AN: Well, kiddos, this is it. The very last installment of the Wreck saga. The final showdown. The last hurrah. I just wanted to thank all you lovely reviewers for taking the time to read through this, and for all your positive comments and supports. It has really meant more than you will ever know. Hope you enjoy this last chapter (my inspiration, as always, was Fall Out Boy. Pete W, this one's for you my dear) Yours always, Howie aka sweetdeathFuneral

Vera

When I storm into my house, the world seems to freeze. I feel like a fish out of water, gasping for breathe in the stillness of Bassanio's peaceful home. My brother is still at work. What else is new? I walk into the kitchen, the oh so silent kitchen, to start my homework. I'm sitting at the table, staring down at my Physics book, staring down at my perfectly boring Physics book. I can hear the hum of the fridge. This really sends me off the deep end. How is everything so still and smooth, when the outside world is so bazaar? I just spent the past few hours in the belly of the beast, drama and craziness spilling from every corner of my stupid school. But this is like stepping into a whole other dimension! A whole other world where life is unnaturally at ease.

After a few hours of not getting anything done, just playing the events of this afternoon in my head over and over again, the front door swings open, and Bassanio takes off his Friendly Foods smock and hangs it neatly on the coat rack. He looks over at me. Obviously I'm glaring at him, or something.

"What's wrong with you?" Bassanio asks, and I swear, this is all it takes to set me off.

"None of your fricken business!" I holler, and pretend to turn back to my book, but instead I change my mind and stand up. I don't think I can keep this to myself much longer.

"Oh no, wait," I say with a pretend smile. "I guess it would be your business, wouldn't it?!"

"What are you talking about?" Bassanio comes into the kitchen, placing his keys on the table. "Vera, are you on drugs?" And then he squints at me, trying to examine my eyes.

"I am not on drugs, Bassanio!" I declare, already furious with him, although deep down I know I don't really have reason to be.

"God, why do you have to act so----"

"Poor?" I ask, my mind set on where to lead this conversation.

"Come again?" he says in confusion.

"I said we're poor!" Bassanio is lost, I can tell. Do I have to spell it out? "I mean, look at this place!"

We both look around, like we're seeing his house for the first time. There really isn't anything wrong with it. I mean, I hate to admit it, but it's actually a pretty nice place. Bassanio is the most organized person I know. But that's not the point. The point is that he's struggling, no matter how well he hides it. The grocery store won't completely cover college (neither will the scholarship) let alone an entire house.

"Vera," He says blankly, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Do you know what they're talking about?! I bet you don't! I bet you don't have a clue, do you!?"

"What who's talking about?" He pauses, "What are you talking about!?"

"Did you know at my school," I say, "That everyone thinks we're poor? They do!"

"That's crazy. We're doing just fine, Vera."

"Then why do we have to eat frozen dinners every night? Huh? Why do you have to work so many shifts, and then go to school? Why can't we ever go out, or buy anything other than food? Why won't you let me make long distance calls to mom, and why does the power always go out? Tell me!" I can't control myself. I hate living here. I miss mom. I miss my old life.

"Vera, I'm working as hard as I can here! Screw what everyone says, we are doing just fine! I can't believe you would---!"

"I hate living with you." I say through clenched teeth. He stares at me. "I hate it. And you know what else? I'M MOVING OUT!" It was only a bluff, of course. He shouldn't have taken it so seriously. Who in their right mind would? I mean, where would I even go? It was only a bluff. But I swear if I knew what was to happen in

the next few minutes, in the next few seconds, I would have taken all of it back, kept my mouth shut. I would have just let things go. But I didn't know.

Bassanio smacks his hand down on the table and shoves my book to the floor. His face is suddenly fueled with rage.

"Save yourself the trouble!" He screams, and he just walks out the door. Funny how the world can shift in a matter of seconds.

Lovey

From the first time the overcoat man started scaring me, I never thought I would see him pressed up against a police car. He's rolling his eyes and glaring at Hector and I, but I know he can't say anything. It's too much of a coincidence that he showed up right when my mother disappeared. He has to have something to do with the stock market. And if he has something to do with the stock market and something to do with my mother, he has to be a cheater. I know he can't do anything but glare at me now, because the penalty for stalking is lighter than for cheating with stocks. He knows that. And I can't help but smile. You used to have me trapped. Now I've got you trapped.

"So he's been watching your house for how long?" I look back at the police officer, a thin, young guy with big eyes and wispy blonde hair.

"A month."

"Did he ever threaten you...call your house, talk to you or anything, ma'am?"

"Yeah. Once I was out getting the mail and he kept following me around and asking me things. He scared me, so I threatened to call the police and he said that I'd better watch myself." Hector sighs and puts his hand on my shoulder.

"Also, where are your parents? I'd like to have a word with them as well." My heart stops for a moment. I suck in my breath. Ok, my parents went on an anniversary vacation. That's it. To England. They--

"Her father died and her mother is visiting a friend of hers for the month." Hector says. And I want to smile because he knows that I can't lie.

"Is that true, miss?" the police officer says. I nod quickly.

"Yes...uh...yes it is." I try to sound as convincing as possible. The officer nods and waves his hand at the rest of his men.

"Alright. Looks like we have a stalker case. We're taking him to the station. And next time," he says, looking right into my eyes. "Please call the police sooner." As they drive away, I look back at Hector who's standing behind me. He puts his arms around my waist and leans his chin on my shoulder. I smile and all of a sudden, I'm crying again. But for the first time in weeks, they are happy tears.

Hector

When the squad car drives away with the strange man looking scornfully at us in through the back seat window, I almost want to laugh. Actually, it's pretty surreal. Sure, it happens all the time on Scooby-Doo, but I had never imagined myself as one of those meddling kids. For a while, Lovey and I are just standing in the street, my arms draped around her, giving her time to realize such an accomplishment as this one.

"Lovey," I say softly, and she looks up at me, "We can't keep standing in the middle of the street like this. It's rush hour; we'll end up road kill." Lovey smiles.

"What do we do now?"

"Well," I think for a moment. Good question. What is there to do? It's pretty strange to even be thinking about doing anything after what just happened, but I wasn't about to leave Lovey home alone. Not after today.

"How about dinner?" I ask, "My treat."

"Dinner." she says with a smile, "Dinner would be great." And so we walk in silence, the moon beginning to rise over us now. I had forgotten how quickly night comes during the school year. Summer days always lasted forever. When we stop at the curb, waiting for the streetlight to change colors, Lovey leans into me.

"Thanks for covering for me back there." I shrug.

"What are friends for?"

Blanche

Intermission is the time where I usually sneak out from the crowd and into the backstage dressing room. I would come in squealing and bouncing on my feet and telling her which parts she was best in. And she would always laugh and deny that she was good and kiss me on both cheeks. If circumstances were different, I'd be doing the same now. She was fantastic in this play, but I really don't feel like admitting it to her.

Zack and I are sitting in the back of the auditorium against the wall. I sigh and stand up. Maybe I'll just take a peek at what's going on in the dressing room.

"Wait," Zack says nervously. "Where...are you going?"

"No where," I say quickly as I push through the crowd making its way to the snack table.

"Oh boy,"I hear him say.

Pulling apart the thick red curtains which divide stage left to the dressing room, I see her smiling as Annie adds a little more blush to her cheeks.

"Darling! Blanche! My favorite twin sister!" she says, standing up, holding the ends of her skirt delicately. "How did I do?" Obviously, she's feeling a bit more vain tonight than usual. God, I feel like leaving. I can't stand this.

"Fine." I say stubbornly. She looks a bit taken aback at this, and she doesn't intend on hiding it.

"Blanche!" she gasps dramatically. "You shock me!" And I am boiling now. She shows absolutely no guilt, no recognition that she did something wrong. I can't stand this. In fact, she's even more happy and carefree than usual.

"Blythe! What's you're problem? Do you think you even have any right to ask me for a compliment?!" I scream.

"Uh oh." Annie says, slipping out and dragging Essence with her. Blythe isn't joking around anymore.

"What are you talking about, Blanche?"

"You don't think I know? You don't even feel guilty? Ha! So typically Blythe! I can't believe you! The heartless actress, huh?"

"Blanche, I-"

"I saw you kiss River, Blythe! You knew that I love him!"

"You love him?"

"I saw you Blythe! You tricked me! You betrayed me! And you don't even

like him! How could you be so self centered?" My words are flowing into one big blob as my eyes start to flood with tears. She's crying herself, the stupid showoff.

"I can't believe you Blythe! I can't...whatever. Break a leg, my favorite sister!" I scream at her, throwing the curtains aside and running as fast and far as possible. The crowd has already sat back down, because the halls are empty. Everything's a big blur and I'm coughing and whining as I run, unable to find somewhere to go. And then I bump into somebody, and when I see who it is, I hold on to him for dear life.

River

I am reading and re-reading my script, going over the final scene of the play. Man, I can't believe how easy this is turning out to be! I mean, who would have thought that I'd ever be able to act, let alone with Blythe as my leading lady? Just a month or two ago, if somebody told me that this would all be happening, I swear I wouldn't believe

them. But man, I finally get why Blythe gets up on that stage every month and feels so free! She's tried to explain it to me before, but I guess you just have to do it in order to know.

Blythe. That name keeps ringing in my head like a sweet symphony, and the thought of her seems to override every ounce of concentration in me. I'm staring at these words on the script, but they won't stay in my head. I just keep thinking about the final kiss at the very end of the play. The one right after Charlie asks Lady Rebecca whether

she loves him enough to leave her husband. But somehow I know it won't be like kissing her for real. I know it won't be quite as amazing as the moment earlier today; but it doesn't matter. As long as she's by my side tonight, nothing matters.

