"Be careful with that! It’s important!" Twelve-year-old Bailey Sullivan danced around the moving man who carried a medium-sized box marked "fragile". "It’s going up to my room." She led the way.
Downstairs, her mother stood in the front hallway, directing the destination of boxes and furniture. Bailey’s brother, Joe, carried a big bag of clothing up to his room. Her sister, Shelley was in her own room already setting up her stereo.
When the mover had set the box down in Bailey’s room, she pushed it carefully out of the way. She wouldn’t unpack it until the rest of her room was ready and her special shelves were attached to the wall. She hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer, but there were still a lot of boxes to come out of the moving van.
Her bedroom window looked out over the back yard, and she couldn’t see the van from here. Music came from Shelley’s room. The stereo was working. Shelley turned the volume up and came out.
"There. Now we have music to unpack to. Go me!" She grinned at her younger sister and headed downstairs. Bailey ducked quickly into Shelley’s room and looked out the window. From here, she could see the movers carrying part of her bed up the front walkway to the door. She ran to supervise.
"Bailey! Leave the movers alone!" Her mother’s voice came from the kitchen. "In fact, come in here. I have a job for you."
Bailey sighed and went into the kitchen. "I just want to make sure they put all my stuff into my room," she said.
"Shelley’s doing that and Joe is helping to carry in the big stuff, so you just come in here with me and make yourself useful." Mrs. Sullivan’s tone was one that meant business. Bailey went into the kitchen.
Mrs. Sullivan’s set her to work unpacking the pots and putting them in the lower cabinets while Mrs. Sullivan herself unpacked the boxes of dishes and groceries. The refrigerated food had already been put away, the freezer compartment empty until the first trip to the nearest grocery store. Before long, the moving boss came into the kitchen.
"We’re all done, Missus," he said. "You want to take a quick look, make sure it’s all here?"
Mrs. Sullivan unwrapped a coffee cup and put it in the cupboard. "Be right there." She turned to Bailey. "If you’re done with the utensils, could you take over here? I’ll be right back."
"Sure, Mum," said Bailey, feeling somewhat Cinderella-ish. It would be nice to see some work out of Joe and Shelley besides the music drifting down the stairs. And no matter what Mum said, Joe was probably in his room already playing on his Game Cube, while she, Bailey, was busy setting up the entire kitchen. She’d probably have to help cook supper, too, the way things were going.
She set the last teaspoon in the drawer, closed it and went to unpack the rest of the cups. One of the boxes held their special seasonal mugs—Christmas, Hallowe’en, Easter and others—one for each member of the family. These usually went on the top shelf out of the way and were taken down for each occasion, kept out for a week or so and then put back until next year. Bailey unwrapped the first one and reached to put it on the shelf.
"Ah, pooey," she said, when she realized she wasn’t quite tall enough to push the mug to the back of the shelf. She climbed up onto the counter, steadied herself by holding onto the upright between the cupboard doors and reached for the mug. She pushed it toward the wall. It moved a short distance and stopped.
"What the--?" She craned her neck and looked into the cupboard. Something was on the shelf behind the mug. She moved the mug out of the way and groped for the something. Her fingers closed around another cup, smaller than the mug and made of plastic. She pulled it out and looked at it. It was a child’s cup with a picture of a popular cartoon character on it—one of her favourites. "Hey! I remember when these came out. Rad!" She put it on the counter, thinking she would have to ask her mother where she had gotten it. Or maybe it had been left behind by the old owners. Mum would probably want to call the real estate agent and find out where they went. Maybe they’d want it back, but maybe their kid had outgrown it. If so, well, finders, keepers.
She had just finished putting away the holiday mugs when her mother came back into the kitchen with Joe and Shelley trailing behind her.
"What are you doing up there?" asked Joe.
Bailey waved the mug shaped like a leprechaun’s face, the handle a shamrock tucked jauntily into the hat band and curving back to touch his shoulder. "What’s it look like?" She put the mug on the shelf, closed the door and jumped down.
