Chapter One: A Partridge in a Pear Tree

My road to popularity started in the sixth grade when my best friend since birth Carine decided to abandon me for our school's elite group of girls. She persuaded me to join her, but I had been a major tomboy and the very thought of putting on a skirt seemed like suicide. I vehemently declined.

Then, during the summer before seventh grade, something changed. I suddenly grew this body that made guys sit up and pay attention. Let's get this straight: I don't have big boobs or a particularly stunning butt. But I'm slim and trim in an impressive sort of way, and I have very long, lean, muscular legs that look killer when topped off with a mini-skirt.

That same summer was when I decided to cut my waist-length hair into a more modern style. I took great pains to style and straighten it perfectly every day. By the time school rolled around, I had my style down to a tee. But when I went to school that fall, it was not just the boys who noticed my new, improved exterior. I was immediately approached by Lauren Presley and was invited to sit at the her lunch table for the very first time.

At that time, I had felt honored and important to be part of that group in school. That was before I learned that even the stupidest things, like where you vacationed, could socially ruin a person.

"I thought we were leaving at 6 AM." I shoved my aviator sunglasses down onto the bridge of my nose. "It's been 6 AM for a half hour."

"Actually it was only 6 AM for one minute," Dominick commented. He sat on the trunk of the car playing his PSP, a ski cap covering his fair hair. "It's now 6:30."

I glared at my little brother. I have to admit that Dominick is a breathtakingly gorgeous little 10-year-old. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and rosy-cheeked, he is the kind of kid who gets attention from strangers all the time, especially the old granny types.

Like most siblings, we do not get along. He is constantly glaring at me or shoving me out of the way. He is possibly the most annoying kid I have met. We used to get along pretty well. I remember fun trips to the carnival with him, and teaching him songs from Rent—the IT musical at the time—during car rides, but lately he had just been a major pain in the butt.

"Shut up. You're so annoying!" I attempted to pull the hat down over his eyes.

"Hey!" he cried, ripping the hat off his head and pausing his game. He gave me a defiant look. "I wouldn't mess with me if I were you. I know where you keep your eye cream, and I know how to rinse it all down the drain."

I glared at him and clutched my bag. "You wouldn't dare. That's Le Mer eye cream that costs 200 dollars!"

"I know! I was there when Grandma bought it for you at that store in Carlisle. And I know where it is right now so you better be nice to me."

I rolled my eyes and folded my arms. "Moron," I snarled.

"Mom, did you hear her call me a moron!?" Dominick yelled.

"Mom, did you hear him say that he was going to put my Le Mer cream down the drain?!" I yelled louder.

"Will you both just quit?" Mom yelled back, emerging from the house, dragging her suitcase behind her on the cold cement. "Move off the trunk, Dominick," she said, giving him a shove. I smirked at him as he lay grimacing on the pavement.

Mom is one of those women that other moms look at in disdain. She has a tendency to wear little Juicy Couture-esque sweat suits to pick up me and Dominick from school, and even I notice how they accentuate every curve of her lean frame. And when she dresses up for special occasions, there is not a wandering eye in the room. She is definitely a hard act to follow.

Mom shoved her suitcase on top of ours and slammed the trunk closed. "Here, Kiran, put this on." She came over to me and shoved a white ski cap over my hair.

"Mommmm," I whined.

"Don't Mom me," she replied. "Did you know that ninety percent of emitted body heat comes from either your head or your feet?" She tossed me a pair of matching gloves. "And put these on, too. No complaining. It'll be freezing up in Michigan."

"She won't want to put those gloves on," Dominick commented. He mocked my voice. "They look so uncool, and I can't even use my iPhone with them on! It's the end of the world!"

I lunged at him, but Mom caught me, grabbing my hood and yanking me away from Dominick.

"Would you two..." she began, but didn't finish and instead just shook her head."Do you have your carry-on bags ready?" We nodded. I clutched my colorful LeSportsac messenger bag-complete with Le Mer cream inside-and Dominick slung his green Jansport backpack over his shoulder. "Get in the car then."

I stalked past Dominick, shoving him with my elbow, got into the passenger seat, and slammed the door behind me. As I pulled my iPhone from my pocket, I could see Dominick in the rear-view mirror throwing his backpack into the back seat and climbing in after it. I rolled my eyes and plugged my earphones in. He was just so annoying.

"Alright, here we go," Mom said, turning the car on and blasting the heat. She turned on some weird classical radio station and slowly backed the car out of the driveway.

"Huh," Dominick mused as we drove through our subdivision a few moments later. "This isn't how I pictured it."

"What, hon?" Mom asked over the sound of her music.

"This isn't how I imagined this vacation to start," Dominick said a little louder. "It was never like this when we used to go on vacation."

Mom turned the music down a bit. "What do you mean, Dom?"

"Well, I don't know..." Dominick's voice drifted." Kiran never used to sit up front on road trips. She always used to sit back here with me. And if there was ever music in the car, it was always something we could sing or dance to. And when we used to go, Dad was always here" he paused, trying to think of the right way to say what he meant. "It just isn't the same."

