Chapter Two

The letter was dated to two days earlier so the explanation of a very old letter that had only now found its way to the right addressee did not work. Besides, the print on the front addressed it to Lake Sunflower rather than New York. Her grandmother knew where she lived.

Richard had left. The letter was private, addressed only to Natalie, and as such Richard felt it was Natalie’s to read on her own.

‘Dear Natalie,

I suppose you are shocked to see a letter from your grandmother in your mail today but I assure you, it is me. I wish I could have written you sooner but I have had to await the right time.

Let me start by wishing you a very happy birthday. I hope that by now, you have received your mother’s gift. She wanted you to have it and as such, I hope you like it. Wear it; for now it will hold some protective abilities.’

Protective abilities? Natalie wondered at this but did not linger long. Her curiousness drove her to find out what else her grandmother had to say.

I hope that you will consider something. I would like for you to come visit me. I live not far from you and an old lady such as myself would very much appreciate the company.

Natalie paused. Her grandmother lived close enough for her to visit? Richard had absolutely no idea where his mother lived – had they just happened to move to the same area, the same city? Natalie turned the envelope over for a return address but found none. Only Madeline Turner’s name was printed on the back.

If someone was making a joke, it was certainly a strange one.

If you’d like to take me up on my offer, there will be someone to pick you up after school on Friday afternoon at two forty-five. Don’t be late; if you are, I will assume that you do not want to come.

I hope to see you then.

All my love,

Your grandmother

Natalie sat down. It did not seem like a joke. For one, who would do it? She knew no one here. Secondly, who would think it was funny to pretend that a dead grandparent was writing to her granddaughter?

Finally figuring that her grandmother was not dead after all, Natalie wondered if her grandmother really thought that Natalie would not take her up on her offer. Natalie knew no other family than Richard; he had so far been her only link to anything concerned with her heritage. All other family members were, according to Richard, dead or missing. Her grandmother had been missing, assumed dead, for nearly fifteen years. Of course Natalie would go, no question about it. She wondered what she would find. Richard had told her very little about the younger days of his life and he had never been all that specific about anyone or anything. Natalie wondered what her grandmother was like.

Friday was two days away; Natalie supposed she would find out then.

This was turning out to be the strangest birthday of her life. The mysterious writing that had happened in the morning almost seemed less strange now – almost. A necklace from her dead mother, a letter from her supposedly dead grandmother and an odd invite from said grandmother – perhaps Elvis still lived after all, Natalie snorted to herself.

Natalie went to bed that night, still thinking of her family. Her dreams filled with ghosts without faces, just out of reach. She imagined one of them to be her mother, but no matter how she begged, the ghost would come no closer.

The next morning, as she walked to school, Natalie was joined by Ava.

“Good morning, Strange One,” said Ava.

“Hi,” said Natalie. Then she blushed, remembering how rudely she had hung up on Ava the day before. “I’m sorry about yesterday. I just—”

“Don’t worry. As mentioned in your new name, you are strange.”

Natalie smiled, “I suppose I am.”

Ava kept quiet, but only for a moment. She did not seem to be able to stay quiet any longer than that. “Did you know there’s another student transferring to Lake Sunflower tomorrow?”

Natalie shook her head ‘no’.

“It’s insane. No one ever moves to Lake Sunflower, only from! Before you, there was no new transferring student in like three years. Then all of a sudden, there’re two in a week?”

Natalie glanced at Ava with an amused smile. Ava waved her arms to empathize her words.

“I’m sure the new student’s family have a good reason to move here,” Natalie said.

She tried to keep from laughing at Ava’s horrified expression.

“There is no ‘good reason’ to move to Lake Sunflower. This place is like sleeper’s paradise. Nothing ever happens, so it doesn’t matter if you sleep through the days, weeks and years. I swear, if we were time travel fifty years into the future, this place would still look the same.”

“You sound as though you love it here,” Natalie said, giggling. Ava glared at her. “So who’s the new student?”

