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  1. 1. • “You‟re sure you‟ve got everything you need?” • “Yes Daddy, I‟m sure.” It was only the eighth time River had asked her that question since breakfast. Dee smiled amiably into her father‟s shirt as he nearly suffocated her with a hug. “Food, fresh clothes, sleeping bags, emergency medical kits…I‟m pretty sure I even caught Journey lugging a guitar into the back earlier. We‟ll be fine I promise.”
  2. 2. • After several hours of brainstorming and systematically discarding increasingly elaborate lies to tell their parents in order to be allowed to skip out on school and other responsibilities for an uncertain stretch of time they had come up with the perfect ploy. • Tell the truth. • It was dastardly in its simplicity and surprisingly effective.
  3. 3. • River released his daughter “Well be safe and have fun driving down to the beach.” • Ok, so not the whole truth. There were limits even with their parents. They were quite happy to release their children into an irresponsible road trip to wander aimlessly in the general direction of the sea side. They would most likely be somewhat less happy to release them on a very deliberate mission to track down a potentially dangerous scientist and ask for his help in bending the rules of humanity for Phoenix.
  4. 4. • That was the moment Journey chose to lean on the horn and glare out the window impatiently at his sister. • Giving her parents one last perfunctory goodbye hug Rhapsody dashed down the porch and settled into the driver‟s seat of the bus.
  5. 5. • River wrapped his arm around his wife‟s waist as they stood on the porch and watched the bus jerk its way down the road. • “They‟re up to something aren‟t they?” • “Almost definitely. It‟s cute that they think we haven‟t realized that though.”
  6. 6. No sooner had they left the scattering of houses that constituted their lost little corner of the desert behind, it quickly became apparent to the seven teenagers that they were in for a singularly boring scenery.
  7. 7. • The desert was immense and empty. They drove for hours through the barren golden landscape, following the straight road by sandy dunes and flat stretches of nothingness until it became almost hypnotic.
  8. 8. “You ok?” Turner shook Rhapsody out of her reverie several hours into the monotonous drive. “Yeah, I‟m good” she smiled, rolling her shoulders stiffly “I was just thinking about how if we hadn‟t already seen the mountains and the lakes I might not believe there was anything but desert in the world…” Turner squinted ahead “Well even there isn‟t at least we‟re not the only people who live there. Check it out.” He nodded ahead “A town…sort of.”
  9. 9. Dee peered out the windshield into the dimming sunlight where Turner was pointing. Sure enough, shivering uncertainly in the distance like some sort of heat induced mirage, she could make out what was clearly signs of civilization. Requiem stepped up beside Turner, a frown on her face, as they drew level with the houses lining the asphalt highway “Strangetown?” She read a dusty metalic sign as they drove past “I don‟t remember that from any of the maps…”
  10. 10. The others were already crowding around the windows as they began to roll past the first signs of life they had seen since leaving home. “Have we taken a wrong turn?” “I‟ll check. Where did you put the maps?” Turner asked, automatically flipping open the glove compartment. “Dee? Maps?” “Right…maps” Dee smiled sheepishly at her cousin “I knew I was forgetting something.”
  11. 11. “Are you serious?” Elise, overhearing the conversation was up beside them instantly “You forgot to bring maps and we‟re already lost? How is that even possible! I looked at those directions and there‟s only one road through the desert and it‟s totally straight and we‟re on that road! We can‟t conceivably be lost!” “Oh man, is this going to turn into a teen horror flick where we end up hopelessly lost being picked off one by one?” Journey grinned settling back into his seat as his sister needlessly paused at the stop sign on completely quiet road, “Hey Elise, start worrying, cheerleaders never make it far in situations like these.”
  12. 12. “Yeah and you definitely have horror movie survival skills Journey.” “Well they‟re better than yours.” “Guys! We‟re not lost and we‟re not going to die. I promise. I‟ll just pull in here and we‟ll ask for some directions.” “Well that‟s almost as bad as saying „I‟ll be right back‟”
  13. 13. Satisfied sounds accompanied stretching as seven antsy teenagers piled out of the hot bus into the slightly less hot outside. “I am dying for a nice cold drink.” Cayenne sighed as she let a warm spring breeze roll across her bare skin. Journey muttered something under his breath which she decided to ignore “I saw some machines when we were pulling in. Who‟s in?” There was a general noise of assent which was followed by some stiff staggering steps around the bus to fulfill their quest for refreshments.
  14. 14. They‟d taken approximately six steps when they found themselves stopping short. They were being watched.
  15. 15. Or rather, stared at. In complete silence. And with obvious curiosity. It was incredibly disconcerting and the only thing they could really do was stare back. Journey voiced what they were all thinking first “What is up with their clothes?” Elise jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow in response.
  16. 16. Rhapsody Bohemian however was not easily disconcerted. “Hiya. I think we might need some help. There‟s a possibility we‟ve taken a wrong turn, even though I‟m pretty sure I haven‟t seen a single turn since we cleared Bluewater. Would you mind giving us some directions? And possibly telling us where we could get a map?” “Directions?” The girl in pink laughed, a high clear sound as she scrutinized the bus curiously. “Golly, why would you need directions? There‟s only one road in or out of Strangetown.” “And no one ever comes here who isn‟t looking for us first,” The boy in green added “are you sure you‟re lost?”
  17. 17. “Clearly you‟re underestimating my sister‟s ability to be a moron and defy the laws of possibility.” Journey remarked off handedly as he turned towards the soda machines, clearly deciding to leave her to fumble around with travel plans on her own. “Nice to meet you all.” Phoenix offered brightly as he followed behind his friend. The younger girls exchanged a look for a moment before shrugging and falling into step behind them.
  18. 18. “We‟re heading for Pleasantview.” Dee continued allowing the younger four to wander off without rebuke “It‟s kind of important. But see this town wasn‟t on our map, so we don‟t even know if we‟re going the right direction or not.” The blonde girl perched primly in the back of a pickup truck smiled brightly “Oh gosh, you shouldn‟t worry about that, see we‟re not on maps.” “Or satellite photos, or GPSes.” her leather clad companion added in a matter of fact tone.
  19. 19. “Ok…I guess that‟s not too weird or creepy…” Dee suddenly found herself trying to put her brother‟s horror movie scenario out of her head. The boy in green stared at Rhapsody with inscrutable obsidian eyes “We‟re literally half way on the road to nowhere here. No one has ever come through here by accident before. We‟re…we‟re not exactly meant to be stumbled across. You know.” He frowned, as if trying to solve a particularly unfathomable problem “It might be better if you keep driving. Before they find out you‟re here without authorization.” Typically Rhapsody managed to focus in on what was truly important in “It‟s not a road to nowhere, we just drove down it from somewhere.” “Who‟s „they‟?” Requiem interrupted before Dee could get sidetracked.
  20. 20. “Oh that doesn‟t really matter.” The Green girl smiled brightly. “We‟re not supposed to say. It‟s a secret. At least I think it‟s a secret, no one who didn‟t already know has ever been here you know.” She nodded sage naivety. “But you really should go.” The blonde girl piped up, rising to her feet unsteadily in the back of the truck “Or you might get in really big trouble, with them.”
  21. 21. “Right and we wouldn‟t want trouble.” Turner muttered wryly, rounding the truck and reaching up for the girl “Here let me help you.” He offered as she steadied herself awkwardly. She blinked bright green eyes at him as he took her hand, and then blushed furiously as he eased her to the ground. “You ok....?” “Jill” the blonde girl supplied quickly “Jillian Jennifer Smith…bu-but it‟s Jill. I mean that‟s what people call me.”
