The first ever fanfiction by Sunshine, LIFE AS AN EX-REALITY TV SHOW CONTESTANT follows the daily lives of your favorite TDI characters (plus eight new characters!) as they return to Lake Ontorio High after the series is done. Watch as they live through school, terrible lunches, romance, and learning what it's really like to be an ex-reality TV show contestant!

(Note: This story was written before the premiere of Total Drama Action. Thus, none of the events after TDI- including the special, Total Drama Action and Total Drama: World Tour - have occured in this story.)

Chapter One- First Day (Gwen)


Normally, the first day back to high school would be a nightmare for me. Especially at Lake Ontario High School, home of the “Rabid Beavers” sports team (which, by the way, hasn’t won a game for three years). It was also home of the meanest teachers, worst curriculums, and most inedible cafeteria food in the province. Oh, and don’t even get me STARTED on the popular girls. And to top it all off, my three best friends- Marilyn, Pixie Corpse, and Reaper- were all gone for one reason or another. If it weren’t for one thing, I’d probably either stay home for the rest of the year or- dare I say it- head back to Camp Wawanawkwa.

I gulped down the rest of my toast- another thing I hated about school, the whole ten minutes I got to eat before running for the bus- before shouting a goodbye to my mom, grabbing my far-too-heavy backpack, and dashing out the door.

Oh, right, the one thing that was making me go back to high school this year. Well, that was the discovery of a few people who’d gotten transferred to my school- a few of my closest friends from the island.

“Hey! Gwen!”

One of them was Trent.

I ran to his side, panting from the two-block run between my house and the bus stop. “I hope… I’m not… too late…” I apologized, still trying to catch my breath.

“We’ve still got two minutes until the bus comes,” Trent assured me, smiling.

Once I started breathing normally, I looked up at the friends I wasn’t sure I’d see again after escaping from Chris’s sadistic game. LeShawna, Trent, Geoff, Bridgette, and DJ had all been transferred from the other nearby high school to Lake Ontario High this year, and I couldn’t be happier. As we all chatted, finding out what everyone else had been doing since the end of Total Drama Island, a few other people started arriving at our bus stop, keeping a slight distance from us, but staring. I wondered if it was because they recognized us from the show, or just because of my gothic attire. I didn’t have much time to wonder, though, since the bus arrived just then.

“Ninth graders, your homeroom assignments are in the cafeteria,” The principal announced over the speaker as we arrived at the school. “Tenth graders, your homeroom assignments are in the gym. Eleventh graders, your homeroom assignments are in the office…”

“I guess that’s us,” DJ shrugged, leading us through the sea of teenagers. I silently thanked my lucky stars I’d found such a muscular friend- last year, I would’ve been crushed in this madness. We crowded into the office with all the other eleventh-graders, fighting towards the homeroom assignments.

“I think I see us,” Trent eventually commented, stretching towards one of the papers. “Room 216.”

“All of us?” Bridgette asked, giving Geoff a quick glance. I silently wondered what would happen to them if they were to be separated more than about an hour.

“Yeah.,” Trent replied, resulting in a silent sigh of relief from Bridgette. “Actually,” he continued, “it looks like we’re not the only ex-campers in Room 216.”

“Really?” I pushed towards the front and glanced at the sheet of paper. Trent was right- I saw Izzy, Harold, Justin, Beth, and Lindsay’s names written there before I got shoved out of the way, only being saved from cracking my head open on the wall by Trent conveniently standing behind me.

“Well, then, 216 awaits,” LeShawna commented, grabbing my arm and pulling me through the madness.

The names I’d seen weren’t even half of it.

It was only 7:45, and there were already fifteen of us from the show. Along with my friends and the five I’d seen on the homeroom sheet already, there was Noah reading in the back of the room; Eva sitting on her own, glaring at anyone who seemed to be thinking of talking to her; Tyler talking to Lindsay, apparently trying to remind her who he was again; and Owen, sneaking out a snack from his backpack.

“It looks like pretty much everyone from TDI is in this homeroom!” Geoff cheered, seeming pleased that he’d be able to invite all his old dudes over for a party.

“Let’s hope it’s ALMOST everyone,” LeShawna growled under her breath. I nodded, knowing we were both thinking of Heather. Before I could reply, Izzy popped up in front of me, her usual insane grin on her face.

“HI GWEN!” She greeted me louder than she needed to. “Good to see you, I missed seeing you, did you miss me? I really missed you since I was running from the RCMP over the summer and if I’d known where you lived I could’ve visited you and hid from them! Yeah, eventually my parents decided to move so they would stop chasing me, so we came here and now I go to this school, but you probably knew that since I’m here, huh?”

“Uhh… yeah… hi, Izzy,” I replied, backing away from her. She definitely hadn’t changed.

Trent grabbed my hand, pulling me away from the psychotic Izzy, who was now jabbering away to LeShawna. “I guess she’s still the Izzy we know and love,” he laughed. I smiled, thinking to myself what a great boyfriend I had.

As Izzy chatted incessantly to all of us (not seeming to know we were all pretty much ignoring her), I watched as some of the other people in our homeroom came in, a lot of them from the island. Katie and Sadie, wearing matching back-to-school outfits, skipped in. Cody entered and started chatting with Harold about some sort of new gadget he’d gotten. Some girl I didn’t recognize, with glasses and somewhat wavy brown hair, flopped down at a desk, smirking like the cat that swallowed the canary. Another girl I didn’t know sat on her own in the corner, glancing up at everyone once in a while, but mostly working on something in a book- I don’t know why, but something about her scared me. A boy, wearing a red sweater and glasses, wrote in a journal while another boy, seemingly Asian and wearing a gold necklace, talked nonstop to him. Shockingly, I even saw Ezekiel stumble awkwardly into the room- I guess his doctor prescribed human interaction for him. Just as I began to get bored, another one of my friends came in.

“Duncan!” I called out, waving him over. Giving me his usual smirk, he strolled over. Duncan hadn’t changed- same old skull shirt, green Mohawk, goatee, and piercings. Although, as I thought of the piercings, I could see he’d gotten another eyebrow piercing. Oh, and pierced his lip. A little part of me wondered how Courtney would react to that if she was here.

“Didn’t know you guys came here,” he remarked, flopping down on the desk next to me and Trent.

“Didn’t know you’d be able to get out of Juvie to come to school,” I retorted, smirking.

“Ouch,” Duncan laughed, feigning pain from my comment.

“So, uh… how was your summer?” Trent asked, obviously a little uncomfortable around Duncan.

“Not good, not bad,” he commented, shrugging. “Went home, threw rocks at people’s windows, clogged up the city fountain with my dad’s hairpieces, got chewed out by him about it, got some more piercings to retort, got moved to this school since I was expelled from the other one.”

“Yeah, so, nothing eventful,” I commented sarcastically, rolling my eyes.

“Exactly,” He replied with an equally sarcastic tone.

“So, you didn’t see Courtney?” Trent asked. Duncan flinched for a fraction of a second.

“No. But, it’s not like I care,” he quickly retorted, trying to cover up his only weakness- an undying passion for Courtney.

“SURE you don’t,” I laughed, but the glare Duncan gave me as a result shut me up pretty quickly. As I looked away- a natural reaction if you look him in the eye when he’s mad- I caught something out of the corner of my eye. It was none other than Courtney, strolling into the room. Before I could turn around and mention it, Duncan was already over there; Courtney lifted upside-down onto his shoulder.

“Nice to see you, Princess,” Duncan commented casually, which, I’ll admit, was hard to do considering the un-casual position he had her in.

“Wha-what?” Courtney stammered, staring kind of blankly at everyone- actually, I think she was kind of in shock. “PUT ME DOWN! I CAN’T THINK!” She finally demanded. Duncan did so, but still had a kind of ‘She still digs me’ smirk on his face.

“…So…” she commented, sitting down in one of the desks near the rest of us as she got her bearings. “…all of you go to this school?”

“Yeah,” Trent explained quickly, most likely knowing Duncan would put too much of a sarcastic spin on the simple answer. “We didn’t know you did.”

“Well, my dad got transferred to this province over the summer,” She explained, giving Duncan a quick glare as he sat on top of her desk. “Figures no one told me until AFTER I’d gotten back from the island.” She then glanced back at Duncan. “How did YOU get out of Juvie to come here?”

“I already told that joke,” I commented, raising my hand. Courtney rolled her eyes jokingly. She hadn’t changed much.

“It looks like almost everyone from the island is in this homeroom,” Trent commented, looking around at our old camp-mates.

“Yup,” I agreed. “Everyone except-”

Heather entered almost on cue.

I could tell she’d gotten a new black wig, since it was better fitting and more natural-looking than her old one. She wore a white, button-up shirt with the top few buttons undone, a tight black skirt, and black shoes with slight heels. She was flanked by a girl with long, bright red hair in a ponytail, green eyes, a bright green, single- sleeved shirt, white denim shorts, and new black-and-white sneakers. Another girl also followed Heather, with her long, dark brown hair hanging over her shoulders; she wore a dark blue tank top, tight blue jeans, and blue sandals. I wasn’t really surprised that Heather had a group like her alliance back home.

“Well,” Heather half growled. “If it isn’t Gwen. I didn’t know YOU came to this school.”

“Yeah, well, seems everyone from the island ended up here somehow,” I growled back.

“Nice to meet you!” The redhead chirped. Heather turned around and smacked her upside the head.

“NO! Bad Daisy. Gwen is BAD,” she hissed.

“Ohh,” Daisy commented, having a freakish resemblance to Lindsay at that moment. She then turned back to me. “Grrr.”

Just as I was about to retort with a few choice swear words, the teacher stormed in. “Everybody, TAKE A SEAT!” She shouted, sending a few of the meeker students practically flying into the nearest desk. Heather, on the other hand, simply glared at me and strutted to a seat, taking Daisy and the brown-haired girl with her.

The teacher moved to her desk and grabbed a stack of papers. “Listen up. I’m Ms. Spettrale, and I teach math. It’s the first day back, and I’m just as happy about it as you are. So sit down, shut up, do what I say, and we can co-exist peacefully.”

“Oh, this is gonna be a fun year,” I mumbled to Trent.

