One

On the corner of Hale Street, Azalea reached out to touch the chalk-stained pavement. She traced her finger around a dusty heart that encompassed "LISA + JAKE = FOREVER." Immediately, she felt like she was invading some place special. Perhaps this Lisa and Jake couple shared their first kiss on this very concrete.

An exasperated sigh escaped her mouth, lifting her bangs before they flopped back down. Her mother was calling from inside the house, but she wasn't ready to see her new home, at least not yet. Her hands gingerly pushed her dark matted hair to one side. Despite the summer quickly melting into autumn, the back of her shirt still clung stubbornly to her body.

It seemed as if this heat wave had paralyzed her into some sort of stupor.

She had been sitting on the same curb for the past hour, allowing her cherry flavoured Popsicle to drip into a sticky puddle. Danburgh was definitely hot, and she found herself missing the lingering breeze more and more back where she used to live. There was an unsettling permanency in the term 'moving,' and she desperately wanted things to go back to the way they were.

Azalea told her friends that she was just going on a vacation, but now she wasn't so sure.

With one last extended exhale, she finally stood up to fully absorb her surroundings. Seconds later, a hand suddenly clasped at her shoulder and caused her to let out a sharp shriek. The Popsicle stick made a clattering noise as it slipped from her hand and hit the ground.

"Burst my eardrums, will ya?" a masculine voice chuckled from behind her. "No need to raise your little fists."

When Azalea turned around to face this stranger, she had expected him to have the look of a kidnapper, but this boy didn't seem much older than she herself- eighteen at most- and there was a playful smile tugging at his lips. She realized that her hands had automatically balled into fists. Embarrassed, she immediately crossed her arms.

"Who are you?" she demanded, irked that he had scared her like that.

This boy was tall, and she had no doubts that he was probably one of the cool kids in town. His spiky brunette hair seemed to defy gravity, and he had sharp facial features that complimented his wolf-like eyes. But he was anything but scary, as she had initially anticipated. His face faltered a bit in response, "You really don't know?" He furrowed his eyebrows as he started to inspect her.

Azalea shifted uncomfortably, "Is there a reason why I should?" But she relaxed when his eyes stopped wandering.

The boy raised his hand to scratch the back of his head, "Oh man, the boys'll like this one. Guess I better start my duties as an older brother to protect you, huh?" He grinned and stuck out his hand for her to shake, "My old man didn't send you any embarrassing baby pictures of me? S'pose I should thank him."

Azalea hesitated to shake his hand. She had never laid her eyes on this boy in her entire life, and he was claiming to be some long lost sibling? "I don't have a brother," she mumbled.

Now it was his turn to frown, "Your mom married my father, so I guess the technical term would be step-brother."

"Huh?" She was slightly taken aback, and little overwhelmed by this new piece of information. Her mother had been seeing Paul for a year now before they got married, and somehow she had failed to mention that Paul had a son?

"Geez, you don't have to look so disappointed," he said, but his eyes were still smiling.

Azalea quickly shook his head, "No I- I'm sorry, I'm just a little...surprised. My mother never told me about you."

He folded both arms and rested his hands on the back of his head, "Actually, I wouldn't be shocked if your mom just found out about my existence today. I don't take up a lot of words in my old man's conversations, y'know? So it's all good. The name's Rowan."

She finally felt the tension of her body ease, and decided that she wouldn't mind having Rowan for a brother. He was a little forward, but still nice, and he had no problem welcoming her into their home. "Okay, I'm Azalea," and she smiled for the first time since she had gotten here. His upbeat attitude was seemingly infectious.

"Aren't you gonna come inside and check out the living quarters? It's sweltering out here," Rowan exclaimed.

Azalea nodded, the sheen of sweat forming on her face was admittedly uncomfortable. She trailed behind him past the gate and into the front yard. Boxes of her old life piled up on the grass, waiting to be organized. And she couldn't help but notice how neat everything looked, except for the clump of cardboard boxes labelled 'fragile'. It was obvious that Paul Archibald had money, based on the enormity of the house and his perfectly clipped garden. She realized that it would take her a while to get used to this whole shift in atmosphere.

