Lynne Stringer and The Heir

Blurb: Sarah hates the prestigious high school she attends. Most of the other students ignore her. School is only made tolerable by the presence of Dan Bradfield, the boy she adores. Dan is the heir to his father’s multinational computer company, but he is dating Sarah’s best friend, Jillian. When tragedy strikes, Dan is the one who supports Sarah. But she can’t shake the feeling there is something strange about him. Is he protecting her from something? Is there something going on that she doesn’t know about? And did she really see a monster in the bushes?

Chapter 1

I hurried along the sidewalk, trying to forget about how the

overhanging trees, combined with the thick shrubbery, blocked

out the sun.

Lunch break had passed uneventfully and I had just finished my

Trigonometry class. Physics was next, and I was walking through

the prettiest part of the school grounds. It was fall in Connecticut

and nothing could compare with the rich colors in the leaves that

still hung on the trees around me.

Usually, I would have been happy to walk in this part of the

school, with all its beauty. It was also quiet, hidden away from

the hustle and bustle of a normal school day. But I never enjoyed

being here at this time of day.

Mr Barratt had held us late after Trigonometry. He’d been doing

it a few times a week ever since term had started. He was getting

old and often got lost in his own explanations.

It always meant the same thing. If I wanted to get to my Physics

class on time, I had to cut through the middle of the school

grounds, and I knew what that meant.

I was the only one who took this route. The Science block was the

furthest from my Trigonometry class if I went via the meandering

path that wound along the side of the school. None of the other Trig

students had Physics this hour, so no one else came this way.

I reached the top of the old stone staircase. The steps were uneven

and some parents and teachers complained they were unsafe. But

they had been laid by the founder of our school, so they stayed.

I walked down them as quietly as possible. The path at the

bottom of the stairs was closed in on both sides by dense shrubs. I

tried to look around them, to see where he was.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Sarah Fenhardt,” came a sarcastic voice

from behind me and Frank Howell stepped out of his hiding place.

Frank was a Senior, just like me. He was in my English class.

Admittedly, that wasn’t so bad; even he had to behave himself in class.

He was only of average height and build, but that meant he still

towered over me. His hair was ash blond, his eyes ice blue. The

look in those eyes always made me shudder. He looked me up and

down as he sauntered forward.

“Hello, Frank.” Experience had taught me that I had to answer

when he spoke to me. I held my hands across my body, trying to

make it look like I was holding my book bag, rather than shielding

myself. I was sure he didn’t fall for it.

He came closer and looked down into my eyes. “You don’t like

talking to me.”

“I’m going to be late for class.” I wondered if it was time to run.

Suddenly, he reached out to grab my elbow. This was what I had

been waiting for. It meant he’d gotten tired of talking. I skipped

back a step.

An evil grin spread across his face and he crouched over, like a

runner at the starting blocks, his eyes never leaving my face.

I turned and bolted along the walk. I knew he had been about

to pounce again. I had always managed to struggle free of his grip,

but I shuddered to think of what would happen if I didn’t. He’d

even threatened to follow me home from school if I told anybody.

I didn’t know why Frank bothered with me. I wasn’t exactly a

noticeable student here at Enterprise Academy, especially when it

came to someone like him.

Enterprise Academy was one of the most prestigious schools in

the United States. Phillipe Jontae was its founder. This tiny man’s

passion for superior education had bordered on the obsessive, and

he had sought out the best minds in the country so he could tutor

them. Or, at least, so their parents could pay through the nose for

the privilege of learning from him.

It was a tradition that had been continued long after his death.

Only the wealthy or the well-connected were encouraged to send

their children to this school, and the wealthier and better connected

you were, the more the school and its inhabitants liked you.

There was no doubt that Frank belonged here. His father was

president of the largest insurance company on the east coast and

Enterprise Academy was one of his priority clients. He was also on

the school’s board, making sure his son, who was a boarder here,

was treated well. Frank always got good grades.

Virtually every student in this school was rich. I was one of the

few who didn’t qualify on that score; not anymore.

My heart was still racing when I finally got to Physics and ran

in the door. I took my seat, ignoring the looks from my classmates.

“Thank you so much for your attendance, Ms Fenhardt,” Mr

Clibbern commented.

Jillian shot me a glance as I sat down. “You’ve got to stop

being late.”

I didn’t even bother glaring at her. I was too busy trying to settle

my breathing.