He was so right. I would never admit it out loud, but I knew he was right. I had so many memories of car trips that seemed to be fading away. I remember eating McDonald's with him in the back seat and throwing French fries out the window to see which would go the farthest. I remember spraying him with my favorite Vera Wang perfume and then laughing hysterically as he walked around the next rest-stop, talking and skipping in a very girly manner to see people's reactions. We used to have fun times.

But then everything changed.

"Is our whole vacation going to be this weird?" Dominick asked.

I curled up against the door, pulling my hood over my head and wrapping my coat firmly around me. Pressing the Play button on my music, I muttered, "Shut up, Dominick," and went to sleep.

"I can't believe we finally made it," Mom said, sliding on her sunglasses and looking up at the lodge. The building was glistening from all the pure white snow.

"I definitely can't believe it," I remarked, walking over to stand next to her. Strangely enough, she put her arm around me, even after what a complete brat I had been the entire ride there.

I had to admit it; the lodge looked fantastic. It bore a creepy resemblance to the resort in "The Shining", all gigantic and woodsy, but still it had a unique charm about it. It stood at least ten stories high with balconies protruding from every room. Snow mobiles were parked everywhere. Our small BMW looked very out of place among the crowds of outdoorsy cars. I could not wait to see our room.

"This is incredible!" I said, looking around the land. Snow blanketed the crowds of trees that seemed to nest the lodge. A stone fountain graced the yard and at the far end I could see a small terrace greenhouse with vines crawling along the top.

"It's awesome!" added Dominick, exiting the car with his backpack in tow. Empty Pringles cans and Flamin' Hot Cheetos bags leaked from the car onto Lourdes' pristine snow. My brother is a pig.

"I told you it would be," said Mom. "It was always so beautiful when your Dad and I would take trips up here. And after twenty years, it doesn't even look like it's changed a bit."

"Twenty years!" Dominick exclaimed. "That's double of how old I am now!"

"You're dating yourself, Mom," I said, smiling.

"Can I help you ladies and gentleman?" A guy in uniform came up to us, friendly and smiling. That's something I absolutely love about hotel workers: they're always pleased to be your friend, even if you're the most annoying customer there.

"I'm Kevin," the guy continued, "esteemed bellhop here at Lourdes. But for the rest of your vacation here, consider me your humble servant." He grinned and reached for Dominick's backpack, but Dominick pulled away, suspicious.

"I promise I won't steal anything," Kevin laughed. He was pretty young, maybe in his late teens or early twenties, with golden-brown hair and brown eyes. His uniform polo shirt was neat and clean, his khaki pants pressed. He had a very nice smile. "Not only would it get me fired, but it would also be incredibly rude."

"Thanks for your help, Kevin," Mom said gratefully. She unlocked the trunk and pulled our suitcases out. "The rest of our luggage is here. We're staying in room 719."

"Alright then. I'll help you get your bags up to the lodge and check you into the hotel before I help you to your room," Kevin said agreeably. He gripped my suitcase under one arm, rolled Mom's with the other, and began to sling Dominick's huge duffle bag over his back.

"I'll help you with that," I offered, taking Dominick's bag and hauling it over my arm.

"Thanks," Kevin said, sounding a little surprised. "Even though I'm an employee, it's always nice to get some help around here. What's your name?"

"Kiran," I replied.

"Kiran," he repeated. "That's unusual. But very pretty," he added.

"Thanks."

"I'm Dominick," my brother piped up. He's never been someone to shy into the background. "How old do you think I am?" He asked as we began to hike up the pavement to the lodge.

"I'm terrible at guessing ages," Kevin admitted. "But are you...thirteen?"

"You are terrible at guessing ages," Mom laughed.

"I'm only ten!" Dominick exclaimed.

"Well, I guess you just look mature for your age."

"Oh, don't even say that," Mom said. "Dominick's my baby. I don't want him growing up at all."

"Moooooooooom," Dominick whined. "I'm not a baby."

"But you're my baby," Mom said, planting a kiss on Dominick's far head. "I'm Mara," she introduced herself to Kevin.

"I'm very pleased to meet all of you," he said.

"So how old is this place?" I asked, looking up at it. "Mom said it's been around for twenty years."

"I said I was here twenty years ago," Mom corrected.

"It's been around for twenty years plus another eighty," Kevin said. "Back in 1888, this rich guy named Michele Lourdes cleared the land of all the trees and everything to make room to build this whole thing. It opened in 1904 and the president, along with several Congressmen and a few celebrities were here for its grand opening."

"Do famous people still stay here a lot?" Dominick asked.

"Not typically. Mostly Michiganders vacation here. They're the ones who really recognize its beauty, I guess. Are you three from around here?"

"No, Indianapolis," Mom said.

"We still get some of America's elite crowd once in a great while," Kevin said. "This is like the Plaza of Michigan, at a much smaller scale."

"Interesting," Mom remarked.

"Do you have a swimming pool here?" asked Dominick.

"We do," Kevin said, "but I'm afraid it hasn't been used in quite some time. It was built back when the rest of the lodge was built, but back then not many kids came to Lourdes , so there wasn't much need for it. I'm sure it doesn't even work anymore."

