And maybe things were better left unsaid

I could hear him,

In the back of my mind.

"Why are you alone?"

I wanted to believe that

I was alone because I wanted to be.

Chapter Three

I didn't think any tears were spared in my body, but there they were. Ashamed, I wiped them away with the back of my sleeve and stood up, not looking behind me to see the stables through the bare window. I didn't unpack my suitcase – instead, I opted to pad downstairs where my father was sitting absent-minded on the ancient sofa, watching a rerun of Three's Company. Blatantly ignoring his existence, I opened the front door and shut it tightly behind me, making sure that my exit had been silent if not unheeded.

Outside, the breeze still stirred the dead leaves surrounding the farm-house. Some were swept up on the porch and whispering along the boards that desperately required maintenance. The open porch had been painted yellow once upon a time – now it acquired the color of expired mustard, dull beneath the dying sunlight. I dismounted the steps and headed toward the barn positioned a few feet away from the stables. Inside, the light played peak-a-boo with the shutters, casting dappled shadows along bells of hay and the hides of a few dozing cows. Daisy, the milking cow that my sister and I had named when we were five, stood grazing carelessly, her ears bent down low as if to suggest that she had acknowledged a new presence. As I drew closer, she gazed at me with sleepy eyes and resumed feasting, reassured that I wasn't an unwelcomed intruder.

I passed her quickly and climbed the ladder leading to the loft. This had previously been Savannah's refuge – a place that had been forbidden, even to me. The hay was cold up there, and the shadows were more intense. In fact, there was absolutely no sunlight – everything was dark, as it should be.

"I miss you," I murmured aloud, involuntarily – I had forgotten that I even harbored a voice, and now that it was proven to exist, I caught hold of it and didn't let it go. Sitting with my legs outstretched, I stared down at Daisy and wondered why Savannah enjoyed the impending silence up here. It was eerie.

"Mom is frantic, I think. She's like a flickering lamp – she can't decide if she's depressed or lonely or both. Gus is bitter and doesn't know what to do with himself. Sometimes I think – I think, well, what if it would've been me? Would he still be bleary-eyed and incoherent?" I don't know why I was talking to myself. Maybe I was just talking to the shadows, or the ghost of a girl who had died far too young.

"Who shot you?" I surprised myself by saying this, because really, I hadn't thought about it. The only thing that kept clouding my mind was Savannah's death – I didn't ponder about the origination of it, or how it came to be. Or who pulled the trigger to enforce a kind of death upon us all. I half-expected the shadows to answer back, to repeat the tragedy and unveil the killer. They stayed shadows, and the hay was still a little cold, if not colder. The ghost of Savannah did not appear beside me to show me the mystery of it all. And there was no sound except the wind beating gently against the exterior of the barn and the almost silent munching of an old cow down below.

I let my hands rest behind me to support my back, and when I did something rustled against the bare palm of my left hand. I withdrew my hand and searched the hay with clumsy fingers and pulled something out.

It was a picture. Not of me or my mother or Gus, but of a tree. Silly, really – just a picture of an Oak that had reached its prime long ago, the branches seeming to brush the sky like bony fingers, leaves accumulating around the base of the trunk, indicating Fall. I couldn't catch anymore details other than that, and the tire-swing connected to a higher branch. It was the same tree just outside the barn, separating it from the stable. A sentry guarding the ranch.

I pocketed the picture and sat there for some time, musing about this and that, my mind straying from Savannah's unceremonious murder to my overly-sympathetic friends at school, all of whom were either out of town or on summer vacation.

After I arrived back inside the house, my father suggested I go to the movies to see a new feature revolving around a dog and his owner. I didn't know if I wanted to go or not, but decided that a movie might distract my mind from a more distraught subject. He handed me the key to his truck.

"I know you're not happy right now," he started, as if he wanted to be a caring father for a moment, but I cut him off.

"It's okay. I'm fine. I'll see you later."

--

That's the first time I saw him. I mean, there was nothing special about the way he walked or the way his hair hung, low and curly below his ears. He didn't stand out in a crowd like a beacon of light or talk about things that set him apart from others. It was the way he said things, though. As if every word might break and shatter if he didn't say them.

