This piece is a collab between @a-random-commenter and I. We each took a turn writing a few paragraphs, letting the story flow without preplanning it. Enjoy the unsolved mystery. 😛
Sunbeams trickled through a gap in the curtains, reaching into the once-dark room. A rooster crowing in the back yard, announcing the new day to the world. A dog sniffing her face, eagerly awaiting the master’s waking. The cat yowled by the bedroom door, demanding the world. Nicole pulled the blankets up to her face again and turned over. It was weekend. She could sleep as long as she liked.
The sound of paws on carpet; travelling around the bed. A dog snout was in her face again. This time it licked her.
“Ok, Sadie, I’m up! I’m up!”
Even on weekends, you eventually need to get up… With a slow and placid groan, Nicole lifted herself from the bed.
Nicole’s life had been just the same repeating, difficult routine ever since her parents had pulled her out of school and decided to take strict charge of her education themselves. Weekends were the only time she didn’t have to be up starting her private schooling at 5:30 A.M.
She glanced toward Sadie, whose moist brown eyes indicated that she was more than ready for breakfast.
“Okay, I guess I’ve kept you waiting for long enough,” Nicole chuckled, ruffling the dog’s fur. “Let’s get you some food.”
The cat awaited her just outside the door, rubbing itself vigorously against her leg.
“I’ll feed you too,” she added, heading toward the kitchen.
With the unsteady gait of someone still half asleep, Nicole shuffled out of her room, down the staircase, through the dining room and kitchen, and then into the scullery. She scooped food into the animal’s bowls, then set them down.
Maya took one look at her food and resumed yowling and passionately rubbing against Nicole’s leg. Sadie wasn’t quite so fussy and began happily munching on her food. “No tinned food today, Queen Flur Bob. Uh, Queen Fur Blob.”
Ignoring the cat, she took the bag of chicken feed out back, to the spacious chicken coop at the edge of the forest. She poured some into the bowls dotted around the coop.
Nicole shambled back upstairs. The warm bed still calling her name. She vaguely wondered why her parents were not already up and about. Then it hit her: yesterday they had told her that they would both be at a meeting most of the day. She had the house to herself!
This realisation jolted her awake with excitement as she pondered what she would do next.
Nicole started back toward the bed once again, but stopped at the door. There was no way she could waste this precious time sleeping. There were too many things she wasn’t normally allowed to do.
After only a few minutes, she was rooting through the cabinets, eagerly seeking the prized hidden box of sweets that her mother pulled her occasional scanty desserts from. Every time Nicole found the box, it was moved to some other difficult hiding spot, in the kitchen or elsewhere. But if her parents didn’tknow she had found the box…
There were only two cabinets Nicole hadn’t yet gone through, the two dusty unused ones above the refrigerator. She pulled open the door, but as usual, nothing was there. Ready to search the other rooms, she pushed the doors shut and slid off the counter.
Something on the ground caught her eye. It was a small bit of crumpled paper that must have fallen out of the cabinet. Nicole picked it up to throw it away, but she stopped in her tracks when she noticed: written on it in her mother’s handwriting was:
Computer Password: 1808265
In the blink of the eye, Nicole stood in the frame of her parent’s now-ajar door. She froze, feeling as if there were some invisible barrier stopping her from entering. Looking to the computer, she memorised the layout of the desk.
She steeled her nerves and pushed through the places-you’re-not-supposed-to-go barrier, taking a seat on the office chair and booting up the computer. Once it had started had started, she briskly entered the password and hit enter.
Sadie padded into the room. “Shh, don’t tell anyone,” Nicole stroked the dog’s head while she waited. As soon as the desktop was displayed on the screen, Nicole moved the mouse in an unsteady line towards the web browser’s icon and double-clicked on it.
Maybe I’ll start with some sciency videos on YouTube. She thought to herself. Remind me that there’s a reason some people choose to spend their whole lives in science and engineering. And I’ll be learning new stuff. Or should I rather do something else?
Nicole scrolled through the many YouTube suggestions, her mind telling her to watch something helpful, though deep down, that wasn’t what she wanted. She had had enough of education from her parents; now that they weren’t here, she could do what she wanted.
