Chapter image by the amazing norbert1175 ~ thank you!
Chapter 3 - What Are Friends For?
Anna and Nyah sat and nibbled on the snacks that Mrs. Clearly had brought up to the attic room … they chit-chatted about school and boys and friends. Nyah sat and soaked it all in, loving these moments with her big sister.
Anna had always been there … she cheered her up when things didn’t go well, bandaged her up the many times she got hurt, taught her about ‘girly’ stuff like hair and makeup, but more importantly, she accepted Nyah exactly the way she was.
The girls had sat and talked all the way through dinnertime. Mother hadn’t sent for Anna, although the girls were sure Mother knew where she was.
Nyah hadn’t pressed Anna for any details about what Mother had said. She probably doesn’t even know anything, so why bother?
Nyah thought. She wasn’t sure she had even heard Mother correctly. How could someone be ‘dropped off’
and why? It was very confusing …
The conversation eventually led to Anna and Alexander’s upcoming 13th birthday party next weekend. Mother always threw a huge party. This year, the theme was horses, so there was going to be pony rides, special trick riders coming in, cowboy hats for all the guests - all 100 of them - and the party planner guaranteed a lot of surprises for not only the birthday boy and girl, but for the guests as well. Alexander had put his order in for a rodeo, but was told that may not happen.
Nyah had already been warned by not only Mother, but the party planner as well, to stay out of the way during the event. If she were to cause any problems, or draw attention to herself, she’d be removed and spend the rest of the time in the attic.
The attic … always the attic … little did they realize that it was in the attic that Nyah felt most comfortable. She had always felt uncomfortable in the posh, pristine household and never understood why ... but in the attic, she was home.
“Have you decided what you want to do for your birthday?” Anna asked, interrupting Nyah’s thoughts.
“No, I haven’t really thought about it.” That wasn’t exactly true, but it really didn’t matter … Nyah received whatever Mother deemed her worthy of that day, which was usually not much.
Nyah’s birthday fell exactly one week after Anna and Alexander’s. She was never offered a large-scale party and gifts like the twins, but she didn’t mind; at least that’s what she told herself. A friend of Nyah's choice would be invited for dinner, followed by a small cake and gifts. Mother said that she was much too tired to throw parties back-to-back, plus it was bad manners to ask people to come twice.
Nyah’s thoughts turned to Emma and her party … she was supposed to be there by now. Emma probably thought Nyah wasn’t coming. She hated letting one of her best friends down … so, she knew exactly what she needed to do. She got up and started looking through her room for the travel sack that Anna had given her for Christmas two years ago. Nyah had never gone anywhere, so had never had a chance to use it, and ended up stashing it on one of the rafters above her bed. After some jumping to reach it, she laid the nearly-new bag on the floor. Then she stood with her hand on her hip, thinking hard.
“What are you doing?” Anna asked.
“I need to pack,” Nyah offered simply, with a shrug of her shoulders. She grabbed a change of clothes, her pyjamas, and her favorite stuffed animal; a white snowy owl she had had since she was a baby.
“Pack? She didn’t kick you out - she just grounded you!” Anna blurted, getting to her feet. “You can’t leave.”
Nyah laughed at her sister. “I’m not leaving
, leaving - I’m going to a party,” she said mischievously, as she went to the bathroom to grab her toiletries.
“Party - you mean your friend’s party - the party that’s tonight? Are you crazy?” Anna exclaimed, grabbing Nyah by the shoulders.
Nyah shook off her sister and continued to pack.
“She’ll know. You know she’ll find out, and then you’ll be in even bigger trouble. Nyah, please … don’t do this.” Anna was nearly begging as she followed Nyah, but Nyah was determined.
She calmly said, “Anna, I made a promise to my friend, and I need to be there. Are you going to sit there or are you going to help me pack?”
Anna stared at her little sister, trying to grasp what Nyah had just said. “I’ve never been to a party,” Nyah admitted, “let alone an overnight party. Will you help me? I want to make a good impression and I need to make sure I have what I need.” Nyah looked at her sister with a small pout, and knew by the smile she received back that Anna was on her side.
With a sigh of defeat, Anna said, “Well, it looks like you’ve got the basics, which is fine. All you need now is her gift.”
Nyah gasped … a gift … “Great! I can’t go to a party without taking a gift! What was I thinking?” she muttered.
“Don’t worry,” Anna answered with a huge smile, “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Whatever you do, don’t leave yet!” She signaled for Nyah to stay put.
