Unconventionally, a car beeped at me, as I started to sprint out into the rain, with the aim of making it to a nearby bus-stop. It was the day after, and school had just finished, leaving me to abandon my group of friends and risk it on my own. There was only so much I could stand on the outer fringes and listen to their gossip.

"Mom?" My hair hung round me in curtails, as I peered through the rain-splattered window.

The window rolled down.

"Surprise..."

"What are you doing here?" I looked around like it would harm my street-cred, but to be honest, I was really pleased to see her. Yesterday had been kind of funny. She seemed to take the whole Devon situation really hard, and had spent the whole evening conducting secret conversations on her telephone.

"Picking up my beautiful, intelligent and compliant daughter."

I snorted.

"Yeah, right."

But I got in all the same.

Holding my satchel on my lap nervously, I kept very still, feeling a stranger in her own car. That was a first. I didn't know how to talk to her, at least, not at that very minute. Mom hadn't picked me up since seventh grade, so something was clearly up.

"How was school?"

I worried my lower lip.

"Good."

"You have to do better than that, Maddy, especially since we're spending the evening together. How do you feel like hitting the mall tonight? We can splurge on ice-cream, visit the local multiplex and maybe do a spa. Girly, bonding stuff."

"Mom," I shot her a weird look. "I came out of your uterus, what can be more bonding than that? Can we go home, please? I'm really tired." I faked a yawn, wanting nothing better then to run up to my room, and finish the task I'd started this morning.

Which was flicking through the family album, and crying a bit.

"Right now, that's not really a hot idea."

She pulled out in the opposite direction of home, and started heading up the interstate. This immediately poured fuel to my suspicions. Had Mike kicked us out? Why couldn't we go home? Had something happened to the actual house itself, like it caught on fire and burnt to a crisp?

Why was I the last to know anything around here.

"Mom. Where's Danny and dad?"

She didn't answer, which was even more scary.

"Where are we going?"

"To the mall, like I said."

Part of me looked for signs that she'd snapped. Maybe she was planning to tailgate the back-end of the lorry, and then go crashing of a cliff Thelma and Louise style. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea, so clenched the passenger door with white knuckles.

Turned out, I needn't have worried.

My mom hadn't dragged me six miles out of town in a botched murder-suicide pact, but to have a "chat." She ordered two latte's, and shrugged of her coat, inspiring me to do the same. We sipped quietly, not taking our eyes of the saucers, but me being hopeless, peeking up at her at sporadic intervals. She was working up to tell me something. Something big.

I could see it was troubling her greatly.

"What is it, mom?" I broke the peace. "Tell me."

"I called Barbara," she said abruptly. "Devon's mother. Do you remember her?"

"Not that frightful woman who gate-crashed your reception," I wrinkled my nose. "Despite she being the one who cheated on Mike all those years ago."

Mom blew over her latte. "That's her."

"What does she want?" I said, rudely.

"Maddy! She deserves to know what's happening with her son. We can't keep something like this from her, despite how much Mike wants to keep it that way."

"You went behind dad's back?" I screeched.

"I had to, Maddy."

"No," I read her face. "Even worse. You've invited her to stay over at the house. That's why we're here, giving her space to move in. How could you, mom? She's…She's awful!"

"She didn't mean to burn a cigarette hole into your dress."

"Stop defending her!"

"I'm doing this for Devon's sake," mom insisted. "He's disorientated and confused, walking up to a time before Mike and I met. In his mind, Barbara is still part of his family, and why should I ruin the perfect family unit for him? I don't want him to blame me for what's happened."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this. She's the one who did the dirty on Mike, after Danny was born, not you. Devon needs a rude, sharp awakening if he thinks his mom's all that-"

I went to grab the jacket of the back of my seat, but mom put a hand on my arm and told me to stay. She opened her handbag, and took out an envelope of pictures, that belonged with our family albums but were loose, because there wasn't room for them to be pasted inside. Devon and I had met at the age of twelve, and the pictures were there to prove it.

There was quite a lot of us together, arms around each other's shoulders, smiling.

We could've been twins.

