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?
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
Jillian shot me a glance as I sat down. “You’ve got to stop
I didn’t even bother glaring at her. I was too busy trying to settle
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
“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.”
“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
“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
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
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
“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
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
“Hey, honey!” He looked up and smiled. “How was school
“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
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.