Authors: J.L. Weil
“Welcome to Raven Manor.” She held out her arms, the jingle of bracelets echoing with her movements. “Now come give your grandmother a hug.”
There was an awkward silence where no one did anything. Then finally, I stepped forward and found myself engulfed in arms that were surprisingly strong for her age. She smelled of expensive floral perfume. There was something quirky about her underneath all the dollar signs.
Self-consciously, I ran a hand over my wind-blasted hair. “It’s nice to, um, see you, Grandma,” I said, my ingrained manners coming to the surface. I guess I hadn’t buried them deep enough.
She smiled, her Irish eyes sparkling. “Please, call me Rose. I’ve never been much for titles.”
I snorted, maybe a little too loud. It was just that I found that hard to believe. She lived in a home that could house half my neighborhood comfortably. It was probably fully staffed with a butler and chauffeur. Please. I’ve seen
The Real Wives of Beverly Hills
TJ nudged me in the shoulder. He probably didn’t want us to get evicted before we had a chance to be shown our rooms. Rose gave him a hug, and afterward he cleared his throat. “Nice digs you got here.”
? I wanted to thump myself on the head.
Luckily, Rose didn’t bat an eye. “Why thank you, TJ, I think. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the chance to get to know the two of you. It has been a long time coming.”
You could say that again.
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask why it had been so long, but TJ seared me with a glare, so I checked myself.
“Now, I am sure you have had an exhausting trip and would like to get your things settled in.” She walked to a panel on the wall and hit a button. “Thomas, please help Piper and TJ with their bags.” Turning back to us, she lifted her hand, the bling on her fingers blinding me.
Holy ten carats.
My grandfather had died when my mom was a teenager, and Rose had never remarried. If that whopping ring on her finger was any indicator, she probably never would. It was kind of sentimental, if you were into that kind of thing.
“It’s cool,” TJ said, going to the door. “We don’t have a lot. I can grab our stuff.”
I couldn’t keep the shocked expression from my face.
TJ. Offer to help? What has the world come to?
“Nonsense. Let’s get you to your rooms.” Her thin fingers framed my face. “You, my dear, look just like your mother.”
My throat constricted, and I fumbled with my necklace.
There was nothing slow about this woman’s movements. She was the liveliest old woman I’d ever seen. “I had each of your bedrooms specifically designed for you. I want you to be comfortable here. This is your home.”
I wasn’t sure I could ever consider this mausoleum
. And how the hell had she had time to organize rooms? The decision for us to come here had only been made a week ago. What, did she have magical faeries working for her?
I whipped my head around at the sound of my name.
Her eyes met mine, and I couldn’t help thinking they were so familiar to me, minus the crinkles at the corners. “I have put you in the east wing, dear. I think you will find it to your liking.”
What the heck was I going to do with a whole wing to myself?
Already the prospect was lonely. On the upside, TJ and I would have an entire wing between us. That was great because TJ snored like a freight train.
“Follow me. I will show you to your rooms,” she said with a gagging cheerfulness. The mass of bangle bracelets at her wrists chimed like a gypsy as she began to lead the way.
I glanced over my shoulder one last time to look out the open front doors. It suddenly felt like I would never see my old life again. If I kept going, deeper into this house, my world would never be the same—everything would change.
I sighed and followed behind TJ.
Two right turns, one left, and I knew I was going to need a map or a GPS. Getting lost in this place was imminent. The corridors just kept going and going. There should have been street signs assigned to each hall.
It was impossible to imagine my mother living here in this maze, everything so cold, immaculate, and…breakable. Mom had been vibrant, colorful, and a klutz. Our home had been crammed with things she had made or picked up at a flea market. As I tried to picture her living here, I saw her drowning in so much space. She adored our cramped apartment in the city. No wonder she had said adios to Raven Hallow and never looked back.
Marble and wrought iron decorated the winding staircase. I ran a finger along the banister as I climbed. No dust. None whatsoever.
It was unnatural.
Awestruck, I hiked my duffle bag higher on my shoulder as we came to the top of the stairs. I was a little out of breath. How Grams was able to make that hike without breaking a sweat was sort of impressive and made me think I needed to hit the gym. I couldn’t let Granny have better stamina than me.
That was just pathetic.
Rose and TJ were prattling as we walked, but I stayed silent, observing. There wasn’t a shy bone in my brother’s sinewy body. He was inquisitive by nature and had more questions than an investigator. He got that from Dad. I was used to tuning him out.
My interest peaked when Rose came to a doublewide door with silver scroll handles. A hand on each knob, she threw open the doors and said, “This is your suite, TJ.”
She was joking, right?
One glimpse of TJ’s room and I knew I wouldn’t see him all summer. Who could blame him? It had everything a boy his age could ever dream of. Monstrous TV. Xbox console complete with a video game library. A fish tank bubbling in the corner with neon lights and one of those little scuba guys.
