A/N: Woo, okay, this may or may not end up sucking—I'm voting for the former. I don't particularly like the first chapter, but an introduction (I'm big on those -.-;;) was necessary. The "Spider" will make his debut in the next chapter, if people actually want me to post the next one.

[ Edit07/03/04: Currently reposting all the chapters to include the scene breaks that FictionPress took out. Also taking out most of the author's notes (thank god) and making a few minor edits, but the story badly needs major editing. And by major editing I mean rewriting. o.o More so for the first few chapters. It'll happen eventually. For now, I hope people enjoy. – Matches ]

Please review!

' s W e b

Chapter One

Invitations and Fine Print

Sydney Tabath swung open the door to the small house with a yawn, slipping her shoes off and kicking them out of the walkway. Her bag hung carelessly from one shoulder as she walked barefoot along the cold linoleum floor, peeking her head into the kitchen.

"Oh, you're back, dear," an elegantly aged women spoke over her shoulder, smiling in a way that made you want to smile back. Her hands were busy kneading pale dough speckled with brown—mm, chocolate chip cookies were Sydney's favorite.

"Mhmm. Linda, where's Ian?" Sydney replied, leaning up against the doorframe that led into the kitchen.

"Upstairs, love." The teenager nodded a thank you and left her aunt her to her baking.

Slipping the backpack off her shoulder to cradle in her arms, Sydney made her way up the narrow, beige-carpeted flight of stairs. The steps creaked under her weight, her feet sinking into the soft layer of carpet.

"Ian?" she called, following the short hallway that the stairs gave way to, smiling as she reached the open door. The girl raised a balled fist to knock quietly on the door's surface, moving inside when only silence met her.

And there Ian was, an eleven-year-old boy with dusty blonde hair so unlike her own black tresses, sprawled out on his bed. He was lying on his stomach, hands guiding over a book in front of him, with a set of headphones blaring into his ears. With a chuckle, the dark-haired girl approached and reached out and tugged one of the headphones off. He started, then smiled and reached up to remove the second miniature speaker so the wire set was slung over his neck.

"Syd!" He said happily, reaching out to draw a hand down her face, fingers lingering on her wide smile.

"Hey, little man. I brought you something," Sydney said, reaching into the front pocket of her book-bag to draw out a brand new model racecar. She held it out for him, gently guiding his hands towards it.

The boy let out a merry laugh as he felt the shape of the miniature automobile, tracing the body of the car before plucking it out of his sister's hands and hopping off the bed. "This was the one I wanted! Thanks Syd," he gushed, measured steps taking him to a shelf littered with model cars. Ian paused before reaching out to set the toy in a blank spot.

"You're welcome." Sydney was smiling outwardly, but inside she was holding back tears. Ian had had an obsession with cars ever since he was a toddler, and he had always dreamed of being able to own and drive a real racecar—the only problem was that he would never be able to drive even a regular car, much less a racecar because Ian, poor, sweet, little Ian, had been born blind.

Sydney had what one would call a very complicated family. Things had started out well enough when Sydney was born to newlyweds just out of high school. Lillian had proved to be a decent mother, though she always acted a little like Sydney was a burden, until the birth of Ian. When the doctors informed Mr. and Mrs. Tabath that their son would never have full sight, Lillian Tabath snapped. Being the perfectionist that she was, Lillian couldn't stand the idea that one of her children would be flawed.

Lillian left one dreary autumn morning when Sydney was only six. Sydney had been the one to find the note that her mother hurriedly wrote up, informing them that Lillian would be tied down no longer.

Richard Tabath was heartbroken. Over the next few years, he tried his best to care for his two children. He worked as a plumber full time, earning enough for the three to live in a small apartment. Home life wasn't the best in those days—Sydney clearly remembered the yelling, the reek of alcohol, and the nights where Ian would come in, crying from nightmares, to climb into Sydney's bed and fall asleep. The dark-haired girl grew to be very protective of her younger brother, acting almost more as the mother he never had than as his sister.

Their father soon took to spending nights drinking out with friends more often than not. He had been charged on two accounts with driving under the influence when his luck finally ran out. Sydney remembered the evening very clearly. She was twelve at that time, and Ian was six. It was during a summer thunderstorm, and Ian and she were cuddled on the couch, Sydney reading a story out loud to her sibling when the phone rang.

Social services came to pick the two up after informing them what had happened, rushing them to the hospital to see their injured father. As usual, he had gone out with a group of his buddies and succeeded in getting himself so drunk that he decided driving home would be a good idea. On the way, reflexes slowed, he collided with a minivan that was on the way to the hospital. It was a tragedy. A man, his son, and his pregnant wife were in the van. The women had been in the beginning stages of labor and they had been speeding to reach the hospital as soon as possible.

The pregnant woman didn't survive the accident, and neither did her unborn baby.

Months later, after the judicial system had juggled the case around for a sufficient amount of time, Richard Tabath was charged with vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence, and was sentenced to five years in prison. The incident was all over the papers in the small Massachusetts town, haunting Sydney like an ill spirit.

Not long after their father left for jail, the siblings were shipped to California to live with their Aunt Linda from their father's side. Linda was a sweet woman who had never married but welcomed the children into her life with open arms. Two years later, they had been officially adopted by their Aunt, and had settled into life in busy California.

"Syd?" Ian's voice drew her out of her thoughts. The girl stood slowly from her kneeling position next to Ian's bed and turned to look at him, making a small sound to urge him to continue, "Syd, the new car, what color is it?"

Sydney blinked, then smiled as she stepped closer to pull him into a hug, "It's red."

