It wasn't three days later that another letter turned up on the doorstep of Adwen's Children Home. It was a cold Saturday morning and Dove had gone out early to stretch and walk a bit so she was the first to spot it.
Picking it up, she looked round in amazement. The gates were still locked since Matron wasn't up yet. It wasn't there the night before when matron locked up because Mr Ashworth had sent her and Hazel a huge pack of sparklers so they had shared it with the excitable younger ones. They had played on even after matron lock the gates. Who could have sent the letter? And why not put it in the letter box?
The sun was still rising and Dove went round to the back and sat on the old swing. She looked at the letter and saw her name written in the same beautiful handwriting in front and at the back was the same insignia pressed into the red seal.
Breaking the seal, she opened it and pulled out the letter.
I hope that you are well. I am glad you are unharmed after the incident at your school kitchen's garden. Pray, be careful. Your parents would never forgive me if any harm were to befall on you. I see that you keep yourself busy. Believe me, your parents would be proud of the hardworking young lady you have become.
I also see you have begun to wear my gift in your hair. It suits you. Whenever I look at you, I somehow feel as though I am looking at your mother. You look so much like her when she was your age.
Dove swung back and forth gently. She should feel disturbed. This person was possibly stalking her. But instead she felt at peace. She couldn't help but feel taken by how he said she resembled her mother and how proud her parents would be of her.
Would they really?
She looked inside the envelope and again found another feather. The same kind as the first and second.
Who was this person? And why wouldn't he just come up and talk to her?
At breakfast, Hazel bounded over to her table and began to gobble her food quickly. Dove looked at her with surprise; that was hardly typical Hazel behaviour. Even when she was starving, she never stuffed herself in that manner.
Hazel caught her looking, "I'm late. I have to head to school to help with the drama club," she said, thickly through a mouth stuffed with bacon and toast.
"Ah…" Dove said, nodding but still looking shocked.
"Right- gotta go- see you later!" she cried five minutes later and dashed out of the room.
Dove ate slowly and went to help with the clean up since it was her group's turn. When they were done, she went up and got her small backpack before heading out to go round town on her own.
As it turned out, it wasn't a very good idea.
The halloween decorations were out on full force. Finally, she found a book store, that mercifully, was not all decked out. She went in and wondered if she could spend the whole day there.
The moment she started looking at books however, a very surprised voice called out, "Dove?"
She looked round and saw Zeph with a couple of books under his arm. "Zeph! What are you doing here?" she asked. He lifted the books he was carrying, "Getting books?" he answered. She wanted to hit her head against the wall for asking a stupid question. Of course he was getting books. What else? Fishing equipment?
"My uncle ordered these two so I came to pick it up for him," he explained further, "How about you?"
"This is the only place not already decked out in halloween stuff."
"You really hate this holiday, don't you?" he asked and she shrugged in reply. He hesitated for a moment, "Do you want to come over to my house and hang out then?" he asked. Dove looked at him, "Your mom or your dad won't mind then?" she asked.
"Nah. I live with my uncle. The moment my parents separated, they left town," he said in his usual cheery way.
"Oh… I'm sorry."
"It's okay. C'mon. We can call for take-out. My treat."
Dove considered the offer. She had nothing to do the whole day. It was either going to his house or going back to or going back to the orphanage and having Jasmine give another go at trying to remove her scalp.
"Sure," she said at last.
It was easier to ignore the halloween decorations when talking to someone. "Your uncle won't mind me coming over?" she asked Zeph.
"He's fine with it. It's not actually his house. It's my place but my parents asked him to move in since they didn't want me to live alone," he explained.
"Parents don't trust you, huh?" Dove asked bluntly.
"Nope," he answered promptly with the same easy grace, "Oh look- it's that raven again. It's been hanging around this part of town for ages. I wonder if its lost."
"He," Dove corrected.
She looked at the large bird perched on a fence, glaring at a plastic jack-o-lantern that was grinning at it. For some reason, she couldn't help but giggle at the sight of it. The bird looked as though it had been insulted by the lantern. Even Zeph noticed this and grinned.
At once, the raven looked at them and gave a low croak that it often gave whenever Dove spotted it in school and it, in turn, noticed her.
"Vince says that crows and ravens actually have a pretty complex language," Zeph said as they watched the raven even after passing it.
