Chapter 1

1993

Jake

"That's a nice cloud," Jake thought, looking at the sky as he lay sprawled out on the pavement. His entire body hurt from being beat up by classmates, who had followed him a considerable distance from the school, where the school had no jurisdiction.

Jake sat up and felt the marks on his face. Some of them stained part of his fingers red.

He looked over the rest of his body, and saw that his hoodie and jeans were ripped. Scrapes were scattered on his hands and legs. Sighing, he got back up and began walking.

"It's gonna happen again," Jake thought. It was the same cycle over and over. Tomorrow would probably be the same, and the day after, and after, after-

"Jake!" a voice called from up the street. He looked up and saw his older sister Emi waving to him from the door.

"Hey, Emi," he said, walking up to her.

"How was school, and what happened to your face?" she asked, following him.

"Horrible. I got beat up on the way back," Jake answered, putting his backpack by their couch.

"I still don't understand why the school doesn't do anything," Emi said, moving her dark brown hair out of her face.

"I don't either but everyday will be the same until then," Jake said, sitting down.

"It'll get better. Trust me," Emi reassured him, patting his shoulder.

Jake gave a quick smile, then looked out the window. A moving van was being unloaded into the driving of a house a little ways down the street. The people unloading the van looked like toy soldiers, walking in the line into the garage.

"Are there people moving in across the street?" she asked.

"It looks like it," Jake answered, seeing a gray sedan pull up to the house they were watching. Two adults and a girl got out and walked up the driveway to the open garage.

"Oh, they have a kid. Maybe you could be friends with her," Emi offered.

"Maybe," Jake answered.

"Wanna go over there?" Emi asked.

Before Jake could say no, Emi grabbed his hand and pulled him out the door and they were walking across the street.

Miley

"And we're here!" Miley's dad announced, pulling into the driveway of their new house.

"It's beautiful," her mom marveled, looking up at their home.

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's unpack," her dad said, getting out of the car.

Miley's mom started to do the same, but stopped to look at Miley. She was resting her head against the window, looking at the house with a frown on her face.

"Are you okay?" she asked, grabbing her daughter's hand gently.

Miley shook her head and looked at her mother.

"Mommy, I'm scared," she said.

"Why, honey?"

"What if I can't make friends? What if no one likes me?" Miley answered.

"They'll like you, don't worry. You're such a nice girl," her mom reassured her, placing a hand on Miley's shoulder, "I know it's been difficult for you to leave New York, but you'll love it here, okay?"

Miley responded with a quick smile before they got out of the car together.

The hot California air hit her as soon as she exited the car, feeling the sun beat down on her. Almost instantaneously, sweat began forming on her forehead.

"At least the weather's bearable in New York," she thought, picking up a box.

As her family unpacked, she saw two kids, a boy and girl, walking toward the house. One looked about her age and height, and the girl was taller and looked older. They both had brown hair like hers, but the boy's hair was curly, while the girl had straight hair.

She put down the item she was holding and went to the back of the garage.

Jake

"Hi, we're from across the street," Emi greeted, walking up to the parents.

"Well, hello there, I'm Amanda," the mom answered, shaking Emi's hand, "This is Henry, my husband."

Jake looked them over. Both of them had blonde hair and toothy smiles.

"Pleasure to meet you," the dad added, shaking Emi's hand," What are your names?"

"I'm Emi, this is Jake," Emi answered. Jake waved shyly.

"Is Jake in sixth grade?"

"Yep."

"We have a daughter in that age range as well," Amanda explained, before turning back.

"Miley, come here!" she shouted.

Emi and Jake watched a girl slightly shorter than Jake hop out of the moving truck, and stand behind her mom.

"Come say hi, okay?" her mom asked, looking down at her.

Miley stepped forward and waved.

"Hi," she said, almost impossible to hear as she folded her arms. She shifted from foot to foot nervously, and her eyes couldn't meet his, flicking away from his face rapidly.

"Hi," Jake answered, observing her.

