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The Secrets of Another -- Part 1

The Secrets of Another -- Part 1

A small town resident, Jennifer Hazelwood has an enchanting encounter with a stranger.









Social or physical barriers kindle romantic passion. They enable one to discard the facts and focus on the terrific qualities of the other.


—Helen Fisher


Autumn has come. The air cooled, leaves began to fall, and the people of Riverhaven try to avoid traversing the town when the sun fades below the horizon. Nights grew longer, as each day came and went quicker than the last, with the coming of winter, and ice and snow, weighing ever more burdensome on the minds of the masses. However, there was one young woman within Riverhaven that went about her days unworried of the night or the cold, unconcerned for the changing seasons and the inevitable winter encumbrances spreading like pestilence throughout the populace. She needed her escape from the world and the people around her, be it friends or family, or the recognizable strangers.

Jennifer Hazelwood had recently discovered her desire to find peace in solitude. At first, it started with lonesome walks through the park trails within the Riverhaven township; but with the addition of the new school year, she no longer was able to do so. Unwilling to abandon her peaceful seclusion, she had decided to spend a few of her weekly hours studying in the Wolf’s Den Café. The small establishment was her own little sanctuary, for just a few hours every other day, it allowed her to escape the pressures of social life at school, as well as the pressures of home life among her mother and step-father.

When the sun sank below the horizon, and a smooth twilight blackened the world and lit the sky with magnificent rays of purple and red, Jennifer arrived at the Café to spend the waning dusk finishing up homework she had been assigned. Upon entering the establishment, she was surprised to find the place almost deserted. There were a few customers placed among the tables and leather lounge chairs, as well as three or four employees behind the counter near the back of the building. A couple of the patrons she recognized, a retired gentleman and regular of the Wolf’s Den, who usually spent his evenings reading the daily newspaper. Another, a girl that also attended Riverhaven High School, who sat at a table reading from a textbook. The third was a woman, dressed in business attire, talking to a client on her cellphone with papers and documents spread about the table she sat at.

Jennifer chose to place her backpack and iPhone on a table beside a large window. Her favorite spot to work, for she could look out and watch cars drive by, or even further across the road, to the now darkened forest; where, when the sun is much higher in the sky, she may examine the trees and brush, and all its shapes and textures. She enjoyed looking at nature, because for some weird and unknown reason, the visual artistry of the earth relaxed her mind, and allowed her to think deeply and clearly, almost philosophically.

She left her belongings for a moment and went to the counter to purchase her favorite drink, the Campfire Cooler; a blended mixture of chocolate, caramel, and espresso, with a dash of whipped cream and a handful of tiny marshmallows on top. Jennifer recognized the boy at the counter but couldn’t remember his name. She knew they shared the same Chemistry class in school and thought that maybe his name was Ethan, or possibly, Blake. Although, she didn’t spend too much time pondering it, as she became far more curious with the bulletin board on a nearby wall.

The boy behind the counter brewed the drink and kept shooting glances at Jennifer, admiring the slim figure of her body, which so delicately complimented the curves of her waist and seductive backside. The elegant waves of her brown hair fell long below her shoulders. Romanced by the youthful innocence of her face, the smooth and clear rosy skin, and the enchanting electric blue of her eyes. Her picture-perfect aura sent his boyish mind into a frenzy of masculine emotion.

Jennifer could sense she was being ogled by the boy but felt no need to address it. Instead, her interest had been engulfed by Riverhaven High School’s October calendar that had been posted on the bulletin board. She had known previously that Homecoming was scheduled for Friday, the fourteenth; but that reminder brought about a moment of dread, for she knew her friends would want to attend. A couple of years ago, Jennifer would’ve been excited for the event, planning out what she was to wear in the spirit of the Riverhaven Knights. Junior year, however, there was no sign of school spirit. The more time she spent in solitude, the more she craved the seclusion when in class or at home. Also, the twenty-sixth of October, she hoped everyone would forget the significance of that day when it comes to pass. The only other date she showed interest in was Halloween, October thirty-first, which fell on a Monday in 2011. Jennifer’s friend, Katelyn, and her own boyfriend, David, had mentioned a gathering or party to be held that night—another thought which sank Jennifer’s mind in dread.

The boy called to Jennifer, informing her that the drink was ready, and stood with his arm stretched over the counter with a small cup of the Campfire Cooler in hand. She took it, thanking the boy, and returned to the table where she had placed her belongings. She sat down and removed a few textbooks from her backpack, as well as some pink and blue folders. She took one sip of the Campfire Cooler and began to work.

In no more than half an hour, Jennifer completed both her English and Chemistry homework assignments and was preparing to begin the subject she struggled with most: History. The assignment was to read the weekly assigned chapter from the textbook and write a report in a notebook, which she would then have to turn in to the teacher at the end of the year. She had briefly considered waiting until the end of the year to read each chapter and write each report in one long day of pure study. She shunned the thought and remembered that each chapter was assigned weekly to help study for tests on Fridays. Working on it all at once would risk failing those tests.