"Why don't you pick out a few," mom suggested. "So we can take it straight to the hospital and give to Devon? Go on," she encouraged. "Choose something that means a lot to you."

"Kinda pointless when he doesn't know who I am," I muttered under my breath.

"I heard that. You listen, Maddy Bicherman. Just because Devon doesn't recognize you right this minute, doesn't mean you aren't existing. You're still his sister. And you care about him dearly. When his memories come back in drips and drabs, the first thing he'd remember is how his sister turned her back on him if you're not there by his side."

"Rousing speech, mom," I said sarcastically. "I'll do what you ask, okay?"

Picking out a dozen pictures of Devon and me, hugging or plain sitting by each other's side, I stood up and waited for mom to do the same. As she paid for our drinks, I checked my cell, noting I had a miscall from an unknown number. Oh yeah. It was probably Greg.

But wait.

He'd only given me his number a day ago, leaving me no time to text him back. The only other unknown it could be was Carla, who'd wangled my number at the hospital yesterday, just before she left.

I'm with my mom at the moment, I sent her. Can't talk to you.

It took her seconds to reply.

Don't know. Don't care. The entire fam's going to a fair tomorrow. It's going to suck.

Ok.

Devon was meant to whisk me away on a d8. Fat chance now.

Ok?

In my own way, that's my twisted logic for inviting you. I can't bear to be stuck with the fam. If I am, then at the very least, I want to make progress on Project Michael.

That wasn't worthy of an answer.

"Should we go, darling?" Mom had come back and she was expectantly looking at me, shouldering her handbag and pulling the hair out of her collar. That move so resembled my own, I felt a rush of affection and loyalty towards her.

Barbara will never get between this family, even if she wanted to.

Words that felt hollow, when I rode the elevator up to Devon's room and stopped by the partially open door, clutching the handle. I could hear a woman crooning, and a quick peek, showed me a woman in her early thirties, wearing a spandex dress with her boobs pushed up and out, stripper heels and a minx coat.

This woman was deplorable, not least for her attitude to animal's fur.

The dreaded Barbara was cradling her son's head to her chest, stroking his hair and cooing into his ear. Devon was silently watching the TV, allowing himself to be petted nonetheless. His mother used to be a flight attendant before she met Mike, sleeping with married men - which still stood when she got married herself. Recently, it looked like she'd fallen on hard times. I'd hate to say it…but she looked like a cheapened prostitute.

And there was no way I was going to be cowed by the likes of her.

I wasn't that twelve year old girl anymore.

"Hello Devon," I announced sliding back the door. "I've come to see you."

Devon stopped watching the TV, and began looking at me with interest. Barbara pressed the mute button and stared at me.

"Well, if it isn't that trollop's daughter."

"Codswallop," I rhymed with her…not really. "I have a name."

"Maddy, isn't it?" She squinted.

"Mom," Devon said in a loud stage whisper. "Who is she? Do you know her?"

"I'm your s-"

"Stalker," Barbara glared at me. "What have you got there?"

"It's for Devon actually," pulling back the envelope from her gaze, I walked around the hospital bed, so I could avoid the side she was perched on, and set it on the beside table. "This will give you the real truth."

Not trusting Barbara one iota, I fanned out the selected pictures and put them in front of Devon, pointing at the ones taken at Disney Park, then Long Island Beach, then our back yard…just me and him. Devon stared at them in wonder.

"Mom. Is she my girlfriend?" He traced my features.

"No!" I snapped, disgusted. "God, Devon. Why do you have to make a couple of innocent pictures disgusting? You - You aren't even worth talking to right now. I don't know why I let mom convince me to come here."

"Your mother seems to know her place," Barbara sneered. "Having the gall to call and offer me a place to stay! I was there long before her. I'll be standing long after too. Home wrecker slut."

"Mom?" Devon looked between us, confused.

"My mom is not the home wrecker. You're the home wrecker."

"Like Mike hasn't -!" Barbara stopped perching, and drew to her full height. "Ask her. Ask your mommy dearest when it all really started." She chortled. "Devon - you see this girl? She's your sister," she spat. "This little slut and her mother are the reason your dad and I aren't together anymore." She put on a sad face. "Before the accident, I heard you and Devon were quite close. Not anymore, eh?" Her cackling was atrocious.

