Chapter One

Imagine this.

A large, beautiful white house in Texas, with a happy family of four living inside. Five, if you include a cat. All is fine and dandy — nothing could pop the blissful bubble surrounding the family.

And then something does.

In a frenzy, the daughters are swept away by a fed-up mother and put on a plane to Washington. Hardly any time has passed and the image of perfection had been shattered, and the once-happy family was broken and miserable.

Well, that's my story. But I guess I might've exaggerated a bit. (Or a lot.) It wasn't exactly sudden, nor did I not expect this. Doesn't mean I like it, though.

Long story short, Daddy's the bad guy. But, really, he isn't bad. Would a bad daddy sit his little girls on his lap during a thunderstorm and tell them funny stories while they watch the lightning? Would he sneak big bowls of ice cream to them when Mama wasn't looking? If we came home from school and a boy picked on us, would a bad daddy teach us how to fight back for our own defense?

Oh, I don't know. I'm all choked up about this whole situation. I suppose a good daddy wouldn't be drunk all the time.

Boy, do I sound three. I'm seventeen years old but I'm talking like a little kid.

Anyway… we just got off the plane, and poor Silvey looks like she's gonna hurl. She hates flying. Mama, too. Me, I don't mind it. What I do mind is rainy ol' Seattle. Of all places, Mama had to move us here. It's 'cause her cousin lives up here, in some inconsequential never-heard-of-it town called Issaquah. I've heard the people in the Northwest are real rude. They bump into you on accident, and don't even say anything.

"Chevy, sweet pea, can you go over and get our bags while I take Silver to the bathroom?"

"Sure, Mama."

She hands me the carry-on with our tabby cat inside and I walk over to Baggage Claim to lean against a large round pole going all the way up to the ceiling three floors up. While I watch the empty conveyor belt, I pick at a pink thread coming off of my messenger bag that I had with me on the plane. It's a lot colder here than it was back home. Even though it's the end of August, I feel like I need a sweater.

The suitcases come all at once. I stand near with everyone else, waiting for Silver's pink Barbie suitcase and two other black ones. Well, there are black ones everywhere. Black suitcases with yellow name tags. I spot one and check out the tag—nope. More suitcases are sliding down onto the conveyor belt, and I see Silver's easily. Checking the tag just in case, I nod. Silverado Taylor. I grunt and pull it off the belt and set it beside me, looking for mine and Mama's.

Okay, I bet you know where this is going. Mama calling me Chevy, and my little sis is named Silverado? Uh-huh. My name is Chevrolet, Chevy for short. Yeah, I know. The sad thing is, even though they're uncommon people names, they're not even girl names. I checked online. They're boy names. I wonder sometimes what Mama was thinking, letting Daddy name us after cars. Or maybe he didn't let her think.

Silver begged Mama not to write her full name on her name tag, but Mama wouldn't hear of it. After all, we wouldn't want to confuse suitcases with all the other Silver Taylors with Barbie suitcases getting off the same flight from Dallas to Seattle as we were. Jeez.

I grab mine and Mama's after some searching, and attempt to roll all three at the same time to that pillar I'd been sitting by.

I don't wait long before Silver and Mama come find me. Silver still looks awful. Her face is paled out and her long red hair is all messed up. Mama looks fine, just tired.

"Come on, girls. Emma's waiting." She sighs and begins to roll her suitcase away, leaving me and Silver.

"You hungry?" I ask Silver without really thinking. She gives me a death glare. "Oh, sorry…"

We're rolling our suitcases, following our mother, and Silver asks me, "Chevy, are we gonna be okay here?"

I don't know the answer myself, but since she's only thirteen, I nod. "Yeah, we'll be fine."

"We'll be staying with my cousin Emma until we can get a place of our own. I know she's not really your aunt, but you're to call her Aunt Emma regardless, understand?"

That was the answer I got on the plane when I asked Mama where we'd live. Knowing Mama, we'll probably be intruding on this cousin of hers forever. Well, at least until I graduate and run away to Oxford. Then her poor cousin will only have my mother and sister to deal with. Mama says she'll look for a job, but she doesn't have a college education, and she's only ever worked as a waitress. So even if she honestly does look, which she won't after awhile, she won't get any work.

It's quiet in Aunt Emma's car. Silvey's pulled out her iPod and is listening to, I'm sure, some Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber garbage or something. She has her hood up and her head is down. Mama's taking a light nap while Emma drives. Me, I'm just gazing nonchalantly out the window, letting the silence absorb into me.

"Are you a senior, Chevy, or a junior?"

I look up. "Hm?"

Aunt Emma looks at me in the rear-view mirror with her large hazel eyes. "Are you a junior or senior?" she repeats. She's a tall and skinny woman with curly blond hair and the palest complexion I've ever seen. She needs some sunlight. "You're seventeen, aren't you?"

"Oh. Yeah," I answer, shifting in my seat. "I should be a senior."

"I thought so. And Silver's in eighth grade?"

"Yep."

She gets onto the freeway. "Where are you applying to college?"

"Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Brown…" These are all alternatives, of course.

"Wow, Ivy League? You must be pretty smart."

I shrug. "I suppose."

"Which will you go to, assuming they all accept you?"

