Rhyming Love

Rhyming Love

By: Cassie Manley

In the dank dreariness of my room, it would be safe to say that mice lived there. Rats even. The walls were cracked, thin, grabbing tendrils running up and down the sheet rock base, extending to my ceiling like jealous hands, wanting the room for themselves. The floor was sparsely carpeted with a thin material unknown to me or anyone else in my house, for that matter. The bunk bed my twin sister and I shared was old, rusting from the wetness that the house allowed in, eating it away. The only window was cracked, and a large section of it was missing, making it perfect for burglars if they wanted to intrude. They wouldn't though, for we had nothing, not even a phone. I stared into the blank nothingness, the darkness of night; this is when you couldn't tell that we were poor, when I would like to pretend that Kat and I had an extravagant room full of rich and ornate furniture. There would be nice, thick shag carpets for us to lie on, and a soft bed of the finest down…but then the moonlight started to shine again, and I was brought back to reality; it was what had awakened me in the first place. It shone strange, frightening patterns on the walls, somehow accentuating the cracks, making them look more and more like bony, hard fingers. I looked around my room, saddened by the sight. Oh, how I wanted to be like the other kids at school, to have a grand old house with gay flowers shooting up around it…but the only plants we had here were weeds. The only thing that was grand about our house was it's grand dirtiness. I placed my hands over my face and started to softly weep like I did some nights that were lonely like this. The wind whistled through the broken window, joining in with my sobs as the bed creaked, completing the haunting melody. I heard my sister stir up above me, and I quickly wiped my eyes and halted my tears. I wouldn't cry in front of her; she was the only one I had to be strong for. Her and my younger siblings Kylie and Erin were the only ones I lived for anymore.

She leaned down from over the railing, her long, flowing blonde hair suspended in the moonlight, glimmering. My heart ached for her; she was so beautiful. She didn't deserve to live like this, nor did any of us, for that matter. She looked at me, her eyes radiating compassion. She knew how I felt, I suppose she felt it too, in the dead of night when Dad would come home drunk, and when he would molest us. The summer had been hell; the more we're home the more he takes advantage of us. Now that school was starting up again tomorrow, then we would only have to deal with it at night. School by day, hell by night, the endless cycle of life in the Pierce household.

"Trent…" she said gently, and hopped out of her bed and sat down next to me on mine. "What's wrong, Trent?" I looked at her and gave her a strained smile. It felt crappy, and I'm sure it looked like a poor imitation.

"I was just thinking, sis," I replied, smiling again, more genuine this time. "Just thinking about some things that I wished had happened instead of this." She sighed and snuggled closer next to me, both of us trying to block out the cold night air. I offered her half of my blanket, and she took it gratefully and wrapped it around herself. She brought her eyes level with mine and locked them, purple orbs in the black room.

"I know this is hard, Trent," she said softly, practically whispering into the still, dead air of the room. "But we only have one more year to go. One more year, then we can be out of here, Trent. Free. Off to college to make something out of ourselves, and not be trapped here like some…some rat in a cage!"

"But what about Kylie and Erin?" I asked. "What are they going to do when we're gone, Kat? We're the only protection they have…" Kylie and Erin, also twins, were only eight. Cute as buttons, and identical to boot, they were too young to stand up against the wrath of alcohol, and the sick, disgusting passions of our father. Just too damn young. She stared over at me, her honest, bruised face crinkling with grief. She knew they were too young, but we couldn't protect them forever. She lowered her eyes from mine, and a few tears sprinkled out, shining, incandescent balls of fire in the moonlight.

"This isn't fair," she said, struggling to keep her composure, and failing to do so. "Kylie and Erin should have never had to see this…ever…and Brandon…well…"

Brandon had been our brother, a year younger then us and the only single birth child in our whole family. One day, when the three of us were playing outside in the trashy, dirty excuse for a front yard we had, our father came speeding up the road, drunk as a dog and not paying any attention to where he was going. He had swerved over to make the driveway and missed, striking the three of us. I had just been thrown off onto the grass, but Kat had gotten her leg run over and Brandon was dead. He had been my only brother…

"I hate Dad for that," I said maliciously. "For what he did to you and that he killed my only brother…" My voice rose uncontrollably, and I pounded the thin mattress with my fists.

"He didn't even get in trouble for that!" I cried.

"Trent, keep your voice down, we're going to wake them up…" Kat said, but it was too late. I could hear movement coming from the room next to ours.

"Kat, get into bed and pretend to be asleep," I said softly. She shook her head adamantly.

"This is my fault too, Trent, I'm not going to let you--"

"Go!" I said angrily, and she scurried back up to her bed, and just in time, too. I turned to the busted doorframe and saw a huge, imposing silhouette standing there.

Dad.

Logan Pierce was a gigantic man, almost six and a half feet tall, and he used his size to take advantage of others. He was burlesque and strong; he could and has knocked me through a window. He had thick sandy hair and dark, piercing eyes. He would have killed his own wife for fifty dollars.

He walked through the doorway and stared at me, his eyes cold.

"Trent," he said, his deep voice echoing in the bare room. "What are you doing?" I stared at him, scared but determined not to show it.

"Was your sister involved with this too?" he asked, his rage escalating. I shook my head rapidly.

"No," I replied meekly. "It was just me letting off some steam, Dad. I'm…" He brought his hand down, swift and hard, cutting off my flow of words abruptly.

"I don't want to hear that I'm sorry shit," he said, raging. He hit me again and it was all I could do not to cry out for someone, anyone, to help me. "You woke me up at three fucking thirty in the morning, and that is not acceptable!" The hand came down again, across my mouth this time. Blood squirted out in tiny spurts, and I brought my hand up to it as a reflex. He slapped it away, and this time hit me with his fists.

"Keep your hands down and take it like a man, queer boy," he spat. He grabbed me by the hair and threw me to the floor, and commenced in kicking me with all of his might. When he was finally finished, a half-hour or an hour or an eternity later, he got right down and stared me in the eye.

"If you ever wake me up in the middle of the night again, Trent Craig Pierce, so help me God I will kill you," he said and walked out of the room, slamming the door on his way out. I lay there, unable to get up, but not shocked; I knew he meant it. I could hear gentle sobbing coming from above me; Kat was crying. I don't blame her; it was a scary thing. She slowly raised her head and looked at me on the floor.

"Oh Trent…" she whispered. "Trent, why did you take that for me…" I struggled to get to my feet and succeeding in doing so. I hobbled back over to the side of my bed, and crawled into it, relieved.

It was going to be a long day tomorrow.

I awoke in the morning sore, tired, and generally unrested, just as I expected to. The spell the night had cast over my room was gone; it looked as barren and as paltry as always. I got out of bed and streched, feeling the nice crackle of my tendons. I glanced up in Kat's bed; her head was buried under covers. My guess was that she was still asleep. I let her rest while I got dressed, no need for my sister to see that anyway, and then woke her.

"Kat…" I said, shaking her lightly. "Kat, come on, we have school. Summer's over, you know." She muttered and rolled over, her eyes fluttering open. She was smiling, but then her face changed to sadness when she remembered last night.

"Oh Trent…" she said. "Are you all right? He didn't hurt you bad, did he?" I shook my head. There were a few small bruises, and my mouth hurt, but that was all. I told her this, and she sighed in relief. We both knew that we had had worse.

Much worse.

I got out of the room so that she could put on some clothes, and I walked down our empty, lonely hallway and into the living room. There was a small, six-inch color TV in the corner with some wooden chairs around it and one armchair. It was soft and plush, and I loved to sit in it. Compared to some of the other articles of furniture in my house, this chair was like a throne, and that's why only Dad was allowed to sit in it. Kat and I would sneak it when no one as home, but otherwise, if our asses were in the chair, as he so kindly put it, then our asses were out the door. The floors out here were also carpeted with the mystery material, and it rustled softly under my bare feet. I ran my finger along the windowsill as I passed it by, and it came off encased with dust. I smiled as something my friend Kyle said came into my head, "You can touch the dust, Trent, but don't write in it!" I shook my head and traipsed into the kitchen, where Kylie and Erin were sitting. Mom was over at the stove, scraping together some breakfast. She smiled warmly at me when I entered, and Kylie and Erin gazed up to stare in my face.

"Well, good morning Trent," she said pleasantly. Karen Pierce was slight in build, and only five foot two. She had auburn hair and pale green eyes, and sharp features. She stood over one of the burners, dressed in faded jeans and a plaid shirt.

"Hi Trent!" Kylie screeched.

"Good morning!" Erin squealed. They both clamored around me, hugging my legs and waist.

"Hey, hey, hey…" I said, laughing. "What are you guys doing this morning? Go harass Kat, she need some attention too." They giggled their identical laugh and ran off together in search of our sister. Mom smiled wistfully at them, and turned to me sorrowfully.

"I'm sorry about what your father did last night," she said quietly, wringing her dishtowel. "I tried to stop him, b-but he didn't listen…" She looked me over from head to toe. "Did he hurt you bad?" I shook my head, and she sighed in relief.

"Thank God for that," she said, and hugged me close. She rubbed my hair back, smoothing it with the expertise that only mothers have, and held me out.

"You and your sister have done so much for me," she said softly, looking back at the stove to see how the eggs were coming. "If I didn't have you two…I don't know where we'd be." She held me close to her and hugged me tight again, the tears shining in her eyes.

"Thank you, Trent, for being such a big help to me," she said. "I appreciate it, more then you will ever know."

"No problem, Mom," I replied as Kylie and Erin came running back, dragging Kat by an arm. She stared at Mom and me, begging for us to help her, and we laughed.

"Trent told us to come get you, Kat," Kylie said.

"He said that you needed love," Erin added. Kat shot me a murderous glare and sat down at the table.

"Well, I have plenty of love now," she said. "Now sit down at your spots and get out of Mom's way." They sat down willingly enough, and I took my place next to her.

"Thanks a lot, Trent," she said under her breath. "You know I can't stand them in the morning…I think I'm seeing double!" I laughed.

"Well, you kind of are, if you think about it—" Suddenly, all laughter and talk stopped and Dad walked into the kitchen. He sat down in his chair at the head of the table and didn't say a word.

"Good morning Dad," Kylie and Erin chorused, sounding like one person. He didn't reply, and Mom shot him a glare. I didn't look at him once during breakfast, and he didn't acknowledge me either. I was relieved when we were finally done eating, and Kat and I ran to get our book bags. She held me up in our room, grabbing my arm to halt me.

"Trent, are you sure you're all right?" she asked. I nodded my head, a trifle irritated.

"Kat, I'm fine," I replied. She sighed and nodded her head.

"All right then, let's go," she said, and we ran out to the bus stop.

As usual, we were the first people out there and probably the only seventeen-year olds in the world to want to go the school. There was wooden bench out there for us to sit on, the bright green paint that once covered it now chipping off, wearing away. I sat down and placed my bag on the ground next to me, and Kat did the same.

"How do you think school is going to be this year?" she asked. I shrugged.

"The same as always. Miserable, boring, monotonous, and all of the accentuated by the fact that I am going to have all the same classes as you."

She laughed and pushed me lightly, and I tumbled off the bench. I landed roughly on my ass and laughter bubbled up inside of me, and I held it back, trying to look mad.

"Oh, now you're going to get it now, Lillian Alexis Pierce," I said, and she put her hands up over her face.

"Oh no," she cried in mock horror. "Please, Trent, don't hurt me! For the love of God, Trent!" She burst out laughing, and finally, so did I. It felt good to really laugh after what had happened last night. I pushed myself off the ground and plopped back down on the bench next to her. I looked over at her face, and she smiled at me. Her hair was combed back and pulled back in a bun, the excess falling over her shoulders serenely. Her bright violet eyes bored into my own with such intensity that I was forced to look away. After a second I turned back around and her eyes had lost that mad look. She was back to normal, happy, Kat, who had to be the prettiest girl in all of New England.

I stared around at the breathtaking Vermont foliage, which grew boring after the first few years. I just don't understand all those tourists that come up here to stare at trees. Don't they have trees in the states they live in? I was pondering this thought when I felt a set of hands on my back, and someone's breath in my ear. I started and turned around, and no one was there. I heard laughter on the other side of me, and I looked. It was my best friend Kyle.

"Hey Trent," he said, still laughing at his childish joke. "Boy, you're awful stupid sometimes." I stared back at him. Kyle and I had been friends since we were babies, and we had the same birthday, making us even closer. He had sandy brown hair and blue eyes that glittered with a mischievous light. If Kyle wasn't playing a trick on someone, then he wasn't happy. He was absolutely smitten with my sister, and I think she is with him. He was attractive, I guess, from a girl's perspective, and I knew that he was really a softie underneath he silly exterior. He would do anything for my sister and I, and the same applied for us.

I reached up and pulled him over the back of the bench, to where we were sitting. He gave a squeak of surprise and landed very unceremoniously in the lap of my sister. He got and bowed to her.

"Well good morning, fair lady," he said, and offered his hand. She smiled lightly and took it, and he kissed the back of it. "A flower for you on this fine day?" He pulled out a flower, crushed from him sitting on it. It was a Kat, and she took it graciously and placed it in her hair, making it lovelier then it already was.

"How are you, Kyle?" she asked him. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"All right, I guess," he replied. "My brother's having his bar mitzvah this weekend. Becoming a man," he added and laughed. Kyle and his family were Jewish, and then only family that I knew that were so in the whole town. "I was wondering if you guys wanna come." I looked at Kat, wanting her opinion before I gave mine.

"We would love to go," she said. 'Wouldn't we, Trent?" I nodded.

"Sure," I replied. "It'll get us out of our house at least." Kyle suddenly grew somber.

"How has it been at your house lately?" he asked. I sighed and adverted his question. Kat looked up at him and whispered what happened last night in his ear. When she was done, Kyle looked over at me, his face blank.

"No one should have the right to do that to someone," he said softly. Now his eyes betrayed one emotion: anger.

"No one should ever have to go through what you have to go through," he said angrily. "I wish I could do something for you guys…"

"There is something you can do for us," Kat said quietly. Kyle stared at her, startled.

"What?"

"You can be there for us. Be our friend," she replied. "Be there when we need your help, your support. That's the best thing you could do for us." I stared at her, appalled. She had just absolutely read my mind. I was right about to tell Kyle that was all he had to do when she said it for me.

"Can you do that for us?" she continued. "Can you be there?" Kyle took her hand in his and patted it softly.

"Kat, I promise you that if you ever need me, I'll be there. Trent too," he added, looking over at me. A slow smile spread over her face and she grabbed Kyle and hugged him fiercely. He was taken aback at first by her move, and for a minute he didn't do anything.

"Thank you," she said, practically sobbing. "Thank you, Kyle, thank you…" He slowly wrapped his arms around her in reply, taking her in, comforting her.

"It was nothing, Kat," Kyle said, pleased that she thought so highly of him. "I would have done it anyway…" She took him closer to her, pulling him down on the bench.

"That's why I even allow myself to feel anything for you," she said softly. "That's why I allow myself to trust you, to love you. I do, you know…" She looked him in the eyes, the first sign of tears showing. "Love you, I mean. I have for awhile…I was just afraid…afraid that you might hurt me…I didn't know if I could trust you…" Kyle stared at her, obviously hurt by that.

"Kat…" he said, reaching his hand out, touching her cheek. She flinched slightly, but relaxed after the initial contact. "Kat, I would never do that to you, ever." He grabbed the tip of her chin and directed her eyes towards his.

"You can always trust me, Kat," he added. "Always. I love you, Kat. Honest to God. I would never let anything happen to you." He kissed her gently, first on the cheek, then her nose, and finally on her mouth. She smiled happily and hugged him tightly.

"Thank you Kyle," she said again. "Thank you for caring about me." My heart felt lighter as I saw her hug him, love him. She had someone to fall back on if I couldn't be there for her, and I was grateful to Kyle for that. I looked over to my right and saw another form hurtling down the road, her bright red hair trailing behind her like a pennant. She was Irish to the bone, and I smiled as she ran over to me, her green eyes glowing. She was very light skinned and petite, only about five one. I joked about her being so skinny, I said that she should have been a tree instead of a person. She just laughed and hit me, that's what I like about her. She stopped in front of me, breathless and wheezing as usual from her early morning romp through town. I shook my head and grinned. There was no girl stranger then Isabelle Keri Clancy, or Izzy for short.

"Izzy, you are going to kill yourself one day," I scolded as she plopped down on the bench next to me. She giggled as she tried to catch her breath.

"You should wake up earlier and then you could get here before the bus comes," I said as it pulled up. She grinned and shook her head.

"Not if you paid me," she replied and walked on the bus. She sat down in the very last seat and I sat down next to her. She sighed and scooted over to make room.

"Trent Craig, why must you always sit with me?" she asked, mockingly angry. I gave her a half smile and shrugged.

"Because, Kyle doesn't sit with me anymore because he and my sister are going out, and Kat and I always fight over the outside seat. That's why," I replied, and she slapped me.

"Oh shut up, Trent," she said. "That is not why you sit with me…"

"Hey, you didn't ask for me to tell the truth…" I retorted and she laughed again, and then gasped.

"What did you say about Kyle and your sister?" she asked. "Did you say they were going out? But he's your best friend! Isn't that a little—"

"Nah," I replied. "Kat needs a male someone besides me to rely on." I laughed bitterly and stared up to where her and Kyle were sitting. "Not like our Dad's any help." Izzy sighed and stared at me.

"Trent," she said. "Your dad can't be that bad all the time…"

"Izzy, you don't live with him!" I shouted, suddenly losing my temper. "You don't go through what me and my sisters go through, especially Kat. If you knew some of the things my father did to her…" Izzy turned away, hurt.

"I'm sorry, Trent," she said softly. "I didn't know what you two dealt with…" I softened and turned back towards her.

"I had no right to go off on you like that," I said gently turning her face around towards mine. "But you don't have any idea where I'm coming from. Every time you've been over, my dad has never been home. Haven't you noticed that?" She thought about it, and then slowly nodded.

"I had been wondering about that for a long time now," she said deliberately. "I always thought that he was at work or something." I humorlessly laughed again.

"Work? What a joke," I said bitterly. "You know where he is? He's out at the bars, out drinking with his fuck friends who would kill their mothers for a beer. You know who has to work in our house? Kat and I. All summer long, that is all we do, is work, work, work. And what do we get for it? Nothing but beatings. Nothing from our own father!" I started to pound on the seat in front of us, pounding harder and harder, until finally a punched a hole through the back of it. Izzy stopped me then, before I could go any further.

"Trent!" she shouted, and I immediately stopped, staring at her dumbly. "Trent, what the hell are you doing to yourself?" I lowered my eyes and tried hard to keep from crying. Lately it had been all I could do to keep myself from breaking down.

"You have to calm down," she said, gentler this time. "Get a hold of yourself, Trent. That type of behavior is no different from your father!" I nodded my head and was silent. She was right, and I knew it. My dad had done the same thing, only he had done it to people. I started wringing my hands, letting my fingers slide in and out of them, tying themselves in knots. She placed a hand on my shoulder, and I flinched at its presence. I couldn't handle people touching me. It just didn't feel…safe. I never knew when the hand was going to turn on me; the hand was going to go bad. Izzy looked into my face sorrowfully, concerned.

"Trent," she said firmly. "You have to stop the self pity trip. I am worried about you, don't get me wrong, but you don't have to go about professing your problems to everyone. That is a sure sign of martyrdom let me tell you."

"You using enough big words there, Webster?" I asked wryly. She sighed angrily and slapped my arm.

"Shut up," she said. "I'm just trying to tell you how I feel, Trent, and that's hard for me."

"I've noticed." She banged her fists on the front of the seat in frustration.

"Ooh, sometimes I wonder why I bother with you, Trent!" she shouted. "You can never be serious with me, can you! You can never actually have a regular conversation with someone without being a stupid…stuck-up…ass! All I was trying to tell you is that you need to stop feeling sorry about yourself and do something about your problems! Your dad's not going to come home one day from the bar, place his feet up in his favorite chair and say 'You know son, I think I'll stop beating the shit out of you and molesting your sisters. Oh, and, just for the hell of it, I'll stop drinking and go get a job too!' It's not going to happen!" She stared at me, angry, hurtful frustration etched into her features. "Things don't get magically better on their own, Trent. You have to fix them. Not Kat, not your little baby sisters, not your mother, you. You have to do it. No one else can do it for you, Trent." My rage had been escalating through this speech; what did she know? She had touched a nerve deep down inside of me: my pride. I was livid and turned on her fiercely.

"Izzy, what the fuck do you know about my life?' I screamed, upset. "You don't know anything about living like some bum on the street! Do you think I could actually walk up to my dad and say anything that would help? He would throw me out the window! He would do more then throw me out the window, and he would hurt my sisters too!" I lowered my voice, practically growling at her.

"And if he does anything to my sisters because of some stupid, pumped up rich person idea like yours, I will kill him." She stared at me, shocked. People had turned and around and were staring at us, and some were snickering. I didn't care about them, her or anyone right now. I was too damn mad to do anything but simmer in my own juices. She sat there, stiff and rigid for a moment, and then roughly shoved past me out into the aisle.

"Where are you going?" I asked harshly, grabbing her by the arm. She pulled herself away and sat down across from me.