"Okay, guys," said Mrs. Sullivan. "Don’t start on each other already, okay? It’s been a long day and I’m not in the mood. So—what’ll we do for supper? Pizza or burgers or what? I’m not cooking anything tonight and I’m too tired to go out anywhere, so we’re going to order in. Who wants what?"
Shelley dug out the phone book they had found earlier in one of the kitchen drawers. She began flipping through the yellow pages.
"Weren’t there some flyers and junk in one of the drawers?" asked Joe. He opened a drawer at random, looked inside and closed it again. He opened another.
"I threw them out," said Mrs. Sullivan. "They looked pretty old."
Joe looked in the recycling bin. "Here they are," he said. "Good thing there’s no wet crud in there yet." He sorted through the flyers. "There’s a Chinese food place, a chicken place, pizza and a Mexican place."
"Chinese!" said Bailey. "We haven’t had Chinese in ages."
Joe shrugged. "Chinese is okay with me. Food is food." He flipped the menu open. "Hmmmm. Uh, Shelley, look this one up, okay? This is hardcore old. Look at the prices." He passed it to Mrs. Sullivan.
She looked at the price list and laughed out loud. "Holy cow! No kidding. I don’t think you can even get an egg roll for this anymore. Shel? Is it still in business?"
Shelley’s finger wandered down the page of restaurants. "Honey Bee. Yup. Looks like it."
"Do they take credit cards on delivery?" Mrs. Sullivan took her wallet out of her purse and looked inside. "I’m kind of low on cash at the moment."
"Yup. What’ll we get?" They read over the menu, hoping that all the selections they wanted were still available. Mrs. Sullivan gave her cell phone to Shelley to place the order, while the rest of them got out plates and utensils. Joe picked up the cartoon character mug on the counter.
"Hey, Bailey, where’d you get this?"
"I found it in the top cupboard. Mum, do you know where it came from?"
Mrs. Sullivan looked over. "Probably got left here by the Jamiesons," she said. Her face clouded over.
"Can I keep it?" Bailey asked. "I mean, if they don’t want it back or anything."
"They’d’a’ taken it with them if they’d’a’ wanted it," said Joe.
"But it was way in the back," said Bailey. "Maybe they missed it when they were packing. Maybe their kid really wants it back." She saw her mother exchanging looks with Shelley and Joe. "Okay, what am I missing? Who’s holding out on me? What’s going on? You guys are being weird, even for you."
Mrs. Sullivan came across the room and took the cup from Joe. She turned it in her hands and stared at the bright yellow sponge on the side. A pink starfish stood beside the sponge. "Maybe we should just throw it out," she said.
"But Mu-u-u-u-u-u-um," Bailey whined. "It’s collectible. It’ll be worth money some day. You can’t throw it out. I really want it. Pleeeeease?"
"I don’t know. It’s--" Mrs. Sullivan’s voice trailed away. She looked at her sixteen-year-old son.
"It’s creepy," he said.
"Why is it creepy?" Bailey was determined to find out what was making her family act so strange.
"Because the kid who used to live here disappeared a couple of years ago, that’s why," said Shelley. She put the cell phone on the counter.
"Shelley!" Mrs. Sullivan sounded more than a little annoyed.
"What? She’s going to find out sooner or later. I mean, you know the kids at school are going to talk about it. Do you want her to hear about it from them or us? Oh, and the food will be here in about 45 minutes." Shelley stared at her mother.
Bailey looked from Shelley to Mrs. Sullivan to Joe and back to Mrs. Sullivan. "A kid disappeared? From this house? So, like, how?"
"Can we talk about this later?" Mrs. Sullivan looked definitely upset. Bailey considered her options. She could press her mother on the point, and probably end up being sent to her room to work on setting it up until supper arrived, or she could shut up now and then pump Shelley for all she’d spill later on. Shelley would blab it all; she could tell. Shelley was eighteen and in her last year of high school. Mostly, she ignored Bailey and her friends, but now, what with the new house and all, and all of them being new to the town, Shelley would be more likely to spend time with Bailey until they had made their own friends.
