By Elizabeth Arlen

Chapter 1…

He knelt down to the girl and smiled a big smile. She looked up at him wearily, her big grey eyes almost fearful of him.

"Hi, I'm Allan, what's your name?" He inquired. She sighed and pulled at the tag on the lanyard around her neck. She held it out to him and he slowly took it. It said, 'Hi, I'm Natalie West; I can't speak.' He looked back at her and smiled again. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Natalie." And without thinking, he reached down to ruffle her hair, like he did with his brother's kids. She bolted up and pushed him back before running out of the room and out of sight.

"Sorry," Joshua said, running forward to help Allan up.

"No, I'm sorry, did I do something wrong?" He asked. Joshua sighed.

"Natalie…she doesn't really trust strangers or anyone, for that matter. I didn't think she'd be here or I'd have warned you." Joshua said, "I don't know if she'll learn to like you or anything, but you'll see her around a lot."

"I see, is she your daughter?" Allan asked. Joshua looked down at the floor and put his hands in his pockets.

"I wish to God she was." He replied quietly. Then more loudly, he continued, "No, she's my wife's sister's girl. But her mother's been in a coma for quite some time now, and Natalie lives with us." He gave Allan a look that told him not to ask about the girl's father.

"Well then, shall we continue?" Allan asked. Joshua nodded; he had volunteered to show Allan the church at which he would soon begin working. While Joshua didn't actually work at the church, his wife, Janet did.

Allan was the newest pastor coming to the church. He was forty-two years old, 5'9", with a slight build and dark hair. He was happy to return to Western Washington; he loved the cloudy skies, the rain and the wet in general.

Joshua was a member of the church that Allan would soon be leading. Allan knew that Joshua's wife worked at the church, but he hadn't actually met Janet yet, so he suggested that they go to her office so he could meet her. Joshua agreed, and they walked over to Janet's office.

There on the love seat in Janet's office, Natalie sat with Josh and Janet's son, Aidan. The boy looked to be about seven or eight years old, while Natalie seemed to be sixteen or so. She was helping him with his homework, pointing out numbers and writing notes and steps down. When she saw Allan in the doorway, she jumped up from the love seat, scattering papers, pencils and the arithmetic book onto the floor as she ran behind Janet. Aidan looked from Natalie to Allan before leaning down to pick up his fallen school supplies.

"Hi, I'm Allan," He said looking nervously at the scattered paper on the floor.

Janet smiled, "It's nice to meet you, Allan, I'm Janet." She said. The woman glanced, a question on her face, from Natalie's cowering figure behind her to her husband. Aidan straightened up, his things gathered in his arms.

"And what's your name?" Allan asked, trying for the second time that day to befriend a child.

"I'm Aidan." The boy said an unhappy tone in his voice. Allan smiled.

"I'm Allan, it's nice to meet—"

"Hey, leave Natalie alone, ok?" Aidan said glaring at the man. Allan straightened up and looked back at Joshua who was staring worriedly at his wife and niece. Natalie had burrowed her face into Janet's back and Aidan was trying to comfort her.

"I'm sorry," Janet said, "Natalie is…very different and…" She trailed off, not knowing how to explain that he hadn't really done anything wrong.

"Well, it was nice to meet you; I look forward to working with you." Allan said. Janet smiled and turned to Natalie and Allan turned back to Joshua, an apologetic look on his face.

"Don't worry about it." Joshua said, "Come on, I'll show you the education building."

She sat in the hallway near her history class, going back and forth between writing on her laptop and writing in a notebook. Natalie's fears, phobias, nightmares, and skittishness prevented her from making friends, so during lunch and between her classes she sat in the empty classrooms or outside the door and she wrote; it was her outlet. She wrote about anything and everything; her nightmares, her fears, her thoughts or anything that kept her from thinking about him. She was terrified of her thoughts, her memories.

A girl sat down next to her; a girl with long brown hair and darker skin. She pulled out her laptop as well and turned it on.

"I'm Amy." She said smiling at the girl. Natalie reached for her lanyard but the girl held a hand up, "It's ok, I know who you are. So, can I ask you something?" The girl nodded and reached for her pad and pen to write an answer. "Why…why don't you talk, is it medical or mental or…?" Natalie looked at Amy and wrote down her answer.

It's just how I am. She held it up and Amy nodded, "Fair enough," She said turning back to her computer to type in her password. Then she looked back at Natalie, who was quite confused; no one had ever come up to her after they found out she couldn't talk, unless to tease her and everyone understood what areas were hers.

