Neoblastic - of, like or pertaining to new growth

I'd love to say I came to and that the last twelve hours have just been some twisted nightmare caused by an ice cream binge, but luck hasn't exactly been raining down on me lately. No, this precarious situation is something I couldn't dream up in my dizziest daydreams. The ones I remember, anyways.

My father hasn't stopped lecturing me since we got in the car. My mom has tried to tell him about a half-dozen times to calm down, but once the Lieutenant has been set off, you're pretty much a dead man. You'd think I detonated a nuclear bomb and incinerated half of St. Albans, instead of being concussed and discharged within a few hours.

But, to my luck, I still have my iPod and successfully managed to sneak in an earbud through my hoodie a couple minutes back. So while he continues to rant (no end in sight, apparently), I've got No Doubt spinning me into a daze. Five or six years ago, back when I had my old purple boombox, I used to play the album on repeat.

The trees are barren now, dusted in snow, and the roads are slick. Every sight sets fire to my senses, setting the stage to an onslaught of memories I can't quite slow.

See, St. Albans is this quaint, middle America town a half hour out of Burlington. If there are two things I can count on, it's the Vermont Voltage Youth Soccer League and over-enthusiastic, over-patriotic local business owners determined to over-decorate their shops for even the most trivial holiday or occasion.

I guess you could say I'm home, but home doesn't feel like home anymore - It's like I've endured an entire lifetime, but I'm stuck on the same day. Isn't that the plot of Groundhog Day?

At some point, my father's admonitions cease, and he looks to me sharply. "Honey, are you okay?" mom asks, turning back to me from the passenger seat.

I gingerly touch the bandage plastered across my forehead. This... this isn't exactly my first rodeo. In fact, this may be my fourth or fifth concussion in the last couple years. Doctors have made it clear that I can't really afford any more, but what can I say?

Clove Holloway lives on the ~edge~

No, but really, I don't know how they expect me to make it through the rest of my life like that. You'd have to lock me up and throw away the key. Actually, wait,that sounds like a great idea. Can we do that? Please?

"Damn it, I have to go back to the base," dad spits, looking at a scrap of paper.

Mom waves him off, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "Clove can manage."

He nods, rubbing her shoulder, "I'll be home late, Elma."

"Nothing I'm not used to," she replies with a teasing smirk and hands me the scrap of paper. "One of your friends was nice enough to collect your homework. He said he'd be home after four. Why don't you take Dicey and go collect before the sun goes down?"

"Which friend?" I asked quickly.

I don't have any friends - not here, not anymore. Pretending I do won't change that.

Mom bites her lip, probably embarrassed that she can't remember. As we walk into the house, she pauses, and looks me in the eye, "What was the name of your squad leader in Voltage little league?"

Son of a -

I drop my notebook on the couch, and shuffle back into the frost. The air is clear, the world a sight to behold. This part I don't mind so much. You can lose yourself in the heart of St. Alban.

After six or seven minutes of pacing, I'm surprised I'm not entirely frostbitten. And then the morbid regret insulates my veins.

I never said goodbye, never called, never sent so much as a postcard. I was roused from sleep one night three years ago and told to get into the car. Mom and dad had been planning it a while - to escape into the night and never return. And look where that got us.

Nelly's missing, and I can guarantee you she didn't just up and run all the way to Arizona.

I'll take with me every single luxury when I leave. You can count on me for that and nothing more.

Fucking Taking Back Sunday.

I double check the scrap of paper, and take a sharp breath. Here goes nothing.

I knock lightly, tempted to tell my teachers that my stay in the hospital was longer than anticipated, when the door opens. I'd peg him as a visitor if he wasn't dressed uncomfortably more casual than appropriate when visiting friends.

"Clove Holloway?" the 24-year-old asks, blatantly surprised.

Please don't turn red, please don't, please don't, please don't-

Finnick looks at me expectantly. "Uh, hi-" I begin shakily, the flimsy paper in my hand wavering, "I though this was Felix-Felix Grey's" I add for as a safety measure. Finnick and Felix's older sister Annie were friends when we were kids, but who knows what's changed in three years, "house."

Amusement purses Finnick's lip and a surge of fury courses through my skin. That damn smirk must be an inheritable trait.

"You came to the right place. Come in," he beckons, running a hand through his bronze locks.

Before I have time to wonder why Felix is living with Finnick, I catch a glance of the sleeping raven-haired teen on the couch. His niece, Talia, is draped over his chest and has grown immensely, but I recognize her instantly. She has wild, long black hair and smooth olive skin.

Finnick gently prods at Felix's shoulder, softly murmuring, "Wake up, kiddo, you have a visitor."

He stirs slightly and groans, realizing the weight of the little girl against him, and groaning. "Tali, you were supposed to wake me up."

