I swear, I can barely sit still due to this announcement!!! I have something absolutely freaking AWESOME to show you - with permission from Sonya of course!!! Sonya gave this to me, and she swore NO ONE has seen this - her editor might, but other than that....
I am about to show you some DELEATED scenes from Casted. Some scenes from Jade's Younger years. *squeals* Are you ready? Absolutely ready? Alrighty then! Buckle up my friends, and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!!!! *jumping up and down* THANK YOU SONYA!!!!
The school bus came to a jolted stop and the doors hissed open, signaling that it was my turn to get off. With a sigh of relief, I trotted down the steps, glad the school day had come to an end.
I shoved my arm through my backpack and began the short walk home. I had to keep note of anything new in case Mom asked me about it. It was like a test to see if I was paying attention to my surroundings. She called it ‘I spy’. I called it a freaking kids game. But if it kept her from meeting me at the bus stop, then I’d do it. It was a small price to pay for the short amount of freedom that it gave me.
She was over protective and a little paranoid, always telling me I could never be too careful. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my mom, but sometimes I felt suffocated.
I rolled my eyes with a huff and quickly worked my way through my mental checklist. First on the list was Mrs. Willis’ house, three houses down from mine. At one time she had lots of flowers that ran along the front of her house. Now she’d just had a few potted plants that hung from the porch.
“Did you have a good day at school?” she called from her porch swing.
“Hi Mrs. Willis! It was okay, I’m glad it’s Friday,” I shouted back so she could hear me.
She waved me on. “I sure bet you are. Run along now, your momma’s probably waiting on ya.”
“Yes ma’am. Bye,” I called out as I kept walking.
Across the street from Mrs. Willis was an empty house. It had been vacant for a while. Someone had come and cut the grass while I was at school.
I kicked a rock in front of me and watched it skitter away as I grabbed onto the straps of my bookbag, and moved to the next house on my list. Beside the vacant house was the Smith’s house. Everything looked the same there, neat and orderly.
I had finally made it to the last house on my list. My neighbors house, Mr. Owen’s. He lived by himself, just like Mrs. Willis. This was my favorite house to check on because Mr. Owens had a dog. Jet was a solidly built black lab. I looked forward to his greeting everyday and took a few precious seconds to say scratch his ears before I went inside.
As I neared my house, I waited for the curtain to move in the front window. Even though Mom had agreed to let me walk alone, she still watched me make my way home. From the moment I stepped off the bus, until I’d passed Mr. Owens house she’d be peeking through the slit of the curtain in the living room.
The only thing I never understood, was why I had to cut through the yards. We had a front door, but we never used it. It was something mom insisted on. Never the front door, always the back.
I inwardly shrugged I couldn’t really complain because it gave me a chance to say hello to Jet.
But when I stepped off the sidewalk to cut through the yard the curtain didn’t twitch. Weird. Maybe she had already moved to the kitchen to pretend she was just finishing the dishes. My neck tingled in warning when I looked at the kitchen window and mom wasn’t there. She was always there, ready to wave hello when I looked in. My heart bumped hard against my chest. Something didn’t feel right, she was always there.
I unlatched the gate to the back yard and waited for Jet’s paws to hit the fence with an excited yip, but he wasn’t there either. I latched the gate without looking and peeked over the fence. Mr. Owens, yard was well groomed. Lush, green grass was dotted with yellow tennis balls, but no Jet.
I sighed in disappointment as I turned away from the fence to go inside. It happened sometimes. Jet was probably curled up inside taking a nap.
My footsteps fell short when I noticed the back door was cracked open. The only time the back door was open was if Mom or Dad were standing there to greet me. The tingle at back of my neck felt like spiders crawling along my scalp. I shivered as I scratched at my head and pushed the door open. .
The door creaked on its hinges until it came to a slow stop. I hovered in the opening not sure why I felt so panicked as I waited for a second to wrap my mind around the fact that no one was there. I shook off the feeling. I was being stupid. It had happened before once when my mom had come down sick. She was probably resting upstairs and Dad was either up there with her or in his office. He didn’t worry like she did.
I closed the door behind me, making sure to lock it so Mom didn’t freak out. And then slipped my backpack off my shoulder and let it fall to the floor.
“Mom? Dad? I’m home!” I called out.
No one replied.
