Chapter One: Anywhere But Here

~Mark~

Mark leapt over the back of the couch and shoved the remainder of the trash under the rug. He glanced toward Bryon who was sweeping the kitchen.

"Hey," Bryon called, "how much time we got left?" Mark checked the clock on the wall.

"Maybe ten minutes. You almost done?" Mark moved the furniture in the living room back into its original arrangement. He gave the recliner a good shove and walked through the foyer.

"Yeah." Bryon emptied the swept up debris into the trash can. He wiped his hands off and looked at their handiwork. Mark and Bryon had an hour to get the house clean before Mrs. Douglas came home from the hospital. Mark grabbed two Cokes and threw one to Bryon who caught it effortlessly. Bryon cracked open the can and took a swig.

"C'mon," Bryon began pulling the garbage bag free, "let's take the trash out." Mark followed Bryon across the porch but stopped at the top of the steps. The wind was blowing heavily and the sky was a ominous gray. Mark's golden eyes took in the vacancy of the usual bustling neighborhood as a sign that a bad storm was brewing. He shivered. Bryon stopped to look at the sky as thunder began rolling. He hurried up the yard and into the house.

Bryon took a seat at the kitchen table and rested his head in his hands. He would have a clear view of his mom's arrival through the window. Mark casually leaned against one of the cabinets. The weather was creating a thick, melancholy air. Bryon sighed. Both boys locked eyes and in a matter of seconds, they were positioned in fighting stances. Mop in Bryon's hands and broom in Mark's, they fought sending water and dust flying through the room. The sound of their laughter drowned out the grumbling storm.

"I thought I asked that the house be presentable when I got home?" Mrs. Douglas questioned from the arch of the doorway. Bryon, covered in dust bunnies, crossed the room and embraced his mom in a warm hug. Mark, dripping from head to toe, grinned deviously like a lion. Bryon stepped back and Mrs. Douglas swatted some of the dust off of her clothes. She opened her arms to Mark who complied, receiving a quick hug.

"I have a surprise for you two." She smiled at walked back out to the car. Mark and Bryon exchanged looks of panic. Mrs. Douglas was known for picking up in stray that needed a home. The last thing they wanted was a puppy or a hamster they had to remember to feed. Both boys knew the animal wouldn't make it in their home. They had molded their little family into they way they wanted it to be. And no outsider would change it.

Mark had to wonder if Bryon was just as shocked as he was by their 'surprise'. He guessed so when Bryon's eyes grew wild with anger. Standing in beside Mrs. Douglas, was a girl of their age with big hazel eyes and a shy smile. Bryon didn't try to mask his anger.

"Wherever you found it, take it back." As Bryon and his mom argued about the right thing, good morals, and the meaning of a happy family, Mark watched her with interest. Every word that came from Bryon's mouth seemed to slice her like a knife. She was biting her lower lip and backing toward the door cautiously. Her body language showed that she was uncomfortable and if the argument lasted much longer she was sure to bail.

"Bryon, she's staying here. She has no family and we're going to be there for her. You and Mark will both treat her well. Understand?" Bryon didn't look ready to accept defeat but he shut up and nodded his consent. Mrs. Douglas looked to Mark. He peeled his emotionless stare off the girl and looked back at Bryon's mom. She raised an eyebrow at him. With charm and character, Mark said what she needed to hear.

"Sure. We'll treat her like she's a part of the family."

"I'm glad to hear it." She smiled motherly at Mark and kissed him on the cheek. He had expected that since he was pretending to be the better influence. Bryon glared at him and Mark laughed to himself.

"Well then," Mrs. Douglas began again, "Introduction are in order." She took the girl by the arm gently and pulled her closer to the boys. "Her name is Noel. Noel this is Bryon and this is Mark. Welcome home." Mrs. Douglas gave the girl a loving pat and went to her room. The silence that followed felt dangerous. If Bryon decided to hurt her Mark would back him up. But Mark knew that Bryon was plotting a way to run her off simply without getting them into trouble. The girl shifted her feet and turned her gaze from Bryon to Mark hoping for a little comfort. Mark just stared back. In her eyes, he could read their message clearly. She held that terrified look and Mark knew in an instant that the game the three of them were fixing to play would be very enjoyable. Her eyes still pleaded with a greater hope. Please take me anywhere but here.