Swans Crossing: The Return -- PART TWO

by Stephanie Blydenburgh

©Stephanie Blydenburgh (1997 &1998). Additional Copyrights: "Make it Light" ©1997 Alicia Lazaraus "Moving to Brazil" storyline ©1997 Miss Swan "Hold You Up", "My Love", "Cross That Line", "Vision in Polka-Dot Pink", "Over You", "Gotta Grow Up", and "Talking Sweet" ©1992 Heliosphere Productions and/or Newlifier Limited

Chapter Twenty-One

"And the winner of the Swans Crossing 1992 mayoral election is...."

Sydney crossed her fingers, and stole a glance at Garrett who was doing the same thing. The crowd was hushed. No one moved or even breathed.

"Ms. Margaret Rutledge!" the announcer yelled. The room erupted into cheers and hollers. Sydney hugged her mom, who was beaming. Red, white, and blue balloons fell from the ceiling, followed by pounds upon pounds of confetti. Sydney joined in the cheering, and threw her arms in the air to hit a few of the balloons out of the way. Then she looked back, where Garrett had been standing. He was gone.

A large crowd was gathering by Orono University when J.T. and Neil arrived there.

"What's going on?" Neil asked when he saw the crowd, which was composed mainly of reporters.

"I have no idea," J.T. replied. Just then they saw Carolyn come flying down the steps, past the crowd. Her face was flushed, and she had to stop a moment to catch her breath.

"You're never going to believe what just happened!" she exclaimed.

"What?" J.T. asked eagerly.

"Guess," she said with a sly smile.

"We won the Nobel Prize?" J.T. guessed.

Carolyn laughed. "Not quite.

J.T. twisted his face in thought. "Um..."

Neil rolled his eyes. "Girls and their silly guessing games! Would you just tell us what happened?"

She smiled fakely at him. "Certainly. The last element of UB2B arrived!"

The boys grew excited. "That's great!" they exclaimed.

"That's not even the half of it," she continued. "NASA has offered to pay a huge sum of money to buy the equation and use it in their rockets and space shuttles!" she shrieked.

Neil and J.T. were speechless.

Carolyn hugged them both. "We're going to be rich!"

Jimmy headed over to his father's restaurant, carrying a large suitcase. His stomach fluttered with excited butterflies. He might have messed things up with Callie the night she left, but he was sure that going to Brazil would undoubtedly fix things.

"Hey Dad!" he greeted his father happily.

Mr. Clayton looked up from his work and smiled. "Looks like you're all ready to go," he commented. "Do you need a ride to the airport?"

"No, I called a taxi. It should be here any minute," Jimmy explained.

"Okay, well, I want you to help your brother around his house, and be a good guest," Mr. Clayton told him.

Jimmy rolled his eyes good naturedly. "Sure, Dad."

"And be careful, okay?"

"I will," he agreed.

Both looked out the window, and saw the taxi pull up in front of the restaurant. "Guess I better get going," Jimmy said, as he backed away towards the exit.

"Call when you get there!"

Jimmy waved to his dad and laughed. "No problem!"

Sydney sighed, and tagged along with Mayor Rutledge from group after group of stuffy grownies. She was happy for her mother, she truly was, but her face was beginning to hurt from all the smiling she was doing.

And what about Garrett? a voice inside her asked. She couldn't help but wonder what he was doing, and how he felt about his father losing the election. She made a silent prayer that this wouldn't create yet another barrier in the advancement of their relationship. It seemed every problem Sydney and Garrett had involved their families.

"Mother?" Sydney called when Mayor Rutledge excused herself from a group of city council members.

"Yes, dear?" she asked, moving through the crowd once again.

"I really need to, um, use the restroom," Sydney said, and quickly excused herself. She went into the trophy room, and picked up the house phone. She dialed Glory's number, and after two rings Glory answered.


"Glory, this is Sydney. Can I talk to Garrett?" Sydney asked.

"Okay," Glory said slowly, sounding a little confused. A moment later, Garrett came on the line.

"Sydney?" he asked.

Sydney smiled at the sound of his voice. "How are you?"

"I'm all right," Garrett replied shortly. He listened a minute to the sounds of the party and then asked, "Where are you?"

"Oh, I'm at Mother's re-election party. You wouldn't believe how tiring it can be to have to hear congratulation after congratulation," Sydney said with a laugh.

"I guess you're right, Sydney. I wouldn't know what it's like," Garrett remarked in an angry tone.

"Is something wrong?" she asked, tapping the side of the phone nervously. She didn't like the way he sounded.

"Yeah, something’s wrong! My father loses the election and you call me up to gloat that your mother won!" he snapped.

"Garrett! I didn't call to brag, I-" she began defensively, but Garrett cut her off.

"Listen Sydney, I really can't listen to anything about the election right now, okay?"

"Fine," she replied. There was a long, awkward silence. "I guess I better go."

"Yeah. See you later," he said, and quickly hung up the phone. Sydney stared at the receiver, listening to the hum of the dial tone.

"What was that?" she muttered to herself before returning to the party.

Sydney twirled her combination lock during school on Friday morning, enjoying the sound of laughing students. At least it was taking her mind off of Garrett, and the conversation they had had the night before.

"Sydney!" called a sing-song voice. She looked up, and saw Sandy bounding towards her.

"Hi Sandy," she greeted her slowly, opening her locker and removing some of her books.

"Hey, tell your mother I said congratulations. I'm so glad that she won the election," Sandy said.

"Yeah, me too," Sydney echoed. She shook off her confused feelings and looked up at Sandy. "So Sandy, what's going on? You look excited about something."

"Oh, I am!" She handed a brightly colored flier to Sydney. "First of all, you are coming to the gig Owen and I are playing tomorrow night, right?"

Sydney put on a bright, false smile. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Great, and guess what else?" Sandy asked. She continued on before Sydney had a chance to make a guess. "Saja asked me to Homecoming!"

"Saja?" Sydney repeated with surprise. She had noticed the two were hanging out a little more lately, but she didn't think that they were together in that way. "Well, that's really, really great. I'm happy for you."

"So, what are you doing after school today?"

Sydney shrugged. "I don't know, nothing I guess."

"Well why don't you and I go shopping for Homecoming dresses? You are going to the dance aren't you?" Sandy questioned innocently. She didn't realize how ironic it was for Sandy Swan to be asking Sydney Rutledge if she was going to a dance.

"Yeah," Sydney responded quietly, thinking of Garrett. "I think I'm going."

At cheerleading practice after school, Glory mindlessly went through the routine. She knew it so well that it was like second nature to her, and she was able to keep an eye on the boy's football practice while she cheered.

J.T. was there, of course, and Glory couldn't help but stare. He was running around the field, playing better than she had ever seen. She felt a surge of admiration watching him play, until she reminded herself that they weren't together any more.

The coach called a time out, and J.T. made his way towards the bench. Garrett was already there. Glory tuned out Mila calling the cheers and strained to hear their conversation.

"Good game, Booth," J.T. said.

Garrett looked up at him, confused. "What, Rocket Boy?"

J.T. shrugged. "Never mind. Hey, look Garrett, I'm really sorry that your father lost the election last night." He reached out and shook Garrett's hand.

After witnessing the boys' friendly handshake, Glory was unable to hear any more of their conversation. She was so shocked. J.T. and Garrett had never liked each other, and the one thing she had always wanted was for the two of them to get along. In fact, one day at the beginng of the summer J.T. had said something unflattering about Garrett, and Glory had asked him to try and make peace with him.

"I wish you two could get along. I mean, at least try to shake hands or something," Glory had remarked.

"You ever try shaking hands hands with a hologram?" J.T. asked jokingly.

"And he finally did just that..." Glory mumured out loud, watching J.T. with a new understanding. Maybe things weren't as confusing as she had thought. Maybe he still did care....

Sandy rummaged through a rack of dresses wearing a smile. Sydney observed that she had been smiling all afternoon. It didn't help her foul mood. She hadn't talked to Garrett all day, even though he had had plenty of opportunities to apologize for his "gloating" comment.

"Sandy, why are we looking at the clearance rack?" Sydney asked her in an irritated voice.

Sandy scowled. "Because that's what I have to do. There's no way I can afford the kind of dress you're going to buy," she snapped. However, Sydney's comment didn't bring her down for long, and she grinned again. "So tell me, who are you going to go to Homecoming with?"

Sydney turned away. "I don't know yet," she muttered, even though she was pretty sure she was going to go with Garrett, if they were getting along. Sydney looked back at Sandy. "Sandy, can I tell you something?"

"Of course!" Sandy replied.

"You won't say anything to anyone, you promise?" Sydney continued.

"I promise!"

Sydney cleared her throat. "I think I'm going to go with Garrett."

Sandy raised an eyebrow. "Are you serious?"

"Mm-hmm," Sydney replied.

"After the way he blackmailed you, and made you think that you were me and I was you? I don't think I am ever going to speak to him again!" Sandy remarked adamantly.

"Well, things have really changed." Sydney smiled slowly. "And Garrett is a different person."

Sandy shrugged. "If you say so," she said, not sounding very convinced. She continued on with her search for a dress. Her eyes widened, and she whipped a dress off the rack. "Sydney!" she squealed, holding the garment against her body.

It was a long, teal colored dress. The spaghetti strap bodice was adorned with sequins, and the skirt was long and flowing. Sydney had to admit, it was beautiful.

Sandy checked the price tag, and her face lit up. "And it's in my price range!" She took off towards the dressing room. Sydney laughed at her friend's exuberance, and began to study the dresses herself.

I guess there's nothing wrong with being a little thrifty, Sydney thought to herself.

"Sydney!" a voice called out. Sydney looked up and saw Glory coming down the aisle. She had a warm smile on her face instead of a sad frown, and was dressed in a floral print shirt and jeans, rather than the short black dress and motorcycle jacket Sydney had seen her wear recently. She looked like her old self again.

"Hey Glory. How are things at home?" Sydney asked carefully.

Glory's expression grew a little troubled. "Well, Dad isn't taking his losing very well. He's really embarrassed, and honestly, if he didn't like your mother before, I hate to think how he feels now."

Sydney groaned. "That's not going to make this any easier."

"Make what easier?"

"Garrett and I are back together," Sydney stated dryly.

Glory's blue eyes widened. "Really?"

"We were planning to walk off the field together if we win the Homecoming game," Sydney began.

"Where have I heard that before?" Glory interrupted. Sydney ignored her comment.

"And then we were going to go to the dance together."

"You still can," Glory said comfortingly.

"We'll see," Sydney replied, and then quickly changed the subject. "So what are your plans?"

Glory blushed. "Actually, Neil and I are going together."

Now it was Sydney's turn to be shocked. "You and Neil?!"

"Just as friends!" Glory said quickly.

Then Sydney understood. "Ah, you're just interested in his friends. Such as J.T. Adams."

"Well.." Glory's voice trailed off.

Sydney smiled. "Don't worry. I'm on the case."

Glory looked at her, puzzled. "What do you mean you're on the case?"

"Well, Garrett asked me to figure out a way to break Mila and J.T. up," Sydney explained with a devious smile.

"Really?" Glory asked, not bothering to disguise her elation.

"Yup, and as soon as Sandy buys that gorgeous dress, I am heading over to your house to put my plan into action."

"My house?"

Sydney nodded, and picked up a couple of garments off the rack. "Yes, your house. Is Grant home by any chance?"

Jimmy walked off the plane into the gate of the Rio De Janeiro airport, clutching his carry-on bag. He searched the gate for his older brother, and his eyes quickly landed on him. Johnny was sitting in one of the airport chairs, reading a Sports Illustrated magazine. He looked exactly the same as the last time Jimmy had seen him, which was about five months ago.

"Jimmy!" he exclaimed, suddenly spotting his brother coming off the plane. He stood up to greet him. When the two brothers stood side by side, the likeness was uncanny. Jimmy looked very much like his brother, only six years younger. "I'm so glad you were able to come visit. How was your flight?" Johnny questioned him.

Jimmy quickly updated him on the uneventful flight experience, and then the two made their way towards the baggage carousel. As Jimmy watched his brother talk, he noticed something. Johnny was quite a bit like Barek had been. Their speech, mannerisms, and the subjects he was discussing all reminded him of Barek, and the way he had idolized him.

"He reminds you a lot of your brother, doesn't he?" Callie had asked Jimmy one night, referring to Barek and Johnny.

Jimmy shrugged. "A little."

"Now it all makes sense," Callie said slowly.

"What's that?" he asked.

She looked up at him perceptively. "Why you were so quick to give Barek the benefit of the doubt."

Callie was always so insightful, Jimmy thought to himself wistfully. She really, really understood me.

"Hey, were you listening?" Johnny asked, snapping Jimmy back to reality.

He shook his head sheepishly. Johnny handed him his suitcase. "I said that we got your luggage, and now we can get out of here. Are you hungry?"

"Nah," he answered, still thinking about Callie. "Why don't you show me some of the sights instead?"

After Sandy had bought the dress, Sydney and Glory went over to the Booths. On the way there, Sydney told her all about the plan, and why she needed to talk to Grant. Glory had to admit, Sydney had done it again. She had come up with the perfect way to break up J.T. and Mila.

Sydney waited out on the porch a bit nervously, while Glory went into the house. She wasn't used to being at the Booth house much, since she wasn't exactly welcome.

"I was wondering if you want to have lemonade on the porch with me and Sydney Rutledge," Sydney heard Glory say to her brother in the living room.

"All right," Grant agreed, and seconds later he and Glory emerged from the house.

Glory poured lemonade into three glasses. "So Sydney, are you excited about Homecoming?"

Sydney smiled at Glory's performance. She was doing everything they had rehearsed. "Oh yes, it is going to be so exciting." She turned to Grant and smiled charmingly. "Do you remember your high school Homecoming?"

Grant grinned and nodded. "Yes, well it wasn't that long ago, actually. I'm not that ancient," he joked.

"Of course not," Sydney said. "In fact, you could probably pass for an SCH student yourself."

"Is that a compliment?" he asked.

"Definitely a compliment," she replied. She tapped the side of her cheek, to appear as if she was deep in thought. "You know, you should really consider going to the game... maybe even the dance."

"That's a great idea!" Glory interjected.

Grant looked skeptical. "A high school event? Come on, I'm practically a grownie!"

"We have an excellent football team. Garrett plays, and Glory's a cheerleader. You should at least go to see them," Sydney said.

"Yeah, Grant. I would love for you to see the field show," Glory told him eagerly.

She's a great actress! Sydney thought to herself with a laugh.

"I suppose I could go to the game. But there's no way I could go to the dance. I wouldn't exactly have a date," Grant explained.

