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       Lost Girl, p.7

           Chanda Hahn
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  Wendy tried the handle and suppressed a sigh of relief when it opened. She slipped into the room and closed the door after herself, locking it behind her. She made a careful path through the dark to the other side of the room, unlocked the door, and entered Mrs. Tillman’s math classroom.

  Most students didn’t even know the old section of the school still had connecting doors. The newer wing was top of the line and very modern, but Wendy loved the architecture and hidden cubbies of the old wing, and now she was extremely grateful for them. Mrs. Tillman’s room was the end classroom, so her door opened into a different hallway.

  She opened the door and could hear the girl still speaking on the phone in the adjacent hall. Wendy slipped carefully away and entered the gym. Then she ran—across the basketball court, out past the lockers, and into the night.

  The football game was over, and crowds of unrecognizable faces floated before her as she searched for her brother.

  Her friends had already left, so Wendy ran to the parking lot. A stabbing pain pierced her vision, throbbed in her head. Where was John? She went back to the bleachers and blinked a few times. Her brother stood by her cheer bag, his hands in his pockets as he scanned the field of players and the surrounding crowd looking for her.

  “John,” Wendy cried. She almost collapsed when she got to him.

  “Wendy, what happened?” He took hold of her elbows to support her.

  “Home, get me home!” She knew she babbled on and on as her brother drove her home. She remembered vividly talking about the shadows and monsters coming for her. She cried, she shivered, and when her brother tried to touch her shoulder, she shrieked.

  She closed her eyes to shut out the night—and she saw fire. Darkness and fire.

  His foot hit the gas, and he drove like a madman up to their front door.

  “Mom, Dad!” John left the car running in the driveway. He helped her down and hauled her inside.

  His mom opened the door, and her face went pale at the sight of Wendy. “Is it happening again?”

  John nodded as he pulled Wendy into the living room. She was scratched up, bruised across her arms, and it looked like she had a bit of a black eye. Mom gave Dad a searching look before going over to the nightstand and pulling out a white pamphlet with a crown and heart logo. She opened it, searching for a number.

  John recognized the pamphlet, and knew his parents where sending her away. His heart dropped. His parents planned to betray not only Wendy, but him.

  “Hello, um yes. I think it’s time. Yes. You were right. It happened again. Just like you said it would. Tomorrow. Yes, that will be fine. We’ll be here…m-hm yes, she’s okay.” When she hung up the phone, Mom was in tears.

  Dad gave her a quick squeeze around the shoulders. “You did the right thing, dear. They’ll help Wendy. We can’t anymore.”

  John ground his teeth angrily as he studied his sister. He disagreed. Sure, he didn’t know how to help her, but he didn’t believe sending her away was the solution either. He stormed up to his room and slammed the door, sending the pictures in the hallway swinging. He clicked on the Xbox and started playing. Soon his buddies logged on, and he relayed all his woes.

  They helped him come up with a plan.

  Chapter Twelve

  Wendy’s bedroom door creaked open, and a tall figure came in. He loomed over her form on the bed, pressing his hand to her mouth. Her sleepy awareness turned into alertness as her eyes flew open and she tried to scream.

  John flipped her lamp on. “Shh, it’s me.”

  She squinted in pain and asked, “John, what’s going on?”

  He motioned for her to be quiet. At her dresser, he started to pull out clothes and shove them in her backpack. He paused when he got to her underwear drawer and looked over at her for help.

  “Get out of there!” Wendy hissed. John rushed to her side and turned the light back off.

  “Listen, Sis. You can’t stay here.”

  “What do you mean? You’d better be joking.”

  He shook his head, his eyes wide in panic. “They’re coming for you tomorrow morning. Mom made the phone call tonight.”

  Wendy sat up and clasped her brother’s hands in fear. “I’m not going back. I swear I’m not insane. I’d rather die than go back.”

  “I won’t let you, Wendy. Which is why you’re running away…tonight.”

  Wendy didn’t need any encouragement; she knew that—of the two of them—she was the one to make hasty and rash decisions, never John. He always thought everything through, and if he believed her only option was to run away, she wouldn’t argue. She dressed quickly and took over the clothes packing.

  “No, you can’t take anything that’s personal, and keep things tidy in your drawer. You can’t make it look like you ran away on purpose. Keep them guessing. Which is why I packed my extra toothbrush, my outer jacket.”

  “Your jacket is too big,” Wendy said as she reached for her sneakers.

  “Here’s all the cash I have on hand.” He shoved the money into her hands, and Wendy tucked it into her pocket. “And you have to leave your phone.”

  “What? But how will I contact you?” Wendy had everything she needed in John’s black backpack. She looked around her room. She really wanted to take a few photos or mementos, but she didn’t have time. And he was right. She couldn’t make it look like she planned this.

  “You’re heading here.” John handed her a piece of paper. “Some of my gamer friends are going to meet you at the Pizza Parlor and help you. They’ll keep in touch for you.”

  “You’re kidding me. You’re trusting my life to people you haven’t even met in person? Don’t tell me it’s the crew I so easily distracted and got you all killed.”