The kitchen was empty. The only sound came from the ticking clock on the wall, above the sink. My white canvas shoes squeaked across floral pattered linoleum, and stopped just before the swinging doors. I strained to listen for footsteps. We’d all suffered bumps and bruises from trying to walk through when someone was on the other side.
A floor board creaked somewhere above me. I let go of the breath I’d been holding, and shoved open the door. Mom had mentioned that she’d wanted to repaint her bathroom. That’s probably what she had been doing and lost track of time.
Halfway down the short hallway to my Dad’s office my foot slid out from under me. I landed on the worn wood planked floor. I yelped in pain and rubbed at my sore bottom. Whatever was on the floor soaked into my jeans and was now all over my hands.
What the crap?
I brought my hand closer to my face to get a better look at what it was that took my feet out from under me.
I squinted against the dim light to get a closer look. The coppery scent coming off my hand made my stomach roll. Blood?
I swallowed the knot forming in my throat as I struggled to get to my feet. Each move had me slipping and sliding as if I were on ice. I had to resort to using the wall to stand, leaving bloody hand prints on the white walls as I steadied myself. Mom was going to flip when she saw it.
When my feet stopped slipping along the floor I scrubbed my shaking hands against my jeans. Ewww…ewww, Oh my God, oh my god, it’s all over me!
I squinted over my shoulder to see if the hallway floor behind me was clear, my mind on full alert. I didn’t see anything.
So much blood, where is Mom and Dad? So much blood, it’s all over me. Whose blood? No, no, I can’t think like that. They’re here..they have to be. I just need to keep looking.
I crept towards the living room. Before I forced myself to step around the corner, I took a deep breath and held it. Please don’t let something bad be there. The sheer curtains covering the two large picture windows muted the afternoon sunlight coming through. My eyes skipped over the large picture of a lighthouse that hung behind the ugly floral print couch and the floor lamp that sat next to my dad’s recliner.
I let out a shaky breath and clutched the banister at the bottom of the stairs.
Where they up there?
Something toppled over and hit the floor with a loud bang. I gripped the banister tighter as my heart threatened to beat its way out of my chest. What was that? My thoughts shut off as I sprinted up the stairs. I took the stairs two at a time, praying my parents were okay.
The door to my room was closed, just as I had left it. At the end of the hall my parents door was partially open. The bravery I’d been filled with as I’d darted up the stairs deflated as I shoved the door open and saw the state of their room. The tall dresser my dad kept his clothes in was on its side. All the drawers were pulled out and the contents dumped and scattered. On the far side of the room the closet door was ripped from its hinges. Moms clothes had been pulled out and tossed, hanger and all, onto the floor. Beside the closet was the bathroom. I didn’t have to move from where I stood to see the inside. It looked just as bad as the bedroom.
A cold chill ran up my spine and I quickly spun back around, scared that someone could be creeping up behind me. I waited a moment, listening for any sign of an intruder, or my parents. There was nothing but silence.
I staggered back into the hallway on legs that threatened to buckle at any moment. I stood unsure of what to do at the top of the stairs. Could they be in Dad’s office? Did I dare go downstairs? I have to go downstairs, the only phone in the house is in the kitchen. With my decision made I forced my feet to move down to the first step and then the second. My foot caught on the fifth step down and I grabbed the banister to keep from pitching forward down the stairs. The foot I’d had half on the next step slipped and I landed on the stairs and slid the rest of the way down to the bottom on my backside. I shot up from the floor and spun in a circle to see if all the noise I’d just made had drawn any unwanted attention. When no one appeared I tip toed to the other side of the living room, opposite of the way I came in earlier. My dad’s office was just around the corner. They had to be there.
Please be there, please be there…
The door to Dad’s office was splintered apart. I sucked in a deep sob and willed my legs to move forward. I had to see. I had to know. His office was destroyed just like their bedroom had been upstairs. Where are they?
I shifted from foot to foot not knowing which way to go. I needed to get out of the house. The front door was off limits. Mom had made that perfectly clear from the moment I could talk. Her words rang in my head as I stood frozen in panic, ‘Once you go out the front door all the good memories will be taken from you.’
Would that really happen? She’d stressed it so often. Even weirder was that my Dad backed her on it. With her warning ringing in my ears I made my way back to the kitchen.
