Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Rachel

Aalia Waqas

Rachel’s father disappeared when she was three. Now, after her Nanna’s death, she’s sent to Jameson Institute according to her father’s wishes. She has many unanswered questions as she struggles to fit in at the mysterious orphanage. But as she gradually makes friends and starts to build a life, she discovers not only the shocking truth about her father—but also danger.

Age Rating: 18+ (Assault, Self-Harm, Suicide, Violent Death)

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Rachel - Book cover
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Rachel

Aalia Waqas

Rachel’s father disappeared when she was three. Now, after her Nanna’s death, she’s sent to Jameson Institute according to her father’s wishes. She has many unanswered questions as she struggles to fit in at the mysterious orphanage. But as she gradually makes friends and starts to build a life, she discovers not only the shocking truth about her father—but also danger.

Age Rating: 18+ (Assault, Self-Harm, Suicide, Violent Death)

1: Chapter 1

Her lips were trembling. She clenched her fists and ground her teeth before she heard him whisper, “You okay?”

Rachel didn’t quite remember how it happened, just that she was fending off tears one second, and her hand was connecting with Gavin’s jaw the next.

Everyone in the church fell silent, waiting to see what would happen next.

“Warned you,” she muttered and walked away, wringing her hand as if that would make it hurt less.

Eyes followed her out the door and lingered there for a few seconds after she slammed it shut.

She stayed outside until the procession headed to the graveyard, then she stayed in the background and disappeared as soon as the guests started to leave.

She’d punched her best friend square in the jaw and watched him stagger backward and fall on his butt. She lifted up her thin, delicate hand to inspect the bruises that had already begun forming.

Sighing, already regretting what she’d done, Rachel sat down heavily on the stone bench. She zipped up her jacket and pulled out her phone and scrolled mindlessly through Instagram.

Nate Marvin spent the entire afternoon after the funeral looking for his goddaughter.

After apologizing to Gavin’s parents and attending the burial of Rachel’s nanny, he scoured the churchyard and the graveyard for her but couldn’t find her anywhere.

He gave up and decided to wait in his car until she decided to show up.

He’d just shut the car door and was blowing into his clenched fists to warm his freezing hands when the passenger-side door opened, and Rachel took her seat, buckling her seatbelt.

“Rachel?” Nate spoke softly.

There was a brief moment of eye contact, then she averted her eyes and busied her hands with untangling her earphones. She promptly shut him out.

If she tried really hard, it would feel like a regular argument with her godfather, and it wouldn’t be as bad as the biting reality of her life right now.

Nanna was dead, and there was no place else to go.

Rachel did everything in her power to avoid conversation with Nate. The second they were home, she rushed upstairs and slammed the door shut.

Nate shrugged and sat down heavily on the sofa. He threw his head back and had closed his eyes for barely a second when his phone rang.

“Hello,” he answered.

“Hey, man. So—”began the voice from the other end.

“What?”

“How’s she taking it?”

“Oh, she hates the place.”He laughed lightly, rubbing his fists in his eyes.

“Already?”

“That was the least she could do.”

“Yeah, I guess. See you tomorrow?”

“Maybe not tomorrow… She’s not quite ready yet.”

“Yeah, I guess not.”

“Is this a good idea? She can come with me to D.C., stay with me and Hannah…”

“I don’t think it’s safe anymore.”

“All right… I’ll see what I can do to get her to start packing.”

“Thanks.”

“Shut up.”

Hannah emerged from the kitchen with two glasses of whiskey in her hands and offered him one. He took it gratefully.

***

Rachel lay in bed, restless and somewhat scared. The ceiling was too blank.

She narrowed her eyes and tried to figure out how difficult it would be to paint something on it.

That way, when her head was full of noise, it wouldn’t play out before her like a movie every time she looked up at the white ceiling.

She exhaled a long, tired, bored-as-hell kind of exhalation as the last three days of her life began their slow progression before her.