“I can’t believe I am going to be living here,” TJ beamed. It had been a long time since I saw such a ridiculous grin on my brother’s face. He might be a pest most of the time, but I was glad to see one of us was going to enjoy the summer. At least while it lasted, because I was positive when we went back to Chicago, we wouldn’t be able to afford the clock on the wall.
And we were going back.
Crossing my arms, I leaned on the doorframe, watching TJ touch everything.
“Are you looking forward to your freedom this summer?” Rose asked, standing beside me.
I lifted my brows, uncertain what she meant, because
was most definitely not what I was feeling. Stuck was a more appropriate description.
For someone in her sixties, she looked amazing. The hue of her gypsy-style dress made her eyes intense, yet on her the dress was elegant not shabby. “I know you have had a huge amount of responsibility on your shoulders. It’s time you let someone look after you for a change.”
Hmm. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I liked my independence—a lot—and I wasn’t used to people waiting on me. “Is there a curfew in this…joint?”
Not certain, but I thought I caught a hint of a smile on her rosy lips. “No. I just ask that you call and leave a message with the staff. Do you have a cell phone?”
Duh. Did she think we came from Bedrock? “Yeah, we both have phones,” I replied flatly.
I got the feeling she was amused by me, which had not been my intention. My grand scheme since Dad dropped the bomb, had been to be rude, intolerable, and a pain in her ass so she would send us back home. But now…seeing how genuinely happy she was to have us in her gargantuan home, my need for sabotage started to dissipate.
“Good. Your room is this way.” She gave a nod to the left.
Onward, oh mighty one.
We continued on down a wide hallway, my boots clomping on the marble floors. Her long silvery blonde hair trailed down her back, swaying with her graceful movements. She was a woman of importance, and I found that intimidating. As we progressed through the house, I admired the art that hung on the walls. Dad could have spent weeks exploring this place, gazing at each piece for hours. He often lost himself not only in his own work, but in the masterpieces of others as well.
I had been so caught up in my surroundings that I didn’t notice she had stopped. Well, not until I bumped into her. Thank God I didn’t knock her flat on her ass.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “There’s just so much to take in.”
She brushed a strand of my blonde hair behind my ear. “Give it time, and before long, it won’t seem so overwhelming. Your mom and her sister used—” She stopped, taking a long breath. There was a flicker of emotion in her piercing eyes before she quickly masked it.
I wanted to ask her to finish what she was going to say. Mom had rarely talked about her family, and the mention of a sister caught me off guard. Suddenly, I needed to grab onto any memory of my mother, even if it was someone else’s. I longed to feel a connection again with my mom, even if it was with the woman who raised her—a stranger.
Rose tipped her chin and ran a hand down the side of her hip, smoothing invisible wrinkles and composing herself. “This is the west wing,” she stated, a soft smile highlighting the curve of her cheekbones.
For the second time today, my jaw hit the ground, along with my bag. Any thoughts of pressing her about my mom and her mysterious sister flew out the window.
Peering into the doorway, I was extremely relieved to see there wasn’t a drop of pink in sight. But that didn’t mean it was precisely
. Three of the walls were a milky white with a lavender stripe cutting across in the middle. The wall housing a queen size bed was the same color as the painted border. A crystal chandelier hung over the center, sparkling against the lights. White sheets covered the mattress, and a purple knitted blanket was folded at an angle near the end of the bed. Under a bay window was a deep velvet bench seat with a stunning view of the ocean. On the other side was a white desk housing a laptop. There was an adjoining bathroom just as posh as the bedroom with a stand-up shower as big as my whole bathroom at home, and a soaking tub with more jets than Carter had pills. (I wasn’t positive what that phrase meant, but it sounded cool.)
Sure, my room was to die for, but I felt like a bloody princess, and there was nothing royal or angelic about me. I could be the princess of darkness, if there was such a thing. I liked loud rock music, black nail polish, body piercings, and guy-liner, not tiaras and lace.
Yet, each of my silver-ringed fingers itched to put my stamp all over the room, and that was unexpected. The only thing I thought I would feel for the bedroom I was assigned was contempt. I moseyed back into the main room and spun in a circle, trying to take it all in.
“Will this be acceptable?”
I jumped, forgetting I wasn’t alone. Rose was standing in the doorway, watching the range of emotions cross my face. “It will do,” I replied.
Her hand reached down, gripping the handle. The cluster of bangle bracelets chimed at her wrists, echoing through the room. “I’m glad. Tonight, I’ll let you get comfortable and unpack. Tomorrow, I’ll give you the tour and show you around town.”
I wasn’t sure she meant that as an order, but it rubbed me the wrong way. I had a problem with being told what to do. In my eyes, I was already an adult. Not by choice. The last year had thrown me into adulthood.
“Great,” I mumbled dryly. I was tired and cranky, the long trip catching up with me, so I rationalized. Life-altering moves did that to me.
She didn’t show any reaction to my less-than-pleasant tone. “If you need anything, this panel is hooked up to every room in the house, including TJ’s.”
Now he could annoy me at the push of a button.