  22. 22. Turner smiled at the obviously bashful girl, trying to put her at ease. She only blushed further. This might have had something to do with the fact that he deliberately hadn‟t let go of her hand yet. “Ok Jill. Why don‟t you tell us what‟s going on here.” “I-um- well we‟re…we don‟t…we don‟t talk about it. Jinx, it‟s not important anyway, it‟s just…it‟s just the way things are.” She stared down at her penny loafers for a moment before taking a deep breath and looking straight up into Turner‟s face “The last person who came to Strangetown without military authorization was my daddy…and he still hasn‟t left. And if you don‟t get out of here quickly, you might not either.”
  23. 23. Rhapsody felt an unaccustomed chill settle in the pit of her stomach at the blonde girl‟s words. “You‟re not allowed to even leave this town?” The boy in green shrugged “Strangetown‟s not really a town, it was just built to look like one because they figured it would make the civilian scientists they were hiring feel more comfortable. It opperates under the code nine rules of every other classified government facilities. Controlled access and limited passes for expiditions outside the facility grounds. But no one ever comes through here, not in our lifetimes at least, it‟s probably why they‟ve gotten a bit lax about things like twenty four hour checkpoints on the roads. Otherwise you guys would‟ve never gotten this far…the rest of us. Well, no we can‟t leave. We know too much apparently.”
  24. 24. “Too much about what?” “Oh lots of stuff.” Jill drifted over cheerily and apparently oblivious to the sudden warm spring shower that had begun to fall clouding up her glasses “Weapons testing, stealth surveillance, mind control, alien monitoring and experimentation…” “See, this is why we‟re not supposed to talk to strangers. We blurt out major governement secrets.” The boy in green brushed dark hair from his face, looking amused in spite of himself as Jill prattled on.
  25. 25. Dee‟s eyes went wide as the other girl ticked off secret governement projects like she was rattling off a grocery list, “Whoa, whoa, whoa hold on” she interrupted finally “What was that last one? Alien testing…does that mean testing on aliens? On aliens like you guys?” Jill‟s face clouded abruptly, her right hand twitching ever so slightly towards her left arm before she remembered herself and began fiddling with her dress wordlessly. Rhapsody glanced down to where almost imperceptible white scars marked Jill‟s arm. Marks from needles. “You really should go.” Jill repeated, never taking her eyes from her shiny penny loafers. Dee said nothing but she was beginning to get the same feeling.
  26. 26. “You‟ll never get out town before curfew you know.” It was the girl in pink who piped up “The sensible thing would be for you to check in with the base office and explain it‟s all a big misunderstanding.” “Minnie!” Jill practically squeaked the other girl‟s name as she rounded on her, eyes wide as plates “They can‟t do that! They‟ll get in oodles of trouble! Plus it‟s after 5 o‟clock. The offices are already closed.” “Gee, you‟re right.” Minnie‟s brow furrowed as she considered, then a smile lit up her face “Well then I guess we‟d better hide you all pretty gosh darn quick!”
  27. 27. “Why the hell do we have to hide here again? I can‟t believe you got us into a mess already.” Journey‟s perpetually loud voice echoed around the empty warehouse accusingly “Way to drive us right into Weirdsville Dee.” “Strangetown” one of the green boys, who had identified himself as Ricky Curious, corrected. Journey ignored him pointedly as he looked distastefully around their campsite.
  28. 28. Rhapsody was so accustomed to her brother that she barely heard him ranting at her and turned to their alien companions instead, “What is this place anyway?” Ricky shrugged, “It used to be a weapons factory. It‟s been out of use for years. We used to play here when we were kids.” “I guess that‟s pretty cool…” Journey admitted begrudgingly. Rhapsody felt her skin crawl a little at the notion.
  29. 29. Jill lingered at the doorway while the others filed in to explore the derelict interior. She glanced anxiously up at the sky which was darkening visibly, even behind the storm clouds “It‟ll be curfew soon. We should really get home.”
  30. 30. “You don‟t have to you know” Dee bounced up next to Turner as their five new friends began to shuffle out of the warehouse, checking their watches worriedly as they went. “You could stay here for the night and chill. Or you could even come with us when we go.” The petite blonde shook her head “That‟s really nice, but gosh, we just can‟t do that. We live here. Everything we have, everything we know, it‟s all here. This is our life. We can‟t just…leave. It wouldn‟t be right.” “Oh come on” Turner crossed his arms as his eyes flicked across the other teenagers, trying to hide his annoyance “You‟re all smart enough to know this isn‟t right.” Jill exchanged a glance with her leather clad companion. For a moment they looked like they might say something. Instead they simply turned on their heels. The industrial door clanged shut behind them.
  31. 31. “Testing! Testing! 1 2 3! Ladies and Gentlemen this is your captain speaking. Guess who found the speaker system!” Cayenne‟s enthusiastic voice echoed around the empty walls where they had set up camp. Night had fallen quickly after the Strangetown teens had left, and the sound of rain beating on the windows made everyone grateful they had somewhere dry to spend the night.
  32. 32. “What‟s more!” Cayenne continued into the microphone, “Thanks to this family‟s questionable, priorities, while we don‟t have any maps we do have about eight billion CDs, so…” Cayenne‟s voice crackled out to silence for a moment before being replaced by the blare of loud music. No I don‟t know where I‟m going, But I sure know where I‟ve been Hanging on the promises, In songs of yesterday And I've made up my mind, I ain't wasting no more time…
  33. 33. …But here I go again… “Idiot” Journey remarked offhandedly abandoning their makeshift fire to sink down next to Phoenix a little way off. “Me or her? Or just people in general?” Phoenix asked, laughing. “Her obviously” Journey scowled “Although while we‟re at it, you‟re a bit of a jerk.” “What did I do this time?”
  34. 34. “I finally worked it out today. I‟d been wondering you know. Yeah, don‟t think I don‟t notice these things Phoenix.” The blonde boy glanced over his shoulder to notice his cousin scowling angrily at a neon lighting fixture. “You‟re going to have to help me out here Journey, I‟ve got no clue what you‟re talking about.” “I‟m talking about this whole roadtrip thing. Ever since Elise started mucking about with those papers and this trip you haven‟t said a thing about any of it and I finally worked out why. You don‟t think we can save you do you?”
  35. 35. …Though I keep searching for an answer, I never seem to find what I‟m looking for… Phoenix smiled tiredly and leaned his head against the crumbling brick work “No I don‟t” “Then why the hell are you letting us all trek across the desert and put ourselves all through this if you think we‟re just going to end up being disappointed in the end? You jerk.” Phoenix supressed the smile, he knew Journey well enough to know he was lashing out at him out because he was upset, and he didn‟t want him to think he was laughing at him. That rarely went down well with Journey.
  36. 36. “My mom once told me that the hardest thing about dying wasn‟t the dying bit, or the being dead part. At least not for her. She said it was coming back and seeing how much everyone who loved her had suffered. Grandma and Grandpa, your Dad, aunt Saffron…” Phoenix pushed the hair from his brow as he looked at his sister, deep in conversation with Requiem around the fire “I don‟t want to die Journey. But what sucked the most when I was sick last time was how much it sucked for you guys. So if there‟s even a tiny chance that this can save me I‟ll go along with it because it makes Elise happy to have some hope, because not letting her try would be more selfish than demanding that you do…” “Because we‟re the ones who have to live without you if you die. Not the other way around” Journey completed. …and I‟m gonna hold on for the rest of my days, „cause I know what it means, to walk along the lonely street
  37. 37. “You‟re the most annoyingly selfless dying person I know Phoenix” “I try.”
  38. 38. …And here I go again on my own, walking down the only road I‟ve ever known… The sound of laughter mingling with the music drifted up through the the grating. A quick glance down past her feet made Rhapsody smile. The place looked veritably inhabited after only a few hours. She could almost forget that this was a place of carefully crafted destruction.
