Chapter One: Part 3

Alice yawned as Mr. Stewart, her history teacher, droned on and on. Alice could barely focus. She glanced at the clock and felt small relief. The class was over in five minutes. "Yes!" she muttered under her breath.

"What did you say?" Mr. Stewart blinked at her, his owlish eyes staring.

"Um, no. I mean, nothing," she stumbled, trying to control her blush. Mr. Stewart continued to glare suspiciously for a few seconds, and then he returned to lecturing. Kayla looked over at Alice and snickered. Alice pretended she didn't notice and innocently began to scribble studiously in her binder. When Kayla resumed note taking, Alice let her eyes wander to her nemesis. For some reason, she found Kayla's outfits amusing.

Today, Kayla was sporting a light pink baby top and white Abercrombie shorts. The tip of her lacy camisole showed, giving her a sweet, pure, almost virginal look. Ha, Alice thought dryly. Virginal. So not Kayla. Her bracelets and necklaces screamed glamour and glitter. A large, jagged ruby hung nestled between Kayla's collarbones and on her rings, a shower of jewels gleamed ostentatiously. What would happen if someone took them? wondered Alice idly. Well, she wouldn't offer sympathy, that was for sure.

As the final bell tolled, Alice picked up her stuff, then started to trudge back home. Crossing streets mechanically, her mind continued to wander. After Janice had died, nothing was the same. Alice's father, never an extrovert to begin with, started isolating himself further in his work. It didn't help that whenever Alice approached him, he'd always have something critical to say to her. Things didn't improve much afterwards either. Her father married Priscilla, a coworker. At their wedding, he had kissed Priscilla, saying, "I love you, Princess."

Alice's heart had literally stopped cold. As she fought for breath, she couldn't believe what she was hearing. Princess? That was the same thing her father used to call Janice. "My Princess," he would say to her, before kissing her. "I love you."

Now, as Alice made her way across the streets, she wondered, "Is mom really that replaceable?" No. Janice would not be forgotten. At least, not in her daughter's dreams. Priscilla was nice. She was like a TV mom, always making food, always bright and happy. Alice could see why her dad had married her. Her energy almost made up for her father's lack of communication skills.

But to Alice, there was a lot to be desired of. For one thing, Priscilla looked, well, fake. Her blond hair hung past her shoulders and her eyes were blue—too blue. She also had an amazing figure, like a Barbie doll. With long, slender legs, Priscilla was clearly desirable to every man, but Alice wasn't so easily won over. She wanted a flesh and blood person, not a plastic robot.

Priscilla did try to involve her stepdaughter, but more out of responsibility than real concern, it seemed. Mostly, Priscilla stayed out of Alice's way. And when they did talk, there was always an awkward silence. No, Priscilla would never do as a real mother.

As Alice was crossing the final block to her home, she noticed a small crowd. "Hmm? What's going on?" she murmured as she threaded her way through the people. When she reached the front, she vainly stifled a gasp of horror. It was like a blow to the ribs.

In front of her was a boy. He was about her age, with amber eyes and shaggy hair. But those eyes were glassy and a thin line of blood trailed behind his head. He didn't appear to be breathing. All around her, frantic muttering sounded and cell phones were whipped out, fingers dialing the number to the local hospital. Gazing at the boy, Alice felt a twinge of pain. That must have been a pretty steep fall, she thought, awed as her eyes flicked upwards where a small window was bared, four floors above. Alice left and continued walking.

She stepped inside her house, admiring the way the floor shone, black and lustrous marble tiles. She made her way into the kitchen where Priscilla greeted her awkwardly. "Do you want a snack, dear?" she asked timidly. I'd rather eat spit. The "dear" at the end sounded so fake, so forced and Alice knew that Priscilla knew it too.

"Nah, I'm good," declined Alice politely.

"Oh. Well, if you say so." Priscilla let her pass.

As Alice trundled into her room, she noticed her father. He strode up to her and smiled formally, though the smile never reached his eyes. "Your buttons are undone, Alice," he said. "So is your hair. Please fix it in time for dinner." He swept off again, leaving Alice alone in the hall.

Sighing, Alice entered her room and flopped down on the bed. She tried to do some homework, but couldn't. The picture of the boy on the ground remained etched in her mind and would burst into her consciousness during the most inopportune of moments. Alice turned over, she wondered, "What caused him to do that? That's a horrible way to die." Alice cued up her iPod to Green Day, and Ai, a Yorkshire terrier, sat on her chest. She sighed and closed her eyes.

"Alice! It's time to eat!" Priscilla called from the kitchen. Alice rubbed sleep from her lashes and rose groggily. Casting her music player aside, she walked over to the mirror and rebuttoned her shirt. Then, she fixed her ponytail. There, she thought, sneering. Clean and proper. She opened her door, letting the pitch darkness surround her. Alice frowned as she groped for the light switch. Hmm. It wasn't there. Oh well. Alice could accurately gauge the depth and height of each stair, no problem. She took a deep breath and inched one foot down, landing on a wood step. She smiled and lifted her other foot to the second rung below. Easy. She overtook the next two easily and leaped onto the fifth step. But there, she slipped and crashed headfirst into the floor. Alice groaned. Aw, shit! Ai peed on the stairs!

As her vision grew dimmer and dimmer, she remembered that once she had thought the floor to be beautiful. It was beautiful still, glittering coldly as Alice's blood streamed and steamed onto it.