My stomach clenched when I got closer to bloody mess in the hallway. I just…I just have to get to the other side. The way out is on the other side. I just need to move, just jump over it. Jump over it and get to the kitchen. I’ll just jump over this and get to the phone and I’ll call 911. They’ll know what to do. They’ll help me find Mom and Dad. Jump Jade, just jump.
I slammed into the wall beside the swinging doors. My heart was beating so fast it hurt and I rubbed at the spot on my chest to ease the pain.
Just do it! My brain shouted at me to move the muscles that threatened to lock in place. My hand shook as I forced it away from me and pushed the swinging door inward. The moment I did, strong fingers wrapped around my wrist, and then what felt like pure electricity shot through me.
A scream ripped from my lungs as I was hurled backward into wall. Every thing inside of me tingled and hummed as I struggled to understand what had just happened. The stench of something burning kept me from sliding into the black void trying to pull me under.
All of my thoughts, everything I’d just witnessed suddenly clicked into place. Someone had just tried to grab me. The kitchen was on fire. There was blood on the floor.
Move Jade, get off the floor, get out of the house!
My heart stuttered as the feeling returned to my body. I scrambled away from the kitchen on hands and knees that felt like jello. I was a quivering mess as I fought to get to my feet and get to my only other escape. She couldn’t be mad at me if this was my only way out. I staggered to the front door. My mother had been very serious about not going out it. So much so, that there was not one, but three deadbolts keeping the door locked. My hands slipped and slid on the locks as I tried to disengage them. My fingers shook so bad I could hardly work them. My focus bounced between keeping an eye out over my shoulder and then to the locks. The man who’d grabbed me could come barreling out of the kitchen at any moment.
With every glance backward I’d fumble with getting a firm grip on the lock. My hands were sweating and shaking so bad that I couldn’t make them work right. The smoke was starting to get thicker and flames were licking up the walls outside of the kitchen. They were coming for me and I couldn’t get the door open. I rubbed my hands against my jeans and forced myself to focus on the locks. When the last lock disengaged I latched onto the door knob and jerk the door open. I’m sorry mom, I thought as I darted out the front door.
I could hear the sound of sirens as I got to the sidewalk. A cop car screeched to a halt, the officer inside bolted out and I launched my self at him.
I wouldn’t let go of him as words tumbled out in hiccuped laced tears. “Sir, my parents…my…my house, There was a man, you have to help me. There was blood and smoke.” A deep cough rattled from my chest.
The ear piercing wail of the fire engine cut off as the officer gently guided me to his car and helped me sit down. Something heavy was pressing on me making my arms and legs feel numb. Inside of me was a quivering mess that shook violently.
The back of my head was sore to the touch and I winced as my fingers connected with a lump that formed. My heart was shattering with every second that my parents didn’t come out the door or around the corner to wrap me in their arms and tell me that everything was going to be okay.
Where are you? A man tried to grab me and you weren’t there to stop him. You were supposed to be there! WHERE ARE YOU!
The cop had tried talking to me, but his voice came from a distance and I couldn’t understand what he was saying as I watched his lips move. Everything folded in on me as I watched the fireman drag hoses through the front door.
I hugged my knees against my chest and pressed my face against my legs as my chest hitched in and out on sobs that were stealing my breath. All I could do was watch everything I ever knew burn.
The world around me started to tilt as it darkened.
The cop shifted from his place beside the open car door to allow a woman, dressed in a blue jumpsuit, by him. Her long blond hair was in a braid that hung over one shoulder. She squatted low to look me in the eye. Her voice was soft as she spoke. Was there someone they could call? Did I have any relatives they could contact? What was my name? Where were my parents?
I opened my mouth gasping on the answers. My throat constricted and all that came out was a low pitched whine. I gripped my legs tighter and pressed my face into my legs and let the pent up scream I’d been fighting go.
When they tried to help me from the car I lost it.
“Leave me alone!” I screamed. “Don’t touch me!” Two sets of strong hands hauled me over to the ambulance. I bit and kicked, lashing out to be released.
“We just want to make sure you’re okay, there’s a lot of blood on you,” the blond woman in the jumpsuit told me.
I shoved her hands away. “It’s not my blood!”
“Hold her,” the woman said.
“NO! My parents, I need to find my parents!” I struggled against the strong hands that held me. The prick of a needle registered with me right about the time my whole body went limp. I pushed slurred words past my lips not wanting to give up the fight. “I havta fin- my paren…” The darkness swallowed me.
