Mina slammed open the back door, nearing running right into Thomas. Mina jumped back at seeing him and closed the door behind her, leaning heavily against it. Midnight still had a frightened look on her face. Thomas put his hands on her shoulders. "Did you see something again?" Thomas asked. Mina could feel a slight trembling in his hands. Mina wondered if she should say anything in front of Liam. Thomas had asked her first. She reasoned he may have be alright with telling Liam about what happened the previous night or that he didn't care if Liam knew. "I went to check on Midnight. I know I closed the door behind me. Midnight started reacting to something behind me. When I turned around, the door was cracked and then swung open. I didn't see anything standing there...but I just...I was afraid I'd be trapped somewhere strange like before..." Mina's heart pounded in her ears and her face flushed a deep red. She couldn't believe how frantic and cracked her voice sounded, nor that she had allowed two boys she didn't really know to see her like that. Liam looked through the back window into the kitchen. "I don't see anything. So, you really weren't messing around about what you told me earlier..." Thomas opened the door and led the three of them inside. He grabbed a big knife from the kitchen. "Close the door. Lock it." Liam locked the door. "And how are we going to get out if we're locked in too?" "I'm not going to let anything happen." Thomas held the knife firmly in his hand. Mina could see his shoulders shaking. Above them, heavy footsteps ran across the second floor. The noise stopped near the stairwell. Midnight hissed. The noise continued down the steps. They couldn't see anything there. "Too many boys." A little girl's voice said. Liam turned around, touching the back of his neck. "Something tapped me." "Come play with me." The girl's voice demanded. A force tugged strongly at Mina's arm. Midnight swatted at the air. "Mean cat!" Mina felt something trying to pull her arms open. She fought against it, holding Midnight close. Mina yelled. "Stop it! You're the one who's being awful!" The force stopped. Light footsteps ran back upstairs. Mina could very clearly hear the steps going up what sounded like another set of steps. Liam looked over at Thomas. "Aren't there only two floors?" "Yes." Thomas stared at the steps, the knife shaking in his hand. Liam pushed Thomas's hand down. Mina couldn't read his face. Liam looked over at the steps again. "I think it's gone now, whatever it was. Sounded like a little girl." "It's the same as the voice we heard last night. Why does she keep bothering me?" Mina didn't want to go through the previous night again. "Hmm...she sounded like she wants a playmate." Liam petted Midnight, who had calmed down again. Thomas put the knife away. The phone rang. All three of them jumped. Nervously, Thomas answered the phone in the kitchen. "Hello? Oh, hey, Emma. Yeah, Mina's home already. You're coming home early? Something happen? Oh, I see. Okay. Hold on." Thomas held the phone down. "It's your mom. They're coming home early and they're going to order pizza. What do you want?" Mina stared at him blankly for a moment. She gave an awkward answer attempting at normalcy. "Um...could I have some wings instead? I'm not really in the mood for pizza. And maybe breadsticks." Thomas looked over at Liam. Liam scratched the back of his head. "Um...a Hawaiian, I guess?" "Mina wants wings and breadsticks. I'll have a Hawaiian. Okay. Yeah, we're fine. Um, not much. I fixed the fence and the windows. Okay. Bye." Thomas hung up the phone. "They're coming home early. Said they wanted to get some more unpacking done. They're going to pick up the food on the way." Mina sat down at the edge of the sofa. She let Midnight free, who lounged on armrest. Mina sighed. "That's good. I was worried they'd stay until tomorrow." Liam took a spot on the opposite side of the sofa, and Thomas sat in between them. Heavy tension hung in the air around them. Mina crossed her legs and put her hands in her lap, shifting closer to the armrest. Thomas's legs and arms were also kept close together. Only Liam had a more relaxed stance, his right leg leaning against Thomas's left leg. His stance became even more relaxed after Thomas turned on the TV. Liam rested his arm on the top of the sofa. Thomas leaned forward as he flicked through the channels. Mina noticed the distancing. "There's nothing on, as usual." Thomas muttered. "Check the guide." Liam suggested. Thomas turned on the guide and flipped through the pages. He glanced over at Mina. "See anything you wanna watch?" She shrugged. "Honestly, I just want to hear something with people in it. Doing something ordinary." Liam gave a similar answer. "Yeah, I don't really care what we watch. Just something to take my mind off of...whatever that was." Thomas turned on an asinine reality TV show. The stupidity of the premise and the bad acted attempts got their attention off of the incident. The show was painful to watch normally for Mina, but in that moment, she could only laugh at the badness of it. The three of them joked about the show and the one after it that had an equally moronic hook. About an hour and half later, Midnight's ears perked up. A car pulled into the driveway. Liam put his hands between his legs. Thomas got up to get the door. Mina noted a shift in the mood between Thomas and Liam, but didn't think any deeper on it. Emma and David came in carrying boxes and 2 liter bottles. Thomas shut the door behind them. "We're home." Emma said in a cheery voice. David noticed Liam sitting on the sofa. "Oh, Liam, staying for dinner?" "If