Momentarily motivated. Just wanted to let you know. :)

Now please excuse me as I prep up for a Pocky sparring session with my sister.


Chapter Six: Lost in Ourselves

My bed groaned, the springs creaking unhappily as I fell back onto my pillow gracelessly. It was the beginning of a dull Friday night, and at eight o'clock in the evening, I definitely wasn't up to some hardcore partying, unlike the better half of high school society.

Usually, I'd had much worse; insomnia wasn't such a problem when you had a lot of things on your mind to keep you busy. And busy I was.

After last Wednesday's little encounter with a certain green-eyed duo, I realized I had a lot on my plate. Just as Vivian had mentioned the word 'cousin', we turned the corner on my street, and I made my hasty thanks before practically jumping out of the car and landing oh so smoothly on our lawn (nearly swallowed a mouthful of grass there too). She rolled her window down to watch me rushing up the front porch, and I could faintly hear her melodious laughter in the background before the car pulled away.

I was just in the middle of fishing the house keys out of my pocket, pausing to contain the small lurch my heart gave when my hand brushed against the soft material of Garrett's handkerchief, when the door swung open and I felt a weight clasp over my shoulders as mom enclosed me into a bone crushing hug.

She held me like that for a while before pulling back to berate me, telling me just how close she was to calling nine-one-one when she found my bedroom empty and the window wide open. I looked at her apologetically as she went on and on about how worried she was, before I momentarily excused myself because I felt incredibly tired. She shot me one last look before she sighed in exasperation and nodded, and for that, I was grateful.

The subject on my escape was never touched since.

The following days passed in a blur, with me acting as tour guide and hanging out with Vivian at school, tutoring Dan in Biology while he helped me out in French, although he did learn his lesson and never stayed for dinner, and the rare occasion of passing a jock-flocked Garrett in the hallway. He seemed pretty busy, laughing with his newfound friends and what not, so I guess the brief and fleeting eye contact in between periods was as close as I could get to acknowledgement.

Ah well, it wasn't like I was friendless.

Friday passed like the other days, save for the time when Vivian cornered me at lunch and tried her hand at getting me to accompany her to a party that was happening later that night.

"Come on, Astrid," she said, taking a liking to nudge me in the ribs as greeting, "He'll be there."

The way she said that gave me every indication that she was talking about her red headed cousin.

The little geek inside me squeaked in horror and backed out of the offer, and I suddenly felt this compelling sensation to finish the week's workload of homework in one go, and so I had to turn her down, apologizing profusely as I did so.

Killjoy.

At first, she raised her eyebrows at me with an awed expression on her face, probably wondering how on earth I could possibly choose homework over a party, but then she shrugged it off in that perky trait of hers, mumbling a quick "no biggie," before changing gears to attack Dan. Unlike me, he couldn't exactly say no to people of the opposite sex (but after the week's dinner fiasco, he made it a note to exempt my mother), and so he had no choice but to give in.

Good thing he did, otherwise, he would be stuck doing homework with boring old me.

And that brings us back to the present, and it's been a blast.

Not.

The homework high faded pretty quickly, as the pile of open books and assignments lay forlorn and forgotten on my desk. I had only gone so far as finishing a few Math drills, but I gave up on deciphering the inglorious blocks of text I was supposed to translate into English; another reason to despise the she-devil Miss Scott – she was collaborating with the Foreign Languages department for translation projects to deprive us unfortunate students of having any social life at all… or maybe that's just me.

I was, after all, isolating myself miserably from the highlights of the typical teenage existence.

"You brought this on yourself." I whispered quietly to no one in particular. The telephone gave a shrilly cry in response.

I got up from my bed, fumbling around the room for that pesky cordless telephone. I finally found the blasted thing underneath a stack of test papers and math notes, and picked up at the umpteenth ring.

I pressed the speak button and raised the phone to my ears, mumbling a quick, "Hello, you've reached the Channing residence. Who are you and what do you want from me?" What? Nobody important ever called home, and I was bored.

