Chapter One - Apudne te vel me
In the Sanders household privacy is a commodity more precious than gold–and more rare. Six children, five bedrooms, four bathrooms, two parents and no alone time was a staple we had all gotten used to. Still, at five in the morning, I could have gone without having to hear Cassandra and Cedric bicker over bathroom time right outside the bedroom door. I shared a room with Cassandra because we were the only girls, but Cedric's room was connected to ours by the bathroom that the three of us shared. Dillon, of course, was supposed to share a room with Cedric but he had moved his things into the guest room one day while our parents were at work and no one had taken the time out to move it all back. So Cedric had gotten a room to himself and suddenly felt as if he owned the universe. If you asked me, it wasn't fair. But obviously no one cares what I think.
It's five in the morning and school doesn't start for another three hours so I don't understand why Sandy and Ced can't simply wait until a decent hour to have their petty arguments. It must be a twin thing that I could never deem to understand. Well I say good riddance. Like I'm missing something by not being able to understand why the sun can't rise before you start being bitchy to your siblings.
All I want is to snuggle deeper into my covers, close my eyes, and go back to the dream I was having before Cassandra's murderous shriek of outrage pulled me back into the world of the living. One of them, I can't tell which because their pitch has risen to a level that I'm sure only cats and dogs can make out clearly, tells the other to "shove off!" before slamming something large onto either the floor or the wall, and I know that going back to sleep will be impossible.
"Sandy, you got the bathroom first yesterday. It's not your turn!"
"Yeah, well the last time you had the bathroom first you spent seventy minutes putting gel into your hair and it still looked stupid! I'm not about to wait all day for that again!"
Really, you would think they were six, not sixteen. "Shut-up!" I yelled feebly, flinging my hand against the mattress in a half-hearted attempt at making enough noise to startle them. Neither of them heard me, not that I expected anything to surface over the bickering, and continued with their petty fight. Sighing, I pulled the covers over my head and buried my face deeply into my pillow, hoping to block out their noise.
Dillon walking in and by laying completely on top of me he foiled that plan. I let out a groan of annoyance before roughly shoving him off of me.
"What are you doing awake at this hour?" I questioned, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as I came out of my cocoon of covers.
"I've gotta open this morning," he told me, grinning goofily because he knows how much I hate waking up in the mornings.
Dillon worked part-time at the local electronics store and took evening classes at the community college. He was twenty-one and just finishing his first year of college. Dad says he lacks ambition, mom says he lacks motivation and direction. I just think he's lazy. I mean, if I were twenty-one I would not still be living in this hell hole with five annoying siblings and two nosy parents. Honestly. Next year I'll be legal and I have every intention of getting out immediately after graduation.
"And what does that have to do with bothering me while I'm trying to get my last good hour of sleep before the torture of high school starts?" I glowered at him and brushed some of the hair that was messily spilling across my forehead out of my face. He laughed in response and pinched my cheek.
"I heard Sheggo and Dr. Drakken going at it and figured you'd be awake." Those were the family nicknames for Cassandra and Cedric, given to them by Jacob, the youngest, an avid Kim Possible watcher. He claimed to like the graphics and not the show itself, but we all knew he loved the story-line.
"I think you should give me the guest room so this won't disturb me." I folded my arms petulantly and stuck out my bottom lip.
He snorted. "You're just jealous because I claimed it first."
"No, I'm annoyed because mom and dad haven't said anything about it." He widened his eyes and held his hands up in defense, backing towards the exit.
"That's my cue to leave..." winking, he turned and made a quick exit from my room. I threw a pillow but it missed him, hitting the door as he was shutting it in retreat.
"Have a nice day at work!" I yelled, grinning once I knew he couldn't see me. Sandy made her way into the room, her shoulders slumped in defeat, right when the smile took full force. She lifted an inquiring eyebrow at me but was too busy sulking to bother and ask what had made me happy this early in the morning. I, in return, didn't bother to inform her.
Of my five other siblings, Dillon was by far my favorite.
Cassandra flipped the light on, swinging her hair over her shoulder and staring at the full length mirror plastered against the wall by the bathroom door. "If I don't put my makeup on now I'm going to be late meeting Brian before classes start. You're already up anyway," she wasn't looking at me but she must have somehow known I had opened my mouth to protest the blinding light.
"What are you meeting Brian for anyway?" I scrunched my face up, stifling a yawn as I lay back down against my ruffled covers. "I thought you two broke up last week."
"We're reconsidering things," she shrugged. "As if you care."