"What … what does red look like?" he asked innocently in return, staring straight ahead with those bright blue eyes of his.

"Red? Oh … it's … it's warm, like the fireplace at Grandma's used to be. It's bright and smooth, and you can see it as anger or as joy. Like love, little bro, it's kind of like love," the girl spoke quietly, resting her chin atop the boy's head as she stumbled over the words.

"Like love …" he repeated, "Syd, what about—"

"Sydney! Telephone!" Aunt Linda's voice called up the stairs, interrupting the cozy moment between the siblings. Ian shook his head to tell her never mind, thanked her again with a hug, and moved back to whatever he has been reading on the bed.

Sydney closed the door to his bedroom behind her, going two steps at a time down the stairs to snatch the portable phone out of her guardian's extended hand. Linda rolled her eyes and muttered something about teenagers. The older woman asked the seventeen year old to get the mail before she returned to her cooking in the kitchen.

Sydney held the phone up to her ear as she stepped out of the front door. "Hello?"

"Hey, Syd, what's up?"

"Hey, Val. Nothing, I just got home from school and you already know everything that happens at school," the girl spoke a bit sarcastically as she followed the paved driveway down to the mailbox.

"Damn, your bus route took an hour? I thought you were the third stop."

"I am, but I walked today. Really, Val, you don't need to rub in the fact that you have a car, even if it is a pile of junk on wheels."

"Hey! Don't talk about my baby like that. She's beautiful just the way she is," Valerie protested, a pout leaking into her voice.

"Whatever you say," said Sydney as moved to hold the phone up to her ear with one shrugged shoulder, opening the mailbox and retrieving the bundle of papers. She sifted through them as she began the short walk back to the house.

"Junk, junk … oo, look, Linda could be an instant sweepstakes winner," she rolled her eyes, "Mm, college information, Linda's scary friend, oh, hey, I've got mail. The sky must be falling."

The other girl chuckled, "No, but it's supposed to rain. Spring rain is so romantic."

Sydney made a gagging sound as her best friend faked a swoon, "Right. Too bad you're not going out with Kevin anymore—you didn't sound nearly as cheesy then."

"He was a jerk, Syd. No more lectures, my ears will fall off."

"That's why you have to stop picking the bad boys, Val …" Sydney began, then made a face as Val cried:

"I can't hear you!" and put her on hold. How immature. Oh well, she only needed to wait a few minutes. In the meantime, she could look at her letter.

Setting the rest of the mail on the coffee table in the living room, Sydney flopped down on the couch and peered at the white envelope in her hands. On the front of the envelope, written in blood-red flowing calligraphy, was one word: Sydney.

O … kay. Tucking a strand of black hair behind her ear, she set her feet up on the coffee table and ripped the envelope with a single finger. Her brow creased as she plucked the folded card out from its paper encasement, opening it slowly.

"Syd? Hey, girl, I'm sorry. I just don't need any more of your speeches, especially from someone who doesn't even date …" Valerie's voice came back on the phone that was still held to Sydney's ear by her shoulder. The other girl's voice trailed off as she was given no response, "Syd? Hey, Syd? Hello?!"

"What? Oh, sorry Val. That letter I got, it's an invitation." Sydney said, turning the white card over in her hands before looking at the inside once more.

"To what?"

"Some swanky new internet café, I think."

"You mean that place downtown? Read it, hurry!"

Sydney sighed, shifting the phone to her other ear and held the card out in front of her to do as she was told.

"Crimson Café, home of the newest virtual reality game, Spider's Web, invites you to join in on the beta run. That's all it says, and there are two prepaid tickets attached with the address written on them."

"Oooh! I read about it in the newspaper, Syd, it's supposed to be the most advanced game out there. It might just be a prototype now, I think, but they're releasing it in certain places across the country for people to try. The café is supposed to be open without invitations, but it's kinda pricey. Maybe you won a contest or something? Wait, two? Two tickets—" Valeria rambled on, stopping only when Sydney cut her off.

"Val, breathe. You can have the tickets if you want, I'm not going."

"What?!You just got tickets to some ultra cool place where we can go out and party, and you want to be a hard ass and pass it up?!" Sydney winced and held the phone away from her ear. Val's voice, chipmunk-ified from the distance, still squealed angrily from the earpiece of the portable phone.

After two full minutes of ranting, Sydney's formidable temper finally snapped. She scowled and pressed one of the number keys down causing a high-pitched keen to sound on both her and Val's phone. The girl held the button down for a few seconds before cautiously letting it go and speaking into the mouthpiece before she could be assaulted by another tirade.

"All right, all right, Val. You win, I'll go with you! Stop whining. The thing is on Friday night, starts at five. I'll talk to you tomorrow at school," she said, hanging up on her obviously hyper best friend.

Linda gave her a quizzical look from the kitchen to which Sydney replied by shrugging and informing her that she would be going out tomorrow night. The girl stretched before reaching forward and placing the silver colored portable phone on the coffee table next to the mail.

Sydney's slim body sunk into the overly cushioned tan couch, and she allowed it to embrace her. Her small hands, skin slightly tanned by constant exposure to the sun, opened the invitation for one final look. She removed the tickets that displayed the time, date, and location, and set them aside. Below the floating gold script that she had read aloud to Valerie, was a single line of fine print at the very bottom of the card.

Blinking, the girl held the card closer and squinted her eyes. Her breath caught in her throat as she read the words written in that same blood red as on the envelope, only this time in a scratchy sort of handwriting.

I will be waiting for you, Sydney.

A/N: Well, I would just love it if people would review to let me know that I'm not the only one reading this. *snicker*