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.