"Away from you," she hissed. Now her face betrayed another emotion: sorrow. "Trent, all I was trying to do was help you. I wasn't having a bash on Trent fest, like you think everyone is having on you twenty four-seven." She started to walk up towards Kat and Kyle, and then turned back sadly.

"I thought I might have loved you, Trent Craig Pierce," she said softly, the tears thick in the back of her throat now. They gave me a sick sort of pleasure, a feeling like I had power. I slapped that thought out of mind and it was replaced with another one.

"But not anymore," she said, and ran off to the front of the bus. I sighed angrily and allowed that thought to creep into my mind.

You're just like your father, Trent. I pushed it fervently away, not wanting to believe it. It couldn't be true; my dad hurts people, uses people! I was nothing like him…was I? I heard someone slip into the seat next to me, and jumped when I looked up to see who it was.

She had semi-short reddish hair with amazing blonde streaks down the length of it. Her eyes were a soft hazel, almost gold, and shone with a creative light. She wore thin-framed glasses with a silver frame, and was wearing faded jeans shorts and a blue striped tank top. Thin form, lightly tanned skin…delicious. She looked fabulous, and I didn't even know her yet.

"Hi," she said shyly. She had a very pleasant voice, almost childish in nature. She sounded like my little sisters.

"Hey," I replied, and smiled. She smiled timidly back and held out her hand.

"My name's Artemis Dupery," she said softly. "You can me Artie though. That's what most people call me." What a pretty name Artemis was, I thought. I grabbed her hand and shook it warmly.

"Well, Artemis, my name is Trent Pierce, but you can call me Trent." She smiled at me again, and I smiled back. Her smile was contagious. I felt myself liking her already.

"I heard you and that other girl yelling," she said quietly. "After she walked off I decided I would come back here. Was she your girlfriend?" My smile evaporated and I sighed.

"No," I replied. "No, but she could have been. She was trying to give me some good advice and I…I didn't want to accept it." I lowered my eyes and then glanced back up at her. "She's just…well, Izzy's just Izzy. She's got some temper, and when she loses it, no one is spared from her wrath." I thought about it, and added, "Plus she's Irish." That got a laugh out of her, and she smiled again. She had a very slight accent, but I wasn't quite sure of its origin.

"I'm French," she said, and then I recognized her accent. It was indeed slightly French.

"Is that where you're from?" I asked. She smiled wistfully and nodded.

"I lived there when I was a little girl," she said. "Until I was about…ten or so. Then we moved to America, somewhere in Kansas. Very remote country, Kansas is. Then, my father, he decides he want to move to Vermont and here we are." She looked out the window and laughed. "The land of tractors and cows." I snickered at that; every word of it was true. Most people thought that there were schools just for learning how to milk a cow in Vermont.

"So you're a flatlander?" I teased. She sighed and nodded.

"Better then being a country bred hillbilly, Trent!" she retorted, obviously losing some of her shyness.

"Look who's talking, Miss Illegal Alien!" I chortled, and she laughed right along with me.

"At least I'm not named after a cartoon character!" she laughed.

"Well, at least I'm not named after some Greek goddess!" I shot back. We both couldn't take it anymore and let our laughter take hold of us. I thought my sides were going to rip open. It was the hardest I had laughed in weeks, months maybe. When we finally stopped she stared up at me and smiled, her face radiating happiness.

"You're nice, Trent," she said, and then added, "Nicer then I thought anyone would be to me on my first day." I grinned and blushed slightly.

"Aww…I'm not that great, Artemis," I replied. I looked up for a second towards the front of the bus, and saw Izzy staring at me, hurt. She turned around sadly, and I suddenly lost that happy, giddy feeling I had had. Artemis saw who I was looking at and placed a hand on my shoulder, so lightly I barely even noticed it at first. I turned back towards her and smiled sadly.

"You still care about her," she said. "I know or else when you saw how hurt she was, you wouldn't have done anything." She grabbed one of my hands. Hers were cold, but they counter balanced the raging heat that was always going on inside me.

"You're a good person Trent, I could tell that when I first met you," she said. "But you are very unsure of yourself right now. You don't know your place, and that could be bad if you're going to go out on your own after this year." I stared at her, awed. She has just totally read inside of my soul.

"How did you know that" I gasped. "How could you possibly know something like that, Artie? I barely even know you!"

"You wear your heart on your sleeve, Trent," she chided lightly. "Anyone could have made that observation about you. You have that certain look about yourself, that's all. She mused thoughtfully and then added. "It's not a bad thing; it can be fixed. You just need to have more self-confidence." I gave her a lopsided grin and then blurted out something I would never normally say to someone I had just met.

"Artemis, would you like to come over after school? Meet my sisters and my mom?" She was taken aback for a moment, and then gave me another one of her bright smiles.

"Sure, Trent, I would be glad to!" she replied. "What's your family like?" I hesitated. Should I tell her about what it was really like at the Pierce house?

"Well," I said, giving into myself. "First, let me tell you about the people who live in my house. Then…"

"Then what, Trent?" she asked.

"Then I'll tell you about my dad," I finished, and then hastily added, "If you still want to come over to my house after that and be my friend, then I will kiss you." She smiled a bit at that, amused.

"All right, Trent," she said. "Give it your best shot."

"Well, there are six people in my house, my mom, my dad, my three sisters and me. My mother is the kind of person who would do anything for you; she's sweet, kind, gentle, and just everything a mother could possibly be. Her name is Karen, I forgot to say, so you know what to call her when you come over, if you do by the time I'm done. Then, I have two younger identical twin sisters named Kylie and Erin, and they're awful annoying sometimes, but I guess that's because they're only eight. Don't tell them you want to see the Booginhiemer, or else the rest of you're day will be living hell."

"What's the Booginhiemer?" she asked, faintly amused.

"You don't want to know, let's leave it at that," I replied, and continued my story. "An finally, I have my twin sister—"

"Wow, your family's all twins?" she said. "Neat." I nodded my head.

"Yeah, all of us had a twin except for my brother Brandon…but he's dead now." I lowered my eyes and gazed down at the floor, filthy from careless kids long back.

"Aw Trent, I'm sorry," she said. "How old were you?"

"Seven," I said softly. "He got hit by a car…I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind." She nodded sympathetically.

"Of course," she said, and I stared where I had left off.

"Right, and for my sister." I looked to where she was sitting and pointed her out to Artemis.

"That there," I said. "Has to be the most amazing girl I have ever known. She does so much around our house…if it wasn't for her, well, and me too, I guess, then we would be living out on the streets. Hey, how about I call her back here and you can meet her for yourself?" I poked my head over the seat and waved.

"Lillian!" I shouted, using her full name. "Get your tongue out of Kyle's throat and come back here!" She turned bright red and shot me a murderous glare as she got up. Kyle carelessly lifted his hand and flipped me the bird. Artemis was giggling under the seat, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing also. She plopped down in the seat across from us.

"Trent, that was totally unnecessary…" she said angrily.

"I know," I replied. "But you have to admit that it was funny." She sighed and smiled a bit.

"All right, Trent, you win, it was a little bit funny…" She stared into the seat, and pointed. "Who's that?"

"Lillian, I would like you to meet Artemis Dupery, originally from France but now from Kansas. Artemis, this is my twin sister Lillian Pierce."

"Jesus, call me Kat, Trent," she said and held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Artemis." She nodded her head and shook with her.

"The pleasure is mine," she replied. Artemis stared at her intently, studying her features, especially her eyes. People were always drawn to my sister's eyes; it was like a moth being attracted to light. There was just no keeping them away.

"I'm sorry if this sounds a little weird," Artemis said. "But I really love your contacts. They look so…real. Could I ask where you got them?" Kat stared at her for a minute, and then burst out laughing. She laughed so hard tears started streaming down her face.

"Oh God," Kat said, gasping for breath. "That has to be the funniest thing I have heard in a long time…" Artemis looked bemused, and then Kat put and hand on her shoulder.

"Oh no, Artemis, I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing at your question! My eyes are naturally this color. Always have been, and always will." Artemis nodded her head, the recognition dawning on her.

"It's just so…odd, I guess," she said. "I've never seen someone with purple eyes before, that's all." Kat giggled again.

"Not many people have," she replied. She was holding in her laughter, her cheeks were practically bursting with it. "But you are the only one who has ever asked me if they were contacts…" She laughed again, unable to help herself. Artemis started to laugh with her, and pretty soon, all three of us were laughing. Kyle looked up from a few seats up.

"Hey, you guys are having fun without me?" he said, shocked. "Well, you know that isn't acceptable!" He got up and bounded towards the back of the bus and sat with Kat. He looked over at Artemis and raised an eyebrow at me, and then looked back towards her. He grabbed her hand and kissed the back of it.

"Now, who's this pretty little lady?" Kyle asked. She smiled shyly again and blushed slightly.

"My name's Artemis," she said softly. "What's yours?" He gave her a huge, curving smile that streched all across his face.

"The name's Kyle Benedict, at your service," he said, and bowed with a flourish. She giggled and Kat slapped him lightly.

"Kyle, you know how stupid it is to openly flirt with other women right in front of your girlfriend, right?" She balled her left hand into a fist, snapping the knuckles. She held it right in front of his nose. "If I find out that you are cheating on me, then I will take this very fist, and ram it so far up your ass that you won't be able to shit for days!"

"Yeah, and then I'll kick your ass!" I added, laughing. Kat could be really funny sometimes. Artemis smiled and glanced back at me before turning to the others.

"Kyle, I'm flattered that you like me, but I think there's other guys out there that are single who would appreciate me more…" Kyle winked at me, and, naughty me, I winked back.

"Oh really?" Kyle asked. "And do you have any candidates yet?" She smiled slyly and shrugged her shoulders.

"Oh…maybe," she said and batted her eyes. Kyle and Kat laughed, but I didn't see this because was behind her.

"Oh Artemis, that was the lamest look of innocence that I have ever seen!" Kyle said, holding his sides.

"Yeah…I've even seen Trent do better!" Kat gasped while tittering like a squirrel. I hated it when Kat laughed like that; it drove me bugshit.

"Kat, if you do not stop laughing like you are a squirrel in heat," I said, and that only made her laugh harder.

"A squirrel in heat?" she chortled. "A f-f-fucking squirrel in heat…" Artemis turned around and stared at me, her face happy.

"This is the best time I've had since I moved from France," she said and looked around at the three of us. "What a wonderful group of friends you have, Trent! Well, and a wonderful sister!"

"That leaves me with only one friend," I corrected, and she laughed.

"No," she said charmingly. "You have me…" The other two stopped and stared at the two of us. Kat winked at Kyle, and he squeezed her hand.

"Oh really?" I said in mock suspicion. "But for how long, Miss Artemis Dupery? But for how long?"

"As long as you want, Trent," she replied seductively. I giggled like a girl, hell; I sounded an awful lot like Kat when it came down to it. Kat and I were very much alike in some ways, which is probably why we're twins instead of a regular brother and sister.

"Well, Artemis, you have a friend in me for as long as you need too," I responded. She smiled and took off her glasses and wiped them down, and I saw that she looked even nicer with them off, not that she looked bad with them on. She grabbed her book bag as the bus finally pulled to a stop for that start of another year of school. I walked with her on the way in, Kyle and Kat walking ahead, holding hands. They looked so cute together, I thought as I looked over at Artemis.

"What grade are you in?" I asked her, curious.

"I'm a senior," she said. "I'll be a part of the grand old class of 2000." My face lit up in a happy smile.

"No kidding? Me too!" I cried. "That is awesome! Have you decided where you want to go to college yet?" She shrugged her shoulders.

"I've gotten lots of scholarships, but I don't know where I should go yet," she said. "Maybe I will go to college back in France…" She suddenly changed the subject.

"Do you know any French?" she asked. I nodded and grinned.

"Oui, je parle un peu francais," I replied, and she beamed happily.

"C'est bon!" she cried. "Do you still want me to come to your house after school?" I nodded and answered in French.

"Oui. Je t'invite!"

"Ah bon. Je vais alle chez toi apres l'ecole," she answered me and we entered the building.

Our school, Oxbow by name, had an extremely drab interior throughout, except for the front lobby. It was carpeted in a rug so orange it put Kenny's coat to shame. It would blind you if you stared at it too long, and I warned Artemis of this as we walked in. We took a left from the lobby and walked into the cafeteria.

"This where we go to pick up our schedules," I said. "Do you take any honors classes?" She nodded and grinned.

"Yes, I am taking all of them," She replied. I slapped her a high five.

"All right! You'll have most of your classes with Kat, Kyle and me then!"

We walked around until we found the table with all of the senior schedules on it. I found mine, actually, I found Kat holding mine, for they placed them in alphabetical order and ours were always together. She thrust it at me.

"We have the exact same schedule again Trent Pierce," she said. "We have had the exact same schedule for all six years we've been here!" I nodded and grinned over at Artemis.

"We're appalled by this every year, as if it were ever going to change," I said, and she laughed. I scoured the table until I found hers. I handed it to her and she took it graciously.

"Thank you, Trent," she said and then looked it over.

"I saw that your middle initial is S," I said.

"Yes," she replied. "My middle name is Star. Artemis Star Dupery." She gazed over at my schedule. "And your is C." I nodded.

"Mine's Craig," I said, and then added, "And Kat's is…"

"Don't you dare tell her what my middle—"

"Alexis." Kat leaned over and whacked me.

"Fuck you, Trent," she said and stalked off, probably looking for Kyle. Artemis gazed up at me.

"How's that for err…twin love?" she said. I gave her a lopsided grin.

"You should see what it's like at home," I replied, and then asked, "What's your first period class?" She looked down at her schedule.

"Pottery," she said. My face lit up.

"Great!" I said. "I have that now too, so I can show you where it is." I led her through the front entrance of the cafeteria and turned towards the far staircase. We trudged up them and walked a short distance to the high school art room; room B-16. I glanced down at my watch when I saw that the lights were still out; we had at least fifteen minutes to waste before class even started. I slid down the wall and plumped down on the floor. I looked up at her, and smiled and patted the ground next to me. She smiled graciously and I took her hand and gently lowered her down. She gave me a coy grin. I grinned back, and then looked down the hallway. Some people were starting to filter in, and I caught parts of their conversations as they walked by.

"Oh my God, I so, like, don't want to be here."

"I know, Lacey, tell me about it."

"Did you see the new French kid? Woah, she's a babe and a half!" Whoever was talking looked over in my direction and then stopped. I recognized him when he looked over and pointed towards Artemis. His friend, who I also knew, stopped with him.

"There she is!" the first boy, whose name was Greg said.

"Damn!" was all the second kid, Freddie, could utter. He looked over at me.

"Oh, hey Trent, have fun in your cardboard box this summer?" Freddie said.

"Yeah, I saw you and your stupid sister working over at the drive-in," Greg added. "Don't you know that only losers work there?" I gave him a lopsided grin and quoted a line from the Bible, which is something I rarely ever do.

"Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth," I replied. They stared at me oddly, and then Greg sauntered over to Artemis and hunkered down next to her.

"Hey pretty lady," he said. "What's the name that goes with your fair face?" She stared at him stonily, disgusted.

"Artemis," she replied. He gave a nod over towards me and then turned back towards her, a sickly sweet smiled plastered on his face.

"Baby, what's a girl as pretty as you doin' hangin' out with some loser like him? You know where he lives? In a shack on the poor side of town." He started to sing in a terribly off key voice, and I lowered my eyes in shame. What was Artemis doing hanging out with a loser like me?

"In the ghetto…" Greg sang scornfully. "On a cold and gray Chicago morn, a little baby child was born in the ghetto…"

"In the ghetto…" Freddie echoed. I turned my head away and in doing so briefly met Artemis' eyes. They were harsh and unyielding and anger was engraved on her face, etched deep into her features.

"In the ghetto…momma put her face in her hands and cried because—"

"Oh, do stop it," she snapped. "That is no way to treat people. How would like it if I sang a song about you being a fat piece of shit?" Greg stared at her, his mouth slightly agape.

"Did God make your mouth on a hinge?" she asked harshly. "Shut it!" His mouth snapped shut. His face suddenly clouded over and he got right down into her face.

"You better watch yourself, missy," he said hatefully. His eyes shifted and bored through me, hot jealous orbs of fire. "If you want to be unpopular and hang out with that…thing and his absurd twin sister, then fine, you do that. But remember that you had a chance to get with me…" Anger rushed through me, and if I didn't have any self-control, I would have gotten up and killed him. If he was going to make fun of me, fine, but he was not going to make fun of my sister and get away with it, oh no. I was about to shout a very colorful and vulgar phrase when Artemis jumped and up and turned towards him, eyes flashing.

"What do you know about Trent, you…you jello mold!" she spat. People were now gathering around the three of us; Freddie was long gone. I held back a laugh at that; a jello mold was all he really was.

"You have no idea about what he's like, or how he thinks or how he feels, because all you care about is eating your pork rinds and lard bricks in front of late night television! All you care about, Gregory, is your tank of an ass." She stared at him, hot tears forming in her eyes.

"Have you ever just talked with him or his sister to see how they were like? To see past their exterior? Trent and Kat, they may be poor, yes, but Kat is the most compassionate person…" She turned towards me, her voice wavering.

"And he has to be the sweetest person I have ever met." The people clapped and cheered; glad that someone had finally had the nerve to show Greg the hardcore facts of life. He scowled at her and then walked off, muttering stuff under his breath.

"What's that ya say, tubby?" I called after him. "If you have something bad to say, why don't you come over here and say it to my face!" He chucked me the bird from behind his shoulder and kept on walking. Artemis walked over and placed her hand on my shoulder.

"Ignore him," she said spitefully. "It's people like him that have made our world what it is today." I nodded my head vehemently, and she smiled slightly.

"And people like you who make it better, Trent," she said, and then the bell rang, signaling the start of another day.

I wrapped my fingers around the clay, feeling its smooth, light grit slide through my fingers. I cleared myself a place on the counter and wedged it, pushing and pulling in one continuous motion, clearing the wedge of any air bubbles or foreign particles. I walked over to my favorite wheel, the one farthest to the right, and slapped my clay down—thok!—on the sleek metal top. I heard a cry of frustration and looked up. Artemis was fervently trying to wedge her clay and failing to do so. She slammed her fists into it and when she pulled them out, the suction made a little pop.

"Dammit, I am never going to be able to get this!" she cried. I grinned and shook my head as I walked over to her. I took her hands in mine and guided them to the places they needed to be.

"Artemis, to wedge clay, all you have to do is roll it like a cone," I said, and then showed her, the clay sliding under my fingers, moving with the deftness of a master. I had a natural gift for pottery and the three-dimensional art, but couldn't draw, while Kat could draw anything she wanted to; she couldn't make a pot to save her life. Still, she insisted on taking pottery, thinking that maybe one day she was going to be able to do it, and she was right; she had gotten better over the four years we had taken it. She was over on one wheel and Kyle was over on yet another, both sculpting and creating with their hands.

"See?" I said, holding up the perfectly shaped wedge for her to see. "It isn't that hard, you know." She laughed and pushed me out if her way.

"Shut up, you show off bastard," she replied and walked off to her wheel, her hips swinging prettily behind her. I sighed and shook my head.

"I know you're jealous of me," I called after her. She turned around and stared at me.

"Me, jealous of you? Ha! That would be like being jealous of Barbara Streisand's singing!" Kyle bent over the wheel, laughing hysterically.

"Ooh, she told you, Trent," he said. He licked his finger and drew a line in the air. "Point for Artemis!" She just smiled and sat down at her wheel, slapping the clay on and starting it up. I shook my head and returned to my wheel. I started it up and started to slowly, slowly shape a gigantic pot. My hands moved in and out, pushing it on center, smoothing the edges, rounding its features. It took me all class period, but when I was done, I had a pot so big on my wheel, that I could have sat in it. My art teacher, Mr. Linsberg by name, came over and admired my handiwork.

"Jesus Trent," he said, awed. "You always said you were going to make a pot big enough for you to sit in. And now…" He walked all around it, studying its contours and shape.

"And now I have seen the most amazing piece of pottery ever made in this school. Leave it on the wheel; I'll make sure no one messes with it."

"All right," I said as the bell rang. I frantically ran over to the sink and washed my hands, and ran for the doorway. In my haste to make it to my next class on time, I almost ran Artemis over in the hall. I gave a little squeak of surprise and fell flat on my ass. She looked down at me, curiously, and then threw her head back and laughed. She laughed until I thought she was going to burst, and then she offered me her hand. I took it gratefully and she pulled me up, looking me over.

"Are you all right?" she asked me, and I nodded my head.

"No worse for the wear," I said, and she laughed again.

"Come on," she said, dragging me by the arm. "You have to take me to my next period class!"

"What is it?"

"Study hall." I grinned and started to drag her.

"All right then, come with me," I said and pulled her down the stairs and into the auditorium, where Kat and Kyle were already sitting, holding hands. Kat was writing something, and Kyle was desperately trying to pull his hand away from hers so he could write too, both of them being left handed.

"Kat…" he said patiently. "Give me my hand, please." She grinned without looking up and shook her head.

