4. Next Year

"Into the night we shine,

Lighting the way we glide by.

Catch me if I get too high,

When I come down.

I'll be coming home next year."

Next Year

Foo Fighters

"Royce, get your cousins out of that tree, back there! You guys only have another half-hour before the bus comes for you all! Tell them that Aunt 'Lise is gonna whoop them all to next Wednesday if they don't get down!" a brilliantly blond, crazy-haired guy our age shouted to a small boy with a long nose. The boy—Royce--nodded and ran down the hallway, and a door slammed somewhere in the distance. The crazy-haired guy turned back to face DJ, Cam, and I in the doorway. "Uncle Rich isn't here," he said in response to Cam's question. His big brown eyes jumped to me, and I blushed as he looked me over. "Who are you?"

"Micky, this is Calista Hart," Cam introduced. He grinned. "Calista, this is Micky Hinder—"

"Cam and Deej's favorite cousin of all-time," Micky intercepted proudly. "I'm also the newspaper editor up at Mike's Academy." Rolling his eyes, he shrugged. "It was either that or band—they didn't want any more Hinders on the football team."

DJ pushed past Micky, and Cam followed suit. I clung to Cam's side nervously; I was slightly uncomfortable in this strange house. Micky shut the front door behind us, and then there was chaos.

Three young boys—about ten or eleven—raced through the room, chasing one another and shouting. Micky groaned as something smashed. He turned to deal with the trio of identical boys, and I followed Cam and DJ as they made their way through the house. "Is Aunt Annalise here?" DJ called over her shoulder as we entered a kitchenesque room.

The young (too young to be an aunt, surely—she could only be a few years older than us!) woman who was already in the room turned to face us. She was dressed in a flower sun dress and smiled sweetly, "Yes, I'm here. What a nice surprise," she said softly. "It's not too often we see the Green duo here."

The boy I assumed was named Royce ran into the kitchen. He clung to Annalise's skirt and hid behind her. "Oh, Royce," she laughed, "My cousins are truly insane, huh?" She chuckled and lifted him up, balancing him on her thin hip and ruffling his hair fondly. "Lucky my little boy's so calm, huh? I don't know what I'd do if you were that crazy." It was all I could do not to ask questions; she was far too young to be a mother!Royce nodded shyly and hid his face in his mother's shoulder. She placed a brief kiss on the top of his mess of blond curls. Then she turned back to Cam. "What can I help you with, dear?" Her gaze remained fixed on his—she didn't even spare a glance for DJ.

"I need the keys for the shed," Cam responded, a congenial smile spreading wide across his face.

"Taking the bike?" Annalise inquired sharply. Her eyes flickered suspiciously to DJ for a moment, and then she returned her attention to Cam. "Your mother know about that?"

"Ahh, come on, Aunt 'Lise," Cam pleaded with a charmingly imploring look. "You won't tell her, will you? It's my bike, you know. It's within my legal rights to own and ride it."

Annalise looked like she didn't particularly approve, but she placed Royce back on his own two feet and reached into a jar that was on a shelf above the sink, pulling out a huge ring of keys. She placed them in Cam's hand giving him a pointed look. "You're the only one to be driving your bike, Cam. You hear?"

He moaned. "Oh, so that's what you're on about, is it?" He laughed openly and shook his head. "Don't worry, Aunt 'Lise. I won't let Calista drive the bike." He easily tossed his arm over my shoulder.

DJ snorted. Annalise smiled soflty at me. "Yes...Calista. I thought I'd seen—"

Cam cut her off, "She's just moved up here, Aunt 'Lise. She's new here—just met her yesterday, and I'm giving her a ride to Mike's Academy."

I felt like I had missed something.

DJ snatched the keys out of Cam's hand impatiently before I could ask why Cam had cut his aunt off, and then she walked out of the kitchen without another word.

