Harder To Love Than Blood .1. A Change In Scenery

The bright day and clear sky was a stark contras to the mood I was in. Though the clear air was a nice change of atmosphere, I would have preferred being back at the quaint little house I was raised in, off the corner of Sutherland Avenue in Southampton, Missouri. That was where I learned to drive, had my first boyfriend, got in my first fist-fight. Missouri was full of my memories, my life.

Unfortunately, due to a few complications in my far past, my blood relatives were in Denver, Colorado. I was the second youngest child of David and Gloria Michaels, who died in a car accident three weeks before my fifth birthday. With few relatives still living, our parents' will gave their children to a second cousin; Gracie Jones. However, Cousin Gracie wasn't too fond of little girls, finding them difficult and atrocious. Being the only girl, Gracie gave me up for adoption where I was found at the age of seven by John and Stephanie Springs. They raised me good, and they would always be Mom and Dad to me.

Work took Dad away a lot, moving us out to Missouri. Two months ago, work took Dad away forever. A plane crash off the east coast. Now, after being a housewife for nearly 20 years, Mom was forced to enter the work world, where it was a little too tight-budgeted for me.

"They're your family, Amanda. They'll love having you back," Mom said as she turned off of East Sixth Avenue on Havana Street and into the driveway of the Jones' residence off East Seventh Avenue. The house was a bit smaller than I remembered those first few days before the orphanage but, then again, I was a bit smaller. Though I'm still small. Five foot four isn't considered much in height. My straight black hair reached my shoulder blades and was in a choppy razor blade cut, twisted up and sticking up over the back of my head. My bangs were folded over and falling over the front of my left glasses lens.

"Not much of a family, Mom. They're strangers now," I responded to her earlier words. Soon after my dad's death, my mom got in touch with the orphanage agency in order to find my family who, since I'm already 17, should be old enough to take care of me legally until my 18th birthday.

I fingered the silver cross that hung just under my collar bone. I was never into the religious angle but Mom was and the cross had been a goodbye gift from her. Lucky for me, she wasn't one of those psycho-religious people. She accepted that I didn't believe. After all, how could I believe something that supposedly took my parents from me? Three of them, nonetheless.

"Not much of strangers, Mands," mom said back. "I'm sure you have memories of your three brothers."

Right. Memories. David Jr., Jonathan, and Clive. Clive was just a baby when our parents died; three years younger than me. But DJ and Jonathan...Boys will be boys. And brothers will be worse. After all, it's a brother's duty to bully his baby sister, at least that's what DJ would always say when I started crying.

"Put down that book and let's go," mom said and she unbuckled her seat-belt and popped her car door open.

I sighed dramatically and folded my book over my thumb, keeping my page as I got out of the car as well. I much prefer the limitless worlds of fiction than the short life of reality.

Mom pulled my single luggage case out of the back seat as I pulled my backpack over my shoulder-it was resting at my feet for the ride over. The rented car was nice for a short budget, but I missed my dad's Lexus...and having him behind the wheel. Mom was trying to stretch the insurance money, but she still hated having to need it.

"It's been years so they miss you. Now put on a freakin' smile, honey."

I smiled, though it was mostly just a baring of teeth. Mom pursed her lips at that and walked up the steps to the front door.

The house was lovely for having two grown men and a teenage boy living in it-Mom was informed after getting in touch with them that Cousin Gracie passed away, leaving all her possessions to be divided up among her charges. The shingled roof was some shade of green and the panel siding was painted a smooth shade of pale peach. Columns held up the two front corners of the porch roof.

I walked slowly up the steps behind Mom and leaned against one of the columns, opening my book again and reading, one arm folded under my breasts. As much as I hate to admit it, I don't fold my arm under them because I have to. My cup size is just about right for my body. Small. Damn proportionals.

I continued reading as the door pulled open and an exchange of greetings sounded between mom and whoever it was that answered.

"Amanda?" a stranger's voice called, just as the book was getting more interesting. The annoyance must have showed on my face as I looked up from the words to see a teenage boy younger than me standing in the doorway. He was an inch or two taller than me (barefooted) with intense blue eyes that made you think of some predator with its eyes set on a goal. His face went from scrutinizing intrigue as his eyes traveled the length of me to a mix of disappointment and irritation when they met my eyes.

I lifted a brow at him, saying, "And you are...?" Though I was pretty sure of who he was.

"Clive," he verified. "Your brother." That mix of emotion edged his voice with a bite.

I stared at him flatly, my face showing nothing but bored uninterest; uncaring. He looked away first. "Come in," he mumbled. Clive stood back and opened the door, a signal for us to enter.

