Chapter One

It was nearly midnight when Cassidy woke up awoke to the sound of a thud and someone swearing. Even before his barely conscious mind registered exactly what it had heard, he was sitting straight up in bed, eyes wide open. It took him a moment to realize that he couldn't have heard what he was afraid of hearing – that this thud and this swearing had to be something else. He was at boarding school now, at Richard Aiming Academy, as far away from his home in Wyoming as he'd been able to get. Whoever was cussing and knocking things over was one of his housemates, the other gifted high school athletes that Aiming recruited to play on its various sports teams as freshmen. It wasn't his father out there, drinking his way to a liver transplant. He didn't need to worry about the old man either storming into his room, looking for someone to scream at and scaring his mom and little brother, or staggering outside in the freezing cold all night and getting hypothermia.

There was another sound, like the sound of someone pounding on a thick pane of glass, and more swearing. Cassidy glanced over at his roommate, but Cain was still fast asleep. The noises weren't very loud . . . Cassidy supposed he'd only woke up because he was hair triggered for sounds like those. He sighed and swung his legs over the side of the bed and pulled on a shirt, annoyed. He was tired, there was a game the next day, and he really wanted to do nothing more than sleep, but Cassidy knew he wouldn't be falling asleep again anytime soon. His mouth was far too dry and his mind needed some sort of visual evidence that what he'd heard wasn't his father doing something stupid.

The lights in the living room were on when Cassidy walked past. He stepped up to the threshold of the doorway and looked in, curiously. The sight made him smirk. Natalie, one of the girls on scholarship at Aiming for cheerleading, stood on the sofa, wearing a skimpy tank top and a pair of ridiculously short pajama pants that showed off her long, toned legs. Cassidy raised an eyebrow as he saw her grab a hold of the curtain rod and pull with all her might, even going so far as to lift her bare feet off the couch and press them against the glass of the window to get better leverage.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

Natalie shrieked and let go of the curtain rod – but not before putting her feet back on the sofa. She fell onto the sofa then tumbled off of it, onto the floor.

"Don't sneak up on me like that!" Natalie snapped. "And what are you doing here?"

Cassidy shrugged. "I asked you first."

"What does it look like I'm doing?" she demanded.

"You know, I don't have a clue," Cassidy told her, irritably. "That's why I'm asking."

Natalie growled, picked herself up, and dusted herself off – despite the fact that there was nothing for her to dust off. Their living room was fairly clean. Alison had vacuumed it the evening before. "I'm trying to take down these God ugly curtains."

"Giselle's gonna be pissed." Cassidy named the owner of said curtains.

"So what?" Natalie stomped her foot against the floor like she was in the middle of a cheer. "These things are hideous! They don't match anything and I don't want my parents to see them. I don't want them thinking that I had anything to do with picking these tasteless pieces of crap out. Besides, they'd give my mother nightmares. Red is an unlucky color to have in your living room because it increases the risk of fire hazards – not to mention that the texture of these things completely disrupts the energy flow of the room."

Cassidy rolled his eyes. "Not that feng shui BS again," he groaned.

"What? You can't deny that these curtains are assaulting to the eye and give you a sense of unease whenever you walk in here."

"They're ugly, yeah," he admitted, "but the only reason they're a fire hazard is because they don't coincide with that stupid fire code."

"No, red –"

"Has nothing to do with increased fire hazards, and your mommy's quack interior decorator is spoon feeding you both a bunch of bull. Red is a lucky color to the Chinese. They wouldn't denounce it as a color that increases the risk of fires."

Natalie scowled and crossed her arms. "Well either way, I don't want the common room looking like crap while my parents are here! I'm taking these ugly curtains down."

"I don't see what you're making such a big deal over this for," Cassidy told her.

"And I don't see how you can be so apathetic about this! Tomorrow will be the first time most of us have seen our families in months!" Natalie snapped. "Do you really want them to get the impression you're living in a pigsty?"

Cassidy exhaled. "My parents aren't coming."

"Well that's too bad for you," Natalie huffed. "Mine are, and I want the living room to look halfway decent for a change while they're here!"

"Your parents are coming to see you, not your dorm," Cassidy reminded her. "Besides, I've seen your room. It's a wreck. Can you honestly tell me that your room at home is any cleaner?"

"Half the mess is my roommate's," the cheerleader shot back.

"And at home all the mess was yours."

Natalie stuck her tongue out at him – she actually did. Then she climbed back up on the sofa and resumed her attempt to get the curtains down. "You know," she said acidly, "I can see why your parents aren't coming to visit you. They're probably still celebrating that they got rid of you."

He nodded. "Quite probably," he confessed and stepped back into the hall. He walked to the kitchen and got a glass of water. On his way back, Cassidy stopped in front of the living room door to watch as Natalie continued trying to get the curtains down. He considered telling her that the curtains were on a tension rod Giselle set inside the window track, and that if she wanted to get them down, she needed to twist the rod and retract it, but decided rather quickly that that would probably be a wasted effort. Natalie wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, and if she did manage to figure it out on his advice . . . well Cassidy didn't feel like getting in the middle of a catfight between her and Giselle, especially not this weekend.

Parent's Weekend, he thought and mentally groaned. It's gonna be a long three days.