Layla makes friendships selectively. A ghost still haunts her. Worst of all, everyone thinks she’s fine when inside the teen is falling apart. Suddenly, when things go south, the girl goes missing, but strangely, her cell phone is left behind.
In her absence from home, a family member learns of the horror that has become Layla’s life. After viewing an important clue, he knows that he must act fast…before his entire family is destroyed.
Layla sat in the back of the cab, turned to face the grimy back window, watching the building on Second Street fade away. She felt her mother pull the back of her jacket, urging Layla to turn around and sit properly, as the cab driver glared at her through the rear view window.
The vehicle smelled of old cigarettes, body odour, and sickly sweet from a batch of donuts, which someone had left the remnants of on the floor. Chris, her father, sat in the front passenger seat with the driver, who looked less than thrilled to have a guest so close to him. There were holes in his fingerless black woollen gloves, and his matching wool hat had so many little fabric balls, or ‘pilling’ as her mother Mary would describe it, it looked like he’d glued them on himself.
While Chris made small talk in front, the other four Dixons sat, cramped like sardines in a can, in the back. Tasha, Layla’s younger sister, was crammed in between Mary and her older sister Linda, who was so enthralled in a steamy romance novel she barely looked up when the driver pounded on the brakes so hard, had it not been for seatbelts, all five Dixons would have plummeted through the windshield.
“Damn Yankees!” the driver screeched. Chris recovered from the abrupt stop and gave him a disapproving look. “Err…Pardon the language.”
JFK Airport was a long drive from Manhattan, New York, where Layla had grown up. It was there where they were headed to catch a flight to North Carolina. All their belongings had already been shipped via long haul transport and Mary prayed they would arrive before the truck did. They didn’t have much, but she’d heard horror stories of people’s property being sold and distributed long before the owner arrived at their destination. Proof it was time for Mary to get out of New York and into a small town where her wholesome ideals of life and people would be restored. Layla adjusted her red toque, which had almost fallen off as the car jerked forward, and glanced at her mother, who returned the oh-my-god-this-guy-is-crazy look.
Poor little Tasha was buried under her mother’s arm, barely able to breathe. A small, muffled voice cried out and Mary lifted her arm, helping her youngest child, her baby, sit erect. “You going away?” the driver asked gruffly.
“Err…no, we’re actually moving to North Carolina,” Chris answered kindly.
The driver lifted a brow. “You got family there?” he ventured.
“No, we’re moving there on business,” Chris half-lied. Chris and Mary were doctors, and both worked in separate hospitals—Mary at New York Presbyterian, Chris at Lenox Hill— and they bought a commercial one-storey building, about the size of a house, in Holly Springs, just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. This would be the location of the private practice they were opening, a dream of both doctors for such a long time.
As her father answered with a veiled lie, Layla pulled her right hand to her face, feeling the small yellow bruise that remained. The kidney-shaped blemish around the underside of her left eye was still tender to touch. Her lip had healed nicely and her left arm, still in a sling, would take a few more weeks before returning to normal functioning.
She felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket and forced her mother to lean sideways so she could retrieve it. Wincing from the lingering pain in her injured arm she checked the display and as Layla had expected, it was her best friend Carla.
“Is it Carla again?” Mary asked with mild irritation. “Can she not survive five minutes without you?”
It had been a difficult goodbye. Carla and Layla met in kindergarten and had been best friends since. Sure, they had the occasional argument, but they always made up. When news of the move was delivered to Carla, she had pushed Layla away, fearing she would be phased out once her friend moved to a new state. Had she known the implications, Carla might not have followed through with her friend’s important request.
“I’m moving eight hours away from her, mom, have a heart,” Layla balked as she pressed a button to accept the call.
“I can’t believe you’re gone,” Carla opened with. Her voice cracked, which surprised Layla, since Carla was not the emotional type. “Why couldn’t you just change schools? Why did your parents have to move you out of the city?”
“Carla, I can’t talk right now,” Layla said, talking to her the same way she did when she comforted her six year old sister. “We’re in the cab on our way to the airport right now. I’ll call you as soon as the flight lands, okay?”
“You better,” Carla warned, but the tone in her voice told Layla that it was an empty threat.
“I promise,” Layla said sweetly as she hung up.
“She’ll be fine,” Mary assured, patting her daughter on the knee. “Before you know it the summer will be here. Her mother already said she could come stay with us.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Layla stared out the window. She was worried. Carla never cried; the girl was tough as nails. Even when her father left she didn’t shed a tear. To be fair, she barely knew him, since he was a truck driver and away most of the time, but still. With her seemingly coming undone, Layla couldn’t help but feel anxious. Could Carla keep her secret?
