Chapter 1

I never knew how I could dress myself in the early morning, but I always somehow managed to do it. Once I woke up, I slowly yanked a record of The Wall from my carefully-stacked collection and played it on my record player. While listening, I plopped on my ebony leather jacket and a Radiohead t-shirt over my boyish figure. Surprisingly, I did it without turning either inside-out first, a first for the month of August. I walked to my vanity to comb my hickory-colored hair, styling it in my usual "spiky" long bob with bangs. I then did my makeup, applying the usual foundation/concealer, cherry lipstick, black eye makeup, and blush.

I turned off my player, made my way downstairs to the kitchen, and pulled out a strawberry yogurt from the fridge. My mom was cooking some eggs on the stove and my sister, Esme, was slouching at the table, moaning like a zombie.

"Ash," Mom glared disapprovingly at the yogurt, "is that all you're going to eat for breakfast?"

"I gotta make sure I leave early, mom." I replied with a small smile, "school starts at 7:50, y'know?"

"At least have some protein; it helps with brain activity…y'know."

"Alright, alright," I chuckled and grabbed a spoon. As I sat down, I heard Esme groan underneath her arms. I rubbed her chestnut hair as I opened my yogurt., asking "Are you ready for 6th grade, Esme?"

"Not if it means getting up this early…" Esme groaned.

"Waking up at 5:50 is something you'll just have to get used to; Aiko will go through your pain once she's your age."

"I wish I was Aiko right now."

"We all do, we all do." I acknowledged as Mom quietly placed two platters of scrambled eggs in front of us.

As I quietly ate my breakfast, Esme forced her head up. "What's middle school like, Ash? I've read all those 'how-tos' on surviving it, but how did you do it?"

"Oh, it's been too long." I laughed, putting my fork down. "Let me think… ah! Stick with your friends and don't bother trying to impress the popular girls. Just because they think your interests are trash doesn't mean that they really are."

"Well, I've got Al and Liz." She mumbled as she sluggishly ate off her own plate.

After breakfast, I grabbed my backpack, put on some dirty converse that used to be some shade of white, and rush out of the door. But, Mom handed me one of the grocery bags my dad kept in the kitchen closet, "I made your lunch today," she explained.

"Thanks, but you didn't have to," I politely nodded, "I know you're busy with all your accounting and stuff."

"I insist; it's your favorite sandwich."

"Really?" I peeked inside the bag to see ham and melted cheddar seeping out of a plastic container, "thanks, Mom."

"You're welcome; have a wonderful 1st day of Sophomore year, Ash." she softly patted me on the back and sent me on my way.

I quickly biked past the usual sights I saw before making it to school. There was the flower shop under scrutiny for selling drugs and the shopping center kids hang out at. They were all populated by hundreds of various faces I recognize but have never spoken to before. I didn't care, though, because my only goal was to reach the generic Hamilton High School. I parked my bike on a rusty rack and pushed past various kids to meet my friends at the usual courtyard table.

"Oh my god," Felix, rubbing his wide green eyes, animatedly beamed, "Ashina Takahashi? You're alive? You survived the apocalypse!"

"What apocalypse?" I burst into laughter as I took a seat next to Piper, another friend.

"The classes to come, my dear; I've heard that you have quite the nasty teacher for health."

"Mrs. Janvier? Yeah, yeah, I've heard she's pretty bitchy, but I have Japanese and piano in the morning too."

"Speaking of which, are you ready to know what you're going to be doing for the first piano concert?" Lisa quesitoned, brushing some stray light hairs from her face.

"Already?" I confusedly asked, "Ms. Mapp usually gives us at least a week to hear our skills before she does that."

"It's never too early to decide." She nonchalantly shrugged.

"You're right, you're right; I'll think about it."

"So, how are the lovebirds doing?" Felix turned his attention to Ginger and Sophie, who were holding hands on the other side of the table.

"Same as always, Felix," Sophie playfully blew a kiss at him, "now that Ginger's hot cousin is back in College Station.

"You don't always have to flirt, Sophie." Ginger pouted, crossing her arms over her maroon dress.

"It's not flirting, Ginger." Sophie smiled.

"Well, it depends from person to person." I butted in, ambling over to Piper before gently touching her chestnut hair. "For example, if I stroked Piper's hair, this could perceived as a sign of close affection or flirting."

"Or it could be sexual harassment, since we're absolutely not dating." Piper snapped back.

"But it depends for random strangers." I continued, ambling over to Alyssa. "Alyssa, if you saw two people holding hands in the streets, what would you think?"

"Ummm…" Alyssa shakily bit her pale lips, "it depends on….the age."

"Like what, Alyssa?" Lisa wrapped her arm around her, "It's okay; they won't judge you."

"Like…if it was two small children… I would assume they were…sisters or friends. But if it was two teenagers or grown ups…they could also be a couple."

