Hey, y'all! So, I really liked the great support and feedback that I get/got from you guys; I seriously appreciate it. You have no idea; you are my motivation! Without you, I wouldn't have made it this far. Thanks; I love you all!

Anyways, I'm back with chapter eleven of Living a Lie. My goodness; CHAPTER ELEVEN ALREADY! My baby grew up so fast! *Sniff, sniff*

Here you are; read, review, and enjoy!

Yes, I finally got a chance to finish this chapter. I made it extra long, just for you guys! I hope this satisfies you until I can upload another chapter. BTW, all of the stuff typed above this ^^ is all from when I started the chapter a week or two ago. In the beginning of October. OMG, Has anyone else read FINALE? My mind was blown! I won't give any spoilers, though. xD Yes, I read it. I'm still gonna stick with my plot, though, but I'll still stick in a few hints of FINALE in there. If you've read it, you'll recognize it. :)

I think, with the turns in plot from FINALE, I might just have to make a sequel to LAL... What do you guys think? Yes, or no?

Review and let me know!

Stop, stop, stop; here, rest here.

My brain finally caught up with my body not too long after I ran away from the house. I could almost still hear them, shouting my name in the distance behind me. I slowed to a fast walk, my lungs burning with each breath I took. I hadn't run long, but I was more interested in finding a place to hide than putting too much distance between them and myself, yet. I had nowhere to go, after all.

"Find a place to hide," I muttered to myself as I walked. "Find a place to hide, find a place to hide!"

And then the farmhouse came into view. Of course; Blythe! In all the craziness of this switched parents business, I had completely forgotten about her. Suddenly, the farmhouse was looking like a beautiful sanctuary from all of this. I could stay there. They would never suspect that I would stay with someone they don't even know! It was perfect.

With the direction my thoughts were going, I was getting a rush of energy. I quickened my pace, leaving my speed-walk behind for a full out run. I got there in less than a minute, it wasn't even a mile. I may have been thinking all of these high-spirited, optimistic thoughts, but as I stood there behind the house staring up at it, I suddenly felt that maybe it wasn't such a good idea.

I'd barely met Blythe for the first time that day. I never even knew she had existed before then; I'd thought the house was abandoned. But the connection I'd felt with her, the feeling that I already knew her far more than just an acquaintance came to mind as I considered the idea again. I couldn't shake the feeling as I remembered it. I hoped she felt the same.

Biting my lip, I walked around the house, skirting the barn and rounding the corner to the front porch. Here it was: my opportunity. All I had to do was knock on the door and ask to stay. I took a deep breath. Come on, Jarene, I chided myself. You can do this.

I couldn't do this.

But I didn't give myself a chance to back out. I reached up and knocked on the door swiftly before I could think twice about it and waited anxiously, about to explode with nervous energy.

The door opened and Blythe peered out, almost cautiously. The second she caught sight of me, recognition dawned in her eyes, and her wrinkled face broke into a huge, happy grin. I smiled back uncertainly. She swung the door open further and stepped out, throwing her arms around me in a big, warm hug.

"Naomi!" she exclaimed happily. "You're back! It's so great to see you!" She pulled back, smiling at me. "Please, come inside. I just whipped up a batch of homemade blueberry pancakes. We can eat and sit down for a talk."

I stared at her, dumbfounded. "How did—," I began to say, but she cut me off.

"Oh, please, dear," she said with a roll of her eyes. "When my daughter was your age and had something important to talk about, she wore the exact same look on her face that you do now. Come on in; you can tell me anything and everything." She put her arm around my shoulders and led me inside her home, closing the door behind her.

The inside of the house smelt like burning wood, cinnamon, and old paper. These were some of my favorite smells; smells that brought me back to peaceful times and places. I felt at peace there, sitting at Blythe's dining table in her dining room, a plate of steaming blueberry pancakes sitting in front of me. Fresh fruit sat in a bowl between us; Blythe and I sat across from each other.

