Chapter 9: "To the beat of their own puppeteer"

Her head spun and she couldn't find a reason for it. Then she remembered. She waited up for him unsure of whether he would keep his promise to Evan or break it again upon discovering Elle was missing. Lyla wanted to talk to him, but Louis took her in his arms and she was rendered speechless. After the first kiss, came another and another and before she knew it she was exactly where she wanted to be. Now she remembered. The pressing desire she had for him caused her to forget everything, even who she was. For the first time, in a long time, Lyla was just Lyla and incandescently happy.

Louis came into the room, wearing his black long sleeve shirt and a satisfied grin. He locked the door behind him and dragged a chair. He wasn't going anywhere. Louis wanted to be there as he was, sitting before her, bare feet on the bed, simply watching her. All she wanted him to do was stare at her. Then Lyla actually felt herself feel anxious, worried, angry, frustrated and she realized for the first time, she was allowing these feelings to transform her into a monster. The stress over Evan and even Elle started to change her mood. If this was the case then Louis had but enough reasons to have left, and Evan was as much culprit of her transformation as was Elle.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked in a low voice.

"Evan," she said sitting up and covering herself with the sheets, "And Elle… she's…"

"With Marshall, Evan's at school and you—well, I called you in sick," again his smile discovered his satisfaction.

"You planned this?" she asked feeling less tense.

"No. I just went with it." Louis crossed his legs on the bed, "Besides, it seems to me like you really needed to unwind. Do you know what time it is? Evan will be home in less than two hours!"

Lyla scoffed, "I slept how much?"

"I believe that last night's activities had a lot to do with it, but you were very tired. Even I couldn't have slept for so long!" he chuckled.

"Are we ok?" she said with a smile, "I didn't mean to…"

"Hey, I get it and I'm sorry. I can understand how Elle's presence can be overwhelming, but she stops being so scary once you see her as a kid. She is a kid…"

"It's just so easy to forget with her," Lyla said, "At least we know Evan needs us…"

"Does he?" Louis said, "I'm beginning to thing Evan needs us less, because he's ours. Somehow, he is extraordinary. He didn't have anything to forgive…"

"He always knew we wanted him…" Lyla finished his sentence. She looked at him and began to feel herself return.

"Care to share your thoughts?" Louis chuckled and Lyla realized he'd been watching her think.

"I screwed up, didn't I?" she asked taking a hand to her face, "I just… I want to protect him and take care of him and I don't want to lose you and I'm doing the best I can, but Elle's just so difficult!"

"No wonder you're tired!" he scoffed, "Don't you think you're overthinking? I mean, aren't we lucky that we started this parenting thing when the kids can actually tell you what they want?"

"And why's that?" Lyla smiled amused at his musings.

"Well a baby just cries and babbles… Evan sulks. Elle acts out. But when you talk to either one of them, and I mean really talk, they tell you exactly how they feel and what you can do to help them, even if it's not direct. That's how I began to know Evan a little better when he came to California with me last year. He wanted to show you what he'd see, I got him a camera. When he drooled in front of that guitar, I got him it…"

"That's buying his affection Louis…"

"Then I'd say we have the whole raising teenagers down, don't you think?" They laughed. "Lyla, I think you're so scared of screwing up you rather have a 'by-the-book answer' and there isn't any" Louis sat in bed next to her this time.

"Thank you for making me feel stupid," Lyla teased, "No really, thanks… I guess I'll just have to be more…"

"More of the Lyla Novacek I love so much?" he kissed her and she somehow didn't expect him to. "Stop overthinking…"

"Ok. But you're going to have to help me with that…" she said wrapping her hands around his neck and kissing him like she didn't even remember having done so before.

~0~

"What are you doing?" Marshall asked Elle whom he found snooping around his apartment. He didn't like babysitting his real nephew and now he had to put up with more of Louis's problems.

"Are you and Ms. Snow…?" Elle asked with a cynical smile.