"Oh, she's really something, that girl," Annalise laughed sarcastically. "She got mad at me for no reason. I can't help what I see—"

"Alright, well, we've gotta go, Aunt 'Lise," Cam interrupted again nervously. "I'll take Micky for you, okay?"

Annalise nodded. "Well, that'd be awful nice of you, Cam, honey. Croy just drops him off here every morning because he and Rachel work. "She shook her head. "That's not to say I don't adore the boy. I love him like a second son, but...if Aunt Rachel could actually raise her own child for a change..." Her face took on an airy look, and Cam took my hand again, leading me out a different door.

"Bye, Aunt 'Lise! Good seeing you! I'll have the keys back after school!" He took me down a hallway to the left and out through a back door. "Sorry," he apologized. "That's more of my family than you needed to see just yet."

"No, it's totally fine," I said. "So, give me a quick run-down of who was who?"

Cam grinned. "This is where my mom's family collides with my dad's. My cousin Richard is my dad's nephew, and Annalise is my mother's niece. It's weird," he laughed ad my confused face. "So Royce is their son—my...second-cousin, I think?" He shook his head. "That's confusing. Uhm...Micky is my actual cousin—the son of my Aunt Rachel and Uncle Croy. And then the triplets you saw are James, Jim, and Josh—they're my Uncle Alex and Aunt Rita's monsters." He sighed. "Pity, that mess is. My Aunt Rita...well she and Alex recently divorced and she's making things more complex than they need to be."

I simply nodded, confused but silent.

"Deej," Cam called as we approached the open door of the shed. "Deej, are you all—"

The rest of his sentence drowned in the roar of the motorcycle. DJ raced the machine out of the shed, practically knocking me over. Her short skirt kept flipping up in the breeze, and I looked self-consciously at my own uniform. How the hell did DJ manage to look sexy in this damned thing? She slid the visor of her helmet open. "I'm all set. I'll see you at school," she shouted over the bike.

Cam nodded and then watched, his expression drenched in complete disapproval as he watched her speed away on the bike.

He turned and led the way back into the house. We walked swiftly through the kitchen—still holding hands, somehow—and back through the first room we'd come through. He released my hand—my smile faltered—and snatched Micky's shirt sleeve. "Grab your bag," he said, "you're coming with us."

"Sweet!" Micky exclaimed, clapping his hands together. He disappeared for a minute, and then he returned with a blue backpack—which clashed horribly with his outfit—slung over his shoulder.

Jim, James, and Josh breezed quickly through the room, wearing identical grins. "Bye, Micky!" they all called in unison.

He winced and called back, "So long, animals!" They all laughed mischievously and ran back out of the room.

Micky led the way eagerly out the front door. "Let's get out of here, guys!"

...

"Okay, so I feel as though I haven't heard much of Tristan for a while, Calista."

I smile faintly. "Yes...Tristan didn't call again for two weeks."

...

"Hello?" I answered, grinning at the statement I'd just read in my book.

"Hey, Cal."

I froze—that voice made my heart stop completely. There were no butterflies in my stomach now.

I didn't respond.

"Hello? Cal? You there?"

More silence.

"Cal, it's Tristan."

Slowly, I placed the phone back on the receiver. I brought it back to my ear a spoke into the silence.

"Hey, Tristan. Why have you been ignoring me?"

Dial tone.

...

"Now, tell me, Calista. Why do you think you hung up on Tristan?" Roger asks. He stands and goes to the window in the small room of questions, opening it slightly.

I chuckle and watch him as he stares out the window at the bright spring day. "Dont I wish I knew?" I asked under my breath. I sighed. "I think it was because I was sore about the last time we talked."

"I think I may disagree with you on this one, Calista, but please—on with your story." He adjusts his position and gestures for me to continue. "From the next time you actually spent time with Tristan, please."

I nod. "Well, next weekend, when he called, I didn't hang up on him. We wound up going to the movies."

...

"Wow, this movie blows," Tristan whispered in my left ear, bending over the armrest to do so.

