Prologue

"Honey, you'll be fine," my mom promised, glancing over at me in the passenger seat of our little red car. "Some change will be good for you. We can't live in an apartment forever."

I groaned.

"If you want, Sable," my brother Alex teased from the back seat. "We could always leave you behind with the Corvettes."

I shot him an annoyed, 'Don't-even-go-there' look, and he grinned cheekily.

"Well, they definitely love you enough," my mom pointed out.

"Mom!" I cried out exasperatedly.

Folding my arms across my chest and staring out the window, I muttered, "My life is over."

"Stop being dramatic, Sabe," my brother said.

"But I'm being torn away from everything I've ever known," I whined.

"I thought you wanted to move," my mother remarked, raising one brown eyebrow. "We move all the time. This time it's just a little different."

I smiled sheepishly.

"Well," I confessed. "Part of me wants to go, but part of me wants to stay. I don't understand it."

My mom shrugged and pointed out, "That's life, honey. You're always going to be sad about leaving things you love, but it's good to see new things, too."

"I guess so…" I sighed.

XXX

We arrived at our new home shortly. We pulled into the paved driveway and parked in front of the small white house. Its deep blue trimming made it look kind of like a dollhouse on the outside. Our dollhouse.

House.

The word was extremely foreign to me, seeing as I had mostly lived in various apartments in inter-city Philadelphia since the day I was born. So as I got out of our Cavalier and stared at our house, a feeling of unwelcome unfamiliarity washed over me. Why did we have to move? But, then again, I was getting bored of living in our most recent apartment. This was something new, something exciting.

And I could do this.

With that slightly renewed hope, I dashed inside and explored. Right inside the front door was a carpeted living room, complete with a bay window and fireplace. I snorted to myself—fireplace. The idea seemed ridiculous. I had been taught to fear fire. You know, the whole thing with living in multi-story apartment buildings.

An archway led to the kitchen, and another archway in the living room went to a den, and stairs in the living room rose to the second floor, which had three bedrooms and a bathroom. There was also a bathroom downstairs. There was a back door in the living room, across from the front door, and a set of sliding glass doors separated the kitchen from a porch out back.

All in all, it was your average, suburban, family house, but it would be a while before I could call it home. For now, it was just a house, a house with a strange smell and empty rooms.

The first bit of peace handed to me came when I walked into the third bedroom. I smiled as I padded softly over the rich blue carpet to the window, which looked out over our backyard and into the east.

This room was by far my favorite.

"Sable!"

I jumped at the sound of my mom's voice.

"Coming!" I called, and I hurriedly took a piece of paper and pencil from the light blue gym bag I always toted around. On the paper I scribbled Mine. Then—not wanting to sound bratty—I hastily added a Pretty Please?. I left the note in the middle of the floor and rushed downstairs.

"Yeah?" I asked breathlessly when I reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Are you hungry?" my mom asked. "There's some lunch meat in the kitchen if you are. I'm going to put some stuff away because Billy just got here with the moving truck, but I'll give you and Alex the afternoon off because it's so nice outside."

"Thanks, Mom," I said in response to her spiel. "I'm gonna go outside then."

My brother ran by to the kitchen, yelling something about his stomach and the Grand Canyon, and I rolled my eyes and followed him. I was not hungry, so I went out the sliding glass doors. It was a bright day, and as I walked over our little porch and onto the grass, I had to shield my eyes against the glare of the Sun. I could see after a light inspection that my backyard was openly connected with several others. I was sort of like a loose square/rectangle of back porches that surrounded one medium-sized yard.

On one back porch, a few boys who were about my age lounged around. They all got up, however, after a moment, and started a game of backyard football. Feeling a little lonely, I sat down on the edge of my own back porch and stared at my legs forlornly, uselessly calculating the chances of me being brave enough to go ask those boys if I could play with them. There were only four, and maybe they would say yes…

No. There was no way I had enough guts to go ask to play. Why did I have to be so shy sometimes? I sighed to myself noiselessly and stood up.

"Watch out!"

I looked up in surprise to see a spiraling brown object hurtling toward me at lightning speed. Without thinking, I lifted my hands slightly and caught the football; however, I stumbled and landed flat on my back on the grass.