THREE DAYS AGO

Gavin dropped her off, and Rachel threw a comment at him that made him roll his eyes. From the window, Nate watched the scene outside and tried to think of how to give Rachel the news.

He saw her smiling and laughing with her best friend as she stepped out of the car, insulting him the way only best friends could before climbing up the steps.

He hadn’t seen her that happy for a while now.

Rachel bounded inside. “Sup, Nathaniel?”

“That’s not even my name,” Nate answered weakly.

“Well, it should be.” Rachel tossed her bag onto the sofa before turning toward him. She straightened up. “Nate…”

It was written all over his face. It was so obvious that she was shocked she hadn’t felt it before. The whole atmosphere of the house reeked of… Death.

Rachel’s mouth opened and closed helplessly before she ran to Nanna’s room. Her shout echoed through the otherwise silent house, and Nate closed his eyes and followed her slowly.

She was just standing there, motionless. Her gaze was fixed on the empty bed. Nanna’s room felt barren without all the medical supplies that used to fill it.

Everything had been cleared out before Rachel had come home.

“Where is she?” Her voice was shaky.

“They took her away to—” Nate hadn’t finished his sentence when Rachel turned around and shoved him out of the way, running into the opposite room.

The door slammed shut behind her, and she leaned against it. Tears streamed down her face, and they refused to cease—continuous, wet, hot, and painful.

She yelled and squeezed her eyes shut, but the tears just wouldn’t stop.

She wiped her eyes for the millionth time and picked up the first thing that she could grasp. It was a glass of water.

She flung it across the room. The water arced out of the glass and landed on the floor, and the glass crashed into the wall above her bedpost, shattering into pieces.

It felt good.

She picked up the next tangible item that her hands could wrap themselves around, a trophy that she’d won a few years back in the school chess competition.

Off it went, sailing gracefully through the air until it met the blue-gray wall where the glass had crashed a few seconds ago.

It broke apart, the giant king piece splitting into four smaller parts, scattering across the carpet.

She huffed in frustration, and her eyes searched the room, looking for something else. Anything would do.

The pillows hit the floor, the shoes on her feet got lost somewhere in the chaos, and every bottle of perfume on her table was soon thrown and suddenly acquainted with the floor.

Rachel stalked past the mirror and froze. A helpless whimper escaped her lips, and she felt a pang of self-loathing at her pathetic condition.

Her trembling hands reached into her hair and grabbed it. She tugged, hard. “Get a freaking grip on yourself, Fayne!”

***

Rachel woke up sometime after 7 p.m., surrounded by complete darkness. She blinked a few times before pushing herself off the bed, swinging her legs down, and standing up.

She let out a surprised yell when something dug into her bare feet. Gasping for breath, she brought one foot up and tried to brush off whatever had been digging into her skin.

She hopped on one foot for balance, and her other foot stepped on something jagged as well, causing her to lose her balance and crash to the floor.

The light flickered on, and she heard Nate’s voice. “Rachel—OH MY GOD!” He rushed over and helped her up. When she yelped, he realized that her feet were injured.

He pulled aside the blanket that was covered in broken glass and made her sit down before inspecting the room.

Broken fragments of glass were scattered everywhere. Splotches of blood decorated the floor, and Rachel’s arms and legs were caked in blood.

Nate eyed her wearily before leaving the room and returning with the first aid box.

She was quiet as he patched her up, hissing every now and then and biting back a yell, but she refused to make any conversation.

“Talk to me.”

“What’s there to say?”

“Mind explaining—” Nate gestured vaguely, motioning toward the mess in the room and the limbs he was now bandaging.

“Sure! Nothin’ to it. I had a bit of a meltdown, aaand during said meltdown, I threw stuff around and then slept in the mess I made after I had completely exhausted myself.”

Rachel finished off with a thin-lipped smile and a nonchalant shrug. “I bet your evening wasn’t as eventful as mine.”

“Nope.” He snorted. “I spent the entire time waiting for you, princess.”