I woke to a soft beeping sound coming from beside me. My thoughts were fuzzy as I tried to figure out where I was. I felt..heavy. My arms were stretched out beside me on the bed. Something was clamped over my index finger on my left hand. I took several tries before I could lift both arms and pull it off. An alarm shrieked beside my bed and scared the crap out of me.
Why am I in a hospital?
I looked at the white plastic thing I still held and then over to the machine that was squawking at me like I’d done something wrong. The soft squeak of rubber shoes on tile announced I had company. I looked up to find a nurse looking at me with a soft smile on her face. “How are you feeling today, Jade?” she asked.
“Where am I?” I jumped at the croaked sound of my voice.
. My name is
Becky and I’m your day nurse. Here have some water, it will help.” She handed
me a small plastic cup she filled from the sink as she’s spoke, “and I’ll just
jot down some information on your chart. Okay?” County Memorial
I shifted a little to take a sip, but I was still a little wobbly and couldn’t prop myself up and drink at the same time. When she saw me struggling she set the clipboard down. “Here, let me help you,” she said as she reached down beside me and picked up a big white remote. The back of my bed raised up and Becky straightened the covers and helped me adjust the pillow behind me.
After I was settled she picked her clipboard back up. “If you want to lay back down all you need to do is press this button,” she pointed at the remote. “And if you need me, just press this button. Okay?”
“Thank you,” I half whispered before bringing the cup to my lips. The cool water was tasteless, but refreshing.
“You’re welcome, honey. Lunch will be here in about an hour or so, but I have crackers at the nurses station if you’re hungry.”
I looked down at my empty cup and wondered where all the water had gone.
“Still thirsty?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. It was then that I noticed I was wearing soft cotton pants and a matching light blue cotton shirt. “Where are my clothes?
“They were covered in blood and had to be removed to make sure you weren’t injured when the Paramedic’s brought you in.”
Everything stopped, sound, light…everything and then rushed back at me. My parents, the house, the man who tried to grab me….or was there a man. I can’t remember, but I think so. I’d slipped in the hallway and landed in blood. I couldn’t find my parents. The house was on fire. I went out the front door! I promised Mom I would never use the front door. The cop…the cop put me in his car. My house burned - a lady in a blue jumpsuit talked to me, they wanted me to go with them, but my parents….and then nothing….nothing but blackness.
Becky stood silently by as if letting me process whatever it was going on inside my head. When she captured my fingers up in her warm hands I jumped. “Where are my parents?” My voice quivered as a tear spilled over and ran down my cheek. Becky’s eyes watered in return.
“Do you feel up to talking to Officer Reynolds?” She tilted her head to the open doorway where a man in uniform was standing.
Dread settled in to my stomach. The water I’d drank tried to climb back up my throat. I swallowed over and over again to keep it down. Becky waited for me to answer, but I couldn’t form the words so I nodded instead.
“If you need anything just press the call button.” She squeezed my hand gently, giving me a soft, yet forced smile before she turned away and whisked out of the room.
Officer Reynolds approached my bed holding a small notepad. “Hi, Jade. Do you remember me?” he asked.
I gripped the sheet. “Yes.” I took everything in me to force the word past my lips.
His face softened a little as if me remembering him made him feel a little better. “I was hoping you would.”
“How do you know my name?” I asked. My voice sounded weak to my own ears. I worried he hadn’t heard me and I’d have to say it again.
“Your neighbor,” he flipped a few pages in the notebook he’d pulled out of shirt pocket. “A Mrs. Willis, provided your name and your parents name to me.” He pitched his voice lower, almost softer to match mine. Like he was talking to a scared animal that was about to bolt. And wasn’t I, scared, that is?
“Did Mrs. Willis see my parents?” I asked.
“No, Mrs. Willis’ reported seeing you get off the bus and then hearing the sirens.” He paused for a second before continuing. “Jade, was there anything amiss when you got home from school?”
“Wrong. Was there anything wrong or out of place when you arrived at home?”
I sucked in a sharp breath.
“I know this isn’t easy. Take your time and try to remember everything you can.” His gaze darted around the room and landed on a small chair tucked into the corner. “How about I sit here with you while we talk?”
I wiped away another tear that escaped. When he settled in to the chair beside the bed I fought against the lump in my throat and spoke. “The back door was cracked open, Mom never leaves it open. She wasn’t watching from the window either. Then there was blood on the floor…”
“Where was the blood?”