A peal of chuckles answered me through the speakers.

"Spunky; I like that."

My eyes flew open like saucers, and I gasped into the receiver. "Vivian?"

Another round of laughter; it was kind of contagious, and I couldn't help the smile that was forming at my lips despite my face going red and all. "Good guess. It took forever to get this number, you know."

I clicked my tongue, grinning to myself. It wasn't like I handed my home number to people like flyers for prom. "Yeah, speaking of that, where'd you get it?" I couldn't help asking.

I could almost imagine the mischievous smile playing at her lips. "Let's just say I've exhausted my resources for the week. But anyway, I just wanted to make sure if you've changed your mind about the party?" her voice sounded a little more than persistent.

I sat back down on my bed, sighing. "Nah, I'm all good. Just wondering, aren't you supposed to be there by now?"

"Oh geez, Astrid, don't tell me you've never been to a party before? Ever heard of being fashionably late?"

I shook my head, laughing. "Actually, I have, but I didn't know that even applied to real life." In fact, I didn't even know what real life was like, considering my own miserable existence.

"Ah well, now you do." She paused for a moment, "you sure you don't want to go?"

I smiled at her concern, "Pretty sure. Now go have fun."

"Yeah, well, I'm not leaving for another half hour, so just ring me up if you ever change your mind."

I nodded to myself. "You'll be the first one to know."

"Atta, girl. Oh- hey, I've got another call coming up, so hasta luego, señora!"

"I-I'm sorry?"

"See ya, Astrid." She giggled.

"Oh. Okay, bye." The dial tone buzzed in my ear, and I put the phone down, sighing.

I watched as the ceiling light flickered, my thoughts still hovering on the party. Vivian was definitely going, and with Dan no less. I mean, at least Dan would be having a good time tonight. Sure, he was probably reluctant to go at first, but I'm pretty sure that with Vivian around, he'd loosen up.

And besides, if that wasn't the case, I'm sure he would've found something interesting enough to hold his attention to pass the time.

Then I thought of Vivian. I'd only known her for a few days, but already, she was growing on me. I guess she had that kind of effect on people – people like me, Dan, and Mrs. R. I could even notice Miss Scott's usual hostility slightly subdued during English class, which was actually a bit scary.

The thought of her smiling and baring her razor sharp teeth came across my mind, and I shuddered.

I closed my eyes, tired of staring at the light, and lay my arm over my face. My thoughts were swimming, and I felt the familiar lull of drowsiness, indicating that sleep was nearby. A small smile spread across my face as I sighed in relief.

Just as I was about to doze off, there was a loud rapping at the front door, followed by a boisterous voice booming from outside. I bolted up in surprise, clutching at my chest. I could feel my heart beating away furiously through the thin material of my shirt, though my face was pale in fear and anxiety, like the blood was being drained out of me.

Godammit, what does it take to get a good night's rest around here?

Heaving myself off the bed, I crept out of my bedroom towards the stairs to investigate. "What's with all the ruckus?" I murmured, feeling my way through the corridor.

Mom's door was open, and from the looks of it, she beat me to the door; I caught up with her just in time as she was grabbing the nearest umbrella on her way. She watched me as I flew almost stealthily down the stairs (almost; the living room was pitch black, and I almost buckled over in pain when I bumped my shin against a table leg). She motioned wildly for me to be quiet.

I moaned quietly in a corner, holding my knee. Then she went for the kill.

See, this was the master at work. Umbrella at hand, she crept forward, towards the door, fiddling silently with the locks. I recognized this scheme from that movie we rented the other day. She planned on whacking the outsider in the head with her umbrella the first chance she got, and hopefully, that outsider would be drunk; he'd be out like a light in an instant.

She looked over her shoulder, eyeing me with an unsteady gaze, before turning to the door. She hesitated a moment, and her knuckles went white at her grip as she firmly raised the umbrella.

BANG!

She jumped back when whoever was outside started banging on the frame, and she gave a cry of surprise.

Okay, time to intercept.

