1: Chaos and Tracy

…Well, they just went together, it seemed; kind of like Tracy and money. Sure, her family was loaded. Kara Jane-Ellen Tracy would have needed three sets of arms to juggle all the noughts in her trust fund. Packed with relatives, too. With her at Wharton that year were her brother, Ian (about whom she worried, a lot), her cousin Claire (who you wanted to strangle one minute and hug like a sister, the next) and Ricky, who was an uncle, actually, and thought that one-and-a-half years made him some kind of patriarch. Urghh!

On top of all this there was Fermat, who wasn't related at all, but might as well have been. Even his friends, Daniel and Sam, had been sort of adopted. The rest of her family were mostly uncles, and far off… or dead; killed in action like Virgil and Gordon. Bitter and hard to talk to, like Scott, or off racing cars like Alan. (Who wasn't likely to settle down, ever. Just saying, is all.)

As for her own mom and dad… Deep space is a hazardous place, you know? And nothing's as cold as the dark between stars. Were they dead? Maybe, but Janey chose to believe otherwise. More than that, she'd made Ian believe with her, too. Lost. That's how Jane chose to look at the situation. They were lost, and would someday return.

So, to sum up, she was fourteen years old that spring, and an honours upperclassman. Universities were baying and snapping at her heels like a pack of starving hounds, sending her all kinds of post-cards and love-notes. She was right at the edge of her life. All full of scary, pent-breath potential; poised to take flight or to crash.

Mostly, her family's lawyers and security team did a good job of keeping reporters and curiosity seekers out of her way, but no one could stop other kids from being total butt-heads. Ian took it hard when the other guys mentioned Mars, or the Grand Canyon disaster. So did Claire, for that matter, but where Ian turned quiet and inward, Claire would start busting heads and wind up in the office, again. The name 'Tracy' only went so far, and 11-year-old Claire had become a mainstay in the school's detention hall. She'd even carved her initials in one of the wooden booths, just under her dad's.

In the middle of all this, in a thunderstorm of gossip and notoriety, Janey was simply trying to get herself educated, hang on to what remained of her family, and maybe get Michael James Hamilton to notice her existence. Yeah… that, and survive another lunch-time seat scramble. Wharton was supposed to be civilized, but speaking as a teen-aged girl, there were claws and cold shoulders hidden behind all that monogrammed upper-crustery.

Anyhow, on this particular afternoon, Janey entered the big stone dining hall, got her food and then stood looking around for snake-pits and allies. Exhibit A: the teachers' duty table, staffed with a revolving selection of sharp-eyed instructors. Exhibit B: the roving proctors, always ready with demerits and reprimands. Exhibit C: the chic-girls' table, filled with divas and fashion mavens who could transform a boring old school uniform with Hermes scarves, alligator belts and a sprinkle of diamonds. Janey had diamonds, in the form of an Orion brooch that she sometimes wore in her shoulder-length, taffy-blonde hair. Not in the dining hall, though. Only at the last Christmas ball, along with a floor-length blue gown. Michael had said she looked "hot" at that dance… but then he'd laughed, so Janey wasn't sure what to think, or to hope for.

Queen of the diva table was Andrea Springfield, a tall and willowy brunette who smoked contraband cigarettes behind the library and had several magazine covers to her name. Jane didn't fit that set, or that attitude, so she wove her way on through a cloud of warm food smells and clattering china.

Wharton Academy had loosened up enough to let in their first class of females five years before, but that didn't mean that the sexes were allowed to mingle. The male and female regions were sharply marked off, and even in class they could not sit together. Bad for morale, the headmaster claimed.

Since all she could do was signal, Janey nodded across the dining room at Ricky, who gave her a brief grin and I'm-too-cool-for-all-this sort of wave. With him sat Dalton Steele and Tad Hamilton, Mike's older brother, so Janey first frowned, then smiled back. Fermat was seated a bit farther on, whispering with Ian, Daniel and Sam. The four were thick as thieves and always up to mischief. Janey smiled their way, as well, hoping that no further "all-A" grade book hacks or month-long macaroni-and-cheese menu shuffles got perpetrated. (Speaking of which, her food was getting cold, and hadn't been much to begin with.)

Skirting the athletes' area, Jane returned a few casual waves and then walked to the long wooden table nearest the row of pointed bay windows. The view there was pretty, for one thing. Lawn sprinklers stuttered and chattered outside, casting dozens of fractured rainbows. She could see her apple tree, too; the one Janey often climbed up in, to read and think.

"Hey, girl," said Regina Steele, sliding over on the bench to make room for Jane. She was Dalton's little sister and looked like him, too; with the same narrow face, dark hair and fierce gaze. "How's life in the big city?"

Jane rolled her eyes and sat down.

"Trig is kicking my butt, and if I don't manage to gain weight, I'll be cut from the volleyball team. Oh, and that creeper news-van was back again, yesterday. You know? The one with the camera mast and tinted windows…?"

Reggie made a face. She and her brother weren't famous, like the Tracys, but they were more than wealthy enough to be constantly wary of kidnap attempts.

"There's no candy in the van, so just keep to this side of the property line, Jane. They can't come across or they'll get arrested. Dad told me so, and… Sharie, over here!"

This last was more of a hiss than a shout. Raising one's voice was not encouraged at Wharton, except for lacrosse and field-hockey games and Halloween bonfires. But Sharie Vandenberg was a friend, famous (like Janey, Ian, Ricky and Claire) for her interesting parents. She needed a safe place to eat, hang out and escape all those speculative looks. This was especially important as she didn't have any brothers or sisters and rarely went home, being a year-round border.

"Bonjour," she chirped as she plunked herself down, practicing her French. "Comment c'etait ton… um… ton… phantome?"

"How was my ghost?" Regina translated, hoisting an eyebrow. "Fine, I guess, for a departed spirit."

Sharie blushed.

"I meant to say: how was your lunch," she explained with a shrug, adding, "I should have taken Sign Language, or something."

Her mother was Cassie Peak, a former pop-star who'd reinvented herself as a best selling historical novelist. Her father… no joke… was the viceroy of some tiny, land-locked European country that no one could find on the map without a magnifying glass. For all of that, Sharie seemed pretty grounded, preferring to huddle with Jane and Reggie rather than push all that ancestry around. The three had a lot in common, but where Jane stood apart was in here, now, pain-in-the-butt-cheek relatives.

They hadn't been talking long when Claire rushed through the doors, still in her field-hockey uniform (there'd be a few more demerits… not that a daughter of Gordon would care). Not being an upperclassman, she couldn't eat with Janey, Regina and Sharie, but she did give them a cheerful salute before heading right over to the snack line.

Sure enough, a proctor stopped Claire well short of her goal, frigidly pointing out the girl's grass-stained uniform, scraped knees and muddy cleats. Auburn-haired Claire posed as dramatically as a martyr and started arguing, causing several teachers to look up from their duty table across the stone hall.

Janey got to her feet.

"Guess I'd better go over," she muttered, thinking that the last thing Uncle Scott needed was another phone call from Wharton. Over on the boys' end, Ricky, too, had stood up.

"Need some back-up?" offered Regina, starting to rise. "My dad's so rich, he's got regular rich people orbiting him, and even his lawyers have lawyers."

Janey paused, but shook her head, no.

"Thanks, Reggie, but I think between me and Rick, we can handle this. Tracys stick together, no matter what."

Always had, and always would. Right to the end.