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       Lost Girl, p.8

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “Do you think he would hire us both?” the girl with dyed red hair asked her friend.

  Wendy picked up a discarded golf pencil from a bin by the register and began to fill out the form.

  First Name: Wendy

  Last Name:

  She stopped and felt that familiar plummeting in her stomach. This was never going to work. They’d find out who she was for sure if she wrote in her real name. Her breathing had quickened, and her grip on the pencil intensified until she snapped the tip and left a small rip in the application.

  The two female heads at the end of the table turned to look at her, and Wendy mumbled an apology.

  Last name. Okay, if she couldn’t write Owens, she’d have to make one up. Her eyes scanned the bookstore, and her eyes came to rest on the small plug-in teapot and the green box of Darjeeling next to it.

  Wendy Green? No. Darling—her mom always called her that anyway. So it wasn’t a total lie.

  Her hand automatically entered in Darling as her last name.

  When it came to her current address, she stopped again. She didn’t know how to proceed. She moved down to her education, hesitated, and finally wrote in a rival school, not Timber Valley.

  Wendy heard the frenzied scratching of the girls’ pens on paper, and her heart stuttered. There was no way she would get the job. She needed to stop fooling herself. But just to give herself something to do, for home address, she wrote Kinderly Park.

  Mr. Bernard picked up the first application that was turned in and called the person over to a side table for a small one-on-one interview. Heat rushed to her cheeks. She folded the application in half twice, stuffed it into her brother’s green jacket, and walked to the back of the store, hoping for a quiet place to wait until nightfall. This was stupid. How could she have thought she’d get a job with no address?

  Wendy wasn’t surprised when she found herself in the children’s section surrounded by kiddie tables, large stuffed animals, bean bags, a small puppet theater, a reading stage with a curtain, and a large rocking chair.

  Overwhelmed and exhausted, she sat in the blue beanbag chair and folded her hands across her chest.

  A soft huff to her left made her start. What she had originally thought was a large stuffed animal was actually a real life St. Bernard lounging across the stairs. The dog noticed Wendy and made another huffing noise before it crawled forward and placed its large square head on her lap, begging for attention.

  “Oh, what a sweetie,” Wendy cooed softly as she began to rub the dog gently behind the ears. The dog butted its head against her hand when she stopped her scratching. “Yes, I see that you’re a bit spoiled, too.”

  This time when Wendy stopped scratching the dog, it proceeded to crawl across her lap until she was nearly covered. The dog was very heavy, but she enjoyed being surrounded by its warmth. Wendy saw the glimpse of gold and reached for the tag to read the dog’s name.

  Nana.

  “Oh, so you’re a girl? Doesn’t surprise me one bit. I think you’re a lovely, sweet-tempered girl.” They sat like that, curled in a bean bag chair, hidden in the children’s section, and Wendy thought this was the best day she’d had in a long time. She felt safe and warm and soon became lost in her thoughts.

  Wendy counted the times the door jingled as it opened and closed and figured almost everyone had already left, but she had no desire to abandon the bookstore just yet. “Do you like stories, Nana?”

  The dog’s ears rose slightly. Wendy wondered if that was because she had stopped her petting.

  “Well, I think you are in for a doozy.” Wendy curled up and slowly and softly told one of the wildest tales she’d ever told. It was true she didn’t know how much of her tale was true and how much was false, since it was based on her nightmares. But it felt nice to tell someone everything.

  “And then the dark shadow flew into the young girl’s room through the window. It stood over her bed and reached for her.”

  A soft cough interrupted her story. Wendy tried her best to turn to the person, but the weight of the large St. Bernard proved an impediment.

  A young man leaned against one of the old wooden columns that supported the upper floor. Her heartbeat quickened at the sight of Peter. His tousled brown hair had hints of red. His eyes were a deep, mischievous green that twinkled with silent laughter as she struggled beneath the dog. He wasn’t moving toward her or threatening her, so she decided it was best to play it cool, not let on that she recognized him as the one who saved her from the monster.

