a/n:  Sorry it's taken so long, but, as you can see, it's a fairly long chapter.  I've also been writing about four other stories as well, not to mention my book, so please bear with me if my chapters aren't as readily updated as you'd like.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy this; I certainly spent a lot of time on it.  ^_^

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                Kyra's eyes fluttered open to birdsong outside her open window early the next morning.  She smiled softly as she rolled over on her back and listened for a second.  The only way she could fall asleep at night was if she could listen to the sounds of crickets and birds.  It soothed her and made her feel at ease.  As the season began to change for the colder, she had a tape of sounds she would play instead.  Her mother had bought special tapes of the ocean for her a few birthdays ago and sometimes she'd play that during winter to pretend it was warm and she was sleeping on the beach.

                Kyra turned her head towards the window as a robin flew down and landed on the sill.  Her face brightened as the bird let out a series of chirps, as though singing to her.  With a soft giggle, she sat up and cupped her hands over her mouth.  Jeremy had taught her how to sing with the birds and in a few short weeks, she had proved even better than him.  Kyra fought not to smile as she chirped back to the robin; when she smiled it always messed up the sound.

                The bird hopped to the end of the windowsill as it sang again.  It turned its head towards Kyra, almost like it knew she was the one it was harmonizing with.  For a few minutes, the two chirped with each other, Kyra forgetting the reason she had to be up at dawn.  Her mother soon brought her back down to Earth as she called up the stairs for her to get ready for school.

                The sound of Amelia's voice startled the robin and it flew out of the window in a hurry, leaving Kyra staring after it, moaning in disappointment.  With a sigh, she threw the covers off her and swung her feet around to the floor.  She stood and walked silently across her carpeted floor to her bedroom door.  Rubbing her eyes to get the dirt out of them, she pulled the door open and stepped into the hall, the carpet changing from white to tan.  She took a few steps, then turned into the bathroom.

                She stepped up onto the little stool and leaned on the sink, tilting her head to the side.  She studied herself in the cabinet mirror, her eyes scanning every inch of her face.  Her dark hair was straggly around her face and she had a few lines on her forehead where the creases in the pillowcase had pressed against her.  After a second of staring at her reflection, she slowly lifted her hand and ran it partway through her hair.  Keeping her eyes on the mirror, she tilted her head up a little and shifted her weight to one leg.  Her free hand went to her hip and she rolled her shoulder forward, trying to copy what she'd seen Ryelle do in the mirror.

                Getting into it, Kyra turned sideways and brought her hands together, interlacing her fingers and turning her palms to the floor.  She leaned her head back and lifted up her foot, smiling at her reflection.  She had seen similar poses in magazines; the girls in the pictures were always so pretty and perfect.  Kyra liked looking at the magazines and then trying to copy the poses and hairstyles, usually failing miserably but looking incredibly cute while doing so.  She had gotten a hold of her mother's make up once and her sister had gotten a hold of a camera after she managed to stop laughing.  There was a Polaroid floating around somewhere now waiting for Kyra to get old enough to humiliate.

                She continued to attempt different poses, all the while watching herself in the mirror.  But she fell off the stool with a loud thunk when she heard the voice of her older brother.

                "Kyra what the hell are you doing?" Ronnie asked flatly, leaning against the doorframe.  Today, he wore a black shirt with streaks of red in various places.  Around his neck was a spiked dog color along with several spiked and studded bracelets of black and red.  His jeans looked to be the same ones he had worn yesterday, only he had added a few pins and chains.  His hair wasn't spiked, but lay in strands in his face, a few of them running down over his eyes.

                Kyra looked up at him from the floor, her eyes narrowing.  "I was pretending I was Ryelle," she said indignantly as she got to her feet.

                Ronnie raised an eyebrow and snorted with laughter.  He rolled his eyes as he pushed off the wall and continued down the hall.  Kyra walked to the doorway and leaned around it, watching her brother disappear down the stairs.  With a slight scowl, she turned back into the bathroom and shut the door behind her.  She glanced at her reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of the door before proceeding to pull the shower curtains back.