Sydney gave him her charming grin once again. "There are probably dozens of high school girls who would die to go to the dance with you."

He cocked his head modestly. "You must be joking."

"No, trust me."

Grant's frown slowly turned into a smile. "Well, it's definitely something to consider. Do you know anyone for sure?"

"Possibly," Sydney answered vaguely. "So you'll consider it?"

He gave her a wide grin. "Possibly."

"Mila!" Sydney cried, stepping out of the elevator.

Mila looked up from the school book she was reading on her bed and smiled. "What's up Sydney?" She recognized the look on Sydney's face. Something was going on.

"I just talked to Grant Halsey Booth, the third!" she exclaimed.

Mila's eyes widened. "What did he say?"

"Well," Sydney began, eager to spill the gossip to her friend. "I brought up going to Homecoming, and he seemed very interested."

"He did?"

"Yes! Trust me Mila, this date is in the bag," Sydney assured her. "Now all you have to do is make yourself available."

Mila frowned in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Sydney reached for Mila's red, high heel shaped phone and handed it to her. "You need to give J.T. a call."

Mr. Booth tossed the last of his campaign posters into the garbage can and groaned. "That's it, they're all gone," he said monotonously. "I wish we could move. The press has been over at the Rutledge's all day."

"Well Grant, we've lived in this house for many generations. It wouldn't be respectful to your ancestors if we did," Mrs. Booth told her husband regretfully.

"I honestly don't know how we're going to afford to keep living here!" he remarked, raising his voice a little.

Mrs. Booth's blood ran cold. "Whatever do you mean?"

Mr. Booth exhaled a long sigh. "We used most of our savings on campaign expenses, trips to the capital, and I even quit the contracting business for awhile."

"Putting the cart before the horse is never a good thing, Grant dear," Mrs. Booth commented.

Mr. Booth grunted crossly. "I don't know any other way to put this," he said, slowly meeting his wife’s eyes. "We're... broke."

The stores look the same, Callie observed silently as she, Pedro, and Ana walked into a Brazilian convenience store. Of course they do! she told herself. It's a store, Callie. She sighed. Her mind wasn't thinking quite up to speed at the moment. Jet lag, she explained to herself, and then laughed out loud at this absurd thought.

"What's so funny?" Pedro asked. Callie just shrugged, realizing that he and Ana must be thinking she was losing it.

Ana made her way to the candy aisle, as Callie's new friend had a chocolate addiction. Pedro followed his sister, and Callie wandered towards a small kiosk of postcards.

She picked one up. The picture on the front was of a beach landscape. Her first instinct was to buy it and send it to Jimmy. But after a few moments, she put it back. What would she say? "Having a great time... miss you so much that it hurts... even though you make me so mad for being so stubborn, being such a jerk, I still hate to be away from you..."

Callie shook off those thoughts and continued to look at the postcards. I'll get one for Glory, she told herself.

The bell on the door rang, and more customers stepped in.

"Still drink chocolate milk?" a male voice asked.

"By the gallonful," another male voice joked.

Callie's stomach dropped. It can't be!

She was frightened to look up because her mind was screaming that this was a familiar voice. Slowly, she dared to glance, and her eyes widened in terror and happiness at the same time... it was Jimmy in the store.

Special thanks to all who participated in the "mock election" and let me know who you wanted to win the Swans Crossing Mayoral Election.

Chapter Twenty-Two

"Do I have to?" Mila asked Sydney, staring at her phone with dread.

Sydney shook her head. "Mila, J.T. needs to know what's going on. Do you really like him... or Grant?"

Mila flopped backwards on her bed. "I don't know!" she groaned. "Lately I have had the worst luck with guys."

"Well, you don't have the best track record," Sydney agreed.


"What I mean is, first there was Garrett, then Billy, then Garrett again, now J.T. But at least you have had some experience. Something you didn't have when you first came to Swans Crossing," Sydney explained.

"I guess so." She shrugged.

"And what have you learned?"

Mila was thoughtful for a minute. "Well, J.T. has been the nicest, Billy had that bad boy charm..." She smiled slyly. "Garrett was a good kisser...."

Sydney threw Mila's pillow at her. "Mila!" She giggled, thinking that Mila knew what she was talking about. "I mean, what have you learned about yourself?" Sydney questioned her again.

"That I'm flighty?" Mila guessed.

"No, that you shouldn't date someone because they're interested in you. You should be really interested in them too. Who initiated all of your relationships?"

Mila knew what she was getting at. "They did," she answered.

"Now you feel that way about someone else, and you should do something about it. Grant seemed interested. I'll drop a few more hints... but you need to call J.T. and end things," Sydney told her, trying to be comforting.

Mila sighed and nodded her head slowly. "You're right. Besides, I feel awful for what I am doing to Glory." She took the phone from Sydney and started to dial the telephone number. "Sisters forever," she muttered, trying hard not to talk herself out of it.

"Hi, you've reached the Adams family," J.T.'s voice on his answering machine said.

"It's the machine!" Mila hissed at Sydney.

"So leave a message," she prompted.

After the beep Mila began to speak. "J.T., this is Mila. Please call me back, we really need to talk."

Callie froze in her tracks. What is he doing here?! a voice in her head screamed. She turned away, wanting to get out of the store as fast as possible without Jimmy seeing her, when she saw Ana head over to him.

The boy who was with Jimmy, and resembled him a great deal, was checking out at the counter. Jimmy had wandered through the aisles alone, and Ana was quickly on his trail.

"Hi there," she greeted him. Jimmy looked up, and smiled at the pretty girl with the long, dark hair.

"Hello," he replied.

"You're not from around here, are you?" Ana asked, smiling flirtatiously at him.

"No, I'm visiting my brother who lives here," Jimmy answered.

She stepped in closer. "So where are you from?"

"I'm from a small town on the east coast of the US... Swans Crossing. Ever heard of it?"

Ana rose an eyebrow in surprise. "What a coincidence! I have, actually. A new friend of mine just moved from there. She's right here in this store even... this is so weird. Hey Callie, come over here!" Ana called.

Callie jumped from her hiding place behind the postcards, a stricken look on her face. Jimmy stared at her, also shocked.

"Callie?" he whispered.

She couldn't think of anything to say, so she just swallowed hard.

"You two know each other?" Ana asked.

"We were... friends in Swans Crossing," Callie said quickly, not wanting to create a scene. It was far too complicated to bring up their relationship, and the way they had ended things. Actually, saying that they were friends was generous on her part, considering the things he said to her the last time they saw each other.

Callie thought she saw a flicker of hurt in Jimmy’s eyes, but it quickly went away when he agreed to being Callie's friend back home.

"This is so great!" Ana exclaimed, reaching into her purse. Pedro came up and joined the group, and introduced himself.

At first Jimmy thought nothing of meeting Pedro, until he placed his hand on Callie's shoulder. Then it became devastatingly obvious. Callie and Pedro were together.

Ana was scribbling something on a slip of paper, which she then handed to Jimmy. "Here's my phone number," she purred. "Maybe the four of us could double date or something."

Jimmy looked from Callie and Pedro, to Ana standing before him wearing an interested grin. He stuffed the paper in his back pocket and managed a tight, phony smile. "Sure. That sounds great."

When Sandy entered Owen's studio, the first thing she saw was a pile of fliers sitting on the floor. Some were ripped, and others had tape or staples in them.

"What's going on?" she asked, picking up one of the fliers. It was advertising their gig the next day at the Caboose.

Owen stood up from his spot on the floor, amidst the fliers, and sighed. "They made me take them all down."

Sandy furrowed her eye brows in confusion. "What?"

"The guy from the Caboose called me today. He said that we can't advertise our gig to high school students," Owen explained.

"Why not?" She knelt down to help him with the mess.

"Even though we're allowed to play there we can't let our friends in. The Caboose is an over 18 club."

Loud shouts echoed through the thin walls of the Booth house.

"I've never heard them fight like this," Glory whispered solemnly. She, Garrett, and Grant were huddled in Glory's bedroom while their parents argued.

"I know, I had a feeling Dad wasn't going to take this losing thing very well," Garrett commented.

Grant waved his hand for them to be quiet. He stood at the door, his ear pressed against the wood, trying desperately to hear. "I think it has more to do with the election," Grant told his siblings.

"What is it then?" Glory asked, not sure if she really wanted to hear this.

Grant listened for another moment. "I think it has something to do with money."

"What about it? We've never been strapped for cash," Garrett said. "I mean, we live in Swans Crossing."

Grant left the door and turned to Glory and Garrett. "Well guys, I think we're about to find out what it's like to not be rich."

Glory looked away, and held on to her stuffed bear even tighter.

The color drained from Garrett's face. "You mean... we're poor?"

Swans was pretty deserted when Neil, Carolyn, and J.T. walked in. They sat down at a table and waited for the waitress to come over and take their order.

"Well, we can order whatever we want. Two-hundred sodas!" Carolyn exclaimed, waving the menu in the air. "It's on me."

J.T. smiled. "We never have to worry about cash flow again."

"Set for the rest of our lives!" Neil said, giving J.T. a high five. "UB2B finally paid off."

"Not to mention the fact that we are going to be famous. Soon Adams and Atwater will be household names," J.T. stated proudly. Carolyn crossed her arms and scowled at him. "Smith too," he added sheepishly.

"That's better," she said with a laugh.

"And I'm glad I don't have to spend a lot of my own money on this Homecoming thing. I can leave that up to NASA," Neil joked.

J.T. looked at his friend in surprise. "What? Since when are you going to Homecoming?"

Neil stared down at the table top. "Well, I uh..." he stuttered.

"Come on Bucky Ball, who's the lucky lady?" J.T. probed.

Neil glanced up, but couldn't look J.T. in the eye. "Glory."

"I can't believe that this might not be the right place," Captain Walker said into the telephone, sighing loudly. "It's going to look suspicious to Callie if we leave again."

He was silent a moment, listening to the person on the other end of the line. "Well, I most certainly hope so!" he exclaimed.

The front door creaked open, and Callie stepped in. "Look, I have to go," Captain Walker said, and immediately hung up the phone.

"Who was that?" Callie asked.

"No one," Captain Walker replied quickly. "So how was your evening?"

Callie thought back to the scene in the store, seeing Jimmy there. What is he doing in Brazil? she kept asking herself. For a moment she allowed herself to imagine he was here to see her. But after the way he accepted Ana's telephone number so nonchalantly she knew it was a coincidence that he was here. All just a coincidence.

"It was fine," she said shortly, and then headed over to bedroom. Maybe there she could forget about all these problems.

The answering machine on J.T.'s desk was blinking when he arrived home. He pressed the button, and heard that Mila needed to speak to him right away. He picked up the phone, sat down on his hammock, and dialed her telephone number.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Hey Mila, it's J.T. What's up?" he greeted her.

She was quiet for a moment. "J.T., I don't think we should see each other anymore," she blurted out.

"What?" he asked, completely blown away. He hadn't expected her to say this. "Why?"

"It's just not working out. I know you still have feelings for Glory, and I think this would be for the best," Mila explained.

"Oh, okay," he said slowly, still very confused.

"Look, I have to go," she told him, and quickly hung up the phone. J.T. listened to the dial tone for a little while, and then dialed another phone number.

"Hello Carolyn?" he said. "How would you like to go to Homecoming next weekend?"

Sydney eagerly paced the ground at No Man's Land. She had woken up to the sight of the Fabian shade, and had rushed out to meet Garrett.

"Sydney?" he called when he appeared on the other side of the wall.

"Garrett," she answered, walking up to the hole in the wall to meet him.

"Look, I just wanted to apologize for the way I treated you on the phone the other day," Garrett said sincerely.

"Garrett Booth... apologizing?" she teased.

He reached through the hole and took her hand. "Yeah, I'm apologizing. I'm sorry, Sydney."

"It's okay. I forgive you." They smiled at each other, and held hands for a few minutes. Sydney was thrilled, and began fantasizing about their date that night, at Sandy's gig. But Garrett had other things on his mind. He couldn't help but wonder how he was going to tell wealthy, powerful Sydney Rutledge that he was now poor.

"What did you want us here for, Sandy?" Mila asked when Glory, Sydney, Nancy, and Sandy arrived at Mila's house.

Sandy paced nervously. "Well, I have some bad news about tonight."

"What is it?" Glory questioned her.

"The owners of the Caboose called Owen. They said you guys can't come see us play," Sandy told them with disappointment.

"Why not?" Sydney asked. "I was really looking forward to going."

"Maybe in three years," Sandy said.


"You have to be eighteen. We can't go." All the girls groaned, but a devious smile spread across Sydney's face.

Nancy immediately recognized the look. "Uh-oh Sydney, what are you planning?"

Sydney darted over to Mila's vanity table, grabbed some make-up and then turned back to her friends. "By the end of this afternoon we will be eighteen... at least to those bouncers!"

The next morning Callie had to literally drag herself out of bed. It had been so hard to get to sleep the previous night. She just kept seeing Jimmy's face, and kept wondering why he was here in Brazil. When she had finally drifted off to sleep, she had dreamt of him. It had been a really wonderful dream, and she woke up able to still feel the warmth of being near him. But as soon as she realized she had a dream about Jimmy, she got angry at herself. It's over! she had to tell herself over and over. He doesn't care about you... and you don't care about him. She wasn't sure if that was really true, but it made things easier if she pretended it was. The one thing she had learned from her short relationship with him was that it wasn't worth it. Nothing is forever. Especially not in her life.

Her father wasn't home, which Callie found strange. This was the first time in a very long time he had had a regular job, and she wasn't used to waking up and having him at work. But, being alone was comforting, and she flopped on the couch. She turned on the TV set, and committed herself to watching a Brazilian soap opera, which was called a Novella. It wasn't very interesting, but it kept her mind of things for a little while.

The phone rang, and she lazily reached for it. "Hello?" she said.

"Hi Callie, it's Pedro," he told her in a happy voice.

Callie tried to muster some excitement in hearing him on the phone, but it was difficult. It wouldn't be if it was.... Stop it! she yelled at herself, and then gave Pedro an enthusiastic hello.

"I was just calling to see what you're doing tonight," he explained.

"I'm not doing much of anything," she replied.

"Well, Ana and I have a question for you. We were wondering if you would like to go to a movie with me, my sister, and that guy we met in the store. The friend of yours from Swans Crossing."

Callie's mouth went dry. "Jimmy?" she whispered.

"Yeah, that's the guy. So what do you say?"

"Um..." She racked her brain for an excuse. "I don't know, I don't think it's a very good idea. I mean, uh, I think my dad wanted to spend some time with me tonight."

