FOUR:
Rain, Rain, go away. Come again another…
Actually, just never bother Dakota again.

"God, I hate the greyness," Dakota mumbled as she struggled to roll a lever, shutting a second of the three pairs of windows in her room. She made a beeline towards the next pair as the rain picked up. The pulsing dance music got louder as she neared her crusty desktop computer—her parents still refused to get her that spanking new Macbook.

"At least the rain didn't get us," Anna-Kay shrugged, inspecting her nails. "God, I hate when it rains at night. Can never sleep."

"Isn't this—weather due later—or earlier, even—in the year?" Dakota muttered between grunts. "Like April, or something."

Closing those windows was hard work. They'd practically rusted over after being kept open throughout June, July and the majority of August. Madison Stone must've struck a deal with Mother Nature because grey skies and heavy rainstorms had only hit the town twice—three times if you counted today—during a lovely summer.

"Isn't August supposed to be a July part two?" she exhaled, finally slinking into a sitting position on her bed next to Anna-Kay. "Just more sun, sun, sun."

"I know, right!" Anna-Kay exclaimed, peeking up at her friend, dropping her examined hand to her side. "Everything was so nice, like, just yesterday! And now it's raining and stuff all of a sudden. The apocalypse, Dakota. It's coming." She waved mystical fingers made Ooh faces. Dakota brushed her hair behind her ears and looked away pointedly.

The pouring rain made heavy slapping sounds against the closed windows, filling the otherwise boring gap where Dakota stared at her recently creamed hands, bobbing her foot the beat of the song, and Anna-Kay texted someone idly on her BlackBerry.

On the way back to Anna-Kay's house, it had started raining, and there was still a long stretch to go, so both decided it would be easier if they'd just turned around and went to Dakota's. Taking shelter from the downpour, they "stopped by" (loitered) at a convenience store on their way to Dakota's. There, they, in a might-as-well manner, picked up generic sleepover things—two litre pop bottles, junk food like cupcakes (a lot of 'em), and one of those Magic 8-Ball toys just for the hell of it.

Dakota lent her some nightclothes when they'd arrived and then wondered whether Anna-Kay's parents would mind her sleeping over.

"I doubt it," was what she'd replied. "I'll text my mother to be sure."

Dakota's parents obviously didn't care—they were about as concerned of Anna-Kay's presence as a raccoon would be of a municipal election. After all, ever since her father left, and her step-dad replaced him, and Rain popped out of her mother's uterus, Dakota felt shooed off to the side and everything kind of went lopsided . . .

Like a melted wax figure that was once so pretty.

The two girls had also just showered, to further rinse off the suspicious skunky pot stench (which Dakota's mother seemed to become increasingly aware of) and then half-heartedly blow-dried their hair, leaving it partially wet.

"What time is it?" Dakota asked ("Summer time!" something exclaimed in her head) only to receive silence in response.

"Hm?" Anna-Kay finally acknowledged her after lazily smiling at her miniature keyboard for what seemed like a light year.

"The time?" Dakota irritably repeated—she hated repeating herself, more than paper cuts on the webs between her fingers.

"Oh! It's . . . ten twenty-nine."

Dakota flopped backwards on her bed, sighing. Anna-Kay soon joined her after throwing her phone somewhere on Dakota's queen-sized bed.

"I'm bored," Dakota finally said.

"Me, too. Rain kills everything. What a crappy Saturday night. Everyone on B-B-M is, like, sleeping early or something. I was thinking that we could go to Thalia's or something—"

"Uh, hello, hi—you must be new. It's actually raining outside."

"I was thinking by car, stupid," Anna-Kay said, rolling her eyes.

Dakota frowned. "Well, then, that's no fun. The whole experience in going to Thalia's place is us walking through a summer night, like we normally do."

"Exactly, so that's why I was about to say—it's useless."

Another conversation-less minute passed. Dakota immersed herself in the new rhythm while reapplying lip balm. She found herself wondering how Drake was doing right now . . . and then mentally dropkicked herself for realizing whom she was thinking of.

Now that she'd actually considered his existence, that annoying feeling of a previous encounter kept gnawing at her head. And then Janice came into the equation, too, when Dakota mentally reunited their family. Like one of those feelings where you'd encountered someone in a past life or something.