Rowan reached for the handle and swung the door open to reveal a spacious foyer. Azalea almost tripped over her own feet as she stumbled inside the house. The first thing her eyes focused on was the glimmering chandelier that hung high above their heads. Light reflected off the transparent pieces and cast rainbows on the walls. "Wow.." she stared in awe.

He gave her a look of bemusement, "What, that old thing? You won't be so amazed anymore when you want to walk up those stairs and it tries to attack your head," Rowan pointed out. Azalea took note of their drastic height difference, and the odds of the chandelier even skimming the top of her head were slim to none.

"I think I'll take my chances," she laughed.

"Come on, I'll show you your room," he gestured for her to follow him. They made their way up the spiral stairs. And he was right, the dangling crystal pieces were long enough to graze his head when they walked under it. Rowan led her to a room situated on the far left of the second floor. He twisted the knob for her once again. "It used to be one of the guest rooms, but you can decorate it if you want." His shoulder leaned against the doorframe as he crossed his arms.

Azalea took a step into her new found haven. It was big, as expected, but there was also a quaint quality about it that satisfied her. There was only a large bed in the middle of the room, and a vanity desk placed against the wall. But like he said, she could personalize it later, since this was going to be her home now after all.

A wash of sadness suddenly loomed over her as everything finally began to sink in.

In fear that she would spontaneously start crying, Azalea refused to look at him. But Rowan seemed to pick up on the hint, "You know what, how about I relieve you from the annoying older brother role 'til later. Sorry for pouncing on you like that earlier, I just figured that you knew who I was already."

She blinked away any invisible tears to look at him. The genuine concern on his face made her heart swell, and she had to thank the stars that he wasn't some psychopath who was pissed off about a new girl intruding their house. "It's okay, I just need to um, get my things together and settle down, I guess."

Rowan nodded and disappeared behind a corner.

To her relief, someone had already hauled her boxes up into the room. But instead of tackling the tedious task of unpacking, she found comfort in collapsing on her bed. While tossing and turning, Azalea contemplated her current circumstances.

Danburgh showed zero signs of cooling down, she now had a step brother to coexist with, and Vinny was probably trying to figure out her whereabouts.

Vinny.

Azalea hadn't told him about moving to Danburgh yet. Her own boyfriend didn't know that she had left. During those last few hours before parting Crestbrook for good, she told herself that it would hurt too much to say goodbye to him. But deep down, she was a little afraid of his reaction too.

Yeah, he definitely wouldn't have been happy to hear that she was moving. Azalea sighed for the umpteenth time and promised herself that she would call him tonight.

Several minutes into trying to find a comfortable position, she soon discovered that her efforts to fall asleep were in vain. The heat would keep waking her up every time she dozed off. So after what seemed like a good portion of time wasted, she finally convinced herself that moping around wouldn't do any good, and sprung out of bed. Her feet felt the warmth of the wooden floor boards, and it made her toes curl.

Azalea looked at the clutter of boxes that littered a whole corner of her room. They definitely weren't going to unload themselves, and she needed something to keep herself occupied anyway. She made her way towards the menacing pile and lifted the smallest package off the top. Duct tape was spread across the opening flaps, it read "SPECIAL."

She furrowed her eyebrows, not remembering assembling this little box. But the past week had been such a whirlwind of people and events, she could've shoved anything in there. Her hands peeled the strip of tape off the top, and pried open the flaps. She did this so forcefully that the box tipped over and all its contents exploded to the floor.

"Crap," Azalea grumbled to herself before she got on her hands and knees. She couldn't make heads or tails of what all these things were. There were a couple of notes with pure chicken scratch written on them, and plenty of crystalline rocks. But what caught her eye was the single spotted feather that was slowly drifting to the floor. It landed perfectly on a flat stone.

Now she remembered.

If she wasn't crying before, then the tears were definitely threatening to spill now. Azalea grasped at the feather and held against her chest.

There was a boy she used to hang out with all the time. But neither a name nor face appeared to compliment her memory. She got up off the ground and placed the ruffled feather on the edge of her desk. "Where...are you now?" the words softly rolled off her tongue.

Azalea couldn't remember the last time this boy had crossed her mind, and she felt terrible about it. Ever since he disappeared four years ago, she did everything to try to forget him- angry that he just left like that without a goodbye or anything. It hurt even more when she realized that she was doing the same thing to Vinny.