"Fine, okay. We’ll talk later," said Bailey in her best martyr tone. "I mean, it’s okay. Move me into a house where people are abducted and don’t warn me, or anything. It’s fine."
"Bailey!" Mrs. Sullivan glared for a minute, then turned to her other children. "Let’s at least get the TV and DVD player set up. We can eat in the living room and watch a movie or something. Might as well get as comfortable as we can."
They trooped into the living room, and with the four of them working together, soon had the furniture arranged and all the important entertainment items hooked up and ready to go. Bailey pulled movies out of a box and passed them to Joe, who passed them to Shelley, who put them away on the shelving units. Mrs. Sullivan unpacked the hardcover books and arranged them on other shelves. When supper arrived, the living room was looking more like home and less like a disaster area. They served up their meals at the kitchen table, then took their plates into the living room to sit and eat, the movie largely unwatched as it unfolded on the screen.
After supper, they cleaned up and went upstairs to work on the bedrooms. Food was good, but they all needed a place to sleep as well. Joe and Shelley had set up all the beds while Bailey had been putting away dishes, and all that remained to be done was to pick the right spot for her bed and to put on sheets and blankets. She brushed her teeth, put on her pyjamas and crawled into bed. Just before she fell asleep, she remembered that she had meant to ask Shelley about the kid who had disappeared. Tomorrow would be soon enough. She slipped into sleep, and as she slept, she dreamed.
Sunlight poured in through the kitchen window, making the whole room almost too bright to take. She sat at the kitchen table with her special cup in front of her. An open bottle of juice sat on the table beside a box of cheese-and-bacon flavoured crackers. There were also a block of cheese, a cutting board, a small plate and a sharp paring knife. She was cutting thin squares of cheese from the block, fitting them onto the crackers and arranging them just so on the plate.
A sound made her look up from her snack. She frowned, listening hard. The sound came again. Something outside? She got up from her chair with the knife still in her hand, and went toward the back door. There it was again! It sounded like a puppy crying for attention. She opened the door and went into the back porch. The screened windows were open and a warm summer breeze blew through the bright room. The sound came again, a little louder. It had to be a puppy, but whose?
She opened the door that led to the back yard. The smell of the lilac hedge between her yard and the neighbour’s filled the air. She stood at the top of the three steps and breathed in the lilac scent, almost forgetting why she had come out in the first place. The puppy whined again and she jumped down to the flagstone patio.
"Here, puppy," she called in a soft voice. She made kissy sounds to call the pup to her. It sounded as if it were along the side of the yard, under the lilacs or the roses, maybe. She hoped not the roses; the thorns could be vicious. They had clawed her arms more than once when she head helped choose flowers to put in the vase on the dining table.
The sounds led her along the edge of the yard, past the lilacs and yes, to the rose bushes. The puppy was definitely under the roses. She got down on her hands and knees and called softly, "Here, puppy, pup, pup, pup." It made happy noises and she peered into the gloom beneath the leafy branches. "There you are! How did you get there?" On her belly, she crawled toward the pup. She could see a rope around his neck and thought it might have gotten caught on the thorns of the rose bush. As she got closer, the pup moved away, looking as if it were being dragged a little bit at a time.
"I’m almost there," she said. "Don’t run away." She reached out to the pup, her whole body now under the rose bushes. A hand grabbed her wrist. She screamed and struck out with the knife in her other hand. A man’s voice shouted and the hand let her go long enough to hit the knife out of her grip. She tried to wriggle back and away, but the thorny branches grabbed her clothes and hair. She screamed again. The hand closed around her arm and pulled her forward. Something struck her forehead and she saw stars.
Suddenly, she was dragged out from under the bush on the other side. She looked up at the face of the man who gripped her so tightly. Blue eyes bored into hers. "I know you!" she said and saw his fist coming at her face.
Bailey sat up in bed, a cry caught in her throat. She flailed at her blankets and almost fell on the floor. "Ahh! Ahh!" Light filtered in from a neighbour’s back porch light. The unfamiliar room did nothing to relieve the terror brought on by the nightmare, and for a few moments she couldn’t remember where she was. She groped for the lamp on the bedside table and turned it on. When she saw the boxes and bags scattered around the mostly bare room, the memory of the move came back.