you'll have me." Liam replied. "You know you're always welcome in our home." David said, dropping the boxes of food in the kitchen. Emma looked him over. "I don't think we've met before." David returned and introduced him. "This is Liam. He's been friends with Thomas since preschool." Liam got up from the sofa and shook her hand. "You must be Emma. It's a pleasure to meet you." "So polite, and well dressed. You know, Mina's never had a boyfriend before." Emma whispered with a grin. Thomas winced. Mina cringed. "Mom!" Liam shook his head. "I'm sorry, Emma, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen. As a courtesy to Thomas, I would never date a member of his family. That would just end up being awkward for everyone. And besides, I'm not single." "Oh, that's right. You still seeing the same person? Someone from school, right?" David asked. "Yeah, we've been going to the same schools for ages, but we only started dating about a year ago." Liam took the two liter bottles from Emma and put them on the table. "A year? That's an eternity in high school time." David laughed. He sat down at the table. "But I'm sure you'll be moving on to something new once you go off to college." "Actually, I'm still not really sure about going to college yet. I think I might want to work for a few years first and attend later when I've sorted out what I really want to do in life." Liam did as well. Thomas, Emma, and Mina made their way over the table shortly after. David wagged a finger at him. "Smart boy. You'll waste less money that way." "Thomas, what about you? Have you decided on a college?" Emma opened up a box of pizza. She saw the toppings and handed the box over to Thomas. Thomas opened his mouth to say something, but David beat him to the answer. "Thomas doesn't really have much aspirations for the future. I'm sure he'll come around eventually. I could always use another hand at the hospital." "Dad, you know I really don't like that kind of environment." Thomas grimaced. "You'll love the pay once you have bills." David gave another big laugh while he poured himself a class of Coke. "Mina's going to be my little career woman. Aren't you, baby?" Emma put her hands on Mina's shoulders and pulled her in close. "But you still have to give me grandkids, at least two. I want one of each." "Mom...I don't want kids." Mina sank down in her seat. "You will when you're older." Her mother said, as she always said whenever Mina gave that as a response. Mina noticed something. Liam and Thomas had beat her to the table, but Thomas had sat in between their parents and Liam was to her right. She wondered again why they were suddenly keeping distance. Mina reminded herself it was none of her business and picked at the chicken wings in front of her. "Dad, can Liam spend the night?" Thomas asked after he finished his plate. "Hmm, it's a Friday. I don't see why not." David rubbed his chin. "Don't bother Mina too much, okay?" "I'm always a gentleman." Liam did a showy bow forward in his seat. "Besides, with four sisters, I learned a long time ago exactly how to not piss off girls." "Ha! A wise skill to learn." David banged his hand on the table. "Mina, how was your day?" Emma asked. "It was fine. I have a lot...well, not a lot, but some homework to do over the weekend." Mina corrected her statement. She really did have a lot of homework to do, far more than usual. She didn't want her mother to think she had too much to handle. Emma thought nothing of Mina's words and turned to Thomas. "What about you, Thomas? How'd the repairs go?" "It was a little time consuming, but I've fixed everything I could find. I still need to inspect a few more things around the house." Thomas sipped at his drink after he finished talking. "What a little handyman you are. You're going to make a lucky lady a happy wife." Emma gave him a dorky thumbs up and a wink. "If he'd actually go after some girls. He's still never had a girlfriend." David shook his head and nudged Thomas. Thomas nearly spit out his drink. "Dad!" "You and Mina are both so hopeless. I don't understand it. Maybe you should introduce Thomas to your friend Alice?" Emma suggested. "What?! That'd be weird!" Mina knew her mother would say that as soon as she heard David's revelation. Her mother was always preoccupied with dating--why she wasn't dating someone, who her friends were dating, how to find cute boys to date. It never ended. She hated it. Dinner was over quickly. The three of them headed up to the second floor once the table had been cleared. Mina was nervous about being alone in her room at night. Before she went to her room, Thomas said to her, "If anything weird happens, come straight here, alright?" "I will." Mina promised. She slowly opened her bedroom door. It looked exactly like she had left it. There was no sign of anything off. After she closed the door, she waited for a while in front of it to listen to Thomas and Liam. They were talking about something from school. Mina took the relaxed tone of their voices to mean everything was alright on the other side of the wall. Mina turned on her laptop. She checked her e-mail before starting on her homework. Alice had sent her a few. She read through them, temporarily letting go of her anxiousness. Alice sent her a few updates about their personal website. Alice primarily came up with the content, and Mina worked on the design and functionality of it. They had made a few small websites together over the years. Their current project was a sort of shared journal between them. Each day, one of them wrote an "entry" to the other and put it up. At this point, Alice had learned enough from Mina