Not What It Seems

So you think you know Vampires? Blood-suckers, stakes, garlic, only come out at night, sleep in coffins...
I can tell you now, you have no idea. They live amongst us, almost always going unnoticed, and you wouldn’t believe them if they stood in front of you and confessed to being a vampire - and I would know, trust me. They don’t even drink blood, for heaven’s sake!
All it took was two of these ‘vampires’ to change my life - completely and forever.

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3. Chapter 2

Chapter 2

 

 For the rest of the lesson Allie fantasizes about every single detail of our July wedding, but I try and block her out, just praying that Xander can’t hear here over the noisy chatter of the class.

  I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy when the bell rings, signalling the end of the day. I’ve only written two lines in the whole hour, but every time I thought of Romeo, Xander’s face pops into my head. I grab my stuff, without waiting for Allie, knowing she’ll deliberately hang behind for a chance to help Xander with his books or something stupid like that. But a few seconds after I leave the classroom, Allie comes running up behind me, panting.

  “Hey, wait up! I’m coming to yours, remember?”

  I groan, “We’re still doing that?”

  “Yeah, we’re not cancelling that for anything!”

  “Aw, come on Allie - please don’t do this to me.”

  “What has she done now?” Tia joins us, carrying her large art folder.

  “OMG, he’s Willow’s neighbour!” Allie bursts out, earning stares from some of the people walking past us, out of school.

  “Huh?”

   Despite myself, I laugh at Tia’s expression and explain, “You know the house opposite mine? The one that was for sale?” Tia nods. “It’s Xander’s new house.”

   Her jaw drops in surprise. Allie is about to speak when Tia holds out a hand to stop her. “No, let me guess, you want us to be his welcoming party? Are cookies involved by any chance?”

  “You’re a mind reader!”

  “Nope, I just spend far too much time with you. Fine, let’s go.” Tia sounds just as resigned to the idea as me, but I’m disappointed; I was hoping she’d put up more of a fight. She sees my expression, and laughs, “I’m going along with it because it’ll annoy London.”

  “You’ve changed your tune - you told me to stop winding her up before.”

  “Exactly, she’s already in a mood with me, so I may as well wind her up even more.”

  Allie grins, “I like your thinking Ti, I like your thinking.”

  “Looks like I’m on my own then.”

  Tia frowns, “Why don’t you want to go?”

  Allie gasps, “Oh, we forgot to tell you, guess who was in our class?”

  So I spend the rest of the walk back to my house, listening to Allie recount our conversation, correcting her now and then and rolling my eyes as she exaggerates our ‘moment’ as she calls it.

  “Look, it wasn’t like that, I just... I don’t know. I don’t like him, okay?” I add quickly as Allie and Tia exchange glances and smirk. “I don’t!”

  “Sure...”

  “He was annoying me!”

  “Ah, opposites attract.”

  “Shut up!”

  We arrive at the front door of my house and I open the door, letting us in. “Just admit it Willow, every girl likes him, it’s not like it’s weird for you to like him too.”

  “Ergh, can we just drop it?”

  “Who do you like?” I spin around to see my mum in the doorway to the kitchen with my half-brother, Jackson, resting on her hip. She’s smiling like she’s won the lottery; Mum’s main aim in life is to get me a boyfriend, which so far hasn’t worked, but every time there’s the hint that I might like a boy, she’s on it. “Hey girls,” She greets Tia and Allie, who throw there shoes and bags down along with mine; Allie wasn’t kidding when she said she practically lives here.

  “No one Mum,” I glare pointedly at Tia and Allie, trying to convey that they shouldn’t say anything, but Allie doesn’t see. Or if she does, she ignores me.

  “Hi Bea, there’s a new boy in our class – Willow’s totally into him.”

  “Allie!” I turn to bang my head on the wall in frustration. “Why?!”

  “Because she deserves to know, she’s your mum.”

  “Thank you Allie.” I can practically hear the satisfaction in her voice. “Now, I want details; what’s his name? What does he look like? Is he in your classes? Where does he live?”