"River," Joe pokes me on the shoulder. "Intermission's over. Get your butt out there!" I stand up from my spot on the floor backstage, and dart behind the side curtains. As I say the lines over in my head, I notice Blythe center stage, staring blankly at the navy curtains. I lean forward to get a closer look. If I didn't know better, I'd say that she's been crying. But it would be no surprise if she was just getting into character. After all, Blythe is known for turning on the water works when it comes to emotional plays. Suddenly, the lights go out, and the curtains are drawn. Blythe is

standing outside of the "stables" looking forlornly down the road.

"Oh, cruel and unbearable world!" She declares, her voice filling the auditorium. "How hast thou cast upon me such a spell of inexcusable love? How hast thou both blessed and cursed me with such a heart as this one?" Blythe pauses, and I can see that she is struggling to remember the rest of her lines. Now I'm really surprised. I've never seen her nervous before; but it only takes a few seconds before she catches her rhythm again.

"Why, the very second you entered these stables, I hast wished thee away. Yet here I am, awaiting your tainted presence." On cue, I move slowly across the stage, bringing myself to face Blythe.

"You shouldn't be here," she says to me, but her voice seems distant. She seems distracted, and I wonder what could have brought on this change so quickly. Just before intermission, Blythe was on fire. She was...happy.

"My lady," I say, "Every second that hast kept me from you might as well have been ten thousand years. I cannot keep away." Now I know for a fact that she is distracted; her eyes are darting in every direction except mine. "Tell me," I say. "Tell me from your heart your husband doth not stay. Say to me thou shall leave this wretched

place. Come into mine arms, and I shall love you for as long as the moon doth shine and stars doth glitter."

"No." Says Blythe, all too eagerly. I freeze. What? Did she just say no? This is definitely not how the play's supposed to go.

"No?" I repeat, completely breaking out of character. But I catch myself as quickly as I had slipped. "Uh--What reason hast thou to stay?" Blythe shudders, and I catch her eye, see the tears welling up before she turns away. It's obvious that she's not about to adlib like I am. I try again.

"Please answer me, my lady." I say, completely bewildered. What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to say? If this is Blythe's new idea of winging it, she could have at least told me before hand. And I'm just freaking out, completely losing it, when

finally Blythe speaks.

"This love that hast taken hold of us---it mustn't last." I stare at her. She's openly crying now, and I still have no idea what to do. There was something about her words that seemed so convincing, even for Blythe. And then it hits me. There's truth to her what she said. There has to be. Why else would she just throw the play like this?

But it's obvious to me that she's not just acting any more. Something is bothering her.

"It mustn't?" I ask weakly, because I am an idiot, and because I am oblivious to what she's trying to pull. She shakes her head no, tears streaming faster and faster down her cheeks. Oh man, what did I do? And I'm trying to balance out Blythe and this play at the same time, but I'm still not following what's going on! "Lady Rebecca, what hast brought upon this sudden change of mind? Why hast thou---?"

"It's all wrong!" She screams. She is still using her Lady Rebecca accent, but there is no doubt in my mind that the words are completely Blythe. "Can't you see how wrong it is?" She whispers, shaking her head back and forth. I look at her. I try to look into her, but all I can see is the hurt and anger. I wrack my brain for some response. My

mouth just opens and closes like a guppy fish, unable to comfort, and

unable to remain Charlie.

"Nothing is right." I look at her with a desperate expression and mouth, 'what?'. She shakes her head, the tears flinging off her face blue in the glare of the spotlight. She lets out a weak sob and sprints offstage. And I'm just trying to take in everything that's

just happened within the past five minutes, and trying to figure out where to go from here.

I look out into the crowd, praying that my answer will jump out at me. But to my complete surprise, every single person in the audience seems to be totally absorbed in the play. They all look up at me, expecting the last lines of The Forbidden Love, utterly unaware that we've screwed up the performance. Apparently, they all figured Blythe's meltdown as part of the act.

"Uh," Kiski's eyes are all on me, waiting to be blown away by the performance of a life time. My voice is caught in my throat, all I can think about is Blythe shaking her head, looking so afraid. And feeling extremely desperate, I spit out the obvious. "She is gone."

A moment later, the curtains close, and the auditorium erupts with cheering and applause. But I don't care about the play anymore; all I care about is finding Blythe.

I run down the steps all at once, heading for the back exit, my eyes only concerned with spotting Blythe. I see her taking down her sweater from the coat wrack, Annie at her side.

"Blythe, talk to me!" Annie demands. "What's going on? Why did you change it?"

"Give it a rest, Annie, it was brilliant! She made it even BETTER! Can you hear that crowd?" Joe howls.

"Don't you tell me to give it a rest!" Annie shoots back, seriously bent on starting an argument with Joe. Blythe zips up her black hoodie and grabs her bag. "And don't you think you're off the hook, Blythe!"

"I'm sorry, Annie," she mumbles, throwing the hood over her head. "Look, tell Zack I'm really sorry, okay? I have to get out of here."

"Blythe!" I call at her, but she's already out the door. I follow her out. When I step outside, it doesn't take long to spot Blythe making her way across the teacher's parking lot. In the quiet dark, she moves like a shadow, soundless and beautiful.

"Hey, Blythe!" I call. "Wait up!" I'm kind of surprised when she actually turns to face me. Honestly, she looks terrible and worn down. Stage makeup is drenched across her face.

"What?" She says coldly.

"What do you mean what? What happened out there? How could you leave me up there all alone to clean up your mess?"

"Look, I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry! I just couldn't handle it!"

"Why'd you do it in the first place?" I ask. Here we are, arguing again, just like old times. It's all to familiar. But now I really am mad. "Is this like, your weird, dysfunctional way of teaching me how to act on the spot or something? Is it 'for my own

good' or something?"

"River! Get off my back! I really need to do something important! Blanche-"

"What, do you have another gig somewhere? Were you cutting the play a bit short so you wouldn't be late?" I know I'm being harsh, but I can't stop. And I am a little surprised when she keeps her mouth shut tight, staring at me with bitter eyes.

"You know River," her voice is a little more gentle than I would've expected. "I don't think we should be any more...any more than we were before...lunch." She says the last word quickly. "I'm sorry." My heart sinks. She's serious.

"Look, I didn't mean to be so mean. I'm sorry, I'm sure you have your reasons for-"

"No, no, no, River. It's not about that. It's about something else." she says, her voice a bit shaky.

"Well, whatever it is, I'm sure we can work it out," I say hopefully, though I know that she's made up her mind. My throat feels a little thick. It's the first time I've felt like crying in a long time. She covers her face.

"I can't tell you, River. I have bigger resposibilities." She says behind her hands. And I'm about to push further, argue back. But then I realize just how sick I am of fighting with her and how useless it would be to press on. After all, she's Blythe Zeta. When she says something, she means it.

"Okay." I say simply. I force myself to nod. "Alright." She gives a weak smile and gives my forearm a gentle squeeze.

"I'm sorry things...happened this way." she says, looking me in the eye. "You were great tonight." Blythe adds. Blythe, the free spirit. She likes to fly; she likes to fly higher than anyone I've ever met. Blythe, my free spirit. How could I ever keep you down here with me?

"Thanks. You sucked." I say teasingly. She slaps me on the arm.

"I hate you." She says. But she's grinning, and I know she doesn't mean it.

Vera

I stand there in the doorway a moment, breathing heavily, unsure what is going to happen, what I've done. I close my eyes and take a deep breath of the stale tasting air of our house. He'll be back within the next ten minutes. He just needs to cool down. I think to myself. But you know what happens in those books, Vera. The protagonist

always has a fight with someone they love, and in the next chapter that person gets hurt. I take another quavering breath. No. That's only in dumb, unrealistic, bent-on-being-depressing books. Bassenio is fine. But that's not enough to convince me. My heart is already beating in my throat as I zip up my jacket and run outside.

"Bassanio! Wait!" I scream, flailing my arms against the breeze. It is already dark and the crickets are screaming at me. He starts the engine and the car grumbles, spitting grey exhaust onto the pristine, pink flowers belonging to our neighbor. Forgetting to put

switch the gear from reverse, he backs up, knocking over our garbage can. He's not paying attention I can feel my heavy pulse shaking my body violently.

"Bassanio, stop! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" he doesn't hear me as the car screeches and he zigzags down the street. The road is too dangerous. It's left side becomes an abrupt cliff that shoots strait down to the next neighborhood. He's going to kill himself!

But at that moment, I hear the faint cha-ching of a child's bicycle. And all of a sudden, I know how this chapter is going to end. My voice is suddenly stuck at the bottom of my voice-box and I feel my face drain of color.

In a moment, things go silent, and each thing that happens is like a snapshot. My hand is over my mouth and I kneel down, recognizing the girl on the bike as Jenny, from my art class. The headlights sweep over her and she squints and opens her mouth in a gasp. My brother mouths some curse word and swerves to the right, knocking over two

more garbage cans. Her bike veers sharply to the left. Suddenly, there is sound again as her bike hits the guard rail and she is flung over it. There is sound everywhere as she screams and her voice tears at my heart. My brother throws open the car door and runs at the guard rail.

"Oh my God! Oh my God!" The back wheel of the bike, which was caught against the guard rail, is spinning as we hear her thump against the ground below. I run to the edge of the road next to Bassanio

"Jenny!" I scream. But I can't se her anymore, the bottom is all dark.

"Oh my God, Vera! Oh my God!" There is total and complete fear in his voice and for the first time in my life, I think I'm going to see my brother cry. And all of a sudden, my heart stops and my throat swells up. 'It was my fault.' Bassanio runs to a house across the street and a few neighbors are already coming out, wondering what

happened. I kneel down, my hands on the guardrail, my knees knocking together as I realize the enormity of the situation. Jenny may be dead. And it's my fault. I made Bassanio angry. I killed Jenny.