Jennifer had been so focused on the tasks at hand, she hadn’t noticed the business woman had left, and the retired gentleman had gotten ready to leave as well. She took a deep breath and stretched her arms into the air so that her back would stretch as well. As she did, she caught a glimpse of the boy at the counter watching her. Not a second after having been caught, he went right back to what he was writing at the counter, acting as though he wasn’t looking. Jennifer rolled her eyes, and looked the other way out the large window beside the table; not a ray of sun in the sky, only the tiny blue stars.

A chill drifted through the Den when the retired gentleman left the building, as though the door had been left open longer than need be. Jennifer glanced in the direction of the door and saw that another man had come in. She didn’t recognize him; a brand-new face in an old town. He was young, not much older than Jennifer by the looks of it. Although he was tall, it meshed with the athletic structure of his body, his skin ashy pale, and by the way, he moved with his broad shoulders back, commanded authority. His bronze hair trimmed medium length, messy and untouched. He wore a black leather jacket, over a casual dress shirt and dark blue jeans. He carried a small book, and when he sat down in one of the leather lounge chairs, he opened it and began to read.

Jennifer looked back down at the history textbook before her and read a few more words. But her mind was distracted, and once again, her eyes rested upon the intriguing stranger. It wasn’t hard for her to admit she held a physical attraction to him; in an old historic town where change is most rare, a fascination grew within her, to explore and to learn of this new and foreign thing. However, there was something else, something so difficult to comprehend, that her very nerves paralyzed. Her space had been invaded. The seclusion and solitude she longed for each and every day, had been replaced with the overwhelming desire to meet this man.

Jennifer could hardly distinguish the letters on the cover of the book he was reading, but managed to gather the largest of them all, which read, ‘The Sights and Sounds of Riverhaven.’ He might just be visiting for a few days, that would explain the book, she thought. Should I welcome him to town? No. Don’t. That’s too storybook. Way too trite.

His eyes looked upon hers, and the book sank into his lap. “Curious of something?” he asked, his voice musical and enchanting; as though he were singing to her. “Or, possibly, are you daydreaming?”

Thoughts scattered throughout Jennifer’s mind, almost unable to believe that he was the one to speak first. She glanced down at the textbook for only a second, and then met his gaze once more, the words fumbling from her mouth. “I was just wondering what book you’re reading?” she asked. “Are you visiting Riverhaven? I haven’t seen you before.”

He raised the book to show her the cover, which was a picture of Superior Avenue near the center of Riverhaven, with the shops on either end of the road, and the town hall in the center, as well as some printed letters and writing. “It is a local guidebook that I purchased at the gas station.” He rose out of the lounge chair and moved toward Jennifer’s favorite table. He sat down opposite of her before he finished speaking, and placed the guidebook beside her school material. “I wish to learn more of what the township has to offer, as well as the forests and places nearby. But, to answer your question: Yes . . . Somewhat. I moved here the other day. My name is William. And yours?”

“Jennifer,” she said and got a better, much more observant look at him. She noticed his eyes were far from normal, or at least, what she’s used to calling normal. They were white, snowy, silvery, milky, smoky, and above all, cold; the iris and sclera almost the same color, the iris a shade brighter, and the pupil as black as a moonless night. She had never seen anything like it before, and in some primal core of her being, it scared her. As though some distant ancestral trait warned that her very life was in immediate danger. She loved it. She reveled in the sense of adrenaline that flowed through her veins every time their eyes met. “But, my friends call me, Jenn.”

He smiled, though not enough to show off his teeth. “To be honest, I have always admired that name, ‘Jennifer.’ Not only does it sound pretty to the ears, but its origin is quite fascinating as well. It comes from the name of a beautiful woman out of Arthurian legend, Queen Guinevere, wife of King Arthur himself.”

“What? Really?” Jennifer asked as she smiled and laughed. “How do you know all that?”

“Years of reading old books.” William looked down at the table and examined the textbook and notebook in front of her. “I hope I have not been a bother, as it appears you were hard at work.”

“No, not at all,” she said and shook her head. “I needed a break anyway.”

“Since there are no colleges within the Riverhaven township, I would guess you attend Riverhaven High School? What is it that you have been working on tonight?”

“Yeah, in my Junior year. And I’ve just been doing homework. Finished up my Chemistry and English, now just trying to drudge through History. We have to write a report on each chapter, this one I’m working on now is about the differences and similarities between life now and life in the early middle ages—but some of these old words, I just can’t understand.”

He reached out a slender, pale hand, and asked, “May I?”

Jennifer gave him her pen, and he pulled her notebook toward him across the table. He began to write, mimicking her own handwriting almost perfectly. Without the assistance of the textbook, he wrote long paragraphs of detailed information. “So, Miss Jennifer,” he said as he wrote, “if I may ask, how old are you?”

“Sixteen. Soon to be seventeen on the twenty-sixth of this month . . . But don’t tell anyone I told you that. I don’t want people to shower me with cheers of, ‘Happy birthday!’”

