Chapter One: Welcome to Mistbrook Falls
It's funny how things happen. Fate so often intervenes in our everyday lives and flips the ordinary on its head. Fate is a fickle friend. It guides us on our paths, forcing us along predetermined lines and controlling our lives whether we want it to or not. Sometimes this leads us to terrible tragedy and heartbreak, but this isn't always true. There are times when fate leads us through the dark times and into the light; such as with the case of Snow Austin.
Snow was sixteen. She had long, brilliantly red hair and bright blue eyes. She looked almost exactly like her mother did at that age. Snow and her family lived in small town of Mistbrook Falls, Michigan, which lay less than an hour northeast of Detroit. They lived in a nice, two-story house on Tranquility Circle.
They had lived in Mistbrook Falls for the last eight years. Before that, Snow's family had lived in a very interesting place. They hadn't lived in a house or apartment building, but instead they had lived in what Snow thought was the coolest place ever; an abandoned red brick warehouse known only as Warehouse 15.
Snow lived there with her birth mom, Ariana Laine, and her adoptive mom Kayla Austin. Ariana was sweet, bubbly, and very fun to be around. She was playful and funny and the best mom in the world. Kayla, on the other hand, was kind but... tough. She was very protective and overly cautious at times but Snow knew she had her reasons for being so. Regardless, Snow loved them both more than anything else in the world. They loved her fiercely and had given her an amazing life. Snow's parents were quite wealthy and they gave her anything she wanted.
Snow also had an older cousin. Her name was Sophia and she had been adopted by Kayla's sister Alana after her father Mike had died in a tragic car crash thirteen years earlier. Sophia was a fantastic cousin and they were close friends. Alana and Sophia lived in the house next door.
Of course, most people would ask why a wealthy family like the Austins would choose to live in a musty old warehouse when they could surely live in a very nice mansion somewhere. Snow, too, had asked this question when she had been a little girl. Her mothers had smiled at each other and told her that while many people lived in mansions, they didn't know anyone who lived in a warehouse. Snow had to admit, they had a point.
Life at the warehouse had always been happy and pleasant, or at least it had been for as long as Snow could remember. Her parents had told her of a darker time, a time filled with mystery and murder. Snow hadn't been there for much of it and couldn't recall what little had taken place once she had come to live at the warehouse, but luckily those days were long over. The threats her parents had faced were gone now and their family was safe and happy.
But as Snow and Sophia grew older, and the city of Detroit fell further and further into economical and social ruin, Kayla, Ariana, and Alana decided that they needed to relocate for the sake of the girls. Ariana had always wanted to experience small town life and the little town of Mistbrook Falls fit the Austins perfectly. They had purchased the house in Mistbrook Falls many years earlier, but somehow they had always chosen to remain at the warehouse. As disappointed as Snow had been when she had learned that they were moving, she was glad that they had.
As for the old warehouse, the Austins still owned it and Ariana made certain it was well cared for. Snow and her friends often used it as a hangout when they drove into the city on the weekends.
And so it is on a clear Thursday morning in late August, our story starts, with Snow fast asleep in her bed without a care in the world. Snow was sleeping so peacefully that she didn't hear her door creak slightly as it opened, nor did she hear the soft footsteps as they padded across the room. She didn't awaken to anything until something heavy hit her in the stomach and she woke with an anguished cry. Startled, she flailed around for a moment before her sleepy brain registered the smiling face of her friend floating above her.
"Damn it, Clara!" Snow snapped, doing her best to shove the blonde girl, who had leapt rather catlike onto the bed and straddled the redhead's hips, off of her. "Stop doing that!"
"Oh, but its fun," the blonde replied, battling her green eyes playfully. "You still love me?" Snow rolled her eyes.
"Of course I do, but if you do that tomorrow I'm gonna sic Fluffers on you!"
"All that old cat does is lay around and sleep," Clara snapped, rolling off of Snow and falling onto the bed beside her. "He's like what? Fifteen years old? He's not attacking anyone." Clara had a point. Ariana's cat Fluffers had lived at the warehouse since Ariana had first come to live there. He had been a year old at the time and she had kept him as a pet ever since.
"He's still got claws," Snow replied sharply. She glanced at the digital clock beside her bed. "What are you doing here so early anyway? It's six a.m., Clara."
"I still owe Jackson for dumping that bottle of syrup over my head last week. I want to get him back!" Snow sighed heavily. Jackson was Snow's boyfriend and he and Clara had been involved in a brutal prank war for over the past two years. Snow had long ago given up trying to get them to stop and just went along with it.
"What's your plan this time?" Snow demanded, climbing out of bed and rummaging through her closet for something to wear.
"I've got something special planned," said Clara mysteriously. "You'll see."
"Fine, don't tell me," said Snow firmly. "But whatever it is, it can wait until tonight. I'm not doing something that's probably illegal in broad daylight."