Zack

"Zack, that was amazing!" Rachel hits me on my arm to get my attention. "I mean, I just loved the way you molded Lady Rebecca into such an independent character and when---"

"Shhh!" I say, trying hard to hide my smile. "C'mon, Rachel. You're one of the only people who knows I wrote that one-shot pile of poo, so please don't say anything." Rachel looks as though she's just

been slapped in the face.

"Zack, are you insane? One-shot pile of poo! God, if I ever wrote something so magnificently beautiful and heart-wrenching I would want the whole world to know!" This time I really do smile.

"You really think it's magnificently beautiful?" But before she can say anything else, a voice from the auditorium calls out,

"Please, everybody take your seats, take your seats! We have come down to the final scene of The Forbidden Love, so if you'd all just settle down and..." Rachel perks up at the sound of Joe's voice.

"Ooh! I've gotta go find my seat! I bet Emiko stole it..." She skips off without another word, leaving me alone with my thoughts at the snack table. I abandon my plate of cookies and begin to walk slowly down the hall. It's not like I'm really in a rush to get back or anything. I mean, we've only been spending the past hour poking fun at Blythe's acting, and we both know the play by heart anyways.

And just as I'm wondering where Blanche has been the entire intermission, (although I do have an inkling) I feel someone ram into my shoulder. I whirl around halfway, my left shoulder slightly sore from the force of the blow. (God, is that pathetic or what?) Blanche is at my side, stumbling and sobbing. It actually takes me a second

to register as she grabs my arm, trying to speak through tears.

"Blanche! What happened? Are you okay?" But she looks as though she's having a panic attack, to be honest.

"I was---was angry---she hates----" I put my arm around her, startled to see her cry. It hurts to see her so broken. "She hates me---I yelled at her, and I didn't even--even let her talk!"

"Blythe doesn't hate you, okay?" I say as soothingly as I can manage. But, as I've said before, I think I kinda suck at this whole comforting thing. "She's your sister. She loves you, Blanche." She sucks in a few deep breaths, and dabs at her eyes with her sleeve. But that doesn't really do her much good. Back in the auditorium, the

lights go off, and I can hear Blythe's booming voice echoing out into the hall.

"C'mon," I say, pulling her away from the double-doors. "Lets go somewhere and talk, okay?" Blanche nods, and her hand is shaking inside of mine. We walk past the main entrance (Too many smokers out there) past the art room (locked after classes, as usual) and out a small side door that leads onto the football practice field. By now

it's dark outside, but the moon overhead is so bright and wide that it doesn't even seem like night (minus the moon part, of course).

"It's so quiet out here." Blanche speaks for the first time, her voice shaking, as we seat ourselves on a row of bleachers. I look around the vast field. I've never seen it this quiet. Now that I think of it, I've never even been back here in the middle of the

night. But the silence is refreshing, as opposed to all the hustle and bustle of the football practices.

"Yeah," I say. "It's nice, though."

Blanche

I take a breath and push the tears off the corners of my eyes with my fists like a child. I open my mouth to talk, but my swelled throat makes me suck in several quick intervals of breath that make me sound like I'm suffocating. Zack puts his hand on my shoulder.

"It's okay. Just take your time, alright? You don't have to talk right this second." I nod and focus on calming my breathing process. The rock in my throat subsides.

"I talked to Blythe. I y-yelled," my voice falters a little and Zack runs his hand over my forearm.

"It's alright, Blanche." he says quietly. I blink. It's strange, because somehow I'm not even thinking about Blythe anymore, but I force myself to talk about it anyways.

"I yelled at her about it. I didn't let her even talk." My stomach does a back flip in guilt at hearing myself say it. "I feel so terrible. I shouldn't have..." my voice trails off and I don't think Zack is even listening to what I'm saying anymore. He's looking at me so hard. His eyes have a grasp on my own eyes and I can't break away. "I shouldn't have..." What was I talking about again? His hand slides down from my wrist and onto my hand and my legs go numb.

I look down at his hand and turn it over gently, half unsure of what I'm doing. He lifts his hand and pushes his fingers through my hair and to the back of my neck. He looks kind of scared and so am I, but I'm not thinking about things so carefully anymore. I scoot closer to him, pull the striped hat off his head and before I know what's happening he leans forward and kisses me. And I feel so peaceful, because I can tell that we are both surprising ourselves with how brave we can be.

Zack

Kissing Blanche was no big deal. I mean, I've made out with millions of girls before, I'm a total pro...Okay fine, that is a Big. Fat. Lie. Happy?! Truth be told, the only other girl I've ever kissed was Essence, and that was only because it was a dare on the bus ride back from Kenny-wood Park last year. So when you think about it, that doesn't even count, does it? I mean, when your riding back on an hour trip with a school bus jam packed with a bunch of kids and teachers, your options for dares are pretty limited.

But anyways, there's a difference between then and now. Then, it was the quickest peck on the cheek and something that we could both laugh about. It didn't mean anything. Now, though, I can literally feel my heart trying to fly straight out of my chest. My stomach is twisting and turning, exhilaration filling every inch of my brain. And from the second Blanche's lips met mine, I could have sworn that it was all a dream. My eyes are closed and I keep wondering when I'm going to wake up (hopefully not too soon). But then we pull away, and even though it seems surreal, I guess it really isn't a dream. None of my dreams ever end perfectly.

Blanche stares at me, and I stare back. I can't really tell if she's blushing, but her face is glowing in the light of the moon. Her eyes are dancing; I think they are dancing with mine. Man, she really is pretty. Well duh! says a little voice in the back of my head. And for a really long time, we're just staring at each other in an awkward, yet somehow comfortable sort of way.

Then Blanche looks up at the sky, her mind obviously drifting. I wonder if maybe she's having a spell of amnesia or something, because it sort of looks like she suddenly hasn't got a clue as to what's just happened. And I can't help it, but I get this horrible sinking feeling in my gut.

What if Blanche doesn't even like me? I mean, how can you really get over someone so fast? Is that possible? What if she's just trying to forget about River and she doesn't care who she uses to get over him? And then it dawns on me: If she really does still like River, then this is only going to hurt her more. Man, all I ever wanted was for her to be happy. That's all. Slowly, she turns back towards me. Our eyes immediately lock again. But what am I supposed to say? Wow, great kiss, Blanche, you're a natural. By the way, are you still madly in love with River? Luckily, before I can even consider how to phrase that terribly structured question, Blanche speaks.

"It's funny," she says. She pauses, and for a second I think that's all she's going to say. One of the field lights flickers overhead. Time itself has come to a complete halt. Finally, she continues, "I've spent a lot of time thinking about---well, about River. Thinking that I was like, in love with him or something. It's just---now I can't even remember why." Her words are soft, but I can see that she is thinking each one through before saying it. "I mean, I hardly even know him." Another pause.

"Yeah, well you hardly even know me," I say with a smile, even though it's kind of not true. A month is only as long as you make it. Blanche laughs.

"Not true Zack. That is so not true and you know it." Freaky. Now she's even reading my mind.

"Blanche," I say slowly. "Is this what you want?" Her grin fades into seriousness.

"Well, yeah I---do you?"

"Yeah, Blanche. I really do." Then I realize just how one-sided that sounds, so I quickly add, "I mean, only if you do---I wouldn't want to make you, you know---if you still have feelings for River or whatever I totally understand, I mean it's fine if---"

Blanche cuts me off faster than she ever could using words. She darts forward, kissing me quickly on the lips. When she pulls back, she is positively glowing. Her smile is as big as ever. This time, my heart isn't trying to fly out of my chest anymore; it already has; and I swear I can see it flying straight into the stars.

Eric

So here I am, again, leaning against the wall of the school. Alone. I feel like crap. Total crap. I had come so close to finally getting with Lovey, the girl of my dreams. What did I say? Was it because I made fun of Hector, that stupid, lovesick follower of hers? Was I too forward? I always thought chicks liked you better if you were straightforward and didn't do the stupid quiet, secret crush thing like Hector.

I sigh. What the heck am I supposed to do tonight? I'm not going home. Tonight's poker night. Ryan might just bet me and I'll end up living with Moe or Jerry, his two potbellied friends. Come to think of it, that might not be so bad. I hate living with Ryan. I suppose it's just my in nature to never get what I want. I was probably born under a bad sign. What is my sign anyways?

Never a good family. Never the girl I want. Never the life I want.

I'm about to make my way home when I see Francesca walking past the school, pulling her jacket collar up over her cheeks to break the wind. Francesca's not too bad looking.

"Hey " I call. Her face makes the slightest turn towards my direction. "Hey…Francesca " She pauses, blushing, pulling a strand of hair out of her face.

"Hey Eric," she says, grinning. I grin back, my heart breaking inside

my chest, feeling myself fall into the same old steps. It's just like me to flirt with every girl in sight. It's just like me to ask this sweet, blushing girl out and dump her a week from now. I'm not interested in Francesca. But it's just like me to not care. I walk

over, and swing my arm over her shoulders.

"Hey, doll face," I say. "You doing anything tonight?"

"No, no...I'm not. Completely free. What about you?" she says, smiling from ear to ear.

"Do you want to go get some dinner or something with me? I just figured...you know, Friday night, I oughta do something."

"Alright," she says quickly, taking a step closer to me. God, these girls are so desperate. No, you're the one who's desperate. I link my arm into hers and we make our way towards the same diner I was at with Lovey.

I feel a little sad, knowing what I'll be doing for the rest of my life, knowing that I'm about as low as it gets. Francesca is jabbering at six hundred words a minute, talking about how long she's wanted to hang out with me but she never knew how to ask. I tell her all the right things to keep the conversation going, to keep her under my spell. But none of them are true.

"Oh I've been dying to ask you out for ages, girl!" I say. "I've totally had a crush on you for a month now."

"Really?" she says. "Then why didn't you just ask me out sooner?"

"You're the first girl I've ever felt intimidated by." I say hoarsely. And I know now that I'm telling her everything that I wish I could tell Lovey. She smiles.

