Chapter 1

"Alex bring me a god damn beer! Don't you have ear's you stupid-" Alex dropped the beer her father had requested in his lap along with another just in case he felt the need to find fault in her action. He glared at her making her flinch. He didn't like something.

"Where is my dinner?" He used a deadly tone. For her, someone who has to live with this horrid man, would understand what it meant. It was steal ice, it was death in calm, and it was the tone that meant pain for her.

"D-dinner? I just got home Dad, I didn't-" The back of his hand smashed into her so hard she fell back into the wall. Pain seared her cheek and tears burned her eyes. Her hand shot up to touch the warm skin on her cheek where the pain was so present, it helped to touch it sometimes. To cover the pain as if it wasn't there. It dulled the harsh biting of the slap to a buzzing sting.

"Don't back talk me bitch! Cook me dinner, I want it done an hour from now. And you better not disturb me during my game or else." She flinched away from the fist he held up. Quickly she nodded and ducked into the kitchen, still clinging to her cheek. She had learned that voice in this house equaled pain. Everything equaled pain. She watched the door to the kitchen swing shut then fell in a heap into one of the hickory chair's set around an abandoned dinning table. Tears hit the cold table top that she would have to wipe off later so not to get in trouble for staining her father's table that he never used. Her shoulder's shook silently. How she hated that man out there. He was such a hypocrite, a terrible ogre she had forced upon her unfairly. He was the county's chief sheriff so he could get away with anything, and everything he wanted. And if Alex ever tried to tell anyone what he did to her then she would be held in contempt because her word against a cop's was nothing. She smacked the table with the back of her fist. It wasn't fair, it wasn't! How could her mother have done this to her! Why! Then again, she couldn't blame her for leaving her like this. It was expected. Who would want to stay with that thing out there? Not her that's for sure. She only stayed because her father was a cop and she couldn't run away for fear of getting caught and getting in serious trouble. With a sigh Alex pulled herself out of the chair and to the fridge to see what there was to cook for the fat pig.

"Damn, the stupid…he didn't go shopping." She mumbled to herself, almost recoiling at the sound of her own voice. She hardly spoke so it was an alien sound to hear. There was a couple eggs three weeks past expiration date, a piece of cheese cake and a six pact of Coors Light. She bit her lip. This wasn't good. Ron, her father, was going to be very angry. Dreading what she had to do she walked over to the door, dragging her hand along its cool, stained wood before pushing it open to see her father sitting in his La-Z-Boy, his sheriff shirt unbuttoned, and a beer in hand. He was watching two men punch each other on the TV. She cleared her throat. He didn't notice.

"E-excuse me, Dad, there isn't-" She fell back on her heels when he jumped out of his chair and started to walk towards her, cheeks flushed from high amounts of alcohol and anger written all over his features. She screamed involuntarily and tried to turn so she could run away but he grabbed her neck with an iron grip. Little fires of pain danced under his hand that held the nape of her neck like a clamp. He pushed her into a wall; nearly screaming at the pain created from it, and got in her face, breathing heavy.

"What did I tell you would happen if you interrupted me!"

"But Dad-" He squeezed harder around her neck causing the vertebrae to crack and a small scream to escape her lips.

"What did I say?" Her whole self was trembling; she could feel it in his grip. It hurt her pride to appear so weak in front of this man.

"Y-you said not to disturb you." He nodded slowly, tightening his grip even still on her wrist until it cracked loudly also.

"Right. And you did anyway didn't you? Now you are going to be punished." She knew it was coming before he even did it. Her muscles tensed out of reflex just before his fist slammed into her jaw. Blood splashed across her tongue along with its disgusting flavor of a few unclean pennies. Her weakness tripled as she whimpered and pried at the hand clamped around her neck desperately. Nothing she did could release her from her pains prison; she was stuck in this cage her father had built around her forever.

"Now go to your room and don't come out for at least three days." He spat at her before throwing her at the hard staircase that lead to her room. The steps caught her ribs and new pain exploded at the spot. It took electricity like patterns, crawling up and down her body. She ignored that and crawled up the stairs with an arm wrapped around her side until she reached her room where she quickly fell into her bed and let sleep blur the pain with dreams.

