Chapter 1: Like Melted Chocolate

This is the best part of her day. Her morning run. She concentrates on the air rushing in and out of her lungs. The rhythmic sound of her feet pounding against the gravel. The sun trickling through the canopy of leaves highlights her skin in flashes of light. Long black hair streams behind her. The music flooding through her headphones dictates her heartbeat. She can’t help but grin as her body leans into the next curve in the trail. The feeling of exhilaration drives her forward. Then, without warning, a dog is suddenly under her feet. A small yappy thing, barking as it wraps its leash around her ankles. She stumbles over the blue fabric, catching herself against a tree trunk. Rough bark scrapes against the exposed skin of her upper arm. It begins to sting immediately in the rush of air and salty sweat. “Oh my god, I am so sorry.” A voice sounds from behind her. “He got away from me.” “Jesus. If you don’t know how to run with a dog, don’t’ do it.” She snaps, gingerly touching her shoulder. Her fingers come away bloody. “Shit. You’re hurt.” Looking up, she sees a guy in his early twenties, only a few years older than her, staring down at her. Her gaze locks on his deep, dark brown eyes; the exact colour of melted chocolate. “Nothing a little ointment won’t fix.” She shrugs, her initial anger waning. She pushes the dog to the side of the path with her foot, making way for the runners she hears coming. The little brown thing licks at the salty skin of her ankles. She pulls her foot away quickly, rubbing her ankle against her other leg. “I’m Gilbert.” The stranger reaches out his hand. “As in Blythe?” She chuckles. “Yeah, actually. My mother was a fan.” He smiles back at her “Not many people make the connection.” “Any good Canadian should. It was my favourite movie as a kid.” She scratches the dog’s curly head. Her initial annoyance completely gone. “You know it was a book first right? Actually seven of them.” His eyes sparkle beneath long, black lashes. “Really? I did not know that.” Distractedly, she stops the music still audible through the headphones in her hand. “I knew there were a couple more movies. They’re decent.” “Didn’t you just imply you were a good Canadian?” He raises an eyebrow. “Watch yourself.” She smirks. “I wanted to go to Green Gables so badly. I begged and begged my parents until they finally took us to PEI when I was eight. It’s still my favourite family holiday.” She smiles to herself, shaking her head. “And, I have no idea why I’m telling you this. You must have an honest face.” His face glows a soft shade of pink as he chuckles. “Do you have a name?” “I do.” She nods. “Are you going to share it with me?” “Penelope.” “Old-fashioned. Nice. What do people call you?” “Penelope.” She shrugs. “I like my name.” She glances at her watch; her heart rate has dropped to a normal rhythm. Her breathing is no longer laboured. If she pushes, she might be able to get something out of the remaining stretch. “I have to get going. Nice to meet you, Gilbert.” “Perhaps we’ll run into each other again some morning.” “Only if you leave the dog at home. “ She calls as she turns down a bend in the path. She pushes herself this time, hard. Forcing herself to bolt up the set of wooden stairs up the steepest section of the path. When she reaches the tope, Penelope is breathless and sweating. She slows to a jog and exits onto a quiet side street. A few blocks down she stops at the white house. Entering through the patio doors into the lower level, she pushed her sneakers off without breaking stride. In her bedroom, she sheds her running clothes, leaving them in a pile on the floor outside her bathroom, and jumps into the shower. Twenty minutes later, her skin red from the scalding water, she reaches into her closet and pulls out her uniform. Dressing quickly, she sits in front of her mirror and clicks on her television, pushing the channel button rhythmically until she settles on an old cartoon. The familiar theme song from her childhood makes her smile. Opening her make-up case, she leans forward to apply her mascara when a knock sounds at her door. “Come in.” She calls, not looking away from the mirror. “What the hell are you watching?” Her twin brother, Ash asks, walking into the room. “Seriously?” “Cause you never used to watch this stuff.” “Yeah, when I was five or something.” “Mmmm hmmm,” Penelope looks at him out of the corner of her eye. “I must have imagined catching you playing with my dolls when you were twice that age.” “You have an active imagination, Sis.” He laughs and opens the doors to her wardrobe. “Are we experimenting with cross-dressing today?” She raises an eyebrow as he leans into her closet. “Excuse me?” “What else could you possibly be looking for in there?” “That dvd I gave you for your birthday.” “And you think I keep it in my closet?” “Yup, look, here it is.” Reaching into the back of the closet, he pulls out a small brown bag and tucks it under his arm. “Oh yes, that small brown bag dvd you gave me… filled with movie goodness I’m sure.” “Best movie