CHAPTER TWO

“HI, MOM!” I got up from the dining table, where I was doing my homework, and kissed her cheek. She was home from her job as the manager of the local supermarket.

       “Hi, sweetheart. How was your day?”

       “It was... interesting.”

       “What happened?” Her blue eyes looked intrigued.

       “There’s a new family in town. I met one of them today.”

       “Do you mean the Graysons?”

       “How did you know?”

       “Oh, several customers told me. Especially the older ones—they love to talk!”

       “Well, did the customers tell you about the gorgeous guy I met at school?”

       Mom’s eyes sparkled as she absorbed this. “No. They were more interested in Mrs. Grayson being a vet who can care for their pets.” She laughed and moved into the kitchen to prepare dinner. “What is this guy’s name, if I may ask?”

       I giggled and pretended I might not tell her. “It’s Alex,” I said after a moment.

       “Alex Grayson?” She popped her head back around the kitchen door. “I went to school with a boy named Alex Grayson. Maybe they’re related?”

       “Possibly.” I shrugged. “Anyway, we share a few classes.”

       “I hope you girls are being friendly. It’s not always easy moving to a new school.”

       “Mom! We are! I shared my textbooks with Alex today, and he had lunch with us.”

       “Glad to hear it.”

       Mom started dinner while I tried finishing my homework. But my mind kept drifting to something Mom said. My curiosity won, and I headed to the living room to find Mom’s yearbooks.

       “Hey, Mom? When did you go to school with Alex?”

       “Oh. I know he was there when I graduated.”

       “Thanks!”

       I took her final two yearbooks to the table and turned to the photographic student listings. I ran my finger down the list and saw his picture before I read his name.

       “Oh!” I stared at the picture. Despite the photo being thirty years old, it was obvious. The photo is of Alex. My friend Alex. I searched for any subtle differences, but there were none. The same dark hair, facial features, and gorgeous smile shone from the image. My stomach tied itself in knots. This makes no sense!

       I opened the other yearbook wanting to prove myself wrong. Turning straight to the photos, I skimmed the page until I found him again. Mom touched my shoulder, and I jumped.

       “What are you looking at, sweetie?”

       “Just pictures of your Alex.”

       Mom leaned over my shoulder to look at the yearbooks. “Oh, these bring back memories. There’s Alex.” She pointed at his picture. “Such a handsome boy. He had the most amazing green eyes. Many girls wanted to date him.”

       “So, what happened to him?”

       “I’m not sure. We lost touch after high school.”

       “He must be related to my Alex. They look identical.”

       “It’s surprising what good genes can do. Your grandmother thinks you look just like me at seventeen.”

       Of course! That makes sense. I ran my finger over the elder Alex’s picture. “Your Alex had green eyes? Mine does, too.”

       “Well, if your Alex looks anything like mine, I can’t blame you for having a crush.”

       “Oh, Mom! Stop it!”

       She laughed and returned to the kitchen, while I took my homework and the yearbooks upstairs.

       After dinner, I did the dishes and then hurried to my room. I took photos of the yearbook pictures and sent them to my printer. Gina sent an instant message to ask me about a camping trip she and Tony were organizing for the following weekend. She wondered whether to invite Alex. We discussed it for a while until Gina let me go.

       I collected the printed photos and climbed into bed. I pondered the images resembling my new friend.

       Who are you, Alex Grayson?

 

***

 

At lunch the next day, a stunning girl followed Alex to our table. She looked our age and my height. Her hair fell in perfect, shoulder-length, jet-black ringlets, which contrasted with her pale skin. Her eyes were a similar color to Alex’s, and they shone when she smiled and said, “You must be Cassie!”

       My heart dropped as I wondered who she was to Alex. They stood close together and shared meaningful glances every so often. Is she Alex’s girlfriend? She’s gorgeous and stylish. Compared with her I might as well be invisible. I was unsure whether I could sit with someone that Alex liked. Then he surprised me.

       “Cassie? This is Amaia, my sister.” Alex smiled at her, then turned his grin on me. I took a moment to process his words. His sister? Why hadn’t he mentioned his sister to me?

       “It’s lovely to meet you,” I said.

       “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too.”

       Amaia joined us at the table and my mood improved. My friends made her welcome, too. But Amaia did not seem eager to tell us much about herself.