"Dylan? No. She stayed here last night because of you…" he said, "I wouldn't want people or Louis to think I was doing anything… indecent…"

"Like you're doing to her?" Elle smiled, "C'mon. I saw her stuff. Plus, we took that test sitting right at the table two weeks ago. Nice to see I got an A…"

"I can finally agree with Lyla on something: I don't like you…" Marshall said opening a beer.

"Well, Marshall, I like you…" she said opening one of his drawers, "The Rolling Stones? Queen? Aerosmith? Nirvana? The Beatles! You rock!"

"You know them? Are you not a Belieber?" he teased before taking a sip.

Elle chuckled, "Are you?" Marshall laughed and watched the girl look through his albums before picking something to listen to on an old stereo. "So you know what a Belieber is, but you still keep compact disks, tapes and vinyl?"

Michael Jackson's "Bad" started to play. Marshall groaned as it was his dirty little secret to like MJ at all. Elle took advantage of his reaction to sing aloud and dance to it. At first, it was all very quirky and more fun than Marshall would have expected to have with a teenage girl who posed as his niece, but later he realized the girl could sing.

"You've got some pipes on ya…" he said once the song was over, "Where'd you learn to sing like that?"

"I was born pitch perfect…" she said taking a bow.

"Put your money where your mouth is?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well almost anyone can sing well with a radio and music and auto-tune… I want to know what you sound like live." He opened the door that led downstairs to the bar.

"What now?" Elle asked surprised.

"Yes. If you suck, Louis will have to find someone else to babysit you. If you don't then I'll do it for free…"

"So, you're secretly hoping I suck?" she asked, pretty much amused at her pretend uncle.

"Your words, not mine…"

~0~

The bell would ring soon. It was either now or never. Ms. Lane rationalized why it was so hard for her to apologize to her younger sister. Sure, she was usually wrong and this time her insults had actually hurt, but besides Dylan, Lane didn't have anyone else. She didn't want to see Hope right now, though maybe she had to apologize to the girl too. "One step at a time…" she thought to herself and walked down the hall to her sister's classroom. Her steps resonated as she remembered her teenage self, walking down the hallways. Lockers side by side, people staring as her long blonde hair bounced off her shoulders. As much as she'd hated to admit it now, Andrea Lane was the original mean girl. It was probably hard to believe it now (and for her it really was) but she was also voted most beautiful, best smile, best eyes and prom queen all through-out high school and with barely any friends. Her popularity was unfairly given as she only had one friend in the world and that was Janine, Mr. Jeffrie's wife. Richard probably never knew this, but his wife was the only stability while she was growing up. Ms. Lane missed her just as much as he, or maybe even more. Hope reminded her of Janine, but she wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

"What are you doing here?" Dylan waited for her by her classroom door.

"How'd you know I was here?" Andrea asked.

"Are you kidding me?" she smiled, "Those are the same intimidating, scary steps from high school!"

Ms. Lane looked at Dylan and smiled. She'd blossom after graduation and even today Ms. Lane had trouble picturing the grown-up version of her sister, and not the four eyes, braided art geek, who struggled to get B's. "Can we talk?"

"Come on in…"

Once inside the classroom Ms. Lane closed the door behind them. Dylan sat on her desk and bit on a golden apple.

"An apple? That's unusual?"

"You came here to talk about my diet?" Ms. Snow asked.

"You know why I'm here Dyl…" Ms. Lane said.

"I can think of three reasons," she smiled wickedly taking her sunglasses off her head, "One: your visit is Hope related, but that's highly unlikely. I presume it would have something to do with Elle, but you know she's suspended and is alright with the Connelly. Finally, you could be here to apologize, but that's even more farfetched than coming to talk about Hope!"

"I guess I deserved that…"

"You're an arrogant jerk, Andrea… but I forgive you." Ms. Snow said offering half of her apple.

Ms. Lane took the apple, "Thank you. And I guess, I forgive you too." The sisters remained silence for a while. Andrea was really no good at this, and Dylan was amused to see her try. "Am I really turning into mother?"