"I had to give up my hand during pottery, so you could at least return the favor for me." She sighed in exasperation. "Of all the right handed people in the world, two left handed people have to be going out…" I laughed; Kat and I bitched about that a lot. I slumped down in a seat next to her, and Artemis slid down in a seat next to me. I craned my neck over Kat's shoulder to see what she was writing anyway, and then turned away when I saw it was only a note to Izzy. She was sitting in the seat in front of her, silently reading a magazine. Mad magazine, I noted with pride. At least she always had a good sense of humor.

"Why do you have to write Izzy a note when you are sitting one seat behind her?" I asked. Sometimes I wondered what was going on in a girl's head. "You could just lean over and whisper it in her damn ear!" She batted me away, totally uninterested in what I had to say.

"Trent, I think different from you," she said. "You would just go blurt whatever you wanted to the person that you need to speak with, but I like to write things down. And besides, writing notes is more fun."

"But Kyle needs his hand," I pointed out. She looked up for the first time and saw that he was desperately trying to write right handed. She shook her head and started to laugh, and then released his hand.

"Sorry Kyle," she said, sounding not at all sorry. "But I like you holding my hand. It makes me feel loved."

"Then hold Trent's hand," he grumbled and commenced in writing. "Make it so he can't write." She shook her head adamantly.

"Ew, Trent's hands are gross!" she teased, and I pretended to start to cry.

"Nobody loves me!" I wailed. "My own sister won't even hold my hand…" People had turned around and were staring at me, and the moderator craned her neck up to see what was going on.

"Trent Pierce, if you don't stop talking…" she warned. I shut up, but still giggling. Kat was laughing softly, and Kyle and Artemis were smiling. Kat had finally stopped writing and tapped Izzy on the back of the neck. She turned around, and smiled when she saw Kat. They were each other's very best friends; they shared everything. Her face saddened slightly when she looked over in my direction.

"Hey Kat," she said. "Hi Kyle, Trent…uh…" She pointed to Artemis. "Who's that?" I took the liberty of introducing Artemis to her.

"Izzy, this is my friend Artemis. Artemis, this is my sister's very best friend Izzy." Artemis smiled sunnily, but Izzy only gave her a faint one in reply.

"Oh," she said, and then asked Kat, "What did you tap me for?" Kat held the note out to her, and she grabbed it and started to read. I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes, daydreaming about various things when Kat slapped me.

"Here, this is for you, Trent," she said and tossed a note on my lap. I groaned and opened it up. It read:

Trent,

What the hell are you doing? Artemis is absolutely in love with you, and you ignore it! Ask her the fuck out, or I will kill you!

Cool beans, over and out,

Kyle

I crumpled up the note and sighed. I thought he was over exaggerating things. I had just met Artemis about an hour and a half ago, and already he was assuming that she was in love with me. It was just total bullshit. I grabbed my trusty ballpoint pen and started to write back. What I wrote read:

Kyle,

Where the hell are you getting your shit? Then is no proof that she likes me, none at all! How can you even ask me to do that! That's insane!

Your jackass,

Trent

I tossed him the note when the moderator turned her back and he read it. He crumpled it up and shook his head at me. I made sure she still wasn't looking and I flipped him off. He ignored me and I tore out a piece of paper and stared at it, trying to think of something I wanted to write a poem about. Poems were always my strong point in English, and I wrote them whenever I had some spare time. I tapped my pen against my knee, my other hand tap tap tapping the plastic armrest next to me. I knew deep down inside of me what my heart wanted to write a poem about, but my brain was trying to tell me differently. Finally, I gave into myself and wrote the title down on the paper.

Artemis

Just seeing it there made my stomach feel like it was inhabited by grasshoppers. I took deep breath and began to write, letting the words come from my soul. When I was done, it read:

Artemis

She held her head high—

High above all,

A goddess, that's what her

Name was, that

Artemis Dupery.

Goddess, oh she was,

With fair hair and hazel

Eyes that pierced the soul.

She sees into people, me,

With clarity not expected from

One so young, just

Seventeen.

Seventeen and so was I,

Languishing in our torrid

Affairs and mundane lives.

No one could see

Me the way she could.

That goddess, that girl.

Artemis.

I stared down, shocked at what I had just written. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then quickly ripped it out and started to fold it up when she stopped me.

"What's that, Trent?" Artemis asked, curious. I looked down at it, and then unfolded it carefully.

"It's a poem," I said. "But it's no good, so I'm just going to throw—"

"Can I read it?" she asked softly. I sighed miserably and handed it to her.

"Fine," I said, and turned away, absolutely mortified. I didn't turn away fast enough, however, to see that stunned happiness in her eyes as she read the first line. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to cry, but outwardly didn't show anything. Only Kat knows when I am hiding things, and she knew it now.

"Trent…what's wrong?" she whispered. I stared at her, mildly shocked.

"Nothing," I replied. "What made you think something was wrong?" She shrugged.

"I dunno, you just looked…well, humiliated," she replied and went back to her written conversation she was having with Izzy.

I knew when she was done; the poem was gently placed back in my lap. I sat there for a minute unable to even touch it, let alone look at it. Finally, I grabbed it and noticed there was writing on the back, and I flipped it over. Written there was:

Only this morning did I meet,

One boy so calm, so nice, so sweet,

It seemed untrue, as if in a dream,

Loose threads coming undone at the seam.

He sat there, eyes downcast and sad,

A feeling that he might be bad,

A girl he once thought he might love,

No more fit him then a lead glove.

A smile so sad, but yet so true,

That's when I fell in love with you.

"In the light of others one may seem dim, but we all have our own bright spark."

Love,

Artemis

I stared at her poem, and then stared at her, absolutely dumbfounded. She smiled shyly and took my hand in hers, holding it tightly.

"Trent," she said somberly. "I find this very hard to say, because I am not very good at this kind of thing…" Kat nudged Kyle, who was now napping through the rest of study hall, and woke him up, pointing over at us. He smiled and then gave her a wink, and she winked back and slapped him a high five.

"So do I," I said. "Trust me…"

"Trent…I never honestly believed in love at first sight but with you…you were special. I felt myself loving you when I first met you…and I was wondering if you would go out with me." I gave her a weak smile and squeezed her hand.

"Sure I will, Artemis," I said, and then added, "You know I'm not the best you could have…" She sighed and hugged me; I could feel the contours of her body clashing with mine.

"No, but you're who I want," she said. "I love you, Trent Craig Pierce." I hugged her back, tighter then she had.

"Back to you, Artemis Star Dupery," I replied and class was over.

There was a moment of silence, and then she turned away from me for a minute to find her schedule.

"Dammit, where the hell did I put it?" she muttered as she rummaged through her backpack. After another thirty seconds, she pulled it out triumphantly.

"Ha! I found it!" she cried and looked down. "I have chorus next." She smiled at me and grabbed my hand. "Well, are you coming? You have to take me there, you big dumb lump!" she said. I suddenly snapped out of my stupor and smiled.

"Yeah, I'm coming," I replied, and then added, "I have chorus too." We cut through the auditorium and through the back entrance to the music room, where other kids were waiting.

"Are you a soprano or an alto?" I asked her. She smiled.

"I am an alto," she replied, and I led over to the alto section, where there was a small fiery girl sitting, her hair nearly shaved and spiked an inch off her head, her hazel eyes small little pellets in ivory white skin. The first impression most people have when they meet her is that they're scared, and then as soon as she opens her mouth…

"Hey Trent, you big asshole, who the hell's that?" she called to me. I smiled wryly and shook my fist at her.

"Watch your mouth when you're talking to seniors, you scummy little freshman," I replied jokingly. She stood up and laughed, suddenly changing. Now your impression of her changed from scary to spunky. She wore a silver-balled necklace around her neck, pretty rebellious until you saw what was suspended on it. A miniature Kenny from South Park was hanging off the edge, and today she happened to be wearing a Kenny tank top. Quite obsessed, you see. I looked her over, appalled that person who looked like she did could sing as well as she did. I met her last year when she had just moved up here from New Jersey, friendless and scared. She had sung soprano last year, clueless about how to read music, but having a natural talent for the notes. Having never read music before, she came into our chorus and blew everyone away, singing better then almost everyone in the class. It was amazing, absolutely amazing.

"Well, jackass, are you going to introduce me to your friend or not?" she asked impatiently. Kelsey had never been one much for patience.

"All right, all right, you evil little wench!" I replied. "Kelsey, this is my girlfriend Artemis. Artemis, this is Kelsey Welsh, a freshman friend of mine and fellow alto. She can help you along in this class, can't you, Kelsey?" Now your impression of her would have changed again, from being scared of her to spunky to absolutely crazy to incredibly nice. She held out her hand to Artemis and shook it warmly.

"So, you've stolen Trent from me, eh?" she said, grinning broadly. "Why, I should kill you for that…" Artemis laughed and then stared back at me.

"Well…it was kind of a love at first sight deal…I only met him this morning," she replied. She pointed at Kenny on her shirt. "South Park fan, are you?" She nodded and smiled again.

"Until the day I die," she said, and then changed the subject. "Pretty name, Artemis is…" I walked away from them then and sauntered down to the baritone section, where Kyle was standing along with Hunter Reznick and Luke Ordway.

"Hey Luke, hi Hunter, " I said. "How was your summer?" They shrugged.

"It was all right," Luke said.

"Mine sucked my ass," Hunter replied and I laughed. I looked back over at Artemis and Kelsey, and they were talking about something and laughing. Kelsey looked around and whispered something in her ear, and she nodded gleefully. Kelsey put her hand over her mouth and giggled right as the teacher came into the room. No one paid any attention to her, and Kelsey got up on her chair and screamed in a perfect impression of the bus driver on South Park.

"Sit down and shut up!" she screeched. "Or the cute little bunny dies!" Everyone in the class went dead silent, and they all looked up at her.

"What are you whores staring at?" she shouted in the same voice. An eruption of laughter rippled through the crowd; even our teacher was seized by it.

"Thank you, Kelsey, thank you," she said, and she nodded her head and sat down.

"No problem, Miss Jadestrom," she replied. Miss Jadestrom beamed at her; she was one of her favorite students. She looked down at her attendance sheet and shook her head.

"I only have four seniors here this year," she said sadly. "Only Kyle Benedict…" She looked over at Kyle and gave him a warm smile. "Hello."

"Hi," he replied.

"Uh…Artemis Dupery? Is that how you say your name?" she asked, looking around the classroom for where she might be.

"Yes," Artemis said. "You are one of the only people to get it right on the first try."

"And the Pierce twins," she said, looking first at Kat, and then at me. "How are you two doing?"

"All right," Kat said. I shrugged.

"The same as always," I replied. She laughed a little.

"That bad, Trent?" she asked. I laughed.

"Of course." She took attendance for the rest of the class, and I noticed there was an over abundance of middle schoolers this year, as there were every year. She looked around the classroom and smiled.

"Well class, today I am going to be testing some of your voices, the ones of you I don't already know, so I know where you can sing comfortably." There were only about twenty people that hadn't been here last year, and she called them all up to sing. I cringed when one girl, Samantha Corsette, went up there. She couldn't carry a tune to save her life.

"Aw man," Kyle whispered to me. "I hope not all of them are as horrible as that…" I giggled.

"Me too," I replied. "Then we would have a chorus full of miniature Barbara Streisands!" Kyle placed his hand over his mouth to keep himself from laughing out loud and then Artemis walked to the center of the room, wringing her hands nervously. She looked over at me, and I smiled and gave her the thumbs up sign. She smiled back and then started to sing. I stood there, my ear trained from many years of vocal lessons, shocked. Her voice was sweet and rich, coming straight from her chest. I looked over at Kelsey, the other girl wonder, and her face was slightly clouded over, frustrated. Her brow was furrowed in a deep crease, and it got more puzzled as she continued on, reaching the climax of her song and delivering with flourish. When she was done, she turned towards Miss Jadestrom, who was staring at her, her mouth slightly agape.

"Artemis…did you ever take voice lessons?" she asked slowly. Artemis slowly shook her head.

"My family could never afford them," she said sadly. "I always wanted to take them, though—"

"Jesus," said Miss Jadestrom, shaking her head. "Artemis, you have a voice that only a few in here could match." She looked around the room and then gazed back at her. "I would like for you to be in the madrigal choir as our alto." Artemis looked shocked, and then said, "Of course, Miss Jadestrom! Thank you!" She smiled sweetly at her as she went back and sat down. I looked over there and saw Kelsey's face looked like someone had loosened all of the screws holding it up. It sagged and bunched, and it looked like she was going to cry.

"Wow, I didn't think I was that good," Artemis said to her. "I never thought I could get into the elite choir…"

"Yeah…" Kelsey said sadly, and then gave her a weak smile. "Good job." Artemis looked down at her, concerned.

"Kelsey, what's wrong? You look sad—" Artemis started.

"I'm am sad," Kelsey said. "I worked my ass off this summer so that I would get into the madrigal choir as their alto and I thought I might have a chance…and now, because of you, I'm a nobody again. Thanks a lot, Artemis." I sighed and walked over there slowly. Kelsey had worked all summer to be in the choir; I had worked with her. She had sounded really good and I was sure she would make it, but now this. I didn't blame Artemis; it wasn't her fault. I just felt bad that she didn't get it.

Artemis looked over at Kelsey helplessly, and then walked slowly over to the chorus teacher.

"Miss Jadestrom?" she asked meekly. "I would like to decline my invitation to be in the elite choir." Kelsey stared up at her, shocked.

"And I would like to recommend Kelsey to take my place," she added. Miss Jadestrom looked at her, shocked.

"Are you sure, Artemis? I think that you would be a much better asset…"

"I'm positive," she replied and started to walk back to her seat. 'But thank you anyway." Kelsey ran over to Artemis and gave her a big hug.

"Artemis, you are the nicest damn person on the planet," she said, her eyes shiny with happy tears. "Thank you so much…" Artemis smiled at her and ruffled her hair.

"No problem, kiddo," she said and sat down. Kelsey shot Miss Jadestrom a look before taking her seat.

"She thinks I'm no good…well I'll show her!" she muttered under her breath. "I'll show her that I'm one of the best altos in the chorus! In the state!"

"All right then…Kelsey Welsh is our madrigal alto…and I would like Kat Pierce to be our madrigal soprano, Jake Connell to be our tenor, and Trent Pierce to be our baritone. Do you all accept?" We all nodded, and she smiled.

"Good then, that's settled," she said, and the bell rang, signaling lunch, well, for Kat and I at least. Kyle too, and probably Artemis the way things were going. I felt someone tug lightly on my shirt before I left. I looked over my shoulder and saw Kelsey standing there.

"Yeah, Kelsey?" I said.

"I was just going to ask you when you were going to start working with me again," she said softly. "So I can get better." I thought about it for a minute, and then replied,

"How about next week, pretty one?" She smiled and blushed slightly and turned away.

"All right then, Trent…" she said and walked off. I met up with Artemis at the door and took her hand.

"You did a really nice thing for her," I said, watching her walk off towards the cafeteria, lunch bag in hand. "She's very secluded, and doesn't have many friends. She comes from a strange family, and they never thought she could do anything, and held her back. When she found out that she had a wonderful voice, though, she was as shocked as the teacher was." I looked over at Artemis, my eyes locking with hers.

"She was very much like you were today last year." We both steered a left into the cafeteria and saw her sit down at a table by herself, pulling her lunch out of her bag and walking up to the utensils tray, probably to get a spoon.

"Singing was all she had. She worked on it and worked on it and worked on it until she couldn't sing anymore. She would constanly lose her voice from practicing so much. She had a lot of determination, and good spirit." We both sat down at a deserted table: the senior table. In a few moments it would be teeming with my friends.

"That was great what you did for her, though," I added. "It probably made her day." Artemis shrugged and pulled out her lunch out from her bag.

"It was the nice thing to do," she said as I walked off to pay for my daily meal, which usually consisted of two slices of pizza, some salad, six or seven rolls and a carton of chocolate milk. When I got back to our table, there were ten different people there, and almost no room for me. Luckily, Artemis and Kat had saved me a seat. I looked around the table and saw many familiar faces: Kenny Mancuso, Opal Lee, Trent Killinger, Paul Ingleside, and so many others that I had known, in at least two cases, all my life.

"Trent, you asshole!" Kenny yelled to me from down at the other end of the table. "How the hell have you been?" I smiled wryly.

"All right Kenny, how about you?" he sighed and stabbed his salad viciously.

"My summer officially sucked donkey balls," he said, and we all laughed. He champed down a mouthful of the green stuff, chewing thoughtfully.

"You know, sometimes, when I eat the school's salad, I wonder why I ever decided to become a vegetarian," he said, and then looked across the table to where Paul was sitting, eating a vile looking plate of beef stroganoff.

"And then I see that crap there on Paul's plate, and it all comes rushing back, and usually so does my lunch, in one painful rush." We all laughed again.

"How can you stand eating that tofu shit?" I called down to him. "I had a Gardenburger once and it was absolutely disgusting. It was all I could do to get it down, let alone even think about becoming a vegetarian." He shrugged and ate another bite of salad.

"I just don't like meat, that's all," he replied. Kat shook her head and sighed.

"I don't know how you could live without steak," she said dreamily. "Glazed top, rare center, so much steak sauce it could drown in it…" Kenny shuddered and stuck his finger down his throat.

"Ack!" he said. "That sounds so gross!" I rubbed my stomach and grinned.

"Sounds pretty good to me, Veggie Boy," I replied, and we laughed again. He chucked me the bird and muttered thorough a mouthful of lettuce.

"Fuck you, Trent," he said. I munched on my pizza thoughtfully, looking over at Artemis. Some of the other people at the lunch table were staring over in her direction, and finally Opal, who has had a crush on me since fourth grade, I swear, asked,

"Who's that girl, Trent?" Everyone stopped their conversation and craned their necks over to gaze at me.

"This, everyone, is Artemis Dupery. She's from Kansas, but originally from France. Artemis, these are all my fucked up friends."

"She's his girlfriend!" Kat called out when I was seated again, and some good-natured whistles were called out.

"Ooh, Trent's got a girlfriend?" Paul called out. "What the hell does she see in that?" There was some laughter from the table again, including my own. I was always able to laugh at myself.

"God must have shown some mercy for you after all, Trent," Trent said. Opal looked down at her tray sadly and then gazed back up at me.

"Damn," she said. "Now I will never get you…" I smiled wryly and shrugged.

"Should have tried for me sooner, Opal…" I replied. "You know how everyone loves sexy old Trent Pierce." We laughed, and Kat reached over and hit me.

"We all know how modest Trent is, too!" she said. I held my arm where she hit me and wailed.

" Ow…Kat hurt me!" I cried at the top of my lungs. "Mommy…she hurt me!"

"I'm going to hurt you again if you don't shut the hell up!" she replied, and I burst out laughing.

"Fuck off, Kat," I said and she laughed along with me.

"You are so unoriginal, Trent Craig," she said.

"Well, at least I'm not…" I stopped suddenly, thinking. "At least I'm not named after a flower!" Kat laughed so hard at that that tears spilled down her cheeks.

"Oh God…" she gasped, trying to control her laughter. "Shit, I just thought about what flower name you would have…Petunia!"

"Daffodil!" Kyle added.

"Rose!" Paul quipped.

"Daisy!" Opal chipped in.

"Iris!" Trent called out. Artemis just sat there, shaking her head and laughing.

"Hey Artemis, don't you have a flower name for Trent?" Kyle asked. She shrugged.

"Not really," she said. "The only name I can ever call him is Trent…or asshole. I think that suits him better then Daisy, let me tell you." She leaned over and sniffed me. "He definitely smells like the first one, anyway." The whole table was now in hysterics, and I almost fell out my chair I was laughing so hard.

"Shit darlin', that was crude," I said, finally calming down.

"I know," she said, and gave me a loving smile. "I couldn't help myself." I gave her a gentle smile back; it was all I could do. There was nothing else I could do. I glanced down at my watch and quickly finished my lunch. I rushed off to the tray drop off area and then left my tray then and ran back to the table.

"Shit, I forgot that lunch is only twenty minutes long over the summer," I said and everyone laughed. They all got up and rushed off to their next period classes, all except for Kenny, that is. He just sat there, finishing his salad slowly, as if in a dream. For the first time I noticed that he looked depressed. I forgot all about my rush and sat down next to him.

"What's wrong, Kenny?" I asked, concerned. "You look sad." He gazed up at me, his usually happy eyes now brimming with tears. He shook his head and pushed me away.

"It's nothing Trent, don't worry about me," he said, and started to walk off. I grabbed his arm and held onto him lightly, and turned him around so he was facing me.

"Kenny," I said softly. "I've known you all my life. You, Kyle and I played together when were babies, remember? I promise you now that I'm concerned, and I want to know." He stared up into my eyes, and finally broke down, big, crocodile tears rolling down his face. He sobbed helplessly, unable to speak. Artemis was still sitting next to me, and she shot me a concerned look. I gave her a half smile as I comforted Kenny, still not knowing what he was crying about.

"Aw man, Trent," he sobbed. "I never thought it would happen this way…" he hugged me to him, crying. I looked over at Artemis and whispered for her to go to class and to tell the teacher that I was going to be a little late. She nodded her head and gently patted my shoulder and walked off.

"What turned out this way, Kenny?" I asked. "What happened?"

