When I got home from work at four, I buried Hobbes in my backyard, right next to my other deceased pets – a fat cat named Papa Smurf, and two cannibalistic parent mice and their half-eaten babies. I did not like thinking about them. The story involving those guys became just a little too gory for me after a while.

I'm not one of those weird people who holds an impromptu funeral for his or her pet and has his or her best friend say a couple of meaningful words about how great said dead animal was. Hobbes' burial consisted of me digging a hole with my other younger brother Alex's toy shovel and quickly throwing the plastic bag holding the fish in it into the ground. This gave me a lot of time to think about how messed up my life was. Obviously, I had issues if I spent my afternoons burying dead fish using a plastic shovel.

I trudged back inside of my house. I was drenched in sweat, as it was over eighty-five degrees out. I also needed to wash my hands, considering they were covered in dirt. Not to mention that I was tired from work and still embarrassed over the whole 'spy from Pizza Hut' situation. Overall, I was in a very bad mood.

So walking in to find my mother talking on the phone in a Special Voice was the last thing I needed to have happen to me.

"Okay, then!" my mom was practically chirping as I came inside. "We'll see you around six, then. Bye!"

I could already tell something bad was about to happen.

"Who was that?" I asked.

"Your aunt Cheryl," my mother said with a sigh. "She invited us to a barbecue at their house tonight."


"Oh," I said dumbly. "Well, that's… last minute."

"They wanted us to see their new house," my mom explained.

"Oh, that," I replied. "Uh, why exactly did they move again? I thought their old house was pretty nice."

"I believe your uncle wanted to build his own personal golf course," she informed me. "Their old backyard just wasn't big enough."

"And they can afford that?" I asked, dumbfounded.

My mom shrugged. "I guess so."

My uncle John was filthy rich. He and my aunt Cheryl moved approximately every three years, and they always ended up in a house that was bigger than the last one. The last one was a medieval-style mansion with gray, stone walls and five floors. Oh yes, and they had a pool complete with its own changing rooms. Yet they still decided to move once again, and I was about to see their new place. Goody.

Did I mention that out of my five cousins, only three of them actually live at home? Yeah, the other two are at college out of state, and after this one, a third one will leave, too. Thus, my uncle is paying for three college educations simultaneously – all located far from home – while the four remaining people in their family live in a mansion meant for seven. And they're building a golf course in their backyard. And they already own, like, fifty big screen TVs and computers. And they all have complete wardrobes of designer clothing. And they have a chef-slash-butler named Albert. And they own five cars, one of which is a Ferrari. I could go on for hours.

Yes, I disliked that branch of my family, the Saunders. They were huge snobs and they loved to rub their money in our faces. Whenever I had to go to their house, I brought a fat book and hid in their basement.

"I have to go pick Alex up from camp," my mom said. "I'll be back in half an hour. Keep your ears open in case Sammy wakes up. And tell your father about the barbecue as soon as he gets home."

"Okay," I agreed.

I immediately went upstairs to pick out a book to bring with me to the get-together. It would be the only ray of light in the pit of darkness.

About two hours later, there I was, standing in front of the gates of hell, clutching my beloved book. It was my only salvation from the pit of destruction I was about to enter.

"Hi, everyone!" Aunt Cheryl cried, sounding as though she had inhaled helium – this was just how her voice was, unfortunately. "Come on in!"

My dad's side of the family is all blond and blue-eyed. They also got good figures – solid ones for the guys, and curvy ones for the girls. Even Aunt Cheryl has these features, and she wasn't even my blood relative. I took more after my mother, and so I look nothing like the stereotypical Saunders.

I trudged inside, following my excitedly squealing eight year-old brother, oblivious baby brother, and my fakely smiling parents. Honestly, none of us really liked our relatives. We just enjoyed using their expensive appliances and eating their food.

"I wanna go on the Wii!" Alex cried.

"Go ahead downstairs," Aunt Cheryl told him. "Mikey and a couple of his friends are down there, but tell them I want them to give you a turn, too!"

My cousins always conveniently had friends over during family events, and so they had an excuse to ignore us. It was rude, but no one ever did anything about it. Michael, the cousin closest to me in age (he was a year older and about to be a college freshman), was the worst offender. He had at least three or four guys over ever single time I came.

