A friend of mine once told me how jealous she was of my family – that she hated being an only child to a couple of workaholics. She said I had the coolest parents who did the coolest things with their children, an awesome older brother who wasn't embarrassed to be seen in public with me and an adorable little sister who idolized me. She said I was so lucky and she'd do anything to trade places with me.

At one time, I agreed wholeheartedly with her.

Maybe, under different circumstances, I still would. Maybe if my awesome big brother came around like he used to instead of hiding at college. Maybe if my cool parents weren't wallowing in guilt and misery, almost afraid to leave the house. And maybe if my adorable baby sister, who at one time had adored me, hadn't gone missing, well then yeah, my life would be cake.


I followed Aunt Franki up the porch steps and into her neat brick ranch home. I carefully wiped the muck from my boots, not wanting to track mud and slush on the gleaming hardwood floors, and turned toward the hall.

"This way, Rena," Aunt Franki directed, heading for the basement instead. I shrugged, not really caring in the least, and trailed behind her, half listening to her explanation.

"If you think you'll be more comfortable in the spare room, then we I can move computer and all the other stuff out of there," she called over her shoulder as she turned on the basement lights. "But I thought maybe you'd like a little privacy and I had the neighborhood boys come over and move some things around in the basement."

The finished basement was cool, to say the least, and my interest perked. She led me through the family room, complete with fireplace, to a solid oak door before dropping her boxes and smiling. She turned the door knob and thrust it open grandly, like revealing a priceless work of art, and hit a light switch.

I stepped inside and gasped. The stone walls had been painted a bright shade of orange - the carpet a pale white. The room was spacious with a double bed tucked under a high window; two dressers, a bookcase and a desk occupying the other walls. I stood in the middle of the room and turned slow circles, the first genuine smile I'd been able to muster in months slipping on my face.

"This is cool," I said as I admired the white blades of the ceiling fan. "Really cool."

"I remembered orange was your favorite color," Aunt Franki explained. "I thought you'd love it."

"I do, thanks," I said as I continued to take in my new room. The bedspread and the matching curtains were a cool, brown and orange striped pattern that I instantly fell in love with. Mom would never, ever allow me a room like this in her pristine home.

"Let's get the rest of your stuff so you can get settled," Aunt Franki said as I snapped back to attention. "I'll order pizza and we can watch reality shows tonight."

We tromped back out to the slushy driveway to retrieve the rest of my stuff from the back seat of my Honda. As I was loading up, grabbing the last of my meager belongings, a loud voice startled me and nearly caused me to drop everything into a huge puddle I'd been trying to skirt.

"Yo, Franki!"

"Hey, fellas," Aunt Franki responded. "How was your weekend?"

"Great," came a reply from a face I couldn't see due to the boxes blocking my vision. "How did the room go over?"

"A smashing success, just like I said."

"Here, let me help you," the first, bellowing voice said very much in my vicinity. A pair of large hands snatched a stack of boxes out of my smaller ones.

"I don't need help," I snapped. The face in front of mine froze for a brief second before the green eyes brightened and an amused smirk prodded the lips. I rolled my eyes and brushed past him, toward the house, without so much as a thank you.

"Thanks, boys," Aunt Franki murmured behind me in a feeble voice. I'd embarrassed her, I could tell, even after all she'd done for me. A bit of guilt ate at me but that little anger-demon that was my constant companion chased it away.

I hurried down to my new room – hopefully my new haven – and set the boxes down carefully. I wished I could run and hide from the others but there wasn't anywhere really to escape. Except the little bathroom I knew she had down here somewhere. Still, they'd probably wait and one could only entertain oneself for so long in a bathroom unless they're up to something naughty. I was nowhere near in the mood for anything remotely naughty – especially with myself.

I sighed and plopped on the bed as I waited, listening for the voices. I wondered what was taking so long or if perhaps Aunt Franki was filling them in on my pathetic life and the sad, tragic reasons why I'd come to live with her. I honestly didn't think she would. She had promised me that I could start over fresh – that no one would know me or my family in this minute map dot of a town. She'd only inherited the house before Thanksgiving and had spent weeks refinishing the floors and painting the walls, intent on selling it, until she decided that I could use a change of scenery.

I sighed again, a little heavier. I was going to have to make some sort of effort. I was going to have to show my appreciation a little better. Aunt Franki had leased out her Chicago apartment to move to this tiny tourist town in Southern Michigan in order to give me some semblance of normal life – to allow me to finish my last year of high school as normally as possible.

"Just set the boxes down here, boys," Aunt Franki instructed. The boys did as she asked and piled the boxes right outside the door. "Give Rena a little room to work."

"The orange is pretty rad, huh?" my 'helper' asked.