"Breakfast at lunchtime?" I asked, glancing at the clock mounted on the wall behind her. It was just about the time that I would be sitting at our table with Bryan and Sarah. Thinking about them brought back memories of what had occurred just an hour ago; being here with Blythe somehow managed to bring me to another time, another place where I was safe with this woman. She made me feel safe the way Patch and Nora had.

Blythe shrugged, bringing me out of my thoughts. "I eat whatever I feel like eating, whenever I feel like eating it. I usually eat pretty healthy, so it's not a problem with my health."

At that, I shrugged and dug into my pancakes; no sense in letting good food go to waste.

"So," Blythe said once we were finished. She paused, pushing aside her plate as she leaned on the table; elbows propped up to rest her chin on her hands. "What did you want to talk about?"

She asked the question so gently, so softly that I answered her honestly, my voice as soft as hers.

"My entire life was a lie."

Her expression didn't change; she didn't tell me I was just being an exaggerated teenager like I expected her to. She just leaned closer, her expression attentive as she stared at me. "Really. How so?"

And so the story began. I told her everything, minus the whole fallen angel-Nephilim thing. I withheld that, mostly because while I told Sarah and Bryan, I wanted to get to know Blythe a little better before I told her something so big and unbelievable.

All the while, her expression remained the same; calculating my every move and word, clinging to every word I said as it left my mouth, paying attention as I spilled my whole life story to her. It felt good to let it off my chest to someone I didn't really know; she could give me an unbiased opinion about it all.

"So, here I am," I concluded. I swallowed, wringing my hands nervously. "And I was wondering… if maybe you'd let me stay here for a couple of days. I mean, I'm not that far away, and I could still go to school and everything, I'd clean up after myself, provide my own clothes and stuff—I won't be a bother to you, I swear. And I won't stay long."

I looked at her hopefully, chewing on my bottom lip. Her expression looked surprised and delighted for one second—but then turned rueful and unhappy. She clicked her tongue and shook her head apologetically.

"I'm sorry, baby, I wish I could," she said, slight desperation apparent in her voice. "If they try looking for you, this is the first place they will come to. Trust me," she said at my confused and crestfallen expression, "they will. You will no doubt find out why."

"You can't just tell me?" What was with the world and keeping secrets from me?

"I'm sorry, no. I'd rather you find out. Just hopefully not in the way that you most likely will."

"What's that supposed to mean? Blythe," I breathed out a frustrated breath, "you're confusing me. Why would they come here? What do you have to do with it?"

"I promise you'll find out soon," she reassured me. I was anything but reassured, though. If anything, I was more suspicious. How could the world come to this, when I couldn't even trust my neighbor? I mean, the world had come to that a long time ago, but still. I liked Blythe. How was she so sure that Patch and Nora would come here first? I didn't know; I wasn't sure I wanted to know.

"You can stay here for the night, honey," she said, "but if you really don't want to get caught, you'll have to keep moving. They sound like pretty persistent people, if you ask me." She sighed.

"Are you just kicking me out because you don't want to get mixed up in this if they call the police?" I couldn't help myself. I had to say it. My blunt tone made her look up at me—though it could also just have been my question.

She stared at me with something almost like disbelief on her face. "Honey," she said, and I thought I heard the hurt in her voice, "it breaks my heart to have to turn you away. But if you want to get caught and be the sitting duck, go on right ahead, but don't say I didn't tell you so. I don't care if they call the police. Police can't do anything to me, anyway. I just don't to see you get hurt. I've see what pain can do to people. Drives them insane sometimes. But you—you've been through some pretty rough times and seem pretty steady on your feet. You'll be fine. I know it.

"Like I said, you can stay here for the night. What you do next after that is all up to you."

I hate it when adults sound so wise and make you feel stupid and immature. They just have to rub it in your face, don't they? But of course, I knew she was right.

"Fine," I sighed. "I'll stay for tonight and find somewhere else to stay tomorrow."

"That's a girl." Blythe suddenly smiled proudly at me. "You know, I have a daughter who was just like you at this age."

I sat straighter, my curiosity piqued. "Really?"