to be able to do that on her own. The entire site was password locked, though Mina doubted anyone would stumble upon their little space. Mina read through the new entry. There was never anything particularly special about their entries. They were just how their days went. Alice's entries had a different font and background than Mina's. Their pages had essentially the same layout otherwise. The intent was to give them a way to sign who wrote what without using any names. Alice's entry was about Mina moving, their talk at the library, and wanting to have a sleepover at Mina's house. The previous morning, Mina managed to write a short entry for the site. Tomorrow, it would be her turn again. She wanted to have Alice over. As things were now, there was no way she could let her in or make an honest entry. "I'm sorry, Alice." Mina sighed. She started on her homework assignments. Liam and Thomas's voice carried through the walls. She didn't want to listen in on their conversation, so she put her earphones in and turned on some music. 'Wait...what if something strange happens and I can't hear it over the music?' The music was quickly turned back off. She tried not to listen. That only made her focus on their words more, and what they were saying became easier for her to understand. "No offense, but she seems a bit smarter than your dad." She heard Liam say. Thomas mumbled something she couldn't hear. "Then I guess we've got nothing to worry about." "You could be a little more subtle though." Thomas responded. "Subtle's not exactly my style." Liam laughed. 'She...are they talking about me or my mom?' Mina shook off the thought. She was prying again. She got back to her homework. A message popped up in the corner of her screen. throughthecookingpan has just signed on That was Alice's silly screenname. Mina opened up her chat program. A message came through. throughthecookingpan: hey bb whats up <3 Mina replied. breezeonsundaymorning: bored too quiet breezeonsundaymorning: thomas has some boy over tonight Her screenname, much like Alice's went back to early middle school. It was a little embarrassing that she was still using the same account name so many years later, but only Alice knew her by that name and she hadn't really done anything particularly embarrassing with it. They chatted for a while about trivial things as Mina did research online for one of her homework assignments. Alice complained about their latest lit assignment. Alice loved writing stories, which made their lit teacher's assignments annoying for her as they were usually pretentious and focused on issues rather than creativity. This came through in her entries as well. Sometimes, Alice let Mina read her stories. She tried to convince her to make a site for them, but Alice was reluctant and too embarrassed about her own writing. Mina let Alice rant at length. It kept her mind occupied and she could more easily drown out the boys' conversations next door. Around eleven fifty, Alice signed off to go to bed. With Alice gone, her room felt empty again. The boys had gotten quiet too. 'Did they go to sleep already?' Mina sent Thomas a short text asking if he was still awake. She heard his phone go off through the wall. It was strange to her how much she could hear. When she lived with her mother, they had always picked rooms relatively far away from each other. "What's that?" She heard Liam say. "It's Mina. She's asking if I'm still awake." Thomas said. Mina's phone buzzed. She read the text. 'yeah something up?' She texted back. 'no just wondering' 'k i'll probably be up til 2 or 3' "I think she's just freaking out a little." She heard Thomas's voice through the wall. "Can't blame her for that." Liam said. Mina heard of something being put down on a wooden surface. The boys went back to being quiet. Mina wondered what they were up to if they were both awake yet being so quiet. She heard from one of her classmates that sometimes boys looked at porn together at sleepovers. The thought disgusted her. She could see Liam as the type who might do that, but it seemed off for Thomas. Mina couldn't really gauge well what boys were really like. She was an only child for so long and there were no boys at her school or male teachers. The only major man in her life had been her father. Her thoughts were interrupted by a strange tapping. Mina froze. Slowly, she looked around the room to find the source of the tapping. "Outside?" Mina looked over at the window. There was nothing there, but the noise was definitely coming from that direction. The tapping turned to a clawing sound to the left of the window. Mina got up from her chair and ran to Thomas's door. Without a second thought, she opened it and locked the door. The two of them were sitting on the bed, already looking toward the door as if they were expecting her. Mina noticed there was no computer or magazines out like she half-expected. "Something happen?" Thomas got up from the bed. "I...just got freaked out." Mina was breathing heavily. She asked Thomas something she herself wasn't completely comfortable with doing. "Would it bother you if I stayed in here for a while?" Thomas made a weird face at her. He looked over at Liam, who just shrugged his shoulders. Thomas looked back at Mina. "Nah, that's fine." "I'm sorry. It's just...I really don't want to be alone right now..." Mina sat at Thomas's desk. "It's okay." Thomas sat back on the bed beside Liam. He moved over slightly after he sat down, putting a little more distance between the two of them. The three of them sat around in a tense silence. They each reacted to every small noise in the house. Mina knew most of them