I chewed on my steak, looking out the french doors leading to the backyard, staring into the woodland surrounding us. Vince and Devon were laughing about something or another again, low rumbling sounds that were like a cat's purr. I swallowed the piece of food in my mouth before shoving the plate of steak, green beans, and potatoes away. It tasted good, and it was warm in my stomach, but I couldn't bring myself to eat it. My father was all about diets, and slim figures. Something you would assume a psycho mother would care about. I always ate chicken salad for dinner. Even when the maids made ramen, or fish for the guests, father always placed salad in front of me. When I was at other peoples houses while my father was out on business, I was still fed from a green menu. More salads. Eating steak was a strange experience. It was chewy, and sometimes there was fat on it that I had to spit out. I'd never tasted it before, but the aroma made my mouth water. I suddenly wondered if my father still required other snobs to feed me green meals, and why he hadn't required that of the Lyncasters. Something was way off. Upstairs Vince had told me my father didn't pay him or Devon to take me in. That they just wanted to show hospitality. I couldn't believe it. There was something else. Something... "Earth to Ebony," Vince hummed in my ear.
"What?" I asked, jolting out of my musings, turning to look at him. His face was a mere inch from mine, his green eyes staring right into mine.
"We've been calling your name for the last two minutes," Devon said gently, his wide blue eyes on me.
"Penny?" Vince repeated.
"Who?" I questioned, frowning.
"A penny for your thoughts, Ebony. It's a common phrase," Devon informed me, lifting and eyebrow.
"Right, sorry. Just thinking about going into the woods tomorrow," I lied. Well, it was a half truth. I did want to go see what the woods were like. I'd never been hiking before.
"If you go into the woods," Devon said, "you have to take one of us with you. It's not always the safest place to be."
"Why? What happens in the woods?"
"A lot of things," Vince muttered darkly. I glance at him, eyes wide. What did that mean? He coughed awkwardly, not looking at me. "You going to eat?"
I pushed my plate towards him, shaking my head no. "I just can't right now," I say, placing my hands in my lap and staring back out the door and into the night.
"Did you not like it?" Devon asked, hurt seeping into his voice, but his face remained impassive.
"It's not that," I say too quickly, wincing. "I'm just not used to eating that much. That's all."
Vince took the plate from me, frowning at it. "We gave you such a small amount though."
"You call that a small amount?" I asked, bewildered. They'd given me my own piece of steak, about an inch thick, a good five spoons of beans, and a mound of potatoes. I know I ate in small quantities, but the meal they'd given to me was big enough for a full grown man.
"Nevermind," Vince grumbled, cutting my steak and eating it. "Anyway. You should get to bed. I'm in charge of showing you the ropes tomorrow."
Vince shrugged. "We live in the woods. I gotta show you how we do things."
"Forget I asked," I grumbled, standing up and hauling myself over to the stairs. Vince's mood had shifted quickly. Earlier, he was oh so happy to have me here, and now he was just a grumpy old man. Devon didn't seem like the cheery person he was this morning. He too, seemed subdued. Pausing at the top of the steps, I waited to see if they would say anything, but all I could hear was the AC unit's hum. I enter my hideaway, and fling myself onto my bed, staring at the popcorn ceiling. I'd left the door open, but I didn't care to get up and close it. My mind wandered for a good hour before I finally started to fade away into the dark void known as sleep.
+ + + + +
Vince and Devon were their charming selves during breakfast, all chatty and whatnot. I was perturbed by their quick mood changes. It seemed unhealthy. They didn't feed me poached eggs or anything. They'd just asked me what cereal I preferred. In the end, I chose Raisin Bran since it seemed healthier than marshmallows or chocolate. The guys had apparently been up since around four in the morning. I was surprised that they didn't just eat without me, since I finally came down at eight. Vince had a sweaty sheen on his forehead, and Devon had earned himself a nasty cut already. Doing what, I didn't know. They seemed fine with whatever they'd been doing, but I could tell the day was going to be rough for me.
"What is it that I'm doing today?" I asked no one in particular.
Devon finished chewing before answering me, letting his spoon rest in his bowl of chocolate cereal balls. "Vince is going to show you what we do around here, and then I guess we'll see what to do with you after lunch." He narrowed his eyes at me, contemplating something, cocking his head to the side like a puppy. "I figure we'll have you do the easy stuff. Around the house. You don't look like you can lift an axe or anything."
