A/N: A special thanks to druggieaddict who reviewed my first chapter. The character introduction thing kind of continues in this chapter and the next - but it gets better after that... I think. I decided to go ahead and put this out there because I want to get the story moving. If you're reading, please review, I would love to hear you guys' thoughts. I would also like to disclaim any product/person/place that you might recognize.

Chapter Two- This Horrible Night

The D.J. was already gone, the people were leaving, and it was now that she wanted a song to play. That was typical Cassandra for you. And as much as I wanted to blame her, maybe hate her a little bit, I couldn't. With her blonde hair disheveled and falling out of the perfect bun she had previously styled it in, her 'no-smear' mascara dripping down her face in ruins as she swiped futilely at her bloodshot eyes, her nose puffy and agitated from sniffing... I couldn't fault her like this. Not when she was like this. I wanted, very badly, to take pity on her but I couldn't even do that.

I knew she would resent me for it. That was just the type of relationship we had. I couldn't explain it.

She finally looked up at me, her eyes locking boldly with my own, her humiliation painted clearly on her face. My breath caught. I forced a small smile to cover it up. She was humming softly to herself, a Kelly Clarkson song that I recognized as Behind These Hazel Eyes. She had a beautiful voice so the melody was really striking, but all I could think of was how hurt she was.

She was sitting on the stairs of the front porch at Andrew's house. Her body was leaning forward, her arms dripping between her knees as she sat there. I had never seen anything so heartbreaking in my life. Drawing in a breath, I took a seat beside her and wrapped my arm around her shoulders, pulling her so that she had to lean on me. Her face fell onto my shoulder and I felt her tears as they fell against the nape of my neck. My own eyes were stinging. What a horrible, horrible night.

It hadn't started out like this. If you had asked me, maybe three hours ago, if I thought I would be sitting out here with my sister wrapped in my arms at the end of the night I would have probably scoffed in your face. First of all I would never voluntarily choose to be here. On Andrew's porch. Or anywhere near him/his property. Secondly Sandy had made it perfectly clear to me that we were anything but friends after what I had accidentally let spill to Ced in the car the other day. Note the use of the word 'accidentally.' Anyway, try convincing her of that. She had made a point of not speaking to me or being anywhere near me in case I overheard something that I could leak. Like I was some sort of secret spy for Cedric or something. Paranoid much?

But it hadn't bothered me. I mean, who complains when they finally get some peace, quite, and–coveted above all–privacy in the Sanders' household? No one. Well, maybe mom when she notices one of us is unduly happy because of some sort of sibling tiff but other than that...

I had plans to sit at home tonight, gorge myself on pizza or other fattening foods, and study my ass off for Chemistry on Monday. I had a killer exam that I was anything but prepared for and it was the last test before finals, so it really mattered. Jessica was supposed to come over so that we could outline the chapter and go through our notes and quizzes together, try and collaborate the right answers somehow, and get our act together before the weekend was over. Instead she had come with Mora and the two of them double teamed me, using the 'Friday' excuse, and hauling me out of my hubble of studying bliss.

Any other party, any other weekend, before any other test and I would have been game. But this was not any party before any test on any weekend. It was the party–Andrew's party. I had protested for thirty minutes before they outsmarted me and I found myself dolled up...um, semi-tight jeans, a clinging white camisole, a slightly looser black camisole layered on top of it with small white stripes, and black and white converses was as 'dolled up' as I got for any occasion ever...and out the door in the backseat of Jessica's little Bug with a grinning Mora staring back at me. .

I don't know why their joy was my misery but sometimes that's just the way friendship worked.

I guess...I guess that's where it started. This horrible night.

two hours earlier...

Andrew's house was big. Too big for someone who only had one other sibling–a sister that was in Jake and Josh's grade seven class. He was the type of person who had a cook fixing his meals when he was at home, also the type that never got in trouble over anything and whose parents were never around.

My parents work a lot, I'll admit, but they have to; I mean, there are six of us plus the two of them. I theorized that Andrew's parents worked simply because they couldn't stand being around him. After all, I couldn't see how anybody could enjoy his company. I realized that was a vicious and, most likely, unfair judgement but I didn't take it back because I knew him too well. I knew the worse in him too well, to be more precise.

I glared at Mora and Jessica as we walked up the stairs to his winding porch and through the front door, which was wide open and welcoming anyone who was willing to walk through. If I was lucky, I wouldn't even see Andrew tonight, it was a big house. And anyway, it wasn't like he'd be standing by the door waiting for me to show up. We didn't even like each other.