I gently pushed my mother away from the door, taking the umbrella out of her claw-like clutches. She looked at me fearfully, eyes shining in the darkness. I smiled at her reassuringly before turning away. Counting to ten, I braced myself for whatever was ahead, and turned the knob.

The person behind the door decided at that moment to shoulder his way in. The door nearly broke off its hinges as the man went barreling past the door, and sheer force crashed into me.

I felt winded as a terrible weight draped across my body, and I could smell the alcohol in the man's breath on my face, and I panicked. I started losing feeling in my arms and legs, and a strange numbness passed over me. I couldn't breathe.

Oh god, oh god, oh god… He wasn't going to be getting up any time soon; the bastard had passed out. Normally, I would've screamed and squirmed my way out of this mess, but I couldn't move; this man's body was crushing against me, and I felt my lungs constrict tightly in an effort to draw a breath.

Goodbye, cruel world, and all who inhabit it!

"Alex, you get off of her!"

Suddenly, the weight was rolled off my body, and I could breathe again. I heard my mother's faint sobs as she tried hauling the man away from me, and I sat up, placing a hand over my chest as I took quick, shallow breaths.

Before me, I could see the silhouetted figure of shaggy, obviously unkempt hair, and the slight shimmer of glasses. I crawled over to where my mom sat, bawling her eyes out, and I put my arm around her, running a hand up and down her back.

I finally found my voice, cracked and winded as it sounded, "It's okay, mom." I whispered, swallowing the lump in my throat when I spoke. The voice that pierced my ears didn't sound so comforting either. Lies. "It's okay."

I looked toward the man again, and my hand stopped in the middle of her back.

The man's eyes twitched slightly, flickering open for a second to reveal electric blue.

A cloud of fear washed over me, but it was quickly replaced by anger. I quietly contained myself as my mom whimpered, and I stood up to close the door, fumbling with the latches to stall, to buy myself some time to let out the steam. Damn, it wasn't enough.

Then the inevitable came. I turned around, flicking on the nearest light switch and pressing my back against the door frame, bracing myself for the light.

I watched my mother calmly as she recollected herself, dabbing furiously under her eyes. Beside her, dad was sprawled across the floor, passed out again. His glasses were broken, and he was holding a small, open flask of whiskey, the contents spilling out and seeping into the carpet. His face was red and sweaty, and he looked like he hadn't bathed in days. I clenched my fists behind my back and glared at him.

This… this wretched wreck of a man was supposed to be my father?

Sucking in the strange rush of emotion that threatened to explode from my being, I pushed myself off of the door and stumbled my way to where my mother was kneeling, wrapping an arm around her shoulder to pull her up. I looked her in the eye then, watching as she tried to compose herself, but the tremble of her lips gave it away.

Then we got to work.

It was a bit of a practiced routine; after all, I'd been doing this all my life.

I approached my father, bending down to kneel beside his head, and gently lifted his shoulders with one arm, supporting his head with the other. Mom went over at the base of his feet, propping his legs into her arms. Then with one great heave, we hauled him up and teetered our way to the nearest couch, clearing some junk out of the way with our feet.

We tried laying him down as gently as we could, trying to time everything perfectly so he was as far away from the edge as possible, but then he chose that exact time to swipe at me and kick at my mom, and so we dropped him unceremoniously on the couch. He grunted ungratefully in reply, before falling back into snoring.

Mom gently tugged his shoes out of his feet, and then moved on to remove the broken glasses. I went into the supplies closet for a blanket, and draped it over his bloated frame.

My mother settled for watching over him for the night, but I couldn't stand to stay there. She looked at me tiredly, and I plastered an exhausted smile on my face before retiring to my room. Once inside, my face fell, and I let out the breath I hadn't known I was holding, pounding a fist through my hair.

There it was again; that painful feeling throbbing in my chest, although it was different from my little row with Dan. This one, it was both excruciating and numbing. My lip quivered as I fought back a sob, ignoring the pain as I did so. I walked over to my desk, tripping over a few books, and glared at my reflection in the mirror.