  “She’s quite taken with you.” He chuckled softly, gesturing to Nana.

  “Well, the feeling is mutual,” she replied, watching him carefully.

  “Didn’t you come in for the job? I think everyone has already had their interview. You’re up.”

  Wendy looked away and tried to deny it. Her cheeks flushed in embarrassment. “No, I’m not here for the job,” she lied. “I, uh, came here to be a dog bed.”

  He scooped up the folded paper that had fallen out of her pocket and that now lay out of reach on the floor. One of his auburn eyebrows rose in skepticism.

  His eyes scanned the paper, and they lit up at something he saw. “So, Wendy, you’re not interested in the part-time job?” He waved the paper in front of her and she reached out and tried to snatch it away.

  He laughed and continued reading. But then disappointment marred his expression, and her stomach turned. It was obvious he was a bit displeased by her lack of answers. He folded up her application and shoved it in his pocket.

  Why would he do that?

  Nana chose that moment to yawn and butt her head against Wendy’s chest.

  “Oof.” Wendy responded when the head butt hit her a little too hard.

  “I think she wants you to continue your story.”

  “No, that’s okay. Maybe next time.” Wendy tried to sit up, but the dog refused to budge so she just sank farther into the beanbag.

  “Well, if you won’t continue for her, maybe you’d do it for me,” he said gently. “I like stories. Especially ones told by beautiful girls.”

  Peter’s smile disarmed her and made her feel at ease in his presence. Nana seemed to like him, anyway. Her tail wagged when she looked up at him. And she was obviously a good judge of character. “Um, okay.” Wendy blushed and tucked a strand of her strawberry blonde hair behind her ear and tried to pick up where she had left off. But she couldn’t remember.

  “So, once upon a time…”

  “No. Not that one.” Peter frowned and kneeled next to her. He reached out to bury his hand in Nana’s soft dark fur and began to scratch. “The other one.” His deep green eyes lifted up and met hers over the dog’s head, and her breath caught.

  “I don’t remember where I was.”

  He glanced down at her lips quickly before looking back up and she felt herself trapped. Trapped under a dog and trapped with his gaze. His eyes searched hers, and he nodded his head encouragingly. “The shadow. The shadow had reached for you and…”

  “No, not me. The girl,” Wendy corrected. “It is a story after all. The shadow reached for the girl.” But the way he changed that one word made her extremely nervous. She didn’t want to finish the story. She wanted to escape the mesmerizing gaze of Peter and run away.

  She tried to push Nana off, but the dog refused to budge.

  Peter pinched his lips and made a soft commanding whistle. Nana’s ears perked up, and she moved over to sit by his feet.

  “So now…about the ending of my story. The shadow reached for her and…” he trailed off, offering her help up out of the sunken bean bag.

  Wendy took his hand and he pulled her up until they were nose to nose. He didn’t release her hands immediately. She had to pull away—gently though. She didn’t fear him. Honestly, it was weird how safe she felt with him near, when she should be running away. She idly brushed off the dog’s hair from her pants as she tried to regain her thoughts.

  “The shadow?” he coaxed.


  She usually spun her stories differently, always promising a happy ending, so she was going to give herself one here as well. “The shadow promised freedom, adventure, and love…if she’d but take his hand and fly away from there.”

  “Away from where?” His eyes narrowed as he stepped closer.

  She inhaled and released the answer in a whisper. “Never mind, it’s just a story.”

  He frowned before turning away from her and stalking over toward the counter. Had he been angry? Why? It was just a stupid story. He was the one who wanted her to finish the ending. Now she just felt embarrassed. She yanked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder, heading toward the exit.

  All of the interviewees had left, and the bookstore was empty. Mr. Bernard, the owner, was looking at the stack of papers and notes in front of him, still overwhelmed, from the look of it. Peter was leaning over whispering to him.

