A Work In Progress

Trisha Cross doesn't have her life together. After her parents had died, she'd been shipped off to home after home, after home, after home. Just when she thought she'd find some stability in her horrible existence, her life upends itself again.

But this time, the changes are not as bad as she expects.

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1. Her So Called 'Life'

We were under attack.

 

They told all of us to leave the Park house and to head out onto the grounds. We did. It was a sad procession; every person that was able to fight walked stoically out the doors as though condemned to death, the young and the old, me included.

 

I suppose it was a final stand. All the grim faces told me as much.

 

And because I knew it was the end, I took a moment as I marched out the doors of Roseworth Park House.

 

I looked up. The sky was a dark clouded thing, patches of mottled grey against a bleeding expanse of red.

 

All around me, the last light of the day was disappearing below the savage horizon giving the appearance of blackened fields draining the bright landscape. It was a fatalistic canopy bearing down. We were going to be unable to see clearly soon, the fading daylight greatly reduced our chances of survival.

 

I could hear the Ælwiht approaching us on the lush green lawns. The high rasp of their shrieks was very clear to me, even in the rising evening wind. Piercing. Loud. The noises cutting through the air.

 

This situation would have been nothing out of the ordinary except for where they were.

 

In our very home.

 

Ordinarily – if you could call fighting monsters ordinary – we would have scouted the creatures wherever they first manifested and fought them there. But somehow, today, the monsters had found us in our home.

 

This was an ambush.

 

I stood on the field, sword in hand, waiting to meet my foe. It was going to be most certainly futile. Half of the house was already dead and the other half now littered the fields expecting the same fate.

 

It was an impossible situation; we bore human weapons against the inhuman. I filled my lungs with the taste of chilled autumn air, conscious that my time was running out.

 

There was no clatter of swords, only screams as human and monster met.

 

From the noises of struggle, I could discern one voice. “Trisha, look to your left! A foul beast!”

 

“To your left!”

 

I knew that voice. No doubt, it came from a young man with dark hair. Hair, which was probably now matted to his head with sweat. He was wasting energy warning me, when he should have concentrated on swinging his own shining weapon.

 

Perceval was not much older than me. He was sixteen, brave and noble. I loved him.

 

I looked left and as he said there was a monster coming towards me from the left, feet striking the ground with each great leap in my direction.

 

The creature was fierce and dark, a grotesque contrivance of speckled, bruised flesh for a face and bones marred in rotting earth for a body. It had come fresh from the church graveyard, it seemed. It emanated something awful.

 

I had never seen anything so awful.

 

The weight of my sword lay heavy in my hand. I tightened my grip around the leather wrapped hilt and braced myself against the ground. I would need all of my strength I could muster to meet the monster.

 

It would probably be impossible to kill. At the very least it would be difficult, I had no experience fighting anything, I was unblooded.

 

Even so, there was no backing out of this situation that I was in. I could only do my best and pray that it was enough.

 

Besides, I had Perceval fighting at my back and watching out for me. I trusted him with my life. He was my best friend and I would die him. I knew he would do the same for me.

 

The monster loomed ahead of me, it’s jaws unhinging unnaturally. The gaping black hole of its mouth opening as if preparing to swallow my soul. I hoped it would not come to that.

 

My breath burned as it rattled through my lungs. I raised my arm and swung the sword to the front of me, the weapon arcing prettily through the cold.

 

It met the grotesque beast with a whistling shriek, cutting the monster but not enough. I pushed hard, but the monster’s flesh would not give way to the sharp edge of my blade.

 

What to do now?

 

I almost giggled hysterically at the thing that was trying to lunge past my sword at me and I would have laughed, had I not been panting with the effort of holding it back.

 

It was a bare breath away. Held at bay by my strength. There was only the option of letting it slowly overpower me. Or I could try and kill it somehow.

 

I couldn’t give up.

 

I pulled my sword back and darted away to the side of where it would lunge. The blade slapped the monster.

 

It was a long shot but I was going to try to drive the sharp point into the monster to stake it, I decided. My chances were slim, but better to have killed a monster than to be killed by one.

 

Taking a step back, I pushed off the ground and jumped forward with all of my weight. And heaved as I plunged my sword down.

 

My ears were deafened by the resulting air-rending howl.