I didn't like what I was seeing.

The same, curly black hair as that man framed an unusual ghostly white face, and the same deep blue eyes stared back at me with a look of hurt, of longing, and of hatred, all at the same time. Throw in a grim scowl, an empty bottle of beer in my hand, and you could clearly see the resemblance. It was nauseating.

I hastily looked away from the mirror, sobs racking violently up and down my back as I tried to hold them down. I was fighting a lost battle here.

It didn't take long before I finally gave in. Reeling myself towards my bed, I muffled my screams into my pillow. I bit into my lip hard, so hard that the rusty taste of blood filled my mouth, but I ignored it; I felt numb. God knew the only pain I was feeling right now was not at the very least physical.

The first of many tears crawled surreptitiously down my cheek, and the floodgates opened. I sniffled loudly into my comforter.

A total of ten minutes passed before I grew tired of crying. I was curled up in a miserable ball, pillows and blanket drawn around me like a fortress. Random thoughts ran around in my head, and I groaned. Was this really how I wanted to spend my Friday night? Miserable and alone in a dark room with absolutely nothing to do except pity myself?

Well, if you hate it so much, then stop whining it.

Get up. Leave. Do something about it.

The strange voice in my head, my subconscious, was probably right. I didn't think I could go through another night like this.

But where would I go?

Then something flashed through my eyes, and I laughed. For a minute, I searched around my sheets for the telephone and traced the last call. When the line started ringing, I crossed my fingers, mumbling. "Please be there, please pick up, please be there, please pick up."

A male voice answered from the other line. "Hello?"

Whoever picked up, he sounded pretty busy, if the hurried tone in his voice was anything to get by. I couldn't help it; my face flushed, and the politeness in my voice was evident. "Hello, good evening. Is Vivian Randall home?"

"Yeah, could you wait for a moment? She kind of banished herself to the bathroom." I heard him hold the phone away from him, shouting, "Vivian! Phone's for you!" then directed his attention back to me. "Yeah, sorry, I'm sure I can get her out soon."

I let out a relieved breath. "Oh." Did she really spend all that time prepping up? "All right then. Thank you."

"May I know who's speaking?"

I hesitated a moment, then gave in. Oh what the heck. "It's Astrid. Astrid Channing."

The voice in the other line seemed amused. "Kind of had a gut feeling it was you. Be right back."

I gasped lightly, holding the phone away from me as realization hitting me square on the forehead. My face grew red.

Of course they live together. They're cousins, aren't they?

I couldn't dwell on the thought for long, though. I heard Garrett calling out my name, and there was this sound – like a stampede of elephants rushing down the stairs, and Vivian's panting filled my ears.

"Astrid! Sorry for the hold up, Garrett here was being a prick." "Says the girl who spent three hours in the bathroom for make up." "Can it, Samuels. So, what's up?"

I stalled around, not wanting to sound too assertive. "Yeah, uhm, the offer… and the party… I was just wondering if, well, you know…"

I could see the smirk already. "Spit it out, girl."

I hung my head a little in defeat, but grinned all the while. "You got me. Are we still on?"

Vivian sounded incredulous and amused at the same time. "Are you kidding? I've been trying to get you to come with me all day!"

"Oh right. Good."

"What're you wearing?"

My eyebrows rose in question; well, I haven't been thinking of that one. "Jeans and a sweatshirt?" I squeaked.

"Nu-uh, that just won't do. It's a party, Astrid, not a casual stroll along the park. Tell you what, I'm coming over and I'll bring some stuff with me."

I jumped up in alarm, gripping the phone tightly. "No, no, that won't be necessary. I'm sure I can find something around here…" I rushed up to my closet, rummaging through the clothes as I went.

"All right then, but it better be good. Need a ride?"

I picked out a decent blouse, taking out of its hanger. "Yeah, about that..." I paused for good measure, hoping she'd get the message.

"What, you sneaking out or something?" God, this girl was psychic. "Exactly."

"No problem. Here's the plan…"

I grinned wider into the receiver.


