Samantha went along with all of Laurel’s plans, simply because she couldn’t think of any way out of it.

      But all Samantha really wanted was a single day of peace.

      One day that she could fill with quiet tranquility and reflection.

      Just one little day to herself.

      But between Laurel and Nick, she never got a moment of silence, not a moment to herself just to think about everything around her. She was a listener, an observer, so all the activity gave her plenty to think about, to muse on, but never a moment to analyze any of it.

      And she still hadn’t figured Nick out. She feared that unless he gave her a few seconds to digest his words, discern his meaning, she would never understand him. She could tell there was something he was hiding, something big. She just needed a little time.

      But he seemed to be deliberately clogging her brain with meaningless words and comments. Ridiculous jokes, little facts, pointless banter. He would never let there be more than five seconds of silence. She knew he was hiding something. She could see the signs.

      But what? What was he hiding? What happened to him that made him so acutely aware of the moods of everyone around him? What happened to him that made him think it was his job to keep everyone in good spirits. What made him care?

      She had to know. She had to figure him out. She had so many questions flying through her mind. It took all her will power to stay on top of the conversation, to pay attention. All she could think about was that something had to have happened to Nick when he was younger to make him this way. No one was so supremely good. Something made him this way.

      But what? The question kept springing up in her mind. But what? Between him and his roommate, she was bogged down in confusion. These two seemed completely different, nothing in common, no thread that could possibly tie them together. And yet they were best friends. They knew each other. They were there for each other. They cared.

      As a pair, she could see the lines of their friendship, the ties that bound them together. They were a good team. But apart, she couldn’t see how these two people ever managed to connect. They were so different. And as individuals, she couldn’t understand either one of them. The two of them, complete mysteries. Nick was a wonderfully caring person who never wanted anyone to feel anything but joy. And Peter was, well, Peter. Quiet, but mocking. Attractive, yet repulsive.

      Well, not really… repulsive. No, he wasn’t repulsive at all. He tried to act like a repulsing force. He tried to pretend that he hated the world, but from Samantha, he couldn’t actually hide the fact that he wasn’t actually like that. And Samantha couldn’t help but be drawn to him. There was something about him that attracted her like a moth to a flame. Something she just couldn’t put her finger on. The constant warning of danger was a dull annoyance in her brain by the first day of classes. She had spent so much time with both him and Nick that she had decided the voices were mistaken. He couldn’t actually be dangerous, not if Nick trusted him so much. And the voices were starting to believe her.

      No, he wasn’t dangerous at all. He was just… Peter. Enigmatic, beautiful, quietly sweet and helpful, unobtrusive Peter. He must be like her, Samantha decided. He was an observer, on the fringe of the action, more inclined to analyze the conversation than participate in it.

      And yet, he was always looking at her with his mocking grin, like he knew something she didn’t—something important involving her. But she didn’t know what he could know. Whenever she would catch him staring at her, she would start fiddling with her amulet, and the voices would grow louder, and she would be forced to drop it, if only to stop the repetition of the one word she didn’t want to hear.

      She didn’t want to feel like she was in danger here. She was tired of always being warned something she was doing might be dangerous. Ever since her mother’s death, her father was terrified that she would get hurt. “It’s dangerous,” he would say anytime she proposed doing anything that might even possibly lead to a slight scratch or bruise. She didn’t care. She was out in the world now, and it was time to live dangerously.

      And yet, the warning comforted her. At least someone cared what happened to her. At least someone cared if she got hurt.

      But now, even after only the one week she had spent with Laurel, Peter and Nick, she felt like she had people who cared about her. She didn’t like being told that Peter was dangerous. He cared about her. He cared what happened to her. Samantha was certain of that, though she didn’t know how she could possibly be so positive that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.

      And Laurel cared about her too, no matter how little she cared about giving Samantha space. She must know. She must at least suspect something, Samantha would think every time Laurel’s chatter would interrupt her thoughts. Like now. Samantha mentally rolled her eyes. Laurel was going on about something again. Some inane subject that was extremely important right now, but why Samantha would never understand.

      “So, my mother and father wanted to come down to visit for Parent’s Weekend, is it ok if I bring them up here again?” Laurel was asking.

      Samantha brought herself around to the conversation in front of her, pushing her earlier thoughts to the deepest corners of her mind.

      “Um, yeah, I guess that’s ok,” she replied, not noticing the look Laurel was giving her.

      “Well, they’d really like to meet your parents, since they didn’t get to last week… You know, at move in?”

      Samantha knew. But Samantha also knew that there was no way her father would ever visit her in Palo Alto. She doubted her father even realized that she had left for Palo Alto. He was so oblivious to everything now.

      “Oh… no, I don’t think they’ll be able to come up. Sorry.”

      “My parents are starting to think you’re an orphan or something…” Laurel began.

      “Not exactly,” Samantha muttered, hoping Laurel wouldn’t hear her as she finished her thought.

      “Our parents are going to have to meet sometime… What do you mean ‘not exactly’?” Laurel had caught her words after all.

      “I’m not an orphan.”

      “But you said not exactly…”

      Samantha shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t want to go into it. Not yet. She wasn’t ready to open up. But she knew Laurel wouldn’t give up the point. Laurel was definitely not one to give up any points.

      “Samantha, come on. I’ve told you all about my life, even the stuff that you can’t read in the papers. Give me something to work with. Please.”

      “Laurel,” Samantha began, choking on her words, “It’s just… There’s just nothing to tell.”

      The pain was evident on Samantha’s face. She’d been holding this in for the last week. All of her thoughts about her mother that had bombarded her the first day she had arrived in Palo Alto came swarming back. She had been so annoyed by Laurel and Nick distracting her that she didn’t realize what their distraction was preventing her from thinking about. And now Laurel was giving her that moment she had coveted so fiercely, and she didn’t want it any more.

      “Oh, there’s gotta be something. Just give me something, anything, even something small? Teensy? Like… Where did you grow up?”

      “But you don’t understand. That’s not small for me. That’s huge.” Samantha needed a distraction. Something to get her away from the swirling images that threatened to engulf her.

      “Samantha, please. We’re gonna be living together for a whole year. You have to let me get to know you. I like you. And I want to be friends with you. I don’t want us to be the roommates who never talk and hate each other because we don’t know each other...”

      Laurel hit a nerve. Samantha knew the moment the words came out of Laurel’s mouth that she didn’t want to lose her roommate’s friendship based on this. Maybe if she just gave up one little piece of herself, maybe it would give her peace, if it be just momentary.

      “All over,” Samantha sighed. There, she’d done it. She’d said something. She’d given Laurel some little piece of her. “We moved a lot.”

      “Why? Dad’s job?” Laurel was leading her on, Samantha knew it. But Samantha also knew she needed this. She needed someone to know the truth. Or part of it, at least.

      “No. Not because of my dad’s job…” Samantha paused. She needed this, but how could she tell someone who was a complete stranger. How?

      “Ok…”

      “We just… did. After…” Samantha looked to Laurel for encouragement, and Laurel was doing her best to look trustworthy and approachable. “After my mom died,” there, she had gotten it out, “my dad couldn’t seem to be able to stay in one place for very long. We were in DC then… when my mom died. My dad was a cop. Detective actually. He loved it, his work. But when Mom died, he just kind of cracked. Survivor’s guilt or something like that, I guess. We moved the next day. And we just kept moving, getting farther and farther away from her. We made our way across the country as the years passed by, until we got to San Francisco. He stopped working then. He didn’t have to, for all it mattered, and I guess he just couldn’t anymore. We had enough to get by. And now I’m here. Now I’m here…”

      There, she had gotten it all out. Once she started, it just seemed to flow from her. With every little bit she gave, she felt strength coming back to her, willing her to continue. She didn’t know how it was possible, but she felt better now that she had told Laurel her story. Well, part of her story. She couldn’t tell her everything. She couldn’t tell anyone.

      “How’d your mother die?” Laurel asked, not knowing that this one seemingly innocent question might send her roommate over the edge.

      Samantha’s eyes went wide, as the images converged on her. It had been a mistake, telling Laurel about her mother. It had been a mistake. Images of her mother’s dead body flashed through Samantha’s mind. She could hear a child’s scream, her own screams, her mother’s killer’s voice echoing through her memories, cursing her family, cursing her. She saw her father rushing in, grabbing her, holding her, hugging her, taking her to safety. But there was no safety. That had been his last truly sane act. She heard the sirens blaring down the street. They were real. They were here. Make them stop. The red, the blue, the white of the police car lights invaded her vision. The sheet, that miraculously perfect sheet of the body bag, zipped closed, hiding her mother’s face. The coroner pronouncing her mother dead. She was dead, gone. Samantha would never see her again.

      Laurel’s voice snapped Samantha out of her memories, saving her from destruction. “Samantha?”

      Samantha’s mind went blank. All the images were gone. She couldn’t even remember what they had been talking about. “What?” she asked, her voice hollow.

      “Never mind. It’s not important.”

      “Ok,” she shrugged, her mentality coming back to her. She remembered what they were talking about, but she definitely didn’t want to bring it back up. She had had enough truth for the day.

      She looked at her watch. 12:15. Lunch time.

      “Hey, weren’t we supposed to meeting Nick and Peter for lunch?”

      “What, oh yeah, right.” Samantha could see that Laurel was wishing she hadn’t asked to be privy to Samantha’s history. Samantha wished she could say the same. She felt better, already. Except for the brief nosedive into her memories, talking had been cathartic.

      They walked to the dining hall in silence, giving Samantha the chance, but not the desire, to think. When they saw Nick, however, their attitudes quickly changed, replaced by his utter excitement at whatever he had to share with them. It was amazing how one glance from him could wash away all of their other feelings, how easily he could improve anyone’s mood with just his presence. He was a force of nature.

      Nick and Peter waited for Laurel and Samantha at a small round table. They already had their food, but were waiting for the girls before starting to eat. It was an insane gesture of chivalry, and Samantha found herself smirking at them. She was so used to eating alone, no one to wait for or to wait for her. Their behavior baffled her immensely.

      Nick barely waited for Samantha and Laurel to put their trays on the table and sit down before he start talking. His energy and excitement amused her to no extent. He seemed so much like a child sometimes.

      “Ok, so I was thinking that instead of staying on campus for the weekend, we could go to the beach. Peter and I did it last year, and I thought it’d be fun to make it a tradition. Plus, there’s only so much time until the water gets too cold, and I’ve been itching to go surfing since we got up here. My parents have a beach house just south of Malibu and they are taking my sister down for the weekend, so we won’t have to worry about food or anything. And it’d be lots of fun, especially compared to campus. So what do you think?”

      He looked over at Peter to back him up. It was obvious that Peter was already in on this plan.

      Samantha didn’t know what to think of Nick’s plan. She hadn’t been to the beach since her mother died, and she didn’t know how she would react to going back. But she also knew that she didn’t want to stay in town if Nick and Peter would be gone for the weekend.

      “Think of it as a reward for surviving the first week of college,” Nick threw in, trying to sweeten the deal. Samantha didn’t know why he was so insistent on this, bus since she wasn’t completely averse to the plan, she shrugged at Laurel when their eyes met.

      “I’m in,” Samantha said with a shrug, giving in.

      “Yeah, me too, I guess,” Laurel agreed, not wanting to seem too excited.

      “Great, then it’s settled!” Nick was obviously pleased by how easily he had been able to persuade the girls. He had been expecting to have to give them more incentive to come, but he didn’t realize how infectious his moods were. No one could resist him for too long.

      “On one condition,” Laurel began. The boys looked at her curiously. They hadn’t been expecting any conditions. “I get to drive.”

      Samantha watched as different expressions registered on the boys’ faces: Shock, incredulity, amusement. They thought she was joking.

      “Oh, Laurel, come on,” Peter began, but Laurel quickly cut him off.

      “No ifs, ands or buts about it. I get to drive. There’s no way I’m sitting in the backseat of anyone’s car. And neither one of you would want that.”

      While her speech confused the boys, Samantha had no doubts that she was serious. If there was one thing Samantha had learned about Laurel in the last week, it was that she loved to drive. And fast. Laurel’s red Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet was her pride and joy, the one thing she didn’t mind her parents buying for her. Whenever Samantha had needed to go to the store, no matter how short the drive, Laurel would always insist on driving. Samantha assured Laurel that she had a car and could drive herself, but Laurel always insisted. Samantha hadn’t gotten to drive her Mustang since she arrived in Palo Alto. She missed her car terribly.