Dakota blinked furiously. She was just fazed by him, was all. Him and his annoying sister. What were she and Drake supposed to be in this alleged past memory anyways? Friends? Lovers?

She shuddered. She was practical royalty compared to those types of losers. But still . . .

"Ask Julian if he can come over," Dakota suddenly commanded, flicking off her hidden daydream.

"Dakota, your parents . . ." Anna-Kay trailed off, giving her a questioning look.

"Not for that. As if we'd do that while they're here—I'm not that dumb."

Anna-Kay scoffed. "Well, wouldn't they still say no boys upstairs or whatever? I know my parents would."

"Anna-Kay."

The two shared a knowing look, smirking.

Everyone knew that Dakota's parents—her mother and her step-dad—were incredibly pathetic pushovers, and the most resistance Dakota would ever receive from them would be Just come home before twelve A.M.! (which she would obviously never obey).

"Alright, fine." Anna-Kay grabbed her phone from nowhere and her fingers began blazing across the keyboard. "What should I say? I told him that you want him here, but he's asking for why."

"Just tell him the truth; we're bored as hell."

"'Kay." More of that click-click-clicking. "He's playing COD with Daring. Boys," she muttered, then clucked her tongue. "Oh, he just asked if Daring can come, too."

"Uh . . . sure, why not."

"Dakota, are you sure—?"

"Yes," Dakota stressed, fatigued, burying her fingernails into her temples. "They won't care. And we could always sneak them in through the side-door if anything. Hurry up before I turn into a zombie."

Click-click-click-clack-click-click. Anna-Kay put the phone down. "What're we gonna do? They're gonna eat all my fucking cupcakes!"

"Fat ass," Dakota murmured.

"What, it's true! It's Daring and Julian. They'll devour anything. I don't even get how things'll get more exciting."

"They're pretty and they're funny. Which means they're pretty funny. We'll just sleep with them—beside them." (She had to clarify, because Anna-Kay was about to raise a question again.)

"They're gonna take up the whole bed," Anna-Kay retorted, raising her eyebrows, oblivious to the charm which her friend seemed to be captivated by.

"Then you and Daring take the floor," Dakota droned, sluggishly kicking her friend off the bed good-naturedly.

"Fuck you," Anna-Kay shouted, laughing, shoving her back against Dakota's incessant pushing.

"Aww!" an annoyingly familiar, pixyish voice reeled out, unnecessarily extending the noise. "I'm tell—ing! You guys said bad words!"

Anna-Kay and Dakota shot up.

"Rainanne, get out!" Dakota blasted a hefty pillow at her little sister who had suddenly appeared in the room. "Shouldn't you be asleep? Where the hell—? Were you under the freaking bed?"

But her ugly blue jean- and pink shirt-clad sister was already in a sitting position, having been knocked down by the pillow. And she began sobbing.

Like a freaking whale.

"Dear god." Dakota was moreover disgusted by the thought of Rainanne hearing the whole conversation. "Shut up!"

"You're so rude to your sister!" Anna-Kay whined, giving Dakota a nudge.

"Half-sister!" Dakota clarified. Never would she call that thing her complete blood relative. "And if you don't tell people, no one will know."

"Oh, Rain, come here!" Anna-Kay leaped off the bed cutting Dakota off and dashing towards Rain. "And she has your mom's hair—your hair. Light brown, you know? People can tell."

"Who cares?! She's still a fat, useless blob who deserves a thousand pillows-to-the-face. Now shut her up before my parents come!"

Anna-Kay began petting the pudgy girl, cooing in a singsong voice. Meanwhile, Dakota scoffed and flopped back down on her bed. Then suddenly got back up and strode to her computer. She turned up the volume, trying to drown out her sister's existence.

"I just—I just wanted—wanted to play!" Rain sobbed in between bursts of shallow gasps. How loud was this kid anyway? Snot began trickling down her little nose onto her little mouth.

"Disgusting," Dakota grunted, generously chucking a tissue box right at Rain. Anna-Kay gasped, but Rain ignored the pain of impact and desperately scrabbled at the tissues, then clogged just about every pore on her face.

"Oh, it's okay, sweetie," Anna-Kay comforted.

"I—I—I just wanted to see you, Anna-K—K—Kay, because y—you're the coolest girl I fnoow!" The last word was muffled as Rain had suddenly burst into a more fervent sob and accordingly smashed tissues against her chubby face.