“Now, when I call your name, come up and get your schedule. It’ll have your classes, teachers, room numbers, plus your locker and combination. Once you have it, take your stuff, go to your locker, come back, and sit quietly until first period. OR ELSE,” she added, glaring. She then looked down at the schedules and started calling off names. “Izzy. Cody. Harold. Noah. Duncan. Daisy. Lindsay. Beth…”

Izzy actually smiled and waved at the woman, resulting in a glare. Cody avoided eye contact. Harold attempted a friendly smile, but he got glared at too, so he just ran off. Noah just gave his usual uncaring stare. Duncan got a glare, and he glared right back. Daisy smiled stupidly as she got her schedule. Lindsay stared at the teacher like a deer staring at a shotgun. Beth gave a fearful smile and walked off as quickly as possible.

“Trent. Heather. Emily. Courtney. Geoff. Bridgette. Ezekiel. Gwen…”

Trent just gave his usual friendly smile, and I swear because of it, Ms. Spettrale muttered to him, “I don’t like you.” Heather glared right back at her before taking her schedule. Emily- Heather’s brown-haired follower- took it without a word or glance. Courtney smiled nervously, looking like she’d run out of there screaming if she weren’t so calm. Geoff and Bridgette barely seemed to notice her, staring at each other. Ezekiel took his actually shaking, and I heard the teacher comment, “You have a REALLY weird name. What were your parents thinking?” I just took mine calmly, trying not to make eye contact, before heading out to my locker.

I headed over to my locker, number 288. On one side of my locker was DJ; I didn’t have anyone on my other side yet. I entered my combination carefully and correctly, yet the locker wouldn’t open. Frustrated, I kicked it, and the locker door creaked open. This was going to be an interesting year, all right.

As I shoved stuff into the locker- another thing I hated about our school, the lockers were so small you could barely fit a book in them- I heard someone come up on my other side and open up that locker. When I somehow got everything I didn’t need into it, I closed the door, I turned to see who my other locker-buddy was, only to find that I didn’t even come up to their shoulder. I looked up to see a girl, about six feet tall, with glasses and a light-brown ponytail. She glanced over at me, and though part of my brain was telling me to say hello to her, the other half was still in shock from her height.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m tall,” she grumbled, grabbing a binder and heading back to our homeroom- I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed her before now. Regaining my senses, I grabbed my own binder and headed back to homeroom.

Trent slipped me his schedule as I sat down next to him. I smiled at him as thanks, then pulled out my own for comparison. Sure enough, we were in all the same main classes- math, science, English, and history- the only difference being that I was taking art in comparison to him taking band, my taking French and his taking Spanish, and us having PE on different days. I slid his schedule back to him and gave him a thumbs-up. He smiled back.

“Attention students, morning announcements will now begin,” The principal’s voice announced over the intercom. “Welcome back to Lake Ontario High School, home of the Rabid Beavers, for another great year.”

“Yeah, right,” Ms. Spettrale muttered just loud enough that I could hear.

“Today’s lunch special is Mystery Meat with a side of fries, or the vegetarian option, Meatless Mystery with a side of fries,” Trent and I glanced at each other. On a positive note, I guess it was good the cafeteria didn’t play favorites…

“Also, ninth graders will have an introductory assembly in the library first and second period, so the library will be closed for these periods. That is all. Have a good day, and at the bell, you may proceed to first period.”

“Pfft. ‘Have a GOOD day.’ Riiight,” Ms. Spettrale groaned as the bell rang and we all began to exit. “If they really wanted me to have a good day, they’d fire me.”

“All-righty, everyone up against the front wall, okay?” The science teacher chirped, pointing towards the front in case any of us were stupid enough not to know which way it was. Our science teacher was short- only about five feet- with short, fiery red hair, big blue eyes, had science goggles on and at the ready, and wore a white, somewhat stained lab coat over a plain black shirt and old jeans. “Thanks. Well, welcome to science everyone! I’m Miss Roux, and I’m going to be your teacher, if that isn’t obvious enough.” She giggled. Anyway, when I call your name, please take a seat where I point.”

I looked around at my classmates. There were fifteen of us, half the kids from homeroom, and eleven of us were ex-campers from TDI. Weird- we could’ve been neatly divided into Gophers and Bass, though we weren’t. Other than me, there was Trent, Ezekiel, Noah, Bridgette, Geoff, DJ, Duncan, Courtney, Harold, and Cody- a strange and somewhat random mix of Gophers and Bass.

“Cody, Geoff, and Ezekiel, at this table…” Miss Roux began, motioning to the front table. “Samantha, Harold, and Duncan, you’re at the one behind them…” Samantha, it turned out, was the six-foot girl I’d met earlier. I felt almost bad for Harold- stuck between Duncan, who hated him, and Samantha, who was so tall it was scary.

“Andrea, Hannah-”

“My name is HAN!” One of the girls- the one from homeroom who had seemed quite happy about one thing or another- shouted in a voice that hat a slight Boston accent.

“Oh, sorry,” Miss Roux apologized, surprisingly unfazed. “Andrea, Han, and Christin at this center table…” This table was all girls I didn’t know. Andrea was a somewhat tall, dark-haired, light-skinned girl wearing a maroon turtleneck, jeans, old sneakers, and glasses, her nose buried in a book. “Han” wore a grey hoodie, old, ripped jeans, and sneakers that looked like she’d beaten them up. Christin was short, with short, wavy black hair, skin as pale as a sheet of paper, and big hazel eyes. She wore a dark green sweater, jeans, and tennis shoes that looked like they’d seen better days, but weren’t dying yet. She held some sort of notebook close to her chest, like she was trying to hide it, or hide behind it. Though she seemed more than harmless, there was something about her that scared me.

“Noah, Gwen, and Trent, at this table…” She said, standing near a table towards the right of the room. I walked over and took my seat in the middle. I was next to Noah, yes, but I was also next to Trent. It could be much worse.

“…and, DJ, Bridgette, and Courtney, behind them.” The three took their spots at the last table. My guess was that we were in alphabetical order by last name, but considering our teacher’s personality so far, it wasn’t too far-fetched to think that she’d placed us randomly.

“So,” Miss Roux stated, taking her place at the front of the room and clapping her hands together. “Let’s get started!”

Our first half of the day was pretty uneventful. Science had just been Miss Roux explaining the rules of class, with most explanations starting with “It’d be good if you…” or “I’d like it if you…” After that, Trent had gone off to music class and me to art, which was taught by Mr. Jordan, a soft-spoken man who was eager to learn what we could do and answer any questions we had. The first half of the period, Mr. Jordan went over what we’d be doing over the year, and the second half, he allowed us to ask him questions about himself. By the end of the period, I knew he was 26, lived just outside of town in a little house on a hill, had two cats and several fish when he was a kid and now had a cat named Jiji, who was named by his sister, that his sister was about two years older than him and is an artist, and he was inspired to teach art after she gave him an art lesson during his first year in high school. Before I left, he told me he and his sister watched TDI, and that his sister is a big fan of mine. I could tell already that I would like this class.

Third period was math, with none other than Ms. Spettrale. We were seated in the same way as in science, and Ms. Spettrale had told us outright that we would be seated alphabetically, so that assured me Miss Roux hadn’t randomly seated us. Just like science, we went over rules and expectations, but instead of Miss Roux’s gentle “Please do this instead of this”, Ms. Spettrale’s was more like, “Don’t do this. Don’t do this. Don’t do this either. Oh, and don’t make me mad, otherwise the principal may find your corpse in a locker.”

“So far, we have some really weird teachers,” I commented as Trent, LeShawna, Duncan, Courtney, and I walked to the cafeteria for lunch period.

“Girl, if you think that’s bad, wait ‘till you see the PE teachers,” LeShawna ranted. “I’m telling you, they almost as crazy as Chris and Chef. Almost.”

“Anyone here desperate enough to try the Mystery Meat?” Duncan teased, glancing around the group.

“Ugh, don’t,” I groaned. “I made that mistake back in ninth grade. I actually had to stay home sick the next day.”

“What about the Meatless Mystery?” Courtney asked.

“Haven’t tried it. Don’t plan to.”

We entered the cafeteria, bustling with activity- after all, this was pretty much the only time of day we could actually socialize. Everyone except Duncan had brought a lunch, so we sat down at a table. Duncan, turned off the Mystery Meat, sat there without eating until Courtney pitied him and gave him some of her lunch (and considering his smirk afterwards, I’m guessing that’s what he planned all along).

As we ate and chatted- mostly LeShawna warning us about the teachers we hadn’t had yet, Duncan flirting with Courtney, and Courtney smacking him after each comment- I looked around at some of the new table arrangements. At the table next to us were Samantha, Andrea, Han, Christin, and the two boys from homeroom. Across from them were Heather, Daisy, and Emily, settled at a table of their own. Behind us were DJ, Geoff, Bridgette, Ezekiel, Owen, and Izzy. So far, there didn’t really seem to be a rhythm or rhyme to the seating, but I knew from experience that there soon would be.

All of a sudden I heard someone scream, “THERE’S WHITE STUFF IN MY MILK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I could have sworn every head in the cafeteria whipped to the table next to us- where the scream had come from- and the next thing I saw was a milk carton flying through the air. Before I could comprehend what was going on, the milk carton had come down on the worst place possible- Heather’s head.

Everything grew dead silent.

First of all, Heather was covered in milk. Secondly, the milk carton had knocked off her wig, revealing her bald head to the entire school. And thirdly, it was more than obvious who had thrown the milk carton at her- Han was just across from her table, facing her, and had obviously let out the scream.

Heather slowly turned around, grabbed her wig from the ground, stuck it on, and marched for Han. Or so I thought, until I followed her gaze and made the connection. Han didn’t seem guilty at all- she was staring right up at Heather, not fearful in the least. Opposite Han, and closer to Heather, was Christin, facing away from her, head down, and scribbling away in her notebook.

I stared in slight shock as Heather grabbed Christin by the shoulder and forced her around. Christin’s hazel eyes were obviously scared- I’m sure Heather thought it was out of guilt, but I could tell it was just because she had no idea what was going on, lost in her notebook during the events.

“Since this is your first offense,” Heather growled, saying each word slowly to keep herself from blowing up, “I will go easy on you. Just apologize, and I will forget this ever happened.”

Christin stared blankly at Heather, only to ask meekly, “What am I apologizing for, exactly?”

Heather closed her eyes and growled a little, and I could tell she was trying really hard not to rip Christin’s head off and eat it. “Apologize,” she slowly hissed, “for throwing that milk at me.”

Christin merely blinked. “But… that wasn’t me.”

“APOLOGIZE!!!!” Heather shouted, beginning to lose her temper. I almost wanted to run over and defend the meek girl, but I knew if I sided with her, Heather would hate her even more.

