Chapter Nine

Seven-thirty Monday morning found me sitting on the floor in front of Brent's locker, my Chemistry binder balanced on my knees as I plodded through a sheet of Calorimetry problems. As reluctant as I was to pry, I knew that I had to get Brent to tell me something about what was happening between him and Tom. There was more going on then Tom bullying him and now that I was sort of involved I needed to know a little bit, if only so Tom wouldn't figure out that I knew Jack shit and had been stringing him along like a chump.

By ten after I had moved from Chemistry to Biology and Brent still hadn't arrived, which was strange since he was usually at school by eight. He had told me once that he'd much rather be at school early than duffing around at home, a feeling I could empathize with. Though Brent had never come straight out and said so, I'd always gotten the impression that his home life wasn't all that hot.

I sat there worrying about him. What if he was having family problems? He had said that Tom hadn't bruised his face but what if someone at home had done it? Or what if Tom had stopped by his house and beaten the crap out of him over the weekend? What if he couldn't come to school because he was injured and no one at his home cared?

There were too many what-ifs for my peace of mind.

I pulled out my Arlington Academe agenda and flipped to the blank Address pages in the back where I'd penciled in Brent's phone number and email address ages ago. I was debating over whether I should head down to the library and see if he was online or if I should try and phone him, when a shadow settled over me.

I glanced up.

"Are you Avery Marks?"

There were two pretty girls looming in front of me. "Yeah."

One of the girls crouched down beside me. "My name is Julia Granville." Julia was small, with bright green eyes and bronzed, glowing skin. Her hair was caramel-coloured, long and straight and ending in perfect little waves. "This is my best friend Fleur Ducette."

Fleur remained standing. She jerked her head at me in a curt nod and remained looking stony. Her champagne blond hair was stylishly jagged, her heavily-lined blue eyes wide. "Are you old money or new?" she demanded, speaking with a heavy Quebecois accent.

I refrained from snorting. More like no money. "I don't discuss my parent's finances," I replied tersely.

Julia and Fleur exchanged glances that I couldn't read.

"Look, is there something you two wanted?"

"Since you're new here I'll be very straightforward with you." Julia leaned in close to me, smelling like tropical suntan lotion. "Markus French is basically mine."

"Well jeeze what've you been doing all this time, perfecting that tan?" I rubbed at my itching nose, pleased. It was about damn time some stupid bint tried to claim Markus. If she started pursing him then he'd have a lot less time to pursue me.

A shocked expression crossed Julia's face. "Excuse me?"

"Do you really think you'll ever snag that idiot if you spend all your time farting around? Take some initiative Julia. Don't tell me he's 'basically' yours, tell me he's all yours!"

"Markus is no idiot," Fleur cried, scandalized. She knelt down on my other side, her eyes enormous. "'Ow can you say such 'orrible thing?"

"You don't like Markus?" Julia demanded in disbelief.

"No I don't."

"Are you saying..." She stared helplessly at Fleur. The pair of them were flummoxed. It hadn't ever occurred to them that there might be someone who didn't like Markus. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I'm not interested in Markus French and I want him to leave me the hell alone," I loudly reiterated. A group of chatting boys and girls across from us quieted and looked over curiously. "If he means that much to you then shit, take a stand and get him away from me. Hike your skirt up. Show off your rack. Guys dig that 'loose virtue' shit."

To my surprise, Fleur let out a high-pitched giggle before hastily clamping her hands over her mouth. "Merde," she mumbled behind her hands, flushing slightly.

Julia glared at her and then glared at me. "Maybe the concept of self-worth is foreign to a dumbass like you but I'm not about to act slutty just to get a boyfriend. I want Markus to like me for who I am, not because I dress like some two-bit skank."

I was impressed. From her perfect hair and glowing tan and flawless make-up, I'd have figured Julia wouldn't mind tarting herself up for Markus. It was nice to see that she had self-worth and pride in herself. "Well start dazzling him with your winning personality then. I'm sick of him always trying to smarm it up to me. For the sake of my sanity, please make the guy your boyfriend."

One of the guys across from us snickered. He and his friends were all eavesdropping on us shamelessly.

"Markus is not the one to be impressed by such foolishness as the changing of face and clothes," Fleur declared haughtily. "Not all the teenager boy will become stupide over the girls' you say..." She waved her hand in the direction of my chest.

"Well he'll always be a perv in my opinion," I mumbled, thinking of the way he'd touched his mouth and then touched mine in some kind of a weirdo pseudo-kiss. Who would do that to a person who was clearly uninterested, if not an overly-hormonal teenaged pervert...i.e. a boy?

"Anyway." Julia stood up, clearly flustered. "I'm glad that we've come to an agreement."

"Don't be passive," I advised her. "Markus isn't exactly what you'd call subtle. Lay it on thick. Get him before some other skank does. I'll bet he'd like you a lot – you have great hair."

"Um thanks." Julia hastily led Fleur away, both of them shooting perplexed looks at me over their shoulders.

"Man, I thought all chicks were into Markus," a guy from across the way commented.

"I don't know why he's always talking about her, she's not even that pretty," another girl said, not bothering to keep her voice down.

I rolled my eyes, tuned out those gossip-mongers and jammed all my books back into my schoolbag. Class was going to start in about seven minutes and I decided that I would send Brent a quick e-mail before it did; I wasn't too keen on calling his house and then getting his dad or mom. I booked it down to the library, quickly logged onto one of many free computers and wrote Brent a short e-mail asking if he was okay and telling him to phone me after school if he felt like talking.

"Morning Avery," Miss Penny called out as I left the computer terminals. She was standing at the large double wooden doors that were situated behind the current affairs magazines, a key in her hand. "You know all about the Archives don't you?"

I knew that the double doors led downstairs to the enormous basement where all kinds of old, out-of-print, overflow books and documents were kept. "I know that you need permission to go down there."

"That's right. If you need materials that aren't housed up here, come find me or one of the other librarians and we'll get you sorted okay?"


She beamed at me. "You have a good day, Avery."

"You too."

"And for goodness sakes smile!"

As I headed to class, I recalled her panic in that stairwell last week. Who was it that was sending her threatening letters and why? What truth had she been talking about? Or was it just Tom threatening her, being a big dick again? And who had she been talking to? Who was Lucas? The only thing I did know for certain was that there was a lot of shifty shit going on in this stupid school.