William smiled and laughed, but again, not enough to show his teeth. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“What about you? How old are you?”

He didn’t reply right away. Instead, he focused on the final touches of his writing. “. . . Older than you.”

“That’s kind of a vague answer. Any particular number you’d like to add?”

He went silent again and looked up to meet her electric blue eyes. He then slid the notebook toward her, the finished product. “Nineteen.”

Jennifer smirked and looked over the notes. At a glance, it all seemed correct and flowed with the paragraphs she had already written. “I can’t imagine how you know all of this stuff, but thank you. You really didn’t have to.” Something within her felt as though she could trust the information he provided. Maybe it was his aura of intelligence or the adrenaline that coursed through her blood every time she looked into his unearthly eyes. She placed all of her textbooks, notebooks, and any other materials into her backpack, and set it on the floor beside the chair she was sitting in. “So, if you just moved to Riverhaven, where are you from?”

“New England,” he said. “Virginia, specifically. A little town called Camelot.”

“What made you move to Riverhaven? It’s such a boring place.”

He smiled. “I move around a lot. Small, rural towns are filled with fascinating history. Lots of little things to see, and plenty of new people to meet.”

“Are you renting a house? Or did you rent one of those shitty apartments on Main Street?”

He laughed, and, once more, he didn’t open his mouth enough to expose his teeth. “You certainly do ask a lot of questions.”

Jennifer shrugged, coyly smiling as she said, “I’m a logical person. I like to ask questions. The answers help me make sense of people and things around me.”

“Well, I would hate to be an enigma,” he said, and continued, “If I may ask some questions of my own: What do you like to do when you are not studying?”

Jennifer didn’t respond right away because she actually had to think about how to answer. “I . . . I don’t really know what to say. Sophomore year, I could tell you that I spend most of my time with my friends. But this year, that’s all gone now. My friend Katelyn has a new boyfriend and spends most of her time with him. I don’t talk to my friend Candice much anymore; she’s just an annoying drama-queen-bitch—she always has been, but this year is worse than the others before. And my friend Morgan, well, she’s obsessed with all this paranormal shit. Like I said, I’m a logical person, so Morgan and I get into arguments over the stupidest things. What I’m trying to say is . . . Well, I spend most of my time alone. Go ahead, call me a loser . . . but, I enjoy my solitude away from others.”

“I would never call you that,” William said. His voice had become soft, with an empathetic passion behind each word. “May I follow that up with another question?”


“What are your plans for the future?” he asked. “After graduation from high school.”

Once again, Jennifer went silent. She couldn’t answer the question—she knew that. Not because it was some secret, but because despite the thousands of times she has asked herself that very same question, she has been unable to answer it. “I’ve looked into a few colleges. I’m a little undecided though.”

“May I guess what lurks within your mind?”

“Uh . . .” That question puzzled her. She didn’t know what it meant, nor what he intended to do or say. “Go ahead.”

“From what I have gathered within the short time we have spent in each other’s company: You are lost. A young woman who spends the evenings isolated from all that she has grown familiar with, and questions what an uncertain future may hold.”

Jennifer didn’t move, stunned by his words, as though he read her like an open book. The precious thoughts which she had taken great care to conceal for many months were now out in the open air. “How did you know that?” she asked. “Please don’t tell me you can read minds . . .”

He chuckled. “No. It is the little things you say—or do not say—which makes me capable of understanding. Speaking freely, you and I are a lot alike. I have spent many years questioning my own purpose in this world, and it took hundreds of trials and errors before I discovered the correct path.”

The lights within the building flickered on and off a few times, which indicated that the Den was about to close for the night. William grabbed the guidebook, and said, “I think that is enough philosophy for the evening. Would you like me to walk you to your car?”

Her coy smile returned. “That would be lovely.”

The air outside had dropped significantly since Jennifer had arrived. The wind didn’t help, either, blowing clusters of dried leaves across the pavement. She shivered as the two walked through the small parking lot toward her lonesome silver Pontiac. As they approached, she unlocked the door with the remote button. “Where’s your car?” she asked.

“It is parked at the Raven’s Nest,” William said. “Had dinner, then walked down here.”

“Oh . . . Okay, well, thank you for walking me to my car. And you be safe walking back, okay? I enjoyed our conversation . . . it’s nice to finally meet someone who understands, and I would like to have another.”

He opened the driver’s door for her to step into the car. “I can guarantee I will be safe, and I appreciate our exchange as well. I am sure we will see each other again. It has been a great pleasure to meet you, Jennifer. Goodnight to you.”

“It was a pleasure to meet you as well. Goodnight, William.”

She stepped into her car and sat down behind the wheel. He closed the door and gave one final smile before heading in the direction of the Raven’s Nest. The last thing she saw of his face was the cold white eyes. She sat there for a while before she turned on the car, watching him as he disappeared into the darkness of the night. When he vanished from view, something burned within her. A spark in the center of her chest that formed a small flame. She longed to see him again.

She needed to see him again.



This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © 2018 ― Zachary W Mahnke

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author.

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