"Keely isn't here tonight," Aunt Cheryl explained as she led us further inside, referencing my fifteen year old cousin. "She's sleeping at a friend's. But Nate and Elliot are in the backyard helping John start the grill! And Albert's giving everyone drinks in the lounge. Lauren's here with her new boyfriend! You just have to meet him."

My cousins all seemed like clones in that they were all simultaneously spoiled brats, annoying overachievers, and stellar athletes. The youngest, Nate, had been the president of the sixth grade and was the captain of his award-winning soccer team. Keely was the most popular high school freshman and already a star cheerleader. Michael, the most obnoxious one, had been the football team's quarterback and the Prom King and was about to begin his first year at Notre Dame. Elliot was going to be a junior at Cornell, where he dominated both his soccer team and his fraternity. And Lauren, who had just graduated from NYU and was going to law school at Harvard, spoke fluently in three foreign languages and was recently featured on the cover of Newsweek along with other 'Young People to Look Out For'.

I hate even being near them, probably because they make me feel inferior and worthless.

"Tom's here, too," Cheryl went on, speaking of my dad's other brother. "He was telling a hilarious story about some sort of gambling incident… You'll have to come and hear it! Oh, and Albert prepared some delicious hors d'oeuvres! He cooked some schnitzel, which comes from his native home of Germany. It's simply delightful, you must try it!"

"I'm just going to sit down somewhere and read," I mumbled.

"That's fine, dear," Cheryl informed me. "Why don't you go read in Lauren's room? It's downstairs, actually, in the basement. It'll be nice and quiet in there!"

"Okay," I agreed, and shuffled off towards the staircase.

"I'll send someone down when it's time to eat!" Cheryl called after me.

Relieved to have escaped, I nearly ran down the stairs and ended up in a small, white hallway. At one end were two closed doors, one of which I assumed led to Lauren's room – although while she still had one if she didn't even live here anymore, I didn't know. At the other end was a continuation of the hallway, which led into the 'recreational' part of the basement, a.k.a., where Michael, his friends, and my little brother were now staring at a TV screen while playing on Michael's new Wii. I couldn't see them, but I could hear them. Both the game and the boys very loud, as I heard shouts of, "You're goin' down!" followed by some fake gunshots. I cringed, hoping my mother didn't stumble upon this display of violence and freak out. If she knew what Alex was seeing, she might die.

I quickly turned around to head into Lauren's room. To my surprise, I slammed right into someone else.

"Ahhhh!" I screamed very stupidly while simultaneously dropping my book.

Seconds later, when I had gotten over the initial shock of the crash, I realized that the person standing before me was none other than Pizza Hut Boy.

"Hey, I know you!" the guy said, smiling and revealing his dimples. "Did that crazy boss of yours figure out who I was and send you to spy on me? Wow, you must be really good if you managed to get inside of my friend's house. All this time, all I had to do to get a girl was leave her a five dollar tip, and I never knew about!

My eyes widened as I realized Pizza Hut Boy must have been a friend of Michael's. Of course. He was friends with my hated cousin, and he was still hitting on me. Could this get any worse?

"I-I'm not following you," I stammered. "This is my relatives' house. They invited me here."

"Well, that's quite a coincidence," the guy said.

"I guess," I said.

The guy looked down at the floor and saw my book innocently lying there.

"So I guess this is yours," he observed, picking it up before I could even bend over to get it myself. "Girl With a Pearl Earring… Hey, this was made into a movie, wasn't it? With Scarlett Johanssen in it? I only remember because she's so hot."

I could feel my face turning bright red. "Please give that back."

The guy ignored me and instead flipped the book over to read the back cover.

"'History and fiction merge seamlessly in this luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening'," he read dramatically. "Hey, now I remember! My mom rented the movie of this. It was about Scarlett being stalked by some creepy artist guy twice her age. And that guy who played the Scarecrow in Batman Begins and that weird guy in Red Eye played her boyfriend. Now that's an interesting combination – the sexiest girl alive and some psycho."

I was now the color of a beet. "I'd like my book back, please."

"Do Scarlett and that artist guy ever, like, do anything together?" the guy wanted to know. "Or are you not far enough to know yet?"

"Just give it back!" I cried loudly, losing my patience.

"Whoa, calm down!" the guy said. He then shoved the book back into my hands. "See, there it is. I didn't rip it or anything. No need to freak out."

"I'm not freaking out," I said softly.

