The tinny unrelenting ring of the doorbell echoed through the house.
Grudgingly I lifted my head from its comfortable position on the living room's tattered leather sofa. Caitlyn, I assumed, was still primping in the upstairs bathroom. I drowsily rubbed my eyes and shuffled down the dim hallway to the front door.
It was near impossible to see the rusty lock through the darkness so fumbling blindly for the light switch; I managed to trip over a trunk full of my grandmother's antique books in the process. Cursing loudly and rubbing my injured backside I got to my feet slowly, flicking on the switch next to me. The heavy key was difficult to turn; at last however the heavy oak door finally clicked open to reveal Gina in full party regalia and clutching a large pink gift bag.
"Happy Birthday!" She cried out in her Southern Californian drawl. The luminous smile across her face vanished when she noticed I was still wearing my preferred lounging outfit of faded jeans and a retro David Bowie tour T-shirt.
"Tabbie, why are you not ready yet?" She growled, crossing her tanned arms and tapping a flat purple peep-toe at me impatiently.
Gina was not your average impoverished schoolgirl. Unlike myself and our other friend Caitlyn, she didn't need to work at the local supermarket on Sundays to make some money. She was the daughter of two exceedingly wealthy American news anchors, Tad and Hazel Freeman. Gina was just as, if not more, glamorous and well-groomed as her parents and spent a sizeable chunk of her monthly allowance on designer clothing and other luxuries. I met Gina Freeman on my first day of private school, when I was thirteen years old. Where, I encountered her arguing in the office of the headmistress, Mrs. Oates, about the lack of wardrobe space in the boarders' rooms.
I myself was only permitted into St. Mary's because of an art scholarship, despite that I didn't want to leave the local high school where I'd been for two years, and best friend Caitlyn, behind. Gran however, was thrilled when she found out I'd been accepted. I couldn't let her down; after all she had brought me up single-handedly after my mother's death when I was only a few months old.
Gina was forcefully removed, by a secretary, and given a week's detention. After she dared to comment that Mrs. Oates ensemble, garish cerise double breasted jacket with a sickly green pussy-bow blouse, was giving her a
"Severe headache." I was still waiting nervously outside the door clutching my new timetable when she was ousted from the office.
"What? It was only constructive criticism." The outraged girl grumbled, gesturing her hands wide, as the door slammed shut. Gracefully smoothing her immaculate beach-blonde mane she turned round to walk away and saw me standing there, eyes wide in astonishment.
"Oh… hi," she managed to gabble, startled by my presence. "You must be the new girl," She paused and added awkwardly. "Can you do me a favour and not mention me being thrown out of Mrs. Oates office to anybody…"
"Tabbie." I finished for her, trying not to laugh.
"Right…Tabbie, need any help finding your next class?"
"I think I'm supposed to be in third period right now…Gina isn't it?"
She looked at me baffled, "Wait, how do you know my name, are you psychic?" I shook my head.
"Nope, I could hear the Headmistress, screaming at you through the door."
A slight tinge of redness appeared on Gina's cheeks. I went to look down at my timetable and stopped dead.
"Whoa, wait a second, are your school shoes Chanel?"
Gina gave me a little grin and gestured to her black lace up pumps with a diamante Chanel logo embellished on the back of the ankle .These were the sort of shoes that I fantasized about buying when I read my grandmothers copy of 'Vogue' every month.
"Of course, always good to meet a girl who appreciates fine footwear," She leaned over to look at my timetable. "I think your In Miss Phillip's class with me."
And so through our shared admiration of designer shoes we became friends. Gina would visit my house every Saturday, as did Caitlyn, where we either spent the day sharing gossip, watching old films and musicals or out shopping in the city centre. Gina always insisted on visiting Edinburgh's branch of Harvey Nichols, even though the only thing me and Caitlyn could afford in that particular shop was a small bar of chocolate, where she knew most of the shop assistants on a first name basis and vice versa.
And so three years on nothing had changed. It was the summer holidays and Gran had decided to spend a month in Paris with one of her old friends from University, resulting in a whole blissful month of late nights and similarly late mornings for me. Caitlyn was staying in the house to keep me company and to make sure I didn't eat beans on toast for every meal. Or, as she so eloquently put it. "Provide enough gas to power a zeppelin."
