Chapter One: Alana

"You're marrying Valerie?!"

The look my father shoots me at my outburst is so harsh it could curdle milk, which I suppose is warranted. I'm not the quietest person in our family, and the exclamation was so loud I almost wouldn't be surprised we find out that the neighbors on either side of us now know the news as well.

However, I will argue that my disbelief is just as warranted.

"Papa," my younger brother tries in a much quieter tone, shooting me a worried look. "Don't you think you're moving a little... fast?"

That's putting it lightly. My father and Valerie have only been dating for a few months; Lance and I have only seen her twice. She even has kids we've never met. The whole idea of him actually thinking he's ready for marriage is laughable at best but I suck my lips in on my opinions before they have the chance to escape. Lance will have the best chance at making him see why he's making such a huge mistake.

"Perhaps, but it just feels right." Papa scratches the back of his hand. "I'm not getting any younger and Valerie makes me happy-"

"You didn't even know her at New Years!" I all but shriek before dropping my face into the counter. I really need to learn how to shut up.

Papa is silent for a moment and I can almost imagine him grinding his teeth as he works out how to calmly respond to me. "I know that. But..." he sighs heavily and I raise my eyes to gaze at his chin. "Look, every relationship I've ever had I've taken slowly and every time it ends horribly. Valerie and I are both ready for this and I would love it if you guys would be happy for us."

Somehow Lance's frown deepens and he places a hand on my shoulder as if to calm me down. "We want to be happy for you, but it's just really fast. I mean, Alana and I have only met her twice, and doesn't she have three kids of her own? We haven't met them at all."

"I know, I've spoken to her about that. It's important to us that you all get along, so we came up with an idea." Lance tugs at my ponytail until I've raised my head enough to see Papa's full face. He's lost his anger from my outbursts and now looks just as nervous and desperate as he had when this conversation began. "The wedding won't be until the end of the summer and so they're going to live with us for the next three months-" I open my mouth to shriek but Lance pinches the back of my hand hard enough to distract me from my growing disgust. "Don't give me that look, Lana. They're going to move in after the wedding, anyway. At least this way you kids can spend some time together beforehand-"


"I think Alana would feel better if we got the chance to meet them before we're all living together." Lance cuts me off, "To be honest, I would too."

Papa nods, seeming to mull this over for a moment. "What if we set out some time for all of us to meet before the move in? We could have a bonding day and..." he hesitates for a moment. "And if you guys really can't get along by the end of the month then I'll call off the wedding. Does that sound like a good deal?"

I frown, suddenly feeling guilty at my outburst. "Papa. You don't have to-"

"Of course I do." he smiled sadly over at me. "You two are the most important things in my life. I couldn't ever marry someone you didn't like, but... you guys do like Val, right?"

Lance and I shoot each other glances before shrugging. We don't say anything but we don't need to. Being a single father for the last fifteen years has made Papa almost as in tune with us as we are with each other. We don't dislike her, but neither of us feel as if we know her well enough to say that we're ready for her to be our step-mom.

The rest of the conversation passes in a blur as Lance once again takes over talking with him. Somehow we agree for Papa to call up Valerie and make plans sometime this week before all going our seperate ways throughout the house.

"I can't believe this!" I shriek, slamming the back door shut behind me and marching down the porch steps into our backyard.

Or, rather, what constitutes as a backyard. In actuality, it's a large lawn that spans the entirety of our small block surrounded by trees rather than a fence and nothing separating the houses. I'm not sure if it's always been that way or if our parents tore it down at some point during our lives but it's been this way for as long as I can remember.

"Mira!" I scream at the top of my lungs, "Missy!"

It takes a couple minutes but eventually the back doors of two of the other three houses on our block slide open and out step my two best friends. Part of growing up in such a strange set up has caused all seven of us children growing up to be rather attatched to each other. I suppose the fact that our parents were also best friends didn't exactly help with our co-dependency, either.

"Whoa," Mira gasps, sliding down the railing. "What's going on? Your face looks so red I'm scared it's gonna pop like a pimple."

"Papa is marrying Valerie." I hiss.