First class, which was Pre Calculus, snailed along without Brent. We didn't necessarily talk a lot in class, unless it was about Tom and his shit antics, but the row I was sitting in felt empty without him. I hadn't realized that his presence was something of a comfort to me until now, now that he was absent. I copied notes and worked out equations and sketched graphs mechanically, all the while trying desperately to ignore the feel of Tom glaring knives at me from across the room. I wished I had the guts to march over there and smash my calculator straight into his pissed off, ugly face.

I spent all of the next class sitting in the very back and alternating between note-taking and mindlessly sketching. My Art class was next period and it was the one thing I was looking forward to it as it had been cancelled all last week; Mr. Palermo had broken a couple of ribs horseback riding and it had taken a week to find an appropriate replacement. Art was really the only hobby I had and it was the one thing I did where I could still feel a connection to Alex. He had loved to watch me draw, spending hours sitting quietly beside me and just observing. I used to draw little comics that featured him as a Superhero, battling Robot Zombies and Mutant Pirates in order to save the world from a fate worse than death.

My heart was an enormous lead weight by the time the bell rang. My eyes stung. Without knowing what I'd been about to sketch, I'd somehow ended up with a hurried picture of Alex. He was looking for me and mom and dad and unable to find us. There were tears in his wide eyes and fear on his little face. I bent over my knees as I shoved my books into my schoolbag and surreptitiously scrubbed at my blurry eyes. I wasn't going to do this now, not when the whole class, and especially Tom, could see me!

I raised my head, trying to control my violently trembling lower lip, and looked straight up at Markus French. I froze. He was gazing steadily back at me from two aisles over, his expression concerned. He stood and slid between two tables towards me. In a panic, I grabbed my bag and my picture of Alex and booked it, feeling naked and exposed. My legs were shaking, my throat burning. I ducked into the first washroom I came across, locked myself in the first stall and clenched my eyes shut, silent sobs making my chest heave.

It wasn't fair.

It hurt so fucking much.

I buried my son alive.

The image of Alex's fear was enshadowed inside of me.

How could I sit in class, day after day when loss was ripping me apart?

Why did Markus of all people have to see me like this?

I slid to the floor and buried my dripping, messy face into my knees. "I just want to be left alone," I whimpered, tears and snot and spit making my words incoherent.

At that moment I wanted so desperately to be able to go home and climb into my mom's arms. I needed her more than I'd ever needed anything before and she didn't seem to care. She didn't have the strength to; she couldn't love me anymore.

So I pretended that she was there with me. I squeezed my eyes shut as tight and I could almost feel her stroking my hair, her hands soft and gentle. It would have to be enough.

I came out after a while, so drained that I needed to hold onto the wall as I edged towards the sinks. I washed my face until the cold water made my hands numb but my eyes still remained a little bit swollen. I left the washroom as the late bell rang, my stomach heavy and sick.

The new Art teacher wasn't in the classroom when I arrived. Neither Markus nor Tom took Art class and I took a little comfort in the fact that there would be no starings or glarings for a whole period.

"Hey Avery, over here!"

Emaleth Argyle, who was sitting across the room with her brunette friend, waved me over.

I slowly trudged over, hoping my puffy eyes and reddened nose weren't too conspicuous.

"Come sit with us," she invited, gesturing to an empty chair. "Regale us with your witty cynicism."

I steeled myself as I sat down, forcing away all my lingering weariness. "I don't regale on command."

Emaleth grinned and slid her arm around her scrawny friend's shoulders. "This character here is my all-time best pal Alice. Feel free to call her Lice like I do. This is the new girl I was telling you about Lice, Avery Marks."

Alice was quite the looker, in that there was a lot to look at. She wore her light brown hair up in two messy Chinese-style knots on top of her head and had secured them with shoelaces, one neon orange and one plaid. She looked as though she'd just stepped out of a MAC make-up ad, her eyes were festooned with thick magenta eyeliner, loads of mascara and some kind of fancy metallic gold, emerald, and pewter eyeshadow combo. She was also wearing enough sparkly, frosted blue lipstick to make her look as though she'd just smooched a cupcake.

"So thou art the comely wench who hath stolen our fair Markus' heart," she declared regally.

"Well he can have it back because I sure don't want it."

Alice lost the imperial British accent and leaned towards me. All I could see was her crazy eye make-up and blue mouth. "Dude for real? All new chicks want a piece of Markus – he's a real catch and a half, if you know what I mean. Plus he's like the nicest guy in the whole world. He's part of Amnesty International for godsakes."

"Didn't I tell you?" Emaleth demanded, pushing up her glasses, which were maroon-framed and cat's eyed today. "She was hiding in the Attic from him."

Alice studied me thoughtfully. "You suffer from low self-esteem don't you? You have that look."

"Oh piss off Lice," I snapped. Because Heaven forbid that dear, perfect, wonderful Markus display something so inane as a personality flaw...obviously there had to be something wrong with me, just because I wasn't in a big ditz over everyone's favourite pretty boy.

"Doesn't that just figure," Alice commented to Emaleth. She shook her head tragically, her shoelaces swinging against her cheeks. "Markus finally falls in love with the one woman destined to break his heart. Hey, that sounds pretty good, like the trailer of some shit summer romance movie."

"Well he isn't going to broken-hearted for long," I put in, trying not to roll my eyes. "That Julia Granville girl is planning on making her move."

Emaleth and Alice both scoffed. "Julia's been planning on making her move since Grade Ten," Emaleth told me.

I sighed, disappointed. Now I would have to round up someone else to actively pursue Markus.

"She may be perfectly streaked of hair and of the 'bountiful bosom' persuasion but her lovely little face turns into a mandarin every time she sees Markus."

"That's what happens when you go the old fake tan route," Emaleth proclaimed sagely. "You blush like a gourd."

"And on top of that, she goes heavy on the bronzer," Alice added. "Doesn't she know you're only supposed to do your T-Zone and that's only if you don't resemble carrot-inspired dung?"

Carrot-inspired dung. I shook my head, liking Alice in spite of myself and my shitty mood.

"Children, children – sketch pads out please, I've finally arrived!"

Our new Art teacher galumphed into the classroom with all the energy of a tropical hurricane. She was a very tall and a very large woman with a mass of tight auburn ringlets that rioted wildly around her head and copper earrings that resembled dinner plates in both shape and size. She was wearing an Indian-style tunic in a blinding aqua colour that was patterned with big golden lotuses edged in sequins, two-toned green and purple shimmering Thai fisherman Capri pants, and enough glimmering glass bangles to beautify a meter stick.

She looked about as out of place within the esteemed halls of Arlington Academe as a polar bear riding a tricycle would have.

