City of Secrets
Previously: While visiting her parents' graves, Natasha sees a young man dressed in old-fashioned clothes who tells her to go home. She loses sight of him after being temporarily blinded by the lightning.
Frankie's mother and stepfather have gone out of town for the week, leaving Frankie in charge of her seven-year-old brother, Tommy.
Frankie's mother and stepfather have gone out of town for the week, leaving Frankie in charge of her seven-year-old brother, Tommy.
Tommy ran to the front door and pressed his face to the window beside it, cupping his hands to the side of his head and causing a circle of fog to form on the glass.
Frankie put her hands on her hips. “Thomas Javier Carlton, you’re getting fingerprints all over the glass I just cleaned. How can I have guests over now?” She’d been trying to mimic Marcella, but had wound up sounding more like Laurel Beaumont, which was frightening.
Tommy turned around and rolled his eyes. “Give it up, Frankie. You’re a terrible actress.”
Frankie grinned, feeling better than she had all day. No matter how dark her mood, Tommy could always lift her spirits. He was amazing that way; she didn’t know what she’d do without him. “Darn, I guess I’ll have to find a new calling.”
“You’ll be okay, Frankie. It’s better that you know now,” Tommy said, his tone serious.
Frankie laughed so hard, tears dripped from her eyes. “Want to play hide and seek?” she asked when she’d recovered.
“It’s raining.” From his tone, it sounded like he was announcing that puppies had just been banned from the United States.
Frankie gave her brother a conspiratorial grin. “So?”
“But—” Tommy’s eyes slowly widened. “You don’t mean—” He stopped, as if it were just too unbelievable to say.
Frankie, enjoying Tommy’s excitement, smiled wider. “Who do you think you’re talking to, kid?”
“No way! Mom and Dad never let me play hide and seek in the house!”
“They’re not in charge,” Frankie said, relishing the words. “But it’s our secret, okay?”
Tommy nodded, his eyes wide. He understood the importance of secrets. “Okay.” He ran to the foot of the stairs, their designated base. “You hide and I’ll count!”
“Hold on. Don’t you want to change out of that thing first?” Frankie pointed to Tommy’s tuxedo, thinking that it would give her the chance to get out of her wet clothes. “What did Henry have you wearing it for anyway?”
“First day of school pictures. But I’d rather get it dirty,” Tommy took off the black sport jacket and tossed it on the floor before un-tucking the white button-up shirt.
Frankie shook her head and laughed. “You’re too much like me for your own good, kid.”
“But I like you, Frankie. Do you not want me to like you?”
“Of course I want you to like me, silly. I just don’t want you to be like me.”
“Why not? You’re awesome.” Tommy narrowed his eyes and added, “Most of the time, anyway.”
Frankie wished she hadn’t said anything. She was usually better at keeping thoughts like that to herself around Tommy. “It’s nothing. I was just joking.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Never mind. Are we going to play or what?”
“Play!” He shouted it so loudly that Frankie’s ears stung.
“Then close your eyes and count to twenty.” Frankie resigned to changing her clothes after a couple of rounds.
Tommy put his hands over his eyes and counted. Smiling at the eye that peeked out between his widespread fingers, Frankie stomped across the floor to the coat rack in the corner. She moved it out a few inches so she could fit behind it. There weren’t nearly enough coats on it to hide her from view. “He’ll never find me here,” she said, in a whisper that was louder than her regular speaking voice.
“. . . Nineteen, twenty! Ready or not, here I come!” Tommy said, uncovering his eyes and spinning around the room.
“Oh no, I hope he doesn’t find me.”
“I hear you!” Tommy said with a giggle, turning toward the coat rack.
Frankie raised her voice. “You do not!”
“I see you! I see you!” Tommy ran to the coat rack and threw his arms around his sister, pushing her back against the wall.
“Noooo! How did you find me?”
“I saw your feet. You’re not very good at this.”
Frankie sighed and shook her head. “I guess not. You know what the winner gets?”
“Tickles!” Frankie got on her knees and tickled Tommy’s sides. He fell to the floor, laughing and shrieking.