                She turned the knobs and water began pouring out the faucet into the tub.  With a twist of the center knob, the water shot out the showerhead, the faucet only dripping now.  As steam started to engulf her, she pulled off her pajamas and stepped into the tub.  The warm water poured down over her and she pulled the curtains shut before closing her eyes.  She ran her hands through her hair that now hung straight, her waves lost in the water.

                For a few seconds, she just let the water run over her.  Sometimes she'd play the tapes of outdoor sounds and pretend she was under a waterfall, but today she had forgotten it in her room.  So, unable to think of a different fantasy, she proceeded to shampoo her hair and wash herself off.

                Fifteen minutes later, she shut the water off and stepped out of the tub, grabbing one of the light blue towels from the rod that was mounted on the wall over the toilet.  She rubbed her head vigorously, making her hair separate into damp strands.  After a few failed attempts at a turban, she wrapped the towel around her body instead, clamping it in place under her arms.

                Humming softly to herself, she gathered her pajamas in her arms and opened the door.  Immediately she began to feel cold, the air in the hall considerably colder than in the bathroom.  With a shiver, she ran back to her room and shut the door behind her.  Her pajamas were tossed quickly to the bed in a pile as she headed over to her dresser and pulled open the top drawer.  All of her shirts were neatly folded and stacked by Kyra herself.  She liked making things perfect and once she started something, she wouldn't stop for anything until it was.

                She picked up a few of the shirts until she found a white sweater with a blue collar.  Folding it over her arm, she closed the drawer and opened the one under it.  On one side were her jeans, in the middle, her shorts, and on the right were her skirts.  It had to be in that precise order or she'd yell like mad until whomever did it wrong came back and made it right.  Her mother was the only one who seemed to find that cute.

                Kyra pulled out her favorite jean skirt and slid the drawer shut.  She pulled a pair of underwear and socks from the next one down and then went over to her bed to change.  She took the towel, which was starting to fall off anyway, and lay it on the bed before pulling on her sweater.  Her now cold hair pressed against her back and she quickly pulled it out of her shirt, dropping it back down on the outside.  With a slight shiver, she continued to dress.

                After she had pulled her socks on, she slid her sneakers from under the end table where she kept her four pairs of shoes in two neat rows.  She slid her feet into the shoes and tied a bow in the laces, pulling them tight.  Her head lifted as she heard a chirp from the window.  The robin was back and Kyra's face lit up as it sang.  But she couldn't stay and sing with it, so she headed for her bedroom door, her eyes remaining on the bird.

                "Bye!" she said cheerfully, waving at it as she left her room.  She entered the hall bathroom again and grabbed the brush from behind the sink.  Her hair was still damp, but as she brushed it, the waves began to come back as well as its shine.  She ran the brush through her hair a hundred times, following her usual routine.  The amount of time Kyra spent caring for her locks bewildered her mother.  She had never seen anyone spend so much time perfecting their hair.  Even after she came home from school, she'd brush it a hundred times more, sometimes letting Daniel help.  As a result, her hair was always soft and glowing.

                By the time Kyra finished and set the brush down, her hair was dry, its usual bounce accenting her sweet face.  She smiled at her reflection, showing off the gap where her front teeth once were.  Happy with the way she looked, she left the bathroom and bounded down the stairs.

                "Hi mommy," she said, entering the kitchen.  She leaned on the counter in the center of the room and watched her mother fix lunch for her.  "Did you catch the bad guys last night?"

                "Most of them," Amelia said, dropping a small container of applesauce into a paper bag.  "One of them got away."

                "But I thought you always got them," Kyra said, tilting her head to the side.

                "Well, there are the rare occasions that we don't get them all.  But in actuality, we still might catch the last guy because his friends might talk," Amelia said, glancing up at her daughter.  She smiled as Kyra's face lit up in understanding.

                "You mean like they'll tell you where the one that got away will go?  Like in the movies!" she said, her smile widening.

                "Just like in the movies," her mother replied, the corners of her own lips turning upward.

                "Cool!" Kyra said excitedly.  She watched as Amelia rolled the top of the paper bag down to shut it.  "What did you make me for lunch?"

                "A ham and cheese sandwich with Swiss, not American," Amelia recited, putting her forefinger in the air.  Kyra giggled as her mother continued.  "A little thing of applesauce…"

                "Awww!  I like when you give me the little applesauces; they're so cute!" Kyra interrupted, giggling.