"Actually, our fathers both have to work late tonight, so I don't think he'll mind," Pedro said.

"Oh," Callie replied, not disguising the disappointment in her voice. "I guess I can go then."

"Great!" Pedro exclaimed. "We'll pick you up at around eight."

"Yeah," Callie echoed. "Great."

The air outside the Caboose was charged with excitement. Glory bounced on the heels of her feet, trying to keep warm. The fall air was crisp, and she hadn't brought a coat. It would have ruined the outfit Sydney had lent her. With the short, black slip dress, dark red lipstick, and her shorter hair Glory did look quite a bit older. And she also looked like she did at the beginning of the school year, when she tried her makeover, the one that had failed to make J.T. fall for her again.

"Are you cold?" a voice from behind her asked. She whipped around, and saw J.T. standing there.

"No," she answered, although she couldn't stop shivering. He gave her a half smile, and slowly handed her his sports jacket.

"J.T., you don't have to do that," she said softly.

"I know," he replied. "I want to."

Glory accepted the jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. "Won't Mila get angry?" she asked.

He was silent a moment. "No, Mila and I aren't...." his voice trailed off. "We're not together anymore."

"Oh," she said, although inside she was ready to jump for joy. Sydney and Garrett's plan had worked! "So, uh, who are you going to Homecoming with?"

J.T. grew very uncomfortable. "Uh, Carolyn Smith. From the University."

Glory took a deep breath, trying to quickly recover from this news about Carolyn.

"Look, I'll see you inside, I have to talk to Neil." J.T. disappeared into the crowd gathered around the club entrance.

Glory sighed with happiness... and sadness. She started playing with the necklace she was wearing, and it snapped in half. "Yikes!" she exclaimed. "I must have been tugging on this pretty hard." She reached into the inside pocket of J.T's blazer, and placed the necklace inside. Her hand brushed up against something soft, and out of curiosity she pulled it out.

It was a piece of white fabric. Her eyes flooded with happy tears when she saw it. It was the handkerchief she had given J.T. at the beginning of the summer. He had promised to keep it with him, always. And from the looks of it, he had kept his promise.

The movie theater lobby was bustling with activity. It was Saturday night, and it seemed like everyone had the same idea that Pedro and Ana had had when they planned the double date. The crowd, however, was comforting to Callie. All the happy people talking and laughing managed to replace all the thoughts running through her mind.

"I'm going to go get us some food," Jimmy said to no one in particular, but Callie could tell the comment was directed towards Ana.

"I'll come with you," Ana offered, trotting after him.

As soon as Jimmy walked up to the concession counter, he began mindlessly ordering food. He didn't really care what he was buying, as long as it got him away from Callie with her new boyfriend.

"You sure like a lot of food," Ana commented, stepping closer to him.

"It's for everyone," Jimmy muttered.

She snuggled against the sleeve of his denim shirt. "Generous too," she remarked.

From across the lobby, Callie's face was burning. She couldn't stand to watch the two of them together for one second, let alone an entire night of this. All she wanted to do was go home, and try and convince herself that Jimmy Clayton didn't matter to her anymore.

"Look at all the food Jimmy bought us," Ana said with a laugh as the two of them returned to the group.

Callie stole a glance at the large tub of popcorn, gigantic sodas, and huge boxes of candy he was carrying. "Wow," she had to mutter. She had never actually gone to a movie with Jimmy back at home.

Jimmy looked slightly annoyed. "I bought it for everyone, okay?" he said testily.

"Let's go inside," Pedro suggested quickly, sensing that everyone was tense. The four teens groped their way through the already crowded dark theater to try and find seats. As soon as they found a row, they all sat down: Ana on the aisle seat, Jimmy next to her, Callie next to Jimmy, and Pedro next to Callie.

Jimmy's heart started racing when he sat down next to Callie. He hadn't arranged for it to be that way, it had just happened like that. The movie started, and it came to his attention that it was a foreign film. Great, he thought to himself. I have to be in this awkward situation all night, and I can't even pretend to be interested in the movie!

Callie peeked over at Jimmy a second time, and noticed he was trying hard to read the subtitles, a difficult feat from the distance they were sitting at. She, however, knew a little of the Portuguese language, so she could concentrate slightly on the plot. It was hard though, knowledge or not, with him sitting so close to her. She could almost feel the heat from his body because of their closeness. No matter how angry she was at him right now, it was so comforting for him to be physically so near... although mentally he was as far away as could be.

Jimmy looked sideways at Callie, and out of the corner of his eye he could see Pedro slide his arm around her. He felt his stomach drop at the sight, and Callie did nothing to stop him. It was almost as if she didn't even notice it was there. Maybe I should just go back to Swans Crossing, Jimmy thought. It's pretty obvious to me that there's no way we can repair the damage done to our relationship now. He turned his head slightly to look at her again, and at the same time Callie glanced at him. Their eyes locked together for a split second, a second both of them cherished and feared at the same time. They quickly looked back at the movie screen... and didn't dare to look at each other again for the rest of the night.

Sydney was the first of her friends to approach the bouncer in front of the club. She tried walking right past him. She had read somewhere that if she looked like she belonged there she would get in.

"Wait a minute!" the bouncer exclaimed, gruffly pulling her back. "Where's your ID?"

Sydney tossed her head. "I never carry it. Everyone knows who I am."

"Well I don't," he said, folding his arms in front of his muscular chest.

Sydney held out a hand gingerly. "Sydney Orion Rutledge. As in Mayor Rutledge. My mother might like to hear about the discrimination your club is practicing... it may drive you out of business. My mother's very powerful."

The bouncer looked unhappy, but ushered Sydney and all her friends through the door with out any more hassle.

"We're in!" Sydney shouted triumphantly. They all split up to mingle in the crowd, and waited for the rest of their friends to play their set in the crowded, smoky little club.

The crowd began to cheer when Sandy, Mila, and Owen appeared on the stage. Sandy picked up the microphone from the stand, introduced the band, and started to sing. She started with "I'll Hold You Up" since that was the song being played on WSCR radio. As soon as the music began, the crowd started dancing, hollering, and getting into the music.

"This is so great!" Sydney shouted over the music to Garrett, who was dancing with her.

"I know, nobody here knows us, we can hang out together without anyone bothering us about being together," Garrett agreed.

Sydney laughed. "Yeah, I'd be pretty worried if any of Mother's friends hung out here!"

His expression became serious. "But we are going to tell her when we walk off the field together after the Homecoming game, right?"

"Of course," she assured him. "That is, if you win."

Garrett smiled. "Right. Hey, do you want something to drink?"

"I would love something," Sydney replied, smiling back at him. He made his way through the crowd to the bar, and she stared after him. Her heart was beating hard from all the excitement, and the happiness she was feeling from being with Garrett in public. It was a sensation she had never really experienced with Garrett in their previous relationship.

"But this time," she said out loud, "this time it's going to be different."

"What's going to be different?" a voice asked from behind her.

"Oh nothing," she told the man standing before her, her face flushing from embarrassment. She hadn't meant for anyone to overhear her.

The man smiled, realizing he had embarrassed her. "Aren't you a little young to be in a club like this?"

Sydney tried to keep her cool. She certainly didn't want anyone to tell the owners of the club that there were a bunch of underage kids there. "How old do I look?" she questioned him cautiously.

He gave her a grin. "Well, I would say you're around sixteen, although with the outfit and makeup I can see how they let you in."

"How did you get to be so perceptive?" she asked coyly.

The man smiled again. Sydney noticed he had a very charming smile. "Well, I'm a psych major, and I am also pre-med."

"Pre-med. Very impressive." Sydney glanced over her shoulder, wondering what was taking Garrett so long. She didn't mind the man's company, and it would make her feel sort of important if Garrett got jealous from the innocent conversation. But another part of her wanted to keep things honest. She and Garrett had played so many games in their lifetime, and this time she wanted things to be easier for them. "What's your name?" she asked the man.

"Danathan," he answered. "My name is Danathan Hartfield. And you are?"

"Sydney," she told him, not offering up her last name. He for sure would recognize the last name Rutledge.

A flicker of recognition flashed in Danathan's dark brown eyes. "You're Sydney Rutledge, the mayor's daughter... aren't you?"

"Well... yes," she said softly. "But look, my mother would kill me if she knew I was here..."

Danathan smiled. "Don't worry," he assured her. "I was in high school once too."

Sydney looked up, and saw Garrett heading in their direction. "Um, it was really nice to meet you," she told Danathan. "But I really have to go." She quickly excused herself, and went to meet Garrett. She was acutely aware of the fact Danathan stared after her the entire time.

Sandy, Owen, and Mila began "Over You" and many couples on the dance floor began slow dancing.

"Glory?" J.T. said, slowly approaching her.

"Yes?" she answered, her voice raising several octaves.

"Would you like to dance?"

I can't believe he just asked me that! she thought to herself, becoming giddy with excitement.

"I would like that," she accepted, and he took her gently into his arms. "Are you just doing this because you no longer have Mila?" she asked as they danced to the soft, romantic music.

"No!" he exclaimed quickly. "Of course not."

"Then why are you all of a sudden paying attention to me again? I don't want to be second to Mila Rosnovsky," Glory told him firmly.

"I know. Glory, you never were. I don't know what happened between us. I guess I just sort of liked the attention I got from Mila," J.T. explained.

"So are you saying I never paid attention to you?" she questioned him sharply.

"No! Mila just had a true appreciation for me, my poetry. You just let Garrett steal it from me," he said, his tone of voice becoming defensive.

"You know how Garrett is," Glory reminded him.

J.T. sighed, and then looked into her eyes. "The fact is that I still really care about you."

"I wish you would stop. We can't just pretend that things are like they were because they're not." Glory could feel a lump rising in her throat. "You stopped talking to me all of a sudden and started seeing Mila. And now, we're both going to Homecoming with other people."

"And it makes me so jealous that you're going with Neil!" he admitted.

Glory tried to fight the urge to smile. And I'm jealous that you're going with Carolyn, she thought to herself, but said nothing.

"Can't we just try to fix things?" he asked. "I've missed you."

I've missed you too, Glory wanted to say, but instead she said, "I don't know how things could ever be the same."

J.T. stopped dancing with her, and looked straight into Glory's eyes. "Then just tell me one thing. Do you still love me... or not?"

"Moving to Brazil" storyline (c) 1997 Miss Swan. Special thanks to my cousin Meghan Mulligan for creating and naming the character Danathan, and creating a storyline introduced in this chapter.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Glory's heart pounded so loudly, so hard at J.T.’s forthright question, that she couldn't hear the loud music playing in the club over it. "J.T., I don't think that matters," she whispered.

"Just answer the question Glory... do you still love me?" he asked, his voice full of emotion.

She pulled out of his embrace, and stared at him. Her eyes filled with tears. Of course she still loved him... she loved everything about him. The way he smiled, the way his dark wavy hair sometimes hung in his blue eyes. The way his face lit up when he worked with Neil, and the way he looked so shy and unsure of himself when he read Glory his poetry. She opened her mouth... wanting those intense feelings to be able to spill forth, but nothing came out. No matter how much she cared about him, the way he treated her still felt fresh in her mind.

"I'm sorry J.T., but it wouldn't be fair to either of us if I answered that question." Glory took one last look at him, into his longing, sad eyes, and then ran off... before he noticed the tears streaming down her face.

J.T. wanted to run after her, and he called her name into the crowd. But no one heard him... and he was left all alone.

"What a night..." Callie muttered to herself, stepping into the dark living room. She quickly groped around for the light... she hated being in the dark. The events of the evening were enough to make her want to cry, but after leaving Swans Crossing she felt like she had no tears left. Just an empty, hollow feeling.

She glanced up at the glaring red light on the clock... it read 11:05. It wasn't too late, and she certainly wasn't tired, but she felt physically exhausted after the double date from hell. She wasn't sure if Pedro and Ana had noticed the tension, but it was thick enough to be cut with a knife. Jimmy had barely spoken a word to her, and when he did it felt forced and unnatural. She wasn't sure what had happened to their knack for communicating, but it seemed as if it had gone up in smoke with the rest of their relationship.

And then there was Pedro. He was nice, gentlemanly, and he sincerely enjoyed Callie's company... but he wasn't Jimmy. She felt incredibly bad for Pedro because she knew in her heart she wasn't as interested as he was. But she honestly didn't have the energy to end whatever was going on, just as she had no energy to make an effort in the "relationship".

Callie trudged over to her bedroom, her heart heavy. She was really worried. After the double date, Pedro had taken her home, and Jimmy had taken Ana home. She wondered what was going on right now....

"I had a really wonderful time tonight," Ana commented when she and Jimmy arrived on her porch.

"Yeah, me too," Jimmy replied, his voice emotionless.

She stepped in closer to him. "We really should do this again sometime," she suggested with a smile.

He shrugged. "Okay."

Ana looked slightly annoyed for a minute, but then smiled again to cover it up. "You know, my brother has been dying to go to this dance club they just opened in town for teens. You, Pedro, Callie, and I could go there this weekend. What do you say?"

Another double date with Callie and Pedro? he asked himself with disgust. Although Pedro was a fairly nice guy, it pained Jimmy to see Callie and him together, and it was all he could do to restrain himself from clobbering him. He had to remind himself over and over that Callie was free to do whatever she wanted. And so am I, he reminded himself. "Yeah," he told Ana with false enthusiasm. "I think it would be great!"

She grinned. "Okay, well I will see you then."

"Okay," Jimmy replied. There was a long, awkward silence. He knew what was supposed to happen now. Ana thought Callie and Jimmy were just friends, and that he was interested in her. They had just had a supposed "wonderful" time, and now, from the look in her eyes, she was expecting a good night kiss.

Ana leaned closer to him, and Jimmy reluctantly obliged. He didn't want to do this, but maybe if he kissed her he could forget about Callie for five minutes...

Just as they were about to kiss, Pedro came walking up the steps, back from taking Callie home.

"I'll see you later!" Jimmy said quickly, backing away from Ana, relieved for the interruption. He took off back towards Johnny's house, and tried to forget about this strange evening.

As soon as Sydney saw Garrett coming towards her in the club, she quickly pushed the conversation with Danathan out of her mind. Danathan was incredibly handsome, but he was older, and besides... she had Garrett.

"Hi!" she greeted him with a smile.

Garrett smiled back, and handed her a plastic cup full of coke. "Here you go," he said.

Sydney downed the drink, and then laughed. "Come on Booth, we should dance!" He finished his coke as well, and then grabbed her hand. They began moving to the music, which was now a fast song. "You know," Sydney began, "Homecoming is really soon... should be pretty fun, huh?"