Finally settling on a music video, Nicole sat back and simply took in the sound. Since she didn’t get to listen to music much at all, she wanted to know what it was really all about. The ‘music’ she was familiar with wasn’t all that great, but maybe this would be better.
What have I been missing out on all this time?
Nicole soon found herself listening to another song, and another after that. The vast range of genres available through the internet were nothing like the easy listening junk that her parents played for her. This music flowed, changed, made her feel.
She didn’t want to stop. With every song, Nicole became increasingly more entranced, ignoring the fact that this computer was not her own and gradually losing track of time.
Sadie jumping to her feet and running out of the room thrust Nicole’s mind back into reality. She got up to follow the dog. Did Sadie want to go outside? As she approached the front door, she heard the sound the sound of car doors opening.
In a blur, Nicole dashed up the stairs. She tripped and hurt her shin, but pushed herself up and continued. She quickly closed what she had been doing on her parents’ computer, then told it to shut down. She darted out of her parents’ room, closing the door behind her, and into her room. Her parents were already in the house, merely depositing shopping bags downstairs.
She knew she had to pretend to be busy with something. She grabbed one of her favourite books – one of the very few fictional books she was allowed – from the shelf. Opening it up near the beginning and sitting on the bed, she pretended to be busy while footsteps approached up the staircase.
Her mom shortly appeared in Nicole’s doorway. “Has everything been good while we were gone?”
“Did you feed the animals?”
“And the chickens?”
“You reading that again?”
Nicole’s mom hesitated. Her mom-senses must have told her something was up.
“Did you get at the box of sweets again?”
“Did you touch anything in my room?”
Nicole paled, impulsively blurting “No” before the silence grew suspiciously long.
“Good. Remember-” the older woman narrowed her eyes “-if you ever lie and I find out about it, you will get it.” She took a couple purposeful steps away; turning for one last glance at her daughter, her eyes softened slightly. “Have a good time reading your book.”
Nicole sighed with relief once the door shut. She wasn’t in trouble… yet. As she slowly closed the book, an eerie stillness began to encompass the room. It was as if the very air around her was frozen in place, waiting for something.
But nothing was happening. Nothing really exciting had ever happened to Nicole, a girl whose parents barely even let her leave their property. Yet still, an aura of suspense surrounded her. Something hadto happen.
In the next few moments, the door creaked open as Nicole’s mom re-entered with that familiar ‘you’re-in-for-it’ look on her face. Nicole would have freaked out if she hadn’t already been waiting in anticipation.
“While we were gone,” she said, “was there anybody else in this house? Anyone at all?”
“I guess that settles it.” Nicole’s mom swiftly grabbed her daughter by the wrist, a steely look in her eyes. “It was a good effort, but next time, you should consider erasing your browsing history.”
All Nicole managed to do was squeak a “I’m sorry.” The book was grabbed from her left hand and put neatly back on the shelf.
“You are not to leave your bed until your father and I discuss what we shall do,” came the firm command. Her face was a strange mixture of emotions as she stomped out the room and slammed the door behind herself.
Nicole released a held breath, but this was not quite a sigh of relief. She knew the worst was still coming. Her father’s name was called and there was talking, but Nicole couldn’t hear it from her bed.
After a couple moments, Nicole got up and walked to the door, putting her ear to the metal handle in the hope of hearing anything of what was being said downstairs.
“…going to grow up…” Her dad’s voice. “…can only protect her for so long…”
“…what do we do?” Nicole made out from her mother. “…on my computer…what if she knows?”
After hearing the stress on that last word, curiosity took over, and Nicole, ever so carefully, twisted the knob silently, opening the door to a tiny slit for her to listen through.
“I’m sure she wasn’t looking through any of your documents or accounts,” said her father reassuringly. “You said it yourself, she was probably just listening to that garbage pop music.”
“She was,” said her mother, “but I can’t be sure that that was the only thing she was doing.”
“As I said, we can’t protect her forever. She deserves to know some of it. We don’t have to tell her the whole truth, but maybe we could just start with how we aren’t even her real parents.”
Nicole sharply inhaled at those words, barely restraining an even louder gasp.