Of course, there was never wood to knock on when you needed it. But there was Andrew the second I was standing fully in the foyer. His grin of triumph was enough to make me want to turn around and get out but not only would that be admitting defeat, to Andrew Wiser no less, it was also impossible because Jessica had driven and I had no way home without her.

Like the good friends that the two of them were, when Jessica and Mora saw Andrew approaching me they flocked to the other side of the room, leaving me wide open to his attack.

"Why are you out of your room?" I questioned because that was usually where he and a few of his other buddies hung out whenever he had a party. It was common knowledge, not like I was stalking him or something...I wasn't. Being invited to his room during one of his parties was, like, as prestigious as a VIP pass. I didn't think about how wrongly he could take the statement before I said it and only realized afterwards, noting the gleam in his eyes, that I had probably made a mistake. Andrew, being Andrew, capitalized on it immediately.

"Hey Kelsey, good of you to show," his smirk told me something unpleasant was coming. "I see you've come to make sure I meant what I said about my room. Don't be so anxious, we do have all night."

I had a strong urge to punch him but forced myself to fight it. "I definitely didn't come for you, Wiser," I told him, sneering.

"Well no, not yet, but we haven't even gotten started. I think it's a little unfair to judge–" I lost control of my fist right about then and slugged him hard against the shoulder.

"You disgusting piece of..." I couldn't think of anything apt enough to describe him so I seethed silently for a few seconds, shaking my head in a sort-of disturbed outrage, while trying to tell my cheeks to stop flaming. I knew he was only saying it to be a sarcastic ass but that didn't stop the funny twist my stomach did when he made the dumb insinuation. Which, of course, only made me more angry.

"Oh come on Kelsey," he grinned, running his hand through what had to be the silkiest hair any guy had ever had, a mysterious glint in his brown, nearly gold, eyes. "If you call that an insult, I haven't been teaching you very well all these years."

I was going to snap back, I really was, it just so happened that I was interrupted the very moment I opened my mouth. "Put away your boyish charms, Drew. Judging by the look on her face I don't think she finds it all that endearing," Robert teased, smacking his friend on the back as he came to a stop before us.

"What are you trying to say, Robbie?" Andrew smirked, not moving his eyes from mine as he talked. He had an annoying habit of staring at me that drove me insane. Maybe he knew and that's why he didn't stop. "You mean there's a chance she could not like me?" He sounded enthralled, like the idea had just come to him or something. I rolled my eyes.

"Thanks Robert," I told the taller boy, smiling up at him in what I knew was a flirtatious way, but I simply couldn't help myself. How could anyone? I mean, he was perfect and he always came to my rescue. It was at this opportune moment that my 'friends' decided to appear back at my side, both of them grinning at the situation because they knew I was annoyed with Andrew, as per usual. Why he couldn't just leave me alone, I didn't understand.

"Not a problem," Robert grinned, actually grinned not smirked, and elbowed Andrew in the side. I'm positive my cheeks turned red. "Go harass someone more receptive to your particular brand of flirtation."

"You take the fun out of everything, Robbie," Andrew pouted slightly, winking at me before sauntering off, that arrogant smirk never leaving his features.

I watched him go with a strange mixture of relief and disappointment. The first I understood but the latter...well let's just say that to avoid years of therapy and confused poetry-writing I simply pretended the latter hadn't happened. Only Andrew usually made a bigger show of annoying me and it was slightly strange of him to give up so easily, at the simple suggestion of a friend–even if the friend happened to be Robert West.

Mora nudged me when Robert walked after Andrew, her eyebrow lifting playfully. I could see that Jessica was withholding a laugh between her pursed lips from the corner of my eyes. Obviously I was missing something that the two of them found incredibly amusing.

Jessica must have sensed my impending anger because she straightened her shoulders and cast a glance towards Mora that clearly said 'change the subject' without her having to use the words.

"Did you know Cedric and Cassandra were going to be here?" Mora asked, trying to keep her voice even as she questioned me, but I could hear the excitement anyway.