And she was right, I didn't care. Sandy and Brian had been on-again, off-again ever since she started high school. He was in grade eleven, with me, and I thought they had finally called it quits so that he could set his sights on college-bound chicks without feeling guilty. But then, knowing Brian, I doubt he'd ever felt guilty. Sandy knew him just as well as I did, however, and she was in no way naive enough to think he was going to change; so if he was good enough for her then who was I to lecture? Cedric did enough of that for all of us anyway.
Okay, so maybe I was a lousy older sister but it really could have been worse. I could have been like her friends and encouraged her to be with him, or told her what a cute couple the two of them made, or something equally as horrible. Besides, I was under the impression that Sandy was only dating him for the boost in her popularity status, so who was I to ruin it for her?
I didn't know then the things that I know now. I never would have sat idly by and let them continue on that way if I had, that much I can say for sure. I would have stopped it if I could have. But I digress.
"Whatever," I closed my eyes to feign sleeping, drifting off into a daydream until I heard Cedric yell that Sandy could finally have the bathroom. Once she was out of the room I got up.
My morning routine wasn't very elaborate. I pulled off my pajamas and slipped into a pair of blue jeans lying on the floor; they were so familiar to me that they were molded to my shape even when I wasn't in them. Cassandra thought that was disgusting, I just thought it was comfortable. I pulled out a white t-shirt, it had a Latin phrase on it in black lettering that I couldn't understand because I didn't know Latin and certainly never would, and slid it over my head. After brushing my fingers through my hair and running my hands over my face, I declared myself ready for breakfast and made my way towards the kitchen.
By the time I had eaten breakfast and watched some music videos on VH1, Sandy was done in the bathroom and I went to go brush my teeth.
I finished in the bathroom quickly and made my way down the hall towards the boys' room to check on them. If Josh and Jacob missed the bus today there would be no one home to take them to school. While I'm sure neither of them would morn too badly if this happened, mom would have my head and probably my car keys. I was not in the mood to explain why I couldn't take two minutes out of my morning routine to make sure they got out of bed on time, and having to walk everywhere I wanted to go wasn't in my plans. I wouldn't even be relieved from driving my younger siblings anywhere, she usually included 'taxi-driver' as part of my punishment.
Jacob was already awake and scribbling in one of his notebooks but Josh was drooling away on the top bunk of their bed when I opened the door.
"Hey Jake," I smiled at him, ruffling his curly brown hair when I was close enough. He grunted and moved his head away from my attacking fingers.
"Morning Kels," he responded, clearly engrossed in whatever he was sketching in his notebook. "I'll wake him up in fifteen minutes."
I studied him for a second, eyes narrowed, trying to detect any falsehood in this. While Jacob wasn't one to come up with a scheme to get out of school, Josh was and would make sure Jake complied. "You promise?" I tried to hide the suspicion in my tone but he must have sensed it because he lowered his pencil and grinned at me.
"Why? Think I'm up to something?" His smile was easygoing and I could tell that I was overreacting.
"Hey, can't be too secure these days. Especially where Josh is concerned." He may look innocent with his mouth slightly opened, snoring lightly and wetting his pillow with saliva, but he's a hellion awake.
"Well I promise. You can even call once you get to school." And then I lost purchase of his hazel eyes as they were buried behind his sketch pad again. Sighing, I decided that I'd have to take his word for it and turned to make my way out of the room. Besides, Sandy was probably going to flip her shit if I didn't get to the car in the next fifteen seconds so that she wasn't late meeting up with Brian to do ...whatever they planned on doing this morning that I didn't want to think about. I shuddered anyway as I grabbed my bag off the second to last step–my designated stair for when I left junk all over the house that needed to be put up–and rushed around through the living room to the kitchen and out to the garage.
I smirked when I realized that Sandy had beaten Cedric out of the front seat this morning and was sitting there with her arms crossed in impatience. "About time," she muttered when I slid into the driver's seat and placed the car in gear, awkwardly fumbling with the seatbelt. Sandy had already started the car and raised the garage door.
"If you're so excited about meeting Brian, why didn't he just come and pick you up?" I questioned with a hint of annoyance as I pulled out of the driveway. The murderous expression she shot me when she jabbed her finger onto the button to lower the garage door told me that I had made a mistake. I winced as Cedric stuck his head between us, glowering from my face to hers as I sped down the street.
"What did she just say?"
Cassandra sucked on her teeth but didn't answer. I sighed and cranked up the music pumping from the stereo, knowing that the fifteen minute drive was about to seem like hours because of my careless question. But honestly, how was I supposed to know it was a secret? It wasn't like she'd asked me not to say anything. And besides, this was Cedric, he knew everything about Sandy's life.
