Chapter Two

"Sofia!"

Sofia awoke to her name being yelled directly in front of her. She winced slightly and opened her eyes a crack, only to find that the origin of the noise was Amber, who looked none too happy.

"Wake up, Sofia," Amber demanded, her arms crossed and her expression decidedly unpleasant. She was staring Sofia down, for lack of a better phrase, as Sofia rubbed her eyes in a mild attempt to bring herself to full awareness.

"What is it, Amber?" she asked, yawning and stretching as she did so. It was only then that she realized she'd fallen asleep on the couch in the living room while waiting for her parents to get home rather than falling asleep on her bed. Suddenly, all the events of the previous night came flooding back to her, including the last conversation she and James had had. Sofia could feel her cheeks grow warm at the thought of what could've happened, though she quickly tried to shake the thought and hoped Amber wouldn't notice.

"Well," Amber started, glancing at her freshly manicured nails, causing Sofia to wonder what time it was. "James informed me that you're the one who parked his gigantic beast of a vehicle last night, and it is on my side of the driveway." Amber recrossed her arms and said, "So would you please go move it?" In her typical fashion, she left out any of the politeness generally paired with the word 'please'.

Yawning once again, Sofia gave Amber a distracted answer. "Yes, I'll go move it." Thankfully Amber wasn't about to ask Sofia why she was acting a bit out of sorts. At least, Sofia thought she was acting odd.

"Good," Amber replied, walking into the kitchen. As Sofia payed attention to what her step-sister was doing, she saw that Amber was simply taking boiling water off the stove and pouring it into a mug that had a teabag in it. Sofia directed her attention away from Amber and onto looking for the keys on the kitchen island.

"Hurry up, Sofia," Amber said impatiently, strutting back to the living with her freshly made mug of tea. "I have places to go and people to see."

Spotting the keys, Sofia grabbed them off the counter and rushed towards the door. "Yes, Amber," she replied as she walked out the door, the crisp autumn morning air striking her face.

Sofia pulled on the sleeves of her sweater that she hadn't changed out of since previous night. It was chilly outside, and her hands could most definitely feel it. The air seemed to nip at her hands as she pulled open the heavy Tahoe door.

The inside of the SUV was no better temperature-wise. The grey leather seats felt as the they'd been refrigerated and the cold felt as though it permeated Sofia's white leggings. Though she was shivering, she reparked James' truck in what felt like record time and rushed back inside, in a hurry to take a hot shower and change into clean clothes.

"Did you move it?" Amber asked, though she didn't turn her attention away from the television once. Sofia absently wondered what her step-sister could be watching that was so interesting.

"Mmhmm," Sofia hummed, turning away from facing the living room and heading into the kitchen herself for a nice hot chocolate.

Amber didn't acknowledge Sofia's reply with anything other than a quiet hm; she was too busy being absorbed in the world of whatever she was watching on TV.

Sofia bustled about the kitchen, paying no mind to her inattentive sister, and instead focused on heating up water and milk to just the right temperature in the stainless steel microwave. Despite the advertisements that the device was state of the art, Sofia found that it never heated things up properly, and that she needed to watch the time to know just when to stir her drink to get it just right.

As her drink was heating, Sofia tried to make conversation with Amber. "Where are Mom and Dad?" she asked loudly, trying to be heard over both the microwave and the television.

"They're out. They had a meeting with the school principal or something," Amber said. Sofia had a feeling the only reason Amber was responding to her was because there were now commercials, since she could hear the Friskies 'meow' jingle in the background. "I have a feeling it has something to do with James."

James. James. Why did Amber have to bring up James? Sofia was perfectly fine pretending James wasn't even a person she was aware existed at that moment. "Oh," she said, pressing the release button for the microwave door.

"Why?" Amber had muted the TV and was walking into the kitchen herself.

"No reason," Sofia said quickly, still a tad flustered at the mention of the third sibling. She pulled the mug out of the microwave rapidly, causing the mixture of hot water and hot milk to splash over the side and onto her wrist.

"Ow!" she exclaimed, nearly dropping her mug. Thankfully, Amber caught the handle and pulled it out of Sofia's hands.

"How about you go clean yourself up, Sofia?" Amber suggested, pouring the remaining, scalding liquid down the drain of the kitchen sink. After setting the mug on the counter, she continued, "You were in those clothes when I came home this morning. Obviously you were wearing them yesterday, and that is just... Go change," was her last demand, bringing her hand to her forehead.

"The things I have to deal with..." Sofia could hear Amber mutter as she headed back to the living room.