All colour had drained from my face.

Devon appeared lost.

"Fuck this," I said. "I don't need you, my mom or this family anymore. Fuck, the whole lot of you."

Still hearing her cackle echo in my eardrums, I forwent the elevator and ran down the flights of stairs, towards the main lobby. Knowing my mom was waiting in the car park out front, I decided to double round the back and scale a fence onto a nearby construction site.

From there, I rang Carla.

"Can I stay with you a couple days?"

She agreed readily.


Something about Michael seemed really attractive. I couldn't place it. As I placed my chopsticks on my lips, without actually eating anything, I pondered him over the Chinese cartons. He was different from everybody I'd ever known. All the others couldn't wait to trample over me, but Michael had a natural apathy that couldn't be faked.

He just didn't care.

Couldn't give a fig about me or my current situation.

Carla and her parents had tried to get parts of the story out of me, but he couldn't even summon the slightest bit of curiosity. Somehow, I found that comforting. In the maelstrom of hellfire, he was a calm influence that I just couldn't help appreciating. Michael, the weirdo, actually had a purpose.

He finished dinner quicker than the others, and I was next to leave the table.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I knocked on a door.

"Who is it?" A voice growled.

Seconds later, the door was pulled open and Shaun glowered at me.

"I'm just looking for the bathroom," I said lamely.

"Sure, come into my room and take a dump, why don't you." He stepped aside and mockingly swept a hand to indicate his grungy bedroom, filled with wrestling posters. Ick.

"On seconds thoughts…maybe I'll hold it in." I backed away.

Shaun gave me an assessing sweep of the eyes and grunted, slamming the door in my face. Glad he'd bought my excuse, I traipsed further down the hallway, and just opened the door outright.

Bingo.

"Michael," I said pleasantly, causing every ridge on his back to freeze. He was flicking through a textbook, that reeked of particle physics. "I just wanted to thank you for not asking back there. So thanks."

I kept talking to his silent back.

"You totally could have. But you didn't. Why didn't you, by the way? Is my life not interesting enough for you? That's good, don't get me wrong. Very refreshing. But can you tell me a reason?" I sat down on his spaceship-themed duvet covers and crossed my legs, oddly intense.

Preparing to be insulted.

Michael swivelled on his chair, like a Bond villain, totally cool, totally collected it was actually the opposite to him running away before. He fixed me with a patronizing stare.

"What," he sighed. "I find interesting is debating whether neo-life forms exist beyond the tertiary plane. Some people have said there is up to six planes, but who knows?"

I blinked.

"Unless you're a Martian, which I sincerely doubt, I couldn't give a rat's ass about what's going on in your planet. Because your planet, is my planet and problems plague us all. If you are seeking advice, write to an agony aunt, if your immediate family are not available. Goodbye."

He swivelled back to face his desk.

"You talk the hard talk, but I bet you scream like a sissy on fairground rides," I taunted. "I look forward to witnessing it firsthand tomorrow night. So there!"

Which is what I was meant to say, instead I just left the room in a huff, quietly clicking the door behind me. I really hadn't thought this through. Devon stayed over at his friend's houses so frequently, there was always a spare toothbrush and clothes lying around for him. For a first-timer like me, things couldn't look more rough. Sure, I've had the odd pre-planned sleepover, but I've never been off the fly.

Carla was all I had to rely on.

Her room couldn't be anymore different to Shaun or Michael's. Shaun's had a festering quality to it, with the curtains drawn tight and the smell of pot in the air, and Michael favored the minimalist approach, despite bookcases of heaving books.

If anything, Carla had a heaving wardrobe, with a full length mirror to check out her ass to see if they looked good in jeans (her words, not mine.)

A dressing table, again with a mirror, and drawers underneath filled with piles of make-up. Under her diamante encrusted bed, there was shoe-boxes packaged from all over the world - mainly Italian.

