The music faded and I could feel everyone's eyes on me.
It didn't take a genius to guess what they were all thinking..."Why is she just standing there? Why isn't she singing?"
I'm not the type to avoid the limelight, but this was...almost unbearable.
Shuffling forward, I took a deep breath and decided to break the stark silence.
Leaning towards the microphone I finally said,
"Sorry. I... can't really sing."
With an off-handed shrug, I tried to stuff my hands into my pockets and suddenly realized I was still holding the band's sheet music.
Glancing down at the crumpled paper I'd accidentally tried to jam into my pants pocket, I mumbled "Oops." and wished I wished for the gift of invisiblity.
Daring to glance to at my fellow "band members", The Purple Tuxedos, I watched them look back at me as if I were some sort of inbred extraterrestrial.
Slow, weird, and unable to carry a tune.
Nervously biting my bottom lip, I cursed myself for allowing my best friend Sara to drag me into this.
I've always loved mysteries.
In my book, only one feeling supersedes the indescribable high attained at the precipice of the discovery of a final clue, that feeling is an immense but invisible weight being lifted from your shoulders when, at last, you are face to face with the illuminating solution to whatever mystery you've determined to solve!
My Dad tells me that when I was four and he was teaching me how to write, anytime I came across a question mark, I would defiantly erase the curvy lines, replacing the question mark with one very bold and over-sized period.
I can't pinpoint where this need to find answers comes from, I only know that no matter how much the truth may hurt, I need it.
Five years following my phase of replacing question marks with periods, I graduated to working with bigger questions.
At eight years old, I thought about why, according to Dad, my mom wasn't around.
Of course, I knew why she was gone, Dad told me that she'd died giving birth to me.... but for some reason, when I turned eight, I started to really think about it.
Frequently, Dad would pepper our conversation with tidbits of information about her.
On Sunday's, when we'd make dinner together, he'd throw the pasta into a pot of boiling water and smile a little as he'd quietly say,
"Your mom used to love shrimp alfredo."
One time, in the middle of an argument, I'd been going off about how he didn't take me seriously and all of a sudden his face went pale and he took a step back.
"What?!' I asked, alarmed by his weird reaction.
He just looked at me, stunned, and slowly shook his head,
"Uh, nothing. It's nothing. I'm sorry Amy...I...I don't want you to feel that way."
It wasn't until the next day that he'd told me in a very quiet voice, that suddenly I'd looked and sounded so much like her that for a moment, it had completely thrown him.
So, Dad had no problem talking about my mom, and in a way, I felt as if I'd almost known her.
She was like a character in a book I'd read and fell in love with.
I never met her, but I loved her and I knew my Dad loved her even more, so I can understand why he feels comfortable talking about her but not about the way she died.
Even so, there was something about the cause of her death that always bothered me.
At first, what bothered me was my own guilt...as if her death had been my fault.
On sleepless nights, I'd toss and turn, wondering why I was alive and she was gone.
Of course I knew I hadn't intentionally tried to hurt my parents, I was only an infant.
Still, I had hurt them... in the worse way possible.
This stinging guilt sat in my gut, bothering me on a daily basis until it became a near obsessive need to find answers.
I felt compelled to know why my birth had resulted in the end of my mother's life.
So, I took on my very first case.
Instead of accosting my Dad with questions, I accessed mom's records, the certificate of her death, and even talked to a few of the nurses who'd been on duty that day...
It didn't take long for me to realize that a couple of facts I'd been given simply didn't add up.
First of all, my mother was said to have experienced a uterine rupture which led to obstetrical hemorrhage, the cause of her death.
But, according to the results of her autopsy, there was no evidence of a uterine rupture.
Instead, a non specified, harmful drug was found in her system and this unnamed drug was apparently the sole cause of her death.
Just as unsettling was an account of the reaction of one of the nurses who was on staff during the time of my mom's death.
This nurse had a squeaky clean record, but after that day, he'd suddenly been fired.
His name was Greg Harlow and meeting him was my first step towards finding out what really happened to my mom.
By the time I was eight years old, Mr. Harlow had begun working as a science teacher at the local high school.
When I walked into his classroom one sunny afternoon, and introduced myself, I immediately noticed the way his face went pale when he heard my name.
Despite his expression, I had a gut feeling that Greg Harlow was a decent person, the kind of guy I could be straight with.
I was right.
He told me everything he knew.
According to Mr. Harlow, my mom had been under the care of a Doctor named Richard Van Helmsman.
Van Helmsman was a firm believer in the morality of performing experiments on patients who'd been intentionally left out of the loop as to what was happening to them, as long as the experiment's eventual result involved the saving of lives on a mass scale.
Mr. Harlow had earlier submitted his concerns regarding Dr. Van Helmsman ethics to the Hospital they both worked for.
But for some reason, his complaint was disregarded.
After checking into it further, I found out that Dr. Van Helmsman was not only on the Hospital's Board but was also one of their most generous donors.
These two factors were undoubtedly the reason for Mr. Harlow's complaint going "unnoticed".
When my mother was killed, Harlow complained again...and was immediately fired.
After a lot of research and finding clever ways to get information out of the other nurses who'd been on duty that day, I found out that Van Helmsman did perform some sort of experiment on my mother without her consent.
None of the nurses knew specifically what he'd done and they were reluctant to talk about it.
Despite their reticence, every nurse I interviewed agreed on one fact: On the day of my birth, whatever Van Helmsman had done had unexpectedly killed my mother.
I also found out that my mom wasn't the only patient he'd taken advantage of, there were, according to one nurse, hundreds more.
A year later, Dr. Van Helmsman was fired and ran away to escape capture.
Two of the nurses told me that he was a "Wanted Fugitive".
But, when I checked the FBI's "Most Wanted" list, I didn't see his name there.
So, after a lot of searching and a lot of Government Officials hanging up on me, I stumbled across an unofficial website with another type of "Most Wanted" list.
According to this website, there is an unidentified Department of the U.S. government that is responsible for finding the worse of the worse, the kind of villians who you think only exist in James Bond movies...Dr. Van Helmsman's name was on that list.
The next day, I tried to find the website again and saw that it was gone.
So, whatever Dr. Van Helmsman did to his patients was beyond unethical.
My goal is to find out exactly what he did to my mom and to the other patients he'd taken advantage of.
There's a lot more to find out...not just about my mother's death, but about lots of things.
That's why four years ago, when I was only eight years old, I started an online company called "The Keeper of Secrets".
I find the answers to "unanswerable" questions and I work as a sort of unofficial Private Investigator.
The thing is, I'm very discreet about keeping people's secrets.
I now know that while I'm okay with the burden that carrying a secret brings, most people aren't.
For example, you can imagine how painful my mother's death was for my father and the rest of my family.
They'd barely recovered from their grief when I'd had to break it to them that she didn't die because of childbirth complications, but that she'd been killed ...
My Dad wasn't the same for a long time after that...and I feel like it was all my fault.
There are some truths that have been hidden for a reason.
A few months after the ordeal with my mom's death, I'd discovered that my best friend was adopted and by this time, I knew better than to reveal such a secret.
I still remember the afternoon, I'd managed to sneak out of school early, met with Sara's parents, sat down with them in their comfy living room and, nervously staring at the floor, told them that I knew their secret.
They'd asked me to promise that I wouldn't tell Sara.
They said they'd tell her in time..in their own time.
Managing to glance up, I watched tears glisten in both of their eyes, I watched them, cheeks flushed, jaws clenched, looking at me with such broken faces and the words, " I promise" easily left my lips.