Dylan was taken aback by her sister's reaction. Andrea sobbed. Quickly, Dylan stood up next to her sister and put her hand around her shoulders, "Andy, no. I'm sorry. I've always been a little jealous of your massive brain, but you're not mom. You're better than her. In fact, you could be even better than that if you just let people in."

"It's not very easy for me…" she said.

"I know," said Dylan, "And it's about to get harder…"

"What do you mean?" Ms. Lane became worried.

"Well, thanks to Evan and Elle's little quarrel Mrs. Burns quit and I've been offered her position as art teacher. I start next semester when Mrs. Stevens returns from her leave."

"But that's not bad news!"

"There's more: I'm not going to live with you anymore…"

"How come?"

"I've found a little apartment and I'm moving there. Besides, sleeping on that couch is messing with my body and brain. I need my own bed…"

"We'll get a bigger apartment!"

"And then you'll want a smaller one after Hope is gone. You weren't planning on staying here forever, were you? No, Andrea. It's better this way. Besides there are some pretty decent places not too far from here. Don't forget, I'll also be in charge of the choir club I started with Hope. We'll probably have a better relationship, too! Definitely healthier!"

"If you say so," Andrea said just before hugging her baby sister.

"I'll be ok, Andy. It's not like we're not going to see each other anymore…" Dylan said.

"I should hope not…"

Ms. Lane's mobile phone started to ring and son after it the school bell. Dylan watched as her sister composed herself and promised to 'be there soon'.

"Take Hope with you, please? I got something to do…"

"Oh, no, Ms. Lane! You take Hope. You're her guardian for God's sakes!" Ms. Snow wailed, "Besides I have an interview with the school Council about my new job. I'm so nervous I could hurl!"

"Fine!" Ms. Lane said, "But I'll have to save this piece of Apple, cause I've no time to stop to eat!"

Ms. Snow chuckled as she watched her sister hurry out, "Good luck with starving your kid, Andy…"

~0~

Evan was thrilled to find both of his parents waiting for him outside the school! It made detention worth it. If only Arthur could see him now! Elle was not with them, so he guessed she'd been removed. He'd have to wait until tomorrow to tell Arthur the news. Finally, everything was going back to the way it should be.

"So?" Louis asked him with a big smile, "Where would you like to eat?"

"Anywhere!" he said excitedly.

"Good, but let's hurry up before Headmaster Braverman gives me detention for playing hookie!" Lyla said, "What did you do last period?"

"Nothing," Evan said as they got in the car, "Independent study. We were allowed to be in the library. Class has been exceptionally quiet without Elle."

"Elle!" Louis ignited the car, "I can't believe I forgot about her! She's been with Marshall all day…"

"If that doesn't make matters worse, I don't know…" Lyla scoffed.

"Is she coming with us?" Evan asked.

Lyla and Louis looked at one another. They hadn't talked about the relationship between Evan and Elle. They'd only discussed their own. Louis shrugged his shoulders letting her choose, for once, whether the girl should accompany them or not. Lyla sighed, "I guess it's only fair. Maybe a whole day with Marshall has been punishment enough…"

Louis chuckled and Evan sulked. He was disappointed. There was no reason for Elle to butt in his celebration of his parents' reconciliation, but apparently he didn't have a choice. All throughout the car ride to his Uncle Marshall's place Evan was convinced his father was a traitor and maybe turning his mother into one too! Why should Elle get all the attention when it was her fault they were always arguing? Evan couldn't understand it, and a different sort of tune was swirling in his head. No strings mostly percussions would make up this new composition! Maybe an organ, like the one in Reverend James's church, no vocals and maybe a clarinet or two to…

"Evan?"

His father's voice woke him from his thoughts. They made it to The Escape, which was surely opening shortly. He followed them. A strange kind of melody came from inside. Evan wasn't very sure he liked it, but he listened out for it anyways. Rock. He'd heard it once or twice always blowing in Uncle Marshall's speakers. His father's band played a little of it, but it been so long since he heard them play, Evan couldn't be held accountable for not remembering! Uncle Marshall played guitar and some other guy played the drums for the tune Elle was singing. They were being encouraged by a woman Evan had never seen before. When the song was finally over, Marshall turned his guitar and hugged Elle.