      Samantha watched, amused, as Nick and Laurel argued about whether or not she would be driving. Laurel’s argument was that there wouldn’t be enough room in Nick’s truck. Nick’s was that it would be cheaper to just take one car. Samantha knew the argument was futile, that Laurel would eventually get her way, but Nick didn’t seem to see that. Occasionally, her eyes would glide over to Peter’s face, to judge his reactions, and these brief glances convinced her that he had come to the same conclusion he had.

      The argument lasted throughout lunch, and continued until Friday afternoon when they were packing the cars to leave. Nick continued to insist that Laurel wasn’t driving to the beach house, even as she packed her car with Samantha’s bags and her own. Peter would be riding with Nick, and Samantha was with Laurel. For dinner, they would be stopping at a little restaurant Nick knew of that was halfway between Palo Alto and the house, so they would make it to the beach by sunset. Even though plans had been made, Nick still wouldn’t give up. Samantha wouldn’t have been surprised if they were still arguing about this over dinner and throughout the whole weekend. It was ridiculous.

      They plan went off without a hitch, and, as Nick’s black truck pulled up to the house with Laurel’s sports car right behind it, the sun was setting gracefully on the horizon, it’s rays glittering on the water. Samantha couldn’t imagine a more peaceful end to her day. Well, she could. Nick and Laurel were still arguing. But not even their bickering could ruin this experience for her. She only had good memories of the beach, and this was another to add to that list. She had been worried that seeing the beach would be painful for her, but it made her feel freer than she had in a long time. It was amazing.

      “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”

      Peter had been watching her, though she hadn’t realized it. He had noticed the change in her expression when she looked out at the beach; he saw how it affected her. This didn’t surprise Samantha, she knew what he was. What surprised her was how close he was. She hadn’t noticed his approach, but not that she was aware of his presence, she could feel the heat coming off his body only inches from her own. It was a surreal feeling, having him this close. She hadn’t noticed that she had been shying away from him, keeping her distance, subconsciously listening to the warnings of danger. But when he got this close, it all faded away, all of her reservations against him simply disappeared. She wondered why that was, but didn’t really think much of it. Why should she? All it proved was that perhaps the warnings really were wrong.

      “It is,” she answered him in a reverent whisper. She couldn’t think of any other words to describe her feelings, so she fell silent. Peter seemed to understand, and he didn’t say anything else. But his presence was enough to distract her. She didn’t know how to think, how to breathe with him this close. She needed something to bring her back to the real world.

      As if he could hear her thoughts, Nick was there, standing next to Peter. “Laurel and I are going in, so I can show her to her room. You guys are welcome to stay out here if you want.”

      His voice snapped Samantha back to reality.

      “You know, I think I’m ready to go in, too.”

      She smiled at Peter, not knowing what to say, or even to think. There was so much she didn’t know.

      She followed Nick into the house, not noticing her surroundings. All she noticed was that Peter wasn’t with her anymore; the heat of his body wasn’t there to warm her now cooling skin. Involuntarily, she shivered, wishing he was there to warm her, though it wasn’t cold. She looked back at him. He was still facing the ocean, just standing there with the sunset framing him, the little light that was left glancing off of his white shirt. She wondered what he was thinking about, if he had been affected by the moment they had just shared.

      She followed Nick to her room, her thoughts still outside with Peter. Without bothering to turn the lights on, she dropped her bags on the floor and sat down on the bed. She needed to think. There was so much she didn’t understand.

      What was it about Peter that made her freeze?

      Who was he?

      Why did it mater?

      Samantha fell asleep dwelling on these thoughts, not knowing which pieces of the puzzle she had or how they fit together. Even in her dreams, her mind couldn’t let go of the image of him standing so close to her on the beach, his warmth, his voice, his eyes. There was something so familiar about him, but she couldn’t figure out what it was. Who was he?

      His face flashed through her dreams, mingling with another. They looked nothing alike, but there was something so similar about the two faces. Where Peter had dirty blonde hair and sparkling gray-blue eyes, the one from her nightmares was dark, with dark brown hair and eyes that were deep black pits of hatred. His face, contorted in anger, slowly shifted to a mocking grin, Peter’s grin. But that grin didn’t hold the warmth that Peter’s did. She didn’t like seeing in on his face. She couldn’t be here. This wasn’t fair. Peter was not her mother’s killer. Peter was safe. She had to believe that.

      Her dreams slid away from those images to more peaceful scenes. Peter was still in the forefront of these dreams, but, thankfully, his face was no longer fused with the other. Samantha drifted from dream to dream, not comprehending anything she saw, just trying to escape the thought that was haunting her. Were they really so similar? Samantha refused to believe he was anything other that he appeared to be. He was safe. He had to be. She knew it.

      The next morning, Samantha woke with no memory of the dreams or thoughts that had occupied her mind throughout the night. They simply disappeared like the fog on the ocean as the sun filled her room with light and warmth. Outside her window, she could see Laurel sitting in the sand, watching the waves crashing against the sand. Samantha couldn’t understand how Laurel always seemed to wake up so early, even when she didn’t have to. It was something Samantha wasn’t used to.

      As Samantha continued to watch the waves from her window, she noticed a speck in the water that quickly grew from a speck to a standing person. Nick—or was it Peter?—, apparently, was already surfing. How late was it?

      Realizing that she was possibly the last one up that morning, Samantha quickly changing into her only bikini—a blue, pink and white flowered thing that she had let Olivia convince her to buy—and pulled her jeans and tank on over it. She was here for one last holiday before school pulled her in completely, not just to sleep the weekend away. As she rushed outside to join her friends in the sand, excitement filled her body. All she wanted to do was spend the day on the beach. And that’s exactly what she and her friends did. Nick and Peter surfed for most of the day—or at least pretended to—, and Samantha and Laurel sunned on the beach, lounging and laughing at the boys. At lunch, they ate sandwiches and lemonade that Nick’s mother sent out with Nick’s younger sister, Allison.

      Allison was a small girl with bright blonde hair and crystal blue eyes. She was a shy girl of 15 years, and her brother guarded her like she was the most important person in the world. But what he was protecting her from, Samantha couldn’t tell. He was more protective of her than any normal big brother would be of a sister. While most older brothers would be protective of their sisters in the presence of a threat, and then pick on them when they were just with family, Nick protected his sister every moment they were together. It was as if he thought even the slightest of breezes could break her. But to Samantha’s eyes, Allison didn’t look that fragile. She just looked scared.

      Allison spent the rest of the day with Laurel and Samantha on the beach, watching her brother surf. Samantha tried to make conversation with her, but as she wasn’t much of a conversationalist herself, and Allison was too shy to say anything at all, everyone fell silent pretty quickly. Except for Laurel of course. But Laurel could carry on a conversation with herself if she felt like it. She didn’t need any other acting participants, so long as she had an audience.

      Samantha finally felt calm. She had been through two weeks of nonstop tedium. After all of the activities leading up to the first week of school, and then suffering through her first college lectures, she had been feeling completely drained. But now, under the sun, on the beach, she felt completely at peace with herself, and nothing could take that from her today.

      After a while, Peter and Nick gave up on the surfing. Peter’s interpretation of the sport consisted mostly of falling, anyway, and Nick didn’t really feel like being on the waves alone. After a while he was only out there to watch Peter fall over and over again, so once Peter packed it in, Nick did as well. With nothing else on the schedule until dinner, Samantha, Laurel and Peter lounged about playing cards for the rest of the afternoon. Nick, being his art major self, walked around in the sand taking pictures. You name it, he took a picture of it. And even though Laurel hid her face every time he came near, he still managed to get some pretty good shots of her that day.

      Dinner that night was a somewhat subdued affair. After all the excitement of the day, everyone was pretty quite sitting around the bonfire on the beach. After the sun went down for the night, and the marshmallows had been eaten, Nick’s parents and sister went in for the night, but the four new friends stayed out watching the fire as it died.

      “This is nice,” Samantha whispered.

      “Yeah, it is,” agreed Laurel. “You’re family is really cool Nick.”

      “I bet they’d like hearing that,” Nick replied, smiling.

      There was something odd in Nick’s tone as he spoke, something that piqued Samantha’s curiosity, something he wasn’t saying.

      “I wish my parents could be like that. Just normal for a day,” Laurel half-complained, half-stated. She rarely complained, but in this night, she was strangely jealous of everything Nick had. “I wonder what it would have been like growing up with a normal family.”

      “We really aren’t that normal.”

      “Oh come on. You’re, like, the poster family for normal. Two happy parents, two bubbling kids? You’re just missing the dog,” Laurel teased. “What’s more normal than that?”

      Samantha was only half paying attention to their conversation, but she still looked over at Nick to see his response. But he didn’t look like Nick anymore. The expression on his face surprised her. She could see the pain on his face, illuminated by the bonfire. He looked haunted. She would have never expected to see such contortion on his normally very happy face. It was more an expression she expected from her father, one he wore more often than she liked.

      “Hey, Nick. Don’t sweat it. She was just playing with you,” Samantha said, trying to save him from the pain. But she didn’t know what she could actually do.

      “No… no. You guys need to know this… I guess.” Nick took a deep breath before he continued. “I have another sister—so it’s three kids, not two, like your perfect family…” The attempted joke was lost on Samantha. “Jessica. She’s actually my twin…” He trailed off. The stress lines were obvious on his face. “When we were sophomores in high school, she tried to kill herself.”

      Samantha was stunned. Was that it? Was that what made him the person that he was? If it was, it wasn’t fair.

      “Not so normal after all, huh?”

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11 July 2008 @ 09:12 pm
Index of Chapters

Chapter Four – Confessions


      MAKING HER WAY DOWN THE STAIRS, into the lobby, Samantha puzzled over her roommate situation and how she could tactfully bring it up with Nick and Peter. She barely knew them, and she really wanted to be friends with them, but if she complained about her roommate to them, after meeting her no more than two hours earlier, they would think she was petty and obnoxious. But she needed someone to talk to, and for now, they were all she had.

      In the lobby, Peter was waiting for her. He stood when he saw her, smiling as he watched her approach.

      “Hey,” he said.

      “Hi…” replied Samantha. “Where’s Nick?” She couldn’t think of anything else to fill the silence that followed her greeting.

      “He’s coming,” was Peter’s curt response.

      Ah, so he was going to be surly and rude again. That’s how this game was to be played. Well fine, she could play by these rules. She could be snootily silent. Maybe then he’d realize how he was acting.

      She looked at him in annoyed silence. She hadn’t really actually looked at him before. He looked athletic, like he played lacrosse, or perhaps soccer. His face was very angular, sharp, but there was a soft edge to his features that was unexplainable, like something in his countenance had softened the sharp lines of his face that were his heritage. And he was tall, his six foot two build towering over her comparatively slight five foot seven frame.

      Her mind went back to the silent warning she had received earlier. The word rang true in her mind for a second time that day. Danger. Perhaps he was dangerous after all. She felt odd, standing this close to him, looking at him as he looked in the opposite direction, wondering if he was a danger to her after all.

      “BOO!”

      She hadn’t heard Nick come behind her, but reacted instantly as he startled her, elbowing him in the gut and spinning to kick him, before she realized who it was. She was amazed she hadn’t smashed the professional looking camera that was swinging from his neck to pieces. He staggered backwards, obviously in pain. He hadn’t been expecting her reaction.

      “Sorry,” she said, elongating the word to increase her sincerity. She really hadn’t meant to hurt him. Well, once she realized who it was, she hadn’t meant to hurt him. Before that, she had meant to beat the life out of him. Her fight or flight mechanism was much more geared towards fight.

      “God, you and your roommate are crazy.”

      “I didn’t mean to.”

      Nick still looked in pain, but he was recovering. She hadn’t hit him too hard.

      “Are you ok?”

      “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine.”

      “You startled me… I tend to attack when someone startles me. It got me into a bit of trouble in high school.”

      “Yeah, and if it had been anyone else, it might have gotten you into trouble here,” Peter said, his voice amused. He hadn’t been expecting her reaction either, and was now chuckling to himself at his roommate’s expense. “She really got you good Nick.”

      “Yeah, I know. Where’d you learn that?”

      “Karate class. I’m a black belt… a couple of times over,” she sounded smug. She was very proud of this accomplishment. She was almost as good as her mother had been when she was still an agent.