"Meredith," he said simply. "She's dead." I stared at him, thunderstruck. Meredith was his younger sister. They were only fourteen months apart. "Oh my God, Kenny, how did it happen?"

"Suicide," he sobbed, crying again. "She slit her wrists last night, and I found her this morning with a note in her hand."

"What did it say, Kenny," I said, prying gently.

"It was an interpolation of that famous South Park saying, you know—"

"Oh my God, they killed Kenny, you bastards?" I said. He nodded faintly.

"Yeah, that one. It read: 'Oh my God, Meredith killed herself, oh well. Fuck the world—Meri'." He turned towards me, his eyes reds and puffy from crying.

"She was lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood, Trent," he cried, helpless anger washing over him now. "Why couldn't I have been there for her, Trent? Why couldn't I have stopped her?" I put my arm around him, gently rubbing his back.

"Kenny, none of us could have done anything to stop her," I said gently. "We'll never know why she killed herself." He sniffed and nodded his head, rubbing his eyes.

"I guess you're right," he said sadly. "But she was my sister, man! Imagine what you would do if Kat killed herself! You would go mental, with her being your twin and all, but this is a taste of that. This is fucking terrible," he said and walked off towards the bathroom. "I've got to wash my face off before I go anywhere." He stopped and turned around, staring at me gratefully.

"Thanks, Trent," he said. "You couldn't have been any better then you were right then for me."

"No problem, Kenny," I replied and started walking off towards English. "I'll see you in class."

"All right," he whispered, and I started walking to my class.

Our teacher, Mr. Finn, didn't do anything when I sauntered in; he just gave me a brief nod and continued doing what he was doing. I saw that Artemis had saved me a seat, and I sat down gratefully next to her.

"Thanks," I whispered and slouched down in my seat.

"How is he?" she whispered in my ear while Mr. Finn was talking aimless about the essence of poetry, which is what we were going to study first. Lucky for me I didn't need to pay attention, I already knew the essence of poetry. There was no essence, you just wrote from your heart.

"Pretty bad," I replied somberly. "His sister committed suicide last night." She put her hand over her mouth and gasped.

"Oh my God," she said softly. "How is he taking it? He seemed okay at lunch."

"Not well," I replied. "Kenny is pretty good at hiding his emotions, and it takes a lot to make him cry." I had only seen Kenny cry once before, and that was when his mother had died of cancer. That had been a terrible time for him, as well, I remember him not showing for school most of the time she was in the hospital. They had operated on her, and removed it, and for about six months she had been cancer free, or so they thought. When they checked her the next time, it had spread to her lungs and her brain, and she had died a month later. Kenny had been devastated then, but at least he had expected that. This was worse, being a surprise to him and his family, which now only consisted of him and his father.

"In fact," I said to her. "I have only seen Kenny cry one other time. He's a tough kid," I said, and was about to tell her about his mother when he came into the room, looking pale and haggard. He sat down in the back, listless and uninterested. For once Kenny didn't have one smart-ass thing to say during class. All the rest of the day all I could think about was his sister, Meredith Mancuso, a bright young child who always smiled. Every time I went to his house, she would pretend to hit on me, and we would laugh about it. She was attractive, with dark chestnut hair and deep, almond shaped eyes that were darker then her hair. I just couldn't understand why she would have wanted to end her life. It didn't make any sense. I pushed that thought out of my mind as the bell rang for the end of the day, and I turned to Artemis, smiling.

"You still coming over today?" I said as we went to catch our bus. She nodded and gave me a small smile.

"Sure," she said. "Wouldn't want to turn down your invitation last minute." I nodded and we boarded the bus, making a mad dash for the last seat, which we got. Kat came running on, and sat down across from me, and so did Kyle.

"Dude, I heard about Meri," Kat said sadly. "I feel so bad for Kenny; he looks terrible." I nodded my head in assent.

"Don't I know it," I replied. "That's why I was late for class. I sat down and he poured out his tears and emotions on me for ten minutes straight."

"I just don't understand," Kat said her brow furrowed in frustration. "Why she would want to do something like that? She was pretty, nice, and witty. She was going steady with the most popular junior. What more could she have asked for?"

"To be happy," I replied simply and the conversation ended there.

I was silent for most of the bus ride home, pondering how I was going to explain our family situation to Artemis, who was involved in some ridiculous girl conversation with Kat and Izzy. Something about Adam Sandler, and I couldn't have cared less right then. Our bus stop finally came, and Kyle, Izzy, Kat, Artemis and I filed off, and said good-bye to Kyle and Izzy, who walked a different route home. It was a short walk to our house, not even five minutes, and we got there I could feel the shame creeping into me at its shabby exterior.

"Well, Artemis," I said as cheerily as I could. "Welcome to our humble home." She smiled warmly at me as she looked at it, her eyes taking in every detail.

"It's nice, Trent," she said. "I like it." Boy, nothing she said then could have made me feel better then that.

"Really?" I asked, surprised. "You like it?" She nodded her head.

"I love it," she replied, and I picked her up and held her tight to my chest.

"I love you," I said seriously. "That was great of you to say, Artemis." She smiled and leaned her face over and kissed me gently on the lips.

"No problem, Trent," she said and we walked into the house, where Kylie and Erin were waiting, expectant grins on their faces.

"Hi Trent!" Kylie shrieked.

"Hi Kat!" Erin cried. "They both ran to the two of us but stopped when they saw Artemis. Our mom had come out also and was standing in the doorframe to the kitchen, smiling.

"Well hello, Trent, hello, Kat," she said pleasantly. "Who's you're friend?" I took the liberty of introducing Artemis to my mother.

"Mom, this is Artemis Dupery, my girlfriend, and Artemis, this is my mother Karen Pierce." Mom smiled and held her hand out to her.

"Pleased to meet you, Artemis," she said, looking her up and down. "Trent must have seen something special in you to have wanted to go out with you on the day you guys met." She smiled lightly.

"I saw it in him," she replied. "Pleased to meet you too, Mrs. Pierce."

"Please, call me Karen," she replied, and Artemis nodded.

"All right then," she said as Mom walked back out into the kitchen.

"Would you like to stay for dinner, Artemis?" she called out to her. "We're having spaghetti—"

"I have to go home around five," she said sadly. "Maybe some other time, but thanks for the invite." I stared down at my two little sisters, who were dressed the same today, for once. They gazed up at Artemis and then at me, demanding an explanation on why she was here. I laughed at their petulant little faces; they even thought the same sometimes. I was right about to tell them who Artemis was when she got down right at their eye level, smiling.

"Hey," she said, looking them over. "You must be Trent and Kat's little sisters Kylie and Erin." They nodded shyly.

"Can you tell me which one of you is which?" Kylie nodded.

"I'm Kylie," she said.

"And I'm Erin," Erin said. I leaned over and whispered to Artemis.

"If you ever have a problem telling them apart, ask one of them to write something down." Artemis stared at me quizzically.

"How would that help?" she asked, slightly bemused.

"Kylie's left-handed and Erin's right-handed," I replied. "That usually helps most people remember." She nodded her head.

"Oh, all right," she said and then got up off the ground. "Well, what do you propose we do?" I stared around the room and then looked back at her.

"Well, we could go into our room," I said, and Kat and I led her to where we slept. We all stood in the doorway, staring at the bare, cracked walls.

"Well, this is it," I said. She nodded at the room and smiled at me.

"It's great, you guys," she said and walked in and sat down on my bed. "So, which one of you sleeps on the top?" Kat grinned and raised her hand.

"I do," she said. "Trent and I fought about it all the time when we were little, though, but now he just gives in with good grace." I laughed and pushed my sister onto the bed.

"Oh, so you think, Miss Lillian Alexis Pierce," I said, and clambered up into her bed. "Who is here now?" She looked up at me and leapt up there, trying to push me out but laughing too hard.

"Get the fuck out of my bed, Trent," she said, laughing helplessly.

"I am!" I cried triumphantly. "I now rule the bedroom with Artemis as my bride and Kat as my slave!" Artemis laughed and scrabbled up the ladder and sat next to me.

"All right, slave, fetch me some soda!" I said, and Kat just flipped me bird.

With both hands.

"I don't fucking think so," she replied. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled sweetly.

"All right, then you can die!" I said, and turned towards Artemis.

"So, my Queen, how do you like your new castle?" I asked. She smiled and played along.

"It is beautiful, King Trent," she said. "There are so many wonderful pictures and tapestries…" Right then, Kat struck, leaping onto me and knocking all three of us out on the top bunk and onto the floor.

"Ah, slave rebellion!" I cried. "Artemis, call for back up! Get Kylie and Erin! Only their power to baffle my sister on who is who can stop her!" Artemis nodded and ran out of the room to get the twins, while I was battling my own twin on the floor of our room.

"Ha, now I've got you now, Kat!" I cried and pinned her to the ground. She launched me with her legs so far that I landed halfway across the room, slightly dazed. She laughed and scrambled back up into the top bunk right as Artemis came bursting in with Kylie and Erin.

"Ha!" Kat cried. "I am now the ruler of the room, and my first duty as Queen will be to execute Trent Pierce!" I gazed around the room in mock fear.

"Oh no," I whispered. "Please…"

"Is there anyone who wishes his life spared?" she called out, her voice echoing throughout the room. The room was silent, and then a strong voice answered her.

"I do!" I looked towards the doorway. It was Mom. I grinned sheepishly, embarrassed that she had caught us playing such a childish game.

"On what grounds?" Kat demanded, still playing the part.

"On the grounds that you and your brother have to help with dinner," she said, and then smiled. "And Artemis, it's almost five. You should go if you're going to be home on time…" She nodded and stood up, cracking her back.

"All right then, Karen," she said and walked towards our bedroom door. I got up and walked with her.

"Bye Kat!" she called. "Bye Kylie, bye Erin!"

"Bye!" they called and we walked towards the door. When we got to the steps of our front porch, we stopped and stared at each other.

"That was fun, Trent," she said softly. "I'd like to come over again, sometime, if that's all right." I nodded my head vehemently.

"Sure, Artemis!" I said happily. "My family would be glad to have you back again!" She smiled and then suddenly hugged me tight to her. I wrapped my arms around her in reply, and we both stood there for a minute, locked in an embrace that I wished would have lasted forever. Then, she pulled away a little and kissed me, slowly and thoroughly. When she was done, she walked away, leaving me, stunned happiness shining throughout me.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Trent," she called back as she walked off. I stared at her for a while as she walked off, and then felt a pair of arms around my waist. I turned around and was met with the smiling face of Kat.

"She really loves you Trent," she said. "Almost as much as I do, and I thought someone would never do that…" I grinned and picked her up and laid her across my shoulder, carrying her in like that.

"Trent!" she cried, laughing. "Trent, put me down, you big asshole!" I chuckled as I set her down in front of our mother in the kitchen. We both stood before her, grinning as she wiped her hands on her dishtowel.

"Look at you," she said, and shook her head. "You act like you were eight, not seventeen." Kat and I looked at each other and smiled. I shrugged my shoulders and grinned at Mom.

"Well, you always knew us to be annoying," I said, and we laughed, not then knowing that that would be our last laugh together.

That trouble started when Dad got home. He was in terrible mood, and then very first thing he did when he walked in was kick the doorframe, knocking a chip out onto the carpet.

"Logan, what's wrong…" Mom said gently. "Where have you been…"

"It's these fucking kids!" he roared, looking over Kat and I. "All these fucking kids to support and no fucking money for anyone!"

"Dad, stop it," Kat whispered, scared. Dad was drunk, drunker then I had ever seen him before, and he looked like he was about to get vicious at any second.

"Mother fucking kids…" he muttered again, stumbling around the kitchen, knocking dinner onto the floor. The spaghetti spilled out onto the floor, making swirly designs where it fell, and the hot water burned my feet. Spaghetti sauce was spilling down the stove, thick and sticky, like blood, and for a minute I thought it was blood. Dull anger rushed through my temples as I stared at our lost meal, and furious tears welled up in my eyes. That was our only supper! That was our food! The smell of burnt spaghetti sauce as it stuck to the burner was one that would never leave my nose, and one that never allowed me to eat it ever again.

"Dad!" Kat cried, trying furiously to save what precious little we had. "Dad, look what you've done! Now what are we going to—" He cut her off with a swift blow to her face, and she fell on her rear, shocked, and rubbing her cheek. The anger was boiling up inside me full force now, and I turned to Dad, ready to leap on him when he pulled out a gun. Kylie and Erin had wandered into the room to see what was going on, and now gasped when they saw him with the weapon in his hands. They ran behind me, cowering in fear.

"Fucking kids, I know how to get rid of the fucking kids," he said, pointing the gun at Kat, who was still on the floor. "Going to fucking kill you, you worthless piece of shit…" Our Mom stood right up to him then, shaking either in fear or in anger or both, I would never know which.

"Logan, this has gone to far!" she cried. "You can't possibly know what you are doing, these are our children! We both had them and now we have the responsibility of raising them! Hell, if it wasn't for Kat and Trent, then we would be living out on the streets you worthless pile of shit, you bastard, you—"

The gun went off with a dull crack, and my mother's head exploded in front of me. Blood splattered everywhere, raining down on the four of us like some macabre thundershower. Kylie and Erin screamed and clutched onto Kat and I, crying hysterically. Lilly and I did the best we could to stay calm; we had to be strong for our little sisters.

They were all we had now.

Dad was now inching his way over towards us, grinning insanely, pointing the gun at Kat and I, alternating the deathly pointer stick between the two of us.

"Eenie, meenie, miney, moe," he said crazily, moving the gun between Kat and I. "Which one of these twins is the first to go? Pull the trigger, then they'll know! Eenie, meenie, miney, moe!" The gun came to a rest on Kat. He gave a demented laugh and aimed right at her head. She cowered in fear, knowing what was going to come.

"NO!" I cried, and leapt out in front of her right as the gun fired. I felt something hit my chest like a blunt punch, and I fell to the ground, gasping for breath.

"Trent!" Kat cried, getting down on the ground by my side. "Oh Trent…"

"The twins," I said hoarsely, motioning to Kylie and Erin. "Take care of the twins, Kat." She nodded, her eyes filling up with tears.

"All right, Trent," she said softly. "All right." She went over and held Kylie and Erin, both of which were sobbing hysterically. I put my hand to my chest and pressed as hard as I could over the wound, wincing at the pain. I looked up at my father, who was listlessly holding the gun in his hands. He stared down on the floor at our dead mother, and at me, and put the gun in his mouth.

"No Dad," I cried weakly, but it was too late. Then gun went off, and his skull collapsed, exposing the wet, jiggling brain mass to us all. Kat screamed and then threw up, threw up her lunch all over the floor, all over our mother, and all over me. She sat down, sobbing hysterically, burying her face in her hands.

"Kat," I called faintly, but she didn't acknowledge me. She was still crying in deep, braying sobs.

"Kat!" I called out, louder this time, and she looked at me, her eyes red from crying, her body still shaking from sobs.

"What?" she whispered.

"You have to go get help," I said. "Go get Kyle, or Izzy, or someone, and tell them to call 911. Then come back here and stay with me," I said, feeling myself fade.

"Trent, I'm scared," she said, and I grabbed her shoulders roughly, making her look me in the eyes.

"Kat, I'm going to be dead if you don't go get someone now!" I cried, and she ran out the door, screaming for help. Kylie and Erin inched over to me, clutching each other, also crying.

"Trent, are you going to be all right?" Erin asked, small, silent tears trickling down her face. I sighed and grabbed her hand, patting it gently, trying to keep my mind off the fire that was raging through my chest.

"I hope so, Erin," I replied. Kylie grabbed my other hand and placed it over my wound, holding it there with her own.

"Got to stop the blood," she said simply and pressed down, disregarding my attempts to snatch my hand away, just holding down with the same, gentle, loving pressure.

"I don't want you to die, Trent," she said sadly. "I don't want you to be dead like Mommy and Daddy, I want you here with us."

"You and Kat," Erin added. "You have to be here with us. You have to be like Mommy and Daddy now." A few stray tears trickled down her face and landed on my cheek with a wet plop. Kylie still held her hand over mine, pressing down on my injury with the skill of a doctor as Kat burst through the door. She was still crying, and screamed as she ran into the body of our father, blood sloshing around and splashing her ankles.

"Trent!" she called, her panicked eyes finally coming to a rest on me. "Trent, Kyle's calling, they said they would be here in five minutes…" I nodded, my breath becoming labored. Kat got down on the ground next to me, and stared at me sorrowfully.

"Please live, Trent," she said softly. "You're the only brother we have, Trent…please…fight it." I reached my hand up and placed it on her cheek, rubbing it gently. There was a smear of blood there when I removed my hand, my blood.

"I'll try, Kat," I whispered as the sirens wailed in the distance. "I'll try."

The paramedics came crashing in a few minutes later. They skidded to a halt as they came into the kitchen, where my mother and father lay, the room suddenly going silent for a minute.

"Oh my God…" one of the paramedics, a skittish young man said, running over to the corners and vomited. He came back a few seconds later, looking ashen and frail. "What the hell happened here?"

"Don't know," said an older paramedic, adverting his eyes from my parents. Kat ran over to them, screaming.

"Don't just stand there!" she cried, grabbing one by the arm. "Help my brother! Save him!" The paramedics all stared over at me for a second, and then they started to work, putting oxygen on me, hooking me up to an IV, and strapping me into a stretcher. Kat walked next to me, holding my hand, patting it, telling me it was going to be okay. Tears were finally beginning trickle out of my own eyes; I was so scared. I had never been more scared that I may die in my entire life, and the shock finally set in.

"His pressure's dropped!" one of the EMT squad shouted. They loaded me in the ambulance and my sister's, having nowhere else to go, climbed in with me. Kat stood by my side, still holding my hand, still patting it.

"Hold on, Trent," she said, the tears choking the back of her throat. "You can do it…"

"Give him more oxygen, now!" another paramedic screamed. One was standing at my other side, the same one who had thrown up before, staring over me at Kat.

"Excuse me, miss," he said meekly. "I know that this doesn't seem like the right time to be asking questions, but there are some people who need to ask them right now, all right?" Kat nodded, her face pallid and sad. A cop emerged from the front compartment of the ambulance, and held out his hand to her.

"Hello there, miss," he said pleasantly. "My name is Officer Harry Rennet, of the Vermont State Police. I'm just going to have to ask you some questions about what happened tonight, okay?" She nodded, her hand not leaving mine.

"All right then. First, can you tell me what your full name is, and your age, please," Officer Rennet said. Kat nodded.

"Lillian Alexis Pierce," she said, letting go of my hand and now smoothing my hair out of my face. "I'm seventeen; I'll be eighteen in October."

"What is you relation to this young man here?" he said, referring to me.

"I'm his twin sister," she replied. The officer smiled a little.

"I've got a set of twins at home," he said. "Impossible things, they are." Kat gave him a ghost of a smile and he continued. "What is your brother's name?"

"Trent Craig," she replied. He nodded and jotted it down in his notebook.

"All right, Lillian—"

"Kat, please. And Trent is Trent."

"Okay then, Kat, could you please tell me everything that happened tonight, in your own words." She nodded and everything that had happened came pouring out of her. The tears, the angry words, the helplessness, everything came rushing out. I wanted desperately to reach out to her and give her my hand, but they had my whole body strapped to the stretcher, including my arms. She grabbed for my hand herself, instead, crying. The officer placed an arm around her and let her have her moment. When she was slightly under control, he gently asked, "Kat, do you guys have any place to go? Where are you and your brother and little sisters going to go?" She shrugged her shoulders.

"Home, I guess," she said. "Trent and I are old enough to take care of ourselves, and we've supported our little sisters ever since we were old enough to get a job anyway…"

"But Kat, you have to realize that you guys aren't old enough to be on your own! You and your brother are only seventeen, and that makes you too young in the law and too young to adopt your little sisters. You guys are going to have to go into foster care." The word hit me like a brick. Foster care? We couldn't go into foster care! I wished fervently that the oxygen mask wasn't on me so I could speak, but Kat just told him for me.

"Foster care…" Kat whispered. "You can't do that! Officer Rennet, they'll separate us! You can't do that to kids! Trent's my twin brother, goddammit, and I am not going anywhere if he's not going to be there too!" She raised her voice, the tears coming again, but she just shook them away.

"What about Kylie and Erin, huh?" she demanded. "You can't separate them, they're identical twins! All they have is each other, and us! We're the only family any of us have got!" She stared at Officer Rennet, shameless, angry tears rolling down her face.

"Please…" she said. "Don't separate our family, Officer Rennet. We need each other now more then ever." Officer Rennet shut his notebook with a click and sighed.

"All right," he said. "I'll give you a trail period of one month, and if things aren't going well there, then off to foster care you go." I let out a huge pent up sigh of relief and felt the ambulance roll to a stop. I was absolutely relieved that Kat had talked the cop out of sending us all to foster care, which would have only ended up in separation and more heartbreak. The paramedics wheeled me out of the ambulance and took me into the emergency room, wheeling me through it and down the hallway. Kat was walking with me, along with Kylie and Erin. They stopped me in front of the OR and said that my sisters had to wait outside. Kat leaned over and gave me a light kiss on the cheek.