Caitlyn's ambition in life was to become Scotland's leading gourmet chef; she was also the only girl I knew with Gordon Ramsey posters on her bedroom wall.
"I was just about to get ready…until you rang the doorbell and distracted me!" I replied unconvincingly, trying my best to sound indignant.
"Yeah right Tabs, no doubt you were sprawled out on the settee watching My fair lady like you always do on your birthday." She could read me like a glossy fashion magazine. Though I had been intending to get ready, after I had watched 'I could have danced all night'.
Sighing heavily Gina marched through the doorway heading for the stairs. With some trouble, I closed the door and followed behind her upstairs. My boudoir was the converted attic, with wall to wall bookshelves, a half-moon skylight and bottles of paint lying in jumbled heaps.
Whilst I preferred to describe my countless possessions as artistic clutter, Gran didn't agree.
Gina muttering to herself, began rifling through my small wardrobe.
"Aha! This will do!" She cried out in triumph, holding aloft a fashionable emerald silk and chiffon dress I'd picked up in the summer sales last weekend.
"Don't you think it's a bit dressy G?" I said thumping down on my cushion covered bed.
"I personally think its more understated chic, you're sixteen, why not celebrate it in style?"
Gina was hoping to become a fashion journalist after school, and I couldn't think of anyone more suited to the job.
"Hmm can you see my black jeans in the wardrobe?" Gina gave me a pitying look.
"She doesn't deserve you."
My seemingly insane friend whispered sympathetically to the dress, slowly placing it back in the wardrobe, and tossing me my faithful Jeans.
"Oh I nearly forgot about your present." She exclaimed handing over the shimmering gift bag she was carrying.
"Hmm what could it be?" I wondered aloud, jangling the bag around, my ears listening intently for clues.
"Hope you like it." Ripping away at the white tissue inside I saw a rectangle box nestled at the bottom. Lifting up the box delicately I read the lettering imprinted on its side.
"Rancho Loco…" I raised the lid slowly, I was sure this was but a wonderful dream, yet this was no illusion. Encased inside the box was a pair of Dangerous ruby red Cowboy boots, inlaid with a cream cherry blossom pattern. They were magnificent.
"They're the ones you wanted, right? The boots you were drawing in your sketchbook during Art?" Gina queried nervously, whilst I just stared at the boots dumbfounded.
"Yes." I finally managed to mumble, still in shock.
"Do you think Tabbie likes her boots?" Spoke a sarcastic voice from the doorway, most certainly belonging to Caitlyn. "How was your parents G?"
She asked, sliding down on the bed next to me.
Every summer Gina visited the family estate for two weeks, before returning on my birthday where she then stayed with me for the remainder of the holidays.
"Ah, same old same old, parties, riding, beach and shopping." Gina mumbled in mock boredom. I awoke from my shoe induced daze.
"Did you meet anyone famous?"
I asked attempting to keep the excitement from my voice.
"Now, celebrities are just people like you and me," Smiled Gina wagging a jewel topped fingernail at me." However I did get Karl Chilens and a few other actors' numbers if you're interested?"
Karl played the main character 'Matt Silver' in my favourite American teen drama, 'Sacramento Summer'. Basically Matt was the leader of a motorcycle gang, 'The Onyx Panthers', who fell in love with Wynona, A cynical High school student and waitress at the diner. I'd be the first to admit it was the most clichéd show on television. Though, with Karl's flowing dark hair and smouldering brown eyes, it was definitely essential viewing.
"Are you going to get ready, or do I have to take your present away?" Threatened, the culinary fanatic. Securing her auburn hair into a short, spiky pony-tail.
"I'm doing it, I'm doing it." I muttered, placing my boots back carefully in their box.
"We'll be waiting downstairs." Caitlyn called, as she and Gina clattered down the spiral staircase which led back to the landing.
Slipping on my black jeans, I searched through the disorganised wardrobe and found a simple red tank top which would compliment my boots perfectly.
I slid on the aforementioned dream boots, added a dab of lip-gloss and brushed out my shoulder-length, dark chocolate coloured hair. I was ready.
