My mind was reeling.

I shook my head. "You're lying." Of course he was lying! Greg knew that Brad ran away!

"I'm not," he said defiantly. "The only reason he's ever heard of Brad is because of Dylan's brother. He heard that you and Dylan were friends and told me, since the three of us were really good friends. Greg overheard asked us a bunch of questions but we wouldn't answer him."

"No, I didn't!" Greg protested, stomping his foot.

This couldn't be happening. I felt the life that I imagined with Brad and my father slip away as quickly as my tears did. "You," I spat as angrily as I could, but it came out strangled. I pointed a finger at Greg accusingly. He stared me straight in the eye, unperturbed. "You lied to me! What were you going to do, tell me you were kidding? Tell me a fake location? How. Could. You?"

"Don't pin this on me, you agreed to it!" he shouted. I let out a shaky breath of disgusted anger and ran out of the room, pushing past Christopher and Dominic.

This was all wrong! It wasn't supposed to go this way! I was so close, and now I'm back where I started. Why did he have to do that? Why did he have to give me hope?

I had my hand on the door when a calm voice said, "Wait." I obliged, but only because the voice didn't belong to Greg.

Christopher walked down the stairs with his hands in his pockets. He leaned against the front door and observed me for a second. I had no doubt I looked like a wreck, but he didn't have to look at me like I belonged in an asylum.

"I don't want you to walk home when you look like you're about to kill yourself," he said.

"You want me to stay here in the same house as that—that despicable thing?"

He chuckled dryly. "I've done it every day since my aunt and uncle got sick of him and dumped him on our doorstep. I would not wish the same torture on any other person ever." He took out a phone and handed it to me."What I'm saying is that you should call someone to take you home."

I looked up after hearing something fall, an then turned my attention back to Dylan's friend. "Thank you, Christopher."

Instead of saying no problem, I got "It's just Chris" instead.

"Oh. Sorry," I said sheepishly. And here I though it wasn't possible to be even more embarrassed in front of him.

I flipped the phone open and pressed the button that said call. I knew who I wanted to call, but I didn't know the number. Chris seemed to notice this and told me to hold down the 6 key. In a matter of seconds, a picture of Dylan and his siblings wearing Santa hats popped up with the words 'Dylan Ryland' under it. I stared at it until it said connecting. After hearing the phone ring three or four times, it was replaced with Dylan's voice.

"What, Chris? I'm watching 'Saved by the Bell.'"

I coughed lightly before saying, "I—um, hi. It-it's me... Mackenzie."

That seemed to catch him off guard. I felt like I could hear his confusion through the silence. "You sound upset. What's wrong?"

"Do you remember when you told me if I needed anything you'd help me anytime, no questions asked?"


"Could you pick me up from somewhere?" I asked.

"Where are you?"

"Greg's house," I said in a small voice. There was a silence on the other end and I waited for Dylan to say something. When he didn't, I pulled the phone away from my ear and held it in front of me. The Santa hats were gone, replaced by Chris's black wallpaper.

I frowned at the screen. What was I supposed to do now?

"What'd he say?" Chris asked. I snapped my head up at the sound of his voice, totally forgetting that he was there.

"He hung up," I told him and handed him back his phone.

"Give him fifteen minutes. The first ten he'll wonder why you said Greg's house and not mine and why you called him on my phone, then he'll get over it and drive here."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive. Do you wanna go outside and wait?" he asked. I nodded my head and we walked outside. Looking back at the house for a quick second, I thought that if I never had to come back here I would be happy. Chris sat down on the top step of the porch and I sat next to him.

We sat in silence for about a minute before Chris asked, "What are you gonna tell him?"

"Nothing," I answered looking forward. "Why would I?"

"He's your friend. Your only friend I've heard. By default, he's your best one."

"So what? It's not like he is going to do anything. He'll just look at me like I'm pathetic." And for good reason.

"Am I?" Chris retaliated. "We're not friends. The only reason we've ever said words to each other was because of Dylan and because I eat at the diner a lot. To me, you got fucked over. That doesn't make you pathetic."

He made a good point, but it didn't change anything. I would not and could not tell Dylan. "Would you have done what I did?" I turned my head to look at him after a moment of silence.

He looked back and said, "I don't think I've ever been in your situation."

Despite myself, I chuckled. "Hypothetically, what would you have done?"

"I'm not going to answer that question, because whatever I say is going to make you angry."