 

The beast screamed as its flesh rippled, and it’s body convulsed in a horrific paroxysm, then exploded in burst of gravel, dirt and piercing shrieks. It had met its end on the tip of my blade.

 

I breathed a great sigh of relief. I had done it.

 

How was everyone else faring? I paused, sneaking a glance around to see what everyone else was doing.

 

My eyes were immediately drawn to Perceval.

 

Perceval was holding his own fighting against two monsters, his sword slashing at their half spectral half corporeal figures as they came at him, jaws opening and closing in a grotesque parody of hunger.

 

He seemed to be struggling, but that was impossible. Perceval was the fiercest fighter of all of us.

 

Perceval stumbled slightly and the two monsters converged on him, mouths snapping maliciously as they seemed to taste his momentary weakness.  

 

The odds were against him. There were two of them. He was going to die.

 

I had to do something. I couldn’t let him get killed.

 

I deserted my position and ran to Perceval’s side, my sword hacking at the beast closest to me. My effort was reward when I quelled one, stabbing it like I had done with the last monster. The other was soon felled by Perceval now that he was no longer fending off two at once.

 

It was done and I could go back to my post. But looking at Perceval’s face, I could see that his eyes were large and wide. Despairing.

 

Why was he looking like that? At me, nonetheless.

 

 “What is it?” I asked, my mouth moving but no sound coming forth.

 

Or was there sound? I repeated myself and I thought could hear me, but my voice was distant.

 

How odd. Then, I realised that Perceval wasn’t looking at me. He was looking past me.

 

“What is it?” I tried again, but once more – nothing. Something was not right.

 

“Trisha,” Perceval said, his voice strangely far away.

 

“You’re hurt.” He said.

 

Was I? I couldn’t be. I didn’t feel any sort of ‘hurt’ at all. But something was very wrong.

 

 

I looked down at my hands. The skin was turning translucent. The loud clatter of my sword falling out of numb hands barely registered. No.

 

Momentarily, I closed my eyes and ran a tongue over dry lips. Then, drew a deep breath and looked behind me, hoping against hope that what must have happened, didn’t.

 

Sure enough, as I had feared, a monster had enclosed its jaw around my right side.

 

It was a nightmare of the worst sort come true. I was dying.

 

Perceval had not moved.

 

As I looked at him in those last moments, his handsome face was contorted unrecognisable by a twisted expression. Horror didn’t suit him. I wanted him to stop looking at me and get far away, but words formed and died in her mouth before they could make it past my lips.

 

He was too close. It was too late for me, but he needed to get away.

 

Perceval didn’t leave, instead he came towards me after he picked up his sword; a fine regal weapon inlaid with gold and a single gleaming dark jewel. Good. He was going to end it.

 

I closed my eyes and waited and did not open them even when I could hear the shrieks of the monster in its death throes. Howling, piercing preternatural screams echoed around me and the monster convulsed, dragging me on the ground as it died.

 

There was wetness running down my face. Rivulets.

 

Opening my eyes once more, I saw that dark red was spreading across my garments. My death was certain.

 

I didn’t want to watch him see me die. And like a coward, I turned my face up until all I could see was sky, a beautiful thing; a vastness beyond what I could see.

 

A thud alerted me to Perceval falling harshly onto his knees.

 

He appeared to be shouting something. His was face stricken and urgent. Sound was escaping me completely and the world became a quiet bubble, a temporal reprieve from the madness going on elsewhere.

 

Perceval had knelt down once more next to me, leaning over me and blocking my view of the sky.

 

His mouth moved and made the shape of my name.

 

His eyes felt were a weight of Perceval’s eyes on me. It was awful. Perceval would soon loose another companion to the Ælwiht.

 

I wanted to tell him that it will be fine, only so that his face would no longer be so tormented.  I wanted to say that someday we would be able to meet again.

 

But I couldn’t speak. Not as the edges of my sight faded away and Percy’s face became no more than a dark shadow against the brilliant red sky.

 

My breath rattled in my lungs and the wretched sadness rose within me. I thought of Percy next to me and I thought of the bodies of my friends littering the ground around me. What was the point of this?

 

 This fighting was endless and had no purpose. We didn’t know our enemy, we didn’t know what it was for. It couldn’t continue this way. It needed to end.

 

But what could I do? It was over for me.

Trisha’s eyes snapped open.