ever.” “Ash, if you’re going to hide that crap in my room…” “What? You can’t do me a favour? It was time for mom’s semi-annual sneak inspection of my bedroom.” “Just ask next time.” Snapping her make-up bag shut, she spins to face him. “And maybe share.” “Jewelry box” He calls over his shoulder as he disappears out the door. She reaches forward and pulls open the little drawer in the bottom of the box. Two small white rolls nestled in the blue satin. “Excellent.” She grins, tapping her fingers together. Closing the drawer, she hurries to finish getting dressed. In the kitchen, Penelope pulls open the fridge, grabs a grapefruit from the drawer, and settles into a chair at the table. She pulls her legs up under her and opens her novel for English class. A quick flip of the pages. 30 left in the assigned reading. “Crap, I am never going to get caught up on this garbage.” She mutters to herself. “What’s that?” Ash saunters into the kitchen and pours a bowl of cereal. “Why don’t you just eat straight from the sugar bowl? Cut out the middle man.” She looks at his bowl with disdain. “This provides both tastiness and my daily dairy requirement.” He pushes a huge spoonful of frosted cereal pieces and marshmallows into his mouth, grinning as his cheeks puff out around the food. “Gross.” She shakes her head and spoons a wedge of grapefruit out of its shell. “I could say the same thing.” He nods towards her fruit. “What were you saying before?” He flips to the editorial section of the paper. “I’m never going to catch up on this stupid reading.” Penelope tosses the book onto the table in frustration. “Ah, Pilgrim’s Progress?” Ash flips through the pages. “We did this one last year. It’s super boring. I’m surprised they’re making your class work on this.” “We’re doing a chapter on eulogies or something. It hella sucks.” Tossing an empty shell onto the table, she pulls the other half towards her. “Stupid. If I wanted to do advanced placement crap, I’d take advanced classes.” “You mean allegories?” “Whatever.” “About those AP classes…” He shakes his head and tosses the book back on the table. Picking up his bowl, he drinks the sugary milk in one long gulp. “Hurry up if you want a ride. I’m leaving in ten.” Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, he punches a few buttons and heads out of the room. “And grab me a cup of coffee.” “If you want to drink the liquid poison, you will have to get your own.” She yells after him. Skimming a couple more pages, Penelope hurries to finish her breakfast. “Damn it.” She drains the rest of her glass before heading to the entryway where she jams her feet into the black and white loafers of her uniform. “Ash? Are you ready to go?” She calls down the hallway. Her brother emerges from their father’s study, cell phone still attached to his ear. Waving her out the door, he unlocks the car before heading back into the kitchen. A few minutes later, he exits the house with a cup of coffee. “See you in a few minutes” He ends the call as he opens the car door. “How’s the hobag?” Penelope’s asks, voice dripping with disdain, as her brother slide into his seat. “Christ, P! How many times do I have to ask you not to call her that?” “If it walks like a bowlegged duck…” Penelope shrugs, leaning back in her seat still skimming through her novel. “She’s my girlfriend. Show a little respect?” Ash turns towards her, his black hair glinting in the morning sun. “You can do better.” She mutters, ignoring his question. The silence that falls between them is stony. Ten minutes later, they pull into the parking lot of the school. A sea of green and blue skirts and pants, white tops, knee highs, and loafers spreads before them. Ash remains silent as he puts the car in park. Penelope ignores her brother and pushes open the door, not once considering apologizing for what she said. The September sun is warm against the weight of her heavy peacoat. Adjusting her bag on her back, she hears a voice behind her. “Hey, Penelope,” An overly cheerful voice bubbles from a tall red-head standing beside the car. A grin spreads across her freckled skin as she skips over to the car. “Hey, Brooke.” Penelope replies dismissively. “Hey, Baby.” Brooke’s grin broadens as Ash opens the car door, her nose crinkling with happiness. “Hey, Sugar.” He replies. She wraps herself around him before he can even shut the door. Their lips meet before Penelope can look away. “Gag me.” She mutters, walking towards the main entrance to the school. As she tries to shrug out of her coat, her book falls to the dirt of the parking lot. “Still asleep?” Rowena appears beside her, leaning down to scoop up the book. “My brain just refuses to remember that that stupid book is with me.” Penelope laughs, taking the book back from her best friend. “You finished it yet?” “By finish, you mean start?” “How the hell do you not do any of the reading and still get better grades than me?” “You’re blessed with a smokin body. I’m blessed with the ability to bullshit.” Rowena shrugs. “Shut up. You know you’re pretty, Row.” She glances her friend, who is overweight, super