Chapter Two

Declan

If anybody likes me at all, it's because they see me as a novelty, Declan thought to himself.

Sometimes he really wanted those people to see him as a real, whole human being. But then he'd think: no.

Because I doubt they want that burden. They have enough people in their lives to make up their major supporting characters, the characters that are fleshed out and not just the comic relief, or the exciting instigator, or the oddball in the background.

It was a pet theory of his, that people had a limit of how many people they could accept as more than mere novelties.

And if I'm not a novelty, I'm nothing.

"You know what, Declan?" groaned his sort-of-friend, Jared, sunk deep into the musty pillow mountain that covered a corner of the attic. "F-fuck you. You suck if you're s-s-serious about this leaving town plan. I can't believe you'd do that. I can't believe you'd goin' leave us."

Jared is kind of an asshole, and I think I kind of hate him, thought Declan, wanting to ridicule him for acting drunker than he was, or being drunker than he has any right to be.

He is a damn lightweight, but he also likes to act cooler and looser than he really is, but he needs an excuse.

Declan was nursing his own beer, an expensive craft label. He wasn't above getting drunk, but he wasn't going to mindlessly drink a good beer any more than he was going to get drunk in the middle of the afternoon in his attic with fucking Jared Prewitt.

"We're aaalll…" Jared stretched out the word, and waved his stupid Bud around in the air, "going to be having...such a blast together next year, and you'll be…" he laughed, "...you'll be in, like, England or some shit, at some fucking stuhhffy school, not knowing anybody, with….fucking stuhhhffy girl's who'll…" he guffawed, and spat up a little beer the next time he took a sip, "...who'll make you, like, buy them a Mercedes or somethin' before they let you stuff 'em."

Your sister's one of the girls I'm currently sleeping with, thought Declan. I think I'll tell him soon. Give him a good ole shock to the system.

There was some loud knocking, five times, down at the bottom of the stairs. Declan's mom's knock.

Jared jumped and looked sort of guilty, like she had heard his vulgar words.

Holy crap, he's pathetic. She didn't hear ya, buddy, but even if she did hear you, what's she going to do, call your mommy and get you in trouble?

Declan climbed to his feet, walked down the steps, and flung open the door to his attic apartment.

"Yo," he said to his mother. "It's not time already, is it?"

She smiled at him sadly. "Afraid so. But I'll be back in only two weeks, so that's not too bad. Plus, I'll be bringing your dad." Steffi Cosborough-Hubbard leaned in, brushed aside some hair from Declan's forehead and kissed her only child just above his eyebrow.

Declan squeezed his eyes shut for just a moment and exhaled quietly through his nose. It wasn't that he was a momma's boy or anything. It was just he hardly got to spend any time with her. Plus...his mom was actually cool!

For a mom, anyway. Or a 'mum', as Steffi liked to be called sometimes, to remind her of home.

But mostly Declan called her Steffi.

"Okay, Steffi," he muttered, and stepped in to give her a brief hug. "Well, let me walk you out to the car, anyway. I can help you carry your suitcase."

"That's a good idea. It's nearly time for your date, anyway, isn't it? You don't want to be late. That's very ungentlemanly." Steffi checked furtively over Declan's shoulder before lowering her voice to a whisper. "Don't want to waste your day stuck in a dusty old attic with Jared, anyway. Talk about squandering your time." She winked and adjusted the heavy brass chain of her necklace and smoothed the front of her shirt.

"Jared, dude, c'mon, I'm kickin' ya out," Declan called up the stairs before following his mom out into the main part of the house.

Declan saw his mother into her waiting taxi, while Jared stood next to him and unnecessarily swayed every so often and whispered to Declan, "You don't think she can tell I'm drunk, do you?"

Of course, whenever Steffi did glance Jared's way, he slicked his hair back and acted exaggeratedly coherent, like an eager-to-be-teacher's-pet on the first day of school.

"I love you, son!" Steffi called out the window as the taxi began to back out of the driveway.

"Love you, too, Mum!" Declan responded and blew her a kiss.

"Haha, you love your 'mum'," Jared mocked, putting on an impressively poor English accent while using that particular term for 'mother' and elbowing Declan in the side.

Declan shoved Jared away roughly enough for the other boy to stumble a bit.

"The fuck is wrong with you?" Declan sneered.

Jared looked about ready to fight back when they both noticed somebody walking up the driveway Steffi's taxi had just driven down.

A small figure, dressed partially like a creepy Victorian doll, and partially like a surfer chick, it was Jared's twin sister, Jade.

Declan instantly felt his nerves fray a little. Jared was obviously similarly displeased.

"Jade? What the hell? What are you doing here?"

Her brother's ire wasn't going to dampen Jade's day, though, apparently, as she was suddenly grinning and jogging up the slight incline of the Lord's driveway.

"Hiiiiii, Jared! Hi, Declan!" she chirruped out to them in that impossibly saccharine voice of hers.

"Yeah, that doesn't answer his question," Declan pointed out, feeling his features twist into a sour expression.

Jade was thrusting her pelvis out in a peculiar way. Declan half expected a Xenomorph to burst its way free any moment.

"Do you like my new shirt?" She did a ballerina twirl and then thrust her pelvis forward again. Declan assumed he was meant to go ga-ga eyes over how it bared her midriff, but all he could concentrate on was how stupid the little yellow summery, swimsuit-looking top looked with whatever sort of black hoopskirt-like contraption she had on below.

"It's not too slutty, is it?" Jade asked, and then went into a giggle fit, as if embarrassed at herself for asking the question.

"Yes," replied Jared grumpily.

"Dude, like, I don't know, it's summer..." Declan responded, not looking at her.