They walked onto school ground. The tall building of Lake Sunflower High School rose before them. A large sign made of marble with the school’s name on it stood next to the entrance. Students poured into the school, most of them resembling zombies.

Natalie and Ava headed towards the freshman lockers as Ava spoke.

“I don’t know much,” Ava said, “but it’s a girl and she’ll be a freshman, just like us. She’s arriving this afternoon, as I understood it. She wanted to have a look around before she starts tomorrow.”

The bell rang a minute later and after a decision to meet up later, each hurried their own way. Natalie’s first class was history. She had barely managed to find her seat before her eyelids started drooping sleepily. She unpacked her notebook and pens on the desk. Her eyes fell on the words that had appeared the day before.

‘You are powerful.’

Natalie shook her head. She was not a bit powerful, but rather a very tired, ordinary girl. She would certainly have liked to sleep for a couple more hours.

As Mr. Hensley began lecturing about a war in the sixteenth century Europe, Natalie began doodling in her notebook once more. After a few minutes, the doodling stopped as she lost herself in daydreams of a prince on a white horse coming to sweep her away from school and give her a nice big bed in a kingdom where no alarm clocks existed.

When she looked down on her paper to find new words written there, her heart sped up but did not feel as frightened as she had the day before. The words did not keep her from being scared, despite the content – rather, it was the knowledge that it had happened before and it had not been dangerous then.

‘Don’t be scared.’

Natalie wondered if the words were really supposed to make her feel better. Yet she grabbed her pen and, trying to stop her hand from shaking, she wrote, ‘Who are you?’

She relaxed once more and tried to forget that she could control her own arm. Looking down a few moments later, she found a new sentence written.

‘Someone. I want to help you.’

Natalie raised an eyebrow at the words. Whoever the writer, he or she – it – certainly wanted to be secretive.

‘Help me do what?’

Her heart thumped against her ribcage. A boy on her left glanced at her with an odd look on his face and Natalie realized she had been completely lost in her notebook for a bit too long. She looked up at her teacher and pretended to listen to his lecture.

‘Reach full potential.’

Natalie frowned. First the notion of her being powerful, now this? She was fifteen years old – how much ‘potential’ could she have? She jotted down as much as an answer to the ghost words. It did not take long for a reply to appear.

‘A lot.’

The two words made out the simple answer. Natalie stared at the words as though they would give her a deeper answer if she just looked at them hard enough. No explanation came, however, and no new words appeared. The ghost had fallen silent, leaving Natalie to wonder with many questions swirling in her mind.

The rest of the day passed and Natalie could only call it uneventful, especially compared to the way the day had started. Though she tried to zone out enough for the ghost – she had to think of it as a ghost because that was the only concept she could even begin to grasp – to take over her arm but there had been nothing. The only thing it had led to was Mrs. Miller, the math teacher, calling her out for an answer to a question she had not heard.

At lunch, Natalie met up with Ava in the cafeteria. Ava showed no interest in eating. Instead, she grabbed Natalie and pulled her along.

“The new girl’s in the administration office. I thought we’d go have a look.”

“What is she, a chimpanzee at the zoo?” Natalie asked, her tone amused.

“She’s new,” said Ava. “It’s what made you interesting, it’s what makes her interesting.”

Natalie chuckled. “I’m interesting?”

“Not anymore, you’re hardly new by now,” Ava said with a quick grin.

Natalie rolled her eyes. “Gee, thanks.”

The administration office was just to the left of the main entrance. The rather large area had lots of small offices for the different administrators to work in – the principal’s office, the student counselors, a few secretaries, finance and so on. Ava and Natalie headed towards the waiting area at the end of the corridor. Two couches were placed against the walls in the shape of an ‘L’, together with a small, low table. No magazines lay scattered on the table as there would be in any other waiting room – the administration claimed any magazines they put out there disappeared immediately.

When Natalie and Ava caught sight of the new girl, they both stopped.

The girl was sick.

Even at a distance, anyone should be able to tell. The girl was so thin it looked like her bones would snap if another person hugged her too tightly. Circles beneath her eyes stood in stark contrast against the pale skin. Her dark chocolate hair reached her waist easily and some of it hung in her face.