This was a moment I'll always remember.
With two words I let the world flip upside down on top of itself and become a place where truth, with it's sharp edges, cuts through fluff and shows me, at a very young age, that secrets have an ugly side.
I'd been true to my word for five years.
But just last year, Sara's parents had finally decided to tell her.
I'd had to sit with her as she cried, accusing her parents of being liars, calling them words that made me cringe and I'd pretended this news was all new to me.
I'd kept their secret ...and it had hurt me, sitting like a dead weight in my chest, I'd let it hurt me because I didn't want the truth to hurt Sara, leaving her half-broken as it had left my Dad.
So, with every mystery I solve, there's also a secret.
I could share the secrets with the world and keep the burden off of my shoulders.
Instead, I keep it, and every secret that I choose to keep kills something inside of me.
I'm afraid that one day the secrets are all going to gang up on me and then...I'll be gone.
I was thinking about this as I watched the Ryan Hader video that Sara was singing along to as we sat in her room on a Sunday night.
We were supposed to be finishing a science project that was due the next day, but I was pretty sure that Dr. Harlow would let Sara and I slide by with turning it in on Tuesday (the one good thing that came out of sharing my mother's secret with my Science Teacher was that he often let me get away with less than stellar grades)
"He's sooo hot, look at how he gets into his songs. You can see how much he feels the music. It's like..." Sara's voice trailed off as she stared, open-mouthed at the guy of her dreams, "It's like the music is a part of him."
I glanced back at the screen.
Ryan was cute and since he went to our school, I'd passed him in the halls enough times to know that he always smelled really good and was a great dresser...but there was something that stopped me from crushing on him.
I watched him close his eyes as he crooned, "You Are My Everything, More Than All I've Dreamed..."
His fists were clenched as he faked the "drama" of the cookie cutter words that flew out of his mouth.
When he opened his eyes, I shivered.
There was something cold in his expression.
Unimpressed but curious, I watched his body language even more closely.
"Isn't he amazing?" Sara sighed.
Ignoring her, I focused on the slight, almost noticeable twitch in his left eye and the narrowing of his lips as he pursed them in what he probably thought was a sexy pout.
When people have something to hide, I've noticed that they unconsciously do really weird things with their bodies.
Sometimes, for just a micro-fraction of a second they'll twitch, frown, or purse their lips.
This guy was doing all three.
I wondered what Ryan Hader had to hide.
"Did you hear that Ryan's going to expand from solo to a band? That's what he announced in his last podcast. He's got the whole band picked except for the female vocalist. Ugh!" Sara suddenly slapped her hand on her desk and I laughed.
My friend Sara is queen of Overdramatic and Oddly Inappropriate Gestures.
"What's wrong? You want to be in his band?" I guessed.
"Yesss! But, you've heard me sing, I sound like that lady...what's her name? The one from Jersey with the accent? There's this show she's in on TBS or some station...every night? She's a nanny?" Sara looked at me expectantly.
"Fran Drescher ?" I suggested.
"Yeah, I sound like Fran Drescher with a cold. Ugh!! You have no idea how much I wish I could sing! Ryan's holding auditions next week!" She whined.
Glancing at the blonde haired, green eyed, almost-pop star singing to us from the screen of Sara's laptop, I watched the practiced gestures, the way the camera slowly zoomed in until his eyes took up nearly half of the screen.
"I have a feeling it won't matter whether the girl he chooses can sing, its probably more about...looks." I replied.
"What do you mean?" She asked arching an eyebrow.
I nodded towards the screen,
"Look at the way he moves, even the words to the song- he wrote this right?"
"Yeah." Sara crossed her arms as she spoke with pride, " Ryan writes all of his own music. Why?"
"I don't think he posts these videos because he loves music, I think he does it for the attention and a guy who wants attention- well, lets just say that if a nerdish chick with a voice like Jennifer Hudson's walked into his audition, he'd send her home, crying in two seconds flat. But if a cute girl with J-Lo's voice and tight pants walked in, she wouldn't even have to sing and he'd announce that he's found his female lead."
As I turned to Sara I felt kind of bad when I saw that her eyes were narrowed.
"Then again, I could be wrong....that's just my opinion." I cleared my throat.
"You're such a snot." She rolled her eyes.
"A what? A snob?" I tried not to laugh. I mean, I wasn't the one who lived with two parents in a three story house!
"No! Not a snob a snot! You think you know everything! That is what I call a snot." Shutting off the youtube video, she stood and moved to where she'd set her can of Dr. Pepper on her nightstand.
"I won't lie, yeah, I do know a lot, but not everything...yet." I grinned, knowing she'd roll her eyes again, "Maybe one day."
"Or maybe never! Because snots are always a lot less smarter than their ego's tell them they are."
Instead of rolling her eyes, she took a swig of her Dr. Pepper and I sat up straighter,
"What makes you think I'm so wrong about Ryan Hader?"
"He's not most guys. Have you ever heard his song, "The Tear" ? He wrote it for his mom." She chuckled and shook her head, "You assume everyone's more shallow than you are, you always assume the worst about people."
I felt as if I'd been stung.
'I always assume the worst about people?!!...' I thought to myself, 'No I don't...do I?'
"What makes you say that?" I quietly asked.
" I look at Ryan and I see a cute guy who likes making music. That's all. You look at him and see a chauvinist pig who wants to exploit girls so he can get more attention. You think everyone has this evil lurking inside of them, just waiting to get out." Pausing, Sara set her empty can of Dr. Pepper back on the dresser and an expression of excitement suddenly lit up her features, "Lets see if you're right. Let's find out who Ryan really is."
Was she asking me to do what I thought she was asking me to do?
"You want me to spy on Ryan Hader?" I asked.
"Nope." She shook her head and plopped down on her bed, still looking as if she'd discovered a new planet or something, "I want you to audition for his band. You have a good voice, you should audition."
"Wait?..." I paused, "Audition for his band?"
I didn't have time for that...I had cases to solve, people to stalk, even a couple of missing pets to find ( I know...pets aren't my forte, I'm not going for the whole Ace Ventura Pet Detective thing, but it's good money)!
"What's that going to prove?" I asked.
She grinned, "It'll prove you're wrong about him. If you audition, I bet he'll hire you and I bet you'll like him. Just do it."
"You're crazy." Making a face at Sara, I turned towards the science textbook and sighed, "Listen, we should probably start working on this project-"
"I'll pay you."
I paused and felt my heart flutter.
Hold on...I don't want you to think I'm greedy.
It's not that, its more like I'm ...sensible when it comes to money.
I try to get as much of it as I can because, that's sensible, right?
"How much are we talking?" I asked.
She laughed, "You're so predictable!"
"Predictable? No I'm not!" I frowned, "Seriously though, how much are we talking about?"
"A hundred bucks." She crossed her arms and looked at me with amusement, "Is that good enough for you Nancy Drew?"
I felt kind of bad, charging my best friend for a stupid job that really...wasn't even an actual job.
Then again, I would be forced to hang out with a narcissistic loser for at least the length of an audition.
"Fine." I shrugged, "But if he cuts me from the audition, which he's going to do, you only owe me $25 bucks. Deal?"
She nodded and gave me a huge grin, "Of course!"
"Alright, I'll email you a contract tomorrow." I sighed, thinking of how dumb I'd feel sending her a contract that had the name "Ryan Hader" in it.
He was such a phony.
"I bet you will. I also bet you're going to end up owing me a hundred bucks and in a couple years you'll be inviting me to your wedding Mrs. Hader."
