Chapter 3. Write a Novel Challenge.
She turned in recognition of the familiar voice to see a nine-year-old Ryder running into the barn, one hand behind his back. “Neina!” he repeated as he slowed to a stop, “close your eyes, I have something for you!” Anticipation filled her mind as she tightly shut her eager eyes.
“Is it my present?” She extended her hands in anticipation. A velvety feeling she was very familiar with touched her palm and she squealed, overjoyed with the present she had received. With eyes still closed, she jumped to hug her spirited brother.
“I knew you would like it,” he smiled. She opened her eyes after taking in the sweet scent of the lily.
“I love it!” she whispered as her mother entered, enveloped in the most elegant wrap that depicted a beautiful array of water lilies that floated above a pool of reflective water.
“What are you two up to?” she smiled.
“Look! Look what Ryder gave me!” Proudly she showed her mother her new fragrant lily.
“Wow!” her mother exchanged a knowing look with Ryder, “It is beautiful.”
“This is going to be the best 6th birthday ever! It has to be!”
Just then, as she looked at her mother fold the wrap around her delicate shoulders, a sense of foreboding swept over her. She felt the worry but refused to acknowledge it. She had to have the best birthday; she couldn’t be anxious. She exhaled deeply as the lights went out. “Happy Birthday to you, Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Neina, Happy birthday to you!” As they sang, she heard her mother’s sweet sound mixed with the bellowing of her brothers and the scratchy voice that she wanted to ignore slithering underneath all these tones. She turned to see Ryder, Quinn and her mother place a delicious looking cake on the wooden table. “Happy Birthday Neina!” Quinn said from across the huge table. She closed her eyes, ‘I gotta say thanks to him later’ she thought, as she took in a deep guttural breath.
The dancing fire disappeared in one sweep: remaining nothing but melted wax. “Woohoo!” Ryder and Quinn exclaimed in unison.
Neina giggled, “I’m six!” she declared, a cheeky grin spreading across her face.
“You sure are,” her mother responded with a smile, “maybe now you’ll start eating more vegetables”.
“Never!” Neina answered, giddy from the excitement of the evening.
“Mom, can I turn the radio on?” Ryder asked, as he handed their mother the steel knife.
“Sure honey, it’s by the door.”
Neina’s thoughts ran around the barn, soaking up the moment. ‘I don’t want anything to change, I want to stay here forever’. She looked up at the roof where the red paint was peeling and faded, but still she loved it. It was her hide-away, a place she never wanted to leave. The rustic wooden structure with its painted beams and gigantic red doors had history. As soon as one entered the scent of hay, wood and the barn was a haven, a place no one could disturb her. It was hers.
Quinn came running up to her, his curly hair covering his eyes “Neina, here’s your cake!”,
“Thanks”, Neina replied as she took the large slice of cake from Quinn’s hands. Her mom’s chocolate cake. No cake could compare. The type of cake that melts into your six-year-old mouth and disappears faster than you remember eating it. With chocolate covering her hands and mouth, Neina walked towards her favorite part of the barn, signaling Quinn to follow.
“So, how do you like being six years old?” Quinn asked once they had sat down in the hay at the back of the barn.
“It feels old,” Neina replied with another giggle as the cake sloshed around her mouth, “but I like it!” Quinn smiled, his shy smile small but bright. They quickly finished their cake as the rest of the party joined. Ryder looked up. “Finished already!” he cried in astonishment as they nodded enthusiastically. “No chance of another slice mommy?” she asked as she looked up eagerly at her delicate mother.
“Not today sweetie,” came the reply. “I am going to take these plates back to the house. Ryder, take care of the kids, will you?” she added.
A grunt identified as, “No problem mom” was the muffled retort from Ryder heartily digging into his own slice of cake.
“Quinn?” Neina asked “wanna go outside? I bet I can find more constellations than you.”
“Yeah right, come on!” he replied.
“We’re going to the field, okay?” Neina signaled to Ryder. He grunted an approval. Running out of the red barn doors, the radio becoming softer and faded the further they went. As they ran, the wind whistled past, blocking the sounds of the world from their young ears. They ran until they reached the middle of the field then lay side by side on the grass and embraced the sound of silence that surrounded them. The smell of wheat filled the air as the smooth breeze tiptoed by. Stars scattered across the moonlit sky, sparkling and lighting up the night, as if painting a living picture. The radio in the distance was no longer a soft hum and had been replaced by the rhythm of the trees silent sway. This is the life Neina wanted. This is the life Neina lived. A little girl in a big world with just the stars to light her way.
“Look over there! I found Orion!” Quinn teased.
“Aww come on! That’s unfair, I just found the Big Dipper,” Neina whined but nonetheless a smile spread across her chocolate smeared face. “I don’t want to life to change Quinn, I like living here with you, Ryder and mommy…”
Just then, the surreal sense of foreboding returned. Neina felt the chill. Something dreadful was about to happen. She didn’t want it to. She wanted it to stay the same. A cold sweat saturated her tiny spine. She stared in fear at the stars begging them for comfort. But none came. The constellations, cold and unfeeling, stared right back. Suddenly she felt incredibly alone. And that was when she heard it. In the very moment that she stopped to stare down the stars, an anguished piercing scream rang through the heart of the land and changed her life forever.
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