“Are you ready to go, Casey?” my mom, Meredith, said as she buckled my baby sister into her travel seat.
I was grabbing my little talking lion stuffed animal, my absolute favorite. We went everywhere together. We were going to see my Great Grandfather today.
“I have everything, Mommy. I even have Jenny’s diaper bag and Larry Lion’s, too.”
I loved going to my Great Grandfather’s house. He lived in such a large beautiful white house with black shutters on each of the windows. His house sat on a huge piece of property that seemed to go on forever. I was not sure if it was because I was three or if it really did look that way.
In his back yard was my little hide away, a spot just behind a small patch of bushes and trees where a picnic table stood on top of a floor made of large inlayed stones. I would go under the table a lot and enjoy the sweet aroma of the honeysuckle bushes and the mimosa trees that I had to pass through that seemed to be magical somehow whenever my great grandfather appeared.
“Let’s get into the car, are you sure you’re ready? “ Mom said, breaking my daydream and bringing me back to the now.
“Oh, sorry, yes, got everything, Mommy.”
We got into the car, a big green Rambler, with an engine that always made me jump whenever it started, and I sat in the front seat next to my mom and Jenny, my little sister, was in her infant seat and secured into the back seat. My mom came into the driver’s side and put the key into the ignition, “Here we go!” she said as I covered my ears for the great big roar from the car engine that I knew was coming next. As always, I jumped and my mom giggled. “Hold onto Larry, he is sounding a bit fierce today”.
We pulled out of the driveway of our home. It was a small ranch with two bedrooms. My mom was doing the best she could to raise us. My father, Alex, left her with two children and no money. I always thought that it was my fault for his departure because I was the one that told my mom that he was with another woman and I saw him kissing her, but she never made me feel that way. She always insisted that if it was not me, it would have been someone else that would have told her.
The smell of the air was wonderful as we drove down the road. You could smell all the deliciously sweet flowers in bloom that filled the warm spring air. I rolled the window down a little more and leaned closer to it to let the warm air blow on my face.
I looked over at my mom. She was so beautiful. The sun caught the strawberry highlights in her dark blonde hair and even seemed to dance in her light blue eyes as they sparkled when she looked at me with a little smile. I turned to look at my 6 month old sister, Jenny, to make sure she was OK. She was sitting in the back seat with her teething ring in hand shaking it up and down making cooing sounds. Jenny was so cute with her little button nose, porcelain white skin and bright blue eyes. Her hair was coming in the same color as Mom’s. I have to admit, I was always jealous of that fact. I was the only person in this family that had dark brown hair and green eyes. Sometimes I felt quite out of place whenever we had our family get-togethers. Sitting around a bunch of tall blondes with blue eyes, I felt like such an outsider, like I did not really belong.
We were now on the parkway driving east toward the only real hill, or mountain as it appeared to me, on our island, Long Island. There was a tall triangle shaped monument on the top of the hill that looked like a flag on a pole with no wind hitting it and stood on the median between the parkway.
I was watching my mom’s hair flutter in the wind when all of a sudden Mom’s appearance changed as she looked into the rear view mirror. With just one look at her, I knew something was wrong, very wrong.
“Quick, get down. Tuck yourself under the seat and tell Larry to make lots of roars, we are going to need it to get up this hill!” her voice shaking as she spoke.
Not knowing what was going on and that look on Mom’s face was telling me not to question her, so I did as I was asked. I got down low on the floor and pulled my knees into my chest and held Larry really tight. I could hear the roar of the engine straining. It was such an old car and whenever we made this trip, the hill was always a struggle to get over.
Mom turned to look to her left. She shouted out her window “Leave us alone! You have no right to be following us!” and then the car jerked to the right causing me to rock into the center wall of the car. The car did it again with a really loud crunch sound this time and I knocked my head into the center wall.
“Casey, tuck down farther. Make yourself into a ball, a flat ball.” she told me.
Again I did as she asked. My fear was intensifying, making my heart pound so hard in my chest. I could not see what was going on but I could hear her breath increasing and see her eyes narrowing as we were making the trip up the hill to the monument at the top.
