It was longer; the journey by train from Suburbia to Ridgewood Falls seemed longer. It had been three years; three whole years since last making the trip. Running my thumb against my wristwatch, I left remnants of sweat against its face. On top of the four hours that had passed, the trip would take another forty-five minutes.
Gazing through the window, the thoughts in my mind raced by faster than the scenery I was failing to admire. Suburbia was gone now, the laughs, the friends and unfortunately Roxana as well. It was all gone.
With a quiver, my breath trapped within my throat. A gasp was stuck; it only escaped as the shiver to my spine intensified. There was a warm flush to my cheek. The curious heads of the adjacent travelers facing my direction had caused it. What the heck is wrong with that girl, I imagined they were thinking. They couldn't understand. Any normal type of gone could have never made that physical impact on a person; it was a forever type of gone.
In green blurs, tree after tree raced pass the window. Maybe being home wasn't going to be such a bad thing after all. The peace and comfort it always had was sure to remain. Suburbia only imitated a comforting place; at least it did before everything transpired. Nonetheless, Suburbia never held a candle to the small town of Ridgewood Falls. Something about its level of comfort was much more authentic.
Three years since being home, meant three years without seeing old friends. What kind of men did they become? The gears of the train's brakes grinded, as it slowed. Reaching a complete stop, I nestled into the plush seat. Ear to ear my full set of porcelain teeth reflected in the train's window. Those two…not only did they manage to keep me smiling even by thought alone; those thoughts managed to pass time so rapidly.
No other passenger had a cluster of fleeting thoughts weighing them down. They all sprang to their feet, grabbing their belongings. I tightly gripped the strap of my bag. It was my sole bag. Father made it a point to ship all the other belongings to mom's home directly, they were sure to be there by now. He worked hard to become the Suburban senator, and he took full advantage of his privileges. No one would dare cross him or delay his shipment. The jabber of the other travelers faded to silence.
Swinging the bag over my shoulder, I placed it on my back, along with the old photo album secured to it. The auburn hue of the dusk sky poured into the open train doors.
"Well, here we go."
As I stepped onto the platform, the tingling sensations of pure nostalgia swept through me. With a deep breath, my chest expanded. Spring…it was always so amazing. There was but one place to be though; a place in Ridgewood Falls where it could truly be appreciated.
I stretched, catching a glimpse of the five minutes past six that ticked on my watch. There would be no time to go see the Tabby trees and that magnificent place that evening. The petals of Ridgewood Falls' unique Tabby trees were sure to be budding. Their distinct springtime, baby blue added to the beauty of that place. Again, father had flexed his senator resources to land his daughter an interview, missing it was not an option.
Walking up and down the hilly stone streets, familiarity was a sign that nothing had changed. The brick buildings stood so closely together that the trees and shrubbery in-between could embrace several of them at a time. Suburbia was quiet, but not nearly as quiet as Ridgewood Falls.
For minutes I walked, even when the buildings were no longer around. I remained on that road; walking passed the grassy fields.
It went from black to white as soon as I passed the sign, which read 'Ridgewood Falls limits. The buildings of Central City towered over head, and in the distance, cars were zooming about. Walking a few more blocks, I stopped in front of a ten-story building. The grand glass doors read 'Neumann photography'.
Stepping a mere fraction to the door, it automatically slid open. It was all glass…walking about the room toward the desk, I ran my hands across the glass and Plexiglas furniture and decorations. At the secretary's desk, a voluptuous woman looked up. Every time the woman looked away; I allowed my curious eyes to wander her frame. The entire room seemed like a scene from a science fiction movie, and even the woman behind the desk was out of this world. She without a doubt didn't belong behind the desk of a photography company but instead in front of their cameras. Not a blonde strand was out of place.
"Welcome to Neumann Photography, how may we help you?"
"My name is Cicely Cain; I have an internship interview with Mr. Neumann."
"Say no more," she smiled. "He has been eagerly waiting for you… please take the elevator up to the top floor." The woman said handing me a key.
I walked the direction the woman's ring embraced finger pointed. Entering the elevator, I pushed at the tenth floor's button. It didn't respond, until inserting the key. The reflective metal doors closed, showing the reflection of my face. Not average, very beautiful, but after encountering that secretary, it just didn't seem like enough. I pulled my hair tie, freeing my onyx colored ponytail. If those were the types of women Mr. Neumann was surrounded by then it just wasn't enough. I adjusted my low collared blouse, allowing my cleavage to show. Digging into my bag, I slipped a camera around my neck. It bounced on my chest, as the elevator door opened.
