Chapter One: Nobody
Jim Evers, co-owner of Evers and Evers real estate knocked on the door of the last room in the upstairs hallway. Soft classical music was playing behind it, and light was shining from underneath the crack, mixing with the red carpet to make an orange shine.
"Marley, you in there?" He asked, getting no reply. He sighed and placed the palm of his hand on the door, leaning against it. It was almost ten o'clock, and the quiet noise was bothering his eldest daughter Megan. He knocked again once, then twice, and finally a third time when the wait was over and a tall girl with dark hair and an angular face opened it.
"Yes Jim?" She asked in her soft voice, pulling the ear buds from her ears. He peered around her, looking at the state of her room.
Their guest room was far from spacious; with only a bed and a dresser, but she had assured him and his beautiful wife Sarah that it would be absolutely fine when they had offered it to her. Calculus books and thick tomes of literature covered every available flat space, and the comforter on the bed was twisted around and untidy. Jim knew that when in college, you didn't have time or energy to be organized, but Marley, the daughter of his wife's good fried Annabelle seemed completely opposed to neatness as a whole.
Marley was going on twenty and was on break from Sanford University. Her mother lived too far away for her to attend, and when Sarah Evers had heard, she insisted on allowing her to stay with them, where she could continue her studies at the school of her dreams. Jim hadn't been fond of the idea, as he didn't really know Annabelle McLaren's only child as well as his wife did, but after a few days; Marley really began to grow on him.
She was a junkie for adventure; always getting herself into things that ordinary people thought should be left alone, like the time she wanted to find out how many steps it took to go around the entire planet. Needless to say, his son Michael had been enthusiastic to help her, while Megan had rolled her eyes and disappeared into her room in a puff of teenage smoke.
But even though Megan's nickname for Marley was 'that weird girl who lives with us', they shared a few similarities that bound them at the hip at certain times. There was no denying that Megan enjoyed having a grown up woman who was not her mother under the same roof. Whether it was boy troubles, confusion about what to wear or simply 'girl talk'-in which Megan would drag Marley from her music and down to the end of the hall, quickly explaining to a bewildered Marley before slamming the door and staying in there for hours on end.
Jim pulled himself from his thoughts and moved back, looking Marley in her brown eyes, trying to make it look like he hadn't just been snooping. She crossed her arms and leaned against the door. "Well, uh, Marley, it's time to go to sleep now." He said and she sighed.
"Do I have to?" She asked in a faux-whiney voice.
"Oh Marley, stop it, you're acting like a five year-old!" Jim exclaimed and Marley smiled.
"And you're acting like a thirty year-old who needs to spend more time with his family." Marley deadpanned and Jim scoffed.
"Don't you go ganging up on me now." Jim said and she rolled her eyes, moving to her stereo and dialing down Beethoven's fifth, turning back to him and placing her hands on her hips. "Don't look at me like that!" He exclaimed and she gave him a goofy grin.
"But seriously, Jim, you need to spend more time with Sarah; hell your whole family would be nice." She told him and he held his hands up in surrender.
"You may be on summer break, I have work." He said and she looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Then take them on Friday, spend a weekend at the lake!" She suggested and he looked unsure.
"Well, it has been a while since we went on a family adventure." He said and she smiled.
"You see? You'll appease Sarah, who's ready to blow, and you'll get to spend some quality time with your kids, it's a win-win situation!" She said happily and he shook his head.
"Yeah, well, we'll see I have to show a very unstable wife and her very picky husband some houses tomorrow; I don't think I'll have the time." He replied and she shrugged.
"You're Jim Evers, you'll make time." He looked flattered at her compliment but still didn't know if he'd be able to pull it off.
"Fine but if we go, you're coming with us." He stated and she raised her eyebrows.
"Well I can't torch the house and pillage your belongings if I'm with you can I?" She asked and he tried in vain not to smile but failed.
"Then that settles it, we'll shove you in the trunk and you'll be a part of our family adventure, now get to bed!" He exclaimed and she smiled, shutting off her side-table lamp and pulled back her white covers, climbing into bed, not bothering to change out of her purple skirt and black button-up blouse.
"Goodnight, Jim." She called out as he left, shutting the overhead light off as he went, waving his hand in farewell.
"Marley! Where's the whisk?" Sarah Evers called from the kitchen, her voice carrying into the dining room where a frantic university student was setting places for a romantic candlelit dinner for two.