  “Hey, that was a game. This is real life. I trust them, Wendy.”

  “Why can’t I take the Prius?”

  “GPS tracking—the police will find you in no time.” He grabbed the bag out of Wendy’s hands and stood beside her bedroom door, listening before opening it and going downstairs.

  “You’ve really thought of everything haven’t you, John?” Wendy’s voice dropped as she reached up to give him a hug. His strong arms wrapped around her, and when they parted, both had tears in their eyes.

  “No, if I’d thought of everything, I would have found a way to protect you.” He looked down at his shoes.

  “You did, you are.” Wendy let the tears flow freely. They heard footsteps upstairs, and they both froze. A few seconds later, the toilet flushed and water ran. The steps retreated back toward her parents’ bedroom.

  They both stood staring at the ceiling, waiting for more sounds. Whoever it was might peek in to check on her.

  After five minutes, they still hadn’t, though. “I think it’s time to go,” Wendy whispered.

  John nodded. “Be safe, Sis.” He opened the door for her, and Wendy slipped into the night.

  She turned at the end of their backyard and waved.

  John held up his hand, fingers parted in the middle in tribute to one of his favorite shows. Live long and prosper.

  Wendy whispered back. “I sure hope so.”

  She headed into the darkness, fear her only companion.

  Wendy entered the dim parking lot of the Pizza Parlor. The glow of the red neon sign cast it’s hue on the puddle she stepped through. Her fingers were chilled and she blew on them, then rubbed them together for warmth. The twenty-four-hour restaurant was the go-to place for famous deep dish pepperoni. College kids often congregated there for a late night food fix.

  She stayed on the outskirts of the parking lot and stared at the people coming and going, studying them, trying to spot the contact person her brother had set up. She eyed the crumpled up piece of paper in her hand with the time written: 2 a.m. She had gotten here early. Her nerves had made her run faster than she ever thought possible.

  She hated running.

  It was fine, though. She needed time to scope out the place. A tan minivan pulled slowly into
the parking lot and parked by the front door. Wendy ducked behind a silver SUV and watched as the side door opened and a blonde jumped out.

  “Gah, I’m starving. I’m ordering a pizza to go,” she said.

  The dark-haired driver didn’t react. He shoved his hands into his leather jacket and leaned against the van. “We can’t stay here long.”

  The girl grabbed his jacket and yanked him toward the restaurant. “Come on Jax, I need you to pay.”

  They looked like they could be the group she was meeting. Wendy was about to step out from the darkness when the third person hopped out of the passenger-side door and slammed it. He ran his hands through his auburn hair.

  No! It couldn’t be. What were the chances? Stalker boy was here. She checked her watch and glanced back at the restaurant. The boy with the auburn hair leaned against the wall by the front door.

  “Do you want anything Peter?” The girl asked.

  “No Tink. I’m fine,” he said.

  Tink. Peter. Jax.

  What were the chances that she’d hear those names twice in one night?

  Saviors or kidnappers. She wasn’t sure how to label them, but they were here in person. There was no way she could enter the restaurant now. She’d have to wait them out before she could look for John’s gamer friends.

  Tired of standing in one spot, she stepped over the curb. Her shoe accidentally kicked a rock and it scattered across the parking lot.

  He moved away from the wall and looked in her direction. “Hello?” his voice drifted across the lot.

  Wendy held her breath and peeked out from behind the car. He might be staring in her direction, but it didn’t look like he could see her. His head kept panning back and forth, eyes squinting.

  A shadow separated itself from beneath a nearby car and moved across the lot, drawing her attention. Her heartbeat drummed so loudly she couldn’t sort out whether it was caused by another car pulling out of a spot or something else.

  She didn’t know what to believe anymore. She was wound tighter than any spring, and her muscles were stiffening from holding still for so long.

  The shadow whipped out from behind a car and flew across the parking lot right toward her. Eep! She glanced toward the restaurant, and the boy was gone.

  No way she would wait. This was no hallucination. She sprinted into the darkness. Away from the safety of the lit parking lot, away from the haven her brother’s gamer friends offered, and away from the dangerous stranger.

  Chapter Thirteen

  She’d made a mistake. She had to go back home. Being alone all night, sitting on a park bench freezing, was not her idea of the free-moving life of a runaway. It was nothing like the movies. At first light, she had made her way back to her neighborhood, and was about to turn onto her street when she saw the white medical van with a rose and heart logo parked in her driveway.

  “No, not them!” Wendy whispered. Her mouth went dry and her skin prickled in fear. It was the psychiatric clinic for teens she was sent to last summer, when her nightmares and visions were becoming uncontrollable.


  The front door of her house opened, and she ducked behind the neighbor’s hedges as the medical personnel stepped back onto the front stoop.

  Mary stood at the door, rubbing her arms and crying. “I don’t know where she is. How could she have run away?

  “Are you sure she didn’t know we were coming?” The female medic asked.

  Mary and George gave each other a searching look. “No, we don’t think she did, but maybe…” George’s voice trailed off and he looked inside.