      “Well, I guess I’ll be more careful next time,” Nick said with a smile, straightening up. “Everyone ready to go?”

      Samantha and Peter both nodded. As the three of them walked out of the building, Samantha’s brain finally caught something he had said.

      “Wait, both me and my roommate are crazy?” she asked. She knew Laurel was a bit peppy because of her parents, but she hadn’t gotten the crazy vibe from her.

      “I’ll tell you about it later,” he replied looking around like he expected Laurel to appear out of nowhere. “My truck’s over here.”

      The drive to the ice cream shop was short, and Samantha wondered why they didn’t just walk. It was a nice day, and she would have liked to enjoy the sun a little. Parking was, again, tricky, but they managed to find a spot just a short walk from the shop. Samantha stepped out of the back seat of Nick’s huge Dodge Ram and breathed in the scent of the city. The summer smells invigorated her. Perhaps she would tell them about her experiences with Laurel’s parents after all.

      The ice cream parlor was small, but reasonably empty, with a patio outside so people could enjoy the sun and eat at the same time. She missed going to get ice cream on warm summer days. It was something her mother would do with her in DC. Her father stopped eating ice cream after her death. It reminded him too much of her. Everything reminded him too much of her. Samantha hadn’t been out to get ice cream with anyone in years.

      The boys ordered first, they both already had favorites here, but Samantha took her time, looking at all the shop had to offer. And then she found it. She was absolutely amazed that the first time in ten years that she went to an ice cream shop she would find her favorite flavor. Pink, gooey and delicious peppermint ice cream. She was decided, and she soon found out that it was just as good as she remembered. Or better.

      Samantha went to join Nick and Peter at the table they had stationed themselves at outside. The day was beautiful. The birds were singing, the wind gently blowing, the cars zooming by. Perfect. Samantha sat in her reverie for a few minutes as Nick and Peter discussed something about their room. She wasn’t really paying attention, only waiting for a pause in their conversation for her to bring up Laurel again.

      And then the fateful pause came, and Samantha jumped at her opportunity.

      “So… why is Laurel crazy?” she asked innocently, giving Peter a slight mocking grin much like the one he had been giving her the whole afternoon. She had forgotten that she was determined to hate him.

      Nick looked away sheepishly. He didn’t want to admit what had happened. He had hoped Samantha had forgotten about it completely. But Samantha would never give it up. She had her own stories to relate.

      “Nick, come on. If she’s crazy, I need to know why.” She intentionally used this excuse. It was a logical reason to need to hear the story, and she knew Nick wouldn’t be able to hold out.

      “Oh, fine!” he let out, unable to deny the emerald green eyes that were looking at him pleadingly. “Well… she tried to beat me up. Just like you.”

      “What did you do?” Samantha was surprised at what she said. She barely knew him, but already she was calling him out when he wasn’t saying everything. How could she possibly know that he was holding out on her? But she was right.

      “I don’t know, I just said hi.”

      “There must have been something.”

      “I was just being me… you know, friendly.”

      “Perhaps a little too friendly?” Peter cut in.

      Nick shrugged, and Samantha rolled her eyes. Of course Laurel would take his friendliness like she did. How did she know that he didn’t know who she was? He just thought she was some normal person, who happened to be attractive and blonde. He was being Nick, and she didn’t realize that he wasn’t being nice because she was the daughter of a celebrity, that that was just who he was. Samantha would have to patch some things up when she saw Laurel again. Nick would probably be around often, and she didn’t want a repeat of what had happened today.

      “Laurel’s not really like that, or at least I don’t think so,” Samantha informed Nick. “But her parents are nasty. They’re two of those famous types who think the rest of us are beneath them. Awful people. But Laurel’s so different from them, it’s weird.”

      She paused, not sure if they were really interested. Why would they care? But they looked like they did. Or they were just being nice, hearing the slight tinge of distress that colored her voice when she talked about the Davies.

      “Go on,” Nick urged.

      “Ok…” Samantha stuttered. He really seemed he wanted to hear what she had to say. So she related the second half of the day to them, from the moment Laurel burst into her life till the moment she reached the lobby.

      “You should have gone to dinner with them,” Peter said when Samantha had finally finished her story.

      “You’ve been waiting all afternoon to say that haven’t you,” she countered, her voice even, but with tinted with acidity.

      “They would have fed you.”

      “It would have been awkward, and uncomfortable. And I would have had to talk to them. It would have been awful for everyone involved, particularly me.”

      “But you could have brought us tasty leftovers and we wouldn’t have to scrounge up something later.”

      “Too bad.”

      “And why did you lie to them?”

      “I don’t know what you mean.”

      “You said your parents had already left. They never came.”

      “It was easier than the truth. They would have asked why my parents didn’t come and then I would have told them about my mother…”

      She hadn’t meant to say that. That was the whole reason she had lied in the first place.

      “What about your mother?” Peter challenged.

      “She’s dead…” Samantha said meekly. She hated telling people about her mother. She didn’t want their sympathy and she didn’t want to answer their questions. People were always so amazingly curious.

      “I’m sorry,” Peter apologized. “I didn’t know.”

      “No, you didn’t. Because I didn’t tell you.”

      “It wasn’t right of me to bring it up.”

      “You didn’t know.”

      She couldn’t fault him. She had brought it up, after all, not him. She had let it slip. Why was she being so careless.

      “And your dad?”

      “He never really got over it. He pretended like he did, but he didn’t. He’s a mess. He hardly leaves the house anymore. And I left him. I left him all alone.”

      “He’ll be ok.”

      “Yeah… but I just keep feeling like I abandoned him. And yet, at the same time, I’m thrilled because I’m finally free. I was finally able to escape.”

      They sat their in silence for a few minutes, no one really knowing what to say. Nick was the first to break it. He had used up his silence quota for the day. He hadn’t said a word since Samantha began her story, and had quietly kept out of the mini spat she had with Peter.

      “She called you a chav?”

      They all laughed, it was the perfect thing for him to say.

      “Yeah, can you believe that,” Samantha said with laughter in her voice.

      “How much time did she spend in England?”

      “I have no idea. That’s probably another thing I should ask Laurel. Except I can’t, because then she’ll know I overheard the whole conversation. I’ll confirm all of her parents’ suspicions.”

      “Nah, it’s only human to eavesdrop on a conversation that is obviously about oneself.”

      “Human or not, you don’t tell people you’ve been doing it.”

      “True.”

      By then they had all finished their ice cream and were just sitting in the sun. There was a long pause again. Samantha couldn’t figure out where these pauses came from. She had just expected someone to always be talking. By the looks on the two boys’ faces, they thought the same.

      “So…” Samantha started, “what next?”

      Peter looked at his watch. “Well, it’s 5…”

      “So what do you guys normally do at 5 when you have nothing to do.”

      Peter and Nick looked at each other and, in unison, said, “Video games?”

      Peter sounded like he was asking a question, Nick was making a statement. For him, it was obviously time for video games.

      Samantha sighed. Time to go back to that tiny room that she shared with a girl with the least agreeable parents she had ever met. She didn’t want to, but it was all there was left to do. She wasn’t hungry, so she couldn’t suggest an early dinner. And she didn’t know the town well enough to suggest anything else.

      “Ok, let’s go.”

      The ride back to campus was quiet, except for the constant ramblings coming from Nick. He really didn’t know how to be quiet. A five second silence was the most he could allow. Samantha still couldn’t decipher him. She knew nothing about him. Or Peter. And they already knew one of the most personal things about her. Why had she opened up to them so quickly? She didn’t know. She wondered if it had been a good thing to tell them about her mother, so soon.

      No… the silent voice reprimanded her. She ignored it. Peter was not dangerous. She would prove that much. Her mind slipped back to the conversation at the ice cream parlor. She wondered if they would treat her differently now. She hoped not. She hated when people knew about her mother. They always tried to make her feel loved and included, but it always felt like they just felt sorry for her. She didn’t feel sorry for herself, why should anyone else feel like she should be pitied.

      Her thoughts were brought back to reality at the sound of her cell phone ringing. It hardly ever rang now, and the sound surprised her. She looked at the caller ID—she didn’t recognize the number. Laurel? she thought, not really expecting it. But it was really the only person it could be. She smiled at Peter, who had turned to look at her at the sound of her phone, and answered.

      “Hello?”

      “Hey Sam!”

      “Samantha,” Samantha quickly corrected, not even thinking.

      “What?”

      “Nothing. Hi Laurel.”

      “Hi.”

      “What’s up?” Samantha asked, prodding Laurel to the reason she called.

      “Oh, nothing,” she paused, not really looking forward to saying what she was about to say. “Look. I was just wondering if you’d reconsider coming to dinner with me and my parents. It’ll be fun, I swear.”

      Samantha shuddered at the thought. It would not be fun. Not in a million years. She’d rather eat dirt than go to dinner with Laurel’s parents. She’d rather starve than spend an hour with them. For a split second, she wondered why she had such strong feelings about them, but quickly pushed it out of her mind. That was a topic to mull over later. She needed to stay on point.

      “No, that’s ok. I think I’m gonna stay in and get used to living in a dorm room tonight, maybe order some Chinese or something.”

      “Oh, ok. Are you sure?” Samantha could hear the hints of desperation in Laurel’s voice. She really didn’t want to go to dinner with her parents alone. Samantha didn’t understand it.

      “Yeah, I’m sure,” Samantha said, letting the faintest sound of apology color her voice. She really did wish that her desire to help Laurel outweighed her disgust in being anywhere near her parents, but it didn’t. She sighed. There wasn’t anything she could do.

      “Ok… maybe some other time.” Laurel said dejectedly.

      Samantha mused that that tone normally won her arguments. But not today. Any other day, Samantha probably would have agreed to go, but today, today was her day. That was what she had determinedly decided this morning, and she was going to stick to it. She was not doing things that she didn’t want to do. No matter what Laurel’s tone hinted at. She’d make it up to her later.

      “Are you still in the room? Peter, Nick and I are almost back.”

      That was actually a lie. They had already parked and were getting out of the car.

      “Yeah, I still have to get dressed and you know… get ready.” Her voice still sounded upset, but she was resigned now. Samantha was not going to save her from her parents.

      “Well, I’ll be up in a few minutes. I’ll help.”

      Samantha couldn’t help smiling at the prospect. She bet Laurel’s clothes were amazing. Not that that matters to me, she reprimanded herself.

      After saying goodbye, Samantha hung up and had to run to catch up the boys, who were already walking into Adams. She barely managed to get to the door before it closed. She really didn’t feel like swiping her card. Peter and Nick chuckled at each other as Samantha barely managed to catch the door with her foot. She glared at them as she stalked past them and nearly tripped over the mat in front of the stairs. Their chuckles grew louder. She wanted to disappear, but then smiled at herself. She was being silly.

      She waited for them at the top of the stairs.

      “Slow pokes.”

      “We didn’t want to trip on anything,” Peter replied, mocking her.

      Samantha rolled her eyes. She was over it. They all walked back down to their rooms.

      “You gonna play with us?” asked Nick, politely.

      “Nah. I told Laurel I’d help her pick out what she was going to wear.”

      “Have fun,” he said, scrunching up his face. He would never understand girls.

      “Thanks.” Samantha sounded more enthusiastic than she believed she could be. It always amazed her that she was such a girl sometimes.

      She waved goodbye and walked into her room. Clothes were everywhere. She wondered where Hurricane Laurel was.

      “Laurel?” asked Samantha curiously.

      “I’m in the bathroom!”

      “I thought maybe your closet swallowed you.”

      “No, I just couldn’t figure out what to wear.”

      “Have you done it yet?”

      “I don’t know.”

      “Can you come out so I can see?” Samantha was getting tired of talking through a door.

      “Ok…” was Laurel’s meek reply.

      She looked perfect. Samantha couldn’t see how she could say she didn’t know if she had found an outfit. The dress was a blue, teal and green knee length strapless number that perfectly matched the brightness and color of her eyes. Samantha nodded in approval.

      “You look great!”

      “Yeah… well, my mother’s seen this one before. She’s going to ask me if I’m a pauper. She doesn’t like me wearing things multiple times.”

      “She just doesn’t want you to be normal.”

      “She’s a nightmare.”

      “I could tell. She doesn’t like me much.”

