AN: Alright, you guys have had your laughs, time to try and get serious again. I don't know, I may fail at that myself! Also, this chapter will give the first hints of bad things to come…Read and review!

                                                                                                                                                           

            I don't know how we managed it, but while we were lying there, we both fell asleep and were dead to the world until Robert knocked on the door, telling us that it was time for dinner. We both burst out laughing, and Robert opened the door, looking awfully confused.

            "What's so funny?" he asked, crossing his arms and trying to look stern, but failing miserably.

            "Nothin'." Mush said, jumping to his feet and then helping me up.

            "Well, if you two are finished with your little private joke, then we must be going. Anita's husband and daughter want to meet you before we dine."

            "Dine?"

            "Eat, Skittery." Mush whispered as we followed him out.

            "Oh, right. I knew that."

            I couldn't believe the amount of luxury in this place. Even the hallways had painting hanging all over the walls and fancy lighting, not to mention wood edging where the wall met the ceiling.

            "There they are! Go say hi, Tiffany!"

            A purple blur suddenly attacked my legs, a blur that immediately squealed and giggled as I had to grab onto the wall to avoid falling over.

            "Hi there!" Tiffany said, looking up at me with crystal blue eyes and fine blond curls raised up into pigtails.

            "Um…hi…"

            A broad chested man walked up to me, laying a hand on the girl's head as he laughed with a booming voice. "Alright, Tiffany, let go before you knock him over." He said, and then he bent down and picked her up. "I'm Theodore, Anita's husband. She's already told me about you two."

            "Pleased ta meet ya."

            "And I'm Tiffany…Tiffany Gwenevere Andrews!" the little girl said proudly from her father's arms. "Mommy said your name was Skittery. That's a funny name."

            "Tiffany! That wasn't nice." Robert scolded.

            "Well, it is!"

            I just laughed. "It's okay. I get that all the time."

            "Theodore, come here!" Anita called from across the room, where she was conversing with Geoff and Anne. He smiled at us then turned and walked to them.

            A worn-looking woman in a simple brown dress approached us, straightening her dress as she did so. Her blond hair was up in a messy bun, and when I saw her eyes…I couldn't believe it.

            "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" I whispered to Mush before she got within earshot.

            "Yeah…she looks just like him!"

            "Hi, I'm Kristine." She said, offering her hand in a handshake. We both shook her hand, but both of us were too stunned to speak. She just laughed at this. "Well, you're awfully quiet! I was afraid it would cause a ruckus, having two teenage boys in the house…you know what they say about raging hormones…but I think we'll get along. I've got to go, but we'll talk later!"

            Even her smile reminded me of him. That same cocky smile that seems to scream, 'Everyone loves me and you should too!' I turned to Mush, drawing him aside before anyone could interrupt us.

            "Did Blink evah tell you about his family?"

            "He just said he was an orphan. Said his mom left him with his dad, and eventually his dad got sick of him. Dat's all I know."

            "Well, I think we just found his mother."

            Mush nodded. The resemblance was uncanny, no doubt about it. Maybe she would be willing to talk about it later.

            "Skittery! Mush! Time for dinner! Come on!" Anne called out, and we took our places at the dinner table, making sure to stay next to each other. I guess you could call it 'newsies instinct'- we had to stick together.

            I couldn't believe the plate that the butler set in front of me- all this food for one person?

            Mush and I shot a look at each other that said basically the same thing- it must be some life, eating this much three times a day.

            "So, why don't you two tell us about yourselves?" Geoff said, and Mush shrugged.

            "Ain't much ta tell. We's jest newsies."

            Theodore practically choked on his roast beef. "Geoff, please tell me you're going to hire them a diction tutor."

            "A what?" Mush asked me, and I just shrugged.

            "Leave them alone for now. We'll have them working on it soon enough." Geoff insisted, and then he turned his attention back to us. "Well, what about your families? Where are they now?"

            This time it was my turn to shrug. "Probably dead. I don't really care."

            "Same here." Mush said.

            The silence stretched all the way around the table for at least a full ten seconds. Obviously, we'd said something wrong.

            "Then tell us about your friends. The other boys at the lodging house." Anne said.

