Chapter One

August 18, 2004
Perris, California

The residents of Warbonnett Drive paused in their activities one evening when a large white moving van passed them. Eyes widened with curiosity, following the route of the vehicle until it turned a corner.

"It's about time!" Joanna Gutierrez exclaimed, hopping up from where she sat on her front lawn and running to the curb. "I was wondering if anyone was ever going to move into that place!" She prepared to follow the truck when her friend, Meg Deluche, grabbed her arm and pulled her back.

"Don't. It's not fair…we'd be spying!" she hissed, and Joanna rolled her eyes.

"What's wrong with a little curiosity now and again?" she asked, shrugging Meg's hand away.

"With you, it's never just a little." Meg sighed, deciding it was probably better to follow Joanna than to argue with her…at least this time. The two girls passed the rows of working class houses, waving every now and again to neighbors who called. At last they reached the house with the Sold sign on the lawn and stood opposite it.

"There's the car," Meg whispered, pointing to the black Mercedes pulling into the driveway. Just as it came to a stop, a familiar blond head came whizzing towards the girls.

"Hey, Dawson, where's the fire?" Joanna called, and the bike screeched to a halt.

"What's up?" he asked, running his fingers through his hair, blowing out his breath. He set his leather portfolio on the handlebars for the moment and tried to stop his heart from racing so quickly. Meg pointed, and Jack followed her finger to the house next door to his own.

"Wow…someone's finally moving in! I thought no one would want to live there after it almost burned down two years ago."

Joanna grinned. "You should stay and introduce yourself," she suggested, but Jack shook his head.

"I would, but I can't…I have to do this scenic portrait for my art class tomorrow, which I haven't even started." Truth be told, he'd been feeling a bit lousy lately…achy and tired…so much of his schoolwork sat untouched. But they did not need to know that fact, in his opinion.

Meg clucked her tongue playfully. "Slacker," she teased, pretending to punch him on the arm. He stuck out his tongue, glancing up at the sky.

"Yeah, well…" He gave a shrug. "I'll catch you two later, I guess. Try not to pester my new neighbors too much, okay?"

"I'll tell her not to," Meg replied, whispering loudly on purpose so that Joanna would hear her.

"Smart ass!"

Jack laughed, saluting them. "Adios," he called, and sped off again.

Shortly after the black Mercedes pulled into the driveway, another car, a red Saturn, pulled down the street. A young girl, about seventeen years of age, sat in the driver's seat. Her long red hair was pulled into a high ponytail, and sunglasses covered her green eyes against the early evening glare. She checked her rearview mirror, having noticed a handsome boy her age riding past on a bicycle, and felt her heart leap with excitement.

For the past couple of weeks she'd dreaded the move from Menifee to Perris, but if there were more cute boys like him in this neighborhood, perhaps this wasn't such a bad idea after all. Though he did bring a tiny ray of light into the current situation, that did not make the reason for the move less serious.

Rose sighed softly, half-listening to the music coming from the station she'd chosen, and pulled in behind her mother's car. Just six months before, her father had died in a horrible car accident on the 91 freeway on his way to work in Irvine, and soon afterwards, Ruth DeWitt-Bukater had discovered the dreadful debt he'd left them in. The two had been forced to move from their large, luxurious home to something much smaller, which Ruth did not miss a chance to destroy verbally.

Rose knew she would miss the comforts of upper middle class living, though the society itself she cared little for. She sat very still for a moment or two, taking a deep breath and opening the door. Ruth stood chatting with the two moving company men, using her hands in an attempt to describe where she wanted them to put certain things.

"There you are," she gasped when Rose came towards her, carrying her small black purse over her shoulder.

Rose felt eyes on her back and glanced over her shoulder, noticing Meg and Joanna watching them. She smiled, glad to know there would be kids her own age to hang out with. "Traffic," Rose quickly replied, surveying the house with interest. It wasn't half bad, considering. "Uh…Mom?" she motioned with her head towards the girls across the street. "Can I invite them over to say hi?"

Ruth looked horrified. "And see our house in this state? I think not, Rose! Besides, do you think the moving van will unload itself? Two men can only do so much, you know!"

Rose sighed, shooting the two teenagers an apologetic look, and grabbed the first box she could lift. "I need to start working out again," she grunted, stumbling forward pathetically as she walked through the front door. The hallways were narrow, and unlike their home in Menifee, the house was only one story.

"In the bedroom," she could hear her mother tell one of the men, and followed it to the medium-sized living room. The ceilings in the house were not very high, and the living room had dark brown walls and a white ceiling.

"Oh, this will never do," Ruth muttered under her breath, and Rose had to agree, for once. It looked so dark and dismal, as though they were living in a morgue. She noticed Rose standing next to her and pointed to the box. "What's in there? Set it down."

Rose gratefully put the box on the carpet and opened the top. "Kitchen supplies…right there." She pointed to the counter dividing the living room from the tiny kitchen space.

The moving men went back outside to get more things, and Rose followed her mother's instructions. "We are going to have to completely redecorate this dump," Ruth exclaimed, throwing her arms into the air as Rose put several glasses into one of the wooden cabinets above the sink.

"It's not a dump, really," she injected. "It's kind of…cute." She was lying through her teeth, and she knew it. She was just getting incredibly sick of her mother's constant retorts.

Ruth made it a point not to answer, and the two went back outside. The girls who had been standing on the curb across the street were gone by the time they reached the car, and Rose felt a sense of disappointment. "Oh, you'll have plenty of time to make friends, Rose, especially once you start at Perris High School. Besides, I've told Cal where we moved to, and he'll be coming to visit every so often."

Rose felt her heart turn cold as ice. She felt the box slipping from her fingers, and seconds later, felt a horrible pain shoot through her foot. "Dammit!" she swore, causing Ruth to give her a very strange look.

"I thought you'd be pleased," she commented. "You look as though hell has won over."

It has, Rose seethed. Caledon Hockley was the captain of the Paloma High School football team, and had been formally introduced to Rose by her mother at a sports banquet the previous November. Rose had been a cheerleader, so that was how they had even had the opportunity to meet in the first place. After the first meeting, Cal had invited her out to dinner, much to her mother's delight.

Rose found the popular football captain to be nothing but an arrogant bastard, which her mother refused to believe. "Oh, I'm thrilled, Mother," Rose growled, leaping up and down once she removed the box from on top of her toes.

"In fact, he'll be here tomorrow afternoon after school, and will take you out to dinner to celebrate your first day at Perris High."

Oh, for the love of God, Rose thought bitterly, the bright spot quickly disappearing. No matter how many cute boys she did meet or see in Perris, her chances of attempting to date any of them were very slim.

It took about four hours or so to get everything from the trucks and cars into the house, and after Ruth paid the moving men, they left. "Well, how about some dinner?" Ruth suggested after a few moments of awkward silence. "Since I'm obviously not up for cooking tonight, let's go and try one of the restaurants in town. I heard that Amigos Tres has good food."

Rose nodded, feeling her stomach rumble with hunger. She hadn't eaten anything since lunch, and had barely touched what she did have…mostly due to nerves. "Sounds good."

"Good. You can drive." Ruth tossed Rose her keys and led the way out the door.