"Aw, you're so sweet. Here, give Anna-Kay a big hug." And without waiting for a response, Anna-Kay embraced Dakota's dog—er, sister . . . thing?

Dakota made her way to and fell backwards on her bed once again. She stared at the slowly rotating ceiling fan. She heard Rain's covered sobs die down after a minute or so. Anna-Kay walked her over to the bed and gently helped Rain on top of it.

"Ducky's mean," Rain pouted.

"Yes, she's very mean," Anna-Kay said in an equally pouty voice.

Dakota rolled over into her fluffy pillow. "Shut up," she muttered, though she doubted anyone had heard her through the thick pillow.

"And that's why," Anna-Kay went on, "I've decided that we're taking you out to eat, Rain."

"What?" Dakota coughed into the pillow as Rain simultaneously exclaimed "Yay!"

Dakota flipped over and sat straight as an arrow. "What?" she repeated.

Anna-Kay innocently shrugged. "I already texted Daring and Julian. We're meeting them at Leslie's."

Leslie's was a frequent choice of Dakota's and the rest of her group. It was a local diner/restaurant that usually wasn't very busy, had a slight sixty's feel to it, and it made Dakota feel superior to her peers who ate at places like McDonalds or some other generic fast food restaurant. Whenever Dakota was stuck baby-sitting her little half-sister and had to feed her, however, she would always stick her in such a lame restaurant. No way would any of her friends see her at Leslie's carrying around her annoying Rugrat.

"You're kidding," Dakota managed to choke out. "You didn't give me any warning?"

Besides, that diner held a certain special memory for her, one which she'd never abandon, never surrender. She'd guard it with her life, especially when that ugly little half-blood threatened to corrupt it. Her mind faintly fluttered to the days before the surname "Wright" ever signified anything . . .

"Oh, come on, D.K., I'm telling you now," Anna-Kay implored with a name that thoroughly pissed Dakota off, though she'd never rebuked it. It reminded her of that giant ape thing with the tie from one of Rain's stupid little games. "You even said we're bored. Leslie's is open till, like, eleven thirty today. Don't you have the munchies?"

Dakota gawked incredulously. "Uh, no, I bought cupcakes for a reason. Just drive her yourself if you wanna go so badly."

"Ha-ha. If that was a subliminal hit at me failing my driving test, then well-played."

"We're in our freaking P.J.s already," Dakota pressed on, skimming over her friend's insignificant quips.

"Just throw on a coat. I doubt a lotta people are at Leslie's at this time anyways. We're taking the car, so no one will see us walking."

"Oh, really? Because I was just longing to go running through the rain."

"Come, on, Dakota," she further goaded, getting Rain to join in.

"Come on, come on, come on!" the two annoyingly sang.

Dakota wished she had a fist of iron. Not metaphorically, which would be for controlling a population or whatever, but simply to punch with. Sometimes, just . . . Wow, sometimes, the people around her were lucky as hell that she wasn't born with a mechanical hand!

"Alright!" she finally exploded. "Fine! Hurry up and get in the fu—the freaking car!"

The two children squealed and pirouetted out of Dakota's room like insane ballerina-Godzilla hybrids. She heard them giggling in a hush about something as they tip-toed down the stairs so as not to wake Mr. and Mrs. Wright who were sleeping not-so-soundly in the master bedroom.


"I'm full," Daring said, shoving half a bowlful of sour cream-bathed fries towards the center of the table.

"Sa—" (Julian burped,) "Same here," he said.

Dakota and Anna-Kay had long ago stopped picking at their meal. In fact, they'd given the shared bowl of fries to the two guys.

"I can't finish mine," a little voice piped up. Dakota glanced to her left and looked at Rain as if to say, When the hell did you get here and who gave you permission to speak?

"You better freaking finish that—I paid for that shit, so eat up, you annoying little Rugrat."

"But I'm full!" Rain whined, slapping her palms against the table, which her head barely hovered over.

"Are you kidding me right now? I don't care, eat it!" Dakota took one of Rain's chicken strips and smeared it against her face. Her little sister tried to flail against it. Julian and Daring chortled while Anna-Kay awkwardly scolded and simpered at the same time.

"Stop it!" Rain finally sputtered, ridiculously on the verge of tears.

