White, the color of freshly fallen snow, rich, crisp, and full of life, so white it almost looked fake, the only proof that it was real was at the roots, which never faded or altered, always staying consistently blizzardly white. His eyes were like the sea water off the coast of Greece if it ever froze, pure blue surrounded by a snowy field of soft skin, his nose delicate, bottom lip fuller than the top. He looked frail, as if a strong wind would break him and carry off the pieces.

The day they moved in next door, he was reading on a hammock in his backyard. A strip of lush green grass acted as a fence between the properties, leaving a clear view of the yards for each other to see. As the movers worked at unloading various vans full of furniture and boxes, a boy walked out and inspected the yard, curiously exploring like a little child. He didn't see him-few people did. His hide out was in the large oak tree near the property line, hidden amongst the leaves in a small tree house with a large wooden porch where his hammock hung, suspended between two forked branches. The rope ladder was pulled up and coiled on the platform, rendering him out of reach from the ground below. It always struck him as funny how people seldom looked up.

"Angel!" called a woman from the backdoor, wearing an orange dress.

"I'm out here!" responded the boy.

"Come inside, please, and help your father set up the living room."

The boy meandered back to the house, shaking his long, dark hair out of his eyes. His long strides took him through the door and out of sight, leaving him to ponder the new boy's handsome, bad boy look that contrasted his laid back manner.

"Boy!" came the contrasting yell of his father from the kitchen window. "Get inside now!"

He sighed, placed his book back into the waterproof box inside the tree house walls, threw the ladder over the edge, and clambered down. The wind whipped his shaggy hair, swinging it about like a flag. As soon as his bare feet hit the ground, he was running for the door as if he was being chased.

"Yes?" he asked politely, hovering near the island in the center of the marble clad kitchen.

"Don't speak to me!" shouted his father, advancing on him. "Where is my dinner?"

He stood still, inwardly sighing.

"Answer me!" he demanded, slamming his against the island.

"It's on the table," he gasped, pain shooting up his hip.

"Next time answer me the first time I say something!"

He threw him back and marched towards his dinner as he landed with a rough thud. Picking himself off the floor, he shook his head, shut the cherry wood cabinet doors his father had left open, and went back out to read his book. Outside, the movers still lugged things up the cut stone path. He paused to watch, but they ignored him.

"Hello!" said a six and a half foot, blonde hair toned boy, walking up to him. "I'm Nickolas St. North. We just moved in next door. Who are you?"

"I'm Jack," he responded, placing an appropriate smile on his face.

"It's nice to meet you, Jack," said Nick, shaking his hand.

"Do you need some help?" offered Jack over a crash that came from his house.

"Sure."

They walked to Nick's new house, a large, old fashioned red brick building, elegantly framed with horticulture, dodging movers as they went. Inside was already becoming a home, pots filling the shelves as the woman in orange with soft blonde hair arranged her kitchen the way she desired.

"Hey, mom!" greeted Nick. "This is Jack. He wanted to know if he could help."

"Hello, Jack," smiled Nick's mother. "My name is Melody Toothania St. North, but please call me Melody. It's nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," said Jack, smiling shyly at the beautiful woman who looked uncannily like her son.

"Nicky, darling, why don't you introduce Jack to your brother and you can set up the rooms upstairs?"

Nick kissed his mothers pale cheek and led Jack around the house, showing him each room in progress. Upstairs, they found the raven haired, naturally tan boy Jack had seen in the yard earlier.

"Hey, Nick," said the boy, smiling from his seat on the ground next to a box of records. "Who's the boy?"

"This is Jack," introduced Nick. "He lives next door."

"Jack," said the boy, swishing the name around his mouth. "What is that short for?"

"Jackson," said Jack promptly.

"I approve. I hate when people shorten Jackson to Sonny. It's such an awkward word, too many flowing sounds."

"So did my mom. That's why she insisted it be Jack."

"Well, I'm Aster Bunnymund St. North, but people just call me Aster."

"Want help unpacking?" asked Jack, unsure of what to say to these boys he just met.

In answer, Aster pushed a box at him. The three spent a pleasant evening unpacking and putting away various belongings. Aster and Nick did most of the talking, telling stories from their previous home, reliving memories as objects were unearthed from packing foam like an archeological dig. The work went quickly that way and soon, the upstairs living room and both of the boys bedrooms were complete.

"So, Jack," said Aster, sitting back as he finished the last box. "How long have you lived here?"

"We moved in eight years, seven months, and 24 days ago," responded Jack.