"So," Amy said, "I guess you sit here pretty often." Natalie nodded, "Yeah, I've seen you off and on, and I was kind of curious. I don't know if you know, but I just transferred here and…I don't really know anyone. I asked a few people about you, sorry if that's weird, but nobody really knows anything about you. There are a few rumors, though." Natalie looked up with more attention. "Yeah, it's true. There's one that you're just stupid and there's one that you're snobby. I don't know. I don't really believe any of it, personally." Natalie picked up her pad and Amy patiently waited.

Thank you. She wrote.

Amy smiled and nodded. "So, I was wondering…do you wanna be friends, Natalie?" She asked, "I don't know about you, but I could use one." Natalie took a deep breath and wrote on her pad.

You don't mind…this?

"No, I don't. Do you have Yahoo messenger or anything? We could just write to each other. Then it wouldn't matter at all." Amy suggested. She laughed a little, "I'm sorry, I sound so desperate." Natalie's mouth upturned at the corner a little.

I have a messenger. .

Amy nodded. "I'm happy." The bell rang and Natalie jumped a little, her heart pounding in her head. She shut her laptop quickly and grabbed her things before getting up and walking quickly to her class. Right before the door, she stopped and looked back at Amy. The other girl smiled and nodded and Natalie walked into her class.

Allan was sitting at his desk one day, working over the next Sunday's sermon when he heard a small whimpering. At first he thought nothing of it, but then the noise began to worry him and he left his office and went out to the Fellowship hall. Lying in the middle of the floor was Natalie, fitfully asleep, with several books scattered around her. On top of that, her school uniform skirt was riding up as she tossed and turned. Allan moved to where he couldn't see up her skirt and watched the girl sleep. At several moments, it sounded as if she were crying and just when he was getting up the courage to go wake her up and see if she was okay, her mouth parted and she spoke.

It was just a whisper, a breath of a sentence, "Don't say a word," she said. Then she folded her knees to her chest. At that moment, her open laptop made a loud beeping noise and she woke up with a start. Allan moved out of sight but continued to watch her. Her dark hair stuck to her forehead, her breath was quick, her hands shaky. She rolled over onto her stomach and began to type on her computer. Then Allan walked to Janet's office. He knocked on her door before walking in.

"I know it's not really any of my business, Jan, but, Natalie was having a nightmare out in the Fellowship hall," Allan began. Janet tensed and stood up.

"Is she okay? Did she wake up?" She asked quickly.

"Yeah, she woke up, she looked a little shaky, but fine." Allan said. Janet sighed and sat back down.

"Okay, thank you for telling me." She said

"Also…she said something." Allan added quietly. Janet looked up once again.

"That's impossible." She said, then after a pause, "What did she say?"

"She said, 'Don't say a word,'" Allan replied. Janet looked up, surprised. She opened her mouth to say something, but then changed her mind, closed her mouth and looked back at her work.

"Thanks for telling me," She repeated turning completely away from Allan. He sighed and went back to his office. He sat down at his desk and tried to get back to working on his sermon, but found he couldn't concentrate. What was she dreaming about? And even more present on his mind; what happened to her? He couldn't help thinking about it. People were rarely naturally nervous, paranoid, and constantly terrified. Something must have happened to her. And it wasn't the kind of thing he could ask about.

The girl sat in the closet with the door shut tightly. She sat with her knees folded tightly to her chest, her hands holding her head, fingers gripped in her hair. She could hear the sounds coming from the bedroom beyond the closet door. She tried to ignore the sounds. And even more she tried to ignore the knowledge that he would come for her next. There was no place to hide in this house. Nowhere. Her mother's screams ripped though the air and the girl began to cry in vain.

Then, after about ten minutes, the screaming stopped and she could hear him talking softly. She heard his footsteps toward the closet door and his hand on the doorknob.

"Is there a little kitten in the closet?" His voice drifted through the door and under the crack. She whimpered a little without meaning to and gripped her hair a little harder. The closet door opened the light leaking onto her form.

"There she is." He said with a smile, leaning down to her. She slowly moved her head to look at him. The smile was full of malice, or so it looked to her. He scared her. But there was nothing she could do to stop it. She stood up as usual and walked to him. He put a hand in her hair and yanked her out of the closet. She winced a little, but followed him. The man was smoking and he knelt down to her level and blew some smoke in her face. Then he took her arm and pushed back her sleeve before putting out the cigarette on her wrist. She bit her lip to keep from crying out. If she cried out…it encouraged liked that. The man reached for the buttons on her shirt…

Natalie woke with a start to a buzz on her computer. She pushed her memories away and rolled onto her stomach to check her computer. Amy had been trying to talk to her on her messenger, but she'd fallen asleep. Her breath was quick and she tried to control it. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. And then she saw the marks on her wrist. The faded little circles showed…She gripped her wrist with her hand and went to check her computer, her hands shaking.

N: Amy, sorry, I fell asleep over my reading.