      “It’s not you. She would have been like that to any person who had the misfortune of being my roommate.”

      “She doesn’t want you to be normal.”

      “Yeah, but I want to be normal.”

      “Tonight, you don’t have much of a choice.”

      “Yeah, I know. So do I really look ok?”

      “You want the boys to give you a second opinion?”

      “No…” Laurel sighed.

      “Look. Go to dinner. Be the daughter they want you to be. Come back here after, and we can be normal all you like. We’ll make popcorn and put in a movie, and talk. Ok?”

      Samantha didn’t know what was motivating her to be this nice to Laurel. She still hadn’t decided if she liked her, and she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to bond yet. She needed to get a better feel for this living with someone who actually talked. Samantha looked at her roommate and sighed sympathetically.

      “When do you have to leave?”

      “Soon, but I need to put all this stuff back up,” she said, indicating all of the dresses that were draped over her bed. “Are you sure you won’t come?”

      “No. I’m not going to. I’m sorry Laurel. But… look. Think about how unpleasant it is going to be for you. Now multiply it by, I don’t know, a hundred? A thousand? I’m not having dinner with your parents.”

      “Ok, yeah, I get that.”

      Laurel reached down for her dresses and started putting them back in her closet. Samantha watched, not knowing if Laurel wanted her help or not. Laurel looked over at her and smiled.

      “Thanks for calming me down.”

      “No problem.” Samantha looked at the clock. “When do you have to leave?”

      Laurel turned her attention to the clock on Samantha’s desk. “Um, now.”

      “Ok, have fun, don’t disappoint your parents too much, and when you come back we’ll have a girl’s night… As soon as I find a microwave and a bag of popcorn.”

      As it turned out, Nick and Peter happened to have both, and Samantha managed to beg her way into stealing both the use of the microwave and a bag of popcorn.

      Laurel was gone for almost two hours. Samantha couldn’t believe they were eating that whole time. Who spent two hours at dinner? In that time, Samantha ordered Chinese, reordered her books, and watched Peter and Nick blow each other up in whatever video game they were playing. There were cartoons with yellow hair, and that’s all she could tell. Anime, it’s anime, they tried to correct her. But she resisted. No, they are cartoons who blow each other up with yellow balls of light.

      When Laurel finally returned, Samantha wasn’t sure she was up to a movie night and a get to know you chat, but luckily, Laurel wasn’t either.

      “How about we skip the movie?” she asked when Samantha followed her into their room after the popcorn finished popping.

      Samantha shut the door as quickly as she could. The boys were staring.

      “That’s fine with me. It’s been a long day.”

      “Yeah. Tell me about it. I was in the car for almost five hours.”

      “Yikes.”

      “Yeah. It would have been shorter, but I had to go slow enough for Michael not to tell my parents I was driving recklessly.” She rolled her eyes. “I hate driving slow.”

      Samantha smiled, wondering what was considered slow.

      “How was dinner?” she asked, changing the subject.

      “Mindless, as always. Sometimes I don’t think my parents have a single brain cell left that can form a complete and intelligent thought. But I guess my dad, at least, does… He has to be able to talk to all those movie people about things… But they don’t have anything left over for me, that’s for sure.”

      “At least your parents talk to you,” Samantha mumbled, barely audible. She didn’t really want Laurel to hear what she said. It would bring up more questions. She quickly moved on. “So what did Nick do to you that made you try to hit him?”

      “What?”

      “Nick, this afternoon. You were supposed to tell him we were waiting for him, and he came downstairs saying you tried to beat him up. What happened?”

      “Oh. I think I overreacted.”

      “Yeah, I think you might have.”

      “It’s just… I thought he was a photographer. I hate the paparazzi,” Laurel grumbled the last sentence. Hate didn’t even come close to what she felt about them.

      “I don’t think he even knew who you were.”

      “Yeah, I think I realized that after he started telling me that I was crazy.”

      “Don’t worry, I took care of him for you.”

      Laurel lifted a curious eyebrow in Samantha’s direction. “What’d he do to you?”

      Samantha smiled. It was so ridiculous, looking back on the events of that afternoon. “He tried to spook me… I reacted. Fight or flight and all that…”

      Laurel laughed at that, amused that Nick had been beat up by two girls in one day, “I bet he wasn’t expecting that.”

      “No, he wasn’t.” They laughed together. Samantha was enjoying this. It was nice to have someone to talk to for once, to be at home and not silent, to be able to admit her feelings to someone else. She couldn’t explain why she and Laurel had become so close so quickly, but she liked it.

      Samantha had opened the bag of popcorn and had started munching on it as they talked. Laurel sat down next to Samantha and took a handful of popcorn, munching on it thoughtfully. She was curious about something, but Samantha couldn’t tell what.

      “What do your parents do?”

      “Hm?”

      “Well, you know what my parents do… what about yours?”

      “Oh, my dad’s a cop… and my mom was and FBI agent…”

      “Wow. The FBI? That must have been crazy.”

      “Yeah. I guess.”

      “What does she do now? Stay at home, take care of the kids kind of mom?”

      “What?” Samantha was confused. She had answered the question, right?

      “You said was. Your mother was and FBI agent. What does she do now?”

      “Oh… um… well… actually…”

      “Samantha?”

      “Yeah?”

      “You ok?”

      “Yeah… My mother’s… well, my mother’s not around anymore.” That’s the closest she could get to the truth in front of Laurel. She wasn’t sure why, but she just couldn’t let that out to someone she was going to have to see everyday for the rest of the year. So she left it as a white lie. Let Laurel take it was she would.

      “Oh. Oh dear, I’m so sorry.”

      “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. It was a while ago.”

      “When did she leave?”

      Samantha would have snickered if she hadn’t felt the waves of memories about to drown her. Leave. When did she leave? That didn’t even come close to what happened.

      “Almost ten years ago…”

      Black and white images flashed through Samantha’s mind. All that blood, her mother lying motionless in the center of it. Her father’s face when he ran in at her scream. Samantha swallowed down the memories. She couldn’t let Laurel know how much it affected her.

      But Laurel did notice.

      “Maybe we should watch that movie after all,” she said, smiling.

      Samantha was grateful for the distraction. A movie was definitely better than talking anymore. She needed something happy… a comedy… no sad parts… but it was up to Laurel to pick.

      “What do you want to watch?” Samantha asked, passing her the box of DVDs she had brought from home. Red Eye was not included.

      “Um…” Laurel reached in and grabbed the first movie that she placed her hand on. “Bridget Jones’s Diary?”

      “Sounds good to me.”

      Throughout the whole movie, Samantha kept her face blank, only showing any emotion when the movie deemed in necessary. Laurel cautiously looked over on occasion to see how Samantha was holding up, but Samantha’s face gave nothing away. Inside, she was still trying to repress all the memories that she had carefully repressed that morning. She was not going to think about her mother. Today was her day.

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11 July 2008 @ 09:11 pm
Index of Chapters

Chapter Three – Observations


      SAMANTHA DIDN’T KNOW HOW MUCH TIME she had been sitting on her bed, staring at the bare walls, her mind wandering. She never had been able to successfully let her mind wander without thinking about her mother before, so this was something new. Her mind had drifted, floating from cloud to cloud, considering nothing in particular. It was nice to daydream for once without seeing flashes of her former life. She enjoyed it.

      The explosion of sound coming from outside her door shocked her out of the peaceful world her mind had created. She heard the scraping of a key fitting into its hole, the clicking as the door was locked and the jiggle of the doorknob as the voices behind the door tried to force the locked door open. The key entered the hole again, and the door unlocked. The next jiggle of the doorknob was accompanied by the door opening and a honey blonde entering the room.

      Her clothes reeked of money, and the man standing behind her in a suit confirmed the fact that this girl was rich. Samantha inwardly groaned. What kind of person had she been paired with?

      Samantha sat up as the blonde walked into the room, taking in all that Samantha had done to improve her side. Samantha couldn’t read her face. The blonde looked curiously amazed by the posters and the books, awed by how much Samantha had already done with the room.

      Samantha didn’t say anything. She just crossed her legs and sat with her back to the wall. She didn’t know how to approach this new force in her world. And what a force she was.

      The blonde smiled at Samantha, her blue-green eyes sparkling in the sunlight from streaming in from the window. Samantha managed a small smile in return, but still didn’t speak. The blonde seemed to not know what to do. The scene automatically turned slightly awkward.

      The blonde was the first to break the silence. “Hi!” she said with an even bigger grin, holding her hand out to Samantha, “I’m Laurel.”

      Samantha felt completely taken aback by the hand thrust in her face. She shied back from it, but managed to at least grab it and shake it slightly. She still didn’t speak.

      “I love what you’ve done with the room so far. It’s so fun, so like college!” Laurel continued. She moved to Samantha’s bookshelf. “Ooh! The classics. You like the Brontë sisters?” She didn’t wait for an answer before moving on. She couldn’t seem to keep quiet, or, perhaps, Samantha’s silence bothered her. She still hadn’t introduced herself. “The door said you’re Samantha Quinn right? This year’s going to be so much fun.”

      Peter had quietly poked his head out of his door, and was now looking at Samantha questioningly. Samantha couldn’t suppress a smile when she saw him. Laurel took that as encouragement and kept talking quickly and animatedly. She asked Samantha a series of questions that Samantha barely heard. Peter went back into his room, smiling mockingly as he left Samantha to Laurel’s questions. “So are you completely moved it?” Laurel paused, giving Samantha a chance to finally speak.

      Samantha managed a nod before she spoke her first words to the girl who had disturbed her silent reverie, “Who’s that?” she asked, pointing to the suited man in the doorway, still holding the box he had been holding when Laurel burst into the room.

      “Oh, Michael. That’s Michael. You can put the box down now. I’ll meet you downstairs to help with moving all my stuff in in a couple minutes. I wanna get to know my new roomie first though.”

      Michael seemed relieved to leave. Laurel seemed just as relieved, oddly, Samantha thought.

      Laurel didn’t speak until she was sure Michael was completely out of earshot. “Is he gone?” she whispered, looking to Samantha.

      Samantha shrugged. Like she knew. But Laurel took that as an affirmative. Her demeanor completely changed. She went from being a socialite prom queen to a down-to-earth, intellectual type. She was still chatty and friendly, but in a slightly more natural way. The change was slightly unnerving.

      “Ugh!” she said, rolling her eyes. “Sorry about that. He’s such a lackey. He’s so devoted to my parents. Tells them everything. They seem to think that if I’m not super bubbly, then I’m depressed or I’m being rude or something. I try to tell them that people don’t appreciate the bubby chatter, but they don’t seem to believe me. I don’t know.”

      Laurel shrugged. Samantha was still looking at her with a nervous confused look. Laurel sighed.

      “Can we start over?” she asked, her face scrunching up, worried that she was making Samantha uncomfortable. “I’m Laurel Davies.”

      “Samantha Quinn.”

      “Hi,” Laurel said with a shy smile, warmer and more open than the bright smile she had given Samantha when she first introduced herself.

      “Hi,” Samantha replied, also smiling. “So that was…” she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

      “Michael,” Laurel said, rolling her eyes, “My parent’s valet. Well, one of them. The most devoted of them.”

      “Your parents have a valet? Multiple valets?”

      “Yeah. My dad’s a big movie exec, which puts me in the most uncomfortable position of being his daughter.”

      The pieces snapped into place in Samantha’s mind. That’s where she knew the name from. Laurel Davies, daughter of Kevin Davies, producer of multiple big box office hits. She’d seen Laurel’s name in the papers before. Nothing scandalous, but there none the less. Samantha wondered how she’d missed it.

      Laurel noticed the change in Samantha’s attitude. “Don’t worry. I’m nothing like them.”

      “I think I’ve read that.”

      “School and soccer. That’s me.”

      Samantha just nodded.

      “Are you ok? Is this going to be a problem?”

      “No. No, it won’t be. I just need a little time to let it soak in.”

      “Ok,” Laurel paused for a few moments. “Enough time yet?”

      Samantha laughed, the ice between them breaking.

      “Where are they, your big famous parents?” Samantha asked, remembering that Laurel’s mother happened to be a model.

      “Oh, here or there. They’ll be here later. They want to make it seem like they’re helping me move in, but not actually help me move in.”

      “Well that doesn’t seem natural.”

      “My parents aren’t natural.”