"Oh," Dominick said, disappointed.

"But I'm sure there's a ton of stuff you can do here," Kevin amended. "You can go sledding and play in the snow. There's a movie theatre and ice skating rink in town. And the lodge has always been famous for our fine dining."

"That should make you happy, Dom," Mom said, ruffling Dominick's hair.

"I may be biased, but I have to say that Lourdes' is some of the best food I've ever had," Kevin said. "I've only had it on occasion, of course."

"It must be great working here," I commented. Seeing all the glamorous inhabitants of a lodge and eating at a great restaurant all the time certainly seemed like my kind of job.

"Most of the time it is," Kevin said. "But it's work, just like any other job. I still have to get up in the middle of the night to get a visitor's midnight coffee, and I still have to lug around heavy suitcases..." He cast a quick look at Mom. "No offense intended!"

"None taken," Mom replied, looking rather amused.

"But over all, it's a nice job. Mr. Hellman, the guy who owns this place, treats all of us staff really well. We get good food, good pay, good lodgings, and he treats us really well."

"Sounds like a perfect job." I sighed. "Mom..."

"Don't even think about it, Kiran," Mom said, rolling her eyes. "Like I'm going to let you move to Michigan for a job when your sixteen years old."

"Here we are!" Kevin said, holding out the door for us as we filed inside.

It was gorgeous, very country. The ceilings were high and every inch of wall was painted a creamy beige color. All the furniture was a dark, rich wood. Glossy artwork hung on the walls and colorful woven blankets were set on each sofa.

"This is so nice," I said, trying to take it all in.

"You won't spend much time in here," Kevin said, guiding us through the throngs of people to the front desk. "This is just where you check in. The guest lobby is on the second floor where the rooms start. The first floor is just the kitchens and restaurant and rooms for the help. What's your last name?"

"Nelson," Mom replied.

"Great. I'll go get your room key, and then we'll go on up to get you all settled. I'll be back in a moment!" And then Kevin was lost into the crowd of people.

Everyone looked so high-class. Each seemed to be wearing a Michael Kors or Louis Vuitton coat and carrying huge, matching designer bags. Some wore fur coats that would have had to have cost thousands of dollars each. I looked down at my own wardrobe: dark, ripped, tight jeans, brown Pumas, a cream-colored, long-sleeved Abercrombie shirt layered over a few tanks and my warm, puffy brown Hollister coat over it all. I felt stunningly out of place in this world of high-end customers.

"Mom, how can we afford to stay at this place?" I asked suddenly. It had only just occurred to me that a place like this would cost hundreds of dollars for each person per night.

"Vacations are special, Kir," Mom replied simply. "We're allowed to splurge. Besides, we haven't gone on a real vacation in years."

"I like it," Dominick said decidedly.

"I'm glad," Kevin said, coming back to our trio with three room keys in his hand. "A key for each of you," he explained, handing them out. "Now follow me this way to the elevators and to your room. Come on."

We hurried after him to the glass elevators at the far side of the room. Mom gripped Dominick's hand as we made our way through the crowd. As usual, Dominick begged to push the button in the elevator and Kevin let him. I was trying to figure out if Kevin was amused or annoyed by Dominick at this point and was contemplating this when I happened to spot a familiar face making his way through the crowd.

But as soon as I had seen him, he was gone.

"What is it, Kir?" Mom asked, seeing my strange expression.

"I thought I recognized someone down there..." I replied, absent-mindedly.

"Who?"

"I don't know...I don't know from where...I just thought he looked familiar. I can't place him, though."

"I can see where you're coming from," Kevin said, nodding knowingly. "After a while around here, each person seems to blend into the next. Each winter coat looks the same, each puffy vest...I can hardly tell the difference from one family to another. But you three..." He looked at me and winked. "You're very unique. I think I'll remember you long after you leave here." He grinned and picked up our bags at the sound of the bell alerting our stop at the seventh floor.

Our room turned out to be spectacular, decorated very similarly to the check-in area. The only difference I noticed was that our room also came with a flat screen TV and a MacBook. I would not have even noticed there was no kitchen or bar if Kevin had not mentioned it.

"Those are for the deluxe suites," he told us. "But your room is complete with the living area and," he opened an adjoining door, "your own double bedroom."

"Rooms come with a kitchen and a bar?" asked Dominick, in awe.

"That's alright. I don't drink," said Mom, hugging Dominick around the front.

"Great. I'll leave you to yourselves now. If you need any help setting up, just give me a ring down at the counter," Kevin told us. "Dinner at the restaurant is served starting at six o' clock and ending at nine. So I'll see you all later." He left the room. Dominick and Mom reached for the suitcases to start unpacking.

"You gonna help, Kir?" Mom asked, unzipping her suitcase.

"Yeah, just a second," I told her and ran into the hall after Kevin. "Hey!" I called to him.

He turned and smiled. "Hey back. Kiran." I had a sneaking suspicion that he kept saying my name in order to remember it better. "Do you need something?"

"No," I shook my head. "It's just that...as I walked into the lodge earlier, I noticed that there were a lot of people here who are...who weren't like us."