I flinched. “In the hallway outside the kitchen.”
I watched him scribble in his notebook before he asked the next question. “Did you see your parents when you entered the house?”
“No, I didn’t. They weren’t in the house. I even checked upstairs..bu..but, I couldn’t find them.”
My throat burned as it tightened back up on me.
Officer Reynolds shifted uncomfortably but continued. “There was no one else in the house?”
“A man, tried to grab me when I tried to leave the house,” I said on a forced whisper.
“Can you describe him to me?”
No, how can I describe someone I hadn’t seen? I couldn’t say anymore. No one would believe me anyway, not when I told them that I’d been blown backwards by some sort of electrical force.
“I didn’t see him, only his hand,” I replied.
I dashed away the tears that wouldn’t stop falling.
“Only his hand? How did you get away from him?”
Time to lie….
“I don’t know. He…he released me. I think. And then I ran out the front door,” I said as I bit my lip.
“Do you think it could have been your father? Maybe he was trying to help you?”
I shook my head no with a sharp snap.
Officer Reynolds squinted his eyes as if he wanted to look inside my head to see if I were telling the truth. “You’re sure?”
“Very sure, sir. My father would have never hidden in the kitchen and then left me while the house caught on fire.”
“The fire started after you were inside?”
I nodded again in reply.
“Do you know how the fire started?”
I knew deep down in my heart that if I told Officer Reynolds that the fire started after the man grabbed me that he’s stop believing me. I didn’t want him to stop believing me. I wanted him to find my parents. I needed to know what happened and where they were. They’d never just up and leave me.
“No, sir. Did they get it put out? Will I be able to go home soon?”
“The fire was put out, but the house is in pretty bad shape.”
“Pretty bad shape?”
“There’s a lot of damage.”
“But, where will I live? And what about my parents?”
“We’re still looking into what happened to your parents. I’m sorry, I wish I had more to tell you right now. The State will be sending in someone to talk to you today. Right now, our only interest is to keep you safe and cared for until we know more. I know how unsettling this is for you….”
Officer Reynold’s was still talking, I could tell because his lips were still moving, but I tuned it all out.
Numb. I was numb.
A heavy fog hung over my thoughts as time seemed to freeze for me even though it kept moving along for everyone else. Officer Reynold’s words rolled in my thoughts on an unending loop.
I don’t know how long I was out of it. Later that day, as promised, a woman named Helen from the State of
into my room and introduced herself. I don’t really remember much of the one
sided conversation. Even when she helped me from my bed and slid shoes onto my
feet and walked me out of the hospital and to her car. The drive from the
hospital was a quiet one, for me anyway. Helen filled the silence with her soft
spoken words that I tried to tune out. I really didn’t care about where she was
taking me. It wasn’t home, it never would be. She even helped me out of the car
when we parked in front of a white two-story house. Her hand was on my shoulder
as she guided me to the front door and then released me into the custody of the
Birkshires. South Carolina
I was told on the car ride there that the Berkshires were deemed safe enough by the state to take in cases like mine. Suzie and Ken Birkshire weren’t bad people. They were genuinely nice. They tried very hard to make me feel welcomed. I returned the favor by shutting down and staring off into space. They weren’t my parents and they never would be.
I was empty - hollow - unresponsive, I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to be a part of their family. I spent most of my time curled up on the bed in the room they gave me and stared off. They tried to pull me from whatever it was that had sucked me in, a greyness that enveloped me and threatened to swallow me whole. I welcomed it to do it, but it just clung to the edge of my thoughts and stayed there, keeping me numb.
Sometimes I’d move from the bed and make my way to the stairs. I’d stop and sit on the first step and stay there because below that step was blood or a man ready to grab me.
Every day without hearing anything about my parents made me wonder if anyone was even looking for them. Had I just been handed off and that was it? I was supposed to live my life not knowing what happened? What if they were looking for me and the State was keeping me from them?
A fat balding Detective whose name I choose to forget stopped in at the Birkshires a week after I arrived. He spoke in a low gravely voice as he updated my foster parents about my situation. Anger seethed from me as I sat at the top of the stairs and listened to him talk of my parents fate. Had I not moved from my bed to the stairs I would have never have known the fate of my parents.