"Yes. She even looked like you, too, kind of. Blue eyes, curly hair, long legs. She wasn't all sporty, but she was a straight 'A' student, had good friends, and went out. She had this crazy best friend back in high school that she sometimes got into trouble with, but it was all in fun. She is my only child, and she grew up to be a strong, fine woman. I couldn't be more proud of her. Of course, her decisions are another matter, but nonetheless, I'm still proud. She went through rough times, too."

I tried to get her to say more about it, but she wouldn't say another word on the subject no matter what. I finally gave up after several tries. We washed our dishes and I decided to call Bryan and Sarah and get them caught up on things. Sarah was in shock, and I couldn't exactly tell what Bryan's reaction was, because I'd called him while he was busy getting things out of his locker and he'd run to the bathroom to talk to me. I tried to be brief and simple, and I was, but he couldn't stay in the bathroom forever, so we hung up with quick goodbyes. Sarah was in history, and Mr. Fast hadn't been very lenient about it.

He had put the phone on speaker and told me to tell the class what we were talking about.

"Who is this?" he asked into the mouth piece.

"Uh, a friend," I replied, swallowing.

"What friend?"

"A friend who does not wish to speak their name, sir."

"Would you be so kind as to tell the class what we had to stop in the middle of the lesson for?"

"I'm not a very kind person, if you couldn't already tell." What a jerk teacher, right?

"What were you talking about?" he asked again firmly.

"I was just saying that her cousin had cancer, and that I was affirmed for chemotherapy!" I made my voice sound angry and frustrated over the phone. Then I pretended to sound nervous. "Uh, I mean, she was affirmed for chemotherapy. Sorry, Sarah…"

She knew I was just saying all of that to make the teacher feel guilty. The entire classroom fell silent, and I imagined that Mr. Fast was blushing and looking guilty.

"I, uh, am sorry to hear that. Sarah, you may continue this conversation outside for another five minutes. I apologize."

"That's okay, Mr. Fast," I heard Sarah mumble brokenly. She was the best actress I knew. The phone was shuffled a bit, and I heard the beep of a button pressed, and the closing of a door.

"Dude," Sarah's voice was amazed and astounded. "That was so epic! I can't believe you told him off like that! What a story! The whole class was all quiet, and people were all like, 'I'm so sorry about your cousin' and stuff. I'm glad I'm a good actress, or I would've never been able to pass that off. So, you were saying?"

And I finished telling her what happened.

"Well, you know you can still hide in my tree house," Sarah offered when I finished. "I'm serious; nobody will ever look in there." She paused, and I heard her shiver over the phone. "Damn, it's getting colder and colder every day. It's September already, can you believe that? Just a few weeks more, and we'll be off of school for a whole week!"

"Yeah, I know." I was kind of dazed about it too. August and most of September had gone by so quickly. Soon it would be October, and after that came Thanksgiving in November. I didn't even know if I would celebrate it. I always stayed home with my parents and we would huddle together in front of the fireplace and just laugh and talk to each other. Back when things were easier. When I wasn't so confused about who and what I was.

"So you told Bryan already about this?" Sarah's voice jerked me out of my contemplations.

"Uh, yeah, I did. I had to be brief though, since it was during class switches," I answered. "He seemed okay about it, though. Except when I told him about the knife thing, but he calmed down a bit when I told him nobody got hurt."

My voice was tight as I spoke about it. A part of me was absloutely horrified that I'd come that close to actually stabbing Patch with a knife. A little voice in the back of my head spoke to me when I threw it, trying to relieve me of the gut-wrenching guilt I felt over it.

He wouldn't have felt it, the voice had said. He would've healed. You weren't going to hit him, anyway. You needed to get away. That's all.

But that wasn't all. I couldn't just dismiss this like I just accidentally spilled something on his shirt (which, by the way, I would feel totally guilty about, too). I had thrown a knife at him. Purposely. I would've never forgiven myself if it had hit him. I couldn't hurt him. I just couldn't.

"I guess I'll see you when school's over then," I told Sarah over the phone. We had lapsed into a thoughtful silence, both of us in our own worlds.

"Okay, see you then."