"Well, I'm glad we're together," she says modestly. We go into the diner, whose lights have been switched on since it's pretty dark now. She sits across from me, talk, talk, talking. Now she's talking about the math test we had today. Now she's talking

about the play. Now she's talking about Lovey and the rumors.

"Well I totally believe they're true," I say, bitterly lying. "I mean, of course she's bulimic! How would she stay so thin all the time?" Francesca looks shocked.

"That's a total lie! Lovey's not bulimic! I'm one of her best friends, I should know. She is not bulimic!" I feel bad now, as I stumble around for an apology. And for once, I really mean it. I guess it's not Lovey's fault she doesn't like me. I suppose we're just from opposite sides of the tracks.

Just as I'm thinking this, there is a shrieking outside, droning out over the faint clicking of dishes being washed. Francesca looks outside and stands up.

"Oh my God. I wonder-"

"Who,"

"Yeah."

"Well, we'll probably find out tomorrow."

But I don't really care. I smile, lean forward, and kiss Francesca on the cheek,

feeling spontaneous. Her cheek is so soft and cold from the wind. Francesca blushes. She leans over the table and kisses me on the lips. I put my hand on her hand and she sits back and smiles.

"I really like you," she states the obvious. I smile.

"I like you too." I say. And I think maybe I do like her. I think maybe I won't flirt with those other girls on Monday morning like I usually do. Maybe I'll find Francesca, instead.

Kelly

Usually, Paige's sleepovers are totally fun. There's always loads to do because Paige's dad has like this super huge house with a swimming pool in their yard. Of course, it's not nearly as huge as my house, and their pool always smells like bleach and it makes me want to spew. Regardless, she totally knows how to throw a decent slumber

party.

But tonight, it totally sucks. It's too late to swim, and that sleez bag Emiko is here. Who invited her anyway? I bet she just invited herself, because she can't stand the idea of spending the week end alone. But whatever; I'm not about to let someone like her ruin my night.

"Who wants Twinkies?!" shouts Ginger, digging through her duffel bag and pulling out a box of Hostess treats. I snort. I mean, honestly, who in their right mind would bring their own snacks to a sleepover? Who?!

"Ohh, I do!" Squeals Sleazy Sleez.

"Me too." says Paige, pulling the box towards her. I raise my eyebrows. That is so, so, so disgusting! Okay, so I can believe that Emiko and Ginger eat that crud, but I always thought Paige had more sense than that!

Paige throws a few at Rhonda and Clara and whats-her-face that wears too much make-up, who are painting their nails.

"You shouldn't eat those, you know." I say, glaring at those stupid, unhealthy carb cakes. "They'll totally make you fat,and then you won't be able to fit into your dresses for the Winter Formal this year." They ignore me. Ignore me! God, can you believe the nerve! Ugh! I knew this was going to be a crappy night. Knew it!

"Okay, so what are we watching tonight?" Chirps Paige, as she hops off of her bed and heads over to the DVD rack beside the bookshelf.

"What do you have that we haven't already seen?" asks Clara, tossing her Twinkie wrapper to the side (Talk about gross!) Paige ruffles through the DVDs for a few seconds, then pulls one out. The cover is mostly in black and white. Ew, it looks all old and boring. I hate boring. Hate it!

"Who's seen Pretty in Pink?" she asks, and Emiko shrugs. Ha, so she doesn't know everything!

"Hey, isn't that like a movie from the eighties?" Says Ginger with a look of delight spread across her face. See, I had a feeling it was going to be one of those old movies. But does anyone ask my opinion? No! Ugh!

"What's it about?" says Sleazy. "It's about this girl who's going out with this really rich guy, but nobody approves of their love." God, that sounds stupid. Um, why wouldn't you want to date a rich guy? It just makes sense! "And there's this guy named Ducky and he's her best friend but he totally has a thing for her."

Now this only makes me think of that stupid idiot Hector. How dare he reject me! God, he must like, have problems or something. I mean, who wouldn't want to date me? Even I would want to date me! I'm just that great! Whatever, he was probably just jealous of me. I mean, why else would anyone in their right mind turn a hot tamale like

myself down?

"Hey, you know who this reminds me of?" I say suddenly, my mind already brewing things to say about that jerk.

"We don't care," says Emiko, rolling her eyes, "who this reminds you of." Ginger and the nail-painting girls laugh nervously, and Paige is suddenly absorbed in opening the DVD case.

"You know what, why don't you just shut up you skanky little---"

And then we hear the sirens. They are rushing loudly down the street, passing Paige's house. Emiko stands at the window, and Paige and Ginger join her side.

"God, I wonder who that is?" says Ginger, biting a nail. The three sitting on the bed stop blowing on their fingertips and bounce up to the window as well. And you know what? I'm glad that those jerks are standing way over there. I'm totally sick of them taking me and my social news for granted. Totally!

Jenny

Summer, 1990I sat in the grass of our backyard, a blanket over me to block out the sunlight, although it didn't help all that much. I looked down at my arms, which were blue in the face of the sunstreaked turquoise blanket. I sit there, staring at a rock, trying to levitate it. I still hadn't figured out what my super power was, although Jeremy said I was bound to have one, I just hadn't discovered it yet.

Just as I thought this, I felt two arms wrap around my waist and I was flung into the air, kicking my legs and laughing.

"Jemmy let me down!" I wouldn't be able to pronounce 'Jeremy' till I was eight. "Jemmy!" He spun me around and I let my legs soar through the air in circles like I was flying. I laughed and he wobbled a bit and we fell to the ground. I giggled as he leaned over tickled me under my arms. "Jemmy!" I snorted, barely able to breathe. He collapsed back onto the soft grass.

"Jenny what have you been doing out here all day? Do you want to the park? I can take you over,"

"I've tried to make the rock move with my eyeballs. But it doesn't work. I don't think I'm a superhero, Jemmy. I think I just look like one." He faced me and smoothed my hair.

"You are a super hero, Jenny."

"How do you know?" I said. I was almost on the verge of tears already. Being a super hero was my childhood dream.

"I know because I know what your power is," he said. My eyes widened.

"You do?" I said. My face immediately scrunched up into a pout. "Why don't you tell me?!"

"It's a secret," he says quietly. "I'm sworn to secrecy. I'm not supposed to tell you. Otherwise they'll turn me into a robot and I'll never be a super hero again." I sighed. It was always something. According to him, he could fly, shoot fire out of his hands and turn into any aquatic animal. I didn't even know if I WAS a super hero at all.

"Why is it a secret?" I said, trying to outsmart him.

"It just is. Don't ask me, I don't know. If you want, I can tell you what your power is and then I'll turn into a robot."

"No, no!" I said quickly. He leaned over and kissed me on the forehead.

"Jenny you are so neat. I wish I had eyes like you." And I smiled, because I loved my red eyes.

Fall, 1991

I squeezed the colored pencil tightly because I was getting more and more frustrated at how slowly the drawing of a cape I was coloring was taking to fill with red pencil marks.

A girl named Aubrey leaned over my shoulder curiously.

"It looks like you, Jenny," she gave me a slightly toothless smile (the whole class was jealous of her because she'd lost so many teeth).

"It is me," I said shyly, flexing my fingers as they were rather numb from clutching the pencil so hard. "Can I tell you a secret?" I decided to confide in my first friend.

"Mhm," she said, mystified.

"I'm a super hero," I whispered, my hand cupping against one side of mouth.

"Are not!" she retorted.

"Am too!" I whispered back. "But I don't know my powers yet. My brother Jemmy won't tell me. But he says that since I have red eyes and white hair, I was born magic."

"Wow," she gaped. "Neat! Hey, Cammie! Did you know Jenny is a super hero?" Cammie dropped her crayon and looked up at us.

"Are you lying?" she asked skeptically.

"No, I swear!" I said earnestly. "Cross my heart and hope to die." Cammie giggled and told some girls at the other table. They all reacted the same way. My time in elementary school was the best years of my life. The sweet, hyper little girls made me feel special, and for a long time I thought it was true.

Fall, 1996

We moved from Terentum to Vandergrift in 1996. Jeremy move to West Minster for college that year too. This would also be the first year of middle school for me.

"How about this one?" I asked, holding up a fuzzy pink sweater. My mother thoughtfully at the sweater, an egg-covered spatula in hand.

"The black one holds your figure better. And it balances out the color of your eyes," she replied, grinning. I nodded and pulled on the back sweater. Combing down my white hair with my hand, I kissed my mother.

"Wish me luck," I squeaked. I stepped outside and immediately began to squint. The sunlight had always been too strong for my sensitive eyes.

As I made my way to the school, I grew more and more shy. At first I simply avoided the glances of other students, too afraid to speak to anybody. But then I noticed a girl standing by the bushes.

She had red hair and was wearing mascara. In her hand was a fluffy little red handbag and her shirt read, "Daddy's little girl!" In bubbly letters. She looked mature, and I figured she might be nice to me.

I trotted up to her and smiled, but unfortunately the sun was right behind her and I ended up squinting harshly. It must have looked as if I was scowling at her, because suddenly she screamed,

"Don't be jealous 'cause I'm prettier than you!" and walked off.. Feeling bewildered at how miserably that attempt at making a friend had ended, I was quiet for the rest of the day.

The next day I was coming out of the lunchroom when I heard some girls talking is rushed whispers to the side of me.

"...girl with the creepy red eyes! I know! She glared at me too! What a creep!" I could feel my heart break and scatter its remains throughout the rest of my body. This was the mere second day to my new life in Vandergrift and everyone already had the wrong impression.

Winter, 1997

I woke early so as not to wake my parents and zipped up my oversized parka. As I walked to school, the air bit ferociously at my cheeks. When I reached the school grounds, I threw the plastic hood over my head and held the front of it shut so that there was only room enough to for me to see.