"Keep fighting, Trent," she said softly as they wheeled me in. "I love you, twin brother…"

"Bye, Trent…" Kylie and Erin said simultaneously and then the anesthesiologist put a mask over my face, deadening me to the world for the next twelve hours.

"Trent?" A voice sang out into my head, echoing and reverberating. There was dull, muted pain roaring through my chest. My face crinkled and I winced as soon as I stared to move, the pain was huge.

"Trent, come on, sleepy head, wake up!" the voice, obviously feminine, pounded into my head. It was becoming slightly more recognizable now, but I still wasn't sure on who it was.

"Come on, Trent!" a different voice shrieked in my ear. "Get…UP!"

"Trent…" a more gentle, loving voice said. "Please…we all miss you and we're worried about you."

"Yeah," said a guy's voice. "Please, Trent…"

"Please…" they all chorused together. I groggily opened one eye, and then another, and for a minute I thought I was blind, because all I could see was a milky haze. Finally, I could start making out shapes and colors, and soon found a blurry, but perfectly distinguishable pair of purple orbs staring at me. Kat. She was okay.

"Kat…" I said weakly. "Hi…" All noise in the room stopped and they all looked at me.

"Trent?" Kat said hopefully. "Trent…is that you?" I nodded feebly and rubbed my head. I felt really, really sick from the anesthesia.

"Hi Kat…" I said, and she burst into tears. She leaned down and hugged me tightly, and I cried out in pain. She immediately leapt back.

"Oh my God, I'm sorry, Trent, I forgot about your chest for a minute there," she said, happy tears running down her face. "We were all so worried about you…we thought you were never going to wake up!" She hugged me again, around the shoulders this time, and Kylie and Erin ran to either side of bed, shouting.

"Trent!" Erin cried.

"You're awake!" Kylie screeched. "It's about time, Trent!" I felt someone tapping my shoulder and I looked over, cringing at the pain. It was Kyle, grinning fiercely.

"Hey, Trent," he said softly. "How are you feeling?" I shrugged.

"All right, I guess," I replied. He nodded his head, his eyes flashing with anger.

"I'm so sorry you had to go through that," he said, speaking to Kat and I. "No father should make their children go through what you guys have had to go through." His eyes narrowed and he pounded his fist in his hand. "And if he were still alive, I would kill him for what he did to you." That earned him a smile, and I suddenly felt a small, light hand running itself down my back, soothing me instantly. I turned around and saw Artemis sitting quietly by the side of my bed, still tracing pictures on my back with the tips of her fingers.

"Hi Trent," she said softly, her eyes looking me up and down. "Good to have you back with us." I nodded and she leaned over and kissed my forehead. "I missed you, Trent. Poor Kat was a wreck during school today, we all thought she was going to snap!" Kat grinned sheepishly and nodded.

"What can I say?" she said. "I love him!" She got down on my eye level and then added, "And I would be devastated if anything ever happened to you. You know that, right?" I nodded my head, and then leaned over and gave her a hug.

"Thanks for being there for me, Kat," I said, tears running down my face. "You saved my life by acting as quick as you did…thank you." She smiled bashfully and blushed.

"Aw, it was nothing, Trent," she said. "You saved my life when you took the shot for me. If he had hit me, then I would be dead right now." She hugged me again, more tears rolling down her face.

"You saved me Trent…" she whispered, clutching me tightly. "Thank you…" I reached my hand up and brushed the tears out of her eyes, rubbing her hair out of her face.

"Don't cry, Kat," I said softly. "Don't cry, please, don't cry…we're all safe now, that's what matters. Don't cry, twin angel." She cried harder at that, that is what our mother used to call Kat and I when we were little, her twin angels. She even had a song about that she would sing us to sleep with.

"Don't call me that," she said, sobbing against my shoulder. "Don't call me that Trent, only Mom can call me that!" I soothed her, rubbing her back, doing the best I could to calm her down.

"All right, Kat, all right," I said, placating her. "All right, Kat, it's all right…" She sobbed and held herself closer to me.

"No it not okay, Trent," she cried. "It's not okay! We have a month to prove to those people that we can take care of ourselves and our sisters. A month!" she repeated, appalled by that fact. "Trent, what are we going to do about school? How are we going to get any money?"

"We'll worry about that later, sis," I replied, and she let go of me slowly. "Everything is going to be okay Kat, I promise." She looked at me sadly, and Kyle gently placed his arms around her, clasping around her waist.

"I hope so, Trent Craig," she said, and then buried herself into Kyle's chest. "Oh, what a fuckin' mess this is." Artemis pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat with me, neither of us saying a word for a minute, we just gazed at Kyle and my sister, their unspoken love saying more then any one of my poems, or any one of Kat's pictures.

"So, when do you think I'll be able to get the hell out of here?" I asked, and, right on cue, my doctor came in. I read the name on her tag; it read: Dr. Paige Killinger.

"Hello, I presume you're…" She glanced down at my chart. "Trent Pierce?" I nodded my head and grinned.

"But, it's Trent to my friends," I said. She smiled brightly and then walked over to the side of my bed where Artemis was sitting.

"Well, who's this lovely young lady?" she asked, motioning to her. Artemis smiled and held out her hand.

"I'm Artemis," she said slightly. "I'm Trent's girlfriend." She nodded briskly and shook with her.

"Pretty name, Artemis," Dr. Killinger said. She looked around the room, puzzled, and then asked; "Do any of you know where the parents are?" The room suddenly went silent, and Kat gazed at her sorrowfully.

"Our parents died last night," she said softly. "That's why Trent was shot, our father shot him trying to kill me." She gazed at me tenderly. "He saved my life." Dr. Killinger smiled and made Artemis vacate her seat for a moment as she took my blood pressure.

"Well, are there any relations of his alive?" she asked. Kat sighed, exasperated.

"Don't any of you keep a record of this?" she asked, bemused. "I told someone already, my name is Kat, and I'm his twin sister, and these are our two younger sisters Kylie and Erin. We're it." Dr. Killinger only nodded as she read my pressure.

"98/60, young Trent," she said and smiled. "That's a good sign!"

"When do you think I could go home?" I said. She smiled and opened the door for me.

"How about now?" she said, and I grinned and hopped out of bed, and immediately regretted it as a bolt of pain went through my chest. It felt like I was having a heart attack.

"Ow," I said weakly and faltered a little, but Kat was there to steady me.

"Take it slow, Trent," Dr. Killinger said, and then slapped her forehead. "Shoot! Stay right there! I forgot that I have to take you out of here in a wheelchair!" She ran down the hall and we all stood there, looking at each other.

"Wow, she's a few cards short of a deck," Kyle said.

"Couple beers short of a six pack," I added.

"A few bricks short of a load," Kat chipped in right as she came back.

"All right, Trent, sit down here, and you and your sisters can leave," she said, and I sat down and sighed. I gazed down at my chest as we were leaving the hospital; it was a ball of fire swaddled and smothered in bandages. Or, at least that's what it felt like.

"How the hell did you get here, Kat?" I asked. She smiled and pointed over to our car.

"I drove, you big silly," she said and grinned. "What the hell did you think I did? Fly?"

"Did you all come in the same car?" Kat sighed and slapped me in the back of the head.

"Come on, dumbass, get in the car," she said, and I got into the front seat, smiling ruefully. Everyone else crammed in the back, except for Artemis, who had to share the front seat with me. Or, she just wanted to share the seat with me, I don't know. Kat turned around and gazed at everyone, grinning.

"All right, everyone in?" she called out and Kyle gave her the thumbs up sign.

"The twins are secured and ready to go, miss," he replied. "How about you twins up there?"

"I'm fine," Kat called.

"I'm about as okay as I'm going to get," I said.

"And how about you, Artemis? You in?" Kyle asked her. She nodded and rested her head on my shoulder.

"Sure am, Captain," she replied. I snuck my arm around her as Kat started the car.

"All right, Road Rage Queen Kat Pierce is now pulling out into oncoming traffic…"

It was an hour-long car ride home, and I slept thorough most of it, exhausted from the surgery and from the event of the last forty-eight hours. Artemis kept her arm around me the whole time, holding me, loving me. I was grateful for her presence; she was the best girl after Kat.

When we got back home, the first thing we noticed was that there were tons of cops there. The second thing we noticed was that our whole house was surrounded by that yellow police tape. Kat parallel parked the car up against the curb, and then we all got out, staring. They were wheeling out a stretcher then with a body bag on it, and following it was another stretcher carrying out yet another body bag. Kat and I stared in muted horror. Our parent's bodies were in there. A cop saw us standing there and walked over, and I recognized him as the same cop from the ambulance.

"Hello," he said, looking at Kat and I. He then looked at me.

"Are you feeling better?' he asked, and I waved my hand in the air, comme si, comme ca.

"I'm all right," I replied, and he nodded curtly. He waved his hand towards the house.

"You guys aren't going to be able to go there for a few days yet," he said. "There's still a lot of evidence that has to be cleaned in there, and plus the clean up that's going to have to take place…" He looked between Kat and I. "Do you guys have any place to stay?" Kat and I stared at each other, and shrugged.

"Kat can stay with me," Izzy said softly. "I don't mind, and my parents love her to death…"

"And Kylie and Erin can stay at my house," Artemis added. "My parents won't care, I'm sure of it." Kyle grinned and looked at me.

"Guess that means you're bedding with me, Trent," he said and I smiled in reply.

"Yup." The officer nodded and then walked back over to the crime scene. Kat and Izzy stood next to each other, gazing at the rest of us. Kat got down and gave Kylie and Erin a hug, and told them to be good for Artemis. She then walked over to me and we both stood there, staring at each other.

"Well Trent," she said softly. "I'll see you later…" She wrapped her arms around me suddenly, clutching me to her chest with ferocious strength.

"I love you, Trent," she said swiftly and then her and Izzy were off, walking down the road towards her house.

"I love you too," I called after her softly. Artemis looked over at Kyle and I, and then down at the twins.

"You guys ready?" she asked. They nodded and walked over to me, hugging my legs.

"Bye Trent," Kylie said.

"We love you," Erin added. I patted each of their heads.

"I love you guys too," I said. "See you when we get back…" Artemis walked over to me and hugged me gently, making sure she wasn't squeezing my chest.

"I'm glad you're okay, Trent," she said softly, laying her face in the crook of my shoulder. She got up on her toes and kissed me gently. "I love you, Trent," she said and grabbed Kylie and Erin each by a hand.

"Back to you, Artemis," I replied. "See you in school tomorrow…" She nodded.

"Bye…" She took my sisters and walked off in the direction of her house. Kyle and I were left there, looking at each other. Finally, he started walking.

"Come on, Trent," he said. "Come over and say hi to my parents."

When you first walk into the Benedict house, the first thing you would realize is that was crap everywhere. On the way through the door, I almost tripped over a motorized car. It swerved off and sped away, and I could hear laughter from the other side of the room. Kyle's younger adopted brother, Tony, was running through the house like a madman. His parents, Sam and Kelly Benedict, were running madly after him.

"Anthony Fredrick Benedict, you come back here right now!" Sam bellowed down the hallway. Tony laughed and we could still hear him running, paying no heed to his father's warning.

"I'm warning you young man," he yelled and ran after him. "If you don't stop right now, you are going to get a very big spanking…" Suddenly, Tony tore by, gripping the controller to his car tightly, screaming. Sam was running after him, and he had taken off his belt and was snapping it menacingly.

"No, Daddy, no!" Tony screamed. "Noooooooo!" He dropped the controller onto the carpet and backed himself into a corner. Kyle and I watched, slightly amused, as Sam closed in.

"What did I tell you, Anthony?" he said. Tony stared up at him, tears streaming down his pudgy face.

"Nooo," he moaned. "Don't hit me Daddy, please."

"What did I tell you, young man!" he yelled. Tony cringed in the corner and wailed.

"Not to run," he sobbed. "I won't run anymore Daddy, Tony won't run, I promise…" Sam bent right down in his face and they both stared at each other. Finally, Sam placed the belt around his pants, and Tony let out a huge pent-up sigh of relief. He started to inch away, but Sam grabbed him.

"Now you listen to me, kiddo," Sam said. "You're going to go to your room, and you are going to stay there until dinner time." Tony started at him deplorably and more crocodile tears plopped down his face, and then slowly made his way up the stairs. Kelly came over to Kyle and I and shook her head.

"Now that's what I call the terrible twos," she said and we laughed. Sam came over and mopped his brow, breathing heavily.

"I have no idea what we are going to do with him," he said. "He is an absolute maniac!" He gazed over and finally saw Kyle and I standing there.

"Oh hello boys," he said wearily. "Sorry you had to see that, Trent. It's just that Tony has been really out of control lately, and Kelly and I are running out of things to do." I shrugged.

"It's all right," I replied. "At least you don't beat him." Kyle's younger true brother, Carter came down then, looking at all of us from the stairs. He stared between me, Kyle, his parents and Tony, and then shook his head and walked upstairs. We all laughed, and Kelly turned to us.

"Well, boys, don't just stand in the doorway, come in!" she said warmly. We walked out into their living room and sat down. I rubbed my fingers along the smooth leather loveseat; I loved the way it felt, especially compared to some of the things that were residing in my house. My finger found a loose string and I started absentmindedly twirling it around it until it was so tight that the tip of my finger was starting to turn white.

"So, how have you been, Trent?" Kelly asked. "We haven't seen you in a while." I looked between her and Sam and then back at Kyle, and sighed.

"Not so good," I replied, and burst into tears. Sam and Kelly stared at me in mild shock, and Kyle inched his way over and placed an arm around my shoulder. Kelly's face contorted and she placed her hand to her mouth and nodded.

"Oh, Trent, now I remember…" she said gently and came over to the couch where I was sitting. "I heard about what happened on the news…are you all right?" I sniffed and nodded slightly.

"I'm all right physically, I guess," I sobbed. "But mentally…I'm a wreck." I started to cry harder, and she placed her arms around me like a mother and held me tenderly. She stroked my hair back as I wept, rubbing my back softly.

"Shh…" she said quietly. "Shh, Trent, it's all right now. It's all right…" Now I was crying so hard that I choked on my own breath and had given myself the hiccups. Man, I thought ruefully on Kelly's shoulder, I haven't cried this hard since I was a kid. The tears rushed back into my eyes when I recalled the time. I was seven, and Brandon had died…

***Flashback***

"Hey Brandon, I bet you my GI Joe can fly farther then yours can!" I shouted gleefully. The GI Joe, fully equipped with a hang glider, soared gracefully as I let it go. Brandon snorted and tossed his and it tumbled to the ground, one of its wings hanging crazily. I laughed scornfully.

"Oh, was that the best you can do?" I said and retrieved my soldier. Kat grinned furtively and picked up one of her own and tossed it lightly into the air, letting the wind take it. It glided gently down the street, even farther then mine had, until it finally came to a stop by the driveway. Kat giggled and turned to us two boys.

"Think I beat 'cha," she said and ran to get her warrior on wings. Brandon ran after her, and passed her. After a few seconds, I stared to run after them, not wanting to be left out of the fun.

We heard the car coming from up the road before we even saw it and Kat and I stood up excitedly, hoping that Daddy would be home with some money so that we could get some dinner. Brandon was still bent over, picking up Kat's record breaking flyer when we saw it come speeding towards the house. Kat and I grinned at each other; it was Dad. My face clouded over with uncertainty as he approached the driveway; he was going a little too fast for my taste. I backed up a few steps as he swerved to turn in. He over shot the turn and rolled across the lawn towards the three of us.

"Watch out!" I screamed, but it was too late. I felt the car brush my side and toss me into a hedge that was bordering our yard. I heard a dull thud and an unearthly scream and quickly leapt up, grimacing from the pain my side.

All I could see was blood. There was blood on the grass, blood on the car, and blood on the dirt. I heard the scream again and again as I looked around, dazed. When my vision had cleared somewhat, I gasped in shock. Brandon was sprawled across the lawn face down, mercifully for us, blood seeping out of him everywhere. I looked back towards the car and saw it had skidded to a halt over my sister's leg, and she was crying hysterically and screaming for help. I ignored her and ran over to Brandon, placing my ear against his chest, listening fervently for a heart beat, but secretly knowing he was already gone. I was right; there was no pulse. I got up off the ground, stunned, and looked back over towards the car.

Dad staggered out of the car, practically falling over his own feet. He stumbled towards the house, not even bothering to remove the car from my sister's leg, and she screamed after him desperately.

"Daddy!" she cried, sobbing. "Daddy, get it off me! It hurts…" I ran over to where she was and got down harshly on the ground by her side.

"Kat!" I said, trying to contain my hysteria and barely succeeding. "Kat, are you okay?" She shook her head and tears flew off like a silver mist. She grabbed for my hand and held it tightly.

"No…" she moaned. "I can't move, Trent. My leg is caught…" Your leg is broken, I thought to myself as I gazed under the wheel where she was trapped. There was blood, endless blood, under the wheel and she sounded weaker and weaker.

"Go get Mom, Trent," she said feebly. "Go get Mommy to get help…" There was no need for me to; Mom was running down the steps, screaming over to us, screaming if we were all right. She ran over to where Kat and I were, and looked us over.

"Oh Jesus," she said. "Trent! Are you okay?" I nodded my head. She nodded and then started to run.

"Stay here with your sister," she said. "Stay here and make sure she doesn't die while I am gone. I have to call for help." So I sat down on the ground next to Kat and held her hand. She looked up fearfully into my face, her eyes tear-stained and puffy.

"Am I going to be okay?" she whispered. I smiled distractedly and looked over at my mother running back towards us.

"I hope so, Kat," I replied.

Brandon was pronounced dead at the scene, of course, I could have told them that, and Kat and I were taken off to Dartmouth Medical Center, where I was treated a released for a bruised ribcage and Kat was kept overnight for blood loss and a broken leg. When I went into her room and saw her, laying there with her face almost as white as the cast now encasing her leg, I started to cry, cry for what my father had done to her, cry for Brandon's life that he had cut short…

***End Flashback***

I rubbed my eyes and sat up, my face stretched from weeping. Kelly stared over at me sorrowfully.

"Are you all right Trent?" she asked. "Really?" I took a deep breath and sighed.

"I think so," I replied shakily.

"How is Kat handling it?" I shrugged.

"As good as she can," I replied.

"Your little sisters must be a mess," Kelly said, rambling. I thought about it, and then shook my head.

"Actually, I think they are the calmest out of all of us," I said. Sam had been very quiet during all of this but now he spoke up.

"Where are you guys going to go?" he asked gently. I stared over at him, mildly irritated, but not showing it. This was the second time I had been asked this question.

"Home," I replied, just as I had before. "Kat and I are old enough to take care of ourselves, and ever since we have been old enough to work we have supported our little sisters anyway." He nodded his head and then walked over and sat next to me.

"If you need anything, don't hesitate to come to us," he said softly. "You have been there for Kyle so many times during your friendship, and we just want you to know that we'll be here for you." He put a hand on my shoulder and then added, "Money, food, a place to stay, anything. We'll help."

I stared at him, shocked, and then tried to thank him, but nothing would come out. It was like someone had taken a knife and cut my tongue out. So I just did the next best thing. I leaned over and hugged him tightly, as tight as I could, and after I did that, my voice suddenly came back.

"Thank you," I whispered. "Thank you, thank you so much…" I let him go and gazed at him.

"You have no idea how much this means to me…and how much it'll mean to Kat," I said. "Thank you." He smiled right as the phone rang.

"Don't sweat it, kid," he said and Kyle leapt off the couch.

"I'll get it!" he yelled and made a beeline for the phone. "Hello?" His face lit up and he looked over at me. "Oh, hey Kat! How are you? Yeah? He's right here. Do you wanna talk to him? All right, all right, I'll put his lame ass on the phone for you…yeah, love you too." He walked over and handed me the phone.

"It's your sister," he said. I put the phone to my ear.

"Hi Kat," I said.

"Hey…" she said sadly. "How are you doing?" I laughed a little.

"I just sat here and cried all over Kelly for a half-hour…how about you?" She giggled a little.

"You don't want to know," she replied, and I left it that, making a mental note to myself to wheedle it out of her later.

"How's Izzy doing?" I asked. "Is she pissed at me?" Kat sighed.

"She loved you, Trent, and you didn't give anything back to her. Yeah, she's pissed at you." That got me a little bit angry, and I started to raise my voice.

"Izzy wasn't going out with me," I sharply retorted. "Izzy had no idea what was going on with me. Sure, I had feelings for her, but she never told me about them and I ended up getting hurt for it! Thank God for Artemis; she got my mind of her so I could on with my life!" Kat was silent for a minute on the other end, thinking, I'm sure. After a minute, she finally answered me.

"That's not how Izzy sees it," she replied softly. "I know you guys weren't going out but to be so blatantly unaware of her emotions and feelings towards you…"

"I didn't know, Kat!" I cried angrily. "I didn't have any clue! She was just a good friend to me, that's all! A good fucking friend!" I thought about it, and then added, "You can tell her that, too, since she won't believe me." I was right about to add something really mean when I heard a soft click on the other end, and sobs in the background.

"Kat?" I asked. "Are you still there?"

"Yeah," she said softly.

"What the hell was that clicking noise?" Kat sighed.

"She already knows, Trent. You don't need me to tell her, you did it yourself." I stared at the phone, open-mouthed.

