Once and Again - By Lauren Dane

Chapter One

Lily wandered through her new home—the apartment above the garage. Hard to fully think of it as home when just two weeks ago it’d been a collection place for unwanted crap her mother refused to get rid of.

She looked at herself in the mirror one last time before heading to the house to grab her brother. She didn’t have a suit or anything, but she used what she had. She’d come to realize appearances were indeed important when it came to dealing with authority figures. These were Chris’s teachers and his principal, their support would go a long way in helping him get where he needed to be.

Competent. Yes, that was it. She wasn’t Chris’s mom and she was still relatively young, so she wanted to appear competent. Solid. A together, trustworthy adult sibling pitching in to get Chris back on track at school. Lily thought she might have nailed it. Enough to do the job anyway.

And, she thought as she took another look, perhaps it was petty, but she thought she also looked good enough that when she had to deal with Nathan, he’d see what he’d been missing.

Not that she’d put any thought into how he might react when she saw him again after so many years. Or what he felt in general. Much.

Of course the snort of amusement might have ruined that statement.

Taking a deep breath she went down and saw the box she’d told Chris to carry up to her place still sitting next to the car. “Chris! Get over here and take this box.”

“I don’t see why you didn’t just hire someone to do this,” he muttered. But he did it, carrying the box upstairs with care to keep those grumbles under his breath.

He came back out quickly and she sent a smirk his way. “Why would I pay someone when I’ve got a perfectly good fifteen-year-old who can pick things up and move them?”

“For free!”

“Free? Ha! You cost a lot more than free, kid. In any case, you’ve got to step up your game. Helping out around the house is part of that.”

Inside, their mother wandered around watering plants. It was as if there was no problem at all. Or hell, that they were even there really. Lily turned to her brother, stepping between him and their mother to interrupt his attention.

“Get your stuff, I’m taking you to school in fifteen minutes. You can look like a hobo, or you can clean yourself up. Either way you’re in my car and we’re leaving in fifteen minutes.”

“I heard you the first time. I get it. Fifteen minutes.” His defiance didn’t last long and he broke eye contact, dipping his chin. But he wasn’t quite done. “Still don’t see why you have to go with me.”

“Let’s establish up front just how not okay it is to talk to me with an attitude other than yes ma’am. As for your statement that you don’t know why I have to go with you. Seems to me, Christopher, that’s your problem in a nutshell. Wake your ass up and get yourself together before you end up pulling slurpees for people for the rest of your life.” She looked at her watch. “I’m leaving this driveway in fifteen minutes and you will be in the car. Tick tock.” She gently prodded him out of the room and finished the last bit of her own preparation as she gulped down her coffee.

Her mother came into the kitchen and began to clean up the nonexistent mess.

“I’m going to take him and then meet with his principal and as many teachers as I can. I should be back by noon or so, but you have my cell number if you need me.” Lily checked her bag to be sure she had the folder of information she’d need.

“Oh is that today? All right then.” Pamela Travis looked troubled for a moment and then smiled.

“Yes. And we can talk about it when I get back, all right?” Lily had actually hoped her mother would come with her to these meetings, but the strong woman Pamela might have been when her children were young had slowly fizzled out until she disappeared completely when Rodger had walked out.

Six months ago, right before the start of the school year, Lily’s father up and announced he’d filed for divorce and was in the process of moving in with his new girlfriend. Emphasis on the girl. A twenty-year-old who’d babysat for Chris many times. Chris had called Lily right away,