  39. 39. Except she couldn‟t forget anything. And she especially couldn‟t forget the strange feeling of vulnerability that had settled into the pit of her stomach just by seeing this place, which in spite of being so close to their little corner of the desert couldn‟t have been further removed from them. Rhapsody was heiress to a name, a house, a Legacy, and a way of life. And it was one she couldn‟t share with these anxious opressed and horribly used teenagers. The realization that she could not have been more powerless to help people was not an easy one for someone who thrived on an almost unconscious ability to infect anything she touched with happiness. With a sigh she swung open another door, hoping that this one contained something less eerie than the discarded bullet casings of the last two. Immediately her bare toe struck something solid and metallic.
  40. 40. And suddenly Rhapsody felt her usual buoyancy flood through her chest tugging her lips into a smile as her brain began to whir. “Hey guys! Who wants to help me with a project?”
  41. 41. “Nnnnnnggghhhh…Can we officially declare this hour too early to be awake?” “You don‟t even have to drive Cayenne. Just go to sleep in the back seat.” “Hey you volunteered to drive Elise. Don‟t get snippy with me. And all I was saying was that it took way more of my sleeping time than I thought it would to finish Dee‟s project. “ “But it was fun! And besides we need to make a statement, about originiality, about non conformity, about who we are, especially so far from home!”
  42. 42. “And you have to admit we look pretty snazzy.” “She‟s sort of right about that guys.”
  43. 43. “If we can be serious for a second! Even without maps I‟m pretty sure I‟ve got this itinerary figured out. We can probably start getting out of the desert by this afternoon, and then I think we can probably be in Pleasantview in two days.” “Yeah right, that seems like it‟ll happen.” Journey leaned over Elise at the wheel “Who wants some driving music?” “I‟m telling you if we drive through the night, and don‟t get distracted any more we can make it in two days.” Journey responded by hitting play and flooding the bus with the sound of drums and electric guitars as they settled in for what was definitely not a two day drive.
  44. 44. Well, life's like a road that you travel on There's one day here and the next day gone
  45. 45. Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
  46. 46. There's a world outside every darkened door
  47. 47. Where Blues won't haunt you anymore
  48. 48. For the brave are free and lovers soar Come ride with me to the distant shore
  49. 49. We won't hesitate…
  50. 50. …To break down the guarding gate
  51. 51. There's not much time left today
  52. 52. Life is a highway…
  53. 53. …I wanna ride it All night long…
  54. 54. …If you're going my way I wanna drive it All night long…
  55. 55. Through all these cities and all these towns It's in my blood and it's all around
  56. 56. I love you now like I loved you then
  57. 57. This is the road and these are the hands
  58. 58. From Mozambique to those Memphis nights The Khyber Pass to Vancouver's lights
  59. 59. They knock me down And back up again
  60. 60. You're in my blood I'm not a lonely man
  61. 61. There's no load I can't hold The road's so rough this I know
  62. 62. I'll be there when the light comes in Just tell 'em we're survivors
  63. 63. Life is a highway I wanna ride it All night long
  64. 64. If you‟re going my way… …I wanna drive it all night long
  65. 65. Life is a highway… …I wanna ride it…
  66. 66. All night long …
  67. 67. If you‟re going my way… …I wanna drive it…
  68. 68. …All night long
  69. 69. There was a distance… …between you and I…
  70. 70. …Between you and I…
  71. 71. …A misunderstanding once…
  72. 72. …But now, we look it in the eye…
  73. 73. Ooooo...Yeah!
  74. 74. There ain't no load that I can't hold
  75. 75. The road's so rough this I know…
  76. 76. I'll be there… …when the light comes in…
  77. 77. Just tell 'em we're survivors
  78. 78. Life is a highway, I wanna ride it …. …All night long
  79. 79. If your going my way I wanna drive it All night long
  80. 80. Life is a highway… …I wanna ride it All night long…
  81. 81. If your going my way… I wanna drive it…
  82. 82. …All night long… “Hi Daddy!” “Hey Grandma it‟s me!” “Hey Mom. What‟s up?”
  83. 83. “Yes Mom, your Vagabond children are still alive…we did call two days ago you realize….Somewhere near this place called Pleasantview…yeah it‟s just suburbia, nothing interesting. Just one thing that Elise wants to check out, but we figured it was a bit late when we finally got here, so we‟d at least wait „til dawn before we started…sight seeing…No we‟re camping out near this old abandoned house tonight so no need to break into anything, but thanks for the tip...”
  84. 84. “No I‟m still fine Mom, really…Elise took my temperature three times today, I‟m being careful, I promise…Yeah I will…yeah Mom…”
  85. 85. “Yeah, I know Daddy…No, we‟re good for cash now…No nothing, it‟s fine, we took care of it…no without breaking the law and everything!...Yeah I know.”
  86. 86. “Ok, we‟ll call tomorrow…Mmmhmmm, give my love to Mom and Grandma and Grandpa...I love you too Dad.”
  87. 87. “Heya.” stowing the cell phone safely in her pocket Rhapsody flopped down next to Requiem by the fire with a smile. “Hey.” A moment of comfortable silence passed between the girls, the kind that can only exist between friends who have known each other a very long time and understand each other better than most. Then Dee spoke up. “Em…are you sure you don‟t want to call your parents? We‟ve been gone a while now and you haven‟t checked in with them once. They must be getting worried about you.”
  88. 88. Requiem shrugged “They know where I am.” She tactfully omitted to mention that this information had been relayed via a note taped to the fridge just before walking out the door with her suitcase to get on the bus. Her father was probably worried. She wondered bitterly if her mother would have even noticed she was gone if she had just left without even the courtesy of a note. Of course she would have. Requiem got the feeling that even when she was being wholly ignored by her mother there was little she missed.
  89. 89. “Emmi,” Rhapsody spoke carefully, “you know I‟ve never met your family…” Requiem‟s shoulders stiffened visibly, her eyes quickly darting away from her as she began to sink into herself, carefully beginning to build a wall around herself like she had every single time the issue of family came up since they were children. And Rhapsody had always allowed it, she had never pushed Requiem when she didn‟t want to be. This time she pushed. “Emmi. What are you hiding from me?”
  90. 90. Requiem fastened her eyes on Rhapsody, something oddly dangerous flashed there, like a trapped animal who was about to attack and for a moment Rhapsody felt a shiver run through as her friend stared at her. “You wouldn‟t understand.” The words came out sharply, forbidding any further discussion. “Why not?” Requiem pushed herself to her feet, fighting the sudden surge of emotions pulsing through her chest. “Because you‟ve never hated anyone Rhapsody.”
  91. 91. “Em, please don‟t walk away from me…I‟m your best friend” Rhapsody stumbled on a concealed tree root as she followed Requiem away from the warmth of the fire. “…and I‟m your drive home…so you‟ll have to come back anyway...” The absurd simplicity of this last statement caught Requiem off guard, her step faltered and she felt a laugh bubble up inside her and her shoulders began to shake.
  92. 92. “With you life is completely uncomplicated Rhapsody, and I love that, I love being here, and all the stupid things we‟ve done this week, and I love having fun and I don‟t want things to change and-” She felt the tears coming and quickly looked away, “And I love that you‟re my best friend and I love you and-” In all the years they had been friends it was the most open she had ever been with Rhapsody. She knew Dee took it for granted that they were best friends and that they cared about each other, but saying it outright was different. She blinked the tears from her vision and not quite daring to look at her.
  93. 93. Rhapsody said nothing. Instead she simply reached out and pulled Requiem into a hug. She clung to her best friend, shaking a little. Neither of them said anything else. But in that moment the girls felt their bond tighten just a little bit more.