"She was fucking listening?" I said, shocked. "Kat, why the hell did you do that? Aw man…what a fucking mess this is."

"Trent, she wanted to know, and she didn't have the guts to ask you. So a good friend is it, then?" I slowly banged my fist against my knee, trying to blow off steam and not take it out on my sister. That was another thing I didn't need: Kat pissed at me. That would be a great fucking way to end the day.

"Kat," I said calmly. "Izzy meant so much more to me. She was…amazing, and I loved her, but I thought she had no interest in me that way. Every time I would make an advance towards her, she would shrug me off. Now, she's trying to pin it on me." I laughed scornfully. "Typical woman. Put her on the phone."

"But Trent, I don't think—"

"Kat, please, put her on the phone." She sighed.

"All right," she said softly and placed the phone down. There was a scuffle in the background and I heard Izzy's tearful voice come to me.

"Hello?"

"Izzy?" I said. "This is—"

"I know who this is," she said, cutting me off. I sighed, frustrated.

"Izzy," I said as calmly as I could. "You know it isn't fair for you to blame me…"

"Yes it is!" she cried. "Yes it is because it is your fault Trent Craig Pierce! It is your fucking fault!"

"How is it my fault, Izzy?" I exploded. "How the fuck can you even suggest that without any proof?" The other end went silent and then I heard the phone being exchanged and Kat got back on.

"Hello?" I said, angrily. "HELLO?"

"Trent, it's me," Kat said. "I'm sorry, Trent, she's upset—"

"Upset?" I shouted, anger taking full control of me now. "Upset? How can she be fucking upset? She didn't watch her parents die before her eyes! She didn't get shot by her own mother fucking father!" I struggled madly to get myself under control, and, after about ten seconds, I won.

"Trent…calm down," Kat said sternly, motherly. "Please Trent, I don't want you all worked up…it's probably not good for your chest." I expelled a huge pent-up breath and sighed.

"You're right," I said, my voice wavering from exhaustion. "You're right, I should just go to bed and get ready for school tomorrow. Tell her I'm sorry for yelling at her.

"All right, Trent."

"And tell her the Gordian knot wasn't made in a day." When she answered me she sounded puzzled, perplexed.

"What the hell does that—"

"She'll know what I mean," I interrupted. "Just tell her."

"All right Trent," she said again.

"Okay."

"Bye Trent," she said softly. "Feel better…I love you…"

"Bye Kat," I said. "Love you too." I heard the phone click gently and I hung up his phone also. Kyle came over, and we just stared at each other for a minute.

"What the hell was that all about?" he asked. I sighed and placed his phone in the cradle.

"Oh, nothing, except that Izzy hates my guts and thinks that it was my fault that nothing sparked between us," I said angrily. "I don't really want to get into it." He nodded sympathetically.

"I get it," he said and then started to walk towards the kitchen. "Come on, Trent. Dinner's ready." I nodded and we both sat down to dinner.

"Hey Trent."

I looked over and saw Kat staring at me, her purple eyes radiating sorrow.

"Oh, hey Kat," I replied. "How was everything last night?" She shrugged.

"All right, I guess," she said. "How about you?"

"The same." I picked up a rock and tossed it out into the street. A car rolled by and ran over it, sending it skittering back towards the four of us. I watched it, in a semi-daze of exhaustion. I shouldn't have gone to school today, but, I didn't want to miss anymore then I already had this week. Already it was Friday, and school had just started Tuesday. What a mess this was. Luckily for me, we usually didn't get any work during the first week of school, so I was saved.

"Hello Trent," Izzy said stiffly and sat down on the bench.

"Hi," I replied. "How have ya been, Izzy?" She didn't answer me, she just shot me a look of reproach and distrust.

"Okay…" I said meekly. Kyle walked over to Kat and they greeted each other with a kiss.

"Hey babe," Kyle said. "My, you're looking sexy this morning…"

"Hey," Kat replied, her heart not into the banter. Kyle looked at her, concerned.

"Are you okay?" he asked, worried. "I hate to see you and Trent so withdrawn." She gave him a false smile of commiseration.

"I'm fine, Kyle," she replied as the bus pulled up. He gazed at her doubtfully as we boarded the bus.

"Whatever," he replied. I made a beeline for the last seat, and got it, as usual. Kat and Kyle sat across from me, and Izzy sat in a seat right in front of them. I stared idly out the window, not really getting involved in any conversation, and not wanting to either. I heard someone slip into the seat with me, and I glanced up. Artemis was staring down at me, smiling.

"Well good morning, merry sunshine!" she said, and gave me a kiss. I laughed and hugged her to me.

"Good morning, beautiful," I said. "How are Kylie and Erin?" She flashed me a grin.

"Oh those little twits, err, should I say twins?" she said, and I laughed again. "They're fine. They told me about the Booginhiemer all night long." I stared at her, awed.

"You actually listened to my little sisters jabber about the Booginhiemer?" I said. The Booginhiemer was a monster that my younger sisters had made up that supposedly played games with them in their dreams. The last time I had asked them about it they said that they had played Candyland with it for three hours. It must be a very tolerant Booginhiemer, I thought amusedly to myself. Not even Kat and I could play Candyland for that long. Artemis smiled.

"At least it kept their minds of you and Kat," she said, and then added, "and your parents." I gave her a lopsided grin.

"I guess," I replied absently and went back to staring out the window. Trees were flashing by in bright blurs of color, combining with each other to make some kind of fuzzy tree painting. Tears were beginning to spring up in my eyes again, further running the scenery together, making it look like one mess of colors. Artemis saw my imminent tears and gazed over at me, gently taking my hand in hers.

"Oh Trent," she said softly. "That was no way for a child to live. That was no way for you and your sisters to be brought up. In a way, it's better that you're on your own now." I sighed and shuddered as I stared out the window, the sobs taking hold of me.

"I just can't believe it ended like this," I cried, and some people turned to stare at me. Some snickered, others were concerned, still others couldn't give a shit, but I didn't care about any of them right now.

"Why did he have to kill my mother?" I shouted, distraught. "Why did he have to kill her? Why couldn't he just have killed himself and left us with someone? Why, Artemis?" She sighed and wrapped an arm around me. Now, lots of people were staring, shock etched across their faces. Some started to inch towards the back of the bus, cramming into the seats in front of me. I didn't care; all I wanted right now was my mother. Artemis looked over at Kat, worried. She gently tapped her and motioned for her to switch seats with her, and she sat down next to me. She quietly took my chin in between her fingers and brought my eyes around towards hers. Hers were wet and full of tears, and she bit her bottom lip for a second to keep from crying.

"Don't cry, Trent," she said softly, her voice choked with emotion. "Don't Trent, please, it makes me want to cry too." I struggled fervently with my tears but couldn't stop them; they were as changeless as the rain.

"I can't stop, Kat," I said helplessly. I rubbed my eyes with the back of my shirtsleeve and sniffed, some more tears replacing the ones I just wiped away. She looked at me sorrowfully and then held me, tears starting to fall out of her own eyes, doing the only thing she could do for me, the only thing she knew would calm me down.

"What went wrong, Kat?" I asked, tormented with the maelstrom that was whirling about my brain right now. "What did we do wrong?" She detached herself from me and stared me right in the eyes. Hers were slightly red from crying, and she frowned slightly.

"It wasn't out fault, Trent," she said softly. "It was nothing we did, Trent, fucking nothing!" She was yelling now, I think I may have accidentally set the fuse that caused her to explode.

"It was just our maniac mother fucking father, Trent! Nothing we did! Nothing…" She trailed off sobbing hysterically now. I tried to put an arm around her but she shrugged me off furiously, looking up at me with venomous eyes.

"How can you even suggest something like that?" she cried. "What do you think we are, huh? What could we have possibly done?"

"Kat, that's not what I was—"

"NO!" she yelled at me. "No, you shut up! It was NOTHING WE DID!" She leapt out of my seat and bumbled into an empty one, crying profusely. I stared straight ahead at the seat, totally taken aback by the events of the past few minutes. I finally looked up towards where she was and saw Kyle sitting with her, trying to calm her down. She was unresponsive and hostile, her arms wrapped around her knees and shoved into a corner, staring angrily out the window.

"Trent…" I looked over and saw that Artemis was sitting with me again. I sighed wearily and gave her a weak smile.

"Hey," I said absently, still thinking about Kat.

"Trent, don't worry about your sister," she said, reading my thoughts. "She'll calm down, trust me." I sighed as I gazed over at Artemis.

"I hope so," I said, and we got off the bus.

Kat didn't say a word to me for most of the day and every time that I would try to talk to her she would ignore me. Everyone noticed too, people knew how close Kat I are, or were, I should say, most people had something to say about it.

"Hey Trent," a kid name Jordan Yelnats called to me in a drawling southern accent. He was from Louisiana, and the only reason I really knew him was because his last name was my first name spelled backwards. "What the hell is wrong with your sister?" He said sister as sistah.

"She's mad at me," I said, just like I had said to about twenty other kids today.

"Well, she don't have to be mad at everyone," he said. "She was pissin' me off durin' study hall today." I sighed. She had been pissing everyone off during study hall. I gave him a half smile.

"Hormones," I said as I walked off to lunch. "What can you do?" I heard him laugh behind me as I got in line, thinking. What seriously was Kat's problem today? I couldn't have just been what I said, no, there was something else that she was hiding from me and I planned to find out before tomorrow.

***

"Hey Trent," Kyle said as he sat down next to me at the lunch table. "How are you feeling?" I shrugged.

"Emotionally or physically?" I asked wryly. Kyle grinned.

"Both," he said.

"Well, physically, I'm feeling all right, my chest doesn't hurt too much unless I get worked up, but emotionally, I'm about ready to kick Kat's ass from here to Mars." Kyle grinned again at that.

"So I am, actually," he said. "She's really odd today, you know?" I nodded my head.

"What the hell do you think is wrong with her?" I asked him. He shrugged.

"I've got no friggin clue," he said. I glanced up and saw her walking through the lunch line, her face set in not a look of anger but one of thought. She walked over to our table and sat down on the other side of Kyle and started to eat, not saying a word.

"Hi Kat," I said and she continued eating, ignoring me. I sighed angrily and stared down at my own plate, absently pushing the food around but not really eating. I managed to get a few bites down before tossing it away and rooting around my bag for my notebook. I found it, along with a pen. I was pondering what to write when Artemis sat down next to me. I jumped, knocking my papers askew.

"Jesus Artemis," I said. "You scared the hell out of me!" She smiled and took my hand in hers.

"Sorry, Trent," she said. She held her left hand in the air, since her right was clasped in mine. "I swear I will never do it again." I grinned.

"You're supposed to swear on your right hand," I said. "Do it again, I need my hand anyway." She raised an eyebrow.

"You and Kat are left-handed?" she said. I nodded, and then thought for a minute.

"I think everyone in my house besides Erin is," I said. She looked surprised.

"Wow," she said. "That's weird." I grinned and she released my hand. I picked up my favorite pen, a black Bic, and tapped it against the table.

"What are you doing, anyway?" Artemis asked. "Homework? Why not wait until you get home?" I shook my head.

"This isn't homework," I said. "I'm just going to write something because I'm bored and I'm not hungry."

"Oh," Artemis said. "Whatever, Trent." I rapped my pen against the table some more, desperately trying to come up with a good poem topic. This was something I have always had great difficulty in doing. Then a poem started coming, fragments of the lines peeking through.

What did I do wrong? Why is her body poised to strike with raging, malignant anger? I thought some more and started to write. When I was done, it read:

What could I have done wrong?

Why is her body poised

With raging, malignant anger?

Is she truly mad at me,

Or is she mad at herself,

For what went on that

Dreadful night.

For what happened when

The gun fired, the dinner

Spilling down the sides of the stove.

The helpless anger rushing through

Her, and me as we lost all we had,

Lost in the time it takes,

For the gun to go off.

She shouldn't blame herself,

Or anyone for that matter.

It was something we couldn't have foreseen,

The ghost of Christmas yet to come.

I looked at my work and then handed it to Artemis.

"Can you think of a title for this?" I asked. She snatched it form me and grinned.

"I have to read it first, you big silly!" she said and started to read. When she was done, she leaned over and whispered in my ear.

"It's about Kat, isn't it?" she said. I stared at her, taken aback.

"Yes," I said, slightly shocked. "How did you know?" She shrugged.

"Those are just the signals that Kat's sending right now," she said and then changed the subject. "Call it 'Guilt.'" I nodded and inked the named at the top of the paper and underlined it.

"That's a good title, Artemis," I said, "Thanks." She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

"Don't mention it," she said. She dug into her food, she always brought her own lunch, and I snuck a glance at Kat. She looked almost calm right now, I suspect it was because she didn't know I was watching, and she ate almost daintily. Kyle shook me out of my thoughts by yelling in my ear.

"Trent!" he bellowed, and I winced. "Are you and Kat still coming to my house today, well, duh, you were already going to be there, you've been living at my house, for Carter's bar mitzvah? You can come too, Artemis, if you like. It's right after school," he added hastily. She smiled at him, and he had to smile back. No one, not even Gregory, could deny Artemis a smile.

"I would be glad to go, Kyle," she said. "I have always been very interested with the Jewish religion." His face lit up.

"Really?" he said happily. Artemis smiled again.

"Yes," she said. "I was actually thinking about converting to it once I'm older."

"Wow!" Kyle said. "That is so cool! Right now, my family is the only Jewish family in this town, so I used to get picked on a lot around Christmas time." Artemis giggled.

"You sound like the Kyle off that TV show…what's it called again…with the four little third grade kids that swear all the time…"

"South Park?" I said. She grinned and nodded.

"That's it," she said. "I always forget the name of it." I grinned at her this time.
"I have the same name as one of the people on that show," I said. Her brow suddenly furrowed in concentration, and then she suddenly lit up again.

"Oh, I remember that one!" she cried. "That was the one with the little red pompom on his hat that puked on that chick, right?" I smiled.

"The very same," I replied. "Do you watch it often?" She smiled, sadly this time.

"No, I don't get the channel," she said. "I've only seen it three times." I sighed and shook my head.

"That's no excuse," I said jokingly. "I don't the channel either, but I've seen every episode." She raised and eyebrow, and I pointed to Kyle. "He has all of them on tape."

"Oh…" she said and nodded her head. "I see…"

"So you're all coming?" Kyle said. I nodded my head.

"Artemis?"

"Sure."

"Kat?" She looked over and him.

"All right," she said softly. Those were the first words she had spoken all day since the bus ride. "What time is it at again?" Wow! Kat practically said a speech!

"It's right after school, Kat," Kyle said, and then gave her a grin. "Glad to have you back in the world of the speaking." I laughed and so did Artemis, but she gave him only a ghost of a smile. She got up and threw her trash away and then came back to the table and then sat next to me. She looked me right in the eye and I saw that they were glazed, and slightly sad. Not the bright purple orbs they usually were.

"Trent, can I talk to you for a second?" she asked, her voice husky and low. She seemed on the verge of tears.

"Sure, Kat," I said, and she took me and dragged me off into the auditorium where there was no one.

"What do you need to talk to me about, sis?" I asked as we sat down. She looked over at me, her lip trembling, a few small tears falling down her face and she suddenly started to cry. I was shocked in the sudden change of behavior.

"Kat, what is it?" I asked, slightly distressed. She looked up at me, and suddenly I found myself remembering when her and I were only five or six, and she would look up at, her beautiful eyes wide and glassy, looking for someone. The same look was on her face now, some eleven years later.

"I'm scared," she said simply and began to sob once again. I was absolutely bewildered by this behavior of hers.

"Oh Kat, what is there to be afraid of?" I asked gently. She started to cry harder.

"It's all this shit," she said. "Lord, what a fucking mess all this is. Look at us, Trent! We have nothing, no job, no money, and probably no house the way things are heading. Then, in a month, we are all going to be separated from each other and placed into foster care." At that she grabbed me and held me tightly, taking me entirely off guard.

"And they can't do that," she hissed, the sound resonating of the auditoriums good amplifying walls. "You're my twin brother goddammit! They can't do that!" I sighed and held her the best I could; I was not one much for comforting.

"I know, Kat, I know," I said, soothingly. "We'll figure out something, but in the meantime, let's just go to Kyle's today and have a good time, all right?" She nodded and wiped her eyes, laughing slightly at her foolishness.

"Oh Jesus, Trent, I have no idea what's wrong with me lately," she said. "All I seem to want to do is cry!" I gave her a small smile.

"It's to be expected, Kat," I said. "Our parents did die, you know." She sighed at that.

"Yes," she said softly. "I do know." She started to walk away and then rapidly turned around and started to walk back. The tears were hot in her eyes again, and she started to pound her fist into the back of one of the chairs.

"But I don't care that Dad's dead, Trent!" she cried, anger and grief taking hold of her. "I didn't care when he died, I couldn't have cared less if I ever saw him again." She practically choked on her own breath and stared ashamedly into my eyes. "Is that so wrong, Trent? He treated us like shit, is that so wrong?" She groped for me, looking for something to hold, and I let her, trying to think of a good answer. After a moment, one came to me.

"No, no, no, no, Kat," I said, rubbing her hair back out of her eyes. "No, it's not wrong for you not to feel anything. I don't myself." She looked up at me, shocked. "As a matter of fact, I was kind of hoping he would die." I stared at her, sheepishly. "I know it sounds brutal, and maybe I didn't want him to die, but I did want him to go away, and leave my sisters alone." She let out a shuddering breath, the last of her imminent tears. "He shouldn't have ever been allowed to do some of the things he did to you, Kat, ever. I'm so sorry that he ever had the chance to do it. I remembered a particularly perverted situation where he had shoved the barrel of our rifle up her ass, threatening, in these exact words, "If you lose a stroke, Lillian Alexis Pierce, one fucking stroke, I will blow your shit factory to hell." That was bad. She shuddered, some how reading my thoughts in the crude telepathy twins shared.

"Come on, Kat," I said after a few seconds of silence. "We've got to go to English." She gave me a strained smile and we walked towards the cafeteria. Kyle, Artemis and Kenny were still at our lunch table, finishing their lunches. Kenny looked up at us as we sauntered back in.

"Oh, hey Trent, hey Kat," Kenny said. "Are you guys back on good terms now or what?" I shrugged and Kat clapped her hand over her mouth.

"Oh shit Trent, that's the other thing I wanted to say to you!" she said. "I'm sorry about the way I acted this morning. I was being a complete and total bitch." I smiled and suddenly grabbed her and put her in a headlock, rubbing her head with my fist.

"Ahh, Trent, let go of me!" she cried helplessly and all of us laughed. I let her go and she punched me lightly in the arm.

"Ow, you mother fucker!" she cried. "That fucking hurt!" She walked over and hid behind Kyle. "You'll protect me, won't you, Kyle?" she asked. Kyle turned around and hugged her.

"Sure, bitch," he said and we all laughed again.

"Come on, we have to go to English," Artemis said. I rolled my eyes at her.

"All right, all right, you goody two shoes, you win," I said. She grinned and hit me lightly.

"Oh, shut up, Trent," she said. "You can kiss my ass."

"Ooh!" I said sarcastically as the five of us started walking towards the English room. "I'm so scared, Artemis! What an original comeback!" She leaned over and hit me again, and I grabbed her.

"Ha!" I said and put an arm around her. "I've got you now!" She smiled and placed an arm around me.

"You had me from the start, Trent," she said and gave me a small smile. I heard laughter from behind us, and I turned to see Kat with her hand over her mouth, giggling.

"Aww, that's so cute!" she squealed. I rolled my eyes at her and turned back to Artemis.

"Fuck you, Kat Pierce," I said as we got to class.

***

"Now, you all knew about your poems that were due today, right?" Mr. Finn was looking around the room, his sharp eyes peering into all of us. They rested on me for a second.

"Trent, you have an extension, I believe…" he started, but I interrupted him.

"I already have it done," I said. He gazed at me again, surprised.

"Oh, all right," he said and then turned to the front of the class. "How about reading for all of us then, Trent?" If looks could kill, I thought as I rummaged through my backpack, trying to find the poem that I had written last night. I even had a little dedication for it. I found it after about five seconds of searching and then slowly walked to the front of the room and stood behind the podium. I faced all my classmates, and Kat flashed me a grin. I gave her a half smile back, and Artemis gave me a thumbs up. I grinned a little more at that, but then remembered the poem and clammed up. I folded it and unfolded it a few times and then cleared my throat.

"Eh…heh…" I said nervously and then finally unfolded my poem and laid it flat. "Uh…hi. Since there are some of you in here who are new and don't know me, my name is Trent Pierce. This poem is called Rhyming Love, and I wrote it…" My words caught in my throat and I stared back and met Artemis' eyes. She was staring up at me, faint happiness sparkling in her eyes. I took a deep breath and finished. "And I wrote it for my girlfriend Artemis." The class was dead silent for a second, and then most of them started to snicker, especially Greg, who, while being an asshole, was really smart. He was laughing so hard that it unnerved me, and I wanted to bolt for my seat and sink down into the earth. I looked over at Kat, and once again, our telepathy kicked in.

You're fine, Trent, she said.

Oh really? I replied. I don't feel fine.

Ignore them Trent. I know you're a great poem writer. I grinned to myself as her thought rang out to me.