He tapped his fingers on the desk, bored, while the teacher took role.

"Daren Cole?"

"Here." He called back to the teacher, tacking on a smile as he sent it off. She, a perky young blond woman fresh out of collage, smiled back just to be polite. The teacher continued calling off names until she called, "Alexis North?" and there was no answer. Daren shot up in his seat. He scanned the crowd for the short, auburn headed girl but she was no where in sight.

"Very well, Alexis is absent…" Daren didn't like this. Alexis was never absent. Never. And class seemed amiss without her. He already missed the icy glares she gave him when she caught him staring at her. She hadn't been here yesterday either, two days she had missed. Why was she absent? He intended to find out. Darin tactfully raised a hand making the teacher choke on the names she was still spitting out.

"Mr. Cole, what is it!" Darin gave her one of his marvelous smiles.

"I have to pee, can I-"

"Yes, yes just go!"

"Alright thanks." The stout boy sprung from his seat with the quick, agility of the point of the school state basket ball team. His mission plan was this; to go to the office, convince his aunt who was the secretary in the office to give him Alexis's phone number, call the girl, and ask her why she's not at school. It was a brilliant plan if he did say so himself.

As he walked down the hall he watched the rising gold disk in the distance through the tall floor to ceiling windows. He loved mornings. A tad bit because he liked the unique smell morning gave off but it was mostly because when he came to school in the morning, before the morning bell rang, he could always find Alexis standing in this hall watching the sun rise. It was something that brightened his day greatly and now that the short girl wasn't here this today he felt a black cloud beginning to form above him. With an annoyed sigh he pushed open the glass double doors of the office.

He was greeted to the warm smell of cinnamon spice and sweets piled high in candy bowls as the end of October found its way into the school. The normally white walls were decorated with orange, green, and fake spider webs in honor the approaching hollow's eve. There were two cubicles, small in size with low cut glass walls, to which the two office people sat at. One of those people being his very pregnant Aunt Jeannine and his very proud Uncle Lane. Yes they both worked together in the office and yes he was related to them so he got away with everything right? Wrong. He got away with less. How very annoying.

"Sup Aunt Jeanie, sup Uncle Lane! How goes the office life?" Daren made sure to give them his charismatic smile that always had people in the palm of his hand. His Aunt continued to type away at her computer without even looking up and his uncle only spared him one glance before going back to work. He'd have to double up the charm, they weren't in a very good mood it seemed like.

"Shouldn't you be in class Daren? Does your mother know your skipping? Your going to be in so much trouble when she finds out!" His aunt said all this while being able to not look at him once and finish typing up the roster for perfect attendance in the sophomore grade group. Daren walked slowly to his aunts office space and leaned on the glass wall, dropping his chin on the glass and watching his aunt type. He saw his name flash across the screen as his aunt had moved into the Junior grade group.

"Now, now Aunt Jeanie, lets not get hasty here. I came with one goal in mind and it wasn't to skip. I just came too-" Just as he spoke he found himself being spoke over by a woman's voice. An all together to familiar woman's voice.

"Lane, Jeannine, care to explain to me why my son is in this office instead of his British literature class?" Out of the corner of his eye Daren saw his uncle shrug, obviously to busy to care.

"I dunno Christine, he hadn't had time to finish explaining himself." Daren turned from his aunt to the Principle, who was tapping her foot impatiently with a hand on her hip. Doesn't it suck to the principle as your mother?

"Well Mom, here's the thing, Alexis wasn't in class today see-"

"Who is she? Is she a famous author that has to do with British Literature?"

"No."

"Is she the teacher?"

"No."

"Guest speaker?"

"No."

"Then I don't see what importance she has to do with your schooling, and if your not here for schooling then there should be no reason for your being here in the first place. Am I correct?" Daren found himself becoming agitated with his mother.