"Did you know you had a certified gold kinda talent here?" Marshall shouted out to Louis, "She's amazing!"

"I thought so…" Louis said, "But I actually thought I'd have to rescue her!"

"What?" Marshall said getting down, "No way man. She can stay here…"

"Really?" Lyla asked annoyed at Marshall; Yet another Connelly completely in love with Elle.

Elle squealed happily, "I can stay here with him and Ms. Snow until Ms. Lane finds a better place for me, I guess. It'll make some of the people in this room very happy…"

"Ms. Snow? Dylan doesn't live here! How many times do I have to tell you…" Marshall said almost spitting out his beer.

"Whatever," Elle rolled her eyes, "So can I, mommy dearest?"

Again, Lyla composed herself. She'd have to really make an effort in order to see Elle as the vulnerable child everyone saw… or was she the only person seeing clearer? "Elle, you have to stay with us. But since I'm working and Louis is too, you can stay here while we work, if it's alright with Marshall".

Uncle Marshall never babysat him! Evan noticed.

"I work from home, so it's not really a problem…" Louis said.

He was never allowed to stay home with his dad either, Evan remembered.

"Look, I'm looking out for my welfare here!" Elle said in her usual know-it-all tone, "I'll be out of your hair soon and if I start working with the band now, I can work here as a singer when I turn 18…that's only four years and a couple of months away. Right Marshall?"

"In a heartbeat!" He replied.

"What about college?" Louis asked remembering the conversation Elle had with Ms. Snow.

"Well, she can do as I do: work nightshifts and during the weekends." Said the woman.

"That's Brenda. She's a bartender here…" Louis introduced her to Lyla and Evan.

"I go to NYU…" she smiled, "I'd bet they'd be glad to have you there too, Elle."

"We'll see. I have a placement problem at the moment…"

"Do you guys want pizza?" asked the drummer, "We've got more than plenty."

"Yeah, go ahead…" Marshall insisted, "This one's eaten five slices already…"

"I've not!" Elle wailed.

Marshall never teased him either, Evan thought. And though he really wanted to go somewhere else, his parents ate some pizza so he had no choice but to follow their lead. Two slices and a cup of coke into their dinner and Lyla remembered she had to go to Juilliard and inform the Dean that Evan wouldn't attend this week because of detention. This time Evan didn't mind Elle coming along. If the Dean needed a good reason for his absence, he would give her it in person!

~0~

"Ye—why hello there Hope! How are you, today?" Mr. Jeffries opened his door and was surprised to find Andrea and Hope behind it.

"I'm good, thanks for asking. How are you?" Hope smiled.

"I'm good too, thanks…" he looked at Ms. Lane for an explanation.

"May we come in?" she said and Richard knew that tone very well. There was trouble.

"Sure," Richard held the door and helped them out of their coats. "Is that take out, Hope?"

"Yeah," she smiled, "Ms. Lane bought it for me?"

"Do I smell McDonald's?" Arthur showed up and Hope laughed at his mismatched socks.

"There's something in there for you too…" Ms. Lane said hanging her scarf with her coat.

"He just ate…" Mr. Jeffries said.

"So?" Ms. Lane asked, "He's a teenage boy, Richard! It would be surprising if he wasn't hungry. Besides, I couldn't just show up here, Hope with her bag, and have Arthur stare at her eating."

"I fail to see how that's good logic…" Mr. Jeffries mumbled.

"Could I get scolded later?" she asked Jeffries before turning back to the kids, "Why don't you two lovelies go into the living room and eat there? There has to be something good on!"

"We don't want to hear what you have to say anyways…" Arthur said eating a fry and leading Hope to the living room.

"What's up Andrea? You come to my house, feed my kid and give out orders. Something has to be up!" Mr. Jeffries asked following her into the kitchen.

"I am frantic!" she wailed, "Dylan bailed on me in the most inconvenient moment!"

