Rows and rows of black ash trees whizzed by, too quickly to concentrate on, and I leaned my head against the door, ignoring the seatbelt as it dug into my neck.
Beside me, Laura was squirming.
"I really really have to go," she said for the eighth time in the past two minutes. "Daddy - "
"We'll be there in five minutes, sweetie," Dad soothed from the driver's seat. "Just hold on."
"You said that five minutes ago," Jaymie muttered, her voice muffled because she was leaning forward, resting her head on the back of Dad's seat. I glanced at her for a moment, trying to read the expression on her face, but it was hidden.
From the passenger seat, I could still faintly hear the sound of Mom sleeping. She'd spent all of the night and most likely the morning searching every square inch of the house to make sure that everything had been packed up. All of our things had been delivered to the new house over the course of the past week. Every day I came home from school, I would find more and more of my things boxed up and ready to go. As annoying as that had been, I was relieved to be getting this over with and finally move in. Hopefully the house would be in a nice neighborhood. Somewhere quiet.
Seven minutes later, we were off the main road and had journeyed somewhere where the trees were more diverse, but still just as plentiful. I couldn't help but notice how many black birds - probably crows - were perched in each of the trees. It wasn't something I was used to seeing back in New York, but this was Maine, so...
The road we were on now wasn't paved, and the car jostled as it ran over pot holes and kicked up loose gravel.
I frowned out the window. They'd never said we were moving to the country.
With a sigh, I sat straighter in my seat, casting a look towards my sisters. Laura had quieted over the past few minutes, suddenly taken in by her surroundings, and Jaymie was looking out her own window, chewing her bubblegum loudly.
"Just a little further," said Dad.
The road was narrow, and overhead, tree branches on either side closed in above us, nearly touching each other. It provided a canopy effect, blanketing the road in a soft shadow that comforted rather than frightened.
Despite its remoteness, I had a feeling I was going to like it here.
Before long, we were pulling into a dirt driveway. The movement jerked Mom awake and she sat up suddenly.
"Looks like we're here," she said immediately, enthusiasm dripping from her words. She turned around in her seat and looked over the three of us. "What do you girls think? This is nice, isn't it? Away from the city."
"I really have to go to the bathroom," was Laura's reply.
Jaymie still had her face pressed against the window. "We don't have any neighbors."
"Sure we do," Dad said, "but you're missing the big picture, Jay." He gestured with one hand as we continued down the driveway. "All this land you can see - it's all ours."
"Really?" Jaymie sounded genuinely interested now.
"Twenty acres," Mom said. She ran a hand over her pale blonde hair, which had been passed down to each of us girls, and smoothed it down. "Fourteen of it is completely trees, but we actually have a bit of coastline too."
Sounded expensive. I didn't realize we could afford a property like that.
"What's the name of this town, anyway?" I found myself asking. I didn't recall seeing any 'Welcome to Whatever-whatever City' sign.
"Ravenwood," Laura repeated, frowning.
"That sounds like the name of towns in horror movies," Jaymie mumbled.
A wide expanse of lawn was now in view, including a house that was positioned at the edge of the tree line at the back. It looked old. Certainly a departure from our apartment back in Buffalo. I wondered what had possessed Mom and Dad look for a place like this to begin with. It seemed so contrary to their taste.
The yard was large, and surrounded by trees on all four sides. The grass looked overgrown - more so in some spots than others - and also ran in between the two bands of dirt and gravel that passed for a driveway.
"Whoa. It's big," Jaymie breathed, eyes widening as she leaned forward in her seat.
"It was built in 1932," Mom supplied readily, and I could almost hear the smile in her voice. "It's beautiful, isn't it? Wait until you see the inside."
"Is it big?"
"You bet it is."
The car came to a stop alongside the house and I looked around before getting out. There was no garage. That was kind of odd. Everyone else began climbing out of the car; Laura was expectedly eager, scrambling across Jaymie before she'd even had her seatbelt off.
"I'll take Laura to the bathroom," Mom said as she closed her door.
Mom and Laura made a bee-line for the front door, and Dad and Jaymie followed after at a more languid pace. I still stood by the car, somewhat taken aback by the house.
It was two stories, plus what looked like an attic or something above them. The first floor's exterior was patterned brown and red brick, while the second looked as though it had been finished in some sort of wood surfacing. Oak, probably. The roof came down at different angles, jutting over numerous dormers. It was the kind of house I'd only seen in movies.
"Serena. Come in and take a look."
Dad's voice jolted me, and I nodded quickly. "Okay."
A trail of worn pale orange, yellow, and brown stones lined the way to the front porch. The porch itself was more on the small side - just enough space to get in and out easily - and there were no steps leading up to it because none were needed. The door was halfway open, and I slipped through, nearly tripping on Jaymie, who was sitting on the floor, taking off her shoes.
"Don't step on me!" she squeaked, tossing me a dark look. I raised my brow and stepped over her.
"Take a look around," Dad said, sounding genuinely excited for the first time in what seemed like forever. I wondered if there would be more of that from now on.
The area we were in now was a foyer, or something like it. It opened to three other areas, each of which were capped with arched entryways; two of them opened to darkened hallways, and the third, to a staircase.
"I want to see my room." Jaymie tugged at Dad's hand and he obliged her, leading her up the stairway.