I pretended to gag.
And three days later, I gagged again as Ryan chose me from the audition.
"So, we'll have our first rehearsal tomorrow night at six, can you be here?" He'd asked, flashing me his famous smile.
I flashed a mirror image of his massive fake smile right back at him,
And suddenly there I was, standing on a tiny stage, a microphone in front of me, guitar music behind me.
In the audience sat Ryan, smiling as always, while his twin sister Tess, scowled ferociously.
"I can't... really sing." I confessed.
With an off-handed shrug, I tried to stuff my hands into my pockets and suddenly realized that I was still holding the band's sheet music.
Glancing down at the crumpled paper I'd accidentally tried to jam into my pants pockets, I mumbled "Oops." and wished I could just become invisible.
Daring to glance to at my fellow "band members", The Purple Tuxedos, I watched them look back at me as if I were some sort of inbred extraterrestrial.
Slow, weird, and unable to carry a tune.
Nervously biting my bottom lip, I cursed myself for allowing my best friend Sara to drag me into this.
Landry, the lead guitar, was frowning and his lip was curled into a shape resembling an apostrophe.
I could just imagine the scene... as soon as I left the room, Landry would pull Ryan aside and say, 'Dude, you made a mistake. You chose the wrong girl. She's terrible....'
The pleasant tone of Ryan's voice startled me so much that I nearly fell off of the tiny stage.
Ryan was friends with most of the teachers in the Theater Department and they'd let him use their miniscule stage as his rehearsal space.
The room was small, dark, and it smelled of old costumes that probably should have been trashed years ago.
Despite the smell and cramped space, what made me light-headed was the anger that soared through my veins at the fact that Ryan had just said, "That's Okay." to his lead female vocalist when she'd confessed that SHE COULDN'T SING!
He was only saying that so he could use me!
What a massive loser!
Attempting to cover my hatred for him, I quietly asked,
"So you Madonna, Britney, and Gwen Stefani have at least two things in common."
Landry made a tsking noise and I turned just in time to see him roll his eyes.
His annoyance was something I could definitely relate to.
What was with this Ryan guy?!
As I folded my arms and shot the idiot a look, I thought about how I wouldn't be surprised if in the next couple of minutes, he told me I wouldn't have to sing at all, I'd only need to wear something sexy and shoot the audience with a Zooladerish-Blue-Steel pout.
"You can't even compare her to someone like Madonna. And since when did you want The Purple Tuxedos to sound anything like Madonna?" Landry spoke up, interrupting my train of thought, "In fact, who in their right mind wants to sound like Madonna?!"
I watched him angrily set his guitar on the floor of the stage.
Landry, the tall and normally friendly bass player with long brown hair, was sincerely upset and that was enough to makeme feel horribly guilty.
I mean, I didn't even want to be there.
I'd done this for a friend...okay, no, I'd done this for a hundred bucks and now my lack of true talent was actually killing someone's dream.
A someone who really cared about music.
"Hey, wait-" I heard myself say. Everyone turned to look at me.
I glanced at Ryan who, crossing his arms, waited expectantly.
Behind him was Tess, the twin sister/Purple Tuxedo's drummer who I hadn't even known existed before the auditions earlier that week.
She'd been especially quiet throughout the whole process, coldly staring at me from under a furrowed brow.
She was pretty much the female version of "Pride and Prejudice's" Mr. Darcy.
My immediate guess was that Tess was insanely jealous of her brother's "success".
But the more I'd observed her, the more wrong I seemed to be.
When Tess spoke to Ryan and when she watched him perform on stage I honestly couldn't find a hint of jealousy in her gestures, her tone, or her facial expression.
She was just a weirdo who liked to frown...and who didn't seem to like me very much.
As if on cue, Tess shot me a hatred-filled glance.
'I've had enough of this.' I thought to myself, 'If I find Ms. Colepepper's missing dove, that's a hundred bucks right there. I can make up for this.'
"You know, I think you guys are um...a-amazing," Stammering on the word "amazing", I threw up a little in my mouth (OK, I didn't really. I'm just being dramatic) and had to clear my throat to begin speaking again, "and I don't want to bring you down so if-"
"I think what she's trying to say is if we quit standing around talking and start rehearsing then she'll have the chance to make The Purple Tuxedos even better than amazing." Ryan interrupted.
I glanced at him and shook my head because that was definitely not what I was going to say.
Moving away from Tess and her angry glare, in one swift motion, he hopped up on stage and walked towards me.
I frowned and started to tell him what I'd really wanted to say,
"Actually, I was-"
"Like I said earlier, you have two things in common with Madonna, Britney, and Gwen." He said, interrupting me and then having the nerve to pause for some kind of dramatic affect.
I suddenly wished I was a little bit taller.
I don't like it when someone towers a foot or so over you, without a word they and their height, point out your insignificance.
To make matters worse, he reached out, touched my hair, and I watched him let a couple of the pink strands (that's right...pink! My dad hated it but Sara said it'd be great for the audition and if I made it through, for the band) run through his fingers before falling back into place.
I was on the verge of slapping his hand away from my hair and away from my face when he, on his own, dropped his hand and took a step back as he quietly said,
"You have the look that people want to see and you already have a ton of fans."
"What?" I asked, confused.
The one fan I had was my father and even he was only a fan %20 of the time.
The other 80% of my father's time was spent being a fan of the law office he worked in.
"What do you mean, I have fans?" I pushed.
"Amy McKnight." His voice was low and the sparkle in his green eyes held an almost composed hint of mischief.
"That's my name." I folded my arms and felt one of my eyebrow's automatically move up.
When I'm clearly unimpressed, Sara says I look exactly like Spock.
"You know who your fans are...and so do I." His eyes bore into mine and that hideously charming smile, much like an expensive spray-on tan, wouldn't come off for anything.
What was he talking ab-
And then it hit me.
I felt my blood run cold.
Everything I'd kept hidden, while simultaneously revealing it all so as not to go insane while keeping other people's secrets....my blog had over ten thousand Facebook "Likes", three thousand subscribers, and so many hits a day that I didn't even bother to keep track anymore...
But in none of my posts had I ever mentioned my name or anyone's name! That was the purpose of keeping it all secret!
There was no way an idiot like Ryan Hader would find out that I was the blogger everyone knew as The Keeper of Secrets.
Forcing my face to relax, and giving him a comfortable smile, I easily replied,
"I guess I do have a few fans on Twitter, but who doesn't?"
He kept smiling.
Behind those green eyes and the smile that every girl in my class swooned over was a look that I recognized.
It was the look of a hunter who was all fueled up for the chase.
Except it wasn't just hunger that kept this kind of a hunter go for the gold, it wasn't hunger that had made Ryan a star on youtube, it was a desperate need for fame.
The look in Ryan's eyes told me that he was dying to be famous.
People who are willing to die for the one thing they want most are unstoppable.
I inadvertently took a step back as I tried to collect my thoughts.
"She's got a 'few fans on Twitter'?!'" Landry dryly repeated, mumbling mostly to himself.
Ryan lowered his voice to something barely above a whisper and leaned closer as he said,
"We both know you have more than a few fans. But I'll keep your secret, if you stay and rehearse today and again tomorrow and then for the next couple of weeks, until our first show as a band. What do you say, Keeper of Secrets?"
I shivered, literally.
My mouth went dry as I took in this information.
He really did know.
Somehow, Ryan knew all about it...everything...