“Alex, what are you trying to do? Kill us?” my mom screamed out the window.
It was my father! But why? I kept hoping that the monument would come soon. Panic was racing though me as my heart beat increased with each minute. I closed my eyes to keep my control. “Make it stop. Please make it stop!” was all I could think to myself as I repeated it over and over again, concentrating on each word.
The crunch sound came again and again, causing the car to veer to the right and me to slide farther into the center of the car. My sister started to cry loudly like only a baby can. It was the first time I even remembered she was in the back seat since the attack. The look of terror in my mom’s eyes as she looked down at me set shivers down my spine. I wanted so much to check on my sister to make sure she was OK. I wanted this to stop but I could not move. The fear was so great that it seemed to grab hold of me and lock me into position, keeping me frozen in time. I could not speak, could not scream.
“We are almost to the top, there are always police there so he will have to stop.” she said so low that I think it was meant more for her benefit than for mine.
My father must have known that too, the car stopped making jerking motions at that point. “Keep down” she told me, “We are going to go to the Monument”.
When we got the monument at the top of the hill, the car stopped and the roar of the engine was turned off. Mom looked at me and my sister quickly, “Are you OK?” She asked. “Anything hurt?”
“No, I think I am OK. Why was he trying to hurt us?” I said looking at the panic in her eyes. I was more afraid of what was coming after us than how I was feeling, not quite understanding what was happening.
She got us out of the car and looked over to the Monument. The officer that was standing by his car took a good look at my mom and came running over to her, sensing her fear. He must have seen the look of terror in her face and ours or it could have been the mangled side of the car that grabbed his attention, but he immediately came to our side. He was a tall man, taller than my mom, and very muscular with a wide build.
“Are you OK, Ma’am?” he asked. His voice was as strong as he looked.
“I need to make a phone call.” my mom said, shaking from head to toe.
He brought us up to his car and allowed her to use the cruiser phone. “Grandpa, he’s after us. Can you please pick us up at the Monument?” After a short pause, she said, “Thanks”.
Why was he after us? I could not imagine why my father had turned into such a monster that he would want to hurt us. It did not make any sense.
She went with the officer as my sister and I sat in the back seat of the cruiser. They were standing by mom’s car and he had what looked like a pad that he pulled out from his pocket, taking lots of notes as my mom explained what had happened. I could not even imagine what she was telling them. I wished I was there to hear it.
My great grandfather was there before I knew it with another truck behind him. The truck backed up to the car. My great grandfather jumped out of the car, right at Mom’s side, holding her shoulder. She turned and started crying into his chest. He was so much taller than her with a full head of light grey hair. He was very tall and slim, just like most of the members of my family. He held her hand and kissed her forehead and then they continued to speak with the officer who wrote more intensely on his pad, making sure he got every detail. I was fascinated by the truck, watching it hoist up the car by some big chains up on the back that I didn’t even realize the office, mom and my great grandfather had come over to the cruiser until the door opened.
“Are you OK?” my great grandfather asked me. He took my hand and picked up Jenny from next to me. She smiled at him with her cute little smile and you could see him just light up. “Come on my little munchkins, let’s get you home.”
He drove us all back to his wonderful house. The smell of the honeysuckles in his back yard where so strong. My aunt and uncle, my nana and grandpa where standing outside the house to greet us. All of them were very tall and slim with blonde hair and blue eyes. Seeing them made the fear of the chase seem so long ago. I took a deep breath and ran to them.
“Wow, you grew since last we have seen you! What, are you now, 8?” my uncle said. He was always so good at cracking jokes at just the right time. I giggled and ran into the house, took a deep breath and relaxed when I could smell the delicious smell of my great grandfather’s cherry tobacco that he smoked. His pipe was still sitting on the ashtray by his chair. He must have ran out of the house the minute he got off the phone with my mom. I was so thankful for having such a loving family.
My great grandfather walked in to his house through the front door as my mom spoke with my aunt and uncle about what we just went through. My mom held Jenny so close to her in her arms. Jenny had since stopped crying and looked much happier with her teething ring in hand and her eyes wide with excitement as she looked at my aunt.