I passed through one of the entryways and looked around. The first room I came across was filled with boxes that were waiting to be unpacked. It was probably the living room. I could already picture Dad's big screen set up in the corner. Eyes cataloguing everything there was to see in the room, I lingered at a doorway a moment before going back to the foyer area. It looked like everything had wainscoting. Some kind of mahogany, from the looks of it.
I liked it.
A good twenty minutes was spent exploring most of the house. Jaymie, Laura, and I each had our own rooms, which was a big change. And a welcome one. The antique atmosphere of the outside could be felt all the way through the inside as well, from the bathroom to the kitchen. It smelled a bit musty, but Mom said that was only because the house had been shut up for the past few months, during the winter. Either way, she was absolutely in love with it, and every few minutes she would bring up a new fact about the house, such as the exact month it had been built, its original architect, and the fact that the style was known as Tudorbethan, Tudor Revival, and Mock Tudor, interchangeably.
When it was nearing eight o'clock, Dad went out to pick up something for dinner, while Mom, Jaymie, and I moved all of the boxes from the living room to where they belonged.
The rooms for my sisters and I were all located down the same hallway on the second floor. Laura's was closest to the stairway, and mine, the furthest. Jaymie was sandwiched between us, much to her dismay. Just outside of my door, at the very end of the hall, standing solitary as the only item left behind from either the previous owner of the realtor's staging from the previous owner, was a grandfather clock.
"Tomorrow we'll take a look around the town," Mom said, opening a box with a knife. "It's pretty small, I think. Not very busy. It should be a nice place."
"I wanna see the school." Laura puffed out her cheeks a little, tugging at a strand of curly hair that had slipped out of her ponytail. "I wanna see the playground."
"You'll see it on Monday," Jaymie replied, trying to pry open a box with her bare hands. It wasn't working. All she was doing was tearing up the flaps.
"I'll take you both to see your school before Monday," Mom said, smiling slightly. Then, she looked to me. "You too, Serena. If you want."
I shrugged. "I think I'll manage without." All schools were pretty much the same, weren't they?
"We'll have to figure out if a bus comes this way, or if you'll need to walk or something."
Jaymie popped a bubble with her gum and it echoed off empty walls. "It's too far to walk. Just the driveway's too far to walk."
The conversation continued on and I sat back in the bay window, which had a bench built into it, and fidgeted with the small box I'd been working on. There was only one knife, and Mom had it, so I'd been using my nails to open the rest. I really wasn't sure what was in the box, but I think it was meant for the kitchen. I ran my fingernails against the tape, loosening it, then tore it away. Inside, nothing was visible but tissue paper. I took out the first small wrapped parcel and began to unwrap it. It was one of Mom's chef-shaped pepper shakers. The salt one was probably in the box somewhere. They'd been a gift from her sister on her birthday last year. We never used them, but Mom thought they were cute, so she would always set them out on the counter for everyone to see.
I unwrapped the other shaker, and then the ornamental silverware that they had been packed along with. Jaymie was still struggling with the same box from before and I helped her open it.
We continued opening boxes for another forty-five minutes until Dad arrived with bags of Styrofoam containers in hand.
"It's Mexican," he said as Mom took the bags from him, and Laura attached herself to his leg.
"I love Mexican, thank you Daddy!" she squealed.
Jaymie followed Mom into the kitchen, and I trailed after.
Sleep wouldn't come that night, and shortly before dawn I found myself sitting at the cherry window seat in my bedroom, staring outside. The backyard consisted of a chunk of shaggy lawn that was slightly longer than the length of the house and just barely as wide. After that, trees stretched to the horizon.
Fog crept in slowly, thickly, and encircled the trees until all you could see was their tops.
Yawning, I sat back, leaning against the sill. My attention went to my old-fashioned alarm clock I'd set up beside my bed. 5:54. Mom and my sisters probably wouldn't be up until at least seven or eight. Dad had already left for work. I'd heard him get up, I'd heard him leave, and I'd heard the car start and roll down the driveway.
That was the problem here - it was too quiet.
I felt like I could hear everything.
I lazily drew a smiley face into the thin layer of condensation that had settled onto the window, then wiped it away quickly with the back of my hand. The cold touch sent a shiver through me, giving me goosebumps. I wiped away a bigger area so that I could see out better.
The shaggy grass glistened with dew and I frowned slightly. I'd probably be the one stuck with mowing it.
Touching my forehead against the glass, I allowed my eyes to roam over the area. We'd never lived somewhere so close to so much nature before. It felt surreal, like it was a vacation, or a camp of some sort. What would my friends from back home think if they knew this was the kind of place I was living at now?
Something caught my attention and my gaze froze. There was movement near the edge of the trees; some sort of shadowed figure stood, obscured by the branches of hearty pines. I sat up straighter, squinting, at the same time trying to squelch the sparks that burned and spread through my veins.
I flinched, startled, and nearly lost my balance on the seat. I turned around and looked to the doorway, where Laura stood, teddy bear in hand.
"Oh, hi," I breathed, letting out an awkward sigh. Flashing a smile, I leaned back again. "What're you doing up so early?"
"I couldn't sleep," she said as she fidgeted with the stuffed bear. "I don't like it here."
"But you liked it earlier." I patted the space beside me on the sill, running a hand through my tangled hair with my other hand. "Here, come sit by me."
She nodded and crossed the room. Nerves still tingling, I glanced out the window again, looking where I'd seen the figure.
It was gone.