  94. 94. In spite of the lack of address or phone number it turned out that it wasn‟t hard to find Mr. Goth thanks to Elise‟s genius suggestion that they pull over and ask for directions the next morning. As it turned out she was right in her assumption that Pleasantview was just one of those places where everyone knew who everyone was and where they lived.
  95. 95. The house they were directed to was normal in every possible way. A normal colour, a normal lawn, a normal size, on a nice normal and completely peaceful street. The peace was shattered the second they rang the doorbell.
  96. 96. The house erupted into a cacophony before the doorbell had even died away. A dog began to bark, eliciting a scolding female voice which was practically drowned out by a baby suddenly beginning to scream somewhere upstairs and amidst it all voices reverberated around the walls demanding that someone get the door. Finally someone did as the sound of running feet was accompanied a moment later by the appearance of a cheerful looking small boy with messy brown hair who wrenched open the front door and then stopped.
  97. 97. “Mommy! Daddy! I got the door like you said, „cept it‟s strangers. I‟m not allowed to talk to strangers!” “Oh for the love of-, ok, chill out Davey. I‟m coming.” A teenaged girl materialized in a doorway, tucking dark hair behind one ear, a large dog attempting to trip her up as it darted around her heels. The latter barked once at the Bohemians before darting out the door and through their legs into the garden, followed a moment later by the small boy who nearly bowled Rhapsody over in the process.
  98. 98. The dark haired girl leaned in the doorframe, “Hi, what can I do-” The rest of the sentence died on her lips as her eyes flicked across the scene in front of her, rapidly taking in the seven teens and the brightly coloured bus. And then she burst out laughing “Wow. What is this? Pimp my ride to school? Putting the cool back into school bus? You guys here to bedazzle our uniforms so we match or something?” Journey laughed earning himself an appreciative wink from the girl. He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly and smiled back. Cayenne raised her eyebrow in the direction of her cousin. She couldn‟t remember the last time he‟d smiled at someone.
  99. 99. “Ummm…is this the Goth residence?” “Sooooort of.” The girl pulled a face. “I mean it‟s technically half of my last name, but Mom hasn‟t been a Goth since like two husbands ago. Still what can I do for you?” “Well we‟re looking for a Mr.Goth, one of your neighbours pointed us here. Is he in?” “That kind of depends, the only Mr. Goth here is-” A door swung open behind the girl and she glanced back over her shoulder.
  100. 100. “Nicky! Speak of the Devil.” The girl rounded on a dark haired teenage boy who bore a distinct resemblance to her. “What about me?” The boy Nick, blinked at his sister,caught off guard. “As far as I know Nick is the only Mr.Goth here. Although like I said technically It‟s „Goth- Lothario‟, we hyphenated.” She shrugged apologetically. “Actually I think we‟re looking for someone a bit older…”
  101. 101. “Yeah I kind of figured. You‟re probably wanting Uncle Alex, right? He doesn‟t live here, but I think he‟s coming home from Uni for a visit next week, if you want to talk to him then?” “Actually we‟re looking for the person who wrote this.” Elise interrupted. Stepping forwards she handed the pair the battered old science fiction volume. They flipped the cover open and glanced at the inscription. A look passed between the two before they handed it back quickly.
  102. 102. “That‟s our grandfather‟s handwritting…Cassie, that‟s our mother…” Elise leaned forwards hopefully “Yes! Great. Is he in?” The girl shook her head sadly “He died last winter. Just after our last birthday.”
  103. 103. Elise felt like someone had just punched her in the stomach. Everything, all the travelling, all the planning, all the hoping it had all been for nothing. Despair filled her as she looked at her brother, his face unreadable as he stood unusually quiet next to her. The man who was supposed to be able to cure death was dead, and that meant there was no way to save her brother.
  104. 104. “What were you looking for Grandpa anyway? I mean you‟ve obviously come a bit of a way. No offense, just you don‟t look like you‟re from around here.” The girl smiled in spite of the obvious flash of grief at the mention of her grandfather. For some reason Rhapsody didn‟t hesistate for even a second in telling her “It‟s for out cousin, Phoenix” Dee gestured back at the blonde boy, hovering behind her “He‟s…well it‟s complicated. He might be dying and we heard there was this thing that your grandfather was working on, I mean it‟s not important now, but it might have been able to help, it was supposed to-” “-to cure death.” The dark haired boy completed, his expression suddenly grave.
  105. 105. His sister glanced back at him “The Faust Formula?” “The Faust Formula.” For a moment something the Bohemians couldn‟t read passed between the siblings and then the girl turned back towards them “And he‟s going to die unless you get this? You‟re sure.” “It‟s just a question of when.” Elise heard her own voice come out sounding quiet and choked, even to her own ears. The girl chewed her lip for a second, as she seemed to consider. Then she nodded.
  106. 106. “We don‟t know much about it…” The boy ran his hand through his dark hair making it stand on end, he was smiling “Just that it existed” “…but we might know where you can find out what you need. Just we‟ll need to get out of here now, before our Mother catches-” “Anastasia Belladonna Lucrezia Goth-Lothario.” The girl winced. “-us”
  107. 107. “Oh hey Mom. Fancy seeing you here.” Anastasia turned to the dark haired woman who was supporting a baby on one hip and fixing the teenagers with stern expressions. “Annie, what did I tell you about cleaning your room yesterday.” “That it was my room and I should be able to keep it however I want?” If her mother caught the sarcasm she ignored it, turning to her son instead. “And Nicholas, I saw you were working on something for the science fair. I hope you can get that finished today. I need you to babysit tomorrow ok?” “Mom, it‟s not even due for another month.”
  108. 108. The woman glanced at the doorway seeming to notice the presence of the seven Bohemians for the first time “Who are your new friends?” “Uhhh…” “Hi! I‟m Dee.” Rhapsody waved cheerily from the porch. The dark haired woman nodded, apparently satisfied by this wholly useless response. “Annie, when you‟re done with your room I‟m going to need a few things done around the house before your step brother drops by tomorrow.” “That‟s great mom, you know I woke up this morning and I was wondering what could possibly be missing in my life and now I have realized, chores! Is Dirk bringing the princess of Darkness too?” “I think Lilith” she emphasized the name sternly “is staying on Campus actually. Now can I count on you guys to take care of things for me and not just spend your Saturday goofing off with your friends?” She fixed the pair with a motherly gaze as she bounced the toddler on her hip. Annie and Nick traded a glance, perfect understanding passed between them “Yes Mom.”
  109. 109. “So how much trouble do you guys figure you‟re going to be in with your mom?” “Meh, probably the usual amount.” Nicholas shrugged. “And it‟ll probably take her a while to realize we‟re gone anyway. Assuming she even tears her attention away from the baby long enough to ever notice. Ok, this is it. It used to be Grandpa‟s house. Nicky and I were both born here too, but we moved when mom got remarried, and Alex is at college, so now it‟s just Aunt Ingrid.” The Bohemians peered up at the grey monstrosity looming over them like something out of a horror film. If it hadn‟t been the middle of the day a flash of lightening in the background and some organ music might not have been out of place.
  110. 110. If Anastasia and Nicholas noticed the creepy vibe they gave no sign of it. Annie pushed the door open confidently calling loudly as she went “Ingrid! You home?” “I‟m right here Anastasia, no need to shout.” Journey following just behind Annie blinked in confusion at the girl who had stepped gracefully into the hallway. There couldn‟t have been less of a resemblance between the two girls. Where Anastasia was dark Ingrid was pale to the point of near transluscence, blonde almost white hair framing elegant haughty features.