      That made both of them laugh. Samantha realized that, perhaps, they were more similar than she could have ever guessed. And they’d only just met a few minutes ago.

      “Well, I guess I’ll go down and help Michael with my stuff. I tried to convince my parents that he wasn’t necessary, that I could do this myself. But they don’t want any pictures in the papers with me carting boxes up the stairs. Apparently, if they aren’t normal, I can’t be normal.”

      Samantha nodded and Laurel skipped out of the room. Samantha stared as she left. Skipping? Samantha asked herself incredulously. Who skips?

      Laurel and the valet, whose name Samantha had by now forgotten, returned shortly with another strong looking guy carrying a refrigerator. Laurel considered where to put it and told him to just put it down somewhere, and she’d move it later. She winked at Samantha as they all left again.

      Each trip in and out of the room added more and more things to the center of the room, and Samantha wondered if she’d be able to get out later. There was a rolled up rug in the corner, the refrigerator, a TV, multiple suitcases, books, clothes, boxes that held who knows what, and each time, Laurel came in, dropped stuff off and left. Thirty minutes went by and Samantha wondered how much stuff Laurel had brought.

      The last time she came back, Laurel was accompanied by two people who looked very familiar to Samantha. She’d seen their faces in several magazines over the years.

      “Samantha, these are my parents. Mom, Dad, this is Samantha.”

      Samantha felt awkward as she smiled and mumbled, “Hi,” to the two very famous faces, waving, but not moving.

      They seemed offended by Samantha’s somewhat impolite greeting. Laurel expected this, though she had only met Samantha half an hour ago, and turned back to her parents.

      “Doesn’t this look great!” she mused enthusiastically. Perhaps too enthusiastically?

      Her parents didn’t look like they were excited about the prospect of their daughter living with a nobody who might possibly kidnap their daughter and hold her for ransom. They weren’t comfortable with their daughter having any roommate at all but had been unable to convince her to move to a single room.

      “It’s a bit… small, don’t you think,” commented her mother.

      “It’s cozy,” Laurel said, defending the room.

      “It could definitely use some improvement,” retorted Laurel’s father.

      “It’s perfect,” Laurel stated, definitively.

      She hated her parents’ attitude to the room, to the dorm, to everything she loved in her life. They were always negative, always trying to rip things down that she so positively built up in her mind. She didn’t even have to make herself believe she was happy, she just was. Why couldn’t they see that?

      “Whatever you want dear,” said her mother sweetly, though the look she gave her husband was incredulous, even mocking. She could believe her daughter would want this, that much was obvious to Samantha.

      Samantha tried to come up with a way in her mind to excuse herself, but nothing came to mind. She was stuck. Maybe she would just fade into the walls.

      Where were Peter and Nick? She desperately needed an escape. Could anyone just be convenient for once?

      Samantha remained silent as Laurel’s parents continued to ignore her, positively smothering Laurel with attention. But help her, they did not. The most they did was try to convince Laurel to let the “help,” as they referred to Michael, to do this for her—a suggestion Laurel adamantly refused. Laurel made her bed, and was trying to figure out where to put things. Her clothes obviously went in the closet and in the dresser, but she had brought so much, she didn’t know if she’d ever clear a space on the floor for the rug. It may just stand there in the corner for the whole year.

      Samantha’s mind had already put the puzzle together, and knew where everything could go to provide the most space in the room. She just needed Laurel to get rid of her parents for a slight moment. She couldn’t breathe with them sucking in all the oxygen in the room. They were suffocating her.

      Laurel’s parents seemed to feel the same way. How could they possibly breathe in this substandard air that some inferior person was breathing in? It was absolutely barbaric. Laurel’s mother suggested they go outside for fresh air, and they left, leaving the girls alone for a while.

      Laurel sighed, letting out a breath of relief for the second time that day.

      “I’m so sorry about them. They’re absolutely awful sometimes.”

      “No problem.”

      “No, really, I have no idea how they can manage to be around other people at all without insulting everyone. I don’t know how they even live in another world with other people sometimes. They’re impossible.”

      “It’s really no problem.”

      Samantha paused for a second, not sure how to approach the issue at hand. She stumbled a bit, but managed to get her sentence out.

      “I think I know how to get all of your stuff put away without it all being in the center of the room for the whole year.”

      “Really? Oh thank God.”

      “Come here,” Samantha said, indicating that Laurel should sit next to her. “It’s really pretty simple,” she said, pointing and indicating where everything should go, how they should move Laurel’s bed and what could be stored in various places.

      Laurel was amazed when Samantha finished. “You’re a genius.”

      Samantha shrugged. “I like puzzles,” she replied modestly. She wasn’t used to all the praise.

      “No, really, a genius.”

      Samantha smiled at her. Laurel was nice. Her parents were another story. She didn’t know how she was going to live with Laurel if her parents were always going to act how they had.

      Thinking of them seemed to bring them back, as if they’d heard someone calling their names, beckoning them to return. Laurel jumped up as the entered the room, surprised. She didn’t think they’d be back.

      “Mom, Dad. Hi. Oh, we figured out where to put everything. Isn’t that excellent?”

      Her parents only nodded. Laurel started moving around the room frantically, pushing and pulling at everything. Her father moved to call in the valet, but Laurel stopped him. She wanted to do this herself. Her parents had nothing else to do but watch, like Samantha.

      Samantha had pulled up into a ball when they came in. She still wasn’t sure what she thought of them. No, she knew what she thought of them, she just didn’t know how to react around them. She was unable to hide her feelings behind anything but silence and timidity. It was pathetic, she realized, but she didn’t want them to hate her any more than they already did.

      What was this? Did she really care if Laurel’s parents liked her? No, but she didn’t want them to hate her. That was typically human wasn’t it? No one liked to be hated, though many loved to hate people. Some people made there existence by pretending like they hated the world.

      But Samantha didn’t want to hate these people. There had to be some part of them that was good, there just had to be. Samantha struggled to find that goodness within them as they continued to glare at her. Were they so determined to hate her that they would try to make her feel more uncomfortable than she already did? What kind of people were they?

      Determined ones. Workaholics. Hardened by the society they lived in. That’s what they were. Samantha couldn’t believe herself, but she was actually beginning to see the reality in their situation. She realized that they didn’t really act this way of their own free will. It was so ingrained in them to believe everyone was out to get them, their money, their fame that they shunned anyone who they believed was inferior to them.

      Dear God, she though, it must be dreadful to be famous. Who would wish this life for themselves?

      Samantha also began to understand Laurel better. She was turning her back to their lifestyle because she could see what it did to them, how it made them act, how it twisted their perception of reality. What was fame if you couldn’t enjoy it? If you couldn’t be happy? What kind of life was that?

      Samantha was lost in her thoughts again. She tended to do that when she was in uncomfortable situations. She would analyze the people she was around rather than acknowledge how awkward she felt. It was easier that way. Laurel’s parents seemed to take advantage of her unfocused mind and start asking her questions.

      “So,” started Laurel’s father, zapping Samantha back to reality, “where are your parents. We’d love to meet them. Maybe chat a bit.”

      “Oh. Um… they aren’t here. They…” she stumbled, what could she say? “They already left. We, uh, got here pretty early this morning.”

      Samantha looked up at the sound of a distinct, though ever so quiet cough and suppressed chuckle behind Laurel’s parents. Peter was standing outside her door, about to knock. He gave her another of his questioning glances, his eyes sparkling mischievously. He had caught her in her lie. She couldn’t say anything more. Her throat had mysteriously forgotten how to swallow, her voice box unable to create any sound.

      “Ah, well, that’s a shame. We were really hoping to meet them.”

      Samantha tried to respond, but was saved by Peter clearing his throat and politely knocking on the open door.

      “You still up for ice cream Samantha?” he asked politely.

      She nodded, thankful for her imminent rescue. She smiled at Laurel’s parents as she jumped up off her bed.

      “Boyfriend?” Laurel’s mother asked Samantha, curious. Samantha understood, Peter was an attractive guy.

      “Oh, um, no. We just met. He helped me move in.” Samantha paused, remembering she had told them her parents had been here. “Well, me and my parents. He sped up the process considerably.”

      She shot a thankful smile in Peter’s direction, and noticed Nick’s absence.

      “Well, I guess we better go,” she said to Peter. “It was nice to meet you! See you later Laurel!”

      She paused at the door, knowing she should invite Laurel. She kicked herself mentally for stopping. She had to ask now.

      “Hey, Laurel. You wanna come with us? We’re going to the ice cream shop just off campus.”

      “Oh, no, I can’t. I still have to unpack and everything.”

      “Oh, ok. Well, if you change your mind…” Samantha let the sentence trail off. She didn’t really know where the shop was, she was just tagging along herself after all.

      Laurel looked at her parents’ faces, seeing their disapproval of the idea. Ice cream? Really? She couldn’t eat ice cream. And what kind of people were these? Did she even know? Could they really be trusted? No. Socializing with them was completely off limits.

      She smiled at Samantha, giving a noncommittal answer, “Maybe. But I’ll see you later.”

      She gave her parents a demanding look, urging them to say something. Her mother gave in first.

      “Oh, Samantha. Laurel’s father and I were planning on taking her out for dinner later, before we left. You should join us, our treat. I mean, since your parents aren’t here to take you out themselves.” She smiled sweetly, the same saccharine smile she had given Samantha earlier in the afternoon.

      Samantha didn’t know what to say. She didn’t really want to go to dinner with them, but she’d bet it would be fancy, and it would probably taste good. And yet, she so desperately wanted to be as far away from them as possible. And she knew they didn’t really want her to go. This was for Laurel. And Samantha felt no real ties to her roommate yet. Maybe someday, but even then, she wouldn’t be going to dinner with the wicked parents.

      “Um… I don’t think I can. I think I have other plans. Thanks though. Maybe some other time.” Samantha gave them a warm, and yet so very fake smile. “It was nice to meet you.”

      She eased her way out the door, kindly smiling at them the whole time. Their faces were incredulous. Did she know who she was talking to? It was obvious that no one ever turned these people down with such a weak excuse as Samantha had given. But did they really expect Samantha to agree to dinner with them? Samantha thought not. Behind their incredulous expressions, Samantha mused, was probably a sigh of relief. They wouldn’t have to be seen with a nobody as some posh restaurant. And Samantha wouldn’t have to dread that night.

      She and Peter had gotten to the stairwell before she realized she had left her wallet in her room. And now she had to go back. She groaned again.

      “Hold on, I forgot something,” she told Peter, touching his arm familiarly.

      She didn’t even notice they had touched. She was too preoccupied by her thoughts. But she would remember it later and wonder at what had possessed her to touch the one person who always looked at her like she was a little scatterbrained, if not crazy.

      She ran back down the hall on quiet, catlike feet. She was always able to surprise people, they never heard her coming. She reached her door, but stopped, hearing their voices.

      “We can still get you a single room, Laurel. You don’t have to stay with that girl,” he sneered at the word, like she was dirty or contaminated or something.

      The female voice of Laurel’s mother continued his point. “Darling, you deserve more than this tiny box of a room. I can’t even believe they consider this big enough for one person to live in, let alone two. It’s barely a closet. You can’t even fit the bare minimum in here. You deserve a single room. Just let us get it for you. That girl isn’t good enough to be your roommate. She’s so common. A chav.”

      Samantha smirked to herself. Was Laurel’s mother one of those people who desperately desired to be British? She was failing amazingly.

      The conversation continued in hush voices, though very much a one way conversation. Samantha could imagine Laurel sitting on her now made bed, barely hearing a word her parents said. Or was she giving Laurel too much credit?

      “Just let us check it out. There has to be one left somewhere in this dump of a school. I can’t believe you came here. You know, we were barely able to get you that parking pass? They actually tried to deny our request. The nerve of some people.”

      Samantha imagined that Laurel’s mother was rolling her eyes in the short pause that followed.

      “You could be anywhere else. Why didn’t you trust us when we told you anywhere else would be better?”

      “Mom, this is Stanford. Stanford,” Laurel repeated the word, enunciating each syllable. “I like it here.”

      Her mother cut her off, “How do you know you like it here? You just got here!”

      “We’re going to go check out that single room situation,” Samantha heard Laurel’s father say.

      She heard their footsteps nearing the door and ran to the closest open door.

      “Sorry,” she said quickly to the startled girl who was putting her sheets on her mattress. “I just need a moment to hide.”