"OK." I agreed, all the while wanting to punch him, "Fine. But if you breathe a word about who I am-"
He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender,
"Let me finish." I whispered sharply, his green eyes widened and he seemed amused, which annoyed me even more. "If you breathe a word about me or my blog to anyone, I will destroy you."
He gave me an, 'oh please' look and shrugged,
"I know. Like I said, I won't, as long as you stick with our band until our first performance."
Ryan's nonchalant shrug was what did it.
Normally, I am extremely composed and mature.
My dad and I have this saying,
'What's the point of getting angry when you can just get a solution to your problem.'
But at this point, the only foreseeable solution to my problem was to push the arrogant pretty boy so hard that he almost fell off stage.
"Ryan!!" Tess screamed as her brother teetered on the edge of the stage, his arms flailing as he slowly tipped backwards.
Quickly coming to, I reached out and pulled him back onstage.
"What's wrong with you!" Tess yelled.
I looked at her, curly blonde hair flying everywhere as she rushed towards her brother.
Feeling horrible, but deciding to commit to my role as the temperamental female, I ignored Tess and pointed a finger at Ryan,
"Mess with me Ryan, and swear I'll find your secret. Everyone has one, including you. I'll find yours and you can guess what I'll do with it, youtuber. That's a promise."
Nostrils flaring, he gave me an odd look,
"Just be here tomorrow. For rehearsal."
My cell rang as I unlocked the back door to the house.
Glancing at my caller ID and seeing that it was Sara, I opened the door while touching "Answer".
"Hey." I said, entering the dark hallway and reaching for the switch on the wall near the door.
"Hey! So how'd it go?! Did he love your voice even more today than he did yesterday or maybe did you love him even more than you did yesterday?" Sara exclaimed, nearly gushing with every word.
I laughed dryly.
Finally feeling the lightswitch beneath my fingers, I flipped the light on and replied,
"Um no... to both questions. It went pretty badly."
"What?!" Genuinely shocked, she went on, "What do you mean pretty badly? What happened?"
The room filled with light and I threw my backpack on the floor before sinking into my dad's favorite chair.
"Well, first of all I couldn't sing. I don't know what happened to my voice. Maybe it was nerves or something." I paused, realizing how odd it was to be nervous about something that I didn't even really want to do, "But he was nice about it until I was obviously on the verge of quitting and he threatened me."
"You did what, he did what?! He threatened you?!! Did you say quit? Why were you quitting Amy?! That's retarded!" Sara exclaimed.
In my mind I could just picture her throwing up her hands and then slapping whatever piece of furniture was closest to her.
The thought made me almost smile, until I thought about the fact that Ryan knew who I was.
I'd need to make some serious changes to my blog.
"What question do you want me to answer first?" I asked as I hopped out of the chair and hurried down the hall towards my dad's office.
"What do you mean he threatened you? What did he say?" She demanded.
"You know my blog?" I asked.
"Yeah, the one you won't even give me the URL to that's all about the secrets you keep?"
Opening the door to my dad's office, I stepped inside and noticed that the computer was already on.
'Dad must have stopped home for lunch' I silently mused as I slipped into the chair and positioned my fingers above the keyboard.
Suddenly, a loud creaking noise made me jump.
Startled, I whirled around and saw that the office door was closed.
My skin crawled.
I hadn't closed the door behind me.
"Amy?" Sara's voice in my ear was comforting as I wrapped my brain around the fact that there was an intruder in our home.
I could barely respond and I suddenly felt light-headed.
"Amy?!" Sara repeated, "Are you there?"
"Yeah. I'm here." I said trying to keep my voice calm.
I didn't want whoever it was to know that I was scared.
Maybe it was someone a client had asked me to follow maybe it was Mrs. Williamson's husband, the one who'd been cheating.
He'd gotten so angry when she told him she knew.
He'd actually given her a black eye.
I gulped as I thought about what that might mean for me...
Glancing around the room for some sort of a weapon, I whispered into the phone,
"Sara, I think someone's in the house. If you hear me scream, call 9-1-1. Ok?"
Without waiting for her response, I set my cell on Speaker-Phone mode and placed it on the desk before reaching for a spray can of furniture polish and a letter opener.
The furniture polish would undoubtedly burn Mr. Williamson's eyes and the letter opener...well...this was the one time I wouldn't use it to open a letter.
The back door to the house slammed shut and I jumped straight in the air, and I officially lost it,
"Sara, call 9-1-1 now! There's somebody in here! Hurry up! Now!"
After shouting, I threw open the office door and ran down the hall towards the back door, armed with a spray can and a letter opener I stopped short as my dad, setting his briefcase on the arm of his favorite chair paused as he glanced at the items in my hand and then at me,
"Um...um..." I took a deep breath and sighed, "Nothing. I think ...I think I'm just going a little insane."
"Tell me something I don't know."
Setting the letter opener and spray can on the coffee table, I attempted to compose myself,
"So, ah you're home early. What's going on?"
"Actually," Dad's smile faded as he slowly walked towards me and touched my pink hair, "Amy, I was hoping we could hang out a little. It's been a while since we've been to Bradey's. Want to go?"
Relaxing, I smiled at him and patted his arm,
"Relax Dad, the pink hair has nothing to do with teenage rebellion or me hating you, it was Sara's idea, she thought it would be help me get into this band I was auditioning for."
He frowned a little,
"Some guy named Ryan Hader has this band-" I started.
"Hader? Is that Frank Hader's kid?" Dad's face lit up as mine fell.
Frank Hader had just become a partner at the lawfirm dad worked for.
Frank Hader was also the father of ...you guessed it, Ryan and Tess.
So, my innocent father worked for the family of my enemies.
This was becoming more complicated by the second.
"That's great Amy! So, you're going to be on youtube too? I've seen a couple of Ryan's videos, they're um..." His voice trailed off and he glanced at me nervously.
"They're awful." I finished for him.
"No, no- if you like pop music I'm sure they're great-"
"But we don't like pop music." I replied darkly.
My dad didn't say anything and when I looked up at him, there was a softness in his expression.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing." He shrugged, clearing his throat.
"Come on, what?!" I pushed, curious about that look on his face.
Obviously embarrassed, he shrugged,
"I just like that you said "we"."
My heart melted and I nearly forgot every bit of the tension that had been following me like a shadow from the moment I'd left Ryan's rehearsal,
"Of course I did, we're a team."
He pointed at my pink hair,
"That made me wonder if you were headed solo."
I shook my head,
"No, it's just temporary. Believe me, I'm not crazy about it either and I don't even want to be in this band." I paused, wondering how I could explain what was going on, without giving too much away, "It's just that Amy and Ryan really want me to-"
The sound of a firetruck, an ambulance, and a siren made me stop short.
I'd completely forgotten about Amy's call to 9-1-1.
Two hours later, my dad and I sat in a booth at Bradey's.
My dad was a fan of the chef's homestyle cooking and I was a fan of every single person on staff at Bradey's.
The waiters and waitresses had been there as long as I'd been alive and we were all pretty good friends.
That's the one good thing about living in a relatively small town.
"So, do you really think someone was in your house?!" Erma's blue eyes were wide as she asked her question.
She looked as if she were posed for a picture, her hand on her hip, looking at me sideways.
Dad glanced at me too, he was more shaken up about the whole thing than I was.
By the time the police had arrived, he'd actually gotten mad at me for not telling him what had happened.
"I don't think so. It was just my imagination." I quickly replied, hoping that what I was saying was true.
But when you hope you're telling the truth...it means that deep down, you know you're not telling the truth.
"Do you still have that hidden camera by the back door?" Dad asked.