Immediately, she was overcome by blinding light; golden rays from the window facing her bed searing white into her eyeballs.

 

Trisha rubbed her eyes. It was morning, another day. It was the weekend too. Which meant that she’d be home all day, with her family. It was really terrible. Stifling a yawn, she scrunched up her face in distaste and shifted her legs off her bed and onto the floor.

 

Sitting up, she scratched her head and further ruffled the total bird nest of hair that had formed while she was sleeping.

 

She hated being home, absolutely hated it. Everything about the weekend was terrible. The most terrible thing was that she couldn’t leave and go to school.

 

Maybe if Mrs Barnes was home today and in a good mood, she’d allow Trisha to go to their neighbour, Mr and Mrs Li’s house. Maybe. Otherwise she’d be stuck at home, with Mr Barnes. It would be bearable if Mrs Barnes was home.

 

There was no point in delaying. She might as well get up, dress and make breakfast before she gave Mrs Barnes an excuse to shout at her for some sort of offence.

 

Trisha pulled her clothes on and silently padded to the bathroom outside of her room.

 

With two clicks, she locked the bathroom door behind her as she entered and then double checked the lock by turning the door handle a few times, just to make sure.

 

Turning to face the mirror, Trisha frowned at the slight girl with dark hair in her reflection as she ran the tap and squeezed out some toothpaste onto her toothbrush. She continued to survey what she could see in the mirror impassively as she brushed her teeth and washed her face.

 

By the look of things, it must be quite early still. Neither Mr were Mrs Barnes were up. Maybe … Maybe if they still weren’t up by the time she made breakfast, she’d leave it out for them, knock on their doors to let them know, and then escape to the Li’s for the day.

 

It was a possibility, and one she hoped would come to be.

 

That decided, Trisha put her things away and carefully treaded into the kitchen to make breakfast. She moved quickly with many things going at once, taking out the pans and the food items and making the food.

 

When she was done, Trisha whooped silently to herself and then retreated back into her room to grab her backpack from where it rested against a bare wall. It was a ratty old thing, the black canvas bag fraying around the edges and turning grey. Mrs Barnes sometimes would scream at her to throw it away, but it was a bag Trisha had had forever. She slung it over her shoulder and walked out.

 

Soon she’d have freedom for the day! Almost.

 

There just one more thing left to do.

 

Stopping at Mr and Mrs Barnes’ bedroom door, Trisha knocked three times to no answer.

 

“Mr and Mrs Barnes?” she called out, quietly. There was no reply. Yes, Trisha thought. “Um, I’ve made breakfast and left it on the table. I’m going to study over at the Li’s next door.” Trisha said into the wood of the door.

 

The best scenario was that she’d hear some sort of muffled reply that she could take as affirmation and then she’d be able to dash off before either of them came out.

 

But, no such luck. The door swung open to reveal the rumpled hair and ogling eyes of Mr Barnes. Trisha’s heart sank, leaden into her stomach.

 

His eyes were half closed as he subtly looked Trisha over, staring her up and down.

 

“I didn’t quite catch what you said,” he murmured, very still and continuing to run his eyes over her.

 

Shrinking back on herself slightly, Trisha said “I’ve made breakfast. I, uh, left it out on the table for you and Mrs Barnes and now I’m going to the Li’s house.” She didn’t know why she was telling him. Maybe she was hoping he’d suddenly become a different person and magnanimously let her go outside and escape his attentions, though she knew better.

 

Her chances of going there were now very slim.

 

“I thought I should let you know,” Trisha added before she could stop herself.

 

One corner of Mr Barnes’ mouth lifted into a lopsided mean smile. It didn’t reach his eyes, which were still intent on Trisha.

 

“Who says you can go to the Li’s?” He whispered.

 

Trisha stared very hard at the patch of wall to the right of Mr Barnes’ face. She found herself riveted by it. The grain was pitted in a very interesting way, Trisha observed as she struggled to piece together the words she would say next.

 

“No one.” Trisha said to the patch of wall.

 

“Right,” Mr Barnes agreed, his tone very reasonable sounding. “No one told you that you can go.”

 

Maybe it was paint that caused the wall to be pitted like that?

 

Or perhaps it was the brick? Or whatever the substance underneath the paint was?