Garrett tried not to let Sydney see his discomfort. He had no idea how he was going to afford to take Sydney to homecoming, being that his family was now broke.

"It will be just like tonight, but we'll be all dressed up," she continued, and lowered her eyes. "More romantic," she added shyly.

"Right," Garrett replied slowly. He wanted to encourage her, it made him feel good that she wanted to be romantic with him, but he had so much on his mind.

"I was thinking, we ought to go to dinner at Giconies," Sydney mentioned casually as they danced.

Giconies? Garrett thought to himself dreadfully. Of course Sydney would want to go to the most expensive restaurant in the known universe, a posh Italian cafe on the outskirts of Swans Crossing. "Uh, okay. That would be really nice."

"I'm so excited!" she squealed. "We are going to have the best time!"

Garrett nodded, and studied her face. She was grinning from ear to ear, and had a sparkle in her green eyes. He sighed. There was no way he was going to be able to tell her that he and his family had lost a severe amount of money in the election. No way.

Sandy walked down the hall of Swans Crossing High on Monday morning, wearing a bright smile. As soon as she walked into the parking lot she was ambushed by a crowd of students, all having heard about her gig at the Caboose on Saturday. "An eighteen plus club?" they all said incredulously. "That is beyond cool!" Then they asked her what it was like, none of them had ever been there... but they had heard the stories. Sandy had become a SCH legend over night.

"Hi Sydney, hi Nancy," she greeted her friends who were standing next to Nancy's locker.

"Hey Sandy," Sydney said coolly. "What's up?"

Sandy smiled. "I could barely get in the door today! Everyone wanted to know about our gig at the Caboose."

"Why?" Nancy asked pointedly.

"Because, they were wondering what it was like to be at an eighteen plus club," Sandy answered.

"We were there, no one has asked us anything," Sydney stated.

Sandy shrugged. "Guess no one knew you were there," she remarked nonchalantly. Then she saw Saja coming up the hall. She waved, and he came up to the group.

"Come on Sandy, I'll walk you to class," Saja told her, and the two linked arms and walked away.

Sydney and Nancy stared after Sandy in disbelief. Even though she was still the same person, her new found fame had given her a new attitude. She wasn't as awkward and unsure of herself, and she walked through the halls with Saja, stopping to talk to people with an air of confidence about her.

"Who was that?" Nancy joked.

Sydney continued to look down the hallway. "It certainly wasn't Sandy Swan."

During lunch Garrett and Saja went down to the Tool n' Die because they had agreed to watch it for Jimmy. Once they got there Garrett took off his helmet and opened the door.

Saja let out a low whistle. "This place is a mess!" he commented, seeing the piles of engine parts and unfinished projects.

"Looks like Clayton didn't make this easy for us," Garrett added, but Saja didn't respond. He was on his hands and knees trying to pick up a carburetor he had dropped on the floor.

"Whoops," he said sheepishly.

Garrett gathered the mess on one end of the table in a quick sweep. "There," he remarked, brushing off his hands. "We're done."

Saja stood up. "Should we fix anything?"

"Nah," Garrett replied. "Jimmy will get to it when he comes back."

Saja nodded in agreement. "I wonder how things are going in Brazil for him?"

"For his sake I hope it will all work out," Garrett answered, and then continued, relating his thoughts out loud. "But sometimes girls are more trouble than they're worth."

"Sandy told me things were going well between you and Sydney. Is there trouble in paradise?"

Garrett sighed. "Well, yes and no. Do you promise not to say anything?"

"Of course. I assure you that I won't tell anyone. Secrets are the key to a clean soul. If we don't tell anyone our problems, our secret desires, then they will become all consuming. You see..." Saja began.

Garrett rolled his eyes. "And I thought you were over all that mamba jamba talk. Listen, just promise you won't tell anyone."

"I promise," he said simply.

"Well, my family has lost a lot of money, and I don't know how to tell Sydney."

Saja looked taken aback. "You're poor?"

Things were looking a little less gloomy after Glory left her English class. She had been having a very distracting day, still replaying the scene with J.T. at the Caboose that weekend over and over again. But her attention had been diverted from J.T. when she went to English class. She really liked her teacher and the discussion had been very interesting. In addition to that it was her last class of the day, and she was off to cheerleading practice. The squad only had a few days to prepare for the homecoming field show.

Glory reached her locker, and tossed in her books. She pulled out her yellow, black, and white pompoms, and a note fell out from the bottom locker shelf.

With a shaky hand, Glory unfolded the piece of paper and began reading it. From the first line she recognized the handwriting. It was from J.T. Glory,

I know that there is a chance you will never forgive me for what I did to you. I never meant to hurt you, you are the bright spot in my life. Even when I was with Mila, I wanted so badly to be with you. Although I know you are upset, I hope you realize that I will forever regret what I did, and hope you will forgive me.

Tears welling in her eyes, Glory refolded the letter, took a deep breath, and put it back in the locker. She didn't know what to make of it, and just couldn't deal with it. Not yet.

Humming to herself, Sydney walked over to the Booth's house. Garrett and Glory weren't home, but she had been assured that Grant would be there, sitting on the front porch.

"Hi Grant!" Sydney called cheerfully. He was sitting on the porch swing, reading the newspaper.

"Hey Sydney," he responded.

"So are you enjoying your vacation?" she asked.

Grant shrugged, and figured to keep the hardships his family was going through a secret. "It's been pretty good," he lied.

"Well, have you thought any more about the homecoming dance?" she questioned bluntly.

He laughed. "Why are you so persistent?"

She smiled at him. "I have my reasons," she answered mysteriously.

Grant thought a moment, and then nodded. "Yeah, I think I have made a decision."

Sydney clapped her hands together. "That's great news! Anyway, I better get going. I was just on my way home."

"Okay," he agreed. She started walking across the lawn to her property. "See you later Sydney!" he added.

Sydney hurried into her house to call Mila. She was going to be thrilled!

For the third time, Callie glanced down at the newspaper. She had been trying to read an article on the front page for several minutes, but every time she began to read her mind drifted off and she lost her place. It wasn't as if the article was interesting, in fact quite the contrary. Callie just wanted something to do. It seemed as though when she moved to Brazil she didn't go out as much or do things as often as she had when she lived in Swans Crossing. She stood up from her spot on the sofa, where she had been for a majority of the day. She almost wished that it was the school year so she would have something to do.

Callie glanced out the window, and saw that it was sunny outside. I guess I could use some fresh air, she thought to herself. She walked out the front door, and immediately regretted it. It was hot and incredibly humid, so much so that when she stepped outside she could literally feel the air. Brazil in the spring was much hotter than Swans Crossing had been in the summer, and nearly everyday Callie was forced to wear shorts, something she was not entirely comfortable with.

She made her way down a grassy path, towards the ocean. She lived very close to the shore, and felt a little cooler once she reached the water's edge. Pulling off her sandals, Callie waded through the lapping waves, letting some of her troubled thoughts slip away at the soothing sensation.

Meanwhile, Jimmy was also leaving Johnny's house. He had just gotten the message that his brother was going to be working late in the darkroom. "Have dinner without me!" Johnny had said cheerfully. Jimmy, however, felt very alone in the big house, and decided to get some fresh air. Johnny hadn't had time to show him around very much, so he was wandering around, pretty unsure of where he was going. As soon as he found his way to the shore he noticed a figure a few yards away, wading in the water.

Jimmy walked closer to the figure, and then was hit with the realization that it was Callie. I didn't know we lived this close to each other! he thought to himself. His first instinct was to turn and walk away, but he was drawn towards her. He desperately wanted to fix things with her, and seeing her there, standing knee deep in water, he couldn't turn away even if he tried.

Callie turned around, and then stood paralyzed with fear as she faced him. They stared at each other without a word, not sure what to say.

Garrett walked into the kitchen slowly, unsure of what to say. His father sat at the oak dining room table, hunched over a stack of papers. He was punching numbers into a calculator, his face looking flustered.

"Dad?" Garrett asked tentatively.

Mr. Booth looked up. "Yes?"

"Look, I uh, I know everything that's going on around here. The money and all," Garrett said, his voice faltering.

"Uh huh," his father muttered distractedly.

"I was just wondering how bad this whole thing is," Garrett concluded.

"And why were you wondering that?" Mr. Booth questioned him testily.

Garrett drew in a deep breath. "I want to know if it’s possible for me to go to homecoming this year."

Mr. Booth looked back at the grim number on the calculator display. "Garrett," he began, sounding a little more empathetic, "I know you're in high school, and this kind of stuff is important to you. But I just don't see how it's possible to afford it this year. We really need to watch our money until I am reinstated at Booth Construction."

Garrett looked at his father in confusion. "What do you mean? You created Booth construction. Why can't you just hire yourself back?"

"It's not that easy, Son," Mr. Booth replied vaguely.

"So homecoming's out?" he asked. Sydney is going to be devastated, he added to himself.

"Not entirely..." Mr. Booth said slowly.

"What do you mean?" Garrett inquired, recognizing the tone in his father's voice. It meant he had an idea.

"Well, you're fifteen now. That's certainly old enough to get a job."

Garrett felt a wave of dread wash over him. "A job?"

"Moving to Brazil" storyline (c) 1997 Miss Swan. Special thanks to phantasy 4 who gave me a lot of great ideas for my story, including the one about Garrett getting a job!

Chapter Twenty-Four (co-written by Miss Swan)

"Oh Sydney, I am so excited about the game Friday!" Mila exclaimed, letting herself into Sydney's bedroom. She tossed her pompoms on the bed.

Sydney looked up. She was sitting at her window reading the same paragraph from her chemistry book over and over. "Nice to see you too, Mila."

Mila giggled sheepishly. "Well, this is just all so new to me. But high school is so exciting! Why didn't you tell me it was so great?"

"You sure are in a good mood," Sydney commented, ignoring Mila's question. "And I have something that is going to make you hit the roof."

Mila scurried to Sydney's side. "What is it?"

"Does your mother know you're here?"

"Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything?" Mila asked in confusion.

Sydney smiled widely. "Well, in case a certain Grant Booth gives you a call your mother can tell him where to reach you."

A chill rushed through Mila's body. "Oh my gosh! Are you serious?"

"Sure am!" Sydney said happily. "I convinced him to make a decision about going, and both Garrett and Glory confirmed he was eyeing you when he first came to visit. I'm expecting him to call you anytime soon."

Mila hugged Sydney and then began nervously arranging her long blond hair. "Do I look okay?"

"Mila, it's a phone call," Sydney reminded her.

"Oh yeah." Mila flopped down on the bed. She thought momentarily about all of her boyfriends since she had moved to Swans Crossing. She moved into town having never had a boyfriend, and now she had gone out with Garrett, Billy Gunn, Garrett again, and J.T. Possibly Grant, if things went the way she hoped. However, all of her earlier relationships had ended pretty disastrously, so Mila said a silent prayer that this time it would finally work out for her.

As if on cue, the telephone rang. Mila nearly jumped out of her skin, and then looked at Sydney with wide eyes.

"Answer it!" Sydney urged.

With a shaky hand Mila picked up the porcelain telephone. "Hello?"

"Hi!" said an enthusiastic male voice. Mila immediately recognized it as Grant's.

"Oh hi Grant," she replied, giving Sydney a thumbs-up.

"I told you," Sydney mouthed.

"So what's up?" she asked, trying to sound casual.

"Well, not much. I've been thinking though, and I think it would be a lot of fun to go to the homecoming dance," Grant told her.

Mila couldn't believe her luck. "Oh really?"

"Yeah, and I was wondering if maybe you would like to go with me," he concluded, sounding almost as nervous as Mila did.

"I would love to!" she responded quickly, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest.

"Great," he said happily. "Why don't we meet on Friday after the game right in front of the gym?"

"Sounds wonderful. I'll see you then."

"Okay, see you then," Grant agreed.

Mila placed the phone in it's cradle and then started jumping up and down. "He asked me!" she squealed triumphantly. It seemed as if things were finally working out for Mila Rosnovsky.

"W-what are you doing here?" Callie asked, looking up at Jimmy like a deer caught in headlights. She didn't move from her spot in the middle of the water.

"I was just going for a walk," Jimmy answered. He couldn't tear his eyes away from her, standing knee deep in water, or from the moonlight that reflected from the water dancing on her face.

"Me too," she told him.

He started backing away. "Well, I think I'm gonna split."

"Okay," she replied nonchalantly, although she wanted in her heart to beg him to stay.

"See ya around," he said, turning away.


Jimmy suddenly turned back. "Hey Callie?"

Her stomach jumped into her throat. "Yes?"

"Last night Ana asked me if you and Pedro wanted to check out this new nightclub on Friday. What do you say?"

Callie exhaled a long, shaky breath. There was something odd in this question. He was asking her to do something with him, something he had done many times. But there were other people involved, and the way he phrased it made it clear that he was with Ana and she was with Pedro. "Sure," she responded shortly.

Jimmy nodded, and turned away again. This time he kept walking. He too was finding the entire situation strange. Here he was, faced with a girl who at one time he had been so close to, and now they were treating each other like complete strangers.

Callie watched Jimmy walk down the sandy beach, and even though it was hot out, she suddenly felt very cold inside.

The trees whizzed by as Garrett drove his mini bike to Swans. His father's words were ringing in his head. A job. It was a novel idea, but Garrett was suddenly full of worries. If word got out that he was working somewhere his reputation would be ruined. The Booths didn't have to work. They were one of the most affluent families in town. Even Sandy didn't have to get a job. Her parents struggled, but they weren't so poor that Sandy had to support herself. A chill ran down Garrett's spine. He was worse off than Sandy Swan now.

He pulled up to the building and dismounted his bike. He wasn't even paying attention to where he was going and what he was doing. It was as if he was on auto pilot. Sydney was very important to him, and he was willing to do anything for her. Even get a job so he could take her to homecoming, if that's what it took.

With a determined shove, Garrett opened the door to Swans and entered the diner. Before he approached the counter he scanned the room for his friends. Luckily everyone in the soda shop were people he didn't know very well.

Jazz was behind the counter, wiping down some of the soda dispensers. She noticed Garrett and waved hello.

"Hi Jazz. I was wondering if I could get an application," Garrett stated very bluntly.

"For who?" she asked curiously.

He lowered his eyes. "For me."

Immediately, Jazz doubled over in fits of laughter. "That's the best one I've heard all day!" she gasped.

"It's not a joke," he said through clenched teeth.

Jazz stopped laughing and caught her breath. "Are you serious?"