“I didn’t do it,” Christin insisted again. “That wasn’t my fault.”

“Yeah, it was me, stupid,” Han agreed, standing up and getting right into Heather’s face.

“Oh, is that right?” Heather hissed. “And how do I know this isn’t just you trying to save your friend’s butt?”

“Uh, the fact that it was MY SCREAM?”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean you threw it,” Heather retorted. “It only means you screamed.”

“Believe what you want,” Han growled, sitting down again and glaring at Heather. “Stupid little…”

“I’ll give you one last chance. APOLOGIZE,” Heather growled at Christin.

“Han is right. It wasn’t me. I didn’t do anything to you,” Christin feebly insisted, clutching her notebook closer to her, trying to hide behind it again. As Heather’s eyes flicked to it, I knew Christin had made a huge mistake.

“Well, well. What’s this?” Heather chirped, a cruel curiosity in her voice.

Christin’s eyes flicked down to it as well, realizing what Heather was planning. “It’s nothing important,” she insisted, trying to hide it behind her now.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Heather laughed, snatching it out of Christin’s hands and flipping through it. “Oh, how CUTE,” she sneered. “A little sketchbook. It looks like you put a lot of work into this…” she laughed, strolling back to her table. She stood at her table, right over the spilled milk, and held it out with one hand. “…It’d be a SHAME if it were to be ruined.”

Christin stared at her in complete, dead shock. “No,” she muttered quietly. “Please don’t.”

“Apologize for what YOU did, and I’ll give it back,” Heather replied, holding the sketchbook dangerously over the milk. Christin had no reply. “Oh, but you DIDN’T DO IT, right?” She stretched her arm out further, the book dangling from her hand.

“Please don’t,” Christin quietly begged again. “I’ve been working on it all summer. It’s my best work. I was going to use it as reference for art school…”

“Oopsie…” Heather chirped, taking a single finger off the sketchbook.

That did it. As an artist myself, I knew threatening to ruin a sketchbook was a step too far even for Heather. Before I was even sure what I was doing, I was up in Heather’s face, yanking the sketchbook from her loosened grip. The force of it was just enough to send her toppling backwards into the spilled milk.

“YOU need to step off,” I snapped, handing the sketchbook back to its owner. She took it gratefully and hid behind me, scared of Heather’s inevitable wrath. Heather raised a hand to retort, but then noticed something that practically made me puke- a strange, sticky white blob, clinging to her arm. The silence of the cafeteria was filled with her disgusted scream.

“I told you there was white stuff in my milk,” Han muttered to the Asian boy.

The lunch bell rang then, and people scurried out of the cafeteria like it was on fire.

I walked near Christin as we walked back to class, knowing Heather would pounce if she found the meek girl alone. She barely noticed me, flipping through her sketchbook to make sure all was well with it. As she did, I peeked at her work. She was really talented, drawing in a realistic, graphic-novel style as opposed to my more cartoony style.

“You’re really good,” I commented, bringing my existence to her knowledge.

Embarrassed, she closed the sketchbook and clutched it to her chest. “T-thanks...” She stammered quietly, looking away. “…and, uh, thanks for sticking up for me at lunch.”

“Not a problem,” I assured her. “That was low, even for Heather.” Heather passed by us then, still covered in milk and glaring at us. Once she’d left, I offered Christin my hand. “I’m Gwen Raven, by the way.”

Christin smiled and shook my hand. “Christin McClean,” she replied.

At that point, I lurched backwards so hard I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself. “WOAH, WHOA, WOAH!” I exclaimed, in total shock. “Christin MCCLEAN? As in CHRIS MCCLEAN???” I tried to imagine Chris, or as I thought of him, The Great Torturer, settled down with a teenage daughter… and failed.

“Umm, yeah,” Christin replied, a little confused by my freak-out. “He’s my uncle.”

“Ohh. Uncle.” I calmed down a little once she explained this. “Sorry, thought he was your dad for a minute there, kind of freaked out.”

“I guess that would be kind of creepy, huh…” Christin laughed.

“JUUUST a little,” I commented sarcastically.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. History with Mrs. Guerre (where we went over rules and expectations), French with Ms. Langue (where we went over rules and expectations), and English with Mr. Leitura (where, you guessed it- we went over rules and expectations). Our only homework was to get a bunch of papers (about none other than rules and expectations… I hate the first day back) signed by our parents/guardians. The only eventful part of the day was the milk-and-stuff-in-milk-on-Heather-thing, which everyone was still silently laughing about (except me and my group, who were laughing out loud all day).

Actually, the highlight of my day was talking with Christin- by the end of the day, I knew she’d just turned 16 over the summer, hoped to go to art college, and was the only child of a single mother, who was now working over in a foreign country until next summer, so she was staying with none other than “Uncle McClean” for the year (which creeped me out to think he lived nearby). Although, honestly, it was weird to think that she was related to him- she was soft spoken, kind, and disliked pain and cruelty- Chris’s total opposite.

Eventually, we were all sitting outside the school, waiting for our rides or starting to walk home. Trent and LeShawna sat with me and Christin as we talked (Christin’s friends had already left on their bus), Duncan continued to flirt with Courtney (only to be slapped after each comment), Geoff and Bridgette stared dumbly at each other, and DJ sat off to the side, watching a bird in a tree.

“So, what’s it like down in the states?” Trent asked Christin as we waited for our bus. We’d learned earlier that Christin usually lived down in California, but came up to Canada to stay with “Uncle McClean”.

“Well, it’s usually really warm down in California,” She described. “And there’s lots of buildings and beaches.”

“Are there really palm trees down there?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. You can’t go a mile without seeing one.”

“Hollywood’s in California, right?” LeShawna asked, smiling. “You ever see a movie star?”

“Once, actually.”

“Really?” I asked incredulously. “What’d you say?”

“Well, I didn’t realize until after I got home that he was a movie star, so I just asked if he knew where the bus stop was,” Christin admitted, blushing. We all burst out laughing, but we were interrupted by a loud honk. Our heads all whipped towards a strangely fancy car among the row of cars picking up their kids, with none other than a T.O’d Chris McClean at the wheel.

“I think my ride’s here,” Christin commented meekly, giving a quick goodbye smile before running for the car and giving her “Uncle McClean” a wave. He gave her a glare, though, so she stopped and just climbed into the car.

“I almost feel bad for Christin,” I chuckled as I watched the shiny car turn and drive away.

“Why? A ride with Chris is better than one on our bus,” LeShawna rationalized. Almost on cue, our poor excuse for a school bus clanked up and creaked its door open for us.

“If this is what the rest of the year is going to be like, it’s gonna be a really crazy year,” I laughed as I climbed aboard the beaten-down bus to home.


Chapter 2- Christin VS Heather


Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a kind princess fell in love with another kingdom’s prince. They married, and the kingdoms merged, with the now King and Queen ruling happily together. Eventually, they welcomed a beautiful, pure hearted daughter, and all seemed well.

But we all know happiness doesn’t last forever. The King betrayed his Queen, claiming he only wanted her kingdom. Enraged, the Queen exiled him, and fell into a state of depression and hatred, claiming humankind was evil and secluding her daughter from the outside world. And as her mother cried in her chambers, her daughter looked out her bedroom window, watching the people pass by and wondering what could be truly evil in such a beautiful world…


I groaned and turned off the annoying alarm that had woken me from my fairy-tale dream. I wasn’t sure where it had come from, but I liked it anyways. I grabbed a sketchpad from beside my bed and drew a few rough sketches of the images from my dream before pulling on a sweater and slippers and heading upstairs to make breakfast.

It was strange- the queen had looked just like my mother.

I shivered a little as I walked up the stairs. Even in September, Canada was SO much colder than California- I was having trouble getting used to it. And that wasn’t the only thing I was getting used to- my house in California was pretty small, but Uncle McClean’s place was HUGE. So far, I only knew the way to the front door, kitchen, bathroom, and basement (where I was staying). I know that sounds bad- Uncle McClean making his poor little niece sleep in the cold basement- but it was actually pretty nice, more like a guest room than a basement.

I pulled some eggs out from the fridge and started to fry them up, the heat from the stove warming me up a bit. Uncle McClean had been more than happy to delegate the food duties to me- the majority of the food he ate was either microwaved or cooked by “Chef Hatchet” (apparently, that’s his name- I haven’t met him yet). It wasn’t a bother to me, either; I really liked to cook.

Uncle McClean came in then, giving me this kind of sleepy glare. “It’s Sunday. Go back to sleep,” he yawned, leaving.

“Um, it’s Thursday,” I shouted after him. “You have to drive me to school, remember?” He only groaned in response. I started the coffee-maker- he was going to need it.

“Bye, Uncle McClean,” I called as I was dropped off, waving.

“I told you, quit calling me that,” he groaned in response. “It makes me feel old.” With that, he drove off. I sighed and walked over to the mass of high-schoolers near the doors, waiting for when we’d be allowed in the school.

“CHRIS-” Han screamed, jumping above the crowd to wave me over. She then jumped up again, finishing with “-TIN!!!!” I squirmed through the crowd until I had found Han and the others. Han threw her arm around me quickly. “Hey buuuu-ddy…” she sung, usual semi-creepy smile on her face. “How ya doing? Did Baldy egg your house or something last night to ‘get back at you’?” She then began snickering to herself. “Heh… milk landed right on her…”

“No,” I replied, edging away from her. “Nothing like that. Just a normal morning.”

“Huh,” Han commented, a thoughtful look on her face. “In that case, watch your back today. Or rather, watch your sketchbook.”

I cringed as she brought that up. Why, why had I brought my sketchpad with me again??? I really was stupid. Then again, I remembered Gwen and her fierce protection of me, and told myself she wouldn’t just stand back if my art was threatened again.

“I don’t see why she was so upset,” Yoshi, fiddling with his gold necklace, commented naively. “First of all, it wasn’t your fault, and second, milk washes out. It takes forever, but it washes out…”

“Gee, I dunno, Yoshi,” Lucas, barely looking up from his journal, commented sarcastically. “Maybe it was because it REVEALED HER BALD HEAD TO EVERY SINGLE KID IN OUR GRADE. But I’m just guessing.” He rolled his eyes and went back to his writing.