  111. 111. Anastasia ignored the blonde girl‟s raised eyebrows as the seven Bohemians traipsed into the house behind her. “Listen Ingrid, you haven‟t cleared out any of Grandpa‟s old lab have you?” “Mmm?” Her tones were distracted and cool “No, why would I? I did try to get the maid to take care of it after he first died but she refused, said she didn‟t want to go poking around all those experiments, that it might be dangerous. Useless woman. It‟s impossible to get good help these days you know.”
  112. 112. Turner‟s lip quirked up in amusement as he inspected the petite blonde “She‟s your aunt?” “Yep. Well half aunt I guess if you want to get technical. Grandpa‟s daughter from his second marriage. She was actually born just a few days after Annie and I. We all grew up here together. She‟s more like a cousin.” “And she lives here alone?” Dee sounded concerned. “Yeah, Ingrid, Alex and Mom all inherited one third of the house after Grandpa died. Mom didn‟t want anything to do with it, Alex is off at college, so it‟s just her. Her mother was declared unfit when we were all kids, just after Grandpa divorced her and Grandpa‟s will didn‟t leave her a legal Guardian, I guess because he wasn‟t expecting to die before she turned eighteen. Mom was going to be put in charge of her, but they never got along, so she sued for emancipation.”
  113. 113. “So listen, it‟d be cool if these guys poked around up there for a while right?” Annie continued “You wouldn‟t mind?” The blonde fixed the seven Bohemian suspiciously for a moment before waving her hand airily “I suppose not. Just…try not to make a mess. Do you think they can manage that?”
  114. 114. “Ok. It is not humanly possible to make this more of a mess.”
  115. 115. “What happened here?” Elise stared at the tiny attic space that looked like the sight of recent hurricane. Nicholas shrugged “Grandpa happened here. Organization was not one of his strong suits. I tried to find a couple of things after he died and gave up pretty quickly to be honest, but then it wasn‟t a matter of life or death for me.”
  116. 116. “But he always knew exactly where everything was. Although most of the time that was in his head. He was cautious about writing things down after Mom found some of his notes when we were all toddlers and flipped out. Turned out he‟d been secretly dosing our milk with some compound that was supposed to make us grow up super intelligent. She just about killed him for that.” “Your grandfather drugged you as a child.” Elise suppressed a shudder. She was liking the sound of this man less and less. “I can‟t say I blame your mom for freaking…if someone had done that to us…” Elise trailed off. She could barely imagine her mother‟s wrath if anyone had ever endangered her or Phoenix.
  117. 117. “Mom and Grandpa used to fight a lot about his experiments. That‟s actually how Annie and I found out about the Faust Formula in the first place. It was just after she‟d had Damien…our littlest brother. Grandpa came over to meet him. We overheard them arguing about something. Naturally we evesdroped, as one does. She was shouting about something being unnatural, stupid, dangerous. He told her it was too late anyway, he‟d already gone through with it. He‟d already taken „the cure‟. He‟d perfected himself, he wouldn‟t have to leave his children to grow up fatherless and so on. We ended up asking Ingrid what was up and she told us that he‟d come up with a way to cheat death, prolong life forever, free of disease or injury. Frankly we kind of agreed with Mom about the weirdness factor. But most of Grandpa‟s stuff was weird.”
  118. 118. “And we couldn‟t exactly blame his motives. He was trying to cheat death for Ingrid. He was so old when she was born, and her mother never showed any interest in her after the divorce when it was made abundently clear that Ingrid wasn‟t her way to get to Grandpa‟s money. He just didn‟t want her to have to grow up an orphan.” “Listen Nick” Elise bit her lip anxiously as she looked around the cluttered lab, she so wanted to believe there was something here that might save her brother, but she couldn‟t ignore the evidence “I don‟t mean to be rude. But the fact of the matter is no matter why he was doing it, your grandfather failed. He died. I appreciate you bringing us here and everything but, there‟s not much point in digging around here if all we‟re going to find is a formula that doesn‟t work.”
  119. 119. “Oh, it works fine. Grandpa, died the healthiest youngest looking ninety- eight year old I‟d ever seen. He probably could‟ve lived to see us all graduate, get married, have our own kids…if he hadn‟t been murdered.”
  120. 120. Downstairs the remaining Bohemians had readily accepted Ingrid‟s begruding offer to raid the fridge and make themselves some breakfast. Journey however found himself wandering curiously through the old fashioned living room, inspecting the photos that lined the walls. The first one showed an elderly and frankly fuddy-duddy looking old man who must have been Mortimer Goth, his arm draped around the shoulders of a stunning blonde who was easily a third of his age. A goofy smile was plastered on his face, as if he couldn‟t believe his luck in even getting close to a woman like her, let alone being married to her. He didn‟t look like someone who could conquer death and change what it meant to be human to Journey, especially not in that bow tie, but what did he know, he‟d never had a head for science. The second photo showed… “My parent‟s wedding.”
  121. 121. Journey turned to see Annie smiling at him from the doorway. Instantly an unfamiliar fluttery feeling settled itself in the pit of his stomach. He swallowed hard. “Cool.” He shrugged, striving for nonchalance. She smiled again and closed the distance between them in a few steps. “Journey right?” “Yeah. And it‟s…Anastasia?” He tried to sound as casual as she had. “Yeah. But for the love of all that‟s good call me Annie.”
  122. 122. “So those pictures…” Journey gestured over his shoulder “I‟m guessing either that‟s mini-you or your evil twin.” “Well technically if she weren‟t me, she‟d be my evil triplet. Nicky‟s already my twin. So who‟s to say I‟m not the evil one out of the two of us. I mean look at my face. You just know I‟m plotting something by the way I‟m drinking that bottle.” She grinned wickedly at Journey and he felt his belly flip flop “The other one…” her eyes strayed to the picture of three children grinning foolishly at the camera, obviously her, Nicholas and Ingrid “That, was taken on Ingrid‟s birthday, just before my parents split up.”
  123. 123. Journey felt his smile falter, suddenly he was sorry he‟d brought it up “Uh…sorry…that sucks.” Mentally he cursed himself for not managing a more articulate expression of sympathy. Annie didn‟t seem to mind though, “Yeah that pretty much sums it up.” “What happened? I mean…you don‟t have to tell me or whatever…I was just wondering but if you don‟t want to…” “Nah, it‟s cool. Same thing as every two out three marriages happened I guess, or whatever those stats are for divorce these days. Mom and Dad started fighting a lot, she was unhappy but pretending she wasn‟t, he was never around…”
  124. 124. “The cheating probably sealed the deal though. I mean I didn‟t know about it until years later, but mom caught my Dad in the sack with Grandpa‟s wife” she nodded towards the blonde woman adorning the walls, somehow Journey wasn‟t surprised that a woman with clevage like that was cheating on a man in a bow tie. “Turned out she wasn‟t the only one he had going on the side. She kicked him out that night. I didn‟t know about how messed up it was at the time. I was only seven and all I knew was that my Daddy was leaving me. And before I even had time to get over that mom was already getting remarried. I must of cried for weeks, I was pretty pathetic I guess.”
  125. 125. Anastasia smiled ruefully “Sorry, didn‟t mean to go all TMI on you there. Now you must think I‟m a total whacko.” “Cool. I mean…no. I don‟t think you‟re a whacko. It‟s cool that you told me. I mean, my parents are together, and it‟s kind of sickening. So whatever. Maybe you‟re better off.” Mentally Journey was kicking himself for not being more emotionally articulate. But Annie just laughed amiably.