"Dylan bailed? Wait a minute—am I supposed to be surprised?"

"Not her usual bail. She got a job as an art teacher at the kids' school. She's moving out and can't take care of Hope and I desperately need to work! I can't take care of her!"

"You do realize you're telling this to your case worker?" Richard found her hysteria amusing.

Ms. Lane sat down at his table and sulked. "I no longer have a case. Elle will return to Over the Rainbow within a month…"

"What?" Mr. Jeffries sat next to him, "She may have legal guardians, but what about all the dark wholes and puddles in her case?"

"They're overlooked!" Ms. Lane looked straight at him, "Richard, we're being puppeteer-ed. Someone is pupeteering us! Whoever is behind this case is either very important or very wealthy or has a dirty little secret on someone important, wealthy or both. I bet this has Margene Boyer written all over!"

"Ms. Boyer?" he asked, "How? Why?"

"Why? I don't know. How? I don't know either, but did you know her mother is Over the Rainbow's owner? Legal owner?"

"No. But how is that relevant?"

"Do you know who her mother is?" Ms. Lane asked him and he shrugged, "It's Mrs. Goldman."

At first Mr. Jeffries seemed to be having trouble remembering just who Mrs. Goldman was. Then he remembered and by his reaction, Ms. Lane could tell he was just as surprised as she was when she found out.

"How is that possible? She barely knows what she's doing?"

"Exactly! Do you understand now? There is something fishy about all this and I don't know how related it is to Elle, but I just have to find out!" Ms. Lane said, "I can't do anything with Hope around though. She's like a shadow… talking incessantly about idiotic things. She's a girly-girl and she's driving me nuts and we've only been together for four hours… four long, straight, hours Richard…"

Mr. Jeffries smiled. It was refreshing to see her struggle with something so mundane. Although he tried to help it, he had to laugh. He knew how much it annoyed her, but it was beyond his control. He laughed like he had long forgotten to do so.

"Why are you laughing?!" she demanded to know.

"I thought I'd never see the day! Oh, how the mighty have fallen!" he teased.

"You too?" she asked remembering her sister's remarks.

"Seriously now," he said with a smile, "I can't believe you're struggling with motherhood… or as guardian to Hope. How much trouble can she really be? She's a sweet, well-mannered girl… I bet you're being dramatic…"

"Maybe. One thing's for sure, I'm not as maternal as I thought I was, so let's just drop it," she said looking away, "I do need one more favor from you though…"

"I can't baby sit her either, Andy. If it wasn't for all the extracurricular activities, I would have to find someone to babysit Arthur. We got a couple of hard cases and I know, I'm going to be asked to take on some of them…"

"It's not that! Let me talk, will ya?" she said, though she was going to ask him to take care of Hope, "Your idiot boss is in on it and asked me if we could talk. I've avoided him today, but I can avoid him no longer. My contract with Child Services is up. No Elle, no contract which means no access to some of the information I'm going to need…"

"Oh, no, Andrea…" Mr. Jeffries interrupted, "I know where you're going with this and the answers is no!"

"But, Rich!"

"No buts Andy! If someone should know or catch me sharing confidential information with you, I'd be fired—heck! I could go to jail. So, no. Sorry, but I pass…"

"Ugh!" Ms. Lane stood up frustrated.

"I'm sorry…" he repeated.

"Ok, what if—"

"Andrea…"

"Just, listen ok? What if I asked you to do it. I'd tell you what I need and you tell me if it's possible. If you find the information you memorize it and comment about it while we're having coffee. What's a chat between friends and colleagues?"

"I hope you feel the same way after I'm incarcerated…"

"So will you do it?" she asked sitting back down.

Richard looked at her. On occasions like today, where she was so close to him, he couldn't help but remember their kiss. He might have wanted to repeat the impulse, but he knew her too well to do so. Also, he couldn't do it with a picture of Mira and Janine staring at them.

"I might be interested, but you'd have to do something for me?"

"Anything!"

"Anything?"

