Perfection of Suffering - M. Sinclair

Chapter One

Dahlia Aldridge

Wildberry Lane.

Possibly the only place that I would ever truly consider home. I had lived here my entire life, so it made sense. Well, nearly my entire life—I suppose, in all technicality, I was raised on the streets until the age of two… an experience that I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to remember, if we were being honest.

In the sixteen years since then, this exclusive, affluent cul-de-sac had become my entire universe. My not so little kingdom. My family had never considered moving, to my knowledge, and as more years passed, I grew to be even more attached to the select grouping of estates. I didn’t ever really plan on leaving, despite the obvious unrealistic nature of that plan. But honestly—why move when absolute perfection surrounded you?

That wasn’t a dramatization of how I felt about my small neighborhood, either. It was perfect. Now, pinning down the source of that perfection was far more difficult.

Maybe it was the long, stone-paved road that led through a stretch of massive oak trees towards the six-estate-large gated community that inspired and fulfilled the idyllic notion of romanticized Southern wealth and living. Equally as possible, it could be the shaded atmosphere that the foliage around the estate created, allowing for only small streaks of golden light to break through, bathing all six properties in an afternoon glow as the sweet-smelling breeze ruffled the leaves. Honestly, though? I didn’t think it was any of that.

There was just something absolutely unique about Wildberry Lane.

Something that in part came with the amount of money that was spent to keep this level of peace and security. It was easy to forget that only three acres out to each side of our small sanctuary were massive security fences that were patrolled by teams around the clock to ensure the safety of the residents. The security company consisted of an effective and silent group that never disturbed the bubble of tranquil zen that this place seemed to effortlessly maintain. Even now, as my eyes traced the secondary gate at the edge of the cul-de-sac, I couldn’t actually see any of the guards, but I was well aware they were there.

It was actually rather impressive.

Not that I was complimenting them, because I was still pretty annoyed that they hadn’t accepted my tea cakes. Okay, not accepting would imply that they denied the adorable treats I’d brought over to the guard house, which they hadn’t. No, they’d taken them, but they had called my parents to make sure that was something they were okay with. As if my mother, of all people, would have an issue with something like that.

Even now I felt myself nearly rolling my eyes at their formality. I understood it was their job… but a little conversation wouldn’t hurt anyone, would it?

Then again, I’d had the art of polite conversation drilled into my head from the time I was four. Not that my parents suggested I indulge in it with everyone, but even just saying a quick hello was better than completely ignoring someone. Was it wrong that I expected the same from others?

Tucking my feet underneath myself, I shifted so that the afternoon sun wasn’t shining right on my face, the air around me smelling of earth after the small rainstorm only hours ago. One that had left the air humid and damp feeling. This type of weather wasn’t for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. I closed my eyes momentarily, listening to the late August cicadas that had already begun to chirp their symphony as the wind turned just slightly cooler, enough that it brushed over my skin and had me letting out a relieved sigh. The curtains behind me brushed back and forth between the archway of my bedroom and the small balcony that I was sitting on, the entire moment bathing me in content security.

The sound of voices had me opening my eyes again and refocusing on my current subject of interest. My gaze traced the half-moon shaped property setup of Wildberry, examining each of the massive estates that faced towards the center cul-de-sac. It was a familiar sight. With that being said, there was something occurring today that had never happened before. A new experience that I was finding more than a bit off, if we were being honest.

There was someone moving into our community.

The concept was not only foreign, but made me feel… uncomfortable? No. Not exactly. Maybe just out of sorts. My lip dipped slightly, thinking about how I would never