"So let me get this straight, you lie about your mom to look important, but you don't even mention me? Nice to know you love me, Mitch!" a half-sincere, half-laughing, definitely female voice rang out behind the group currently watching the fallout that was Mitchie Torres and Shane Gray. The group turned, intrigued. Shane spun round on his heel, furious with the lies, furious for being interrupted. Mitchie turned slowly, hardly daring to believe that the oh-so-timely interruption was real. After all, she was not supposed to be here.
"Seriously, girl, what's wrong with you? No, wait, don't answer that, I know the answer."
The voice belonged to a petite girl, standing facing the group. Obviously curly black hair was tamed, pulled back into a ponytail on the back of her head, secured by a purple ribbon. Dark jeans hung on her hips, heeled ankle boots added the slightest bit to her little height, a purple camisole trimmed with black lace accentuated the paleness of her skin. Dark sunglasses masked her eyes, which sat on high cheekbones, over deep pink, carefully glossed lips. All except the addressed didn't recognise her.
"Maybe I know how much you value your privacy, especially when it comes to the past?" Mitchie shot back.
"Honey, you are the one thing from my past that doesn't hurt to think about," the newcomer replied wryly, stepping daintily down into the group.
"Even so, I didn't want to drag you into this – last thing you need."
"What is it I say at the end of every call, letter or email? Oh yeah, ring if you need me – remember our promise. Hmm, and what was that promise? I remember, 'Friends 'til the end, hand in hand, side by side, never will I let you down, and this I vow.' Plus, hello! I've known you FOREVER! I'll always know when you need me! And, you know, your mom just might have given me the heads up."
"Nice to see you trust me not to mess things up," the other girl muttered.
"Oh, I do. Just you also mentioned an uber-bitch. And knowing the way the devious mind works as I do, I knew something'd clue her in."
"Who even are you?" Tess chose this moment to chip in, loudly and rudely.
"You must be the devious mind!" the raven-haired girl answered cheerily, "Wow, I gotta say, good going. A stunt like this, takes a lot of effort – hell, brings back more than a few memories of being on your end, right Mitch?"
"You haven't answered my question. Who are you?"
"Oh my gosh! I so didn't mean to be rude – wouldn't want to steal your place! I'm Ari, Mitch and I go way back. As in, since we where tiny."
"Who the hell are you to waltz in here?" Shane burst out, clearly frustrated with the unusual turn the night had taken.
"Well, hotshot, I was getting to that. Honestly!" This, of course, caused both Nate and Jason, up until this point stood silently just behind their bandmate, to shake with suppressed laughter. Seeing Shane get told by a diminutive female was way too funny.
"Ari," Mitchie warned, shaking her head.
"Fine…" 'Ari' replied, sighing. She flipped the sunglasses up to sit on top of her head, revealing massive, sparkling grey eyes. Her full lips turned into a grin as she said, "Hi, I'm Arianna Starr." Jaws dropped.
"Yeah, right, sure," Tess put in derisively, "As if. Please, it's just one of Mitchie's little friends trying to fool you!"
Arianna smirked, turning around to face Tess's side of the group:
"You were saying?"
Caitlyn snapped out of her shock, beginning to grin wildly. Finally, Tess Tyler, the unstoppable Queen Bee of Camp Rock, was unable to control the world around her. It felt good to be on the winning side.
"Tess, you're catching flies. Might wanna shut your mouth." Caitlyn smiled sweetly.
"Whatever, freak. Anyway, don't you have dishes to do, Mitchie?"
"Shane, I – "
"Don't bother," the young music sensation turned away, stomping off towards his cabin, Nate and Jason in tow.
Tears welled up in Mitchie's eyes, before Caitlyn took her arm, muttering, "Not here you don't."
Arianna slotted her arm through Mitchie's other arm, helping to lead her away from the Beach Jam stage. This was going to take a lot of fixing…
"Hey. Hey, look at me." Arianna whispered. She was crouched in front of her old friend, who was sat slumped on the bed. Caitlyn had led them to her own cabin, empty other than her. No one wanted to live with the girl who'd been cast of by Tess Tyler, after all. On arrival, Mitchie had dropped onto the bed, letting the pooled tears fall, and hadn't moved since. Caitlyn sat to one side of the crying girl, rubbing soothing circles on her back. They'd spent ten minutes trying to silently comfort the broken girl already, and Arianna knew it was time to speak.
"Mitch, just look at me, yeah?" Finally the sobbing girl raised her head, looking at her first friend through watery, swollen eyes.
"Ari, I ruined it all. What is there to say?"
"Everything. Anything. You gotta try, sugar."
"How? I can't see a way to fix this…"
"Doesn't mean there isn't one," Caitlyn chipped in, smiling softly.
"See, I'm not the only one who thinks you can do this. Look, you could wait in here for this to blow over – which I'm guessing won't be soon – or you can face it dead on. And really, this is the summer of a lifetime, Mitch, just what you always wanted – don't waste it on some silly little stumble."
"Hey, at least you've got an experienced helper by your side! Last summer, I was the outsider. I'll be right there with you, I promise," Caitlyn told her, causing Mitchie to look down, feeling guilty.
"I'm so sorry. I mean, I went off with Tess and left you, I didn't realise, I'm so, so sorry – "
"Mitchie! Don't worry about it, you didn't know. And I'm over it. All in the past, right?"