  “Ergh Mum, why can’t you be like a normal mum that doesn’t want their kids to have a boyfriend until they’re thirty?”

  “I just want the best for you sweetie.”

  I roll my eyes and move past her into the kitchen, Tia follows and she starts searching the cupboards for the cookie ingredients. Mum notices and smiles widely. “Oo, cookies Tia? What’s the occasion?” Tia’s cookies are well known by everyone in the small town of Crichton as the best cookies ever. A few years ago she was always cooking them, but then she got sick of everyone demanding cookies so she stopped baking. Now she only makes cookies when she has to, or if we persuade her to.

  “The new boy across the road,” Tia winks at me.

  “Oh! They’ve moved in? I thought I saw a car there, but I assumed it was the Estate Agent – I haven’t seen a removal van or anything... If I’d known I would have gone around today, I feel bad now!”

  “Don’t worry; we’ll take care of it.”

  Allie starts the story again, giving my mum all the details of what happened at school, start to finish. They put there heads together and gossip like two old women. I help Tia with the cookie dough, pouring in a generous amount of chocolate chips. Every now and then Allie or Mum looks up from their hushed conversation, making it obvious what they’re plotting. When this happens for the fifth time I huff loudly.

  “I don’t see why everyone seems so intent on getting us together.”

  Tia doesn’t look up but continues stirring, deep in thought. Finally she speaks, “I think,” She starts slowly, “I think it’s just that they want to see you happy.”

  “I am happy!”

  “I know, but... well, they want to show you that you can have a happy relationship; that you don’t have to push everyone away. It can work out you know.”

  Ow, I wince, but it hurts even more because I know it’s true. I don’t have any faith in love. Not one bit. I don’t want to fall in love, because from what I’ve seen, it sucks.

  “I... I can’t help it Tia, I’ve just seen so many people get hurt. I thought you of all people would know that.”

  Tia sighs. “I know, but we move on, we struggle through. Look at your mum, after everything, she’s still fine.”

  “Fine,” I repeat doubtfully, glancing at Mum, giggling like she’s a teenager again. “But is she really? I mean, sure, she’s fine on the outside, but on the inside? She’s dying in there. Three years doesn’t make you forget.”

  “Maybe not, but love isn’t a straight forward thing Willow. Sometimes it’s the best feeling in the world, other times it’s the worst, but you can’t give up the good times just because of the bad.”

  Tia knows me like no one else, she’s been through everything with me, from start to finish, and as great a friend as Allie is, she doesn’t have our history. Sometimes I wish she didn’t know so much about me. Maybe that would make it easier to forget.

  “So, do you like Xander?” Tia glances out of the corner of her eye at me, trying to gauge my reaction.

  “No!” I instantly deny it, but then I hesitate. “I mean, I don’t think so... Well, how am I meant to know? Sort of, it’s kinda hard to stay objective when I’ve got Allie gushing over him.”

  Tia grins, “You do like him; it’s obvious.”

  “Fine!” I give in, throwing my hands in the air, showering us both with flour, “Okay, so I like him a bit, but does it make a difference? I mean, it’s not like he’ll even notice with every other girl in our year after him.”

  “Oh, I think he’ll notice you.”

  I pull a sceptical expression, “Yeah right.”

  “Come on, it’s not like he’s going to forget the girl who argued with him about Paris, who lives across the street and who takes him cookies.”

  “Sure, sure,” I agree, rolling my eyes, “But I meant notice in a good way.”

  “He will.” She says confidently.

  “Look, it doesn’t even matter because I’m not getting a boyfriend. Not Xander or anyone else. Anyway, we just don’t get on; anyone can see that, so there’s really no point trying to get us together.”

  Tia places the last cookie on the tray and puts them in the oven, setting the timer. She turns to me with sad eyes. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself. What about Harry?”

  I wince again at the memory. “I wasn’t ready...”

  “And you still aren’t.” She finishes for me. “But no ones was asking – they still aren’t – for you to commit yourself. You and Harry were good friends, you had fun together, and you threw that away.”

  “I just wanted to be friends.” I mumble, staring at my hands, twisting themselves in knots.

