Chapter 1

Danielle

"Dani, go get ready for dinner," my mother called to me while ascending the stairs two at a time.

"Okay," I answer, without moving from my comfortable perch on the sofa in our living room, bundled up in a blanket with my eyes glued to the television. It was the second week of January and the afternoon of my first day back to school. My preferred method of relaxation was to lose myself in a few chick flicks and I hadn't moved from my spot for about an hour now.

Quietly reciting a line I knew well from memory, I glanced down at my outfit and resolved to swap my sweatpants for jeans. After all it was Monday and Monday meant pizza at the local pizza joint and there was no need to dress up for that.

A full forty-five minutes later my mother came downstairs in a cloud of perfume, with her hair styled up, wearing a pretty black dress. I looked up from the television screen, "Aren't you overdressed for pizza?"

For a moment she was confused. Then she looked put out.

"I put a note on the fridge this morning; we're not eating out tonight, tonight we have guests," she bustled around between the living room and the dining area smoothing things that weren't creased, dusting things that weren't dusty and just being a bundle of nerves.

"That's why I got some food delivered, Dan."

I got out of the sofa, switching off the television with a sheepish smile. If only I'd actually took note of all her mother's bustling about this evening I would have noticed we were probably having guests over tonight.

I turned to go upstairs, "Um, I'll just go change real qui-"

Ding dong! Too late. I pulled my hair out of the bun it was in, letting my red hair cascade down my shoulders and back, and answered the door while my mother scampered off to the kitchen, busying herself doing whatever.

In front of me was a guy that was stooped low, fixing a little girl's shoe. "Hi," I opened the door wider. When the guy stood up I almost audibly gasped from the surprise. What was Hunter Blair doing on my doorstep?

He didn't recognise me for a moment but when he did he just wrinkled his brow and went, "Dawson?" Seeing as his question/statement did not need an answer I just stepped aside and let him in. We all filed into the dining room and mom emerged from the kitchen to lightly embrace the man I supposed was Hunter's dad while the rest of us stood by awkwardly.

"Danielle, this is Gavin," I shook his hand, "and these are his children."

Gavin introduced them as Natalie, Winnie, Brennan, Vaughn and Hunter.

"Hi," I said to all of them. They nodded in response. Only Natalie, who looked to be about six or seven years old smiled and returned my greeting.

"Danielle, do you know Hunter? He goes to school with you, and he's a senior too."

"He's in a few of my classes," I responded. Yeah, only American History, Geography, Math and English.

Gavin and my mother spoke quietly amongst themselves and

then we all sat to eat.

We engaged in light conversation throughout the meal, mostly Natalie amusing us with stories, and then I gave in to my curiosity.

"So...Gavin do you work with my mother or are you a client?" We hardly ever had guests, especially since my father passed away and so I was left to wonder why the sudden change. The only explanation I could come up with is that Gavin was a co-worker or a new client.

"Well -" Gavin began but was cut off.

"There's something we need to tell you sweetheart, something we actually have to tell you all; Gavin and I are getting married."

I blinked a few times and tried to process what was just said. Fixing a smile on my face and remembering my manners I said, "Congratulations. That's great."

There was a gasp of two of surprise, a few mutterings and then Hunter offered his own congratulations and prompted his younger siblings to do the same.

I got the feeling that they were just as surprised as I was.

Gavin clasped hands with my mother, who nervously smiled at all of us, and Gavin smiled appreciatively at the support, reluctant as it was, from his brood of children.

Then we quietly returned to our half-finished dinners. Not long after the engaged couple moved to clear the table and load the dishwasher and I was left to play host – something I was no doubt no good at, given my lack of experience.

Winnie, Vaughn, Brennan and Natalie dawdled around the living room and then finally sat on the sofa.

"Hunter, how come you aren't talking to Danielle?" the youngest one, Natalie, asked her older brother, drawing his attention from watching his father and soon-to-be-step-mother in the kitchen.

"Uh," you could practically see the gears turning in his head, he was obviously trying to find an excuse or answer, "we don't know each other very well."

Fair response.

With my curiosity piqued I walked over to Hunter and surveyed the sight of Gavin and my mother cleaning up and talking. Their posture appeared somewhat relaxed, what with my mother's lips being curved into a smile and Gavin making wild gestures, obviously telling some sort of story or joke. It warmed my heart to hear my mother's soft laugh again. It felt as though it had been ages since she'd heard her mother laugh and seen her smile a genuine smile.

Natalie walked over to me. "Hi, I'm Natalie and I just turned seven. I'm not afraid to talk to you even though I think Hunter is," she tossed a look at Hunter when she said the last part.

"My name's Danielle and I'm seventeen," I said, turning and stooping down to be on her level.

"You're going to be my new sister, y'know that, right?"

"Yes." Pause.

"What's your mother like?" she asked a little, tugging at the lacey hem of her pretty dress, and failing to meet my eyes as confidently as she had a few moments ago.

"She's a lawyer so she works a lot. She's really nice and -"

"Does she take you places and play with you?" she asked, suddenly very excited.

"Sometimes," I nodded.

"I don't think our mommy would -"

"Shut up! You don't know that!" Brennan shouted, shoving his sister slightly.

"Quit that!"Hunter reprimanded.

The pause lulled and Nat's sniffles subsided. She rubbed at her eyes with her balled up little fist "What happened to your daddy, Danielle?"

It suddenly felt like all the eyes in the room were on me and that made me uncomfortable. My throat was suddenly dry.

"Guys! It's time to go," Gavin called from the kitchen.

I pushed a puff of air out of my mouth, grateful that he had interrupted.

"Bye," I waved a little as they all stood up and headed for the door.