Miserable. I was absolutely, positively, inevitably miserable beyond exception. That, and I felt terribly alone in this sea of intoxicated teenagers.

We had arrived at the place almost an hour late, and even then, most of the partygoers were either drunk and passed out on couches, or doing very inappropriate things on the dance floor. Music blasted from hidden speakers, and Vivian had gone off somewhere, disappearing into the crowd. Daniel James, too, was nowhere to be found. Vivian told me he drove himself to the party, but now, I wasn't so sure if he even showed up for it.

I'd banished myself from the crowd and found myself a niche in the kitchen, despite being thoroughly disappointed by the limited food choices. I settled for a diet coke, popping the can open and taking a swig.

Taking note of my surroundings, I traced random patterns on the plastic countertop where I was settled, nitpicking the house owner's dubious taste for wallpaper. The room was filled with all kinds of plastic flowers, and mismatched chairs bordered a small island in the middle of everything. I shook my head at the wide expanse of space left occupied. They could've at least added a dining table to fill it up. Then I stopped in my thoughts, because I sounded so stupid.

I mean, come on. Here I was, alone and mumbling to myself, nitpicking on this sad excuse of a kitchen because it made me feel better. Why wasn't I out and about, mingling with the others? And then I realized, miserably, that I was totally clueless on these events.

What did people do on parties? I mean, besides drinking and dancing, of course. I felt like a sore thumb in the house, although I knew very well that my misery was self-inflicted. So I refused to do alcohol; was it a crime to embrace my sobriety?

A shudder rippled through me at the thought of drinking. It was kind of ironic, though, 'cause I was hoping to escape my own drunk of a father, and somehow, I wound up here…

My thoughts trailed off somewhere there, because someone had just entered the kitchen.

I'd recognized him as locker buddy, and I took his unsteady gait and slurred speech as a sign that he had a little too much to drink.

I looked around wearily, trying to plan my escape. Too late…

He saw me easing my way out, and approached me with a dangerous look in his eyes. I wanted to make a run for it, but god, my legs wouldn't move!

"Heyyy, babe… watcha doin' all by y-yourself, eh?" he drawled, eyeing me with a glint in his eyes. I tried to remain unfazed, standing my ground and lifting my chin up, but at the scary look he was giving me, I dropped my front and looked away.

"Aaw, did'ya get lost? Where's your boyfriend? Did he get you yet?" he took the stunned look on my face as confirmation. I balled my fists. "Wellll, then… I guess you don't mind doing me a little favor tonight, huh? What do you say we get to know each other more?" he hiccupped, closing in on me and leering disgustingly close to my face. A wall appeared behind me, and he pressed me further into it.

"G-get lost, Morrison."

He laughed in my face, and I cringed as drops of his saliva rained on me. "Hey, loosen up, dollface," good grief, did I look like a child's plaything? "or else, I'ma have to do it for you." He leaned closer, greasy black hair brushing against my cheek. His arm curled dangerously low around my waist, and I mustered all the strength I could to shove at his chest. "You… you sick bastard!"

"Come on, quit with the resistance, you know you want to…" He took hold of my chin, forcing me to look at him, and I muttered a curse when I saw the look in his eyes – hunger, like a predator on the kill. I turned my head away from his puckered lips, and they met the air as I maneuvered my way through a gap from his arms. He turned around furiously, but I'd already reached the refuge of the crowd, and a momentary sense of relief washed over me.

I was safe… for now.

Time to look for Dan.


Haha. My older sister just woke up after practically crashing into her bed the moment she got home from a party – she slept like a rock for nearly eleven hours. I praise her for her endurance; the pounding in her head must be killing her. Now she is telling me about the burning thrills of downing numerous shots of Cuervo and is nursing a terrible hang over, and all I can do is grin at her alcohol-induced grief whilst embracing my sobriety. I am evil.

Special thanks to Sophelia and to every one of my reviewers. It means a lot, really. :)

Oh, I don't do shots, but how 'bout a free hug?