Nyah happily sat on her bed and looked around. This little attic room had been her home for nearly four years now. Nyah remembered her old room, back on the second floor, near Anna and Alexander’s rooms. It was a large, ornate room, devoid of any colorful items, as Mother said these things would distract from the overall feel of the room. So all of Nyah’s drawings, pictures, and the occasional toy were hidden … in the attic. Every afternoon, as soon as she got home and did her schoolwork, plus any chores she had, Nyah would sneak to the attic and play. She stayed in the dusty attic more than anywhere else. Mother knew where to find her, if Nyah was even missed, which rarely happened. Mostly, it was when Anna or Father asked about her.
Then, there were the dreams … nightmares really. Before Nyah’s many medications, the nightmares happened often, sometimes every night. Nyah would wake up screaming. They had been happening as long as Nyah could remember … mostly it was just jumbled words or thoughts … but there were times where she could almost see them … the people in the car. There was a woman who was singing and a man who was driving and then … something bad happened, but Nyah couldn’t remember what it was … but the woman started screaming.
When she was little, Nyah would wake up calling for her ‘Mum’
. Mother, or more often, Anna, would come in. Anna would climb into bed with her, calling ‘shhh’
or ‘it will be okay’
. Mother would say ‘enough with the screaming, you’ll wake your father’
. But Nyah knew she wasn’t calling for Mother … she was calling for her Mum. Is that what Mother was talking about … being ‘dropped off’
… did her Mum drop her off?
Finally, the nightmares got to be too much for Nyah’s mother to deal with and she moved the little girl to the third floor; the servant’s quarters. Mother started making doctors appointments for Nyah about the same time, after a particularly unpleasant meeting with Nyah’s teacher about some of the things Nyah was talking about to her friends and the things she was drawing in class. No one believed that Nyah saw these things in her dreams. They said it was her ‘negative imagination’
. Mother was determined to not allow any
child in her house to have such thoughts or dreams, so the various doctors gave the then seven-year-old medication to help her sleep without nightmares. What Nyah didn’t tell them was that, while she didn’t wake up screaming like the woman in her dream anymore, she still had the dreams … she just couldn’t scream …
That was also about the time when Mrs. Cleary joined the staff at Stewart Manor as the head housekeeper. The first night at the Manor, Mother walked her through the house detailing the duties of getting the children ready for bed. When they arrived at the third floor, Mother had told Mrs. Cleary that Pricilla (Nyah) didn’t sleep well and had frequent nightmares which is why she slept up here; away from the main quarters so as not to disturb Mr. Stewart. When Mrs. Cleary asked how to comfort the little girl, Mrs. Stewart told her to simply ignore the noise, and Pricilla would eventually go back to sleep.
Later that night, long after the rest of the house was sleeping, Mrs. Cleary heard crying. She was certain it was coming from Nyah’s room, and tried to obey Mrs. Stewart’s orders and let the girl be, but the crying turned to sobbing and she could hear the little one calling for her Mum. She prayed that Mrs. Stewart would hear her and come to comfort Nyah … but no help came. After what seemed like hours to Mrs. Cleary, she heard the girl calling and calling and then, the strangest thing started to happen… the lights started flickering and there was a banging noise... and the crying continued. Mrs. Cleary couldn’t stand it any longer. Something was wrong with that little girl and if no one else was going to help her, then she would.
Nothing could have prepared Mrs. Cleary for what she saw when she opened the door to Nyah’s room. The little girl was actually hovering above her bed. Every time she cried for her Mum, the lights would flicker on-and-off, and when she cried, it caused the furniture to shake. Mrs. Cleary let out a scream and slammed the door as the sound of quick footsteps up the stairs traveled to her ears.
The noise in the next room had finally stopped and the lights were peaceful. Mr. Stewart was the first to step to the door of Mrs. Cleary’s room, followed closely by Mrs. Stewart. Anna and Alexander were peeking through the stair rails, not wanting to miss the excitement.
“What on earth is wrong with that child?” Mrs. Cleary demanded. “She’s thrashing about, crying, calling for her Mum and none of you bother to come? And she was floating! Floating I tell you … above the bed!”
Mr. Stewart was successful in calming the housekeeper and assuring her that she must have been imagining things as no one in this house could float, except in the swimming pool.
Mrs. Stewart was livid. She kept thinking, “What would the neighbors say if the housekeeper starts talking about the funny things that go on here? Our reputations would be ruined!”