We hung up. I felt pretty worked up about this whole incident and felt the sudden urge to run, just get up and run somewhere else where I could think. I felt like I was imposing on Blythe anyway, so I got up to tell her I'd be back later.

"Alright, just don't stay out too long," she called from the kitchen as I walked in the opposite direction.

"'Kay!" And with that, I walked out the door and jumped over the porch steps, literally hitting the ground running. I ran into the woods farther off, away from the farmhouse, away from my house, and away from normal civilizations.

Into the woods. The one place I truly felt at peace and able to think. The scent of pine and oak cleared my head and organized my thoughts like invisible hands reaching into my brain and parting the haze of jaumbled thoughts in there.

This one goes over here, that one goes over there, oh, and this one goes in here...

The familiar tightening of my muscles in my legs was reassuring as I ran through the woods at my usual five-minute-mile pace. Here in the woods, I could face myself, had no one to face but myself; and that was usually what I did. Like I was doing now. I was firing questions and arguments back and forth inside my head, taking advantage of the surely temporary clarity that was instilled in my mind.

How could you do that? part of my mind screamed at me. How could you throw a knife at Patch?

I wasn't thinking, alright?! I launched back. I was under pressure, and nobody can think when under pressure.

Oh, what a lame, half-ass excuse, she sneered back at me. You know that it was uncalled for. What you did was on you own volition. Why can't you just listen and do what people tell you for once?

I don't know! But if you're blaming me, you're basically blaming yourself, I told her.

Don't even try to blame anyone! You have no one else to thank but yourself. I may be part of you, but I have nothing to do with the part that wanted to knife him! Really, Naomi! How could you? He's your father!

I know!

I dropped to the ground in pain, clutching my head as I curled into a ball on the forest floor. Those two words seemed to echo around in my head, so much weight they carried. The other voice seemed silenced for the most part, but our conversation never left me. Everything was true. Blaming it on pressure was a half-ass excuse. I had thrown the knife at Patch on my own volition; it had been my choice to do it.

I tried to knife him. My own... father.

I shuddered involuntarily on the ground, still curled in my protective ball. This was a definite turning-point. For the first time, I admitted it. Patch was my father. My biological father. I almost knifed my father.

God, what have I done?

I didn't get an answer, but then again, I didn't expect one. I was too closed off in my thoughts. In fact, so closed up was I, that I didn't even notice the sound of footsteps coming toward me until they were almost ten feet from me. A chilling cold feeling crawled up my skin, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight on end. Instinct told me to climb up the nearest tree.

So I did. Who was I to argue with my instinct. Truth be told, it wasn't instinct that told me to throw the knife. That really was my own choice.

Before the guilt could overwhelm me completely again, the owner of the footsteps came into view. A man, very tall and Italian looking, with dark hair and dark eyes was walking briskly through the woods. He kept turning his head, as if looking for something, but I didn't know what. He stopped abruptly. A chill went up my spine when I saw that it was the exact same spot that I had been lying on not even five minutes ago. The man stared at the ground as if trying to scowl answers out of it. He let go of a frustrated breath, and moved a little more out of my vision. I leaned over in the tree, stepping on the branch just a little more to see-

And missed the branch completely. My stomach lurched into my throat, and I had to hold in a yelp to keep from making noise as the ground suddenly grew closer to me. But I caught myself just in time on another branch, pulling in closer to the trunk of the tree. I made some noticeable noises when I almost fell; the fact that I heard nothing from behind me made my heart pound faster and harder in my chest. Sweat beaded along my brow, and I scrambled for something, anything to save myself. Something told me that this man's intentions were anything but benign.

A heavy stick poked into my hand, and I saw my chance of escape. I carefully and silently broke it off of the bigger branch, and weighed it in my hand. Heavy enough to go far if I threw it and make an impact; a distraction. Praying hard, I threw the stick as hard as I could into the woods through the trees. I was amazed; I watched, dumbfounded, as the stick sailed through the air, way farther than I had even intended it to fly. Some thrity seconds later, I heard it land; a large rustle of leaves sounded about fifty to sixty feet away from me. I looked down-and nearly fell of my branch again. The man was directly below me, his head turned in the direction of the stick's landing place.