"Yeah- but he said their language seems to differ from place to place."
"You mean like us speaking french and english and german and stuff like that?"
"Yeah- I guess so."
They made it to Zeph's house and Dove halted at the gate, "Woah- this is your house?" she asked. It was just as big as Adwen's and a hundred times better. Its walls were white with a beautiful garden. The pathway was made of stone slabs and there was even a fountain between the gate and the house door.
"Like it?" Zeph asked.
"It's amazing- what kind of creepers are those?" she asked, pointing at the arch in front of them.
"Um- I'm not sure. You have to ask the gardener. Come on," he said.
Dove followed him, turning round and round as she walked. The garden was magnificent. She had only seen gardens like those in books and magazines. Inside the house was even more amazing. The floor and stairway were all made of white marble with expensive looking furniture and fresh flowers filled the vases and bowls.
"Hang on- my uncle should be in his study. C'mon. I need to pass these to him," Zeph said. She followed him up the stairs, feeling the smooth cool surface of the banister. There was even a maid in a beige uniform cleaning in the hallway, "You have freakin' maids?" she asked, in her awe she had completely forgotten the manners the nuns had taught her.
Zeph laughed, "Yeah- you don't think two guys are gonna have a house this clean are you? We have ten maids just to keep the place running and a chef. But he's off today, that's why I said we could call for take out," he said. Dove trotted after him to a room further down the first floor corridor. Zeph knocked on the door, "Uncle Heath? I got the books you wanted," he said and opened the door.
Zeph's uncle was at the desk buried in books. He looked up when they entered and smiled. He was good looking enough and shared Zeph's hazel eyes. He was young looking but already had grey hair that had probably started out neat but was looking a bit tousled at the moment. "Ah- Zephy- yes- thanks. Oh- and who is this?" he said, spotting Dove.
"This is Dove. She's new in our school."
"Hello, Dove. If it's just the two of you, Zeph, stay in the sitting room. I don't want you bringing her to your bedroom," Heath said.
"Oh God, why doesn't anyone trust me?" he demanded and Dove laughed.
She looked at the books on the table and noticed something very strange. "Occult?" she asked, picking one up.
"Yeah- Uncle Heath's a bit of a nutter."
Heath glared at him, "I'm a researcher," he corrected, "I study witchcraft, vampirism, lycanthropy- trying to find the fact behind the fiction," he explained. Dove looked through the books and picked one up because it had a pretty dark green cover made of leather. It was a good old fashion type of book and had a very musty smell on it. "What's this?" she asked.
"That, my dear, is a book on shapeshifters."
"Don't tell me you never heard of shape shifting now," he said.
"The sisters in m old orphanage were strict. We weren't even allowed to watch cartoons about tiny things like vampires and ghosts," Dove explained, setting the book down.
"Shapeshifters are like werewolves or lycans. They can shift between human form and animals," Heath explained. Zeph rolled his eyes, "Nutter stuff," he said, "C'mon, let's go watch tv," he said to Dove, "We're gonna order take out, Uncle. Want anything?"
"Hm? Oh yes- maybe some pizza."
They went down to the sitting room that had beautifully embroidered silk on the couches and day bed and a crystal chandelier high above them. There was no extra floor above so the ceiling stretched right to the top of the house. The windows were crystal clear and high with delicate and intricate patterns on them Zeph was on the phone as Dove looked at the fine china ornaments on the mantlepiece.
"Hey, Dove, want any particular toppings on your pizza?" he called.
"Beef pepperoni and lots of olives," she replied.
"Right then, that's another large pizza, pepperoni, olives, extra cheese…. yeah…. grape soda… right. Thanks," he said and hung up. He sat down on the couch and stretched, "So? What do you think?" he asked.
"It's amazing," she said, looking out at the gardens.
"Thanks- I always thought it was a bit too feminine for two guys though. My mom was the one who furnished it when I was a kid and it hasn't changed a bit," he said looking up at the Swarovski crystal chandelier.
"I think it's amazing, but I keep feeling like I'm about to break something," she said, sitting the other couch, facing him and the windows to the garden.
"Yeah, well, I guess this place has never been too child friendly. Back when I was a kid, mom made this place up so she could socialise with her corporate buddies," he explained, before changing the subject entirely, "You wanna watch anything?" he asked, "I got dozens of dvd's."