"It's not illegal," said Clara hastily. "Well, much…"
"Oh, we're going to jail…"
"We're not going to jail," said Clara. "It'll be fine. Okay, we'll do it tonight then, under the cover of darkness. All stealth-like and whatnot."
"I'll go with you," said Snow dubiously. "But I'm not going to help you. Jackson's my boyfriend. I can't take sides."
"Like hell," Clara snapped. "You've known me longer! Just because you and I don't spend hours up in the Make Out Cave under the falls every weekend doesn't mean he comes first! Chicks before dicks, Snowflake."
"First of all," Snow interrupted, grimacing. "Stop saying that. It's never going to catch on. Secondly, you and I don't spend any time in the Make Out Cave. Why can't you ask Nikki or Mary or even Sara...?"
"Ooooh, now there's someone you'd like to spend a little time in the Cave with," said Clara laughingly.
"What?" the blonde asked. "Come on, Snow, I've seen the way you two look at each other. The only reason you're not with her is because you were dating Jackson first, right?"
"Wrong," Snow snapped. "I love Jackson, Clara. I do. Sara... she's my friend, that's all."
Snow was flat out lying. Sara meant so much more to her than that, but she could hardly share those feelings with Clara. She… she would probably understand, but Snow wasn't ready to open that door just yet. She felt something for Sara, but she wasn't entirely sure what it was. Of course, she was lying to herself as well. Snow knew exactly how she felt about Sara but was entirely unwilling to admit it to herself.
"Yeah, whatever you say," said Clara. "But whatever, I need your help and the others are all busy today."
"Well, at least I'm your last option," said Snow dryly. "Alright, fine, I'll come with you."
"Awesomesauce!" Clara exclaimed in a playful voice. "Now, get your butt out of bed. Your mom has breakfast almost ready and I'm starving."
Snow reluctantly rolled out of bed and dug around in her closet for something to wear. Once she was dressed, she followed Clara downstairs. The smell of breakfast cooking in the kitchen reached them at the base of the stairs. They followed the scent into the kitchen. As they entered, the refrigerator door swung closed.
"Morning, girls," Ariana said brightly, waving them over to the bar where four steaming plates of bacon and eggs awaited them.
"Morning, Mom," said Snow, seating herself on one of the barstools.
"Good morning, Mrs. A," said Clara pleasantly. Ariana smiled at her and brushed her brilliantly red hair away from her face.
"How many times have I told all you girls to call me Ari?" the redhead asked, arching her eyebrows.
"Too many, they don't listen," said Snow, biting into a bacon strip. "Where's Mom?"
"Where do you think?" Ariana asked her daughter.
"Asleep," Snow and Clara said at the same time. Ariana laughed.
"Exactly," she told them. "Missy Kayla is not a morning person. In fact, I think she'd like to shoot most morning people."
"Sounds like Mom," Snow agreed.
"What sounds like Mom?" a voice asked from the staircase. Kayla stumbled sleepily into the kitchen and snaked her arms around Ariana.
"Morning, cupcake," she said sweetly.
"Morning, Kay-Kay," Ariana replied. "You almost missed breakfast."
"Well, we wouldn't want that," said Kayla pointedly. "It's the most important meal of the day."
"You think every meal is the most important of the day," said Ariana with a smirk as the brunette sat down at the bar across from Snow and Clara.
"Yeah... well... food is good," said Kayla with a shrug. The two teens laughed as Ariana pushed her wife's plate toward her.
"Here, hungry," she said with a grin. "Enjoy."
"I intend to," said Kayla. "So, what are you two up to today?" she asked the girls.
"I thought we could hit the mall," said Clara with a shrug. "Sara, Nikki, and Mary are all busy so it's just the two of us."
"Well, just make sure you don't buy the entire clothing department," Ariana told Snow firmly. "Your closet is the size of most people's bedrooms and it takes effort to squeeze in there as it is. You don't need anymore clothes."
"You can never have too many clothes," said Clara pointedly.
"Oh, yes you can," said Kayla, exchanging a knowing glance with Ariana. "Have either of you been to Alana's place recently?"
"That's a good point," Snow admitted with a grimace.
"Hey, speaking of Alana," said Ariana. "When is she getting back in town?"
"Tomorrow morning," Kayla replied. "I told her that would be a problem when she decided to turn West Coast Weddings into a nationwide corporation. Now she spends half of her time at the office in New York. Luckily, she'll be home just in time to see Sophia get her promotion."
"I still can't believe she's about to make Detective," said Snow incredulously. "She's only been an officer for two years."
"It's a small town," said Ariana with a shrug. "Mistbrook Falls doesn't exactly have the world's largest police force."
"I'm pretty sure Snow here could have done it in one year," said Clara, nudging her friend with her elbow.
