Chapter 01:

The Grass is always Greener

"It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power."

-Alan Cohen

I was still lost in a combination of my own thoughts and enveloping dread when the hand grabbed my shoulder. I jumped and turned with a yelp. Jadon threw his hands up in a mixture of surrender and apology, backing away slowly. He raised his eyebrows and let out a whoosh of air. His facial expression said it all. I was on edge, my nerves were frayed and I needed to relax. I guess I still hadn't understood the magnitude or reality of the situation. Or maybe I just hadn't accepted it. After eighteen years of living in Phoenix, Arizona—the Valley of the Sun—I was now a resident of Cedar Heights, Washington, where gray clouds blanketed the sky and the air was always brisk. Everything was different now and nothing was ever going to be the same.

"What's your problem?" Jadon asked, running his hand over a scalp of tightly wound corn rows—a habit of his whenever he felt uncomfortable.

I shrugged. "I don't know. This. All of this. It's just…weird, you know? We live here now."

Jadon nodded, glancing around what would soon become the living room, "Yeah, I know what you mean. But at least you don't have to go to some corny rehab program everyday after school. They're probably going to make me knit or something." He crossed his arms defiantly and tried to look nonchalant, but I knew he was anxious; he never was a good actor.

"Yeah, right. But I do predict a lot of crying and hugging in your future," I joked.

"Ugh. I'm dreading that wack support group. Dad is seriously trippin'. I told him I wasn't going to use anymore and I haven't. I ain't gone to any support groups or rehab yet and I'm already clean. That old fool is just mad because I'm not playing football like he use to so he's trying to make my life a living hell."

"Jadon," I stated matter-of-factly, "you were caught using heroin. I don't think Dad is making you go to this rehabilitation group to punish you for not being a jock. Think about it."

Jadon snorted. "Thanks a lot for having my back, Meadow."

"I'm just telling you the truth."

"Yeah, well, what do you know? You're the golden child. Miss 'I-get-straight-A's-and-never-do-anything-wrong.' You and Miles have no idea what it's like for me. Mom and Dad are always on my back." Even though Jadon had a grin spreading across his face, I knew that he was only half-joking.

"The middle child is always the biggest screw-up," I playfully pointed out.

Jadon's eyes darkened and averted to floor. When he spoke next, his voice was hardly above a whisper.

"Yeah."

I wanted to say that I was only messing around with him, but I was positive he already knew that. Jadon didn't say anything else, just slouched in the middle of the room, his hard, relentless stare never leaving the middle of the floor. I bit my lower lip, wracking my mind for something to say but nothing came to me. Nothing ever does when it counts.

Whenever Jadon and I went out, people always thought that he was the older of us two. He stood above me about four inches and had older features. He was going to turn seventeen next month and he could already pass for at least twenty-two. I, on the other hand, was always being asked for ID when I wanted to get into an R-rated movie or mistaken for a fifteen-year-old at my old school back in Phoenix. It was definitely annoying to be mistaken for Jadon's younger sibling, but what I lacked in my appearance, I made up for in maturity. Jadon always came to me for advice and I was always happy to provide it. It established my seniority and reassured me that even though Jadon towered over me and outweighed me by at least twenty pounds, he was still my baby brother.

When it came to looking out for me though, Jadon had the overprotective qualities of an older brother. I try to be modest, but I know that I'm far from ugly. And so does Jadon. Guys notice me. Guys can be dogs. Jadon knows that, too. Since my dad was always busy with his store, he was never really around when I went out on dates. Jadon gladly took his place as the interrogation expert and sat my dates down before we went out—demanding to know where they were taking me and what time I'd be home. And as embarrassing as it was, I appreciated it. Jadon was handsome, resourceful and smart. He was the most important man in my life.

Small dots of rain splattered against the front window and I sighed. Dad was going to make us move everything in today. Rain or shine. I loved the rain though. We didn't get too much in Arizona, so when Dad first told us that he'd found a house in Washington, I was ecstatic. Today, though, the rain didn't make me happy. Maybe it's because rain reminded me of tears and I had been fighting them back on the whole drive up there. Or maybe it was because the rain bared the closest resemblance that nature could muster to how I felt inside.