       We finished organizing the camping trip over that week. Alex and Amaia agreed to come; so did Tony’s friends, Matt and Jeremy.

       The Graysons continued piquing my interest. I asked Amaia about Alex, but all she said was, “If he wants to tell you anything, he will,” and changed the topic. After accepting that response without question, I only later realized I had no answers. I hoped they might tell me more over the weekend.

       The night before our trip, I searched the internet for information related to Mount St. Helens. Our township, Castle Rock, was situated near it, and our chosen campsite was in its area. I wanted to tell the Graysons more about it since they were new to town. But my curiosity was biting, so I typed Alex’s name into the search bar instead.

       Most hits led to social media pages, but none were his. I clicked several links before finding a news article. It stopped me in my tracks.

       The passage reported an apartment fire in New York City. What made me pause was the picture of a young man comforting two children while firefighters battled the blaze. He knelt beside them, tucking a blanket around one child, as he spoke with them. They were oblivious to the photographer. The soot covering him did not disguise his profile—the same profile I often admired during lunch and classes. The smile he gave the child was so familiar. I was positive my face mirrored hers whenever Alex grinned at me. I read the caption:

 

Alexander Grayson with two children he rescued from the burning Mayfield Apartments.

       I scrolled up to the article's date: 20 October 1975.

       I gasped. “That's not possible!” However, I printed the story and then followed the next link which led to another news piece.

       Brave Teen Saves Five from Bridge Horror, screamed the headline.

       This article explained how an eighteen-year-old dived multiple times into a freezing Minnesota river, to rescue a family whose car plunged off a bridge. There were no photos, but one survivor said she would “never forget his vivid green eyes or his beautiful smile.” The paper gave his name, but he refused to comment. The date of that article: 4 June 1961.

       “Curiouser and curiouser!” I now understood how Alice felt when dropping through the rabbit hole. Each piece of this puzzle was normal, but the full picture made Wonderland look sane.

       I then spotted two reports which referred to a Private A. Grayson. In the first, it noted he had disappeared during World War Two. Two years later the Army discovered him in a prison camp. He was less damaged by the camp's conditions than the other prisoners. The second report described Private A. Grayson rescuing three soldiers while under fire during World War One. Both reports described him as a six-foot-tall, brown-haired, green-eyed soldier, who had enlisted when he was eighteen.

       Either Alex has heroic ancestors or there's something strange happening here.

       I soon found other articles. Most had no photos, but every witness description was similar. In the pieces with photos, Alex looked the same despite the large timeframe between the oldest and newest story. I printed everything and planned to question Alex the next day.

       The following morning, Alex did not show up. My heart dropped. Is he still going camping with us? By lunchtime, my stomach had twisted in knots.

       Gina noticed my frown as I joined her for lunch. “What's wrong?”

       “Not much.” I sighed and checked out the crowded cafeteria.

       “Oh, is Alex away?” Gina's impish grin appeared. “And you're worried?”

       “I’m not worried. He can look after himself!”

       My retort was sharp, but Gina only giggled. “Oh, you’ve got it bad!”

       I glared at Gina as Izzy joined us. “Hey, guys!”

       “Hi Izzy,” I said. I continued searching the surrounding faces.

       “Ignore Cassie,” Gina said. “She’s lost her boyfriend and has no clue what to do with herself.”

       “He’s not my boyfriend!”

       “Oh, Amaia said they’re having today off,” Izzy said. “They’re unpacking their camping stuff for this weekend.”

       I frowned as I absorbed her words, hurting more than I had any right to. He doesn’t have to explain himself to you, I chastised myself. He can do what he wants. Getting upset is stupid! Despite my internal pep-talk, I did not feel better. “I’m not hungry,” I said.

       I left the table and hurried to the locker room to gather my thoughts, and to change for Gym. As I changed, I cursed myself for letting Alex burrow beneath my skin. Who am I trying to kid? My chances of being with him are less than slim. But my heart would not allow me to forget the idea. I shoved my things into a gym locker and slammed the door. Well, I’ll use this weekend to learn more about him. Hopefully, that’ll be enough to tell me whether he’s interested—or show me how I should let him go.

***

© 2018 - Evie Asterwyn

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