She wore a brown shirt, blue jeans, and white sandals. She had big brown eyes like his, a round face, sported sparkly blue nail polish on her fingers and toes, and long wavy brown hair that fell down her back. Jake looked at her arms, and saw a small mark on each one, hidden by her hands.

"She'll be going to Palm Middle School," her mom answered, putting her hand on Miley's shoulder.

"Oh, Jake goes there. Maybe he could help her," Emi suggested.

"That'd be great!"

Jake looked at Emi with pleading eyes. Emi ignored him.

"Well, it was nice meeting both of you. I hope we become good friends!" Amanda said.

"I hope we do too. Bye!" Emi answered.

"Bye!" the family answered, waving.

Jake saw Miley raise her hand to wave for a short time, unveiling two long scars along her arm. She quickly drew her hand back, covering it again.

"Hmm," Jake thought as he walked back into his house.

"They seem so nice!" Emi said.

"They really do," Jake responded.

"I think you'd be great friends with her," Emi added, elbowing her brother.

"Yeah, if she wasn't mute," Jake said.

"Jake!"

"What, am I wrong?"

Emi sighed and rolled her eyes.

"Let's clean up your face, and get ready for dinner, okay?" Emi asked, taking out food from the pantry.

"Sure," Jake answered, getting up to help his sister.

Miley

Miley sat down outside to have a drink of water, taking a break from moving boxes. She looked up at the giant oak tree in their yard, using its shade to stay cool.

"Do you feel a little better?" her mom asked, setting her drink on the table.

"A little. I'm still scared, though," Miley answered.

"Like I said, you'll be fine. Plus, maybe that boy across the street can help you," Miley's mom pointed out.

"Maybe," Miley said, tracing her fingers along the soil.

"This backyard has a lot of potential," Miley's mom said, changing the subject, "We could get more soil, but we could start a garden."

"We could plant some flowers to start," Milley suggested, pointing to a dirt patch.

"And put a bird bath right there," her mom added.

"How about some roses right here?" Miley asked, patting the ground.

"See? California doesn't seem bad now, does it?" her mom said, smiling at Miley.

Miley smiled back, then frowned.

"Couldn't they have moved us somewhere else in New York? Like Rochester, or Albany, or even Jersey?" she asked, looking at her mom.

Her mom sighed, and brought Miley closer.

"We would have loved to stay in New York, this is what Ultainum chose, and I think they know what they're talking about. It's safer for us to be over here, okay?" she explained.

"Okay," Miley answered quietly.

"Woo, this one's heavy," Miley's dad said, carrying a box.

"Need help?" Miley asked, standing up.

"Yeah, a little bit," he said.

Miley took the box from him, handling it with ease compared to her dad.

"I'm still not over the fact that you're so strong," Miley's dad laughed.

Miley laughed.

"It'd be helpful when you can't carry things anymore, Daddy," Miley answered, putting the box inside.

"Hopefully, I'll be strong enough to do this," Miley's dad said, before tickling his daughter.

Miley squirmed and laughed, trying to get away as her dad laughed with her.

Her dad quit tickling her and picked her up in his arms.

"Ah, there's a smile!" he said, grinning at his daughter, who beamed back at him.

"I love you, Dad," Miley answered, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"I love you too, Miley," he answered, kissing her forehead and putting her down.

"We're going inside, wanna come?" Miley's mom asked.

"Later; I wanna check out the yard more," Miley answered.

"Okay, have fun," Miley's mom said, going inside with her husband.

Miley watched them go inside before pouring the remaining water on the dirt patch into front of her, turning it to mud. She slipped off her sandals and stepped in with one bare foot.

Warm. She loved it, planting her foot deeper.

She stepped in with both feet now, feeling the mud squeeze between her toes. She giggled, lightly marching in place and hearing the mud squish each time below her feet. She stood on her tip-toes and brought her heels back down, hearing the mud squelch under her.

"At least this could remind me of home," she thought, wiggling her toes in the mud.