Jillian Wilkins sat next to me in Physics. That was a fact that

seemed to surprise most of the school, because Jillian was my best

friend, and that wasn’t normal for someone in her position.

Jillian was gorgeous, with beautiful, golden hair in ringlets

down to her shoulders and dancing hazel eyes. Her father, who

lived with his wife in New York, was in the building industry,

specializing in high rises, and he had plenty of money. As Jillian was

their only child, she stood to inherit all of it. The richest students

rarely associated with those of us who weren’t so fortunate. She

was also a boarder. Most boarding students only spoke to others of

their kind. But then, she seemed to consider herself an exception

to every rule.

She was a little strange, though. She was the only girl I knew

who could switch from talking about the latest celebrity gossip

to science fiction in the same breath. How many girls liked scifi

anyway? And Jillian’s interest in it was so all consuming that

sometimes I wondered about her sanity. She was a fan of every scifi

show in existence and no one surpassed her knowledge about

what was hidden in Area 51.

She was always trying to get me to share her passion. We were

usually the first in line for the latest sci-fi movie. I had given up

complaining about it. After all, it got me out of the house and she

always paid, but lately I had grown tired of conversation about

outer space and the existence of aliens, trying to steer her back to

more earthly topics.

It had grown even worse this year, when the subject of Astronomy

was introduced in Physics. Jillian took exception to everything Mr

Clibbern said about the subject, even going so far as to argue with

him about the size of the Milky Way and the number of galaxies it

contained. While he admitted that our telescopes could only tell

us so much, he clearly resented her attitude.

Today Mr Clibbern was talking about a probe that NASA had

sent to Jupiter. It was expected to arrive there in a couple of years’

time. He talked animatedly about it for the full hour, while Jillian

did little more than roll her eyes.

At least she didn’t challenge him over it, but she started with

me as soon as we walked out of class. “Five years. It’s taking five

years for their little probe to reach Jupiter! Like that’s some kind

of achievement.”

“Come on.” I wondered why I was even bothering to have this

conversation with her. “We’ve got to start somewhere.”

“Five years is a huge time. Things can change just like that.” She

snapped her fingers. “The planet might not even be there by the

time it arrives.”

“What, it’s going to cease to exist?”

Her usual breezy manner disappeared. Then she pointed at the

sky. I looked up and her voice sounded in my ear. “All it takes is a

moment. See that?” Her finger traced a line across the sky.

I squinted. I couldn’t see anything.

“Close call,” she whispered.

“Shut up.” I hated it when she said things like that. Especially

since I knew she was probably just reciting dialogue from one of

her favorite shows.

“Do you want to go see a movie this weekend?” she said eagerly.

“There’s a new sci-fi movie out.”

“No.”

“Come on. It’s about a planet whose king –”

“Not interested, Jillian.”

She wasn’t about to let up. I spotted a flier pasted to the wall of

the Science block and changed the subject. “Are you going to the

dance this Friday?”

“Sure.” She eyed me with interest. “Are you?”

“No.” I wished I’d found a safer topic to raise. Jillian was always

trying to get me to go to school events, especially dances. What was

the point? I knew none of the boys in our grade were interested in

me. The boys who didn’t have much money were already dating

someone and the ones who did have money wouldn’t dream of

asking someone like me.

Jillian was never one to take no for an answer. “Sarah, it’s the

first dance of the year.”

“So it is.”

“You said last year that you’d put in an appearance occasionally.”

“I think I can skip the first one and still meet my quota.”

“Shouldn’t you at least try to socialize?”

“By this time next year, I won’t ever see these people again,” I

reminded her, “so it won’t matter, will it?”

She gave me a steady look. “There will always be people around

who you don’t like and who don’t like you. You’ve got to learn to

get along with them. Consider it an investment in your future.”

“I’m not coming, Jillian.”

She frowned at me and I could see her preparing another

lecture.

“Who are you going with?” I asked, trying to distract her.

“Dan’s asked me again.”

My breath caught in my throat.

“Lucky you.” I hoped she hadn’t noticed my pause. She looked

at me curiously, but our next classes were in opposite directions

and I knew she had to go.

“Yeah, I guess. It’s fun going with him, even if it’s just to see the

catty girls turn green!”

I grimaced, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“Gotta go,” she said, waving. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I managed to wave back, waiting until she had turned away

before I let the sadness overwhelm me.

Of course Dan was going with her. Who else would he go with?