  126. 126. “Seriously, should we be worried about this? I mean he hasn‟t insulted her even once yet. He‟s actually attempting to be nice to her. Journey‟s not nice to people.” “Maybe he likes her…” “No, that can‟t be it. You‟re his best friend, he likes you. And earlier he told you to get your idiot blonde terminally ill head out of his face first thing in the morning. I mean that‟s just how he shows affection.” “Yeah you‟re right…he must really like her.”
  127. 127. “So you guys drove here all the way from the desert in a bus? That‟s pretty badass” “Yeah I know! I mean…it‟s ok or whatever. Back home I have a motorcyle.” Journey tried for a cocky grin but it came out more lopsided and goofy, something about Annie seemed to do that to him. She returned the smile “That is so cool.” “Yeah, whatever, I mean it‟s totally not a big deal or anything.” He beamed inwardly, he was just wondering if he could work the fact that he played the guitar into the conversation when it occurred to him that they were totally alone in the living room, and that Annie was standing only inches away. Her full lips parted invitingly into a smile. Journey leaned forwards a little…
  128. 128. “So it looks like they‟re going to be digging around up there for a while.” Journey snapped up abruptly, jerking himself away from Annie as she turned to face his interrupting cousin. “But we should probably find somewhere to leave the bus. I mean I doubt your mother will be thrilled with us if we just leave it blocking traffic in front of your house for however long it takes the brain squad up there to put this together. We should also probably find somewhere to stay that‟s actually in town.”
  129. 129. “You guys can stay here if you want.” Annie offered. “It‟s a big house and I mean, I‟ll ask Ingrid but I‟m sure she won‟t mind, in fact she could probably use the company.” Turner smiled dashingly at Annie “That would be awesome, thanks kid.” Annie smiled back and Journey abruptly found himself glaring daggers at his older cousin. Then she turned the smile onto him. “Besides if you guys stay here I‟ll know where to find you to come and hang out.” And with a mischevious wink at the dark haired boy she turned in search of her teenaged aunt.
  130. 130. “Cute kid” Turner remarked offhandedly as the pair watched Annie‟s retreating back. “Yeah, she‟s pretty cool or whatever.” Journey shrugged, wondering where this urge to start a fight with Turner for no apparent reason was coming from. Something in Journey‟s voice caught Turner‟s attention, he glanced over at his younger cousin. Journey noticed the look and scowled “What?” “Nothing.” Turner grinned. Perhaps he‟d wait until the murderous look left Journey‟s eyes before he started winding him up about his crush.
  131. 131. Annie was as good as her word and for the next few days it seemed like she was at the Goth family home any time she wasn‟t at school or asleep. However much to Journey‟s annoyance, as huge and sprawling as the old house was it seemed to be difficult to get any privacy.
  132. 132. Meanwhile the rest of the Bohemians were hard at work. Or rather, Elise was, the others helped where they could, until their limited attention spans inevitably wore out. When that point was reached all Elise really asked was that they not distract her as she dug through piles of notes and painstakingly deciphered notes scribbled across books, scaps of paper and once or twice on the backs of food stained delivery menus. But no matter how much they worked and searched, they came up with precisely nothing to show for it.
  133. 133. Until finally, late on the afternoon of the third day of their stay Phoenix confronted his sister with a sports analogy. “Elise, I think it might be time to drop back five and punt.” Elise turned her grey eyes tiredly onto her brother “What?” “Like in football, when you don‟t think you can get the ball ten yards by the fourth down so you-” “I know what it means.” Elise interrupted impatiently “I‟m a cheerleader remember, unlike the rest of our artsy family I actually understand sports. You‟re telling me to give up. To cut my losses and give up on figuring out this formula. To give up on helping you. I‟m not going to do that Phoenix.”
  134. 134. “Elise, you found some scribbled notes in a book by complete chance. You worked through them, figured out the science behind them. You managed to figure out who‟d written them through trickery and you got us all the way here, to the house of a man who was murdered. Which frankly freaks me out on a whole different level, but that‟s not our problem right now. You‟ve done more than I could possibly have imagined in trying to help me just by getting us to this point. But I think we‟ve come to the end of line here. And I don‟t want to see you destroying yourself trying to push this further if it‟s futile.” “It‟s not futile…I can do this…it just might take a while…” “Elise we don‟t have a while. If we stay away much longer you‟d better believe Mom will come down here and drag us back kicking and screaming if she has to. You‟ve done everything you could with this. Now maybe it‟s time to admit that you‟ve struck out and throw in the towel.”
  135. 135. “Those are two different sports.” Elise pointed out, preparing to return to her search. “Elise.” Phoenix caught her by the arm “you know what I mean. You can‟t always win, no one can. I‟ve accepted that. And you‟re going to have to one day.” Elise swallowed hard. She knew they weren‟t talking about finding the notes anymore. But she shook her head. “We‟ve come miles and miles for this Phoenix. I can go the extra ten yards.”
  136. 136. Before Phoenix could argue any further there were footsteps on the stairs and a moment later Anastasia appeared looking cheerful. “Hey guys. I don‟t mean to interrupt your work, but we‟ve kind of decided to throw a party. Here tonight. Just thought I‟d let you know. Sound good? You both in?” Phoenix‟s face lit up immediately “Oh we are so in.” He spun to Elise, seeing protest already beginning on her face “Elise, if you‟re not going to give up on this can you at least do me a favour and take a time out. You haven‟t had any fun since we got to this town. Can you chill out for one night. As a favour to me.” Elise‟s mouth quirked into a smile “I can handle that, I guess.”
  137. 137. It quickly became apparent that this was not the first party the Goth children had thrown in the old house. In fact it seemed that parties there were expected by the rest of the teenagers of Pleasantview. After all, how many other teenagers in town had a huge house all to themselves and no adult supervision? By the time darkness had fallen over the little slice of suburbia the old house was filled to the rafters with teenagers that the Bohemians were rapidly getting to know.
  138. 138. “Oh and this little creature is Cara Mia, she‟s our half sister…and Ingrid‟s too actually. Cara, this is Journey.” “The one you told me about?” The dark haired girl Annie was introducing to Journey seized him enthusiastically in something between a hug and a handshake. “And call me Cara, or I will die from the shame of my full name.” “You‟re her half sister and her aunt‟s?” Journey looked oddly at Cara “That‟s messed up.”
  139. 139. “Welcome to our family! You should meet our brother who‟s also my cousin.” Journey wasn‟t sure if she was kidding or not. But before he could ask Cara had already moved on, and appeared to be giving him a thorough once over “You know she was right, you are cute. In a kind of skinny way.” And with that she clapped Journey on the shoulder hard enough to make him stagger and wandered off into the next room.
  140. 140. When Journey turned back to Annie he could have sworn she was blushing under her dark skin. “Sorry, she has a bit of a brain to mouth filter problem…” Journey felt a smile spreading over his face “So I‟m cute?” “I take the fifth.” “I mean awesome I get. Or cool, hot. I just didn‟t know I was cute-” “Well I- Luke!” “What?”
  141. 141. Without warning Annie launched herself into the arms of a handsome dark haired boy who had just stepped through the door. “I haven‟t seen you in days! I thought you‟d ditched me.” “Oof.” The boy exhaled as she knocked the air out of him with the hug before folding his arms around her “Ditch you? I‟d never dare.” He released her with one last squeeze and a smile. Journey hated him instantly.
  142. 142. Momentarily forgetting about Journey Annie was beaming happily at Luke “What happened to you hair.” she reached up and tugged a curl on the top of his head, the boy batted her hand away playfully. “I lost a fight with Mom and a pair of scissors. Apparently my old hair was, and I quote, „beginning to make me look homeless‟.” “Awww, I thought it suited you in a dashing kind of way.” Journey glared at the other boy. He was emanating jealous so very violently that Cayenne could sense it all the way over on the other side of the room.
