Dear all readers:

I am soooo sorry I haven't updated this. I have such ha-uge plans for this story, but I got busy and went on hiatus, and then I got sucked up into Maximum Ride (an amazing series, btw) and am currently more focused on my new MR fanfiction than others. I'm not leaving this story unfinished, I'll tell you that. It's just I'm in a Max Ride phase at the moment, which also explains my change of writing style. Sorry about that, by the way.

This chapter ends in a cliffhanger. Guess what happens next correctly and I'll... give you a cookie?

Nah. I'll just update a bit faster to let you know if you were right.

Enjoy, guys. :)

I rolled over in my bed, my blond curls clouding my face. I wasn't asleep, I wasn't awake. I was some mixture in between: my eyes were half-open, but when I tried to speak I grumbled.

The translucent curtains on the window made sure there was enough light in the room to assure you it was, in fact, daytime, but not enough to wake you up by shooting hot rays of sunshine onto your face as you slept.

With some effort, I picked myself off the bed and dragged myself out of the Jacksons' guest room, my place of inhabitance the past two blissful days. I hadn't had any nightmares tonight, and thus the sleep was heavenly. But I didn't want to turn into a lazy butt; if I was going to leech off of poor Percy and his mom, I needed to at least be a pleasant houseguest who did some chores and didn't lie in bed all day. When thoughts of where I would be next (I can't suck the blood out of Ms. Jackson forever) come into my head I push them away and distract myself.

I was halfway down the hall when I heard hushed voices. I paused, not going to the bathroom door, heading towards the conversation instead.

Percy and Ms. Jackson were leaning over the kitchen counter, both with furrowed eyebrows. I hid in the archway and listened.

"Mom," Percy began, seeming to struggle to keep his voice even, "why haven't you told me about this?"

Ms. Jackson sighed, rubbing her tired kaleidoscope eyes with her hands. "I didn't want to worry you, Percy. And you shouldn't, it's not your business."

"Mom," Percy said again, his voice drained. He picked up a sheet of paper, covered in dollar signs, numbers, and tiny, caps-lock lettering. A bill. "This is important. We're falling behind on paying dues, and you won't tell me? I have to find out myself?"

His mother looked at him sadly. "The winter has been rough. Without the extra heating, we'd both have been sick. And indulging a bit on Thanksgiving isn't sinful. It's just that we… we need more money."

Percy opened his mouth to speak, but Ms. Jackson shushed him. "I've been contemplating taking up a second job with longer hours, I've been searching, Percy. I don't want you to go selling your clothes or your computer or our furniture. We will be all right; if food's on the table, Percy, I don't want you concerned."

Percy ran his fingers through his hair, exasperated. "Mom, I don't want you to be working your butt off twenty-four hours a day. I can barely stand not seeing you weekdays, but if you're gone weekends too, I'll never see your face at all!"

"Of course you'll see me, Percy," Ms. Jackson assured, taking the bills from him. But her gaze didn't meet his. "I'll spare all my free time to you. But I don't want you going hungry. You know you're my number one priority." She reached out to pat his cheek, but Percy pulled away.

"But what about me, Mom? I'm thirteen now, and I think I can juggle a couple of odd jobs to help us get by. I've seen our apartment payments, Mom," his face seemed strained as he continued, "I don't want us to get kicked out of our own house. There's grimy Dean down the street, he told me I still have a chance to be dog-walker. If I take a rabies shot and bring some band-aids when I'm stuck with a Rottweiler, I think I'll live to take a meager check."

My lips curved into a sad smile as he said this, but Ms. Jackson's face turned white.

"Percy, it's too risky. You said so yourself. You could get lost if those damned dogs drag you to the corner of Manhattan. Or you could get bitten," his mom said, half-stern, half-worried sick.

"I'll be fine," Percy replied, and his voice had edge of anger to it. "I walk around NYC every day. And there's also the near-minimum-wage-but-not-quite job at the convenience store on Sixty-third Street. Only a kid like me will take it anyway. It's only a block away, and I'll just sweep the floors and do inventory. Mom, why not?"

"There could be a burglary," Ms. Jackson said stiffly, and Percy gave her a hard look.

"Mom, I want to help. And I'm not a little kid anymore."

I studied Percy as he said that, taking in his appearance. He was around five foot four; not even approaching his mother's height, and while his arms had traces of muscle, he was still kind of scrawny. His black hair was in his eyes, and those glassy green orbs look much older than he is. It's similar to how my own worn gray eyes look near forty years old, as opposed to my actual twelve.

Ms. Jackson then sighed, staring at Percy with an indefinable expression.

"You're still a child, Percy. And you know I only want what is best for you."

Percy, defiant, stood up straighter. "No, Mom. I love you and everything but this time I'm not going to listen. I can help."

"Percy – "

I'd had enough. I emerged from my hiding place and greeted them with a very pained look on my face.

"Percy. Ms. Jackson. I'm not staying here if you have so many problems already. I'm not going eat your food and waste your money and be a burden. I know I've bothered you enough already."

After the initial shock of discovering I was eavesdropping, they both gave me apologetic looks.

"Annabeth, sweetie, it'll all be all right, you can stay – "

"No," I interrupted Ms. Jackson, taking a step back, my head pounding from whatever freaking emotion I was feeling. "I can't do this to you. I'm leaving."

Not wanting to see their faces, I whirled around and sprinted towards the guest room the next second, my bare toes snagging the carpet. I could hear Percy running after me, calling my name.

"Annabeth, wait!"