My heart shattered. I shoved my shirt in my mouth to keep the Birkshires from hearing the keening cries of my world crumbling. I didn’t want their comfort. I wanted my parents. I pulled myself up from the stairs and stumbled into my room. I shoved a pillow over my head and screamed.
I screamed until I no longer had a voice to scream with.
My tears no longer flowed because they’d run dry.
My parents had been murdered.
Two bodies had been found inside the office.
I would never be able to say goodbye.
The blackness sucked me under and I let it.
I couldn’t tell you what happened after that visit from the Detective. I only knew that when I finally came back to myself that Suzie was crying as she tucked my covers around me. Her sandy blond hair was pulled back in what was at one point a braid. It looked frazzled, almost as much a she did. Her light brown eyes were rimmed in red as if she were fighting a cold, or crying a lot. She’d called out to Ken when she saw my eyelashes flutter. When he came into my room he gave me a smile that almost broke through the weariness that was etched in his face. I’d worried them.
I was so disconnected from everyone, including myself, that I wandered the house like a ghost most days as the hours blended and the days passed.
I did that for a week, at least I think it was a week, when Ken announced that I’d be going back to school. It was for the best Ken kept saying. Time to get back to normal, he reminded everyone. I don’t know if he was trying to convince me or himself. I nodded like I agreed with him even though the thought of going back to school terrified me. That night something cracked the mental wall I’d built up around me. I needed to see my house, I needed to know that it was gone. I had to know that they were gone.
Ken and Suzie were none the wiser of my plan since they trusted me to walk to the bus stop on my own. Suzie had stayed at the door and waved goodbye as she watched me make my way to the bus stop. I hitched the bookbag Suzie had bought for me up on my shoulder. It was stuffed full of supplies and heavy, the strap was biting into my shoulder. I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that I’d lied to them and taken off. They probably would have taken me to see the house, if I’d asked them. But I didn’t want to ask them, I wanted - needed to do it on my own.
Thankfully, the State hadn’t moved me far from home either, so it wouldn’t take me long to get there. The last thing I needed was for a cop to pick me up and deliver me back to Ken and Suzie’s doorstep.
There were a group of kids at the bus stop when I arrived. I turned to look back at the house. Suzie was no longer standing at the front door. I chose a spot away from the other kids, kind of hiding behind a group of them and waited until the bus pulled to a stop. As the doors hissed open, I darted away from the group and was around the corner before the bus pulled away.
Maybe Mr. Owens would agree to take me in and I could be close to my old house, close enough to feel the only connection to my parents I had left.
I walked the mile and a half to my old neighborhood and stopped short at the sight I was met with. My home was gone. Stripped to the ground gone, like someone had come in with a big machine and plucked it from the foundation and took it away. I stumbled up Mr. Owens steps and let my backpack slid off my shoulders to the floor as I turned my back on the empty lot. Whatever it was that had held me together snapped.
I stood on Mr. Owens front porch and slammed my hand against the doorbell over and over again, but he didn’t answer. With every second that passed and Mr. Owens didn’t open his door and Jet didn’t bark my heart hammered a little harder against my chest. He had to be home. He was always home. After the twentieth time of ringing his doorbell I crumpled to the ground.
Gone, everything was gone. Why would someone kill them, why didn’t they kill me. Why do I have to live without them. Why!
A gentle voice pulled me from nothingness that sucked me down to the ground and had started to eat away at my sanity. Thoughts weren’t connecting, time meant nothing. I didn’t care if I ever moved from the spot I’d fallen to. But her voice coxed me back to the light.
Mrs. Willis’ crinkled face was looking down at me. I had her hands latched firmly in mine. I was holding on to her so tight that it felt like she was anchoring me from slipping back to the place where none of it mattered anymore. Her eyes radiated my pain back at me as I gasped to catch my breath. I pulled a hand away to wipe my face as she continued to speak softly to me.
“Oh, you lost little darling,” she cooed as she slid her paper smooth hand along my face.
She helped me sit up and then helped me get to my feet. Her arm wrapped around my back as she guided me to her house. I fumbled across the yard and clutched on to her like a lifeline.
“He wouldn’t answer the door,” I kept repeating over and over again as she led me inside her home.
“Jade, honey, Mr. Owens moved,” she said. Her voice gentled with understanding.
“He..m..moved?” I hadn’t expected that.
“He was very upset over what happened to your parents. He left about two days ago and headed to
. Florida , I believe.” Miami
He left me too?