“Come with me, we are going to go out to our magical place.” my great grandfather whispered to me.
I knew exactly where he was talking about, our place, my little hide away from everything. We walked through the grand center hall to the French doors that opened to his amazing garden. I opened the doors, and looked at my great grandfather. He was such a gentle man, full of life and just so much fun to be around. I looked back into the garden and could see our special place in his huge backyard behind the small bunch of trees and bushes like a small personalized sized forest off in the distance.
He bent down to me and whispered into my ear. “I’ll race you.” he looked at me with a grin from ear to ear. “Ready, on your mark, get set, go!”
I ran right to our garden and sat under the picnic table, out of breath, and looked back through the forest of trees. I could not see him. “Is he coming? Where did he go?” I thought to myself and then I felt his hand on my shoulder and looked around behind me to see him there, bending down with a great big smile on his face.
“I think it was a tie” he said, “I can’t get under the table anymore, but I did get here when you did”.
He went over to his “magical garden” as he liked to call it, and pulled off a honeysuckle flower and held it out to me. “A little candy from the heavens, take out the long strand and taste it”.
I looked at him, curiously, “But it’s a flower, how can it be candy?”
“Trust me.” He responded and I did as he directed me, taking the long stem of the center of the flower out and sucked on it. Sure enough, it was so sweet like honey with slight floral notes, a taste that that I will always remember. I looked at him with surprise and he smiled.
He walked over to the Mimosa tree, a low tree that was not much taller than my great grandfather, with pink flowers that looked like perfect little puff balls. It was my favorite tree, not just because of the unusual flowers but because my great grandfather made it so.
“Close your eyes and make a wish” he whispered into my ear. I looked up at him, seeing his little smirk and closed my eyes tightly making the wish he had taught me.
“I wish for a special coin” I said to myself and just then, I heard the clink of the coin that hit the stone of the patio. I knew what just happened and opened my eyes immediately with a big smile on my face. I looked up at him and he too had a smile from ear-to-ear. Somehow, whenever my great grandfather stood next to it, money would fall from the tree. It was our magic tree.
“Wow, magic!” I said, looking at him with amazement.
“I could not do it without you, Casey. You willed it to happen and I helped it appear. It is because of you that magic happens.” he said with a glimmer in his eyes.
My eyes opened wide “Me? But how?”
He reached over and kissed me on my forehead. “Just believe and you will see the magic happen. It’s inside of you, in time you will see, but always believe.”
I bent down and picked up the large coin from the patio floor and stared at it but the thought of what happened in the car was still on my mind. “Why would he want to do that to us? Why would our father want to hurt our car like that? What was he trying to do?”
“Wow, that is a lot of questions” he said. And he brought his hand to my face and brushed my check. “Come and sit next to me.”
We walked over to the bench of the picnic table and I sat right next to him. I looked at the coin in my hand and back up at him. The look on his face was that of worry. “We do not know why people do what they do.” he said looking at me. “No one would ever want to hurt you if they knew what special gifts you all really are. Sometimes people go through life not seeing, not looking and make bad choices. Today was a bad choice, but you are safe, now. You are all safe now and we will take care of things. Always remember to believe that good things will come, even from the bad. They will see the wrong in what they did, but you must look to the future and know that this is just a moment of your life and you will grow from what just happened. Don’t let it hurt you. We won’t let it hurt you. Just believe in yourself, Casey. Your magic and gifts are within you.”
I looked up at him, still very confused, now even more so, “Huh?”
He looked into my eyes and held my hand, “Don’t worry, you will understand in time. Just remember to believe, like you just did in our magic garden. You can make things happen, good things, you just have to believe. Come on and let’s go inside. ” He stood up from the bench and I followed, still very confused, holding even tighter onto the coin in my hand. “ I want you try something. Just believe, can you do that?”
I nodded in response.
“Good” he said.