                "Yes, they're cute.  It's one of the selling points," Amelia laughed.  "Anyway, there's a juice in there for you and a surprise."

                "Yay!" the girl exclaimed, hopping up and down.  Once a week her mother put a surprise in her lunch.  It varied from cookies to little presents like barrettes or some other little trinket from the Dollar Store.  Amelia used to do the same thing when Ryelle and Ronnie were younger, but they didn't seem to appreciate it as much as Kyra, who would come home every Friday excited from whatever her mother had given her.

                Amelia smiled at her daughter's bright expression.  "All right, what are you having for breakfast?"

                "Um, I don't know," Kyra said, putting her forefinger to her lips in thought.  She wrapped her left arm around her waist, resting her right elbow on it.  She glanced around the kitchen as though her eyes could see through the closed cabinet doors, her finger tapping her lips lightly.

                Amelia held in a small laugh at how cute Kyra was.  She didn't know where her daughter had gotten some of the habits she had.  Maybe from TV, maybe from magazines, maybe she saw them in the illustrations of the books she read.  It didn't matter.  They weren't bad habits and that's all that counted.

                "How about pop tarts?" Amelia suggested.

                "Okay," Kyra said, shoving her hands happily into her pockets.  She watched her mother open the cabinet over the sink, revealing boxes of Rice Krispies and Cheerios along with a few jars of Cream of Wheat, Wheatina and Oatmeal.  Amelia moved a few of the cereal boxes aside and pulled the box of strawberry pop tarts out.  She pulled one of the packets out and tossed it to Kyra, who whipped her hands out of her pockets to catch it.

                After a brief thank-you, Kyra left the kitchen, opening the packet.  She hummed softly to herself as she took a bite of one of the pop tarts on her way to the front door.  She waved to Ryelle when she passed the living room.  Ryelle, who was adjusting her jacket, took no notice of her sister.  With a shrug, Kyra grabbed her bag from the corner by the front door and called a good-bye to her mother.

                "Bye sweetie!  I'll see you later!" Amelia called.

                Kyra pulled the door open as she slung her backpack over her shoulder.  A few short notes left her lips as she bounced down the front steps.  As she started down the street, she pulled the other strap of her backpack onto her shoulder, evening out the weight.  She hitched it up onto her back, and walked proudly down the street.

                This was her first year in Elementary School.  Her mother had been so nervous about Kyra going to a full-fledged school and had cried when she got on the bus.  Kyra, on the other hand, couldn't have been more excited.  When Amelia took her to the store to buy supplies, she'd jump around the isles, getting her mother to purchase as many items as possible.  And on September 1st, she had gotten up way before the sun had even begun to peek over the trees that surrounded the neighborhood to get ready.  She must have tried on every single outfit she could think to put together before finally deciding on one.  Amelia couldn't keep Kyra from bouncing around that morning and that even made her more nervous.  What would happen if school turned out to be not so hot?  Or she was picked on?  Or what if she made friends with the wrong crowd and she got into trouble all the time?  But it had been nearly two months and nothing bad had happened.  Kyra was still as happy as ever to go to school, she had made friends that her mother approved of, and no one had teased her.  In fact, Amelia was convinced nearly half the boys in school had a crush on her daughter, who was completely oblivious to them.  She was getting along fine.  She was growing up… fast.

                Kyra headed for the bus stop on the street corner, humming to herself.  The autumn air was steadily growing crisper as the days passed, the leaves on the trees becoming more and more colorful.  The wind picked up briefly from a breeze, knocking a few leaves from their branches.  Kyra shivered slightly as the cool air made its way through the stitches in her sweater.  She smiled as she watched an orange leaf drift by her into the road.  It came to a stop in the middle of the pavement, twitching slightly in the wind.  She stopped a moment, lost in the movement of the leaf.  After a few seconds, she darted over to it, picked it up, and ran back to the side of the road.

                As she continued towards the corner, she rolled the long stem back and forth between her fingers, the leaf twirling around and around.  Kyra smiled as she watched it, almost hypnotized by the constant spinning.  As she walked, engrossed in the orange blur in front of her face, the wind picked up again, blowing her hair around her face.  A few strands bothered her eyes and she blinked quickly, the leaf ceasing its dance as she raised her right hand to push her hair over her shoulders.  With a sigh, she looked back at the leaf.  It was still soft, but Kyra knew it wouldn't be for long.  It was dying.  Dying… this brought up a new thought as she walked, taking her time.

