Mina couldn't concentrate during school. The previous night played on repeat in her head. It couldn't be a dream. Thomas was there in the morning, the song recorded when it happened...but what happened? What was that shadowy beast? And that voice...she was certain it belonged to a child, a girl. When it was time for lunch, Mina wandered the halls aimlessly. She contemplated feigning illness to go home early. Checking her phone, there were no messages. Thomas hadn't even sent a text to her. Did that mean he was okay, or did he never get a chance to call for help? Mina stopped in front of one of the big hallway windows. 'Calm down', she told her self. A hand tapped her shoulder. Mina jumped and let out a gasp. "Whoah, whoah. It's just me, silly." It was Alice, Mina's best friend. "Alice! Don't sneak up on me like that!" Mina straightened out her uniform. "It's rude." "Aren't you being bad yourself? We're supposed to be in the dining hall right now." Alice giggled. "So, what are you doing here then?" Mina smirked, playing into Alice's game. "I have a pass to visit the library. Though it doesn't say 'pass is only for Alice'. Or are you really set on standing around in the hall for the next hour?" Alice waved her wooden hallpass around. "Alright, alright. Let's go." Mina smiled, rolling her eyes. She was grateful Alice had come to find her. Alice always brightened up any moment. The two of them played their usual game on the way to the library. It was a game they started in elementary school and despite their ages, still kept up out of childishness. Their school was a private, all-girls academy that spanned several buildings and encompassed preschool to high school level. There was even a sister college across the street. Mina and Alice had been attending, and exploring, at the academy since kindergarten. Though it was silly for them, being high schoolers, they continued on their pretend explorer game. Mina and Alice, on their trips anywhere on campus, would pretend to be on secret missions to explore "strange" places, avoiding being "caught" by the school staff who unknowingly played the role of the "enemies" out to get them. The hallway pass was their "game over" if they had to show it. This playing pretend kept Mina's mind off of home for a while. Alice kept up absurd poses along the way, making Mina struggle to contain her laughter. When they reached the library, which stood as its own building on the furthest edge of the campus, they quickly headed up to the top floor. Almost no one ever came up there, so they were free to talk normally. Alice plopped down at their favorite table, one near the back window. "So, how did the move go?" "Slow. My mom's never ready for anything no matter how long we plan." Mina joined her. "How are the boys? David and...Tom, was it?" "Thomas." She corrected her. "Right. What's it like living with them?" "Well, it's only been a day." Mina re-straightened her skirt again. "David is very...similar to Mom. He's a bit scatterbrained and dull though." Alice burst out laughing. "That's a little mean, don't you think?" Mina shrugged. "And Thomas, he's very busy." "Busy?" "Working on things. Fixing. He looks agitated about fixing things, but he's always finding things to fix." Her words sounded meaner than she intended. Mina felt a little bad for it. "Sounds like Ms. Perfectionist has found her mirror image." Alice joked. "I am not a perfectionist!" Alice liked to call her that a lot. It was the one thing Mina couldn't stand to hear. She didn't want things perfect. She merely wanted to keep things in a certain way to maintain order. That order was needed for her to in turn maintain herself. "You've fixed your clothes five times since we left the hall. And you rearranged some of the books on the way over here. I don't even understand why with that. They were already the same book." "They look better in descending order from tallest to shortest, and with the coverless ones after the covered ones. It's just more...right that way." That was how Mina typically organized her own books. She felt a bit embarrassed at having multiple copies of the same book, but certain editions had different textures to the cover and she wanted those, just as certain textures on the same book kept them from being in her collection. After the files on her computer, her books were what needed the most order. She made a point not to let Alice see how she organized her computer, as that would only make the taunting worse. "That's too much work. For me, an organized bookshelf is one where all the books are on the shelf." Alice said things like that often, but her bedroom was always well organized. Mina envied the way Alice's room looked. It had an order about it that was so much simpler than hers while still looking maintained. She wished she could do the same, but her room didn't feel settled unless she kept up the pattern she already had. Mina was getting anxious thinking about all that. She quickly changed the subject. "Anyway, he has a cat. Neither of them make much noise. It's like when he's not working on things, he floats around." "Heh, you sure he's not a ghost?" Alice said in a silly voice meant to mimic a spooky narration. Mina froze at that word. "Don't be silly. Ghosts aren't real." "I don't know. One time my cousin Sally said she saw one in our grandma's attic." "Isn't this the same cousin who claimed the chupacabra chased her down the road once?" She rolled her eyes. "Okay, so maybe she says some really dumb stuff sometimes." Alice laughed. "We should have a sleepover sometime soon. I want to see what your new room looks like." "Sure, but I need to get everything in order first. I still have so many boxes to go through." Mina, in truth, still had most of her room to organize. She had managed to get her clothes mostly in order, but everything else was sitting tucked away in unopened boxes. The sight of them annoyed her. "Ugh, I hate moving. The last time we moved, I think it was a full month before I finished unpacking." "Isn't that more because you're lazy?" Mina teased. "Maybe a little..." Alice shrugged. Lunch ended too soon. Mina's anxiousness returned in full force once she was back in a classroom. She discretely texted Thomas during class, but still received no reply. She tried focusing on her schoolwork. When that wouldn't work, she texted Alice. It didn't help either. Her mind couldn't focus on anything but Thomas and that beast. When school was over, she waved goodbye to Alice and hurried home. Mina sent Thomas a text that she was on her way home. There was no response this time either. Mina was starting to really worry. She sent her mom a text asking if she knew where Thomas was. Both of their parents would be at the hospital at this time. Her mom replied back that he had been fixing something in the backyard when she left the house. Still anxious, Mina's mind conjured up terrifying images. It was too clear in her mind. She could see that creature ripping him to pieces. Nothing she did could push the thoughts away. It made her skin crawl and her stomach turn, and yet it continued looping through her mind with one ever present thought. 