  Tia places a hand on mine, stilling them. I look up at her and she smiles. “It’s okay, it’s in the past now. Just... just try not to push anyone else away, okay?

  I nod feebly. “I’ll try.”

  “Good.” Tia exclaims loudly, signalling the end of our conversation. “Allie, we cooked, so you can do the washing up.”

  “Noooo!” Allie falls to the floor dramatically, holding her hands out in front of her, begging, “Please no! Anything but the washing up!”

  I laugh and my mind is instantly distracted from thoughts of the past. “Oh, you’ll do the washing up, even if we have to make you.”

  “You’ll have to catch me first.” Allie jumps to her feet and runs off. Tia and I spend the next half-hour running around the house trying to catch her. Eventually we find her hiding in the back of my wardrobe and we drag her to the kitchen sink, much to the amusement of Jackson, who sits in his high chair, clapping his chubby little hands together and shrieking with laughter as we drag Allie past him. After that we spend more time throwing bubbles at each other that we do actually washing anything up.

  I don’t hear the timer going off through my own shrieks as Allie squirts washing up liquid in my hair.

  “GUYS COOKIES ARE READY!” Tia has to yell to be heard over my constant stream of death threats, trying, unsuccessfully, to wipe the soap from my hair. We both turn to face Tia, holding out a tray of delicious smelling chocolate chip cookies.

  “Cookies!” Allie yells, throwing herself toward Tia, but Tia bats her hands away.

  “No, bad Allie, they’re for Xander.”

  I stand up, looking down at my soaked clothes and pulling at a strand of slippery hair, before looking up at the other two. “I can’t go looking like this!”

  “Then hurry up and shower while the cookies cool down.”

  I don’t reply, just rush up the stairs to my bedroom. I grab a clean towel from the cupboard and walk into the bathroom off my room. I switch on the shower and strip while I wait for the water to run warm.

  As I step under the shower’s hot spray, closing my eyes and letting the water run over me. I try not to think about anything, just let my mind stay blissfully blank, but it doesn’t want to play along. All I can see is Harry’s face, making my feel just as guilty as ever. What happened to us? We were happy, the best of friends... maybe I should have know that he’d want more. I should have seen the way he looked at me. I should have listened to London and Tia, but no, I refused to believe them.

  He changed everything; my friends, my confidence, hell, I look different now than I did then. How can one person do that to me?

  I quickly switch off the shower, hoping to stop the flow of memories along with it, but it doesn’t work. As I step out of the shower, a towel wrapped around me, I catch slight of my blurred reflection in the mirror. I lean forward, wiping the condensation from the glass, revealing a sad-looking girl staring at me.

  Her wet brown hair hangs down past her shoulder, her grey eyes giving away everything she’s feeling.

  I bit my lip, and the girl mirrors my action. She’s me, I know she is, but sometimes it’s just strange to see me having changed so much in just three years.

  Don’t get me wrong, I like the new me better – the old me was selfish and vain – but there’s a whole world of might-have-been’s that I dread thinking about. I came so close to becoming a person I’d hate. I see my face in the mirror, without the covering of make-up, without the permanent pout, and without the look that said, ‘I’m better than you’, and I get scared that I got that close.

  But I need to give the new me a chance. I need to give her a chance at love. I know I do. Tia’s right; Just because it all went wrong with Harry, doesn’t mean it will go wrong again, not like with Mum.

  “Hurry up Willow! I need to shower and there is no way I am missing the chance to see Xander’s house.”

  “Okay, okay, I’ll be right out.” I answer Tia, turning away from the girl in the mirror. I wrap the towel tighter around me and step out of the warm bathroom, shuddering at the sudden cold. “It’s all yours.” I smile but I think it must look a little forced because Tia grimaces sympathetically.

  “Don’t think about it. It could be worse, right?”

  I laugh, “Definitely.”

  Tia rolls her eyes, “And I have to live with London.”

  “Sorry.” I’m too wrapped up in my own world that I forgot we both changed, not just me. “It’s my fault-”

  “S’okay.” She shrugs, “I’m glad it happened. If it hadn’t, things wouldn’t have ended so great.”

