I stood right on the edge. Toeing the packed mud and grass of the Further, daring myself to take just one step more. One more step into the trees and thick brush of the unknown. One more step to adventure.
I’m just not that kind of brave.
“Antoinette!” Mother’s voice rang loudly in my ears. I rolled my eyes at her shrill, turning to face back down the narrow street I had called home for the last sixteen years. A street of gold and glass.
Mother’s body hung half out of the front window to our house, the second one on the right.
“Yes mother?” I tried not to be too cross.
“Come away from there. And why aren’t you ready for tonight?” All her questions made my head swim.
“It’s only half day.” I whined, stomping back down the street to our house. I entered the front door with a huff and kicked the mud off of my leather boots.
“Half day. “ Mother laughed. “Half day she says. It’ll take me half week to do something with that mane of yours.” She walked over to me and finger raked my hair. I pulled away from her.
“I like my hair the way it is.”
“Yes. But the boys can’t see your pretty face with such a distraction.” She turned me to the parlor mirror, starting to braid my hair. She hummed a soft melody. A melody she used to rock me to sleep to. Even now, I could feel my eyelids weighing down.
“Mother?” I started lowly.
“What if, what if I don’t want to go to the dance tonight? Would you be angry?” I asked.
She stopped humming, meeting my amber eyes in the mirror. I saw concern in her baby blues not anger.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
I smiled to put her mind at ease. “No, nothing. I just…” I paused. How could I tell my mother that her only daughter doesn’t enjoy the company of boys? Not the way she should, not the way mother would’ve wanted me to. I couldn’t dare to tell her that. “…I’m just being silly. Forget I said anything.”
She narrowed her eyes into the mirror. “Is it that Andre? Did he…did he try something?”
“What? Andy? No. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“I’m not talking about flies, Antoinette. I know how boys his age think. What they do.” She hissed.
“He didn’t do anything, mother.”
“Fine. Well then, I spent way too much time on that dress of yours for all this talk of not going.” Mother began to braid my hair again. “You’ll go, you’ll wear the dress, and you’ll have a good time. End of discussion.”
“Fine.” I conceded. I just wanted the conversation to end.
She finished braiding my hair then rushed me up the stairs to my room to finish getting dressed. I stood in my doorway, eyeing the emerald dress draped across my bed so casually. As if it belonged. I ran my hands down its sequin covered corset and back up its silk sleeves.
There is nothing in this world or the next that would get me into that thing. Well, nothing besides mother.
The thump of a tiny pebble snapped my from my hateful stare. I looked up at my window just as another one struck, then another. I walked over and looked down to see the smiling face of Andre.
Lifting my window, I smiled down at him. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged, motioning to the buckets of ice he was carrying. “I was just passing through. Wanna help?”
“Uh…” I hesitated, turning to listen for my mother. The dishes in the kitchen clacked loudly together and the hum of her voice traveled up the stairs to meet me. “I really should be getting dressed.”
“Already? It’s only half day.” He whined.
“That’s what I said but you know my mother.” I said.
“Come on Toni. I’m going just up the road. She won’t even notice you’re gone.” He pouted, sticking his bottom lip out. “Please?”
“Fine. Step back.” I ran over to my bedroom door and closed it softly, locking it and then running back to my window. Thick vines climbed the side of my house, making climbing up and down fairly easy. Fairly. My foot slipped and I plummeted to the ground landing back first on the cobblestone path. I winced in pain, dusting myself off as I stood.
“Are you alright?” Andre dared to ask.
“Fine.” I said, holding my hand out for one of his ice buckets. He handed it to me wordlessly and we started up the path towards the school’s grand hall where the dance was being held.
After a few more seconds of silence, he finally spoke. “So…who’re you taking to the dance?”
“Myself.” I said.
“What? You cannot show up without a date.”
“What?” I groaned at the heaviness of the bucket, narrowly avoiding Mrs. Crumbly making her way across my path. I waved to her and she narrowed her eyes at me. “What do you mean?”
“You’ll be laughed out. And by consequence, I’ll be laughed out.” Andre’s voice sounded panicky.
“No one’s gonna laugh me out.” I said. “No one even cares.”
“Hope you’re right.”
“Wait, hang on.” I stepped out in front of him, stopping him from walking. “Does… does that mean you have a date?”
“Of course I have a date, I’m not a ogre.”
“Since puberty, I hope.” Andre faked hurt, even hissing a bit. He stepped around me and started walking again. I followed.
“No, since when are you dating someone?” I asked.
“Since…yesterday when I asked Gabby to be my date.”
“Gabby? As in Gabriella? As in Gabriella the fella?”
“Don’t do that.” He said, huffing. “Don’t lash out because you’re hurt. It’s unattractive.”
He did have a point. I was hurt. How could he choose such a chicken head over me? He never even bothered asking if I wanted to go with him. Of course I don’t, but not being asked is a completely different type of brush off.
“I’m not hurt.” I lied. “I’m just…why didn’t you ask me?”
“Maybe because he didn’t want to dance with a boy.” I stopped walking and turned to the voice behind me. Seeing who it was I lowered my eyes to the ground. Andre turned back as well and narrowed his eyes.
Tristin. My soon to be stepbrother, Tristin. Our parents hooked up at the last dance and ever since we’ve been at each other’s throats. Or more appropriately, he’s been at mine.
“Get lost Tristin, before I beat your face in.” Andre threatened.
“Oh, I’m so scared. You know, my father can have you and your family kicked out of town for that.” Tristin sneered at us.
“For what? Taking out the trash?” Andre quipped. I smiled, lifting my gaze to him. He looked over at me and winked.
“Ha ha.” Tristin nodded to the shadows of a small alleyway and two more boys walked over to him. They surrounded us on all sides. “What if we take out a little trash ourselves?”
“Come on, Tris. We don’t want any trouble.” I finally raked up the nerve to say something.
“Don’t call me that.” Tristin hissed at me. He stepped back a bit and placed his hand on his chin. He was thinking. “Okay, I’ll let you be if…” He paused, cracking his face to smile a surly smile. “…if you take ten paces into the Further.”
I gulped. “But there’s a curse on that place.”
“Oh, bull. There’s a curse on everyplace no one knows. It’s just trees.” Tristin said.
Andre wasn’t buying it. “Then how come you’ve never gone?”
“Never had to.” Tristin didn’t bother looking at him. He kept his eyes intensely focused on me. Daring me to say no. To coward out and run away back to my mother so he could show everyone what I was made of. A yellow bellied little girl.
“Fine. Name the time.” Andre conceded, puffing his chest out to the other boys to show he wasn’t afraid.
“Early moon. Just before the dance.”
“Andy.” I said lowly. “No.”
“Fine.” He agreed without my consent.
Tristin smiled, motioning for his boys to follow him before leaving us standing in the path alone.
Andre started to laugh to himself and with my free hand I hit him across the chest. “What the hell, Andy?”
“What?” He faked hurt.
“You just agreed that we would go into a cursed forest at night. I can’t even go in the daytime. With people around.”
“Relax. That forest isn’t cursed. It’s all just a myth to keep the kids out of it.” Andre said, turning to walk to the school. I strained to catch up to him.
“You don’t know that.”
“Sure I do. I’ve been in it myself.”