It was Jim and Sarah's anniversary and Sarah had the wonderful thought of making dinner for the two of them. She enlisted Marley to help her with the cooking and setting the table, as it was a big job and as Sarah had no clue where the salad fork went or how to make cheese soufflé. In all honesty, Marley didn't know either, but all it took was a visit to Google and she was an expert.
"It's in the baking drawer!" She called back, laying a fork down on a cream-coloured napkin, placing two crystal glasses beside the china plates and lighting the candles in the centre of the table; giving the dining room a strange glow. Marley heard the sound of rummaging through cabinets and Sarah's frantic groan.
"It's not here!" She replied and Marley sighed, putting the bottle of champagne on the table and jogging into the kitchen. She had a red skirt and a white blouse on today, and the combination of fire and New Jersey summers had her sweating. As she ran back to her mom's friend, she unbuttoned her crisp dress shirt and shrugged it off, tossing it in the general direction of the hamper and pulled down her white undershirt so it covered her stomach.
"Oh god, Sarah, it's in your hand!" Marley cried as she pushed the kitchen door open to see the beautiful African-American wife of Jim Evers leaning over an open drawer, digging around hysterically. She stopped when Marley told her this and straightened up, looking to her right hand where the chrome metal baking tool was clenched firmly in her fist. Her face lit up in a smile revealing a set of pearly teeth and a soft laughter emitted from her.
"I'm sorry Marley; I'm just so frazzled right now!" Sarah exclaimed and Marley smiled back at her reassuringly.
"It's okay Sarah… what are you doing!?" She cried as she saw the pot behind her mother's friend bubbling over. The co-owner of Evers and Evers real estate turned and cried out in shock. She grasped the whisk and began to stir the pot, taking it off the heat.
"Oh no! I thought I took the egg mixture off the heat five minutes ago!" She exclaimed and Marley was finding it hard not to laugh.
"Don't worry, it's savable." Marley said, rushing towards the woman, taking the pot from her hands and opening the fridge, setting it down and grabbing the milk of the second shelf. She opened the lid and poured some in, mixing it with the slightly burned soufflé base.
"Well, at least it will look nice." Sarah said, calming down a little.
"Here, pour this into the baking dish, and remember, 375 degrees, okay?" Marley asked and Sarah nodded. Marley handed her the pot, smiled and turned to leave. "If you need me, I'll be chilling champagne." She called behind her shoulder and Sarah went back to making dinner.
At eight-thirty, Sarah sat down in her pink cardigan and dress pants as Marley relit the candles and poured the champagne. "Will that be all Mrs. Evers?" She asked in a fake British accent and Sarah smiled.
"Yes, Miss. McLaren, I will remain here." She replied in the same bad accent, making the younger woman giggle.
"Okay, you hang tight; I got macaroni and cheese to dish out to two kids upstairs and a movie to watch with them." She replied and Sarah nodded.
"Bedtime for all of you is at ten." She reminded Marley, who groaned.
"I'm telling you; moving into this house robbed me of my dignity, I am reduced to going to bed at ten! Oh the injustice!" Marley said dramatically and Sarah smiled, shaking her head.
"You're only twenty!" Sarah cried and Marley waved a dismissive hand.
"And you won't let me forget it!" Marley replied, hopping up the stairs into Michael's room.
"Hey Mikey!" She said and he turned from his video game to look at her. She produced a bowl and a fork and gave it to him, which he took with a smile. She set Megan's portion on the table and walked over to the wall, knocking twice. Two minutes later, the cocoa-skinned teenager hopped through the door as well, picking up her supper. She plunked down on the bed next to her dark-haired friend and brother as the opening credits began to roll for their favourite film.
Marley didn't hear Jim come home from work until it was almost nine. Needless to say, Sarah was unimpressed. Megan has stalked off to her room by then, Sarah and Jim were talking, Michael was back playing video games and Marley was dancing in her room again.
Bach played softly from the stereo in the corner as Marley held her arms aloft so that they rested on invisible shoulders. She twirled around the room as shouting was heard below her feet. She stopped dead when she heard Sarah reach an octave that she didn't know humans could hit; even when their pissed beyond all consolation.
She didn't lower her arms, but she did stomp on the carpeted ground with her left foot, telling the couple below to quiet their voices so that Megan and Michael didn't hear. It worked, much to her surprise, and she shook her head, looking at the ground and then back up to her invisible waltzing partner.
