Well, I never really read the newsletter for our school Northcrest until now. And honest to God? I was pissed—no, beyond that. I was going to wring the necks of every single editor/author/news reporter who worked for NC Daily, because I swear—I thought I was respected around the school. People left me alone to my eccentricities, left me alone to my odd ring of select-few friends, but I never imagined I would be able to make news on an article that I didn't even know I was involved in. Alice showed me, this morning, in her car, the little newsletter that left me speechless.

BronCaster—Not Exactly A Ship Name?

I immediately knew that Iwasaka wrote this. Ship name was a term that was mostly used for Japanese animations, and let me tell you—no one in our school said 'ship name' out loud unless they were talking to Kururugi Iwasaka. 'Shipping' was one thing; 'ship name' was another. I could not believe—I could already tell which two individuals had their names abused.

For one, the 'Caster' part was most likely—most definitely—part of my name. Lancaster.

And then there was Bronze. 'Bron' to Bronze.




I gaped at the damn thing as Alice cantankerously shoved it into my face. I took it from her and began scanning the article. As I finished reading the rumors (lies told about me), I looked at the picture. That picture could have been photo-shopped and I would have adamantly insisted that it had been, but I recognized my posture. I had been standing there awkwardly as Derek nervously said hi to me. Damn it. Damn it. Damn. It. I snuck a glance at Alice; her face was dark with unknown emotions raging through her brain.

"Alice?" I said weakly. She looked at me, that look gone and a worried expression on her face. But it was torn between that emotion I couldn't name and sympathy for me. "None of this is true. You saw it yourself; Iwasaka is just making this up. Please."

She held one of my hands—then she looked down at them and said, "Damn, your hands are cold." Then she looked back up at me. "Morgan, you know I'd believe you over Iwasaka any day."

"B-But, Iwasaka practically owns the school with Charlotte." Beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, blackmailing Charlotte. Maybe it would have worked better if it was Bella. Hmm. "They're always in their own little group—" It then proceeded to click in my mind how this worked together. "—Charlotte is friends with Iwasaka! As in—she could have done this on purpose!"

Alice raised an eyebrow and smiled wryly. "How is Charlotte involved with all of this?"

"She was blackmailing Bronze to get to me through you," I blurted. "Bronze wouldn't try to hurt you, so he went straight to me."

"De—Bronze was being blackmailed?"

I caught her little slip-up and kept it to myself. "Yeah."

"Well, don't let Charlotte get to you," said Alice, looking free of that unnamable emotion as she grinned at me. "We'll totally—well, I'll totally—kick her ass. Don't worry, 'kay? She'll have to get through me before she can get to you."

"But…that's exactly what she was trying to do," I pointed out, and she seemed wrong-footed for a moment.

Then she shrugged. "Whatever. But she'll have it coming to her down a dark alleyway if she tries to screw us over. Just let her try."

I wrinkled my nose. "I don't want her to screw me at all."


Alex and I practiced in the band room again; he got better and better all the time, and I would have too, if I didn't not practice. Then Alice drove me home, allowing me to avoid any sort of tabloid-like group flocking me. For one, I didn't see Mason. I wasn't very happy after that. I saw the jocks, I saw the preps, I saw the goths, and I saw the nerds, but I didn't see the one person that (wow, am I changing?) I wanted to see. I even saw his sister and her boyfriend making out, but I didn't care about them so much as I did about Mason.

After that ordeal, known as school, Alice drove me back home, only to pick me back up as I called her when she was around the block. You see, what had happened was Dad told me to ask Alice to drive me to the airport so I could pick up my visiting cousin.

Now for all you guys who have no idea who Eirik Lancaster is, you better hope you never know him.

He was, through and through, a womanizer.

I could tell he was rubbing off on Alice, the right way for her, the wrong way for me. I glared at him as soon as he and his British well-mannered-self thanked her for her services and turned to me with a grin and lost all well-mannered behavior with me, getting me into a headlock and ruffling my hair.

"Eir!" I exclaimed. "Let me go, damn it!"

He tsked, and with that crisp Orkney accent, he said, "You've got that potty-mouth that Jonathan has."

I froze. "Jonathan?" I exclaimed. "No way in he—ck do I have a potty-mouth like Jon does! Now he's a potty-mouth! He must have been flushed down with so much sh—tuff because he cusses so da—ng much!"