"Ohhhh, you mean rich?" Kevin said, very straight-forward.

"Yeah," I replied, a little slowly. "I mean, at this dinner, how are we...how will they..."

"You're worrying that you'll feel out of place at dinner?" Kevin asked flatly.

I nodded.

"Don't worry about it, Kiran. Not only do visitors eat at the restaurant, but a lot of people from all over the county. It's just dinner. No one's going to put you on the spot or treat you like a baby." He grinned at me. "Do you get embarrassed easily? Is that why you're asking me?"

"Yeah," I admitted. "I hate getting caught in situations I'm not prepared for..."

"Don't worry about it," Kevin repeated. "Nothing is gonna happen to you. Just have fun with your family and eat some good food. You're on vacation. Just go with it."

"Yeah," I nodded. "Go with it." But I could not tell if I was reassuring him or myself.

Dinner was uncomfortable-uncomfortable and tense. We had been seated at a table with a Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson. The latter talked our ears off about her "dear son Michael" and his "lovely wife Michelle" and their two "sweet little boys." The former just nodded his head and smiled at her. It was enough to make me gag.

I had the misfortune of being seated next to Mr. Parkinson at the rectangular table. He sat on my left while Mom sat to my right with Dominick-who looked just about ready to nod off in his navy sport coat. Mrs. Parkinson sat directly across me and spurted information about the college her son had attended (Brown), where she liked to shop (Fred Segal), and who her husband's most famous psychiatric patient had been (Winona Ryder). I began to feel very bland and boring sitting next to the two of them, and I could tell Mom was feeling very uncomfortable by the way she kept smoothing her dress and pushing her hair behind her ears.

"Yes, Kiran is going to be applying to Indiana University as well as the University of Michigan. She has some others she's interested in, but those are her top two," Mom said softly over the quiet, jazzy music being played by the pianist in the corner.

"Kiran, that's a unique name," Mr. Parkinson commented through a mouthful of fillet mignon. Gross. "Is it Gaelic?"

"Hindu, actually," I quietly replied. It is strange, but I could not remember a time when I had spoken less at a meal.

"Interesting! Are you Hindi?" Mrs. Parkinson asked. She had a tendency to bug her eyes when she talked.

"No, Kiran's father is mostly English and Scottish and my family is Greek," Mom replied, taking a small sip from her water glass.

"Ah, Greek! Opa and all of that?" Mr. Parkinson joked lamely.

"My family's not very traditional, I admit," Mom said quietly.

"Oh," said Mr. Parkinson.

"We named our dear son Michael," Mrs. Parkinson boasted. "A fine American name for our boy!" She nudged at her husband, smiling her little pursed-lipped smile.

"I've always thought that Michael was Hebrew, because it came from the Bible," Mom corrected. Go Mom. I gave her a congratulatory nudge with my elbow. Across the table, the Parkinson's smiles were fading.

"It's so dark in here," Dominick complained drowsily. I could tell he was tired from the whole trip. And when Dominick is tired, he turns awfully whiny. "I can't even see my food."

Mom blushed and ruffled his hair. "It's proper lighting for a dinner party, Dom. You don't have to eat any more if you're full."

"I take it your children haven't had many chances to eat at formal restaurants before?" Mrs. Parkinson said pompously.

As Mom tried to defend herself, I rolled my eyes. When I did, I caught sight of a friendly face coming near.

I demurely dropped my napkin to the floor as Kevin was passing our table. He shot me a grin and then kneeled down to get the napkin for me. I reached down as well.

"Are you having fun?" Kevin whispered, smiling.

"Oh, tons," I replied sarcastically.

"You sure didn't look like you were when I saw you rolling your eyes," Kevin laughed.

"You saw that? Oh, it doesn't matter anyway. I can't stand these people," I whispered.

"The Parkinsons? Yeah, you got stuck with the worst. Sorry about that."

"You know them?" I asked.

"Sure. They always come up here for vacation. It's where they feel most important."

"All they talk about is their son Michael, as if he's a freaking saint." I sighed.

I heard my mom say from above the table, "Yes, you may be excused, Dominick. I'll see you back at the room."

"It'll get better. Not all the guests are like the Parkinsons." Kevin smiled and cuffed my cheek. "I'll make you feel better. How about I bring you some ice cream in bed?"

"I'd love that," I agreed. "Thank you!"

We both straightened back up.

"Here's your napkin, Miss Nelson," Kevin said very formally and placed the kerchief into my lap. "Can I get anyone else anything?"

"A brandy would be delightful, Mr. Shaw," Mr. Parkinson said, clapping Kevin on the back like an old friend.

"And could we ladies have refills of wine?" Mrs. Parkinson requested, batting her eyelashes and tipping her glass.

"I will get the drinks for you, Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson, but I remember that Mrs. Nelson does not drink. Very ladylike of her. No offense meant toward you, Cecile," Kevin added. Mrs. Parkinson looked like someone had just hit her in the face. "May I get you some more sparkling water, Mrs. Nelson?"

"Ms. Nelson," Mom corrected, smiling broadly. "I'm not married."

"Forgive me, Ms. Nelson," Kevin bowed slightly. I grinned. What a show-off. He then excused himself to go to the kitchens.