"I'm telling you, they better keep their voices down! Their bickering is worrying the children, not to mention myself!" She exclaimed to thin air. She spun around again and did not lower her arms or make any motion to cease her bizarre action when Megan opened the door without knocking.
"Marley I-" The thirteen year-old stopped when she saw her older friend staring dreamily off into space, twirling around as if dancing with air and humming softly to the classical piece that just began to play, looking every inch like a crazy person. "Marley, what are you doing?" She asked dully and Marley sighed, smiling lightly.
"I'm dancing." She replied and Megan's eyes widen as she took a step back, slowly leaving the room.
"With who?" She asked in a tentative voice, as though Marley might become angry with her question. This did not happen. In fact, Marley didn't even look at her as she replied.
"Nobody." She said in a far-away voice. Megan didn't know what the dark-haired twenty year-old was thinking, but it was definitely not normal. She backed up a few more seconds and clutched her cellphone.
"Okay then… Dad's taking us to the lake tomorrow, so… I guess you'd better pack." She said quickly, leaving the room as fast as possible, shutting the door behind her.
When she was gone, Marley lowered her arms, softly chuckling at Megan's reaction to the way she spent her free time. It's no secret that Marley liked Megan very much and vice versa, but Marley couldn't resist having a little fun with her, even if it was unintentional. She turned to her cupboard and opened the drawers, taking out blouses and skirts, throwing them on her unmade bed with the occasional pair of jeans. She then reached the very back and pulled out her suitcase. She unzipped the lid and laid it down on her floor, folding her garments and laying them in the case. She shut it when she was finished and looked to her dresser.
Sitting on the varnished wood surface was a silver locket. She pressed her thumb on the button on the front and the necklace opened; revealing four picture-holders. On the right was her mother; an aged woman with the same hair as her daughter; dark as jet turbulence with glittering brown eyes and pale skin. On the left was a picture of her father, gone from this earth but never he never left her. He was polar opposites of his daughter, with gleaming blue eyes, tanned skin and sandy hair. The remaining two frames were empty, as she had no siblings or other family. She shut the locket with a smile and strung it around her neck.
"I'm not leaving you behind mommy and daddy, don't worry." She lifted the shining pendant to her lips and pressed a soft kiss to it, turning back to her bed. She moved her suitcase away from her sleeping area and lay down, closing her eyes and falling asleep instantly; not caring that is was only nine-forty-five at night.
"Come on, Jim! You're going to make us late!" Marley yelled from the family car's backseat. She was squished in-between Michael and Megan, and although she thought they were great kids, she was a tall woman, and her legs were starting to cramp.
"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Jim hollered, jogging out of the house with Sarah behind him who locked the door and pocketed the key. "I just had to… have a chat with Sarah." He told her as he slid behind the wheel; buckling his seat belt. Marley rolled her eyes, looking from his reflection I the rear-view mirror to Michael, who had opened a chocolate bar. Her stomach rumbled and he looked to her, sighing and reaching into his bag, taking out another one for her. She smiled at him and accepted it, turning back to his father.
"Yeah right Mr. 'please let me take this phone call, Sarah'." Marley said and the real estate agent looked embarrassed.
"You heard that?" He asked and she nodded, opening her chocolate bar and taking a small bite.
"Jim, I think the whole neighborhood heard it." She replied and he sneered a little, looking to the next-door neighbor's house where an elderly woman was glaring at him.
"Alright then, let's get this family adventure on the road!" He exclaimed and Marley shook her head, smiling at his enthusiasm.
They drove for thirty-five minutes before Megan looked out the window, puzzled about something. "Where are we going dad?" She asked when she realized that this was not the beaten path to the lake that they so frequently took. Jim looked away from the road to her, and he seemed to be kicking himself.
"Well, uh… Megan, dad needs to make a little pit stop off in Louisiana." He said with fake cheerfulness in his voice and his daughter's mouth dropped open.
"What?!" She asked and began to freak out. Marley was surprised that they would go so far away for just a business deal, but she'd always wanted to see Louisiana, and if they were going to a mansion, then it would be double the visual awesomeness!
Marley knew it would be quite a long drive to get all the way to Louisiana, so as Jim explained the dilemma to his family, she closed her eyes and let her head fall back onto the seat. Soon, her breathing evened out and her eyes didn't open. She slept for most of the way there.