  Wendy observed a curtain move upstairs as John looked out the bedroom window and watched the exchange on the front porch.

  “But you helped her last summer. I thought for sure that she’d understand that this was for the best,” Mary said.

  “Well we did suggest that her time be extended,” the medic responded firmly. “She could have really used a few more months at our facility, we could have tapped in, studied her psyche more, and found the source of her problems.” She flipped closed the file. “We have here that you signed her out before her study was finished.”

  “Well that was because she only needed help keeping the nightmares away, we didn’t need a full evaluation. And the medicine you gave us seemed to work. We felt that she could recover better surrounded by friends and family.”

  “Obviously, you changed your mind,” the male medic said. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have called us back. I do hope that you will consider admitting Wendy for the full course of our program when she comes home. We promise we can make the nightmares and visions stop for good, if you would let our staff and caregivers at Wonderland have full control.”

  Mary nodded slowly. She turned to cry into George’s shoulder.

  “We will consider your advice.” George said, rubbing Mary’s back.

  “Well, hindsight is twenty-twenty,” the female answered. She held out a white business card. “If you need to reach us again.”

  George nodded. “We have your card.” His voice was firm.

  The psychiatric clinic personnel climbed into the white van.

  Wendy’s stomach churned as she listened to everything that had transpired.

  The van’s engine roared to life and pulled out of her driveway. She ducked behind the bushes again as the van passed by her.

  Her hands were shaking. Her heart was pounding in her chest.

  She couldn’t go back home.

  John was right. Her parents thought they were helping and trying to do what was best. They wouldn’t believe her if she told them the things she saw there.

  Her heart broke when her parents turned and closed the front door. When the van turned the corner and drove out of site, she stood up. She pulled up her jacket hood to cover her blonde hair and walked at a brisk pace away from home. She steeled her heart, put on imaginary armor, and mentally said her goodbye to her family.

  Wendy was sure—she’d never get to walk through the front doors of her home again. Not just any home. The only home she remembered.

  Chapter Fourteen

  Wendy stared at the bookstore with the brightly painted red door. Situated in the downtown area, the new and used book shop occupied the first two stories of the red brick building. The other four floors were being rented out as apartments. A small plastic Open sign hung in the window next to a display table full of children’s fairytale books.

  The last few days had been a daze. She couldn’t bring herself to leave the area, leave her family. But she was running out of money and needed to find a way to keep going. She couldn’t afford any more cheap hotels. The headaches hadn’t eased up, but she’d suffer through them any day if it meant she wouldn’t go back to the clinic.

  She stood with the newspaper ad in her hand and scrutinized it one more time.

  * * *

  P/T Help Wanted

  Bernard Books

  1412 Main St.

  Apply in person between 2-4pm.

  * * *

  Wendy looked over her shoulder at the stone clock tower in the park. 1:50. Well, it was always better to arrive early to an open interview. Most of the full-time jobs had been filled months ago, and this was the only part-time job even remotely interesting.

  Wendy opened the front door, and bells, attached to a leather strap, jingled softly above her head. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and sighed happily. There was no greater smell than that of books…and the older the books the better the smell. Other people might cringe at the slightly musty odor and the dust, but not her. It filled her with a sense of belonging. Wendy knew she was home.

  Then she opened her eyes and noticed the number of people already there. At least three other people stood waiting or asking the man at the checkout desk questions about the job. The door jangled again, and two more girls entered and walked up to the desk—one with red hair so bright it obviously came from a box, the other with a loose brown braid. “We’re here for the j
ob interview,” they said almost in unison.

  The clerk wearing his black apron with a giant Saint Bernard logo on the front held up his hands and said. “Okay, okay. Quiet down, everyone.” The man scratched his head. “Well, a lot more of you showed up for the job than I originally expected. I’m happy that so many of you are interested.”

  Wendy heard the dark-haired girl comment under her breath to her friend. “Yeah, so excited that all of the good jobs in this pathetic town were already taken.”

  The redhead nodded in agreement. “It also smells funny in here.”

  “I’m Mr. Bernard, the owner,” the man continued, oblivious to the girls’ snide remarks. He looked to be in his late fifties, with peppered gray and white hair and a thick mustache that lined his small upper lip. It was obvious that large crowds made him uncomfortable, and he wasn’t sure what to do with the group of slightly desperate potential employees.

  “Ah, I know.” He clapped his hands together and his face beamed. “If you brought a résumé, put it here, and I’ll start with those and interview you each one by one.

  Wendy’s stomach dropped as four in the room surged forward to put their résumés on the counter. She didn’t think she’d needed one for a part-time job.

  Mr. Bernard looked over the rest of the waiting group, and he reached underneath the counter and pulled out a pad of tear off employee applications. “The rest of you, take a moment and fill this out, please.”

  The pad went around the room. As soon as people got their forms, they retreated to a chair or a table and began working on the form.

  Wendy tore off the white paper and took an empty seat next to the two girls who had come in after her. She watched as they pulled pens out of their purses and started filling in blanks. Name, address, education. Their heads bobbed, and they giggled and talked softly between them.

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