“That was AWESOME!!!!” Han shouted, buckling over with laughter. “The chick was totally BALD!!!! And covered in MILK!!!! And the white stuff…” She then burst out in uncontrollable laughter, just as Heather walked by, flanked by Daisy and Emily. She stared almost disgustedly at our group, giving me a death-glare before walking off. I stared wide eyed at her and swallowed, thinking I might want to stick with Gwen today…

“HEY!!!” Samantha shouted after Heather and her group. “You could at least wait until you’re out of our sight range before glaring at us, you little—” Almost robotically, Andrea put down her book and covered my ears as Samantha let out a stream of swear words. Everyone around us stared at her until the bell rang and people began leaking into the school. I sighed as I picked up my backpack and headed in. It was going to be a looong day…

“Christin. Over here,” Gwen called, waving me over. I smiled and joined her group, catching Heather glaring at me as I sat down. Han, giving a grin that definitely told me she was up to one thing or another, joined us, flopping down comfortably next to Duncan.

“Heeey,” She sung, looking slightly more creepy than usual as she smiled at him. He only stared back, obviously a bit freaked out, before scooting away from Han and more towards Courtney. Han frowned, and left as quickly as she came. Everyone looked to me, and I simply shrugged. There was no reason or rhyme to anything Han did.

As I watched her leave, I noticed Heather, still watching me out of the corner of her eye, whispering to Daisy and Emily. Daisy was smiling and nodding enthusiastically, whereas Emily simply stared emotionlessly, sort of at Heather, sort of at the wall behind her. I shivered a little, knowing she was plotting my downfall, and unconsciously clutched my sketchbook closer to my chest. Gwen noticed my reaction, looked towards Heather, and rolled her eyes.

“Please, Christin,” She laughed. “Heather’s bark is worse than her bite. She can’t do anything to you that you can’t get over.” I gave her a smile of thanks.

“GET INTO YOUR SEATS!” Ms. Spettrale shouted as she came into the room. “Annoying little…” she sat down at her desk, plopping down a pile of papers and scribbling things onto them. I sighed silently as the silence brought back the fears of Heather’s revenge. As I glanced around the room, looking for something that would comfort me, I noticed a kid in a pale green hoodie and blue cap, practically shaking in his seat. I’d heard from Gwen that he’d been homeschooled until this year. I stared at him for a minute, and then relaxed. If he could somehow drag himself to a public school after a sheltered, homeschooled life, I could survive Heather no problem. I hope.

“Attention students, morning announcements will now begin,” The intercom announced. Few students bothered to look up, nor did Ms. Spettrale, who simply rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue in a sarcastic expression. “Starting today, students may begin signing up for our various Rabid Beavers sports teams outside the office, and there will be a meeting on this next Tuesday. Also, today’s lunch special will be…” There was a pause. “…actually, I’m not sure what this stuff is.”

“This is why you don’t drop out of science, kids,” Ms. Spettrale explained, pointing at the intercom.

“Um, that is all,” The principal concluded over the intercom. “Have a good day-” Ms. Spettrale snorted at this- “-and at the bell, you may proceed to first period.” The bell rang, and we all started off to our first-period classes. I stopped at my locker to grab my English book, only to have it slammed shut the minute it opened. I whirled to find none other than Heather walking away, a satisfied look on her face. I sighed as I started to enter my combination again. Heather couldn’t ruin my life, but my guess was she could make it pretty bad.

Turns out I had been right. Already today, Heather had shut my locker on me, stepped on my foot in the hallway, and put chewed gum on my science seat… and it was only third period. Although, in all honesty, I’d take all of it if it meant she’d leave my sketchbook alone.

I pulled on my gym sneakers before following the rest of the girls up to the gym, somewhat reluctantly, since Heather was in this PE class. I tried to tell myself that Gwen was in this class too, but considering what I’d already been through today, I didn’t exactly believe myself. Heather ran by just then with Daisy and Emily, practically knocking me over, proving my point.

Gwen waved me over to sit with her and Bridgette on the bleachers as I entered the gym. I did so, catching Heather glaring at me again as I did so. I wasn’t sure what it would take for her to be satisfied…

The PE teacher came over then, blowing a whistle and quickly shutting up everyone in the gym. “Attention!” He shouted, in spite of having almost everyone’s eyes on him already. “I’m Mr. Dodge, and I’ll be teaching you PE. Today, we’ll be playing a game I like to call Beaver Ball.” He picked a dodgeball off the ground. “You’ll be split into two teams. Each team will have four bowling pins on their side of the gym. The point of the game is to knock over all four of the other team’s pins. You knock over the pins with these dodgeballs. You cannot go on the other team’s side, you cannot hit someone with a dodgeball, and you cannot put a pin back up unless I say so. Got it? Good. Now, ON THE COURT!” Everyone jumped off the bleachers and onto the court as Mr. Dodge divided us into teams.

He blew his whistle to start the game, and the next thing I knew, chaos had erupted, with dodgeballs flying everywhere and people getting hit by the second. Actually, I think most of the kids had gotten DODGEBALL into their heads the minute they’d seen the dodgeballs and ignored the actual directions. Mr. Dodge didn’t actually seem to care- I think he just wanted to see how chaotic this would get. I grabbed a ball and tried to chuck it at the other team’s pins, but was tripped by Heather, landing flat on my face. “Oopsie.” She laughed, a satisfied look on her face. She then ran off before I could get up and retort. I sighed as I attempted to get up.

“Hey, you okay?” An unfamiliar male voice asked me, a dark-skinned hand reached towards me to help me up. Unthinking (and still shaken, considering I’d practically smashed my nose into my face), I took it, and it effortlessly pulled me up, showing me a friendly, bearded face. I was a little surprised, and began to brush myself off.

“Uhh, yeah, I’m fine. Thanks,” I stammered, embarrassed for some reason.

The friendly stranger smiled. “Good. I saw what Heather did to you. Just ignore her.” He spoke with a slight Jamaican accent, I noticed. He waved as he left, leaving me unexplainably dumbfounded.

“I’m not sure how much longer I can take this whole ‘Heather’s Revenge’ thing,” I admitted to Gwen as we walked to lunch. “She just won’t quit.”

“It can’t be THAT bad,” Courtney rationalized, taking a seat next to Duncan. I sighed and moved to my usual seat, only for Heather to walk by and dump milk on it.

“Whoops. Butterfingers,” Heather snickered, giving Daisy and Emily a satisfied look. She walked away with them, laughing. Everyone at the table was either staring at my milk covered seat or glaring after Heather.

“Um, never mind what I said,” Courtney mumbled.

“That little…” LeShawna growled, cursing under her breath.

Andrea, lost in her book as usual, glanced up, giving the spilled milk a quick stare. “Um, what’s with the milk?” She asked, confused. Samantha groaned, rolling her eyes at Andrea’s obliviousness.

“Would you LOOK UP AT THE REAL WORLD ONCE AND A WHILE???” Han shouted, yanking the book out of her hands.

“That Heather…” Yoshi commented, pointing after her, “…is really mean.”

“NO,” Lucas gasped sarcastically, rolling his eyes. “Really? We NEVER would’ve noticed…”

I sighed as my friends began to argue amongst themselves. It seemed like whenever there was a problem, my friends would argue about it instead of solving it. I pulled a napkin out of my lunch and began to mop up the milk, with little success. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I whirled around. It was the boy from PE, holding a clean chair and smiling at me. I blushed a little unexplainably, and everyone looked up. Of course they’d end their argument now…

“Wanna trade?” The boy offered, gesturing to my milk-covered chair. Han, being her usual kind self, quickly leaned over, elbowed me repeatedly, and chuckled. I shoved her back, annoyed, though I usually tolerated her antics.

“T-thanks,” I stammered, taking the chair from him. He simply smiled and left. I took a deep breath and sat down to everyone’s stares, though I was still watching the kind stranger out of the corner of my eye.

“Wow,” Gwen stated, looking at me blankly. “You and DJ.”

“Huh? Oh. Is that his name?” I stammered, snapping my eyes away from him. Han quickly returned to her chuckling and elbowing, annoying me just as much as it had before. Andrea, taking her book back from Han, whacked her upside the head with it, returning to her page as Han glared at her, obviously considering murder.

“Didn’t think the big guy had it in him…” Duncan chuckled, pointing behind him to DJ. Courtney simply rolled her eyes at his antics.

“Can we change the subject?” I mumbled, blushing, though not quite sure why.

“Can do,” LeShawna agreed, giving an evil grin as she eyed Heather. She turned to Han. “Yo, Han, can I have some of your…” she glanced down at the strange blob on Han’s tray. “…food… like… substance…?”

“Sure. I ain’t eating it,” Han shrugged, shoving the tray towards her. LeShawna grinned and shoveled some into an empty plastic bag from her lunch.

“What are you DOING?” Trent asked, looking like he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

LeShawna snickered. “I’m gonna leave Heather a little surprise.” I watched the scene blankly. I felt like I should stop this… but, I didn’t.

Nothing really eventful happened after that. Ms. Spettrale yelled at us in math, Heather made me drop my books in the hall, Han continued to elbow me all through History, Heather knocked my binder off my desk in French. I wondered randomly if her continued “revenge” was still for the milk-in-hair thing, or if she’d discovered the “surprise” from LeShawna. Pretty soon, we were in our same positions from the start of the day- just outside of the school, chatting with friends. I sat with Courtney, Gwen, and LeShawna, chatting about nothing in particular. Duncan had left to “congratulate” DJ (Courtney had punched him on my behalf), Trent sat near us, practicing his guitar, and all my friends had already left on their bus, though not before Han had given me one last elbowing and chuckle.

“We should all hang out this weekend,” Gwen commented at one point, glancing at me to explain I was included.

“Yeah,” Courtney seconded, nodding. “We could go to the mall- see a movie, eat at the food court, go shopping…”

“Sounds good to me,” LeShawna agreed, looking to me. “You should definitely come. You NEED a new outfit.”

“What’s wrong with my outfit?” I asked, confused.

“Are you seriously planning on wearing THIS all year?” LeShawna chuckled, grabbing the sleeve of my green sweater.

“I have to agree,” Gwen nodded. “You have a great figure- you’re the only person I know who can look hot in PE clothes.” I blushed a little. I’d been told I had a good figure, but I was still embarrassed by it- back in California, I’d gotten nothing but teasing for it.

“I bet a new outfit would impress DJ…” LeShawna teased. I blushed and glared in spite of myself. “Seriously though, think about it.”

“All right,” I conceded. “I’ll check with Uncle McClean tonight.”

