Chapter I
Brad sighed the way he always did when he got the mail. The latch to the mailbox clicked as he shut it. Scuffing his beaten up Vans he made his way up the gravel path to the house. He listened to the soft noise of his jean cuffs scrapping the gravel and sending the small rocks scattering in different directions. Pulling the screen door open he listened to the usual barking of Bailey, as he stood there breathing in the air. His skin moved slightly at the light pollen scent and listened to the soft whisper of the breeze playing tag with the newly fallen leaves.

Opening the front door showed the elaborate entrance hall. Wooden floors stretched into the den where his stepfather stayed after work. The spiral grand stair case wrapped itself around the chandelier and led to the upstairs hall. There the flooring led to the master bedroom and bath, around a corner to the main bathroom with a bedroom on either side. Brad's door faced his stepsister, Sophie's door and remained shut. Brad walked into the living room which was only separated from the kitchen by a wall and a pillar. Bailey yipped happily at the sight of a human he knew and loved. His tail sent waves of heated air into Brad's face as he laid a lazy hand on Bailey's head. The fireplace sighed as the chimney breathed in the chilling autumn breeze. The room seemed to swell then relax as the leather couch groaned under Brad's weight before giving way to him sitting. The tone of the keys on the black cordless phone rang as he dialed Jamie's number. The phone rang once... twice... three times, he counted to himself hoping she wouldn't pick up.

A click sounded and the ringing ceased, Her voice was soft, nearly inaudible, Brad held his breath to hear her. She sounded calm, he opened his mouth as if to speak but no words formed from this action. He sat still listening to the faint sounds of the T.V. in the background. He sat on her fabric couch watching the show, her soft hair curtaining his shoulder, their fingers intwined as he kissed her head gently. The smell of her shampoo filled his senses and he closed his eyes letting the scent take him away.

The light sound of her breathing into the receiver sent a shudder down his spine and he opened his eyes to his own living room. Is anyone there? Hello? She sighed and Brad felt himself sigh along with her. Her breath was warm against his shoulder when the faint clicking brought him back to reality as Jamie hung up the phone. The dial tone rang and he pulled the phone slowly from his ear and hung up.

I'm home, Brad, Sophie said as she hung her car keys on the key ring designated for her. Once again the room swelled, this time longer than before, then relaxed. He looked up and nodded, Sophie's blonde hair fell on her shoulders in waves that hit her body like the banks of an ocean. She leaned against the frame to the opening of the living room and Brad realized how petite she was as he watched her hair flowed into her face silently. Sophie was her father's favorite due to her recent engagement to a man who landed a high paying job in a state law firm and came from a prosperous family. Brad felt her green eyes flow over him and the room swelled then relaxed. Her voice was distant though she was so close, you okay?Yeah, I'm just thinking. His voice was soft and drawn out, Sophie studied him and then nodded her usual uninterested nod. Brad stood up making Bailey lift his head, realize it was nothing and set it back down again.

Danielle's coming over soon, okay? So if the doorbell rings answer it. She spoke as she looked through the mail, following her normal routine. He nodded and went into the mud room, setting his shoes into the cubbyhole marked with a B. Standing back up he looked at the tack board with all of the baby pictures of Bailey and himself with his father. He looked at Sophie's graduation pictures, which nearly covered his own pictures, and at his mother and Cory's wedding picture, he traced his mother's smile and then looked at his father. His dark reflection showed in the glossy surface on the old picture and he looked into his father's eyes. The small version of himself stared at him with a gap toothed smile. He stood there and the wintery wind stung his ears and nose but he didn't mind. The football hit his hands sending sharp stings shooting through his heavily clothed body. His feet trudged through the four inches of snow, they had gotten the night before, as fast as he could. The snow stung his face and hot tears swelled in his eyes as his father lifted him out of the watery snow. The frozen water rolled off his face as it thawed from the heat of his skin. His cries were muffled by the feather down inside of his father's ski jacket. He giggled as his mother called his name and snapped the picture. The soft tone of the door bell stilled the picture and Brad looked up from the tack board. Turning to the doorway he looked at Sophie, as she pressed a finger to her light rose colored lips as she read a formal looking letter. He studied the way she held her arms, pressed tight against her rib cage.

