I – THE BEGINNING
'One day. You have one day to get me to like you.'
Living was a fleeting act.
One minute you were breathing air and taking steps, the next you were six feet under. For the most part, people ignored the fact that it was possible today could be their last day alive, but the harsh reality was that death was inevitable. Everyone was destined to have an end. Some lived long lives full of happy memories and love. Others had their lives cut short, not even being given the chance to say goodbye or get their affairs in order.
Life was fleeting but death was constant. It hung over people like a dark cloud, waiting to rain. Some died slowly and in agonising pain, others died quickly as if they were simply falling asleep. But the fact still remained; they were dead and their pain would be over regardless. However, for those left behind, the loss of a loved one was a never-ending ache.
Freshly painted walls closed in on her. Bright white illuminated the house, stripping it of all that had once been familiar. The hall had once been soft beige but was now clinical and sterile. Pen had marked one of the kitchen walls, dark lines tracking the progress of her growth over the years. It had been erased with the swipe of a paintbrush. One of the offices had been converted into a study room and paint splashes had stained the floor from a failed art project. They had been buffed out and the floorboards polished. Photographs had been removed from the walls, and the nail holes had been filled in and sanded over. Any sign of the previous family had been eradicated.
Stood in the foyer of the Anderson mansion, the black-haired girl felt as if a hand were wrenching her heart from her chest all over again. Boxes had been piled high in the back of the borrowed van so the house was truly devoid of personal possessions. Any priceless valuables had been auctioned off or donated. All remnants of her parents had been stripped away.
Surprisingly, the Andersons had passed away intestate. Anderson & Co. had been handed over to the minor business partners. Estates and possessions had been left for Rosalie to handle but she didn't want any reminders of what had so cruelly been stolen from her. A small sum of the money had been placed into a college fund (not that it was enough), some of it had gone into a rainy day fund for emergencies but the majority of it had gone into buying what Rosalie Anderson needed for her new life.
Due to the new addition to her one-person family, Esme Anderson had needed to upgrade from a one-bedroom house to a two-bed so that her niece had her own personal space. Working full-time at The Wreck meant Esme didn't have the financial stability to be the guardian of a Kook teenager. Therefore, not only was she adjusting to the fact that she was now an orphan, Rosalie had to adapt to a new neighbourhood, a new school, and a new title; Pogue. All because of damn faulty brakes.
Six months ago, Sheriff Peterkin knocked on the door of the 'Anderson' mansion to be greeted with a grinning girl. She had left, leaving behind a distraught woman. Rain had lashed against the windows as she spoke, threatening to drown out the upsetting words. Lightning had struck a tree and it fell, obstructing the road ahead. Charlie Anderson had slammed the brakes but somehow, he had gone tumbling over the edge of a cliff. His wife, Adeline, had been in the car with him and so their only child was now an orphan. There had been no need for an investigation into their deaths because all Rosalie could do was keep muttering about the brakes through the tears. Charlie had complained for two months that he needed to take the car in for a service. He had always been busy with work and so he hadn't had the time. Since he had launched his legal business, Charlie had always been 'too busy'. He had spent the past ten years being too busy and ultimately, it had cost him his life.
"You ready to go?" Esme asked softly, pulling her niece away from her brooding.
Turning, Rosalie glanced around the house one last time before looking at her aunt, who was leaning against a doorframe. Sunlight filtered in through the open door, illuminating the gold strands in her aunt's light brown hair. Such a similar shade to my father's, Rosalie sighed.
Considering how broken Rosalie felt inside, the weather outside was a complete contrast. Not a single cloud marred the perfect blue canvas. Somehow, it made her feel worse than if the weather had been dismal. Staring blankly at her aunt, the teenager gave no indication that she had heard a word out of Esme's mouth.
For the past six months, the tensions between the two were tumultuous at best and hostile at worst. Neither of the Anderson women knew each other well. Getting to know each other wasn't going well. The last time they had seen each other, Rosalie had been six. Now, she was sixteen. To make matters worse, Esme was only a young thirty and had often expressed her lack of desire for children. Now she had skipped over the cute baby stages and been landed with a hormonal teenager. Both of them were living in their own personal hell.