All of a sudden, there was a familiar, ear-piercing scream that caused everybody nearby to turn and look. Obviously, Heather had found her “surprise”. Gwen’s bus and Uncle McClean’s car pulled up right then, providing the perfect escape. We all grinned at each other and dashed for our escapes. I sprinted down the sidewalk and half-dove into Uncle McClean’s car, grinning mischievously the whole way.


Chapter 3- An Unexpected Change


“DJ, HURRY UP! You’re gonna miss the bus!”

“I’m coming, mom!” I shouted back, ripping off a few pieces of lettuce from the head of it I was holding. “Here you go, Bunny,” I added quietly, slipping the lettuce to Bunny in his cage. He wagged his tail gratefully and started nibbling at the food. I smiled as I watched my accident-prone rabbit. It was a miracle I’d gotten him from TDI to here alive.


“I’m coming!” I shouted, grabbing my backpack and dashing for the door. “Love you, mom!” I added as I rushed outside towards the bus stop. I hope I’m not late, I thought. It was only the third day back to school- the last thing I needed this early in the year was to come in late.

Thankfully, I could see my friends at the bus stop, meaning I wasn’t late. Gwen and Trent were talking, LeShawna was punching something into her cell phone, and Geoff and Bridgette were having one last makeout session before the school day started.

“…You could come, if you want,” Gwen was saying to Trent as I strolled over.

He shook his head. “I have guitar practice. Besides, wouldn’t my being here ruin the whole ‘girl’s day out’ concept?”

Gwen was about to answer, but noticed me. “DJ, you’re here. We thought you weren’t going to show up.”

“I ran late. I was feeding Bunny,” I admitted.

“Wait, so that rabbit survived long enough for you to get it back here?” LeShawna asked, looking up from her cell phone in surprise.

“I was thinking the same thing,” I laughed. I turned to Gwen. “What were you talking about?”

“Well, LeShawna, Courtney, Christin, and I were going to go see a movie and go shopping over the weekend,” she explained.

“If Christin doesn’t chicken out,” LeShawna added, laughing a little to herself as she glanced down at her cell phone screen. “Courtney says she can come,” LeShawna mentioned, holding up her phone to show a text message. “As long as there’re no guys.” She rolled her eyes at this.

“Can you say, ‘overprotective parents’?” Gwen asked sarcastically. We all laughed, except Geoff and Bridgette, who were still making out. As our laughter died down, our broken-down school bus rattled up to the stop and creaked its door open for us.

“I. Hate. Our. School.” Gwen muttered as she sat on the bench outside the school, her teeth chattering. Lake Ontario High wasn’t exactly the most humane school- no matter how cold the day, we always had to wait outside the school until 7:40. And so, we stood outside in nothing but thin autumn coats while our teachers and principal sat back at their desks, enjoying the heating. Not exactly the best way to start a Friday. Pretty soon, some of Christin’s friends arrived and joined our group. Andrea flopped down on one of the benches, glaring at nothing in particular. “I hate this cold weather,” she growled. “Back when I lived in Puerto Rico, it was warm all the time. We could’ve stayed there, but NOOO, Papa HAD to get a job in Canada…”

“News flash,” Lucas snapped. “No one cares.”

“WOULD YOU SHUT UP???” Han, more angry than usual today, shouted as she smacked him across the head with Samantha’s purse, which she had stolen. Samantha quickly took it back from Han, and proceeded to beat her with it.

“That’s not nice,” Yoshi commented naïvely.

Not to be mean, but I don’t know how a normal girl like Christin got such crazy friends.

Speaking of, Christin then arrived in Chris’s fancy car, shivering as she stumbled out. “Woah, Christin, are you okay?” Courtney asked, staring at her, wide-eyed.

“I-I-I c-c-can-n-n’t f-f-fe-e-l m-m-my f-f-fac-c-ce,” Christin answered through chattering teeth. She only had a thin brown jacket on, and her hair seemed damp.

“Running late this morning, I see,” Gwen commented, poking her damp hair.


Thankfully, the bell rang then, and everyone piled into the school. I never thought I’d see the day where people would be grateful to get into Lake Ontario High…

In spite of the not-so-pleasant morning, the actual school day wasn’t that bad. All the teachers, it seemed, were just as affected as us by the weather and the fact that it was Friday, and didn’t give us much to do, eager just to get to the weekend already. Well, everyone except Ms. Spettrale, who seemed to truly enjoy the opportunity to make our lives a living nightmare. Not even bothering to hide her smirk, she handed out what seemed like a month’s worth of math problems for us to finish over the weekend. And I’d thought Chris was sadistic…

The nondescript day went quickly, thankfully, and soon enough it was over. Finally, the weekend! I couldn’t have been happier to escape to my bus, hands over my head in an attempt to protect myself from the rain that had started, and head home. I was actually fairly happy it was raining; though most people hated it, I found it beautiful and lovely. The bus started driving through the neighborhood, and I smiled as I stared out the window, observing the purely natural scene of rain falling over the land, tree branches bending ever-so-slightly in the wind, animals peering cautiously at the falling rain from their hiding places. This, I thought to myself, was a sign this would be a good weekend.

It was now Saturday, and I’d decided to go to the mall, mostly out of boredom. I strolled past the dozens of stores, glancing at the items in the windows. Then, finally, I reached the pet store, grinning as I saw the puppies in the window. The fuzzy little creatures perked up as they noticed me, then ran to the window, yapping and wagging their tails and standing on their hind legs, front paws pressed against the glass. I laughed as I watched the excited little creatures, then reluctantly walked away and into the store. Distracted, I observed first the kittens, then the parakeets, then the hamsters and guinea pigs, before finally strolling over to the shelves of animal care products. Scanning over the items, I picked up a bag of rabbit food for Bunny and a bag of shavings for his cage, bringing them over to the cashier to buy.

As the man working the cashier rang in my products, I let my thoughts wander. I recalled that Gwen, LeShawna, Courtney, and Christin were going to go shopping over the weekend. Were they here, I wondered? Was Christin here?

My thoughts wandered off even further as I let them drift to Christin. I didn’t know what it was about her, but she was… different from other girls I’d met. So sweet… so kind… so gentle… so-


The voice of the cashier snapped me out of my thoughts. “H-huh?”

“That’ll be $24.95, sir,” he repeated. Feeling my face grow hot, I dug into my wallet and handed over the money. Why did I always go into such a trance when I thought of her? The cashier handed me my receipt, and I took it and the items and left, thoughts of Christin still clouding my mind like a fog of confusion.


Hearing the familiar voice, I looked up from the T-shirts I was browsing. Gwen stared back at me, wearing black jeans with various chains hanging from the pockets and a dark teal t-shirt sporting a raven. “It is you,” she grinned. “Listen, I need a favor.”

“Sure,” I shrugged. “I mean, it depends on what the favor is…”

“Just follow me,” Gwen explained, walking away and gesturing for me to follow her. After a moment of hesitation, I complied, and was led into the store’s change rooms. In there stood Courtney, dressed in a white blouse with black leggings and a silver belt around her waist, and LeShawna, sporting jeans and a bright pink sports jersey. “Hey, guys, look who I found!” Gwen announced.

“Nice!” LeShawna laughed. She knocked on the door of the change room they were standing in front of and shouted, “yo, Christin, guess who’s here?”

I blinked in surprise and eyed the dressing-room door. “Christin?” I called, surprised.

There was a long, silent pause. Then, she finally replied, “Hi, DJ,” in her tiny, quiet voice, so quiet I could barely hear her.

“Come on, Christin,” Courtney demanded, “get out of there and show us your new outfit.”

Another long pause. Then, Christin stammered, “uh-uh. Not happening.”

“Christin,” Gwen sighed, “come on, already.”

“You know if you don’t come out willingly, we’ll tear the door down and drag you out,” LeShawna reminded her, her tone dead serious. There was no response, so LeShawna shrugged, and she and Courtney grabbed the door and began rattling it.

“Okay, okay!!!” Christin finally shrieked, obviously having comprehended they had every intention of carrying out their threat. “I’m coming out.” Courtney and LeShawna exchanged a satisfied nod, then stepped away from the door. After a long moment, the door finally creaked slowly open, and a Christin I had never seen before stepped out.

She wore a low-cut, bright green T-shirt, sporting a graphic of a four-leaf clover on the chest. Her old, baggy jeans had been replaced with more form-fitting new ones. All I could do was stare in awe at the girl in front of me. I’d know Christin was cute, but now, with clothes that truly complimented her shape rather than hiding it… she was beautiful.

“Nice,” Gwen approved, nodding at her new look.

“Girl,” LeShawna complimented, “you look fine! Didn’t I tell you this was a good idea?”

“DJ, what do you think?” Courtney asked, suddenly putting me on the spot.

I felt my face grow red as the four girls stared right at me. “U-uh… well…” unable to find the right words, I shrugged and commented, “what is there to say? You look great, Christin.”

Her cheeks flushed, the color changed obvious on her fair-skinned face, and she turned away, grinning nervously. “Stop it, guys,” she laughed. “None of it is true.”

“Sure it is!” I suddenly assured her, surprising myself. “You look amazing, really.”

“Definitely,” Courtney agreed.

“You’re like a model, girl!” LeShawna exclaimed.

“Really, it suits you,” Gwen added. “Now come on, change out of those so you can buy them and we can head to the food court.” As Christin slipped back into the changing booth, Gwen turned to me and asked, “you wanna join us, DJ?”

“Sure,” I shrugged. “I still have an hour until I’m supposed to be home.”

“Cool,” Gwen grinned. She turned to the changing booth and called, “Christin, we’ll be waiting for you at the front of the store.” With that, Gwen, LeShawna, and Courtney left the change room, while I lagged behind, waiting for Christin.

After a moment, Christin emerged from the change room, wearing her usual green sweater and baggy jeans, the new clothing folded and clutched close to her chest. “So,” I began, trying to make some casual conversation, “are you going to buy that?”

“I dunno,” Christin admitted as we walked.

“Why not? I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I dunno,” Christin shrugged, staring at the ground. “I just…” after a pause, she continued, “I just don’t want people to notice me just for the way I look… y’know? I want them to notice me… for me.”

There was silence for a moment. Then, I reassured her, “I doubt that’ll happen. I mean, you’ve got too interesting a personality for anyone to not notice it. You’re a great person all around, Christin.”

She glanced up at me, her expression surprised yet pleased. “Really?”

“Really,” I assured her with a grin.

She smiled at me for a long moment. Then, she commented, “y’know, I think I will buy these after all.”