"Such a nice boy," I vaguely heard Mom comment as she downed her water. "Don't you think so, Kiran?"

"Uh-huh," I murmured, though I was not paying attention in the least.

I had spotted Dominick near the exit of the restaurant, and he was talking to a boy, a familiar boy. It was the boy I had seen in the lobby that morning, only now I recognized him. He went to my school. Although I had never spoken to him-or at least I didn't remember doing so, I recognized his dark hair and eyes and superior face.

"Mom, may I be excused?" I asked quickly, already getting up from the table.

"Are you feeling okay, hon?" Mom asked.

"Yeah, fine. I'm just a little tired from the whole day. I think I'll go up and get to sleep," I lied.

"Go ahead, sweetie. Find Dominick while you're at it. I'm sure he's gotten distracted from going to the room already."

I began to bolt from the table, but Mrs. Parkinson halted me by saying, "That's a fetching dress you're wearing, Kiran. Who is it by?"

"Um," I absently looked down at my strapless navy party dress. "I'm not sure. Lord and Taylor?"

"My lovely daughter-in-law Michelle would look stunning in that dress. You must tell me where you found it..."

But that's all I heard of Mrs. Parkinson's tirade as I swiftly moved away from the table, leaving poor Mom to deal with the pair. I quickly made my way to the doors leading to the visitor's lobby where Dominick and the guy were talking. They looked up as I came near.

"Hi," I said, looking at him straight in the eye.

"Hi," he replied coolly.

"I thought I saw you this afternoon when we were going up the elevators," I said conversationally. "But I wasn't sure. Now that I see you, I recognize you..." He didn't reply. "You don't seem as surprised to see me," I commented.

"I saw you this afternoon too," he said. "Only I did recognize you."

"Oh. Good."

"Good."

We nodded. Then we just stood in silence for a moment, savoring the awkwardness of the moment.

"Do you two know each other?" Dominick asked, frowning in confusion.

"Kind of," I replied. "He goes to my school. Weren't we in ninth grade Spanish together?" I asked, just pulling a class out of my head. In all truth, I had no idea what class we had taken together or if we had even had one.

"Tenth grade Chem," he corrected me.

"Right, right," I agreed. "And your name is...sorry, I have a bad memory for these things..."

"Josh. Josh Hellmer." Josh reached out a hand for me to shake. I noticed how long his arms and legs were, clad in khaki dress pants and a dark sport coat with a tie. He wore sneakers with his clothes, but oddly enough it did not look strange. It looked classy.

"Right." I shook his hand. "Kiran Nelson. Nice to formally meet you."

"I had just asked Josh to come up to the room and download something from the Mac onto my PSP," Dominick said. It just figures that my brother makes a friend at the lodge before I do, not to mention one who is about six years older than him. "So if you see Mom, let her know that he'll be up there so that she doesn't freak when she finds a strange guy in our room."

Josh looked confusedly between the two of us. "You two know each other?" he asked.

Dominick rolled his eyes. "Duh. That's why I said Mom; we have the same Mom. Kiran's my sister."

"Oh," Josh said in surprise. "You two don't look anything alike."

"Thank you," Dominick and I replied at the same time, glancing at each other in disgust.

"But that does explain why you two are matching," Josh said, pointing to Dominick's blazer.

I looked down in confusion at my dress. Oh God. It was navy blue. Dominick's jacket was navy blue. I was matching clothes with my ten-year-old little brother. We must have looked like the freaking Von Trapp family.

I felt a blush rise from my neck to my cheeks.

"It really isn't very noticeable," Josh assured me. He must have seen the mortified look on my face, but the damage was already done. "It's not a big deal. Nobody in there probably even noticed because the lighting's so dark - "

"Yes! Someone who thinks like me!" Dominick cried, throwing out his arms.

"Yeah, nobody probably noticed," Josh repeated. He got a strange look on his face. "Unless your parents were wearing dark blue too..."

My eyes widened in horror and I tried to remember what my mom had worn that night. "No," I sighed in relief, "Mom was wearing white."

"And our dad isn't here," Dominick announced.

"Thanks for filling in the lines," I said sarcastically. I folded my arms in front of me. Had it suddenly gotten colder? "So Josh, are you here for Christmas vacation too?"

"Yeah," he said, nodding. "All of it."

"Same," I sighed, brushing my brown hair out of my eyes. The curls were growing limp already, and I was hoping that Josh would not notice. "I'm surprised that you aren't going to some remote getaway in the Bahamas or Caribbean or something, like most of the school seems to be doing."

"Yeah, well I have some family up here so I'm always here during school breaks."

"Oh?" I asked. "Your family lives around here?"

"No. Actually," Josh gestured around the lobby, "my granddad owns this place." He shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded.

I was at a sudden loss for words.

"You mean the restaurant?" Dominick asked.

"No, I mean the whole lodge," Josh replied. "So I come up here on school breaks to see him and the resort.

"Cool!" Dominick high-fived Josh, grinning. "So do you get the best rooms here? And can you like go down and get food from the kitchens whenever you want?"