Dove hesitated, "I never really watched t.v…"
"You don't have one at the orphanage?" he asked in surprise.
"Yeah- but usually the others all want to watch their own shows so I never really…" she trailed off, "And we only have one old television set."
Zeph looked appalled. "Well… how about a video game?" he asked, "Did you ever play before?"
"You had a deprived childhood didn't you?" he said and Dove laughed. "It wasn't that bad," she said.
"By the way, why aren't you with Hazel today?" Zeph asked as a maid brought Dove a glass of lemonade. She looked startled by this and accepted it, looking a little flustered, "She has some drama club thing today," she explained.
"Oh yeah… I forgot."
"How did you know?"
"Student council, remember? I'm assisting the person in charge of all the club and society affairs. They sent in a request to use the main hall for today," he explained. He suddenly looked awkward and hesitant, "Um… Dove- you know- I've been wondering for a while now but… I mean- when they sent in your membership in the gardening club- you didn't have a last name. The head of student affairs said not to mind it… but… I mean…" he trailed off.
Dove plucked at the pendant at her neck, understanding what he was trying to say.
She hesitated herself. But Zeph was the good sort. She knew that. Like Hazel, he was known for being tactful and understanding and knowing to keep his mouth shut on things other people told him.
"You won't tell anyone right?" she asked.
"Cross my heart," he replied.
"I don't have a last name because…" she stopped for a moment and drew up her knees. Zeph didn't pester her but waited, "I don't know who my parents are," she said.
"Why? Did they drop you on the orphanage doorstep…"
"No… nothing like that. They found me at the other end of the town," she admitted at last, plucking on the material of her faded jeans, "I was alone and there was blood… There was blood everywhere…. The witnesses said they had seen me with my parents earlier in the evening… The blood was too much to be mine… and I was alone… So they figured my parents were dead. I couldn't remember anything from before waking up then…" her voice broke but she continued talking, "The doctors said it was because of some kind of trauma. Like my brain didn't want to remember anything. Something about repressed memories." She stopped again, her face screwed up from trying to fight back tears, "Dove isn't even my name. The sisters just called me that because of the pendant I was found wearing. They didn't give me a last name because they said I might remember it myself one day. But I can't. Ten stupid years and nothing."
Zeph frowned, "I think I remember something like that…" he said, "It was in the news…. I remember cause my parents were talking about it…"
"They thought if they put it in the news maybe my family would come looking for me," Dove explained, thickly.
"And the night you were found… It was halloween… right?" he asked.
She nodded. "Now each time halloween comes round, every time I see those things, it messes up my head," she explained.
"You get flashbacks?"
"If they are flashbacks- they're pretty crappy ones."
Zeph crossed the room and to sit next to her and slung an arm round her shoulders. He gave her a light squeeze, "Hey- it's okay. Things will turn out okay- they always do," he said, gently.
Dove laughed a little, "You sound like Mother Evangeline. She always says the same thing."
"What can I say? Great minds think alike."
She laughed again and he gave her another, comforting, tight squeeze.
There was a hard knock on the window making both of them look up in surprise but there was no one there. Zeph got to his feet and went to look, thinking it might have been some kid throwing stones at people's houses. But there was no one there. The streets were empty. The gardener wasn't around since he took the day off. The house cat was usually asleep this time of the day and his dog was busy nursing her new litter of pups in the store at the back of the house so it couldn't have been her either.
He frowned; that was odd.
"Who was that?" Dove asked, wiping her eyes with her sleeves.
Zeph shook his head and sat down on the couch opposite her once more, "No one's there."
"Maybe it was the wind."
"Maybe," Zeph said, but he didn't sound convinced. He had lived in that house all his life and never once had the wind knocked the windows so loudly. Dove caught his look and said half jokingly, "Your house isn't haunted is it?"
"No- of course not… And Jellybean doesn't knock the windows either. Gumdrop isn't big enough to knock that hard…" he trailed off.
After awhile he noticed Dove's raised eyebrows. "Oh- um- Jellybean's my dog and Gumdrop was a kitten she brought home one day so we kept him," he explained. Dove nodded but still looked at him funny.
"I was ten, okay," he said, "Jellybeans and gumdrops happened to be my favourite types of candy."