Can you get that, bud? Thanks, she said not looking up from her letter, Brad made his way, listening to the sound of his socks thudding gently on the hard wood floor then stopping at the door. The knob was warm as he wrapped his fingers around it and turned. Danielle stood there and stepping inside she brought with her a blast of cold air. She smiled and Brad noticed that she had had her braces removed and now were replaced with a single silver bar of her retainer. She brushed a piece of dyed black hair behind her ear and shoved her keys into her jean pocket with her other hand, her movements were slow and Brad drew in his breath silently.

Heya, how's is going sweetie? Is Sophie here? Her smile stayed as she spoke and Brad felt his face grow warm as he struggled to hide his blush.

I'm okay, she's in the kitchen. He said softly trying to focus on the gentle humming of the heater, he shut the door and watched a man walking his golden retriever puppy, the man's hands were gloved and holding onto the blue fabric leash. Brad watched the leash vibrate and then fall limp then vibrate again as the puppy scampered around.

Brad, hurry up, Sport, we'll be late! A man said pulling his jacket on and opening the truck door. He had graying black hair and baby blue eyes, his smile sent warm tingles down Brad's back. He hurried off the porch and over to the white truck. The smell of musty cologne and cigarette smoke filled his lungs as he pulled himself into the seat, his mom waving from the porch. Ready, Sport? The man asked laughing and starting up the truck, his voice was gentle and singsongy. Brad mimicked the noise to symbolize his readiness, vroom vroom!

Blinking, Brad realized that the man and his dog had passed from his view and nothing was moving but the trees. Brad listened silently as Danielle and Sophie laughed about something a guy did to one of their friends and Bailey was barking at a bird that was perched on the fence. He heard the faint thuds of Bailey's paws hitting the back deck as he charged at the threatening bird then returning to his spot, then repeating his actions once more.

Who was that? Kristie, Jamie's close friend since second grade, asked propping her head up with her hands.

No idea. Probably just some telemarketing person She replied hanging up the phone on the clear purple receiver as she sat on her bed, before glancing at the only picture of Brad on her desk. Who cares?

Kristie sighed and sat up, pulling her knees to her chest. Jamie let her eyes gaze over her room to the curtains blocking her view to the outside world. The heat from the vent under the window moved the light purple curtains, revealing the scene that her bedroom window looked out upon. The trees bordered the hilly horizon and houses were scattered over the hills. There was a faint sound of a dog barking that hovered in the air and silenced itself as Jamie sighed. She felt the heat circle her body as her shoulders rose and fell with each breath.

Outside a child waddled over to his father, not noticing the cold stinging his already red cheeks. He let out a small giggle as he led his father to the swing that had recently been put up. The ropes grew taut under the child's weight as the father pushed him. His hands were brittle from age and the harsh cold, in-between pushes he quickly clasped his hands together near his chapped lips to catch some of the warmth escaping his mouth. Jamie stared at the window, the light squealing of the child echoed around her and she blinked realizing she was being spoken to. She shook her head and asked softly, I said, Kristie sighed failing to hide her annoyance, did Rob ask you out yet?No, why? He just calls all the time. Jamie said looking back at the window, the child below squealed and giggled as his father pushed him higher.

So? It's so cute... I wish my boyfriend called me like Rob calls you. Jamie sighed showing Kristie that she didn't feel like talking about it. Kristie sat still for a moment then turned and made a comment about how Johnny Depp was playing in a movie and Jamie laughed, allowing her mind to wander away from Brad.

Brad laid back on his bed slowly and closed his eyes. His breathing slowing down slightly as his body relaxed.

Daddy, daddy where are you?Brad, stop! Relax, it's time for , I gotta wait for daddy!Honey... Daddy will be home soon now- Sitting up Brad looked around and wiped the sweat from his face with one of his hands. Looking down he realized the warm pool of blood in his lap from his wrist. Pulling a towel out from under his bed he mopped the blood up and proceeded to wrap his wrist with gauze then a bandana he pulled from his drawer, he yanked his sleeves down and looked around for any other sign of what he had just done. Seeing nothing he returned the towel under his bed and left his room, closing the door behind him.