What a baby, Dakota spitefully though, scowling down at her puny sibling.

"Whatever," she sighed, slamming the crushed piece of chicken back onto the plate. "Let's go." She furiously wiped her hands on a napkin and then threw it at her sister who was trying to slink out of the booth behind her. Rain silently plucked the napkins off of her pink sweater.

"Wait, Ducky!" the Rugrat whined. (Anna-Kay aw'd at the nickname.)

Dakota had had enough. Hands clenched into fists, she swiveled on her half-sister and practically yelled: "Don't call me Ducky, you stupid rat." And she pushed her down before turning back to her friends.

Anna-Kay, Daring and Julian were all mutely staring between Dakota and her little sister. The latter was in silent tears and shallow gasping sobs. Again.

"What?" Dakota said sharply, glaring at the three bystanders. "She's my sister."

Anna-Kay looked slightly torn, while the guys just shrugged and ambled toward the parking lot, saying they'd wait for the two girls.

After watching the guys leave, Anna-Kay turned to Dakota. She crossed her arms and sniffed. "Dakota, seriously? Do you have to cause a scene at this hour?"

Dakota rolled her eyes while Anna-Kay made her way to Rain. She hated when Anna-Kay acted like her mother. She slid back into the booth they'd just been sitting in, and waited for her friend to set her half-sibling straight.

Dakota put her head down and was closing her eyes, preparing to sleep, when—

"She needs to go to the washroom," she heard Anna-Kay declare, tone clipped. There was a certain coolness, a certain forced neutrality in her voice that strongly irritated Dakota. It was diplomatic, like she didn't want to speak with her, but was forced to.

Dakota put her head up. Rain was holding on to Anna-Kay's hand. "And?" Dakota said brusquely with a slight wobble-of-the-head.

"Really?" she prompted, annoyed. Dakota was getting irritated with Anna-Kay's apparent irritation. "Just take her to the washroom, Dakota."

Dakota got up and wordlessly snatched the half-blood's other arm, carrying her off to the washroom.

"Ouch," Rain said, barely keeping up with her leader's brisk pace. Dakota ignored her. "Ouch!" Rain said again. Dakota only gripped her arm harder, then.

In the washroom, Dakota basically threw Rain into a stall and saw her trip on her own feet before shutting it closed. "Hurry up or we're going to leave without you."

"Okay!"

Dakota nearly scrabbled at her own eyeballs, hearing the oblivious smile in her half-sister's voice.

After about a minute, which was spent by Dakota staring at her reflection (since it was the only pretty thing in that ugly, filthy washroom) and applying lip balm, Rain suddenly called out her (nick) name.

Dakota ignored her. Turned on the sink, trying to keep herself distracted.

She called the name again, louder.

"What?" Dakota snapped.

A pause. "I'm sorry 'cause I'm taking so long."

And just like that, Dakota flung herself out of the washroom, leaving the sink running. Pushing the door of the restaurant open, her face met cool air.

Sorry? That disgusting bitch had no idea just how sorry she should be.

"So, we still coming over?" Julian asked out on the parking lot. After snuffing out his cigarette under a foot, he headed towards his car with Daring close behind.

Dakota needed to clear her mind. Stopping mid-stride, she spun herself around and absently thought of how attractive Julian looked under the orange glow emitted from one of the tall lot lamps. Spacers in both ears, an orange snapback worn proudly, a pretty nice jaw and tantalizing hazel eyes, Dakota was proud to have Julian as one of her unofficial boyfriends.

"Yeah, of course—and we're all going to Bailey Mall tomorrow," she called before swinging into her parents' car—a shiny SUV—which was parked right next to his sleek, ostentatious Lambo . . . whatever.

Dakota remembered him telling her a story of how it'd been passed down from his parents, but she couldn't keep up with the model-this and imported-that and vintage-here. She honestly didn't understand how boys found cars so fascinating. But she thought the red paintjob was pretty, so it was some type of ground to connect on.

"Ready, Anna?" she asked inside her car, starting up the ignition.

Anna-Kay checked herself from one of the pull-down mirrors. "Yup, I'm pretty sure I—wait."

Dammit.

Throwing an almost reproachful look at Dakota, cocking an eyebrow, she asked, "Where's Rain?"