I walked past little huddled cliques, and they parted as I passed so that they wouldn't brush against me, as if a gust of wind had gone by. They barely glanced up from their conversations.

When I entered the school, I made my way immediately to the bathroom. Locking myself in a graffiti stained stall, I began to dig through my backpack. Every morning I came in there to put band-aids on the cuts on my hands from the dry and bitter wind (it seemed even the weather was against me), although, mainly it's just to avoid the crowds of condescending people.

When finally the bathroom was empty and I was alone, I peeked out into the halls to find that they were empty as well. I walked silently to my locker, threw my coat in, and started for my first period class. The good thing about routine is that you scarcely notice how miserable the mornings really are.

October 2, 1999

I woke lying on the carpeted floor of my bedroom this morning, the fake horse I'd made for the play in my arms. I had stayed up late working on it. This play required the most props any Kiski play has ever required, and the art club had to have each member take home their own project.

I looked into my dresser. I planned on seeing the play that night, to see whether or not the carriage we'd made held out. It seems I didn't have much in my closet. I settled for a white polyester shirt and some black pants and slung my backpack over my shoulder.

I slipped into the artroom once I reached the school and put the horse on a table. I heard a faint sniffle and jumped to see Blanche sitting in the corner of the room. A few papers lay in her lap and she shuffled them a little.

"Blanche, what are you doing?" I asked quietly. She laid the papers gingerly on the silent radiator and coughed.

"Oh, I was just...making sure that we didn't forget to do any props for the play. Just looking it over. Nothing really." She said quickly. A few strands of hair looked as if they'd been wetted down against her cheek and her eyes were a bit quivery. I nodded and began walking towards the door. I stopped at the doorway and felt my heart break.

'I really should give Blanche a hug or something', I thought. For a brief moment, I remembered myself as cheerful 7 year old and with a weak breath I realized how disappointed I would've been at how I'd turned out. I didn't even feel like the same person.

But giving Blanche a hug would probably creep her out. Besides, everyone else thought I was creepy.

After lunch I decided to check up on my horse and maybe give it a touch up. Wondering whether or not the eyes had been painted a good color, I stepped into the room and saw a flash of brown.

"Whoa!" I leapt back and looked up just in time to see Blanche dropping a dripping container of paint to the floor. I looked down to see that my shirt was now covered in brown paint. 'I guess I won't be going to the play tonight' I thought bitterly. But I realized that I really didn't care to go anyways. Her hand flew to her mouth.

"Oh my God." she said in a muffled voice. "Jenny--I--I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to--" I looked around the room to try to figure out why she had been throwing paint around in the first place, and saw that her painting was covered in thick, smeared, brown paint. My initial thought was that she had somehow slipped and the paint had hit the

canvas the same time it had hit me.

"Oh Blanche!" I said softly. "You ruined your painting!" She'd been working on that thing forever, and I couldn't believe that in moments it had been ruined! At first Blanche looked surprised, then angry.

"Really?" she said darkly. "I think it looks better." I sighed. Her choice. I hurried to the sink in the back of the room and tried to wash the paint off. "Here," Blanche came over with an obnoxiously blue oversized t-shirt kids sometimes used when they painted. I put on the shirt and threw my white shirt into the sink. Blanche squirted some soap onto it.

"God, Jenny. I can't believe I did that! I just got carried away." she said as we both tried to push the lumps of paint off of the fabric.

"It's alright," I replied honestly.

"Wow, this isn't coming out," Blanche said cautiously.

"Don't worry about it," I said quickly. "Dry cleaners." She nodded guiltily. We dried it off and I tossed it into my backpack.

"I'm really sorry, Jenny," she repeated. "I honestly didn't mean to,"

"Blanche, don't worry about it," I said, trying to smile. "It's just a shirt." She nodded again.

"I'll see you in physics," she said solemnly.

I sat at my desk at home, shading in the eyes of a baby I was drawing when I remembered the shirt in my backpack.

"Oh my God." I said quickly to myself as I grabbed the shirt and rushed out of my room. "Crap, crap, crap," I mumbled to myself as I sped out the door. I had really meant to go earlier in the day, but somehow it had slipped my mind. And I couldn't just

toss this shirt in the washing machine; it was too nice. It was one of those dressy shirts that had to be cleaned a certain way; I slap myself on the forehead for being brainless. Who wears this kind of thing on a casual Friday?

I unlocked the chain binding my bike to the fence and leapt onto it. It was already getting dark. 'Christ,' I thought, praying that the dry cleaner was still open. It was at least ten minutes away on my bike.

By the time I reached Davis Street it was completely dark. I hurried, my legs spinning and growing sore. I stayed in the middle of the street, afraid that the short, cheap guardrails wouldn't save me if I accidentally turned or something. There are so many cliffs in Vandergrift. Who knows where I would land. Who knows if I would even

live to tell the tale. My eyes were wide open in the darkness and I felt like a bat or an owl.

Then I heard something in the distance.

"Bassanio!" I heard. "Wait!" I squinted, trying to see the moving figures in the darkness. "Bassanio! Stop! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I heard a car rumble and headlights light up. I thought frantically for what to do. I looked down at my bike and rang the

little bell thing attached to the handlebar. Maybe he would know I was here.

The car pulled up faster than I would've expected. The headlights shot luminously out of the dark and I shut my eyes, the brightness confusing me. I let go of the handlebars and rubbed at my eyes. The bike was badly made and immediately flung to left. I gasped as my bike hit the guardrail with a bang and before I could even think of grabbing onto something I felt myself fly over it. I screamed as my body plunged forward in slow motion. How can this be happening? This isn't really happening. That is the last thing I remember thinking before I felt myself hit the ground.

October 3, 1999

My eyes are closed but I have just woken up. Beep. Beep. Beep. My pulse in the machine. I wrap my hand around an unfamiliar blanket and try opening my eyes. My legs are both on slings. I put my hand on my face and feel several bandages. Sitting on my bed is my mother and father. They realize I've woken and my father leans his head back and moans with relief as my mother leaps forward, the tears already slipping down her cheeks.

"Jenny! Jenny!" she says. I wrap my arms around her shoulders and cry onto her shoulder.

"Mummy," I say, my voice quivering. My father steps behind my mother and strokes my cheeks with both of his hands, and I see him cry for the first time in my life.

"Jenny," he says as he kisses me on my forehead and my cheeks.

"Jenny we were so worried!" My mother strokes my hand. "We called Jeremy as soon as we got the chance. He's going to try to come." My heart sinks.

"You mean-"

"The school may not let him. He has to take some tests this week." I sigh and begin to cry fresh tears.

"Oh baby, he's trying." my father says softly, rubbing my back.

"How are you feeling, love? Are we tiring you?" my mother asks quickly, leaning over to turn the lights down a bit, so that my eyes don't hurt so much.

"No, no, I'm fine," I lie. Honestly, I am exhausted. But I don't want to be left alone. I place my hands on both of their wrists. My mother smiles.

It is four in the morning, and nurses rush in and out of the room. My body is horribly sore and achy, but they give me pills to ease the pain, and I slip in

and out of sleep. All the while, my parents are sitting on either side of me. I know that they are there, and I know they will never leave my side. I become overwhelmed and grateful for being surrounded by all this love.

When I wake up, my mother is at my side, pouring something that looks like orange juice into a large mug. She sighs sleepily, handing it over to me.

"Good morning, sweety." She says in a tired voice.

"How did you sleep?" But before I get a chance to even answer that, the automatic door swings open and a tall nurse walks in.

"Oh! You're awake, honey. I'm so glad." she exclaims cheerfully. "How are you feeling?"

"Good," I say hoarsely. "Better, I suppose."

"Well, are you willing to have some visitors?" she asks, leaning down to fiddle with with my IV tube. Visitors? Is she just teasing me?

"Em...visit-visitors?" I say, fumbling with my words. She nods.

"And so many too," she laughs. "Apparently you're quite the popular one." I don't even know what to think, let alone what to say. Who would possibly want to visit me, the ugly, weird, hell spawn, albino girl in the hospital?

"Eh, yeah, sure...um...send them in," I say unsurely. Truth to be told, I'm not even sure I'll be able to sit up straight and hold a conversation without dosing off again; but I suppose that doesn't matter now because the nurse is already leaning out the doorway. My parents kiss me.

"We're going downstairs to get some food, okay baby?" My mother asks. I nod, my heart racing with anxiousness.

"We can take four," she calls into the hallway.

"I thought it was six!" I hear a slightly familiar voice shout back.

"She's tired! We'll allow six in a little bit." I hear some people groan and the nurse gives me a weak smile. She holds the door open and I hold my breath.

First walks in a girl named Blythe, who's carrying a huge bouquet of pink flowers.

Blythe, the actress girl, Blanche's twin. She gives me a sympathetic smile and walks up to my bed. Behind her is this German boy with huge eyes and a crooked smile. He grins at me and gives a small wave.

Then comes in a girl with layered red hair and dimples. She's holding hands with a tall, slender boy with messy brown hair. They smile, the four kids that came to see me. I feel like crying. I haven't had so many people smile at me at once in so long.

"Hi," I say breathlessly, and sniffle. "How are you all?" Blythe rolls her eyes playfully.

"Are you kidding me? The real question is, how are YOU?" I smile and a tear rolls down my cheek.

"I'm better now," I say as the big cry in my chest makes its way up to my throat. "Now that you're all here." And then I just lose it. I cry softly at first and then loudly into my pillow. They exchange uncomfortable glances, then the red head girl and Blythe come and sit next on my bed.

"It's okay," says the red head girl softly. "We're all so glad that you're alright!"

"Yeah," Blythe says. "We all heard the ambulance. Word spread that it was you. You should see how many people are out there." I sniffle and the German boy walks over and hands me a tissue.

"Really?" I ask with a quavering voice. The second girl nods in agreement with Blythe. "Well, tell me who you all are," I say, feeling embarrassed that I don't even know their names, and they all know mine.