We walked through the grand garden up to the French doors to the house. Looking in, I could see everyone standing in the middle of the great hall. They were all talking to each other, deep in conversation. My mom was still holding Jenny in her arms as Jenny was looking at the necklace my mom was wearing, holding it in her little tiny hands. They all looked so unhappy and deep in thought, except for Jenny, she was involved with her new shinny discovery.
“Let’s try out your magic, Casey. I bet you can make everyone smile. ” my great grandfather said, looking at me.
I glanced at them and then back at him. This did not seem like a possible goal.
“How?” I asked
“Magic, Casey, it’s inside you. Try to focus on making everyone smile when you go inside. Keep that vision in your head and show them the result of our magic trick. It will work, trust me, you just have to believe in you.”
We walked through the large French doors of into the house and stood in the great hall. Everyone was still deep in conversation. My great grandfather closed the door behind him with a loud thud that caught me off guard and made me jump a little. Everyone turned around at the noise.
“Casey has something to show you all. Go ahead Casey.” he announced to everyone.
I took a deep breath and held up the large silver coin, hesitantly and said “It’s magic!” and everyone smiled at me. I could not help but smile back. “Did I do that? Could I really be magic?” I thought to myself.
“Cool!” I said looking up at my great grandfather, who was standing just to my side with a great big grin on his face.
“Magic, Casey, just believe” he whispered to me with a wink.
As time went on, I did hold on to that thought, though doubt was far greater than my belief. My great grandfather was only to stay on this earth two months after that day. I had so many questions and so many plans, but all were put on hold when he got sick and brought to the hospital. Mom said his heart was weak and he was very old. He did not look that old to me. But, I did not really understand age at that time. Everyone seemed to be the same to me, just different looking.
We would go to the hospital to see him, but he looked so weak and his skin so pasty white. I would try to wish for him to get better, but it did not seem to do any good. Every time we would go to see my great grandfather, more things would be attached to him, making odd noises. He liked to joke about the tube in his nose, “his air” as he called it. He would say that he smelled the honeysuckles from his backyard because they were trying to give him the comforts of home. He would try to make this a joke, trying to “find the humor in it” as he would say. I did not find it funny, though, only scary.
On the morning of my birthday, we went to see him. He was looking very worn and tired, but lit up as soon as he saw us standing at the door.
“Hey, it’s my birthday munchkin! Come on in princess!”
I ran right over to his side, “Good morning, Great Grandpa!”
“Wow, Casey, you look different today. New dress?”
“No. I have had this awhile.”
“Umm. New shoes?”
I giggled, “No.”
“Oh, I know what it is. You’re a year older today! Come on up here, my little princess. I have a real special gift I want to give to you. But it’s a secret.” He winked at my mom.
“Oh, OK, I’ll be right outside.” My mom said as she walked out of the room.
He handed me a small package in black wrapping and a beautiful gold bow on top. “This is for you.”
“What is it?” I said excitedly as I unwrapped it. Inside the box was the most beautiful locket I ever saw. It was round with intricate scroll work that looked like a tiny vine of leaves around a circle that was thin on one side and thicker on the other. In the middle was a star. On the back was more scroll work. It was amazingly fascinating. “It’s beautiful!”
“I’m so glad you like it. It’s an heirloom. It’s been in our family for almost 400 years.”
“Really? Has Mom seen it?”
“Hmm, no. It’s a secret, remember? It’s a special secret. It can only be worn by one special person, and that special person is you, Casey.”
“Me?” I looked at it as if it was going to tell me something, some hidden message and opened it. Inside there was an old picture of a young woman that looked kind familiar, only with much darker hair, well it was in black and white, too. On the other side was a picture of my Great Grandfather, much, much younger, but definitely looked like him. “Who is she?” I asked.
“That, Casey is one very special woman. Her name is Lily. She would be, I guess I should say, your Great Grandmother. Next time you come in, I will tell you more about her.” He put the necklace on me. “There. I think we should let your mom in, though. She might be getting bored outside. Go ahead. You can call her.”
In she came wearing a party hat along with a few of the nurses on the floor and a small cake singing “Happy Birthday” to me. I must have been bright red, but very happy.
It was a wonderful memory. One that I would never forget. And my locket is one of my most treasured pieces.