"Yes," Garrett replied.

She shrugged, and decided not to even attempt to question why Garrett Booth wanted to get a job. Jazz bent down and retrieved an application for him. "Here you go."

Garrett took it from her outstretched hand and left the humiliating scene as quickly as he could.

Nancy closed her math book and went over to her telephone. She had been waiting for this moment all night. Her parents had a rule that all homework had to be completed before she could use the phone. Now that she was done she could do something that might change her life forever.

Stop being such a drama queen, she scolded herself. Maybe not forever, but this phone call was going to affect her immediate future. She picked up the phone and dialed Kevin Hall's number. She had looked it up in the phone book. Even though they had gone to get coffee a few times and had spent some time at the stables together, he hadn't given her his number.

"Hello?" a pleasant female voice answered.

"Hi, is Kevin there?" Nancy asked, her voice raising several octaves.

"Sure, just a second," she said.

A few moments later, Kevin came on the line. "Hello?"

"Hey Kevin, it's Nancy. Nancy Robbins," she clarified.

He laughed lightly. "I know," he teased her. "How are you, Nancy?"

"I'm pretty good," she said, not adding that she was a nervous wreck. "What about you?"

"Not bad," he replied, and the conversation lagged.

"Well," she began, jumping into her question immediately. "I am calling because I was wondering if you would like to go to the homecoming dance on Friday night."

Kevin was quiet for a moment. "I think that would be a lot of fun. We're playing your team that night, aren't we?"

"Yeah," Nancy answered. "Is that a problem?"

"No," he assured her. "I just thought that maybe a Newport High kid might not exactly be accepted at SCH."

"Well, I really want you there," Nancy told him flirtatuously.

She could almost hear Kevin smiling on the other line as he replied, "Then the answer is yes. I would be honored to go with you."

Nancy beamed. Life couldn't possibly get any better than this.

The next day Sydney ran into Garrett before school. "Hi!" she said, greeting him in the front entrance to the school.

He smiled upon seeing her. "Hey Sydney." They stood before each other a moment or two, and then Garrett kissed her lightly on the lips. Sydney's heart fluttered. They both basked in the moment of public affection.

"So how have you been?" she asked.

Garrett’s expression clouded. He wanted so badly to tell her that he had applied for a job at Swans, but he just couldn't. The look of love in her green eyes made it impossible for him to break her heart. And he knew it would put a huge strain on their relationship. Sydney was very clear on her thoughts about money. The more, the better. It would seem weird for Sydney Rutledge, the richest girl in town, to be dating someone who didn't have any money, and had to flip burgers to get any at all.

"I'm okay," he answered quietly.

Sydney didn't notice his troubled tone. "Me too. I just can't wait until Friday. And I want you to know I promise I really will walk off the field when you guys win."

"You sound pretty confident," Garrett commented.

She smiled widely. "Well, I have a lot of things to be confident about." She looked up at him. "And you're one of those things." She leaned towards him to kiss him again. He kissed her back, although his mind was in another world.

I wish I had a lot to be confident about too, he thought to himself. Under most circumstances Garrett Booth was the most confident person in town. He had it all- a beautiful girlfriend, good looks, and money. Now that he no longer had money it seemed as if he was going to lose it all. Well, he amended, I'll still have my looks.

"Garrett?" Sydney called, snapping him back to reality.

His head whipped up when he realized she was talking to him. "Were you talking to me?"

She furrowed her eyebrows at him in concern. "Are you okay?" she asked.

No, he thought. I'm not okay! I have no money, and I know I'm not good enough for you! His mind was racing, but he couldn't verbalize those insecure thoughts. Sydney wouldn't understand. She was never insecure, and she thought of him in the same sense she did herself. Garrett Booth could never be anything but "perfect" in her eyes. Even when she hated him, she knew he had it all. Until now, he remind himself. Garrett cleared his throat. "Yeah, I'm fine."

At lunch Sydney was sitting with her friends, trying to get them to decide if they should get a limousine to take them to the homecoming dance. At Swans Crossing High homecoming was almost as formal as the prom.

"This is so cool!" Sydney exclaimed, pointing to a black stretch limo with a high ceiling in the catalog.

"Where do they keep the chandelier?" Sandy joked.

Sydney tapped her fingernails against the formica table. "Let me guess- Saja wants to beam yourselves there or something."

Sandy had to laugh. "Probably."

"So, Syd, Garrett wants to know what color corsage he should get you," Glory told her.

Sydney busily pulled something out of her leather purse. "Here," she said, handing Glory a sheet of colored paper. "I got it at the florist. I circled all the ones that I liked, so Garrett can just pick off of this. But, it has to be a red rose, no matter what."

"You're taking this homecoming thing really seriously, Sydney," Nancy commented, pushing her cafeteria lunch away.

Sydney pursed her trademark red lips. "Homecoming is the biggest night of the year," she explained defensively.

Sandy chuckled. "I thought that title belonged to graduation." The rest of the girls joined in her laughter.

"Laugh all you want guys, but I am going to have the best night money can buy. Now," she said, producing the limo catalogue again, "which limo?"

Jimmy woke up the next day, and went downstairs. Johnny was already dressed, and armed with a suitcase. Jimmy looked at his brother quizzically. "What are you doing?"

"Well, I forgot to tell you that I have to go on a business trip tonight," Johnny explained.

"Oh," he said slowly. "That's okay, I guess. I'll just hang out here tonight then."

Johnny cocked his head and gave Jimmy an apologetic look. "Well, see, there's a slight problem. I forgot when I scheduled this trip that I had also scheduled for the house to be exterminated late this afternoon."

"So what does that mean for me?"

Johnny picked up his suitcase. "Well, I arranged for you to stay with the Walkers tonight. I know you knew them in Swans Crossing, and I met Captain Walker the other day when I was out working on the lawn. He's a really nice guy. It's only for one night. Is that okay?"

Jimmy was so stunned that he couldn't even answer him... he was spending the night at Callie's.

"No way Dad," Callie said pointedly, folding her arms in front of her. "There is no way I'm letting you do this to me."

Captain Walker shrugged. "There's nothing I can do about it. I already told his brother he could stay. Why didn't you tell me your friend from Swans Crossing was visiting, and so close to our house at that?"

Callie turned away from her father, not wanting to meet his eyes. She stared out the window, and looked at the pouring rain. It matched her mood. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Fine, but he's staying the night," Captain Walker told her firmly. "How would you like to be in a strange place and have nowhere to go?"

"That's how I feel anyway," Callie muttered under her breath.

"What was that?"

"Nothing. I just want you to know I am not happy about this," Callie said with a scowl.

"Oh, I know," he replied.

She began stomping over to her bedroom.

"Callie!" her dad called her back.

"Yes?" she asked warily.

"Well, I almost forgot that I have to go to a company party tonight. You'll be all right here by yourself, won't you?"

Callie's stomach dropped. "You mean I'm going to be here with Jimmy tonight, all alone?"

Mila stood in front of the other cheerleaders, punching her arms in the air with enthusiasm. Ever since Grant had asked her to the dance she had more adrenalin running through her body than ever before. All the girls were commenting on it, and she told them she was just excited about cheering at the game.

Glory tried hard to follow all of Mila's commands, and she was doing a good technical job, but her heart wasn't into it. She was still thinking about J.T.'s apology. Glory wanted to accept it more than anything, but she was still so hurt. The scars that he caused by ditching her for Mila were permanent.

Across the field, the boys were practicing. She watched J.T., transfixed, but yet somewhat angered.

"That's it for today girls!" Mila announced, excusing them from practice. Glory went over to her duffel bag and unzipped it to toss her pompoms inside. Laying inside the bag she discovered a large, white daisy. She picked it up and fingered the petals. It was beautiful, but she knew it was from J.T.

When is he going to learn that it's just too soon? Glory asked herself. She started walking off the field, and noticed J.T. was looking in her direction, wanting to see a reaction from his little gift. She hurried away from J.T.'s waiting stare... but kept the daisy.

Callie peered out of her bedroom window at the evening Brazil sky. The storm outside was raging. Rain was pouring rapidly from the dark, heavy clouds and the thunder was booming wickedly. The wind seemed to take on a life of its own. It was almost as if it were grabbing the trees and shaking them violently with large, invisible hands. The storm was growing worse by the minute. Callie started to become even more tense than she had been previously, especially with the thought of her father being caught in the treacherous rain... and the fact that Jimmy was laying on the family room couch just a few feet away from her bedroom door.

Callie shivered involuntarily and pulled the venetian blinds back down over her window. In a way, the storm was a perfect reflection of how she was feeling inside. From the moment she had seen Jimmy at that store in Brazil, she felt as though her emotions were on a roller coaster. She didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or scream. On one hand, she still remembered the argument that she and Jimmy had the afternoon before she left for Brazil. She remembered it more vividly than she would've liked to. The cruel words that they had thrown back and forth at each other were still very fresh in Callie’s mind. The tension between her and Jimmy upon his unexpected arrival in Brazil was so thick, it was almost tangible. Callie knew that she didn't mean the harsh things she had said during their fight back in Swans Crossing, but she wasn't sure if it was the same way with Jimmy. She felt so flustered and confused every time he was with her that it was hard to keep from screaming. However, she also felt slightly excited, and almost giddy ever since they were reunited in Brazil. As much as she hated to admit it to herself, she had a secret fantasy in the back of her mind that maybe Jimmy had come to Brazil to patch things up with her. Whenever they were around each other, the chemistry that was shared between the two back when they were a couple still seemed to be alive. Maybe Callie was just dreaming it up, but Jimmy appeared to be equally as nervous and eager as she was every time they were within a few feet of one another. The possibility that he might still have feelings for her made her want to burst into delighted laughter. Yet, despite her concealed rapture over being around Jimmy again, seeing him in the flesh also made Callie want to cry. Jimmy was like the ultimate symbol of the life she led back in Swans Crossing. He reminded her of how great it felt to care so deeply for someone, of all the friends she had made in Swans Crossing, how that was the only place she could ever really call home, and how happy she was there. For her entire life, she had never been as happy as she was living in Swans Crossing. All this conflict going through her mind was driving her absolutely insane.

Callie shrieked softly as the storm let loose with another loud howl and the violent rain drops pounded against her bedroom window even harder than they had before. She tried to ignore the storm by closing her eyes and turning on her Walkman to drown out the sounds. She even had every single one of her bedroom lights on because she was afraid of the dark and the storm obviously wasn't doing anything to ease her fear. But despite her best efforts, she still kept visualizing her father. Why on earth did I let him leave for that party this late at night? she wondered apprehensively. He could get pneumonia, or struck by lightning, or worse....

Callie shook her head disapprovingly as she reviewed these ridiculous thoughts. It was strange for her to be so worried about something as trivial as a rainstorm. Normally, she was an extremely levelheaded person and was often the one to calm others down during a crisis. Now she was the one who needed to be comforted. If only a certain person sitting just outside my bedroom door could do it, Callie thought wistfully. She knew that the reason why she was so excitable tonight wasn't just because of the storm or even of the thought of her father being in danger. It was also because of Jimmy. Why can't I just forget about him? Callie asked herself in frustration. It’s over between us. He even said so himself. I even said so. Her covert emotions for Jimmy continued to run rampantly through her mind as she grew more and more frustrated. Why can't I get him out of my mind? Why do we have to be in the same house tonight? Why can't I just tell him how I feel? Why can't I just admit that I still-

Suddenly, her bedroom lights went out.

"Moving to Brazil" storyline & final scene (c) 1997 by Miss Swan Thanks to Phantasy4 for his storyline about Garrett getting a job. Also, thanks to Miss Swan for writing the entire last scene!

Chapter Twenty-Five (Co-writers this chapter: Miss Swan and Maxiom)

Sydney strolled leisurely through the aisles of one of the more expensive boutiques at the Swans Crossing mall.

Nancy followed behind her, struggling with an armload of dresses. "I'm so glad I'm going to homecoming!" she exclaimed happily, placing the rejected dresses back on the rack. Sydney rolled her eyes behind her friends back.

With the enemy, she thought to herself, but resigned to keeping quiet. She had been shopping with Nancy for a full hour and Nancy hadn't made one snobbish remark. It had to be a new record.

"Yes," Sydney said. "I'm glad you get to go, too. It looks like the whole group is going to make it."

Nancy nodded. "And some of the strangest couples have emerged. Like you, for example, Sydney-O. I simply cannot believe you and Garrett are going to make your first public appearance at the dance. How risky," Nancy commented mockingly.

Well there goes the record, Sydney thought.

The dressing room door opened and Mila stepped out into the store, tags dangling from her dress. "What do you think?" she asked, spinning around to show off the dress at every angle.

Both Sydney and Nancy looked on, impressed. The dress Mila had tried on was a shimmery pink color, and the gauzy fabric swished around her thighs. The neckline would be perfect for displaying a delicate necklace, and the sleeves showed off her tan shoulders. It was a beautiful dress.

"Wow Mila," Nancy breathed. "That's perfect!"

Sydney rushed over to Mila's side and examined the dress. "Mila, hold your hair on top of your head."

Mila grabbed her long golden hair and simulated an updo. Sydney nodded in approval. "That dress looks incredible on you. You must get it!"

Mila let out an excited giggle. "Okay! What do you think Grant will think?"

"That you look very mature. At least sixteen," Nancy told her. Mila didn't need another word of encouragement, and she quickly headed to the cash register.

"So now it's just you and me on the quest for the perfect homecoming dress," Sydney said brightly, looking at the other dresses on the rack.

Nancy lifted her hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn. "Actually Sydney, I'm feeling really tired. I think I'm going to abandon you and go get a soda at Swans. Do you want to come?"

Sydney thought for a moment. "No, I think I'll stay here. I have to get a dress soon, time is running out. The game is tomorrow, you know."

"I know. I just need to rest for a little. Why don't I meet you guys back here in thirty minutes?" Nancy suggested.

Sydney nodded. "Sounds great," she agreed, and resumed her search. Within seconds of Nancy's departure, a dress seemed to jump out at her. It was long and had a full, flowing skirt. The bodice was made of black lace, and the skirt was white satin. She could just envision herself in this elegant black and white dress with her dark hair pulled up into a bun, slinky black gloves pulled up to her elbows, an exquisite corsage made of roses placed on her wrist, and a studded Homecoming Queen tiara on her head.... Sydney grabbed the dress and headed into the dressing room. "Mila!" she called. "I found it!"