She knew what he was trying to do. As soon as she eased into regular conversation with him, he’d want to “talk about her feelings.” She wasn’t having any of that. “I’m hungry.”

“I ordered Chinese. It’ll be here any minute.”

An hour later, Rachel sat opposite her godfather at the dining table and picked at her food. After about ten minutes, Nate broke the silence.

“We need to talk…”

“About my feelings? No, thanks.” She finally took a bite.

“Honey… Now that Nanna’s gone, we—”

“Don’t.” Her attempt to sound menacing failed rather miserably.

“—have to discuss living arrangements,” he finished.

Oh. That’s okay. “Oh… I guess I’m coming with you to D.C.?”

“Not…really…”

The tone of Nate’s voice was a dead giveaway of something horrible to come.

“Then?”

“There’s this place called Jameson Institute—”

“For the mentally insane?” she quipped.

“No, smartass. It’s sort of a…backup plan.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your dad—”

A laugh bubbled up, and Rachel made no attempt to stifle it. “This conversation ends here. I literally do not care about what my old man had planned for me.

“I’ll pack my stuff and go with you and never look back at this horrid place till the day I die. I’ll pack tonight, even.”

“Rachel…”

She pushed her plate away. “I’m not hungry anymore.”

She left the table and headed for the front door, grabbing her jacket on the way.

“Where are you going?”

“Out.”

She wasn’t thinking…not really. She walked out of the house, and the second the icy wind greeted her, she was running. She wasn’t headed anywhere in particular, just—away.

Her feet pounded the pavement. Her wounds started bleeding again, and she ran until she nearly collapsed. She walked slowly to the park and nearly fell down as she approached an old oak tree.

It was the same oak tree that she and Gavin had spent years chasing each other around. The tree had a rickety fence around it, and she tried to lean against it.

It gave way, and her view of the swings was replaced with the dense mass of leaves and branches above. She sighed.

Despite the machines and the medicine that had barely kept Nanna alive, Rachel had hoped. She’d thought that as long as Nanna was breathing, responding…nothing else mattered.

The doctor who’d visited almost daily and the nurse who’d accompanied him had always talked to Rachel like she was an adult.

They’d told her the harsh, bitter truth but simultaneously pumped her full of hope with the number of maybes, ~probablys~, and ~slight improvements~ they talked about every day.

Liars. The lot of them.

Rachel was in denial. The fact that Nanna was gone was a tough pill to swallow, and maybe she hadn’t truly registered it.

She’d been running away from the very thought since morning. She was avoiding something that part of her already knew was true… But she couldn’t just accept it.

She’d cried more than she ever had in her entire life, but it still didn’t seem…enough.

She pulled out her phone and dialed Gavin.

“Hey, dummy!” Gavin yelled over the noise of his younger brothers screaming at something.

“Hey, Gav…”

“Whoa. Did you fail a test?”

“Umm…” She took a breath. “Nanna’s gone.”

There was a beat of silence. “Shit.” There wasn’t anything else he could say to her.

“Yeah…”

“Where are you right now?”

“Remember that park where we used to hang out till you fell in love with your Xbox?”

“Rachel, it’s nine o’clock. What are you doing there?”

“It’s a bit of a long story…”

“I’m comin’.”

Gavin would get in trouble for leaving the house at this hour, especially since his father was out of town. “No, no! Don’t… I’m a mess right now.”

He laughed. “You’re always a mess, genius. I’m not your boyfriend; your hair’s fine.”

Gavin showed up in record time, carrying with him a brown paper bag. He sat down cross-legged in front of her and took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze.

“Hey…”

The next thing she knew, she was a sobbing mess, and Gavin was holding her up. He didn’t say much, but he didn’t necessarily have to.

Rachel had never been big on physical contact, but she needed it now more than ever, and Gavin would stay here until she could breathe without hiccupping in between.

He stroked her hair as she sobbed into his shoulder, mumbling, “It isn’t fair” on repeat until she calmed down.

They were silent once more, then Rachel pointed to the bag. “What’s in that?” Her voice was thick.