I instantly wished he hadn't said that in front of Erma. It wasn't that I didn't trust Erma. She was a doll.
But, I didn't want anyone to know about my cameras.
It was sort of a protection for me, in view of the line of work that I was in.
"Yeah. I'll check the footage." I mumbled, "But I'm sure it was nothing."
"Okay..." Erma slowly replied, "Well you two just be careful. Okay?"
I nodded and picked up one of my french fries.
Suddenly, I wasn't so hungry.
"Night sweetie, love you." Dad called, from the other side of the office door.
"Night, love you too." I called, as I turned on the computer's monitor.
As the screen came to life, I saw that my blog was already up.
That was weird.
My heart thudded against my chest and I ignored the next thought that threatened to seep into existence.
No one had been in my Dad's office, no one other than me and, of course, my Dad.
A window requesting my User ID and Password popped up, I typed in
The Secret Keeper and then my password.
"The Username and Password Combination You Have Entered Is Incorrect" said the bright red words that appeared on screen.
Rolling my eyes, I retyped my information and the red words appeared again.
"What?!" I mumbled.
After exactly five more attempts, I had a headache and I halfheartedly requested that a request for a new password be sent to my email address.
But when I tried to log into my email, the same thing happened.
Ready to choke someone, I picked up my phone and dialed the enemy's number.
He answered on the first ring.
"Are you insane?!" I shouted.
There was a pause.
"Is that really what you called to ask me?"Ryan asked.
I heard water running in the background.
With a sigh, I imagined the home invader, after a day of crime, laughing evily as he ran his bathwater, and glanced around looking for his vanilla bean scented bubble bath.
Such a loser...he probably really did use vanilla bean scented bubble bath.
"Before you get in the bath or whatever it is you're doing, I want to explain something to you very clearly-"
"RYAN! DID YOU FINISH THE DISHES YET?" A loud voice in the background suddenly threw me off and I paused mid-sentence.
Doing the dishes?!
Ryan Hader ...did dishes?
"Um, uh...hang on Amy." He fumbled with his phone and I heard a lot of static before the noise suddenly dissolved.
Apparently, I'd been muted.
Tapping my fingers on the edge of the desk, I glanced at my computer screen and decided to type in my blog's URL and take a look at it.
Typing in www.thesecretkeeper.com, I was shocked to see that there was a post listed under today's date.
With anger leaking from my heart, throughout my veins and all the way into my shaking fingers, I clicked on the post to expand it.
As soon as the title came into sight, I gasped and all at once heard Ryan's voice in my ear,
"You..." My voice trailed off as tears stung my eyes.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
The title and the picture.
This was far worse than I could have even imagined.
"What's wrong?" Ryan asked, his voice sounding far away to my distracted ears, "Well, other than the obvious, which, by the way I'm really sorry about. I never wanted to come across like um, like a jerk or a threat but I guess I wasn't thinking and-"
"Why are you doing this to me?" I finally sputtered.
Sara was going to be so hurt.
She'd hate me.
One look at this post and I'd lose my best friend forever.
"Listen." Ryan went on, "I'm really sorry. I just wanted you to be a part of The Purple Tuxedos and I know that's not exactly your thing to be front and center, you know? So I uh, I did the only thing I could think of-"
"Well undo it Ryan." The blood was draining from my face and I felt lightheaded as I hissed into the phone, "Instead of repeating I'm sorry fifty billion times like some kind of Bruno Mars song, just get off your butt and undo what you did! You have to remove this post! I'll be in your stupid band, I already told you that- why are you doing this to me?"
"Whoa, wait , Amy, what are you talking about? What post? I don't get it." He stammered.
"Stop pretending Ryan! We both know that you broke into my hou-"
"RYAN! RYAN! DID YOU TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE? TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE IF YOU DIDN'T!!!" Shouted the voice that apparently belonged to his mother, her shouts were followed by several booming knocks on what I assumed was his bedroom door.
I almost felt sorry for him...almost.
"Uh, hang on, please don't hang up." He muttered and I heard buttons being pressed before he shouted, "OK Ma, sorry. I'll take it out in like five minutes, I just need to finish this conversation."
"NO RYAN- NOW!!! TAKE IT OUT NOW!!!!" Her voice rose and she sounded near hysteria.
"OK." He simply replied.
Despite my bitterness towards the creep, I was surprised to note the kindness and respect with which he addressed the half-hysterical, shouting woman.
Suddenly the noise from his end was silenced and I checked my phone to see if I'd accidentally hung up.
Ryan's voice was all at once in my ear,
"Can you hear me?"
"Yes. I hear you and your mom." I said between clenched teeth.
"Uh, sorry about that. She um, she gets kind of - she's really anxious." An embarrassed tone laced the edges of his voice.
I heard what sounded like a door open and a shuffling noise indicated that he was walking.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to keep my voice even as I replied,
"Listen, it sounds like you're taking out the garbage so right after you do that I need you to do this for me. Go to my blog and remove the post. Remove it Ryan. I know that, for whatever reason, you're trying to hit below the belt, but you're not hurting me, you're hurting Sara. She has nothing to do with me. If I'm your target, shoot me-"
"Amy, wait a second. I don't understand what you're talking about." As he spoke, I heard the sound of his garbage can being dragged across the driveway, "What do you mean, 'remove the post'? I didn't blog a word about your friend Sara on my site, I just blogged that The Purple Tuxedos welcomed you as a new female vocal, and I posted that yesterday. What are you talking about?"
Losing my patience I looked at the screen and the picture of Sara as a little girl, holding her mother's (her adopted mother's) hand, as she smiled into the camera. Directly underneath the picture was a title in bold black letters, "My Best Friend's Adoption; A Secret That I Kept For Seven Years".
"I'm not talking about your website Ryan! I'm talking about mine! You broke into my house today, you accessed my blog, and my email, you changed all my passwords and you-" I paused, because I was on the verge of tearing up and I didn't want to cry while I was on the phone with him.
The noise from the garbage can's trip to the driveway stopped.
"Amy, I would never do that. Whoever hacked into your blog account and your email- it wasn't me. Did you say someone broke in your house?"
I assessed the shock in his voice.
It sounded genuine.
Even so, no one other than Ryan knew that the blog belonged to me.
His voice was completely believable but the facts...the facts were a dead giveaway.
"You're a bad liar." I lied, "I know you did it and I want you to remove it." I said, angrily sniffing back tears as I swatted them away from my eyes, forcing myself not to cry.
"I didn't post it." His voice was low, "I wouldn't do that. Not only because it's dumb to break into someone's house but because, I...look Amy, we don't really know each other, but you have to believe me, I would never do that."
The honesty in his voice stopped my tears and I hung onto it, wanting to believe him.
In the few seconds that made up our pause in the conversation, I closed my eyes and I went with my gut feeling.
I believed him.
Even though it made no sense at all, the honesty in his voice was impossible to ignore.
"Then help me out find who did. Who else knows about my blog?"
I heard another door open and then slam,
"Um, no one. I didn't tell anyone and I never planned to."
My moment of trusting Ryan vanished.
His pause before answering my question, the hesitance before saying, "No one."
He was obviously lying.
But I had ways of making him talk.
"OK Ryan." With that I hung up.
Maybe he hadn't been the one who'd broken into my house and disturbed my peace, but that's exactly what I was going to do to him.
Quietly closing my father's door, I left the sounds of his snores and crept down the hallway.
Reaching on the counter for his car keys, I deftly opened the backdoor and slid outside.
