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July 2012

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Up the Spiral Stair--Episode 2

SUMMARY: A young teenager suddenly finds her family rich and relocating after a surprise inheritance. The new home, a lavish estate far from where they live, will give the middle-class family a new start: Her mother can finally stay home, and her father can finally have the elite job he's always wanted.

But something isn't right about this new set-up, and Julie soon hears that her parents have been arrested and thrown into prison. Her new guardian will be her strange cousin, the son of her late uncle, and she'll be presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Will Julie be able to follow the detailed contract that comes with her new life, or will the strange, supernatural-seeming events surrounding both her cousin and late-uncle send her running away.

Rated: K+

Genre: Supernatural/Drama

Category: Manga

I must've been in bed when my parents returned. A woman had found me in the attic, a woman named Agnessa. She was Russian, she said, and she came to America to help keep girls like me clean. She forced me down the spiral staircase by my risk, opened my bathroom door, and threw me inside. I wasn't to come out until I had bathed to perfection, and she did check everything when I emerged a few minutes later, my hair wrapped in a luxurious towel and my body clad in a silk bathrobe with a "J" monogramed onto the skirt.

Agnessa threw me into bed, allowing me to keep on my bedside lamp as long as I needed, but only because I was new in the home. As soon as she left, I checked my trust computer for the time: It was only nine o'clock.

But now it was after midnight, and I could hear cars outside on the courtyard. Despite the warmness of my bed, I ventured to one of the two windows I had and peered out carefully. Sure enough, at least ten cars were parked in the driveway. A lone man, who looked to be Amar, was going around to each one to turn off their headlights. When that task was complete, he returned inside.

Feeling nosy, I decided to try to find the staircase that could take me to the lower levels of the estate. Neither direction had anything worth looking into, so I returned to bed.

But I could hear their voices.

I followed the sounds to one of the three doors, and I opened the one to the spiral staircase. The voices were somehow louder, and I sat on the stairs to listen.

"How in the world did these imposters get into this house?!" a man asked angrily. I couldn't tell who he was, but he was close to irate, as were the others around him.

"Everything checked out, I assure you," another man said. His voice was kinder and softer, but I didn't know he was either.

"You obviously didn't," a female said in a harsh tone. "I looked over their documents once we realized the mistake. It's been obvious all along. And don't give me any excuses because there aren't any. You screwed up, and now we have a huge mess to clear up."

"What are we going to do with their things?" the first man asked loudly, throwing something.

"Pack them up and store them, is all I know to say," the woman replied. "Don't damage them, though. The girl is legitimate at least."

"See that's the other part of this that I just cannot wrap my head around," a third man said, slamming what sounded like papers or books into a cardboard box. "They adopted her legally, yes?"

"That was the only good paperwork in the entire mix. But none of her surviving relatives know why she was sent to such a common family. They want her to have all of this, but those two are going to be in prison for a long, long time," the woman said to him, throwing items into boxes at various points in her reply. "She's in bed now, so keep quiet. We don't want her to know anything is up."

"Who's going to tell her?" the kinder man asked.

"I nominate you for starting this whole mess," the first man hissed, throwing a particularly heavy item into a box.

"I agree," the woman said in a calmer voice. "You'll be the case worker from now on, and you'll be the one trying to get her cousin down here to stay with her."

"I think we should wake her to tell her now," he whispered.

"No, we'll let her sleep. According to those imposters, she's to start at a local prep school tomorrow. We'll call the headmaster first thing and let him know she'll arrive the following day instead. You'll spend tomorrow explaining things to her, and informing her of her adoption and other circumstances," she explained.

The sounds of the group packing my parents' things filled the stairwell, as did my cries. Why no one said a word to me all these years astounded me. I always knew I was different from my parents, both mentally and physically, but I had no reason to believe I was adopted, or that I was the true heir to the large estate.

When I'd gathered myself, I ventured back to my bed. After curling up under the covers, I heard my door open, and a dim light from the hall filled the room.

"I told you not to bother her," the woman said quietly, closing the door. "And if Agnessa hears of this, she'll have your head. She raised Justin too, and he claims that's the main reason he ran off and didn't come back. Now he has his own estate, and his falling out with his father meant that Julie could receive it instead. We'll tell her everything tomorrow, I promise."

"I want to get it over with. She deserves to know."