were just the house settling, but she couldn't calm herself down. At 12:04AM, the lights flickered. Mina happened to be staring at the clock at the time. Midnight hissed at the door. The handle shook. At the window, something blocked out the street lights and tapped at the glass. "Come out and play with me. I'll give you a present." The voice said. "She wants you again." Liam got off the bed. Mina stood before the door. "I don't really want to play right now." "Liar! You're playing with those boys!" Something hit the door with a loud thud. "I don't like playing with strangers. Can you tell me your name?" Mina tried to distract the voice. The voice took a while to reply. In a quieter voice, the little girl said, "Annie." Mina continued to direct the conversation. "Annie, maybe we could play a different day. Tonight, I'm playing with my brother and his friend. Also, you're scaring us with the way you come to see me." "I didn't mean to." The voice sounded sad. "That's alright. Let's talk again another time." Mina remembered something. "And please don't get mad at Midnight if she swats at you. She's only an animal, and she scares very easily." "Alright. You promise you'll play with me another day?" "I promise." Mina didn't want to say those words. She hoped at least it would keep whatever was bothering them away for a while. The tapping outside stopped. The three of them waited for the voice to speak again. After a few minutes, they all assumed she wasn't coming back for a while. Thomas broke the silence. "How'd you know that would work?" "I had a hunch." Whatever was bothering them sounded like a child. Mina reasoned it had the mind of a child as well. From all the time she volunteered helping at the school's daycare, she knew well how to handle small children. "What do you think this is about?" Thomas asked. "I don't know, but I don't think whatever it is malevolent...at least, I don't think she's trying to be." Mina was less worried about the voice than before, but that still left the other creature she encountered the previous night. The strange noises from outside, she feared, were likely from that creature and nothing about it seemed gentle. "She looked a little dressed up." Liam said. "What?" Mina and Thomas both said at once. Liam pointed over at the door. "I was looking underneath the door. I could see someone standing there. She had really little feet with black Mary Janes and white stockings on." "So...you could see her, but we couldn't see her earlier. Is she only visible at night?" Thomas looked lost in thought. "That sounds like something straight out of one of those dumb ghosthunting TV shows." Liam commented, attempting to lighten the mood some. "Maybe we should...talk about something? Put a movie on?" Mina suggested. She hadn't intended to, but she realized after she said it that she had implied to them she was staying for a good while longer. 'What am I doing? I can't stay all night with two boys. What will our parents think?' "What should we watch?" Thomas asked. He turned on the TV to create some more noise in the room. "I don't care. Anything's fine with me." Mina sat down on the floor in front of the TV. "No horror movies, please." Liam said. "I'll put on a comedy movie. I'm sure there's something free on right now." Thomas flicked through channels until he found a channel playing the kind of movies he was looking for. It was a raunchy college comedy. Mina hated those. She tried to find a way to enjoy it in spite of that. Near the end of the movie, Mina noticed how late it was getting. She didn't want to go back to her room. She didn't want to open that door at all. Mina swallowed hard. "Should I go back to my room?" "You don't have to if you don't want to. I have some extra blankets." Thomas got up and went to the closet. "I'll walk with you if you want." "I'm a little scared to open the door." Mina wrapped her arms around her knees. "Do you think it's going to get worse?" "I hope not." Thomas pulled two blankets down from the top of his closet. "Is it really okay if I stay here?" Mina asked. "Yeah, it's fine. If mom and dad see you in here, we'll say we ended up marathoning movies and you were too tired to go back to your room." He handed her the blankets. Liam tossed her a pillow from the bed. "Aright...if it's okay with you..." Mina got in between the blankets. She laid down close to the bed. While staying the night in a room with the two of them made her uncomfortable, she was too afraid to be away from them. Thomas left the TV on all night. Mina slept more soundly than she expected. She couldn't remember her dreams. When she woke in the morning, Thomas and Liam were still asleep. Midnight was curled up at her feet. She petted the cat before sneaking back into her own room. She changed clothes and went straight to working on her hoomework assignments. Their parents noticed nothing. Around noon, there was a knock on her door. She opened it. Thomas was standing there with Liam. "I'm going to walk Liam back to his house. I'll be back in about twenty minutes." He said. "Okay." Mina nodded. "Nice meeting you, Mina." Liam waved goodbye. "Ah, you too." Mina waved back. Thomas held out his phone. "If anything happens, call me." "I will." She watched them walk down the steps. Midnight snuck into her room while the door was open. Once the boys were out of her sight, she locked the door and propped her phone on her desk. She thought about unpacking more to take her mind off her nervousness, but unpacking still seemed too daunting a task. She worked on her entry for the site, wondering what parts she could tell and what parts needed to be a lie.
Denial | TOC