"Are you seeing that loser again Cassandra?" He continued, even though it was clear that neither of us wanted him to keep talking. "Answer me, Sands." She didn't say anything so Cedric turned to me but I kept my eyes firmly trained to the road. "Kelsey, is she?"
He was still questioning us when I pulled into my parking space and turned the engine off. Cassandra was out of the car even before I took the keys out of the ignition; she cast me a withering glance before taking off.
I held my hand up to stop the onslaught that I knew was coming from Cedric. "Listen, I don't know what's going on between her and Brian. She only said they were 'reconsidering' things." I did air-quotes as I told him this, grabbing my bag and flinging it over my shoulders. Locking the car doors, I walked off before he could dig his claws into me and try to pry more information out. Ced was the epitome of 'over-protective' when it came to his twin sister.
"Jessica, Mora, wait up!" I felt my brother's hand on my shoulder but I brushed him off, running to catch up with my friends before they entered the school. I heard him sigh in annoyance behind me but I didn't bother to glance back at him.
"I gotta rush," Jessica said the second I'd caught up with them. "Meeting with Ms. Small about my English paper in," she checked her watch. "Three minutes. See ya."
I waved her off with a grin, matching my step with Mora's and glancing over my shoulder nervously.
"What's up with you?" She asked me after a second of observing my abnormal behavior. "Running from someone? Stewart perhaps?"
I shuddered, "God no." Stewart, a grade ten with a humongous crush on me, came up to me to ask me out every chance he got. It had been endearing at first but after two months it just became annoying and a little stalker-ish. "My brother."
"Why in the world would you ever run away from your brother?" Mora questioned, her cheeks reddening as she heard her own disbelieving tone.
I rolled my eyes at her and sighed. "Some of us humans happen to find Cedric incredibly annoying at times. I understand that this is an emotion you can't comprehend on his behalf, but try and imagine it, will you?" She laughed at my lame teasing and punched me lightly on the shoulder.
"You wanna go hang in the quad until first or not?" I knew why she was asking but instead of addressing the issue directly I shrugged and followed her lead.
Mora's a head taller than me but that really isn't a feat considering I am one of the shortest girls in my grade. Consequently, keeping up with her is sometimes hard. Especially because she walks as if something is biting her heels and she's trying to get away from it. Her dark auburn hair contrasts with her bright blue eyes, but her skin is a happy combination between tan and pale that seems to pull her hair and eyes together nicely. She's incredibly skinny for her height but she's not a stick by any means, she's got the curves where they count. I envy her almost every time I look at her. I still can't see why the hell my brother can't just realize that she wants him and put the girl out of her misery. She's certainly pretty enough, nice enough, and smart enough. I'm fairly sure she's a straight-A student.
Cedric is an idiot. He's been too busy crushing on his middle-school sweetheart Tara Brown, who had moved on a long time ago, to see anybody else. Tara's blonde, well endowed, and too damned perky. God I hate her.
Mora was a grade below me but Jesse and I had taken a liking to her the day she made our lunch table her own last year when she didn't know anyone at Talbert High. She was quirky and got our sense of humor. That was basically all it took to be initiated into our group of friends.
Jessica was my best friend; I had known her since elementary school, as cliche as that sounds, and we had been friends ever since. She was more like me in appearance. We shared the same brown hair and green eyes, but both her hair and eyes were a lighter shade than mine. Her eyes were so light they almost looked gray while mine were dark enough to be considered brown. Her hair could be considered dirty blonde while mine was on the verge of being referred to as Hershey-colored; hers also formed fat curls that fell to her mid back. I can't get mine to grow past my neck and it is as straight as falling water. Fortunately, it's also as silky.
So I was the Plane-Jane in the group, I was okay with that. Mora was into fashion and liked to wear the hippest clothes, Jesse was into sports and had the hot body to prove it. I was just a girl that wore whatever fit and had no serious interests to hold me down. I was drifting, I realized, but at least I knew better than to try and be something that I wasn't.
Mora cast me a glance as we made it onto the quad, knowing that I saw him immediately because he was right in our line of vision. Andrew Wiser was tossing a baseball into the air and catching it, leaning casually against the tree that I usually hung out under with my friends. I was sure that he was waiting for me to show up. He just had to get in his morning taunting.
His black hair was too long and hanging over his forehead, some of it spilling into his eyes and onto his nose. One of his legs was crossed in front of the other and he was the picture of nonchalance. I felt my upper lip curl in anger but forced myself to control it.
"Good morning Mora, you're looking beautiful today," his grin was directed at me even as he talked to Mora, one of his eyebrows raising in challenge.
"What do you want Andrew?" I questioned, narrowing my eyes at him as I came to a stop in front of his cocky frame.