The coolness of the AC unit was drying my mouth out. Was my mouth hanging open that long? The sight of Mr. Neumann's office would cause such a reaction. It was beautiful. The colors of the artwork and furniture; the reds, yellows, and oranges radiated and fused together so beautifully. What a sneaky and underhanded trick that was. The lobby was a ploy, the transparent glass certainly made you appreciate that room so much more. An appreciation a photographer's eye caught quickly.
What was that? A Ka-Chic sound filled the room. Such a familiar sound; the sound produced from of a camera shutter.
Behind me, Mr. Neumann stood in front of an open bathroom door. I stared to the lens of his camera, which stared back. As he lowered it from his face, he brushed the brunette hair from his green eyes. His build was impressive for that of a photographer, breaking the scrawny guy mold that most people would envision in the profession.
"Put your hair into a ponytail." He lowered his horn-rimmed glasses from his forehead to his face, and I obliged.
"There." He made his way to his desk. "I think the camera can much more appreciate your beauty with a better view of your cheek bones." Taking a seat, he signaled me to do the same. Sitting across from him, I set the photo album onto his desk.
"Is this your portfolio?"
"Well, sort of sir… It started as my grandfather's …"
Placing his index finger against his lips, he silenced me. The book was already open, slowly, he flipped through the pages. I couldn't bear to watch. The shirt sleeves under my arms were damp. What was he thinking? It was enough to make someone feel like they were on the edge of their seat. Wait it was literal, I scooted back on the chair that was almost toppling over. Surely, he could tell which images were taken by grandfather. On each page, there were two very aged black and white photographs with a colored photo next to each of them. He paused on the black and white image of a baby laughing; next to it was my selfie, with Roxana behind me. We were cracking up…I'd give anything to hear her laugh…just one more time.
"A child's laughter," Mr. Neumann grumbled under his breath. "Oh, you're a twin."
I merely nodded my head, avoiding eye contact. Regardless, Mr. Neumann's eyes remained buried in the album. The man's hands continued flipping through the album. He paused once again. There was an old colorless photograph of a garden, and next to it was an image of the backs of two young boys. I smirked. That was definitely one of the most beautiful pieces in the album. It was the background of that image that caught his attention for sure.
"Your depiction of spring here is impressive…"
"I wish I could take credit for that, but it's a place my friends and I found…. Nature took control…in The Summit the seasons change in the most beautiful way."
"I see what you have done in this portfolio. Recreating what each of your grandfather's photos encompassed… it is incredibly genius."
A smile stretched the skin of my cheeks. Those words were a breath of fresh air. Finding someone to believe in your dreams was odd; Roxana and Sion had always been those people but finding someone who shared those dreams; now that was a complete rarity.
Mr. Neumann continued flipping through the book. I fidgeted with the camera that hung from my neck. Anticipation…it returned to a full build with every page he flipped. The silence was becoming torturous. What would he think of the final four images?
"I'm not sure if I said it, but thank you for this intern opportunity." I wiped the sweat from my brow.
"Not exactly in those words, but for the fourth time now you are welcome."
Four times…when did that happen? It truly was nerve wracking; it had to have been to say a statement four times, and not remember. Was he impressed? It seemed that on interviews they never truly seemed interested until the last minutes. Who knew how much someone's throat could dry out from anxiety? I swallowed hard.
He arrived to the last four black and white images each missing a colored counterpart. His hand rubbed at the protective plastic that covered the first of the four. It was a photograph of a young woman gazing into the camera.
"Why haven't you recreated this one yet? It is simple to recreate the love and admiration pouring from her eyes."
"Simple? No one has ever looked at me the way my grandmother looked at my grandfather. It's not just recreating love; she gazed to his soul the way his camera gazed to hers. Those eyes engulfed and accepted him completely…that love is impossible to falsify."
Mr. Neumann nodded his head with an impressed smirk. Before double taking to the book. He skipped over the next two photographs, before removing the very last image. The image was beautiful snow, glistening as it descended, with most of the snowflakes resembling particles of light.
"I have yet to come across snow as beautiful as the one my grandfather saw that day."
He placed the image back, closing the book. He stared silently into my eyes. My rapid breathing and pounding heart moved the camera suspended against my chest. What was on his mind? The anticipation was unbearable.