When the downstairs conversation ceased and footsteps sounded on the stairs, Nicole came to the sinking realization that she probably hadn’t restrained her gasp well enough.
Though she knew it to be futile, Nicole closed her door and hurried back to her bed. A split second later, her mom swung the door open.
“I thought I told you to stay on your bed.”
Nicole didn’t respond.
“What did you hear?”
“Just the end.”
Fists clenched and a sharp breath was drawn. Then they were released. “Well, now you know – you’re adopted. But that doesn’t mean we love or care about you any less.”
“What did dad mean by ‘the whole truth’? Where did you get me?”
Nicole’s mom hesitated. Her eyes sparkled as they began watering. “Your dad and I can’t bear children of our own. We got you at an orphanage when you were a baby, of course. Where else?” A few unsteady breaths were taken. “Nicole, we both love you very much. All we’ve done, we did to protect you.”
Nicole’s dad was now in the doorway too, his arm around his beloved’s shoulder.
Nicole sat silent, absorbing the information. Her heart felt like it was bursting – like she would soon be in tears too. Yet, she commanded herself not to – at least while she sorted through the information.Why would them not being able to have their own children be this ‘whole truth’? Surely they wouldn’t have cared to get me if they could have their own kids.
“If I was your real child, would love me enough to let me live?” No longer able to contain herself, Nicole broke out into sobs.
“Nicole… we’ve done everything we can to keep you safe,” her ‘father’ soothed, reaching an arm out toward her.
Nicole reflexively slapped it away before her chest heaved again, bringing another few tears dripping onto her face. “If you really do care about me, why didn’t… why didn’t you tell me? Why keep it hidden?”
Nicole was too caught up in her own emotion to notice her parents exchanging glances, but she did hear her mother say, “We love you, Nicole, and we didn’t want to put you through what you’re feeling right now. We were waiting until you were old enough to handle it.”
Not even raising her head, Nicole slowly wiped the tears from her face, curling up as if to shield herself from the harsh reality.
Nicole didn’t swat away her father’s hand this time as he laid it on her shoulder. “Please forgive us,” he said. “Your real parents abandoned you to hide and protect you, and we only wanted to carry out their wishes.”
Finally perking her head up at that last sentence, the first thing Nicole saw was her mother shooting a furious glare at the one who had spoken it.
“You knew my real parents?”
“No-” the woman that Nicole had called her mother quickly tried to interrupt.
“Why did you let them abandon me?”
“No, we never met them.” She said firmly. “We got you at an orphanage. The caretakers had met your parents only briefly.”
“Which orphanage?” Her adopted mother hesitated. Nicole took the opportunity to push on. “What are you still not telling me?!”
“Nicole…” her dad was talking now. “We will tell you everything you need to know when you are ready. Please… just trust us. We are doing this for your good.”
“I…” Nicole trailed off. There was no way anything she said would be able to get anything more out of them. “I need some time.” Without warning, she took off toward the door that led out of the house, and her adopted parents did nothing to stop her.
Once outside, she slammed the door shut with the power of all her frustration, shock, and stress. Sadie awaited her on the porch, obliviously wagging her tail and looking up with those soft eyes.
Nicole wiped a final tear from her eye before ruffling the dog’s fur. “Come on, Sadie, let’s treat the chickens.”
As Nicole sprinkled scratch grains about the field, the absence of her adopted parents allowed her to think more clearly.
“Did they really adopt me?” she whispered aloud. “And did they say my real parents were trying to hide me? If they’re my parents, I should have the right to know what’s going on with them and what makes them so special.”
The closest thing to a response Nicole got was one of the chickens pecking tentatively at her pant leg.
Nicole scattered some more grain next to the chicken and watched it begin snapping them up one by one.
For a brief moment, she was tempted to run off into the forest and leave all this behind. But, she would not let her emotions get the better of her. It be far worse to be lost and starving in a forest than to stay with her adopted parents. As strict as they were, they had fed, sheltered and cared for her ever since she could remember.
Taking a number of deep breaths in attempt to stabilise her breathing, Nicole wiped her eyes dry on her pyjama sleeve. She turned around and wandered back into the house.