Sighing at the lack of response, Esme pushed off the doorframe and stepped over the threshold. Prior to the death of her brother, she had only entered the house once. It had ended badly and she hadn't seen Charlie again; until the day she watched his coffin be lowered into the ground.
"Look, I know this must be difficult-."
"No, you don't." Rosalie ground out, teeth clenched. "You're not the one who has to let some strange family move into your childhood home. You didn't have to sell off all your things. And, you don't have to deal with the fact that your parents are dead!"
"No, I just have to deal with an unwanted child!" Esme shot back.
Both of them fell silent, Rosalie reeling back in shock. Hand covering her mouth in disbelief at what she had said, Esme's stance relaxed. Regret seeped into her blue orbs but Rosalie had found herself unable to look at them. They were too similar to the eyes that had twinkled when Rosalie made her father laugh. Or eyes that sparkled with joy when she passed her driving test the first time around. Eyes that had cried when Rosalie's appendix had burst and she'd been rushed into surgery. Many people had commented on the fact that Rosalie was a carbon copy of her mother. Rosalie had to see her mother every time she looked in the mirror. She saw her father every time she looked at Esme. It hurt.
"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."
"Please." Rosalie scoffed. "We both know you only agreed to be my guardian to ease the guilt you felt because you stopped visiting when Dad got successful.
Snatching up the last box filled with precious photo albums, Rosalie stormed off towards her car. Banging her head against the wall once, Esme pulled the door closed, locking it behind her. She's hurting, Esme reminded herself, the websites said this kind of behaviour was to be expected. A toolbox had been left on the porch. In a split-second decision, Esme grabbed a screwdriver and quickly wrenched the sign off the wall.
As she passed, Esme slid the sign in through the driver's window. It landed safely on Rosalie's lap before she wordlessly walked over to the van. 'Anderson' had been carved into the black plaque with silver lettering. As the house began to fade from view, Rosalie felt a tear slide down her cheek.
The final book had been slid into place on the shelf. The bed had been made. The closet filled. It was official; this was home. All the photos from her family home had been crammed onto the white walls of her bedroom. The name plaque proudly hung in the midst of them all.
Rosalie's first day at the Kook Academy had been captured forever – she stood between Kiara Carrera and Sarah Cameron, baby turtles in their hands and smiles on their faces. Once upon a time, the three of them had been friends. Sarah and Kiara had had a disagreement, although Rosalie didn't know what about, and the former had left them for a group of Pogues. In the weeks following her parent's demise, Rosalie had pushed all her remaining friends away until even Sarah left.
Another frame depicted a two-year old Rosalie coated in chocolate cake. The baby grinned at the man behind the camera as she placed her sticky hands on the white skirt of her mother's dress. Most women would've been furious that the designer outfit was now ruined but Adeline had just smiled at her messy birthday princess. In the next picture was a new-born Rosalie, cradled in the arms of her loving father.
Tears pricked her hazel brown eyes and she scrubbed at them furiously. She was so sick of crying. Initially, she had been told that it was best to embrace her feelings instead of shoving them down. So that was what she had done. Now she wished she could somehow find a way to turn off her emotions because they refused to be smothered. She needed to move on with her life but her tear ducts hadn't seemed to receive the message. Straightening a black frame, a loud knock on the door echoed through the house. Esme opened the door before calling out for the raven-haired teenager.
"There's someone at the door for you."
Brow furrowing, Rosalie shuffled down the hallway and came to a startled stop. Kiara stood on the other side of the front door to Rosalie's new house. An outgoing smile split across Kie's face as she conversed with Esme. The older woman was a full-time employee at The Wreck and so Kie knew her well. All Esme had spoken about for the past few weeks was the excitement she felt that her niece was finally moving in, and that she would have a chance to get to know the girl. Kie hadn't made the connection between the two initially but when Esme had mentioned her niece's name, the curly-haired had hounded Esme for details about her ex-friend.