"Mom! She's my partner for the class! I can't finish my paper if she's not here! And that's the problem see, I forgot to get her number in case I needed to reach her so I came to see of Uncle Lane or Aunt Jeanie could give it to me." It was only a small lie. She wasn't really his partner, she wanted nothing to do with him actually. The glares and the silence she gave him made that much very clear. However he didn't lie about needing her phone number. Because while she may hate him, he very much liked her. She just hadn't realized that the feeling she really felt for him was love.

"Let me get this straight," His mother tucked a lose strand of blond hair behind her ear, a thing she did when she was thinking hard, "You're her partner but didn't get her number. Is that correct?"

"Yep and I need it. Soooooo…..can I have it? Please?" His mother eyed him closely as if checking for lies but finding none as it seemed she finally gave him the answer he desired.

"I suppose. If it doesn't bother your Aunt to much. Which reminds me, Jeannine you need to take your leave soon." The pregnant woman waved her sister off like this was something she already knew and didn't care much about it at all.

"Thanks Mom." Daren tried not to sound to excited about his small victory. He leaned on his aunts office space once again, letting his long legs sprawl out behind him, as he waited for his Aunt to find the number.

"Here you go Daren hun. Make it quick." Daren pulled his cell phone out, admiring the crack in his screen from when he dropped it at basket ball practice, and typed the number into the phone as quickly as he could. The phone seemed to ring forever before anyone picked up.

"Hello?" A gruff voice answered with a sort of hostile annoyance. Who was this? Alex's father perhaps?

"Hello Sir this is Daren Cole, I go to school with your daughter, may I speak to her? I promise it will be quick." There was an amused laughter on the other end of the phone.

"Afraid not son, Alex is in trouble. She's quite the trouble child." It took a few seconds for Daren to process this. Alex a trouble child? Were they talking about the same person here? Everyday Alexis came to school, sat silently in her seat for each class period and did her work. She got straight A's and didn't even brag about it. She didn't hang around the wrong people because she didn't hang around people at all. She dressed in boot cut jeans and long sleeve shirts, no extra amount of skin showing. Her hair, the color of warm summer wood, was always just hanging on her shoulders so it wasn't like she flaunted her looks. She barely even spoke! And she was a trouble child?

"Well Sir, it's quite imperative I speak with her."

"What are you like her boyfriend or something?" Daren felt himself fluster at the thought.

"No Sir, I'm her British Lit partner and I need to know how long she….well I just need to talk to her. Please Sir, it's extremely important." There was a sort of annoyed tapping, perhaps the mans fingers drumming on the table, coming from the other end of the call.

"Alright, I guess, but make it quick, Alex is being punished." The way he said that made Daren's alarms go off. Being punished? Who said that? No sane person that's for sure. His own Mother didn't even say that! His thoughts were interrupted as Alex came to the phone.

"Um…..hello?" Her voice was timid and weak, like she was not only scared of who it may be was speaking to but like she sick as well. Daren noted that this was the first time she had ever spoke to him. Granted she was probably only speaking to him now because she didn't know who it was she was speaking to.

"Alex? It's Daren, why aren't you at school today?" The girl took so long to answer Daren was beginning to think she had hung up and when she did all she said was "I'm…I'm sorry?" Daren felt himself grow entirely to impatient.

"You, Alexis North, are not at school today. Why?"

"Um….I…well…..whats it to you! Honestly!"

"Excuse me?"

"You with your charming smile and your basket ball buddies, whats it to you! What does it even matter that I'm not at school today! I don't owe you anything so I don't see why you should care." Daren felt taken aback. No one had ever spoke to him like this, with such…such…he didn't even know! No girl would dare….how dare she!

"I care, Mrs. North, because I don't like looking around and seeing the one person that makes my day a little brighter missing. The one person that has not said a single word to me in the 5 years I have known her and yet she can make my life brighter just by being here. I care because everyday in P.E. you sit against the wall rubbing your wrist and smile when the cheerleaders trip me. I care, Alex North, because I care about you." As soon as it all bumbled out of his mouth he mentally, and physically, smacked himself. Had he just…confessed his love! Oh god, how stupid could he be! He blew it! Now she knew! And she'd never talk to him again!