She settled me on her couch with a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. The TV was on with the volume turned down low. I soaked in the comfort of the blanket and cocoa feeling a connection with life again for the first time. I let my eyes close as it cocooned me. I woke when she lifted the empty mug from my hands. Beside her stood a woman dressed in a pretty pink silk shirt and black dress pants. I’d met her once when she took me from the hospital to the Birkshires. She’d called herself my caseworker and her name was Helen.
“Hello, Jade. The Birkshires are very worried about you. Can I take you home now?” she asked.
My eyes darted to the left, in the direction of my house. My real house. “I just want to go home. Not their home, mine.” I set my shoulders and gave her my most stubborn glare.
She walked over to the couch and sat down beside me. “I know this is difficult, Jade. I’m so sorry that you’re parents are gone. That the house is gone as well, but the Birkshires are very good people. If you give them a chance they will love you unconditionally. You can have a safe and happy life with them.”
I pulled the soft blanket a little closer to me. Mrs. Willis was always a nice lady. She always had a smile or a wave for me. Right now she was the only link left to my parents since Mr. Owens had left.
Mrs. Willis put her gnarled fingers on my shoulder and gave a half hearted squeeze. Mom had said she had arthritis and it made her hands hurt real bad, which is why her squeeze amounted to more of a finger flex. I looked up at her and wondered how she’d managed to get me here under her own steam. Her glasses were sliding down her nose. Her hair was rolled up in curlers and covered under a handkerchief. She blinked back tears that threatened to spill from her cloudy blue gaze. “It will be alright, Jade. How about you take it with you,” she gestured to the blanket I clutched in my fists. “That way you have a little something from me when you’re feeling sad.”
I nodded my thanks as a tear worked its way down my cheek. I stood up and gripped the blanket even tighter against me. Mrs. Willis pulled me into a grandmotherly sort of hug. Or at least what I would assume a hug like that would be like. I’d never had grandparents so it was hard to say.
Helen rested her hand on my shoulder and guided me to her car. Her hand never left me and I wondered if she it was out of concern for me or if she waited for me to bolt. I had a feeling that it was probably a combination of both, but with her doing that she was also putting herself in the way of me looking over at the blank spot where my house used to sit.
She rolled down her window and thanked Mrs. Willis as she slipped the car into drive and backed out of the driveway.
Helen called the Birkshires from her cell phone to let them know that she was bringing me back.
As soon as the car shut off Helen walked over to my door and helped me out. I made no attempt to do any of it for myself. When my feet touched the crushed rock of the driveway she once again placed her hand on my shoulder and ushered me into my foster parents home. The blanket Mrs. Willis said I could keep was still wrapped tight around me.
“Oh, Jade, we were so worried. Are you alright?” Suzie pulled me in for a hug as Helen closed the door behind us. I let myself go numb. She was not my mother, I didn’t want her acting like she was.
As Helen spoke to Suzie, I shut out the conversation. Ken came barreling in the door and stopped short when he almost ran into me. His large hands came to rest on my shoulders. His wavy dark brown hair fell into his eyes as he spoke. “Are you okay? Do you need anything? How about some ice cream or maybe some cookies or….”
“Ken?” Suzie’s voice stopped him from continuing on.
“She’s fine, she just needs a little more time,” she explained.
Ken turned his gaze back to me. “Take all the time you need, we’ll be here for you no matter what. Okay?” His finger tips pushed a lock of my wayward hair behind my ear. Like my mother used to do.
Tears pooled in my eyes and trekked down my face. I pulled Mrs. Willis’s blanket up to my face and wiped at them.
“Let’s get you settled while Helen and Ken talk,” Suzie said as she guided me to my room.
After my breakdown from finding my home gone, Helen thought it would be best if the Birkshires made an appointment for me with a grief councilor. I could care less either way. It was my grief and I’d work through it on my own. I didn’t need someone to tell me how to feel. I was feeling too much of it so their effort would be wasted.
My first appointment was more of a meet and greet, the councilor told me. She just wanted to make sure we got to know each other before the sessions would start. I clammed up and refused to talk. And if she thought I’d talk about my parents, she was wrong. Like I’d tell her anything about them, she didn’t care that they died - not like I did.