"None of 'em. I'm going to Oxford."

Her eyebrows shoot up. "All the way to Europe? Ever been?"

I nod. "Only once before, and it was for a school trip. We visited the campus, and I fell in love with it."

"What'll you major in?"

I shrug. "I'll find out when I get there."

"Anything particularly interest you? Something you're really good at? Hobbies?"

What is this, 20 Questions? Well, I suppose it's what I get for being the only one who didn't try to drown out the world in an obvious way…

Again, I shrug. "I'll find out when I get there," I repeat.

We're quiet again. I've leaned my head back and closed my own eyes, following the suit of my mother and sister. I wonder what Daddy is up to…

"Come on, Silvey," said Daddy, his arms outstretched to my sister. His eyes are glazed over and bloodshot. "Give yer old dad a hug."

Silver rolled her eyes and turned to go upstairs, but he lunged and grabbed her upper arm, rooting her to the spot.

"Don't ever ignore yer father when he talks to yeh," he growled.

"Crap, Dad, let go," she whined. "This hurts."

I, watching from the kitchen, decided it was time to intervene. With a sigh, I put down the plate I was drying and headed over to them. I put a hand on Dad's arm, the one he was holding Silver with. "Daddy, let her go," I told him sweetly. "You'll leave a bruise."

He looked at me. I tried not to wince or wrinkle my nose; the booze on his breath was really strong. His eyes softened, and so did his grip on Silver, who wrenched away and made a mad dash to her room. I heard her slam her bedroom door shut. I looked back at my father.

"Why don't Silvey love me anymore?" he groaned.

"Okay, Daddy, let's get you to a seat…" I helped him into the living room and sat him in his recliner. "There you go. Watch some TV, and try to go to sleep, okay, Daddy?"

"No one appreciates me in this house anymore." Huge tears rolled down his face. He had to be really drunk to cry. Daddy never cried. "Maggie don't love me anymore, and neither do Silvey. My own daughter." He looked at me with his sad, bloodshot eyes. The tears made his eyes even bluer. "Yeh still love yer old dad, dontcha Chev?"

I smiled. "Yeah, Dad, I do," I replied. "And Silver and Mom do, too. Really. They just show it funny."

He smiled back weakly, then closed his eyes and began, shortly after, to snore. I put his chair back and put a light blanket over him. I was the only one who still had patience with Daddy. He was still my daddy.

I'm shaken awake by Silver. We're at Aunt Emma's house. It's a cute light-brown suburban house with an itty bitty front lawn surrounded by other similar-looking homes. It's drizzling, and I'm really cold. Stupid West Coast.

Aunt Emma only had, really, a week's notice, if that, of our runaway vacation to her place. It was enough time for her to get the place somewhat presentable. Mama acted on a whim's notice. After years of putting up with Daddy, she just couldn't take it anymore. (They aren't divorced yet, but she's going to file for it as soon as she can.) The big U-Haul with all of our stuff will be here in probably a few days. Until then, Silver and I will be sleeping in sleeping bags and Mama on the sofa. Our tabby, Tabitha (yeah, okay, we're not original namers, but remember what our names are before you judge), will probably sleep in my bag with me.

In the meantime, Mama and Aunt Emma got us registered for school. Our first day is in four days, like everyone else. I wonder how smart the other Issaquah kids are.

Mama and Aunt Emma send me and Silver out to introduce ourselves (into scary Issy without a chaperon—what if we get kidnapped?) because there are some kids our age living in the houses. The house next door is a family of seven, with two twin girls the same age as Silver. She gets on great with them. Their just-turned-eighteen year old son, David, I would think is really cute, but I'm not paying too much attention to anyone.

The second house is your average family of four, one daughter, one son, and the next is a couple with very young kids. Potential babysitting money? Oh, yeah.

I'm surprised with how friendly these people are, despite living in rainy friggen Washington. Silver reminds me that we're not dealing with real city folk yet. I'm thinking she's right till we get to a small blue house across the street that we decide to visit. It's a woman who doesn't let us inside. She's a short, timid little gal with frizzy brown hair, and she keeps fidgeting. We leave much sooner than we did the other houses and go back to Aunt Emma's, wondering about the weird lady.

When we inquire about her to Aunt Emma, she tells us, "Oh, that's Mary Ellen Maddison. She lives alone with her son, Neo. Mary Ellen has had a tough life, and no one knows anything about Neo except that he makes dolls."

"Dolls?" I ask curiously.

Aunt Emma nods. "Little dolls made out of cloth. He gives them away to local charities for kids to have as toys."

A boy who makes dolls… out of cloth. He sews dolls? And then gives them away to charities?

Silver voices the question I didn't know I wanted to ask: "What, is he gay?"

"I think he had a girlfriend once," replies Aunt Emma. "But again, no one really knows a lot about him. He doesn't have any friends. Poor boy… and he's so nice, too."

Huh. Weird…

"He's in your grade, Chevy," she adds. "Maybe you'll see him around."

"Yeah," I say. "Maybe."

I hope I do. Let's see what this dollmaker named Neo Maddison is made of. The fact that he has no friends bugs me. Is something wrong with him?

Well, I'm sure I'll find out soon enough. (We are neighbors, after all.)