"I simply must apologize for being tardy – traffic really does make fools of us all!" The teacher thumped down her enormous, mirrored tote bag onto her desk and beamed at us. "I'm called Marigold Mountain though I do confess that I have been called late for dinner too!" She laughed uproariously at her own joke.

Marigold Mountain. It was no big surprise what her parents were doing when they named her.

"I must insist that you call me Marigold or Mary. In this class there will be no teacher-student distinctions – instead we will all be bound by our love of creation!"

"Is she gonna be the shits or what?" Alice breathed, gazing at Marigold adoringly. "She isn't like any of the other stale old farty teachers at this school – you can tell!"

Emaleth threw me an amused look and sniggered into her pencil case.

Marigold took attendance in the most flamboyant manner I'd ever witnessed and then launched into a lengthy spiel about the 'relentless beauty' and 'unwavering symmetry' of the human face. Eventually, she managed to convey to us that we were to get into pairs and sketch each other's faces.

Alice immediately shot her hand into the air. "Marigold? Can I sketch you?"

The was a lot of sniggering at that. Marigold preened, thrilled beyond belief and blushed a delicate shade of fuchsia that clashed with her hair.

"I think she's found her soulmate," Emaleth remarked as we watched Alice grab her schoolbag and bound to the front of the room. "So you wanna be partners then?"

What choice did I have? "I guess."

"You can go first," Emaleth graciously allowed. "That way your boozer red eyes will have time to deflate."

"I have allergies," I muttered defensively, which wasn't exactly a lie. I did have allergies, so what if they only flared up around dust and pets and freshly-mowed grass?

I flipped my pad open to a blank page and studied Emaleth. She was beautiful in that Northern European model sort of way; she certainly had the 'ethereal facial bone equilibrium' Marigold had been waxing on about. I got her to take off her glasses, fix her hair out of her face and then I began to sketch.

"I noticed Brent's not here today," Emaleth suddenly spoke up, after a lengthy silence.

I looked up from shading the line of her cheek, surprised. "You don't know where he might be, do you?"

"Nope. I figured he would have told you, if he was going to tell anyone."

"I sent him an e-mail before class but I don't know if he'll get it or not." I ditched my smudge stick for my pencil. "You said Tom likes you right?"

"Yeah he does but he isn't going to tell me if he saw Brent over the weekend or not."

I frowned at her. "How do you know?"

"Because he knows that I like Brent and I'm not impressed with his bullying bullshit and if he did see Brent, he'll want to brag about it."

"Figures," I snarled. "That stupidass motherfucker. I hate him."

She blinked at me, her lips quirking. "If he did get up to some shit then you know who he'd boast it to?"

I knew where she was heading at once. "Don't even say it."

"Well what? Tom doesn't like a lot of people but he does like Markus. Markus would have a way better chance of finding out what's up with Brent than I would."

"I'm not asking Markus French for shit!" I cried, outraged.

Emaleth arched an eyebrow at me. "But this isn't about you is it? It's about Brent. And you know Markus would do anything for you, you're his soft spot."

I started on Emaleth's eye with more force than necessary, repulsed at the idea of being Markus' anything. And as much as I loathed the idea, it was obvious that Emaleth was right. I scowled down at what I'd drawn.

"See, you know I'm right," she declared, gloating.

"Oh shut up," I snapped. "I'm trying to sketch."

She shut up but wore an infuriatingly smug expression for the rest her sitting, which passed in silence.

Finally, I put down my pencil and examined what I'd drawn with a critical eye. It wasn't my best work, given the time factor but it was decent for an in-class assignment. I'd definitely managed to capture the sleek beauty of Emaleth's features, along with a clever expression that told the viewer that she was more than just a pretty face.

I signed and dated my work and handed it over.

Emaleth made a great, stupid production of scrutinizing it from all angles before finally decreeing that it wasn't 'half-bad'.

"Your encouragement knows no bounds."

"You need to work a bit more on your shading but otherwise it's pretty good." She handed back my sketch pad. "Now let's see what I can do with you, Mrs. French."

"Fuck off," I retorted, incensed.

Emaleth laughed and then decided to be a big idiot. She spent what felt like a good half an hour arranging and rearranging the way I sat, the angle of my face and my frigging eyebrows because apparently they weren't 'defined' enough. She recommended her Ukrainian Aesthetician to me while I fumed. Then she made me take my hair down 'soften' my features.

Seething, I yanked the elastic out of my hair, along with a handful of long, scraggly stands and told her to get the fuck on with it before I got Thrasher to punch her in the heart.

Undaunted, she set about fixing my hair around my face. "You know, my hairdresser Vishall could totally work some magic on you. All you really need is a decent cut to get rid of all these split-ends, maybe some long layers put in, a few highlights for depth-"

"I don't give a fuck about my hair!"

Her eyes went wide behind her glasses. "Alright, alright, don't spazz . Christ, it was just a helpful hint. Where I come from there's no excuse not to have fabulous hair."

Except that where she came from and where I came were two very different places. I shot her a nasty look that sent her back to her seat, though obviously she wasn't too intimidated as she told me to stop scowling and look pretty. Emaleth began sketching and was soon humming quietly under her breath, losing herself in her work, and as she did, my mind began to wander.

I had never once sought out Markus French and it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I had spent my time hating him and telling him to fuck off – how was I supposed to ask him for a favour after all that? As much as I disliked him, the very idea of approaching him after having treated him badly was just plain shitty. The tiniest bit of guilt was starting to gnaw at me. You didn't ask for things from people you treated like crap, or at least I didn't. But I wasn't going to start acting all buddy-buddy with him just to ease my guilt, that was low and deceitful. I was a lot of things – weak, miserable, bitter – but I wasn't a liar.

I sat there, conflicted, before reluctantly deciding that being civil was the middle ground. If Markus provoked me than I wouldn't hold back but if he didn't, then I supposed I could suppress my temper. Or at least I could in theory. Mostly, I just figured that if I didn't spend too long with him, I'd be fine. Surely I had enough manners to get through a few minutes in his company didn't I?

Frustrated, I gnashed my teeth together until Emaleth snapped at me for tightening my jaw line. I did not want to do this. I would've asked Emaleth to go harass Markus for me but I didn't think I could stand to see her smirking smugly while she told me to get lost. I supposed I had a bit more pride then that, though probably not much.

Alex I'm sorry.