With no will power to even clean up her mess anymore, she took long strides towards her window. Pale green curtains were pulled over the glass. She used both hands and pushed the curtains aside to let the sunlight stream in, but the sky was already beginning to fade into a canvas of pink and orange. Azalea spotted Rowan outside, he was talking to some boy casually leaning against their mailbox.

When Rowan caught her eye, he gave her a friendly wave. She felt blush creep up to her cheeks, hoping that it didn't seem like she was spying on them. Azalea raised her hand to return a sheepish wave, then hid behind the curtain.

She bit her lip and ventured out of the room to find her mother.

-X-

"Who was that?"

"My sister," Rowan said dismissively.

His friend snorted, "Keh, since when?"

"Since my dad married her mom. Living with her shouldn't be too bad, but she's a little on the quiet side."

"Is she cute?"

Rowan squared his shoulders, "Lay off, man. I'm not letting you make my kid sister 'Hudson's Next Conquest.'"

He laughed, "Relax, it was just a question. So are you coming or not?"

"Did you really drive all the way here just to haul my ass to some lame party?" Rowan asked.

"Don't get too flattered, your girlfriend wouldn't leave me alone until I did," Hudson crossed his arms. "Almost had my eyeballs gouged out."

"Bailey? Why didn't she just ask me herself?" he frowned.

Hudson shrugged, "Don't look at me, she's crazy."

Rowan rolled his eyes, "You're one to talk. But tell her I can't today, I have a family dinner."

"Fine, but the next time you see Bailey, cut her nails in her sleep or something- they hurt," Hudson said before he rose from his laid back position. Rowan watched as he stepped into his car and drove off into the distance.

The smell of food beckoned Rowan to go back inside.

-X-

"It's like a prison," Hunter muttered as he kicked a pebble with his toe.

Azalea gave him a sympathetic look, "At least you have a home to go to now," she pointed out as she sat down on an upside down crate.

The little alley where they had first met was now their base, hang out, and anything else that included getting together. They collected empty barrels and crates to use as chairs, and to hold their daily found 'gems.'

Hunter scoffed, "Yeah well, I hate it there. I have a stupid curfew and I can't- I can't see you whenever I want to anymore. It sucks."

She tucked her hair behind her ears and tried to feign cheerfulness, but she couldn't help but feel a little sad. Ever since Hunter was taken to that orphanage, she saw less and less of his laughter every day. It was affecting her too.

Azalea took a deep breath and smiled, "Well what do you want to be when you grow up? I'm sure those people will help you out."

He didn't even pause to think, "I want to be...a sky sailor."

She gave him a look of disbelief, "I'm serious."

Hunter smirked, "What? I'll sail the seven skies and save little cloud children- I don't know, I wanna fly, do something extraordinary."

No words left her mouth.

"Hey...lighten up. Why are you allowed to be a princess, then shoot down my dreams?" he pointed out defensively.

"'Cause princesses actually exist. And that dream of mine evaporated when I turned ten, come on," she sighed in frustration.

Hunter crossed his arms and kicked the pebble much harder this time. It flew across the air and hit the side of a crate. "What does it matter anyway? You and I both know that I'm not going to amount to anything," he growled.

Azalea flinched, but she kept a straight face, "That's not true! But maybe with that attitude, then yeah, you're not going anywhere," she huffed.

"Thanks, I know I'm some filthy peasant boy. Who's gonna want me?" he said sarcastically.

"Can you just listen for once? You know that's not what I meant," she cried out.

Hunter met her glassy gaze and inhaled a deep breath of air. His expression softened, "Look, I'm sorry, Zea. Can we just, forget about all this?" He made an effort to conjure up a lopsided smile, and she hated how that always made everything okay.

"Yeah, we can," she said in a whisper.

Now his smile was a full-out grin. Hunter jumped up on his feet with a sudden burst of enthusiasm, "Let's go make a funeral for that mouse you found. I thought I saw a plastic shovel somewhere over here..."


A/N Sorry that it's a short, but this'll probably be the average length per chapter unless inspiration strikes. This was a little boring, but I had to get all the introductions over with. I know I already pulled out a lot of cliche cards, but I couldn't help it, oh well :P And since this is third person, I'm going to refer to 'Hunter' as 'Hudson' 'cause that's how people address him now, just to make it less confusing. Please leave a comment :)