When I eventually made it downstairs, after a few more minutes of crucial grooming, I found my two friends peculiarly standing over the chest I had knocked open earlier.
"Have you ever heard of an animal named a 'Sqaudor'?" I heard Caitlyn say, turning to Gina.
"No, but I can't say I've heard of a three headed reptile called a 'Skabelli' either." She responded, gesturing to a small leather-bound book in her left hand. Thoroughly confused at what they were referring to I asked,
"What are you two lurking out here, for?"
"Tabbie! There you are! I thought I'd tidy up the books while we were waiting for you…well you know how long you normally take." She gave Gina a knowing smile.
"I resent that 'Little Miss clean-freak', all I need is a touch of blusher and away I go!" Gina let out a noisy 'Not-what-you-would-expect-from-the-daughter-of-celebrity-newsreaders' sort of snort.
"Hah! A touch of blusher, twenty minutes of hair straightening and a lavender face mask is more like it!"
"No way, I think you'll find your referring to your own beauty regime." I responded incensed. However I was now regretting not having my nightly facemask...
Caitlyn gave a cough, rousing me from my skincare ponderings.
"Ok, we can argue about this later children. I was trying to tell you about the books remember?"
"What about the books?" I asked starting to lose interest.
"Their kind of…well…weird"
"Weird?" I repeated still puzzled, Caitlyn ventured on.
"Well, this one for example," She held aloft a large dark green book with copperplate lettering. "It talks about animals I've never even heard of, and Dragons as if they exist"
Before I could think of a logical explanation, Gina let out a delighted squeal.
"Wow! Check this out!" We both turned to see Gina holding aloft a silver Locket, glinting brightly under the lamplight.
"Where did you find that?" Gasped Caitlyn, breathlessly.
"Well I just opened this little blue book and it fell out of the binding," She turned to me. "I wonder why your Grandma would keep it in there." I sat down next to her and Caitlyn on the cold parquet floor.
"I'm not sure; maybe she forgot she had it? Can I have a look G?"
She handed me the necklace and I held it in front of me, the delicate chain spinning round. The locket was engraved with three intricate stars and a large shimmering stone inlaid in the centre.
"I'm certain that's an opal in the middle," Gina murmured pointing at the trinket.
"You see, at this party in Malibu last week, Adele Trantwell had a ring with an opal setting exactly like tha…" Seeing our unimpressed faces, she sighed.
"Oh ok, back to the locket of mystery!" Unclasping the back I placed the locket around my neck.
"Can you do it up for me Cait?"
"Your not going to wear it out are you?" Gina asked as her eyebrow rose at me questioningly.
"No, I just want to see what it looks like on" I stood up and looked into the gold edged mirror which hung on the wall above the chest.
"Very vintage" Remarked Gina. I examined the locket in the reflection, and it struck me there was something familiar about it.
"Can I have a look at the book you found it in?"
Gina obligingly gave me the small book, and I opened it at the first page. The page was blank except for a name untidily scrawled in the top right-hand corner, 'Annabelle Fox'. My mothers name.
"Are you all right?"
I heard Caitlyn ask, and I realised I'd been staring at my mothers handwriting for the past few minutes saying nothing at all.
"Yeah sorry, was just thinking about something" I looked down at the locket around my neck and turned it around in my fingers anxiously. Did it once belong to my mother?
Gina glanced at her ostentatious gold watch.
"Maybe we should head off? Otherwise we'll be late for your birthday dinner at The Witchery, I had to phone them as soon as I got off the plane this afternoon, so we could have a table by the window." I didn't bother asking how Gina had managed to secure a table at one of Edinburgh's most exclusive eateries within a few hours notice, I'm sure she had her 'people' pull a few strings.
I tucked the curious book into my black blazer's pocket for later inspection, and was just about to undo the clasp around my neck, when I felt something with my finger on the reverse side of the locket. Slowly turning it over, there was tiny looped writing impressed into the silver.
"What is it?" Gina asked, looking over my shoulder.
"There's words printed on the back, you can just make them out..."
Caitlyn was also now standing at my other shoulder, gazing intently at the lockets writing.
You will go,
A land of both,
Friend and Foe"
We spoke these words together, and did not fully understand their meaning until the hallway glimmered out of focus and into darkness.