It just felt like such a betrayal to Alex, to ask him for anything, even though I knew it wasn't. I wasn't doing anything wrong – I was just worried about Brent. But my emotions were raw and I didn't want to hurt Alex. I didn't want him to be alone and scared like he was in the sketch I had drawn. I didn't want him to think that I was forgetting him or that Brent was more important than him.

Or that I could live and be happy without him.

Miss, you need to let go of him.

That paramedic may as well have shorn my beating heart from my body for it killed that much when they pried Alex from my arms. They took the most precious thing in my life from me. How could I ever know life, with anyone, when my very heart had been torn from me? How could I do anything but mourn, but remember? How could anyone ever expect me to move on when I was so empty within?

Everything that had made me a beautiful, cheerful girl had withered and died on the twenty-third of June. Love, compassion, dreams, happiness; Alex had taught me all those things. I hadn't realized I could love another human being so entirely until he'd come along and it wasn't fair, it wasn't right, that he should be taken away from us so quickly. He'd only been seven years old. Didn't that mean anything? He had never hurt anyone; he'd been small and sweet and so, so precious.

A Gift From God, He Was Returned to God

God didn't need him but I did! I was dying without him.

I was jerked out of my thoughts by Marigold proclaiming that class would be ending in five minutes and that we were to bring our pastels in next class so we could begin transforming our sketches into coloured portraits.

Emaleth dug around her schoolbag, came up with a sleek little digital camera and snapped my picture before I could say a word.

"What was that for?" I demanded, relieved to find that my eyes were dry.

"I can finish up my sketch at home with this," she said distractedly, examining the shot she'd just taken. "This pic turned out good, wanna see?"

"No I don't," I grumbled, reaching up to brush my hair out of my eyes.

Emaleth quickly snapped another picture. "And this one I can sell to Markus for ten bucks," she chortled and actually slapped her thigh.

"Oh hilarious bimbo," I bit out, winding my hair back up into its usual sloppy bun.

Alice bounced back to our table. "Man alive, you guys should've seen how Marigold sketched me up – like in ten minutes and it was good. I can't wait to see me in pastels."

"How does this look so far?" Emaleth demanded, thrusting her sketch pad under her friend's nose.

Alice whistled. "You look sexerrific," she informed me. "For someone with half a face."

"Markus'll pay good dough for this once I'm done don't you think?"

Alice nodded enthusiastically. "He might even go up to a toonie! 'Cause you know, he's loaded and all."

I packed my schoolbag and did my best to ignore them.

"So what're you doing for lunch Avery?" Alice asked. "Wanna join choir? You can sit with us. Mr. Frost is always looking for new voices to rise to the Heavens."

I blinked. "I can't sing."

"So? Anyone can join choir, it's ScolaCantorium that you have to audition for."

"Uh, that's okay."

Alice and I handed in our sketch pads with Emaleth promising me that I could see her sketch next class.

"Oh and Markus is at basketball practice right now," she called over her shoulder as we parted ways. "He'll be down in the gym so go search him out and make him do your bidding!"

I cringed, not knowing which was worse, me asking him to do my bidding or him actually doing it.

I headed straight to the library to see if Brent had e-mailed me back. He hadn't. Sighing, I left the computer terminals, pausing only to return Miss Penny's chirpy greeting, who was sitting at the front desk, pouring over what looked like an old journal. I stopped off at my locker, sat down in front of it and tried to eat my lunch; I got half way through my peanut butter, cheese and lettuce sandwich before nerves forced me to quit. I was anxious, for reasons I could scarcely understand and spent a good while delivering scathing lectures to myself.

When I ran out of bad words, I forced myself to my feet and wandered the halls. Eventually I came across a guy built like a refrigerator who was able to point me in the direction of the gym, which was situated in a section of the school I'd never been in before. I followed the sound of cheering down unfamiliar corridors and eventually entered through a side door. The gym was an enormous, gleaming room that was about twice the size of my old gym. I spotted Markus immediately. He was wearing a sleeveless black t-shirt and black shorts; he and his teammates were doing lay-ups all the way at the other end of the gym. I watched him as I made my way down, naturally his form was flawless. He even had a cheering section that was comprised entirely of tittering, simpering idiots whose main concerns seemed to be the serious lack of shirtless hotties.

I did an eye roll in disgust. Sometimes being a girl was fucking embarrassing. I climbed the bleachers a few rows up and shuffled all the way to the end, which was as far away from the screaming bimbettes as I could get. I settled down and watched the practice for a while, waiting for a lull so that I could approach Markus. The more I watched him, the more sick my stomach felt. It was hard not to loathe myself for what I was about to do, even if it was for Brent's sake only.

I whispered apologies to Alex, even though I knew that he would understand. He always did.


I glanced over. A tall lank of a blond guy who I recognized as being in my class, had just jogged in through one of the side doors.

"You here to check out Markus?" he asked with great interest. "'Cause me and the guys got a pool going on when you'll start dating and my money's on today."

"Why don't you put your money on never shithead," I retorted irritably. "I just wanna talk to him after his practice not-"

The guy grinned widely and before I knew it, was bellowing at the top of his lungs, "Hey French your girl'S HERE to talk to you!"

His dumbass voice echoed all around the gym and I was sure that Emaleth and Alice, in choir two floors up, were able to hear it. Every single guy on the team, Coach included, turned to look at me. Markus' three pointer shot went awry. Loud comments immediately were directed my way curtsey of the cheering section. There was a lot of yelling and catcalling as Markus said something to his Coach and then strode towards my end of the bleachers.

"Go get her dude!" the blond guy roared, slapping Markus on the back. "Score some off the field!"

Markus approached me, trying his best to ignore the idiocy of his teammates but failing, if his sheepish, blushing face was any indication. "Hey you," he said softly, his bright blue eyes stabbing into me.

"Um...I was wondering..." I was very aware of everyone watching us and jeering and laughing. "Maybe we could talk somewhere..." I didn't want to say 'private' so I just sort of awkwardly trailed off and stared at my knees.

"Yeah, sure," Markus agreed after a moment, surprised. He led me out of the gym, amidst louder hooting and hollering. "Ignore those idiots," he said quickly as he held the door open for me, blushing darker.

I suppressed a sigh. "Right."

We headed down the empty corridor in silence. I supposed he was waiting for me to say something.

"I didn't mean to interrupt your practice," I mumbled after a few stilted moments.

"You weren't interrupting Avery." He smiled at me, all warm and melting; it was more disconcerting than I ever could have described. "I'd rather be with you than back in there."

Oh Christ above.