He immediately ran after it, disappearing in the blink of an eye. I couldn't follow him after he was gone. I knew in that moment, just like I had when I sensed him, that he wasn't human. He was... Nephilim. I could tell.

I let go of a shuddering, relieved breath, and dropped to the floor, landing in a crouch. I had to get home before something else happened. Without another glance back, I turned on my heel and ran for all I was worth.

"Patch, are you sure you're okay?" Nora asked for the what Patch thought was the millionth time. And just like the time before that, he answered her with the same response.

"Yes, I'm fine. She didn't get me."

He wasn't going to lie, though; the whole incident with the knife had shaken him up pretty badly. He should've known not to push Naomi so far. Pressure could do crazy things to people. He'd seen the resutls of it firsthand. But he was so driven by the need to protect his daughter at all costs that all his old rules and cautions flew out the window.

"I can't believe we didn't see that coming," Vee muttered from her seat on Naomi's bed. Nobody had left the room since the incident over two hours ago. Scott sat beside her; Patch couldn't remember a time since he'd first visited them three months ago when they'd both not been together when in the same room. Their relationship kind of reminded him of his and Nora's. Bonded together by an oath more powerful than any other, he and Nora would forever be together, happy and in love. Patch knew that for certain.

"I can't believe I left my knife on the table," Scott countered, sounding glum.

"I really feel like we should go look for her," Nora said. Her voice carried so much worry that it brought even more to the surface of Patch's emotions. He may not have been able to feel touch or sensation, but his emotions were fair game. He was constantly reminded. "What if she got hurt somewhere, or needs something?"

"She won't ask us for anything if she needs it," Vee said; she sounded so certain. "She'll go to Sarah's. Which, brings me to a confession I have to make." Patch's eyes were instantly glued to the guilty and sheepish expression on her face, analyzing her every word and move.

"What did you do?" He spoke calmly, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to see that he was wary. His warning tone said it all.

"I didn't... do anything, per se," she hedged. Nora cut her off.

"Vee, just get to it, please."

"I got in touch with her yesterday without telling you guys." She winced, as if waiting for an onslaught of insults and shouts at her. Encouraged by the silence that followed, she continued. "I spoke to her on Sarah's phone, tried to get her to come back, but she wouldn't. She told me that if we went after her and tried to bring her back, she might hate us. She didn't want to be found. She said she wanted time to figure things out on her own. I think that's why she had this outburst."

There was a brief moment of silence... and then the protests started.

"What?! How could you do this behind our backs?!"

"We trusted you! Why?"

"Vee, why would you do that? She's our daughter! Our daughter!"

The last one came from Nora, and seemed to cause the most impact on Vee. She sat up straight-she'd cowered under the weight of the onslaught of shouts-and looked at Nora. She had so much sincerity and regret in her eyes.

"I am so sorry, Nora," Vee sniffed. "I was just trying to get her to come back. I didn't think it would be so bad. I didn't expect her to not want to leave after you told her about the assasins. I didn't expect any of this to happen. I just wanted her to know the truth. This is all my fault!"

Despite the circumstances, Patch felt a little part of him agree. If she had just minded her own business, none of this would've happened. She should've let him and Nora handle it.

But when would that have happened? a voice spoke up in his mind. If it weren't for her, you never would've come out to see your daughter. You would've just kept watching from a distance, like you have for the past sixteen years.

The voice was right. Coming out to see Naomi probably wouldn't have happened without Vee's insistance. He would've kept watching from the sidelines, satisfying himself with pictures of the years and events in Naomi's life that were captured in shiney paper, never getting to experience the real thing. He'd missed so much. And Vee had helped change that; he wouldn't have to miss any more, thanks to her.