“S—stop! No more! No m—more!” Tommy shouted between giggles.
“Okay, okay, I’ll stop.”
“Now it’s my turn to hide. You count to one hundred!” Tommy said, standing up.
“One hundred? That’s not fair,” Frankie said with mock indignation. “You only counted to twenty.”
“I don’t make the rules, Frankie.”
“Then who does?” she asked, trying not to laugh.
“It’s just the way things are.” Tommy waved his hands in the air, as though this were the most obvious thing in the world.
“Oh, well, then I guess I'll just have to accept it.” She walked to the stairs, her head down and her footsteps heavy.
“Well, duh. Close your eyes, and no peeking!”
Frankie dutifully closed her eyes and covered them with her hands before she started counting. She couldn’t help but smile when she heard a door click open and slam shut again. She had a sneaking suspicion that Tommy had just gone into his father’s office, the one room in the house he wasn’t allowed in. Henry kept it locked, but Frankie had found the key years ago. She’d “borrowed” it, made a copy, and put it back before Henry had noticed it was missing.
A couple months ago, Tommy had come home from his friend Justin’s house with his fingernails painted. Henry was furious and had spent over an hour on the phone with Justin’s father. Then he’d spent another hour explaining to Tommy—in extremely loud tones—why it was simply unacceptable for a boy to wear nail polish under any circumstances.
Frankie had been the one to help her teary-eyed brother take the polish off. She’d never forget the way he’d look up at her and asked, “If girls can wear it, why can’t boys?” She hadn’t known how to answer the question. Her thought on the subject was why shouldn’t boys be able to wear nail polish if they wanted to? But then again, she was the girl no one liked. She was the girl with no father, and a mother and stepfather who’d rather she didn’t exist. She was the Latina who knew nothing about her culture. She liked looking at girls as much as she liked looking at boys. She was Frankie the Freak. What did she know about anything?
So, instead of answering Tommy’s question, Frankie had given him the key to Henry’s office. She’d hoped it would take away the feeling of helplessness, at least a little. She’d known it was risky, expecting a seven-year-old to keep a secret of that magnitude, but she’d had a feeling that Tommy could do it. So far, she’d been right.
Like a good big sister, Frankie counted all the way to one hundred without cheating. “Ready or not, here I come!” she shouted over the rain—which had grown louder. “I wonder where he could be,” she said, walking down the hall. “Is he in the bathroom?” She made a show of opening and closing the cabinets and yanking the shower curtain aside before slamming the bathroom door behind her.
“Is he in the closet?” She opened and closed the linen closet with a bang, but the sound was drowned out by a crack of thunder.
She paused outside Henry’s office. “I wonder if he’s in here.” She turned the knob slowly, drawing out the suspense. She wasn’t surprised to find it unlocked. “Gee, it’s unlocked. I wonder how that happened.” She waited a moment, and was surprised when all she heard was the howling wind and the pounding of raindrops on the rooftop. She’d expected to hear the giggles Tommy was never good at keeping in when they played hide and seek—or any game for that matter. “Well, I guess he’s not in here.”
She closed the door, but opened it a second later. “Wait a minute . . . I wonder if he’s under the desk.” Only silence met this statement as Frankie walked across the room. She wondered if Tommy had tricked her by opening the door. If so, he was getting good at this; pretty soon, she wouldn’t need to let him beat her anymore. She walked around the desk, pulled the chair out, and peeked underneath it.
She left the office, closing the door behind her. “Ready or not! Here I come!” She was answered by the whistling of the wind, which seemed to be mocking her. It seemed to be saying, your brother isn’t here.
Frankie shook her head, pushing those thoughts out of her head. She’d read way too many horror novels. She loved them, but they made it easy for her imagination to get carried away, especially during a thunderstorm.
She searched Tommy’s playroom and the sitting room, calling out questions and “warnings” as she went, hoping Tommy would give himself away. With the exception of the kitchen and dining room, she’d searched the entire first floor. She was exhausted, freezing, and her stomach growled with hunger.