“Who is that?”

“Is she new?”

“No, she’s that shy little artist girl…”

“No way!!! The one who got in that fight with Heather???”

“She looks totally different!!!”

Monday had come, and I wasn’t the only one surprised by Christin’s new look. It seemed like the entire school was abuzz with chatter about her transformation, no one expecting the change. I couldn’t honestly deny feeling just a tiny bit jealous, seeing nearly every guy at Lake Ontario High’s head turn as Christin passed by them. Then, her words would echo in my head: “I don’t want people to notice me just for the way I look…” Remembering this, I would grin to myself. All the guys who were just noticing her now, seeing nothing but a hot chick, wouldn’t stand a chance with her. As for me… I didn’t quite know, but I hoped I would be given the chance to find out.

I sat with Christin and her friends and lunch, a fairly lively and varied group. Gwen and Trent chatted about their respective weekends, Duncan pestered Courtney to no end (much to her obvious annoyance), Yoshi chattered away to Andrea and Lucas (both seemed to be tuning him out, reading and writing respectively), LeShawna chatted with Samantha about some sort of music group, and Christin fielded off jokes from Han about all the attention she’d been getting from guys.

“…Umm…” Everyone turned around at the sudden sound of the voice, only to find a very timid-looking Ezekiel standing there. “Uh, can I sit here, eh?”

Christin flashed her friends a brief, questioning glance. They gave mixture of shrugs and tentative nods, so Christin turned back to Ezekiel with a grin and replied, “sure!”

Ezekiel gave a grateful smile and sat down at Christin’s right side, as I was at her left. “I’m Ezekiel,” he greeted, extending his hand meekly. Christin took his hand and gave it a shake. “I’m Christin,” she replied, “but I’m sure you know that, since we’re in the same homeroom. Gwen mentioned you were homeschooled until this year?” Ezekiel nodded, and Christin added, “I was actually homeschooled for a couple years. It’s so lonely, isn’t it?”

“Woah, back up,” LeShawna interrupted. “You was homeschooled?”

“Just for a little while, before I moved to California,” Christin clarified. “My mom was convinced that the other kids at public schools were a ‘bad influence’ on me.” She rolled her eyes, obviously not agreeing with the statement.

“Wow,” Courtney commented. “You learn something new every day.”

“Yeah,” Duncan agreed. “Take today. I learned that Christin is actually hot.” Courtney slapped him, and he laughed, “okay, okay, shutting up.” Suddenly, a voice interrupted, “Hey.” All of us turned around, only for the girls to go into a trance and the guys to glare. Standing there was the object of affection for all women and the object of hatred for all men- Justin. And he was staring right at Christin.

“…um… hey…” she replied, obviously much less interested in him than he appeared to be in her.

Justin shoved Ezekiel out of the seat on Christin’s right side and sat in it. “I haven’t seen you around before,” he commented. “I assume you’re new. If you’d like, I could show you around…”

“I’ve been coming to this school since the beginning of the year,” Christin explained, her eyes narrowing in obvious disdain. My glare grew even harder as I stared at the teenaged Adonis. He was obviously the human incarnation of what Christin didn’t want- someone who liked her just for the way she looked.

“Whatever,” Justin scoffed, showing no concern for this fact. “Anyways, I was thinking you and I might wanna get together sometime.” He flashed a perfect grin, obviously trying to impress her.

“No thanks,” Christin declined. “Now, if you don’t mind, you’re in my friend’s seat.” She stood and helped Ezekiel off the ground.

Justin gave her a confused look for a split second, probably wondering why his usual charms weren’t working. Then, he returned to his confident façade and replied, “well, all right. See you around, babe.” He gave her a wink, the left just as quickly as he’d arrived. Christin merely rolled her eyes and helped Ezekiel back into his seat.

“Woah,” Courtney gasped. “You just turned down JUSTIN. I mean, every girl in the school wants to date him.”

“Not me,” Christin shrugged. “He only likes me ‘cause he figured out I look hot. I can’t stand that.”

“Congrats for standing by your views,” Gwen nodded, giving her a fist bump. “I can dig that.”

“The guy’s kind of a jerk, anyway,” I admitted.

“Agreed,” the other guys at the table added in unison.

As we returned to our lunches, I couldn’t help but glance around the cafeteria. Nearly everyone was staring at Christin, the girl who’d suddenly become more attractive, and just turned down the person who was possibly the hottest guy in school. Adding that to her current rocky relationship with Heather, Christin’s luck just didn’t seem to be getting any better.

But, I reminded myself as I glanced at Christin’s large group of frineds, no matter what happened, we would be there to support her. Whenever she needed it, any and every step of the way, we would be there to help her.

No matter what.


Chapter 4- A Novel, a Duet, and a Violin


“And so, class, as you can see by this diagram, the structure of an atom is as follows…”

With a sigh, I tuned out the prattle of the overly-perky Miss Roux, having already learned and memorized all of this stuff in years past. That was one of the downsides to being a genius- everything you were taught was pretty much just a review.

Zoning out from boredom, I tilted my head slightly left, leaning my chin on the palm of my hand, and searched for something of interest. After a moment, I found this “something”, and gave a contented sigh as I took it in. Her thick, dark brown hair, held back securely in a ponytail, a few locks draped over her shoulder as she leaned slightly forward. Her brown eyes, settled underneath thick lashes, darted back and forth behind her glasses as she scanned the pages of her novel, hidden from Miss Roux’s view behind her textbook.

I let a hint of a smile play out on my face. Andrea Libro. I had never thought I would be able to meet a girl like her- both intelligent and beautiful. From what I had heard, she had just moved to Canada this year from Puerto Rico, having lived there all her life. I hadn’t really spoken to her all that much, but talk about her had been increasing within the past two weeks, especially now that her artist friend had been thrust into the spotlight.

The shrill sound of the bell interrupted my thoughts, and the collective heads of the class snapped up. Miss Roux placed down her chalk and chirped, “Well, we’ll pick up where we left off tomorrow, class. Remember to finish the Chapter 3 questions for homework!” With that, my classmates began picking up their things and rushing out the door, eager to get to study hall, the last class of the day- and thus, a prime goof-off period. I, however, was going to use it for its true purpose- studying.

Andrea slowly, reluctantly marked her place in the novel with a simple maroon bookmark, gathering her things to leave. Her friends, apparently in a different study hall than she was, gave her a parting wave as they left the room, and I grinned. This was my chance to talk to her.

I walked over to the girl, trying to put on an air of confidence, as she picked up her bookbag and opened up her novel once more, resuming where she’d left off as she began to walk into the hall. “Hey there,” I greeted her. “I’m Noah.”

“I know,” she replied, not glancing up from her book. “I heard about you. Now, go away.”

“We’re in the same study hall,” I explained, brushing off her apparent disdain for me. “Might as well walk together.”

“Please stop talking to me,” she sighed. I was temporarily deflated, being hit with disappointment from her obvious desire to stay away from me, but bounced back.

“So,” I began, “I noticed you’re really into that book. I assume it’s good. What’s it about?”

“It’s about a girl who is constantly pestered by an annoying guy who won’t stop talking to her, in spite of her making it clear that she wishes he would just leave her alone,” she explained. “I’m hoping that, in the end, there’s a happy ending for the girl, and the guy finally leaves her alone.”

It would take someone much stupider than me to not realize she wasn’t exactly talking about her book.

“Maybe there’ll be a happy ending for both of them,” I suggested. “Heck, maybe the girl will actually end up liking the so-called annoying guy.”

“Or maybe the girl will get to move back to Puerto Rico,” she added, “where it’s warmer, and the guy can’t pester her.”

I narrowed my eyes and sighed, giving up. “Yeah. Maybe.” With that, we arrived at the study hall, and I adjusted my backpack and sauntered off in the opposite direction from Andrea. So much for the perfect girl- she couldn’t even stand me.

At least, that’s what I thought, until I looked back and saw her gazing in my direction, an expression almost resembling remorse on her porcelain-skinned face.

The school bus rattled and clanked down the road, the seats bumping up and down as it moved. I gave an exasperated sigh, one hand clinging to the bus seat as I struggled to read my book. It was rather sad to think that our school district was too cheap to get us buses from this decade. Then, the bus gradually slowed as it approached my stop, then halted in front of my home. Closing my book, I grabbed my bag and stepped off the bus, which then rattled away.

The moment I walked in the door, my little brother and sister, twins Jacob and Alexis, nearly knocked me over as they barreled by. Steadying myself, I rolled my eyes at the kids’ antics and kept announced, “Hey, I’m home!” Under my breath, I added, “as if anyone cares…”

“Hey, little runt!” My rambunctious older brother, Tom, shouted, bursting in from the living room. “Think fast!!!” Before I had time to react, he chucked a football at me. I ducked out of the way just in time, and my other older brother, Monty, appeared from behind me and caught the football. “Nice one, Monty!” Tom laughed, rushing over to give Monty a high-five. I sighed, grabbed an apple from the nearby bowl of fruit for a snack, and began to retreat to my room.

“Get back here with my CDs, you little brats!!!” My older sister, Jessica, screamed, tearing by me in pursuit of Jacob and Alexis. Her twin, Kim, watched the spectacle from her place on the couch, silent as usual.

“Hey, Kim,” I greeted my sister, who merely gave a nod in response. I got along better with Kim than any other of my siblings, probably because she wasn’t as loud and talkative as the others. Unfortunately, she would be going to college in just a year; thankfully, that meant the more annoying Jessica would be leaving too.

“Jessica, calm down!” My mother shouted, arriving from another room. “Jacob and Alexis, give Jessica her CDs back! Hi, Noah,” she finally greeted me, obviously exhausted as usual. “How was school? Any homework?”

“I finished it in study hall,” I explained, “so I don’t have any to do tonight. But I do have violin practice tonight.”

“What??? That’s tonight???” My mom gasped, obviously having forgotten my schedule over everyone else’s, as usual. “Why does everything happen on Tuesday? Violin with you, soccer with Jacob and Alexis, football with Monty and Tom…”

“Um, I’ll be up in my room, mom,” I interrupted, starting up the stairs. I paused halfway, however, and asked, “Is dad going to be home in time for dinner today?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” my mom admitted, shaking her head. “He’s got that big project down at the office and all…” I nodded in understanding and continued up to my room.