 

“Shouldn’t you ask to receive permission before you make any decisions?” Mr Barnes asked, continuing to sound reasonable. He leaned forward, emerging out of the door towards Trisha who retreated awkwardly. She didn’t want it to look as though he unnerved her – even though he did – and trying to subtly move away.

 

Mr Barnes looked down at Trisha, his eyes surveying her every flinch. “Would you like to receive my permission to go to the house next door for the day?” His voice sounded saccharine as he offered her the opportunity to get out of the house.

 

Trisha knew better than to take the bait though.

 

“Uh, I’m okay. Thanks.” She stuttered. She was prepared for the way that Mr Barnes’ face crumpled as he lunged towards her. Even though she hadn’t looked at him she was practiced at reacting to his changes of mood.

 

“It’s fine!” Trisha said, dancing out of his way and ducking back to her room. “I can just stay home. Don’t worry about it.”

 

Trisha darted into her room and gingerly shut the door behind her. She didn’t want it to make a loud noise. If it did, it would provoke Mr Barnes into coming into her room, which she did not want. Not at all.

 

Leaning her back against her door and dropping her backpack on the floor, she carefully listened to the noises outside. They would indicate to her whether it was safe to stop barring the door against entry. Footsteps walking away indicated Mr Barnes going back to his room or to the kitchen, which mean that everything was fine. Banging on the door was bad. Silence was even worse, it meant that Mr Barnes was waiting outside.

 

Trisha could hear nothing at all, which was bad.

 

She held her breath and waited.

 

No change, it was still quiet.

 

Her heart rattled in her chest. What was she going to do?

 

Then, thud thud thud thud thud thud shaking across the floor and causing the door she had her back against to tremble. It was the noise of Mrs Barnes’ chunky heels clicking heavily against the wooden floor of the house.

 

Suddenly, several hard raps sounded against her door. “Trisha!” she could hear Mrs Barnes’ shrill voice bark.

 

Trisha exhaled in relief. She opened the door to Mrs Barnes’ angular face twisted in a scowl, shrewd eyes boring into her face.

 

“Trisha,” Mrs Barnes said haughtily, her face uncomfortably close.

 

Trisha took a few steps back to allow Mrs Barnes into her room to speak to her. However, her movements go unnoticed and Mrs Barnes remained where she stood, only now there was room for her to survey Trisha’s room – and Trisha – with a frown of distaste.

 

“Mr Barnes and I have business in town this weekend. We will be staying in a hotel until Monday.” She informed Trisha curtly. “You will not be coming with us of course. We haven’t the money for you to, and you certainly cannot stay here with no adult supervision.” Yes she could. Trisha was perfectly capable of looking after herself. She’d done it all her life and she was doing it all this time that she had lived with Mr and Mrs Barnes.

 

“Luckily, the Li’s have offered to let have you stay with them.” Mrs Barnes continued to speak. Yes. From somewhere deep inside of her, joy bubbled over and enveloped Trisha. Yes, she thought.

 

“You can pack yourself a bag. Make sure you have everything you need because we will be locking the house and you won’t be able to come back.” 

 

“We will be leaving after breakfast. So I suggest you be ready by then.” Having said she had intended to, Mrs Barnes saw no reason to linger at Trisha’s threshold. She ran her watery blue eyes once more over Trisha’s room, turned her mouth down at the perceived messy state of it and left, her heels clicking heavily into the kitchen.

 

Trisha closed the door after Mrs Barnes and allowed a small smile for herself in the privacy of her room.

 

It was going to be a good day.

 

Half an hour later, Trisha found herself standing in front of the door to the Li’s house with an overnight bag and her backpack.

 

She knocked on the door three times and was very quickly greeted by the kindly wizened face and grey streaked black hair of Mrs Li.

 

“Hello Trisha,” Mrs Li greeted her, warmly her slight accent shortening the syllables of her speech. She made no move to hug Trisha, which Trisha liked her for.

 

“Hello Mrs Li,” said Trisha, stooping down slightly to hug Mrs Li around the shoulders. “Good morning.” Mrs Li was soft and small, the exact opposite of Mrs Barnes.

 

“Trisha. How many times do I have to tell you? Please call me Penny.” Mrs Li smiled, reached up and patted Trisha gently on the pack.

 

She pulled the door open for Trisha to walk through, looking across her front garden into the street for Mr and Mrs Barnes’ car but they had long gone. They had driven off the moment Trisha was on the Li’s doorstep.