My dad's head poked around the corner, "There you two are. Come on, we have to unload the truck. I want to have the furniture moved in by today. I only have the truck until tomorrow morning."

Jadon and I exchanged looks and our father was off. Jadon walked out of the room behind him. I took a few more moments to picture how the room would look after the Wiseman family had inhabited it for a while. I still couldn't see anything but the blank walls and pristine carpet. I took my time making my way outside because I wasn't looking forward to performing manual labor and wanted to prolong having functioning limbs for as long as possible. My dad was too cheap to hire moving men. He called Miles, Jadon and I his "own little moving crew." Disgusting, I know.

The air had a sharp bite to it as I stepped out onto the porch and made my way down the steps to the moving van. We had managed to fit all of our furniture in the back of it and a good amount of boxes. What wasn't able to be crammed into the back of the Uhaul was put in Mom's SUV. After everything had been packed, only Miles and I could fit in the SUV with Mom. Jadon had the unfortunate fate of riding from Arizona to Washington alone with my Dad in his truck, lugging the Uhaul.

Miles was struggling with two boxes of silverware. He's as skinny as a rail and a little on the nerdy side. I was a girl and Jadon wasn't into sports period, so when Mom had Miles, he was pretty much Dad's last chance to breed a football star. But when Dad had given Miles a football for his third Christmas and Miles failed to touch it, instead reading his illustrated version of The Lord of the Rings with his limited vocabulary, my Dad pretty much gave up hope on having a football god underneath his roof. That's why he'd taken up coaching a high-school football team a few blocks away from our old elementary school. We were failures. He never said it, but his actions spoke loud enough.

"Meadow, sweetie, can you come and help me with this box?"

My mom was awkwardly balancing a large cardboard box on her hip and the edge of the trunk. I trotted across the driveway and grabbed the other side of the box and together the two of us lugged it back up the porch steps. We set it down in the foyer and my mom wiped her forehead in exhaustion.

"And that was just our DVD collection," she said with a smile.

Her eyes looked weary. The icy blue color that had once inhabited them was now dull and faded, like a slowly diminishing light. Her blond hair hung in damp strands across her face and her smile looked like nothing more than a mask. My mother was no longer my mother—she was a stranger. A performer. She'd been putting on an act ever since grandma had died. The act was convincing enough, but she knew that we could all see that something was off. She knew. And it killed her inside, just like it killed the rest of us.

There was an ear-shattering clatter from the kitchen and my mom sighed.

"Um…Mom," came Miles' voice, "there's been an accident."

"I'm coming," she replied, then looked back to me, "Go help your father, okay?"

I nodded. She disappeared into the kitchen just as my dad and Jadon came in with a long emerald green couch that had inhabited our den back at home. It looked pretty heavy and Jadon was struggling beneath its weight. My dad charged inward though, driving Jadon backward.

"A little heavy for you, son?"

Beads of sweat formed on Jadon's forehead and he shook his head. My father held his side of the couch up with ease and Jadon could barely keep his end off of the floor. The couch looked like a see-saw, frozen in time and uneven in front of me.

"If you got out to the weight room like I keep telling you, this would be a piece of cake." My dad chuckled and Jadon grimaced. "I'm telling you, boy, you would have the ladies flocking to you if you just worked out three days a week, minimum . . ."

He was still talking when I walked outside. Dad was always criticizing us—Jadon more than the rest though. I had managed to stay out of his way most of the times when he was on lecture mode, but I'd overhead him telling my own mother that "a few crunches" wouldn't hurt those hips of hers. If I were just a bit more weak-minded, I would probably have an eating disorder. But I never craved for my dad's approval. His attention, yes. But never his approval.

I was reaching for a box marked "Office Supplies"—what kind of category for moving was that?—when the deep voice called out to me from across the street.

"Hey, welcome to the neighborhood."