"Shh!" I hissed, shoving him playfully. "It's just getting good!"

The main characters of the movie leaned in for the big kiss I'd been waiting for, and—

"Wow, Cal—you are such a girl!" Tristan laughed as I 'awww'ed. I slapped him lightly, embarrassed. "Ow, Cal!" He laughed harder. "No need to be all defensive!" I play-punched him with a grin. "All right! I get it!" He hastily covered his head with his arms and flinched.

I giggled and turned my attention back to the movie.

...

"So you were just back to being friends, basically?"

"Yeah, Rog." With a sigh, I drain the remains of my coffee. "So, I know you hate when I ask you questions like this, but—"

"Yes, Calista—you may see your friends now."

I jump up from my seat and start moving quickly towards the door.

"Hold it!" Roger shouts. "Before I let you go, I want to hear all about your first day at Michael's Academy. Go from your breakfast with Micky and Cameron."

I sigh again and return to my seat reluctantly.

...

"...and then I rolled my eyes right in her big, fat, ugly face," Micky bragged, reaching for the butter dish. Cam and I laughed, and he continued, "No, no, guys; the funny part is how she had to let me get away with it!"

I snorted into my orange juice, causing Micky to point and laugh at me. "I like your laugh, kid!" he exclaimed.

Cam smiled softly, watching the two of us with an expression of sheer happiness. "You like everyone's laugh, Micky."

Micky shrugged and buttered his waffles. "Guilty as charged."

"I feel bad, Cam," I finally confessed, looking from my plate of pancakes to the empty table-top in front of him. "You should eat something."

Micky cracked up at this, slamming his hand down on the table and gasping wildly for air. "Cam? Not eating?" He continued laughing.

Cam grinned knowingly, and I stared at Micky, dumbfounded. "I don't get it," I told Cam, feeling really stupid.

"Oh, don't...worry," Micky gasped, shaking his head. "You'll get it soon enough."

And I did. Moments later, as I chewed through a mouthful of blueberry pancake and listened to another of Micky's jokes, two waitresses came out, each one with two plates in each hand. At first, I thought they were headed for the table behind us, but then—

"See?" snickered Micky as they set the full plates down in front of Cam.

I gasped wordlessly, my pancakes forgotten. "Oh my God, Cam," I breathed.

He grinned shamelessly and licked his lips. "Yum!"

I didn't think how weird it was that he was only eating meat-based foods...until later.

He took a huge bite of sausage, and I noticed how unnaturally sharp his canine teeth were. Choosing not to mention this, I turned back to Micky. "So, Micky, how old are you?"

Micky swallowed the waffle he'd been eating and replied, "I'm sixteen. Me and DJ were born only like a month apart, and my birthday was last week."

I nodded and took another sip of my orange juice.

"And, Cal—this is your first day at Mike's Academy?" Micky asked me in turn.

"Yeah," I responded, setting my glass down on the table and watching timidly as Cam took a disconcertingly large bite of his bacon. "This is actually my second day of living in New Hampshire. I just moved up here yesterday; I'm living with my mother and her family now."

Micky nodded and asked, "Does your mom have any kids? I might know 'em."

I sighed. "Only my half-brother, Jay. Parker's his last name," I added.

Comprehension quickly dawned Micky's face. "Jay Parker," he muttered, "no kidding. I knew you seemed kinda familiar. You guys have the same nose," he chuckled.

My eyebrows raised, I asked, "You know him?"

"Know him?" Micky spluttered. "Do I know him? Do I know Jay Parker?" He whistled, astonished. "How do you even answer that question?" he asked Cam.

Cam looked at me and responded, "Calista, Jay is something like an icon at Mike's Academy. Everyone knows him."

"Really?" I asked. "That's so weird. He's such a loser, though."

"What?!" Micky exploded. "What are you on? He's incredible! He's the best quarterback the MA Eagles have ever had playing for them! He's like...a football prodigy!" He sighed. "And he's also, like, the nicest guy you'll ever meet."