Even after I came home and told Ken and Suzie that the appointment was stupid and that I didn’t want to talk to a stranger they still pushed me to go. It would help me, they said. There was nothing left to help. My parents were dead. I was on my own. I lived in their house because someone else decided I should be there. I had no family. I had nothing left but the memories and they were getting vague and slipping from me. I was scared that someday I’d forget my mothers laugh or the twinkle in my fathers eyes when I told him a funny joke.
“Don’t you understand? There’s no amount of counseling that will ever help me get past the fact that someone murdered them!” I hollered. “Someone grabbed me! Probably the same person who ki..killed them!” My chest heaved as I purged the words that had been held up in my mind. “My house burned to the ground. Someone removed my parents bodies and that was it. There was no funeral, no goodbyes….no nothing!”
Suzie cried, her hand covered her mouth as I yelled at the top of my lungs. Ken stood rooted to Suzie’s side. His hand clenched and unclenched as he struggled with what I’d spewed at them.
When Ken finally spoke his voice was low, rusty, as if he spoke past a lump that threatened to push his words back down. “Jade, I can’t tell you how much we wish this hadn’t happened to you. We both just want what’s best for you. We just want to be able to help get you through the grief and anger that is inside you. We just…we just want you to find some sort of happiness again.”
Suzie dabbed at her eyes. “If it were up to me I wouldn’t force you to go.”
“So don’t,” I said as I locked my arms around my waist.
“It’s not up to us, Jade. Helen makes all the decisions when it comes to your mental well being and we’re here to provide a loving home for you,” Ken replied as he scrubbed his hand down his face.
“Tell Helen no,” I demanded.
“If we don’t follow the rules they will take you from us and move you to another home. Do you like it here, Jade? Because we like having you here,” Ken asked.
I was left with no choice but to go. I didn’t want Helen to move me somewhere else.
Suzie wiped her eyes and came to stand in front of me. “We’ll do our best to make you happy, Jade. Please don’t fight Helen on this. We’d really like for you to stay here.” Her hand came up to muffle the sob that broke and she darted away.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I’d started to get comfortably numb with the death of my parents. Having to talk to a grief councilor would only open the pain back up and flood me with more anger and sadness. I stared at the red numbers on the alarm clock beside my bed. I couldn’t sleep.
They were really trying to be everything I needed. I knew I was being unfair by not even giving them a chance. Maybe someday I would, maybe tomorrow I would. I just didn’t know.
I got up from my bed and walked along the soft beige carpet to my window. I swept aside the white lace curtain and looked out. A huge tree blocked the moon from me. I unlocked the window and tried to lift it open, but it wouldn’t budge. Fresh air would help. It always helped my mom when she was working through something on her mind, that’s what she’d always told me when I’d find her outside looking up at stars.
I wanted fresh air, I wanted to see the moon and the stars. I wanted to feel like I had that connection with my mother.
I left my bedroom and made my way down to the back door and stepped out into the grass. Ken and Suzie had a huge back yard that butted up against a forrest. Just outside the sliding glass door was an outdoor swing. I was tempted to sit, but I wanted the soft tickle of the grass on my feet so I stepped further out into the middle of the yard and looked up at the moon. Only a tiny sliver peeked out behind the clouds. Crickets chirped and I focused on my surroundings. It was really dark out. I needed to get back inside.
As I turned to head back inside I saw a bright flash of light. Red and orange flames burst from the windows. I was shoved by an unseen force that flipped me end over end towards the trees. My head throbbed as the sounds around me ceased and then a high pitched ringing started in my ears. Black smoke billowed out of the shattered windows. Debris was strewn around the yard.
I pushed myself up to my knees and watched as the Birkshires house became consumed by flames. They were inside. Oh god, they’re dead! I shoved my fist into my mouth. The shock of what I witnessed left me with no voice to scream.
If I hadn’t come outside to look at the stars I would be dead too. Did my parents and the Birkshires die because of me? Was it the man who tried to grab me in my parents kitchen? That couldn’t be possible. Could it?
My heart clattered against my chest as it looked for a way out of my body. It all revolved around me, it had to. None of this could be coincidence.
I had to get away. I couldn’t put anyone else in the murders path. I couldn’t go back to the police, they’d just put me in another home. Someone else could die. No, I wouldn’t let that happen.
I took off to the forest and ran. Maybe I could get far enough away. Did Mr. Owens think he needed to run too? Maybe I needed to get to
and find Mr. Owens and ask him. I’d
leave right after I talked to him too. He was a nice man who didn’t deserve to