Six months was a long time…
I can’t believe I live here. The house is a small, two-storey building with hanging flower baskets, a porch swing, fluffy pink balloon-style drapes on all the windows, and this creepy attic that they’re calling my bedroom. All it’s missing is a yappy white teacup poodle barking in the front yard and it’s grandma’s house.
I hated my grandmother. Not my dad’s mom, but my mom’s mom. But I’ll get to that later.
The people here talk as white trash as ever and they stare at me because of my New York accent. Well, how about their Southern twang? At least I don’t sound like a reject from the annual honky-tonk wheel-barrowing competition. This place sucks. I miss my apartment, where I could sit in my bedroom all day and listen to my iPod, talk on my cell phone to my friends and nobody would bother me.
Here, you can’t sit for five minutes without some creep knocking on your door with a pie or casserole in their hands, eager to welcome you to this stinking town. In New York, people mind their own business. I like it that way. I like having my own private life where you can do what you want and most people look the other way.
Already they know we’re from New York, so I’m constantly being asked “What’s Times Square like?”, or “How’s that Central Park? Is it really in the center of New York? That why they call it ‘Central’?”, and the best one yet: “Isn’t that where that show Friends was taped? You ever met who was it, Janice Anderson?”
And the most infuriating part is that this town is a bunch of Jesus freaks. My mother is in her glory. We’ve already had the pastor over for supper twice and we’ve only lived here a month.
The TV stations are all different out here, the internet connection sucks, there’s almost no place you can get Wi-Fi in any of the stinking coffee joints, and the way they dress is laughable. Nobody has ever heard of Prada or Coach, and when I mention Ugg they wait for me to finish, thinking I’m going to say ‘ugly’, or they pat me on the back because they think I’m choking.
Oh, I haven’t even gotten to the music. Remember the honky-tonk I mentioned? Well, that’s the kind of crap they listen to. The kind of music you’d listen to if you were at a rodeo or mucking down stalls at a horse ranch. Seriously. Nobody here has ever heard of Taylor Swift or Michael Bublé. When I mention Beyoncé, they ask me what her last name is. It’s ridiculous.
The only nice thing about living here is that I actually get to see my parents, and I’m not constantly stuck at home babysitting Tasha. Mom and dad were smart enough to buy a house around the corner from their medical practice. And I simply have to walk Tasha over after she gets off the bus and hand her off to Mrs. B, the medical secretary, who is only too pleased to take her so her four-year-old has someone to play with in the back room.
Besides, mom and dad are home in time for supper every night too, which is a huge bonus for me. No more take-out. The ‘Welcome to Holly Springs’ casseroles are still streaming in so we’ve barely had to cook anything. And when they do finally cease, I can finally sink my fingers back into the kitchen, something I’ve been wanting to do since the stove broke in our old apartment.
That’s another thing I’ll admit to. The kitchen is great. I’m told that the lady who lived here (someone’s grandma I’ll bet), used to cook and bake for Holy Trinity United Church, which consequently we attend now. So, the oven is unbelievable. It’s one of the ones with two compartments for cooking and a warming drawer in the bottom. It’s both conventional and convection and has a rapid preheat button so you no longer feel like it’d be quicker to rub two dry twigs together to get a faster heat source.
The stove is about the only modern thing in this town, and it’s in my house. Pretty cool. It must have been shipped from Raleigh or even Greensboro because the only appliance store in this town still sells typewriters.
Carla will have a cow when she comes in the summer because the guys here are very strange. They hold doors open for you and call you ‘ma’am’, even if you’re not retired. When they talk to you they’re actually looking above your breasts, even the shorter ones. Nobody flirts or makes fun of you either. Linda tried to flirt with a guy just last week and came home crying because he ignored her. And nobody noticed, or at least nobody mentioned they noticed, my bruises and busted arm.
I can’t tell you how much of a relief that is. Thankfully the cell phone plan mom and dad got me includes unlimited long distance, so I can call Carla whenever I want. She was only weepy that one time she called while I was in the cab on my way to JFK airport, which I’m grateful for. It’s tough being away from her.
We talk about lots of things, but never about what happened. We promised never to talk about that. If I have it my way she’ll be the only one who ever knows. I would just die if anyone ever found out. I’m hoping it’ll just go away along with my bruises.
Mom says my nightmares are from the adjustment to moving. It was a big step for me, having lived in New York all my life. They’re non-descriptive, like all the monsters have no faces and when they yell nothing comes out, but they’re terrifying and wake me up, screaming and soaking wet with sweat.
They started before we even talked about moving, which is what scares me. But my mom’s a doctor and she knows what she’s talking about.
I sure hope she’s right.