A: It's ok, it's always good to sleep.

N: Is it?

A: Isn't it?

N: Sometimes I'm not so sure.

A: ?

N: I don't like sleeping too much, Amy, I don't sleep if I can't help it, really.

A: Is that why you're always drifting off in class?

N: I guess so.

A: Why?

N: It's…difficult.

A: I understand.

N: Thank you.

A: Natalie?

N: Yeah?

. . .

N: Amy?

A: Sorry, my parents are arguing, I got distracted.

N: That's ok, I understand.

A: I think I need to go.

N: Ok.

A: Will I see you tomorrow?

N: I don't know.

A: Ok.

N: Ok.

A has signed out.

Natalie shut her laptop and sat up pulling at her uniform skirt. She sat back on her heels and wiped the sweat from her forehead one more time. She felt so cold and clammy. 'I should have worn my winter uniform today, it got a little colder lately.' She held her arms and rubbed them to generate some heat. She hated those nightmares…those memories.

She shook herself a little. 'No, stop thinking about that!' There was a tap on her shoulder and the girl jumped, scrambling away from whoever was behind her. When she turned to see who it was, she found Allan in front of her.

"Hey, look, I'm sorry, but I saw you sleeping earlier and you looked like you were having a bad dream or something and I wanted to see if you were okay," He said quietly, maintaining a big distance between himself and her. She held a hand to her blouse, holding the two sides together, though it wasn't needed. When she realized it, she slowly lowered her hand. She looked away from him and looked down at the floor.

She was shaking again and her heart was beating so quickly.

"And you…you said something, when you were asleep." He added. She looked quickly back up at him and shook her head. "I swear it's true." She continued to shake her head, her heart beating a little faster.

"Natalie?" Aidan and Joshua had just walked in from getting Aidan from school. The eight-year old marched quickly up to Natalie and examined her. Then he stood between Natalie and Allan a determined, cross look on his face. Joshua set down Aidan's school bag and walked over to Natalie and helped her up.

"Natalie, are you okay?" Joshua asked her quietly, "Why are you crying?" Numbly, she lifted a hand to her face and realized that her face was quite wet. She shook her head and looked away.

"I think I startled her when I walked by," Allan said. Natalie glanced at him quickly before walking quickly to her aunt's office.

"Didn't I tell you before?" Aidan said, "Leave Natalie alone."

"Aidan!" Joshua scolded.

"Leave Natalie alone." Aidan reiterated before stalking off to his mother's office. Joshua rolled his eyes.

"Sorry about Aidan; for all his bluntness, he's probably right." The man said, leaning down to gather Natalie's things. "Natalie is nervous, she's a wreck and she doesn't like being startled. She doesn't sleep and when she does, it's fitfully. If you can avoid her a little, I'd appreciate it, Allan. I know it's not your fault and I do trust you, but Natalie is too special to me and I hate to see her like this."

"No, I'm sorry. I saw her having a nightmare and I wanted to make sure she was ok, against my better judgment." Allan replied. "I'll try and keep my distance from her if I can, Josh, I'm really sorry."

"I know you had good intentions, I just think this might be better for her." Joshua said. He smiled at Allan, "You're a good guy, thanks for agreeing."

"I understand." Allan smiled back and returned to his office.

Natalie walked quickly into Janet's office, tears streaming down her face, and collapsed onto the love seat face down. Janet got up from her desk quickly and went to her.

"Natalie, what's wrong? Are you okay?" She asked putting a hand on the girl's back. Natalie jerked back up and away from the hand and she ran back out of the office. "Natalie! Natalie!" Janet sighed and sat down on the love seat, putting her face in her hands.

The girl ran around the corner and into the pastor's office. It was empty at the moment and she stood there, unsure of why she had come. Finally she sat down at his chair and looked down at his desk. His sermon was there on top of everything else, incomplete and scribbled over with red. She found a tablet of paper and his red pen and scribbled down a message.

He walked in a few moments later, surprised to see her.

"Natalie." He said, "You know, I just told your uncle that I would try not to bother you too much and I have to say, I never thought I would see you in my office." She looked up at him, the tears drying on her face.

She held up the pad. What did I say?

Allan sighed and walked further into his office.

"You said, 'Don't say a word.'" Allan replied. She nodded and stood up. Allan moved out of her way and quickly added, "Look, I know you don't talk and I understand, but if you ever need anything from me, don't hesitate to write or walk in, ok?" She glanced at him and walked on.

AN: Thanks for reading. This is an idea I've been fooling around with in my head for awhile after I had a dream. Mostly I'm looking to guage opinion so I'd really appreciate it if you could give some constructive critisism. Thanks again. Remember, you read and review, and I'll read and review. Nothing like a good old fashioned bribe.