"I just want the truth. After all this deceit it'd be nice," I said honestly. I didn't know why I cared about his opinion. Maybe it was because he was Dylan's friend, maybe it was because he didn't seem like someone to lie, and that seemed nice.

"Fine. I think what you did was reckless, completely rash, and to be honest, a bit stupid." I looked down at my feet and kicked a small pebble. "I know you didn't even try to get a second opinion because as I said before, your best friend is Dylan and he would have told you never to trust Greg even if you were drowning and he had a life ring."

"I didn't want to talk to him about it."

"Why not?" he asked.

I shrugged. After a beat, Chris said, "Dylan's your friend. He wouldn't have judged you unless you asked him to, because that is what a friend is really for. If you think that you can keep everything bottled up, you'll just keep making the same mistake over again." Geez, who knew Chris was just as thought provoking as Henry, only he said things that were straightforward and not at all cryptic.

"For starters," he said as a familiar black car came down the street, "tell him why you want your brother back so much. I know that it's more than you missing him, because I know I'd miss Dom if he did what yours did, but I wouldn't sleep with the female Greg. Ever."

I smiled a bit to myself. "Why are you telling me this?" I asked, staring at Dylan's car as it came to a stop in front of Chris's house.

"If I didn't tell you, who would? Like I said, we're not friends so I don't worry about hurting your feelings. But that doesn't mean I can't be a decent human being and knock some sense into you," he told me and put up a hand in greeting to the car.

"Well, thanks, I guess." I stood up and walked towards Dylan's car. Halfway there, I turned back and said to Chris, "Just because we're not friends doesn't mean we can't be."

Chris nodded his head and grinned, "That's the first intelligent thing you've said today."

A slight smile grazed my lips on my way to Dylan's car. The second I opened the door however, it disappeared. I prepared myself for a bunch of inevitable questions that I was sure Dylan would start pelting at me the second I stepped into the car. I sat down in my usual seat in the back and closed the door.

He didn't say anything.

"Uh, thanks... you know, for helpin' me out," I said staring the the side of his head as he drove.

He gave me a non-committal grunt. Was I supposed to know what that meant?

We had passed Taffrey Square before he finally said something, and even then it was just because he wanted to know where he was taking me.

I told him I didn't care as long as it wasn't home, work, and for some reason, Bellpree, and we fell back in silence. For the first time, the stereo wasn't even on. On the way to wherever we were going, I thought about Brad. If I were to show up on his doorstep, what would he do? What would he have been doing? Studying for senior exams, eating a bowl of lucky charms, hanging out with friends, what? I wondered where did he go and how he started to support himself at age twelve. I also wondered why he ran away. Mom and dad loved him a lot more than they did me.

I remembered one day when I was about six and mom and dad played outside with Brad, while I was inside the house watching, because I had gotten a time out. I remembered watching through the window as my mom picked Brad up and spun him around in circles. Even from inside, I heard my father laugh and pick up the football from the ground and toss it to Brad when my mom put him down.

The three of them stayed out for hours, and it felt like I was non-existent. If our parents adored him so much why'd he want to leave?

For a split second, I felt angry with him. What right did he have to run away? It's not like his parents constantly reiterated how useless and stupid he was. He was not the one who got sent upstairs without supper for no reason at all. He was not the one who was told that they weren't wanted. They didn't tell him that they never wanted a second child, nevertheless a girl for that matter. They didn't tell him that his mother thought of aborting him but didn't, solely so Grandma would send money and gifts. They didn't tell him that they wish they had aborted despite the gifts.

No, that was me.

I tried and tried and tried to be a good daughter, to show my parents that I was good enough. Even if I got straight "Outstanding's" on my report card, every report card until third grade when they switched to straight "A's," I would get called punished for cheating. Brad got nothing more than a "B" or "Satisfactory" his whole life and they'd hang his things all over the fridge.

Brad was the golden child, but yet, he decided to run. Why?

"It doesn't matter," I mumbled to myself.

"Mackenzie." Dylan looked into the rear-view mirror with an unreadable expression, but I could plainly hear annoyance in his tone.

"Yeah?" I asked, as though I was paying attention the whole time.

"Why are you crying?" Now his eyebrow arched, and he stared at me quizzically. I quickly pushed the tears off my face forcefully.

I didn't answer him, and instead, looked out the window. I realized that we stopped moving, and that we were sitting inside of a garage. Judging by the fact that Dylan's keys were out of the ignition and on his finger, I figured we had been there for a while. "Where are we?"

"My house," he stated and got out of the car without a backwards glance.