Callie whipped her Walkman headphones off of her ears and bolted up from her bed. She pulled up the blinds and peered outside the window. The neighboring houses also seemed to be without lights. All she could see was darkness and the gray shadows of a mass of heavy clouds that were lingering in the sky. It was indeed a blackout. Great, Callie thought miserably. My father is stuck in the worst storm I've ever witnessed, my ex-boyfriend is right outside my bedroom door, and now all the lights are out!

Unsure of what to do next, she began pacing across her room. She grabbed her phone in an effort to call the party up and ask about her father, but the line was dead. Now Callie really felt like screaming. She was worried enough about the storm, her father, and Jimmy, and now she had to deal with her fear of the dark. She shut her eyes again, hoping that the moment she opened them, the lights would magically reappear. No such luck. Her room was even darker than it was before she closed her eyes. Callie balled her hands into fists and continued to pace across her bedroom in agitation. I hate this! I can't think with all the lights out! And if there's a blackout, I can just imagine what's happened to Dad! What if he hadn't arrived at the party yet? He could really be in trouble now!

Callie started breathing heavily, and her heart pounded in panic. She hated feeling out of control like this, so she forced herself to calm down. Okay, the phone lines are dead and I have no way of contacting my dad. What I need to do now is get some lights so I can relax and stop worrying so much. I'm sure Dad is fine. I just need to get some lights....

She recalled where her father had stored their flashlights and candles and realized that they were in one of the drawers in the kitchen. And the kitchen was connected to the family room. The family room where Jimmy is probably sleeping on the couch now, Callie thought, wincing. I need to get the flashlights, but I don't want him to see me. I might just end up saying something I shouldn't... Callie shuddered as she imagined herself revealing her true feelings to Jimmy. I'm so frantic right now that I could let anything slip. She no longer trusted herself enough to be alone with Jimmy for a even minute. Not when all she wanted to do was tell him how much she still cared. No, telling him something that he doesn’t need to hear is even worse than sitting here in the dark for a few hours. I’ll just brave this blackout until the morning, or until my dad comes home... if he even does make it home.

The thunder boomed viciously again, and the rain was now beating down like daggers against her window. Callie glanced helplessly around her dark bedroom and then froze, paralyzed in terror. Okay, I take that back. If I don't get any lights in here soon, I'm gonna freak! She knew that if she didn't retrieve the flashlights and candles, she would drive herself crazy. Callie walked over to her door and slowly pulled it open. She reluctantly headed towards the kitchen.

Glory walked around the mall, helping Sandy carry some of her bags. Even though Sandy had already bought her homecoming dress, Glory had agreed to help her find shoes and jewelry to go with it. And of course, as Sandy's luck was going, she had immediately found shoes the exact aquamarine color of her dress, and a beautiful necklace and matching earrings set with blue stones. And all of it was very inexpensive, so Sandy was on cloud nine. Glory, however, had not found the right dress for herself yet. Of course, it wasn't an all important event... she was going with Neil after all, strictly as friends. Still... J.T. will be there, she reminded herself, and immediately scolded herself for even having such a thought.

"Dear, how much longer are we going to be?" Cornelia Booth asked her daughter.

"Not too much longer, Mom. I'm about ready to give up!" Glory admitted.

"Oh no, you don't," Sandy said. She led Glory by the hand to another store window. "That's it! It's perfect for you!"

Glory pressed her fingertips against the window glass, mesmerized by the dress displayed on the mannequin. "You're right," she breathed. She was instantly in love with the short, cream dress with an empire waist and matching silk scarf. "Oh Mom, can I get it?"

Mrs. Booth smiled. "It's a beautiful dress, dear." She didn't want to express her financial woes and worry Glory. She still had money in her credit account, and she pulled the plastic card from her purse. "Let's go buy it!"

Glory squealed with delight, suddenly getting more into the shopping experience. She found a dress in her size and hastily approached the cash register. The woman behind the counter rang up the dress, wrapped it in a box, and took Mrs. Booth's credit card from her. She ran it through the machine, and it made a beeping noise.

Mrs. Booth blushed and lowered her head, hoping none of the Swans Crossing socialites would spot her.

"I'm sorry ma'am, but this card is being rejected. Do you have another?" the woman asked.

Mrs. Booth fumbled through her handbag to look for another card while Glory looked on with concern. "I'm sorry about that. Here, try this one."

The woman ran it through, and once again it made that loud beep, as if to alert everyone in the store the card was being rejected.

"I'm very sorry. I'm sure you just have a problem with the company. Why don't you call the eight hundred number and clear that up, and then I'm sure you will be able to use your cards again." Mrs. Booth could tell that the employee was just being nice. There was nothing she could do. She turned to look into her daughter's worried eyes.

"I'm sorry Glory..."

Jimmy was laying with his back on the Walkers' family room couch, listening to the rainstorm outside. The television was on but he wasn't paying any attention to it. He had been trying to watch for awhile, hoping that the late-night Brazil programs (which he couldn't even understand since most of them were in Portuguese) would put him to sleep. But so far, he hadn't had any luck. All he could think about was Callie, and how she was in her bedroom just a couple of feet away from the couch where he was trying to sleep.

An ironic chuckle escaped from Jimmy's mouth as he realized how crazy his current situation was. The stuff that had been happening to him during the past couple of weeks seemed like events lifted straight out of one of those stupid TV sitcoms. The sitcoms where the characters would try their hardest to avoid getting into any trouble, but would always end up with more problems than they could've imagined. Jimmy had traveled to Brazil in hopes to repair his relationship with Callie. But when he arrived here, he realized that this was a task that would never be accomplished. He found out practically the moment he had set foot in Rio De Janeiro that Callie had already started dating Pedro. She sure didn't waste any time, Jimmy mused bitterly. I guess things between us were worse than I thought. She really must hate me now. And who could blame her? You said the some really awful things to her before she left Swans Crossing, Jimmy scolded himself silently. You didn't even show up at her good-bye party. Now you come to Brazil to try and make things up to her, but you can't even admit to her that you still care. All you can do is come up with some lame excuse about visiting your brother in Rio and then you start dating Pedro's sister. Great job, Clayton. Now you'll never get Callie back.

After recalling the ludicrous events that had occurred upon his arrival in Brazil, Jimmy groaned in despair. He had flown over three thousand miles just to find out that Callie no longer wanted him in her life. The moment he spotted her in that store with Pedro, he contemplated leaving Brazil, but he had already promised his brother he’d stay for awhile. Johnny and Jimmy were pretty close and rarely ever got to see each other. He didn't want to pass up his chance to be around his brother again, even though it killed Jimmy to see Callie with another guy. But he supposed that was his punishment for being so cruel to her before she left Swans Crossing. He constantly searched for someone to blame for all the misery he had been going through, but as usual, Jimmy had no one to blame but himself. He had his chance with Callie and he blew it. Obviously, he wasn't getting a second chance.

Man, if only she still cared about me, even just a little. If only I could have another chance with her. I definitely would not blow it this time. I've already made enough mistakes with Callie since the day we met. For about the thousandth time since he'd been in Brazil, Jimmy sighed ruefully. It seemed that his entire life was made up of lost opportunities and endless regrets. He really was the ultimate sitcom character. The one who's life is the most screwed up and never gets what he wants. Except the one difference we have is that by the end of the episode, his life is back to normal. My problems just keep getting worse by the day, Jimmy thought to himself wistfully.

Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by a blinding strobe of lightning accompanied immediately by a deafening peal of thunder. The light in the room and television went off simultaneously. Great. The power's out, he thought. Well, maybe I can relax and get some sleep now. Then his thoughts turned to Callie once more. I wonder if she's asleep? If not, she'll be terrified of being in the dark. Maybe I should...no. She's okay. She's in there asleep, probably dreaming of Pedro.

Jimmy closed his eyes and tried to relax. I've got to get some sleep. But how can I? How can I do anything when the girl I'm crazy about is right in the next room, and all I want to do is just go in there and....

Perish the thought, Clayton. Stop tormenting yourself. The sooner you get to sleep, the sooner it will be morning and the sooner you'll be out of here. Nothing's going to come of this situation.

His thoughts were then interrupted again by the sound of Callie's bedroom door creeping open. Then he saw Callie step out of her room. Immediately, their eyes met.

"I was... just going to get a flashlight. There's a blackout. I didn't mean to wake you," Callie said nervously.

Jimmy could see the fear in her face, and hear it in her voice. All he wanted to do was go to her and take her in her arms to try to comfort her. He couldn't stand to see her being frightened, couldn't stand the thought of her being in any kind of pain. "No, I wasn't asleep. Who can sleep through all this?" he remarked, referring to the raging storm outside. He tried to sound cheerful and upbeat.

Hearing Jimmy speak to her with a positive attitude worked wonders in comforting Callie. Not only was she no longer alone in this inescapable darkness, but there was something else as well. It was the first time he'd really spoken to her in such a friendly manner since before they'd broken up so long ago. Besides that, the thoughts of just being alone with him was exciting, although she didn't want to admit it to herself. She cherished being in his presence, even if they were now only "acquaintances".

"Well, anyway, I'm sorry I disturbed you. I'll just get what I was going after," Callie told him, wanting to match his friendly attitude in her voice, but was surprised that it sounded more disinterested and bored than anything else. She made her way into the kitchen and disappeared from his sight.

Nice going. You really screwed that up, Jimmy thought to himself. If only he could have known that those were the exact words Callie was saying to herself at the moment, too.

Callie managed to find the drawer and felt around inside it until she found the flashlight. She clicked it on and immediately felt much more at ease. She could see clearly now, and took one of the candles and some matches. "Well, I found them," she said, smiling slightly as she walked back in the family room. It was easier to speak to Jimmy with a more upbeat tone now, since she had the excuse of having found what she was looking for as a disguise. She opened the door to her room. "Good night."

"Good night," Jimmy replied pleasantly, but felt terrible that she was leaving him. Alone again. I wish I'd been asleep when she opened that door. I can't stand this! he thought miserably.

Before she closed her bedroom door, Callie realized she was being rude. She swung the door back open. "Jimmy, I've got a candle here. Do you want it?" she asked. "I don't really need it since I have a flashlight."

"Yeah, if you wouldn't mind," Jimmy responded, sitting up and managing a smile, his mood lifting.

Callie walked to the couch and set the candle on the table in front of it.

"I can hold the light for you," Jimmy offered. Callie handed him the flashlight and lit a match. He aimed the flashlight's beam on the candle, but was transfixed at seeing her features glow behind the warm match light. She was so gloriously beautiful. He yearned to hold her in his arms, to swallow his crippling pride and tell her just how much she meant to him.

Callie lit the candle and blew out the match. The dark room slowly became illuminated and shadowy in the dim light. Jimmy realized that she would probably start heading back to her room at that moment and leave him alone yet again... unless he did something. It's now or never, Clayton, he coached himself as he mustered all the nerve he could.


Garrett mopped up another puddle of sticky soda, grumbling under his breath. This was the third time in an hour he had spilled an order. "Since when am I such a klutz?" he wondered aloud. The he looked around to make sure no one had heard him. "Since when do I talk to myself?" He let out a long, exaggerated sigh.

"What's wrong, Garrett?" Jazz asked, placing her hands on her hips.

"Nothing," he muttered. It was hard to get used the fact that Jazz was no longer his waitress and acquaintance... she was his boss. He finished cleaning up the mess and grabbed an armload of menus. Someone had just entered the soda shop and she was seated at his table.

As he approached, he realized this was more than just some customer. The curly blond hair with red highlights belonged to none other than Nancy Robbins. Garrett panicked. He still hadn't told Sydney about his job, and wasn't planning to until after homecoming. Having to wait on one of Sydney's closest friends, not to mention the town gossip queen, wasn't going to help his plan.

"Jazz," Garrett hissed. "I can't wait on table five."

Jazz immediately looked annoyed. "Well if you can't cut it Garrett, then maybe this job isn't for you."

He sighed exasperatedly again. He had to have this job, especially if he was going to give Sydney the kind of homecoming she wanted. "No, I'll do it."

Garrett approached Nancy, hanging his head. "What can I get you?"

Nancy looked up from her menu and began her order. "I'd like..." she stopped in mid-sentence when she saw Garrett standing before her, his sandy colored hair hanging limply, his shirt stained with soda syrup, and an apron tied around his waist. She didn't hide her surprise and let her jaw drop wide open. "Garrett?!"

Callie looked at Jimmy directly, and was taken aback by his handsome features. She was both excited and afraid of what he had to say. "Yes?"

"The blackout may be over any minute. Would you like to just wait in here with me until the power's back on?" he asked timidly.

"You're probably right. I guess I can stay in here a few minutes," she agreed.

Jimmy turned the flashlight off and stood it on the table beside the candle. "No sense in wasting these batteries." Unsure of what to do next, Callie stood there, trying not to look nervous. "You can sit down if you want," Jimmy told her. She smiled at him and sat down uneasily. She sensed the warmth of where he'd been laying only seconds before, and felt a clandestine intimacy with him because of it.

"This storm is pretty bad," Jimmy commented, attempting to make conversation with her.

"Yeah, I know. I'm worried about my dad," she admitted truthfully, but at the same time was being careful not to focus any attention on themselves or the situation they were in.

"Don't worry. He's a big boy. He can take care of himself," Jimmy replied, trying to think of something reassuring to say.

"I hope so."


They both sat there, watching the graceful dance of the candle's flame, as if it were a miniature television set. The incessant sound of the rain outside was no more exciting, except that it's intensity periodically rose and fell with the gusting winds.

The extremes of the situation, blatant boredom and restrained excitement, was driving both of them crazy. But, both did an expert job at hiding the fact. However, neither was sure how long they could keep it up. Something had to give....

Suddenly, Callie broke the relative silence by inhaling loudly, then saying, "There's a radio with batteries in my room. I'll be right back." She took the flashlight and returned with a portable boom box and sat it in front of them on the table. She extended the antenna and began tapping the digital tuning arrows. She found a station that wasn't playing music and sat back. "Maybe we can catch something about this weather."

"What are they saying?" Jimmy asked, not able to understand the language, although he did understand the name of Chicago being mentioned.

"They're just telling what songs are coming up. They didn't say anything about the weather."

To Jimmy and Callie's chagrin, the next tune that came on the radio was a song that they were both familiar with. It was Chicago's 1980's hit, "Hard to Say I'm Sorry".

As the song began, Jimmy lowered his head in embarrassment. Johnny used to listen to this song all time back when he lived in Swans Crossing with the rest of the Claytons. Jimmy remembered the lyrics all too well. And at this moment, they couldn't have fit more perfectly with his life.

"'Even lovers need a holiday, far away from each other, hold me now, it's hard for me to say I'm sorry, I just want you to stay'," the lead singer's voice belted out.

