"Good morning Rose," my surprised Grandma says as I walk into the kitchen, "You're up early today."
"Couldn't sleep," I mumble, climbing onto a wooden chair and tucking my pyjama-clad legs up against my chest. It's true, and I don't blame my Grandma for being surprised that I'm up this early. I've beat the sun today, though I guess it's not hard, as it's still winter and the sun doesn't rise until eight. Then again, I usually get up around nine.
"Why are you already up?" I ask, a clock somewhere in the mansion striking seven times.
"I had a bad cold and came to look for something to clear it up," Grandma explains, bustling around the kitchen, " I needed a glass of water too. Mind you, medicines these days are much better than they were back when I was your age, but they still don't leave the nicest taste in your mouth." I laugh, finding my Grandma's attitude kind of funny. I never imagined her as someone with a lot of it.
"Nightmares?" Grandma prods in return after she downs a glass of water. I'm reaching for a cookie as she says this, though I know I should probably be eating breakfast instead.
"Yeah," I reply with a sigh, hoping the cookie will make me feel better after my rough night.
I dreamt of Eric, as I'd seen him in the image in my textbook. This time, the picture frame he was holding wasn't empty. It had a picture of my father in it, all cheerful and shiny-eyed as I remembered him. As I watched, the picture changed, until my father was staring back at me in disappointment, eyes looking past me as they never had before, even when I was an ugly duckling. Still, I didn't look away, watching as the picture changed into my mother, her lips turned up in a hateful smirk as she studied my hideous appearance coolly. I began to feel myself crumple under he disapproving stare when the image changed on last time to reveal Eric, hate written all over him. It was then that I felt so completely hopeless and alone.
While dwelling on these thoughts, I don't even notice that I've eaten the whole cookie without actually tasting it. I sigh again, wondering if this day, which has already had a bad start, will get any worse. Knowing life, it will. Whoever is pulling the strings up in heaven and controlling my destiny will make sure that everything I plan to do today will go wrong.
This complicates matters because after waking from the nightmare, I realized I have to find out what's in that picture, otherwise I'll go mad. What's Eric so fascinated with in that picture frame that he sits in that room for hours on end? My goal for today is to find out. And right now would be the prime time to carry it out because Eric is probably still sleeping. Maybe waking up early has its uses.
Excusing myself from the kitchen, I run to the room across from Eric's before I have time to convince myself that spying really is a bad idea. On the way, I almost trip over Roxy, who, having sensed my racing heart, gives a little bark and follows me. I let her come along - it's always good to have a partner in crime.
Once I get closer to Eric's room, I slow my pace and tip-toe towards the door across from his. I turn the knob, giving a mental shout of success when it turns without a problem and the door opens. I was half expecting it to be locked, but the fact that it's not makes this mission easy as pie.
Looking back to check that no one besides Roxy is following me, I sneak into the room. I don't know why I have this feeling that I'm 'sneaking' around. Technically, I'm allowed to go anywhere in this house, but this room seems to have 'Eric' stamped on it, a clear sign that I should stay out. His light snores from across the hall tell me that he's oblivious to me being here though, so I continue snooping.
The first thing I think when I enter the room is that I now know why Eric spends so much time in here. The room is just so calm and beautiful that anyone would want to spend time in it.
The walls have cream coloured wallpaper on them, which is dotted with pink and red roses. From my station at the door I can see the back of a couch, the material of it the same colour as the walls. I recognize it from the image of Eric. On the wall across from the door is a giant fireplace, the mantel a dark brown colour. A vase of dried roses stands on top of it.
The last item in the small room is a little table, made of the same dark wood. On it stand two things - a lamp and a picture frame.
I shuffle closer to it, hesitantly taking the picture and raising it to my eye level. With the other hand I scratch Roxy behind her ear, trying to calm myself and fight the anticipation.
The picture in the frame is the last thing I would have expected. I almost drop it and need to steady it with my other hand. I want to will the picture to change, like it did in my dream, but those blue eyes stay on mine no matter what I wish.
They're my own eyes, but without the glasses and with the long, black lashes. Not far below them are lips turned up in a smile that, to me, says, "I'm obviously so much better than you, so stare all you want". But, to someone who doesn't know me, or at least the old me, the girl in the picture is just smiling for a school photo take. Those people don't know what I was going through this girl's head while she was taking the picture, but I do.