"I doubt that," said Snow shyly. Clara rolled her eyes.
"Come on, you're the smartest kid in school. An A- might as well be a failing grade to you."
"Yes ,well… just because I strive for the best doesn't mean…"
"It means you're smart," said Kayla pointedly. "You've always been smart, Snow. There's no reason to be ashamed of that."
"I'm not ashamed of it," said Snow quickly. "I just don't need to brag about it."
The four of them ate the remainder of their breakfast, chatting idly as they did so. Afterwards, after Snow and Clara helped Ariana with the dishes, the girls collected their purses and headed for Snow's car. They went out of the front door and out onto the driveway.
Snow drove a powder blue Shelby GT500 Super Snake. Kayla and Ariana had given her the car for her sixteenth birthday a week earlier. It was a lot of car for a sixteen-year-old, but Snow had reminded both of her parents that Kayla had owned a quarter million dollar Mclaren MP4-12c when she had been only a few years older than Snow was. After that, they had agreed to buy the Mustang.
"I still can't believe they bought you this," said Clara, climbing into the hundred thousand dollar muscle car and closing the door behind her.
"They can't either," said Snow with a grin. She pressed the Start button on the dash and the V8 beneath the hood roared to life. Snow smiled even brighter as they eased onto the street and drove off down the road.
Mistbrook Falls was a fairly small town. With a population of around five thousand, it was just big enough to have the services of larger cities without the crowds. Mistbrook Mall was just one of those services. The sprawling complex of stores had long been Snow and her friends' summer playground. They had spent so much time there that summer than many of the store owners knew them by name.
"I need to get something sexy to wear to Michael's party this weekend," said Clara thoughtfully as they wandered through the third high end clothing store.
"Are you going to that?" Snow inquired. "It's a college party and Michael… he's kind of a douche, isn't he?"
"Oh, he's a complete sleaze," Clara admitted, her attention suddenly captured by the display case of sunglasses. "But he's dating Mary's sister, so…"
"He's dating Emily?!" Snow exclaimed. "Have I been asleep all summer? When did that happen?"
"Just a couple of weeks ago," said Clara. "Mary doesn't like to talk about it. She doesn't like Michael at all. Apparently, he's hit on her a few times, the pervert."
"So… why, exactly, do you want to go to a party at the house of a college guy who hits on sixteen-year-old girls?" Snow wanted to know.
"Because, Snowflake, just because Michael's a jerk doesn't mean all the guys there will be. There'll be plenty of hotties, trust me." When Snow didn't seem excited about this prospect, Clara rolled her eyes. "Dear God…" she groaned. "You know nothing, Snow."
"We've already established that I have a boyfriend," said Snow. "Why should I care about cute guys at some creep's party?"
"You don't have to buy anything," said Clara, trying on a pair of designer sunglasses and checking the effect in a mirror before putting them back in their case. "But it never hurts to examine the merchandise."
"Did you really just use a shopping metaphor?" Snow asked wearily.
"I surely did," said Clara. "I also… oh hell. It's Brad Reynolds." Snow looked around and sure enough the hooligan was strolling past them, seeming to be in quite a rush.
Brad was a drifter. He'd appeared in town less than a year earlier and had been doing odd jobs ever since. He had rather wild raven hair and dark, almost black eyes. He was very creepy and people seemed to do their best to avoid him if at all possible.
"That guy…" Clara said grimly, peering nervously after him. "I swear, if he's not a murderer or a rapist or… or something awful like that, I don't know what he is."
"You don't know he's any of those things, Clara," said Snow. She would openly admit that she found Brad to be extremely uncomfortable to be around, but that hardly made him a criminal. So far, he'd done nothing but some construction work on the new church across town. He had, as far as she knew, broken no laws.
Unfortunately, that was the kind of town Mistbrook Falls was. You were judged on your appearance and your status in life. Who you really were on the inside mattered very little to the people in that town.
"Trust me, Snow," said Clara. "I've got a sixth sense about this kind of thing."
"Oh, like how you were positive that Nikki stole your favorite shirt?" Snow demanded. "I seem to remember that you were wearing the shirt at the time you accused her."
"Fine," Clara snapped. "On occasion, the sense is… off. Still, on Brad, I'm right. He's no good at all."
Snow wasn't sure about that at all. Brad seemed harmless enough to her, if a little odd. Unlike her town, Snow judged people based on how they treated her and others. She didn't care how someone looked, only how they acted. That's what her parents had always taught her and she firmly agreed with them.
The rest of the afternoon passed rather uneventfully. Snow and Clara shopped for most of the day. It was nearly nine before they finally left the mall and loaded their purchases into the trunk of Snow's car.
"We've got to stop by Jackson's place on the way," said Clara as Snow started the engine. The redhead rolled her eyes.