That was the last time I saw him, on earth. He passed away in his sleep. Mom said he was in heaven now, and I should believe. Believe in what, I didn’t know. That I was magical? I wished every day that my great grandfather would come out and would be OK, but, well, that did not go very well for him, now did it. Believe in what?
It seemed so long ago. Thirteen years and 10 months to be exact. But who’s counting. I still felt like I did not belong and thinking that I was magical certainly did not help the situation. We had moved four times since then and every time, I would have to start a new school half way through the year. Trying to fit in was a challenge enough but thinking you can make things happen just by believing they do, well, that never went over well. It sounded great in theory, but actually getting it to work, well, that was the hard part. I would just get picked on and called a freak a lot. I kept wishing, believing they would stop, but they never did.
My eyes were a big part of the problem, too. Having green eyes, you would think, would be great! Unusual, different. But when you are the new kid in a big school, being different did not help. It only made things worse, far worse. I was even starting to really hate my eyes. I would sit on the bed looking into the hand mirror, wishing we had money so that I could get colored contact lenses to hide them for the next school that I was going to. No magic seemed to happen, nothing. I am hoping it will be different this time.
We were moving again, this time at the start of school instead of half way into it. Maybe there would be another freak in school with green eyes, or maybe yellow! Umm, wishful thinking.
To add salt to my wound, we were going to go over to Ava and Clint’s house. My mom was to go out with a new man, Preston, on a date and their house was like our summer retreat, or at least that was what my mom and Preston tried to convince us it was.
Preston seemed very nice and sweet, much better than the others that she gone out with these past few years. He seemed genuine. He was a tall man, black hair that crowned around the back of his head and a mustache and goatee. She turned all sorts of shades of pink when she saw him and I did see him do the same, even under all that facial hair.
Preston and my mom were to be married in November, which was the reason for moving again. We were going to a new town with children more like me or at least that was what my mom kept telling me. To make things easier, we were moving into the house before the school year started to make the transition a little nice since it was my senior year. My mom, Jenny and I would live there until after Preston and my mom’s wedding and then he would come to stay.
I liked him a lot. He seemed to be looking out for all of us. It did make me feel better about our new location when he was so concerned with my transition into school. He wanted to make sure he was giving me a fighting chance.
We would go over to Ava and Clint’s when my mom and Preston went out during the days in the summer to enjoy their pool, since we did not have one of our own. As long as their boys were not there, it was very nice. Ava did not have girls of her own and loved having us there. Her “girls’ day out”, she would say. Ava and Clint had three boys, Knoxavier, Blaze and Vladin. Jenny and I called them the devils.
Knoxavier was the oldest with a very handsome face, dark brown hair that he wore a short on the sides and little longer on top so that his bangs slightly covered one of his eyes and he would always do the head flip thing with it. Every now and then, he would spike it up. He was always wearing black sunglasses, even in the house, which was a little odd to me. Knoxavier was quite tall and enjoyed going to the beach often. He was two years older than I and kept a bit to himself. He was quite handsome, I must admit, if you could get past the scowl that he always seemed to have around me. He was so incredibly nasty and the way he carried himself would make anyone shutter. He was a true bad boy. I could feel him around me without even looking, feeling him watching me which always made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was almost as if my body knew he was dangerous as much as my mind did. There were so many times that I could feel him in the room and when I turned around, there he was looking at me through his dark sunglasses like I was his prey. It was so extremely unnerving that my stomach would tighten in knots.
Blaze and Vladin where twins, equally as attractive as Knoxavier, dark hair, chiseled bodies. Each wore their hair short, but continued the same flip thing that Knoxavier did. They were only a year older than I, 18 to be exact and towered over me by a good foot. Twins in height, but looks, well, they were not identical. Blaze was a bit beefier than Vladin, were Vladin looked more like Knoxavier, more refined I guess you would say.
They spent most of their time following everything Knoxavier did, always a few steps behind him. They would shadow his every move, obey his every command, without a word, but by gesture or look. It was as if they had no brains of their own and a bit freaky.
