Chapter One

An Ill Favored Summer

My mother taught me that one's greatest achievement could be reached by a sacrificing something truly precious. Yet, after losing everything I've grown up with kind of makes it hard for me to believe in that. It all started when my father lost his job, and slowly, one by one truckers came to our home to take away the bigger things in my house – like the grand piano, and the hot tub in the backyard.

That was okay though. I hated the piano, couldn't play it if my life depended on it – and the hot tub would leave me feeling drowsy and sleepy when I'd rather stay up the entire night.

But then, my dad started to sell the smaller things in the house – like, the plasma TV in the living room, my Play Station, his laptop, my mother's desktop computer. It's funny how I'd blocked it out from my mind, and pretended that we were simply revamping the house. That by itself had it's own consequences as my subconscious dealt with fear of losing my life as it was during the night, and I'd suffer nightmare after nightmare.

However, on my sixteenth birthday, my mother shook me awake from my sleep. I should've known then, what she was going to tell me but even after seeing her hollow cheeks, damp eyes and red lips, I still denied it. Yet my innermost fears became reality when my father and mother sat me down around the living room coffee table and held my hand – something my parents hadn't done since my seventh birthday.

My father's stocks had crashed, he'd lost his job, and our family had gone bankrupt.

After that, it took no longer than two weeks for whatever we had left to be packed, and moved exactly seven hours away to Lampington, a small village upon a shoreline west of the Metropolitan I'd grown up in.

It'd been a week since we'd settled here, I thought. Sighing, I picked up a pebble and held it above my nose, squaring it between my eyes before throwing it at the stones piled upon each other a few feet away. Instead of knocking them over as I'd planned to, the pebble landed an inch away from the stack, leaving the stones undisturbed. It'd been a week since we had moved, and two days till I started sophomore year at Lampington High.

And boy, I thought sarcastically, I was looking forward to that. I already had set my expectations of no expectations, knowing cliques from grade nine would carry onto grade ten, and more than likely, most people would be unwilling to let an outside into their circle. It was nothing I wasn't used to, I hadn't been voted Miss Popular back home, but I had done fairly well on the social scale. Yet this would be starting all over again, like another attempt to build a sandcastle just after a wave washed over and took it away.

I was about to give another shot at hitting the stones when my father's truck rolled in the front gates, the tires tipping the pile for me. Automatically, I got up to help with the groceries my parents had just bought.

Speaking of which, I couldn't fathom why my mom and dad were still together. As far as I could remember, the only days my parents had been happy together were the first few years after my birth. And now, they seemed to stick by each other out of habit, not out of love, as if going through divorce would be too tiresome. My mom, who'd smile albeit anything was a pushover, and my dad, who had been so far engrossed in making money was a stranger to me. Living with him under the same roof felt like living with a new roommate.

"Aysel, " My mom called my name and beamed, bringing out a wrapped shoebox instead of the groceries I'd expected. "We got you a present."

"Oh, mom…" I blinked, not knowing what to do except stare. "You got me shoes?"

"No, better." She tried to hide the crack in her smile as my father simply locked the truck, and walked inside our new house. "It's a shirt that you could wear on your first day of school!"

She lifted the lid of the shoebox and I stared, wide-eyed and mortified at the green ruffles I saw inside. "Mom…" I trailed, left speechless. "You didn't have to." And I was serious. She really didn't have to.

"I'm sure all the boys will just stare at you when you walk by." My mother winked, and passed me the shoebox. "Now you go try this on, and I'll get the groceries."

Closing the lid on the shoebox, I bit my lip in idle worry. Yeah, the boys would stare, and laugh too. It wasn't enough that my dark brown hair, dull auburn eyes did nothing to compliment my face, or that I felt, and probably was average in every aspect – I had to wear a green fluff ball on my body? It wasn't happening.

I sighed and looked down at my feet which should have been tanned by the amount of time I was spending on the porch yet were still pale as ever. It wouldn't hurt; I thought, to have one trait that could dazzle anyone who walked by, for example a charming grin, or a heart melting smile but no – I was bound to stay a five foot four, slim, average brunette with no renouncing qualities. I looked up as my mom poked my side, grinning at the box with the fluff ball inside.

Not wanting to hurt my mom's feelings, I feigned a smiled and walked in, unhappier than I had been a minute ago, if that was possible.

Ignoring my dad, who had sat down to read the stock section in the daily newspaper, I walked up the creaking steps to my empty room and threw the shoebox on the floor. The big move from city to town had been terrifying, and the stillness in the air only depressed me more. What was I supposed to do to pass time?

Relax?

I almost laughed. The tension in my house could be cut with a knife.