A heavy thud came from the kitchen. Frankie jumped, but a moment later, sighed with relief—Tommy was giving himself away. Finally.
“I give up! You win! You’re too good for me! I’ll have to accept my fate of being tickled!” she shouted once she was back in the foyer. She waited, confident that this would draw Tommy out. He could never resist an opportunity to turn the tables and tickle someone else.
Frankie leaned against the banister while she waited, realizing how much darker it had gotten since she’d first come home. She shivered; she really needed to get out of these wet clothes. “Come on, Tommy! I’m serious! Game’s over!”
The wind howled; a draft blew in from the opposite hall. “Oh no, you did not go outside!” She stomped into the dining room, adding anger to her list of emotions. Not only had Tommy gone outside, but he’d left the back door wide open.
Gusts of wind blew in through the sliding door. Frankie stumbled backward, grasping the doorframe for support. Water was all over the floor, leaves were scattered everywhere, and a chair had fallen on its side.
Frankie walked through the room, wind and icy raindrops slapping her in the face as she went. “Tommy! Get inside! Now!”
Frankie scanned the backyard. It was large, wide open, and mostly grass. They had no porch, no swing set, and there were only a couple of trees and a few bushes. They rarely used the backyard, because Marcella said it would be too morbid to host a party in a yard like that. Beyond the Carlton’s manicured lawn was a large, unkempt field. Beyond that, lay the back of the cemetery.
Frankie had always thought it was cool. The Caribou Canyon Cemetery was beautiful—in a lonely, macabre way—but beautiful all the same. Frankie felt like she kept the dead company, and in turn, they kept her company. Sometimes, they were her only company.
“This isn’t funny, Tommy!” Frankie stepped into the yard, where she was immediately assaulted by the rain. At least she hadn’t changed her clothes yet. She fought against the wind as she half-ran, half-walked through the yard, checking behind the trees and bushes and calling out Tommy’s name. After she’d exhausted the few places he could be, she stopped at the edge of the field. “Oh, Tommy, you better not be out there.” She looked at the tall, un-mowed grass, thinking how easily Tommy could lay down and hide in it.
Thunder roared overhead. Frankie jumped, hugging her arms to her chest. Jagged bolts of lightning shot across the ashen sky, illuminating the cemetery. Frankie stared at it, wondering if it was just her imagination, or if the sky was darker over the cemetery. It looked like it was, but maybe that was just because there were more trees out that way.
When she was a kid, Frankie had loved going to the cemetery. It was her sanctuary, the one place where nobody bothered her. Frankie the Freak all right, she used to think. It was perfect, until freshmen year, when someone had started to bother her. He was an adult, but young, only in his twenties. His clothes were old—Frankie thought from the early twentieth century, but she wasn’t sure, because the only topic she’d ever paid close attention to in history class was the Salem witch trials. She didn’t recognize him from town, which was strange, because she knew almost everyone from town. He never spoke; he just walked around in between the trees, watching her. His clothes were the color of the tree trunks, and his eyes were even darker. They were hostile. It was clear that he didn’t want her there, but Frankie didn’t want him there. Who was he to steal her sanctuary? At first she’d continued to go there, ignoring him. Then, she’d read a book about real life hauntings. As much as Frankie loved horror stories, she didn’t actually believe in that stuff, but the book was so well-written that it had kept her awake for three straight nights, and she couldn’t get the image of that man out of her head. Not that she thought he was a ghost. That was silly. But he was creepy, and that had been enough to stop her from going to the cemetery.
She stared out at the cemetery now. Was someone out there? She could’ve sworn she saw something moving between the trees. It’s just the branches, Frankie.They were swaying wildly in the wind, as though protesting the storm. Or maybe they were celebrating it.
“Tommy! If you’re out there, this isn’t funny!”
Only the wind answered.
Frankie spun around in desperation, hoping Tommy would pop out from behind a tree. “Damn it, kid. Where did you go?” Frankie took one last look at the shadowy cemetery before focusing her gaze in front of her and stepping into the field.