As I closed the screen door, I glanced up at the wreath hanging on the backdoor, hidden behind it was my camera. I realized that I'd forgotten to check the footage from earlier that afternoon.
Hurrying to my dad's car, I jumped inside and carefully pulled out of the driveway.
This wasn't the first time I'd taken my dad's car without his knowledge.
I'd had to do it once before, the time when my ninth grade English teacher's pit bull had "runaway" and I'd realized that her ex-husband, a guy who lived two counties away, had stolen it. Dad would've never agreed to drive for over an hour to kidnap a pit bull from a crazy guy who probably had a gun.
So, I'd had to do it myself.
This was one other thing I'd have to take care of myself.
As I pulled up to a red light, I glanced in the passenger's seat.
My voice recorder and miniature camera, along with a can of mace were ready to go.
The drive to Ryan's house didn't take very long.
It took exactly as long as Google maps had anticipated: 10.5 minutes.
Parking in a cul de sac that was down the street from he and Tess's house, I turned off the headlights, grabbed my supplies from the passenger seat and made my way towards their house.
The place was huge.
It was even larger than Sara's house.
Crickets and frogs sang their soothing night music as I crept into the Hader's backyard.
Taking a deep breath, I glanced up at the large three story house and tried to figure out the safest way to get inside.
Squinting into the darkness, I spotted the blue light of a television coming from one of the upstairs rooms and it looked as though the window was slightly ajar.
Thankfully, the house was covered in vines.
Hoisting myself up, I grabbed a hold of the vine and slowly climbed up.
After about eighty-seven million years of climbing, I'd made my way halfway up the first floor, the window with the TV light seemed to be coming from the third floor.
Pulling myself along, I tried to ignore my aching muscles and continue climbing.
Imagining Sara's reaction or even worse...her parent's reaction when they saw the terrible blogpost on my site, I knew that I had to keep climbing.
Coming to a window on the second floor, I paused to peek inside and make sure no one would see me.
On the other side of the window was a darkened room with an unmade bed and a ton of dirty clothes.
Definitely a guy's room.
"Ryan." I muttered to myself.
Suddenly, the bedroom door opened and I ducked out of site.
I saw a sudden reflection of light come from the room and figuring that Ryan had turn on his light I was surprised when the light immediately faded.
Maybe he'd gone to sleep.
Daring to peek, again, into the window I watched Tess yawn and slip into the bed.
Her eyes immediately closed and I caught a glimpse of a fading light from her laptop in the corner of her room.
I gasped as I saw my blog on my computer screen.
So...that was it.
It wasn't Ryan who'd done all of this, it was Tess?
But I wondered how she'd even found out about me, I'd taken so many precautions to make sure I wouldn't be discovered.
She'd have had to be a much better sleuth than I was to find out that I was the blogger known as The Keeper of Secrets.
'In any case', I thought to myself, 'I have to find a way inside. I have to get to that post and remove it!'
Glancing back at her bed, I frowned as I saw that she was no longer there.
Had she...fallen out of the bed?
Suddenly, there was a knock on her door.
I ducked down and heard Tess yell,
As I hid beneath her windowsill, I again saw the reflection of a bright light emanate from her room before quickly disappearing. All at once, a different kind of light came from her room and stayed on.
Then there was Ryan's voice,
"Tess, why'd you do that? You can't do that! You broke into her house?!"
Holding onto the vine with one arm, I used my other hand to reach into my pocket and grab my voice recorder.
Pressing "Record" I huffed and puffed as I struggled to hold onto the vine.
"Ry, she's going to ruin everything! She can't sing and you know that! I did that for you-"
"There's nothing wrong with Amy's voice! She sounds fine! And really Tess, who I decide to bring into The Tuxedo's is not up to you! Its not your decision. Hey- no, don't cry, wait..." He paused and I heard the sound of her sniffing.
"You like her Ry, so you can't see what everyone else sees! She's horrible and-she's going to ruin everything you've worked so hard for. Listen, I don't know how long I have left-"
"Don't say that." His voice was low.
"No, it's the truth. You have to hear it. It's getting worse. Lately, I can barely control it...so while I'm still here, I want to do everything I can to support you and mom. That includes not letting you make retarded career moves just because you think some weird girl is cute."
I arched an eyebrow.
"You can't break into her house though. Tess, you really can't do that. What if someone caught you?"
"That," She laughed, "Would be impossible. Not even your little Nancy Drew girlfriend would be able to catch me. Just trust me on this, kick her out."
"No." He paused, "I appreciate where this comes from, I know you're trying to help me but no. I can't do that."
"She doesn't even want to-"
"What she wants is for you to remove that post Tess. That's what I want to...please. Get rid of it."
I held my breath.
"Fine." Tess lifelessly replied.
I let out a relieved sigh.
All at once, Tess yelped and a bright light shone out from her window.
"Tess!" Ryan yelled.
I held onto the vine for dear life and watched as the reflections from the bright light faded into the night,eventually disappearing.
What was going on in that room? I wondered, and yet didn't dare peek inside.
"Are you alright?" Asked Ryan.
His sister's reply was muffled but the one thing I heard him say was,
"I wish this had happened to me, instead of you Tess."
Turning off my voice recorder, I took a deep breath and wondered what sort of secrets I'd stumbled upon this time.
Dad glared at me from over his newspaper.
"What?" I asked.
This was the fourth time he'd done that in the last ten minutes.
As soon as I'd come out of my room, he'd looked at me as though I'd waltzed into the kitchen with a boa constrictor wrapped around my neck.
He finally set his newspaper on the table with a slight thud and I was taken aback.
My dad doesn't usually get angry...like ever. And especially not at me.
"Amy, you stole my car."
I felt the breath leave my lungs.
Biting down on my bottom lip, I nodded.
He looked away from me and then back at me again.
I felt horrible when he looked at me like that, so accusingly.
He was never mad at me.
"I had to Dad."
"You had to steal my car?" He angrily repeated, "Why was that?"
Taking a deep breath, I looked at him and gave him the truth that he deserved,
"I felt like I knew who'd broken into the house. So, I went to pay them a visit and prove that it was them."
His jaw dropped,
"YOU DID WHAT?!"
"And-and I was right. It wasn't exactly who I thought it was but they're in the same family and I recorded a conversation that proves they did it and -"
"Amy!! Don't ever do anything like that again! What were you thinking?! You could've gotten hurt! You could've been killed!" The vein in Dad's forehead was starting to show and I knew I'd done it, "Why didn't you tell me?! I know guys at the Police Station, they would've taken care of it! You're a kid, you're my daughter, you can't-"
He closed his eyes and looked kind of crazy for a second.
"Dad?" I hesitantly whispered.
"You're grounded. You can't go anywhe- nothing- you're doing nothing for a month. Two months. Do you understand me?"
I felt my eyebrow arch,
I'd never been grounded in my life.
"You heard me. Nothing. No band, no Sara's house. Nothing." He pursed his lips and I felt like throwing my bowl of cereal at him, but of course I didn't, "Never do anything like that again. I can't believe you stole my car TO GO TO A THIEF'S HOUSE! That's insane!!"
"Sorry." I mumbled, "I was just trying to take care of things."
Feeling like a horrible excuse for a daughter, I stood and walked with my cereal bowl to the kitchen sink.
After about three minutes, my Dad finally asked,
"What do you mean you were trying to take care of things?"
Shrugging, I thought back to what Tess had done.
She'd thought she was taking care of things.
Maybe she and I weren't so different.
Maybe we were both weird, angry, control freaks.
The difference was in our eyebrows.