I glanced over my shoulder in the direction the voice had come from. My eyes flew across the rain slicked asphalt of the street, up the puddle-ridden driveway and into the dark garage—illuminated only by a small overhanging bulb—where the most gorgeous creature to ever cross my line of visions sat, perched on a weight bench in a loose tank-top and baggy gym shorts. His arms were like tree trunks—massive and powerful. He had honey brown eyes—eyes that would make any straight girl melt. And his lips were astonishing. Yes, astonishing. I have a thing for lips and his lips were absolutely perfect. Large, but not bulbous, platypus large. They looked pursed and ready to meet mine. I could just imagine how soft they were. Back in Arizona, I had a boyfriend named Jordan and he had sexy lips like that, except his were always chapped. They were so dry that they put Death Valley to shame. This guy looked like he kept his luscious, lovable lips up though. It was about this time, when I was making adorable alliterations about his lips in my mind, that I realized how stupid I must look. I was standing there, in the rain, slack-jawed and wide-eyed as he addressed me. I quickly shut my mouth before I thought I was mentally unarmed and fluttered my eyes cutely. This action backfired though, since a strand of my damp hair got in my eye. The entire left side of my face twitched and my eye started moving involuntarily. I reached up and smoothly swept my hair behind my ear, flashing him a smile that must have resembled that of a recently freed asylum patient.

I ordered myself to stop trying so hard. I looked like an idiot. Across the street, his face went from hosting a handsome smirk to a confused grimace.

"Hi!" I waved.

Immediately I kicked myself. And no, I don't mean figuratively. I literally raised my left leg and brought my heel into my right shin. What possessed me to do that? I have no idea. The shock of seeing such a fine guy so soon and the embarrassment of returning his greeting so late must have caused my subconscious thoughts to act themselves out physically. Or I was just a spaz. Either way, I ended up holding my shin and hopping around like a madwoman on a pogo stick, struggling to keep my balance.

I heard him laugh from across the street. His was a rich, deep laugh. I liked it. I didn't necessarily like it when it directed at me, but it was cute.

"Are you okay?"

I held my hand up and nodded, "Oh, I'm fine. I just . . . do thing like that sometimes."

I made a face. I just do things like that sometimes? Wow. I was really winning this guy over.

"You randomly cause yourself bodily harm?" The boy asked slowly, a sly grin growing across his face.

I felt the heat rush to my face as I blushed, "No. I, um, kind of . . ."

Just give it up.

"My name is Meadow," I called out.

"Meadow? As in a tract of land used for pasture, meadow?"

I nodded, "Look at the talking dictionary."

"That's an interesting name."

"I know. My parents are weird. So are you going to tell me your name?"

"Only if you promise not to hurt yourself anymore."

I grinned, "Well, I'll try. I make no promises."

"My name is Xavier. You need some help?"

"Sure do, young man," boomed my dad's voice from behind me.

I couldn't help but let my mouth drop. Where had he come from? It was inevitable that my family would come back out of the house sooner or later to help move in more of the furniture but I'd kind of had a DM and forgotten they were even around. DM stands for Ditz Moment—it was a term me and my former best-friend, Cassandra Welks had come up with. We were kind of obsessed with making up our own slang and abbreviations—that was one of our more popular creations. And by popular I don't mean it caught on and everyone at our school started using it. It was just the one that she and I used most; it was our favorite. And I guess that since it's the one we used most, we had a lot of ditzy moments. But that's neither here nor there. Now, an incredibly hot guy was making his way across the street to help me and my family unload furniture. This was going to be absolutely mortifying.

"Looks like we're going to get done a lot sooner than we thought," Dad said as Xavier reached the driveway. He extended his hand. "What's your name, man?"

"Xavier. It's nice to meet you."

"You too. I'm Mr. Wiseman. This is my son, Jadon. And that over there is my oldest, Meadow."

Xavier glanced back and let his eyes glue themselves to me, "Yeah, we've met." I was starting to squirm a bit when he finally turned to Jadon and offered his hand. "Jadon, nice to meet you."

"You look like a solid young man," Dad said, gripping Xavier's bicep.

I gasped. My stomach turned itself into knots. Embarrassing!

Xavier just grinned and shrugged, "Well, I do work out. And football keeps me in shape."

"You're a football player?" My father exclaimed. "What position?"

"Full back."

"Ah, I was a running back in my time. You play Varsity ball?"