"I ask you again," Jared groaned. By now, he had abandoned all pretense of being intoxicated. "What are you doing here? You weren't invited to come hang out. Stop bothering us."

"Well, actually," Declan took the opportunity to say, "I'm supposed to be leaving now, anyway. I have to meet someone at 3."

The twins both frowned together in a quite similar way that was mildly amusing.

"Who are you meeting at 3?" asked Jade, as Jared simultaneously blurted out,

"Awww, man, seriously? That blows, who are you meeting?"

"Eh, it's just Gary, you know," Declan mumbled, shrugging, leaving out just what he and Garnet were planning to get up to. He was only letting select people in on the Lord's plan, and the Prewitts weren't who Declan would consider trustworthy people.

"Garnet Gibson?" Jade's tone, dripping disdain, was an irritation to Declan. "Oh, Jesus, why?" She snorted a laugh that sounded like a baby pig. "You're still hanging around with her? She's such a snob..."

"Everyone who's not from Paleville is a snob, you just get used to it," Declan responded nonchalantly. "She's been my friend for four years."

Jade gave one-shoulder shrug and glanced away. "Well, we'll come with you."

"Ah, nuh uh uh, sis, you're going home," Jared tsk-tsked. He'd been wearing a pair of sunglasses attached to the front of his shirt, and he unclipped them and slid them on to cover his eyes before clapping Declan on the back. "Let's go, bro."

"Actually, sorry, guys, neither one of you are coming with," said Declan, shrugging off Jared's hand. "It's, uh...private..."

"Ooo, like date-type 'private'?" asked Jared, waggling his eyebrows above his shades.

"She, just, like, asked to see me," Declan lied. "And I'm not gonna bring other people along if I don't know what she wants- "

"She wants to do it," Jared interrupted with a bark of laughter.

Declan decided to allow himself just a little smirk. "Well, that might be true," he drawled, "but whatever, you can't come even if she doesn't wanna get all up on this." He gestured showily at his body and goofily wiggled his hips. Jared laughed and high-fived him.

"Garnet doesn't like you," Declan then baldly declared. "Either of you."

Jade gnawed on a piece of her dyed black hair. "I don't like her, either."

"Well, good," said Declan. "Then you won't want to come."

They, did, however, want to walk with him down to the dock.

At about the halfway point of their walk there, Jade, who was walking in between Declan and Jared, suddenly grabbed both of them by the hand, and for the next ten or so steps, they made a linked chain of three walking down the center of the road.

And then Jared suddenly either reached the end of his patience level or just then realized that someone had hold of his hand. He broke his sister's hold and demanded,

"Yo, ya clingy wierdo, why are you holding my hand?"

Jade did a funny little skip mid-stride and grinned.

"I'm just feelin' happy!"

Jared sped up his pace to get ahead of her, and as soon as he did, Jade turned to Declan and rested her head briefly on his shoulder.

"I just really wanted to hold your hand," she whispered up at him, and batted her mascara-gunky lashes. "But I couldn't single you out and be obvious."

"Your lashes look like spiders," Declan observed out loud, and he would've let go of Jade's hand. Jade was one of those girls you had to be careful not to lead on. Jade was one of those girls who was certifiably not girlfriend material. She was, like Jared had said, clingy. And she assumed too much and talked too much and didn't know how to act. But Declan clearly had been sending her the wrong signals, and that would have to stop immediately.

So Declan would have let go of her hand, but just then, they could hear someone start to blast some music from their docked boat, not parked too far away. And Jade abruptly released her hold on Declan in favor of dancing down the street. She waved her arms around and made weird swimmy motions with her hands like they fish. She twirled and stuck her butt out and wiggled it. She skipped and sang out the lyrics to a Pussycat Dolls song.

"Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?
Don't cha?
Don't cha baby? Don't cha"

"Oh, my Christ, Jade," Jared practically wailed. He raked his fingers roughly through his hair and looked like he wished the ground would swallow him right up. "Zip it, you walking fucking embarrassment!"

Jade did stop, after throwing Declan a quick wink, but it seemed to be because she'd gotten distracted again.

"Hey, Declan," she asked, pointing into the near distance at the closest dock with no boats moored at it. "I thought you were just meeting Garnet. You're meeting Porter Trowbridge, too?"

"What? Port...?" Declan muttered upon catching sight of Port in fact standing on the very dock where he and Garnet were designated to meet.

Garnet was there, too, wearing a bikini top and cutoff shorts and looking right pissed. They were close enough now for Declan to be able to clearly see her features- the scrunched nose and the lips mouthing at him, 'I don't know'.

And Porter wasn't the only uninvited party present, either. Sitting with her feet hanging down toward the water was a gorgeous chick who Declan had never met before, but who he recognized as the ghostly-looking figure from the night before. She was just as pale in the sunshine, but significantly more... substantial looking in today's figure-hugging sundress. She was smiling, too, broadly, instead of looking like a wistful wraith, and her thick brown hair, instead of blowing free like a cloud, had been pulled into some trendy assortment of braids.

Lord Doug Hubbard was nowhere to be seen.

But one more person was. Walking toward the dock, coming from the opposite end of the street from where Declan stood. Soon, she was right across from him, holding a drink carrier. Her gaze flitted from Declan's group, to the brunette girl on the dock, and back again. She looked frazzled, for some reason. She was a stranger, but- did Declan imagine it?- the anxiety in her eyes seemed to lessen slightly as soon as they locked with Declan's.

He barely noticed if she was pretty or not. (She was, but not shockingly hot.) Time seemed to slow down. Declan had never believed in love at first sight before...

...And he still didn't. But somehow, he couldn't shake the sensation that his life had just been changed forever.