Early May, 1987, West End of London, 4:25 PM

"Mais maman, nous vivons en Angleterre. Pourquoi dois-je appris cela*?"

Hassen stared blankly at the pages in front of him, resting his chin in his hand as he fought to stay awake. Magena laughed.

"Parce que notre famille est française," she said. "Vous ne voulez pas être en mesure de les comprendre**?"

"Why can't they just learn English?" snapped the frustrated ten-year-old.

"Because we already did."

Hassen turned to see Jess, his hands and teeth stained red. He licked at his lips, as if wanting to erase the scars coating them.

"But I'll probably never go to France, or anywhere like that," he argued. "So why should I bother learning?"

Jess wiped his hands on his apron. He was the best chef in the family, able to turn even the simplest ingredients into a variety of mouth-watering dishes.

"It'll help in the future," he said, his accent soft as ever. "People who're multilingual have a better chance of getting hired by the bigger companies."

"But I don't want to work for a big company," Hassen argued.

"It'll help, all the same," Jess shrugged his slim shoulders. "But even if you don't think it will, good luck changing my sister's mind."

"Don't you have baking to do?" Magena rolled her eyes. Her little brother was always brownnosing, speaking out about things that had nothing to do with him. He chuckled.

"Just thought I'd let him know," he said. "Don't want him giving up so easily."

He went back to the kitchen as the oven sounded, and soon the smell of fresh-baked cherry biscuits filled the house. Hassen sighed, watching as his paper fluttered to the hardwood floor.

"I'm going to bed," he said quietly. "I feel sick."

He slipped down from the chair, clutching loosely at his stomach as he trudged slowly to his room. He shut the door and locked it before falling on his bed, curling in a ball as he stared at a small picture frame on his nightstand. Hassen's room was painted medium blue, covered in murals he'd done himself. They showed lush forests shining in the sun, grey birds soaring through perfect white clouds. There was also one scene next to his window, showing the calm sea with two forms sitting on the shore, watching a sunset. That one had taken the longest to do, as he had wanted to make it realistic as possible. It was a scene from his most frequent dream, but he wasn't quite sure who the two people on the beach were supposed to be.

It's just a dream, he thought. It doesn't mean anything.

He reached out and touched the frame, running his nails down the red-painted wood. The image inside was of him and Carissa, on their last play date before she'd disappeared. Their mothers had arranged it just before his tenth birthday, and three weeks later Carissa was nowhere to be found. He couldn't think of anyone who'd want to hurt her, even if they were the most heartless being on the planet. There was just something about her that made everyone she met fall in love with her.

Including me. He'd realized his feelings two months after her disappearance, after spending countless nights dreaming about her, about what their future could hold. He didn't tell his family, knowing they'd disapprove, but instead kept the secret locked in the deepest recesses of his mind. He also longed for her safe return to her parents, to all those who cared about her.

They've all but given up hope by now. It was true. Though the search was relentless, he could tell they were growing weary, wanted answers. He sighed, turning away to face the window. As usual, it was cloudy. The world seemed to grow colder every day Carissa was gone, despite the fact it was so close to summer. It was as though the very heart of the island was fading, would die unless she was found.

I'll never give up, Carissa, his gaze turned to the ceiling. I'll never quit looking, even if everyone else thinks you're dead. I'll never quit until I find you. He felt the first tear in months slip down his cheek, and he knew it was the sliver of doubt piercing his heart. He took a deep breath, wiping fiercely at his eyes.

I've wasted enough time crying, he told himself angrily. He pushed himself up, then shook his head, trying to piece together what happened. Who would've taken Carissa, and why? She had been taken from her room just an hour after she had gone to bed. How had they gotten in and out without her parents seeing them? He sighed, then moved to the floor. He reached beneath his bed, pulling out his collection of paints, brushes, and a white cup he'd had since he was a baby. There was an oversized, rainbow-spattered shirt flung over his bedpost, and he yanked it on before going to the bathroom. He filled the cup halfway, staring at himself in the mirror.

I've gotta be the darkest thing I've ever seen…

He ran a hand down his cheek, wishing his bronze skin matched the pale tones the rest of his family shared. His blue eyes had darkened, and at times appeared to change colours. His dark brown hair was still thick, falling just past his ears. He ran his fingers down the trio of scars on the left side of his face. He had gotten them in a fight with Cadin the month before, and had come close to losing his eye.

I'll show him though. The ten-year-old smirked. He turned off the sink and went back to his bedroom, again shutting and locking the door behind him. When I'm bigger, I'll show him. He won't be the best fighter forever.

He went to an empty wall and set his paints on the floor. He opened a jar and dunked his brush in, wiping a clean black line on the blue paint. This mural was going to be the best he had ever done, and he'd make sure anyone who saw it knew exactly what he was trying to tell them.

*"But Mum, we live in England. Why do I have to learn French?"

**"Because part of our family is from France. Don't you want to be able to understand them?"