Her's, bushy and weird were always frowning, mine neat and kind of on the sharp side of trimmed were always arched as I stared condescendingly at some random person who I always seemed to assume was my enemy.
"I mean I wanted to make sure whoever it was didn't come back and do something worse....and I knew it was a kid from school. If it was an adult I wouldn't...well, I might not have gone. But it was just some girl from school."
"Yeah." I replied, running water over my bowl.
"What did she do when you confronted her?" He asked.
"I didn't yet. Last night, I only went to her place to collect evidence. I never confront someone on their home turf, it gives them the advantage."
"Why does it sound like you've done this before?" He slowly asked
Turning around, I gave my Dad a look,
"I'm kind of an expert at this sort of thing."
He frowned and I decided that it was time for me to shut up.
"I guess I'd better get to the bus stop, the bus will be there in like five minutes." I quietly replied.
The library at our school always smells a little bit like mold.
That's because it is moldy.
One weekend, I decided to break into the school and test it myself.
I sent an anonymous article with my findings to the local newspaper and was pleased to see that it had been printed.
The disappointing part, though, was when six months later the library still smelled like mold.
Ignoring the smell, I glanced at Sara and assessed her reaction to everything I'd told her.
It sure was nice, for once, to not have to keep a slew of secrets to myself.
"That's crazy...." She shook her head, "I can't believe she broke into your house. That's so crazy. And like, what do you think is wrong with her- do you think she's terminal?"
Recalling the weird lights that had come from Tess's room, my brain came to a dead end that for some reason, logic wouldn't allow me to pass through.
"I guess." I replied with a shrug.
"Hm." Sara gave me a weird look.
"What?" I asked, frowning.
"Don't you, like, think that's kind of sad?" She asked.
I didn't want Tess to be sick, but I got the feeling that there was something more than sickness going on with her.
"Um, yeah. It's sad. But, I'm just confused. Like..." I paused as I thought back to that light.
There was something going on...and I couldn't put my finger on what it was.
As if she'd read my mind, Sara replied,
"Like that light coming from her room."
We looked at each other and I nodded.
I had to find out what was going on.
"Uhoh." Sara mumbled, "I know what that look means."
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"Well Spock," She arched her own eyebrow in my direction, "When you get that look, it means you've found yourself a new case."
I smiled and watched Sara's eyebrow drop as a strange expression crossed her face, she lowered her voice to an even quieter whisper,
"Your boyfriend's here."
Turning around, I spotted Ryan.
He waved and pretending not to notice, I turned back to Sara.
She was waving at him.
"Sara, seriously?" I protested.
"He's cute, he's sweet, and he likes you." She hissed at me.
"And his sister is a psycho." I replied with a polite smile.
She shusshed me as he appraoched our table,
"Hey! So, are you coming to practice this evening?"
"No." I shook my head, "I'm grounded actually, so I guess I can't."
His face fell,
"Tell me about it." I replied with a friendly smile, "Say, I wouldn't have been grounded if your sister hadn't broken into my house yesterday.That's kind of what got the ball rolling with everything."
"Um.." Flustered, Ryan blinked rapidly and glanced around the library before setting his gaze on mine, "Amy, can we talk...about that whole thing?"
"Sure." I slowly replied.
"Ok." He seemed nervous, "Maybe after school at-"
"I'm grounded, remember?" I reminded him, "I have to go home after school."
He seemed at a loss for words and his face was slowly turning more and more of a crimson color.
"Then meet Amy at her house." Sara suggested.
Gritting my teeth, i shot my best friend a look,
"Thanks for that. Sara. Thanks."
"What are friends for?!"
"So I'll see you after school." He smiled.
I frowned as an unexpected thought suddenly hit me like a mac truck.
Ryan did have a nice smile.
Glancing away from him, I nodded.
Nice smile or not, his family was insane.
At that moment, my phone vibrated and I glanced around the library to make sure no teachers were within sight as I pulled out my phone.
"Sorry guys, excuse me one second." I muttered, looking down at my phone.
"Ok, I'd better go anyway. See you later Sara."
"Bye Ryan." She sang sweetly.
"Who is it?" Sara asked, once Ryan was gone.
"It's a text from my dad." I gulped, "He says he checked the film from my hidden camera and ...he found something. He's checking me out of school early."
Sara's face registered the shock that I felt,
"Wow, I wonder what he found."
"Me too." I whispered.
My Dad's face was pale as he moved the mouse across the screen,
"Just watch and tell me what you see."
"Ok." I quietly replied, looking at him and then at the computer screen.
Our driveway was empty.
A bird flew into view, it hopped around the driveway and then flew away.
A few seconds later, Tess walked into the scene. With a nervous glance over her shoulder, she approached our back door.
I wasn't surprised.
I looked at my dad.
"Keep watching." He quietly said and pointed at the screen.
Obediently returning my gaze to the computer my mouth fell open as a bright light seemed to explode somewhere from Tess's midsection and fill the entire screen.
As the light subsided, I no longer saw Tess, but I did see our front door open and then close.
My dad paused the film and then turned to me.
We stared at each other for a second.
I didn't know what to say.
I couldn't believe what I think we'd just seen.
"How..." I started and then shook my head.
"That girl is invisible." Dad's voice was barely even a whisper, "Somehow, she became invisible."
Recalling the bright light that had emitted from her room, I put the pieces together and realized that Tess's condition was serious,
"We have to find out why that happens to her. I think whatever makes that happen to her is also hurting her."
"Why do you say that?" My dad asked.
"Hang on, let me show you what I recorded last night." Running out of his office and towards my room, I burst through the door to my room and picked up my recorder.
While I was in my room, I glanced at my digital clock and saw that it was 3 PM, school was just letting out and that meant Ryan would be coming over in about thirty minutes.
I gulped and quickly headed back to my Dad's office.
"Listen to this." Pressing "play", I set the recorder on the edge of his desk and watched his facial expression as we listened to Tess and Ryan discuss what was now very clear to me.
Tess had a "power" that came with a price, it was killing her.
The recorded conversation ended abruptly and I, in contrast, was slow to press "stop".
I was slow because for one of the first times in my life, I had no idea what my next step would be.
The entire scenario, Tess's power and even Ryan liking me...was just crazy.
"What are you thinking?" My Dad's voice brought me back to reality.
I glanced up and saw that he was staring at his cell phone.
I knew that look...it meant he wanted to call someone who would "help".
Probably someone like the Police or the Hospital, or maybe even the FBI...they were, after all, the kinds of agencies that were supposed to take care of weird things like this.
But I had a feeling that plan wouldn't go over so well with Tess.
"We can't call the Police or anything like that, they'll just make her runaway." I replied firmly.
"I know she may not like it, but who else can help with something like this? We probably do need to at least call a Doctor and the Doctor, if they're any good, will want to call the Police or the gov...what? What's wrong?"
My face must have lit up as the words "call a Doctor" left his lips because there was one Doctor who I knew would be happy to help.
"I know who to call. A teacher from school, Dr. Harlow. He'll be happy to help and he won't call the police." I reached for my phone.
"But is he any good? We don't want Tess to get any worse-" Dad started.
"Trust me, he's a genius."
The very first day of school, I'd walked into Dr. Harlow's Biology class, taken one look at the scotch tape and paperclips that were masterfully designed to somehow hold his glasses together and right then and there, I'd known he was a genius.
"OK." My Dad slowly replied, "But if something goes wrong, we'll need to call the Police."
I nodded and smiled at him, "Right and...thanks."
"For?" He asked, frowning slightly.
