Keegan and I sat on the trunk of the car, squinting up into the miles of sunlight and blue sky that seemed to embody California. The sun beat down in thick, warm, pulsating waves and I could practically feel my skin browning as we remained motionless but for the steady kick of Keegan's feet and the flutter of eyelashes. Bugs murmured a constant staccato buzz and a slow, shuffling wind exhaled over my back, smelling something like the sea and the sand and days of bright lights and dark nights.

I blew air out through my pursed lips, leaning back against the rear window. Keegan looked at me--it was the first honest movement either of us had made in the past long moments--maybe four, five minutes.

"What's up?" he asked, raising one eyebrow. I shrugged, tilting my head back towards the sky. I couldn't lie--this wasn't home, it may never feel like home, but it was beautiful. I couldn't argue that.

"My temperature," I said dryly, jerking my nose up at the sun, and closed my eyes. After a moment, I was struck by a thought, and continued. "Keegan?"

"Yeah."

"How's Brendan been holding up, lately, you know..since he moved here? Like...how long did it take him to get adjusted?"

Keegan shifted and I opened my eyes, blinded once more by the sun. "Mmm. Good question. He transitioned really well, actually. Made lots of friends, talked to the right people, went to the right places, parties...he's got a knack for climbing the social ladder, doesn't he?"

"He was like that at home, too," I answered, feeling just the littlest smidgen of bitterness wash over me. Of course he'd had it easy. Why had I bothered asking? He was the butterfly, the bright, flamboyantly attractive one that people couldn't help but like. He'd probably never seen a problem he couldn't solve with a smile and a laugh and the proper touch in his life.

Damn it, Brendan.

"But you know.." Keegan went on, one corner of his mouth turning down (how in the hell he did that, I don't know), "he was a little shut-up at home. He would come home, do his homework, only talk when Mom wanted to talk or when he was trying to get Shea to leave him alone--then he'd just sit up in his room and stare outside or something. He did a lot of staring, the first week. But you'd never know it if you just saw him at school, it was weird; like seeing two different people with the same body. So I guess it wasn't all sunshine and daisies for Brenny-boy--you'll get over it soon, too, Spence."

I opened my mouth instinctively to argue that no, I hadn't been worried, I was doing just fine, and why would he think that, and Keegan gave me this look like he'd already known I was going to say that and I shut my mouth instead. Was I that easy to read?

"Calm down, Spence," Keegan laughed, shaking his head. "Your face is like an open book to me--but then again, I've always been stunning at reading people. Not gonna lie."

"I guess that's...okay," I said, and frowned just the slightest bit. But if there was one person here who I wouldn't mind reading me, at this point I'd have to say it was Keegan. Something about him was inherently trustworthy, and I didn't meet many people like that. "I just don't like the idea of people knowing exactly what I'm thinking, you know?"

"I get that," he replied, nodding, and slid off the car. I turned my head to watch him and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Brendan exit the building. He spotted us but God only knew if he knew I was looking at him--even with the glasses, his eyesight wasn't so sharp--and damn, he looked...

Disheveled, harried, mussed..not very Brendan-like at all.

He ran a hand through his hair, stopped a moment to gaze at the sidewalk, and he didn't look as composed as he usually did. It didn't worry me, really--not at all, nope--okay, maybe just a tiny bit, but it wasn't worry or concern, it was...just a sense of something being weird. But he was Brendan, he'd take care if it. He took care of everything that troubled him eventually, he always did. So I shouldn't worry. I wouldn't worry.

What I needed to worry about was this damn party.

Brendan took the wheelchair ramp, avoiding the stairs, and started weaving through the rows of cars. At times I would lose sight of him behind a large car--or even a small SUV, honestly--but I caught his eyes when he was some twenty yards out and he disappeared behind another car. When he came back into view it was like I'd never even seen him like that on the steps; his hair was perfectly in place, maybe perfectly windswept, eyes calm, face calm, everything calm and in control.

Weird.

"Sorry, guys," Brendan said as he came into view from behind some sedan, and that only drilled it further into my head that he was short as hell. So was I, but still. Damn. "Got held up a little."

He unlocked the car and stuck his head inside, turning it on. Although the heat was actually quite pleasant, the cool air was nice and I could only sigh in relief. Keegan, however, just twitched his lips into a slight frown and turned up the heat on his side of the car. He was something like a salamander, I guessed; he loved the heat and drastic drops in temperature bothered him like anything. I could swear he was shivering. I supposed if I'd lived in California all my life I'd be used to the warmth too.

"I don't know as if you should drive anymore," Keegan said pleasantly, grinning widely at Brendan. Brendan had the decency to blush, a warm rosy color welling up femininely in his cheeks. I laughed--he looked like a girl when he did that, lowering his head demurely and looking up, abashed, through long lashes. "I like to think I look roguish with this huge bruise, but...I can imagine people thinking otherwise."

"Shut the hell up, Kee," Brendan snapped, giving him a look that could freeze fire. He jerked the car into reverse, hardly bothering to check behind him before tearing out of the parking space. Even though he was terrifyingly reckless and had an awful penchant for speeding, especially in low-speed zones, he was still a better driver than me. If I was honestly, really bluntly honest, I was a horrible driver. Due to that unfortunancy, I was generally not allowed to drive, not if Brendan could help it. "Better than letting Spencer drive."

"Shut the hell up," I said, mimicking Brendan's voice, and he glared at me in the rearview window and turned sharply out of the parking lot.

I hadn't really been paying attention on the ride to school, which had been relatively brief, but now I could see that the route we took back home was littered with wide streets and big houses on spacious lots, making it seem like everyone in the world had a movie star's salary. Huge trees arched from vividly green, fresh-cut lawns, reaching up to the endless blue sky and everything looked picture perfect.

