Author's note: I am so sorry I haven't updated, I've just done my English Language exam and also I've been quite ill, but I'm better and I'm writing again so here it is: Chapter Eight *dramatic music*
I met Nate at pupil reception at the end of the day and we set off towards Greenfeld's house.
"Where's Dexter?" I asked.
"Oh, he 'has homework to do'," replied Nate, rolling his eyes. "He's just being stupid. There's nothing scary about Greenfeld; it's just superstition."
"Yeah, I mean if there was anything weird about him then Ash wouldn't be living with him."
"Exactly. Dex is really superstitious though, black cats and all that," said Nate. "One time he made me wait twenty minutes to walk into the cinema because there was a ladder over the entrance." I glanced over him and noticed that even though he was saying it as though it was a bad thing, he was still smiling.
"Do you, um, do you like Dexter?" I asked him awkwardly. Oh God, if I'm wrong he's gonna punch me. You can't just ask someone if they're gay!
"Yeah, of course," replied Nate. "He's my friend. Why wouldn't I like him?" He gave me an odd look.
"No reason," I muttered.
"Right… So are we just gonna walk up and ring the doorbell, or what?"
"I guess so," I replied. "What else could we do?" Well, we could always sneak round the back and see if we can see her through a window or something. No, wait, no, what? That's the most stalkerish thing we could possibly do.
"Dex'd probably say something stupid like try to sneak in and find her without having to see Greenfeld," said Nate, smirking. "It's probably a good thing we didn't bring him."
"Yeah," I said, looking away. "Have you ever been up here before?"
"Once, on a dare when I was nine," said Nate. "They dared me to go up and ring the doorbell, but I only got to the drive then I chickened out. No one had a go though - it was the closest anyone had ever gone."
"Well, looks like we're about to break your record," I said as we walked onto the drive. It was eerily quiet, as though all of the birds and animals had the same idea as the people in town - stay away.
The house and grounds had an air of… Not exactly neglect, more like they had decided they didn't want to be looked after. There was evidence that a gardener had attempted to tame the wild mess of the garden, but had eventually given up, leaving the plants to re-establish control. The rowan trees lining the drive were contorted and bare, their branches reaching out to pluck at our clothes and hair and their roots snaking up from the path to trip us. The grass was overgrown and filled with bramble bushes and nettles, as well as luscious, glossy red berries growing on dark, stunted little trees.
The house itself was huge, made of dark bricks and with ivy crawling up its sides, trying to edge its fingers under the cracks in the windowpanes and further encroach upon the old man's territory. There were even more nettles all around the house, almost up to the windows, standing guard over the residents to make sure no intruders could appear without their knowing. The front door was made of dark wood which was just on the edge of ineffectual, as I was pretty sure even I could knock it down with a single kick. As far as I could see there was no lock, only a snarling cast iron wolf knocker, but I was reluctant to touch it. The wolf itself was not what bothered me, but the fact that around its neck was a collar of what looked like human teeth.
"Go on then," said Nate, nudging me up the step towards the front door. I glanced back at him. "I'll stay here." I rolled my eyes and lifted the heavy knocker. It made a surprisingly loud sound, disturbing the creepy silence of the place.
The door opened to reveal a tall, blond-haired man with startlingly blue eyes. He appraised me coldly, seeming to look right through me. I saw that he was wearing black formal trousers and a shirt and guessed that he had just got back from work, but I had no idea who he was. I stared at him for a moment longer, then realised he was waiting for me to speak.
"Uh, hi, I'm Gabriel; I go to school with Ash. Can I see her?"
"That depends," replied the blond man. "Why?"
"She wasn't in school today, and we were worried about her," said Nate. "I mean, it's only her second day. Is she ill or something?"
"I'll get her." He disappeared inside the house and I glanced at Nate. We hadn't been invited inside, so we stood awkwardly on the doorstep awaiting his return. It didn't take long. When he reappeared Ash was with him, looking unhappy but perfectly healthy. I frowned.
"Nate?" she asked. "Gabe? What are you guys doing here?"