"I thought you might have forgotten," she muttered darkly.
"Not a chance," said Clara. "Now, let's get going. It's already dark out." Snow drove them back across town to Jackson's house. Jackson lived two streets over from Snow in a large two-story house. Snow parked her car down the street and Clara got out.
"Wait here," she hissed. "I'll be right back." She darted away into the darkness. Snow sat nervously in the car, waiting. She had a bad feeling about this whole thing. She didn't like sneaking around and playing tricks. It just wasn't her way. Overall, Snow wasn't exactly the most adventurous of people. In fact, she liked to keep things as normal and simple as possible.
It was an aspect of her personality that she had most certainly gotten from Ariana and not at all from Kayla. The other redhead was meek, shy, and soft spoken. Kayla, meanwhile, was brusque, brave, and outgoing. Snow took after her birth mom in that regard.
Snow sat there for a few minutes, growing more and more nervous the longer she waited. At last Clara, giggling madly, rushed back over and climbed into the car.
"I think he's about to leave!" she exclaimed. "This should be good!" Moments later, Jackson's front door opened and Jackson and another guy came outside. Jackson, the taller of the two, was a handsome young man with emerald eyes and deep brown hair. He was talking animatedly with the second man who Snow recognized at Jacob Blake, Sara's older brother.
The two stood on the porch and talked for a few minutes before Jacob waved goodbye and walked away. Jackson turned and went back inside. Clara grimaced.
"Damn, I was hoping he would go too," she complained. "I wanted to see… oh no…" Jacob had climbed onto his bike, a fairly expensive racing model, and started to ride off. He was halfway across the street when the front wheel slipped off and he went crashing violently to the ground.
"Oh shit!" Clara exclaimed. "Shit, shit, shit! Snow, we've got to go!"
"What?" Snow asked, confused. "Clara, come on. We've got to help him! Go get Jackson!" Snow bolted from the car as Sara reluctantly went and knocked on Jackson's door. Jacob was unconscious when Snow reached him. She quickly checked his pulse. Blessedly, he was still alive.
Snow had already called an ambulance by the time Clara and Jackson came sprinting over.
"What happened?" Jackson asked, kneeling on the concrete next to Snow. "Clara said you saw him crash?"
"Yeah…" said Snow, glancing back at Sara who looked as though she would like nothing more than to disappear into the night. "We… his front wheel just came off. I don't know if it broke, or… he crashed and fell like this. He's unconscious. I already called an ambulance."
"Hey, buddy," Jackson said, taking his friend's hand. "Hey, can you hear me?"
"Don't move him," Snow warned. "Not until the paramedics get here." They could already hear the sirens wailing in the distance. They drew nearer and nearer until at last the ambulance came into view. The paramedics were quick and efficient. They loaded Jacob into the vehicle and were speeding away up the street, barely pausing to ask the three teens any questions.
"I'm going to take Clara home," said Snow, noticing that her friend looked like she might pass out at any moment. "Do you want me to come to the hospital with you?" Jackson shook his head.
"It's okay," he told her. "You go on home. I'll call you as soon as I know anything." Snow kissed him and hugged him reassuringly before joining Clara at the car.
The drive back to Snow's house took place in complete silence. Clara seemed unwilling or unable to speak. Once they arrived, they made their way inside. Kayla and Ariana were cuddled up in the den just beyond the foyer on the left side, watching a movie. Snow stopped only long enough to tell them that Clara would be staying over and the wish them goodnight.
Once upstairs and in the peaceful privacy of the redhead's bedroom, Snow rounded on Clara.
"Tell me you didn't," she demanded of the blonde, who sat on the edge of her bed looking queasy. "Please, Clara. Tell me you didn't sabotage Jacob's bike." Her friend looked up at her with very sad eyes.
"I… I thought it was Jackson's bike," she said. "He never rides the thing; he just wheels it around with him. I just loosened the wheel. I thought it would fall off while he was walking and it would… I didn't know it was Jacob's bike. They looked the same in the dark, I… I'm sorry, Snow."
"Tell that to Jacob," said Snow fiercely. "God, Clara! I've been telling you forever that this prank war was stupid and now someone's gotten hurt."
"Snow, you… you can't tell anyone," said Clara pleadingly. "If anyone finds out... do you have any idea how much trouble I would be in? Please, Snow, don't say anything."
"Clara, you put someone in the hospital," said Snow. "What? You're just going to pretend like nothing happened?"
"It was an accident, that's all anyone needs to know," Clara exclaimed. "I never meant for this to happen!" Across the room, Snow's phone chirped indicating that she had a text message. Angrily, she marched over and picked it up. She reread the message three times just to be sure she hadn't misunderstood. Slowly, she looked up at Clara.
"It's from Jackson," she said weakly. "Jacob's awake… and he's paralyzed."