                Amelia had told her that when people die, they go to heaven.  After a brief conversation about what the two thought heaven might look like, Kyra asked where animals went when they died.  Her mother thought for a moment before replying that they went to animal heaven.  Now, as she watched the leaf dying in her hands, she wondered if it would go to leaf heaven.  When Amelia had told her about animal heaven, she had been able to imagine lots of mice and string for cats and chew toys and bones for dogs.  What would leaf heaven look like?  What did leaves like?  She knew they liked water, but she also knew they couldn't live submerged in it.  So, what would leaf heaven look like?

                She contemplated the question as she walked.  She stared at the leaf, lost in thought.  A few minutes later, there was a throbbing pain in her forehead.  Surprised, she dropped the leaf and stumbled backwards, trying to blink the dark spots from before her eyes.  As her vision began to clear, she realized she had walked directly into the stop sign on the corner.  She rubbed her forehead lightly, trying to get the pain to cease.  She stopped as she heard the rumble of the school bus' engine as it slowly made it's way down the street.

                Kyra immediately shifted her backpack on her shoulders and straightened, not wanting to let on that she had just had a klutzy moment.  She watched the bus creep down the road, wishing it would just get there.  She had to force herself not to jump up and down in anticipation as her dark eyes stared down the street.  After what seemed like hours, the bus finally came to a stop in front of her, the doors opening with a hiss.  Just as she was about to step inside, she heard voices yelling her name.  She looked over her shoulder and a wide grin spread across her lips.  In her curiosity of the leaf, she hadn't realized her friends weren't waiting at the bus stop for her.

                Two girls were running down the sidewalk haphazardly, one of them trying to hold onto her backpack in her left hand, the other wearing hers on her shoulders.  Kyra turned to them and waved, calling for them to hurry up.  A few seconds later, all three girls were boarding the bus and making their way towards the back.  Kyra took a seat between her friends on the last bench, dropping her backpack to the floor by her feet.

                As she looked at the girls, Kyra could see they had let their brown hair hang loose around their faces, framing their freckled cheeks nicely.  Kerri and Sherry were twins and enjoyed going as far as to dress alike to be able to pull the old switcheroo.  They had tried it a few times on Kyra, but after a few minutes, she had been able to figure them out.  Kerri was energetic and bouncy; sometimes she didn't really know when to stop.  She had a creative mind and was probably the best seven-year-old artist in the town.  Sherry could also be energetic, but she was more serious most often.  She liked to study while listening to slow music; the soft rhythm seemed to clear her mind.  She was an A student, while her sister's highest mark this year was a B+.  Both girls got along extremely well and wherever one was, the other was sure to be somewhere close.

                "You were late today," Kyra said to Kerri, who sat on her left fidgeting with the strap of her backpack.

                "Yeah, Sherry couldn't figure out what to wear," Kerri replied, grinning at her sister.  Kyra looked at Sherry, her brow furrowing in confusion.

                "You never had trouble deciding what to wear before.  You've been acting kind of weird lately," she said.

                Sherry went a violent shade of red as her twin spoke for her.  "It's Cody.  She has a huge crush on him," she said with a wide grin.

                "I do not!" Sherry exclaimed while Kyra began to smile broadly.

                "I can ask him if he likes you too," she offered, eager to play matchmaker.  She had watched TV shows where people went out alone with someone their friends set them up with.  Most of the time it had worked out great, so why shouldn't it in this situation?

                Sherry tilted her head to the side, her eyes curious.  "You'd do that?"

                "Yeah!" Kyra said happily.

                "Yay, thank you!" Sherry exclaimed, wrapping her arms around her friend.  The three girls laughed as Kerri lunged into the hug as well.  They broke apart as the bus slowly came to a stop and its doors opened to pick up a few more children.

                "Hey!  Darren!" Kyra called to one of the boys who had just stepped into the bus.  He waved to her and wove his way past the other students who were trying to find seats to the back.