 

“It’s good to see you Trisha!” Mrs Li was saying as she led Trisha through the small hall leading to her kitchen. “I just love it when you are able to come over. I think to myself all the time: am I going to see Trisha’s pretty green eyes today? Luckily for me, today the answer is yes!”

 

Mrs Li pulled out a chair and pointed at it, indicating to Trisha that she should sit there, next to a pair of hands holding up a newspaper printed in Chinese characters.

 

“Good morning Mr Li,” Trisha says to the person behind the newspaper.

 

“Good morning Trisha,” Mr Li says back over his newspaper, a smile in his voice.

 

Mrs Li strode to her kitchen counter and began using chopsticks to transfer a flatbread like food item onto a plate, which she sat down in front of Trisha. “Eat,” the kindly older woman commanded, pushing the plate towards Trisha. “You are too skinny! I look at you and I think of how small you are compared to my grandchildren!”

 

Mrs Li turned back to her kitchen counter. “And they’re only nine and ten!”

 

“Now, to be fair, they are all a bit too…” Mrs Li grinned and waved her arms about her middle to show their approximate size. “Okay, you just stay there and eat and I will make you a cup of tea to go with your plate.”

 

Trisha chewed her food, careful not to make any noise. In theory, she knew that eating loudly was not an offense of any kind. But still, a person could never be careful enough, even around those as nice as Mrs and Mr Li. She didn’t want to give them any cause to not invite her back.

 

Across from her at the table, Mr Li sighed contentedly to himself, having finished reading his newspaper. With a deft movement, he folded the large broadsheet into half and then quarters, which he tossed onto the table with a flick of his wrist.

 

Pushing his glasses up his nose, Mr Li rested his elbows on the table and gave Trisha a fond look.

 

“Now,” he said, leaning forward. “What are you plans for today?”

 

Trisha didn’t know what he meant, and she said so as much.

 

Mrs Li’s eyes were round with surprise when she put down a mug of hot tea in front of Trisha. “What do you mean?” she asked, aghast. “Have you forgotten that today is your BIRTHDAY?” Mrs Li exclaimed, voice rising in shock.

 

“My goodness!” She said to her husband, slapping him on the arm with one hand with the other rising to her neck and chest in distress. “What do they do to her in that house? To make her forget that today is a day worth celebrating, I never!” She muttered to herself, looking somewhat upset at the perceived neglect of Trisha in the Barnes household.

 

“Trisha, you drink your tea.” Mrs Li commanded, waving her hand at the cup in front of Trisha absently as she turned around and walked off into one of the doors that lay at the other end of the kitchen.

 

“Penny is just waking up the grandkids,” Mr Li said gently to Trisha. “We’re going to take them and you to the department store to shop, we can buy a present for you there. After all, it’s your birthday.”

 

“Hush,” Mr Li said firmly when Trisha opened her mouth to protest. He held up a hand to tell her to be quiet. “Penny and I are going to buy you something and that means that you will pick something. Then we’re going to go have a nice meal and see a show. Non negotiable.”

 

Trisha was speechless. She was utterly floored. “Mr Li, I can’t let you trouble yourself.” She said, haltingly after a moment of thinking of what she should say. “I mean,” Trisha paused. “It’s very kind of you and I do appreciate it. But, it’s really not necessary.”

 

She didn’t know why she was protesting, it was a very nice thing that Mr Li had proposed and Trisha knew it was because he and Mrs Li were good people that wanted to do something nice for her on her birthday. However, it was something that she felt like she couldn’t accept, where accepting would mean giving up some form of control.

 

“I,” Trisha began to say, but Mr Li quickly cut her off by standing up. His chair dragged against the tiles of the kitchen floor backwards with a dull sound.

 

“Trisha. If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to.” Mr Li said. He walked past her with his mug in hand to the kitchen counter where the kettle was. “But Penny and I already had planned on taking the grandkids to do all those things, so it’s no problem for us. You are not imposing in any way.”

 

He poured hot water into his mug and took a careful sip. “Now, is there anything you’d like to say?” Mr Li asked.

 

“Thank you,” Trisha responded, immediate and reflexive.

 

“No, not that. Though it is very polite of you to thank us. I just mean: do you want to shop, eat and be a bit entertained with us or do you want to stay here all day?”