"Okay. I’m in my own room. I had a bad dream. That’s all." She went to a box marked "special toys" and opened it, looking for the biggest bear she could find. She knew it was a babyish thing to do, but Sebastian had always been a source of comfort for her. He had belonged to Nana and had come to Bailey after Nana died. Climbing back into bed, she sat against the headboard, pulled the blankets up to her waist and clutched Sebastian. Her heart felt as though it was actually banging against her ribs. For a few minutes, she thought about going into her mother’s room and climbing into bed, but at twelve, she ought to be able to survive a nightmare by herself. Not that she was in a hurry to go back to sleep any time soon. If she went back into that dream she would never want to sleep again.
"Maybe a snack would help," she thought. "Maybe hot chocolate." She got out of bed, put on her slippers and with Sebastian in tow, headed out into the hallway. There was a light switch at the top of the back stairs and she switched it on. Even though the house still had that stark just-moving-in look, the light was a definite boost to her morale. She went down to the kitchen, where the light over the stove gave enough light to show the wall switch. Mrs. Sullivan always left the stove light on at night in case anyone needed it. Bailey used to think it was a stupid thing to do, but tonight she was grateful for it.
She got down a mug, added the hot chocolate mix and milk and put it in the microwave oven to heat. Cinnamon toast would be just the thing to go with cocoa. When her snack was ready, she took it to the kitchen table and sat down. Sebastian sat in the chair across the table from her. She looked at him. "You know, this almost looks like the kitchen in my dream," she said. She looked around. The microwave was in a different place, and the curtains had been blinds in the dream. The cupboard doors were a little different and the appliances and table weren’t the same, but the room itself, its shape and the doors and windows, were identical. Even the floor matched. She ate her toast, studying the kitchen.
"I wonder." She got up, moved Sebastian to a different seat and sat down in his chair. If the table were moved a little to the right, she would be in the exact same spot she had been in the dream. She turned her head to the right and looked at the windows that looked out into the enclosed porch. The porch took up three-quarters of the back wall of the house and had obviously been built as an open one. A previous owner had enclosed it, put in big windows with screens to keep out summer bugs and left the kitchen windows to let in light from the porch.
Bailey held the mug of hot chocolate between her hands, which had gone suddenly cold. "This is creepy," she said. She glanced around the room again and this time caught sight of the cup she had found earlier. A shiver ran down her spine. It was the cup of her dream. "Well of course I dreamed about that," she said aloud to Sebastian. "Mum got all weird and no one is talking about whoever lived here before. No wonder I had a creepy dream." She looked at the door which led to the porch, then back to the bear. "But you know what? I’m not going to go look at the yard until it’s good and light out. No sirree, bub." She finished her snack, put the dishes in the sink and carried Sebastian back up to her room.
She lay awake for what felt like a long time before she fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Mrs. Sullivan served a hearty breakfast. "Okay, here’s what we’re going to do today," she said. "We’re going to pick one room, and we’re all going to work together to get it all done. All the boxes unpacked, the stuff put away and everything where we want it. Then we do the next room. Got it?"
Joe just shrugged. Nothing ever seemed to get him worked up. Bailey wondered how he could go through life so unconcerned. She wanted to go explore the yard, but decided it could wait. If the yard turned out to be the way it was in her dream, she’d freak out. She had only had a quick glimpse of it and if there were flowers along the sides, it was too late in the year for any of them to be in bloom. She didn’t want to know right now if there really were lilacs and roses back there.
"I thought we were going to go register at school today," said Shelley.
"We’ve got time," said Mrs. Sullivan, and took her place at the table. "If we can get the house all done before I have to start my new job, life will be easier. So, eat up, and then we’ll decide where to start."
By lunchtime, the living room and dining room were all squared away. Bailey flopped into the big armchair in the living room and everyone else sprawled on the couch and love seat. "Oh my good gravy Marie," said Mrs. Sullivan. "The next time I move, I’m selling everything I own and starting over from scratch. This is insane."