Sofia knew Amber was right and forgot about the hot chocolate. She felt she'd had enough hot chocolate for one day after spilling the unmade drink on herself. Sighing, she started down the hall to her bedroom, which, of course, she'd have to pass his room to get to. Perhaps he wasn't in there, or even in the house; the thought was partially comforting to Sofia, even though it was impractical, since James almost never left the house on Saturdays unless he was hanging out with Zandar.

Gathering up her courage—and, well, dignity, she supposed—Sofia started down the hallway, becoming increasingly nervous as she got closer and closer to James' bedroom door. Obviously he'd woken up since the night before, as his bedroom door was now open, unlike Sofia had left it. She could feel her cheeks grow warm, and before she knew it, she was standing directly the the left side of his room's doorway.

Sofia told herself that she desperately wanted out of her sweater whose sleeve was drenched, and that walking by her step-brother's open door was no big deal if the ends was to change her clothing. But alas, she was not Amber, and she felt she would much rather avoid James and continue to have a soaked sleeve. After mentally weighing the consequences, Sofia decided that she'd try to quietly sneak past, while hoping and praying that James wasn't even in his room.

Taking as careful steps as possible, Sofia placed her sock-covered foot quietly on the floor. She paused and listened for a second. Hearing no resounding, "Hey Sof!" from James, Sofia figured he hadn't spotted her big toe that was just past the door frame. She took another careful step, allowing her full self to be seen in the doorway from any point in the room. Sofia braced herself, squeezing her eyes shut, waiting for the excitable greeting that she expected...

There was nothing. Sofia stood in the doorway, still as a statue, for what seemed like ages, and there was nothing. No sound, no greeting—just quiet. She dared to open her eyes slightly and peek into the room, and again: nothing. There was no James.

Sofia relaxed instantaneously. James wasn't there. His laptop was shut, his bed still just as unmade had it had been last night, and the clothes he'd been wearing were laying messily in the center of the room on the green carpet. Outside of those few things, Sofia wouldn't have even been able to tell James had been there since yesterday.

She let out a breath and continued to her room, her pace normal and her footsteps not as light. When Sofia entered her bedroom, she was nearly blinded, as she'd forgotten to close the heavy curtains the day before, and so bright, strong morning sunlight reflected off of the light lavender walls and right into her eyes.

Sofia squinted her eyes and rushed over to the window, drawing the curtains as quickly as she could. The thick, royal purple drapes fell in front of the giant window pane, shutting off any light coming into the room. This, of course, caused the need for a light to be turned on, so Sofia headed back to the entrance of her room and flipped the light switch.

It didn't take her long to get dressed. Sofia grabbed another sweater—this one also purple, though more of a periwinkle, with three deep violet diamonds down the front—and a pair of light wash bootcut jeans. She thought the weather was too chilly for leggings again. Once she was done, she examined herself in the mirror, and was satisfied with how she looked.

Right after she stepped back out into the hallway—she wanted to see what Amber was watching and if she wanted to watch it, as well—Sofia ran into the one person she'd been trying to avoid.

"Sof, you okay?" James asked her, as Sofia couldn't find anything to do other than simply stare at him.

"Uh, um," she stuttered, trying to find words to say. "Yes," she ended up replying.

"That's good, then," James said, a smile on his face.

Sofia noticed that his hair looked damp; she figured he must've been in the shower, and that was why she hadn't run into him. "Yes," she repeated, still distracted. What she desperately wanted to know was if James remembered anything he'd said not twelve hours ago. However, it didn't seem like she was going to get the answer anytime soon.

"Are you sure you're okay?" he questioned, giving her a presumably incredulous look. "You seem nervous."

"I'm fine, James. Great, even," Sofia said, nodding her head emphatically. She found it difficult to focus on what she was saying rather than certain things that were now available to her senses, such as the way James looked or the way he smelled. It was now beyond obvious to her that he'd been in the shower; she could smell the soap that he'd used. Whatever soap it was, it smelled amazing, something like a mix between the mountains and-

Her thoughts were cut-off by James' unsure reply of, "Uh-huh." Sofia felt herself blush lightly. She knew she shouldn't have been thinking such things; he was her brother, for goodness' sake.

"Yep. Just great, lil' old me!" Sofia supplied with faux cheerfulness, mentally shaking her head to clear her mind.

Though James still had a sense of skepticism about him, it appeared as though he was finally accepting her answers that she was indeed okay. "Alright," he finally said, turning around and heading to his room. "Just call if you need anything," he added.

"I will," Sofia said, deciding it would be best just to go into her room, lie down on her bed, and stare at the ceiling for the next four hundred years.