He laughed at whatever it was that I couldn't keep off my face and gently tugged on a strand of my hair, his fingers skimming the slope of my cheek. "Even if you'd rather have a root canal done then be right here."

I hastily tucked my hair behind my ear and didn't answer. I worked on squelching down the verbal abuse with an iron fist. Telling Markus off and then stalking away in a self-righteous huff would do jack shit for Brent. Brent needed me more than I needed to snap at Markus and his touchy-feely, infuriating ways.

Markus stopped at a short flight of stairs leading up to the second floor and asked me if this was private enough.

Trying not to wince at the word 'private' as being said by him, I nodded and sat down on the forth step. Markus settled down beside me, his bare leg brushing against my bare knee. My stomach dipped, like I was racing down a roller coaster, and goosebumps erupted all over my skin. I tried to pull my skirt down over my knees but it was too short so I just gripped it tightly to stop myself from rubbing at my knee, which was tingling annoyingly.

"Hi Avery." His breath fanned my cheek. He was very close to me...close enough that I could see myself reflected in his ocean-clear blue eyes. Close enough to feel how warm his basketball practice had left him.

I edged towards my schoolbag, squashing it against the wall while trying to appear like I wasn't. "Hi," I nervously answered back. I wanted to bolt the hell away; he was too close to me and I didn't like him and his face was holding things that I couldn't handle and his cousin had murdered my baby brother.

"Are you okay?" His fingers slid my shoulder, squeezing it before abruptly letting go, like he knew that he was pushing his luck. "At the end of Biology you seemed-"

I bristled, recalling how I'd been on the verge of tears. "I'm fine," I interrupted curtly.

"Emira's around if you need someone to talk to," he gently reminded me. "She's really good at listening."

Emira had been the first and only person I'd ever opened up about Alex to; I hadn't forgotten. "I know she is."

He paused for a heartbeat and then added hesitantly, "And I am too, even if you never take me up on it."

The sincerity in his voice was genuine and I didn't know why I was struck by it at that particular moment but I was. As I sat next to him, I could see that his emotions, that everything he was saying to me and everything he believed, was all true. I couldn't give in to my fury towards him so there was nothing I could do but hear him.

My discomfort increased a hundred times over. He was all around me and I was forced to see what he felt instead of remaining enshrined beneath my own strident emotions. I couldn't blame him because I was the one who had come to him. But I didn't want to see him, I didn't want to know him. I had no room for him in my life. Who he was would always stand between us; it wasn't something I could easily forget. Wrapped in suffering most selfish. I couldn't take what he was offering me, I didn't want it, I couldn't be so cruel. Alex was all I needed. Our memories and my grief were enough; I had made it so.

And I couldn't sit next to Markus French with his bare leg grazing mine a moment longer.

I straightened, steeling myself. I wasn't being false or deceitful, I told myself, this wasn't for me. It was for Brent and he was all that mattered and I could keep my emotions quiet for him. "Markus?"

His breath sounded like it had caught. "Yes?"

His hair was falling into his bright, earnest eyes and I had the sudden stupid, traitorous thought that I'd never been this close to anyone so absolutely attractive. The helpless, weary words I'd spoken to him last week echoed inside my mind. I don't want your help or your sympathy Markus. Leave me alone. And now here I was, tearing down my pride and eating humble pie. Nausea churned at my stomach. "I have a favour to ask you," I whispered hoarsely.

Markus didn't smirk or gloat or sneer like I thought he might; his manner didn't change at all. "Anything," he whispered back, as though I had never once spoken an angry, cruel word to him. "Ask me anything."

I swallowed painfully past the sudden lump in my throat. I hated him and I had let him know it and I didn't deserve his kindness. He was scaring me shitless. "Brent isn't here today. I'm worried that Tom did something to him."

"I'll ask Tom about it," Markus murmured, before I could ask him to do so. "He'd tell me – he likes me."

I stared down at my colourless, clenched hands and didn't really see them. My heart was beating hard against my throat. It took me a couple of attempts to speak. "I-I know that I have no right to ask you for-"

His hand covered both of mine, his fingers clammy and hot. I stiffened. "You have every right Avery," he interrupted fiercely, his words brushing against my temple like a crisp autumn breeze. "After what he did, after the way I hurt you, after everything you've been through...I told you didn't I, that if you ever needed anything I'd be here for you?" He curved his hand around mine, hard and tight for one impossibly long instant before letting go.

"I just..." My eyes were burning and I didn't know why. I felt fragile and exposed before him, unable to stand behind my hatred because I couldn't be rude to him while asking for his help, I just couldn't.

Alex, don't me mad at me, please.

"...never thought you'd need to take me up on my offer?"

I shook my head, trembling.

"I mean what I say," he told me firmly. "This is the very least that I can do for you."

"Thank you," I forced myself to grit out, around numb lips.

He laughed softly, catching hold of my chin and tilting my face towards him. "You don't have to be nice to me you know. You can be as angry as you want. I figured you would've punched me in the face ages ago for all this touching."

I jerked away from him, unnerved. "Then what are you still doing it for?"

"Because you're adorable when you're angry." He nudged my knee with his and my stomach flipped over again. "Did I ever tell you that I love your freckles? They're sexy."

I bit my lip hard and inwardly cursed him. I didn't want him to find me attractive and I didn't want him to be nice to me. Why couldn't he just accept that I was bitter and hurt and abhorred his family?

"You can tell me to go to hell; I know you want to."

Markus was right, I certainly did want to but mom had instilled better manners in me then that. "I'm not going to ask for your help and then tell you off," I answered flatly.

He winked at me. "You can tell me off whenever you want to, sweetheart."

I couldn't take much more of this, of him. "I'm just worried about Brent," I told him, bringing the subject back to where it should have been.

"I know you are." Markus briefly squeezed my hand again. "Wait for me in the library after school? I'll talk to Tom and then I'll come find you."


There was a heavy silence, in which he stared at me and I stared at the wall.

"I suppose I should get back to practice," Markus finally said, with obvious reluctance.

Inwardly, I sighed in relief.

"I'm glad you found me though," he went on. "You only have to ask and I'm yours. Believe that, if you don't believe anything else."

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

"So I guess I'll see you in class then?"

I nodded again and then forced myself to say, "Thank you Markus."

There was another silence.

Markus didn't move. I held my breath. He muttered something under his breath that sounded a lot like, "Oh fuck it," which was surprising because I'd never heard him swear before and then he very quickly kissed the corner of my mouth. It happened in about half a second and he was up and jogging back towards the gym before I could even process what he'd done.

I touched that hot, prickling press of him as shivers streamed down my spine.