"No, Vee," he found himself saying. He almost couldn't believe that he was saying it; and from the looks of shock on the others' faces, they couldn't either. "You are right; it is your fault. It's your fault that I got to meet my daughter for the first actual time in sixteen years. It's your fault that she grew up so healthy and strong and beautiful. It's your fault that she got to know the truth. It's your fault that I got to hug her, got to actually hug her since she was born. All of these wonderful things are all because of you.

"Thank you, Vee. I couldn't thank you enough for all the things you've done for us."

For a moment, Vee was silent, in shock. Then, she sniffled loudly and nodded at him. "You're welcome," she muttered.

Before anyone could say anything else, Nora's cellphone rang. Her face scrunched up in confusion, and Patch knew why; only he, Scott, and Vee had her number. She dug the phone out of her pocket, and answered it.


"Nora Grey," a sickeningly familiar voice said from the other end. Patch felt anger and annoyance creep into his mood. "It's been a long while. How ya been?"

Nora's eyes widened. Patch felt dizzy all of a sudden, wary and weary. Great. Just great.

Nora whispered one name, a single name that brought back plenty of old memories. "Dante."

"Blythe! I'm home! Are you still here?" I shut the front door behind me as I entered the house, comfortably. Already it felt comfortable here, easy to be myself; not that that was doing much. I was usually quiet, drawing in my room or outside in the back yard.

I received no answer to my call. I ventured further into the house, not finding her in the living room, the kitchen, or anywhere else. I wandered back down to the kitchen, biting gently on my thumbnail. Where could she be?

My eyes landed on the counter. Stuck to the counter top behind the turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers was a sticky note with neatly messy handwriting on it. It was addressed to me.

Naomi, it read. By the time you read this, I'll already be out. I just went to the store to buy groceries. I'll be back in a little while. Help yourself to whatever I've got if you need or want anything. What's mine is yours. :)


I chewed my lip briefly. What was I to do now?

I felt a light pull leading me upstairs. It pulled at me gently, like limp, invisible hands trying to get me to go upstairs. It was subtle, so subtle I almost didn't feel it. But I did, so I decided I had nothing to lose and followed it. The closer I went to the stairs, the stronger the pull felt. It was gravitational, leading me up the stairs and down the hall to the end, and into a room to my left. I hesitated outside the door. The pull was so strong here. I turned the doorknob and went inside.

The bedroom was neat and tidy. Lavander sheets and covers adorned the bed, and the fireplace was empty and clean of soot. I could tell nothing had been burned for a long time in there. But as surprising as that was, there were signs of fire all over the room. On the walls, the floor, the window; all burned and charred black. It made me wonder what must've happened for all of it to get this way.

I walked further in the room, the door drifting shut behind me. I ran my fingers along the burned parts, following them like the lines of a map. They spiked out from the fireplace, forking and curving and crossing all over; up the walls to the ceiling, along the walls nearest to it, on the back of the door, underneath and around the window. Everywhere. The floor creaked under my weight, and I held my breath as if that would make me lighter. My fingers throbbed with a slight burn when I withdrew them from the walls, almost as if the house were sharing its pain with me.

There was nothing here, though. Why had the pulling sensation led me here? What was there for me to see? The burned parts? I didn't know. I shook my head, sighing. I shouldn't even have followed the pull anyway. Just as I turned to leave, however, the pull intensified ten-fold, and I heard my name whispered omniously, a ghost of a voice.


I whirled around, my heart skipping a beat. Okay, could someone have died in here? Someone who knew my name?

Whatever it was, it was forcing me to stay in the room. I was glued to the floor where I stood. I knew I should've felt alarmed, but I honestly didn't. At least, not too much. My eyes were suddenly drawn to a chest resting at the foot of Blythe's bed. It had to be Blythe's room; nobody else lived in the house. I slowly stepped closer to the chest, kneeling down before it. I hesitated there, though. I was torn between following what the mysterious force wanted me to do, and being courteous and respecting Blythe's privacy. Before I could let my conscience stop me, I found myself flipping up the hatch on the chest and pushing it open, revealing what was inside.

What I found inside the chest was typical; expected. Old books, clothes, photo albums. Nothing particularly of any importance to me. Why was the force pushing me to do this? What was going on? I expelled a frustrated sigh, pushing myself into a standing position. What a waste of time.