  143. 143. “Oh for the love of…” Cayenne put down her cup on top of the piano and took a few confident strides forwards placing herself in between Journey and Anastasia. “Hey, what-” Journey began to protest, but his cousin silenced him with a look. “Ok. I‟m telling you this because as fun as it‟s been watching you pine after this chick and fight back your evil nature around her, I can only get so much pleasure out of your pain before it starts getting painful for me to. So I‟m going to give you some advice.”
  144. 144. “I don‟t need-”. “Of course you do. Trust me I know more about girls than you do. I am one. So shut up. Now, you need to stop following her around looking like a lost puppy. It‟s not attractive. Just leave her alone, mingle, make her come to you.” “But that guy…” Journey peered over her shoulder to where Annie and Luke were still deep in conversation. “Ignore him.” Cayenne advised. But Journey‟s eyes never left the pair. She sighed and shook her head, she‟d never seen anyone have it this bad for a girl.
  145. 145. “Besides, if you used your admittedly limited braincells for anything apart from planning to pick a fight with any guy who even looks at her, you might have noticed that they have the same nose. He‟s obviously family not competition. You idiot.” “You‟re an idiot.” Journey muttered as Cayenne punched him in the should and turned him very deliberately away from Annie.
  146. 146. “Veronica Beatrice Langerak, I‟m not even going to acknowledge your existence if you‟re going to start smack talking .” “Ok first, Beatrice is not my middle name you dork.” Ronnie Langerak rolled her eyes under dark bangs at Cara “Second, I‟m not smack talking anyone all I‟m saying is that their new stuff is better than their old stuff.” “Yeah see all I heard there was „blah blah blah I don‟t know what I‟m talking about, blah blah blah, my taste in music clearly sucks.‟”
  147. 147. In spite of his initial protests against Journey was actually having fun that didn‟t involve stalking Annie and waiting for the right moment to make a move. “I dunno, I‟ve got to go with Cara on this one.” Journey shrugged, “The new stuff just feels like they‟re trying too hard or whatever.” “Exactly. Trying is so overrated. See, clearly the smart people are correct.” Cara gestured pointedly, sloshing her drink on herself in the process. Ronnie raised an eyebrow at Journey mischievously “You sure I can‟t change your mind? I bet I could teach you a few things about making beautiful music…”
  148. 148. “Ok you two, stop molesting him.” “Annie!” Cara turned and beamed at her sister who had fortunately saved Journey having to come up with an answer for Veronica, “You impinge my honour. I‟d never molest a soul. It was all Ronnie and her mini skirt of sireny doom. Doom I tell you!”
  149. 149. “Yeah ok I‟ll buy that.” Annie rolled her eyes amiably at the other girls before smiling at Journey “Hey you feel like being rescued from my two crazy sisters here?” “Oh it‟s cool, I don‟t mind we‟re just- OW!” “Ow?” Annie looked inquisitively at Journey he glared at Cara who had just delivered a sharp kick to his shin and was now busy pretending to examine a spot on the opposite wall with an innocent look in her green eyes. “Umm…no, not ow, I mean, yeah. Rescue. That sounds cool…” he trailed off as he allowed Annie to lead him away from the two other girls.
  150. 150. “Silly boy.” Cara remarked to no one in particular as they left, smashing her cup on her head to emphasize her point.
  151. 151. “Your family is pretty cool.” Journey remarked as they flopped down on a nearby couch together. “I mean, they‟re all totally messed up, but you know…cool.” “So‟s yours. I mean, probably not as messed up as mine…but I like your cousins, they‟re cool. And your sister…does she ever stop smiling?” “I know right! It‟s so annoying!” “I dunno, I think she‟s sweet-”
  152. 152. “…and I think you‟re sweet too.” Journey swallowed as Annie shifted her weight across the couch closing the gap between them. Her leg was pressed up against his, he could feel the warmth of her body through his jeans. She turned her face towards him. There was an expectancy in the look she gave him. Journey discovered that his arm had settled itself on her back and his right hand strayed tentatively to her bare knee as he pulled her towards him.
  153. 153. “What the hell do you think you‟re doing.” Journey‟s head snapped, most of him still entangled with Annie. A boy with messy looking blonde hair and a distinctly angry expression was looming over them accusingly. He felt Anastasia tense under his arm “Uh-oh.” “None of your business” Journey scowled up at the boy, “And who the hell are you anyway?” “I‟m her boyfriend jackass. Now you‟d better stop groping her before I decide to introduce my fist to your ugly little face.”
  154. 154. Annie was on her feet in a second, her brown eyes swept the boy looking unimpressed “Jim, what are you doing here?” Journey followed her up from the couch more slowly, feeling a little dazed “You have a boyfriend?” “Yeah she does.”. “No I don‟t. All I have is a clingy delusional friend who thinks that just because we went on a couple of dates we‟re as good as engaged.” She glared at the blonde boy.
  155. 155. Oh don‟t give me that Annie, you‟re fine with me being your boyfriend when it suits you.” “I have never once called you my boyfriend. You‟re always the one pushing me to commit to something more serious when I‟ve told you a million times I‟m not interested. Not to mention you‟ve spent the last three weeks ignoring me. If I wanted that I would have a boyfriend. Hell I‟d get married right now if I wanted to be ignored and treated like crap by a guy.” “You are so freakin‟ damaged Annie.”
  156. 156. “Listen man” Journey stepped between the pair before things could get any more out of hand, people were already beginning to stare and he was actually beginning to feel a little sorry for Jim, as much as he liked her it was beginning to seem like Anastasia was in the wrong “Just back off and chill out ok. We can talk about this.” “Get out of my face kid.” “Journey, don‟t, It‟s fine.” Annie reached out and rested a hand tenderly on his back. Apparently this was the wrong thing to do.
  157. 157. Jim‟s fist caught Journey squarely in the nose. Journey reeled backwards in surprise and pain as Annie let out a little noise of surprise and distress. The second hit caught him in the chin and knocked him to the ground.
  158. 158. By now they definitely had an audience. “Ooh right in the kisser. Kick him while he‟s down Jimmy, Annie hit him below the belt, Journey get up and sock him right in the face!” “Who‟s side are you on Cara.” Kayla Pleasant was watching with wide eyed horror and fascination as Journey hit the floor. “Side?” Cara inquired without looking up at her blonde friend “There are no sides, I just wanna see a good fight! Come on hit „im again!”
  159. 159. Journey sat on the ground, more stunned than in actual pain. He had managed to hit his head on the sofa on the way down and the room was spinning a little. He felt something warm on his face and touched his nose. His hand came away bloody. He blinked at it in confusion. He‟d never been hit before, he wondered distantly how much this would hurt when the shock wore off. He began to stagger to his feet dazzedly to return the blow when he noticed that Anastasia‟s legs seemed to be planted firmly in his way.
  160. 160. “What are you brain damaged or something! What the hell is wrong with you? You can‟t just go around hitting people!” Anastasia was shouting, furious as the other guests began to gather around at a safe distance, clearly hoping someone else was about to get hit. “Get out of my way Annie.” Jim‟s fists were still clenched “I‟m not done with that skinny brat.”
  161. 161. “Yeah you are.” Journey blinked as a third pair of legs appeared in his bleary line of vision. It took him a moment to realize it was Turner‟s voice that he was hearing, it sounded much more threatening than usual.
  162. 162. Then he felt hands on his shoulders, warm and comforting. He looked up to see his sister, kneeling beside him and looking concerned. “You ok?” “Fine.” Journey mumbled. He wiped the blood from his face onto his sleeve as he pushed himself to his feet.