  Her stomach dropped, as doubt filled her mind at what she saw. What was he telling the owner? Was he telling him not to hire her? Was it because her stories were a little odd? That she was odd?

  He pointed in her direction and the owner gave her a surprised look. Yeah, he probably was. Wendy gripped her pack tighter and opened the door.

  “Hey!” Peter yelled, but the door slammed and its jingling bell cut him off.

  Wendy kept a brisk pace away from the shop, head low. Infuriated tears formed in the corner of her eyes, but she held them back. She heard the bookstore door jangle open down the block accompanied by another shout of her name. Without missing a beat, she ducked into the closest shop, which happened to be a secondhand boutique. She moved behind a rack of clothes and watched out the window as he ran down the sidewalk searching for her. Wendy gritted her teeth in frustration, because as much as she loved that store, she couldn’t see herself going back.

  Especially if he was there.

  Chapter Fifteen

  Wendy spent the rest of the day looking over her shoulder. She wandered the park and stared at the displays in the windows until the stores closed for the evening, desperately wishing that the bookstore wasn’t so close to her stomping grounds. Her stomach growled angrily, but she ignored it. She’d learned already that if she drank enough water from the public fountain, the pang would eventually subside. She was used to being hungry now. Just like she was used to being cold at night and stifling hot during the day.

  She sat on a park bench and watched the bookstore. She never saw Peter return, which meant he could be anywhere in the city. She didn’t like not knowing where he was—hopefully she could avoid him until she gathered enough money to move somewhere else. But that thought saddened her.

  When the sky began to hint at nightfall she approached the hotdog vendor. He had been nice the last time she’d spoken with him, and hopefully he was feeling generous again.

  “Hi.” Wendy waved and shifted the weight of her backpack on her shoulder.

  The aging African man smiled brightly at her. “Ah, I wondered if you’d come tonight. I saw you sitting over there.” He pointed toward the park bench near the fountain and then wiped his hands on his red apron, winking at her.

  “Need help?” she asked.

  “Of course.”

  Wendy put her arm through the other strap of her backpack. She collapsed his red and white portable umbrella, and tucked it under her arm. She grabbed the white folding chair with her free hand.

  She followed the hot dog vendor as he pushed his small wheeled cart out of the park and helped him load it into a nearby pickup.

  “Ah, you sure know how to help an old man. What can I give you as payment—maybe the same as before?”

  “Yes, please. If it’s not too much trouble.” Her stomach chose that moment to growl again, and the hot dog vendor laughed.

  “Oh, it’s no trouble at all. I can’t sell my leftovers, so it works out wonderfully.” He leaned over, opened up the lid of his cart, pulled out his tongs, and put together three all-beef hotdogs in silver foil for her. “Here you are, Miss Wendy.” He handed her the dogs. “I hope to see you again.”

  Wendy couldn’t wait. She opened up the hotdog and took a large bite. She smiled with a mouthful of food. “You will, Mr. Louie.”

  “Not Mister—just Louie. Remember?”

  Wendy smiled again and nodded. “Okay. Thank you, Louie.”

  She turned to walk back to her bench, and he called out after her. “You take care of yourself, Wendy girl. Strange things happen around here after dark.”

  She shuddered but gave him a wave and headed back to the park. Oh, how she knew of the strange things that happened. But where could she go?

  Wendy savored the first hotdog before diving into the second one. She wrapped the third in the two extra sheets of foil and tucked it into her jacket pocket for breakfast. This had been her way of surviving. Not stealing, just helping the locals and earning the things she would need.

  While she helped Louie, the streetlights had kicked on, creating well-lit areas surrounded by shadows. Wendy picked up her pace as she headed past the fountain in the middle of the park.

  The cold burned her lungs, but she made it to the fountain and her bench—directly under the lamppost. This bench boasted more lamplight than any other. She slowed as she stepped into the halo of light and let out a sigh of relief.

  Wendy sat and pulled up her knees. Sleeping a full night wasn’t safe. Catnaps during the day helped her stay awake during the night.