Callie listened to the familiar lyrics, her face reddening slightly. She remembered when that song used to air on the radio all the time several years ago. She even used to like it. But now, it seemed to hit too close to home. As the ballad continued to lilt over her and Jimmy, all Callie could think about was how much she longed to have him in her life again.

"'Couldn't stand to be kept away, just for a day, from your body, wouldn't want to be swept away, far away from the one that I love'," Chicago sang.

Jimmy started tapping his thumbs together anxiously. It was amazing how well the song's lyrics reflected the way he was feeling. It took all his power to suppress himself from telling Callie how he still felt about her right at that moment. He was even afraid to open his mouth now, for fear that something might slip out.

Callie heaved a quick sigh and tried to fan her flushed cheeks inconspicuously. When is this song going to end? she wondered desperately. I can't stand it anymore! The words are really getting to me.

"'Hold me now, I really want to tell you I'm sorry, I could never let you go'...."

At that moment, Jimmy and Callie both looked up and caught the other's eye. They immediately cast their glances back down again, and Callie cleared her throat in embarrassment. She had to break this uncomfortable silence or she would go crazy. "Um..." she paused. "You know, this song is really getting on my nerves! I think we should turn it off."

"I think you're right," Jimmy replied, his voice a mixture of both relief and disappointment. The love song was driving him up the wall, but he was upset that Callie seemed to hate it so much. Man, she really doesn't want to be in any type of romantic situation with me, he thought despairingly.

They reached for the switch to the small radio simultaneously, and Jimmy's hand accidentally rested upon Callie's. Both shivered involuntarily as they felt an electric charge travel from their fingers throughout the rest of their bodies. The touch may have been unintentional, but it was extremely powerful. There was something about it that was so familiar, so gentle, and so perfect.

Glory went straight to her room as soon as she and Mrs. Booth returned home. She assured her mother that she was okay. "It doesn't mean that much," she had said. "It's just a dress. There will be other dances." But of course, none of that was true. Even though Glory was just going with Neil as friends, in the back of her mind, the evening symbolized one of hope, new experiences... and maybe even another chance at what she was missing more than anything....

No! Glory shouted at herself, throwing her body down onto her bed. The comforter enveloped her and helped her relax, even though it was only momentarily. I cannot go back to J.T., no matter what! she commanded herself. Instinctively, she reached under her pillow. J.T.'s poems were stored there, and they always made her feel better. But, of course, it had been a month or so since she ripped them out of the notebook and threw them out the window. It felt like it had been a year.

Upon noticing that the poems were no longer there, she reached for the telephone instead. She slowly dialed Neil's telephone number. His mother answered.

"Is Neil there?" she asked.

"No, he's over at J.T.'s right now. Can I take a message?" Mrs. Atwater asked politely.

"That's okay. I'll just call over at J.T.'s." Glory set the phone in it's cradle. She didn't want to call J.T.'s house because it would be so awkward. However, another part of her was screaming for her to do it. Even though they weren't together, hearing his voice would be comforting. Without a moment’s hesitation, she called J.T.'s house.

"Hello?" J.T. answered.

Her voice caught in her throat. "Um, J.T. this is Glory."

"Glory!" he said in a happy voice. "I'm glad to hear from you."

She sighed. "Well, actually, I called to talk to Neil," she explained.

Dead silence echoed on his end of the line. "You want to talk to Neil?"

"Yes," she confirmed hesitantly.

Without another word, J.T. put Neil on the phone. "Hello?"

"Neil, this is Glory. I uh, I don't know quite how to say this. Um, I can't go to homecoming anymore," she told him, her voice full of disappointment.

"Really? Why not?"

Glory was slightly irked for a moment, wondering why he didn't share her sadness. "Well, my family can't afford it this year."

Neil laughed. "Nice joke, Glory. Why don't you really want to go? Is it because of J.T.?"

J.T.'s ears perked up on the other side of the room.

Glory sighed. "I mean it. My family isn't doing so well in the money department. It's all because my father invested a lot in the election, and when he lost, we lost a lot of money. I can't afford to go to homecoming."

"Oh," was all Neil could manage to say. "Look, I'm sorry."

"Me too," she replied softly. "I hope you can find another date. I wouldn't want you to miss it."

He didn't answer right away. "I'm sorry," he said again.

"I'll talk to you at school," she told him, and hung up the phone.

Neil looked back at J.T. "So what did she say? Is she skipping out on the dance because of me?" J.T. asked eagerly.

Neil was quiet a moment, feeling truly sorry and compassionate of what Glory was going through. And it didn't help that J.T. was being rather insensitive.

"I knew those notes must have had some effect on her-" he continued on.

"She can't go because her family doesn't have the money," Neil blurted out. "They lost it in the election."

J.T. was dumb-struck. He could literally feel the physical pain Glory must have been feeling just them, having to pass up the chance to go to her first high school homecoming. His mind was already racing way ahead of him, trying to think of a way he could help his ex-girlfriend. "Poor Glory."

Callie wanted to panic at Jimmy's touch, but she couldn't bring herself to take her hand away. It felt so right to have his fingers graze upon hers once again. She could no longer deny that his touch was what she had yearned for ever since she first saw him in Brazil. Part of her understood that Jimmy probably didn't want to touch her like that, but it didn't matter to her anymore. She couldn't let go now, not when this was what she had wanted for so long. Any logical thoughts flew out of her head. All she wanted was for Jimmy's hand to rest on hers forever.

Jimmy knew he should've moved his hand off of Callie's the moment they came in contact, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. It seemed like his hand was glued to hers. It just felt so right, almost as if his hand was meant to hold hers. Even though he realized that Callie probably wanted him to let go, he couldn't. He knew he was being selfish, but he was afraid that if he released his grip on her hand, he would regret it for the rest of his life. This was the encounter he had longed to have with Callie ever since he first spotted her in Brazil, and he couldn't disrupt it.

"'After all that's been said and done, you're just a part of me I can't let go'," Chicago's song floated in the background.

Jimmy and Callie's gazes shifted from their adjoining hands to each other's eyes. Callie knew that she should look away, but she simply could not tear her eyes away from his. There seemed to be some invisible force hanging in the air that kept drawing her to them. It was purely magnetic. She shivered again as she examined the look in Jimmy's eyes. It was so intense. Maybe, probably, she was just dreaming it up in her head, but there was something in his gaze that told her he still cared. There was a certain longing and desperation in them, a look of apology and regret. It was almost as if he was actually telling her he was sorry for all the pain she had gone through since their brutal argument back in Swans Crossing.

Jimmy studied Callie's eyes intently for several moments. He was probably just imagining things, but there seemed to be a touch of wistfulness and yearning in them. He thought he could even spot some warmth and understanding in her gaze, as if she were telling him she forgave him for all the harsh words he had said to her back in Swans Crossing. Whether he was imagining things or not, the look in Callie's eyes gave him an overwhelming urge to do something he knew he shouldn't. But he couldn't help himself. There seemed to be some sort of magnetic force that was causing him to gravitate towards her. It was the probably the same force that made him fall for her in the first place, all those months ago.

Without removing his hand from Callie's, Jimmy shifted his position on the couch and moved closer to her. Now they were sitting just centimeters apart. Callie felt her pulse accelerate rapidly. She had wanted so badly for something like this to happen, and couldn't believe that it was happening now. Her more rational side was screaming for her to stop, but the larger part of Callie wouldn't --couldn't-- listen. She could no longer even hear the radio or the rainstorm in the background. All she could hear was the pounding of her heart.

The soft candlelight gently illuminated Jimmy's face and Callie's breath caught in her throat as she realized how handsome he was. The light also intensified the look in his eyes, making his gaze even more powerful and overwhelming than anything she had ever witnessed before. The only thing she wanted right at this moment was to kiss him. And after all the weeks of pent-up longing and misery she had experienced, it didn't feel right to deny herself that.

A strange sensation enveloped Jimmy as he continued to gaze at Callie. The candlelight played upon her features, making her even more attractive than she had ever been before. He no longer felt that he could pretend she didn't mean anything to him, pretend that he didn't still care about her. Sitting so close to her, their faces just inches apart, made him realize that he couldn't lie to himself anymore. The truth was that Jimmy yearned for his lips to meet hers in a long, tender kiss. Nothing else, not even his own doubts mattered anymore. All he wanted to do was kiss her.

Jimmy and Callie began to lean towards each other, anticipating the moment when their lips would meet for the first time in what had seemed like years.

Suddenly, the front door burst open and a soaked Captain Walker bounded into the room. "I'm home!"

They immediately jumped apart and hopped off of the couch as their romantic moment abruptly ended.

Garrett stormed into his house and angrily threw his things onto the floor in the living room. He wanted more than anything to get out of his dirtied work clothes, to wash the stench of lower class off of himself. Garrett Booth and working did not mix. Besides that, he also had Nancy to worry about. She had sworn to him that she wouldn't spill to Sydney that he was flipping burgers at Swans, but then again, she may have just been reacting to his threat of throwing her greasy french fries on her new blazer. Either way, when Nancy Robbins was involved with a juicy rumor nothing would stand in her way.

Garrett rushed into Glory's bedroom, his mind racing. He had to tell Sydney before Nancy did, even if it would be a shock to her. She would get over it... he hoped.

Glory was sitting on her bed, staring off into space. "I have to pull down the shade," he explained. She shrugged, barely even noticing he was there.

He pulled down the shade and hurried to No Man's Land. His heart was beating, adrenaline rushing through his blood stream. Maybe she'll find this romantic, he thought to himself. Maybe she'll look at me, and all the work I've put into making her happy, and think I am the most caring, considerate boyfriend on the planet. He shook his head. Nah, that's a dumb thought.

He paced the soil around the wall, nearly eroding the dirt underneath his feet. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, but within what felt like several hours later Sydney appeared. She wore a sincere smile on her face.

Good, he thought. At least she hasn't gotten the news from someone else.

"Hey Garrett," she said, smiling shyly at him again. He groaned inwardly. The moonlight danced on her beautiful face, lighting up all her features. Her green eyes danced happily as she told him about her homecoming dress. Garrett was so keyed up that he didn't retain a word she said, but he tried to nod in all the appropriate places. Sydney didn't notice though, and thought he was paying full attention to her story.

Sydney reached through the wall and took his hands in hers. "You're shaking," she commented.

A flush crept across his cheeks. "It's nothing. Just cold here. That's all," he lied.

She leaned in through the hole in the wall, and smiled coyly. "Maybe this will warm you up," she told him flirtatiously. She touched his cheek and gently pressed her lips against his.

Despite his nerves, he responded to her kiss. It was a blissful getaway from his racing thoughts. He stood there several moments, letting the sensations of their kiss rush over him. He slowly parted from her.

"Better?" she asked.

Garrett nodded. "Sydney?" he asked, his voice jumping several octaves.


It's now or never, he coached himself. "There's something I have to tell you."

"Moving to Brazil" storyline and portions of this chapter ©1997 Miss Swan. Portions of this chapter are also ©1997 Maxiom. If anyone has any questions, comments, ideas, or constructive criticism for this installment of the Swans Crossing novel please e-mail me at SLourdes@aol.com. Thanks! :)[email address no longer exists]. Thanks to Phantasy4 for his storyline about Garrett getting a job. Also, thanks to Miss Swan and Maxiom for writing the entire scenario between Jimmy and Callie.

Chapter Twenty-Six

"What's going on?" Sydney asked slowly. Something in the tone of Garrett's voice told her that something was wrong.

Garrett turned away from her, unable to meet her eyes. He knew Sydney wasn't going to take the news about his family not having any more money well. She was rich and used to being pampered. A job flipping burgers at a soda shop was not going to impress her. In fact, it was probably going to repulse her.

"Garrett, what's wrong?" she questioned him again.

He stared up at her, and opened his mouth to speak. "I, uh..." he began in a strangled voice.

Sydney seemed to be growing impatient. "What? Look, I promise, you can tell me."

Garrett drew in a deep breath. "I got a job."

"A job?" she repeated. A strange feeling washed over her. There was something off about this confession. From the moment he uttered those words, she immediately guessed this wasn't the kind of job her other friends had, such as Jimmy and Callie, and Neil and J.T. They worked for fun. And Sydney knew from the way Garrett was nervously switching the weight of his body from one foot to the other that this wasn't for fun. "Is there any reason for this?"

He turned away from her and started pacing. This was the part of this conversation he had been dreading: the explanation. "I needed money to pay for our homecoming. My family isn't doing very well financially."

"Oh," Sydney said hollowly. "I'm glad you told me."


"But this doesn't make it any easier."

"What do you mean?" he asked, becoming defensive. This was certainly not the reaction he had hoped for.

"Well, my mother isn't going to approve of this to begin with, if I walk off the field with you. But if she finds out you're..." she stumbled on her words, "poor..."

Garrett became angry. "I've been working like crazy to pay for this dance and all you're worried about is what your mother will think?"

"Garrett, I-"

He cut her off. "How can you be such a snob, Sydney?"

Now her face flushed red with anger. "Excuse me?" she asked, placing her hands on her hips. "I am not a snob! I just happen to be a very high profile person in this community and for me to date a commoner might cause a stir."

His jaw dropped. "Commoner!" he shouted. "Can you even hear yourself? I can't believe I was wasting my time trying to please you! You know what?" Garrett continued on before she had a chance to respond. "You don't have to worry about ruining your precious reputation anymore. As far as I'm concerned, homecoming is off!"

Callie headed over to the kitchen the next morning after a sleepless night. As soon as her father had come in and interrupted her and Jimmy, she was far too keyed up and confused to sleep. The entire situation had been so strange. There was no denying that if Captain Walker hadn't walked in the house at that moment, they would have kissed. But was it just because the atmosphere was so romantic, or was it because he still cared?

As soon as she entered the kitchen, she stopped dead in her tracks. Jimmy was sitting at the table, drinking orange juice.

"What are you still doing here?" she asked.

He looked up at her. "Sorry, I didn't know I was supposed to leave first thing in the morning," he snapped.

"I just meant that... well, don't you want to get home?"

"I do now," he muttered under his breath.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked, raising her voice.

"Never mind." Jimmy finished off his juice and placed his glass in the sink. "I guess I'll go home and breathe in some toxins," he said sarcastically.

"Jimmy..." Callie called after him, her voice softening a little.

"Look, I'm really going to leave," he insisted. "Are you, Pedro, Ana, and me still going to that club tonight?"

Sounds about as fun as having all my teeth pulled! she thought to herself. "I guess so," Callie replied.

"Okay. See ya around," he said and exited her house, stopping only to grab his duffel bag from the couch. He didn't even mutter a good-bye... or a word about the night before.