I gulped and turned to Vince as he said, "I'll probably have you gathering the wood from the pile and bringing it back to the house. Maybe get you out to the store for cleaning supplies or something," he told me. "Dad and I are usually outside, so we never get around to taking care of the house. You don't seem like the type of person that wants to run through the forest, so I think we'll leave you to the indoor tasks." It seemed reasonable. I probably wouldn't go running through the woods, but I think I would enjoy a walk every now and then. Even if it was just to get wood from whatever wood pile they were talking about.
"Besides," Devon commented, "you said that the house could use a woman's touch. It's all yours." He winked at me before standing and putting his bowl into the sink. "I've gotta go meet up with the neighbors," he said, an edge in his voice. "I'll be back before supper." Without another word, he ran out the back doors and into the woods.
"So..." I hummed, standing and putting my bowl in the sink just like Devon had. "I'm going to go get changed."
Vince nodded, refilling his bowl with Lucky Charms. "Be quick. Put on something reasonable."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I muttered, trudging up the stairs and walking into my hideaway. Shutting and locking the door behind me, I open up the top drawer of my dresser, looking at the clothes I'd packed. I picked out a pair of faded blue skinny jeans, a red t-shirt, red ankle socks, and my vans. I throw them all on and take out my toiletry bag. Opening my door, I walk to the end of the hallway and into the bathroom. I throw on a little mascara and pop in some eye drops. I normally did the whole thing. Foundation, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, filled in my brows, put on lip gloss, contour and highlighter, but decided against it. I wasn't going to be pampered here, and that would just be wasting makeup. I leave the toiletry bag in the bathroom and bolt down the stairs. Vince was just placing his bowl in the sink when I entered the kitchen. "Ready," I stated, giving him a small smile.
He returned it, waving me over to the sink. I joined him, looking at him skeptically. "Clean them," he said, pointing at the dirty dishes. I bit my bottom lip, staring at the greasy mess. If touched my face at all after touching them, I was bound to break out.
Reluctantly, I picked up the first dish and a rag that Vince had offered me and started scrubbing it, putting it under the water for a minute before setting it next to the sink. This was how people in the movies did it. My father had a dishwasher installed, and even then, the maids normally took care of it. Vince leaned against the counter and watched me clean, toying with the hem of his grey t-shirt. It took me a good twenty minutes to get through all of the dishes, re-cleaning some of them to make sure I hadn't missed a spot. Vince didn't change position the entire time, green gaze blank.
"Now what?" I asked, drying off the last plate and placing it next to the others.
"Now, you get to put them away," Vince told me, finally moving. He opened up the cabinet behind him, showing me the bowls inside. That was all it was. A ton of bowls.
"Where do the plates go then?" I asked, putting away the bowls I had just cleaned.
"Here," Vince said, opening up a cabinet door one cupboard away from the bowls.
I grabbed up the plates from the newly cleaned stack and place them in their spots. He showed me where the silverware was, and where they kept cutting boards and steak knives. "Should be easy enough," he told me, striding towards the back door. "Follow me." I obeyed, chasing after him as he takes off.
"Can you please not go so fast?" I asked, wheezing.
"What? Can't keep up?" Vince teased. He slowed down anyway, letting me catch up. "I'm going to show you where the wood pile is. You're to follow me out here after breakfast every morning so that you don't get lost. There's a trail, but it's easy to lose." We walk side by side into the throng of trees, immediately going uphill. I didn't like hills all that much, but I had to admit that the view made up for it. Birds sang above us as we hiked, flitting through the bright green leaves overhead. The sun shone through the treetops, shafts of light painting the ground golden. I could catch glimpses of the blue sky and it's wispy clouds. I matched Vince's pace. Er... more like he was matching mine, but still. "Pretty, ain't it?" he asked me, looking up.
"Yeah," I murmured breathlessly, a small smile dancing on my lips. "You don't see much of this in the city." Vince looked at me, eyes bright in a challenge. "You don't see this at all in a city," I amended. "All we get are pigeons and small decoration trees." More satisfied by my answer, Vince turned away from me to look at where we are.
"Halfway there," he informed me, speeding up. "I'd normally be there by now," he joked.