"I would think that would be obvious. Sandy's just like every other cheerleader you know; when has she ever passed up a party?" I left unsaid that Cedric was bound to be her shadow. This was only one of the perks about having about a million siblings: you could never get away with something without at least one of them finding out. And, I'll just be honest, we were all snitches on each other. That was why I didn't worry about Sandy dating Brian again. What could they really get away with while there were at least five other pairs of eyes watching their every move? Besides that, Sandy was my sister and I liked to think I knew her pretty well. All things considered, she was an all right kid, even to me. Looking back on it now, I shouldn't have been so naive.

Still, I wasn't going to let these two sidetrack me with a subject-change. "So what was that look you just gave each other when Robbie walked away?" I narrowed my eyes in suspicion even as the two of them widened their eyes at me.

Jessica must have sensed that playing innocent wasn't going to work because she dropped the act immediately and opted for an offensive attack instead. "Oh, so it's Robbie now, is it? Since when did that happen?"

Scoffing, I pushed past them and walked deeper into the party, hoping my retreat was smooth enough that neither of them saw my cheeks beginning to flame again. It wasn't 'Robbie' just now, it had always been Robbie. At least in my head it had. I'd still die before I admitted that to either of them.

"So what did Andrew want with you anyway?" Mora questioned as she and Jesse caught up with my quick steps. I blew out a breath of annoyance and shrugged but didn't bother to answer because I knew both of them were aware of what I would say. Clearly he hadn't wanted anything but to bother me. As usual.

James Parker walked up just in time to divert my friends' attention. His grin warned me that something untoward was about to happen; he wrapped his arms around me immediately after he was within reaching distance, pulled me to him, and squeezed as hard as possible. The air drained from my body and I started to claw at his back when I realized his grip wasn't going to lessen anytime soon. He chuckled and let me loose, a grin stretching across his face when I was back on my feet and at least three steps away from him.

"Hey Kelsey," he snickered and I knew I was red in the face again. Damn it all. Seriously, James was on the wrestling team and his grip was nothing to sneeze at. He had muscles and, well, that hurt. I gave myself a light hug by wrapping my arms around myself and rubbing my hands up and down my arms, trying to sooth my beating heart and screaming arms at the same time.

"You know she hates that James," Jessica chastised, grinning just as widely as he was. She ruffled what little of his brown hair there was to muss before socking him in the arm. Jessica Vogue, ladies and gentlemen, my hero. He rubbed his arm and because Jessica had done it I was sure that it actually hurt. I was satisfied.

He pulled Jesse into a hug after that, squeezing her a little but not trying to kill her or anything, and I watched as his hands slid down her back to rest right above her hips, lingering even as he pulled away. I made a mental note to tease her about that later. And then I remembered Mora, as his gaze landed on her. He looked at Mora for a long time before he spoke to her, the dynamic of the room suddenly changing completely.

They were both smiling but it was heavy and forced. "Temora," he nodded but didn't make a move to touch her or start a conversation with her. His eyes did stay on her for longer than they had either me or Jessica.

"Jamie," she bit her lip and looked away from him, clearly not having meant to say that nickname aloud. She cleared her throat before correcting herself. "How are you Jamieson?"

"All right," but he didn't elaborate. My mouth went dry and my hands seemed to be completely without anything to occupy them, so I started twirling the bottom of my shirt between my fingers. This was a.w.k.w.a.r.d. to the extreme. Mora shuffled her feet as both Jesse and I searched for something to say. Coming up blank, I met Jessica's hopeless quirk of the lips with an upturn of my own, and we all kind of...stood there looking at one another for a couple more seconds that seemed like months. Then Michael Burns, a friend of James that I barely knew, broke into our little circle with a huge grin and no glance at us.

"Dude, Parker, you've got to see this shit man! Jay and Mike L. are going at it full steam about this shit with Brian and that fucking cruel ass bet they had going on with Frank and TJ over that cheerleader chick–" Michael's eyes were staring right into mine, his tan face losing all color as he realized what he was saying and, more importantly, who he was saying it around.

For a split second I couldn't breathe. I physically could not draw a breath in or push one out. I just stood there, frozen, trying to process what the hell I was hearing. I didn't know, not really, but I didn't need to know. There were only three words from that spiel that I needed to understand: Brian, bet, and cheerleader. Something was up and, judging by the chill that ran its way down my spine when James glanced at me with that fucking sorry ass apology look, I knew it was something big.

It was like some sort of twisted scene from a teen movie that I found myself helplessly involved in.

I shoved passed them and further into the party, one thought in my head: I had to find my sister.