Dove stayed at Zeph's place till about five. As she was leaving, he offered to walk her back. "Straight to Dove's house," Heath warned and Zeph scowled, "Really… you'd think they'd learn to trust me a bit. But no- ever since I became a teenager, they refuse to let even be alone in the same room with a girl," he grumbled as they left the house.
Dove patted his back but was laughing. As they passed the pizza place, they found the raven.
It was just landing onto a bald tree where it perched and glared at the decorations that had been hung up in it; ghost sheets with black eyes. It cawed experimentally at it and when got no reply, hopped along the branch, cawing repeatedly as though taunting the sheet. Suddenly, the wind blew making the sheet move. The raven panicked and promptly fell out of the tree.
Dove couldn't help laughing. Even Zeph had seen what had happened and laughed.
The raven heard them and perched on the fence, preening itself and looking nonchalant as though trying to regain its dignity.
As they drew closer, it didn't take off. Instead it let out a low croak and cocked its head from side to side, looking at them. "Hey, pretty bird," Dove said to it and it gave another harsh call before flying back to the tree to insult the sheet again.
"I'll never get tired of watching him," Dove said, looking over her shoulder at the bird still in the tree. It had realised that the sheet was merely tied to the tree and was working to remove the knot, "Whoever put that up there isn't going to be happy with him though," she added.
"But if you get him to sit still for a bit on your doorstep, you end up with a really awesome looking halloween decoration," Zeph pointed out, making Dove laugh again, "By the way, I mean- if you get bad vibes from this whole Halloween thing, is your orphanage going to put up decorations and stuff?" he asked.
"They are," Dove said with a sigh, "But only in the sitting room and gardens. Mr Ashworth has given me time off from school because the therapist told him about my whole condition."
"So what are you going to do?"
"What I always do," she murmured, "Hide in my dorm until everything is over. Matron gave me a spare room to sit in," she explained, "That way I won't see anyone when they're all dressed up in their costumes."
"You can't even stand seeing costumes?" Zeph asked with a frown.
"I'm fine with the kinds like Jasmine has. She's going dressed as a ladybug this year. She looks adorable when she's not trying to pull my hair out. Anyway- it's just the creepy ones that give me bad vibes," she said, sounding tired.
"Didn't the therapist try to help get rid of it?"
"They tried. But I mean- they can't even work out why I react like this. They said when I get over my trauma, it might just go away by itself. But we don't know anything that's causing any of this."
They stopped outside the iron fence of Adwen's Home for Children. Zeph looked up at the building; it was well taken care of but looked like a grim place to live in and grow up. "DOVEY!" cried a shrill, little voice.
"Oh no, not again," Dove muttered and was jumped on by Jasmine who started pulling at her braid again, "Ow! Um- ow- Zeph, this is Jasmin- ouch!"
Zeph looked bemused. "Um.. hi?"
"Ow ow ow! Jasmine! Stop it- OW! Get her off me!"
Zeph plucked Jasmine off Dove which turned out to be a bad idea. She was a quiet for a moment when he carried her but then stuck her fingers high up his nose. "OW!" he yelled, wincing as he quickly held her at arms length where she giggled happily.
"You okay?" Dove asked, half laughing. She rubbed the top of her head where a few strands of hair had detached themselves from her head.
Zeph's face was still screwed up and his eyes were watering a bit, "You know," he said, "In ancient Egypt, when preparing a body to be mummified, they used to take a hook and slowly pull the brains out bit by bit through the nose," he told her, "I think this kid just tried to reenact that." Dove took charge of Jasmine and giving her a gentle scolding, "You do not go around, sticking your little sticky hands and shoving them up people's noses. And you don't pull people's hair either. It's bad," she told the little girl who was still giggling in delight.
"It's like talking to a very excitable wall," Dove sighed and set her down so she could run off, "Anyway- thanks for lunch and letting me hang out at your place."
Zeph smiled, "No problem. Come around any time you like. Bring Hazel too, if you like."
This time Dove smiled, "Thanks. She'd love to drop by too," she said.
"So- um- I'll see you Monday?" he asked.
He walked back to his house and just before he was out of sight, he turned round one last time to wave to her. She waved back before getting dragged into the building to play dolls by Jasmine.
Hazel wasn't back yet. For some reason, Dove couldn't wait to tell her about how she had spent the day.