I checked my e-mail again after school only to find that Brent still hadn't written. I wasn't surprised. I left the computer terminals and headed up to my customary table on the third floor to wait for Markus. My afternoon classes had gone by in a slow, soggy blur, in which I kept myself from agonizing about Markus and Brent by propping a picture of Alex against my books and taking pages of extensive, detailed, unnecessary notes in each class.

Markus had put my emotions through the wringer and I didn't want to be near him like that again. He did things to me that in acting normal, I was susceptible to. He was sincere and he was kind and for whatever convoluted reasons, he actually believed that he liked me. I didn't want to see those things in him. All I wanted was to mourn for Alex; I wanted to sit by his grave and rest my cheek against the smooth stone of his marker and be close to him. I didn't want to tremble and act like a girlie dipshit just because a boy I couldn't stand touched me and said sweet things.

Of course very few of us ever got what we wanted.

I pulled out my math homework and began graphing ellipses until I caught sight of Markus striding into the library. He looked straight up at me and waved, practically bounding towards the nearest spiral staircase. Grimacing, I did a half-assed wave back.

Markus slid into the chair across from me a scant few moments later. "You love it up here don't you? You're always working at this table."

"It's quiet up here," I responded, trying not to be curt. "I like that I can look down and see everyone who comes in. The library in my old high school was crap compared to this."

He leaned back in his chair and propped his arm against the back of it. "What was your old high school?"

"Black Lily Valley High."

His gaze felt heavy on me. "Do you miss it there?"

"I miss my old life there," I murmured, fiddling with my pencil. "Before...everything. I was happy then. Now it doesn't matter if I'm here or there, though suppose I'd rather be back at BLV because people mostly left me alone."

There was a lengthy silence. I didn't look up but I could feel that my words had somehow hurt him.

"I'm sorry Avery," he finally whispered. "But I can't seem to stay away from you. I hate knowing what Ralph did to your family and I wish there was some way I could help you." He paused for a heartbeat. "But there isn't, is there?"

Surprised, I shook my head. Not unless he could bring Alex back to me and there wasn't a force on earth that could accomplish that.

"I guess I can see that now." He ducked his head, his voice going shy. "But I still like you too much to leave you alone."

His bright brown hair had fallen into his eyes again and I had the strangest, most infuriating urge to brush it away. I clenched my pencil so tightly my fingers turned white. What in the hell was wrong with me? What could I say to him that wasn't said in anger or in fear? What the fuck was he doing to me?

How could I be feeling...whatever the fuck it was that I was feeling...towards the likes of him?

"Right," I mumbled and to my extreme horror and shame, my face heated up without any type of warning to my brain.

Oh God Alex, what's happening to me? What is he doing to me? Why am I...blushing?

Markus gaped at me, clearly as astonished as I was. "Right," he echoed, plowing a shaky hand through his hair. "Um, I talked to Tom just now."

I begrudgingly had to admit that it was considerate of him not to poke fun at my tribute to a beefsteak tomato. "And?"

"Apparently Brent's parents hosted this huge party at their house this weekend. They were celebrating some big corporate merger and Tom's parents were invited."

"And Tom tagged along so he could act like a dick right in Brent's own home didn't he?" I forgot about blushing, infuriated. "Tom is such a frigging...asspumpkin!"

Markus burst out laughing.

"What did he say to you anyway?" I glowered down at the students trickling in and out of the library. "Was he bragging?"

"Yeah. He said he was at the party." Markus was still chuckling. "He was just being a big asspumpkin, as you so eloquently put it, and was going on about what a fag Brent is and how Brent will do anything he wants. He was just showing off."

A cold, sinking feeling settled inside my stomach. "I hate the word fag," I bit out. "It makes me sick. It's the equivalent of racial slurs and I hate hearing it."

"I do too, it's sick." Markus was all seriousness now. "But Tom's been a bullying jerk since day one and he's never learned to treat people different than him with respect. He's been focusing all his energy on Brent since last year. He's never liked Brent much but now he goes out of his way to pick on him. I guess he feels threatened or some psychological crap like that."

"Something strange is definitely going on." I recalled Emaleth telling me how she'd caught sight of Brent and Tom together after school and how she thought something weird was going on as well. And then of course there was the way Tom had inexplicably dismissed me once I'd bluffed as per Brent's advice. "But Brent isn't talking."

"Brent never talks, he's always been the loner type until you came along." Markus gave me a sunny smile. "I've offered a bunch of times to get Tom off his back or at least give him a good punch in the face but Brent's stubborn and very private. He doesn't want anyone standing up for him and he's never like people prying into his personal life. As much as I'd like to help him, I respect him too much to get involved if he doesn't want me too."

"So you can leave people alone if you want to," I couldn't help retorting.

He winked at me. "Well it's a lot harder when pretty girls are involved."

I snorted. Like his guilt wasn't clouding his vision; he could have that Julia Granville girl or some such other, ages ago. "Well I don't like people prying into my personal life either," I paused to give Markus a very pointed look. He bumped his knee against mine under the table and grinned shamelessly. I hastily moved my legs under my chair and away from his pervacious ways. "but I can't help worrying. Brent's my best friend and he's not going to tell me if something's happen and I hate that he wasn't in school today."

Markus watched me for a moment. "Why don't you go and talk to him? If he was going to open up to anyone, it'd be you. He lives near me, I can drive you over."

I hesitated.

"Come on Avery," he urged me, his voice softening. "Let me do this for you."

"He might not want me at his house," I mumbled, avoiding Markus' earnest, sincere gaze. "Or his parents might not want me there – I don't think he gets along with them."

"Then we'll pick him up and I'll take you guys wherever you want."

"And if he's not home?"

"Then I'll take you wherever you want."

I chewed on my bottom lip, frustrated with myself but wanting to see Brent too much to decline. Things would have been so much easier if Markus had been a big, spoiled asshole like Tom. Why did he have to be so damn kind? And why in the fuck did he have to like me of all idiots? It was pointless. A guy like him could have done much better. "Okay," I reluctantly agreed, fidgeting with my tie. "But I'm only doing this for Brent."

"I know you are, sweetheart."

"And don't call me that!"

He grinned. "Even if it's true?"

Good gravy, how delusional was this guy? I'd only been verbally abusing him since the beginning of the year, how was that being a sweet heart? I didn't answer but started shoving my books into my schoolbag instead. I tried to ignore Markus but he was watching my every move and it simultaneously annoyed and unnerved me. Goddamn him. How I would have loved to grab his head and shake some bloody sense into his thick skull.