The theater wasn't old-fashioned like some small towns coveted. It had been built one year ago and still maintained the new-carpet smell, mingled with fresh (and old) popcorn, sweat, and candy that they didn't sell at local stores anymore.

I didn't see him coming in. I saw him coming out, though. He was talking to the cashier at the counter about the overpriced popcorn. I wanted a refill of Coke, so I had no choice but to stand behind him until his purchase had been completed. Evidently, he had not been aware that somebody was behind him because when he turned he bumped into me, and my soda tilted in my ungraceful hands. Ice and what little remained of the Coke spilled on the front of my blouse, probably staining it for the rest of its threadbare life. I wasn't mad, though. If anything, I was embarrassed.

"Sorry," he said. "I – hey, you look familiar. Savannah, right?" I saw a flitter of something cross his features, but marked it off as the light playing tricks. For a moment it seemed as if he had just seen a ghost.

I tried to hide my cringe, but he noticed and raised an eyebrow. He parted his lips as if to apologize again, but I didn't give him that chance.

"Samantha, actually." I nudged past him and yanked a few napkins from its dispenser on the counter, dabbing hopelessly at the stain. I don't know why I did this – the stain didn't bother me much. I just wanted to avoid looking at him for a reason far beyond my grasp.

"Let me buy you a refill," he offered. He was digging through his pockets and now everyone was looking at us.

"I got it," I replied curtly and set the now-empty cup on the counter. A pimpled-face guy had excused himself from behind the counter to scrape the ice from the carpet into a bucket, as if the water would leave a mark on the new carpet. There was a girl at the cash-register around my age, her face void of blemishes and her blonde hair pulled into a braid over her shoulder. She was pretty. No wonder he had been lingering at the counter.

Not looking around my shoulder to see if he was still there, I asked for a refill. The girl had been previously gazing at He-Who-Spilled-Coke, but she seemed to snap out of her trance when I voiced my purchase. She provided a look that I couldn't quite comprehend (perhaps thinking I was competition, when really I was in no state for any kind of newfound relationship) and spun around to oblige. I set fifty cents on the surface of the counter and retrieved my drink, lethargically turning around to exit. I didn't expect him to still be standing there, but he was. And he looked a bit sheepish.

"Why are you alone?" he asked. His words caught me off guard. What kind of question was that? I could feel a glare from behind, but didn't turn around to see the girl staring daggers at my back. I already knew, and for some reason I wondered if that was his girlfriend. At that thought, there was a pang at my chest and I didn't know why. I didn't want to know why.

"I don't know," I finally replied after a prolonged silence I somehow managed to make awkward. I just wanted to get home and go to sleep. No doubt Gus would be a bit worried – the movie was over, and had been for the last ten minutes.

He followed me outside, and I didn't find it to be creepy. Just irritating.

"I know you," he repeated. "You're usually with friends. That tall girl that always wears her hair in a pony-tail and the one with piercings up to here." His words taunted me. I didn't hang out with any tall girls with never ending pony-tails, or Lisa with her earrings. I knew who he was talking about, though, and that made me dislike him even more. He was mistaking me for my dead twin sister.

"She's dead." Again, I surprised myself – the last thing I wanted was to pour my heart out to a strange guy following me around a half-vacant parking lot. I convinced myself that I wasn't pouring my heart out, I was merely stating a fact. "The girl you're talking about is dead. She died two weeks ago."

By now, we approached my father's truck. I turned around to see his expression, which I expected to be befuddled and freaked out a little. It wasn't, though. If anything, it seemed to be an expression of understanding, something I couldn't figure out.

"You're a bit poetic, aren't you? Change isn't so bad. Sometimes I get tired of my friends and ditch them for some silence."

"You don't get it," I sighed. He thought I was talking about myself – perhaps a part of me that had died, that had changed and warped. I rolled my eyes and climbed into the driver's seat. He jumped in beside me. Funny, I almost never forgot to lock the doors. I stared at him for a moment; having never been put in this situation beforehand, I didn't know what to do. I wasn't trained to deal with a psychopath.

So really, his company had been forced upon me. For awhile, I was grateful that he didn't give up so easily.