"Dunno." Just a few seconds and she could escape; Dakota put the keys in the ignition— "Hey, give them!"

"Not until you tell me where your sister is."

"Really, Anna-Kay? Really? She's my sister, not yours. You're not our friggin' mother. Give—" Dakota was snatching at the keys, but Anna-Kay promptly sat on them.

"We're waiting for her."

"Wow." Dakota looked out her window, seething. She hated when Anna-Kay did this shit. Always vouched for that stupid brat, and put Dakota's happiness on the chopping block. It was absolutely selfish of her.

"Yeah, wow," Anna-Kay mocked. "She's just a little girl, Dakota. I don't get why you hate her so much."

"I fucking told you already!" she retorted, leaning across the emergency break mounted to the car floor, into her friend's personal space.

"What? What is it? Because of your mother? Your step dad? Your—"

"You were fucking there on the day and I'm not going to repeat anything," Dakota said with a certain finality. She looked away, again out her window, feeling emptied out. She'd been bubbling and rising like a scalding pot about to overflow and the mention of that memory just tipped the pot right over. Dakota was hollowed out not with a bang, but a slow spill. "You were there, Anna-Kay. Just shut up about it."

Dakota could hear herself breathing heavily. She hated getting so worked up.

"Here." Dakota heard the jingle of keys. Anna-Kay placed it in her expectant hand. "That wasn't her fault, Dakota," she said quietly, calmly. "You know it."

She turned the ignition, but she wasn't defeated. "Whatever."

And she waited for her sister to clumsily climb into the SUV, who then gave her thanks for leaving the sink running at a good, warm temperature.


Anna-Kay's cell struck 12:15 A.M. Dakota threw it over her shoulder and, once again, it luckily landed on her bed somewhere; a soft thud reached her ears. She really needed to get her phone back from her parents. In one of her weaker moments, she had set it down on the kitchen table for a few seconds immediately after their return to the house. By the time she realized, she was in the shower. And, naturally, it had been confiscated when she finally got a chance to check on it.

She rolled back on to the arm of Julian and feebly attempted to wrap it around her shoulder. Then, she stuck her hand under his shirt and began caressing his chest, his abs. She didn't bother with his pants; it was useless; the boy was knocked out cold. Or asleep. Or dead. Dakota had no idea. She felt the same way toward Daring, who was lying at the edge of the bed with one arm hanging toward the floor. Anna-Kay, however, was awake, only evident through the occasional flutter-of-the-eyes. She was snuggled up to Daring, almost pushing him off the bed.

"They're so boring," Dakota prompted.

Anna-Kay apparently found more interest staring at the inside of her eyelids. No response.

"Why do guys go to sleep so easily?" she continued, adamant on maintaining some sort of conversation.

"I know, right?" Anna-Kay replied lethargically, eyelids still closed, obviously not listening.

After arriving at Dakota's, the three guests and Dakota herself had shuffled upstairs. Obviously, they'd awoken Dakota's parents. Her mother came out of her room in her nightgown and glared at her daughter, who was the last to escape to her room.

"Where did you take Rain?" she'd asked.

"No where. Where did you put my phone?"

Her mother grabbed her wrist. "Where did you take her?"

Dakota glared fiercely. "We went out to eat." The words came out slow, deliberate.

"You took her to eat? Where."

"Somewhere."

"Where is she?"

Dakota shrugged and shook free of her mother's grip.

"Dakota, I swear, I'm sick of your games; if you did something to my daughter—"

And Dakota had disengaged. The sucker punch was too much—as if Dakota wasn't her daughter, too—and she swiftly slammed her door shut on her mother, locking it tightly.

As for Rain, she was still in the car, asleep—no one had bothered to wake her up.

In the privacy of Dakota's walls, Daring had materialized a six-pack of beer out of thin air and then the two boys promptly—and disgustingly and impossibly—polished off each and every last can, save one. Anna-Kay and Dakota had shared this one.

Trying to make the most out of their pathetic situation, the two girls had snuggled up to their respective guys and tried to doze off as well.

Except Dakota was getting frustrated. She couldn't get her mind to shut up.

Presently, Dakota slinked out of Julian's (morbidly loose) grip and stretched, causing a beer can to roll to the ground. A bit of fluid trickled out onto the rug her bed was placed on, but she ignored it and stepped over opened bags of chips, bottles, and haphazardly discarded cupcake wrappers.