"What? What is it?" Ms. Lane was worried.

"Since this is a high risk operative I'll need to sacrifice a few extra hours after work—you know, to make sure everyone is gone?"

"It's called overtime and you'll get paid for it…"

"Probably, but you and I both know it won't be overtime! Is your blood so cold? Could you sleep at night knowing that I'm in jail and Arthur is back on the streets?"

"There are meds for that, but go on."

"You'll have to mom…"

"To what?" she asked.

"Did you think Arthur's extracurricular activities involved boarding and feedings?" he smiled at her.

"You can't blame me, I mean, the kid's always hungry!"

"Don't derail…" he continued, "You pick him up from school and stay with him here while I get back and report to you. You'll have to make sure they do homework and study for tests and… don't just feed them fast foods please."

"You want a scullery maid? In this day and age? And me?!" Ms. Lane scoffed, "You forget that I led the activist movement against gender discrimination and traditional gender roles when I was president of my sorority!"

"I didn't forget cause I was in that march, with you and Janine. Besides, gender equality simply stated that women are more than capable of taking on traditionally male roles as well as their own. Or was I unaware you were trying to veto motherhood from the list? If so, you have a bigger problem than I thought."

"It can only be a bore to be a housewife. How I detest that word!"

"Well we're not married, so out of sight out of mind. Do we have a deal?" Mr. Jeffries offered his hand, but Ms. Lane didn't shake it. "Come on Andrea, you know you want to. Your curiosity and obsession to tie lose ends is stronger than your dislike of the term housewife. And I already explained it to you, you're not…"

"Alright fine! I'll shake on it," she said taking his hand, "But why do you keep talking in plural?"

"Hope?"

"Right. Let's pretend I didn't forget…"

"You wouldn't be the Andrea Lane I know if you didn't accept a challenge…" Mr. Jeffries smiled, happy to be spending more time with her.

~0~

While Lyla talked to the Dean, Louis asked Evan to show him around campus. It was big, but luckily what Evan wanted to show him wasn't very far. Louis felt guilty throughout the tour. He'd neglected his son even before Elle's arrival. Evan's enthusiasm as he showed him everything and even introduced him to a couple of teachers and classmates made it clear that his son really was extraordinary. Louis made a mental note to accompany him more often as it was obvious how happy his being there made him. By the time they returned, Lyla and the Dean came from the office. Pleasantries had to be paid, since Louis hadn't seen her since the concert at the Great Lawn two years ago. She had nothing but praises for Evan and he was both beaming and embarrassed at such encouraging words. He was truly a unique student in the whole campus.

"Where's Elle?" Lyla asked as the Dean shook Louis's hand to leave.

"She was right here…" Louis said trying to sound casual about the missing child.

"Is everything alright?" The Dean asked concerned.

"We brought a visitor with us who seems to be missing now…" Lyla said looking angrily at Louis.

"Oh, my!" she said, "Should I assume we're talking about a child?"

"A girl…" Evan said.

"I'll call security and see if she's still in the premises…"

Louis took out his mobile phone, "Marshall, is Elle up there with you?"

"Just how much time did you leave her?" Lyla asked Louis furiously.

"We were only gone a bit…" Evan answered softly.

"Nah, man. But you have to come here NOW. Louie, we have an emergency…"

"I can't right now Marshall, Elle's gone missing…" Louis said.

"Sort it and then come here! You have to come here ASAP!"

"I'll see what I can…"

Suddenly Elle appeared running through the pristine hallways of Juilliard, straight towards them. She had no plans of stopping, but Louis stopped her either way.

"YOU!" A woman dressed in a tunic, with dark long hair walked their way followed by a hand full of people, Evan had never seen before. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

"Is something wrong?" the Dean asked as Elle was speechless.

"I didn't mean to…" Elle finally said just above a whisper.

Evan rolled his eyes, "That's why I got detention."

"Mrs. Palomino, what is going on?"

"I apologize for my conduct Dean, but my class was in session when she joined in," Ms. Palomino said in a softer tone, "She has extraordinary talent and I wanted to know if she was a student in our Pre-College Voice Program?"