"Yeah, I'm a senior. I'm pretty much set to go to USC next year too. I mean, scouts have been talking—you know how it is. As long as this season goes well, I think I'm pretty much a lock."

"Really, now? I played a little bit of college ball, until I tore my ACL. After that it was all school," he shook his head. "What a drag." He and Xavier laughed. Jadon rolled his eyes.

"Well maybe you could come check us out. I play for Roosevelt—we're ranked number 2 in the state. We're taking it all the way this year." He grinned and punched his open palm with his fist. He grinned at Jadon in sheer excitement. When Jadon didn't reciprocate the school spirit, Xavier turned back to my dad's grinning face.

Now this was the son my dad always wanted. So he wouldn't exactly object to me dating him. But then again, he wouldn't object to me dating anyone. He didn't pay attention to my life period—let alone my love life. No, I'd have to pass him off on Jadon first. And so far, Jadon wasn't exactly looking like he wanted to be buddies with Xavier.

"You know, I read about Roosevelt a while back. You guys are ranked with the top 10 in the nation. Jadon and Meadow and their younger brother, Miles—he's in the house right now—are going to Roosevelt. You seem like a happening guy, maybe you could show them around."

I grimaced. A happening guy? Ugh.

Xavier turned back towards me, studying me again. He smiled. I melted.

"Sure. I can do that. Do you guys need a ride to school on Monday?"

"Yes!" I blurted, sounding just a bit too excited.

He smiled, "Cool."

Xavier turned back to Jadon, "You play any sports?"

Jadon laughed. It wasn't a genuine, hearty, comedic laugh. It was a haughty, arrogant laugh that made Xavier's question seem like the most idiotic inquisition in the world. As if playing sports was beneath him; something the barbarians did. I bit my lower lip and vowed to tell him off later, after Xavier was gone. My dad glared at him.

"No, he's not very athletic. I guess it doesn't really run in the genes."

"Apparently neither does being a jackass," Jadon muttered so that only I could hear.

"I keep telling him to get on those weights. I bought a whole set last year and guess who the only person that uses them is? Me. Wouldn't he be pulling in the ladies if he got himself cut up?"

Xavier looked between Dad and Jadon uncomfortably, unsure if he wanted to involve himself or not. Before he could say anything, I jumped in.

"Well, shouldn't we start moving the rest of this furniture? The rain is starting to come down harder. We can all socialize after we're done."

Xavier shot me a look of gratitude and clapped his hands together, "Let's get started."

Dad grinned and slapped him on the back, "Straight to work. My kind of man!"


Two and a half hours, seven dropped boxes and two football stories later, all of our material possessions were officially moved in. Boxes were scattered everywhere and the couches were in crooked alignment in the den. Our beds and mattresses were still en route to the new house since we didn't have quite enough room to fit them inside the Uhaul. My uncle was driving up from Scottsdale with them and even though it meant I would be sleeping on the floor tonight, I was glad we couldn't bring the mattresses with us ourselves. That would have meant more lugging and moving in the rain and I simply couldn't handle any more.

Mom had ordered pizza then retreated up to the master bedroom with a bottle of wine. The rest of us, including Xavier, sat down around the kitchen island. My dad was going on and on about his old football years. Xavier pretended to be interested. I didn't. I'd learned to stop feigning attention during Dad's stories. It only encouraged him. I picked at my pepperonis and took a sip of water. Why couldn't Dad go upstairs or something? Couldn't he see from our bland, expressionless faces that he was doing nothing but boring us?

I guess I was being a bit harsh, but if it had been anybody but Xavier sitting there with us I wouldn't have minded Dad's presence. But right now he was like an enormous steel wall. I couldn't get through him and even if I did manage to get a word in, he would just divert the conversation back to what he wanted to talk with Xavier about. By the time Dad started on his fifth glory tale, I'd had enough. I grabbed the box that held some of my belongings and stomped up to my bedroom. I tried not to be too obvious about my displeasure. I didn't want to appear like a little kid throwing a tantrum.