On the other end of the call Alex was literally frozen in shock. The hand she had her white knuckled grip on the phone was shaking like a drunk without liquor. Had Daren Cole honestly just said he cared about her? No that's not possible, no one cared about her. She was a horrible child that was hit everyday by her father because she deserved it. She was a bastard child that had brought her parents great heart ache. So this had to be a practical joke. If anyone was going to notice her, and she tried her hardest not to let them, why would it be the star basket ball player and the class president? Her heart felt…weird. She had never felt this emotion before. What was it called? Joy? Happiness? One of those. Just as she was about to ask why he cared she felt her fathers hand clamp around her shoulder tight. She didn't mean for it but a small whimper of pain breached her lips. Her father had hit a bruise he had given her a few weeks back and it was still very sore.

"Alex! Are you alright!" Daren sounded very worried. That was probably even more strange to her than the emotion joy had been. He really did honestly care.

"Y-Yeah, I'm fine Daren, I'll see you tomorrow at school. Don't look for me, I'll be fine. I have to go. Thanks for calling I guess. Don't call again."

"What? Why! Whats going on! Alex!" But she had already hung up. She didn't need to hear him say anymore words, no amount of words could help with what was coming next. Out of instinct she had already dropped her head and lost her voice in the presence of her father.

"Who was he? One of your little buddies? Your such a slut Alex. Wouldn't your mother be proud. If you get pregnant you can march your happy little ass right up to a clinic and kill that thing before its born you understand? I'm not taking care of another mistake, I already have you to deal with." It hurt to hear her father say all that but she was used to it by now. She was clearly informed everyday what a mistake she was and how much her father hated dealing with her. She knew better than to ask for anything because she didn't deserve it, she knew she wasn't lovable so it was best to just blend into the walls and silence. There was no point. She wasn't a human, she was a nothing. A mistake. A horrible blotch in humanity.

"Well are you going to answer me you little slut!" Ron grabbed Alex's chin and pulled her eyes up to his. An involuntary cringe settled in her spine and crawled through out her body with a surprising pace. The hate for her she saw in those eyes had been what made it so.

"I don't really know him at all Dad, I just know he's big at the school and he was forced to become my partner in British Lit class 6th period." Ron gripped her chin a little tighter which was his way of saying I don't believe you.

"Well hell if I care, you just better not bring him home. I'll kill the punk. Now, back to your room, I'll be home from work at 8." Alex flinched away from her fathers hand. Tears burned in her eyes at the thought but she didn't let them fall because she saw her father smile at the sight of her about to cry. She dropped her chin and scuttled back down the stairs best she could with pain racketing through her ribs.

She managed to get to her room, which was the basement room of the house, and fell onto her bed with a weary sigh. She was tired. This much was true. But tired of what? Tired physically, yes, but she was tired of other things as well. Tired of her father always beating her down inside and out. Tired of not having a mother. Tired of being alone. Tired of being hated. Tired of no one loving her or noticing her. Tired of life. But, as she thought about it, the last bit wasn't entirely true. She wasn't going as unnoticed as she thought she had been. Daren had noticed her. But how? She was so careful. She wore long sleeve shirts to hide her bruises. Her hair down to cover the bruises on her neck. She was quiet so no one would hear the pain in her voice. She never looked anyone in the eye and she never had an option on anything. So how had he noticed her? As she rolled onto her side and hugged her pillow against her chest she decided it would be left unknown.

She glanced at her clock on her beside table, a clock her mother had left when she had run away without Alex, for the time. It was nearly 3:30. Her father would be down to her room in about 5 hours. She could probably take a short nap and be able to go tonight without sleep. She never slept when her father was….punishing her. She was to afraid to sleep, so she slept during the day. She settled under her blankets and slowly let herself drift to sleep, a soft buzz in the back of her mind reminding her that she had better lock the door but didn't get up to do it. Instead she let herself rest.