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       Flicker Blue 1: Plain Jane, p.1

          
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Flicker Blue 1: Plain Jane


  Flicker Blue 1:

  Plain Jane

  Brea Nicole Bond

  Copyright 2011 Brea Nicole Bond

 

  Chapter I

  The Cemetery

  Jane Thomas didn’t know anybody at her parents’ funeral except for Dr. Mederick Sylfaen. And she had only met him once.

  The concept of death had never made sense to Jane. That was, perhaps, because she had never considered the meaning of an afterlife, and a person can hardly have an opinion of one without the other. Of course, Jane was only fifteen on the day she buried both her mother and father, so she was still far from deciphering the meaning of her present life, and surely that is a prerequisite. Unfortunately, the drunk driver who’d struck Jane’s parents’ car had not taken into account her immaturity regarding matters of mortality, and so she found herself standing before two navy blue coffins, wondering who the hell the people standing around her could be, instead of crying like she was supposed to.

  Dr. Sylfaen and the trio of strangers had arrived at the church in a single ash-colored limousine only moments after Jane had been dropped off to attend the service alone. The old man approached her with a stealthy degree of confidence mixed with caution, as one might advance on a dangerous animal. Warily, but with no show of hesitation, so as not to communicate his own fear. He took her by the wrist.

  “Hello, Jane Thomas. Do you remember me?” His voice was calm, a perfect contrast to his wild ink-green eyes and tousled silver hair.

  “Yeah,” she answered. Just as he had the first time they’d met, Dr. Sylfaen reminded Jane of an elderly child play-acting at being a gentleman. There was a mischievous, juvenile manner to his stance that suggested he might launch into a game of tag at any moment—if he were not so despondent over the loss of his friends, of course. Not the kind of person you could exactly forget.

  “I am sorry I was delayed so long. Let us go inside together.” The rest of the strangers filed behind them in silence.

  The service was generic and short; it might have been even shorter except that the pall bearers (a random selection of church members who Jane had never met and who did not stay for the burial) had to move two coffins. Two hearses and the gray limo made up the funeral procession: the minister rode in the first hearse, but the old silver-haired man steered Jane toward his own, enormous car.

  “Come, ride with us.” With the hand that was not holding one of hers, Dr. Sylfaen gestured to the limousine. One of his companions, a tall teenage boy with long, shaggy black hair that grazed the tops of his shoulders, was already seated in the front passenger seat, and a man in a three-piece suit held the door expectantly.

  “Um…okay.”

  Jane allowed herself to be navigated into the limousine, where she sat next to the only female among Dr. Sylfaen’s companions, a woman with long black hair flecked with gray at her temples. Aside from the woman’s constant sobbing, the ride was painfully quiet. Jane concentrated on not allowing her own breathing to disturb the silence as she watched blankly through the window and tried to organize the tangle of thoughts running through her head.

  In the last year or two before Peter and Helen Thomas’ untimely death, Dr. Sylfaen had been their closest friend, or so Jane assumed based on the many late nights they had left her home alone while they visited with the strange old man. They had revered him for his intellect, labored in the name of his research—some nonsense about dead languages, or so they had told her on one of the rare nights they’d joined her for dinner at home. Bo-ring, Jane had thought to herself over her plate of take-out pizza.

  By no means an atypical teenager, Jane had never developed much interest in her parents’ lives, much less their tales of the amazing Dr. Sylfaen. If they wanted to spend their time holed up in some old guy’s library, she was willing to let them go. Like her parents, she was an avid reader, but the similarity stopped there. She was a solitary creature by nature, and the lack of supervision had afforded her plenty of time and freedom to pursue her own interests. She never made any trouble—not that there was much to rebel against in the speck of a town where she lived—and they never interfered with her. Jane Thomas was content with a quiet, empty house and shelf full of paperback classics.

  Granted, she had always been the teeniest bit curious about what her parents, both more intellectual than she ever hoped to become herself, did in the hours they spent with Dr. Sylfaen. She may even have felt, in the darkest corner of her mind, a touch slighted that she had never been invited to join them—not that she would have admitted as much out loud. Not an atypical teenager at all.