God, I missed Maine.

I missed the dying fiery trees, I missed the stern winds, I missed the occasional mood swings of the weather that would bring choking, sharp rain and dark clouds. I missed it all.

I inhaled sharply, feeling my eyes start to burn, and bit my lip to try and quell the lump in my throat. Be strong, I told myself, you little bitch, and on top of that all I could think was bullshit, bullshit. You'll never feel at home. You'll never be happy unless you're at home, and this is not your home.

I wasn't going to be fucking unhappy forever. I told myself that, silently, digging my nails hard into the palm of my hand. I wasn't about to sit around like some candy-ass and just...let myself fall into some terrible depression. I'd always thought that was bullshit, and I wasn't about to let myself get away with it either.

"It's nice out here," I commented, trying to sound offhand and I could tell it sounded forced to everyone around me. And like Brendan could sense what I was feeling and, on this rare occasion, sympathized, he said, "It's nothing compared to Maine, though. Never will be."

"Yeah," I said quietly, swallowing against that damned lump, and sat silent for the rest of the ride.

---

When we arrived at the house it was like walking into a completely difference place. Obviously Aunt Zelda had cleaned up and tried to help us prepare; the foyer was clean as a whistle, tiled floors shining, balloons crowding the high ceiling. The winding staircase that led to the second story was slicked with ribbons and streamers, the kitchen stocked with bags of groceries, living room strung with colored lights. All in all, the house, or what I'd seen so far of it, looked almost professionally decked out. I had to wonder if Zelda did this often, or if she just had a knack for decorating.

"It looks awesome," Brendan said, smiling, and making for the staircase with his backpack over his shoulder. It would be appropriate to put my stuff away, I guessed, and not clutter up the space Zelda had so efficiently cleared. Keegan preceded me up the stairs, and I half feared that as I scaled the steps that I would slip on a stray banner.

I had to stop at the top of the stairs for a moment, to try and remember where my current room was. I could hardly remember on my own where it was; the last time I had come up these stairs I had been walking in a haze of depression and lack of sleep, severely upset and hardly willing to take another step.

Maybe to the left? I turned that way, recalling that Brendan's room was next to mine and he had gone that way...I poked my head into the second room on the left and--no, this was Brendan's room. He was laid out, face up, on his bed, head hanging over the edge. His eyes found mine as I froze in the doorway for a moment.

"Need something?" He asked, voice sounding strained because of his position. I could see the tendons in his neck flexing, wondered if I had visible muscle. Probably not--Spencer, stay on topic.

"Looking for my room..." I said, shrugging. "Know where it is?"

"Next one over," he said, pointing, and I realized his room was the color of red velvet cake with cream-colored carpet. More red. There was something wrong with him, the freak.

"Thanks," I said, and left to look tentatively in the next room.

White walls, but much cleaner than I'd left it this morning. The carpet was champagne, thick and fluffy, evenly vacuumed. For the first time I noticed the mahogany desk against the far wall, the dressers of the same wood framing the huge bed that hadn't seemed this damn big when I'd fallen into it yesterday. The covers were chocolate and pale lemon, gigantic pillows strewn across the upper half of the bed. A set of French doors led out onto a wide balcony that spanned the length of the back side of the house, connecting to Brendan and Keegan's rooms also.

It was a beautiful room, of course, but...not home. Not home at all.

I set my backpack down, kicked it toward the desk--resisting the urge to run to the bed and wail into the pillows. Instead, I dragged myself over to the French doors and opened them up, stepping out onto the balcony. I settled in a plush lounge chair next to a smoked-glass table and sighed into the open air. The chair smelled slightly of cigarette smoke when I adjusted myself, and I had to wonder who had been the last person to live here. I shifted again and the chair gave off a new cloud of smell--cologne, thick and musky, and I had to guess male. I didn't know many girls who wore cologne.

The sun beat down on my face and I reflected briefly on my lack of both sunscreen and sunglasses before shutting my eyes. Maybe what I needed was a nap and then I wouldn't feel quite so damned moody--I was sick of feeling like a chick. Mood swings were for girls and they should stay that way. I was a boy and I had to adhere to the stereotypes of my gender--no crying, no whining, no bullshit.

I closed my eyes and let the world fall away.

---

I could feel myself waking up--my conscious becoming alive once again, and my eyelids fluttered before I was staring up into a navy-and-amethyst sky and a warm breeze was cooling my skin.

I sat up straight, breath short, a little tense. Below me I could hear laughter, the rumble of cars, the steady bass thrum of some sort of music. Behind me everything was mute--the French doors had been closed and I didn't remember doing it--and oh, God, that fucking party.

Shit.

I was still dressed in my clothes from school--was that a problem? Social faux pas? Oh, Jesus, I didn't know the protocol for California parties.

I rushed in, banging the door pretty hard on the way inside, and--my suitcase was gone, Zelda had probably unpacked my clothes--flung several drawers open until I found some familiar looking clothes. The first thing I grabbed was a blue v-neck and you know what, okay, that would do nicely. I changed, tossing my shirt in the corner of the room behind the door, and surveyed myself in the full-length mirror on the wall.

I looked okay, acceptable--nothing special, like usual. Brendan probably looked effortlessly cool and I was willing to bet that Keegan did too--and maybe it was a bad assumption to make that Shea probably looked like a slut of some sort?

I took a deep breath, trying to brace myself--I had never been good with parties in particular, or social gatherings for that matter, and left the room. Waves of sound rushed up instantly to greet me--loud voices, loud music, loud loud loud. Ridiculous. Hopefully I wouldn't get a headache.

I paused at the head of the stairs, finally able to see the crowd of people milling below.

"Oh, fuck," I said, and descended into the fray.

-----

Sorry this chapter was so disjointed, but I sorta like it.

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