Eirik looked amused. "Jonathan does not curse as much as you do, Morgan. You are just a natural born potty-mouth." I glowered at him as he went on to tell Alice about the time in England when I started cussing out because I tripped over a tree root in a park. "I don't know where she gets it from; she barely even sees Jonathan." He shrugged. "She instinctively vocalizes her displeasure with swear words." He glanced to me. "She asked me to teach her British slang once; I refused. She would have brought shame to the Lancaster family in England."

"We're not even related to them!" I protested.

He bent—damn, he was taller than me by six inches; taller than Bronze, taller than Ainsworth, and definitely taller than Mason—down to whisper in my ear; "Yes, but those amerikanere don't know the difference." It was actually a really bad habit of Eirik's to use his mixed English-Norwegian vocabulary on unsuspecting people so they didn't know what the he—ck he was talking about. He smiled charmingly at Alice, and she, unknowing of what to do in the face of a hot British cousin of mine, smiled back. "Shall we go to my uncle's abode? I trust it is not far from here, if I may inquire."

I sighed. "Eir, this is America. You don't have to be so freaking polite to ladies. Alice—" I caught the look on her face and cut myself off. "Let's go. I'm hungry."

Eirik looked exasperated. "You are always hungry, lille barn."

"Screw—stuff it."

Alice patted me on the shoulder. I think she was on my side of the argument. "Just don't even try to hold your obscene words in. We all have our moments." To demonstrate, she started swearing like a freaking English sailor, and I grinned at Eirik, who looked only faintly surprised. She appeared like a lady, but I knew otherwise.

"Let's…" Eirik fumbled with his vocabulary for a moment, trying to sound American. Man, if he didn't talk, he'd pull it off just fine. "Let's roll," he said, in a failed attempt to mimic our accent. "And…blow this junction…"

"Joint," I corrected him.

He nodded. "That's what I meant…"

"Sure," I responded, tugging his luggage towards Alice's truck as his eyes widened at the truck.

As I, without any qualm or exertion or hard breathing and laboring, lifted his luggage into the back of her pickup truck, he stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do. Although he was eight years older me, he was weaker than a seventeen year old girl. That girl would be me. And he'd never once in his Orkney-inhabitant life seen a girl wearing a skirt owning a pickup truck. Clearly, he'd never been to Texas.

"Do not tell me," he muttered to himself, but I could tell he was talking to me quietly, "that girls here ride astride a horse as well…"

"They do," I confirmed for him, shattering his dreams of order in America. Impossible. "And they wear pants."

"I'm used to girls wearing pants!" he defended himself, gesturing to me and my jeans. "It's just the girls in the neighborhood where I live, in Orkney, don't…have pickup trucks. Like that."

I nodded. "Right. How long are you staying?"

"What, you want me to leave already?" he teased.

Alice looked at me, as if expecting me to say no.

"Yes," I said flatly.

Then we both burst out laughing, and Alice sighed. "Get in the car, the two of you."


"Hmm, what's this?" Eirik asked as he held up the newsletter.

Eyes widening, I snatched the bulletin from him and growled. "Stay. Away. From. It."

He held his hands up defensively. "Calm down, seashell." Hated when he did that. Damn him. "I'm just curious. I saw 'caster' and was automatically wondering about my last name."

I shook my head and threw it into the trash can. "Uh-mm. You're not allowed to look at that, you're not allowed to look at anything of my school, and if you so much near any of the students, I will knee you so hard in the groin that it will be impossible to walk without feeling the pain come back. I swear to surströmming, and you'll have to eat it if you don't abide by my laws—"

Dad came in at just the wrong moment. For a moment, I wondered where Cody was, until I realized that he was asleep, in his room, and I had been yelling loudly at Eirik. Oh, shit. "Morgan, that was so loud that I could hear you from the kitchen." I looked apologetic, and he sighed. "Stop threatening Eirik; we don't need him to be as scared as Jonathan was when you said you would attempt castration by rusted spoon on him. What was it you said again? It was in Shakespearean wording, I believe."

Eirik smirked at me. "I remember it. It was something like this: 'O, mine dear Jonathan, how I would tear thee limb from limb and drag thy body round the grounds of Pine and Crossings, and speak unto you words of implied perpetual agony. Thou I urge to run before mine temper reaches the acme of ultimate, irrevocable implosion; thy body will not last long before mine plundering spoon rusted.' It was the first time I ever heard you use such threatening words in such a…fancy way."

