OTW Book 1 – Chapter 1

OTW Book 1 – Chapter 1

What the hell?!

Cecelia was fortunate she didn’t say the words out loud. Her dad absolutely would’ve bitten her head off for it, given the fact that her family had a pretty strict no-swears rule for as long as she could remember. She pressed her face just a little more against the glass of the car window, squinting her eyes as she tried to further discern what exactly it was she’d just seen up on that hill. Hikers, maybe? Except what kind of hiker had antlers?

She didn’t have long to stew on the subject, mainly because her brother, Leroy, tapped her gently on the shoulder to get her attention. She turned, eyes flicking over his form quickly. He had that classic, somewhat pensive look on his face, though his eyes were concerned. “Cici, are you alright? You haven’t said a thing for the past fifteen minutes…”

The silence set in, and she shook her head a couple times to clear it. She hated silence. It was stifling and boring… so why had she stopped talking? She opened her mouth. “I’m… I’m okay. Just a little quiet today, I guess.”

Leroy’s freckled face darkened more for just a millisecond before he brightened up again, offering a small smile and taking his hand in hers. For some reason, his hands were always pleasantly warm, especially on crisp autumn days like these ones. Cecelia’s small, slender hand gently squeezed his three times, a message of a sort. One squeeze for each word in “I love you”.

Leroy’s thumb ran itself comfortingly over the back of her hand, and even though he’d turned his head to look back out his own window, Cecelia could still see the smile that graced his features. Her head rested upon his shoulder, clad in an old pink-and-white checkered jacket that he’d been wearing ever since he was 12. The cotton fabric on the outside was sandpapery. Not that she minded, though. 

“We’re almost there, kiddos!”

Big, blunt hands turned the car’s steering wheel as Brad conducted the car around yet another twist in the road. He tapped a little rhythm on the dashboard like he always did when he got excited on a car ride. Cecelia had been hearing that sound since she was just a little girl, but it never lost its meaning.

Leroy squinted forward a little, peering around his father’s shoulder as best he could. Lunging forward, Cecelia clambered out of the car heartbeats after it slowed to a stop, feet pounding the driveway as she dashed straight towards the door. Nested between pines of all kinds, their new two-story domain of red wood and green trim called her home. If she hadn’t known much better, she would’ve rammed into the door and made a fool of herself. Feet tapped a rhythm on the wooden porch, joined by heavier footsteps and the clicking of a key in a lock. Brad swung the door wide open for his kids, observing his daughter race inside while his son crept along the halls. 

Like some explorer of a long-ago age, Cecelia spent her time carefully inspecting every corner of the house. The figures on the hill slipped from her train of thought as she counted rooms. Three bed, three bath, a garage, dining room, kitchen, living room, and a little study. Leroy, like a cautious dog, crept upstairs beside her, looking both ways down the hall like it was some kind of street.

“Should we arm wrestle to determine who gets the room looking over the backyard?”

Leroy stalled for a second, making a sound like an old car engine. “… No? I don’t think that’s necessary… You can have it, if you want. I’m honestly partial to the one looking at the next house over.”

“Creepy stalker!” Cecelia chortled, teasingly shoving her brother, who retaliated by simply dodging.

“It’s not that! They just have interesting lawn decorations.”

This was by no means a lie. The nextdoor neighbors had one of the strangest lawns Cecelia’d ever laid eyes upon. Among other things, they appeared to have an army of lawn gnomes, a fake skeleton in a barrel, a whole flock’s worth of plastic flamingos, and a life-sized fake horse. What was more, they were arranged to look like they were interacting with each other in what was either a delightful or creepy display. Gripping a window sill and squinting down, Cecelia glanced momentarily at her sibling.

“Who the honk decorates a lawn like that?!”

Reply failed to come for a long set of heartbeats before a shuffling shrug could be heard. “Who knows. Maybe they’re actually artistic visionaries steps ahead of everyone else.”