And finally, an item that would make any fashionista proud - Vogue magazine dog-earred and thumbed, resting on her nightstand. Dressed in a warm, practical coat with sturdy, black shoes, I couldn't feel any more out of place if I tried. At least I didn't have to bunk with Shaun, though if Michael rocked up and threw out an offer for his bedroom, I wouldn't say no either.

He clearly had the best kept room out of the three.

"Happy with the room?" Carla poked her head in. "Do you want something from the kitchen?"

"No thanks."

"You can use the landline, if you want." She waved a hand airily. "To call your mom."

"Maybe."

"Just so that she knows where you are, and doesn't worry."

I'd sent her a text earlier. Go home without me x Sleeping at a friend's tonite. The kind of blasé thing Devon would do, pre-accident, without actually giving a fuck. I wasn't that far gone yet however, despite being sick to the hind teeth of all these unsightly revelations, which I wanted to believe were false but wasn't quite sure, since I still had that "el utero, de facto" bond with my mother.

Aw, shucks.

I had to call her, didn't I?

The connection crackled throughout.

"You're where?"

She sounded like she was on top of Golden Gate Bridge, not home.

"I'm at a friend's," I repeated. "She's dropping me off at school tomorrow, and then picking me up, so I guess I'll see you Saturday? We're going to a fair together and it'll be quite late."

"Who is this friend?" Mom asked suspiciously.

"Devon's girlfriend before the accident - Carla."

"Ah."

"She's taken it hard," I lowered my voice, embellishing the truth a little. Carla, although upset her boy-toy wasn't well, was now concentrating on me, so was able to laugh and smile still. But mom didn't need to know that. "So I'm staying with her, helping her out a little."

"-proud-" crackle "-of you" crackle "darling."

"Where are you, mom?"

Crackle "-hotel."

Her cell died, so redialling was pointless. I left a message anyway, letting her know things were normal and what hotel she was talking about. At no point did I let the disdain show in my voice, or start interrogating her about Barbara's lies, though it was eating away at me.

My dad had been the scumbag - the one who'd walked out when I was five. Now my mother was falling into this category, too?

So much hassle.

Reaching into my pockets, the slim outline of a card pricked my finger. Greg. He'd offered a no-strings attached, hook-up service yesterday. Did the offer still stand, in the middle of the night? Glancing at the door, I picked up the receiver, and dialled his number. It went straight to voicemail, and I left a blunt message, asking him to meet me at the park opposite the Debrowski house in twenty minutes.

It was risky. Hella foolish to boot.

But worth it, as I sat shivering on the swings, and two palms cupped my eyes.

"Guess who?" a voice murmured devilishly.

"Don't talk." I stood up. "Sit down on the swing."

"Demanding little madam, aren't we?"

I sat on his lap, and started attacking his lips enthusiastically, catching Greg a little off guard, but he responded, by pulling me to him even tighter and growling lightly. My fingers took of his cap, whisking it away into the dark, and started backcombing his hair, giggling a little.

Greg's hand started unbuttoning my coat, and I shook my head.

"Not yet," I whispered.

Frustration entered Greg's eyes.

"Are you stringing me along?"

"I might be."

"Then at least make the ride worth it. Can I have a boob grope?"

A boob grope was just him touching me up, over my jumper. Apparently his hand needed something to do, as we exchanged saliva, because he didn't take his hand of it the entire time. Our snogathon lasted close to half-an-hour, before we eventually called it quits.

I popped of Greg's knee and he unfolded himself from the tiny, child-sized swing that wasn't becoming for his frame.

"We'll do this again, yeah?" he muttered.

He started looking around in the grass, scratching his head.

Causing me to ask, "Have you lost your keys?"

"No, it's my hat."

"Oh, that thing?"

"Yeah," he hopefully squinted at me. "Did you see it?"

"See it? You were wearing it!"

"But I'm not anymore," he said frustrated.

"Well, duh."

"It's not welder."

"Come again?" I blinked.

"The cap's not welder," he explained. "It's a baseball one. Ya'know?"

I stared at him.

"Okay…."

A/N: Just of curiosity...who do you think Maddy will end up with? All theories welcome.