  She had been taken aback altogether when they insisted on naming Dr. Sylfaen as her godfather, complete with a ceremony in a little church that they didn’t attend. That had been the first time Jane and Dr. Sylfaen’s paths officially crossed, and here they were, together again—on their way to a cemetery on New Year’s Eve.

  The limo stopped, and Jane walked on numb legs to the place where her parents’ graves had been prepared. The burial was as brief as the church service, and Dr. Sylfaen stood behind her with his hand clamped over her left shoulder. Because she could not see his face, Jane wasn’t sure if he held her in attempt to show support or as a gesture of his own personal grief. A breeze stirred through the quiet tombstones, and one particularly stubborn strand of mouse brown hair blew across Jane’s eyes and over her ruddy cheeks. She pushed it behind one ear and then the other, but it refused to stay put. Between that distraction and the perplexing presence of Dr. Sylfaen’s companions, Jane did not hear a single word uttered from the minister’s lips, so she was surprised when the service ended with an abrupt “amen.”

  It was cold, and the air smelled of earth and alkaline. Dr. Sylfaen’s hand provided an unexpected source of warmth on her shoulder.

  Jane allowed her eyes to wander over the unfamiliar faces that surrounded the double plot. Her parents had never mentioned anybody else when they spoke of Dr. Sylfaen, so they—and not the old man standing behind her—became the focus of Jane’s thoughts. To her right stood the Crying Lady. She had a short, rounded figure and rich, olive-toned skin that creased around her eyes and closely drawn mouth. Beside her stood the tall boy; with his identical complexion and mane of coarse black hair, he may have been the Crying Lady’s son except that his facial features were too wide-set and severe, where hers were soft—and wet, at the moment. Every few minutes, the boy’s hand dove into his coat pocket for another Kleenex, which he gave to his may-be-mother in exchange for a silent, grateful sigh. To Jane’s left was poised the almost handsome man in the three-piece suit. The Suit Man had caught Jane looking at him several times during the service. Each time, one side of his mouth twisted into an apologetic, but nonetheless amused, smile.

  Who could they be? Jane wondered. After much thought, she decided that she might have seen Shaggy-haired Boy at a party or two before, but she wasn’t sure, and that still didn’t explain his presence today. Crying Lady and Suit Man were definitely strangers.

  Overlooking the fact that the old man was technically her godfather, they were all strangers. A little shudder rocked down Jane’s spine, and the hand on her shoulder squeezed her a little more tightly. I’m all alone now, Jane thought to herself, and she waited for the tears to come. But they didn’t.

  Only the minister had been present when Officer Harris and his daughter mumbled their perfunctory apologies for Jane’s loss and dropped her off at the church (the one she and her parents had never attended).

  “I’m so sorry, Jane. Call me when you get settled in, ’kay?”

  “Sure, Lu. Thanks for everything.”

  Lucy Harris was one of Jane’s miniscule circle of friends—her best friend when they were very small. By the age of ten, Jane had perfected her role as a semi-social loner, but Lucy was still the closest thing she had to a best friend. They might have gotten along better if Lucy had not become increasingly strange over the last year or so, trading in the paper dolls and fairy tales of their girlhood for black eyeliner and vintage punk-rock records…or perhaps if Lucy did not consider Jane to be more boring than their eighty-year-old history teacher. But Lucy’s dad was the highway patrol officer who had reported to the scene of the accident on the night Jane’s parents died. As she had no other family, Officer Harris had taken her home to stay with his daughter for the past three days, until her mysterious godfather could be tracked down from his travels to get her settled into his own home in a small town called Everword, Georgia, a thirty minute drive from the even smaller town of Orchard Bridge, where she’d lived since before she could remember. Had Officer Harris not been Officer Harris, she might have been forced to endure a foster home while she awaited Dr. Sylfaen’s return. Instead, she’d been subjected to three days of having her toenails painted jet black and listening to Lucy’s loud, mournful music raise figurative hell against the establishment.