      “Ok…” said the girl, confused.

      Samantha watched as Laurel’s parents retreated to the opposite end of the hall and disappear down the stairwell.

      “They don’t even have an elevator,” she thought she heard one of them mutter.

      Samantha sighed, relieved.

      “Thanks,” she said simply to the still stunned girl, walking back out into the hall.

      The girl followed her, sarcastically saying “your welcome” under her breath. Samantha ignored her and went back to her room.

      “Hi,” she said, startling Laurel. “Just forgot my purse!”

      “Oh, yeah. No problem.”

      “Where’d your parents go?”

      “More fresh air,” Laurel lied. Samantha understood. If it were her, she wouldn’t want to tell her roommate that her parents were looking for a single room for her because they didn’t think that her roommate was good enough.

      “Ok, well, if you change your mind about ice cream, just call. I’ll give you my number.” Samantha suddenly felt sorry for this girl whose parents were absolute nightmares. She wondered how Laurel could cope, but it explained Laurel’s whole personality. Everyone tended to pretend to be happier than they were, just to hide the pain that surrounded their lives. Samantha suspected it was like that for Nick too.

      Her mind went back to Nick for a moment. Where was he? She’d have to ask Peter when she caught back up to him.

      “Hey, if someone else comes out that door,” Samantha said, pointing across the hall, “it’ll be Nick. He’s supposed to be coming for ice cream too. Tell him to hurry up ok?”

      Laurel nodded, and Samantha didn’t know what else to say. She’d spent her talking quota for the day, it seemed.

      “Well… bye then!”

      Samantha quickly ran out the room, she couldn’t stay there any longer, and she now desperately wanted the ice cream that she was promised. It wasn’t exactly hunger that propelled her to the stairs as much as it was the burning desire to gossip about her new roommate. She couldn’t wait to get either Peter or Nick’s opinion on the situation. She desperately needed a second opinion. And possibly a third.

      But maybe Laurel would come. Maybe she was nothing like her parents. Maybe she really wanted to be friends with Samantha despite her parents’ warnings. It was always a possibility. Sighing, Samantha hurried to the stairs, wondering where Peter had gone.

 
 
11 July 2008 @ 09:08 pm
Index of Chapters

Chapter Two – Beginnings


      SAMANTHA HAD TRAVELED THIS ROAD BEFORE, sometimes as a driver, others as a passenger. The sights were nothing new to her eyes, but everything seemed brighter, more alive, as if the gods were lighting her path towards Palo Alto, as if fate was rewarding her for following the right path. Though concentrating on the road, she still soaked up every sight her drive had to offer, even though for the most part, it was just a bunch of buildings. On occasion she would catch sight of the bay and smile to herself. It always looked so wonderful to her at this time of year. She would miss the wonderful layout of San Francisco, but she was excited. This was something new to her.

      She missed this feeling, the adrenaline building, the excitement of a new adventure. Nothing felt new to her anymore, she had been through so much. College was her single exception. She was used to having to move, to having to become acquainted with a new town, new people, to never really settling in before she had to move again. But she never got to choose where she was going, and that was something new. She never got to be excited about where she was going next, but today she could be as excited as she wanted. This was her choice, and her life. She wasn’t being dragged about like a puppet by her father. She was going somewhere, not leaving somewhere, and that was about as new as she could get.

      The drive to Palo Alto from San Francisco lasted a scant forty minutes. Samantha easily navigated through campus, having determined the quickest route to her dorm on her last trip to Stanford with Catherine and Olivia. The three of them had been almost inseparable over the summer, visiting their respective universities together, and driving down to Stanford several times, since it was the closest.

      Samantha remembered the dreadful road trip to Tucson the three had taken at the beginning of the summer. It had been in the high nineties for the whole trip, and discovering the campus had been a nightmare. By the end of the trip, they had all wanted to take a cold shower and to never go back there again. Of course, Olivia didn’t have a choice.

      Going to Seattle was better, and slightly wetter. Slightly? That’s the understatement of the year, Samantha thought. Seattle had been wet and muggy, but thankfully rather cool. More like San Francisco, except with rain. Green and lush, Samantha knew Catherine would be happy there, though she would probably only look at the green from her dorm window, rather than be outside actually experiencing all the greenness had to offer. But Samantha didn’t really know what Catherine would do—she didn’t start classes for over a week.

      Samantha had contemplated asking Catherine to come down and help her move in, but after careful thought and consideration, decided against it. She wanted to move alone. She wanted to feel like she was going towards something, not away from something. She didn’t want to have to deal with the pain of goodbyes. Maybe next year, if they were still friends. Samantha doubted that they would be though. She had a tendency to close a chapter of her life before opening a new one. That was how it had to be in her past, and it was so ingrained in her psyche, that was how it would be now. People rarely changed. It took something momentous to change someone’s ways. And this wasn’t all that momentous.

      Samantha had a few problems parking when she finally reached her dorm. The lot was packed. She drove around a few times, and, just as she was about to give up, she found a spot. It was perfectly located right in front of her dorm. She looked around, trying to figure out if it was a handicap space, but saw no signs. Amazed by her good luck, she turned off her car and watched as parents and students carried an assortment of boxes, bags and little trinkets. She thought about her dad, had he gotten her letter yet? She didn’t know. She wished he was here, like a normal father would be. But she couldn’t always be lucky.

      She grabbed her computer bag and hopped out of her car, joining the parade of people crowding the sidewalks surrounding the two dorms in front of her. Adams House, that’s where she was headed. She quickly eased herself around a group of people who were walking insanely slow, and made her way to the check-in tables. There was a sign above each of the two tables, the one on the left said Adams, the one on the right, Schiff. She went to the left. The table was further divided alphabetically by last name. She lucked out—no one was in the line designated for N-S. It surprised her, but she let it pass.

      “Name?” the obnoxious looking worker at the desk asked, not looking up.

      “Quinn. Samantha Quinn.”

      “Is that like Bond, James Bond or something?” he asked sarcastically.

      “Uh… no, I just thought, since we’ve been sorted alphabetically by last name, I should give you my last name first.”

      “Humph. Well, you need to fill out this form and bring it back before I can give you your key.”

      Samantha wondered at his behavior. She thought these people were here to welcome the newcomers, make them feel at home. He definitely didn’t make her feel at home.

      The card he had handed her was an emergency contact form and a key replacement form. She wasn’t planning on losing her key anytime soon, but she filled the form out anyway, barely noticing when the form asked for her mother’s name. She left it blank.

      Finished filling out her form, she went back to the table. The guy who she had talked to earlier was gone, in his place a bubbly blonde who seemed to be excited about the new residents moving in. She smiled at Samantha as she walked up to the table.

      “You filled out the form? Oh, good,” she said with a slight snarl in the guy’s direction. “I hope Brad didn’t scare you, he’s not so great with helping new people. I just needed him to take over for a second while I helped someone find their room. Ok,” she continued, looking at the form. “Samantha Quinn. Hi, I’m Rebecca. I’ll be the RA on the third floor. Oh, you didn’t fill out your mother’s information,” she said, the sentence more a question than a statement.

      “Oh. Um, she’s dead.”

      “Oh, I’m so sorry. Forget I brought it up.” Rebecca the RA smiled apologetically at Samantha, whose expression hadn’t changed. She was used to being asked about her mother. “Ok, well, let’s see,” Rebecca said looking down at her list. “It looks like you are in room 323. And I’ll be your RA! Oh, we’re going to have so much fun this year!” She looked like a puppy dog, desperately wanting someone to play with her. She continued when Samantha didn’t reply. “Here’s your key. Adams is to your left, and your room is up the stairs. Just follow the numbers.”

      Samantha smiled at Rebecca the RA and thanked her for her kindness, while mentally rolling her eyes. She dutifully took all the materials Rebecca had shoved in her hands and smiled again when Rebecca wished her luck in her first year at Stanford.

      Samantha walked away from the check-in tables, towards the building with the bright red sign reading Adams. She took a deep breath as she scanned her University ID to get into the building. She opened the door and walked in. There was no one else around. She felt slightly intimidated when she found the stairs and made her way up to the third floor. The stairwell was eerie, and dark, the lights only at the top of the stairs.

      She made it to the third floor and walked out into the hallway. The difference between the stairs and the hallway was enormous. Where the stairs had been slightly cold and dark, the hall was warm, bright and welcoming. There were signs on every door with the names of the residents. Posters decorated the walls. Rebecca had gone crazy with her decorating, wanting to make her residents feel at home.

      Samantha meandered down the hall, reading all the names on the door, when she finally saw a familiar name on a door, her own. She looked at the number on the door, then at the number on the post-it note she held in her hand. 323. This was her room. She looked at the other name on the door. Laurel Davies. She wondered if her roommate was here yet.

      She tried the doorknob, only to find it locked. She was here first. Laurel Davies was not here yet. She took out her key and unlocked the door, leaving it open as she walked in. The room was not spacious, but not tiny either. It was a little packed with furniture, but that was to be expected. It was a dorm room after all.

      Samantha dropped her computer bag on the bed to the left of the door and walked around the room. She wondered if it was anything like Olivia’s dorm room. Olivia didn’t talk much about her room, other than the one email complaining about having to loft the beds. Samantha had decided that she wouldn’t be lofting hers. Climbing up into a bed every night and having to climb back down every morning were not thoughts that appealed to her.

      She sat down on her bed and looked at the sights outside the window that was situated opposite the still open door to the hallway. Her room looked out to trees and a sidewalk. It was a pleasant view. It reminded her of home. She loved the trees.

      She sighed and looked, once more, about her room. There were three other doors beside the one that led to the hall. Two were closets, measly little things, and the last was to the bathroom she and her roommate would be sharing with their next door neighbors. Beside the identical beds, desks, and dressers, the room was empty. It needed color above anything else. She was glad she had brought posters with her. The room as it was looked like a room in a mental institute. That was going to change, and soon.

      Sighing to herself, she realized that she couldn’t just sit here, on her new bed, soaking in her new room. She had a car to unpack and things to move in. She wanted to be done with everything before her roommate showed up. Laurel. Her name is Laurel, she reminded herself. She wanted to remember that just in case, when she came back, there was someone else in her room.

      She tromped down the stairs, jumping steps to get her blood pumping again. Now that her drive was done, she wasn’t quite as excited to be moving in. When she got to her car, she had to contemplate what she was going to bring up stairs first. She thought about unpacking the trunk first, where all of her clothes were, but decided against it. She knew that once she brought her clothes up, she would want to unpack them, but she would still have a whole car load of stuff to bring up. So she would save that for the last trip. But what to get now?

      She eyed her car speculatively. The front seat or the back seat? Huh. Tricky. In the front seat, she had stored a box of books and her backpack. I guess that’s the best place to start, she thought, knowing that it’d be easiest to go front to back, top to bottom. When she came back, she’d put the top down. No one here would steal her stuff. Or at least, I hope not.

      She opened the passenger side door and grabbed her backpack, which she quickly slung across her back, and the box of books. She put her computer speakers on top of the box and closed the car door with her foot. Up the stairs she then had to go, for there was no elevator to be had. Unfortunately, she grumbled to herself.

      When she got back to her room, her roommate still hadn’t arrived. But there were people across the hall now. Their door named them as Nick Roberts and Peter Graves. As she struggled to open the door to her room, she heard one of them come over.

      “Let me help you with that,” said the dirty blonde, blue eyed guy—hunk really, she inwardly noted—relieving her of her box.

      “Thanks,” she replied as she opened the door, giving him an awkward, shy smile.

      She walked into her room, the guy at her heals.

      “God, what do you have in here? Bricks?” he joked.

      “Just books. You can put in on the bed.”

      As he carefully placed the box on the bed, he smiled at her, “I’m Nick.”

      “Nice to meet you, Nick. I’m Samantha. And thanks with the box, but I’m sure I could have gotten it on my own.” Samantha caught herself. She was still completely incompetent around guys—especially if they tried to help her with anything. She didn’t like people thinking she wasn’t able to fend for herself, because she definitely could.

      “No problem!” He smiled at her with an adorable lopsided smile.

      His joy was catching, and she smiled again. “Ok, well, I have to go back to get everything else. See you around.”

      Samantha made towards the door, determined to unpack her car as quickly as possible. She really wanted to be moved in, to feel like she belonged here.