The hallway at the top of the stairs was wide. The master bedroom was directly to the left. Both of its doors were shut. To the left were the rest of the upstairs bedrooms and one of the three bathrooms. My room was the last room on the right. The room just before the nook at the end of the hall. It was pretty spacious, no bigger than my room back home though. It had a nice view of the street below and, more importantly, Xavier's garage.

I set the box down in the center of the empty room and mentally pictured where I would end up putting everything. My suitcase full of clothes—expensive clothes—sat near the closet. I would have to unpack those soon. My bulletin board was propped up against the far left wall. I knelt down and pried open the cardboard box. Inside were memories. Memories I had no idea why I'd brought with me. Memories I'd been so desperate to leave behind in the first place.

I suppose I couldn't let them go because they were so much a part of me. Inside of that box was pain. I pulled out a photo album. A reminder of the numerous allies that had turned against me—the friends that had transformed into enemies all because of that one stupid night. All because of Eddie. All because I was "jealous."

I browsed through the old photo album. Good times were frozen in place. Smiles were permanent and I was happy. I found myself smiling and fighting back tears at the same time as Cassandra stared up at me, mischievous eyes grinning. She hadn't called as much once she'd started dating Eddie. Aside from school, I probably saw her every other weekend, if that. I was almost nonexistent to her; Eddie was all that mattered. I'd voiced my complaints to a few of our mutual friends and the consensus was that Cassandra was in way too deep. Eddie had a reputation after all—he wasn't exactly known for being loyal. Or faithful. So I'd called Cassandra and told her how I was feeling.

"So why exactly are you telling me this?"

"Well, I just think that you're kind of caught up on him. And I never get to see you anymore. You're always with him." I hadn't meant for Eddie's name to come out so distastefully. "I'm your best-friend. We've known each other since third grade and you don't seem to care anymore. I never hear from you—"

Cassandra's voice got harsh, "What are you? Some sort of dyke? He's my boyfriend. What do you expect? Of course I'm going to be with him more than I am with you. God, Meadow, get yourself together. Sorry if you have some little jealousy issues, but I'm not a therapist. If you want this friendship to remain solid, you should get your act right."

"Me get my act right? Cassandra, your boyfriend is a walking STD. He's been inside more girls than a tampon. And you're getting too attached, forgetting who your friends are. I'm trying to help you out and for you to accuse me of being jealous is just childish and low."

"You're just jealous." Her voice faltered a bit. "Just jealous because you don't have a man. Maybe if you quit being so prude and grew a spine you'd get somewhere—"

"Whatever, Cassandra. You call me when you're ready to come back down to Earth."

A quick rap at my door brought me back from my flashback reverie and I turned around. Xavier grinned from the threshold of my bedroom.

"Mind if I come in?"

I nodded.

"I've never seen the inside of this house before, as long as I've lived here. The people who lived here before you guys were kind of stuck-up. They didn't really talk to anybody—a boring, stiff couple. I think the whole neighborhood secretly rejoiced when they moved out."

I laughed, "The whole neighborhood hated them? Wow, are you guys some kind of cult live on this street? Will they approve of us?"

Xavier shrugged, "We'll have to see if Sir Johnson likes you. If not, well, we'll have to sacrifice you to the Soccer Mom God and drink what remains of your blood."

Xavier sat down beside me on the floor.

"What are you doing?"

"Just unpacking some things," I shrugged.

Xavier reached over and picked the photo album up off of the ground. Opening it, his mouth was already forming a question.

"Friends from back home?" He inquired, studying the pages.

"You could say that."

Xavier skimmed through the rest of the album and then set it down on the floor beside me.

"So, let me guess, you're a . . . junior?"

"Try senior."

"No way. You only look about sixteen."

"Yeah, well, I'm legal." I let my eyes wander across his body. "Are you?"

Xavier's face changed. His light eyes were hazed with seduction and his lips curved into a pleased smirk. He didn't try to hide the fact that he was checking me out as his eyes wandered from my collar bone down to my breasts.

"I'm definitely legal."

His fingertips brushed against the top of my hand and it felt amazing. Intense. Electric. Cold. Hot. Soothing. Beautiful. I never wanted it to end. His fingertips crawled up to my wrist and made my skin tingle beneath the fabric of my sweater.

