Chapter One

I stop staring out the window long enough to glance back at my sister "… and there you have it, my ten reasons why this is unfair and I hate you." She crosses her arms primly over her chest.

I roll my eyes and our mother chuckles softly.

It hasn't seemed to hit Charlotte yet that nothing we do our say is going to change mom's mind. She's overjoyed at the move and our not feeling the same way is doing nothing to dampen her good mood. And if I really look at it from mom's point of view, I can see why she's excited.

Our move was triggered by her promotion. As the new manager of an offshoot of Belleview Inn, she couldn't be happier.

It's just too bad this breed of happiness isn't contagious.

After crisscrossing through street after street of identical houses, we turn off onto another block of them. "Here we are!" Mom all but squeals, maneuvering the car to a stop. I puzzle over how she could tell this street apart from the last one.

"Are you sure this is the house?" I ask, staring up at the large two-story building. Shifting my gaze ten feet over reveals an identical structure on either side.

"Of course," mom laughs, but double checks the napkin she'd scrawled the address on anyway.

I shake my head. Well it's certainly… large. Compared to our cramped two-bedroom apartment, it's a fucking palace actually.

"So hypothetically speaking, I'm walking home from school minding my own business," I say, turning back to look at mom, "and I think, oh good, I'm home, and I walk into what I think is our house-"

"Dakota," mom interrupts, her tone amused. I ignore her.

"But then, instead of finding myself home sweet home, it turns out I've walked straight into the middle of a meth lab. And bam!" I nock my fist into my hand for emphases, "They shoot me dead, not caring to have outsiders know of their rather illegal hobby."

By this point mom's shaking her head, a half smile lighting up her features. Charlotte's laughing softly.

"And there you are, minus your one and only son all because you had to move us to this suburban hell."

"I guess you'll just have to be careful checking the house numbers," mom shrugs, popping the trunk before scooting out of the car.

I love how much she cares.

"Get your asses out of the car and grab your shit," she calls over her shoulder, making her way towards the front door.

Despite Charlotte's cold expression, she does as mom says, sliding carefully out of the car and disappearing around the back. She reappears a moment later, large duffel in hand.

I shift my gaze down, the dirty off white flooring suggesting of the vehicle's better days. I'm reluctant to move. The moment I step out of this car, anything that may still remain of home will be whipped away and replaced with something foreign.

It's scary, knowing I'll have to start a new school. Charlotte may be sulking now but she'll be fine, she has a knack for quickly adjusting to whatever situation comes her way. Things like that don't come as easily for me. I'm not what you'd call a social outcast, I usually like people and they generally don't have a problem with me, it just takes me longer to become comfortable.

A tap at my window causes me to jump, but a glance reassures me it's just mom. I roll the window down slowly. "Come on Dakota," she says, her tone almost soft. I take a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. All right, I'm ready.

My new bedroom is a white box. The carpet, the walls, the ceiling, they're all white. There aren't any curtains on the large window yet and the sun only makes the starkness of the room stand out further. It hurts my eyes.

I stare at the barren room. Completely empty because the movers aren't due to arrive until tomorrow.

After standing and staring blankly at the back wall for a couple of soundless minutes, the brightness becomes too much. I drop my duffel bag to the floor, the soft thump echoing through the room.

Without a moment more to contemplate, I escape into the medium sized closet, shutting the door and effectively shutting out the light. Wedging myself in the corner, I glare at the white walls I know are there.

Closing my eyes, I lean my head back against the wall. My world has tilted sideways and I don't know what to do about it.

"Mom's been looking for you."

I rub at my eyes to clear my hazy vision. I hadn't meant to fall asleep in the closet. After regaining most of my bearings, I look up at Charlotte hovering in the doorway, a hand on my forehead to guard from the unwanted light now bouncing off the closet's white walls.

"Apparently we've been invited next door for dinner," Charlotte explains with a shrug.

I let my head fall back against the wall, ignoring the loud 'thunk' it makes. "Count me out."

"Look Dakota, you know how much I don't want to be here but you don't find me hiding in closets."

I wasn't hiding. I was just trying to escape from the light.

"Go away Charlotte."

Charlotte huffs. She slams the door, effectively sending me back into darkness. Good.

I let my eyes fall shut.

My head shoots up as not minutes later the closet is once again flooded with light. "So Charlotte was serious," mom intones, leaning casually against the doorframe. "You really are in the closet."

"The room's too white."

Mom scans the room over and turns back, her nose wrinkled. "It really is, it's almost blinding." I don't say anything more and she plows on, "While I was unpacking, I was accosted by Naomi Jefferson." I stare at her blankly. Is that name supposed to mean something to me? "She lives next door," mom explains, "And she invited us to have dinner with her family, a sort of, welcome to the neighborhood deal. I thought it probably wouldn't be good to start off on the wrong foot with these people so I said we'd go."

"I'll pass," I say dryly, "really."

"They have a son yours and Charlotte's age," Mom tries.