Mora and Jessica rushed after me, catching up with my steps at a slow run, looking just as worried as I felt. One of the great things about having friends is how much they care about the things that happen in your life, good or bad. "Where did you see her?" I questioned, taking a quick glance at Mora even as my steps increased and my eyes scanned each room I walked into frantically. This house was huge.

Mora didn't even have to answer the question because the next room we walked into had the most people, by far, and they were all crowded around in a circle exclaiming jeers and making vulgar hand gestures in excitement. I rolled my eyes at the stupidity of highschool and pushed myself through the crowd. It was easier for me because I was short and pretty skinny, so I could fit through a space before the person I was pushing aside knew what was happening.

I glanced behind me to realize that Mora and Jessica couldn't get through as easily, even with Jessica's intimidating glare and flexed arm muscles. I also caught site of my brother somewhere behind me, but everyone else seemed to be purposely blocking him from the center of the circle.

They all knew.

If someone had hurt Cassandra, Cedric was going to skewer them. They didn't seem to find me a threat.

My hands were clenched into fists as I reached the center, pushing aside the couple of people that stood in my way I stopped in front of the group of four that seemed to have the attention of everyone else. Jason Fetter, who Michael had referred to as 'Jay', Mike Long, Terrence 'TJ' Jordan, and Brian Feldman all stood glaring at each other, their own fists clenched and much more menacing than my own.

I scanned the area around me quickly but I still couldn't see her. No Cassandra. What was happening?

Jay's lip was swollen and cut, blood dripping down onto his chin. His long black hair was disheveled, the black hair tie he usually bound it with no where to be seen. TJ was standing opposite him, his tall frame towering over the not short but shorter, seventeen year old. Brian was at TJ's side, his shirt was half-way unbuttoned and his pants were wrinkled but there were no battle wounds that I could detect. Michael Long was beside Brian however, and I could see where he had been punched in the eye and a bruise was starting to form. He also had a cut on his left cheek that looked as if it were acquired through painful means. All three boys looked as if they were ready to take Jay out at any second.

"She doesn't deserve this," Jay spoke, shaking his head and glaring at all of them as if he could hold his own should they start punching.

Brian advanced on him, gray eyes flashing fury as he grabbed Jay's shirt and hauled his feet off the ground. My breath caught and I unconsciously took a step back, away from them.

"You don't know anything about what she deserves," he told the boy, voice low and the threat in his words nearly visible as he stared Jay down. "Why don't you mind your own business? Do you know how much shit you've screwed up?" He flicked his wrist, putting all his body weight into it, and slammed Jay down onto the ground. I jumped in surprise and moved back another step.

"Good!" Jay exclaimed, picking himself up as if none of this even mattered. As if three players on the football team weren't about to pound him into ground meat. "She deserves to know what a shit-bag you are. They all do."

Michael advanced at this point, clearly still pissed about his eye, and threw a punch that slammed against the side of Jay's face. I covered my eyes with my hands. The crowd grew more excited and some people started to push me out of the way. Realizing that my brother still hadn't made it up here and, if left up to Talbert High students, would probably never get here, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands before another fight broke loose. If it did I would be shoved all the way back and never get the chance to find out what was happening. Besides, even if I did find out it would probably be too late by then. I needed to get to Sandy now.

Pushing an exuberant sixteen year old boy, whose face I didn't recognize by name, out of the way as he chanted 'fight' was more fun than it should have been. I made my way back to the center and approached the four boys, not caring that Jay and Mike L. were sizing each other up in preparation to resume beating the hell out of each other.

"Excuse me!" I shouted, just to distract their attention from each other. Their four faces turned in my direction, each registering recognition in a different fashion. "Which one of you wants to explain this shit to me?"

Jay opened his mouth immediately but Mike shoved him. Jay rebounded quickly, his face alight with anger and hatred, sending a punch into Mike's gut. TJ jumped towards the boys and all three of them started rolling on the ground hitting whatever they could reach. I stepped back again as the crowd exploded in amusement but my eyes were on the target.

Brian held my gaze with one of his own, his look both patronizing and condescending. It was his smirk that told me all I needed to know. That and the three boys fighting over whether Jay had the right to open his mouth. Something had definitely gone down and Sandy was clearly the center of it even if she wasn't standing here right now. Shaking my head, I slunk back into the crowd and thought long and hard about my sister as I eased my way out of the jeers and gesticulating teens. She would tell me what happened but first I had to find her.

To be continued...