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August 28th

Twenty days earlier…

The winding, dipping roads, the flashy cars, the fenced-in houses with happy families playing in their perfect green yards; all of it was wrong. Watching with a mix of disgust and rejection, a long, cold shiver whipped through her body.

It was a very unusual place, and Callie Montalvo had known it. She had known it the moment she absently glanced out the back window of the family Volvo and asked her father where they were. All around them were bodies of swampy water and cow-paths that pretended to be roads, sinking and rising on the crests of hills. The motions practically made her sick. She knew the water was there, but at times the lakes were barely visible through the dense, reaching forest.

This was where they were going to be living? Of all the anonymous small towns, and her parents chose to escape to Groton, Massachusetts. She knew that there had to be better places around where her father was going to be working, and laughed at the ridiculousness.

Callie's laugh was loud enough to wake her brother, who had been sleeping in the seat beside her.

Tim watched his sister before asking in his low, changing voice, "What's so funny?"

She smirked at him and kept silent.

Narrowing his eyes, Tim hit Callie's arm when she refused to answer him.

"Mom," he protested. "Callie won't tell me what she's laughing at."

She growled in frustration as she wondered why she had to be cursed with a little brother. "Must you know everything on my mind, Timothy?" Callie snapped, emphasizing his full name.

"Callie, just tell him," came their mother's soft, drowsy response. Angie Montalvo's hand was to her forehead, trying to massage away yet another headache.

The four of them had been traveling for three days, stopping only for meals, bathroom breaks, and at the occasional rest stop so everyone could enjoy some quiet time. The trip would have only been a little over a day if it hadn't been for the wrong directions Mr. Montalvo had received. They had to double back at least twice.

For the most part, they were used to traveling. Since the beginning of the summer, the Montalvo's had been living in a suburb of Chicago. Before that, it was just outside of Boston for a year and a half.

Finally, after tucking a piece of curly, dirty blonde hair behind her ear, Callie announced, "I was thinking about how normal these people are, okay? I was laughing at how we'll never be accepted by them for who we are."

"Callie!" Mr. Montalvo barked with disapproval.

"What, Dad? You think it'll be different here?" Callie leaned up to his seat, a deep-set aggravation growing in her heart. "Do you think that if any of these people find out about us that we'll all be invited over for hugs and marshmallows?"

"Shut up, Callie," Tim grumbled, folding his arms onto his chest to try and fall back to sleep.

Callie shoved him, giving in to her sibling instincts. "Don't tell me to shut up, Tim! If Jenna was here, you wouldn't dare to-"

"Callie!" Mrs. Montalvo turned around in her seat, cutting her daughter's words off abruptly. Though red-violet bags hung prominently under her eyes, Callie's mother still appeared a whirlwind of anger. She ordered, "Not another word until we get there. From either of you."

Sitting back, Callie focused her attention once more on the sights out the window. As her father drove, the forest around them thinned. Front yards grew larger, and houses were farther and farther apart.

Unlike the cottage look that most of the houses had had while riding in the roller coaster labyrinth that was the whole of Lost Lake, where the Montalvo's would be living, Groton Woods, was more upper crust. The houses even looked snobby.

Sighing, Callie thought, What a wonderful way to spend my sixteenth birthday.