Find someone else for frig sakes! There's no shortage of girls after you, choose one of them and leave me the hell alone!

But for whatever strange, deluded reason, Markus had chosen me.

I didn't know what I was supposed to do with that.

Markus and I left our table and headed down the spiral staircase to the main floor. He was humming quietly under his breath. He kept glancing over at me and then smiling, his expression saccharine. I was trying my best not to glare or flinch since he was going out of his way for me but I still worried that his mushy good mood would result in another stolen kiss. That half-kiss at lunchtime had been bad enough, even worse had been how my body had reacted. I'd been able to feel the warmth of his mouth against mine all frigging afternoon.

There were more students in the library now that the teachers were tossing out the assignments and projects, so quite a few people saw us together. Markus was clearly very popular; nearly everyone waved or acknowledged that he was around and they all checked me out and began whispering. A couple of girls glared and a table full of boys elbowed each other, grinning at Markus and waggling their eyebrows at me. The blond guy from basketball practice who had bet on me dating Markus stuck his head over the top of his computer and gave me a two, cheesy thumbs-up. Even Miss Penny, standing on top of a stepladder and attempting to retrieve a book for Mr. Jarrell, beamed fondly at us.

Christ Almighty. Had Markus inform the whole damn school that he liked me? Everyone and their mother seemed to know all about it. Of course it wasn't like Markus was being subtle, the way he was indolently wafting along, looking like he'd just been crowned Emperor of the Universe.

"Is Emira coming with us?" I asked him hopefully, once we'd exited the library.

"She's at band practice." His hand brushed against mine. "I guess you'll have to take your chances with me."

I hastily put some distance between us and furtively wiped my hand on my skirt to get rid of those annoying tingles. Markus was the last person I wanted to take any chances with.

He led me out an entrance I'd never used before and we walked down a grassy knoll to the parking lot. The weather was sunny and warm. I lagged behind Markus to quickly yank off my stupid tie and roll up my too-long sleeves. Thankfully he didn't catch any of this, being as I did it all in about two seconds flat so that he wouldn't see. If he started making jokes about me stripping then I really couldn't be held accountable for my actions.

Julia Granville, the girl who'd told me to stay away from Markus this morning and her friend Fleur were leaning against a silver Maserati Spyder (a gorgeously sleek, expensive car I recognized as one my dad used to salivate over) and smoking. They both gaped incredulously as we passed by.

"Ladies," Markus greeted, beaming. "My car's over this way Avery."

"I still don't like him," I hissed at them, but quietly so Markus couldn't hear.

The parking lot was littered with expensive, foreign toys bought with Mommy and Daddy's fat paychecks. Of course not all the cars in the lot were pricey buckets but there were enough to make me feel disgusted. I mean honestly, what sixteen year old needed a Jaguar or a BMW 750 or a frigging Hummer? These kids were high school students in Canada for fuck sakes, not celebrities in Malibu. It was pathetic.

Appalled, I fully expected Markus to lead me to one of these overpriced tin cans but he didn't, instead stopping at a modest beige 2002 Toyota Corolla. "This is your car?" I blinked at it. This was the dream car my dad and mom aspired to!

"The Corolla is one of the most fuel efficient cars on the market," he informed me, sounding exactly like my dad. "Or did you think I'd be riding around in a heap like that?" He gestured in the direction of a maroon GMC Denali.

"Yeah, I did."

He tapped the tip of my nose before opening the passenger door for me. "What have I told you about stereotypes?"

Markus certainly wasn't how I pictured the son of a filthy rich business tycoon, that much was for sure.

I stuffed my tie into my schoolbag and fastened my seatbelt. Markus angled into the driver's seat and started his car. "Thousands of people have died since the US invaded Iraq you know. I'd like to think their lives are worth more than me being able to show-off in some great gas-guzzling SUV."

My heart skipped a beat. I stared at him as he reversed, his arm resting on the back of my seat, his fingers centimeters from my neck. I could feel his warmth even though he wasn't touching me. "Why can't you be a spoiled bastard like Tom?" I blurted out hoarsely.

His gaze flew to mine, surprise written all over his face.

I blushed, cursing myself and him all in the same breath. How could his stupid car make my throat all tight?

"Maybe because you're meant to like me," he replied after a long moment, sounding shy rather than flirty.

Emira had told me that Markus had a good heart. She too had told me that he wasn't a stereotypical boy.

I glanced out the window because I couldn't bear to look at him. I had to forcibly remind myself who he was but the hatred that usually came when I thought of his family seemed a little less severe and that scared me shitless. It was horrifying to think that I could feel something other than negative emotions towards him, even though I had no name for what I did feel.

We drove in silence while Our Lady Peace whined over the radio. When we stopped at a red light, Markus rummaged through his CD collection and stuck in Iron Maiden's Best of the Beast. I managed a small smile as the softly-spoken intro to Number of the Beast came on; I'd always loved how hilariously cheesy the music video was.

Markus beamed at me and then started singing along at the top of his voice.

I left alone

My mind was blank

I needed time to think

To get the memories from my mind

I bit my lip but couldn't keep from grinning; he was actually an okay singer.

Markus nudged me teasingly. "You're hot for my voice aren't you?"

I rolled my eyes. "What gave me away?"

"Your pretty smile of course." He stopped the car to let two old men cross the street and brushed his hair from his forehead. "I love it when you smile."

I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat and quickly took up scenery scanning again.

Markus continued to amuse me with his flamboyant singing and accompanied head-banging. I counted all the reasons why I shouldn't be smiling but then he blared out with '666 the number of the beast' and I couldn't help myself because I was a weak dumbo who love Iron Maiden.

Soon we were coasting through the South End, which was the fabulously wealthy part of the city. It was all water-front mansions and sprawling estates around here. I had a lot of happy memories of the South End; dad used to take me and mom and Alex for Sunday drives around here. We would go mansion-hunting, picking out which houses we'd live in when we were filthy rich and which houses would house our servants and our private planes and our rocket ships. I forgot about Markus as soon as I caught sight of an enormous stone mansion that actually boasted of turrets; this house had been Alex's personal favourite and he'd been planning on constructing a moat around it.

I am dying at every reminder of you, Chief.