confident, and very pretty. “I’m aware. Not my most important attribute. How was your run?” She asks, changing the subject as they push through the heavy main doors to their school. “Not great.” Penelope shrugs. “Have you finally realized that you’re insane for running before school instead of sleeping?” “Someday, I’m going to get you out there with me.” “Yes. Sure. I’ll be there tomorrow.” Rowena grins sarcastically. This is a discussion they’ve beaten to death. Dropping their belongings in their lockers, they head to homeroom. “You might change your mind if you saw the guy I ran into this morning. Gorgeous.” “I thought you said it wasn’t a good run?” Rowena raises an eyebrow. “I was just getting to the best part, when his stupid, little, yappy dog tripped me. I fell into a tree and ripped the crap out of my arm. I’m surprised I’m not bleeding through my blouse.” Penelope’s grey eyes flick to her shoulder, making sure nothing has seeped through the white fabric. “Of course it was a dog.” Rowena laughs, “Cause you love dogs.” “Like a good case of syphilis.” Penelope laughs. “Good thing he was smoking hot. Otherwise I would’ve been really pissed.” “Not someone from school then?” They take their seats in the middle of the room. “He’s older, probably in college. He had this great hair, all brown and curly and soft looking. And these eyes, oh man, perfect, dark, dark brown. Delicious.” “Yummy. Did you get his name?” “Gilbert.” Penelope sighs. “Gilbert?” Rowena snorts. “That is not a hot guy name.” “Morning, lady friends.” A girl with bobbed black hair and thick framed glasses sits down beside them. The sleeves of her uniform rolled up to reveal thick silver cuffs around each wrist. Silver rings encase almost every finger. “Sullivan, is that a new piercing?” Penelope leans forward, pushing the other girl’s hair behind her ear. A long metal bar stretches across of the top of her ear. “Yeah. I got it over the weekend.” Reaching up, she touches the jewelry with the tips of her fingers. “I love it, but holy mother is it sensitive. You guys hear this morning’s news?” “Nope. My morning’s been full of this stupid book. ” Penelope flicks the novel sitting on the table in front of her. “I’ve been listening to Penelope’s stories of hot running guys.” Rowena takes a sip from the steaming paper cup in front of her. “So you haven’t heard that Richardson is gone?” “Gone gone? Like no longer with us?” Rowena leans forward, elbows on the table. “Toes up?” “Dead? Mrs. Richardson died?” Penelope shoots a look at Sullivan. “No. I would have lead with dead, not new body jewelry. She’s just not here. We get a sub.” Sullivan rolls her eyes at Penelope. She tosses her daily stack of newspapers down onto the table. The Seattle Times sits on top. A large picture of a candy necklace hanging from a tree branch, carefully surrounded by an umbrella of leaves, fills the front page. “Litter is front page news?” Rowena raises an eyebrow. “Seattle must be quiet these days.” “Not litter. Serial killer.” Sullivan leans across the table excitedly. “Someone is taking out women down there and leaving those necklaces hanging in the trees around them. It’s actually really interesting. It started…” “Sullie,” Penelope places a hand on top of her friend’s, “I know you love all that procedural crime drama stuff, but it is too early in the morning.” “But it’s super interesting.” Sullivan’s fingers absentmindedly trace along the picture. “To people who live there.” Penelope grins “Here, we get to revel in finding out who our new sub is.” “It’d be kind of cool if it was here.” Sullivan shrugs. “Gross, Sullie, why would you say that?” Penelope wrinkles her nose in disgust. “It would give something cool to study. I’m so bored with the local news.” She pokes at the pile of papers. “That’s why I read all of these. Here, it’s all cleaning up the streets and building shelters for the homeless. Why do we have to be so damn good all the time?” “Yes, Sullie.” Rowena rolls her eyes. “Why must we contribute to the Canadian stereotype, while there’s all this murder and intrigue south of the border?” “Exactly what I’m saying.” Sullivan laughs, throwing up her hands. “At least it makes for good tv.” Rowena smiles. “Did you see last night’s episode of Criminal Minds?” “So good!” Sullie straightens her pile of papers. “And creepy. Stalking stuff always creeps me the hell out.” “Totally. The things you can learn about someone online are…” “Good morning, students.” A male voice booms from the front of the room. Looking up, they see their principle standing by the teacher’s desk. Penelope feels her breath catch in her chest as she sees the man standing behind him. “Jesus Christ.” She mutters. “He is hot.” Rowena whispers, taking in the wavy brown hair and dark brown eyes of the teacher standing in front of them. “Row! That’s the guy from this morning. The one with the dog!” “Huh, no shit?” Her friend nods and leans back into her chair, a smirk curling the corner of her lip. “This is going to be interesting.”

Chapter 2

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