"Well sor-ry Mr. Long Legs," I grumbled. I had a point. I looked up at him, frowning. He towered over me. I hadn't payed much attention to it, but both he and Devon were massive compared to me. I was 5"6, which was a fairly decent height for a woman. "How tall are you anyways?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"I'm about 6"5," Vince told me, smirking. "Dad is 6"6."
'Can't be easy to lose you in a crowd," I teased.
He looked at me for a moment, considering. "You'd be surprised," he said, slinking around an actual answer and giving me half of one. "Here we are."
I looked around, noticing for the first time we'd entered a small clearing. A ginormous pile of wood sat off to the side of a shack. A pond wasn't too far behind it either, it's green water calm even as tiny fish swam underneath. The scene was picturesque, but something about it irked me. "It doesn't look like you chopped down any trees from here," I said, frowning.
"That's because we didn't," Vince informed me, picking up an axe that was stuck in one of the logs. "We chop down the dead trees we find around the forest so that new ones can grow."
I nodded approvingly, not that they needed my approval. At least they weren't using perfectly healthy trees as fire fuel. "Do I have to take all of this back?" I ask him, my eyes going wide at the thought. There were at least a couple hundred wood pieces in the pile.
"Little by little," he said. "Maybe ten to fifteen pieces daily?"
"What are you using it for?"
"Ah," Vince hesitated. He glanced at me, green eyes betraying the war inside of him. He relented and said, "The neighbors show up every now and then to hang out," he tells me. "When we're not home, they'll take our firewood and have a bonfire of their own."
"That sucks," I said, scrunching up my nose. "Can't you file a trespassing complaint or something?"
"Nah," he muttered. "We just let them be. We have more authority than them anyway. If there's a problem, we can always boot them out."
I scowl. "So why haven't you?"
"Because there hasn't been a problem," he stated firmly. "You're supposed to be taking this wood to the house." I wanted to pester him a little longer, but knew I wouldn't get anywhere. I'd made him moody again.
"Whatever," I grumbled. I take five pieces or wood and strategically place them in my arms, "Are you coming back with me?"
"No. I have to go to the neighbors house now. You'll be fine on your own," he grunted, spinning on his heel and walking away from me. "You get lost, just holler. I'll hear you." And then he was gone, lost with the trees.
"How are you going to hear me when you're nowhere nearby?" I muttered, walking back along the trail, unable to enjoy the view this time. I focused on the path, making sure I didn't travel off of it. I walked fast when I was angry, so it took me a couple minutes less to get back to the house and place the wood by a tinier stack. I brushed my hands off on my pants and went back the way I came, ready to grab more wood. To say I was frustrated with Vince was an understatement. I stormed into the clearing, grabbing double the amount of wood I did last time. Slowly making my way back to the house, I take time to look deeper into the woods, not leaving the trail, but still trying my best to see through the underbrush. Not seeing anything that stood out, I continue my journey to the house. As soon as I break through the trees, my eyes land on something large. Except, it wasn't a something. It was a someone.
They were grabbing up some of the firewood I'd just brought back. "Oi!" I shouted. "Stop! Put it back!"
The figure spun around the face me. He was even bigger than Devon, and that was saying a lot. His hair was dark brown, and his eyes were amber. He was all muscle. I swore that all the people that didn't live in the city were freaking buff. Perhaps it was because of chopping down trees every day. He narrowed his eyes at me. "You're not a Lyncaster."
"No. I'm a Miller," I grunted, throwing the wood onto the pile and taking the other wood from his arms. He looked shocked for a moment before becoming angry.
"You don't live here!" he accused. "Why are you touching our wood?"
"All I know is that I'm staying here for the next couple months," I said, checking my nails, "and that you don't live here."
He scowled at me, crossing his arms. "The Lyncasters would never let you in."
"Are you sure about that?" I asked, rolling my eyes. I was trying to put up a front, but deep down, my stomach was filled with knots of anxiety.
"Positive," he grunted.
"Well then," I grumbled, walking past him and into the house. "You can go now. And don't touch my wood!"
"Well well," came another voice. I whip around and am face to face with a woman. She looked pretty much like the guy except, well, a female version. "Looks like we got ourselves a problem."
Word Count: 2780
Thanks for reading part 2! Part 3?