Markus eventually slowed down at the start of a heavily forested little lane that veered off Queen Gate Crescent. The lane was guarded by two enormous iron wrought gates, which currently lay open. A private property sign impaled before one of the towering pine trees warned people against loitering and trespassing. Markus entered and slowed to a creep. The lane was dark because of all the overhanging trees and it twisted and curved before sloping downwards. Eventually the lane opened up to an immaculately sculpted lawn, a circular cobblestone driveway and the most beautiful house, or mansion really, I'd ever seen. It was a sprawling affair, standing three stories high with colossal arched windows, Gothic-inspired balconies and fixtures and Grecian-style pillars. The sparkling blue ocean stretched out behind the mansion, offering a view of the other side of the city and the enormous estates that dotting the forested hills.

I goggled, astonished. "Brent lives here?"

Markus smiled as he stopped the car some distance from the expansive front staircase. "Yeah."

There was an ornate fountain on our left. "Holy shitsticks."

"It's gorgeous isn't it?"

"Yeah." I had known that Brent was rich but even this was more than I'd ever expected.

"Listen, before you go, I have something for you." Markus grabbed his schoolbag from the backseat and rummaged through it. I watched him warily. He pulled out the Iron Maiden Rock in Rio concert DVD and shoved it into my hands. "I meant to lend this to you earlier but I forgot."

I swallowed thickly. "Markus-"

"I love the way you say my name," he interrupted, his voice going low and husky. He turned to me, curving his arm against the back of my seat.

I tried again, aware of how intimate the space we were in was. He was very close to me, again. "Listen, you don't have to-"

"I know I don't sweetheart. I want to."

"Don't call me that," I whispered, breaking out in goosebumps in spite of the heat.

"I can't help it," he whispered back, his fingers lightly skimming the curve of my neck.

I jumped as heat raced over my body and puddle into my stomach. Hurriedly, I stuffed the DVD into my schoolbag because I was afraid that if I didn't take it, he would keep talking in that soft, deep voice and keep touching me and eventually he would kiss me. "Thank you," I mumbled, staring firmly out the window.

His sounded breathless. "Promise me you'll tell me what you think?"

I promised, mostly because I wanted to get out of the car and put some distance between us.

We both got out of the car. I was relieved that he was coming up with me because I was much too intimidated to knock on that massive door alone, though I never would have admitted it. I followed Markus up the vast, carved stone staircase, unable to believe the size of the house. Markus rang the doorbell and gave me a reassuring smile.

A short, overweight woman with a round, sweaty face and frizzy hair yanked the door open a few moments later. "We ain't buying nothin'," she snarled, mopping at her forehead with a spotty dishtowel.

"We're here to see Brent," Markus told her politely. "Is he home?"

She eyed us suspiciously, as though we were lying. "Wait here," she finally barked. "I'll get 'im." And she slammed the door in our faces.

"Was that his mom?" I asked Markus apprehensively. "I don't think she wants us around."

"She's the housekeeper." He squeezed my shoulder. "Don't worry Avery. Brent isn't going to kick you out."

I supposed that you would need a housekeeper or seven to keep a house this size clean. I was nervous as we waited for Brent to show up; it was pretty clear to me how out of place I was.

Brent showed up after a bit. He opened the door cautiously, his body hidden behind it as he peered out like he was expecting burglars to run him down. His eyes widened at the sight of us.

"Hey man," Markus said easily. "What's up?"

I had never seen Brent outside of school and he looked really different without his uniform on. Younger and carefree; more like a normal grade 12 student I supposed. He was dressed in grey skater cargos and a super cool black t-shirt that had Hordak, the evil bad guy from She-Ra, stenciled on it. The bright sunlight highlighted his spiky red hair and the bruise on his cheek, which had faded into an ugly yellow-greenish mess. I was relieved to see that he seemed okay for the most part.

"What are you guys doing here?" He arched an eyebrow at me and I could practically hear him asking what I was doing with the likes of Markus.

"I'm just here to do milady's bidding." Markus winked at me, sounding exactly like Alice had in Art class. "I should be heading home actually – me and James were planning on hitting up the gym."

"Are you sure?" Brent frowned as he looked between me and Markus. "You can hang out here for a while, my parents won't be home until late."

"Nah, it's okay. I'll see you guys tomorrow?"

"Yeah sure."

"Thanks Markus," I said quietly, raising my chin to look him in the eye. It was hard to hold his gaze because of the way soft he was searching my face but I managed. "I appreciate everything you've done for me."

"Anytime sweetheart." He curved one warm hand around my right cheek, leaned over and softly kissed my other cheek.

I jerked backwards, my face burning. My mouth sputtered indignantly but no words come out.

"I know, I know," he called over his shoulder, laughing as he headed back down the immense front steps. "Don't call you that!"

"And don't do that either," I cried, roughly scouring at my cheek. It felt like it was on fire.

Brent was laughing too. "Jeeze, he's got it bad for you. You've got him wrapped around your finger."

I commanded myself to stop blushing. It didn't seem to be working.

Brent held the door open for me and smiled. "I'm really glad you stopped by Avery."

I managed to smile back. If he was glad to see me then being civil to Markus and enduring his compliments and stolen touches all day was worth it.

Even if I could still feel his warmth against my cheeks.

Author's Notes

Wow, I think this chapter may be my longest one yet, a whopping 10,904 words. I think it's evident that I had a lot of fun writing this; Emaleth and Alice totally wrote themselves. And I do love writing Markus. There's definitely a bit of progress being made here, at least in that Avery is aware of Markus in a way that she wasn't before.

I guess I wanted to address a couple of things here. A couple of readers have asked me why Avery doesn't just kill herself if she hates herself so much. I would have thought the answer to that was obvious: she needs to know the truth about Ralph Cherrybrooke. Also she would never do that to her parents; as wrapped up as they are in their own grief, the loss of both their children would destroy them. This story is about grief and the pain of loss and eventual healing. Avery won't heal much if she commits suicide now will she?

Second thing is for everyone who was offended with Emira's backstory. I do know that Muslim girls who wear the scarves in public don't need to do so in front of the men in her family. I also know that being forced into marriage isn't the norm; I'm not trying to portray an ignorant stereotype here but a reflection of rural Pakistani life. A lot of what Emira went through is cultural, being Hindu I know that in rural areas of India arranged marriages are commonplace and in a lot of ways rural Pakistan is similar to rural India; they used to be one country afterall. Also the fact that Emira had a shitty Dad isn't a reflection of Muslim life or me being ignorant, it's just her having a shitty Dad. These things happen and a lot worse; it's not a stereotype but reality. That's how I'm trying to show it as anyway.

So yeah, thanks to everyone for reading and to everyone who's left me such awesome reviews. You guys are the best. Hope you've enjoyed!