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so this is love

Chapter Three

I stared in wonder at the girl who had haunted my dreams for the past two and a half years. She was taller – not as tall as I had gotten, but pretty close – than she had been and her hair was longer, too. She was dressed in warm, water-proof clothes but I could see liquid dripping from her lower half, and her two-person kyak beached a few feet away; it looked like she’d waded out to the rock.

“Hey, Alexis,” she said softly. She tensed when somebody yelled her name in German. Bianca looked at me with sad eyes and raced to her kyak through the water. “I’m sorry, Alexis. I can’t be seen here. I need to go.”

I wanted to grab her and drag her back out to the rock and just keep her with me forever, but I didn’t. I turned around and ran. I ran like I always did. And when Todd and Robert asked me, as we drove back to Thompson, why I was so upset, I did what I always did.

I lied.


“Oh, the Golden Sister treads through black waters.”

“I need a favor.”

“Interesting. What kind of favor?”

“The kind that gets you a thousand bucks, cash.”

“I’m in. What do you need, sis?”

“I need you to get me a fake ID. American.”

“Made from scratch?”

“I have another thousand if it is. And I know how to tell.”

“Do you have a picture for me to use?”

“Yes. And the information on this page.”

“Lexa Riddle . . . Interesting name, kid. Just screams Harry Potter.”

“Can you do it?”

“When do you need it?”

“I have another grand for you if you can get it to me before May. And it has to be a class four, so I’m legal to drive Scarlet.”


“My motorcycle.”

“Ah. Well, it will take me awhile, but for three grand, I’ll do it. I want half up front.”


“All in cash. Impressive. Where’d you get it.”

“Sudden windfall from an old friend.”

“May I ask why you need it?”

“I’m getting out of here. I already have the fake school records and an approved transfer to an elite academy in New York. I’m finished with this. And Chris and Terry are probably going to kick me out anyways after I tell them . . . ”

“Oh, finally coming out of the closet? Good luck.”

“Get it done.”

“My pleasure.”

Chris and Terry (I refused to call them Mom and Dad anymore) kicked me out when I came out of the closet to them, but I was ready. I had my most prized things packed. I locked up Kelly’s . . . my house after getting rid of all of the perishables in the fridge. I strapped my trumpet to the back, tightened my guitar’s shoulder strap so that it hung comfortably on my back and wouldn’t move too much during travel. Then I pulled on my helmet and straddled Scarlet, the crimson motorcycle that Kelly had given me, and pulled away.

I got as far as Paint Lake before I realized that I had nowhere to go, no plans other than the fact that Lexa Riddle was starting school at a military academy in New York come September. I felt my heart leap into my chest as I got a wild and crazy idea, one that was sure to get me arrested, but I didn’t care. It was something.

I spent two months in the cabin Bianca had first taken me to and then disappeared, never to be seen in Northern Manitoba again for another twenty years.

I sat in the General’s office on September First. I was dressed in a crisp new Private’s uniform. The General was a cold, stern, older woman with a scar running from temple to chin on the left side of her face. She was blind in one eye and a very decorated officer. She was looking through my file.

“Well, welcome to Borough Hills Military Academy,” she said. “You’ve made arrangements with your . . . Great aunt Dotty to stay in an apartment in Queens. And you have transportation to and from school?”

“Yes ma’am,” I replied softly.

“Well, Lexa Riddle, welcome,” she said again. “I’ll have Marco or Perry come and show you around.”

“Thank you,” I murmured. I stood and lifted my messenger bag over my shoulder. A boy with blonde hair and hazel eyes appeared at the door. I followed him without a word.

“My name is Perry Matthews,” he said as we walked away from the office in the old mansion-style private military academy.

“I’ve memorized the floorplans,” I said a bit curtly. “You should get to class before you get in trouble.”

“You’re a little snapping turtle, aren’t you?” he said coldly. “Let me tell you something, chicky-poo. This place is hell on earth if you don’t have a strong support system. I’m trying to be nice. The girls will rip a little thing like you to shreds.”

“You have no idea what I can do,” I growled. I rounded on him and stopped him dead in his tracks. I poked him in the chest. “I came here to get an education. I don’t care about friends, I don’t care about enemies, I don’t even fucking care about socialization. I come to school, I get my work done, I go home. That is fucking it. And the next time you try to be all buddy-buddy with me, Perry Matthews, do me a favor and fuck off.”

He was silent for a moment. “So who gave you the black eye?” he asked bluntly. Silently, I cursed. I thought I’d concealed it well enough. Coming out of Paint Lake a few weeks ago, my brother had pulled me over on his own hog and slammed his fist into my face for leaving without saying goodbye. And then he gave me such a huge hug that he actually broke one of my ribs.

“None of your business,” I replied.

“Who did it?” he pressed.

“I left without saying goodbye and my brother decked me for it. Happy?” I glared at him with malice. “Now back off.”