"Yes to both," Josh said, smiling. It was the first time I had seen him do so, and he had a surprisingly sweet smile, bright and white with perfectly straight teeth. "Why, do you want something to eat?"

"Yes!" Dominick said quickly, but then composed himself. "I had to order this really gross fancy thing at dinner because this weird lady at our table told me to. And Mom said it would be rude not to take her advice. But it was nasty and I'm never doing that again."

"Be truthful, Dom. All Mrs. Parkinson did was suggest it..." I said.

"Mrs. Parkinson?" Josh asked immediately. I nodded. "Cecile Parkinson? I don't blame you for doing what she says, Dominick. She's downright manipulating. I can't believe you guys had to sit with her for an entire meal!"

I sighed like a martyr. "That's where we were seated. Don't you ever have to sit by people you don't like?"

"I get to sit at a private table with my granddad," Josh said. "But sometimes yeah, he likes for us to sit with some of the guests, and sometimes I don't like them. But what can you do? Anyway, I'll let the wait staff know to seat the Parkinsons at their own private table tomorrow, so that no one has to sit through an entire dinner with them."

Dominick was impressed. "You can do that?"

"Sure!" Josh nodded. He turned over his shoulder and called to a man who was standing nearby, talking to a table full of diners by the door. "Granddad! Paul!"

An aged man talking at a nearby table looked up and grinned at Josh. After excusing himself from the conversation, he came over to our group and clapped Josh on the back.

"Kiran, Dominick, this is my granddad Paul Hellmer," Josh introduced. "Granddad, this is Kiran Nelson and her brother Dominick. Kiran and I go to school together back in Indianapolis."

Mr. Hellmer's face broken into a smile, and he shook our hands. He was a handsome old man-a bit stout, but still youthful. He had twinkling blue eyes. Up until that moment I had never really believed that eyes could actually twinkle, but Paul Hellmer's did.

He spoke with a bit of an accent. "It is an absolute pleasure to meet both of you. I hope you're enjoying your stay here so far?"

I nodded, smiling. "Yes, thanks. It's beautiful."

"Yeah, really cool," added Dominick.

"Wonderful!" he exclaimed. "Are you heading up to bed now?"

"I was just going up to help Dominick set something up in their room," Josh said.

"Then I won't keep you waiting," Mr. Hellmer said politely. "But I hope to see you many more times during your stay here!"

"You will," Dominick assured him.

"And I hope we'll be able to see you many more times too," I said sincerely.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Josh glance over at me. I looked back. He had the strangest look on his face, a mix between confusion and surprise. I frowned and looked away.

I liked Mr. Hellmer. He was a jolly fellow and sweeter than sugar. But one thing was for sure: Josh Hellmer was one person I just could not figure out.

After easily connecting Dominick's game to the computer, Josh had left without hardly a glance toward me. By this time I just assumed that he was one of two things: 1) He was completely uninterested in me, which would be ridiculous. I mean I am not a hag. Or 2) He was very unfriendly. Whichever it was, I decided to not let myself be bothered with it, no matter how much I wanted to be.

"Kiran, your phone's making noise!" Dominick yelled as he bounced on one of the beds, playing his game. He took my vibrating phone from the nightstand and tossed it across the room, past me, sending it skidding across the floor.

"Dominick!" I shrieked, going after my poor, expensive iPhone. "I swear I'm going to kill you!"

That was when I heard it, a sickening thud. My eyes widened and my stomach plummeted inside of me as I turned around, not seeing Dominick on the bed anymore, and thinking the worst.

Please God, don't let him be hurt, I quickly prayed before asking, "Dom, are you okay?"

Dominick staggered from behind the bed where he had fallen off. He was grinning. "That was so cool! I like flipped off the bed!"

"Well don't do it again," I told him. "You're gonna give Mom a heart attack."

Dominick cast a glance toward the bathroom, where Mom was in the shower. He sat down on the bed and played his game.

I looked down at my phone and opened the text I had gotten. I grinned when I saw who it was from.

Call me when you're free, Kir. Love, Dad.

Jumping up off the floor, I scrolled to his contact and anxiously paced around the room as I waited through two rings before he answered the phone.

"Hello?"

"Dad!" I exclaimed.

"Hey, sweet pea. How are you?" My dad's gravelly voice came through on the other end of the line.

"It's Dad?" Dominick cried. "Hi, Dad!" he yelled.

"Shh Dom, I want to hear," I told Dominick. "Dad, Dominick says hi."

"Tell him I say hi back. Tell him I love him."

"I will," I assured him, slipping on my shoes and heading toward the door. Dominick was bouncing on the bed again, this time singing "Call Me Maybe" very loudly. I wanted to have a conversation with my dad in private.

"I'm so glad you called!" I entered the elevator as it slowly began to descend to the lower floors. "I haven't talked to you in weeks! I miss you."

"I miss you too, sweet pea, more than you know. I've been really busy these past few weeks, and I just couldn't find time to call. I texted Dominick last week, and he said he was at your dance competition so I didn't end up calling."

"We could have made time to talk to you!" I insisted, exiting the elevator and walking through the lobby. "We miss you so much. Dominick can't stop talking about how you said you were going to take him to Baja for Spring Break. He tells all his friends."