            I looked at Mush, basically telling him to go for it. He cleared his throat before beginning to talk. "Well, there's Jack Kelly. He's like da leader, at least during da strike. Kid Blink was my best friend, and probably da most egotistical guy you'd evah meet. Man, he had a temper…Anyways, the youngest ones were Boots and Snipeshooter, and Snoddy and Swifty keep dem under control. Let's see…Snitch is a pickpocket…then there's Pie Eater, Specs, and Dutchy, the smart ones. And Jake and Itey pretend they're smart, but they really ain't…"

            He stopped when he realized that everyone was looking at him with blank stares. Everyone except for me, that is.

            "Um…I's sorry…did I say somethin' wrong?" Mush asked, a blush creeping across his face.

            Anita snapped out of it before anyone else. "Oh, no, it's not that…it's just…" she obviously couldn't stand not asking. "Do they really have names like Pie Eater and Snoddy?"

            "Yeah. No one goes by their real name, 'cept for David and Les. But that's cause dey go home to their family every night. When ya live in da lodgin' house, ya earn a nickname."

            For about a minute, the only sound was that of silverware on glass plates. It was unnerving, getting the feeling that nobody understood you and they obviously weren't even going to try.

            "So…is it hard, selling papers?" Anne asked, breaking the silence like taking a hammer to a mirror.

            "Yeah, it's pretty rough. I mean, ya end up workin' about 18 hours outta every day." I said, wondering if anyone even knew the name of the main course. I was almost afraid to eat it. It looked kinda funny.

            "Say 'working' again!" Tiffany demanded, and I did, curious as to what was so funny. Then I realized- with my accent, it ended up coming out as 'woiken' instead. She squealed with delight, and then tried to mimic my pronunciation, ending up sounding like an immigrant trying to pick up on the lingo.

            "That's quite enough, Tiffany. Don't make fun of our guests." Anita said.

            Mush, on the other hand, was quite amused by the girl's antics. "Aw, it's okay. She's just havin' fun."

            Geoff stood up, laying his napkin down on the table. "Why don't you two come with me and we'll discuss your schedule for tomorrow?"

            He led us to yet another sitting room, this one seeming much less cheerful, with mostly shades of brown dominating the color scheme. He had us sit down, but he didn't- instead, he paced the floor in front of us. I felt like a child who'd gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

            "Your tutor is coming in tomorrow morning to give you a crash course in manners and etiquette before the party tomorrow night. I expect that she will have your full attention. After classes, Skittery will be moving on to his piano lesson while Mush goes out to the stables to meet Darien and get his daily chores. Any objections?"

            Mush should've objected; he knew that as well as I did. There was a reason he never went with Race to the tracks- he was scared to death of horses. But being the good natured guy he is, he didn't complain, and Geoff continued.

            "Good. I can see you're going to be agreeable, so life should move pretty smoothly. However," he slammed one end of his walking stick on the floor, "should either of you begin to cause any problems, I will have you bruised up so fast you won't know what hit you. Do you understand?"

            I saw Mush's panicked look, and I imagine that I was looking quite the same. We go from a poor abusive family, to being an orphan, to only go into a rich abusive family? I felt my heart begin to race. This couldn't be happening.

            "I asked if you understood. When I ask you a question, I want an answer."

            I remained silent, and Mush did as well. This was insane. He couldn't treat us like this!

            "I'll take that as a yes, just this once. I'll just assume you're adjusting. Now both of you are to be in your rooms in five minutes. Kristine will be upstairs to lock things up shortly."

            "Lock things up?" I asked.

            "Yes. I wouldn't want either of you to be sleepwalking anywhere, would I? Your rooms are going to be locked every night, and your windows. I'm sure it won't take you long to get used to that."

            I was about to respond, but Mush grabbed my shoulder and jerked his head towards the door. I was fuming, but I stood up and began walking away.

            "Good night, Mush. Good night, Skittery. I'll see you in the morning."

            Neither of us answered. When we got upstairs, we had a whole lot of talking to do.

                                                                                                                                                           

AN: Uh-oh…are you seeing what I'm seeing? * cue creepy music * Hehe, I'm evil. Oh, well. Next chapter they have to decide what to do, and we meet Kristine…and find out if she really is who they think she is…