Maggie appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, flecks of paint stuck in her blond curls. Layers of multicolored paint covered her ratty overalls, proof of all the rooms she had redecorated over the years. She had her hands on her hips, so Matt shut the fridge door to give her his full attention.
“I thought I told you to tell me when you got home,” Maggie said.
“We’re home?” Matt offered.
“I can see that.” Maggie rolled her eyes, and then turned her attention to me. “How was school?”
“Good,” I said. “I’m trying harder.”
“We’ve heard that before.” Maggie gave me a weary look.
I hated it when she gave me that look. I hated knowing that I made her feel that way, that I had disappointed her that much. She did so much for me, and the only thing she asked of me was that I at least try at school. I had to make it work this time.
“Well, yeah . . . but . . .” I looked to Matt for help. “I mean, I actually promised Matt this time. And I’m making a friend.”
“She’s talking to some guy named Finn,” Matt said corroborating my story.
“Like a guy guy?” Maggie smiled too broadly for my liking.
The idea of Finn being a romantic prospect hadn’t crossed Matt’s mind before, and he suddenly tensed up, looking at me with a new scrutiny. Fortunately for him, that idea hadn’t crossed my mind either.
“No, nothing like that.” I shook my head. “He’s just a guy, I guess. I don’t know. He seems nice enough.”
“Nice?” Maggie gushed. “That’s a start! And much better than that anarchist with the tattoo on his face.”
“We weren’t friends,” I corrected her. “I just stole his motorcycle. While he happened to be on it.”
Nobody had ever really believed that story, but it was true, and it was how I figured out that I could get people to do things just by thinking it. I had been thinking that I really wanted his bike, and then I was looking at him and he was listening to me, even though I hadn’t said anything. Then I was driving his motorcycle.
“So this really is gonna be a new start for us?” Maggie couldn’t hold back her excitement any longer. Her blue eyes started to well with happy tears. “Wendy, this is just so wonderful! We can really make a home here!”
I wasn’t nearly as excited about it as she was, though I couldn’t help but hope she was right. It would be nice to feel like I was home somewhere.
“if you leave”
Our new house also supplied us with a large vegetable garden, which thrilled Maggie endlessly. Matt and I were much less thrilled. While I loved the outdoors, I’d never been a big fan of manual labor.
Autumn was settling in, and Maggie insisted that we had to clear the garden of its dying vegetation to prepare it for planting in the spring. She used words like “rototiller” and “mulch,” and I hoped Matt would deal with them. When it came to work, I usually just handed Matt the necessary tools and kept him company.
“So when are you hauling out the rototiller?” I asked, watching as Matt tore up dead vines. I’m not sure what they used to be, but they reminded me of grapevines. While Matt pulled things up, my job was to hold the wheelbarrow so he could throw them in.
“We don’t have a rototiller.” He gave me a look as he tossed the dead plants into the wheelbarrow. “You know, you could be helping me with this. You don’t need to physically hold that at all times.”
“I take my job very seriously, so I think it’d be better if I did,” I said, and he rolled his eyes.
Matt continued grumbling, but I tuned him out. A warm fall breeze blew over us, and I closed my eyes, breathing it in. It smelled wonderfully sweet, like fresh-cut corn and grass and wet leaves. A nearby wind chime tinkled lightly, and it made me dread winter coming and taking this all away.
I’d been lost in the moment, enjoying the perfection, but something snapped me out of it. It was hard to describe exactly what it was, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up. The air suddenly felt chillier, and I knew somebody was watching us.
I looked around, trying to see who it was, and this weird fear ran over me. We had a privacy fence at the back of the yard, and a thick row of hedges blocking our house on either side. I scanned them, searching for any signs of crouching figures or spying eyes. I didn’t see anything, but the feeling didn’t go away.
“If you’re gonna be out here, you should at least wear shoes,” Matt said, pulling me from my thoughts. He stood up, stretching his back, and looked at me. “Wendy?”
“I’m fine,” I answered absently.
I thought I saw movement around the side of the house, so I went over there. Matt called my name, but I ignored him. When I rounded the house, I stopped short. Finn Holmes stood on the sidewalk, but oddly enough, he wasn’t looking at me. He was staring at something down the street, something out of my sight.
As strange as it sounds, as soon as I saw him, the anxiety I’d felt started to subside. My first thought should’ve been that it was him causing my uneasiness, since he was the one who always stared at me in such a creepy fashion. But it wasn’t.
Whatever I’d felt in the backyard, it wasn’t because of him. When he stared, he made me self-conscious. But this . . . this made my skin crawl.
After a second, Finn turned to look back at me. His dark eyes rested on me a moment, his face expressionless as always. Then, without saying a word, he turned and walked off in the direction he’d been staring.
“Wendy, what’s going on?” Matt asked, coming up behind me.
“I thought I saw something.” I shook my head.
“Yeah?” He looked at me hard, concern etched on his face. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.” I forced a smile and turned to the backyard. “Come on. We’ve got a lot of work to do if I’m gonna make it to that dance.”
“You’re still on that kick?” Matt grimaced.
Telling Maggie about the dance may have been the worst idea I’ve ever had, and my life is made up almost entirely of bad ideas. I hadn’t wanted to go, but as soon as she’d heard about it, she decided it would be the most fantastic thing ever. I’d never gone to a dance before, but she was so excited about it, I let her have this small victory.
With the dance at seven, she figured she had enough time to finish the coat of paint in the bathroom. Matt had started to voice his complaints, mostly about my interacting with the opposite sex, but Maggie shut him down. To keep him from getting in her way, she ordered him to finish the yardwork. He complied only because he knew that there was no stopping Maggie this time.