I whirled around agian, half scared, half annoyed. "What?" I muttered.

The chest...

I looked down at it. It looked exactly like it had five seconds ago. Except, I realized with incredulity, that there was something sticking out of it, something that hadn't been there before. I fell to my knees, carefully extracting the thin object. A photograph.

Of... me. At three years old on a bicycle. Scott was standing behind me, hands poised close together, about to clap. He was grinning proudly at me, and I looked ecstatic on my bike, my little three-year-old self having the time of her life. It was an old photo. One I didn't remember Vee or Scott taking or sending to anyone.

I opened the trunk again, this time feeling around the sides for bumps or rips. I glanced up at the chest's lid-and found a little tear in the thin, pastel green covering that covered the entire inside of the trunk. A hidden pocket. It took up the whole indented dome part of the trunk lid, and I wondered how I hadn't noticed it the first time.

I tore open the rest of the paper from the tear that was already there. A whole stack of pictures, colored and black and white, fell out and onto the other stuff in the trunk. I swiped it up and was about to close the trunk, but I heard the rumbling of a car engine pulling into the driveway. I reacted instinctlively; I snatched the pictures out of the trunk, slammed the lid down, and ran out of the room and down the stairs.

I imagined I looked too guilty to look Blythe in the eye, so I ran out the back door before she could come in and find me. I stood there for a few seconds with my back against the back door, breathing heavily. Oh, Lord; I was in such big trouble.

I had to find a place where I could look at these pictures in private. Where to go, though? I refused to go back into the woods, especially since I came across that guy. I couldn't go home; obviously. Sarah was still at school. Where could I go?

The barn.

Thank you, mysterious voice. The barn was right behind the house; perfect place to hide as long as Blythe didn't come looking in there after me. I ran over to it, opening the door and slamming it shut behind me, leaning my forehead on it. I breathed harshly, more from guilt and worry than exhaustion. I sighed, turning around and opening my eyes, pictures immediately forgotten at the sight. To say I was surprised would've been putting it lightly.

There was furniture in here. Real furniture. I couldn't believe my eyes. A bed in the far right corner, a few chairs scattered around, clothes, drawers; a whole collage of different types of furniture all over the barn. A lamp on a stool, probably serving as a nightstand. A suitcase sat half under the bad and half out of it. I was also zipped half closed, revealing the hard-bound cover of what looked like a giant photo album.


So the voice wanted me to snoop twice today. Fine.

I walked over to the bed and pulled the suitcase out from under the bed, checking to see what else was in there; some clothes, nothing else important. The photo album was what caught my attention.

I flipped it open. There was the standard This book of memories belongs to: (insert name here) thing printed in fancy font on the first paper page. I stared at what was written in neat cursive on the line where the name was supposed to go. Written there was not a name, but at date.

August twenty-third, nineteen-ninty-five.

My birthdate.

My heart pounded faster in my chest. I flipped to the next page, wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans. The next page held a document behind a thin sheet of plastic to keep picutres safe behind. A birth certificate. Cipriano, Naomi Jarene was written on the name line. My birthdate was written on the birthdate line. My other information was written on the following labeled lines; weight, length, and my foot print beside it all. My hands were trembling, my breathing shallow.

Next page. Pictures were there this time. Pictures of an infant, a little baby girl with her eyes shut. Beside that, a picture of the same infant with her eyes open. Grey eyes. My eyes. Beside that was a picture of Nora, looking bedraggled and haggard, but with a brilliant smile on her face showing that she didn't care. In her arms was the same baby. That baby was me, I supposed. My head spun just admitting it in my head.

The next few pictures were mostly of my baby self, but when I flipped the page over, my eyes zeroed in on one picture immediately. It was of Patch, sitting on a couch, with me in his arms. He looked so happy, frightened, and nervous to be holding me. I was so small in his arms, so fragile-looking. He gazed down at me in pure adoration and love, his expression awed. My eyes stung with tears. I turned to the next page before they could fall.