Mom turned to me, giving me a stern look, clearly not pleased. I did an eye-roll, sighed dramatically again, and obediently followed her into my fate. Clive moved as close against the wall as he could get, like he wanted to put as much distance between us and him as he could. I could feel his body heat as I walked by him, feel his gaze travel with each step I took. It was a bit unnerving and totally irritating.

The front door led directly into the living room, which was furnished with a three-piece living room set made of a dark leather. The tops of the cushions and the pillows were that velvety material that changes colors when you swipe your hand across it in different directions. There were faux-antique side tables that looked vaguely oriental standing on the sides of the couch. The walls were white and the window sills were that brown-black that matched the tables.

"You have a lovely house," Mom complemented as Clive motioned us to sit on the long couch.

"Thanks. DJ should be down in a bit; he was getting dressed when you knocked."

I stared off at nothing as I listened to the sounds of the house, trying to judge where movement was.

"And your other brother?" Mom asked.

Clive said, "Jonathan's at a friend's house." He said the word friend thickly, as though he didn't approve or would have rather have been there than here.

Just lovely.

I lifted a brow at Mom sitting next to me, a clear Family, huh? Then I opened my book, slouched back, and continued reading. I could practically feel Mom roll her eyes at me. And every few glances I gave to peripheral vision, I could see Clive's eyes scan me, his gaze giving my neck the most attention. He probably thought my character contrasted sharply to the cross around my neck.

"So, Clive, what grade are you in?" Mom asked politely making conversation as Clive sat awkwardly in the large swivel chair that was part of the couch/ottoman/chair living room set.

"I just started my freshman year at Aurora Central," he responded.

"Oh? Is that the local high school or do you get bussed there specially?" Mom wanted to know.

"Local; it's only about a mile's drive from here. The school isn't really that good so no one actually wants to get bussed there. It's only pretty good for its sports."

"And yet you still don't seem to hold your grades that well," a deeper voice said from just outside the room. We all looked up to see a tall man step in. His dark blond hair was still wet from an apparent shower; his pale blue dress shirt wasn't buttoned all the way to the top and showed off part of his very broad chest but he did manage to button his cuffs. His dark slacks matched the conserved household and his dark blue eyes seemed to take in all of his surroundings, not letting one thing escape his attention.

I had no idea who he was, though he was a clearly older version of Clive. Though Clive's hair was a shiny red-brown, the eyes were the same as his. The same as mine.

"Amanda, you've grown up," he said.

"And who are you?" I asked. Mom made a sound low in her throat, something frighteningly close to a growl. Pure frustration talking.

"It's okay, Mrs. Springs. It's been a while for us. We haven't seen each other since we were kids," he said, trying to gallantly take my side. It made me trust him less.

"Yes, but if Amanda," she hit me in the side with her elbow, "had been paying attention, she would know that Jonathan was out. So that must make you David." Mom stood and held her hand out. David took it in a firm and steady hold. Confident bastard.

"Yes I am, ma'am." Then he turned and smiled to me. "Are you going to come and greet your big brother?" he asked me in a playful voice. Nope, didn't trust him one damn bit. Nonetheless, I stood and held out my hand; distantly, might I add.

David's eyes made the slightest movement of widening at the gesture but took it in that same confident hold. My face was still bland. I didn't like this situation one bit. If they were waiting for me to jump up and down at reuniting with them, they could hold their breaths and pass out for all I cared.

"It's good to have you back, Amanda," David said as he motioned us to sit down again. His fingertips began to fidget along the chair back and side table with it's family pictures and things. At least he wasn't as confidant as he posed.

When I just raised an eyebrow at him, Mom rammed her elbow into my side again, forcing out a painful "thank you" through gritted teeth.

David patted the side of Clive's leg, one of those move it gestures. Clive moved and David took his place on the chair. Clive looked relieved as he headed out of the room. "So, Amanda, how have you been?"

"Perfectly fine," I said. The words were innocent enough and they answered his question, but I think he understood the undertone judging by his smile that slipped some. I was perfectly fine where I was, without him or our brothers.

"That's good," David responded, clearing his throat a bit. It was just a response to take up space or there would have been an awkward silence. He turned to my mom with a, "You're welcomed to stay for dinner. I know you've had a long trip."

Mom did one of those grateful, conservative laughs with a wave of her hand. "No, no. It's still a while to get back to the airport and then I have to get home." She turned to me then. "I know it's sudden for me to have to leave you here, but they're your family. It's best for you to be with them."

I raised by eyebrow, a habit of mine that I do without realizing most times. "You're not going to get all sentimental on me, are you?"

Her lips became a thin line and her eyebrow raised-I think that's where I get it from. "I love you, don't be a pain in the ass. How's that?" she said flatly.

"Better but you need to work on your sarcasm a little. It's soft around the edges."

"I'll keep that in mind."

Then we smiled at each other. Despite the attitude, she was my mom and I loved her so much.