My mom used to tell me that happiness came to one disguised, whether it be as people or little packages of gifts. Nevertheless, it was supposed to sail to your doorstep when least expected and crease a smile on your face.

Zipping my pencil case shut for the day ahead, I sat on the floor of my bedroom and looked at the empty space. Well, if it helped, I hadn't had a good day in weeks, and a little burst of joy would feel nice.

"Aysel?" My father poked his head in my room, looking disheveled as if he'd just woken up. He probably had since I was up early anyway. It was only seven in the morning. "Would you check the mail and get the paper for me while I shower?"

"Sure, dad." Dropping my pencil case to the floor, I picked myself up and brushed my pajama bottoms. I didn't understand why he still wanted to keep check on the stocks, and actually I found it sad that he still clung onto his past like that. I think I sort of understood though; in the same way I remembered my friends, he remembered his money.

Lampington was a sunny place, set on the coastline and in the week I'd been here, it hadn't rained even once. I suppose I could take that as a blessing of sorts, at least we weren't stuck in Antarctica. Stepping out into the porch, I headed towards our mailbox perched on our fence and for the first time, I aimlessly noticed a car in our neighbor's driveway.

They were back from their vacation then, I noted. My mother had filled me in on all the gossip already, not that I cared for any. To our left, with the perched car in their driveway were the Wellings: Two children, a cat, and a set of parents and to our right, was Mrs. Fernayle, a sixty-two year old woman who refused to talk to her grandchildren who lived across the road from us.

Drama. I made a face, just what I need.

I sifted through the stack of mail: bills, fines, and payments, nothing new. However, flicking to the last envelope, I raised an eyebrow as I read the addressed name.

'Welling, Mace. '

I read it over to make sure I hadn't mistaken the name and then sighed. The postman had probably slipped it in the wrong mailbox, yet how he could since the two boxes were only a feet away from each other confounded me. It would've been smart I figured, to simply leave the mail in their mailbox but after realizing their box was empty – that they'd probably already picked up their mail left me perplexed.

I hated making decisions, since the outcomes were usually consequences and not results. I could, I suppose just leave it in their mailbox and let them pick it up next Tuesday (Mail day as prescribed by the mayor). But since that was a week away, if the mail had anything important, they'd be left hanging. I considered my other option.

I rolled my eyes at myself. For goodness sake, I thought, they were just neighbors, not a pack of mouth watering wolves.

Rounding the fence, I walked down their veranda and poised myself in front of their door. I could see their cat watching me from behind the windows and I pretended not to notice. Cats hated me, and well, I hated cats.

My fingers had just pressed the bell when a surreal breeze, seemingly coming from nowhere sifted through the wind, fluttering the chimes hanging from the doorknob. I froze, a sudden awareness swirling in my gut, almost a warning to turn back now.

The bell ended and I bit my cheek, wondering who'd open the door. The two kids… the dad… the mom…

And then in horrid realization, I remembered I was still in my pajamas.

The door opened, only a creak, and I found myself staring into the greenest eyed I'd seen in a while. "Yes?"

I didn't know if my mouth had actually dropped or if it were simply a thought. Nevertheless, I blinked as I stared into his face. Despite the continuously warm weather, he was a rich, creamy pale; his dark hair contrasting with his skin and only bringing out his green eyes more. He stood a few heads taller than me, but that wasn't surprising because I was short to begin with. He was almost unearthly, as odd as that sounded.

He cleared his throat and I blinked, suddenly aware that I'd been gawking. I waved the mail in front of my face, forgetting what I had to say. "Um…"

His eyes became mocking, and in an almost condescending view, he glanced down at my pajama bottoms.

"I found your mail." I stammered, unsure why my heart was pounding. He took it, confused and suddenly I understood why. "Oh, I'm your neighbor. It was in my box. Mailbox."

He looked at me again, not opening the door wider than the width of his body. Holding my gaze for a second, he read the tag on the envelope and muttered a 'thanks' before slamming the door shut on my face.

Color rushed to my face and it took every ounce of muscle in my body not to shrivel up and die of embarrassment right then and there. Knowing someone might be watching from the windows, I bit my cheek and turned around, pretending to walk carelessly back into my house.

Quite on the contrary, I wanted to hide in a hole. I'd inherited my shyness from my father, I supposed. A trait I'd give up in a second but it stuck, and more than often I'd find myself reading a book Friday nights.

As it just so happened, I'd found out my neighbor, son of the Wellings wasn't a child, but a tad bit older.

And after stumbling in his odd, breathtaking good looks, I had already made a fool out of myself and had managed to get the door slammed on my face.