"Oh, really?" Dad asked.

"Yep."

Dad chuckled a bit at that. "So are you on Christmas Break right now?"

"Yeah. We're actually vacationing at this resort that you and Mom apparently used to go to..."

"Lourdes? In Michigan?"

"Yeah!" I walked past the restaurant's entrance where I had met Josh and Mr. Hellmer just an hour ago and then continued out into the adjoining covered garden, sitting on a wrought iron bench. "It's so beautiful here, Dad. We've only been here for like half a day, but I absolutely love it already. The people are so nice and everything's so clean and woodsy..."

"That place is pretty pricey," Dad commented. "Your Mom must be living pretty large."

I frowned. "Not really. Yeah, this is a splurge for us but we're not living outside of our means. Mom still makes a pretty good living if you remember."

"And with the child support I send her every month, she can easily go on vacations to Lourdes and spend hundreds on a Coach bag," Dad remarked rather sourly.

Anger rippled through my body. "Dad, that's stupid. Mom doesn't just blow money on whatever she wants. And besides, it's not like we're getting much money from you. You're just an editor. They hardly take any money from you because you hardly make any money."

"Kiran," my dad said in his warning voice.

I rolled my eyes and sighed. "Sorry."

On the other end of the line, I heard Dad sigh too. "It's alright. I know we're all frustrated with this situation we're in. But I promise, we'll get together when you guys come back to Indiana. We can go out to dinner or something."

I smiled. "California Pizza Kitchen?"

Dad laughed. "That's our spot. Maybe we can even go out afterward and I can get Dominick the game he's been asking for. And we could go to Macy's for you..."

I began feel excited. A day with Dad could be just what I needed. I closed my eyes and tried to remember how he looked on our last good day together. I had been fifteen, and he had driven me and Dominick to an amusement park in Ohio. We had driven with the car top down, all three of us wearing sunglasses and grinning like crazy. Dad's golden blonde hair rippled in the wind, and he wore a blue t-shirt the color of the sky that morning. We sang oldies as he drove, louder than our vocal cords could manage and our voices were hoarse by the time we arrived at Cedar Point. But it was all worth it.

"Dad, remember when we went to Ohio -" I began. But I didn't get to finish.

I heard some clattering at his end of the line and then a cool woman's voice announcing, "I'm home. Vince, are you here?"

"In the kitchen; I'm on the phone," Dad called back.

Confusion flooded my face. My heart began to speed up. "Dad?" I asked, my voice shaking. "Dad, you're not alone?"

"I was, Kiran. She just got home."

"You're living with someone?" I asked.

Dad paused. "Yes, Kiran."

I laughed nervously. "You're still dating Amy?" Although insanely young for my dad and a little flippant, I could deal with him having a serious relationship with her. But I could not deal with them getting married. That would make my step-mom only seven years older than me.

"No, I'm not dating Amy anymore. We broke up a long time ago."

I frowned as Dad spoke. "Then who is it?"

He hesitated once again before finally saying, "It's Lillian."

My heart skipped a beat then and there, I swear. I was totally and utterly shocked. Nothing could have prepared me for that.

"Dad," I gasped. "Lillian? But...how...?"

"I really don't know how it happened, Kiran. I saw her at the hardware store one day, and I asked her out on a date. Before I knew it, we were dating."

"And now you're living together," I said plainly. "Dad, I just...I don't understand! I thought you said she didn't mean anything to you anymore, and it had all ended - "

"It had, Kiran."

"Why didn't you tell us? Me and Dominick?"

"I was going to, Kiran. I hadn't planned to tell you over the phone like this - "

"No, you wanted to make a day of it," I groused. "You wanted to take me and Dom out to dinner and shopping and butter us all up just so you could tell us hey, by the way, I'm living with the home wrecker."

"Kiran," Dad said, his voice rising. "It's not like that. I didn't plan for this to happen, but it did. And I'm happy."

I closed my eyes and tried to slow my breathing. The wind began to pick up and the trees next to me started prickling my arms. I could see a little bird trying to nest between the branches. How innocent life was for it. Lucky.

"What about...you know...the problem..." I stammered, not sure if I wanted to know the answer.

There was more noise from his side of the line. There was some clattering and then a little voice calling, "Dada!"

My face stiffened and my lips started quivering. "Well, that answers my question, now doesn't it?" I hung up on my dad and threw my phone to the ground. Then I dropped my head to my hands and cried.

I admit that when I cry, it tends to be big sobs. Puppy dog eyes. Alligator tears. All of that, it is true. My entire body racks with sobs, and I shiver. My face turns red and streaky and my eyes beady. It really is not a pretty sight.

"I hate you!" I cried, to no one in particular. Just to make my point, I swatted at the vase of flowers beside me. Who cares if I acted like a brat? No one was there. I was alone in the garden.

Or so I thought.

"Hey, are you okay? Or maybe I should ask about the vase?"

I looked up to see Josh Hellmer standing there, one hand in his dress pant pocket and the other holding a cup, his shirt untucked, his coat and tie gone and his black Converses scuffed, his brown eyes concerned, once he realized that I really was not okay.