"I'm tired of arguing with you," she sighed. "At least let the others get out of here. They're working through the photo albums now, well arguing over them. I want those to stay, and because I'm the lead investigator…"

"I'll help you," the man said, and the two departed.

They had found the stairs, I realized, because the elevator made no noise.

I lay awake, waiting for them to return. I knew to play dumb and pretend I'd heard nothing, but when their knock landed on my door, I wondered if I'd be able to. And once the door was open and the man appeared, I really began to doubt my acting abilities. My heart was simply pounding too loudly, and my breaths were too uneven.

"Are you awake, Julie?" he asked. I sat up in response, and he nodded. "I'm going to turn on the light now. Watch your eyes."

The light flicked on, causing me to grimace. He sat in my desk chair after pulling it to be beside my bed. He waited for my eyes to adjust before he began to speak.

"I have something important to discuss with you, something you might not like," he said.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"I'm the lawyer your uncle hired to watch over the estate. My name is Thomas Yates, and I was quite close with him before his passing. I've watched the entire family grow over the years, you see. I've been best friends with him since grade school, and I lived just up the road from him, until we both found our careers and moved away.

"But I'm not here to discuss myself, Julie. I have some news that may hurt you, but listen as best you can," he said. I nodded, and he continued. "You were adopted, Julie. Your mother was your uncle's sister-in-law. She gave birth to you while she was battling an illness, one that killed her a month later. Your father was also ill, and he decided to give you up for adoption, especially when the family wouldn't take you in.

"Your uncle always felt bad about what happened with you, and when he realized his time was coming, he changed his will to make you his sole heir. His son, Justin, is about ten years older than you, and he, like we did, has found his niche. But he's a flexible man, and he wanted to follow your father's wishes and become your caretaker when you came to live here."

"What about my parents? Where are they?"

"They mishandled this situation. Your uncle has been gone for a few months, long enough for some of the first payments to move into your trust, which is a life-long savings account. The account wasn't to be touched, however, until you were of age. You were to receive one thousand dollars per year before then to live on, but that was only because he knew your adoptive parents weren't as well off, and they would need the money. They were also told to inform you of everything.

"But after making the initial contact, they made some changes to your account. Thousands of dollars were moved from your trust into their savings, and they used it to buy extravagant things. Their new roles in life were to cover their sudden disappearance. He got a job with a local company that sends experienced sailors to the ocean for deep sea fishing. He was going to take your mother and use the provided boat to sail to the Caribbean Islands, where they've purchased a home.

"Their assets, and yours, have been frozen for the time being, and they have been arrested," he explained.

"Will I ever see them again?" I asked. Tears were streaming down my face, and I was deeply hurt by everything he'd explained to me, but I still needed him to answer my questions. He did so, but only by shaking his head. "Why not?"

"They have wronged you, Julie. Your cousin felt it was best to take legal action immediately, since he is now your acting guardian. You've been barred from seeing them, and they are restricted from seeing you. If they manage to post bail with their frozen assets, they'll be forced to stay away from here. You'll also have a security official monitoring you at school, but from a distance. We understand how important reputations are for a girl your age."

"If you understand so much, then what are people going to say when I go to school? The only parents I know are behind bars."

"Your kinship will keep you safe. Your uncle was similar to a nobleman of the area. Even the most elite family serve his wishes, either by choice or force. He's been known to try sneaky things to get what he wants, and his death was no different. He altered his will in your favor, angering most of your extended family. You've never met any of them, to my knowledge, but they're all quite angry with your uncle for including you all of the sudden. They've all said that 'the commoners have corrupted her.' I don't agree, Julie. I think you're a kind young woman, and this experience will only make you stronger."

"I was adopted by con artists, and my real parents are dead. I doubt anyone could grow stronger from a situation like this," I cried.

"You'd be surprised by how resilient you really are, Julie," he smiled. He then stood, and after returning my chair, he turned to face me. "Tomorrow morning, Agnessa will greet you and help you prepare for the day. There are some things I need to show you, and you'll start school the day after."

"What kind of things?"

"You'll be happy with these surprises, Julie," he smiled, waving gently as he turned off the light and headed into the hallway.

A few minutes later, the last car left the house. Though I could hear the faint sound of a vacuum cleaner, the house was quiet, almost too quiet. My own thoughts came screaming into my vision. Sleep would not come, though the nightmares were ever-present and more vivid than ever.