She looked up when she heard Natalie and Ava approaching.

“Hello,” she said softly.

The girl stood up, trembling slightly before gaining her balance, standing a head shorter than Natalie.

Then something shimmered behind her. Something light and bright; Natalie could not tell what it was. She squinted her eyes but just as quickly as she had seen it, it was gone.

The girl was looking at her. “Are you all right?”

Natalie wanted to laugh but it died in her throat. This girl, this obviously very ill girl, asked her if she was all right, rather than the other way around.

“I’m fine,” said Natalie. She walked over and held out her hand. “I’m Natalie Winters.”

The girl glanced up at her. A gentle smile on her lips and something in her eyes told Natalie that the girl already knew her name.

“Cecily,” said the girl and took her hand. “Cecily Cordell.”

Natalie expected Cecily’s hand to be cold but it radiated warmth, just as the girl’s eyes did. There was something special about her.

Ava decided she had been left out long enough. “Ava Simonsen,” she said and held out her hand as well.

Cecily smiled at Ava and shook her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Just then, the counselor who had registered Cecily returned from wherever he had been. “Ah, good,” he said. “You two can show Miss Cordell around the school.”

Natalie and Ava glanced at each other. Ava shrugged. “Sure.”

After receiving passes that allowed them to walk the halls though classes had started, Natalie, Ava and Cecily set off. Natalie and Ava soon noticed that Cecily could not quite keep up if they walked too quickly. Her breath became labored and her already pale face became even whiter. Neither Natalie nor Ava felt they could ask Cecily what was wrong with her, so they kept quiet and slowed down.

They covered the first floor quickly. Natalie stayed silent as Ava spoke about the school – after all, though Ava was only a freshman as well, she had lived in Lake Sunflower her entire life and had likely visited the high school on several occasions.

Cecily trailed along and asked questions here and there. For the most part, though, she remained quiet and listened with a small smile gracing her lips to Ava’s stories.

Natalie watched her closely, partly because she worried that Cecily might suddenly drop dead, but mostly because there was simply something about her – something unique. Despite her frail appearance, power emanated from Cecily. Also, the shimmer that Natalie had seen behind her back in the administration office reappeared every now and then, when Natalie did not think of it and did not trying to see it. It simply appeared, see-through and bright and it made Cecily look other-worldly.

“Why did you move to Lake Sunflower?” asked Ava as they headed toward the second floor.

“My father wanted a specialist here to look at me,” Cecily said. “He has a good reputation.”

Natalie stopped and the other two with her. “I’m sorry if this is too personal,” she said quietly, “but what’s wrong with you?”

Cecily studied the floor for a moment. Her neutral voice gave nothing away when she spoke. “They don’t know. I think they’ve run every test in the book, but they can’t find anything.”

Natalie and Ava studied her in silence.

“Oh,” said Natalie finally, because she could not come up with anything else to say.

“My body is breaking itself down,” said Cecily. Her voice was surprisingly steady for someone explaining how sick they were, but then again, Cecily had probably had some time to get used to the idea. “None of the medicine they’ve tried has worked. The specialist I’m going to see now is in alternative medicine.”

Natalie did not ask anything else. Already, she felt she had too much information. She had not wanted to find out that Cecily truly was as sick as her body suggested. She had wished to hear that a treatment made her look that way.

Cecily smiled again, though it was weak. “You were taking me to the art classroom?”

Ava stood still for a moment. She looked as shocked as Natalie at Cecily’s news. Even though they had only just met her, Natalie cared about Cecily and it seemed Ava did the same. Even if not, it was still awful news to hear.

“Yes,” Ava said, “yeah. The art classroom. Do you like art?”

“I can’t draw worth a penny if that’s what you mean,” Cecily said, “but I do enjoy looking at art. Do you paint?”

Ava nodded. “I like to do it. I’m not sure I’m all that good though.”

Natalie cocked her head to the side. “But you’re not in my art class. Shouldn’t you be taking art if you like it?”