"I'm Rachael," says the red head girl, pressing her hand onto her heart.

"Tommy," says the boy Rachael had been holding hands with earlier, giving me a slight wave.

"I'm Bjorn," says the German boy with a smile.

"Blanche's twin, huh?" I say to Blythe. She gives kind of a sad smile and I wonder why.

"Thing is," I say, staring at my hands. "I didn't even know that YOU guys knew my name, let alone everyone else who's supposedly out there." They all nod.

"Pretty much everyone knows who you are," says Bjorn.

"We knew practically everyone else from when we were kids and you were new. When you came to Vandergrift," says Tommy thoughtfully. I think of the first day in Vandergrift. How that one girl had restrained me from speaking to anyone else. I could've made friends. These kids were all here, right in front of me. Not all of them are

like that girl. There are nice kids at the school too. I had just sunk away to avoid anymore humiliation. But they all care about me! They all came to see me. Was there really a crowd outside of my room? Did people actually feel anxious to see if I was okay? I wiped my eyes with my wrists.

"Thanks so much for coming," I say with a weak smile. They nod, all of them grinning.

"Hey, Jenny," Blythe says suddenly with a sly smile. "Would you...em...ever consider acting? You have that look-"

"Jesus, Blythe! Will you lay off work for an hour, for God's sake!" Bjorn says, rolling his eyes.

"Oho, you used the lords name in vain TWICE in one sentence, Bjorn, babe! God will be quite upset!"

"No, that was two sentences," he protests immediately. "'Jesus Blythe' and then'will you lay of the etcetera, etcetera."

"That's completely gramatically incorrect!" Blythe retorts. Rachael and Tommy laugh outwardly and I giggle too.

"It was TWO sentences!" he says in a pouty voice.

"One!" Blythe and I say together.

"Two!" Bjorn yells. We all break out in laughter. My heart is breaking. But this time it's because it's full of happiness.

5:00 that afternoon

The rain patters against the window in my now quieted hospital room. I open my eyes and stare at the shapes the rain makes on the glass, and I remember my day spent with all of these new people. I hope to God it wasn't all a dream. I listen sleepily to the nurse talking outside of my room.

"I think she might be asleep...you can go in if you be very quiet, okay? She was up all day." I hear the automatic door open. I close my eyes and pretend to sleep. I hear footsteps near my bed and hear someone kneel down. I feel a hand on my forehead. I snap open my eyes and leap up.

"Jeremy! Oh my God!" I hug him around the neck and lean my head against the raindrops on his hair.

"Jenny! I couldn't believe what happened to you! How the heck did you get yourself into that one?" I open my mouth, but no words come out. "Never mind, don't answer that. How are you, Jen? Oh my God, I've missed you so much." Tears run out from my eyes and I don't let go of him.

"Jemmy," the tears run the syllables together and I feel like a seven year old again. He strokes my hair.

"Jenny just relax. I'm not going anywhere," He's reading my mind. I lay back and he runs his knuckles over my cheek. "God Jenny, you are so tough. I never would've lived through that,"

"Yes you would've," I sniffle. "You're the strongest person I know." He looks kind of shocked at this.

"Not true, Jen; you're the strongest person..." He sighs exasperatedly. "Jenny, didn't I ever tell you?" I look at him questioningly and shake my head. "Jenny, that was you're superpower. Super-strength." Suddenly I feel faint, and cry into his shoulder. He hugs me tightly and kisses me on the forehead.

"I love you Jeremy," I manage to whimper.

"I love you Jenny," he whispers. "And so does the world."

Blanche

I bang my fist into the side of the vending machine, willing it to budge. Nothing happens. Stupid hospital vending machines. That's the second dollar it's eaten straight out of my hand. Having left the house this morning without breakfast, this is really getting frustrating. I jab my finger into the RELEASE CHANGE button. Still nothing happens.

"It's out of order." Blythe's unpredictable voice comes from behind me. "There's a cafeteria two floors up, though." I turn around and face my sister, too many words whirling around my brain and none of them are the right ones, so I just keep my mouth shut. She is standing there sympathetically, her eyes pleading with mine. A surge of guilt runs through me, and I know I should really apologize, but my stubborn side gets the best of me. My stubborn side seems to always win.

"Come on, Blanche," She says desperately. "This silent treatment is so third grade." She smiles pathetically, and I really wish I could smile back. Instead I just say,

"How long have you been here?"

"I've been here since 9:30." I glance up at the digital clock on the wall, which reads 11:00. I meant to wake up earlier, but as usual, Blythe is one step ahead of me. "Visitation hours actually started at ten, but the waiting room was so jam packed at the time that Bjorn and I just decided to eat something at the cafeteria and come back." She looks around the beige room. It is swarming with familiar faces. Students from Kiski High line the walls in their chairs, and groups of various sophomores stand huddled together in groups waiting outside the doorway. Do you know how many people are here this morning, Jenny? Everybody is here. Everybody is here to see you. We all really care about you, Jenny.

Without warning, my vision dizzily blanks out for a second, and my eyes turn watery. "It's my fault, you know," I say hoarsely. Blythe looks up at me. "It's all my fault she almost got--- killed last night." And now I'm openly sobbing, sobbing into Blythe's shoulder. She is saying things, saying incomprehensible things. Probably telling me that it's not my fault. What does she know? She doesn't understand.

"No, it really was," I cry, "She was on her way back from the dry cleaners. She h---had to drop off her shirt and---" She doesn't ask me to hurry up and spit it out, like I might have done to her. She waits, and holds me calmly. "I spilled paint on her shirt." I say.. "I was so angry yesterday, and I just----it was an accident, but I was painting and I ruined her shirt. That's why----why she was out in the first place." I pause. I refuse to meet Blythe's eyes, afraid to see her expression, afraid to hear her words. But I have no choice.

"Blanche," She says softly. "How can you even think that?" I look up, somewhat stunned. How could I not think that? "Look," She says, in a down-to-earth voice that only Blythe could ever pull off. "If you want to start playing the blame game, then we could just as easily say that this whole thing is my fault because I'm the one who made you angry. We could say that it's Dave's Drycleaning for staying open so late." I let this all sink in, let the world as of yesterday unfold itself inside my mind, and I try to make sense of it all.

"The point is," she continues, "The accident wasn't anybody's fault. Nobody could have known. Nobody is to blame." I look up at Blythe, my sister, my one and only twin sister. It's almost like looking into a mirror; not because we are alike on the outside, but because we are also alike on the inside too. Her eyes are tearing up, like mine. I've seen Blythe cry a bunch of times on stage, and it is a look I've grown accustomed to. But this time I know that her tears are real. This time I know that they too come from the inside.

"Sometimes, things just happen." She says thoughtfully. "Sometimes, life just throws stuff at you, stuff that you would have never have expected. And wishing you could turn back time, wishing you could change it, that's not important in the big scheme of things. The important thing is what you do with now. How you can make now it better." I close my eyes and nod once, letting Blythe know that I got her double message. Letting her know that I understand, and that I don't want to be mad at her anymore.

There is a rock in my throat and it is blocking the flow of everything I wish I can say to my sister. I look at Blythe, and I will the words to leave my mind. I beg her to hear me, to hear what I can't seem to say. Blythe, I'm so sorry I yelled at you. I'm sorry we had to fight. I miss you, I love you Blythe.

I pull her into a hug, and she closes her arms around me, and it's just like old times. "I love you too." She whispers, and I never want to let her go again.

The door to Room 243 swings open, and Zack steps out, followed by a small group of kids. "Kay, the next six can go in." He calls out to the noisy waiting room. Several people all stand up at once, but a passing nurse with big hair and big glasses shouts,

"Six at a time! There can only be six visitors per room at the same time!" Zack comes over to us; we are still arm and arm, still streaked with tears and eyelashes. He looks from me to Blythe, then back to me again. Zack smiles, says,

"Told you so," and walks away without another word.

Blythe looks up at me. "Something you need to tell me about our dear friend Zack?" She grins.

"I'll definitely fill you in later." I grin back.

Vera

I can feel my heart flutter so quickly it's almost a hum and the air in my mouth feels foreign and stale. I am glued to this cushioned chair of this burning hot waiting room full of kids I don't know. But to tell you the truth, even if the room was empty, my skin would still be burning up. My stomach is twisting and twisting and I'm so scared it's going to snap. And the only thing I can repeat in my mind as I watch the door to her room open and close as kids go in is 'What did I do? What did I do?'

I've only seen glimpses of white sheets or a sling as the door swings open and shut, and I can't bring myself to jump up and say,

"I want to see her next!"

It is all around me. It is all my fault. Every which way I turn points to Vera! Vera! Vera! I did it! It was me! If Jenny dies, it'll be my fault she's dead. I'll be the one who ruined people's lives! And all because of what they said. All because I'm so insensitive to the people I love when the people I hate offend me. Why don't I ever stand up for myself? Why am I passive in the presence of people I don't know? And with Bassanio, my brother who works nine hours every day, I can't leave a moment for

peace. Bassanio, who is at the police station now. Because of me. I wish I could've come with him, but they didn't let me.

Apparently I dozed off with these thoughts, and when I awake, the last batch of six kids in the waiting room is leaving Jenny's room. I look around quickly to make sure there is no one else.

I stare at the door, my stomach turning and turning inside out and upside down. Jenny, Jenny, Jenny. If I see you I'll feel better. If I see you're fine, I'll be fine. I stand up knowing that I have to go, that I would never forgive myself if I didn't.

"Oh, the last one I see," says the nurse cheerily. "Alright, go on in. But don't stay too long."

I walk meekly to the door and with shaking hands I turn the doorknob. Standing in the doorway a moment, I listen to the monitor beep her pulse rate and ensure that this is normal, to calm that bit of my worries. When I take another step in and turn to face Jenny, I practically fall over.