  163. 163. “Journey? What the-” Phoenix was pushing his way forwards through the other teenagers, looking more serious than Journey‟d ever seen him “Hey buddy, you want to fight how about you start with me.” He threw the words out angrily at Jim. “No. Just No. Stop it.” Elise shook her head in exasperation “Stop being boys for two seconds! More hitting isn‟t going to solve anything!”
  164. 164. “We‟re not going to hit anyone Elise.” Turner‟s voice was very level as he spoke “As long as Jimmy boy here doesn‟t make us. Now I‟m suggesting that you get the hell out of this house before I change my mind about that, ok.” Jim drew himself up to his full height as if sizing up the brown haired boy for a fight. In height and weight they were probably evenly matched, but something in Turner‟s face seemed to make Jim think twice about starting anything. He leaned around Turner to shoot one last glare at Journey and spit out a few choice insults at Annie that made the girls in the room gasp before storming out.
  165. 165. He only made it as far as the front door before he tripped over something firm and high heeled and toppled face first into the porch.
  166. 166. “Oops, better watch where you‟re going there.” A cheerful female voice sounded above Jim as he went to push himself to his feet, “Just so you know, I feel bad, I mean, it sucks if she was messing you around. But you made the mistake of hitting my cousin, so you know…it‟s not business, it‟s personal.” He heard footsteps turn to go and then pause “And if Journey ever finds out I did something mean to someone else for him I will give you a bit more damage than some scrapped palms, capice?” The blonde boy hoisted himself to his feet, fuming. Who the hell were these girlfriend stealing nutsos?
  167. 167. “Ow!” “Oh don‟t be such a baby. You‟re fine. Your nose isn‟t even broken.” “That freakin‟ stings Elise! Are you sure you even know what you‟re doing?” “Are you actually asking me if I have enough medical training to disinfect a cut?”
  168. 168. Elise straightened discarding the last bloodied cotton ball in the sink. His nose had stopped bleeding by the time she got to him, all she had need to do was clean away the blood and disinfect his lip where the blow had split it rather nastily. “You‟re fine.” She told her cousin patiently, “You probably won‟t even bruise.” Journey scowled then winced “You‟re sure.” “What, you want her to stitch something up or something? I‟m sure she‟d be more than happy to sow your mouth shut.” Journey turned to glare at Cayenne who was lounging fully clothed in the empty bathtub “Is there even a reason you‟re here?”
  169. 169. “Moral support.” Cayenne shrugged. “I thought that was my job.” Rhapsody squeezed her brother‟s knee comfortingly. Journey muttered something insulting but inaudible under his breath and Cayenne rolled her eyes “Elise you might want to examine his pride. I think that might be pretty beaten up right now.”
  170. 170. “Listen, you‟re fine Journey, take my word for it. You‟ll probably have a bump where you hit your head but you came out of things in good shape all things considered. Trust me I may not be a doctor but I‟m the closest thing to one in this bathroom right now. So if you‟re done I‟m going to get back to work and-” The door swung open interrupting Elise mid sentence. Abrupt silence fell over the bathroom as Anastasia stepped in.
  171. 171. “Hey…” she looked around the room uncertainly “I came to see if you were ok and if there was something I could do…” “I think maybe you‟ve done enough for one night.” Phoenix‟s tone was not unfriendly as he spoke to the dark haired girl, but it was certainly firmer than any of his cousins were used to hearing. He liked Annie fine, but as far as he was concerned she looked like she was trouble for Journey, and that he wasn‟t going to stand for.
  172. 172. Annie at least had the grace to look ashamed of herself as she turned her eyes to the dark haired boy. “Look, I‟m really sorry about what happened- it‟s just…” she paused, looking round the silent faces in the room “Do you think we could talk in private? Outside?” Journey hesitated for a moment before sullenly pushing himself up from the edge of the bathtub and following Annie out into the corridor.
  173. 173. It was not until they had stepped outside into the cool night air of the garden that Anastasia spoke again. “What happened earlier…that was really lame of Jim. I didn‟t actually think he‟d hit you, not in a million years. Normally he‟s not a bad guy, he‟s just a little rough around the edges…anyway, I‟m really sorry.” Journey didn‟t look at her immediately, shoving his hands in his pockets. “You could have told me you had a boyfriend you know.”
  174. 174. “I don‟t have a boyfriend.” Annie scuffed her heel angrily on the dimly lit garden path as they wandered slowly “I just have a guy who‟s asked me out a few times and who‟s a bit of a commitment addict and who can‟t seem to get a clue and realize I‟m not the girl he wants to settle down with. I mean I like him, but I don‟t want to be one of those girls who just settles down and marries someone in the town she grew up with and stays here and has a million kids, and that‟s what he wants and that‟s fine but it‟s just so not for me, and I then there was you and I really liked you and I didn‟t want you to think that- and- I mean-…Argh” Annie stopped walking burying her head in her hands in frustration.
  175. 175. “It‟s just…complicated you know. And I‟m sorry that my sucky handling of relationships got you punched in the face. I really feel so horrible about that.” Her eyes met Journey‟s, silently begging him for forgiveness. “I wouldn‟t blame you if you hated me. But just know, that I‟m really sorry.” Journey snorted “I don‟t think I could hate you. No matter how much I hate being punched in the face.”
  176. 176. Tension fled Annie‟s her features visibly at his words. “Does it hurt?” She asked, examining his face carefully. “It‟s not bad…” Journey shrugged stoically “I mean, you know, whatever. It‟s cool, I can cope.” “Yeah?” Annie reached out tentatively towards the wound on his lip. Impulsively Journey caught her hand and pulled her towards him.
  177. 177. Pain blossomed in the wound on Journey‟s mouth as their lips met. But it came with an intense flood of pleasure at kissing Anastasia that seemed to block out any other sensation.
  178. 178. Which was why neither of them noticed they were not alone until the ghost actually spoke. “Young man I will thank you to stop groping my granddaughter!”
  179. 179. The pair broke apart faster than if they‟d been struck by lightening. “As for you Anastasia. Does you mother know you‟re here?” Journey was very glad that Annie screamed first. He would have hated to be the only one.
  180. 180. “Grandpa?” Annie‟s voice came out hesitant as she stared at the spectral form wide eyes. “Young lady you were not brought up to hang around in graveyards kissing boys and bumping into people‟s tombstones and disturbing them!” “But- but- you‟re dead.” Her voice came out barely a whisper “You died, I was at the funeral!” The ghost sighed, it came out a sharp unearthly whistling sound “You never were as bright as your brother.”
  181. 181. As if conjured by the Ghost‟s words, at that moment the back door of the house swung open with a violent rattling of wood and glass and eight teenagers poured out at a dead run Nicholas in the lead.
  182. 182. “Annie! I heard you scream, what did he- Grandpa?”
  183. 183. “Just so we‟re clear” Rhapsody‟s words came ragged as she ran “Everyone else sees that right?” “What the transparent looking guy in the bow tie? Of course we see him Dee!” “Oh good.” She smiled back over her shoulder at Cayenne “For once it‟s not just me!”
  184. 184. “Hey! There‟s no need to be a jerk to her!” Journey was scowling at the ghost, apparently forgetting to be terrified of it “All she said was that you were dead. Which as far as I can tell is entirely true. So back off!”
  185. 185. “Journey, don‟t pick a fight with a ghost ok?” Dee rested her hand quellingly on her brother‟s back. “Ghosts aren‟t supposed to real! I mean everyone‟s always said this house is haunted but…” Anastasia pulled a face “This is beyond the realm of creepy.” “I think you‟re overreacting a little aren‟t you.” Mortimer Goth spoke calmly. “Your friends are taking this far more stoically than you are I must say I‟m disappointed in you Anastasia.”