prologue - three years ago

song: "i think i like you" by donora

I think I might be in love with this boy.

Cass Mulligan, feeling shy and excited and somewhat foolish at fourteen to proclaim such dramatic little things in her mind, smiled to herself, knowing that he's following behind her. There was a slight skip in her step, causing her soft skirt to swish against the back of her bare thighs.

The air was moist against the graying sky as tiny raindrops began to drizzle on the pavement in front of her. She has been holding her light pink umbrella above her head, playfully refusing to share it with the boy behind her when it started raining lightly five minutes ago.

"Hey, Cass," he called out, his voice causing the dormant butterflies in her stomach to suddenly awaken. "Wait for me."

A searing blush rising to her cheeks, she stopped before slyly smiling over her shoulder, secretly surprised and pleased to find him smiling back at her, hands casually in the front pockets of his pants.

And at that second, click went the camera.

Immediately, the man pulled the thin Camel cigarette out of his mouth as he closely inspected the LCD screen. He squinted his eyes, making sure he was seeing right. He's been trying for hours to get a good shot of this girl but she wouldn't stand still. She'd be framed perfectly by the sunlight and her hair and then a second later, she'd disappear from his line of vision before he could click the shutter.

The girl, whoever the hell she was, was smiling at that brown-haired boy, whose blurry back was partially in the frame, her eyes casted slightly to the right as her short hair and pink umbrella framed her narrow face.

Satisfied with this one photograph out of the hundred mediocre ones, he was ready to leave and transfer the files to his boss.

As he walked away, he put the cigarette back into his mouth, puffing smoke slightly against the light rain and wondering why the hell his boss, an old woman, would want photos of high school girls.

Cass froze in anticipation as he approached her, walking a little bit faster as raindrops began to seep into his shirt and leave wet imprints. Her heart was palpitating as his eyes locked with hers the entire time.

Suddenly, he pulled the umbrella out of her hands to hold it over their heads, as she stared up at him, dumbstruck.

He stood much too close to her—not that she minded seeing the light sprinkle of freckles across his nose or realizing that his blue eyes were grayer under this light—and smiled.

His voice was soft. "There, much better."

Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Baskerville was numb.

The funeral was only a week ago and his entire family already managed to get over it while he was left dealing with the loss of his mother alone.

He couldn't stand to be around his friends, who were all doing fine, while he felt like the sky was going to collapse on him at any moment. Leonard was falling for some irrelevant girl from their sister school, St. Agnes, Gabriel was busy trying to learn the guitar to woo girls, and Randall and Arthur were training to be on the varsity soccer team four seasons too early.

To him, none of them seemed to care that he was still grieving.

Then, one day, his grandmother led him and his brother to her office that was usually off-limits to them. It was messier than he expected: thick files strewn over her desk, photographs falling to the ground, her computer practically buried under papers. One look at his grandmother always had him expecting a sparse and white office, without a paper misplaced.

"We won't ever make the same mistake as before," she had previously announced to the family days after the funeral.

"We won't ever make the same mistake as before," she repeated, taking the two boys into the room.

Nicholas didn't know what she meant but his brother, Alexander, just four years older, was suddenly enraged, hands balled into fists and dark eyebrows furrowing in. Alexander's light brown eyes, which he shared with his younger brother and father, darkened as they were squarely glaring at his grandmother in anger… and hurt?

"Don't you dare talk about our mom like that," he said in a strangled voice that surprised Nicholas before leaving. His brother was never the sort of person to look weak. Their grandmother merely raised a carefully manicured eyebrow before closing the door shut with a quiet click.

Nicholas, on the other hand, was strangely curious. He always wanted to know what she was doing, holed up in her office, maybe dealing with the loss of her daughter-in-law. His grandmother, always two steps ahead of everyone else but closed off, was an enigma.

"I realized," she began, turning to her desk and scourging through papers, "that sometimes the problem starts with the bud. This time, I decided to take this into my own hands. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"No, ma'am," he replied in a quiet voice, feeling ashamed as her lips tightened into a small line with disappointment.

"You could say fate decides marriage," she said, picking up a thick stack of photos before plucking off the rubber band around it. She flipped through them at lightning speed. "But I do believe that the decision is free will."

Nicholas quickly nodded, not entirely sure what she's trying to get at. He walked closer to her desk.

"You will have a choice, of course, on who you marry. But I'm just making the pool smaller for the convenience of our family," she continued, handing the pictures for him to look at. He took them carefully into his hands. "She has to be at a intellectual and financial level suitable for our family. I took the effort to weed out those who would ultimately be a mistake later on."

A few years later, he'd later realize what she really implied: "a mistake like your mother." But for now, he stared at the pictures.

His eyes widened. They were pictures of girls—all around his age or maybe even slightly older. Most looked affluent, dressed in nice dresses in the summer and fur coats in the winter, but they were all doing something without knowing they were being photographed: smiling, frowning, singing, running, walking…. He looked up, something of a half-hearted question on his face that he couldn't bring himself to ask without feeling ashamed for not knowing the answer.

To his surprise, the small smile on his grandmother's face seemed genuine, the most amount of emotion he has seen in the past fourteen years of his life.

"These girls are for Alexander, but I didn't think it would hurt to show you what to expect in the future," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder.

The weight of it, despite being small, felt enormous on his right shoulder.

He looked down, mindlessly flipping through girl after girl until one caught his eye.

Her wavy hair, dark and short, framed her cat-like face, while her dark eyes were lit up, eyebrows arching mischievously. Holding a light pink umbrella, she was in the middle of turning around, maybe to speak to the chestnut-haired boy behind her whose back was facing the camera, or maybe she just felt like twirling in the middle of the sidewalk.

But it was her smile, a toothy bright smile that was both flirty and shy at the same time, which made him stare.

Slowly, he felt like something, somehow, inside of him was melting and aching. This pent-up feeling of frustration after the funeral was dissolving—and just after seeing a genuine smile?

He wasn't sure if falling in love with someone just through a photograph was possible but for once in what felt like forever, fourteen-year-old Nicholas Baskerville was no longer numb.

A/N: Am I seriously reposting this? Yes. I really, really, really need to get this story out of mind. I probably won't be able to finish until after college applications BUT I did finish the prologue. I'll probably start slowly updating after finals. Let's get this done :) I'll always post songs at the top that I think matches the chapter and review so let me know what you guys think! Happy reading!