"Ow," I said, closing my eyes in pain.

When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to see four other pairs of eyes staring down at me nervously.

"Are you alive?" one boy—a pale, skinny kid with a humorous look—asked.

"Um, I think so," I answered uncertainly, and the little kid laughed..

"Paul, don't be such a jerk," another boy said.

He turned to me. He had a nice smooth face and dark hair.

"Are you okay?" he asked, offering a hand.

"Yeah," I replied, taking his hand and allowing him to help me to my feet. "Thanks."

A third boy—a tan, stocky boy with similar dark, dark brown hair—stepped forward.

"Uh, sorry I kind of hit you with the ball," he apologized.

"It's fine—really," I insisted. "I caught it, anyway."

The boy grinned.

"It was a pretty sweet catch, too," he gushed.

"Thanks," I smiled.

The skinny kid asked: "Do you live there now?" He pointed at the house.

I nodded.

"Hey, Freckles," the boy who had helped me up said. "What's your name?"

"Sable," I answered, and I was surprised that he didn't laugh. Almost everyone always did.

"I'm Nick," he said. "And this is Paul"—the skinny kid—"Liam"—the brown-haired boy—"and Tristan."—a black-haired, chocolaty-skinned boy who had not spoken yet.

"Hi," everyone chorused.

And now Liam spoke.

"Can we go play?" he asked impatiently.

"Yeah," Paul agreed. "Let's go."

"See ya, Freckles," Nick said.

They began to leave, but I called out, "Wait!", and they turned back to me.

"Can I—Can I play with you guys?" I asked in a very small voice.

"You wanna play football?" Liam said condescendingly. "But you're a girl."

I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms over my chest, and I could feel the heat rise to my cheeks.

"You think because I'm a girl I can't play football?" I challenged at Liam.

He simply nodded, which infuriated me.

"Excuse me?" I went on, my voice steadily rising. "I can probably play football just as good as any of you, especially you. And being a girl has nothing to do with it. For your information, I played football for my school in fourth and fifth grade—and this year too—so I know what I'm doing!"

"You played football for school?" Liam asked doubtfully. "I don't believe that."

"That's right," I said, lowering my voice. "And I think you're just scared to play me because I'll be better than you."

Liam started forward, and we stood, almost face to face, glaring daggers.

"There's no way you're better than me, you little—"

"Liam, knock it off!" Nick cut in, stepping between us. "She can play."

"Fine," Liam mumbled grudgingly. "But I'm not going easy on her."

"Easy on me?" I asked in disbelief. "You're not the one who needs to go easy. Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I have to play pretty."

I walked past him, wearing a triumphant look on my face.

"Ooh," I heard from one of them.

"Let's just go play," Paul said with a laugh in his voice. "I wanna see her cream Liam."

Tristan came up next to me.

"You can be on my team," he offered.

I smiled in thanks. I then smirked to myself. I was definitely going to show them. And show them I did. I wasn't exceptional or anything, but I could catch, and I could run.

About halfway through the game, I heard Alex call my name, and I turned to see him jogging toward me.

"Hey," he said.

Looking around, he smirked.

"I should've known," he said. "You go outside, and the first thing you do is find the boys."

"Shut up, Alex," I blushed, giving him a dirty look. "I just wanted to play."

"With boys," he added.

"Well, you don't see any girls to play with around here, do you?" I demanded.

He smiled and said, "Nope. Just you."

I smiled and stuck out my tongue.

"Hey, what're you doing?" Paul asked, and he and the others came over to Alex and me. "Are you two twins?"

I shook my head and said, "No. This is my older brother Alex. And, Alex, that's Tristan, Liam, Paul, and Nick."

"Do you wanna play too?" Liam asked.

But before Alex could speak, I angrily interjected, "Sure—you ask him if he wants to play. I don't know why everyone th—"

I felt a hand go over my mouth, and I glared at Alex. He ignored me, and as I simmered he said, "So—whose team am I on?"