      “Do you need any help with the rest of your stuff?” His eagerness to help reminded her of Rebecca the RA. Was everyone at this school determined to make everyone else feel welcome? Because it was starting to get on her nerves.

      “Um… You don’t have to, that’s ok…” she mumbled, trying to get around him.

      “No, it’s no problem. Peter and I moved in yesterday. We both wanted to come in early. Well, he had to, but I just needed to escape my parents.”

      It didn’t look like he was going to take no for an answer, so she just shrugged. If he was determined to tag along, then she wasn’t going to stop him.

      Nick looked ecstatic. He waved over at his roommate, “Peter’ll help too. Are your parents bringing up anything right now?”

      Samantha shook her head. She didn’t really want to admit it to him, but his open nature begged for the truth. “They aren’t here,” she said simply.

      “Oh well that’s a shame. I mean, my parents didn’t help me this year, but they were here last year. I’m guessing you’re a freshman right? I didn’t see you around last year, that’s why I asked. Peter and I are both sophomores.”

      Peter, Samantha noticed, had put down whatever he was doing when he heard his name. He was behind them a few steps, looking like he was being dragged away from something very important.

      Samantha turned to him, for the first time looking him in the face. Their eyes met, and she heard a melodic voice whisper a quiet warning, the word ringing through her brain. Danger. Her expression must have changed, because his face turned from annoyed to curious. Quickly, she turned back to Nick, who was still rambling on about one thing or another; she had stopped paying attention as soon as she had looked at Peter.

      Danger? She shook the thought out of her mind. He couldn’t be danger. In her quick glance at his face, she knew that to be true. His dark brown hair was lightly spiked, and his blue eyes shimmered with intelligence, but there was no malice in his glance. He might not be as open as his roommate, but he definitely wasn’t going to hurt anyone.

      The absence of Nick’s voice brought her back to the world around her.

      “What?” she asked, confused by his expectant face.

      “Which car is yours?” he repeated.

      “Oh, this one over here. The blue Mustang,” she replied, startled that they were already back outside in the parking lot.

      They walked to her car and she pressed a button on her key that opened the top.

      “Just grab whatever,” she said, going for the box with her posters, lamp and alarm clock in it.

      Nick reached in and snagged all the pieces to her bookshelf. She’d have to put it back together, she realized. That’ll be fun. Peter stood by the front of the car, not picking up anything. She didn’t even know why he was here.

      “Dude, get something. We said we’d help.”

      “Correction, you said we’d help. I made no commitment.”

      “It’s no big deal,” Samantha threw in, just for the sake of diplomacy. She didn’t want to start a war between roommates before the school year even started.

      “Just get something. Her parents aren’t here to help her, and it’s what us nice guys do. I’m not mistaken in grouping you in that category am I?”

      Peter muttered something to himself, and grabbed the bundle that was Samantha’s quilt and sheets. He started walking back towards the dorm, leaving Samantha and Nick behind.

      “It’s weird, he’s never like this,” Nick told Samantha.

      Samantha believed him. It was probably the look she’d given him. She knew what face she had made. It was slightly less than terror, with a tinge of shock and a dash of confusion. Not the best first impression she’d ever given. Peter was right to act like this. She’d have to apologize, she just didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t tell him the truth. How would that sound? An voice warned me of danger. No, the truth was definitely out. But what lie could she go with? Maybe she could just say it was her reaction to the attention she was getting. That should work. And it accurately described her feelings, so it wouldn’t really be a lie.

      Nick and Samantha had to quicken their step to catch up with Peter. When they did, she smiled at him. Maybe it would thaw him out a little, so that when she apologized, he would believe her. He gave her a small smile in return, and she realized that perhaps he was nicer than he was letting on.

      When they reached her room, she plopped her box on the dresser and motioned for Peter and Nick to put their burdens wherever they liked. They waited expectantly, eyes questioning her what was next. She sighed, they were just going to follow her until someone else comes up, needing help.

      “Do you want us to go get the rest of your stuff from the car?” Nick was the first to speak, of course. He dreaded silence.

      Samantha thought about it for a moment. All she had left now were her school supplies and the two suitcases of clothes and towels in her trunk.

      “Well, I was thinking that I would put together my bookshelf and make my bed first. Make the room seem more welcoming.”

      Peter nodded, thinking that her idea was a good one. Get everything out of the way before you bring in more. Always a good plan.

      “Well we can help with that!” Nick offered.

      Samantha shrugged and rolled her eyes in Peter’s direction. He laughed a quietly amused laugh. He definitely wasn’t as standoffish as she had thought.

      Nick didn’t even wait for permission before grabbing the bookshelf pieces and fitting them into place. It was actually quite simple. The top clicked into place on top of the two vertical pieces, and the shelves had little plastic pieces that pushed into holes on the sides. It didn’t take a genius to put together, though she didn’t doubt Nick’s intelligence. He may not look the part, his surfer physique standing out amongst the wiry builds of the other guys she had seen since arriving, but he wouldn’t be here if he couldn’t make the grade.

      As Nick put the bookshelf together, Peter watched as Samantha struggled with the mattress and sheets. It was harder than she expected, but she finally managed. The quilt was easier—throw it on and smooth it out. She threw the pillow that Peter had brought up to finish her bed. Well, that was done. The room still looked bare.

      Nick looked over at her. “Where do you want this?” he asked, pointing at the finished bookshelf.

      “Oh, on the desk,” she said, flustered. How did she forget they were there?

      Nick followed Samantha’s instructions and gently placed the bookshelf on the desk, pushing it up flush with the wall. Samantha started unpacking her books, placing them randomly on a shelf. She’d organize them later. She also unpacked the lamp, alarm clock and posters, but not bothering to plug anything in. She slid the two boxes into her closet.

      “Ready for more?” she asked sarcastically, fake enthusiasm drenching every word.

      And yet, Nick didn’t seem to pick up on it. His whole attitude was something completely foreign to Samantha, something she had never encountered before. He was happy, always joking, trying to make her feel at home and welcome, and she really just didn’t get it. She had always been skeptical about people like Nick, always thought they had some hidden agenda. But with Nick she couldn’t tell. He was just happy. It was very disconcerting.

      But what was even stranger to her was his roommate. He was Nick’s complete opposite, it seemed. He was quiet and kind of brooding, but not in a foreboding way. He seemed too smart for his own good, and that made Samantha feel oddly inferior. She’d never felt inferior before. She didn’t like it. And the way he looked at her. There was something she was missing, she knew. She’d have to get to know these boys better, that was for sure. She needed to know what was in their heads. She was too curious for her own good.

      The second trip down went off without a hitch, and suddenly, all of her stuff was in her room. Nick offered to help her unpack, but she diplomatically turned him down. It was just clothes now, and she was very particular about where everything went.

      As they were walking out of her room, back to their own, whose door they had left open the whole time, Nick turned back to her.

      “Peter and I were thinking about going to get ice cream later. You should come.”

      “Sure, that sounds like fun.” Samantha wasn’t completely sure she wanted to spend more time with the guys across the hall from her, but she knew that if her roommate ever turned up, she’d want to be out of there.

      Samantha closed the door on Peter and Nick, and started unpacking her clothes. It was almost lunch time by now, and she was starting to get hungry. She should have brought more than just a granola bar to eat. She hadn’t even thought about it. But she could wait a little longer. Maybe she’d go to get ice cream even if her roommate hadn’t shown up. She might actually be that hungry.

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11 July 2008 @ 09:02 pm
Index of Chapters

Chapter One – Dreams


      SHE WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD AGAIN, asleep on her twin bed in Washington DC, tucked under the blue plaid quilt. No harm would come to her—her mother promised her that much. She had fallen asleep to the quiet sounds of an angelic humming that was all around her. Even in her dream state, she could hear them, but the music was changing, becoming harsher, a warning. She shot up in bed, unaware of what was happening upstairs. She looked around her room, wondering what had awoken her. The shadows dance across the walls; the trees, illuminated by the street lights, cast monsters about the room. She sat in her bed, terrified, as she heard a grunt from the stairs and a crash, as a man fell to the ground. She heard a startled scream from her parents’ room, her mother’s scream, and then all was silent.

      “Run,” a quiet, eerie voice told her. Others joined in, whispering to her, “Run.”

      She could hear the quiet footsteps of a grown man making his way down the stairs, coming for her. She didn’t know where to go. She couldn’t hide in her room, he’d find her. She couldn’t run out her door, he’d catch her. She looked at her window. It was the only way out. She unlocked the window and grabbed her bear. There was no way she was leaving him. Carefully, she eased herself out the window and ran to the tree that was in the middle of her yard. The tree was safe; her mother always said the tree was safe. She climbed it agilely, having climbed it time and time again to escape her father’s grasp when they played tag. He would never climb up the tree after her. She was safe here.

      As she sat in the tree, obscured by the leaves and branches, she heard a man’s cruel voice cursing in her room. He crashed, throwing things, searching under her bed, in her closet, behind all her toys.

      “WHERE IS IT!” he grumbled to himself, though to the little girl in the tree, it sounded more like an angry bellow.

      She watched him leave her room, but she didn’t know where he went. Did he leave? Did he notice the open window? Is he coming to get me? The questions raced through the girl’s mind.

      You are safe.

      She heard the voice in her mind. Voices really, melody and harmony rising together, a soothing song, willing her back to sleep.

      With us, you are safe.

      As dawn approached, the little girl awoke, still in the tree. She had survived the night. He couldn’t find her. She climbed down from her perch and retraced her steps back to her room. All was silent. Her thoughts immediately went to her family. She ran furiously up the stairs to find her father’s body motionless body sprawled out in the middle of the hallway outside his room.

      “Daddy, Daddy!” she cried, shaking him. He groaned and turned his head to her. “It’s going to be alright Daddy, we’re ok.”

      “Miranda?” he sighed. “Where’s your mother?”

      “I’ll go find her,” she said, smiling. She ran to her parents’ room and saw her mother’s body positioned helplessly on the bed. Blood was everywhere. She couldn’t take it. She screamed…

      Samantha woke up, screaming as she had in her dream. It was a dream. It was a dream. It was a dream, she thought, the words running through her mind. He wasn’t here to get her. He was gone. That was almost ten years ago. He couldn’t find her now. It was over.

      Samantha rolled over to look at her clock, her necklace dangling from her neck, the voices, as they did in her dream, murmuring to her that she was safe. It was five in the morning. She groaned and rolled back over into her pillow. More than anything, she wanted to go back to sleep, but it eluded her. She was terrified of going back to that dream, to see her mother dead in a pool of her own blood again. She couldn’t do it. Today, her mind had to be clear. She couldn’t let images of the past influence her. Today was a new day.

      She rolled out of bed and yawned, cracking her neck and wrists. Today was a new day. Today she was moving again. But this time, it was of her own free will. She wasn’t just moving away, she was moving on. She would have no new memories of her looking back at her house, sighing, tears in her eyes, bear in her arms, wishing she wasn’t leaving again, moving to another place, another way of living. Today’s journey would give her memories of her smiling at a house that she wasn’t leaving forever, hopping on the 101, racing towards her future. The excitement that raced through her veins at that thought woke her almost as fully as her dream had. She was ready. Stanford University, she thought, here I come.

      Samantha looked around her room, taking everything in. It almost looked like she wasn’t moving at all. The day before, she had packed her car full of all the things she might need at college, completely bewildered that it all fit in her tiny Mustang. But it made sense. She had learned at a very young age that, when you move as often as she had, the less stuff you had the better. It wasn’t necessary to have thousands of little trinkets that, when all was said and done, were useless anyway. Only take the essentials, leave the rest behind. No memories, bad or good. Why bother? It was all a waste of time, and she didn’t need something to remind her that she was leaving yet another place she had grown to love. Though, she reminded herself again, this time it was for good.

      But she almost wished it was. She had never seen her father more miserable before. The suburbs of San Francisco reminded him of the suburbs of DC. The happy families around them reminded him of the happy family they used to be. A husband, a wife, and a darling daughter. What more could he have asked for? They were as happy as anyone could possibly be. But that all ended when Samantha’s mother died. Samantha remembered her father, slumped over her mother’s body, sobbing. He had never been the same. He seemed to live in that moment forever. She had never seen a more broken man in her life. Sure, he still supported her, still put on the happy face for their neighbors, but when it was just the two of them, alone, he was a zombie, not even trying to fool her. She would have known the difference anyway. He could never successfully lie to his daughter. She knew him too well.