"Thanks but no thanks."

Mom sighs, "Look Dakota, I can't make you do anything, we both know that, but I'd really appreciate it if you'd come." And I'd have appreciated it if you'd at least asked us before deciding to up and move. "Besides, it can't be any worse then sitting alone in your closet moping." I'm not moping. I'm not hiding. I'm just in the closet because it's dark.

I glare at her but get to my feet anyway. "Fine," I say. I'm hungry and I just realized we don't have any food here yet.

"That's my boy," mom grins, standing on her tiptoes to kiss me on the cheek. "We'll head over in about five minutes."

I watch her disappear out of my room, a slight skip to her step. It sounds selfish, but her happiness only makes me angrier.

The Jefferson's house is identical to ours, at least from the outside. Charlotte and I stand silently beside mom as she knocks cheerfully on the door. I cringe at her rhythmic knock.

The door swings open almost immediately and someone tackles mom, well practically. "You made it," the thing squeals excitedly. Eventually she releases mom, who's doing her best to pretend she's not disgusted by the greeting, and takes a step back.

"Yep, we're here," mom returns with a huge fake smile. The woman seems to eat it up though because she flashes an even larger one back.

I roll my eyes, and if I know Charlotte even a little bit, she did as well.

"Oh, these are my two babies," mom croons, probably to both humor the woman and annoy us, "Charlotte and Dakota."

"Wow Sarah," the woman gushes, staring at the two of us with that creepy smile of hers, "Your children are gorgeous."

"Aren't they just!" Mom turns and pinches our cheeks. I grit my teeth. I don't think my hunger is worth it after all.

I turn to walk away when mom's gaze goes back to crazy woman, but Charlotte latches onto my arm with a death grip.

"I don't think so," she whispers harshly, "If I have to suffer through this, you are damn well going to as well."

"Fine," I say, my tone cold.

Ripping my arm out of her grasp, I follow mom and Mrs. Jefferson inside.

"You two can run off to the living room, dinner's not quite ready yet." She gestures off to the left, "As for you, you can come help me in the kitchen."

Mom sends us a pleading look as the woman latches her talons on and tugs her away in the opposite direction. Mom may be able to do many things, but cooking will never be one of them. No, that's my job.

I give her a small smile and wave and she mouths something foul back at me. Ah, motherly love.

Charlotte's already disappeared off in the direction of the living room when I turn back around so I follow, feeling vaguely stupid for standing in the middle of the entryway alone.

I find Charlotte sitting primly on an overstuffed armchair, a nameless boy sprawled lazily across the couch. I'm assuming this is the son mom mentioned.

There aren't any other chairs and the way he's spread across the couch, it leaves me with few options, so I slump down on the floor, leaning my back against Charlotte's chair.

The boy's staring blankly at a large flat screen TV, flipping lazily through the channels. I look around the room. It's actually pretty plain. There's the large leather couch, the matching chair, the television and a stereo system and that's about it. The walls and carpet are as white as my own, how… original.

"Stop!" Charlotte suddenly squeals. "I love this show!"

A glance at the TV tells me nothing. I rarely watch television so I can't put a name to the show Charlotte is proclaiming to love.

I feel vaguely uncomfortable that she would tell someone what to watch in their own house after just meeting them, but that's Charlotte for you. The boy doesn't seem to care anyway. With a shrug, he tosses the remote at her. She catches it and turns the volume up a couple notches.

I sigh. So far nothing about being here is better then my closet.

"You are a guy right?" The boy had managed to move from the couch to in front of me without my noticing.

I stare blankly at him. "What do you think."

He just shrugs, seemingly unfazed, "I had my doubts."

I gape at him, "I don't even look like a girl."

He gestures up at Charlotte, who's tuned in to the television and oblivious to our conversation, "You look like your sister, she's a girl."

I cross my arms. I don't look like a girl. "He's sort of right," Charlotte contributes, apparently not as oblivious as I thought.

"People thought we were twin sisters up until we were about twelve and he cut his hair shorter." The last part was directed towards the boy. He gives an appreciative laugh.

"See, you do look like a girl."

"Whatever," I grumble. I know I don't look like that much of a girl. I really did up until I was about thirteen or so, but then I started to grow taller; my face became sharper and took on masculine qualities. At least, some masculine qualities. You couldn't actually mistake me for a girl anymore. It's still a bit of a sore spot though.

And for being opposite genders, I admit Charlotte and I do look remarkably similar.

"So what's your name girlie?" The boy asks. I ignore him. For some stupid reason actually believing he is talking to Charlotte and not me. After he nudges my side, I realize my mistake.

He'd moved again and is now seated beside me, his back against the chair, leaving Charlotte no legroom and forcing her to cross her legs beneath her.

"Dakota, his name's Dakota," Charlotte answers for me. I turn around to glare at her but her eyes are focused on the screen and it has no effect.

The boy makes an "hmm" sound but doesn't say anything. I don't ask him for his name.