 

Well, since Mr Li had put that way, she couldn’t really say no.

 

“Yes, please.” Trisha said. “That would be lovely.” She added a second later in a voice so soft that Mr Li had to strain to here.

 

He gave her a nod and a smile. “You just sit there and finish your food, I’m going to get myself dressed for the day.”

 

Once Mrs Li had woken up her grandchildren, dressed them, and fed them all breakfast, they all piled into the large station wagon that Mr Li had driven out from the garage and had parked at the front of the house. Trisha was sitting in the left most seat, next to little Paula Li who sat next to her older sister Bethany Li. Both girls fired rapid questions at her.

 

“Who are you?” began Paula, staring suspiciously at Trisha from underneath her straight cut black fringe.

 

“Trisha,” said Trisha. “I’m your grandparent’s neighbour?”

 

“If you’re our grandparent’s neighbour, why haven’t we seen you before?” accused Bethany, a challenging look in her eyes. Her pigtails jutted out rigidly from the sides of her head.

 

“Uh... Well, I don’t live with your grandparents, I live across the street?” Trisha replied, unsure how to deal with the intensity of their stares.

 

The two girls seemed to accept her answer and Bethany seemed to lose interest, shifting her gaze from Trisha to outside of the car window, which she watched with mild disinterest.

 

However, Paula was not finished.

 

“Why are your eyes green?” She fired at Trisha.

 

“Uh…” floundered Trisha, “because I was born with them?” She responded.

 

“Why were you born with them?”

 

“… because my parents supposedly have green eyes?”

 

As though sensing weakness, Paula turned her full curiosity to question. “Why do your parents supposedly have green eyes?”

 

Trisha was silent, she had no idea how to reply to that question. Because I don’t actually know if they had green eyes?

 

Luckily for her, she didn’t have to respond. Mrs Li put a stop to Bethany’s questions with a few sharp words in Chinese from the front of the car. After which, the little girl said nothing more and joined her sister in staring out the car window.

 

To say that Trisha was uncomfortable was an understatement. She wanted to disappear into her seat.

 

But fortunately, there was not long until they arrived. Their car carefully descending into the concrete underground car park of a towering department store.

 

With a steady hand, Mr Li backed neatly into a small parking space, turned off the car and got out. Trisha sat awkwardly as he opened the door on Bethany’s side for the girls to get out, speaking to them in soft tones.

 

On Trisha’s side, Mrs Li opened the door.

 

Secretively, while Mr Li distracted Bethany and Paula, Mrs Li brought Trisha into a hug as Trisha slid out of her car seat. As always, Mrs Li was soft and warm and Trisha willingly hugged her back.

 

“Ssh,” Mrs Li whispered into Trisha’s ear. “Don’t show the grandkids or they’ll want one too.” She stepped back from the hug and pressed a small paper packet into Trisha’s hand, closing Trisha’s fingers over it.

 

She hugged Trisha again and disappeared to the other side of the car, joining Mr Li with Bethany and Paula.

 

Trisha looked at her hand, it was a small red envelope. From its size and the thickness of the envelope, she could tell that it was filled with folded bank notes.

 

Looking up, Trisha opened her mouth to protest, but Mrs Li caught her eye and shook her head. Trisha closed her mouth. Opening her mouth again, Trisha found herself the recipient of a significant hard stare from Mrs Li.

 

She shoved the packet hastily into her black jeans. Trisha would have to return it later.

 

“Alright, let’s go.” Mr Li said, giving her a wide smile. He was in on it too, Trisha realised unhappily.

 

Together, the five of them walked through sliding glass doors into the yellow lights of the department store, ready to take on the task of shopping. The very daunting task of shopping.

 

After a small but significant length of time, Trisha had already made up her mind that she disliked shopping. It was tedious and long, filled with looking at objects and clothing that were all the same.

 

Plus, Trisha did not like the attention that buying clothes placed on her. She suffered through the process of trying them on, showing the clothes off, waiting for critique and then deciding whether they were worthy of purchase or not.

 

Eventually, it was time for lunch and then not soon enough it was time to go back to Mr and Mrs Li’s house. Trisha found herself the owner of a few new items of clothing that she had purchased with the contents of the red paper packet: a dress, sensible shoes, some trousers, shirts, and a jacket. It weighed her down in the several large shopping bags that she set on the kitchen table.