"Capturing emotion and feeling in a photograph is exactly what Neumann photography is." He stared down. He was looking to my cleavage. I foolishly wanted to not be a child to him; a child wouldn't fit into his company; I had no idea that meant becoming a piece of meat. He made no effort to hide where his gaze was directed. I adjusted my shirt covering myself. No matter how blatant he could be, I could top it with a much more blatant 'no'. He regained eye contact.
"A correction to what I was saying, capturing that emotion is exactly what I do, and you have done by recreating your grandfather's photographs. Tell me, is that what you love most about photography Cicely?"
Before I could answer I found myself nodding.
"Well then I would love to take you on as an intern." He stood up extending his hand.
"Thank you." I shook the suspended hand.
"I will have my secretary set up your start date and notify you of all the details."
As I walked toward the office exit, I didn't look back, but his eyes were searing. The heat of them followed every motion of my swaying backside, burning into me. One could choke on the concentration of lust within the room. Is this how it was, being an attractive girl in the professional world? Was it the talent or the beauty that landed that internship? As awful as it was, there was truly no way to tell the difference. I closed the office door.
Outside the front of the building, I looked at the quarter to eight my watch displayed. Time had passed so silently. It was like that whenever photography was involved. Time just seemed to fly by, rather ironic…
Hailing a taxi, it took me from Central City back into Ridgewood Falls. It was all the same. Every home, every tree, every shop. Even the old middle school was as run down as ever. The taxi stopped in front of a home. It was also just the same, as small as it had ever been.
The driver had a transferor; a device that could deposit money into his account via NEXYUS. I swiped my credit card, exiting, and walking to the door of the home. Pausing for a moment my finger hovered over the doorbell, teasing it. It had been three years gone, with no visits. A smile formed on my face, as I turned my back to the door. Seeing mom live in the flesh after so long, with only seconds away, felt like eternity.
I turned around, and the two of us jumped up and down, grinning, screaming and embracing. Mother stopped mid jump, leaving me jumping alone. Stopping, I looked her head to toe, twice over. Did three years really make so much of a difference? She was only in her forties, but the age showed on her face with fresh creases. My mother's eyes swelled with tears as she turned, entering the home. It wasn't age after all, it was stress. Please don't cry, crying would have been too much to handle. Following her, I stopped just inside. The room was filled with the clusters of antiques that decorated the wooden home. No amount of teasing would have ever changed the fact that mother was a packrat. Several of the dozen cuckoo clocks around the home chimed their eight o'clock hour, a few remained dusty and frozen.
"Let me take a good look at you girlfriend," she said, rubbing my shoulders, and twirling me around. Releasing, she gave a stiff smack to my butt with a giggle. Approaching the kitchen sink, she allowed her hands to submerge in the soapy water.
"How did your interview go Hun?"
"I got it."
The woman paused from tending to the dishes long enough to give me a sudsy thumb up.
Beep, beep, the microwave chimed, and I took the bowl of spaghetti to my seat.
"You don't look like someone who is excited to be back home, or someone who is excited to eat their favorite meal."
There was a frown to my face, it wasn't intentional, I suppose it was just the current resting face. I remained quiet.
"Well having you home is good… I'm sure you needed a break from your dad's constant campaigning. Thank God I had the strength to leave that behind…" She mumbled. "…but, I bet I know one thing you're excited about… seeing Ayven and Sion tomorrow."
So much for a resting frown face; a smile came in, stealing the territory. Mother was snickering. Cheesy old woman probably thought her line was so clever. She was right though; it was by far the biggest pro of the entire move. The Suburban boys weren't bad, but just like Suburbia itself they lacked a certain authenticity. Perhaps it wasn't the boys themselves, but rather the feelings they instilled. It was a completely different feeling telling your heart it should skip a beat versus the natural chest cramping feeling a true skipped beat provided.
I picked up the nursing badge on the table. "Kristine Cain…when are you going to get rid of dad's last name?"
"Well, Kristine Cain sounds a whole lot better than Kristine Mih-KIH-nee. All I put up with, that man owes me the name for as long as I want."
"Yeah…McKinney is an awful name. I sure dodged a bullet there."
Kristine threw suds, and I responded with a laugh. I gasped as the laugh morphed to a yawn.
"Your father told me you weren't sleeping well, lately" Her mood shifted, no longer bubbly, but so grim it changed the entire aura of the room. I looked away, goosebumps, and tingles to my neck.