"For trusting me even though I have pink hair."
He grinned and then sighed, "And you stole my car....yeah, maybe I'm the one who needs to see a Dr."
I cringed, wondering if maybe I should've just kept my mouth shut.
"It's OK, let's just be careful about this and if anything at all goes wrong, the Police will need to be involved." He stood and gave my shoulder a pat.
I nodded and pressed Dr. Harlow's number,
"Sounds like a plan..."
Have you ever been on a blind date?
My Dad actually won't even let me date.
So, no I've never been on a blind date.
But, I think I can imagine the way it feels to sit there waiting at an empty table, where there's a chair and a plate and glass and cutlery all wrapped in a cute little napkin set before a vacant chair.
I think I'd know the nerves that reach up from the lonely part of your heart and feel their way into your stomach as you sit there wondering,
'Is it me? Did he decide not to come because he took one look and thought I wouldn't be worth it...?'
So, maybe I'm being a little overdramatic.
But that jittery sort of insecurity is exactly how I felt as I sat in my Dad's favorite chair waiting for Ryan to show.
I must have checked my cell fifty times, literally. No, I'm not joking. FIFTY TIMES.
I waited until five o'clock and then I got scared.
I wondered if something had happened to Tess...
By eight o'clock I didn't even care about Tess (not really, I was just kind of upset), I knew that Ryan had decided not to come over because he realized how right his sister was about me. I was a talentless nobody in comparison with his youtube stardom and associating with me would do nothing but bring him down.
Hopping out of Dad's chair, I flew down the hallway towards my room and once inside, angrily slammed the door.
"What a jerk!!" I mumbled as I leaned against my door.
Annoyed with him for not showing, I rolled my eyes and muttered, "All guys are lying jerks."
Annoyed with myself for caring enough to be annoyed with Ryan, I threw my cell phone across the room and groaned at my stupidity.
All at once, I froze.
Staring in the direction of where I'd thrown my phone, I watched the phone, suspended in midair.
My pulse quickened and I took a step back.
The phone hadn't fallen to the ground, it seemed to be just ...floating.
Light flashed in every direction of my room.
Gasping, I covered my eyes and stooped down, shielding myself from the blinding light.
As the light dissipated I, shaking, rose to my feet and faced Tess.
She was a little too pale and somehow, even thinner than she'd looked at school that morning.
"Tess?" I quietly asked.
She didn't respond, she just stared at me, coldly.
Upon closer inspection I noticed that her breathing was shallow and that she seemed to be trembling even more than I'd been as I'd stared at my "floating" cell phone.
"How are you feeling?" I slowly asked.
She eyed me cautiously.
I wondered if it was safe for me to move closer.
I felt as though I were approaching some kind of wild animal.
"Why don't you" She took a step forward, "tell me."
"What do you mean?" I asked, puzzled.
'Is semi-consciousness and making absolutely no sense whatsoever a symptom of whatever is wrong with this girl?!' I silently wondered.
Seeming to somehow gain her strength, Tess moved forward, quickly closing the gap between us,
"You know everyone's secret's don't you Amy? If you already know everything about me, then why don't you tell me how I'm feeling?"
Frowning, I backed away from the weirdo and bumped right into my door.
"Tess," Disconcerted by the apparent anger in her expression, I tried to keep my voice as steady as I possibly could, "I can't possibly understand how you're feeling but obviously, you're in pain and I want to help-"
"Then stay away from my brother!" She shouted.
I jumped and took a deep breath as I steadied myself, when you're confronting a bully, one of the worse things you can do is let them see your fear because if they're the worse kind of bully they'll turn your fear into their fuel.
"I have no intention of getting close to your brother." I replied as I maintained eye contact and kept my voice low, "But I do want to help you, if you'll let me."
All of a sudden the light was bursting out of her again and I heard her make a sound as if she were in pain.
Shielding my eyes, I turned away and almost fell as the door to my room flew open.
"Amy! Get out of there!" My Dad shouted as he pulled me out of my room.
In the hallway, I kept one hand over my forehead, acting as a visor, as I watched the bright light seep through the bottom and sides of my bedroom door.
"Go get in the car Amy." My Dad said and I watched him reach for his cell phone.
I knew what he was doing.
"No, don't call the Police, wait! Just wait, Dr. Harlow will come, he'll know what to do. Trust me." Grabbing the phone out of his hand, I ignored my father's protests and dialed Dr. Harlow's number.
Glancing back at my bedroom door, I saw that the light was still seeping through the door...this was bad.
Before today, I'd only seen the light come and go, as if it were a bolt of lightening, but this time, it was hanging around way too long.
"Hello?" Dr. Harlow's voice was groggy, as if I'd awoken him from sleep.
"She's here now, the girl I told you about and I think she's -she's-you have to come help her. Now!" I shouted.
"I'm on my way." Suddenly alert, I heard him shuffle around, the sound of keys clattered in the background, "What's happening right now, can you describe what you see?"
"Yeah." Taking a deep breath, I looked at my Dad and then at my door, "She's in my room and there's this bright light everywhere, it's coming out of her and I think she's in pain-"
"Is the air on?" He practicially shouted into the phone.
Yelling above the noise of an engine starting, I answered,
"Yeah, my Dad keeps it on 70."
"No, it needs to be colder. As cold as possible and then I'll need ice. Lots of ice..."
By the time Dr. Harlow showed up, I was functioning with the fluidity of a robot or a Vulcan...or some such unemotional part of creation.
It was as if my mind couldn't handle the crazy world I'd suddenly been thrust in the midst of.
Every now and then, I'd glance at my father and wonder how he was taking all of this.
Dad, like me, acted mechanically, trying to take care of everyone as best he could.
As I watched Dr. Harlow apply multiple packs of ice to Tess's limp form as she lay on my bedroom floor, I began to realize how little of life we understand.
For the longest time, I thought I knew what the limits of reality were.
But at that moment, watching Tess flicker between visibility and invisibility, the one statement that now shapes my philosophy on life came to mind,
"Reality is the quieter, shyer twin sister of imagination, she only speaks when curiosity is present."
The force of this thought hit me, pressing against the insides of my mind with massive weight, and even as I watched Dad bring Ryan into my room, where he sat beside his sick sister, tears coming into his eyes, holding her hand and promising her that he was going to help, I realized that while knowing someone's secret may bring hardship, it also provides the discovery of those beautiful hidden things in life....
Ryan, grasping his twin sisters hand, took a deep breath, closed his eyes and all at once an immense wave of light filled my room.
Dad moved closer to me and I watched, in awe, as Ryan's skin became radiant, with a bright beaming luminance and Tess began to disappear.
"I would have never thought this was possible." Dr. Harlow mumbled.
"What's happening?" Asked Dad as he reached for my hand.
"He's sharing his power with her...the problem or power I should say, that these kids have is their energy. They have so much of it that their cells can move at a speed so fast it's undetectable to the human eye. The only thing we can see when they choose to move at such a rate is the light eminating from their energy. But this ability also means that they are constantly in danger of overuse of their metabolic powers. Apparently Tess overused her energy and to save her, Ryan...is transferring his power to his sister."
"So, he had the same power she had?" I whispered.
"Yes." Dr. Harlow whispered.
All at once the room was dark and I, blinking in an attempt to adjust my sight to the darkness, felt my Dad pull away as he reached for the light.
With the lights on, we saw Ryan, worn out, kneeling on the floor where his sister had been.
"What happened to Tess?" I asked, fearing the worse.
"I'm right here." She replied, sounding, for once, more relieved, than angry.