"How are you so exact?" asked Nick, staring at the white haired youth as if he had just spoken another language.

"I just remember stuff like that."

"Are you boys hungry?" asked a man in a booming voice, causing Jack to jump.

"Yes!" exclaimed Nick and Aster, jumping up and pulling Jack to his feet.

"Who are you?" asked the man, not unkindly, who looked like an older version of Nick, his hair blonde, tall and broad, and he spoke with a strange accent Jack couldn't quite place.

Jack didn't answer, just leaned back against the wall, his eyes wide and face unreadable.

"This is Jack," supplied Nick, his hands moving expressively. "He lives next door."

"It's very good to meet you, Jack," smiled the man, which softened his round face. "I'm Sandy St. North."

"Hello," said Jack, his voice soft.

"Dad," persisted Aster. "You were talking about food."

"Right!" said Sandy. "Well, your mom has some sandwiches made downstairs, so why don't we have our first meal together in our new house?"

"Yes!" chorused the boys.

"Of course, you'll join us, won't you, Jack?" offered Sandy.

"Yes, sir," said Jack, his voice soft.

"Excellent!"

The four of them trooped down the stairs like a parade of dinosaurs, creating much noise with their stamping feet that echoed off the still bare walls of the stairwell. They joined Melody on the ground around a coffee table where she had already laid out the sandwiches.

"I'm sorry we don't have the table set up yet," apologized Melody.

"It's alright," assured Jack. "Thank you so much for dinner."

"Never a problem, dear," said Melody, using yet another pet name, giving Jack the impression that she was a very young version of a grandmother. "Perhaps when we get all settled we can have your parents over as well."

"I don't think so. My dad works a lot."

"Oh, well, then just your mother and you, then!"

"My mother died, actually," said Jack, staring at the table.

"Oh dear!" gushed Melody, her hand flying to her heart, tears pouring out of her eyes as if someone had turned on a facet behind them. "I'm so sorry! I didn't know!"

"It's okay," assured Jack, feeling awkward. "It was almost nine years ago. She was sick."

"I'm sorry for your loss, Jack," said Sandy seriously. "Melody, why don't you get one of the bottles of juice from the refrigerator?"

Melody nodded and rushed away from the table, swiping at her eyes as she tried to get her emotions under control.

"So, Nick, Aster, how old are you?" asked Jack, changing the subject.

"We're both 17," said Nick.

"But I'm a week older!" interrupted Aster smugly.

"What about you?" asked Nick, shoving his brother playfully.

"I'll be 17 in 3 weeks," replied Jack.

"What do you do to celebrate your birthday?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do you have a party or go out to eat of something special?"

"No," said Jack blankly. "I haven't celebrated in years."

"Why ever not?" demanded Melody, sitting back down and setting a large bottle of juice in the center of the table.

"I just haven't, I guess," shrugged Jack, failing to see the problem. "What time is it?"

"Almost ten," answered Sandy, consulting his watch.

"I'd better be going," said Jack, trying to hide his sudden panic. "What should I do with the plate?"

"I'll take it, dear," said Melody, grasping the empty plate.

"Thank you for a lovely dinner," said Jack, rushing to the back door. "It was nice meeting you!"

He ran across the lawn to his house like a shadow, slipping through the back door without a sound. The sink was filled with dirty dishes from his father's dinner. Flinching when he turned on the warm water, he wished the glass didn't clang so much when it moved.

"Boy!" screamed his father at the sound of the water running. "Where have you been?"

"I was just out," said Jack.

"Well, get in here now!"

Jack shut off the water and slowly approached the den where his father was, drinking a beer.

"You were out late," said his father. "You know the rules."

He gestured to the ground near the fireplace. Without a word, Jack rolled his jeans up above his knobby knees, revealing still healing scabs, and knelt down on the grits on the floor. He closed his eyes and began to relive his afternoon in his head to take the mind off the pain. He placed his hands on the wall in front of him so his arms were extended and his head hung under them, protected. A belt smacked against his forearms, raising fresh bruises and welts. He tried to focus on that dinner with the St. North's instead of the harsh leather beating into his skin. Eventually, his dad threw him back.

"Get out of my sight!" he hissed.

Jack ran back outside and hurried up the ladder to the only place his father couldn't reach him.

*Okay, it is a human AU, a chapter story, way out of my normal comfort zone for writing so I'm not even positive how much I want to post, and I will explain about Sandy later in the story...

So, um, yeah, never been this nervous about posting a story before.

Hope you don't hate it. Always- Ari