Finnick swoops the five-year-old into his arms and leans her against his shoulder. "Did you have a good day at school?" he whispers.

Talia rubs the sleep from her eyes, "Daddy!" she screeches happily.

Daddy! Since when?

That's when I see the golden ring wrapped around Finnick's finger, and a sloppy, bemused look on Felix's face.

Oh. "Daddy"

Felix scruffs Talia's hair and steps off the couch. He leads me away, grabbing a couple books. "So, besides Geometry, Art, and AP Lit, you've also got Chem, US History, and Psychology. Actually, that one was easy - we're in the same class."

Man, I must be really lonely if that thought actually comforts me.

"What happened?" I ask, "I don't really remember anything, Felix."

He rubs his arm awkwardly, "I made them leave." Felix then adds quickly, "Not because I condone what they did, but because I can't let Cato get into any trouble this semester. My only real opportunity to pay for college depends on our team making state, and I really, really need this, Clove."

I hate that I pity him, that I'd go along with his line of thought just for a string of pretty words.

"Nero says you never knew, that you didn't know you were leaving us until it was too late."

That doesn't change anything.

Felix shakes his head, "It changes everything, H."

I look up. Apparently I spoke that last line aloud. God knows how many others, too. "I started about a hundred letters, but every time I got to the part where I'd explain, I'd just... I couldn't explain. I can't fix this, so why bother trying?"

"Tell you what, I am going to take you under my wing, and in a few weeks, you and the guys will be good as new."

"Felix," I argue.

He leans back, smirking slightly, "Not exactly in the position to be turning down friends, Clove."

That slimy son of a-

Felix's smirk falls from his face, eying the bandage with concern, "Does it hurt? Looks pretty nasty, you know."

"Thanks for noticing. Bye, Fixy," I groan, shuffling all the textbooks into my arms.

"I won't give up," he prods.

I'm tired, so tired of fighting. I've known this day was coming for months and there is no use in avoiding the inevitable. I'm Clove Holloway, and once upon a time, I had a sister, friends, something to fight for. But now, now, I'm a stranded traveler, and sometimes I can't make it alone.

Stuck somewhere between defiance and desperation, I reply, "Okay."

"Good," he replies, grinning. Then, brushing a layer of snow off my jacket, and before I have a chance to refuse, Felix adds, "Let me walk you home."

Most of the snow has turned to slush. Today is considerably warmer, but a cloud of fog still lines the skies. Nero and I are poured over my geometry book - he's making his second attempting to teach me the difference between a square and a rhombus.

I'd take Algebra forever if I had the chance.

"Oi, Elroy!" Felix jeers sharply across the quad. I look up to find that Cato's eyes are strained with impatience. His green and white varsity jacket - apparently a favorite of his as Felix is comfortably bundled up in a black Aero hoodie - is fastened up to the last button. He must be really cold.

Cato trails over hesitantly. He rubs at his eyes subconsciously, looking overwhelmed and under-slept, "What do you want, Felix?"

Felix roots through his backpack and then throws a couple boxes of Sudafed at the blonde, "Finny wanted you to have these. Didn't realize you have a cold. No wonder you look like shit."

To his credit, Cato doesn't react as strongly as he would have a few years ago. That's when it really dawns on me that they're all practically strangers to me now. I don't know if Cato still likes M&Ms, or if Rush Hour is still his favorite movie. Does he still love Blink-182, or is he more of a Kanye West sort of guy?

Cato stands ominously for a minute, staring at the red boxes, before hurtling them into the wall with a snarl. "Tell Finnick he can go fuck himself," he seethes.

Felix quirks up an eyebrow, and makes a face, turning away, "He's your brother, man."

Cato's blue eyes narrow, "Yeah, and you sure as hell don't mind be being a leech and adding another mouth to feed to his fucking brood. So just mind your own business."

Nero's still buried in my textbook, growing frustrated as he flips through the glossary, "Hey, Cato, what the hell is the difference between a rhombus and a square?"

"Squares have four right angles," the blonde replies offhandedly, still shooting daggers at Felix. "All squares are rhombuses, but not all rhombuses are squares."

Nero thrusts the textbook back to me victoriously, "Knew it was a trick question. Thanks, C."

"Practice is at three. Don't be late," Felix warns Cato as he picks up his stuff. He rolls his eyes as Cato bolts angrily in the other direction.

"You normally do something when this happens?" I ask Nero.

Testosterone has done neither of them favors.

He runs a hand through his chestnut hair, "Ever since Finnick and Annie got married, there's been mile-high resentment between the both of em. It's not even really Fix's fault. Annie and Felix have always been a packaged deal, she's made that clear from day one, but Cato is possessive of Finnick. It's hard to see your brother become someone else's brother, especially if that person is the person you've had grudge against since little league."

