Camping was terrifying.
Once Blaise DeVroe had caught me, no way could I stay out here and relax in my weird stalking manner. I’d been discovered. The fun was gone. He knew I was here. He didn’t know I was camping on private property. He probably thought I was attending the party. It seemed half our grade was there, and I knew there were others from Los Angeles too, so I hoped he thought I was just someone he couldn’t track down in the house.
But I couldn’t shake the anxiety that he would come trouncing through the woods and find me in my tent. So after sitting up and shaking for five hours straight—jumping at any sound I heard in the woods—I gave up. I packed it in and trudged back to where I’d parked my car.
I’d pulled Maisie, my 1968 Dodge Charger, over on an abandoned road. The grass was long, but there’d been enough of a crossing for me to know it once had been a road to come onto these lands.
My parents hadn’t wanted me to have a classic muscle car, but when I saw Maisie, she spoke to me. She told me that while she loved having the speed and muscle and girth that’d been built into her, she was truly a diamond princess at heart. I was supposed to free her inner diva, so when my parents asked what car I wanted, I told them Maisie and dug my heels in. It wasn’t like I’d asked for a dog or a cat. It wasn’t like I was complaining that both my brothers were nonexistent in my life. And that seemed to do the trick—mostly because the reason my older brother, Nate, wasn’t around was because they’d tried to control his life. And dude, my brother could hold a grudge. I’m talking years. Actually, the grudge might’ve lingered until the point that he’d forgotten we existed.
I was being sarcastic, but with an edge of truth mixed in.
But it wasn’t the older brother card that won the car argument for me. It was my other brother card, because, you know, Owen wasn’t around because he was dead.
I hadn’t wanted to play either card, because I wasn’t that girl. But Maisie meant that much to me, and after my voice cracked, my parents gave in. They almost couldn’t give in fast enough.
Maisie was in our driveway the next morning, and she’d been mine ever since.
In a way, Maisie was my best friend. She was the one I hung out with the most.
I had lunch with her. I had dates with her. I depended on her for things, like holding my bags and carrying my things from point A to point B. And she always showed up. She was always happy, the purr of her engine told me so. It was her hello to me, and I rewarded her every time with a smile, a hello back, and a pat. Sometimes I tickled the dashboard.
I knew she enjoyed it.
The radio always did a little skip after the tickling. That was her little wink back at me. So yeah, Maisie and me. We were the best of friends.
When I returned to where I’d left her, of course she was waiting. I stowed my camping equipment in her trunk and tossed my backpack in front. I slid behind the wheel and checked my phone.
Zero text messages.
Zero phone calls.
I started Maisie, and we were on the road a second later.
Zeke Allen’s cabin was an hour away from Fallen Crest. The drive back was relaxing. I enjoyed the scenery along the shoreline.
I got a peek of it as the road wound in and out.
When I got back to Fallen Crest, my stomach was cramping. I’d forgotten to eat today, and I wasn’t altogether sure I’d eaten the granola bars I’d packed for yesterday either. Either way, I knew there’d be food for me at home. Though my parents employed a chef, I had a craving for a nice juicy, greasy cheeseburger, so I made a stop. One burger. One fry. One soda, and soon I was heading for the newest section of Fallen Crest.
I slowed, pulling up to the gate.
The attendant rolled his window down.
“Heya, Mr. Carl.”
That’s how he’d introduced himself to me, and though I didn’t know if Carl was his first or last name, it’s what I called him.
Mr. Carl was middle-aged. I never knew for certain how old he was, but in my mind he was fifty-three. Gray hair. Wrinkles all over his face. And a smile. He was always smiling. He had a little paunch, but he said it was because the “missus” enjoyed feeding him too many dumplings. Was it sad that I hadn’t known what dumplings were? I’d had to google them, and then I asked our chef, Benny, to make them. He looked as if I’d committed a terrible crime, but he made me dumplings that night.
And chili. I liked his chili the most.
I now asked for it once a week. He made it with turkey meat, said it was healthier that way.
I didn’t care. I enjoyed it.
Mr. Carl was smiling at me like he always did, but then he frowned a little. “You okay, Miss Aspen?”
“Your parents aren’t home. They’re in the studio editing that new piece they’re working on.”
I nodded, not feeling a thing. “Thanks for letting me know.”
He dipped his head, gave a wave, and the gate opened.
I drove through. These days we lived in the newly gated section of Fallen Crest. We were all the way at the end, set on a peninsula. There were woods and a river winding around the lot. We were the hardest to get to, and we had the most privacy.
Driving up, I pulled Maisie to the far garage door.
We had a five stall, and I used the last one.
Walking through the empty garage, I felt a mix of emotions.
I knew Sandy, our cleaning lady, was likely here. She was Monday through Friday, but I knew she popped in on weekends too. She took care of the entire house, and it was a large one, so there were always places to clean. She and Benny managed just about everything. There was an outside maintenance guy. He mostly tinkered with the lawn and landscaping. We really didn’t need him that much. The back lawn didn’t take too much work.
I think he mostly came because he liked to flirt with Benny.
It wasn’t a lawn day today, so that meant it was just Sandy and Benny inside, and true to form, I found them having coffee when I walked in.
“Miss Aspen!” Sandy jumped up, but I waved her off.
“I’m good, Miss Sandy.”
She wavered, frowning. “We thought you were on a camping trip this weekend.”
See? It was something I liked doing, not just to eavesdrop on parties.
I shrugged. “I decided against it. Mr. Carl said my parents are in the studio today?”
Benny had gotten up, and now was coming back with a plate of cookies. He set them on the table, offering an encouraging smile my way, but he didn’t push them.
I held up my fast food bag. “I got food, Benny.”
He ducked his head with a shy smile. “That smells delicious as well.”
We’d come a long way from his heart attack over making dumplings. Now I could bring fast food in here—and look at that. He’d just smiled and nodded. Progress.
I set the bag on the table and went out to get the rest of my stuff. When I came back inside, the cheeseburger was now on a plate, the fries in a small dish, and Benny had a dipping sauce in another smaller container.
Classy all the way. That was Benny’s motto.
I smiled. “Thank you.”
Another dip of his head. “Do you need anything else, Miss Aspen?”
I shook my head. I’d never really asked for anything.
He hesitated, glancing back before moving into the kitchen. I heard the faucet turn on and the clank of pots. Miss Sandy came in behind me from the garage. She’d helped bring in my bag and was already going through it, pulling out the clothes she thought needed to be laundered. That was everything, even though I’d only changed my shirt once. I didn’t fight her.
“Your parents thought you’d be gone all weekend,” she said, her head bent over my bag. “They’re having a get-together this evening. A lot of business people are coming.” Her head came up, her eyes concerned. “Do you want me to make arrangements for you?”
I knew what she was asking.
This house was huge. It was easy for me to stay an entire week in my room and not hear anyone else. That wasn’t the issue. She was asking if I wanted any kids my age to be invited.
I gave her a look. “Miss Sandy.” She should know better.
She smiled, a sad look flaring briefly before she covered it. She cupped the side of my face. “You spend too much time alone.”
I shrugged, stepping away from her.
Her face tightened before she went back to digging through my bag.
“I’ll be good. I’m going to rent some movies and just crawl in bed.”
I didn’t need a lot of attention. I didn’t need a lot of anything, to be honest. And if I did need something, it was there. I just needed to pick up the phone or wander down a hallway, and I could make a request. Miss Sandy and Benny adored me. They doted on me.