"Well, that's what he gets for feeding my favorite Vivaldi sheet music to the freaking dogs!" I exclaimed. "He was drunk when it happened; that's why he didn't run, that idiot! This is what I actually said: I urge you run from mine wrath, for I shalt not halt—mark my words—and no boarded, stone ingress shall keep me from tearing thy body and feeding thy limbs to the mongrels, after inflicting upon you the awesome, agonizing power of ultimate genitalia removal by silverware of red-grey rust!"

Eirik chuckled. "Jonathan feared you for about five days; then he went back to his old drunkard ways."

Dad placed his hand on Eirik's shoulder. "How is Jeanne? I hear that she is having a third child…"

"Yes, indeed. We named her Ava."

It took us two a moment; then Dad registered it first. "She has already borne the young girl?" he said in disbelief.

Eirik looked nostalgic, adoring, as he nodded. "Mamma had her twenty-seven days ago. Ava was born a little too early. But she is a healthy, young baby."

"Well, that's good," I said, feeling a warm emotion bubbling up inside of me. "Hey, do you want anything to eat?"

Eirik sighed. "Vegetables?"

"We're vegans," I replied, shrugging. "I can get you some cereal." I prodded his abs, and he squirmed. "Looks like it's time for you to witness our vegan diet. First off; are you wearing any clothes that have some sort of animal product?"

He shook his head. "Pure cotton. Manufactured in America by the cotton of the Fall Line in Georgia."

"Cotton?" I grabbed his shirt by the back and pulled the tag from his collar.

"Hey!" he protested, bending low with his knees forward, attempting not to fall over and trying to adjust to my height as well. "Let go!"

"It's a nice shirt," I said.

Dad rolled his eyes at the two of us. "Go to sleep, you two. Eirik, the guest bedroom is two doors down from Cody's; right next to Morgan's. I'm downstairs if you need anything."

Eirik smiled. "Thanks, Uncle."


The next day at school, I wondered faintly why the hell Eirik was sitting in the back of Alice's truck, watching us in the rearview mirror intently as I started singing along to 'Far From Home.' Then, as Alice pulled into the school parking lot, it suddenly dawned on me that he was coming to Northcrest Comprehensive High School with me. I completely blanked when I realized this.

"Eir, you realize that you're…too old to go to high school, right? As in, you-should-be-studying-law-or-medical-arts-right-now-in-college old?" I asked him tentatively.

He smirked. "I'm volunteering at your little high school, Morgan, because I'm gaining experience for teaching."

Two things struck me hard, figuratively.

One: Eirik, my cousin, was going to be a teacher.

Two: laughter.

I couldn't stop laughing, and I fell out of the truck, attempting to make it into the school without my sides falling apart because of internal hemorrhaging.

"You—a teacher?" I gasped out, clutching my sides as I dragged myself towards the glass-paned doors. Alice went on ahead so she wasn't caught seen with a lunatic-like laughing me, and Eirik simply glared at me as I drew more and more attention to us. "Impossible. The children would boo you and throw their leftover unwanted lunch at you!"

Eirik glared even harder. "Morgan, I am going to be a college professor."

I blinked.

Then I blinked a bit more.

"Dude, you're that old?" I asked, incredulous.

He rolled his blue eyes at me. "Yes, I am that old. I am only twenty-five, yes; but I'm older than a seventeen year old like you. So stop laughing and go to class."

"Hey, you make seventeen sound like a bad thing."

He crossed his arms over his chest. "With you at that age, it is."

By the freaking time I got to Art class, Eirik was standing with Ms. Annie. And I think, though my eyes may yet deceive me, that he was flirting with her. And she was flirting back. And I was thinking to myself: what the hell. My cousin, Ms. Annie, and the Art classroom? Oh lord. Have mercy. On me. Please.

I coughed, and Eirik's hand went to the back of his head as he placed the tips of his fingers on his neck nervously.

He turned to me, and recognition flashed through his eyes. "Morgan! Why didn't you introduce me to this charming young lady sooner?" He was working the British Orkney accent. I could tell. Ms. Annie had a thing for people with accents. The Mexican man, who ran Taco Tuesday in the cafeteria but eventually left for Spain, was one of her short-term relationships. Turns out, relationships most of the time don't work out well overseas.

I shrugged. "You were going to meet her eventually; Ms. Annie, this is my cousin, Eirik Lancaster. Eir, this is Ms. Annie Johnson, my Art teacher."

Just when Ms. Annie was going to say something—I'd never know now—Mason came in, looking downcast as he walked from the doorway, hands in his jacket pockets, gripping the fabric between his fingers. Dark hair hung in front of his green eyes. No student except for me was in the class, and he didn't seem to be expecting me, or Eirik, for that matter. As soon as he glanced up and saw me standing there, his eyes widened a fraction and he looked back down, a tired expression coming over his face. Then, he looked back up to offer me a weary smile, and I smiled back encouragingly.