“I do take art,” Ava said, rather proudly. “I’m in advanced art.”

Natalie’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “That makes you a good artist. Not just anyone is allowed into that class.”

The art classroom was filled from wall to wall with art. The advanced students over the years had been allowed to paint murals on the walls and there were all styles, from the ballerina tying her shoe and the dolphins swimming in clear blue water, to the odd shapes and forms that no one but the artist knew the meaning of but everyone was free to interpret.

The desks in art stood close to each other. The busy advanced art worked on still lives with a western theme. Ava brought Natalie and Cecily along down to her desk. Every advanced art student was allowed a desk of their own, in which they could store their works in progress. Ava unlocked it and took out her sketches.

“These are beautiful,” Cecily said, leaning over and looking closer. “You have a great eye for detail.”

Ava grinned at Cecily’s words. “Thank you.”

“Miss Simonsen.”

The three girls turned around. A rather short man, just tad taller than Cecily, stood behind them. He had trimmed black hair, a moustache, and a plastic apron, stained with all the rainbow’s colors, tied around his waist.

“Mr. Connell,” said Ava. “This is Cecily Cordell. She’s new here and I’m showing her around.”

Mr. Connell raised an eyebrow at Ava, who looked a bit uncertain in turn. Then he turned to Cecily.

“Welcome to Lake Sunflower High School,” he said. “Are you going to take art?”

Cecily flashed him a smile. “I think I will have to, sir, but don’t expect me to be any good.”

“I will merely expect you to do your best and a little more,” said Mr. Connell, smiling back. He glanced at Ava, raising a bushy eyebrow at her. “And, of course, be in class.”

Ava blushed and Cecily giggled. Natalie hid her smile behind her hand when Ava glared at her.

“Now, there’s not much point in you starting on anything,” Mr. Connell said to Ava, “but I’m sure there are a few brushes over there that need cleaning.”

Ava rolled her eyes at him but did as she was told.

Mr. Connell turned to Natalie. “And Miss Winters, isn’t it? Your class starts in ten minutes so you may as well stay here until then.”

He told Cecily that she was welcome to stay as well but Cecily had to decline the offer. “My father will be out to pick me up any minute,” she said, “but I’ll be here tomorrow and the rest of the year.”

Cecily said her goodbyes to Ava, who washed brushes in the sink, and then to Mr. Connell.

“Would you like me to follow you to the parking lot?” Natalie asked. “I have the hall pass and like Mr. Connell said, class doesn’t start in another ten minutes.”

She could tell that Cecily was on the verge of saying no but then changed her mind. The soft smile that seemed to grace her features most of the time replaced the quick frown that had passed over her face.

“All right. I might get lost otherwise.”

Natalie smiled and the two left the classroom.

Walking down the hallway, Natalie felt unsure why she had asked to come along. Getting lost on the way to the parking lot was likely impossible, it being twice as big as the school, and visible from at least two sides of the school building. Cecily walked silently next to her. Even her footsteps could barely be heard. They walked down the stairs and exited through the main entrance. Natalie held open the thick, wooden doors for Cecily.

Cecily’s father had not yet arrived and the girls stood alone by the road. The silence was not uncomfortable but at the same time, Natalie wanted nothing but to ask Cecily questions.

“Where did you live before?” asked Natalie finally.

“Just outside of Los Angeles,” Cecily said. She rubbed her temples with her fingers, wincing. “And you?”

Natalie did not answer. Instead, she reached out and placed a hand on Cecily’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“I get head aches sometimes,” said Cecily. She shrugged lightly as though it was nothing but the simple movement made her cringe again.

Natalie frowned at her. As she could not find the words to express the concern she felt for Cecily in a simple way, she opted to stay silent. It seemed odd to her that she already cared so much for a person she had only just met. Then again, it did not feel like they had just met.

A silver car pulled up just next to them.

“That’s my dad,” said Cecily. “Thank you for walking me. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Natalie nodded. “I hope you feel better.”

Cecily smiled gratefully at her words and seated herself in the car. “So do I.”

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