"I didn't know there was anyone else here," I said, wiping at my cheeks.

"I'm a quiet person," Josh shrugged. He bent down a bit to look me in the eyes. "So...are you alright?"

"No," I said frankly, pushing my hair away from my face. "No, actually I'm not."

Josh cringed sympathetically. He reached out an arm toward me.

I frowned at him. "What?"

He replied, "I don't have a tissue or handkerchief, but I have a shoulder to cry on, literally speaking. Go ahead, wipe your eyes. It won't bother me."

I sniffed back tears and lowered my face to his arm, drying my tears with his sleeve, leaving mascara stains along it.

"All better?" Josh asked, looking at my face.

I nodded, though tears still dampened my eyes. "Sorry about your sleeve," I said, gesturing to the stains.

"Don't worry about it." He rolled up his sleeves past his elbows and then lowered himself next to me on the bench. He sat hunched over with his elbows resting on his knees. "So do you want to talk about it?" he asked, passing me his cup.

I took a small, cautious sip, letting the hot cappuccino drain down my throat. "Thanks," I said. I looked down at the cup in my hands and shook my head, still in disbelief over my phone conversation. "It's about my dad. You don't want to hear about it."

"I do if you want me to."

I sighed and did not reply.

"I noticed that your dad isn't on vacation with your family. Are your parents divorced?"

I nodded. "Yeah. Three years ago this May. He had an affair."

"That sucks. I'm sorry."

"Yeah. Well what really sucks is that I thought all that was done and past, but I found out today that he's actually living with the woman he cheated on my mom with."

Josh looked at me in shock. "Has he been dating her all this time?"

I shook my head. "No. He's had many others within those two years, but I guess he's back with her now."

"Oh," Josh said quietly.

"But you know what sucks the absolute most?" I looked at him. "He had a kid with her. That's the reason why he left my mom. He told my mom he couldn't stay married to her while he was having a kid with another woman. So he left. And now he's living with that woman and her kid."

"So he just abandoned your family for that one."

"Exactly."

"That does suck."

I laughed coldly. "Definitely."

Josh hesitated a moment before saying anything. "I saw your mom earlier, and she doesn't look like someone whose husband would leave her. I mean, she's really pretty."

"Oh, my mom's beautiful," I agreed. "But Lillian is too. She's everything my mom isn't. She's blonde and busty, and she always knows the right thing to say. She's like a Barbie, except with a kid."

"So does she and your dad have a house or apartment or what?"

"I don't know," I said, shaking my head and running a hand through my hair. "I hung up on him before he could say anything more."

"What about the kid? Have you seen it? Do you know anything about it?"

"I know it's a boy. I know his name is Nicholas. But I haven't seen him. I don't know if I want to see him."

"Oh." Josh looked up at the tree where the bird was nesting. "Does your brother know about any of this?"

"Only about the stuff that happened two years ago. I just found out about everything else. Nobody else knows." I turned to Josh. "Do you think I should tell my Mom or Dom?"

He looked back at me in surprise. He wasn't expecting me to ask him for advice.

"I mean, I know the good thing to do would be to tell them the truth, but I really don't want to hurt my mom..."

"Then don't tell her. If you don't think it's a good idea and that it'll hurt her, don't tell her. What she doesn't know won't hurt her. If it were my mom I wouldn't want to hurt her. And you know what?" I looked up at him. "I think you're a really good daughter by considering her feelings throughout this whole mess."

I sighed. "I really don't feel like a good daughter."

"Well, maybe your dad doesn't deserve a good daughter right now. He's being a prick. But your mom does deserve it, and you're doing a good job." Josh slightly nudged me and smiled. I smiled back. "But," he said, "I think you should call or text your dad and tell him that you didn't tell your mom. Otherwise he might call her doing damage control and accidentally tell her himself."

"Good idea," I agreed. I wiped my eyes again and laughed. "Will you hand me my phone?" I asked, pointing to the pavement, since he was so close to it.

Josh laughed and reached for it. "Yeah, sure." He handed it to me.

"My iPhone's been through a lot today," I admitted with a laugh. I opened the text message menu and created a new text. "What should I say?"

Josh shrugged. "Just say what you need to say and be done with it. You might get all worked up again if you say anything more."

Taking a breath, I quickly typed in: "I didn't tell Mom. You shouldn't either until we get this figured out." I pressed the Send button before I had another chance to think about it.

"Good," Josh remarked. He laughed at my phone. "I think the case may be cracked."

I looked at him, smiling. "Thank you."

"Not a big deal, you could have seen that yourself..."

"No, I mean thank you for talking with me. And listening. I'm really glad you did."

"You feel better?"

"Yeah."

"Then it was no problem."

"I wonder why we've never done it before..." I commented.

"It's school. Different cliques and...yeah." Josh shrugged.

"Well...thanks."

It was then that I realized Josh was different than anyone I had ever known. He listened to my problems without expecting anything in return. My mom was the only other one who did that for me.

That was the beginning of my relationship with Josh. The sweet beginning. The beginning that opened way for beautiful middle, and unexpected ending.