"Who’s gonna make lunch?" asked Joe. He looked at Shelley.
"You know how to make hot dogs and Kraft Dinner," said Shelley.
"There’s some leftover Chinese from last night," said Mrs. Sullivan. "I made breakfast, I made supper, but it’s good luck for lunch."
The doorbell rang; a cheery bingle-bingle-bing. They stared at each other. It rang again. Mrs. Sullivan sighed and heaved herself off the couch. Bailey followed her to the front door. A strange woman stood there with a covered casserole dish in her hands.
"Hi! I’m Anne, and welcome to the neighbourhood. I hope you like good old tuna-noodle casserole." She held out the dish. "It probably needs a little reheating, but I promise it’s pretty good." A warm smile lit her entire face. Bailey decided she liked this new neighbour.
"Oh, thank you! Come in." Mrs. Sullivan took the dish and stepped back from the door. She led the way into the kitchen, calling to the other children to follow. When they entered, she said, "This is our new neighbour, Anne. She brought lunch!" She put the dish into the microwave and set the controls. Shelley and Joe got out dishes and utensils.
"Will you join us?" asked Charlotte of Anne.
"If you don’t mind," said Anne. "I made a ton. I remembered when we moved in a couple of years ago that cooking in the middle of the day was the last thing I wanted to do. How can I help?"
"Just have a seat right now, but if you’re serious about helping, maybe you can tell us about the neighbourhood; where the stores are and good stuff like that."
"Oh, sure." They sat at the table, eating the casserole and soon Charlotte and Anne were nattering away like old friends. Bailey ate in silence, listening to the description of the local shops, where the park was and the short cut to school. That sounded pretty cool.
She waited for a break in the conversation, then said, "Can I go check out the back yard?"
"Sure. Hey, go look and see if there are any blackberries. The bushes are along the back part of the yard, between our place and the woods."
"Oh, yes," said Anne. "Marion and I used to pick berries there every year. They start just where the roses end and go all the way to the garden shed."
"Roses?" Bailey swallowed a sudden lump in her throat. "Where are the roses?"
"Well, it’s too late in the season for the flowers," Anne said. "But the rose bushes take up half the border between this house and the Sampsons’ next door." She pointed to the left side of the yard. "There used to be lilacs, too, but the Jamiesons had them taken out after--" Bailey saw her mother waving her hand at Anne and shaking her head ‘no’. Anne gave Mrs. Sullivan a puzzled look, and then said, "Well, about two years ago."
Bailey wanted to ask why they had gotten rid of the lilacs, but her mother was acting weird again and she was pretty sure she wouldn’t get any sensible answer. She decided the thing to do was to go explore the yard. She got a bowl out of the cupboard, just in case there were blackberries, and went outside.
She stood at the top of three steps, looking down at the patio stones. "I must have seen this the other day," she muttered to herself. "I couldn’t dream about it if I didn’t see it. Could I?" As she had done in her dream, she jumped down the steps, landing lightly on the flagstones. She looked to her left where a wooden fence took the place of the lilac bushes. Some dead climbing flowers twined around the posts and crossbars and she thought it would look better if they were cut away. Maybe her mother would let her use the clippers later to do that. Anything to keep from having to set up more furniture.
The fence ended at the first rosebush. Bailey wandered over and then along the line of roses toward the rear border of the yard. She couldn’t remember exactly where she had climbed under the bushes in her dream and she didn’t feel like crawling around under all of them. She wasn’t even sure why she thought she should, but the urge was strong. Resisting the temptation to look under the roses, she continued to the end of the yard.
Her mother was right. The blackberries were out in force. She filled the bowl, eating almost every third berry as she went. The sun shone high in a blue sky and a light breeze lifted tendrils of Bailey’s hair and cooled her face. When the bowl was filled, she turned to take it back to the house. A flash of colour at the end of the blackberry bushes caught her eye. Something close to the shed.
