Not that far away from Charlie’s small town was a bigger town called Righted-by-the-River. It got its name from a small stream near the edge of the bigger town. This river itself wasn’t that exceptional in any way but it seemed to give the town a picturesque quality. Everyone loves pretty things so there you go.
Midway between the absolute centre and edge of Righted-by-the-River, two siblings were standing in the garden of a very fancy and large house. The garden contained a treasure trove of flowers–roses, daisies, zinnias, you name it–and the edges were surrounded with bushes. They were arguing over a very common and tiresome sibling problem.
“I washed the dishes yesterday, Emma!” the boy told the girl, his honey-coloured hair gleaming in the sun. He was wearing a blue and orange striped scarf, wrapped twice around his neck, despite the hot temperature.
“It’s not even that hard, Hayden! Just wash them today as well. You know how much this party means to me.” Emma’s glossy hair swung around her shoulders as she tried to raise herself to Hayden’s height.
One thing was certain: nice hair ran in the family.
Nice hair ran in my family too. Back when I was young, carefree and unaware of what history had in store for me, all the girls used to giggle and swoon about how I had the best hair on the island. Those days are long gone and now is not the time to go into all that.
“You know I’m allergic to dishwashing soap! And if it’s not that hard, why can’t you do it?”
“Because I have a party to go to! For God’s sake, grow up, Hayden!”
“You should be more sensitive!”
Emma whirled around so that her back was facing Hayden. Then she let out all the curses a typical fifteen-year-old would know along with a few more. This had a calming effect on her and she turned around once more to see that her older brother had disappeared.
The bushes rustled in response. Emma felt goosebumps popping up on her skin. She looked around her urgently. “Alright, fine, I’ll do the dishes,” she said tentatively but the boy was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly, a blue CRV skidded to a halt in front of her. Emma jumped in surprise, the apparition of the CRV jerking her attention away from the bushes and her brother. The window rolled down to reveal a red-haired woman. She wore a concerned expression and her green eyes reflected nothing but worry. “Go back inside your house, kiddo. The road isn’t safe for you today.”
Emma gawked openly at both the car and the strange woman’s purple face. She turned around yet again and ran halfway back to her house, ignoring her feet crushing the flowers in her mother’s garden.
“I think you just scared her even more,” said Charlie. Neola smirked satisfactorily as she rolled the window back up. However, her smile was wiped off her face as she saw Emma striding towards the car with a scowl on her face. Emma realised, a tiny bit later, that it seemed too odd of a coincidence that the second her brother disappeared, this mysterious woman showed up. She rapped on the window and spoke as soon as Neola had rolled the window back down.
“Do you know where my brother is?”
Neola neither answered nor looked at the girl.
Emma gasped. “You do! Tell me where he is. He may be an idiot but he is my brother.”
“I’m afraid he’s lost to you. Unless, of course, I find him. Ugh, why are there so many cases?”
Emma gripped the rim of the window. She had no idea what Neola was talking about but she wasn’t going to back down so easily. “If you know where my brother is, you’re going to take me to him.”
“How old are you, kiddo?” asked Neola, slightly irritated.
“Fifteen,” replied Emma. “And don’t call me ‘kiddo’! You don’t look much older than me.”
“You’re not old enough to make your own decisions.”
“Yeah? Then what’s that boy doing in the seat over there? Hey, why do you look so familiar?” Emma stared quizzically at Charlie but let it pass after a few seconds. He had an eerie resemblance to a boy she had once gone a bit too far with.
I don’t know very much about Emma. Unlike the others, she didn’t open up to me about her take on the events that unfolded, only giving me the smallest hints of her feelings, but I can tell you for certain that out of the four children, Emma’s heart was the most rock-like.
“I’m taking him home right now,” Neola told Emma, easing the girl’s fingers off of the window’s rim.
“No, you aren’t!” burst in Charlie. There was no way that he was going back. He had managed to come this far and was keen on persuading Neola to take him farther.
Emma arched an eyebrow, a smug look on her face. “By the way, that makeup doesn’t suit you.”
Neola sighed. “I’ve been told.”
“Wait here,” said Emma and she rushed across the garden, trampling her mother’s flowers once more, and to the house that loomed grandly ahead. “Mom!” Emma yelled. “I’ll be back soon!” Then she ran back to the blue CRV, which to her amazement was still waiting for her. “Great, now you can help me look for Hayden.”
I have no idea why Neola waited. She never told me for certain, always avoiding the question. Now, I’ll never get an answer but my guess is that Emma reminded her a bit of someone. Someone you’ll meet soon.
Neola sighed once more. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, kiddo. I’ve got enough on my hands as it is. Plus, your parents will be dead worried.”
“Whatever,” said Emma as she got into the backseat of the CRV.
“Kiddos, I’m warning you right now, we’ll be going someplace far away. It may be days before you come back. Are you sure you’d let your parents suffer that long?”
From the start, Neola was awfully fond of the four. Even though they were teenagers on the brink of adulthood, it didn’t stop her from thinking of them as children. I can tell for certain that she was secretly glad that Emma and Charlie had chosen to go with her rather than ditch her at the last second. It is rare for children to admit they need help and to show themselves, flaws and all.
So, when Emma shrugged and said, “Yeah”, I imagine that Neola smiled secretly to herself and was tempted to drive incredibly fast but Neola did something really idiotic instead.
If you had ever heard Neola recount the tale, she would have left some embarrassing bits out. It’s always good to have a second opinion on events because I assure you, her account was completely inaccurate.