                "Hey Kyra," he said as Kerri scooted over to give him a seat.  Darren had been the first person to come up to her on Kyra's first day at school and they had been friends instantly.  His scarlet hair had earned him the nickname Red by many people, though Kyra had never really called him that.  He had a sister, Rita, who was a year older than him and, though he wasn't quite as drastic as her, was learning.  He rarely dressed in any colors other than red and black, though he didn't wear a whole bunch of jewelry like Rita.  The twins and Kyra had tried to tell him that being like his sister wasn't really a good thing, but he didn't want to hear it.

                "So, what's going on?" he asked, dropping his backpack to the floor with a light thud.

                Sherry looked at his bag, confusion on her face.  She leaned over and shook it around, feeling its weight, before looking at Darren.  "Isn't your backpack kind of light?" she asked.

                "Yeah, I leave most of my books at school and only bring home the ones I need for homework," he said.

                "Oh," Sherry said, sitting up again.  The surprise on her face showed she was clearly wondering why she hadn't thought of that.

                "Did you hear about the new SCC CD coming out?" Darren asked, turning quickly to Kyra, excitement on his face.  His eyes dimmed a little when she stared at him in confusion.

                "SCC?" she asked.

                "Slightly Cracked Crackers…" he replied slowly.  "It's the greatest group ever, how can you not have heard of them?"

                "The Slightly Cracked Crackers?" the twins laughed.  "You're joking, right?" Kerri asked.

                "How can you not have heard of them?  They're the best group on the planet!" Darren cried, his eyes widening in shock.

                "I only listen to groups with normal names.  It's like my rule," Sherry said, earning a laugh from the other girls.

                "That is a normal name!" Darren said.

                "Just like all the other groups you like, right?" Kerri said, raising her eyebrow.


                All three girls sighed.

                After a brief silence, Kyra brought up the subject of what she thought leaf heaven would look like.  When she first asked what her friends thought, they had stared blankly at her.  It took Darren a few more times than the twins of explaining to get what Kyra was saying.  But, after they all understood, she had them wondering about it as well until the bus arrived at the school.

                "I'll ask mommy about it," Sherry said as she stepped out of the bus onto the pavement.  Kerri, Kyra, and Darren followed shortly.

                They walked up the narrow walkway to the doors of the school, making their way between other students, who were beginning to spread onto the grass.  Bethany Elementary School was a long, one-story building with off white pillars framing the double doors.  Its bricks were faded and the plumbing was often malfunctioning, sometimes worse than others, from neglect over the years.  B.E.S (or Old Bess as people had begun to refer to it) had been standing ever since the town of River Isle had first been born.  The town's money had gone to building middle and high schools and improving the county with restaurants, shops, etc.  But, nevertheless, Old Bess was a school to be proud of.  The teachers who were employed were the best they could find and except for the minor problems with the plumbing and repairs that went on every now and then, it was clean.  Even the food wasn't as terrible as some of the food in the other schools.  Ronnie and Ryelle had come home so often complaining that they hadn't had anything to eat all day because they weren't about to touch the food in the cafeterias.  Both thought Kyra was insane for liking some of the food at her school, but they had forgotten that it really was better than most.

                Kyra walked ahead of the twins with Darren, who was a good inch or two taller than her, to the double doors of Old Bess.  Darren pulled one of them open and held it for the girls, each of them thanking him cheerfully.  They walked together for a bit before they had to split up to go their lockers.  Darren's wasn't too far away from Kyra's, but the twins' were located in a different hallway.  None of them had the same teacher.  Kyra was with Mr. Carver, a middle aged man with a mustache.  Darren had Miss. Harrison, a young, dark haired woman who was admired by both students and co-workers.  Kerri and Sherry had Mrs. Brook, an older woman with graying hair and was a little overweight.  All four loved their teachers and wouldn't trade.

                Kyra and Darren waved to each other before splitting up to go to class.  Numerous people said hello to Kyra as she passed them in the halls and she smiled and greeted them in return.  A few minutes later, she reached her class and entered, her head held high.  She took her seat in the front row just as Mr. Robert Carver came into the room.  Kyra smiled a hello to him and when he greeted the class, his eyes met hers for a brief second.  Thus was the beginning of another day.

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a/n:  Don't worry, things will start to get going as soon as we reach October thirty-first.  I won't make you wait too long.  Please review!