"We just wanted to make sure you were okay," I told her. "You skipped class yesterday and then didn't turn up today…"
"What? Oh, yeah, sorry, I've just been kinda busy today, that's all," she replied distractedly.
"Busy doing what?" asked Nate. "What's so important that you're allowed to take time off school?"
"Oh, just family stuff," she said vaguely. She turned to the man standing next to her. "Um, Mal, do you mind?"
"I don't really appreciate you standing there listening to my conversations with my friends," she said. He gave her a weirdly intense look. She nodded slightly. "They're just friends from school." He gave her another long look before nodding to us and walking back into the house. Ash came out onto the doorstep with us and pulled the door shut behind her.
"So what have you been doing today?" I asked her.
"Nothing important," she replied dismissively. "Did I miss anything?"
"We got Drama homework, but no," said Nate, laughing. "Oh, and we've started work on Romeo and Juliet and we're in partners for some role play next lesson, you're with Jack."
"Which Jack?" I asked sharply.
"Kingsmill," replied Nate, frowning at me. "He's the only Jack in our class."
"Oh, he's the one who was missing yesterday?" said Ash, understanding dawning in her eyes. "I've been wondering who you guys were talking about, it never clicked that you were talking about my Jack." I stiffened. Her Jack? What the hell does that mean?
"Oh so he's your Jack now?" said Nate, wiggling his eyebrows. "What happened yesterday anyway? Some people said they saw you guys holding hands. Damn girl, you move fast." He grinned at her.
"No, I just meant… Shut up!" said Ash, swatting at him. He dodged easily. "Do you guys, uh, do you wanna come in or something?"
"Sorry Ash, I can't. My parents want me home for dinner," said Nate, grimacing. "I'll see you tomorrow though?"
"Yeah of course," said Ash. He gave her a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek and then jogged off down the driveway, around the corner and out of sight. Ash turned to me.
"Uh, yeah sure, I can come in for a while," I said. She beamed at me and led the way inside. I was expecting the inside of the house to look like its exterior, but I was surprised to see that it was actually very welcoming, despite its size. Everywhere I looked there were antique artefacts on little wooden tables, or old oil paintings on the walls, or marble sculptures in corners. The walls were panelled with oak and the floor carpeted with a deep forest green. I looked up and saw that the high ceilings were covered with ornate frescoes of mythical creatures.
"Ash? Who's that?" asked a voice behind us. I spun around to see a little girl, probably about six or seven, with blonde ringlets and angelic blue eyes.
"This is Gabriel, from school," said Ash. "Gabe, this is my little sister Adina." The girl walked up to me and held out her hand formally. I glanced at Ash and hesitantly shook her hand.
"It's nice to meet you," said Adina.
"Uh, you too."
"I'm glad to see that Ash is making friends. She's not very good at it." The girl had a very powerful gaze for her age and I couldn't seem to look away.
"Adi, don't you have homework to do?" asked Ash pointedly, giving her sister a 'go away' sort of look. Adina pouted but turned and obediently disappeared up the huge staircase, practically dancing up the stairs without needing to use the thick, sweeping banister.
"She's, uh, she's lovely," I said.
"She can be a bit disconcerting at first," replied Ash. "But you'll get used to her. She's actually a darling, the best little sister I could ask for." I couldn't help grinning at the astoundingly happy look on her face, lighting it up with an inner radiance that made her eyes shine.
"You guys must be really close."
"Yeah, well, we spent a lot of time together when we lived with my mother," replied Ash wistfully. I opened my mouth to ask about it, but she quickly changed the subject. "Do you want a coffee, a glass of water or something?"
"Uh, a coffee would be great," I said, following her into a huge, homey kitchen. The sideboards were all oak, and there was a huge chest freezer in a corner. The fridge was covered in photos of an old man, who I guessed was Greenfeld, all over the world, and of Ash, Adina and the blond man with a beautiful woman who shared Ash's flaming hair. Ash went over to a door I hadn't noticed in the corner and walked into a massive cupboard, lined with shelves filled with pasta, flour and God knows what else. She grabbed a jar of coffee and brought it out, flicking on the kettle and grabbing a mug from another cupboard.