      Samantha shook her head, trying to clear her mind. She wasn’t going to think about that. She had vowed that today was going to be special. A new day, a new life. Today was hers. No one, no memory would ruin it for her. She took a deep breath, and turned to the laptop on her desk. Maybe Olivia had written to her. That would keep her preoccupied for long enough. Olivia had envied Samantha for not having to start school until September. But it was Olivia who was now envied by Samantha. Olivia was having the time of her life at college, having started a month earlier. Sure she had classes to go to, and homework to do, but she also had so many stories to tell of her weekly exploits throughout downtown Tucson, hopefully being safe, but undoubtedly having fun. Every email complained about the heat, but Samantha would bet that Olivia enjoyed it more than she said.

      Samantha turned the laptop on, and signed onto her email account. She didn’t use her university email address yet; she didn’t feel like she was in college, and she didn’t want to jinx herself. She hadn’t started classes; they could still kick her out. She fiddled with a piece of her long auburn hair, waiting for her email to load. She was impatient. She wanted the next hours to be over with, to be on the road, headed towards her destiny. She rolled her eyes. Destiny. That was something stupid only her mother would think about. She was so focused on the mystical nature of the world, it sometimes surprised Samantha to remember that her mother worked for the FBI until she got pregnant. It was such a worldly job, not mystical at all.

      And there she was again, thinking about her mother. Her mind kept wandering to all things depressing. Why couldn’t she just be happy? She got up and walked around her room, pacing. She needed something, anything to distract her. Please, oh please Olivia. Please say you sent me something last night. She wasn’t hopeful, though. It was a Tuesday. Olivia normally took Mondays off, spending the afternoon and evening with her boyfriend or doing homework: nothing very interesting or noteworthy.

      And she was right. Her inbox was empty. Not a single line of text to give her something else to think about. She refused to let thoughts of her mother seep back into her mind. She opened a game of solitaire, hoping that the game would keep her mind occupied. It didn’t work. She was still bored, and her mind would still slip. This always happened when she was bored. She just hoped that she could find something to distract her. She wished she hadn’t packed her car already. Maybe she could unpack it and then repack it. That would keep her occupied for a little while. Samantha shook her head. She couldn’t that. She spent hours last night fitting everything together so that nothing would jostle and everything fit. She wasn’t ruining that now. It wasn’t worth it.

      She looked at the clock again, hoping that more time had passed her by than she expected. 5:45. She still had over two more hours before she could start getting ready without her father waking up and asking questions. And he would. Whenever she was anxious about being somewhere, she would prepare herself, hours in advance, and her father would ask her where the fire was. She needed to calm down and find something to do.

      But there was nothing for her to do. She sat at her desk, the minutes feeling like hours. She wished there was someone she could talk to. She wished she was like Catherine, always on the computer, fiddling with one thing or another. Catherine wouldn’t be bored right now. She’d be working on a website or designing some logo or doing whatever else she did. She was the tech savvy one of their group. Olivia was always writing. She could make any situation interesting by just describing it.

      Samantha’s thoughts drifted to her friends, and she realized she didn’t really know them that well. They were more friends of convenience anyway. Samantha tended to shy away from people, knowing that she would one day be forced to leave them, never to see or speak to them again. That was just how life was for her. She couldn’t risk endangering other people by forming attachments. He’d find out about them, and he would come after them, trying to get to her. That was just his way. He had found her mother, and he was still looking for her.

      But he wouldn’t find her. That was the beauty of having a former FBI agent for a mother and a decorated detective for a father. Witness protection, the words were burned in her mind. She would never forget the day her father told her she would never be able to see her friends again. She would never be able to go back to DC. We have to hide, he had said. You can’t be Miranda Farrin anymore. He’ll find us. He knows your name.

      She knew her father was right. He was always right. So they changed their names. She had never liked the name Miranda, her friends all calling her Andy. She hated the nickname. She wasn’t a boy. And yet, she still chose the name Samantha. Samantha Quinn. Her name rang through her head. She had been Samantha for almost ten years now, longer than she had been Miranda.

      And no one called her Sam. No one. Only Catherine could get away with using any nickname around her. Sammie. She cringed. Sammie was worse than Sam, but it meant she got away with calling Catherine Cathy. Catherine hated being called Cathy, especially after reading Wuthering Heights. She said she always heard the name in Heathcliff’s voice, eerie, frightening, commanding. Samantha wished Catherine were here now. Or Olivia. Or even vile Mike from Physics. Anyone would be better than the nothingness that surrounded her.

      Samantha realized that she didn’t work well without other people around. She was always observing, discovering relationships between people, figuring out how one person fit in with the rest of society. When she was alone, she didn’t have anyone to observe. She needed people to keep herself entertained.

      But even fake people would do, she realized. She dug into her desk drawer. She knew she left some ridiculous DVD in there. Something she saved for times like today, when she was completely and totally at a lost for anything else to do. She found it, Red Eye. It would scare the crap out of her, but keep her completely entertained for the next two hours. Well, almost two hours, she thought to herself.

      She put the DVD into her computer and waited for it to load. Headphones on and volume down, she started the movie. She always kind of wondered why Lisa opened up so much to Jackson. It didn’t seem natural to open up to a stranger, and a really creepy one at that. Samantha had nightmares about Cillian Murphy after the first time seeing Red Eye. She knew that he wasn’t always the bad guy, but his whole persona in the movie led her to believe that he was just as creepy in real life as he was in the movie.

      The movie went pretty quickly, that’s why she had chosen it. Well, part of the reason. It was the only movie she had left in her room. As the credits started rolling, she briefly thought about what she always got out of this particular movie: never talk to strangers, never take a red eye, and never travel alone unless you are in first class and buy the seat next to yours in addition to your own. She preferred to never travel alone. It was the easiest of the three options.

      Samantha looked at the clock again. She vowed to stop doing that. It was 7:30. Time to get ready? Not yet. It wouldn’t take her more than an hour to take her shower, blow dry her hair and get dressed. And she wasn’t leaving until ten. She sighed, maybe another game of Solitaire? She tried it, and to her surprise, started a winning spree. She won 10 out of her next 12 games. More importantly, she had successfully wasted another half hour. Shower time.

      Her shower lasted longer than she expected, and by the time she got back to her room, showered and blow dried, she had just under forty-five minutes to get dressed, eat and get on the road. The night before, she had chosen her outfit, so she wouldn’t have to today. Of course, it helped that she had packed almost all of the rest of her clothes in her cars. She put on the long brown ruffled skirt and light blue top that she had hanging in her closet. She could afford to be girly today. It was her day. Maybe someone would actually notice.

      She mentally shrugged to herself and packed her computer in its case. Draping the strap over her neck and on her shoulder, she trudged downstairs to an empty living room and kitchen. Was her dad not even going to say goodbye or wish her luck at college? Was he that deep in his own depression that he wouldn’t notice that she was gone? It upset her, but it was something she had gotten used to. She knew he wasn’t going to help her move or cry, realizing that his baby girl was all grown up like normal fathers, but she at least hoped that he would be there when she left. Maybe if it was for good he’d pay her some attention.

      She made herself breakfast, nothing fancy, but she wanted to at least feel like she was having a proper send off. She scrambled some eggs and popped a frozen waffle in the toaster. Maybe her dad would come down at the smell of food. She got out the butter and syrup as the toaster dinged and the waffle popped up. She tossed the hot waffle, almost burning her fingers, on the waiting plate and, finishing her eggs, slid them on the plate to join the waffle. Just like Mom would have made, she thought to herself. This was the kind of send off her mother would prepare for each of Samantha’s first days of school. Every year, eggs and waffles. Granted, back then they were real waffles. But Samantha didn’t have the time for that. She brooded over those thoughts while she ate. Her dad never came down stairs. She was going to leave home, and he wouldn’t even notice. He never noticed when she was gone. Why would this time be any different?

      Finished, Samantha rinsed off her plate and put it in the dishwasher. She grabbed a pad of paper and scrawled a quick note for her father, more as a courtesy than because he would really care. Dad. I’m headed off for school. I hope you’re ok without me. Leftovers in the fridge, number for the pizza place in the drawer by the microwave. I love you, Samantha. PS. Call me if you need anything.

      She added that last bit for herself. She wanted so badly for him to need something, to show he cared or noticed she was gone. She didn’t expect him to call. She’d be back in November anyway. He could last a month on pizza. And she was only forty minutes away if he needed her to come home.

      Samantha checked the clock one last time. 10:00. Time to leave. Freedom at last. She grabbed her computer bag and her keys as she headed out to her car. Her metallic blue Mustang stood out in the desolate street. Everyone was at work now. For that she was thankful. She’d have the road to herself. Until she hit Palo Alto. Then, there would be traffic. It was move in day. She opened the door and haphazardly tossed her computer onto the seat next to her. She would have preferred to have been able to jump over the car door into the convertible, but she had too much stuff. The top had to stay up. She grabbed her Ipod and plugged it into her car’s MP3 converter. Smiling to herself as she pressed play, she turned the car on and rolled the windows down. She was free. For once, she was truly free.

      She hit the road, heading towards Palo Alto for the first time alone. This was going to be an interesting year, she mused. Her excitement bubbled as she finally reached the 101 and hit the gas. World, here I come.

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11 July 2008 @ 08:53 pm
Index of Chapters

Prologue


      THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO lived two great magical families. They could have ruled the world, but were so focused on destroying each other that a great war erupted. They destroyed lives, towns, cities, whole societies, trying to force the other to concede. But neither family would surrender. So the war raged on, until the heads of both families led them to what was to be the greatest battle of the war, the ultimate battle. Whoever survived was the victor of not just this battle, but the whole war. This was a fight to the death. But this battle was not meant to be. As the two families strode onto the battlefield, a burst of bright green light exploded between them, separating them, preventing the fight from beginning. In the center of the light stood a beautiful woman in a white silk gown. An angel, some would later call her, and yet a devil, others would accuse, in an angel’s disguise, meant to deceive them all. But neither angel nor devil was she. She was the mother, the goddess, come to reprimand her children for their disobedience.

      “WAR!” She bellowed, “IS THIS WHAT YOUR LIVES HAVE DWINDLED TO?! You were brought here to bring peace! To guide, to teach, to help and comfort the people of this world. But you have led them to a place of strife, anger and hatred! You were given infinite life and great power, but rather than using these gifts for their intended purposes, you have turned your backs on each other, and in turn your charges. Your very presence has destroyed this world that I so dearly cherish! May you never have an opportunity to do so again!”

      The goddess’s arms shot up, one hand towards each family. A faint glow gathered around her hands, becoming brighter and brighter, as the magic was drained from the two families on either side of her. As suddenly as the glow appeared, it faded and was no more. She looked at the two families with sincere regret at what she had done to them.

      “Your magic is gone from you, but not from this world. Some day it shall be returned to you, but until then, you are no better than any other mortal in this world. Step forward, my daughter, my son, and retrieve your birthright that you have so foolishly squandered away for disobeying my wishes.”

      From the family at the goddess’s right stepped forward a majestic woman with luscious dark red hair and glistening green eyes. From her left, a man with sharp features and a dark complexion moved towards her, the anger on his face apparent. The goddess flung one arm at each of them, and an amulet appeared clasped around each of their necks. Both amulets were bright silver triquetras with a stone attached to the center. The woman’s amulet had a glittering white opal that radiated protective magic fixed to it. The man’s triquetra was inverted, and in the center was a black opal that gleamed with its fire, igniting his already existing anger. As the two siblings stepped back to their families, the goddess spoke again.

      “It is now your burden to keep that which I have given you safe, for a time will come when one shall have the power to unlock the magic held within the stones. Now GO!” she commanded, releasing her fury on the now powerless people before her, sending them away from her.

      The white opal amulet was kept safe, passed down from mother to daughter, its protective properties allowing the family to flourish. No one knows of the fate of the black opal amulet. It was rumored to have been gambled away by one who did not know or believe the stories, as the original family stopped believing the goddess might return to them that which she had given them. Through the centuries, none were able to unlock the amulets’ respective magic, and the stories became no more than bedtime fairy tales to warn disobedient children of what might happen if they didn’t change their ways. Some even stopped believing the amulets ever existed, as the belief in magic disappeared. But others know the truth, and patiently await the coming of the chosen one, ready to respond to the call when it comes.