“Dinner. Mom made lasagna.”

“I love you.” She wiped her eyes.

Gavin smirked. “I don’t.”

She shook her head and cleared her throat, obviously analyzing her behavior and feeling embarrassed.

Gavin broke into her thoughts the way he always did. “All right. Now eat so I can take you home and then get back and sneak into my room before my mom realizes I’m gone.”

He was helping her up when Nate’s car slowed to a stop outside the park. He got out and nodded at Gavin, thankful.

“Can I have a minute with her, Nate?” Gavin asked.

Nate shrugged. “Hey, at least she talks to you.”

Gavin shifted his gaze to his best friend, who was busy picking at a fraying bandage. “Rachel…”

“What?” It came off more annoyed than she intended it to be.

“Cut him some slack. Apologize.”

Her brow furrowed, and she glared at him.

He smiled. “You know I’m right.”

“Go away,” she muttered.

“All right, all right. I’m leaving.” He gave her one last, pointed look before getting into his truck and driving off.

Rachel got into the car and sighed. “Tell me more about Jameson.”

Nate glanced in the rearview mirror in time to see the taillights from Gavin’s truck disappear around the block and made a mental note to thank the kid the next time he saw him.

He started the car and put it into gear.

He pondered over his answer. “It’s a place for kids like you.”

“Kids like… I’ve got superpowers?” She feigned surprise.

“No, I mean…”

“Orphans?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re sending me to an orphanage instead of taking me with you?” Her anger was back in no time.

“Rachel, it’s what your father wanted.”

She fought off the urge to roll her eyes. Why did it matter what the dead man wanted?

She lowered her voice. “What about what I want?” she asked.

“Listen to me. It’s more than just an orphanage, okay? It’s a good place,” he offered.

“So, a good orphanage instead of a regular one?” she asked.

“It’s a project your father funded. He and a bunch of his colleagues and friends worked on it.

“A safe space for their kids in case things were to go sideways,” Nate explained, turning the corner onto their street.

“Right. Davis Fayne’s grand plan for his daughter was to go to a glorified orphanage if plan A, hiring a nanny, failed,” she argued.

“If that’s how you choose to look at it, then yes.”

“He abandoned me! He abandoned you too!”

“He disappeared. He’s probably dead,” Nate mumbled as he pulled into the driveway. He shut off the engine.

“He better be.” Rachel said, and stormed off. Again.

It was a little past midnight when she went back downstairs and saw her godfather sitting on the sofa, flicking through channels.

She went into the kitchen and busied herself with making some coffee, then she quietly went up to him and handed him the mug, sitting down beside him.

“Ready to talk?” he asked after taking a tentative sip.

“I don’t think I ever will be.”

“Coffee’s good.”

“Thanks.” Talking to Nate was never a hard thing to do. He was the father figure of her life and a friend. He was a busy man, but he made time for her and was there when it counted.

Even if he hadn’t been, Nanna had.

It was quiet for a few more minutes.

“It’s like someone’s yanked the ground from beneath my feet, and they’re really getting a kick out of my not knowing what to do. And it’s not a good feeling.” She put her head on his shoulder.

“I still can’t wrap my head around it, bud. I mean, I know, but…it’s sort of easy to dismiss. Like if we could just pretend she’s still there.”

“I don’t even miss her yet.”

“I guess it’ll get more real in a day.”

Rachel let out a heavy breath. “The funeral?”

“Yeah. Hannah’s flying out tonight. She’ll help with the arrangements. I guess I’ll be making the calls.”

“What about me?”

“I need you to pack.”

Rachel closed her eyes. “But—”

“Listen, you’re going to have to pack in any case, D.C. or Jameson. Although right now, sleep if you can.”

“Why do you think I’m drinking coffee with you, old man?”

Nate shook his head. “Wanna see Bruce Willis blow stuff up?”

“I’m game.”

Rachel drifted off by the time Nate left to pick up his fiancée from the airport, and when he returned, she’d retreated to her room.

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