[December 24th, 1992. Costa Mesa, CA.]
Annie Kelp knocked softly on the door frame of her step-daughter’s bedroom. “Eve?” she called.
Eve looked up from the book she was reading–Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter–with a smile. “Hi, mother,” she said. She was thirteen years old, red-haired and freckled, but there were times when her step-mother felt she only looked like a little girl, that something old and wise was looking out through those clear blue eyes.
Annie stood carefully outside the threshold. “May I come in?” she asked formally. Eve’s last therapist had stressed the importance of giving Eve her own space and respecting it.
Eve swept her feet off her bed and sat up to give Annie room to sit beside her. “Of course.”
Annie stepped in the room, sat beside Eve on the bed. “We had a good day today, don’t you think?” she asked.
Eve smiled and nodded. “It was good to see my cousins,” she said.
Annie, her husband Jerry, and Eve had driven down to Leguna Beach to spend the day with Annie’s brother Bill and his family. Bill’s two sons were ten and fourteen, and Annie had worried about how Eve would get along with them. Sometimes she had problems relating to other children.
It had gone fine, though. The children had played Monopoly and watched movies on the Disney Channel. Eve had been a perfectly ordinary little girl all day long.
Annie glanced at the door involuntarily, although she knew that Jerry was downstairs. Lowering her voice a little she asked, “You let those boys win, didn’t you?”
Eve grinned, eyes filled with an almost frightening joy. “No, I won. I was playing a different game than they were. They were seeking to acquire property and money. I was seeking to acquire their good will. Everybody won.”
Annie felt a familiar mix of feelings. Her love for the strange girl who had entered their lives ten years ago was so solid a bedrock that she scarcely noticed it anymore–it just was the way things were. But on top of that was always a hint of fear, fear for Eve, for how others might react to her intensity, her preternatural intellect. There was also–although it would be years yet before she would admit this to herself–a growing sense of fear of Eve.
“I know how hard it is for you,” Annie said. “You’re so much smarter than everyone else. I know that it’s an effort for you to slow to our speed, and I want you to know that I appreciate that. You must find us so boring.”
Eve kept smiling. “Oh, mother, you’re not boring. People are fascinating.”
Annie suppressed a shudder. There it was again, that sense of strangeness in Eve. People are fascinating, she had said. As if she herself was something other than a person.
“It’s been a rough year, I know,” Annie went on, “Dr. Bradley’s horrible accident and having to find a new doctor. That hasn’t been easy.”
“I had very strong feelings for Dr. Bradley,” Eve admitted carelessly, then went on to say, “Dr. Clayton is a good doctor.”
“I’m glad you feel that way, Eve,” Annie said. “You know that I just want you to be happy.”
“I am happy,” Eve insisted.
“Good,” Annie said. She hoped that it was true. She usually tried not to think about how Eve had come into their lives, the cult, the murders, the infant who was left behind in the hospital. Eve deserved a chance at a normal life.
Eve looked up at Annie, smiling shyly. “Tomorrow’s Christmas.”
Annie smiled back. “So it is. And you should get some sleep tonight, little girl. Don’t stay up reading too late, okay?”
“I won’t, mother,” Eve promised.
Annie leaned over and kissed her step-daughter’s forehead. “I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you, too, mother,” Eve whispered back.
After Annie left Eve picked up her book again, but waited until she heard her step-mother go down the stairs before starting to read. She didn’t want Annie to hear how fast she turned the pages–it might upset her.