  The clock over city hall chimed midnight, and Wendy stared off into the night, looking, searching for the shadows she knew to be out there—not the simple darkness everyone else feared, but the shadows that hunted—beyond her circle of light.

  At first she thought she was imagining them, but she wasn’t.

  Wendy shifted her grip on the pocket knife, and try as she did to keep it away, the fear came flooding back.

  Chapter Sixteen

  Something moved in the darkness. It made no sound, but Wendy knew better. Just because you couldn’t hear it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. A shadow emerged from a copse of trees.

  Wendy froze, staring at the spot until her eyes burned from her unwillingness to blink.

  There.

  The shadow shifted, now distinguishable from the darkness of the trees. It was moving toward her.

  “Go away. I don’t see you. I can’t see you. You’re not real.”

  Her suddenly dry tongue stuck to the top of her mouth. She gulped and tried to swallow her terror. Her hands shook as she gripped the pocket knife and her flashlight.

  The shadow slid along the ground, no solid form above it as it picked up speed and raced from a tree shadow to a bush shadow. From one patch of ground to another, the shadow played hopscotch until it neared the edge of her saving light. What kind of shadow was this one? Would it be one of the smaller ones that tended to tail her and follow her, or would this one morph into a monster like the one she’d seen eat the boy?

  At the slight beeping noise, Wendy whipped out her flashlight and waved its beam along the ground in the direction of the shadow. But no flashlight would deter the ghostly predator tonight.

  The beeping noise grew louder, faster, almost matching her pulse.

  She stood with the flashlight in one hand and her knife in the other.

  It was coming for her!

  Just when the shadow was about to step into her circle of light, a hand gripped her elbow. She screamed, slashing behind her with her knife.

  Her knife hand made contact with something solid. Cloth ripped.

  “What the—!” a male voice cried out. Her assailant quickly let go of her arm.

  Wendy saw two people behind her. The young man had on dark jeans and wore a black hoodie jacket. He held his hands up in the air and smirked, shaking his dark auburn hair out of his amazingly green eyes.

  “You!” Wendy accused.

  The petite girl next to him—blonde hair piled on her head in a messy bun—let out a stream of mild expletives in alarm at Wendy’s
knife. The watch on her wrist seemed to censor her words, chiming loudly like a bell. “Watch what you’re doing! We’re here to help you, you big oaf.”

  The girl from the lab. This was the first time Wendy had seen her face. She was beautiful—petite with small features. A pair of custom-looking mechanic goggles rested on her head, framing blue eyes, now lit with fury.

  “Tink, calm down.” Pete said.

  “Peter, you tell me to calm down, when she practically tried to slice you in two? I say we leave her here. She’s more trouble than she’s worth.” Tink’s voice rose in pitch with every syllable.

  “We startled her, Tink, that’s all. It was only self-defense…right?” He looked up at Wendy. He held himself at a safe distance and cupped his hand around his forearm, pressing on the cut. He chuckled, but his eyes only briefly made contact with her before glancing beyond her, scanning the darkness. She watched him step farther into the circle of light.

  The device in Tink’s hands beeped louder the closer it came to Wendy.

  Wendy made a motion as if to knock it to the ground, and Tink moved the device away. The beeping slowed.

  Wendy turned to address Peter. “Why do you keep following me? What are you doing here?” Her hand still held the knife, but now she kept it low, by her thigh.

  “I’m scaring pretty girls in the park in the middle of the night.” He flashed her a charming grin.

  “Oh, stop flirting, Peter!” Tink turned her beeping device in Wendy’s direction again. “We could ask you the same thing. What are you doing here in the middle of the night?” She gestured to the bench and Wendy’s knife.

  “I, uh. I…” She turned to search for the shadow, but it had disappeared. Or it had retreated into another shadow. Either way, it wasn’t moving toward her anymore. She felt tired, so tired of hiding and running and pretending to be someone she wasn’t that she tried to shock them with the truth. “I live here.”

 
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