"Oh, I didn't see you there Kelsey. What's up?" He made a production of looking down at me, grinning widely as I bit my lip in obvious annoyance. I said a silent prayer of thanks that it was the second to last week of school and I wouldn't have to see his face for a long, long summer after this. I folded my arms instead of responding, still glowering.
"Morning Andrew," Mora responded, trying to push a grin off of her face. She was clearly loving my misery and I turned to give her one of my glares as thanks.
"So how's it going Kelso?" He quipped, throwing the baseball up and catching it again. I watched the ball in annoyance for a second before brushing a strand of hair away from my face. Straight it may be, but it never stayed in place.
"Don't call me Kelso, Wise-ass," I warned, unfolding my arms. "And my life is none of your business."
"I've been waiting here all morning just to say hi to you and that's all you've got to say to me?" He pouted and I couldn't help but admire his lips as he did so. They were just about the perfect size and I could easily imagine... well, I could imagine lots of things but I wasn't going to because this was Andrew Wiser and I hated everything about him. Including his lips...
Especially his lips.
"You mean you've been waiting here all morning just to annoy me and now you're surprised that I'm not grateful?"
"Well, a little appreciation wouldn't kill you. We both know you want it." My snort happened at the same time as Mora's laugh; Andrew smirked at her and I slapped her shoulder. Hard. She stopped laughing abruptly.
"So where's your prettier half?" Andrew questioned, finally letting the baseball hit the ground instead of catching it.
"Avoiding you," I told him, ignoring the fact that he meant the question to be an insult, knowing he was referring to Jessica. "Where's yours?" Andrew had been friends with Robert West for nearly as long as Jesse and I had been friends. They were rarely seen apart when they didn't have to be. It still amazed me that no one suspected they were gay or something. I certainly did but no one took me seriously. Probably because Robert was one of the best looking guys in school and girls couldn't imagine not having the chance to make him fall in love with them.
Robert was taller than Andrew and had curly brown hair that was naturally streaked with blonde, his eyes were the perfect shade of blue and even I had imagined what it would be like to have him gaze longingly at me with them. I'd kill anyone who ever called me on it, though. Robert wasn't a bad guy, really, it just wasn't my style to crush after someone that over half the school population was already after. I wasn't the bitchy, competing type and I couldn't imagine dating someone who outshone me everywhere we went. Not that I was conceited or anything, I just didn't think relationships where both partners didn't feel equal could work. That was how most girls got screwed over, after all.
And dating Robert would definitely mean things were uneven between us. I was average and had no bones about admitting it. Robert was ...everything else. He was the type of guy that was popular because everyone liked him and not because of his looks or his money. If he was ever introduced to you, he remembered your name and spoke to you whenever he saw you. He had even defended me when others made fun of me in his presence. Namely Andrew. He was smart and funny and he always had something nice to say about someone. In short, he was everything that Andrew wasn't.
"If by 'prettier' you mean more attractive, I resent that. If, on the other hand, you mean more feminine, I'll be sure and tell poor Robbie what you think of him. He'll be crushed."
"I suggest you start resenting then."
"So how's the Stewart-seduction going? You give in yet?"
I was tired of this. Rolling my eyes, I spun on my heel and started to make my way back towards the school. I could see that Andrew was in one of his moods and if I didn't leave now we would probably be out there all morning finding things to pick apart about each other. I felt a hand grab my shoulder and before he could even spin me around I knew it was Andrew. My skin always crawled when he was near enough to touch me.
"What Andrew?" I questioned, nearly exasperated by this point.
"Just wanted to answer your question, that's all," his grin told me that I was better off not asking him exactly what question he was talking about. I shrugged instead of saying anything. "I'd have to say...mine. Definitely mine," he cast a condescending leer at my chest and I curled my lip in warning before he continued. "I mean, do you even have your own room? That would be kind of awkward, don't you think?"
I was this close to taking the bait and asking him the obvious question. But, by some miraculous twist of fate, I restrained myself and walked away instead.
"See you at lunch," Mora called after me, clearly losing the battle that I had won and staying behind to ask him about his gibberish. I honestly didn't strain my ears to hear the answer.
Okay, I did. But I couldn't make out his response anyway.
I was in my car on the way home after school before I realized that he was talking about my shirt. It was later that night after some 'Google' searching that I understood exactly why that comment should have made me mad.
Apudne te vel me? It meant, your place or mine? I tossed the shirt in the garbage on my way to bed that night. I should have known the saying was dirty, the place I got if from had been sketchy to the extreme anyway. Still, it was so like Andrew to ruin something that had been good to me until he showed up.
To be continued...