It was to be expected.

Yes, it was to be expected, but it still hurt.

Then I pushed those thoughts from my mind, preparing myself

for enjoyment, for I was on my way to my Visual Arts class.

I had three periods after lunch this year, rather than the two

I’d had in my previous years at the school. It had been a joy to

discover that Visual Arts was my last class of the day. It always

gave me a much needed lift before I went home.

Enterprise Academy had nine different art courses available.

Art was one of the few subjects I enjoyed, so I was trying to do

as many of them as possible. I had completed all those related to

drawing – which had long been my favorite pastime – so last year

I had moved onto painting.

But that was not the sole reason for my eagerness to get to class.

The main cause for my joy rested on the shoulders of the man I

adored from afar: Daniel Bradfield.

Dan was the most admired student on campus. It wasn’t due to

his good looks, although he was certainly handsome. He was just

under six foot, not of heavy build, but just right. His short straight

hair was dark, as were his eyes – dark brown. They melted when

he smiled at you, as I had discovered firsthand.

His father was the head of a multi-national computer company

he had purchased the year before Dan had started at Enterprise.

As a result, Dan was always ahead of everyone else when it came to

the latest gadgets. This semester there had been much talk about

his cell phone, a brand new prototype with all the latest gadgets.

The school nerds had tried to swipe it from him so they could test

it themselves, but he never let it out of his sight.

Like Jillian, he was an only child and his father had made no

secret of the fact that Dan would succeed him one day. There was

no doubt that he was the heir to a fortune. He had everything a

girl in this school could ever want in a husband – the ability to give

them status, to place them above their peers.

I didn’t understand why status was so important. I didn’t want

to be liked because I had money or good looks or because of the

blood that ran in my veins. What did it say about

I knew if these things left Dan – if his father’s business failed

and he lost his fortune – he would be blacklisted, just like me. It

happened to all the kids with no money. Why would anyone want

that kind of adoration?

Fortunately, Dan didn’t seem to care for it himself. I never saw

him try to hint a teacher into giving him a good grade, and he

didn’t lord it over the other students like Frank Howell did. If his

fellow students engaged him in conversation, Dan seemed happy

enough to be involved, although there were times I thought he

would have been happier if they’d left him alone. He seemed to

like solitude, just like me.

There was one notable exception to this rule: Jillian.

Jillian was the envy of every girl in our year, because she was

the only girl Dan ever asked on a date. Every time he attended any

school event she was the one on his arm. It hurt me every time I

saw them together.

I knew it was probably jealousy, but I didn’t see what attracted

him to her. Sure, Jillian was a nice person, but they had nothing

in common. She was outgoing, extroverted, forward and bossy.

Dan was quieter, organized, an observer of people, thoughtful and

introspective.

I had documented Dan’s every trait meticulously. It was

embarrassing to admit, but I’d been watching his every move for

the past two years. I wanted to see how much we had in common.

But I rarely even got up enough courage to say hello to him.

Dan shared three classes with me: French, History and Visual

Arts. I loved Visual Arts the best, because the room was circular,

with all the seats against the wall. Dan usually sat diagonally across

from me, so it was easy to watch him out of the corner of my eye,

although it was harder to focus on the teacher.

I did pay attention to the lesson as well. I love experimenting

with color. We were working with acrylic paints for the whole of

first term. It was a new medium for me, but I caught on quickly.

As I daubed at the canvas I peeked at Dan every chance I got,

watching as he leant over his own easel with intense concentration.

I wondered what subject he had chosen for his first painting. We

had drawn up our sketches last week, but although some had been

displayed to the rest of the class, his hadn’t been one of them.

I continued to apply my strokes, only half interested in my own

creation. It was a good thing I had picked this up quickly or my

work wouldn’t have had a hope of measuring up to Ms Mossdin’s

standard.

I glanced up again to see what Dan was doing. In that moment

our eyes met.

I hid behind my easel. Oh, no! He had caught me staring! It

had been a while since the last time that had happened. I tried to

return my attention to my painting while I waited for the color to

fade from my cheeks. I hated it when he caught me mid-stare.

After a few minutes I dared another peek. He had turned his

attention back to his work.

I sighed. I never wanted him to catch me staring, but I couldn’t

help but thrill at the thought he’d been looking my way.

“Ms Fenhardt, are you intending to make your bluebirds blue or

are you expecting us to use our imagination?” came Ms Mossdin’s

sarcastic voice from behind me.