Finally, she made it to the Magic 8-Ball, which she had glanced at hours ago and then lazily tossed to the ground. She'd been bored of it within the first few seconds and rued the spent money.

But now Dakota was sort of-kind of desperate. Her friends, being transformed into dormant lumps of flesh, were pretty much useless in the entertainment category, and her phone was currently being held hostage. So, in an attempt to clear her mind and feebly amuse herself at the same time, she mentally asked a question—a stupidly simple one for now: was her sister still in the car?—and gave the plastic ball a shake.

You may rely on it.

Oh-kaaay, Dakota thought, hopeless and bored. This clearly wasn't as fun as she'd predicted. She tried another question—a riskier one this time. Something more challenging for the Ball.

Did we eat at McDonalds?

My reply is no, she read in response to her own question. Doubtful, she asked the same question again and creepily received a similar answer. My sources say no.

And then Dakota was suddenly paranoid—had it always had those creepy answers? Sources?

She rashly peeked through her blinds, out one of the not-fully-dried windows, expecting to spot a man in a trench coat under a lamppost, holding up a sign that read in bold red letters SOURCES.

Dakota genuinely wondered if the Ball knew, somehow.

Regardless, this was so worth the five bucks she paid.

Is Julian hot?

As I see it, yes.

Am I hot?

As I see it, yes.

Will our relationship ever go further than… um, where it's at now?

Outlook not so good.

Dakota scoffed. It had to be wrong sometimes, after all.

Is my sister going to die? She thought, a little too hopefully to be considered sane in some countries.

Reply hazy, try again, it provided.

Will a car or something hit Rain?

Better not tell you now.

Well, either way, Dakota was still hoping.

Did we eat at Leslie's today?

Signs point to yes.

Did we not eat at Leslie's today?

Don't count on it.

Frustrated with the inability to best the Ball, Dakota began to ask ludicrous maybe-in-another-universe questions, which would obviously never happen in this world.

Will my parents get divorced . . . again?

As I see it, yes.

Dakota clucked her tongue at this answer. Her original parents had already divorced after a severe argument. But her step-dad, Jared Wright, rarely argued with her mother, and the seed of that ancient argument from before was definitely not coming back, so this was obviously wrong. The Ball's answer was about seven years late.

Do I like Drake Pierce, who I find repulsive and disgusting, weird and freaky?

Don't count on it. Damn, it was right again!

And then, almost as if a little tiny fragment of her hoped otherwise, she gave the question a different spin.

Will I like Drake Pierce, in the future?

Without a doubt.

Okay, clearly, this thing didn't have all the right answers. She re-asked the question and received:

It is certain.

No way, in a trillion light years, would Dakota even go near him. How in the world would she end up liking him?

Yet she sort of felt like she already had gone near him before. In her head, a dusty and old cardboard-paged picture book opened up to a Once upon a time, and underneath the musty hand-painted pictures, somewhere on some page as depicted by tiny cursive text, Dakota had liked Drake.

She didn't know it, but she sort of . . . felt it. It was this slight resistance when she tried to feel disgust for him. A faded blockade that once testified to something more lovely, good-hearted and innocent.

Dakota shook her head. Now she was just being melodramatic and silly.

Speaking of silly, a certain rumor had been spread at school (her regular school, not summer school) months ago, so she accordingly tackled a related question with the Magic 8-Ball.

Does Anna-Kay, my best friend in the whole wide universe for over six years, talk shit about me, like people say she does?

Yes.

And then Dakota lost interest and the Magic 8-Ball lost its magical properties.

This thing was obviously giving her random answers—not magical! How the hell did she believe in this waste-of-five-bucks for one second?

Before she put it down, she had one last idea. Just one more thing to ask, just for the sake of purging her mind a bit.

She peeked out her windows before she asked it, nervous.

Did Drake Pierce kill his sister?

Concentrate and ask again.

Dakota exhaled through her nostrils and inhaled like a monk trying to levitate and stuff.

Did Drake Pierce kill his sister?

Cannot predict now.

Vexed, yet still wondering whether Janice's absence was the real reason the cops arrested him, Dakota threw the ball to the ground in a last-ditch effort.

Blue-stained and written on the small die within the Ball were four simple words looking up at her:

Don't count on it.