"And you've got me. Always and forever, right?"
"Always and forever," Mitchie replied, a half-forgotten memory rushing to her mind as she smiled sadly.
Three small children, aged around six or seven at the most, sat in a circle in a darkened room. It was clearly late at night, and the far-off sounds suggested that elsewhere in the house, a party was in full swing. The room was the perfect young girl's bedroom, the white wood furniture, the soft pink pillows covering the large bed, the dollhouse in the corner. The owners of the house were clearly well-off, and the room had been done to supposedly suit their youngest daughter. Flashes of the girl's own preferences were evident if you looked closely. The clothes visible through the wardrobe's slightly open door tended towards brighter, more vibrant hues than the pastel pink of her room. A few silver or purple cushions were mixed in with the masses of pink. In one corner, a child-sized guitar leaned, untidy piles of music books spilled out of the shoebox behind it.
Sat cross-legged, leaning forward in earnest, was the room's occupant, the little Arianna Louisa Richards, youngest of the three Richards girls. Black curls fell over her slim shoulders, grey eyes sparked with passion. The tiny girl was nevertheless the older of the two girls present, while the single boy was the eldest over all. Ari to her friends, she was the unquestioned leader of the group, a position gained by her active imagination and eager energy.
Next to her, knees pulled up to her chest, rocking slightly as she sat, was six year old Michaela Theresa Torres, the youngest child, even though most tended to believe she was older than the smaller Ari. Chestnut bangs fell into warm brown eyes, poker straight hair sliding over her back and shoulders. A wide smile crossed her face as she listened to Arianna speak, excitement flooding her eyes. Michaela – called Mitchie due to her friends' inability to pronounce her full name when they were even younger – was from the poorer part of town, her parents not reaching the financial heights of the others. As her mother had been friends with the other mothers as girls, the three children had formed a strong bond as toddlers, even though some of the girls in school called Mitchie names, she always had her friends.
Finally, leaning against the foot of the bed, blonde hair as messy as ever, despite his mother's attempts to make him 'presentable', bright blue eyes lazily watching over his girls as they spoke, was the only boy of the group. Tall for his age, James William Haywood, called Jamie or Jay by the girls, was the protector of the group, taking keeping the girls safe as his duty as the sole male. He listened carefully to the talk, despite his relaxed appearance, listening to the soft, sweet voice of Mitchie, his princess, his sunshine, answer Ari's musical lilting one, his angel, his dreamer. These girls were the most important things in Jay's seven year old world, and he would do anything within his power for his best friends.
"So do you swear?" Arianna whispered eagerly, holding out her small hand.
"Yeah," James grinned, placing his on top of hers.
"Okay," Mitchie agreed, smiling up at her friends as her hand completed the pile.
The fingers threaded together, so the three children's were so mixed together they could not break free, or tell which fingers were their own.
"Friends 'til the end…" Ari began.
"Friends 'til the end…" the other two echoed, beginning the pact.
"…hand in hand…"
"…hand in hand…"
"…side by side…"
"…side by side…"
"…never will I let you down…"
"…never will I let you down…"
"…and this I vow."
"…and this I vow."
The familiar voices of their parents called out to them now – the party was over, it was time to separate. As Mitchie and James opened the door to leave, Arianna called after them, using the words they substituted for 'goodbye', never wishing to say the word that seemed so final in their eyes.
"Always and forever, guys!"
"Always and forever," came the joint reply.
"So, we do this thing, yeah?" Arianna asked, that same fearless energy sparking in her eyes, even after all those years.
"We do this thing," Mitchie answered, grinning with the old recklessness her friend used to inspire in her.
Caitlyn nodded, confidence causing a third grin to light the cabin, echoing, "We do this thing."
The three girls started to plan, working out how to handle the situation, when a tentative knock interrupted their discussion.
"Hello?" a male voice called out, unsure. Mitchie's heart leapt, then fell with the realisation that the voice was not Shane's.
"Dude, what if they're not in there?" another boy's voice chipped in.
"The girl said they went this way, Jase." The eye roll was almost audible.
"Well, what if they did, but then they didn't?"
"But – "
The conversation was cut short when Caitlyn opened the door, revealing the bickering Nate and Jason Gray.
"Can I help you?" she asked, carefully schooling her features into polite indifference, when on the inside she was screaming. After all, she'd been composed on meeting female musical starlet Arianna Starr, so she could cope with this. She could, even if she'd had the biggest crush on guitarist Jason since her first summer at Camp Rock, before the boys became famous. She'd known Nate pre-Connect 3, so she could deal with speaking to her old friend. She'd just have to not look directly at Jason.
"Hey, Caitlyn," Nate smiled, remembering her from his last two summers at the music camp, "Yeah, we're looking for Arianna Starr? Is she in there? We've gotta take her to Uncle Brown."
"Oh, sure," Caitlyn replied, before turning back to look at the two girls, "erm, Arianna?"
"You've got to go see Brown," at the raised eyebrow, she added, "the Camp Director."
"Okay. I'll be back, Mitch. Complete with chocolate and ice cream."
At her friend's look, she winked, saying, "A girl comes prepared for these things."
With a final smile, she left the cabin.