My cheeks went crimson again, but with anger this time. Did

she have to single me out like that? I was hardly behind the others.

I was painting a pair of courting bluebirds, the male fluttering

in front of the female. I concentrated on getting the curve of his

neck just right as he bowed before her, wishing that my brush

could add his song. I did as much as I could to portray it on the

canvas, finally making enough progress to satisfy my teacher.

I left school in a brighter mood, my head filled with thoughts of

Dan and my painting. I tried to keep my mind there, rather than

think about what Frank had done. It made me feel so ashamed.

As I pulled my car into the garage and parked next to my dad’s

van, I noticed yet another dent in the panel on the side. My father

was not a great driver, and since he and his business partner had

started using a small van, his lack of skill had made itself even

more evident. “Geeks for Hire” was plastered across each side of

the van, and the words now had so many dents anyone would

think they were part of the design.

Geeks for Hire wasn’t my dad’s primary business, unless your

definition of primary business was the one that made the most

money. He and his business partner, Mark Layman, had only

started it up in the past few years to keep the wolf from the door,

or so my father said. He remained confident that he and Mark

could still make money from their primary business, although I

was more skeptical.

In the nineties my father and Mark had founded a computer

company that had made them both millionaires, but they hadn’t

known how to run such a gigantic enterprise. Poor business

decisions saw them lose money. It didn’t help when my mother

ran away with the accountant of a competing firm when I was five.

Dad blamed himself and compensated by making some insane

decisions intended to make money. They didn’t, and his fortune

had eventually dwindled down to almost nothing.

He didn’t talk much about that time. Most of what I knew I had

found out from Mark’s wife, Elena. She was also the one who had

told me about Mark and Dad’s current financial problems.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do, Sarah,” she’d said a

few months ago. “Anything Mark earns is eaten up so quickly,

especially since we’ve got four growing kids to feed. We won’t be

able to hang out much longer.”

Although I’d asked my dad about it, he continued to be upbeat.

“Yeah, there are some problems honey, but don’t you worry. We’ll

have it sorted out soon.”

At first, I wasn’t sure I believed him. My dad was a poor liar; it

always showed on his face. “Are you sure about that?”

“Yeah, absolutely. Mark and I have a project that’s bound

to generate some interest. We’re developing new networking

hardware that will enable data to be transferred wirelessly at fiber

optic speeds!”

“Is that good?”

“It’s cutting edge! Just a bit more work and we’ll be ready to find

a backer. They can help us develop it further.” He rubbed his hands

together with glee. “Once that’s done there’ll be no more money

problems!”

But it wasn’t that easy. He and Mark had developed a bad

reputation in the industry because of their earlier failures. No

one trusted their work anymore, so a backer was hard to come by.

So far, Dad only had one interested party and he didn’t seem too

excited about them.

“Dad, I’m home!” I yelled as I walked through the kitchen. I

noticed he had already put the roast in the oven. My dad hadn’t

been much of a cook until he had discovered online tutorials. Now

he only let me in the kitchen if he was going to be home late.

“Up here!” he called. I knew where he would be.

One of the reasons the two of us had a three bedroom house

was so that my dad could use one as an office. He had transformed

the master bedroom into one, insisting work required more space

than he did. I smiled as I walked in, wondering if the previous

owners of this house had ever thought their beautiful pastel

colored bedroom with its silk curtains would look like this.

There were computer parts covering every conceivable space.

Keyboards, motherboards and internal compartments spilled out

all over the place. My father had never been a tidy man, although

there was apparently a system, even in this mess. I was careful not

to move anything. He was sure to notice.

Much to my surprise, Dad was not sitting at his computer.

Instead, he was standing near the back wall, waving some kind of

computer device over it. He paused every so often to examine its

readings.

“Hey, honey!” He looked up and smiled. “How was school

today?”

“It was okay.” It was good that I saw Dan at the end of every day.

It made this statement true.

I wasn’t sure he heard me. He was still looking at his device.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“There’s some kind of electromagnetic field interfering with

the signal going from here to the computer at Mark’s place. It’s

preventing us from ironing the bugs out of our system.” He ran the

device over another wall and frowned as he checked its readings.

“The Simmons just got a new flat screen,” I suggested, nodding

in the direction of our neighbors’ house. “Could that be it?”

“No.” But he waved the device, which was a black box about the

size of a cell phone, at the window just in case. “I’ve been noticing

it for a while.”