Jenny's legs are both lifted off of the bed in slings. Her chest and forehead is wrapped in bandages and both eyes are blackened. There are cuts crossing from her nose to her upper lip and half of her bottom lip appears to be busted open. She smiles and raises her arm (which is also covered in bandages with faint splotches of red

showing through), giving a gentle wave. I try to smile back, but it barely manages to surface itself.

"Hi, Jenny," I say with a quavering voice, realizing that the saddness has pushed itself into my throat.

"Hi," she replies kindly, although she looks as if she's trying to remember something. I open my mouth, but close it, fearing I'll cry if I try to say anything. I know I look like a loser. Say 'How are you feeling, Jenny?' Say 'I'm so glad you're okay!' Say something normal!!!

But no. I can't. I refuse to cry, to be the victim when Jenny lies here in cuts and bandages.

"I think I remember you're voice," she muses softly. Then she looks up brightly. "I know! I think you called out my name when I fell!" I stifle a sob and nod quickly.

"Yeah! That's right!" I say, bravely on my part. "I...I was there," I add guiltily. I sniffle and throw in. "I'm sorry, I have a cold." She nods. "Em...well, it was my brother driving, see? I...I kind of had a fight with Bassanio, em...my brother...and, well, he took off and..." I swallow nervously and try to smile. "I'm so sorry Jenny, about what happened." She smiles appreciatively.

"It's okay. It's not you're fault." I stiffen at hearing that and look away at a window. I cough unconvincingly.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I never told you...I'm Vera." I say apologetically. She grins and says,

"Oh, okay. I think I may have seen you in my music class." I nod sadly. There's a long awkward pause where I contemplate telling her that it's my fault. But what good would that do? Would she say 'Oh, it's not you're fault,' only to feel sad and bitter inside,

knowing someone took part, even though unintentionally, in the making of her situation? Would she yell at me and tell me to leave? Worse...would she cry?

I decide not to tell her and try to grin at her.

"Anyways...I'm glad to see you're doing...alright," I wonder if that sounds stupid? I mean, for God's sakes, look at her! "I...I'll see you later...when, when you're feeling better." I whirl around and head for the exit, feeling terrible. Why couldn't I just be normal? Maybe I would've felt better if I'd said something nice! Why do I have to be

so weird? I sit back down in an empty chair, my face feeling hot and my arms feeling

so weak they could fall off. I place my face in my hands and stare guiltily into the lines of my palms. Minutes go by as I rock back in forth like a psycho, staring into my hands.

"Vera." I look up. Who is that? I look to my right and see that Bassanio is sitting next to me.

"Oh my God, Bassanio!" I jump up and throw my arms around him. He squeezes me tightly. "Bassanio, I'm so sorry!" I sob into his shoulder. "I'm so, so sorry!" He pats my hair and kisses me on the side of my head.

"It's alright, Vera." he says gently.

"No it's not!" I cry. "It's wrong! It's terrible! I'm a terrible person!"

"No, you're not, Vera. You'e an incredible person," he says, and I can tell he's about to cry.

"No, no, no! I was so cruel to you over things that don't matter! I let them get to me, Bassanio! And I hurt you over it! And now I've hurt Jenny!" He coughs and tries not to cry.

"You didn't hurt her, Vera. I did." he says guiltily.

"You didn't, Bassanio! I made you mad! I made you blind! I made you go out and it's not you're fault! It's all mine! I'm a terrible person! You acted like a real person! You got mad and stormed off. I acted like a bad person and yelled at my you as if YOU'D done something wrong!"

"Vera, it's okay." he tries tearily.

"No Bassanio! Sisters don't treat their brothers that way! They don't! It's NOT you're fault we're so poor. It's not you're fault that grandma got sick and mom had to go and I've never even met our father! And it's not you're fault Jenny got hurt-" He covers my mouth and strokes the top of my head.

"Vera, calm down, it's okay," he says, removing his hand from my mouth. He tries to smile, but I can tell he's still crying inside. "Vera, I love you. I forgive you. It's not you're fault. Okay?" I exhale loudly and nod, pushing the tears off my cheeks. I lean onto his shoulder and try breathing normally. "Vera, I want to tell you something." I look at him.

"Okay." I say hoarsely.

"Okay." he says, pushing a strand of my hair behind my ear. "Vera, I want to tell you about Dad." My heart crushes itself a little.

"Dad?" I try to sound passive but fail.

"Yeah," he says. "Mom never told you what happened." I sit up straight.

"W-what happened?" I ask a little loudly. He sighs nostalgically.

"Mom and Dad had fought before he went to Denver for a press conference." he started quietly. "That was when Mom was pregnant with you. But while he was in Denver, Mom went into labor. You were early. Dad found out and tried to get back as fast as possible, so he might make it to see you're birth. The earlier plane back to

Vandergrift he was on...it crashed. And he didn't make it." My entire body sinks. So this was my fault too? My own father, it was my fault he died? Even my birth caused misfortune?

"How come...how come Mom-" I stutter quietly.

"I think Mom felt guilty for having made him so upset the last time she saw him. She felt too guilty to retell the tale to you."

"Oh..." I mumble quietly. My whole body feels like it's about to die involuntarily. "So...so, that's m-my fault too?"

"Stop it, Vera," he says loudly. "No, Vera that's not my point. The point is, the reason why he died is because he loved you, and he loved us. Don't you get it Vera? You were born into love! You're father died because he loved you. The fact is, you could blame anybody for everything bad thing that happens. And people do. But you have to understand, it's all part of a greater pattern or something. A bigger circle. Everything that happens leads to something else and it's not your fault that any of this happened." I

throw my arms around him again and cry uncontrollably into his coat.

"I'm sorry, Bassanio," I shout into the fabric. "I love you." He cries into my hair. And I know that as long as I have my brother Bassanio, no matter how bad the odds are, I can make it.

Lovey

"You're being weird again," Hector sits on the guest bed, drumming his fingers against the night stand.

"There is nothing weird about wanting to do my own laundry in my own home." I say, folding a pair of grass-stained jeans and neatly placing them into my duffel bag with the rest of my laundry pile.

"Lovey, stop being difficult; just toss your dirty clothes in the hamper and my mom will do them with everyone else's for the week." But I wasn't going to let Mrs. Dominguez do any of my chores; not when she's already done so much for me in the past week.

"Look, you're mom has already done enough for me. Way too much, in fact. She is much too nice, letting me stay with you guys in the first place."

"It's no big deal, Love. I already told you, you're like family." I zip my bag shut and stand up. "And family," he continues, "Throws their laundry in the hamper. It doesn't make sense for you to walk all the way back to your house and wash there, then bring everything back again. It's pointless."

I ignore him. The truth is, I actually want go home for a few hours. Even though I hated being alone in my house all those days and nights, now I almost feel homesick. Not that I would prefer a home where I had to microwave every meal and hunt for pennies on the ground; it is great to be staying with Hector, living like a real family again. I guess it's just that what with my mom gone and everything, I need something to be the same. I don't want my life to change before my eyes; it's bad enough having my mother disappearing before my eyes. Besides, I would feel bad taking advantage of Mrs. Dominguez. She's done so much to help me, and I don't even know how to repay her.

"Lovey, dear, don't tell me your doing all that at home." Says Mrs. Dominguez, who is carrying a basket of crumpled towels and dishrags. "Throw it in here; you'll be over there for hours if you plan on doing it yourself." 'Perfect', I think to myself. But to her, I say, "It's fine, Mrs. Dominguez. I like doing laundry." She turns to Hector, giving him one of those Mom death-glares. The kind that mothers give their children when they've done something wrong.

"What? What'd I do?" Hector asks. "I told her you'd do it; she won't listen to me!"

"Really, I'm okay," I say, stepping into the hall. "Thanks anyway, though."

I'm balancing the duffel bag in both arms, trying to open the front door, when someone swings it open from the outside. I nearly fall backwards.

"Hey, Love!" Mr. Dominguez pops through the door. "Didn't see you there. I didn't knock you over, did I?"

"No, sir." I lie, regaining my balance. He smiles lopsidedly. It is then that I realize how much Hector resembles his father. "Before I forget to tell you, Lovey," he says, "I talked to Mr. Avvry today. You know, that friend I told you about who's a lawyer."

"Yeah?" My heart is racing. "What did he say?"

"He said that there may be a way to bargain with the authorities: It'll be safe to file a missing persons report without the risk of your mom getting into any legal trouble."

My head is reeling. There might be a way. There very well could be a way. I'm not sure whether I should cry or laugh or both. All I can think is that I should have told someone about this ages ago. I should have asked someone for help; they were here for me all along.

I'm walking down Elmont Street, my duffel bag filled with laundry wrapped in my arms. It's chilly outside, and for the first time this school year I am wearing a sweater.

I unlock my front door and kick it open with my foot (my hands are busy fumbling to loosen the key and balancing a bag of clothes) The second I step into the house, I drop everything out of my hands and nearly faint. Sitting at the kitchen table is my mother, plain as day. I feel a little dizzy watching her; she's just sitting there, a telephone reciever in hand and my purple address book open in front of her. It's as if she had never left. It's as if this is any normal evening. I feel like passing out. She looks up at me and tries to smile.

"L-lovey. My lovely Lovey." I raise my eyebrows. Deep down I want to run up to my mother and flail my arms around her neck. I want to cry with her. I want her to tell me that everything is going to be alright, that she'll make everything all better.

I want to embrace my mother, but right now I have this sudden urge to scream at her. How can she sit there so calm and….happy? How can she pretend that she was gone for a minute instead of a month?

"What….." I can't even get my words out. I'm trying to say 'What are you doing here?' but the mixture of shock, tears and anger is blocking the passage of questions.

"Oh, Love, I'm so happy to see you. I missed you so much." She's smiling gently, walking carefully towards me. Maybe I would come to her if I could manage to move. Or maybe if I could move, I'd run right back out that door and straight to Hector's house again.