I was the only child in the family who didn’t have to share a bedroom at the moment. Once my older brother Daniel and I had shared the room, but he was now at college, so I had it to myself. The house had three other bedrooms; one occupied by Jessica, Kim, and Alexis, the other belonging to Tom, Monty, and Jacob, and the final one my parents. My brothers’ room was covered wall to wall in sports posters and housed much sporting equipment, and my sisters’ room filled with dolls, CDs, and pink things, whereas mine was much different. After Daniel had left, I’d cleared out the sports-themed décor, video games, and other such items in favor of a few bookshelves, a nice desk, and of course, my violin.

Dropping off my bookbag next to my desk, I flopped down on my bed with a sigh, opening my book once more. I always heard kids complaining about being an “only child”, and didn’t understand what it is they thought they were missing. Ever since I was born, I’d had to compete with five older, wiser, stronger siblings for everything. We fought for food, for clothes, for toys, for entertainment, for our parents’ affections. And of course, I always ended up getting the short end of the stick, ending up with a little less than my siblings. And it only got worse once Jacob and Alexis were born. Then, even when I was out of the house, away from my family, things still didn’t get better. I had little to no friends, plenty of enemies, and I couldn’t even talk to a girl I really liked.

My thoughts wandered to Andrea, and my natural frown hardened. Why didn’t she like me? I didn’t think I was all that bad. I would admit, I could be sarcastic, and perhaps I was a little awkward socially, but at least I was an individual, not just another sporty, jokester, follow-the-crowd loser. And couldn’t she see how much I liked her? I mean, she was exactly what I always wanted in a girl- attractive yet intellectual, independent, someone I could actually have a conversation with.

And she couldn’t stand me.

Pushing the thoughts aside, I went back to what I always did to escape my feelings- buried my nose in my book.

“Stop poking me!”

“I’m not!”

“Yeah you are!”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

“Geez, look at her punch!”

“I never knew Alexis had such a good arm!”

“I think we have a future boxer in the family!”

“Ow!!! OW!!! MOOOM!!!”

“Both of you knock it off!!!” My exasperated mother shouted to the bickering twins as we pulled up to the building where my violin lessons took place.

“He started it,” Alexis complained, pouting.

“I don’t care who started it, I’m ending it!” My mom retorted. “And Monty, Tom, don’t encourage them!”

“It was a good punch!” Monty protested.

“Honestly, you two…” she sighed, shaking her head. “I’ll pick you up at seven, Noah,” she reminded me, stopping the car so I could climb out.

“I know,” I replied, gathering up my sheet music and violin case. “See you then.” With that, I leapt out of the car before the fighting could resume.

I entered the building and caught sight of my instructor, Mrs. Marcia, who smiled and waved me over. “This way, Noah,” she instructed as I walked over. “We’re in a different room today.” I nodded and began strolling to the new classroom with her.

“I actually have another student here to play with you today,” Mrs. Marcia explained as we walked. “A piano student who couldn’t keep coming to practice on the day she was before. I was hoping the two of you could work on a piano-violin duet for the next concert. Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” I shrugged. What the heck, I figured. Maybe playing with someone else would actually turn out to be fun.

Mrs. Marcia grinned, obviously happy that I approved, and opened the door to the classroom. “Andrea,” she called into the room, “our other student is here.”


Sure enough, Andrea Libro stared up at me from her place in front of the piano, obviously as surprised to see me as I was to see her. She’d let down her ponytail, and her thick, dark-brown locks cascaded down her back, like a flowing, dark chocolate waterfall. After a second, her eyes narrowed, and she looked away from me. My stomach fell as the sight- obviously, she had just as much disdain for me now as she had at school. I forced myself to look away from her, unpacking my violin.

“Let’s start off with a simple warm-up,” Mrs. Marcia instructed. “The scale on page sixteen, please.” Andrea and I each nodded and flipped to the page in our music books, and with a nod from Mrs. Marcia, began playing.

I watched Andrea out of the corner of my eye. Her thin fingers moved gracefully over the keys of the piano, and she never once lost her focus, always keeping her gaze either on the keys or on the textbook. Determined not to let her show me up, I did the same, keeping my focus on the notes as I slid the bow over the thin strings of the instrument. I saw Mrs. Marcia smile to herself, obviously pleased with the partnership she’d made.

Once the warm-up scale was done, Mrs. Marcia’s face lit up, and she applauded us. “Well done!” She chirped. “The two of you play beautifully together.”

“We do?” Both of us questioned at the same time. The unison of the statement made us glance at each other for a moment, but as quickly as we caught each other’s eyes, we had looked away.

“Oh, absolutely!” Mrs. Marcia assured us. “I’m so happy. I can only imagine how the two of you will sound playing the duet! Let’s move on to something more advanced. How about the tune on page twenty-one?” Andrea shrugged and I nodded, so the two of us turned to the page and, on Mrs. Marcia’s direction, began to play.

“That was a lovely practice,” Mrs. Marcia crooned as the class ended, me putting away my violin in its case and Andrea gathering up her music. “Next week, I’ll give the two of you the sheet music for the duet. That is, if you’re both fine with playing together for the concert.”

“I’m perfectly fine with it,” I assured her. I glanced over at Andrea from the corner of my eye, expecting her to refuse.

Much to my surprise, after a long pause, Andrea nodded. “I’m fine with practicing with Noah,” she agreed. My jaw dropped slightly, and Mrs. Marcia beamed.

“Excellent!” She chirped. “I’ll see you both next week, then.” I nodded, and the two of us exited the classroom and began walking down the halls towards the building’s exit.

I wanted to talk to her some more. To question why she’d agreed to practice with me when she’d shown such disdain for me before. But, of course, I didn’t dare. I just stayed silent as we walked.

“I read some more of that book,” Andrea finally admitted, breaking the silence.

I did not respond for a moment. “Yeah?” I finally replied. “So what happened?”

“Well…” Andrea sighed. “It turned out kind of differently than I’d first hoped it would. The girl started realizing that the guy wasn’t all that bad after all, though she still thought he was a little annoying. Then she figured out that she was just hurting him by treating him the way she was, and started feeling bad about it.”

I was silent for a split second, a bit taken aback. “So what?” I asked. “What’s she going to do about it?”

Andrea hesitated to reply for a second, and then admitted, “Well, she wants to apologize to him somehow. But, she’s worried about it.”

“What’s she got to worry about?” I questioned. “All she has to do is go up to him and say, ‘hey, I’m sorry for the way I treated you’, and that’s that.”

“True,” she admitted. “But… she’s worried that he’s not going to forgive her afterwards. So she doesn’t really know what to do.” She paused. “And that’s as far as I’ve gotten.”

There was a long silence afterwards as we continued walking, neither of us quite sure what to say. “I can’t say I’ve read this book of yours,” I finally began, “but I bet the guy does end up forgiving her. He’s probably just really glad she’s warmed up to him and wants to apologize.” When she did not reply, I admitted, “at least, that’s how I’d feel, if I were that guy.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw her grin. “You’re probably right,” she agreed. “Do you have any idea how it ends?”

I grinned back at her. “Not a clue,” I laughed. “If you find out, let me know.”

We arrived at the door, and she paused and turned to give me a direct smile.

“I will.”

Then she strolled out the door and into the parking lot, leaving me standing in the doorway, internally grinning like a happy idiot.

Suddenly feeling much less intimidated by the six siblings awaiting me at home, I walked confidently into the parking lot to catch my ride.


Chapter 5- Chris and Crystal

Authors' Note: This chapter is written in third person. Apologies for any confusion that might result.


Even back when he himself was young (younger, he mentally corrected himself; when I was younger!), Chris had never been one to have a good relationship with kids. That’s why he had no qualms about signing on to torture them weeks on end on national television when the TDI contract had found its way to his desk. Treating kids nicely might’ve been a problem, but causing them grief, pain, and humiliation was another story entirely, especially when it got him work other than background roles in horrendous quality, made-for-TV movies.

So he had no idea why it was him taking care of his niece while her mom was off halfway around the world, more or less just brown-nosing in one of her workplace’s worldwide headquarters.

He felt no pity as his niece, bearing the dark hair and eyes characteristic of the McClean family, stumbled out of his factory-fresh sports car and towards the local high school. He felt even less remorse as he ignored her wave goodbye and sped off back to his lavish abode, which he affectionately referred to as “McClean Manor”. Where had she gotten that sickeningly sweet, wallflower, kind-to-all-living-things personality, anyways? Certainly not from her mother, and from the few times Chris had met her father (once at the wedding and once at a McClean family reunion he’d regretted going to), not from him either, as he was far more outgoing than his child.

Shuddering slightly at the thought of his family, Chris couldn’t help but wonder what on earth Christin’s father had seen in his sister. Crystal had always been the pride of the McClean family, a straight-A student in her schoolgirl days, participating in all the extra-curricular activities that would make any parent proud- she was student council president, captain of the cheerleading squad, head of the debate team, and winner of any contest their school could think up. She’d married a nice, gentlemanly boy at a reasonable age and had a sweet-faced child that she raised absolutely perfectly, all while climbing up the corporate ladder. The one thing she’d done with her life that her family considered even remotely imperfect was divorcing her husband back when Christin was young, but even then they’d taken her side, figured that he must’ve done something wrong if she split with him. Probably all he did was speak out against the by-the-book, obsessive-compulsive perfectionistic way she ran their lives, Chris scoffed, knowing it would absolutely be in his older sister’s personality to go as far as divorce simply in response to such a comment.

Unlike the rest of his family, he’d seen Crystal’s true colors. She was ruthless in her desire to be the best at anything and everything, and was more than willing to disregard and demolish anything that made her seem less than perfect. In fact, she reminded him of Courtney in many ways- hence his absolute delight in torturing Miss CIT at every moment possible during TDI. Still, Courtney was redeemable, as her loosening up with Duncan proved beyond a doubt. His sister wasn’t. Never in all the years he’d known her had he even seen her even remotely close to cutting loose and actually enjoying life.

He particularly felt the sting of her perfectionistic nature since, in her and the rest of the McClean family’s opinions, he himself was one of those things that needed to be hidden in order to avoid tainting her image. He recalled looking his sister up online one day out of boredom and curiosity, only to find that her extensive online profile- complete with a list of many of her relatives- claimed she was an only child. Not that he was much better; he avoided talking about his family at all costs, and rarely contacted them. Even so, they had more or less requested this, not wanting to be connected with the “failure” of the family. All his life he’d been frowned upon, especially in comparison to Crystal, what with she starting a family and rising in a cushy business career at the same time he was struggling with the start of his less-than-successful acting work. Back when he’d still been foolish enough to keep a few ties with his family, all he’d heard was, “When are you going to settle down like your sister?” “Why don’t you get a real job, like Crystal did?” “Why do you have to be so stubborn? You ought to be more like Crystal.”