"Man, the guys are going to go crazy over you."

I giggled, "You think?"

I was always kind of a wallflower back home. I was never considered ugly and there have been plenty of guys that have expressed interest in me, but I didn't really stand out in a crowd either. I like to think of myself as plain with a hint of pretty and a sprinkle of cute. Xavier obviously had other thoughts in mind though.

"Oh, I know it. Everybody's going to want some of this," he looked me up and down again. "But I want the first serving."

The line was a little cheesy, but I think he meant it to be. At least I hoped he meant it to be. But he was male model gorgeous so it didn't really matter what came out of his mouth when he tried to seduce me, just as long as he was trying to seduce me. I smiled at him, a shy, cute smile that encouraged him to continue with the compliments. But he didn't.

Instead, he reached in to kiss me.

I could already feel his lips trailing their way up my neck; his hand stroking against my thigh. Excitement and anticipation shot through me like uncontrollable electricity. Sitting there waiting for Xavier's lips to meet mine was like being given a gift on Christmas day and being forced to wait until your mother dug out her digital camera to tear into the wrapping paper. The expectation was too great and I had half a mind to reach over and yank his face towards mine. But I wasn't sure if Xavier liked those kinds of girls. The kind who took control. Besides, that wasn't me anyway. I much preferred for him to be in the driver's seat. Now if only he would put the car in gear.

His breath was hot against my cheek as he came in closer. It took all I had in me to contain the excited squeal that so desperately crawled through my throat. My present was about to be unwrapped. Just seconds—mere seconds!—before his lips would inevitably graze against my own, my door creaked open.

"Meadow—oh," Miles started, cutting himself off. "Uh . . . sorry."

I shoved Xavier away from me and he rolled onto his side with a thud. My gift had been snatched away. Disappointment filtered through every joint in my body. At that precise moment I wanted nothing but to throw the heaviest item in my room at my younger brother's head. Since my room was pretty much empty except for a cardboard box full of painful photographs and scholastic awards, Miles wasn't going to suffer a concussion.

I fought the urge to roll my eyes and tried to remain patient. Miles never really fit in back home and I doubted things were going to be any different here. He got enough flack at school and suffered from plenty of jerk-offs who didn't care to understand him—he didn't need to deal with that from his own family. My dad pretty much ignored him and my mom babied him. Jadon had never really been the ideal older brother so really, I was the only balance of sheer normalcy Miles had in his life.

"What is it Miles?"

"Um, Dad just wanted you to come down and help unpack some things in the kitchen. I was just—"

"It's okay," I assured him. "Tell Dad I'll be down in a second, okay?"

Miles disappeared. I sighed and got to my feet. Xavier's eyes widened.

"Hey! Hey! What are you doing?"

I looked down at him and shrugged, "The mood's been killed. Sorry."

"Come on, you know you're wrong for that. You can't do this to me. I can get you back in the mood . . . welcome you to the neighborhood," he flashed me that irresistible smirk of his and I seriously contemplated pouncing him.

But I refrained.

"My whole family is here," I explained. "It would be kind of weird—as we just experienced. Maybe, one day you'll be lucky enough to get me alone somewhere. Then you can really show me around."

I had no idea where any of this talk was coming from. I'd had a total of one boyfriend in my life (Crusty Lips a.k.a. Jordan) and we had done nothing beyond the task of kissing, which with him, soon became a chore. But then there was Eddie. I'd gone a bit further with him. But the point is, promiscuous babblings do not usually spill forth from my mouth. I suppose it was the way Xavier looked at me that made me transform. His eyes always studied me, as if visually trying to burn my shape into his mind. The way he looked at me made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world. It made me feel special.

And I would do anything to keep that feeling.

"Well I definitely have some things I want to show you." Xavier's hand rubbed gently against his crotch. "But right now I guess I should be going. You guys still have to get settled and everything." He paused beside me as he made his way to the door, "If you need anything, remember I live just across the street."

When I spoke next, my voice was no longer my own. It was the husky purr of an adult film star. It shocked me to even hear it emerge from my own lips, "I'll keep that in mind."

This whole exchange was like something out of a really bad porno.

But I liked it.