The pictures of them with me stopped after one with Nora, Patch, and me all together. They held me between them, smiling at the camera happily. I was just lying there, drooling on my clothes and staring into the camera. The next pictures were of myself alone, a little older than before, with more hair and bigger features. There were several of me laughing and frowning and crying; even some of me in the bathtub, those kinds of pictures that every teenager thinks are embarrassing and every parent loves to take. Some with my hair sticking up in weird angles and bubbles in weird fashions.

As I flipped pages, I realized it was like a documentation of me getting older. Me at five years old on my first day of kindergarten after preschool. Getting out of kindergarten at the end of the year. Vacation pictures of the summer before school. First grade, my spelling bee, my graduation from the first grade. And birthdays. Every single birthday picture was in here. There were occasional pictures of me in weird places, too.

On my way to school in a plaid skirt and blazer with a vest and a navy blue head band; third grade. I couldn't believe all of these pictures. It was obvious who the album belonged to, and who lived here in the barn. I kept going through the album. I got older with each page. Here I was, six years old on four pages and seven on the next four. The pages had many slots for many pictures; I had a feeling there were even more pictures somewhere else, not in the album. My breathing was both shallow and fast, my palms very sweaty.

I finally reached more recent pictures. A picture of me on my sixteenth birthday, a few months ago before Patch and Nora walked into my life. Vee was in the picture too, smiling at the camera. Scott was in the next one, holding me tightly from behind. I smiled happily at the camera, but I noticed something. I had a weird look in my eyes, almost as if I were confused. Distant. Wondering. I never noticed looking like that before.

The next page was another one of those weird pictures; there were quite a few in here. I was playing basketball in second period, dribbling the ball in my gym shorts and t-shirt. I had a concentrated look on my face, fierce and determined. I remembered that day faintly. It was such a normal day. The way my life used to be. There were several other pictures like this. Pictures that I didn't remember being taken. Me getting into my car for school one morning. Me dropping Sarah off at her house. Me swinging in the tire swing on the tree in our front yard. And Sarah and I decorating her willow tree last Christmas.

All of these pictures explained one thing. Patch and Nora had kept them all, had never come to me to meet me, or know me, or anything. They kept to themselves, not letting me know that I'd lived my entire short life without my real parents. I'd lived the life of a stranger without even knowing it.

They were watching from the sidelines all along. I never knew it, but they were. Taking pictures and keeping up with my life through images instead of the real thing. They knew what they were missing and didn't once try in all sixteen years that they'd been missing from my life to contact me or reach out to me.

The tears finally fell. They landed on the back of my left hand, and I swiped under my eye to brush them away. No. No. I wasn't going to cry about this. I couldn't, wouldn't. I had to be strong.

I gathered up the pictures, preparing to leave, but decided at the last second to do something crazy. I grabbed the album out of the suitcase again and flipped it to a page, taking out one picture from the many others there. It would definitely be hard to miss if they looked in there anytime soon. I slipped the photo into my back pocket and stuffed the suitcase and album back under the bed. I ran out the barn just as a back entrance I hadn't noticed swung open. On the other side of the barn doors, I peered in carefully. Patch and Nora flopped down on the bed, sighing at the same time. I backed away from the barn as fast as I could without making noise and ran back into the house.

Blythe was putting away the last of the groceries in the kitchen. She smiled at me when I came in. I couldn't stay here. I had to leave. They were living behind her house! Suddenly, her warning made sense. This was obviously the first place they would go.

"Hey, honey," she greeted me. Before she could say anything else, she caught sight of my tear-stained cheeks and her expression turned concerned. "Honey, what happened?"

I slipped the photos I'd found and looked at from her trunk out of my other back pocket and slapped them on the counter. She looked at them, confused, and then froze, recognition dawning on her face.

She looked back at me. I lookd at her straight in the eye, desperately trying not to let my face crumple into tears. As it was, my voice sounded strained and thick when I spoke.


One of the ever-present questions on my mind.

There! An update! Please, review! And please excuse any mistakes. No time for spellcheck! :P

~Alee V.