Thanks, I replied and then took the poem into my hands, and read the title again, with more confidence this time.

"Rhyming Love," I said, and then read the poem, which went like this:

When our eyes had first met,

You were the best I'd seen yet,

My thoughts and love would not regret

The taste of rhyming love.

The words I that would dare not say,

Have been expressed in a poem way,

I just want us to know today,

The meaning of rhyming love.

I would love to hold you tight,

And kiss you tender through the night,

And when we were done, we just might,

Know our rhyming love.

I love your hair; I love your smile,

I feel like I've know you all the while,

My love for you extends a mile

Within our rhyming love.

I just want to tell you, dear,

How much I love you when I hear,

Those soft words not spoken in mere,

Awe of rhyming love.

I love you with mind, body, and heart

And to let you know from the start,

Together we will always be a part

Of our own rhyming love!

Silence filled the room, and then, all of the sudden, Artemis was up, tears shining in her eyes. She ran up to me and hugged me tight.

"That was the nicest thing someone has ever done for me," she said, crying slightly. "Oh, I love you Trent Craig Pierce." There were some good-natured whistles from the class, and once again Greg was doubled over in laughter, along with his friend Sammy, another smart kid turned asshole.

"Oh my God that was the cheesiest thing I have ever heard in my whole life!" he gasped, holding his sides.

"I know," Sammy replied and then called over to me. "Hey Trent, you write one for me too?" I glared at them and walked back to me seat, Artemis' hand in mine. Mr. Finn glowered angrily at them from the front of the room.

"Well, Mr. Thomas," he said to Greg. "If you think your poem's any better, why don't you come up here and read yours." He muttered sullenly and sunk down into his seat.

"What's that, Gregory? You don't have a poem with you?" he said, his voice dripping with bitter sarcasm. "Next time, Mr. Thomas, when you don't have an assignment with you don't make fun of the other people who took the time to do the work. Especially when they did it early." He looked back over towards me. His eyes had lost their angry spark, and now they were warm and bright.

"That was very well written, Trent Pierce," he said. "Extremely well done." I smiled slightly.

"Thanks," I said shyly. I always felt weird when I was getting applauded for my work. Mr. Finn glanced about the room, his beady eyes casting their gaze upon everyone until finally, he came to a rest on Kat.

"They say twins are alike," he said. "Let see if you have the same poetry talent as your brother, Kat." She groaned and I gave her a mischievous grin as she past.

Eat me, she said to me in my mind.

Fuck you, Kat, I replied. You'll do fine. She gave me a nervous smile as she approached the podium.

Sure, that's coming from you, the king of poetry. I can't write poems to save my life. I had to grin at that.

Well, something of mine had to have run into you… She rolled her eyes at me.

Stop mind talking to me now, I have to do this. I nodded slightly.

All right, I said. She cleared her throat nervously and then looked upon the class.

"Hello," she said naturally. "My name is Kat Pierce just incase some of you in here don't know me that well yet, the twin sister of that idiot over there." She jerked her thumb over at me, and there was a hearty burst of laughter.

"Now, I know that this is not going to come anywhere near my brother's poem, but, I tried." She looked downcast. "You can see where all the talent in the family went…" That got her another laugh and she looked down at her paper.

"This poem is currently untitled," she said sadly. "I'm not very good at thinking up names, and it doesn't rhyme." She once again cleared her throat and read the most amazing thing she had ever written. It went something like this:

we walked in,

the goddess girl with us,

mother stood alone,

sisters at the door.

only brother stares,

up ahead at the wall,

dreams still flowing

in the mind i can read.

the goddess loves the house,

but he is still ashamed

of the rags we live in

instead of riches.

we play a game,

a fantasy game of

our lives as we imagined

them to be when we

were young,

when we could live in

castles of fancy.

mother came in,

said the goddess had to go,

we had to help with dinner.

father comes in,

the smell is in the air—

oh no, the smell!

dinner on the floor,

gravy like blood

on the stove,

burnt like dreams

and hopes of ours,

wasted away for life.

the smell is in my face now,

along with the gun—

oh no, the gun!

no gun, please, no,

no one listens.

mother tries to help,

but gets

the bullet of anger.

sisters cry,

brother looks ready to leap

upon the man,

who is not our father now,

who has become a stranger,

when he turns.

the gun points

from brother to me

from me to brother

and finally rests on me.

i cry,

sisters cry,

brother yells and jumps

in the way of the gun,

the bullet and falls.

father knows now,

knows there is no way out,

knows he is doomed,

so he leaves the world,

leaving sisters and i

and brother on the floor,

bleeding to death—

oh no, brother!

stay with me,

we need you now.

The class was deathly silent as she finished. She was blushing furiously as she turned to sit down. I stared at her, awed.

"Kat, when did you write that?" I asked. "That was better then any poem I have ever written." She stared off into space, slightly dazed.

"Two nights ago," she said. "I wrote it while you were still in the hospital." She gave me a small smile.

"Do you really like it?" she asked. I grinned.

"Of course, Kat," I said. "A poet always loves the work of others, especially ones that have to live in the same house as him." She grinned and hit me.

"Shut up, Trent," she said. The rest of the class was still silent, pondering what the hell that could have meant. The poem reminded me of one by e. e. cummings:

sam was a man

grinned his grin,

done his chores,

laid him down.

sleep well.

That had been a poem that I had always liked, and Kat's about our parent's death reminded me of it. It just has that same beat, and she never capitalized anything. Mr. Finn was also speechless, which is an emotion that I had never seen in him before. After a solid two minutes of absolute silence expect for Kat and I, he walked over to her.

"Kat Pierce, that had to be the most amazing this I have ever seen you write. Maybe even the most amazing thing I have ever seen anyone write! Whatever possessed you to write it?" She looked over at me, telling me to say it for her.

"Mr. Finn, our parents died about four days ago," I said softly. His face was so shocked it would have been comical if I wasn't feeling so somber. "That's what her poem was based on."

"My God, Trent, are you telling me this was based on something that actually happened?" I nodded my head.

"Yes," I said. "Everything she wrote about happened."

"Even you getting shot?" he asked. I nodded swiftly.

"Even that," I said. I lifted my shirt slightly and revealed the mark for all to see. "See?"

"Jesus," Mr. Finn said. He looked between Kat and I for a second, and then turned to the front of the room.

"You two see me after class," he said and then called upon someone else.

***

"Now, will one of you please explain to me what happened at your house?"

Kat and I looked at each other, neither of us wanting to speak. It was bad enough still thinking about it, let alone talking about it. Finally, though, after a minute of silence, I started to talk. Words flowed out of me as fast as the tears started to come out Kat's eyes. By the time I was done, we were both crying, and Mr. Finn was staring at us in subdued shock. Finally he just wiped his brow with the back of his sleeve.

"Oh, what a mess this is," was all he said at first. Kat stared at me, grief stricken. She came over to where I was and I put an arm around her, trying to stop her tears. Mr. Finn turned back towards us, his expression softer this time.

"So you're on your own," he said. "At damn near eighteen, you have been left to fend for yourselves." He shook his head and repeated what he had said before. "What a mess." He gazed keenly at us.

"What are you doing about money?" Kat cried harder at that, and I finished the part of the story that I hadn't said yet.

"If we don't prove to them that we can take care of ourselves and our little sisters in one months time, then we're all going into foster care," I said softly. Kat finally spoke up, her eyes flashing with anger.

"They can't do that," she hissed. "They can't separate us, goddammit, my little sisters are identical twins! What would they do without each other?" She moaned softly into her hands, weeping helpless, silent tears. She turned towards me, her face red and puffy from her tears.

"What are we going to do, Trent?" she asked softly. A tear hung on the tip of her eyelash and I brushed it off absently. "What the hell are we going to do?"

"I don't know, Kat," I said quietly. "I honestly don't know."

***

"Let's just go to Kyle's today and have a good time, all right, Kat?" I said as we were walking down the hall to make the bus. After we had talked with Mr. Finn, he sent us down to the guidance counselor and we had to go through the whole thing again with him before we were finally allowed to catch the last five minutes of our ninth period class before catching the bus. She gave me a weak smile.

"I'll try, Trent," she said, and then changed the subject. "Is Artemis going?" I shrugged.

"I don't know," I said right as I saw her walking down the hallway, her red hair shining in the lights. She saw us and waved and then walked over.

"Hey Artemis," Kat said.

"Are you coming to Kyle's with us after school for his brother's bar mitzvah?" I asked. She nodded.

"I thought I told you all that at lunch, get it through your head, dummy!" she giggled and I smiled.

"Okay, Artemis, so I'm not the brightest crayon in the box, so sue me," I said and she laughed again.

"You're a few fries short of a Happy Meal, all right," she said laughingly and I heard a voice pipe up from behind me.

"You're not exactly a full six pack yourself, Artemis," Kat said. Good old Kat, she was going to get a hug from me when we got home. Artemis turned around and started walking backwards to face her.

"Oh yeah, Flower Face?" she said and we all laughed. "I think we need to plant you."

"Shut up, you damn Greek goddess," she said. "Thinkin' you're better then everyone else just because damn Zeus is your father…" I was laughing helplessly, and Artemis turned towards me, mock anger etched into her face.

"You have no room to laugh, Trent Pierce," she said, scolding me. "You're a damn cartoon character, and a lame one at that!"

"Hey!" I cried indignantly. "I happen to think that Trent is a fine South Park character!"

"Only because you have the same name as him, Trent," Kat chided. "Otherwise, you would have more sense like a different one." I grinned. She was right, and secretly I thought that Trent was wicked boring. But, since I did have the same name as him, I had to keep up the act and pretend that I liked him. I would have really preferred Cartman, or Kenny. Even Kyle. Anyone but Trent, really. I saw Kyle coming down the hall towards us and waved.

"Hey Kyle," Kat called brassily. "Where were you this whole time, playing with yourself?" He laughed as he walked over.

"That's not a very nice way to talk to your bitch," he said.

"I'm not feeling particularly delicate." He grinned.

"So, you're all coming with me, right?" he asked. I nodded.

"Wouldn't miss Carter's bar mitzvah for the world," I said as we boarded the bus. Artemis and I sat down in the very last seat, while Kat and Kyle sat across from us.

"So, what's in it for us?" Artemis asked. Kyle looked bemused for a minute.

"Huh?" he asked. She grinned.

"You know, what do we get for coming to your brother's thing? Money, food, crack?" She laughed and after a minute so did the rest of us.

"Oh, maybe I'll scrounge up something," Kyle said and winked. I shook my head at them and then gazed out the window. I heard footsteps coming towards the back of the bus and I glanced up and then groaned. It was Greg; today he was riding our bus, probably to go to his friend Carl's house. He sat down in the seat in front of me and turned around, grinning.

"Oh, hey Trent," he said sweetly. "So, how have you been? I noticed you weren't in school the last two days; what was wrong?"

"Nothing that I would ever tell you," I said mildly. He put his hands up and was looked slightly hurt.

"Hey, hey, hey!" he said. "All I was doing was asking how you were doing. I'm just trying to be your friend—"

"You're not my friend and you know it, Greg, so why don't you just leave me alone," I said, slightly agitated. He gave me a simpering smile and then turned back around.

"Suit yourself," he said. "I'll just talk to Kat." Before I could say anything, he was talking to my sister.

"Oh, hey Kat, how are ya doing?" he said pleasantly. She shrugged.

"All right," she said. He motioned for her to come sit with him.

"Hey Kat, come over here for a minute, there's something I have to ask you," he said. She rolled her eyes and plopped down in the seat next to him.

"What?" she said, irritated. I was watching them closely, waiting for Greg to pull something.

"Nothing, babe, I was just wondering if you were single," he said. Kat groaned.

"Greg, I know you don't like me and anyway, I'm going out with Kyle," she said.

"Aw man, baby, you need someone better that silly old Jew to take care of a beautiful girl like you," he said, and leaned over to kiss her. She broke away, disgusted.

"Leave me alone, Greg," she said. I looked over at Kyle. His face was bright red with anger over the Jew comment and I thought he was going to go over there and kick his ass.

"No, Kat, come on, you have to want me," he said, and grabbed for her breasts. He actually succeeded before Kat jerked away. Greg grabbed her right arm and held it to her side.

"Not this time Kat," he whispered menacingly. "I've got you now." She laughed and raised her fist.

"Nice try Greg, I'm left-handed," she said and punched him in the face. He cried out and let go of her, putting a hand over his eye.

"You'll pay for that," he hissed. "Oh yes, you'll pay!" Kat walked back to Kyle and carelessly flipped him off.

"Fuck off, Greg," she said and sat back down with Kyle. He had calmed slightly but looked hurt.

"Kat, you don't care that I'm Jewish, do you?" he asked worriedly. She smiled and gently kissed his cheek.

"Kyle, you could be a fucking atheist and I would still love you," she said softly. I grabbed her hand and faced her towards me, concerned.

"Are you all right, Kat?" I asked. She smiled and nodded.

"I'm fine. Gave that mother fucker what he deserved," she said and I smiled. Kat was always one for taking care of herself. I looked up towards where Greg was sitting. H was gazing back towards Kat, hatred burning in his eyes.

"Hey Greg," I called. He turned to face me.

"What?" he spat.

"How would like a go with another lefty, you fucking jackass," I said. He growled.

"Fuck you," he seethed. "Fuck you and your twin sister too."

"What, you don't like it that my sister is smarter then you are?" I said, egging him on. "I bet that eye must be really hurting; how long do you think it'll be black for? Oh, and how about saying another anti-Semitic comment about my best friend, you fat piece of shit! Try it again Greg," I growled. "Try it again and you'll find yourself out the back of this bus so fast you won't even see it coming." He found it in him to laugh at that.

"Trent, you couldn't touch the icing on a cake—"

"No, but you could," I jeered and he leapt up running towards the back of the bus when it stopped, sending him careening down the aisle. He landed on the hard rubber floor and rolled over and over until he came to an abrupt stop. The four of us in the backseat just burst out laughing. I laughed so hard my sides hurt and tears were squirting out of my eyes.

"Oh Jesus, Greg, how was that?" I asked between giggles as he got up. "Did you have a nice…nice…trip?" I asked and laughed helplessly. His glare would have killed me if it had been a knife and he angrily walked over to his seat and sat down, silent for the rest of the ride. When we got off, I slapped him in the back of the head as I walked by.

"That's for touching my sister, you asshole," I muttered as we got off. But I knew this wasn't the end of Gregory. Oh no.

"Oh hello, Kyle," Kelly said warmly as he opened the door and we walked in. "And Trent and Kat and…" She looked at Artemis and gave her a confused smile. "I don't think I know you…Miss?"

"Artemis Dupery," she said and offered her hand. "I'm new around here." She smiled and shook her hand.

"Well, then that explains it," she said.

"She's Trent's new fling," Kyle said, and I smacked him. Kelly laughed.

"Oh, I see," she said and winked towards me. I grinned and gave her a hug.

"Oh be quiet, second mother," I said. Carter came bounding down the stairs then, and his face lit up when he saw Kat.

"Kat!" he said happily. Even though he was four-almost-five-years younger then her, he had a crush on her anyway. "Hi!" She grinned and motioned him over.

"Come here, Bar Mitzvah Boy," she said and he grinned and walked over. She smiled at him and leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Since I don't have a present for you, you can give me a kiss." His entire face looked like the sun had come down and set on it.

"Really?" he exclaimed. She nodded and Kyle, Artemis and I grinned. Carter was so blatantly open about his 'undying' affection for my sister it was nauseating. He looked slightly cautious as he leaned over.

"Where?" he asked. She gave him an open smile.

"Anywhere," she said and he grinned again. He looked like a boy who has just discovered the magic of his own hormones. I smiled, I would have to tell Kat that later. He leaned over all the way and kissed her on the lips. When he pulled away, he was glowing with pleasure.

"Wow," he said. "That's the best present I've ever gotten," he said. I grinned and motioned to him.

"Hey Carter, you can kiss me too, if you want," I said. He laughed and leaned over.

"Okay, my love," he said and we all laughed. He gazed over at Kat with totally lovesick eyes and I shook my head. Kyle apparently read his thoughts because he walked over and placed his body in front of her.

"Uh huh, buddy, no stealing my girlfriend from underneath my nose," he said and Carter's jaw dropped.

"You're going out with her?" he asked, flabbergasted. The look on his face was so comical that I had to laugh, along with everyone else.

"Yup," Kyle said, putting his arm around her. Carter looked devastated.

"Aw, fucking weak," he said. Kat walked over to him and gave him a hug.

"Aww," she said sweetly. "I didn't know I had such a wonderful admirer!" She brought his eyes to hers. "Tell you what," she said. "Whenever Kyle and I get mad at each other, you can be my replacement boyfriend, all right?" His face lit up again.

"Are you serious?" he said. She looked over at Kyle and winked.

"Sure," she said. He smiled again and this time hugged her.

"Wow Kat, you're the best!" he said and ran up to his room to get changed. Sam and Kelly looked at each other and the started to laugh.

"Looks like he's hooked on you, Kat," Sam said. She blushed slightly and smiled.

"I don't know why he would be," she said. "It's not like I'm some blonde bombshell…" All the eyes in the room turned to stared at her. She grabbed a lock of her hair and gazed at it.

"All right, so maybe I am, but still…" she said, and we all laughed again. "I feel bad that he likes me so much and I have absolutely no interest in him at all."

"You don't have any interest in anything, Kat," I said, grinning. 'Why would you have an interest in Carter?" She leaned over and smacked me.

"Fuck you, Trent," she said and we all laughed again. Kelly motioned for the kitchen, where I could smell something chocolate.

"Come on, kiddos, eat some cookies," she said, and we walked out into the kitchen. I made a beeline for the tray of cookies and picked them up.

"Mine!" I cried triumphantly and clutched them tightly to my chest. "All mine!" Kyle shook his head and then snatched them from me.

"You're an idiot, Trent," he said and placed them on the table. I grabbed one and shoved it into my mouth, relishing the warm, gooey chocolate as it entered.

"Mmm," I said dreamily, pretending to swoon. "Man, Kelly, these cookies are to die for!" She grinned and patted my head.

"I'm glad you like them, Trent," she said happily. Kat grabbed one and ate it, and then rubbed her stomach and winked.

"I agree," she said. "These are excellent." Kyle looked over at Kat and shook his head.

"Can't you and Trent ever not agree on something?" he asked jokingly. "I mean, they say that twins are alike but damn…" Kat rolled her eyes and balled up the napkin she was using and threw it at him.

"Shut up, Kyle Benedict," she said. He grinned and pretended to cower.

"Oh no, Kat used my full name! Oh my, she must be really mad now!" he said sarcastically.

"No, Kyle Matthew Benedict, I use your middle name when I'm mad at you," she said in mock anger. Kyle stuck his tongue out her, and she flipped him off. I stared at the both of them and then sighed.

"You guys are so immature," I said and then took another cookie.

"Oh please, Trent, spare me," Kat said mockingly. "You are the most immature person I know!" I grinned and walked over to the fridge to grab myself a soda.

"I know," I said and pulled one out. "Anyone else want one?" Kat raised her hand.

"Throw me one, Trent," she said. I tossed her the one I had been holding and grabbed myself another one.

"Pour me some milk," Kyle said. I shuddered as I pulled the jug out.

"Yuck," I said, pouring it into a glass and handing it to him. "I have no idea how you can drink that shit." He shrugged and demolished half the glass in one gulp.

"Milk goes the best with cookies," he said. "Why don't you drink milk anyway?"

"Well, A) I hate the taste of it, and B) it makes me puke," I said. Kat nodded her head.

"Neither of us can drink it," she said. "Not that I care or anything, it didn't seem like I was missing much without it." Kyle stared at the two of us.

"Damn, it's a good thing you guys are twins," he said. "Or else no one would believe you when you said you were related." I gazed at him, slightly amused.

"And why would that be, Kyle?" I asked.

"You're too damn similar!" he said. I ignored him and turned to Artemis. "You want anything?" She smiled.

"Just some water, please," she said. I grinned and poured her a glass.

"You sound like Kenny Mancuso," I said, and lowered my voice to do an impersonation of him. "I can't eat anything that comes from animals, because it is cruel and wrong. That is why I look like a lettuce leaf." Everyone laughed and Kat leaned over and smacked me.

"Oh, be nice, Trent," she said. "Not everyone has to be like you, you know." I smiled.

"You're right, not everyone has to be like me, but if they aspire perfection then they should," I said. Everyone laughed again as Carter walked into the kitchen, holding Tony.

"Mom, Tony crapped his pants—again!" he said. Kelly sighed and took the toddler away from him.

"Anthony, what have I told you about going poopie in your pants?" she scolded as she carried him off to the bathroom. Kyle looked back at him fondly and grinned.

"Man, I wish he was my real brother," he said. "He's such a cute little kid." Carter nodded.

"Me too," he said. He turned to me. "Don't you ever wish you had a brother, Trent? I mean, with three sisters and all, life surely must not be boring, but don't you ever just wish…" I lowered my eyes for a moment, feeling the familiar ache that always sprung up in my heart whenever I thought of Brandon. I finally turned to Carter, my eyes slightly sad.

"I did have a brother," I said softly. "When I was younger…until I was seven, I believe." Carter looked puzzled.