"Oh?" the Dean smiled and looked at Elle, who was astounded (mouth open and all). "Is this young girl a vocalist Ms. Novacek?"

"I, um—I guess?" Lyla was unsure. She looked at Elle. Her blonde long curls looked dirty and untamed, as usual. She still wore yesterday's school uniform with chunky knee high boots that were prohibited by the Acadmy's dress code, and the uniform's tie held up her pony tail. Luckily she wasn't chewing gum today and her lip gloss was minimal. Lyla hated to admit that Elle looked as much a mess as she was.

"Guess?" a male student asked taking his hand to his hip as if indignant, "Well, aren't you her mother? She's got talent. She's a diamond in the rough and I'd be more than happy to share class with her. What youth program? With her talent? She's probably at our level already!"

The rest of the students seemed to agree. The Dean looked to and fro trying to figure out what to do. Then she turned to look at Elle, who had once again turned silent. "Would you be interested in auditioning for us then, miss?"

"No!" Evan finally shouted. His voice echoed in the long corridor and everyone stared at him surprised. The Dean looked at his parent's but Louis and Lyla didn't know what to say.

"Evan, this could be very good for…"

"No!" he yelled again, putting up a wall Louis hadn't seen before. "She's not taking anything more from me. Juilliard is mine! I'm your kid! Me! August! Evan! Not her!"

"So conceited of you, August, to think I want your life. I don't. I don't want to go here and I don't want to be you!" Elle yelled back.

"Oh yes you do!" Evan stood right in front of Elle and looked straight into her deep blue eyes. They were intimidating, but he didn't back down. "You want my parents!"

"Not a little bit as much as you want my valor!" She looked straight at him too and surely enough was intimidated by what she read in his eyes.

"Guys, please…" Lyla put a hand on each of the kid's shoulders. "I think maybe we should go, Dean."

"Oh…" the Dean said.

"We apologize…" she said walking away.

"Will you at least think about it? Discuss it as a family?" Mrs. Palomino asked, stopping them. Evan was annoyed.

"What family?" Elle said, "They're not my family…" An uncomfortable silence fell upon them.

"Here," Ethan, the student from before, walked over to Elle and talked to her while writing something on her hand, "This is my phone number. You call me if there's anything I can do for you. I am sure we'll be the best of friends. Besides, I'd love to take you under my wing!"

Louis and Lyla stared, but for the first time ever, Elle didn't seem to notice what was going on around her. Evan was extremely upset with them. Finally they were out of there! In fact he was tired of her. He didn't want her in his house, with his family, or even at school around his friends. He was done with the whole situation and made a note to tell Ms. Lane himself. Enough was enough. Besides his parent's had enough trouble in their hands with her for him to become one too.

"That's the third time he calls…" Lyla said and her voice woke both children from their thoughts, "Is something wrong?" she asked Louis.

"I don't know. He said I needed to go there now because there was some kind of emergency, but who knows what Marshall wants?" Louis explained.

Out the window the scenery changed from tall buildings, to trees and then back to a few buildings and houses. Finally they made it to The Escape. Evan wondered if they were early or if Marshall didn't plan to open today. Elle followed Louis and Lyla in and then came Evan; he didn't really want to be there. He wanted to go home.

"What's up Marshall?" Louis called when he came in.

"Louis?" asked a woman.

Lyla looked at him, but he didn't seem to know who she was either. Evan and Elle stood by the door watching.

"Louie!" Marshall called back, but he was serious. He came from upstairs with a cordless telephone. He smiled nervously when he passed by the woman and put his hand on his brother's shoulders as to whisper something in his ear.

"No, Marshall…" the woman said with a sob, "Let me tell him…"

"Tell me what?" Louis asked. Marshall looked furiously at the lady and then back at his brother, "This woman thinks she's…"

"I don't think anything, Marshall, I know I'm your mother," she then turned to look at Louis and with her voice breaking she said: "I am your mother…"