Crystal this, Crystal that, Crystal Crystal Crystal. He’d finally gotten sick of it. The McClean family reunion eight years ago had been the last contact he’d had with any of his relatives until Christin’s arrival at her doorstep.

Pulling up to “McClean Manor” and parking his car in the oversized garage, Chris prepared himself to spend the day doing what he loved to do- indulging himself. He strolled leisurely up the elegant staircase to the main level of his home, intending to settle down in front of his flat-screen with a freshly-made mug of hot cocoa and entertain himself with DVD’s of his greatest television hits. Of course, it seemed that the world was against allowing him that simple pleasure, and his phone began to chime out its familiar Total Drama ringtone just seconds before he had sat down in his favorite luxurious, custom-made chair. With a disgruntled sigh, he snatched the phone from the coffee table and irritably flipped it open to check the number, hoping the caller was insignificant enough that he could ignore them and get on with the pampering. Unfortunately, he recognized the number right away and realized that disregarding the call would only make things worse for him later on.

Grimacing, he tapped the “take call” button and greeted with sarcastic cheer, “Yes, Crystal?”

“Cut the crap, Christopher,” his sister’s voice snipped in reply, obviously lacking patience as usual.

Chris’ brow furrowed. “It’s Chris,” he retorted, “not Christopher, just Chris.”

“Whatever,” Crystal responded dismissively. “I just called because I wanted to talk to little Christin. Could you please put her on so I’m not forced to listen to your voice any longer?”

“Look, I have no idea what time zone you’re in, Crystal,” Chris sighed, “but here in beautiful Ontario, Canada, it’s 9:00 AM on a Thursday, so your kid is fittingly in school.”

There was a brief pause, which Chris just knew was filled on his sister’s end by her glaring at the receiver in an attempt to shoot daggers at him through the phone lines. “You don’t mean to say she’s attending a public school,” she muttered disgustedly. “Christopher Thaddeus McClean, I specifically instructed you to either enroll her at a private academy or hire a private tutor for her!”

“And you seriously think I’m going to shell out the money for that?” Chris snapped, slouching back in his chair. “The local high school’s just as good, and it costs nothing but taxpayer dollars.”

“Please tell me that’s a joke. Just think of all the bad influences she’s meeting there-”

“Oh, please,” Chris scoffed. “She’s fine. Seems to be doing alright in school, she’s friends with some girls that she went to the mall with last weekend…”

“She went to the mall?! Alone?!” Crystal shrieked unexpectedly, forcing Chris to jerk the receiver away from his ear, lest his hearing be permanently damaged.

“Would you just cool it?!” Chris barked. “She was fine! She had fun! It’s no wonder this kid is so uptight; you’re controlling everything about her life just like you control everything!”

“How dare y- oh, forget it!” She ceded in a huff. “Just make sure she calls me when she gets back from that horrid public school.” Much to Chris’s relief, she subsequently hung up without another word.

Abated yet still irritated by the eternal friction between his sister and himself, Chris carelessly tossed his phone aside and fell backwards into his chair with a heavy sigh, glaring at the wall opposite him as if it bore Crystal’s presumptuous face. He never could quite understand it- both he and his sister were now mature, responsible adults. So how was it that they still got on each other’s nerves in the same way they did when they were kids?!

He momentarily recalled and considered his previous plan to settle down with a cup of hot cocoa and watch his greatest television hits. After some thought, he conceded that such was not enough to get him out of his Crystal-induced slump, and that he would instead treat himself to tomato juice whilst he enjoyed the director’s cut of his famed work Badminton: The Movie. After all, when it came to pampering himself (and ignoring his family), Chris accepted nothing but the best.

The next thing he knew, Chris McClean was slowly awakening to the smell of food in the oven and the sound of the infinitely-looping title track on the menu of his Badminton: The Movie DVD. Drowsily sitting up and wiping the dried remnant of some errant tomato juice from the corner of his mouth, he grabbed the remote beside him to turn off the television, glancing at the time. It was already past five, so he could only assume he’d dozed off while watching the hours of extra features (all starring him, of course). It didn’t worry him all that much; he had a slight nagging feeling that he’d forgotten something, but as usual, he decided just to ignore the feeling until it went away.

As he slowly got back up on his feet and stretched, the familiar face of a teenage McClean girl peered tentatively into the room. “Oh, good, you’re awake,” she grinned in her usual shy, quiet tone. “Dinner’s just about ready.” Chris nonchalantly nodded, and she vanished down the hall again just as quickly as she had appeared.

After gathering himself, Chris casually sauntered down to the ridiculously spacious, luxuriant dining room, complete with a long, elegant table and a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling. His niece entered shortly after he plopped himself down at his usual place, setting a pot of ravioli and a saucepan of tomato sauce down at the center of the table and serving some to both her uncle and herself before sitting down. Grinning, he began scarfing down the pasta without a word to Christin, who nibbled at her meal far more slowly and politely. After Chef had gotten a job further away, he wasn’t able to stop by and cook for Chris as often, and he subsequently got hot, fresh food less and less often. Christin and her cooking skills had been a welcome addition, if a bit of a burden otherwise.

After he’d scarfed down about half of his dinner, Chris was unfortunately met with the revelation of just what he’d forgotten about, which he’d been hoping just to ignore. “Hey, I guess I forgot to pick you up from school today,” he commented casually, mouth still full of ravioli.

Christin raised an eyebrow and shook her head. “I told you this morning, I went to the library after school today to work on a project with Gwen,” she meekly admitted. “Her mom gave me a ride home afterwards.”

“Oh yeah.” Chris momentarily turned his attention back to his meal, then commented between mouthfuls, “That reminds me; your mom called earlier today.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Christin freeze momentarily. “Ah. Is that so? What did she have to say?”

Chris shrugged. “Just saying she wanted to talk with you, and then chewed my ear off for twenty minutes, ranting about how you’re not in a private school and I’m so irresponsible and how it’s terrible that you’re actually making friends and enjoying your life.” He made the universal “she’s crazy” finger twirl, and then resumed his eating.

“Mmm.” His niece nervously took another bite of her pasta, avoiding eye contact.

He glanced back up at Christin. “Seriously though, what is her deal? She’s been this way since we were kids and I’ve never been able to figure it out. She just has to have absolutely everything in her life perfect and under control…”

For a moment, Christin didn’t respond. “…yeah…” she finally conceded, timidly prodding at her ravioli.

Suddenly realizing that he was now speaking with someone who had information on much of Crystal’s motivations firsthand, Chris sat up straight with a wide grin. “Tell me honestly, is that why she and your dad split?” He asked without hesitation, not caring how rude he might be sounding. He had been curious about Crystal and her husband’s relationship for a long time; he wasn’t about to let tact get in the way now that he had a chance at finding out the truth.

Christin flinched at how bluntly her uncle spoke, giving him a slightly incredulous look. “I-I don’t know,” she stammered, quickly shifting her gaze back to her plate. “I mean, um, mom doesn’t like to talk about it…”

“Aw, come on,” Chris whined childishly, pouting at his niece, “hasn’t your dad told you anything, at least? I mean, I can only imagine he’d want to get back at Crystal at least a little bit…”

“Well, uh, no,” Christin shakily replied, her eyes shifting about as if she were undecided whether looking at her pasta or her uncle was the better idea. “That is… I haven’t exactly seen him since the divorce…”

Chris’s grin disappeared, and it suddenly dawned upon him that he was plunging into a subject that was very touchy for Christin. Something about her face changed when her father was brought up, and it became quite clear that she missed him quite a bit. Not that he could blame her; if he had the choice between Crystal or Christin’s laid-back, artsy, eternally cheerful father, he’d certainly pick option number two.

“Well… that’s…” He quickly decided that it would be best if he stuffed his mouth with ravioli so he didn’t have the opportunity to speak, and subsequently downed the rest of his dinner, with only the clatter of forks hitting plates filling the awkward silence.

“…My mom’s not too keen on me being an artist like dad,” Christin finally stated, causing her uncle to glance up from his now-empty plate. “I remember telling her not long after the divorce that I wanted to be an artist. She laughed for a minute, then she looked at me and said, ‘That’s nice; now what career would you like to pursue?’”

“Crystal’s not exactly a patron of the arts,” Chris conceded, rolling his eyes. He recalled announcing as a child that he was going to be an actor when he grew up, and his ever-supportive sister had given him a quizzical look and stated, “But that’s not a job.”

“That’s… a bit of an understatement,” Christin hesitantly laughed, obviously not used to being able to talk honestly about her less-than picture perfect relationship with her mother. “I haven’t told her yet that I’m planning to apply to art school,” she sighed. “She’s assuming that I’m going to go into business or law, like she always planned for me to do. She tells all her friends that I’m going to be a great businesswoman or a top-notch lawyer, and that she’s certain all the ivy-league schools are going to be fighting over me.”

“Oh man, then she’s going to be livid when you tell her,” Chris laughed. The sudden paling of Christin’s face quickly informed him that this wasn’t exactly the reassuring response she’d hoped for, and he glanced down at his plate hoping for more food he could use to forcibly keep his mouth shut, only to remember that he’d already downed all his ravioli.

“I don’t know what to do,” his niece admitted with a sigh. “She’s so used to me being compliant to her plans and doing exactly what I’m told, I don’t know what she’ll do if I tell her. To be honest, I don’t even know if I’ll have the spine to stand up to her.”

Chris stared awkwardly at his obviously confused niece, very aware at the moment that he was just about the worst counselor anyone could hope to have. “Well, uh…” he glanced around, searching for an escape from the suddenly emotional conversation. “All I can say is you better call her back eventually. She’ll just blame me if you don’t.” With that, he rose from his chair and quickly made for the exit, having had more than enough heart-to-heart to last him a while.

Just before he left the room, he heard a suddenly more cheerful voice call after him, “Thanks, Uncle McClean.”

He stopped short, surprised that the awkward dinner conversation had resulted in any sort of positive effect. “…Uh… it’s Chris,” he reminded her. “Just Chris.”

Suddenly feeling very tenderhearted, he strolled down the hall in the general direction of his room, hoping he could find something to remind him of how much of a burden watching his niece was. Failing that… at least she had some dirt on their mutual tormentor. That in itself could make the next few months with her bearable.