"You see?" I grinned.

Ginger smiled and turned to Sophie, "I guess that makes us a couple then."

"Of course." Sophie smiled back and stroked her girlfriend's bright red hair.

"That logic would make Lisa and Alyssa seem like a couple too." Felix snorted.

"We're stepsisters…" Alyssa mumbled.

"Felix is saying that if we follow Ash's logic, we could appear like a couple too." Lisa quietly explained.

"Oh…"

I laughed, "Don't worry, Alyssa. We all know that y'all aren't dating."

"Yeah," Piper enthusiastically agreed, "that would be fucking creepy. I know y'all aren't related, but you've been living under the same roof for 7 years. It wouldn't be cute at all."

"Speaking of cute, I made these last night and wanted to share." Ginger reached into her magenta bag and pulled out a clear container.

She opened the container, blowing me away what was inside: cupcakes coated in blue frosting, black sprinkles and pieces of candy corn.

"Oh my god, Ginger." Sophie beamed, "Have you been looking at Pinterest again? These are so cute."

Ginger smiled, "I got the recipe from there, but not the decoration idea."

"Well, they look wonderful." I complimented, giving a cheesy thumbs up.

"Ooh, bluebirds." Alyssa admired, "My favorite."

"They look excellent, Ginger." Lisa added.

"Thank you, thank you." Ginger giggled, "Y'all can have one if y'all want; they're vanilla."

"Ooh, vanilla." Felix grinned and yanked a cupcake out of the box, "My favorite."

As usual, Ginger's baking was what Heaven would taste like if it was a confectionary. It was the perfect mix of vanilla and frosting, the sprinkles and candy corn adding more flavor into the mix.

"Jeez, Ginger," I moaned, "how do you do it? You bake like some kind of god."

"Well, I make everything from scratch," Ginger approached me. She carefully explained every step of the baking process, from mixing the batter to her mom taste-testing a sample.

"Of course," she finished, "I have to give my mom some credit; she's the one that taught me how to bake."

"I'll be sure to thank Mrs. Van Dalen for this as well, then." I smiled as the bell rang, hurrying off to start the day.

After school, I biked past the shopping center and over to one of my favorite stores, Oliver's Records and Instruments. As I entered the store, I breathed in the similar aroma of old records and new pianos, guitars, and whatnot. I walked past the familiar records with varying degrees of wear and tear, admiring how they were organized by genre and artist, and over to the glass counter.

As usual, Isabel was behind the counter. She brushed some turquoise hair from her face before smiling at me. "Hey there, Ashie Ash. You ready for today's lesson?"

"You bet, you bet." I smiled back, "I should just move to this store."

"Can't work here 'til you're 16, kiddo." She opened a little gate to let me into the beige back room.

"I can't wait for that glorious day. I want to work with what I'm passionate about."

"I know, Ashie Ash." Isabel chuckled, "Before we start, check out what we got this morning."

She opened a dusty box and pulled out a number of records, handing them to me. I gasped at the

surprising amount of classics, from a mint-condition copy of Def Leppard's Hysteria to a slightly torn one of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

"This is, this is." I stuttered a little, "This is incredible. Did some rich dude want to get rid of his past?"

Isabel shook her head. "The seller's uncle died recently and left him all of these. He didn't have room in his apartment for them, so he just sold us the classics."

"I wish I had a record player. If I did, I'd sell my soul for any of these hits."

"One day, kiddo." She pulled my lesson guitar from its rack, "Shall we begin practice?"

I spent about an hour practicing my piano and guitar. Isabel helped me with some of the chords I was struggling with, played a small tune she was working on, and even recommended a piece for fall concert.

"There's this Chopin piece I think you'd like." She pulled up a video on her phone. "It's called 'Raindrops', and it's one of my favorite piano pieces of all time, and it's not that hard to play."

As I listened to the soft-spoken tune, my heart began to feel light and airy, truly falling in love with the song. It captured the delicacy of raindrops while being a piece that can be learned within a month.

"Do you have the sheet music for it?" I asked immediately after it finished. "This is perfect."

"I don't have it on me at the moment, but I can give you a copy next week."

"Thanks, thanks." I got up, "Well, that solves my first problem of the year."

"You're growing up fast, Ashie Ash." Isabel fondly grinned, "It feels like you were 12 just yesterday. Soon enough, you'll be 19 and studying civil engineering like me."

I shook my head. "I don't even know what I want to study yet."

"You'll figure it out some day. You have a lot of potential, kiddo."

"I guess I will." I replied after a pause, "I'll see you next time, Isabel."

"Don't forget that we're meeting on Wednesday next week, Ashie Ash." Isabel waved

"Oh yeah, oh yeah. Have fun at that wedding." I waved back as I walked out of the store and back to my bike.