I remember the exact day we took those pictures. Moments before, I had been making fun of a girl who was getting her picture taken before me. For some reason, her braces kept reflecting the flash of the camera. So, in the end, they made her take a picture with a closed-mouthed smile. Going after her had only made me feel even better about myself, boosting my already over-the-top ego.
This picture just reminded me of that, otherwise I would have never remembered. Now, I wish I could've changed that, been kinder to all of those people. I'm pretty much in their shoes right now, after all.
I'm still holding the picture up in front of me when I realize that someone's watching me. I whip around to find myself facing Eric. An Eric wearing only pyjama bottoms.
I gulp, setting the picture back down on the table. His eyes follow my movements and I wonder if he's put this whole screwed up puzzle together and figured out that the person before him and the person in the picture are really the same person.
Where did the picture come from anyway? I'm sure my mother didn't have contact with Grandma until she just unexpectedly decided to drop me off here. My father couldn't have sent it to her both because he hasn't seen me lately and would have never received my picture. Another puzzle I need to figure out, but I've got bigger problems at hand.
"Why are you here?" is Eric's first question, and the calm quality of his voice is scarier than if he was yelling at me. I put a hand on his chest to steady myself, but soon find that that was a horrible idea, as he's naked from the waist up. I pull away and look everywhere but at him.
I'm here because curiosity killed the cat, but I don't tell him that. "I'm here because I wanted to know why you spend so much time here." No use mentioning the picture.
I think he can tell I'm lying, or at least telling on half the truth, because I won't meet his eyes, even when he gently nudges my head up with his hand.
"Can I not keep secrets from you like you keep secrets from me?" Damn, why is his logic so simple? I shake my head, knowing I can't fight that statement.
"Like the fact that there's a secret staircase going from the library to your room?" he adds with a rye smile, almost as an after thought. Not only is he logical, but very strategical in making me angry.
"You've been going behind my back?" I yell. As soon, as it's out of my mouth, I realize how hypocritical I'm being, but I don't care. Am I looking for a fight? Maybe.
"How can you even say that?" he shouts back, "Know what? You're the most conniving, most stubborn girl I've ever met! Just admit that you're wrong here and maybe then we'll finally get along!"
"Yeah? Well you're the most prideful and stubborn guy I've ever met, so how can you say that I should own up to it when you wouldn't do it if you were in my place?!" I'm picking at his weakest spot, I know, but his pride has really been bugging me. If I can break that, maybe then we would be able to get along.
He growls in frustration, turning away from me and back again. Finally, he takes the picture and practically shoves it in my face, "See this girl? I'll bet, just by looking at her, that she was the exact opposite of you - easy-going, kind, sincere; everything you're not."
Eric opens his mouth to say more, but I'm already cutting him off, screaming, "How would you know?! Maybe she was the meanest, cruellest girl out there, picking on all of the nerds and geeks and not giving a shit about it!" I'm fuming, and he seems taken aback by my words because he doesn't say anything for a couple of minutes.
"Do you know her?" he asks, looking at the picture with new eyes.
"I knew her," I spit back, "She doesn't exist anymore." I'm disgusted by myself, both the past and current me, for somehow working together against me and giving Eric the weapon he needed to break me. I don't want to fight anymore. I don't even want to fight for beauty anymore. I could be a geek for the rest of my life for all I care. I swipe at a tear that's running down my cheek, hoping that I don't start crying in front of Eric. I move to the door, only to see that there's someone there.
There's Grandma, looking at the two of us disapprovingly. Beside her, Roxy looks at me innocently, lolling her tongue out.
"Fighting again?" Grandma asks, "I've already told the both of you that I won't tolerate fights in my house. I know just the way to remedy that though." The end she says with a grim smile. I notice she has something in her hand, which she slides into the doorknob.
My mind registers that it's a key moments before the door clicks shut and I'm locked in the room with Eric. Roxy barks once from the other side of the door before I hear her plop down in front of it. She's lucky I can't get my hands on her.
If Eric thinks I'm conniving, he should look at the prime example of Roxy for that one. Curiosity didn't kill the cat - the dog did, just how Roxy just tricked me. Some partner in crime.
I'm sorry if it's a little confusing and kind of boring, but it will all be explained in the next chapter! Maybe they'll actually start to get along too, now that they're locked in a room together = ) Thanks for liking, commenting, and reading!