But he didn’t. He stayed beside me as I walked to my first class, Music Theory. He watched as I sat down at the back of the class of one. I’d dropped off my guitar earlier, before going to see the General, so I tuned and put on my headphones.

I pressed Play on my mp3 and listened to the enharmonic chords I’d recorded at the Cabin. I molded my fingers to the strings and started plucking away. As I closed my eyes, I became oblivious to everyone else but my music and the auburn-haired water girl that pervaded every waking moment, every dream I dared to dream.

My eyes glazed over. I was thinking about how angry and hurt that Bianca running away from me had made me, and how much it fucking hurt for me to think of her every day, every minute, every second, and not be able to see her or talk to her. I stopped playing. I pulled my headphones off and looked up at Perry. He was mesmerized, as was the music teacher.

“So who were you playing for?” Perry asked.

“That music! It was . . . so passionate, so alive! So mournful and sad at the same time,” the music teacher sighed. “Oh, young Miss Riddle, you are a delight to listen to. But there is a lot of work that must be done, if you wish to be a true musician.”

“I don’t play to be a musician,” I replied in a whisper. I closed my eyes and set my mouth in a hard line. “I don’t even know why I play anymore, or why the fuck I enrolled myself in every music class that my schedule would allow.”

Music and words. They were my escape, my secret labyrinth that I could run forever in. Before I’d run away from Thompson, I’d been a weekly contributor to The Thompson Citizen, writing a children’s poem every week for two years. Writing and songs. The two went hand-in-hand for me, like music and Bianca automatically melded in my mind. And it hurt.

“So who were you playing for?” Perry continued.

“Why are you still fucking dogging me?” I demanded. “I thought I made it clear that I didn’t want any friends, that I didn’t need any help!”

“You still have Manitoba license plates,” he pointed out. “You may want to change that.”

“Funny, I didn’t drive to school,” I snapped in reply. “I got a ride with a friend.”

“I thought you said you didn’t need or want friends?”

“This was a one-time thing.”

“You are in New York. We rarely get anybody with Manitoba plates here.”

The teacher politely snuck out while we were arguing.

“I don’t care. I didn’t drive. And Rebecca just took me as far as the gates.”

“You were driving a motorcycle. You were the only person on it. I read that a girl named Alexis Monroe was just reported missing by her friends Robert and Todd. And you match her description.”

“Alexis had brown hair. I have blonde. Alexis had hazel eyes. I have green. Alexis didn’t have any piercings or tattoos or any other permanent definite markings. I have tattoos and piercings.”

“All of which could have been done within the three months she’s been missing. Reports say she was last seen riding a crimson motorcycle out of Cross Lake.”

“Not Cross Lake, you dolt. Paint Lake.”

Shit. Double shit. Less than a day in my new life and I’d already slipped up. Perry raised his chin slightly. “So why did you run?” he asked. I was really starting to get irritated with the way he asked his questions.

“You’ll notice that nobody mentions my parents being concerned about my disappearance,” I snarled. Perry winced.

“What did they do?” he asked softly. He shut the door and locked it behind him as he came and sat down across from me. I placed my guitar in its case.

“I came out of the closet and they kicked me out,” I said simply. “So I left. My brother made me a fake ID and I created fake school records for myself up to grade ten. I enrolled here and that is about it.”

I raised my chin and scowled at him. “You tell a single person and I’ll just run away again,” I snarled. “I am not going back to that hell hole!”

Perry shook his head. “I’m not telling anybody,” he said softly. “But again, I will offer my help and my friendship to you. You’re only thirteen, Alexis. You may be smart but you need to be connected to survive in this school.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and balanced on my stool. “What do you want in return?” I asked suspiciously.

“Nothing,” he replied.

“Nothing in this world is free. There’s always a price. Why are you helping me if you don’t want or expect anything in return?” The price I paid for my confidence in myself was Bianca. The price I’d paid for my instruments and love of order was Kelly. Everything had a price and I’d already gone bankrupt.

“I ran away when I was your age,” Perry replied. “And a nice elderly woman took me in. And she’s still taking care of me. I was lucky to find her. You haven’t had so much luck. You’re living in an apartment in Queens and you’re all alone here. New York is a scary enough place when you’re an adult. It must be terrifying for a child.”

New York was a scary place. There were so many people . . . I looked up at Perry without my cold demeanor. I was really just a scared little kid trying to figure out why her life had become so fucked up.

“Yeah, it kind of is,” I whispered. “I’m sorry I’m such a bitch. Keeping people at arms length seemed logical: the farther away I kept people, the less people could find out about me. I don’t want to go back to Manitoba. There is nothing for me there.”

“Why don’t you and I skip out today and go grab something to eat?” he suggested. I smiled at him and he smiled back at me and in that moment, I knew I’d made myself a friend.

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