The thought of our former bedraggled little league coach doing anything to keep her and her kid brother safe inspires admiration, makes me miss my sister just that much more, but I don't envy Annie and Felix, not for a second, not at all.

The bell begins to ring in the distance. Nero picks up his things, "Uh, hey, Clove? You might want to stop by class 100 over lunch."

And he's gone before I can ask why.

So apparently class 100 is not in the 100 building. Thanks for your help, Nero. Half my lunch period is already over and I've only now managed to find this place - which, to be honest, I'm not really sure what it's supposed to be.

I slip into the empty room, where the desks have been arranged into a circle, and take a seat. As I stare into the center between the collective of desks, I begin to wonder if maybe they host toastmasters in this room. Maybe it's the Catholic Student Union's confessional circle. Hell, maybe it's an extra theater lecture hall.

Nelly was always the best actress. She'd pull off these precocious little tantrums and have any idiot eating out of the palm of her hand. Brat.

I guess it doesn't...

"Kid, you shouldn't be sleeping, especially by the looks of that bandage."

"That's a myth..." I yawn, my eyes blinking open slowly.

"Myth or not, lunch is almost over."

I wipe at my eyes trying to remember why I'm here, and then run a hand through my hair. What the hell was the point of this wild goose chase again, Ne-

My eyes catch a familiar pair of green as I stand up and my throat tightens immediately. Oh god, oh, oh, "Gloss?" I rasp.

"Lo, you're all grown up," he breathes, a smile breaking onto his face. I latch myself onto the golden-blonde immediately.

He squeezes me back a little too tightly, and I must have missed it a time or two, because I don't know what he's doing here at Bellows Free Academy. So, I don't ask questions, I just bury myself against his chest, because if there is one person in the world I can always count, it's Gloss.

Gloss tips up my chin, "Hey, hey, since when does Clove Holloway cry?" he murmurs.

I shake my head, embarrassed, "I saw Nelly's garden."

"Beautiful, isn't it?"

It is.

And then I realize that Gloss must have comes to terms with this a long time ago. He's older now, 26, and I'm sure he knows, knows that most missing children that aren't found within 72 hours are usually dead, but I refuse for Nelly to be just another statistic. She's out there somewhere, and I will find her.

The bell rings, breaking our embrace, and Gloss ruffles my hair, before planting a kiss to my forehead.

"You better get to class."

"Okay," I croak, averting my eyes.

"I couldn't take care of you before, Clove, but it's different now, alright?" he promises.

And I believe him. I believe him every time.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a sucker for US History. Something about a group of settlers enduring a long voyage only to find freedom settles well with me. Gives me hope that this voyage to St. Albans isn't in vain, that I'll find something, even if it's-

I'm pretty sure I heard in an old film that history is written by the winners, and I figure that must be true, because my textbook weighs more than most three-year-old kids.

Luckily (unluckily?) for me, I've got a top locker, which means I don't have to stoop to my knees to open it. However, it also means I have stand on my tiptoes like some sixth grader who got lost looking for the junior high.

I turn to the left, looking for my psychology lecture hall, when I bump into one of the teachers. "Are you Clove?"

"Um, yeah, are you Mister Crane?"

"Indeed, but unfortunately, Miss Holloway, you've been requested in the principle's office." He hands me the dreadful pink slip, instantly sentencing me to premature death.

"Great..." I mutter.

I'm never going to make it through a full day of school am I?

Luckily (yeah, luckily, ha), I know exactly where the principal's office is. As I muddle down the stairs and out into daylight, I'm at least able to appreciate the sun's reappearance in my day-to-day life.

I knock on the door and am beckoned in.

"Miss Holloway, close the door behind you."

I shakily oblige, and sit down. The aura in this room is like ice in my veins, and I've always been more partial to the sun. "As I've told Officer Ironus, there are reports from a concerned classmate of yours that you and Officer Ironus were in a rather compromising position in one of the classrooms earlier this afternoon."


He continues, without even a taking a breath, "As a school official, it is our duty to protect our students, and I'm sure you can imagine why we address these circumstances as soon as they come to our attention. We certainly wouldn't want one of our officers to be taking advantage of our students, especially in a sexually exploitative manner."


I see Gloss in the window talking to one of the other school administrators. A hard look flashes across his face.

A flash of confusion must flicker across my face, because the principal looks at me, "Don't be afraid, Miss Holloway, he can't hurt you anymore."

What. the. fuck.

AN - As you can see, I'm still setting up the foundation for this story. Cato will make a stronger appearance in the next chapter, promise. There will be more canon characters, don't worry, but they'll show up in a variety of different roles.

Please review. I've only just picked up the story again and writing isn't fun without feedback.