They were terrors, always scaring and teasing us. Mom kept saying that they liked us and that was how boys deal with things. Personally, I didn’t buy it. I always thought that their names quite fit them. Scary beyond belief. Besides, I did not think at their age, they still played games like that. Personally, I think my mom forgets how old I actually am.
Last time we were there, I spent a good portion of our time trying to get the big wad of bubble gum out of my sister’s hair. Ava said it was an accident, that Knoxavier did not realize Jenny was there when he threw his gum out, but the gum was not laying on the top of her hair but rather stuck into her scalp and had leaves stuck to it from when he wrestled her to the ground to get it into her hair pretty good. “Kids will be kids” was her explanation to my mom.
This day would be different, I was told. The boys were going to go with Clint, their father, to an event at an old lighthouse on the north shore. They would be gone all day and hopefully Mom and Preston would be back before the boys returned. I could do this, I hoped. We would be able to go swimming all afternoon. They had a great big in-ground pool in their backyard and since it was quite warm, it should be actually fun and enjoyable, I was hoping.
We grabbed all of our swimming items. Jenny had a pink raft and we both brought our goggles. We made sure to pack our towels and flip flops. Jenny had a cute pair with little flowers on top that matched her bathing suit. She was such a girly girl. She always loved having her hair done and I had to polish her nails the day before to match her new bathing suit. I had my black swim suit and a pair of black flip flops. I tried not to label myself with color. Having been picked on for my eyes was enough for me. I didn’t need to be picked on for my color choices as well. My family called it my “black faze”. I just figured it was safer. Black always goes with black and I did not need to bring any more attention to myself than was necessary. I seemed to be able to do that all on my own.
When we arrived, Knoxavier, Blaze, Vladin and Clint were not there. As promised, they were out. Jenny and I went right to the pool, putting our towels right by the stairs along with my little bag with my special locket in it. It was a great big rectangular pool with a diving board at the far end and had a natural stone boarder around it. Two lounge chairs sat on the right side of the pool. The water was so nice, perfect temperature for the day.
Mom came over to the edge of the pool after talking to Ava about Preston and her plans for the day and gave us both a kiss. “Have fun and don’t turn into prunes!” She said as she left. Yeah, like I said, she forgets how old I really am.
We swam for a while for what seemed like hours. Jenny did not like to swim under water. She hated getting her hair wet, but wore goggles, which was quite funny to me. Why protect your eyes, when you’re not going to go under? But she would always do things like that. She did finally decide to take off her goggles and put it on the side of the pool. “I just saw my reflection! It’s too tight, it’s making my lips look big, like this.” She puckered her lips making them look huge.
“Oh, now that’s a look!” I laughed. “Big improvement!”
“Oh, nice!” she responded, splashing me which then turned into a little water fight as we laughed and laughed.
It was such a beautiful and sunny day. The warm summer sun shinned bright above and the pool was all to ourselves. It was a great day, or so we thought it was going to be until the wet hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.
“Jenny, quick, go inside, they’re back!”
“But I didn’t hear anything. I don’t even see them! Are you sure?” she turned and with one look at me, she began to splash through the water to the stairs.
I pushed her quickly to the stairs and she got up to the top, she grabbed her towel and put it around her. Then snatched her flip flops and started to run to the back door barefoot.
“I forgot my goggles!” she yelled back as she opened the door and ran inside not waiting for a response.
“Don’t worry, Jenny, I’ll get them.” I told her and started to go the side of the pool where she left them. The oddest screech came from above me. When I looked up, there were four huge birds, bigger than I have ever seen. Their wing span looked to have been four feet wide and had the look of a hawk. And if that was not scary enough, they were flying overhead in a circle as if I was pray or something.
“I smell a freak in my pool!” Knoxavier shouted from the side gate. He was standing there with Blaze and Vladin. Panic now took hold of me in a big way. I tried to get to the goggles even faster they were on the other side of the pool and he was approaching quickly. I kept hoping I could move just a little faster through the water but he was far quicker, reaching the spot I was heading towards before me, putting his foot right on top of the elastic and holding them in place.