I coughed, choking on the air I'd been breathing. "What? You are all crazy, if that's what you think! He's the biggest brat alive!" The incredulous stare from Micky caused me to continue, "Name one good thing he has ever done."

"Easy," Micky scoffed, "He hooked me up with my girlfriend—Penelope Masters."

"Even so," I insisted. "He's a total brat to me."

Micky laughed. "You're his sister, though. Isn't that how it's supposed to work? I mean...not that I would know, but if I had an older sister, I'm sure I'd give her a hard time, too." He shrugged and finished the coffee he'd ordered.

Cam, who had been silent for a while now, suddenly burped loudly. I jumped, and Micky roared with laugter. Cam's plates (all four of them) were completely empty, and Cam grinned smugly.

I stared, shocked. "How the hell—"

Cam laughed, "I'm just, ahh...special."

Micky snorted. "Yeah, I'll say."

Sighing, Cam stood and pulled a wallet from his back pocket. He took out three green bills and tossed them own on the table easily. "Let's go, guys."

It seemed like it was only a second later that Cam was asking me, "You ready for this?" and cutting the Lamborghini's power.

My nerves were becoming nearly unbearable. "Definitely not," I responded, feeling my gut drop out.

Micky pat my shoulder in a friendly fashion and said, "Good luck, Cal. You're going to be fine; I can tell." He got out of the car and walked towards a large group of loitering kids.

Michael's Academy was made up of three very large brick buildings. There were kids everywhere. I felt my breathing escalate.

"Calista," Cam chuckled, "I know Bella was supposed to be your guide today, but if you want, I could fill in for her." He shrugged. "If you want me to, that is."

I looked up at him and smiled. "I would like that very much."

He returned my smile. "Well then, here goes nothing." He got out of the car. I took a deep breath and followed his lead.

Cam walked around the giant mob of kids on the front lawn and headed into the central brick building. I followed him anxiously, worried that I might get lost. "This is the main building," Cam explained as we walked. "In here, there's all the offices, and the cafeteria, and the auditorium." I nodded, and he led me into what I assumed to be the main office.

The woman at the center desk glanced up and did a double-take. "How can I help you?" She flipped her auburn hair over her shoulder impatiently and looked at Cam expectantly.

"This is Calista Hart; Phoebe Hart's daughter," Cam told her.

Her eyes lit up in recognition. "So you're...Jay's sister, then?"

"His half-sister, yes," I responded. She nodded.

"So she'll need her schedules and such," Cam prompted politely, flashing the secretary a smile.

"Of course," she replied, nodding and typing like crazy on the keyboard in front of her. "So, you'll be in homeroom one-oh-five, sweetheart," she said, standing up and walking over to a printer in the back corner of the room. It started shooting a few pieces of paper out into her waiting hand, and then she walked back over with a few sheets that had my name on them. "This is your schedule, here," she said, indicating the first sheet, "and this is a map of the school. And this next one, you need signed by your mom. And...it said on the file that Isabella Scarpelli was going to be helping you around today...?"

"Actually," Cam stepped in, seeing the overwhelmed look on my face, "Bella is out sick, today. Do you think it'd be alright if I showed Calista around?"

"No, I don't think that's such a good idea, Cameron," the secretary said, "seeing as you miss enough school as it is. I will have one of the Greens showing her around, though—oh, I forgot that Phillip graduated last year. Well, that leaves Carlee, then." She picked up her intercom piece and spoke into it. "Carlee Green to the main office, please, Carlee Green." She released the red button just before a loud bell rang through the school.

Cam sighed. "You really couldn't just let me—"

"Unless my hearing is faulty, Cameron—and I can assure you that it's not—that was the morning bell. You're late to get to homeroom, young man." She flashed him a witchy smile. "Off you go, now."