“True, true.”

She pressed her nose against the glass, breath fogging the pane for a brief moment. “Do you think Dad would let us do that?”

“I mean, if we paid for the decorations ourselves, he might not protest.”

“Great. How much money do you have?”

Making a sound like a frightened goose, Leroy held his hands up in a defensive position. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who said we’d actually put that plan in motion?”

“Aww, c’mon-”

Out of the room, down the stairs, and out onto the porch again. Cut off by the front door shutting behind her, it occurred to Cecelia that she’d just been kicked out of the house so her dad, brother, and the moving men could do their job. So she wouldn’t get underfoot. Her family had always treated her like that ever since she was little. All of them were the brain to her heart, constantly directing and planning the important bits while she stayed in the bleachers. She was almost always the harbinger of unwanted entropy.

A feeling of betrayal lodged itself inside her ribs. She was 14, for Christ’s sake! She could control herself! She was old enough to help! She. Wasn’t. Little. Anymore!

Her balled-up fist nearly struck the side of the house before she halted herself, Cecelia skidding to a stop in her own mind like the Roadrunner himself. This was pointless, counterproductive, and the exact opposite of what she wanted to prove. Cecelia was 14. She had more composure than this.

Take a walk. Find a gas station. Have a snack.

Thank the heavens this town had cell service. When it was time to come home, Leroy or her dad would call her and Cecelia would make the walk back to the house. Meanwhile, she’d be able to open up a map on her phone and look for the nearest gas station. Oakwood had to have at least one, right?

The question answered itself. Half a mile from her home was a little Shell station, presumably with snacks she could stock up on and hide in her room like a hairless, sugar-crazed chipmunk. 

“Don’t spoil dinner or Dad’ll be peeved,” an imitation of Leroy wafted through her head, which she quickly waved away. Not now, Beanstalk. Shush.

Nobody was going to tell her what to do.

“Hell” in big, bold letters above the petite grocery outpost. The “S” in “Shell” was busted, as though somebody had taken a mallet and then a battleax to it. The air conditioning inside was at a level only a polar bear should’ve been able to tolerate, and the man behind the counter looked like an oversized wolverine (minus the usual aggression). Cecelia immediately wished she’d brought her jacket. 

The counter guy – Eric, according to his name tag – glanced up at her, politely folding his hands on the counter and offering her a wave and a small smile. He had skin the color of maple wood and messy black hair that framed his head in a mane. He was much, much larger than Cecelia could ever dream to be, but the look in his eyes was completely non threatening. She didn’t even need to get to know him to know that he was basically a human golden retriever.

A bag of chips and two of the largest candy bars the store carried plunked down on the counter. Cecelia fished her wallet out of her pocket and dug through it until she found a 20 dollar bill. She rested her elbow on the counter and offered the green slip of paper up to Eric. “Does this cover it?”

Eric chuckled warmly, bobbing his head up and down. “Don’t worry, that’s more than enough. Do you need anything else?”

“No,” Cecelia replied, sliding the 20 over the counter, “But thanks for asking.”

“No prob, just doing my job.”

Eric rummaged through the cash register, handing her about 10 dollars in return. It was a fresh dollar, too. The kind of perfectly crisp, pristine, recently printed ones. Big hands slid the goods over the counter to her, which Cecelia gratefully accepted.

“Stay safe out there, okay kid? Oakwood can be a little strange at first, but you’ll get used to it.”

Cecelia’s brain scratched like a record when his words hit her. She whipped her head from side to side in an unintentionally exaggerated double take before leaning over the counter with narrowed chocolate eyes. “You… know I’m new here?”

Eric simply smiled, voice and disposition still warm. “Stay in Oakwood long enough and you’ll learn to recognize newcomers on sight. Just don’t sweat it, okay?”

That night, every footstep Cecelia took home felt like it was laced with a new feeling. Wonder, confusion, curiosity, and something else without a name.

… Strange.

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