"Okay," the guy said warily. "Good. Because I can't handle it when girls break down. If you're a crier, you might as well leave right now."

I was a crier. Not that it mattered.

"I can't leave," I said. "I'm here with my family."

"Oh, is that your kid brother in there?" the guy wondered. "He went running past me right before I went into the bathroom."

Before I could answer, Michael's voice interrupted me from behind.

"Hey, Seth, what are you doing?" he asked obnoxiously. "We're switching to DDR. You're going to miss your turn if you don't hurry."

Then, Michael became aware of my presence.

"Oh," he said. "Hi, Carrie. You're just going to go read or something, right?"

Yeah, I was just going to read. Because reading was a stupid activity that was only done by losers who liked to sit by themselves and cry all of the time. Or at least this was what Michael's tone of voice inferred about his opinion on reading. The last book he had read outside of school was How to Beat Final Fantasy XII.

I shrugged. "Yeah."

Then, Alex suddenly materialized behind Michael, jumping up and down.

"Hey, Carrie, guess what!" he cried excitedly. "They have the newest Dance Dance Revolution game! You should play!"

"Yeah, you should play!" agreed Pizza Hut boy, whose name was evidently Seth.

"Uh, no," I said.

"But you're so great at DDR!" Alex insisted. "You always get As. I get Ds."

Michael snorted. "You have to be joking. Seth is the ultimate DDR champion. He gets AAs. You must only play on easy mode; right, Carrie?"

"No, she does Expert mode!" Alex explained, and he wasn't lying. "We have it at our house, too, and Carrie and I practice every night!"

DDR became a little hobby of mine after Hayley and I discovered it at an arcade on the boardwalk last summer. I'd become addicted and bought the game when I'd gotten home. With much practice, I had become pretty good at it. However, I wasn't the type to flaunt my abilities. I did DDR for exercise and for fun, not to show off.

"I won't believe it until I see it," Seth said with a smirk, crossing his arms. "Show us what you've got, Carrie."

"I really don't…" I began.

"Come on!"

Alex suddenly dragged me further into the basement, leading me into a blue-carpeted area containing a huge TV, a Playstation, and two DDR mats.

"Who are you?" one of Michael's jock friends asked gruffly.

"This is my other cousin," Michael explained, saying the word cousin as though it meant 'loser'. "The kid claims she's some sort of DDR master."

The guys shot me doubtful looks, and a couple of them snorted. Now, I was just getting angry and offended. You know what? I just wanted one-up them for them for once and all. I had reached the boiling point, and now I would have my revenge.

"I am really good at DDR," I said out of nowhere. "I'll show you. Put it on Expert mode. I'll go against one of you."

"Wow, you can actually talk in coherent sentences!" Seth observed, once again flashing me his – yes, I'll admit, sort of cute – dimply smile.

I turned blushed and turned away from him.

"You could never beat Seth," one of Michael's friends insisted. "He's amazing."

"We'll see about that," said Alex, laughing almost maniacally.

I made a mental note to buy Alex some chocolate later.

So the game was turned on, and Seth and I each chose a mat to stand on. We set the game to Expert mode and then went to choose music.

"What should we dance to?" Seth asked, raising an eyebrow at me.

"I don't care," I mumbled.

So of course the song he chose was "Centerfold", which, while having a catchy beat, also regards a sort of embarrassing subject matter.

Once the music came on, however, I forgot about where I was or who I was with. I concentrated on stepping on the right arrows as quickly as I could. It was true; I was amazing at the game. I would never brag about it, but in my heart, I knew I was amazing. Everyone has a talent, and that, strangely enough, was mine.

Two minutes later, the room was deadly silent as the song ended. Everyone in the room was staring at me with wide eyes, except for Seth, who was still smirking obnoxiously, despite the fact that I had beaten him by a good two thousand points.

"I told you so," Alex said snottily.

Actually, I was going to buy him two chocolate bars.

"Kids!" Cheryl's voice rang out from upstairs. "Time for dinner!"

"I'm starving," said Michael. "Let's go."

With that, everyone, minus me and Alex, began to head for the door. All except for one, whose eyes had fallen onto where my book laid on the couch.

"Hey, wasn't there a movie based on this with Scarlett Johanssen in it?" the guy wondered aloud. "She's really hot…"

I quickly snatched the book up and went running from the room, dragging Alex with me.