"Lovey, my doll, my Love, I thought of you every single day." This time, I can't keep from shouting.

"NO YOU DIDN'T!" The words just fly out of my mouth like that day in front of the bathroom with Hector. I surprise myself again, yelling at someone who gives me a frightened and saddened expression. "You didn't think about me! You left me! YOU LEFT ME!" My mom looks really alarmed now. She stands up, eyes wide and almost frightened.

"Please, Lovey. Listen to me, okay? I never meant to---"

"Where were you?" I spit.

"I—"

"Where did you go!?" So this is it. This is how our first conversation starts out. She's been gone for so long. She's been gone for too long. And now all I can do is yell.

"Oh, Lovey." she sighs weakly. "You're such a good girl...you didn't deserve this." Tears are brimming on the edges of her eyes.

"No, but I deserve the truth." I say briskly. I don't sound like me anymore. I don't even feel like me. I don't care. "I deserve an explanation." She closes her eyes, maybe wishing that she would just disappear. She's already pulled that trick though. When she opens them again, her eyes are shiny and bloodshot.

"You're right." She says in an uneasy voice. "You're old enough to understand this, Lovey. Just don't judge me too harshly, okay? You have to understand that I had to do this."

"Just tell me, Mom." I repeat. She's silent for a few seconds. "I was staying at a friend's house in the city. I was hiding out."

"Hiding out?" I ask, but I'm not sure if I meant the question to come out angry or worried. It came out both ways. "What were you hiding from? Why didn't you tell me anything?! WHAT WERE YOU HIDING FROM!"

"Don't shout at me, Lovey," She says firmly, although her voice is quavering at the same time. "You know as well as anyone how troubling my job can get."

"It doesn't have to be troubling. You make it that way." She ignores the sarcasm in my voice.

"I'm afraid that this time, I got into deeper trouble than I ever intended." I freeze. So it was as bad as I thought. She really had been in trouble all this time. And I had no idea what was going on. I couldn't help her. Now I'm crying, and she's nearly crying too. I can't even manage to ask her anything else, even though a million questions are running through my mind. I just let her do all the talking. "Lovey, my clients adore me." She says boastfully, and I wonder why she is telling me this. "They adore me and trust me because I can help them."

"Illegally." I add with spite.

"I can help them." She repeats firmly. "And I know how much you hate what I do, Love, but there are some things in life that you'll just have to deal with. It's my job, Love. And they trust me to see it through." I know that protesting her position won't do me any good. We've argued about this a million times, and frankly, it's getting old. She thinks that giving people want they want will always be right. I loathe the thought of my own mother breaking the law day in and day out. Instead I just keep quiet, my desire to know the truth stronger than my desire to shout.

"But sometimes, Love, you can't please everyone. God, I've tried so hard to make everybody happy; to get them what they want most in life. Wealth." She sighs wearily and I bite down on my tongue. "They had so much faith in me, Love. I had so much faith in myself. But I wasn't careful. I slipped up." Her eyes are bright and frightened with memory.

"What do you mean?" Since when did my mom ever 'slip up'? She was a perfectionist. She taught me the art of perfection.

"I was overly confident. I gave a man the wrong information. I told him to invest everything; that the time was right. An honest mistake, of course. But God, do I wish I could take it all back."

Before she can even say it, I know. The man in the overcoat and fedora hat. I picture him and his cold, cold eyes, and I shudder.

"Clyde Campbell lost everything thanks to my advice."

"Clyde Campbell?" I say instinctively. For in my mind, Fedora Over-coat man never had a name. He was only a face, only a haunting shadow in the day, and a bad dream in the night. To picture him with a name seems unreal. It seems contradicting.

"The man I tipped off," She says. But that's not the reason I had echoed her. Now I am lost in thought, and apparently, so was she, because she had stopped talking.

"And then what?" I say. At this, I am reminded of the times she used to read me bedtime stories every night when I was a child. She would always use just the right voices. She would always know exactly when to pause for dramatic effect. Then what, mommy! Don't stop reading, keep going! I would shriek.

"Then what?" I ask her to continue the story of my life. A story that was far from any fairytale.

"Well a few days later, when you were in school, Campbell stopped me on my way out the door. He told me what had happened. I had no idea what to do or to say. Love, never had I seen a man so torn apart. He had lost everything. Even his home had been repossessed. He had went from a well to do business man to a bum living in his own car in less than a week, thanks to me.

"I invited him to stay with us for as long as he wanted until he got back on his feet. I told him how sorry I was, and that was about all I could do. This had never happened to me before. But he was angry, Love. He was raging and cursing and hollering. He said awful things to me that afternoon. He threatened my life when I told him to get off of my property."

A hard, sinking feeling drops to the pit of my stomach remembering the time he had threatened me.

"I know him." I say suddenly. Mom looks up, surprised.

"What?"

"I mean, I know the man you're talking about. He kept walking past the house. He kept asking for you, and he threatened me too, mom." Tears were running down both of our faces at this point, and she stood up, pulling me close to her.

"Is that why you left me?" I sobbed into her. "Is that why you left me all alone, even though you knew he was watching the house?"

"Oh, Love," She cries, "I thought it was an empty threat at first until he kept coming back. He had snapped, Lovey, and he was going to kill me."

"Then why did you leave me!" I demand, my words muffled in her shirt. "Why didn't you take me with you? Why did you leave me where it wasn't safe?"

"Lovey, doll, don't you get it? You couldn't be safe wherever I was. As long as you were with me, he would have HURT you! You wouldn't be safe staying with me! I had to separate myself from you, because it was me he was after." The tears were rolling so rapidly down her cheeks that I wondered what would happen if she suddenly ran out of them. Would she pass out from dehydration? Would I?

"I wasn't safe alone either, Mom!" I sob. "He approached me, how do you know he wouldn't have hurt me then?"

"I was stupid, Lovey," she whispered. "I panicked, and I was stupid. I was wrong."

"Yeah, you were." She looks up at me, studying my face. I wonder if she can see how much I've changed since she's left. I'm not the same person anymore. I'm a whole new girl, and she missed it all. "You should have at least called, mom." I say softly, biting down anger. "You didn't even call. You didn't even write" The more I say, the more I realize how true it all is. It only makes me furious. "You didn't even make an effort to let me know you were okay, or---or to make sure if I was okay. I thought maybe you were kid napped, or dead, or something, and you let me go on believing it!"

"Lovey," She brushes my hair aside, my youthful and gung-ho mother, always ready with some clever reasoning. I couldn't decide whether or not this was a good thing. "How could I trust you with that sort of information and keep you safe at the same time? Lovey, you're a horrible liar." I feel like I've just been slapped in the face. What was that she just said? I cry harder. "No, Lovey, no, I didn't mean it like that. Shh, stop crying, I didn't mean that." She strokes my hair gently. "What I meant was," she continues, "If I had told you where I was at or what was going on and he had pressed you for answers, he would have never believed whatever lie you told him. He would've probably seen it in your eyes, Lovey. He would see that you knew something he didn't, and would have tried to hurt you to get you to tell him." I think about this for a moment, trying to see it from her point of view. But I am still skeptical.

"I'm really that bad of a liar?" I ask. She smiles lightly through her tears.

"Lovey, darling, you have honest eyes. And that is such a good thing. That is something I don't have." I shake my head.

"You planned it all wrong, mom," I say . "I didn't even have any money or food or----"

"I left money all around the house, Love," She says softly. "I sent some in a birthday card last week. Birthday cards never look suspicious. I was afraid he might look into our mailbox and take the money if i left too much. Lovey, your not so good with your money spending habits, so I had to make sure you got it in bits and pieces."

I can't believe it. She seems so proud of her witty plan, proud that she had thought things through with ever so much care. Doesn't she understand the depth of what she has done to me?

"You don't get it, do you, mom?" I say. "You left me. You---LEFT me! I was alone and afraid for a month! An entire month! And besides that, I was worried sick, and I didn't know what to do and I didn't know how to help you!"

I am crying so fast that I am out of breath. Somehow, I end up back in my mom's arms, and she rocks me back and forth like an infant. I am stammering and babbling, and I don't know what I am saying or even what I want to say. I want to erase everything that had happened before summer's end. I want to forget all of this and start over. But all I can do is let her hold me and comfort me.

"Oh, Lovey, my lovely Lovey…I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I hurt you……..I was wrong to leave you here…….I'm so sorry I hurt you." We cry and cry, the two of us holding onto each other for dear life. We sob like there is no tomorrow, and hoping maybe we can wash away all the hurt. I haven't hugged her in so long but it is all so familiar now; like she hasn't even gone away. We need each other. Mom and I are a team, and I know we can get through anything together. She knows that now too. All we need is each other.

In the darkness of my bedroom, my eyes are wide open. I stare up at the desolate ceiling and I think about a million things all at once. I can't turn my mind off, so instead I try to tire it out. I think about the Halloween dance in two nights, and how I'll be going as a genie in a costume that my mom made herself. I think about Jenny hobbling into algebra class this afternoon on her crutches. As she took her usual seat by the doorway, people stood up and clapped for her. She bowed her head daintily. Her first day without the wheelchair and she was doing just fine. I think about Hector. Nothing in particular, really. Just Hector Dominguez, who always seems to be full of surprises.

I toss my sweaty sheet to the side, and quietly step over to the window. The rain softly pitter patters against the glass, and it is magnificent. I open my window the slightest bit, letting raindrops spray onto my neck and dribble down my night shirt. God, it's such a gorgeous night. For an entire hour, I sit by my window, waiting for the sun to rise through dawn. I have a feeling that despite this storm, the sun will come up through the glorious clouds, and today will be warm and wonderful. Or maybe it won't. Maybe it will rain all day long. And that's fine too; because I've never seen raindrops this beautiful.

FINITO! curtain closes as I bow