I looked over his computer stuff. “Are you sure you haven’t

wired something together wrong?”

He shot me a disgusted look. Of course; he’d never do that.

“So how was your day?” I asked.

He brightened up and returned to his computer. “I’ve just

emailed Mark. We’ve got another interested party.”

“Two, now?” I smiled. It didn’t make anything certain, but two

was better than one and heaps better than none.

He nodded. “That’s enough to get them bidding against each

other. We’ll get more that way.”

“You mean you don’t want to be a geek for hire forever?” I said,

putting my arm around his shoulders.

He swiveled in his chair to look at me, mock indignation on his

face. “Do I look like a geek to you?”

I glanced around his office. “Not a bit.”

Seeing my critical stare, he rose and tried to neaten things up.

“Well, it’s organized chaos, anyway.”

I sighed. My dad was generally so good-natured it was difficult

to nag him, even though I hated untidiness. At least he managed

to restrict the mess to one room of the house.

He sat down again and spun his chair back to face the computer,

plugging his little black box into it. “So you had a good day? No

new drawings or paintings or sculptures for me?”

“Don’t hold your breath for a sculpture, but I should have a

painting for you soon.”

His cell phone beeped at him. “Ah! Time to put in the potatoes!”

I grinned as he darted down to the kitchen. He’d programmed

every stage of the meal into his cell phone so that it would alert

him when it was time to do something.

“Dad?” I asked as I came back down the stairs and looked into

the kitchen. I tried to stifle my laugh when I saw that the chef ’s hat

was already on his head. At least he’d ditched the floral apron. “Do

you know where the needle and thread are?”

He gave me a blank stare. “Why?”

“Some of my quilt is coming unstitched. I want to fix it.”

His mouth pressed into a hard line and he turned away from

me. “You should get rid of that thing.”

I sighed. How could the quilt still be a touchy subject after all

these years? “Never mind. I’ll find it myself.”

“I’ll buy you a new one,” he shouted as I went back up the stairs.

“We can afford it!”

After I had found the sewing kit I retreated to my room. It

was tidier than my dad’s office. Everything had its place. I often

wondered if my mother had been as obsessive about order as I

was. I certainly didn’t get that trait from my dad. But I didn’t dare

ask Dad about it. He hated talking about her. He hadn’t mentioned

her for years.

I straightened the faded quilt on my bed and began to sew up

where the stitching had come undone, stroking my hand over its

colors. The quilt was a gigantic, multi-hued creation, comprising

every color of the rainbow. It was faded now, but there was no way

I was getting rid of it. It was the last present my mother had given

me before she had left, the day after my fifth birthday.

I didn’t have many memories of my mother. Most of the things I

remembered were connected with this quilt. She had let me decide on

the pattern, laughing when I had refused fairy princesses and cuddly

animals and insisted on nothing but vivid, swirling patterns of color.

I often wondered if she ever thought of me. Since the day she

had left neither of us had heard a word from her. I thought it was

probably guilt that kept her away. I hoped that was it. I hoped she

hadn’t forgotten about us, about me.

Sometimes I dreamed about her. I would be caught up in my

quilt, which would transform into a colorful stairway, and I would

walk in the clouds through rivers of color and find her there.

Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we just floated through the sky,

looking down on the land as it got further and further away.

When I had finished fixing the quilt I shook away my memories

and went over to my desk, taking my portfolio out of the drawer. It

contained the cream of all my work. The rest were in a box under

my bed. A few of them were recent works from Visual Arts. I did

love them, but it was others that I was searching for.

They were at the bottom of the folder. I picked them up and

gazed at my five favorites.

They all were of the same figure: one was a close up of his face,

one a study of his head and shoulders, and three others various

full-length poses. I sighed as I looked at them, wondering if it was

healthy to do this, or if I was a potential nut-case.

Nut-case or not, I couldn’t resist. I took my favorite selection of

colored pencils from their case and grabbed my sketchpad.

I drew the easel and then his head above it, as he looked intently

at the work he had been doing. I took care to get the deep brown of

his eyes just right, the color of his hair, the tone of his skin.

It wasn’t long before it was complete. I gazed at his serious face,

drawn in lines of concentration, and wondered what he had been

thinking.

Yes, it was probably unhealthy, but I couldn’t help myself.

Thinking of him made me happy.

I added my latest drawing of Dan to my collection.

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