  I grin and I reach out to hug her, but then I see she’s still covered in bubbles and I wrinkle my nose, stepping back. “I would hug up, but...” I look her up and down, and she gets the message.

  “I’ll have a shower.”

  “Good idea.”

  I change into some fresh clothes, brush my hair and put on a brush of mascara, not going over the top, I mean, it’s only Xander. I find some clothes that I know fit Tia and pass them through the bathroom door, then I find Allie in the family bathroom and do the same with her. She comes out a few minutes later, looking thoughtfully at the blue summer dress I gave her.

  “You know, I think this might be mine.”

  I laugh, “Half of my wardrobe is yours.”

  “Oh, I found that pink top you were looking for the other day. It was in one of my drawers.”

  “I knew I left it at yours - you said you didn’t have it?”

  “I thought I didn’t.”

  We walk down to the kitchen, discussing clothes, and Tia joins us a few minutes later, taking the cookies from the cooling rack and putting them in a wicker basket, the type we used to use for eater egg hunts.

  I groan and roll my eyes, “Since when do people take baskets of cookies to their neighbours? We’re not in the nineteenth century, for heaven’s sake.”

  “It’s polite.” My mum’s voice adds, floating through the doorway to the living room.

  “It’s old fashioned.” I counter.

  Allie grabs my arm, pulling me toward the front door, “Come on, we’re going whether you like it or not.”

  I drag my feet on the floor, trying to slow her down, even though I know the attempt is futile. “Aw, can’t you go, he probably doesn’t want to see me anyway...”

  “You’re the one who lives here, not us, so you have to come.”

  “Why? What’s the point? I mean, he already hates me...”

  I keep up the moaning, walking as slowly as possible as Allie drags me out of my front door. Instinctively I look across at the house opposite; Mum was right, if we hadn’t heard Xander lived here, I would have thought it was empty. The house is smaller than ours, but detached from the houses on either side, unlike the other semi-detached homes that line our street; like the occupants of the house want their privacy. There is no car outside and the small square front lawn is overgrown, weeds travelling across the cracked pavement of the driveway. The red paint is peeling from the front door and the window frames, looking neglected. The previous owner had been an old woman who had become too ill to look after the house properly, but she refused to be moved to a nursing home. She died a year ago, but she didn’t leave a will and no one could find any traces of family. No one wanted to buy the rundown building. The estate agents didn’t think it was worth doing up, leaving it to ruin. I hadn’t really expected new neighbours.

  I see Tia eyeing the house doubtfully, her incredulous expression mirroring mine. “You sure we’ve got the right place? We could have got the wrong house...”

  “Don’t be stupid, this is the only house that was for sale.”

  “Are you sure she said Hamilton?” I say, starting to doubt my own memory.

  “’Course she did.” Says Allie bracingly, charging straight across the road. She pushes aside the rusty gate onto the drive.

  “Maybe they’re not in?” I suggest hopefully, referring the absence of the car.

  “Then we’ll come back later.”

  “Why do we have to do this? Has is occurred to you that I don’t want to see him?”

  Tia shoots me a look, she mouths something at me, but I’ve never been any good at lip reading. ‘What?’ I mouth back. She shakes her head and leans closer to me, whispering, “Don’t push him away.”

  “Oh, for God’s sake,” I mutter. It’s all very well trying to set me up with someone I like, but Xander, okay, he’s hot, any blind idiot can see that, but we will never work. For one, he sounds like a hopeless romantic, which I will never be, on any planet, in any universe. Stuff him and all his true love nonsense.

  Tia shoves the basket of cookies in my hands and I mutter unintelligibly about stupid old fashioned traditions. As I result, I don’t watch where I’m stepping. My foot catches on a rope of ivy twisting over the stone. I feel myself fall forward into thin air, with nothing to stop me.

  Crap.

  That’s all I can think before I instinctively drop the basket, reaching my hands out in front of me to lessen the force of the fall.

  I close my eyes as the ground meets me, pain searing through my wrist as I land at an awkward angle, but it does little to help. I feel my head crack against the cold ground and everything goes black.

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