"Uh, what are you doing here?" Rosalie cautiously approached.
She hadn't meant to sound rude but she wasn't good with unexpected visitors, especially one she hadn't spoken to in so long. Returning to the kitchen, Esme kept one ear near the door as she continued the menial task of putting the groceries away. She had only been in the new house for two months and still struggled to remember where everything went.
"I heard you were living on the Cut now so I thought I'd show you the joys of Pogue life. I… um, I guess I want to be friends again. I shouldn't have let Sarah get in the way of us being-."
"Kie, you don't need to use so many words." Rosalie reassured. "I'll hang out with you."
A sigh of relief escaped Kie's mouth. After a nudge from Rosalie, Kie entered the house and seated herself on the couch. Sock clad feet slid down the hallway and back into her bedroom. Rosalie snatched up the set of keys from her bedside table and shoved her phone into the pocket of her shorts. Quickly running the brush through her tangle of waves, Rosalie decided she looked somewhat decent considering how crappy she felt inside.
What was that saying? One door closes and another door opens? Rosalie scoffed. If the universe was attempting to make up for the loss of her parents with the return of a friend, the universe was severely fucked up.
As they left, Esme told them to have a nice time and to stay out of trouble. No rules had been implemented. No curfew had been established. She hadn't even asked where they were going. All that had been said was a simple 'have fun'. The next two/three years of Rosalie's life should be rather easy going.
An awkward sort of tension settled between the two girls as they clambered into Kie's car. It had been over a year since they had last spoken, and now they were going to spend an entire afternoon together.
"Uh, where are we going?" Rosalie inquired, fiddling with the radio until she found the station that both she and Kie had once loved.
As a familiar tune filled the car, Kie turned to grin at her estranged friend, glad to see that something remained the same.
"We call it the Chateau."
"This is a house." Rosalie said blankly.
She had expected the Chateau to be a Pogue hangout that she and Kie could sit in and chat. She had not expected to end up at a house that obviously belonged to someone. The air inside the car turned stale and Rosalie began to panic.
"Yeah, it's John B's."
"As in Routledge?"
"But he's a Pogue."
Kie scoffed but there was amusement twinkling in her brown eyes. "You've got to quit this whole Pogue hating attitude. In case you forgot, you're a Pogue now."
"I'm not being judgmental! I'm being a coward," she admitted sheepishly. "They're not going to like me, Kiara, and they certainly won't want me here."
A wheeze of laughter sounded from the other side of the car as Kie slid from the driver's seat. In her head, Rosalie was being silly. Sure, JJ will pretend not to like her, Kie thought, but I don't need to warn her about that. Rosalie remained in the vehicle. She hadn't even unbuckled her seat belt. Stood in front of the parked vehicle, Kie waited with her arms crossed and stared at her friend through the windscreen.
"Out." Kie demanded.
Rosalie shook her head, refusing to move.
"You're so dramatic," sighed Kie.
Storming over to the passenger's side, Kie wrenched open the door and unclipped the belt for her. A silver band rested on Rosalie's right ring finger and she twisted it nervously. It had been her mother's engagement ring. At the time he had proposed to the woman he loved, Charlie was still a Pogue so the ring was minimal. Rosalie thought it was perfect. When she had buried her parents, Rosalie had left their wedding rings on their fingers as a sign of their eternal love. However, she had salvaged the engagement ring; it was the one thing that still helped her feel close to her mother.
On her left wrist was the first Rolex her father had bought himself. It had been a gift to celebrate his first win at Anderson & Co. Quite a few links had been taken out so that it would fit Rosalie's slender wrist. Drawing strength from both items, Rosalie took a deep breath and decided she would not be socially awkward.
I can make friends, she told herself, or I can make a complete arse of myself. Glaring at Kie for putting her in this position, Rosalie's scowled when her friend started laughing at her. Promising that the boys would love her, Kie dragged the reluctant girl up the porch steps and through the door. She didn't even knock, Rosalie noted in slight shock.