  Surprisingly, her godfather’s household staff had contacted Lucy’s father within a few hours of the accident to insist that Jane be shipped to Everword immediately, but they had no claim for guardianship aside from being employed by Dr. Sylfaen. Number one, she’d thought when she overheard the phone call, why would I want to stay with people I’ve never met? It’s bad enough that I’ll have to live with them eventually. And number two, who keeps a household staff? The thought was accompanied by visions of butlers in tuxedos and chefs in stark white aprons. Creepy. Lucy had agreed.

  In spite of their gesture of default hospitality, Jane hadn’t expected the Harrises to stay for the service. They likely had plans for the evening—it was New Year’s, after all. Lucy, at least, seemed a bit torn about leaving her there.

  “Are you gonna be okay today?”

  Jane shrugged before replying. “Yeah, I guess so. He’ll be here soon.” There was no need to specify who she meant. The mysterious Dr. Sylfaen had been the topic of many of their conversations over the last few days—Lucy, who at least shared Jane’s passion for the classics, thought he sounded like the villain of a gothic novel, and therefore very cool.

  “Alright.” Lucy reached out to give Jane a supportive hug, but it turned out to be more awkward than it was comforting. Probably because she already had one leg back in her father’s cruiser. After a final sympathetic glance through the rearview, the Harries were gone, and Jane had no choice but to approach the minister standing outside of the church and endure a few more apologies for her loss. Why do people always apologize when someone dies? It’s not their fault, Jane thought. Just once, she would have liked for someone to walk up to her and say, “Damn. This sucks for you.”

  She had welcomed the distraction of the approaching limousine and its host of strangers.

  When the burial service ended, the minister asked if there was anything else that he could do for her. He had a sweet, condescending voice that irritated Jane. To be sure, she was accustomed to being treated like a child—aside from her very average height, she appeared even younger than she was. But today, she was far too anxious about moving to her new home to humor anyone.

  Dr. Sylfaen squeezed Jane’s shoulder, the one he had held onto throughout the funeral. “Jane, are you ready to go back to the house? Or would you like to stay for a while?”

  Stay? Why the hell would I want to stay? Jane thought that might seem inappropriate, so she shook her head instead. “No, I guess I’m ready to leave.”

  “Gregory has already collected your things from the Harrises’ house.”

  “Gregory?”

  “Forgive me, Jane. Gregory is my driver. He lives in the apartment above my—our garage. Come with me, and I will make introductions. We all feel as if we know you well already, you see…I completely forgot to do so before.” He tapped his forehead with the palm of his hand—as if to say that his forgetfulness was a common occurrence. “Please excuse my oversight.”

  “That’s okay. I wasn’t really in the mood to meet anyone earlier, anyway.” So Suit Man is Gregory, and he lives with us, too. I wonder if the other two work for Dr. Sylfaen. Maybe they’re the people who called Lu’s dad. Jane had harbored a small hope that the strangers were mysterious friends of her parents, people who had known them personally, and she was disappointed by the possibility that they were just Dr. Sylfaen’s employees. She followed the old man back toward the limo and was more formally introduced to Gregory, who offered his hand in a firm handshake.

  “I’m very glad to meet you, Jane. I was real fond of your mom and dad.”

  “Yeah?”

  He nodded. “Yeah. When Doc told me about the accident….” His voice broke off, and his open face constricted in sympathetic seriousness for a moment, but the expression looked alien there and refused to stick. “I’m so sorry.”

  “Thanks, I guess.” She looked down nervously and realized that he still had her hand. He noticed, too, and his tight, wry smile broke into a wolfish grin.

  “You shake hands like a girl.”

  Hysterical, she thought. “I am a girl.”

  Dr. Sylfaen turned next to Crying Lady. “And this is Angelita. She runs the entire house, and she and her son live in the cottage at the back of our property. She and your mother were great friends.”

  Angelita gathered Jane into a fierce hug. Several inches shorter than Jane, her tears left mascara smudges on Jane’s lavender blouse. It had been a Christmas present from her mom. “I am so sorry, baby,” she whispered, her voice shaking and heavily accented. “Your parents were so special to all of us. This is a tragic waste…but we will all take care of each other now.” Angelita pushed back against Jane’s shoulders and then took her face in her small hands, the better to look her in the eyes. She had to lift up onto her toes to manage it. “If I can do anything to help you get settled in, anything at all, you just let me know.”