Almost the second he had disappeared, a younger girl was showing up. She was not as devastatingly beautiful as Cam and DJ, but she was a whole level of pretty that I would never achieve. She had pin-straight brown hair that just reached her upper-back, and she was wearing her skirt up her butt, just as DJ had. She took one look at me and scoffed. "Oh, honey," she said, even though I was clearly older than her, "you need some of my help." She looked up at the secretary. "I can take it from here, Miss Howards."

"This is Calista Hart—Jay Parker's older sister," the secretary—Miss Howards—explained to her, looking as if she were seriously considering calling Cam back.

Carlee's eyes lit up. "Of course," she muttered, "You guys have the same nose." She grinned. "So, you needed someone with perfect attendance to show her around?"

"Yes, Carlee. I was sure you wouldn't mind."

"No problem," Carlee said, her eyes appraising me once again. "But we're having a private tour of the bathrooms if I have anything to say about it," she muttered, disapproval written all over her face.

...

"Calista, I just want to hear up to where Carlee and you got onto the topic of DJ and Cam, and then you may visit your friends."

"You got it, Rog. Well, we were sitting in my—"

"Details, Calista," Roger prompts sternly. "I need all the details."

I roll my eyes. "Fine."

...

Carlee tugged me into the first bathroom we came to and began at once by un-tucking my blouse and yanking it up so that she could see my skirt's waist-line. She chuckled. "Girl, you need to roll this thing up," she declared, grabbing hold of my skirt and rolling the top of it. I felt it growing shorter, and shorter, and...could I really live with myself, walking around like that?

"And then...these shoes have got to go...I'll bring you in a new pair tomorrow, don't worry about it." She sighed and shook her head. "You are so lucky I am your mentor, honey." She looked up at my face. "You have a beautiful face though, I'll give you that." She shrugged.

I blushed; being called pretty by a girl who looked like this was enough to make you think you were dreaming. "Thanks."

"Anytime," she brushed it off. Shaking her head again, she said, "My work is still far from over, but at least now you look semi-acceptable. C'mon, let's go."

Carlee Green—a student of the perfect-attendance persuasion—grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of the bathroom. "Give me your schedule," she demanded, holding out her hand. I hastily gave her the manila paper that had my schedule printed on it. She tut-tut-ed. "All honors classes?" She shook her head at me. "Honey, you're doing too much already." Sighing that sigh that was already becoming far too familiar, she pointed down the hall. "This way to the chem. lab. You've got biology honors first period, and it's your homeroom. Lucky you." She winked, and then strut her way down the hall, and I followed, wondering if I could ever look that attractive in this uniform.

We entered the classroom. The teacher—male, balding, chubby—looked over at us distractedly from his seat behind the front desk. Every other head turned to look over at us. I felt nauseous. "Hey guys," Carlee said amiably, waving around at everyone. "This is Calista Hart; Jay's older sister. She's new here.

Every girl's eyes lit up at the mention of my lazy, stupid half-brother. The guys looked me over and then went back to whatever they had all been doing before. The knot in my stomach loosened, but did not disappear.

A couple of empty desks at the back of the room jumped out at Carlee, and she dragged me back to them.

"Now," she said, seating herself and drawing the attention of the boy next to her. His eyes trailed over her eagerly, and she ignored him. "A few pointers for you. The guys here are mostly jerks, so don't get caught up with them. Your locker combo and computer password? Keep those private. And..." She sighed again and leaned in close to me. "I saw you walk in with Cam," she said in barely a whisper. "Before you get too hung up on him...there are some things you should know about our family. His family." She turned impatiently to glare at the guy next to her. "Do you mind?"

He turned away, looking deeply offended.

"Well, tell me," I said eagerly.

Mortified, she looked back at me. "What are you—crazy? Not here," she hissed. "I'll tell you after school. We're going to your house."

"Okay," I said, letting her invite herself over my house. "But Cam is driving us home, and stupid Jay is going to be there, more than likely."

Her face lit up. "I know," she said with a grin.