 

She stood there for a while, staring dumbly at the shopping bags. Mrs Li was herding Paula and Bethany into a bedroom for a forced afternoon nap. Mr Li had gone to his bedroom for a nap of his own. Trisha felt comfortably hollowed out and drained by the day. She had spent so much time interacting with and among people. She could probably do with a nap too.

 

Picking up her shopping bags, Trisha dragged herself to the last bedroom that lay behind the last door of the short hall from the kitchen.

 

It was a modestly furnished room with golden yellow walls. Holding only a dressing table, a wardrobe, a bed and some side tables. The room was bathed in afternoon light streaming through the window. The bed looked very welcoming, she could almost feel it calling to her. No doubt, everyone was taking a nap. Mrs Li probably wouldn’t mind if Trisha took one too.

 

Trisha left her bags on the floor and collapsed onto the bed. Tucking herself into a comfortable foetal position, she fell asleep and stayed that way for at least an hour, when she found herself woken up by Mrs Li’s voice calling her name.

 

“Trisha,” She said as Trisha self pushed herself to a position on the bed where she was sitting. “We’re going to all get ready to go out for dinner now. You’ve got about an hour to freshen yourself up. I'm going to wake up the girls and get them dressed.” Mrs Li walked to the door, but then paused.

 

“You should wear the dress you bought today.” She suggested before walking out and softly closing the door behind her.

 

Trisha reached into one of the bags at the foot of the bed and pulled out a dark green dress. It was sleeveless and lacy, with the patterns of flowers detailed all lover it. The weight of it in her hand was pleasantly heavy, and when she’d pulled it on over her head, it also swished heavily as she twirled experimentally in a circle.

 

Carefully, she smoothed her sleep-messed hair down and headed outside where she waited for everyone else to be done.

 

Once all the people in the house were ready, they piled back into the car to drive to a fancy restaurant for dinner.

 

The whole thing was very elaborate. Certainly very different to the basic meals that Mrs Barnes cooked. The restaurant was lit dimly but not too dark in a way that warm and reminiscent of candlelight.

 

In front of Trisha there were a confusing assortment of plates, glasses and cutlery, all of which were laid out in two neat rows on either side of the plate. Each of which was to be used and collected with their plates after each course was finished, surmised Trisha.

 

All around them were people dressed as nicely as they were: women dressed in beautiful fabrics, men dressed as smartly.

 

To the right of their table was an elegant Asian lady who was dressed very glamorously in a black dress that was comprised of some sort of stiff starchy material that was gathered on one side in a flower like pattern. Her hair was very pretty also, falling down her pale back in lovely black rings. She looked glamorous, not unlike a movie actress.

 

The man was dressed very beautifully also, clad in a well-cut dinner jacket that sat perfectly on him, cleaving to his form and enhancing it in a manner that spoke of power.

 

She couldn’t see the man’s face, but she knew he was most likely as good looking as his female dining partner was.

 

“Trisha, how do you like your meal so far?” Mrs Li asked her, drawing her attention away from the couple.

 

Trisha turned up the corners of her mouth in a smile It got easier every time she tried. “It’s very nice.” She replied. “Thank you and Mr Li very much for bringing me here. It’s the best birthday I’ve ever had.” It was the first time that Trisha had ever been to such a fancy place, and though intimidating and slightly awe inspiring, she was truly enjoying the experience.

 

Trisha turned her head again to try and catch a glimpse the man on the table to the right again; she had a feeling about him. Even though she hadn’t seen his face yet, Trisha felt that she knew him, that the person was familiar to her somehow.

 

“You are very welcome Trisha.” Mrs. Li smiled, knowingly raising her eyebrow and tipping her head the direction of the very well dressed couple to their right that Trisha had been eyeing all evening. “He looks nice, but a bit too old, though? Don’t you think? Certainly not as old as Mr Li, but…”

 

“Oy oy!” Mr Li grumbled good naturedly, he nudged his wife with his elbow. “I’m not old. Bethany, Paula, am I old?” He asked his grand children.

 

“Yes!” The two girls chimed, giggling into their food with an air of conspiracy.

 

Mr Li scrunched up his face in mock anger.

 

“Yes yes dear, you’re not old at all”, Mrs Li fluttered, laughing when he swatted her arm.

