Ebony Falls - Chapter One

He wouldn't look at her. Though their Mum's had been chatting away for at least twenty minutes by then, he didn't seem to be at all interested in the prospect of passing time by getting to know her.

Casey didn't personally think that this was a particularly good sign. She was going to have to spend the next month with a boy who couldn't even be bothered introducing himself.

Of course… she knew that his name was Braiden already, but that wasn't the point! What if she hadn't known his name?

Braiden glanced at her momentarily and then averted his eyes. In the split second that his eyes met hers, Casey noted their strange colour. They were a mixture of brown, yellow and green; she supposed they could be referred to as hazel.

Braiden had an overall feminine look about him that interested Casey a fair amount. In her small town, even the word metrosexual was enough to make teenage boys sharpen their knives and grab the nearest egg carton. She'd obviously heard of guys like this, but she'd never actually seen one close up.

His hair was possibly the most obvious giveaway. Whereas most boys she knew seemed to either spike or crop their hair, Braiden wore his stick straight and layered, with a part on the far side, and feathered down his neck.

He wore a dark, long sleeved jumper that seemed slightly too big for him, and obviously too thin for the frigid weather, and his jeans were tight.

His facial features were delicate, and his eyes were contemplative, resentful.

All in all, Casey couldn't understand why any guy would choose to dress like that. Maybe it was accepted in London, but to her it was a phenomenon.

Braiden glanced back again and saw her staring. He raised his eyebrows challengingly, and she averted her gaze immediately, embarrassed at being caught staring so critically.

Michelle, Braiden's Mum, and a woman Casey knew quite well, stepped forward and wrapped her son in a tight hug that he returned half heartedly.

"Thankyou so much for having him, Bel, it means a lot," Michelle said over his shoulder, raising her eyes to the heaven's to communicate her intense relief. Casey wondered if she realised she still had perfect eyesight.

Casey's Mum stepped towards her best friend and hugged her, as Braiden moved to the side. Casey thought back to a fact she had once heard. Michelle and her Mum had been best friends all through high school, and everyone had called them Elle and Bel. Michelle and Belinda. How quaint.

Michelle tossed her straight, dark brown hair over her shoulder, and then walked slowly towards the car, dipping her head and touching her eyes lightly with her fingertips.

Braiden refused to take his eyes off of her.

Wordlessly, she got into the car, and did up her seatbelt. Shooting Braiden a small, apologetic smile, she started the car, and then, waving at them all, drove off at high speed into the woods, leaving the three of them to stand awkwardly in the snow.

Casey took an unconscious step towards her Mum, and they both silently faced Braiden. Mum had a welcoming, cheery smile glued onto her face. Casey didn't know how she looked. Probably a little stunned.

It was only the day before yesterday that Michelle had called Belinda on her mobile frantically, just as the two of them were about to get in the car to begin their yearly drive to Ebony Falls. Apparently she would be eternally in her Mum's debt if Braiden could stay with them for the month. And who was her Mum to say no?

In fact, it was actually Braiden and Michelle that owned the house, but they hadn't used it at any time in Casey's memory. When Michelle's Mother died over a decade ago, they had refused to go to visit it.

When Casey was about eight, Michelle started stressing about such things as the house feeling lonely… or something. Casey still had no idea what the actual fuss was about, but anyway, consequently, she asked Belina to take her and stay there for a few weeks.

Needless to say, her Mum loved it. She had always been in love with the quiet and doing nothing but sitting on the couch and reading. Casey didn't personally mind it, but still, the fact that she had to spend all her Christmas holidays as well as the first two weeks of school shut up in an old house in the middle of the woods, with only her mother for company…

Well… well, give her a break, she was a teenager!

So, that year Michelle had gone through a bit of a rough time. Actually, it was last month. Her husband left her, without even a forwarding address for crying out loud. Just poof, goodbye, off to go enjoy a midlife crisis, my wife and son will be fine.

A week after this, her Dad, last remaining family member except for Braiden, was found dead in his sleep. Casey personally felt that fate was being a little harsh on poor Michelle.

Casey knew Michelle well enough; she often drove or flew to Harding to visit Belinda. Braiden, however, Casey hadn't seen since she was about six. She thought she might have a vague memory of playing in a sandpit with him at one stage, but it could just as easily have been Scott Reynolds from next door. After all, it was a long time ago!

So, Braiden, bless his soul, was obviously causing his Mum some trouble during all of this. Belinda didn't disclose any of the details to her, and she didn't ask. If she was going to be living with a satanic druggie or something of the sort, she would rather be blissfully unaware.

Braiden cleared his throat nervously, and Belinda snapped out of her reverie. "It's so good to have you here; I can't believe how big you've gotten!"

Braiden smiled wryly, and hugged his arms around his body. Casey had known his jumper was too thin! She smiled to herself triumphantly.

"Casey, love, could you take Braiden to his room?" Belinda asked, turning to her daughter.

Casey glanced at Braiden, who shrugged in acquiescence. Without another word, Casey led him towards the house, and he followed behind her, tugging his suitcase.

She pushed open the glass door and confidently walked up the stairs, not even checking to see if Braiden was following. She knew he was.

She passed her own room, and then paused as she realised he'd stopped following.

He was standing in the doorway to her room, staring in and looking thoroughly disgruntled. "You have the room I used to stay in," he remarked.

Casey followed his gaze, and then shrugged a little uncomfortably. "Sorry, I didn't know," she replied.

"Whatever," Braiden said offhandedly, as he trailed his fingers along the doorframe.

Casey looked at him hopefully, but again he made no attempt at conversation.

"Do you remember much about this place?" she asked finally, as he glided to the next room and surveyed it intently.

He looked up sharply. "We do own it," he reminded her cockily.

"Well… yeah, but, like…"

"Sure, some things," Braiden interrupted, dragging his suitcase to the bed. He threw himself down on it, and laid back so he no longer had to look at her. "I remember Grandma, and Grandpa, and Dad. Real clearly now, I must remember to tell Mum how thrilled I am that she threw me into this pit of nostalgia she wouldn't face herself."

Casey blinked, trying to digest what he had said. "I'll… just let you pack," she said. She waited for a reply for a few seconds, but when she got none, she retreated, closing the door as she went.

Best let him cool off for half an hour before her next attempt at bonding.