What was that sound…sniffling? Turning my head, I caught the first few tears hit the dishwater. "I'm sorry the treatment your father suggested didn't work, and now everything with Roxana… I let both my girls walk right into heartbreak" She broke into complete hysterics.
It was heartbreaking. Getting up, I held my mother from behind. "Mom, you always said when I was little that I gave my heart so Rox's could be whole. Now how could you have let me walk into heartbreak if I don't have one to begin with?" That was enough to share a smile with her. It was all I could manage. Being strong for her, was too much, especially when all I wanted to do was kick, cry and scream. Clearly someone needed to be strong for her, I could do all of that behind closed doors.
I rapidly turned for a dark creaky hall. It was coming and there was no way to stop it. The tears flowed down my cheeks, leaving darken streaks down my shirt. Almost as promptly, mom sobbed audibly.
The wooden floor creaked under each of my steps. I grabbed the doorknob. The peeling bronze plated handle was ice, as if it hadn't felt a warm hand in eternity.
I looked around the bedroom, it was the same. Two twin beds, dual closets, and filled with teddy bears, and posters of pop bands. I slipped my jeans off, hanging them in one of the closets. The floor continued creaking under my feet. As she closed the bedroom door, I spied on mom, who sat on the couch, reading.
I reopened the door, leaving it cracked part way. Sliding into one of the beds, I curled under the blanket. Once again, my eyes filled with tears, as I glanced around the room. On the wall hung the dusty wooden sign, it read Cis & Rox.
A branch scratched against the window, creating a tapping noise, and the old home joined in by creating whispers. Last time there, it was far less lonely. The creaking of the floor used to be covered up by Roxana's laughter. The laughter was gone, the untamed voices of the old home were all that remained. It spoke so eerily. There was nothing worse than when the sounds of an old home made you feel alone even when you knew you weren't. What did it want?
I whipped my eyes back and forth to all the old toys that sat on a dusty wooden shelf. They seemed to stare back. Were they moving? They were for sure…their eyes darting about the room. No…if anyone stared at anything long enough in the dark it would appear to move. Silly, paranoia. I turned my back to the toys. Well it wouldn't hurt…I hopped from the bed, adjusting some of the lifeless eyes to face away. Making my way back to bed, I paused facing the empty bed. Roxana's old bed, it was the only thing, stir less. The hairs on the back of my neck stood. Goose bumps took to my arm. The sensation of not being alone, it was going to happen again that night. I bolted for the door, opening it fully. Setting my camera to face my bed, I pressed a button causing a red circle to blink on the camera's screen. Was it real or was it fake? The camera could easily be reviewed in the morning. Duh, it was such an obvious solution…a video would tell all.
As my head fell to the pillow, a sigh escaped me. Almost immediately my eyes fluttered. Was that sleep already? Why fight it…fear…it was still looming. I closed my eyes.
Slowly, but getting ever so louder, a hoarse gurgling came from the hallway. Darkness grew; black crept from every corner of the room inching its way closer to my bed. My breathing it was irrational, erratic, and hastened. Every breath that followed forced a shudder. My eyes popped open, darting over to the flicking lights my mother's television sent into the hallway. I attempted to call for her, but the words just wouldn't leave me. Instead my soundless lips only made the motions. Why was she glued to the television? Why wasn't she paying any attention. To be in danger and have someone sit an arm's reach away…why wasn't she paying attention. Screaming, I exhausted all the air from my lungs. Could it really be called screaming if no sound exited? The only sounds were the footsteps that came down the hallway. Mom…?
The hoarse voice gurgled its words again. It was pure confusion, were the words being heard or being said? That wasn't sleep, it wasn't a dream. I attempted to move, to no reward. My limbs were completely frozen. Panic… my eyes frantically darted about before they managed to dart down to my feet. The darkness and shadows crept over me; slowly.
There was nothing there, but pressure gripped against my ankles. My breathing was rapid. As I continued to fight and scream to no fruition. The grips moved up my legs, reaching my chest.
Under the pressure, I froze, and it increased, pushing me deeper and deeper into the mattress. It was the most intense it had ever been. Screaming once more, I pushed my way up from the bed, and the gurgling stopped.
In an ice cold sweat, I sat in bed, looking towards my camera. It was just too much, who could bear to watch…in the morning was a better option. I turned it off.
Sitting on the couch was my mother; she slept stir-free and peacefully.
Gazing out of the window, I awaited the sunrise.