'It's my fault for leaving him alone.' It was ridiculous and illogical, she knew. She repeated that to herself as she started to bite her nails. She called Thomas's cell only to get a message that he hadn't set up his voice mailbox yet. Mina's steps went from fast walking to a jog to a fast run. She didn't care how she looked to other people. She needed to get home. 'I should have stayed home with him!' Mina cursed herself as her mind grew more anxious. She went straight to the backyard, the last place her mother had seen him. When she got there, she could barely breathe. Mina calmed down as she saw Thomas sitting in front of the fence with a hammer in hand. She couldn't completely relax though. Someone was standing beside Thomas. It was another teenage boy. She hadn't seen him before, and he was dressed in casual clothes like Thomas was. The boy wore expensive name brand clothing, a sharp contrast to Thomas's holey, dirt covered Walmart clothes. Though she figured he was likely someone Thomas knew, after the previous night, she was weary of anyone unfamiliar. She watched the two of them for a while. The unfamiliar boy sat down in the grass, talking to Thomas. Mina was too far away to hear what he was saying. Thomas was hammering away at the back of the fence. As she looked around the yard, Mina noticed the fence was in much better condition than yesterday. Many of the weeds were also gone and the lawn cut. She sighed. 'So that's why I didn't hear anything from you.' The stranger pulled Thomas's phone out of his back pocket and played with it. He tapped Thomas on the shoulder and showed him the screen. Thomas took the phone and dialed. Mina's ringtone went off. Both boys turned around and stared at her. Mina's face lit up. "I'm home." Thomas waved for her to come over. Reluctantly, she obliged. She fixed her skirt and hair before walking across the yard. Thomas put the hammer away in the toolbox and dusted himself off. When she was close enough, Thomas got between her and the other boy. "This is my step-sister, Mina." He gestured to Mina. Thomas then turned to Mina. "Mina, this is Liam. He's my best friend." "Nice to meet you, Liam." Mina offered her hand. He shook it. His grip was firmer than she expected. "That uniform...St. Lucy's Girl's Academy, right?" "Yes, you've heard of it?" It wasn't hard for anyone to guess she went to a private school. Most didn't recognize her uniform though, other than it being from a big girl's only school. "I have a cousin that went there a few years back." He pointed to the crest on her left breast-pocket. "I remember the crest and the pink and white uniform. Though hers was always more dingy looking." "I see. Do you go to the same school as Thomas?" Mina asked, trying to not let any awkward silence build between them. "Always have. Our houses are actually closer now. I live down the street." Liam grinned. "It's really convenient." Thomas cleared his throat. "Anyway, I'm almost done with the fence. We'll be inside soon. I left Midnight in my room. Could you check on her when you go inside?" "Ah, okay." Mina excused herself to go inside. She lingered by the back door before going in, watching Thomas and Liam a little while longer. Thomas had already gotten back to working on the fence. Liam sat back down beside him, playing with Thomas's phone again. Their eyes met as he glanced back at her. Embarrassed, Mina hurried inside. With a sigh, Mina leaned against the back door. "God, he probably thinks I'm a weirdo." She straightened her skirt, then took off her shoes. She carried them into her room and placed them on her shoe rack. Her schoolbag was hung up with her coats. Mina changed into casual clothes and put her uniform away in the closet. Every other day, she washed it. Her casual clothes were still very prim compared to what Thomas wore, and nowhere near as fashionable as Liam or Alice's clothes. Mina looked herself over in the mirror. No matter what she tried, other clothes simply didn't look right on her. It came off fake. Her mother liked her choice of clothes as she found it very professional looking. Professional appearance, to her mother, equated to better odds of getting a decent job. Fixing her hair again, she took another look in the mirror. Mina laughed. "I look like a politician." The unpacked boxes sat waiting for her. She looked away from them. A meow came from the room next door. Mina dashed out. "I almost forgot..." She stood in front of Thomas's bedroom. It was awkward going to his room in the middle of the night. Him not even being in the room made it feel even more awkward to her. The idea of Thomas going in her room without her there felt too invasive for how little they had interacted. Mina didn't take Thomas for the type to care about privacy as much as she did. As soon as Mina opened the door, Midnight jumped down from Thomas's bed and scurried over to her, meowing with each step. She purred and rubbed against Mina's leg. Mina petted the cat. "Lonely? Did he leave you in here all day?" Midnight bumped her head against Mina's hand. She didn't mean to pry, especially as it would bother her if a stranger was in her own room, but her curiosity at what type of person Thomas was got the better of her. He had a thick, sturdy gray laptop at his desk. The outer shell was full of nicks and scratches. The desk itself was simple and old looking. It looked handmade. She wondered if Thomas made it himself. His bed spread was simple, a plaid blue pattern on it. On top of the bed, a jacket that didn't seem to fit with anything in the room was laying haphazardly on the edge. She assumed it belonged to Liam. Dirty clothes were tossed in a basket not far from the desk. Thomas's backpack sat inside the floor of the closet. She noticed there was only one backpack in the room. 'Did neither of them go to school?' Mina wondered. 'He did say he lives down the street. He probably just dropped it off at home before coming here.' Midnight's ears dropped. She hissed at the door. Mina's body suddenly felt cold. The door was cracked open slightly. Mina was positive she had shut the door. The door swung open, but there was no one there. Mina held tightly to Midnight as she ran downstairs.
12:04AM | TOC