She walked down the row, looking for the red whatever-it-was. It flicked again as she approached and a cardinal launched itself out of the bush and flew past her face. She shouted and jumped back, almost dropping the bowl of berries in her startlement. Then she recovered herself and laughed. By now, she was at the end of the bushes and saw a trampled path between the blackberries and the shed. It led into the woods. Maybe it would take her to the shortcut to school that Anne had mentioned. She would have to ask.
An urge to explore came over her. It wouldn’t hurt to go into the woods for just a minute. She could put the berries down right here, go for a little walk and be back before anyone missed her. She was just bending down to put the bowl on the ground when her mother’s voice called her from the back steps.
"Bailey! Come back, kiddo. I need you."
Bailey cast a longing glance at the woods, sighed and went back to the house.
The afternoon went by in a flurry of hard work. Anne stayed and did the dishes, then helped Mrs. Sullivan set up her room while the three children worked together on one bedroom after another. Joe’s was the easiest to set up; Shelley’s had the most things to go in it, but the posters with which she covered her walls and ceiling were going to have to wait. Bailey accepted help to move her bed and dressers and bookcases into place and then chased everyone else out so she could put her books, toys and clothes exactly where she wanted them.
She hung up her clothing in the closet and closed the door. A large mirror on the back of the door reflected her room. She liked that mirror. It came with the house and seemed to be built right into the door. Having it meant she didn’t have to go into her mother’s room or Shelley’s when she was trying on different outfits. She could put on every stitch of clothing she owned, mix and match tops and bottoms and shoes and no one would gripe at her. She would even be able to try out make-up and hairdos without anyone complaining at her. This was going to be great!
A box of her favourite books was next on her list of things to do. She sat in front of the bookcase, organizing the books by author, in order of personal preference rather than alphabetically. Something flickering just at the edge of vision kept bothering her. At first, she thought the curtain might be blowing in a breeze, but when she looked, the window was closed tight. Maybe there was a draft around the edge? She got up and checked. It was fine. Well, then, what the heck was she seeing?
As she turned to go back to the box of books, she saw movement again, this time from near the closet door. Her head snapped toward the mirror and she took a step forward. She gasped. The reflection in the mirror wasn’t her! Her eyes went wide and her hands flew up to her face. The girl in the mirror held out pleading hands, her lips moved soundlessly and then Bailey found herself staring at her own reflection, the eyes huge and frightened.
She abandoned the books and all but ran out of her room. She burst into her mother’s room, startling both Charlotte and Anne.
"Bailey!" said her mother. "What’s wrong?" She dropped the clothing in her hands and took Bailey by the shoulders.
"A girl! In my room. I mean, in my mirror." Bailey stared up into her mother’s face. "She was there and then she was gone and it was just me again."
Mrs. Sullivan frowned. "A girl? In your room? What do you mean?"
"I saw her in the mirror and then she just vanished."
"You mean you saw her reflection and she ran out before you could stop her?"
"No, Mum! She was in the mirror. Only in the mirror. Come on. Maybe she’ll come back." Even as she led her mother to her room, Bailey felt certain that the strange girl would not be there and that Charlotte would think Bailey was crazy. Or worse, looking for attention.
Sure enough, the mirror on the back of the closet door, which was slightly ajar, showed nothing more interesting than the room. Mrs. Sullivan opened the door the rest of the way and looked inside. "Nothing here but clothes." She pushed the door to its partly open position. "Maybe you saw Shelley going by in the hallway," she suggested.
"No, it wasn’t Shelley," said Bailey. "It was a girl about my age, with short blonde hair. She reached out for me and tried to tell me something but I couldn’t hear her." She looked up at her mother. "Really. She was there and then she was gone."
Mrs. Sullivan’s eyebrows drew together. "Well, she’s not there now. If it’s bothering you, we’ll hang a sheet over the mirror for now."
Bailey made a wry face. "No. That’s okay. I can deal." Mrs. Sullivan went back to her own room and Bailey looked thoughtfully at the closet door. Only then did she realize that the door had been closed when she ran out to her mother’s room. She sidled across the room and pushed it shut with her foot. "How did you open up?" she asked softly. She backed away and went back to putting her books on the shelves, not wanting to turn her back on the mirror or the door, in case either of them did anything more.