The disgusted look Missy is in the process of shooting Mira at her phrasing is immediately cut off as they both whirl around to stare at me with matching wide eyes. "What?!" they shriek in near perfect unison.

I nod desperately. "I know! At the end of the summer!"

"The end of the summer?!" Mira parrots, before whipping her head toward Missy and then back toward me. "But... didn't they just meet in March?"

"I know!" I repeat. "And that's not even the worst of it! Valerie and her dumb kids are moving in this week."

Missy frowns and cocks her head to the side in confusion. "I thought you liked Valerie, though?"

I shrug, "I mean, she's fine. But we've only met her twice and it's only been a couple months, I don't think-"

"Alright, alright, alright." another voice cuts in. We all whirl around toward Missy's house where her two brothers, Alexander and Josh, are emerging. "We're going to need the three of you to back this story up because we've only caught the bits Alana have said and we're already intruiged."

I sigh and shake my head, before waving my hand up at them. One of the more annoying parts about having a shared back yard is that privacy is very limited. I suppose I should've known that I should've texted the girls to come over if I actually wanted to speak with them privately but then Papa would've had to hear my outburst and I already feel guilty enough for how I acted. Besides, it's not like I care if they hear or not.

"Call Lance and Levi out," I call up. "We all might as well be here for this."


The drive to the frozen yogurt shop is made up of mostly small talk, everyone waiting to have the big conversation for when we're all actually seated around a table, as if that will somehow make the whole thing more meaningful. Or as if they're hoping that being in public will keep me at a reasonable volume, like they don't know any better. It probably would've made more sense for us to stay in the garden and talk there but we always go to the froyo whenever something big or bad happens. The garden is supposed to only be for good memories, not for the bullshit that Papa's newest relationship is turning into.

Either way, by the time we reach the shop, everyone his humming in their excitement to hear the news.

We all practically fall from the car in our rush to get out. Even Lance and I, who already know the whole story, are running in our need to have our friends to be able to complain to.

The shop is almost completely empty despite it being prime froyo time of year but that just serves to our tastes. This is a conversation that does not need an audience.

It does make it easier to spot the boy standing behind the counter however, and doing so causes me to freeze in the threshhold, a low growl building in my throat at the sight of him.

"Oh great," I hear Missy grumble under her breath. "Just what we need." she nods over at Lance, "Take your sister to our booth, we'll get-"

"No," my voice comes out loud enough that even the boy, who had been in the middle of ringing someone up, raises his dark gaze to meet mine. "I can do this." I continue, without breaking eye contact.

My friends are hesitant but they eventually give in and move toward the front of the spread to start building their cups of frozen yogurt. I tear my gaze away from the boy's as I do so; totally not because he had broken eye contact first.

Kellan Henning. The name alone is enough to cause ice to form in my veins.

I may be brash, outgoing, and loud, but one thing I definitely am not is competitive. I just never see an upside to a compition, one way or another someone winds up disappointed. However, that all changes when it comes to Kellan. I've hated him ever since we were seven and he pelted me in the face during a game of tetherball with an unnecissarily hard throw, not only winning the game but also breaking my nose. And as if that hadn't been bad enough, he then proceeded to stand over me and lead the other kids standing in line in laughing at my pain until a teacher came by and took me away. It was then and there that I swore I would never let him humiliate me ever again.

Which meant that I would never allow him to win in anything against me ever again, and so began our decade long life as rivals. Grades, sports, video games. If I found a way that I could destroy him, I took it. The results often varied, but the majority of the time, despite doing my best he still always beat me, which only just fueled my hatred for him. Still though, it hadn't peaked until our Freshman year when he'd decided that taking me down wasn't fun enough, and decided to, instead, go after my baby brother.

I still remember the way my blood had simmered the day Lance had come home with hair still dripping chocolate milk that had been dumped on his head in the bathroom earlier that day.

It occurs to me then as I wait behind Missy as she uses the sorbet nozzle rather than regular froyo-it takes longer than the other nozzles but Lance is taking his sweet time picking out what size he wants and I won't let him face his old bully alone-that there's at least one bright side to all of this. Having a new set of step-siblings can't be so bad so long as they don't include that asshole.