"What happened to him?" he asked softly. I sighed and I felt the tears prickle the back of my eyes.

"He died," I said, almost inaudibly. "He was hit by a car while we were playing outside…there was nothing they could do." I turned away and felt the emotions choking me, rendering me speechless. Kat came over next to me and placed her hand on my arm.

"Trent…" she said softly. "Try not to think about that kind of stuff right now, all right?" She gave me a little grin. "Anyway, you were the one who told me to keep my mind off of the bad right now…" I gave her a ghost of a smile.

"I'll try, Kat," I said, and she gave me a hug.

"Good," she said, and I turned back around to face the group. Carter looked really embarrassed.

"Oh man, Trent, I'm sorry—" he said.

"Don't be," I said. "It's not your fault." The ceremony then began for the bar mitzvah.

***

"Congratulations, Carter, you're a man in the Jewish religion," I said. He grinned.

"Thanks, Trent," he said. "I think it's kind of like Confirmation in your religion." I nodded. Kat and I had gotten confirmed last year.

"I believe so, Carter," I said, looking for Kat. We were finally allowed to back to our house today, and I was anxious to get home.

"Kat?" I called. She bounded down the stairs and stared at me.

"What?" she asked.

"Come on, we should be getting home now," I said. She rolled her eyes.

"Now you sound like Mom, Trent," she said wistfully. "But I'm going to stay here with Kyle a little longer, all right?" I nodded.

"Okay. Artemis and I are going to her house first to get Kylie and Erin and then we'll be home, okay?" She nodded and then ran back upstairs. I waked back out into the kitchen and found Artemis, who was getting acquainted with Sam and Kelly.

"So, you're really from France?" Sam said. "I went to high school there for a year as a foreign exchange student." He sighed wistfully. "Fascinating place. I always wanted to go back, but I could never convince Kelly to go…" She grinned.

"I was thinking about the boys," she said. "If it was just you and I, I would said, 'Fuck America, let's get out of here!'" They laughed and I wrapped an arm around Artemis' waist.

"I'm glad you moved to America, babe," I said. She jumped, startled, and then turned around and hugged me.

"Thanks, Trent, you're sweet," she said, and kissed my cheek. I gazed down at her.

"Ready to be off?" I asked. She smiled sunnily.

"As ready as ever," she said. "It was nice meeting you guys." Sam and Kelly smiled warmly at her.

"It was our pleasure, Artemis," Sam said.

"Come back any time, dear," Kelly said. She looked at me. "That goes for you too, Trent Pierce." I grinned.

"You know I live here half the time," I said and they laughed.

"Yes, you're our fourth son," Sam replied. Artemis and I walked for the door and I yelled bye up the stairs to Kat, who yelled it back. I turned towards Artemis and smiled.

"So, we're going to fetch the twin terrors," I said. "How were they for you?" She grinned and shrugged.

"They were really good, but they miss you and Kat," she said, and grabbed my hand. "Now come, my parents are dying to meet you."

A fresh looking, young red head opened the door when we got to Artemis' house. She gazed up at me and grinned.

"So, you must be Trent," she said, giggling. "My name's Athena." She held out her hand and I took it. I looked towards Artemis and raised an eyebrow.

"She's my younger sister," Artemis said. I nodded my head.

"Well, Athena, it is my pleasure to make your acquaintance. What grade are you in?" I asked as we walked in.

"Ninth," she said. I smiled.

"Do you know a girl name Kelsey?" I asked. She grinned and nodded.

"She's the South Park girl, right?" she said. I nodded.

"That's her," I replied. Athena smiled.

"I know who she is," she said. "I sit with her at lunch. She's very funny. She can do a bunch of voices from that show really good." I grinned to myself, happy that Kelsey had found a friend.

"Well, next time you see her, say that Trent said hello and that were still having our singing lesson after school on Monday," I said. She smiled and then started to walk up the stairs.

"All right Trent," she said. "It was nice meeting you."

"You too, Athena," I said as we walked out into the kitchen. "You never told me you had a sister," I whispered to her. She shrugged.

"I guess it slipped my mind," she said and then brightened. "But come on! You have to meet my parents." I gazed around me at the house as walked to the kitchen, staring in wonder at their furnishings. The stuff in this room alone is probably worth more then all the stuff in my house combined, I thought as we entered the kitchen. There was a lady of about forty standing with her back to us by the stove. She turned around as she heard us come in.

"Oh, hello Artemis," she said warmly. She looked at me and gave me a pleasant smile.

"You must be Trent," she said and offered her hand. "Artemis has told me all about you. She said you were the sweetest person she had ever met." She sighed. "I'm just glad that some kids have manners these days," she said. "Most of those kids would have treated her terribly, I'm sure." I gave her a lopsided grin.

"It was the best I could do, Mrs. Dup—"

"Call me Anna," she said. She looked between the two of us. "Do you guys want anything to eat or drink? There's plenty." I was right about to answer as I heard footsteps clambering down the stairs. I turned around and saw Kylie and Erin running towards me at full speed.

"Trent!" they both cried and hugged me.

"Trent, we missed you!" Kylie said.

"We want to go home with you and Kat now," Erin said. Anna looked towards me.

"Oh, that's right, you have another sister. She's your twin, right?" she asked. I nodded.

"Yeah," I said. "Her name's Kat." Anna nodded and Artemis looked up at her.

"Mom, where's Dad?" she asked.

"Oh, he had to work late today, honey," Anna said. "He should be coming home soon though, if Trent wants to stick around and meet him." She turned towards me, her eyes filled with compassion.

"I heard about what happened at your house on the news," she said sadly. "That must have been terrible for you guys. How are you taking it?" I shrugged.

"I'm much better then I was," I said. "I just…feel so lost and scared and…" I could feel the tears springing up in the back of my eyes and did nothing to stop them. "And Kat and I don't know what to do!" The tears did come now. "We don't have any jobs or any money and we only have a month to prove that we don't need to go into foster care or they'll separate all of us." I fell into a chair and started to cry helplessly. Artemis came over and sat next to me, her arms wrapped around my body, trying to comfort me.

"Trent, I know it hurts," she said softly. "Cry it all out, Trent. Cry it all out."

"Oh man, Artemis, what are we going to do?" I cried as the world looked on, pity rushing through their heart for the hopeless boy.

"Are you sure you're all right, Trent?" I gazed over at Artemis and gave her a small smile.

"I'm as okay as I'm going to be," I said. I looked down at Kylie and Erin, who were gazing up at me.

"Ready to go home, guys?" I asked. They both nodded adamantly. We laughed a little.

"That anxious to get out of here?" Artemis said. They both shook their heads.

"No, we liked being with you," Erin said.

"And playing with the Booginhiemer," Kylie added.

"But we want to go home." I nodded my head. As much as I loved staying at Kyle's house, I couldn't take it for more then a day. It was just too chaotic. Artemis grinned and grabbed my hand.

"Well, let's go then," she said and we started walking towards my house. It a short walk, slightly longer then the walk from my house to Kyle's and it went by quickly. Before I knew it I was outside the door of our home. It looked bleak and eerily deserted.

"Well, we're here," I said as cheerily as I could. I turned towards Artemis.

"You should probably be heading home," I said softly. "I'd walk you back, but I can't leave the girls here by themselves—"

"Don't worry about me, Trent," she said. "I'm fine." I gazed at her and then turned towards the door. I stopped and turned back around to face her.

"I can't help worrying," I said softly. "There's nothing I can do but worry now." I motioned to the doorway.

"Come on in," I said. "We can talk inside." We walked in and I got the girls ready for bed, making sure they brushed their teeth and hair and tucked them in.

"Goodnight, girls," I said softly. "Sweet dreams."

"Night, Trent," Erin said.

"Don't let the bedbugs bite," Kylie added. I smiled a little and kissed them both on the head.

"I won't Kylie," I said softly. "Goodnight." I walked out of the room and slowly shut the door behind me. Artemis was sitting on the couch looking pale and sad for the first time since I had known her. She turned towards me, her face strained with worry.

"I'm scared for you, Trent," she said in a low voice. "Scared for what's going to become of you, scared for what's left of your family. What have you been worrying about lately?" I sighed, searching my mind.

"Kat a lot," I replied. "How we're going to support ourselves, how we're going to keep the social workers away." I turned to her, staring into her soft, hazel eyes.

"Artemis, all I want is for everything to be okay again," I said. "I want that same feeling we had before to be there again, and I can't do it alone."

"I'll be there, Trent," Artemis said huskily. "Whenever you need me, I'll be here for you, Trent. I promise you that." She reached over and held me close, and I could feel her every curve up against me. My hands rubbed through her hair, feeling it's fine texture, it's soft suppleness. Her hands rubbed down my back, and slowly started to remove my shirt. I broke away from her for a minute.

"Where are we going with this, Artemis," I asked rather breathlessly. She gave me a seductive grin.

"Where the sun doesn't shine," she responded. She lowered her voice to a husky whisper.

"Take me, Trent," she said. "Please, take me." I stared at her, shock numbing my body. The endless virginal and endlessly horny part of my body wanted her bad, and wanted her now, but a thread of rationality held on, telling me that I didn't want to become a father at seventeen. Finally, I decided to make the best out of the two.

"Only if we use a condom," I said carefully. "I don't want to be a father right now and I'm sure you don't want to be pregnant." She nodded.

"Of course," she said. "And, I'm on the pill." I let out a huge sigh of relief. Now, at least if the condom broke there would still be no danger of her getting pregnant. She grabbed my hand and held herself to me, her body hot.

"So," she said. "Do I put my shirt on or take everything else off?" I took her and lead her to my parent's bedroom, where the queen size bed lay.

"To the bedroom," I said and we fell to the bed and had each other.

Sex was a very interesting experience, for me at least. After the first few times, as a matter of fact, I thought it to become extremely boring. Artemis and I were dressed now, sitting out on the couch.

"It's ten o' clock," I said softly. "Shouldn't you be getting home soon?" She nodded and got up.

"Yeah," she replied. "My parents are going to be worried about me." I walked her over to the door and she hugged me to her.

"That was very good, Trent," she said. "But speak of it to no one." I nodded my head, and then grinned and held my right hand into the air.

"I pledge on my honor as…a…man that I will not say a word to anyone about the fornication that just took place between Artemis and I, Trent Craig, on this September 4, 1999—"

"Oh, shut up, Trent," she said, laughing a little. "I'll see you in school tomorrow." I nodded my head and leaned down and planted a light kiss on her cheek.

"All right, Artemis," I said softly as she started walking home. I heard her meet up with some about twenty feet from the house, and they talked a bit and then laughed and she walked on. The other person was coming my way, and as they grew closer, I recognized who it was.

"Hey Kat," I called softly. She looked over at me and jogged towards the house.

"Hey," she said. I grinned and scolded her jokingly.

"Where have you been all this time, young lady?" I asked. She grinned.

"I've been with Kyle, you idiot," she said. "Now are we going to stand out here all night or are you going to let me in?" I grinned ruefully and opened the door for her.

"After you, miss," I said. She smiled and walked in.

"How's Kyle doing?" I asked. "Miss me yet?" She laughed.

"You have no idea how glad he is that your gone. He said 'Now don't get me wrong, I love Trent to death, but he snores." I laughed.

"Now, that I know is a lie," I said. "I would have been thrown out of our room long ago if I had been snoring." She grinned.

"Don't I know it," she said, but then suddenly grew somber. "But Trent, what are we going to do about money? About the girls? How are we going to be able to juggle school and work—"

"I'll get a job," I said softly. "Weekends and nights. We'll pull through, Kat. I'm not going to let them take Kylie and Erin away from us, I promise you that." She sighed and took my hand in hers.

"I hope so, Trent," she said. "I really hope so."

I got a job after school as a janitor, paying little more then minimum wage. It was better then I had expected I would be able to get, and the school was pretty desperate for staff, since they were short a few people. I made three hundred dollars a week, and an extra hundred if I worked on the weekends, which I usually did, which left four hundred dollars for Kat and I to pay rent, buy food, pay the electric bill, and pay for any other little things (like gas) during the week. Some weeks we barely scraped by and others we had about fifty dollars left over, which we saved.

Still, it was all fruitless. Deep down inside my heart I knew that we were all going to be taken away, but I was wrong. Half wrong, at least. The social service people came promptly on the one-month anniversary of our parent's death to assess the situation. I heard them rapping on the door as I was cooking dinner, I had taken the night off, and walked over to answer it.

"Hello?" I asked cautiously, poking my head out the door.

"Are you Trent Pierce?" No trivialities with these people.

"Yes," I replied. I opened the door wider and allowed them to come in.

"Hello," one man said. "My name is James Simpson and my colleague over there is Leone West. We are with the social services for Vermont." Dread crept into my heart as the men said that.

"May we come in?" Leone asked. I nodded and swallowed the lump in my throat.

"S-sure," I said nervously, and then repeated it more sure of myself. "Sure." The men brushed past me and sauntered into the house. Never in my whole life had I been more ashamed of my home. Kat walked out from our bedroom where she had been napping and rubbed her eyes drowsily.

"What's going on, Trent?" she asked sleepily as she looked between the two men and I. "Who are these people?" They took the liberty of answering her for me.

"Are you Lillian Pierce?" James asked. She nodded almost fearfully.

"Yes…why?" she asked.

"We're with the social service and have come to assess your home situation." Leone sighed and shook his head. He looked between the two of us, his eyes raditating regret.

"Well, from our current view point, Trent—"

"Trent," I corrected absently.

"Yes, Trent and Kat, your home life here does not meet our standards. We're going to have take your younger sisters Kylie and Erin into custody and place them in foster homes." He looked down at his watch and then back at us.

"You've got a half hour to get them packed," he said. Both of us were thunderstruck. They were taking them away? They couldn't—

"What?" Kat hissed incredulously. "You have got be kidding me! You can't do this to us! We're our only family we have—"

"Miss Pierce, we realize what you are feeling right now—"

"No you don't realize!" she shouted, angry tears coursing down her face. "You don't realize what this is going to do to us! This is our family! This is our…our fucking life! What are Kylie and Erin going to do? They need each other! You can't fucking separate twins, goddammit—"

"Miss Pierce, I do believe that you are not one of these girls twins," Leone said dryly. Kat screeched, anger making her inarticulate. I walked over to her and held her gently.

"Shh, Kat, calm down," I said gently. "You yelling isn't going to make this any better." She turned towards me, fury screaming across her face.

"So you're just going to give them up, it that it?" she yelled. "I can't believe you're going to just let them take our younger sisters, you…you…asshole!" She slapped me right across the face, and it made a flat, dull sound.

"Fine," she wailed. "Fine, you give them Kylie and Erin, and you can be the one to explain it to them why they have to leave."

"Kat," I said calmly, and she whirled around and punched me in the face. I gasped and grabbed my eye, an interesting proverb flowing through my head.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

"Shut up!" she yelled. She shuddered with helpless, angry sobs. "I thought you would never give up Trent, you said they would stay and you lied to me, Trent! You lied to me," she hissed angrily. Anger was boiling through my veins now, but I didn't let my pot overflow. I struggled fiercely against it and won.

"Kat," I said, slightly raising my voice.

"Twenty minutes," James said. She placed her hands over her ears and screamed, and that's when I snapped. I grabbed her roughly by the shoulders and slammed her into the wall.

"Kat, I didn't see you busting your ass fifty hours a week!" I shouted angrily in her face. "I didn't see you trying to earn any income for this house! You just sat around on your fat ass all day!" She struggled against me, and I slammed her harder into the wall.

"Fuck you," she snarled, and I shook her then.

"Shut up!" I shouted. "Shut up, you raging bitch, SHUT UP!" I took her and tossed her across the room, and she hit our small coffee table and broke through it with a crash. Anger controlling me, I went over and kicked her.

"How do you feel now, you bitch!" I screamed, my voice raising an octave in my extremity of fury. "Does this feel like work to you?" I kicked her again and she lay on the floor, sobbing. Kylie and Erin had walked out right then, staring upon both of us in horror.

"Trent?" Erin said timidly, a tear rolling down her cheek. "What's going on?" I looked up towards them.

"Come on," I said gruffly. "We've got fifteen minutes to get you packed." I dragged them off to their room and pulled out their suitcases.

"Where are we going, Trent?" Kylie asked.

"Are we going on a vacation?" Erin queried. I sighed and got down on their eye level.

"Kylie…Erin…these men have come to take you away from us," I said bluntly, for there was no other way I could say it. "You'll still get to see us sometime, but, you have to go live somewhere else." They looked at me and then at each other, shocked.

"Are we going to live with each other?" Kylie asked.

"I don't know," I replied honestly. "You may, you may not, it's not up to me or Kat." I rooted around their closet and pulled out every belonging of theirs and crammed it into their suitcases. "Trust me, if it were up to us you would be here." I latched their suitcases up and handed one to each of them.

"Well, there you are," I said as cheerily as I could. Kylie and Erin took them and we walked back out to where the men were standing. Kat was still lying on the floor, crying. I ignored her and handed the twins to the men.

"Here," I said sadly, the tears thick in the back of my throat. They turned towards me with saddened eyes.

"Bye Trent," they said simultaneously.

"We love you," Kylie said.

"It's not your fault," Erin added. I leaned over and gave them a hug, the tears choking me and rendering me speechless. Finally I was able tell them I loved them.

"I'll miss you guys so much," I added softly, and then they were gone, gone from my sight forever. I sighed and burst into tears, flinging myself down on the couch and crying hysterically. When I was done, about a half-hour later, I glanced up at Kat, who was now sitting up in the wreckage of the table. Our eyes met, and hers narrowed in anger. I lowered mine, unable to speak. What I had done was uncalled for, although I was provoked. I gingerly touched my eye that Kat had punched and grimaced. It was definitely going to leave a mark. I slowly got up and started to walk towards the bathroom and was surprised to see Kat standing, blocking my way. She was clutching her right arm to her body, her face contorted in pain. Her face was no longer angry, but remorseful.

"Trent," she whispered. "I had no right to say those things to you. I had no right to hit you, either, and I deserved what I got—"

"No you didn't Kat," I said wearily. "I should have never touched you." I looked her over. "I've probably broken your damn arm—"

"It's okay, Trent," she said softly, blinking back tears. "It was justified ." I shook my head.

"No one would have deserved that, Kat," I replied. She glanced up at me, her eyes as wide as saucers.

"Are they really gone, Trent," she asked softly. "Are the twins really gone?" I nodded my head.

"They left about forty minutes ago," I said. She lowered her head and cried.

"I never even got to say goodbye to them, Trent," she sobbed. "I never got to say goodbye…" I walked over to her and hugged her, both of us forgetting our fight and united in the loss of our younger sisters for evermore. After she was done her cry, she looked up at me and grinned ruefully.

"Better take me to the hospital, Trent," she said. "I think I need some X-rays."

I drove Kat to the hospital and she did end up having a broken arm. I felt terrible about it, and it made me think of something Izzy has said the first day of school:

You're just like your father, Trent.

I shook my head, tears welling up in my eyes. I knew it was true though, and no amount of head shaking was going to deny this feeling. I beat the shit out of the one person I vowed I would never hurt in a fit of anger, and I was never going to be able to forgive myself.

Never again, I vowed to myself. I will never strike my sister ever again for as long as I live. Never. Ever.

Kat didn't come to school the day after Kylie and Erin were taken away; she was still in the hospital. I walked to the bus stop alone, my mind lost in it's own thoughts. The house was lonesome last night, and I almost called Artemis up to ask her to stay with me, but decided against it. I felt that this was my penance for breaking Kat's arm; staying in my house all night alone.

I sat down on the bench and streched my arms out, feeling the pleasant crackle of my tendons. I hadn't really stretched today, I thought and stood up. I leaned over and touched the ground with my palms flat on the ground, just like a gymnast, I thought wryly. Kat and I had always been extremely flexible, I thought as I placed my legs behind my head, blocking out the real world. We had won the paired section of our gymnastics class every year we were there—

"Contortionist, Trent?" I heard someone ask. I gasped and fell over, my legs and arms tangled up in each other. I looked around accusingly, looking for the maker of my misery. It was Artemis.

"I thought you came on at another bus stop," I said ruefully, getting up and brushing myself off.

"I do," she said, giggling. "But it looks like today was the right day to come on this one…can Kat do that too?" I nodded.

"Both of us used to win gymnastics contests when we were little," I said. Artemis looked around the bus stop.

"Hey, where is Kat anyway?" she asked.

"Oh," I said. "She fell yesterday when we were playing with the girls and broke her arm." Artemis put her hand over her mouth.

"Oh no, is she okay?" she asked. I nodded.

"Oh yeah, she's fine, it's just that they decided to keep her overnight, that's all." Artemis nodded, and my face drooped.

"Speaking of the girls," I said sadly. "The social service people came and took them away yesterday." Artemis studied me carefully.

"What do you mean," she asked deliberately. "Do you mean they took them for a little while or they took them for good?"

"For good," I said morosely. "They came around dinner time and weren't satisfied with our home and took them away." I sat down on the bench and she sat next to me.

"Do you think that they're going to be separated?" she asked softly. I shrugged my shoulders.

"In my heart, yes, I believe that they are going to be separated, but I hope that they stay together." I sighed and