Winter's Dream (The Hemlock Bay Series Book 2)

By: Amber Jaeger

Chapter One

I ran out of the dusty attic and leapt down the narrow stairwell, crashing into the door at the bottom. Clint thundered behind me and I frantically twisted the door handle. His reeking breath wheezed from his chest and through his slack, slobbery mouth. It filled the narrow hallway and gagged me. He was big and slow but very, very angry and the knob under my hand refused to turn. With a frantic jerk it finally spun in my hand and I crashed through the door and slammed it shut behind me.

My footsteps echoed down the dark hallway as I raced to the light ahead. I could hear Clint struggle with the knob and pound on the door before bursting through it. My heart thrummed as I forced my legs to run faster.

“Ya effing bitch!” Clint was gasping. I said another little prayer of thanks for his severe asthma and turned the corner. The classroom doors were shut and surprised faces peeked through the wire crossed windows as I flew past. Finally I slid to a stop in front of the last door on the left and jerked it open.

“Bixby,” Mr. Jenkins snapped. “Get in here! Why the hell do you have to be late every day?” He pointed at the clock, as if I didn’t know class had started ten minutes ago. “Well, you’re just going to have to stay late again and help me clean up.”

With a tiny sigh of relief and what was hopefully not a grateful look on my face, I took my seat.

“Clint again?” Minnie whispered, hiding her mouth behind a hand with badly chewed nails.

I gave a tiny nod as I pretended to focus on the math book in front of me that could have only passed for remedial in a real school.

“You have to stop antagonizing him,” she whispered.

I gritted my teeth and ignored her advice. Not antagonizing Clint meant either hiding and praying he never noticed me or just letting him do whatever he wanted. I tried my best at the first and wasn’t going to let the second happen.

After class Mr. Jenkins made me stack the chairs and clean the chalkboards, sweep the floors and empty the trash while he checked his e-mail. When I was finally done he looked down at his watch, exasperated. “Why does that always take you so long?”

I shrugged and happily followed him down to the cafeteria for dinner. Without a wave or any parting words he kept going to the front of the building, to the front door and out to the real world. Jealousy flared up and was tamped down by something else—sadness. It had been a month since I had walked in those front doors—or even been outside—and I had a feeling it was going to be a very long time until I too got leave through them again, climb in a car and drive away to freedom.

His footsteps echoed back towards me down the hollow, cave-like hall and I realized I was standing there lost in homesickness—a perfect target.

I hurried into the cafeteria and got in line. The servers loaded my plate with what actually wasn’t too terrible of food. That was one of only two redeeming qualities of the grey cinderblock room. It had decent food and was the only place Clint or Eva and her brood wouldn’t mess with anyone else. There were too many staff members there.

Minnie waved me over to our table and I settled in with my plate of meatloaf and potatoes. “You think Jenkins will ever catch on that it takes you so long to clean chalkboards just so he has to walk down here with you?”

“No, he’s an idiot. And they all are if they can’t see what a monster Clint is.” Not for the first time I wished I had actually managed to land myself in a real juvenile detention center where the boys and girls were separated and there were more guards to actually keep an eye on things. Instead I had landed in a “youth rehabilitation program,” where the predators like Clint had free reign over his victims because the people supposed to be watching us were young, clueless teachers. Minnie had been tossed around the system for years and was able to explain why places like this hellhole were even allowed to be open: money. Bunking all the bad kids up together, making them do their own cleaning and hiring people just fresh out of college was cheaper than actual juvie.

A crash of dishes snapped my attention back to the cafeteria and Minnie was nodding, her short hair barely bobbing over her ears. “They all baby him because of his asthma, they don’t think he could possibly be running around after all of us trying to … ugh,” she shuddered.

“You would think he would eventually figure out I run him through the attics every time he chases me just so I can set his asthma off with all that dust.”

“He’s a caveman,” she said dismissively.

We finished our meal in silence, the din of silverware and cheap chairs being scraped across the floor filling the room. There were no windows, no decorations and no smiles on anyone’s face. It was exactly like a prison cafeteria except for the fact the furniture wasn’t bolted to the floor and we were all children.

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