Chapter One: Emma

I look out the SUV's window nervously.

I haven't spoken to my friends in Concord for the past two years, and the fear that they've forgotten me still lurks like fog, thick in my mind. Watching the scenery slide past my window, I look for any changes. The new shopping center across from the library, in the empty lot where we were once parking and walking in to the library the first time, our mothers giving us dirty looks that threatened us for embarrassing them.

When we pass Alcott High, new nerves settle deep in the pit of my stomach. In less than a week, I'll be a freshman, in a huge school and probably alone.

The interior of the SUV is foreign; black leather padding on all the seats, the engine purring, fresh and new. The radio works perfectly, a few twitches of static here and there, but it's not like the rickety, crackly radio in our old station wagon, always breaking when the air conditioner was on.

My parents, being a freelance writer and a librarian, were working in England when they were called by a local publicist in the area, almost begging to help their 'lit duo" take off. After my father wrote his first novel, my mother took a shot at it, a spinoff on his novel from a different point of view, and all of a sudden, they were flying everywhere, stuffing millions into their pockets as they premiered on talk shows and had live meet-and-greets all over the world.

Darcy and I were lugged on to far locations, a few stops in the US, toward the West Coast, and even a few Austrailian flights. After a few years making it in the business, they were sent back to the United States to take a short break and write new novels.

Glancing over, I look at Darcy, watching him bounce his leg rhythmically as the scenery that was once what we saw everyday, flitted by. Dusk was falling upon us, and the setting sun glowed against his tanned skin.

Slowly, our car purred into Strawberry Hill, toward the new home we had been signed into by the trusty publicist, and we parked at the end of the street, overlooking the flush green trees and flowerbeds done neatly along driveways, exteriors all glass and posh.

When we get out of the car, my mother is immediately embraced by a tall woman with long ebony locks, in a loose, flowy printed top and sleek black slacks, heels donning her feet. It takes me a minute to realize it's Mrs. Wong.

Mr. Wong shakes hands with Darcy and my father, running a hand through his thinning blond hair on his head. It's when I stand on my tiptoes, peering over Mrs. Wong's shoulder, when I see Megan.

She's sitting at the top of the driveway, wearing a light blue shirt that showed a thick expanse of bare skin, a diamond stud poking out of her navel, glinting in the sun. A flaming red hairstreak hangs over her left almond-shaped eye. She was taller, leaner, and her legs were really long, in really short shorts and flip flops.

What happened to Megs?

"Who's she again?" She whispers to her mother as Ashley, Jen and Becca follow her down the hot asphalt, wearing similar clothes, all with belly button piercings, holding red cups that I could only assume were filled with beer.

"The Hawthornes, remember?" Mrs. Wong elbows her slightly in the ribs, laughing as if Megan was joking. But she wasn't. The feeling of rejection felt similar to a slap in the face; a stab in the back.

"Ouch," Megan hisses from the blow, moving back toward her friends. She completely ignored me, sparing Darcy a few seductive glances that he smiles slightly at. Her friends gawk at Darcy like he's the last cupcake on the platter.

When our parents dismiss us, we duck around the movers and head up to our separate rooms, each at the end of the long hall that overlooked the grand foyer. When I first open the door with the big, purple E on it, all I see is a set of stairs, sunlight glaring down from the room.

Jogging up the stairs, I find a small room overlooking every point of the estate. It was obviously a recent addition, as it was jutted off the second floor. Opening one of the windows running in a band aroudn the room, I peer out to see the Wong's estate perfectly, then to the thick brush of woods, where I can hear birds singing faintly, watching animals chase each other around the green.

Slowly, I unpack my few suitcases, distributing my things into the room, before flopping back on my king-sized bed. The neon purple duvet swallows me, as I sink into the thick mattress. Closing my eyes, I can only hope that Cassidy and Jess haven't turned out like Megan.

Feet pound up the stairs, and I barely turn my head to see Darcy peek his head in, "Em, you okay?"

"No." I whimpered, feeling the tears fall heavily down my face as I duck my head into the duvet, muffled sobs breaking out of my suddenly dry throat. My neutral makeup felt heavy on my face, and my clothes were wrinkled, swallowing me away.

"What's wrong?" Darcy asks, crossing the room quietly and sitting on the edge of my bed. I feel his hand run gently through my hair. He isn't the best brother in the world-but he's close.

"Megs is gone." I can only muffle. My crisp pillow cases are getting smudged from the watery substance crawling down my cheeks.

"It'll work out, Em. I promise." Darcy says, rubbing my back before standing and leaving.

"I hope." I mutter as he turns, hovering in the doorway, as I curl into a ball.

"I hope so, too, Em." He says, and then I hear the click of the door hitting the lock.

When he's down the stairs and out of earshot, I return to my open window and clamber out. The shingles are hot under my bare legs as I sit back, closing my eyes, letting the sun warm me. Listening carefully, I can hear boppy music coming from the Wong estate, the girls' laughter overpowering it.

Reminiscing when that used to be us, the mother-daughter book club.

I felt the tears coming, and it was at that moment that I choked and I had a really good cry.