  Jane must have looked as embarrassed as she felt about Angelita’s fervor; Dr. Sylfaen took her hand and hastily led her around to the other side of the car, where Shaggy Boy was opening the door handle to let himself back into the passenger seat.

  “Jane, this is Cristobel.”

  The boy rolled his eyes and offered his hand a bit more shyly than Gregory had. “Just Cris. Cris Marquez. It’s nice to finally meet you, Jane. Your dad talked about you all the time.” He had the slightest touch of the same husky accent as Angelita—a pleasant voice.

  “You knew my dad, too?”

  “Yeah. He was a very interesting man. I’m really sorry about what happened to him, and to your mom. I mean…,” Cris scratched the side of head. “Huh. I guess you’ve probably heard that a lot lately.”

  “You have no idea.”

  “Damn. I am sorry, though. It’s not fair that these things can happen to people like them. People like you.” His eyes were nearly as dark as his hair, his brow was furrowed.

  Jane sighed. At least he’s honest. “Thanks, Cris. It’s nice to meet you, too.”

  “Cristobel?” Dr. Sylfaen interjected. “Would you mind sitting in the back with Jane on the way home? I need to discuss a few things with Gregory.”

  “Not at all. After you, Jane.” Cris stepped to the back door, opened it for Jane, and helped her into the limo. She scooted in across from Angelita, who had let herself in. Before taking the seat beside her, Cris returned to the front passenger door to open it for Dr. Sylfaen. Okay, so no aprons or tuxedos, Jane admitted to herself. But this is still pretty bizarre.

  The journey to Dr. Sylfaen’s house was just as quiet as the ride to the cemetery had been, though a touch of Jane’s anxiety had been alleviated by at least knowing the names of her companions. And she was relieved that the whole funeral thing was over. The burial process had not made her situation more real to her, nor had it brought her any comfort. She felt an odd sensation of sadness now, but its source was not the death of her mother and father. Instead, it was a creeping realization that, in the presence of these strangers, she felt closer to her parents than she had when they were still alive and breathing. These people had known them, had even thought them to be special and interesting. What will they think of me?

  The gray limousine rolled past half a dozen criss-crossed streets of ranch-style houses (none of them unlike the one Jane had lived in only three days before) and drove for several minutes through leafless peach orchards and idle cotton fields before reaching the outskirts of Everword. They continued straight through a tiny downtown area, crossed a short bridge on the opposite end of town, and, after several more minutes of wooded back roads, rolled onto a street of the largest houses Jane had ever seen.

  Jane’s eyes widened as they passed each one. She had paid attention well enough to know that Dr. Sylfaen’s house would be large enough to include a library, a guest cottage, and an apartment above the garage, but she was not prepared for the scale of the houses she set eyes on now. Each was similarly enormous, yet no two were anything alike, and so the neighborhood had a haphazard, disorderly look despite its obvious wealth. The car turned left onto a long driveway bordered by silver-barked crepe myrtles, leafless this time of year, and an ancient three-storied mansion came into view. Jane gaped.

  The partition that separated the front and back sections of the limo lowered with a quiet electronic hum, revealing Gregory and Dr. Sylfaen in the front seats. The old man twisted around to look at Jane.

  “Welcome home, child.”

  Thus, deprived of her parents and forced into the company of strangers, plain Jane Thomas spent the first day of her new life. New home, new family, and the threat of beginning a new school looming in the not-so-distant future. She knew she should be freaking out—angry and heartbroken over the loss of her mother and father, apprehensive about moving in with the Sylfaen clan. Instead, Jane felt as if she were watching the whole scenario unfold from the outside—like she was watching these things happen to a character in one of her books, but not to herself. From some deep corner of her mind, Jane could make out the stirring pains of mourning, but they could not touch the callous that seemed to have enveloped her since the accident. She could deal with those pains another day; for now, she remained distracted by her host of strangers and the enormous house at the end of the myrtle-lined driveway.

 
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