Did people actually say 'rad' around here? Especially teenagers?

"Sure," I muttered as I stood and crammed my hands in my pockets. I gave the boys a quick once over and deemed them as skater types before turning my back on them to rifle through a box.

"Rena," Aunt Franki said, forcing me to face her again. "This is Damon and Shane. They live in the neighborhood."

Damon, the 'rad' boy, smirked and nodded at me. I returned the gesture.

"Hey, thanks for the help, guys," Aunt Franki said. "I'm going to give Rena a little time to get settled. I'm sure you'll get the chance to get to know her soon as she's starting school tomorrow."

"No problem, Franki," Damon said. I glanced over my shoulder in time for his salute, rolled my eyes, and returned to my task. I heard him and his friend thunder up the stairs like a herd of wild elephants and once peace in the basement was restored, I relaxed.

"Nice boys," Aunt Franki said as she pushed a box in the room with the toe of her boot. "I kept my promise, Rena – I didn't tell them anything. No one around here knows anything."

"Okay," I mumbled as I grabbed a handful of books to arrange on the bookshelf beside the door. "Thanks. Um, sorry – I didn't mean to be rude or anything."

"Don't apologize to me," Aunt Franki said in a soft voice. "I told you that I'd give you some time and space. I know what you've gone through. That's why I wanted you here."

I nodded as my eyes welled up. I swallowed extra hard to stifle the tears and concentrated on the book spines as I shoved them on the shelves.

"But, honey, you need to let people in. Don't shut out the world. People do care, believe it or not."

"Yep," I said, my lips clamped firmly shut. I wasn't ready to talk, not even to Aunt Franki.

"If you need my help, just holler," Aunt Franki said. I just nodded.

Once I heard the door at the top of the stairs close, I sank to the bed, fighting the urge to curl into a ball and squeeze my eyes shut. How easy it would be, really. Shut out the light, lock the door and disappear into a haze of nothingness. The little bottle of vodka I had stashed with my underwear would help. Or the Peppermint Schnapps.

I shook my head furiously as I pushed off the bed and returned to the bookshelf. I'd promised myself I'd start fresh here. I promised I wouldn't mess up again. I'd always loved Aunt Franki – she was the fun aunt who always had gum and listened to good music. She came to rescue me from the House Where Gloom Lived and I could never express my gratitude.

But I wasn't grateful to anyone else, nor did I need them. I was here to finish school in a peaceful house where no one jumped down your throat if you picked up the cordless phone and no one looked disappointed when they realized it was only you walking through the door.

I managed to empty the boxes on my own – filling the dressers and shoving pens and paper in the desk. When I finally reached the last box – marked 'Fragile' - my heart began to pound in my chest. I slid to the floor and placed the box in my lap. I didn't want to look inside even though I was quite aware of the contents.

"Don't be such a pathetic loser," I chanted and plunged my arm inside. I withdrew a Jonas Brothers CD and grinned, admiring the frozen faces on the cover. I set it aside and continued my plundering. The next item I removed was a 'Hello Kitty' pencil, complete with teeth marks and a worn eraser. That joined the CD next to my leg.

The final item in my treasure trove was a tiny, china ballet dancer frozen forever in a pirouette. Her fluffy pink tutu was slightly dusty but the smile on her face was one of pure joy. I stood and carefully placed the ballerina on the top shelf of the bookcase – the empty shelf. She deserved her own space.

The CD and the pencil I shoved under my pillow then gathered the empty boxes and stacked them neatly outside my bedroom door. I brushed the back of my jeans off and glanced at my watch. It had only taken me an hour and a half to unpack – what did that say about my life?

I hobbled up the stairs to see if Aunt Franki had ordered that pizza yet. I wanted to eat, shower and relax the rest of the evening before starting a new life in the morning.

A/N: So sorry for starting a new story before finishing "Finding Home" but I just couldn't help it. I'm falling into a bad habit of doing this, even though I promised myself I wouldn't do it. "Sigh*. The next chapter of "Finding Home" is about halfway finished and should be posted today or tomorrow. I think there are only one or two chapters left. I will finish it, I promise.

This story, however, stuck in my head. I just started typing up notes and ideas but ended up writing a couple chapters. Ugh. I'm not much on writing high school stories but I'll give it a shot. We'll see how it goes.

Kaw- if you're reading this - you need to email me or something. I can't PM you (tried to a couple times) but I think you have it disabled or something. Anyway, I had a great response to your last review. I forgot it now (LOL sorry).

One more thing - the sinus infection is gone! YAY! Now I'm super swamped at work. It never ends.

Thanks for giving this a shot and I PROMISE to finish "Finding Home" (I hope this week, geez, I need to get on it).