The layout was similar to her new home. Unlike her house, the Chateau bore the marks of male living. Dishes lay forgotten in the sink. Clothes had piled up on the armchair – they were unfolded and possibly unwashed. Beer cans peeked out the top of the garbage bin, and there was a faint aroma of weed. Rosalie smiled slightly. It felt like a comforting place. A bespectacled man shuffled into the kitchen.
"Hey, Big John." Kie greeted.
The man peered at the two girls for a moment before turning his attention to the inside of the fridge. "Oh, we have another one."
"Rosalie Anderson," the dark-haired girl introduced herself with a shy smile.
Big John hummed and turned to walk back into his office, a slice of pie in hand. He hadn't really paid attention to her name but as his hand rested on the doorknob, he halted. Twisting back to face the girls, the older man fumbled his way through condolences for the death of her parents. The door slammed shut behind him. In the few seconds he had the door opened, Kie and Rosalie received a quick glimpse into the forbidden room. Books were scattered over the desk. Paper had been pinned to the wall. Red pen was scribbled across maps and photographs. A key turned in the lock, preventing any teenagers from bursting in. Startled at the abrupt nature of the man's departure, Rosalie was informed that he had been that way for as long as Kie had known him.
"You'll get used to it," she said.
(Unfortunately, Rosalie wouldn't be given the time to get used to it). As she pulled the nervous girl through the house, Kie called out the names of her boys but received no reply. Raucous laughter drifted from the back of the house. Following the sound, Kie pushed open the back door. Rosalie dragged her feet a little. She was being forced to meet three strangers. Nibbling on her bottom lip, she shuffled outside after Kie. Spine stiff and shoulders back, she tried to remember to breathe.
Three boys came bounding over to Kie the moment that they saw her. They are like excitable puppies, noticed Rosalie. Thankfully, the turtle-loving Pogue took charge of introductions and pushed the anxious girl in front of the boys. Rosalie knew the moment they spotted her because the smiles slid off their face.
The blond – who seemed to be missing the sides of his vest – was called JJ Maybank. He tried to smile at Rosalie but it came across as more of a grimace. Pope Heyward was already a familiar face as Heyward was a well-known figure around Outer Banks. Pope managed an actual smile but his 'hello' was too stiff to be considered friendly. Both of them were unsure if they felt comfortable having a Kook around, regardless of the fact she was no longer a Kook. Unlike money, the ideals of a person didn't just disappear overnight.
"We've been infiltrated." JJ whispered to Pope.
Kie slapped him on the arm. John B laughed.
Leaning over, Rosalie whispered in his ear. "I only sell trade secrets so I think the legend of how you score your weed should be safe."
Momentarily stunned, JJ chuckled before walking back over to the hammock. Mentally berating herself, Rosalie knew she should've just kept her mouth shut. People like you more when you're not sarcastic, she chided. Can in hand, JJ strolled back over to the group and held it out to her.
Hand shaking, she took it off him with a meek, "Thank you."
"One day. You have one day to get me to like you."
Grinning at the terrified girl, JJ pulled Pope into a headlock and the pair walked over to the HMS Pogue. A blue cooler was pulled onto the boat. Heading towards the small vessel, Kie grinned at her stiff friend.
"I probably should've warned you that you'd need a swimsuit. You will always need a swimsuit with us. Welcome to the Pogues."
She rushed off towards the dock where JJ was hollering for them. Only one remained – one who had yet to speak. Soft brown curls covered his head and the small breeze ruffled them. Brown eyes locked onto her hazel ones before moving southwards. They scanned her from head to toe. Lingering slightly on her chest, John B ignored the swell of her breasts, moved past her tanned legs and landed on her footwear. A chuckle escaped his pink lips (not that Rosalie had been focusing on them). On his feet, were white Converse; dusty and worn, and covering his ankles. Rosalie's Converse grazed her ankles and were immaculate, but they too were white.