He strode past me to tilt his head down and whisper something into Ms. Annie's ear. Eirik stepped away, and I exchanged a confused look with him.

Ms. Annie's face turned to stone, she stiffened, and she patted him on the back, nodding pityingly to Mason. But he didn't look at any of us; he simply took his seat and sat there quietly, staring at the top of his desk.

For the rest of the day, his odd behavior got to me. Everyone bumbled about, excited for the Valentine's Dance, but I couldn't help but be worried for Mason and his suddenly…gaunt appearance. He rarely smiled sincerely without being tired and worn-out, but Lillian just seemed the same to me. She still made out with Daniel, who seemed a bit somber, but not as somber as Mason, she still cheered for our school's sport teams, and she smiled at every guy that passed her, appreciating them appreciating her. I knew she wasn't the type to flirt in a relationship; she had that heart of good gold; malleable, but still gold.

The next day was pretty odd too. I didn't get to really speak to him in Art class; Eirik was off helping Mr. Jeaussant, who ended up hating the hell out of Eirik, and Ms. Annie reassigned seats. I sat next to Alice as he took his seat next to a girl who was undoubtedly swooning over him. He didn't even look at her, but he didn't look at me either. Or anyone, for that matter. Then, he was nowhere to be seen at lunch, and I faintly wondered if he was still going to Health class. It appeared that he did.

Mason still took his seat next to me, slumping onto it like a rag doll. His eyes were duller than usual. They didn't have that mischievous sparkle. I smiled to him as the teacher called for a restroom break. He looked up at me and tried to smile back, but it wasn't reaching his eyes. Sighing, I leaned over and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"What's bothering you?" I asked, patting his cheek. I felt absolutely gushy and miserable and gross on the inside; I hated flirting. It made me feel so girly, and doing girly things made me feel vulnerable. I hated feeling vulnerable.

He sighed. "I…I haven't been getting a lot of sleep."

He glanced at me again, trying to decide how to put his troubles into words. It was as if he were trying to decide whether or not to tell me what was plaguing him. I gave up trying to make him feel like… Well…how does a boy usually feel like when a girl flirts with him? I don't know. Maybe I tried to make him feel like Charlotte was flirting with him.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," I said softly.

Mason gave me a wry look. "First, you ask me what's wrong. Then, you practically tell me you don't want to hear it. What's with that?"

I knew something was really, really wrong then; even the octave of the end of his questions started dipping. It sounded like a flat statement, coming from his mouth. "You looked really sad, and talking usually helps get things off the chest. And then, you looked hesitant, and I didn't want to make you uncomfortable," I protested lamely. "It's not that I don't want to hear it. It's that I don't want to hear it when you don't want to tell me."

"Well, Morgan, you're really, really weird."

For a moment, I almost seemed childishly indignant.

"Yes I am!" I replied, unsure of why I even admitted to that.

But I could see that he was starting to really smile. It made me want to smile too. Until I then realized:

"Wait… You don't really think I'm too weird, do you?" I asked worriedly. Yes, I never cared too much about public opinion, but if Mason thought I was weird, I wasn't sure how I'd take it.

He then started to laugh and took one of my hands in both of his, leaning close to me. "No, no, you're not too weird. You're weird, but in the good way." Then, as if he just remembered something, he reached over the side of the chair into his messenger bag and took out the note. "Remember when we were passing this note back and forth? Let's see… What did I write again? Aha. Right here." He recited it. "'I like you, because you're just really too cute with your odd habits.'"

I pondered whether or not that was a good thing. He said it was, but…

"Hey, you got me sidetracked," he accused good-naturedly, chuckling. "This is probably the best I've felt in these two days. Thanks."

I shrugged. "Maybe it's just my weirdness that makes you laugh."

"No, no, it's just you."

"Isn't that worse?"

After that, we were silent. And I was going to break the silence that was so awkward, but Mason broke it for us as students starting piling into class.

"My dad's getting worse," he said, and leaned back against the chair. "And my mom…she started cutting again Monday night."


To not distract you guys from the chapter at the beginning, I'm putting my notes at the end now! Yes, I'm in knowledge of Norwegian. My cousin is, so I learned it out of courtesy for him. Best cousin ever. Anyways, here are the translations:

amerikanere: Americans

lille barn: little child