 

They were adorable. All of them.

 

 “You’re not that old Mr Li, you’ve got at least half your life left.”  Trisha told him honestly. Cracking a smile when everyone at the table collapsed into chuckles.

 

The rest of the dinner passed quickly in an comfortable haze, uneventful except for the arrival of dessert where everyone was very amazed by the level of artistry present in the cakes. Trisha’s ‘cake’ was an impressive installation consisting of thin layers of what look like coloured glass delicately balanced on top of chocolate stalks on plate. It was a marvel that the whole thing didn’t collapse as the waited set it down in front of her.

 

The taste was delicious too, a kaleidoscope of textures and flavours dancing along her tongue as she delicately nibbled at the contents of her plate.

 

When dessert was over, Mr Li paid and they left the restaurant heading towards a theatre chattering amongst themselves – Mr Li had purchased last minute tickets. Mr Li held Bethany’s hand and Mrs Li, Paula’s with Trisha bringing up the rear. Trisha felt quite content and did not know how she would feel once she had to go back to the Barnes house once the weekend had passed.

 

It had become windy. Her hair was picked up by the wind and floating about her face in an apt representation of the thoughts inside her mind.

 

Trisha was so was so deep in a fugue of her thoughts that she ignored the rest of the world, walking at a perilous snail’s pace behind the family, slowly losing them from her sight.

Thump! Trisha collided with something, or someone, for she ran face first into what felt very much like a human. A tall, solid human.

 

“Sorry!” she mumbled automatically, turning around to face the person she bumped into, so she could apologise face to face – the polite thing to do.

 

He was much taller than her. She had to tilt her head back to see his face.

 

As her eyes panned up, she knew just by seeing his clothes that this was the man that she’d been staring at all night. The man who’s suit looked beautiful and expensive. Strangely, her breath caught in her throat upon seeing the face that had eluded her all night.

 

Strong angular features; a tall regal nose, a chiselled jaw, thin lips, unfathomable ageless eyes – where they blue or where they green – and the faintest of lines around his mouth, eyes, and forehead. He was – as she had suspected – beautiful in an abstract regal sense. He looked as though he had stepped out from another time.  Trisha knew this man, she had seen him before in one of her dreams, but it was not just that. She felt the vague sense that she knew this man.

 

“Alistair?” Trisha heard the words come out of her own mouth. The syllables escaping, not of her own volition.

 

What?

 

Was that his name? If so, how did she know it? It had rolled off her tongue easily enough. But how did she know it?

 

Trisha looked up at his face, and saw that the man – Alistair, her mind supplied – was looking at her in puzzlement, and of course he was. Why would a fifteen-year-old girl that had just walked into him know his – an adult man’s – name?

 

But somehow she did.

 

“Miss?” the man said, his tone inquiring. His female companion had her hand on his arm.

 

“I know you!” Trisha blurted out to the two of them, then flushed hot, because of course she didn’t. She was acting quite not like herself, she never randomly burst out with comments without thinking about it. And to top it off, this was a stranger whom she’d never met in her life. But then, how did she know him?

 

“Are you alright, miss?” he asked her. Alistair – if that was his name.

 

“Trisha” she said, rather forcefully. “Alistair, my name is Patricia.” Was she ill? Something had definitely come over her.

 

The man looked at her then, a spark flickering in his eyes. Recognition? There was something there, and Trisha felt on the cusp of some great monumental thing that was about to happen, that her life was about to shift enormously when Mrs Li’s voice calling her name interrupted them, startling her out of the moment that had elapsed.

 

She’d forgotten about them.

 

“Trisha, if you’re alright we should get going to the theatre. Don’t want to be late.” Mr Li said, walking back towards her rather quickly and looking worried. His voice sounded quite worried.

 

“Yes, of course” the stranger-whom-she-knew-was-called-Alistair said. “We’re on our way also.”

 

She felt like a bit of an idiot. “Sorry for bumping into you sir.” Trisha said, and it was like she hadn’t had a random outburst at a stranger at all.

 

The man – Alistair – politely accepted her apologies and that was it. She felt oddly bereft. Trisha and the Li family parted ways with the stranger and his companion, and the two parties separately went to watch the show, which Trisha enjoyed. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the man and the overwhelming feeling that something was about to happen.

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