Catherine was determined that there would be no more ‘odd moments’ anywhere near the servants.
The very next day, while Mrs. Cleary took the twins to their fitting for their birthday outfits, Mother instructed Mr. Whittaker, the old groundskeeper to move the excess boxes from one side of the attic to the other, which cleared out most of the west end of the dusty room. From there, a little bed was brought in.
Nyah watched as her clothing was taken upstairs to the attic and put in an old dresser. Mother walked Nyah into the room and told her that the servants could no longer be subjected to her nonsense and outbursts.
Here, in the attic, Mother hoped she would hopefully be far enough away not to disturb anyone, and that her ‘mood swings’
would be dealt with by the medicine. Technically, the only thing directly under her was a rarely used bathroom and none of the bedrooms on either side of it were occupied.
As soon as Mother left her alone in the attic, Nyah started to cry. She looked around the room and realized that all of her secret and wonderful things were gone. Mr. Whittaker took everything out, leaving just the bed and dresser.
After dinner was finished that evening, Nyah had her bath and made her way to the little room. She was shocked when she opened the door. All of her drawings were pinned to the walls and the low ceiling, creating a beautiful collage of bright colors. The little window had been wiped down to let some light come through. Fluffy pillows and a thick, down comforter adorned the little bed, and on a little rocker in the corner, sat her fluffy owl. There was a small, circular mirror placed on the dresser. Nyah laid on her bed feeling, for the first time, at home. She slept without a nightmare that night and many more after. Nyah never knew who the angel was that did all of that work, but she was very, very grateful.
Nyah paced the floor, anxious to be on her way to the party. The sun was starting to set and although she had a general idea of where Emma lived, she had never actually been there. Irritation turned to worry when Anna was no where to be seen. Nyah kept opening her door, listening for tell-tale footsteps to announce Anna’s arrival.
Finally, Anna burst through the attic door, nearly frightening Nyah to death! The girls giggled as Anna handed a beautifully wrapped gift to Nyah.
“Here,” panted Anna, obviously out of breath, “Mrs. Cleary insisted on wrapping it.”
Nyah’s eyes widened in horror … “Mrs. Cleary?” exclaimed Nyah, “she knows too?”
“Well, yes and no … but more yes,” Anna muttered, shrugging her shoulders.
She turned and walked to the door, “Well, come on then. Mother is in the study arguing with Father (what a shock)
so you have just enough time to get out the front door without being seen.”
Nyah was frozen on the spot. “Why are you doing all of this?” she asked Anna as she placed the gift in her suitcase.
Anna smiled and simply said, “What are friends for?”
Anna carried the suitcase down the steps with Nyah following close behind. They had to keep an eye out for not only Mother and Father, but also for nasty little tattletale Alexander.
Once the girls reached the bottom of the steps, Anna motioned for Nyah to be very quiet as she put her finger to her lips. Anna peaked down the hall towards the kitchen. With a nod and a wink, Mrs. Cleary gave the ‘all clear’
Anna turned to her sister and gave her a hug. “My bicycle is just outside. That’s what took me so long. I haven’t ridden it in ages and had to dig it out. Just be careful, be back before breakfast, and … well … have a fantastic time,” she whispered to her little sister.
Nyah tiptoed to the door. She felt more alive than she ever had before. With a quick look at Anna and Mrs. Cleary, Nyah left Stewart Manor.
She hopped on Anna’s bike and secured the travel bag around her shoulders. Peddling off towards the party, she was thankful not to get caught. She got to the end of the drive and turned the bike to the right, traveling down the hill towards town.
Nothing would ruin this night … nothing, but the peering of a small boy out his bedroom window. Alexander smiled cruelly as he watched his sister sneak off in the sunset thinking of the best way to make this work to his advantage…
The girls erupted with screams of delight when they opened the front door. “Nyah! You came!” Emma cried as she hugged her friend. “Hurry in … we’re just getting started with the fun stuff.”
“I can’t believe your parents actually let you come,” Abbey said, grabbing Nyah’s arm. “And they let you ride your bike all the way here! Blimey, my parents wouldn’t even let me walk to the door by myself.”
“I still can’t believe you’re here!" Emma exclaimed. “This is the best birthday ever!”
“Of course I’m here, I told you I would be! Besides, what are friends for?” Nyah smiled.
Author's Notes: I'd love to hear your thoughts on this chapter. Please consider leaving a review in the box. :-) Thank you!