“Thanks,” I said, the weirdness coming back. I stood in the middle of the room, wide-eyed and tongue-tied, not knowing what to say next.
She faced me, her eyes studying me. “I’ve waited seventeen years for this moment, Piper. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you here with me in Raven Manor.”
And with that completely unexpected speech, she shut the door behind her, leaving me by myself with my wandering thoughts. I flopped on the bed, the blankets immediately wrinkling under my weight. I started to smooth out the creases before I stopped myself. If I wanted a messy bed, than by God, I was going to have a freaking messy bed. I didn’t have to change who I was. Rose wanted to get to know
, then have at ye. She was going to get every one of my fabulously bad habits, and there were plenty.
Alone, I lay there staring at the porcelain ceiling, wondering just what my dad had gotten us into. There were so many thoughts coursing through my mind I thought my head might pop. I lost track of time, until there was a soft rap on the door.
Startled, I swung into a sitting position, shaking out my hair. “Come in,” I called.
Behind the door was a short man with olive skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. He was carrying the rest of my measly belongings. Ugh. I did not look forward to the task set out in front of me. Unpacking. No siree, Bob.
I let out a gorilla-sized groan. Who in their right mind actually enjoyed unpacking? So my organization and tidying skills might suck a teensy bit. Oookay, fine. They sucked a lot.
Hauling my duffle bag on top of the bed, I unzipped it, digging out my clothes and tossing them mindlessly onto the bed. Through the mess, a round black circle caught my eye. I grabbed the old Minnie Mouse T-shirt I had gotten for my birthday two years ago. Burying my face against the soft cotton material, I inhaled deeply. It smelled of home. Cinnamon apples. Warmth during cold winters. Laughter. A deep longing filled my chest, and I wanted to hold onto those precious memories forever. I wanted to live in the past, because the present was unbearable without Mom.
Quickly burying the pain before it could surface, I went to one of the drawers and stuffed the shirt at the very back. “Three months,” I whispered.
For the next hour I hung, folded, and re-folded the rest of my stuff. There was only one small box left, so I tackled it with about as much gusto as I had the rest, grumbling and bitching the whole time. What could I say? I was being a poor sport about this whole thing.
At the bottom of the box were my colored pencils. There was a time when I dabbled in drawing, anime mostly. I had no idea why I’d brought them with me. It had been months since I’d drawn anything, but maybe this place would be as dull and boring as I imagined. Nothing like boredom to strike inspiration.
There was another knock on the door just as I finished putting the last piece in its place—a picture of Mom. I was miffed by the interruption and swung the door open with more force than necessary. This place felt like Grand-flipping-Station.
“What now—?” I stopped my rant when I saw a young woman slightly older than me holding a tray of food. “Oh shit, I’m sorry…” I paused, realizing I didn’t know her name and I’d sworn. My eyes scanned the top of her polo shirt, looking for a nametag.
“Estelle,” she supplied, smiling. Her hazel eyes twinkled. “Ms. Rose thought you might be hungry.”
My stomach rumbled, and I softened the scowl on my face, realizing my lips were still turned down. “Thank God, I’m famished.” Then because I’d never had anyone bring me food before, I shifted on my feet. “Um.”
Luckily, this wasn’t Estelle’s first rodeo. She waltzed into the room, hips swaying, and set the food on the desk. The savory smells wafted in the air, hitting my belly, and I thought about my brother. “Has TJ—?”
“He has already eaten,” she said before I could finish.
TJ was a bottomless pit. It didn’t matter what you put in front of him; he would eat it. Even though he was my irritating little brother, I still felt a sense of responsibility for him.
I exhaled, my shoulders relaxing. I hadn’t even realized how tense I’d been. “And there was enough for me?” I joked.
She laughed, but quickly stopped as if she had done something wrong.
Was laughter forbidden?
There was something about this girl that made me feel at ease. These walls didn’t seem so lonely knowing there was someone my age. I wanted very much to ask Estelle to stay, to keep me company. Eating by myself sounded miserable, but I was afraid I would be overstepping the house rules.
I didn’t want to shake the foundation just yet.
Figured I would give it a week before I set the whole house in an uproar.
Estelle tiptoed out of my room while I had an internal debate, taking the decision out of my hands. I stared at the closed door, my stomach again rumbling, reminding it had been hours since I’d last eaten. I managed to finish half of what I had been given.
With a full belly, I meandered into the bathroom to shower, hoping it would help me sleep. The multi-head spray hit me from all angles, and my entire body went limp from the heat. I let the pressure massage my tired muscles, thinking that if I could live in this shower for the summer, I’d be blissfully happy.
Geez, I was lame.
By the time I was finished, the bathroom was foggy with steam. I took my towel and smeared the mist from the mirror. There I was, my reflection staring back at me. Green eyes, usually round and large, were heavily lidded. The tiny beauty mark above my lip winked back at me. Pretty much like every other teenage girl, I had insecurities. I was too thin and lacked curves, and my hair never did what I wanted it to. I wished for killer legs, not pencil sticks. And my mouth and my brain never communicated.