"So, how was school?" asked Ash conversationally.
"Uh, it was alright I guess," I replied, trying not to stare at the way the sun coming through the window was making bronze and copper and gold coloured strands in her hair glow. "Nothing much really happened. Same as usual."
"I want to know all about the usual," said Ash, her eyes lighting up. "I haven't really experienced normal before." She laughed and looked at me expectantly.
"Uh, well, Mr Spiro was his normal self, funny but still getting stuff done. Can't really remember what the lesson was about though. Something to do with slavery, I think. Probably important." She nodded, her face completely alive with a kind of manic eagerness for knowledge, and I realised that she really hadn't done normal before. This was utterly new to her. "Chemistry was alright, we played around with acid. Kev burned a hole through his lab coat. Then I had Music, which is when you had Drama I guess. Nate said about Romeo and Juliet. Um, and then in English we started a new creative writing topic. Nothing really happened during lunch or tutor. And then in Maths we did simultaneous equations again because some people still aren't getting it. And that's about it."
"So how are things with -" Aislinn was interrupted by the kettle boiling, so she busied herself with putting the coffee and water into a mug, then half-turned towards me to ask: "Milk or sugar or anything?"
"Milk, please," I replied. I wanted to know what she had been about to say, but I knew that if I asked she'd just brush it off as nothing. Hmm. She handed me the mug of coffee, and I took a tentative sip, focusing on not burning myself.
"Do you wanna come upstairs?" asked Ash abruptly.
"Uh, yeah sure," I replied, not really knowing what to expect as I followed her to her room. Whatever I had been expecting, it wasn't what I saw. The floor was dappled with colours from the beautiful stained-glass windows, creating patterns on the thick green carpet, and two huge four-poster beds dominated the room. In the corner was a wardrobe on a similar scale to the bed and I noticed a door in the wall on the other side of the bed and guessed it led to an en-suite bathroom.
"It's a bit big," said Ash apologetically.
"I think your bed is as big as my whole room," I told her, resisting the urge to launch myself onto the bed and starfish there. It looked so comfy.
"This room is bigger than the cottage I used to live in," admitted Ash, perching herself on the edge of one of the beds. "I'm pretty sure it also has more furniture."
"How come you moved here? What could you possibly want in our wet little town?"
"Things got complicated with my family," she replied, looking down at the carpet. "My mum had to go away for a while, so we're living here with Uncle M until she comes back, or our dad does."
"Uncle M? I thought he was your granddad?"
"He is. It's complicated. Can we talk about something else?"
"Okay. Who was that guy who answered the door?"
"My brother, Malachi."
"How come you don't look like him? Or your little sister?"
"I don't know."
"They both have blonde hair and literally the bluest eyes I've ever seen. Apart from maybe Jen's." Ash's head snapped up and she stared at me, her eyes widening with comprehension. "What did I say?"
"Come with me," replied Ash, not answering my question. She grabbed my hand and I couldn't help but notice the way it felt when her skin touched mine: like an electric shock at first, but then like a slow, burning fire. But in a good way. It was weird. She led me all the way through the house and out into the back garden, which was almost as unruly as the front.
We wove our way around thickets of brambles and stands of nettles and, just as I was despairing that the garden was going to go on forever, we came to a kind of weird water feature which looked predominantly out of place in this wilderness. It looked like a sheet of water, magically floating in the air, and I walked all the way round it trying to figure out how it worked. It was oval shaped, about three feet across and six feet tall, and almost a foot off the ground. The sun reflected off of it in weird ways, casting ethereal light and shadows on Ash's face as she gazed into my eyes, trying to figure out… Something.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me so that we were standing together, right in front of the strange fountain-thingy. It looked kind of like liquid light, somehow staying in a fixed shape in the air, and I couldn't for the life of me figure it out. Ash stepped right through it, and pulled me through. I expected to emerge on the other side, and when my brain comprehended what it was seeing I looked around in amazement.
"Welcome to my world."