And that was how I met the Boys. Alex and I grew close to all four of them, and when Alex and I started school a few days later, we became an inseparable group. It was always 'the Boys and Sable this' or 'Sable and the Boys that.' The six of us laughed together, watched movies together, ate at Burger King together… you name it, we did it. We were always over at each other's houses as well: We pretty much lived at each other's houses. Over several summers and countless weekends we spent the nights together, hanging out. I had never shared such a bond with anyone.

Nick and Alex became fast friends, best friends to be exact. They were both in the grade ahead of me, while the others were all in sixth with me.

As the school years passed, I developed a strong crush on Nick. He was at our house more than the others since he and Alex were best friends. My special feelings seemed to go unreturned, however, because Nick never seemed to feel anything for me. In fact, he went through plenty of girlfriends throughout the years. I could understand why so many girls wanted him—he was cute, five-ten by eleventh grade, and he had a very nice build. He was charismatic too. I liked him not only for those things but also for his ability to be so amazing and thoughtful and considerate and everything else. He was just a really good person.

But I never let my feelings for him show, and I just acted like his friend. To him, I probably was just his best friend's little sister. So I sadly and silently crushed on him. I could dream, couldn't I?

But, other than the Nick Dilemma, life was good. Our mom was happy because we were happy, and we didn't move. We had never stayed in one place for so long, but for once I really was glad. I had the best friends ever—my brother, who could read me like an open book; gangly Paul, who was always joking but knew when to be serious; shy, sweet Tristan, who was a great listener and a great person all-around; loyal Liam, who (despite getting into many verbal matches with me) was there to defend me and talk me through the hard times; and, of course, perfect Nick, perfect, untouchable Nick, who always knew what to say and who always had a hold of my heart. These boys were my family, and I couldn't have asked for a better one.

But that all changed one terrible, terrible night.

The night my brother died.

It was the fall of my sophomore year, and I was with my brother when he was murdered. The assaulter was arrested, but the damage was done. My brother was dead.

I didn't talk for three days afterward. I lay in the hospital, not eating, not responding to anything. I was in shock. Nick was the one to finally break down my impossible hold on time. He had been away for a few days on a soccer trip, but now he was here.

I was lying in my hospital bed when I heard his voice outside my room. He was conversing with the doctor, I think, but I could only hear snatches of conversation.

"…in shock…is she okay…yes…not stable…I'm going to see her anyway…"

The door opened, and the instant Nick walked in, our eyes locked, and my own pooled with tears. Nick shut the door quietly, never lifting his intense gaze, and he came to my side.

"Hey Freckles," he said softly, taking my hands in his and squeezing them.

"Hey," I whispered, and silent tears slid down my cheeks.

"Sorry I wasn't here sooner," he said. "I just got the news last night, and I drove straight here from my tournament."

Noting his weary face, I commented, "You look terrible."

He smiled and said, "You do too."

I laughed just a little, softly, and Nick joined in.

I was so glad he was there.

XXX

I fell to pieces after that. I stayed home from school for a week, and my grades slipped drastically. I just didn't care anymore. My brother was dead. My mom and I didn't talk about it. We didn't know how.

The funeral didn't help either. My brother was buried on a warm, pleasant fall day in the closest graveyard. I didn't want to go, but I also couldn't not go. My mom was in no condition to drive, so her friend drove us there. The Boys were already there, along with a few of my relatives, and I kept my eyes down as I followed my mother and her friend to the waiting group.

We stopped at the edge of the group, and I stood on the very end, a little detached from everyone else. I couldn't think at all, and I didn't look up when the Boys crowded around me, forming a protective half-circle.

When the sermon came to an end, I couldn't stop my eyes from glancing at the open coffin, and I just couldn't take in what I saw—my brother, sleeping peacefully, forever. It wouldn't have been so bad if he didn't look so calm and relaxed. But it was as though I could just reach over, shake his shoulder, and wake him up. How could things look so normal at such a chaotic time?

With a small cry of hurt/shock/everything, I collapsed. Nick caught me and lifted me into his arms. I didn't remember much after that, only that Nick drove me home early and put me in my bed.

"It's okay, Sabe," I remember him saying while stroking my hair. "We can get through this."

And that was the start of my new life.