The day was not going to be a good one for Glory. The first thing she remembered when she woke up was the fact that she couldn't go to homecoming. She was even more depressed than the night before, when she found out she wasn't going to be able to attend. She had to drag herself out of bed, attend classes, and then go cheer at the game when she was feeling anything but cheery.

It's not fair! she thought mournfully to herself. Even Garrett was going to go to the dance. He had asked Jazz for an advance on his paycheck; she was feeling generous and agreed. But since Glory wasn't old enough to hold a job, she was out of luck.

After showering and going through the motions, Glory loaded her things into her back pack, grabbed her cheerleading equipment with reluctance, and left the house. When she stepped out onto the front porch, she noticed an envelope on the welcome mat.

Why won't J.T. get it? she asked herself, rolling her eyes. There isn't anyway we can be together... not after what happened. Still, she felt curious. And, something deep down inside her still cared about J.T. The note and the flower he sent her the other day had touched her, even if she didn't realize it.

She knelt down and picked up the envelope. With one tear, she ripped it open, and instead of a letter like she had been expecting, money fell out. Glory's eyes widened. She retrieved the money, and examined it. There was no note, nothing that would tell her who had left the large sum of cash. She had only told two people about not being able to go because of her financial troubles... so who had left it?

Glory remembered calling up Neil and telling him she couldn't go to the dance. She had to call him at J.T.'s house. Was there any chance that maybe he was the one?

Sydney made her way up the bleachers at Swans Crossing High's football field, frowning. The late fall air was cold, and she didn't really want to be at the game. Football was never her thing. And, after the fight she had had with Garrett, she was in no mood to cheer him on. She couldn't believe he had gotten a job... and then gotten so ticked off because she didn't jump for joy at the news. She found Nancy saving her a seat near the fifty yard line. She was dressed in yellow, black, and white, SCH's school colors.

"Hey Sydney!" she greeted her, handing her a small yellow, black, and white pom pom.

"Hi," Sydney replied monotonously.

The pep band began the school song, and Sydney rolled her eyes. "This is so lame," she mouthed to Nancy. Nancy laughed, and Sandy, who was sitting on the other side of her scowled.

"Welcome to Swans Crossing High's homecoming game. Today the Swans will take on long time rivals Newport High School!" The crowd went wild; cheering, stomping their feet, and waving their pom poms. Once again, Sydney rolled her eyes.

The Swans won the coin toss and Newport punted to them.

The football landed in Garrett's arms, and he started running. At the edge of the field, Glory and Mila, along with the other cheerleaders, jumped to their feet and started cheering. Garrett ran fifteen yards before he was tackled, and the crowd leapt to their feet and clapped for his play.

"What's the big deal?" Sydney asked, refusing to stand up with the rest of her friends. "The game's just started."

Nancy sat back down as the football players went into a huddle. She gave Sydney a concerned look. "Is everything okay?"

Inside the huddle, Garrett had to smile. He had been worried all throughout the school day that his fight with Sydney would effect his performance, but so far, so good. "Okay, Saja, you go deep and I'll hand off the ball to Adams, who'll pass it to you. Got it?" he directed his teammates.

J.T. rolled his eyes. "Yeah Garrett. Since when are you the coach?"

"Since I'm the only one on this team who can play!" he shot back. "Now break!"

The guys left the huddle and marched out onto the field.

Back in the bleachers, Sydney's bad mood was getting worse. "I'm fine, Nancy. I just don't know if I'm going to go to the stupid dance, that's all."

"What? Why not?" Sandy asked, joining in their conversation.

"Because Garrett and I had a fight, that's why," she snapped.

An evil smile spread across Nancy's face. "Oh... does this have anything to do with his new career?"

Sydney whipped her head around to face Nancy. "How did you know about that?" she demanded.

"Career?" Sandy repeated with confusion. The other girls ignored her.

"I saw him there the other day. He wasn't the best waiter I've had at Swans... but since he's your boyfriend, I left him an average tip." Nancy laughed at her own joke.

Sydney blushed, and hoped no one else was listening to their conversation. "I seem to recall Nancy dear, that Mr. Kevin Hall... your date to the homecoming dance, is a working boy," she retorted.

Now it was Nancy's turn to be embarrassed, and Sydney smiled to herself.

It was nearing the end of the second quarter, and the Swans were leading by three points. The cheerleaders began a chant with the audience:

"Yellow, Black, and White

The Swans are ready to fight

We're second to none

The Swans are number one

We'll take it to the top

The Swans just can't be stopped!"

After the chant, the girls sat down and began preparing for the half-time show. Glory rubbed her bare arms. It was cold outside, but the activity and excitement was keeping her warm. She was so happy, mostly due to the fact that she was now able to go to the dance. After school her mother had taken her back to the store to get the beautiful dress, thanks to that generous mystery person... whom she secretly hoped was J.T.

"This is so fun!" Mila exclaimed, bouncing on the heels of her cheerleading tennis shoes. "I can't believe how exciting this is!"

Glory laughed. "I was just thinking the same thing. This is a pretty big rush!"

Mila smiled, and then began timidly, "Well, does this mean that maybe we can be friends again? I know I was stupid to go out with J.T., but we are in this together and..."

"It's okay," Glory assured her quickly. "I forgive you."

"Seriously?" Mila said incredulously.

Glory smiled in reply. The clock buzzer sounded, and Glory and Mila exchanged glances.

"This is it! Are you ready?" Mila asked the rest of the girls on the team.

They all nodded, pulling down on the ends of their black pleated skirts, adjusting their hair, and grabbing their pom poms. The announcer told the crowd it was time for the half-time field show, and everyone applauded. With a spring in her step, Mila led the girls out to the field.

The cheerleaders formed a half circle in the middle of the grass. The flood lights cast a glow on their smiling faces, and they began chanting their cheer in unison:

"Listen to us people,

And listen to us good,

'Cause we want to make sure,

That you have understood,

That we are the Swans,

From mighty SCH,

And we want you to know,

That we rock this place, here we go..."

After they said their cheer, loud dance music came on over the loudspeaker, and the girls went into their routine. They did a series of dance moves, and then stood in a line. Simultaneously, they kicked and then landed in the splits. The audience clapped. We're doing it! Mila thought to herself. Then they all bounced to their feet and prepared for the finale. They each did a flip, and then five of the girls formed a two-tiered pyramid. Mila and Brooke Rocha lifted Glory onto their shoulders, and then she climbed to the top of the pyramid. She proudly formed a "V" with her arms.

Now for the hardest part. You can do it Glory, she coached herself. She jumped up into the air, away from the pyramid. While in flight, she curled her body and touched her toes. Within a second, she straightened up and landed in the waiting arms of her spotters, Mila and Brooke. She stood on the ground, and the rest of the girls started jumping up and waving their pom poms in the air.

The crowd went wild, and even rose up from their seats to give the cheerleaders a standing ovation.

"I was thinking," Nancy announced, returning to her seat on the bleachers. She handed Sandy and Sydney warm cups of hot chocolate.

"Well that must be a first," Sydney deadpanned.

Nancy ignored her sarcastic comment. "I was thinking about how you dumped Garrett for having a job, and maybe you're right. Maybe Kevin isn't good enough for me either. I mean, why should we settle?"

Sydney's eyes drifted away from Nancy. I can't believe what she's saying, she thought to herself. What have I done? I broke up with Garrett because he has a job? I really must be a snob!

She stood up. "I don't think you're settling. Will you excuse me?" She pushed her way through the crowd of spectators. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe she could save things between her and Garrett.

"Let's shout, let's cheer

Our victory is near

We're in control

We can't be beat

Victory, how sweet!"

Garrett smiled, enjoying the sounds of the screaming crowd, and the enthusiasm coming from the cheerleaders. The Swans were leading Newport 21-18, and it was the fourth quarter. The game was almost over, but the score was too close for them to tell what was going to happen. Newport had the ball, and secretly, Garrett was worried. They were good, and he didn't want to let his school down.

"Okay, now, Owen, you need to stay out of the way," Garrett commanded. "J.T., I want you to cover number 43. I've got the quarterback. All right?"

The team grumbled a reply. Even though they were winning, they were growing tired of Garrett's bossy attitude.

The play began, and J.T. was hit with an idea. The boys got into their formations, the way Garrett had described to them. But instead of covering number 43, as soon as the ball went into play, he ran over to where Garrett was, and covered the Newport quarterback.

"What are you doing?" Garrett shouted in surprise.

"Just trust me!" he yelled back. Newport's quarterback grew confused, and seeing he had nowhere to run to with J.T. and Garrett in his way, he passed the ball, aiming in the direction of number 43. J.T. jumped into the air, and intercepted the ball.

He stared at the ball in his arms, and laughed with surprise. "I caught it!" he cried.

"Now run, rocket boy!" Garrett told him, and J.T. took off towards the inzone. He ran thirty yards, and made a touch down. He spiked the ball on the ground and started to jump up and down. The buzzer signifying the end of the game sounded.

"Swans win! 27-18!" the announcer shouted over the PA system. The fans and cheerleaders all ran out to the field, and even Garrett high- fived J.T. J.T. smiled to himself, remembering how Garrett had taken all the credit for winning the Newport baseball game the summer before. Now it was his turn to shine.

After the football game, the crowd began to clear quickly. All the students wanted to get home to prepare for the dance.

Sydney walked to the edge of the field. She stood on her toes, trying to see over the mass of teenagers all dressed in Swans’ school colors. "Garrett!" she called. She heard nothing, and continued to wait. A few moments later, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She whipped around, and saw Garrett standing in front of her. He held his helmet at his side, and his dirty blond hair was damp with perspiration.

"What are you doing here?" he said stonily.

"You won," Sydney replied, trying to keep her voice steady. "I'm here to walk off the field with you."

(c) 1997 Stephanie Blydenburgh. All cheers (c) 1997 Nancy Redd cheerleading page & Universal Cheerleading Association "Moving to Brazil" storyline (c) 1997 Miss Swan. All cheers in this chapter were taken from either the Nancy Redd cheerleading page or the Universal Cheerleading Association web page at http://www.uca.com. To Amy- number 43... he he!

Chapter Twenty-Seven

"What a joke, Sydney! You expect me to walk off the field with you now?" Garrett rolled his eyes and started walking away from her.

She grabbed his arm. "Garrett, please listen to me. We messed this up once already. Let's not do it again."

He sighed, but didn't back away again. "If you don't want to mess things up between us then why do you do this stuff? Why did you more or less dump me because I was working?"

She lowered her eyes. "I have a lot to learn, I guess."

A smirk spread across his face. He couldn't believe the words he was hearing pass through Sydney Rutledge's lips. "Is this your way of saying you were wrong?"

"Look, I didn't mean to be such a snob," Sydney said, keeping her green eyes cast downward.

"So you were wrong?" he asked again.

"Yeah, I was wrong," she finally admitted.

It meant a lot to Garrett that Sydney was apologizing. From the pained look on her face, he knew she meant it. He held out his hand. "Well, then, I forgive you," he told her softly.

Sydney placed her hand in his, and they walked off the field together, finally finishing what they had started so many ages ago.

Loud music made the walls in the trendy Brazilian dance club vibrate.

"Wow," Jimmy commented. "This place is wild."

Callie rolled her eyes. She was immediately annoyed by the brightly clad teenagers dancing to the thumping, high-energy music.

"Do you not have places like this in Swans Crossing?" Ana asked him.

"Not really," he answered.

Ana looked a bit put off by his lack of enthusiasm, but took him by the hand nonetheless. "Come on, let's go dance."

Callie watched on, her face burning with jealousy. Ana was a terrific dancer. She moved to the beat flawlessly, almost seductively, in her halter top and short skirt. Callie had never felt self- conscious... until now. As Ana danced closer and closer to Jimmy, Callie steamed.

Two can play at this game, she thought, and grabbed Pedro's hand. "Come on!"

Pedro and Callie made their way to the dance floor and started moving to the music. She looked over in the direction of Ana and Jimmy.

Ugh, he really seems to be enjoying himself, she thought in distaste. Callie allowed Pedro to spin her around, and she let out a false, hearty laugh.

Look at them, Jimmy thought to himself disgustedly as he watched them from the corner of his eye. He's all over her!

The music continued on, while Jimmy and Callie tried to outdo each other. Every time Callie saw Ana move in closer to Jimmy, she did the same to Pedro. All the twirls and fancy dance moves Pedro did, Jimmy mimicked. After awhile, Pedro started to notice what was going on.

"Hey," Pedro said, backing away from Callie. "Would you excuse me for a minute?"

Callie blinked a few times, almost as if she was noticing he was there for the first time. "Sure, no problem."

"Come on Ana, I need to talk to you for a sec." He pulled his sister away from Jimmy, and she gave him a dirty look.

"Fine, fine," she grumbled.

"Don't you see what's going on?" Pedro questioned her once they were away from the crowd.

"No, what?"

He pointed in the direction of Jimmy and Callie, who were now standing in the middle of the dance floor, not speaking. "They're trying to make each other jealous."

"Jimmy and Callie?" she asked with a look of disbelief. "Why would they do that?"

"I think that maybe they like each other," he told her.

"Oh come on!" she scoffed. "They barely speak to each other."

"Exactly. I mean, how much do we really know about them and how well they knew each other back in the states?" Pedro asked. She was silent. He had a point.

"I hate to say it, but maybe you're right," Ana finally admitted. "So what should we do?"

He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a quarter. "Let's call Captain Walker. I'm sure he can probably tell us."

Glory stood in front of her full length mirror, admiring her new dress. She was still perplexed at who had left her the money to buy it, but she was grateful nonetheless. Humming to herself, she reached for her radio and turned it on. A loud rock song came on over the speakers and she started dancing to the beat. She couldn't believe how good of a mood she was in. Cheerleading that evening had been so fun, and she was still keyed up and hyper.

"I am so ready for this dance!" she exclaimed out loud, walking back to her mirror. She looked at her reflection and smiled. The old Glory was back, J.T. or no J.T.

Mila stood at the edge of the field, her heels sinking slightly in the damp soil. She shifted her feet so she wouldn't get her pale pink shoes dirty. Her long blond hair was shining in the early evening moonlight, piled on top of her head in a cascade of golden curls. She knew that she looked pretty; the Countess had fawned over her for what seemed like an eternity before she left the house. Her mother was a bit perplexed as to why Grant wasn't coming to the house, but let her daughter go to the dance nonetheless.

Students were making their way towards the gym, but they were all older kids Mila didn't know. She waited eagerly for Grant, so much so that she was slightly surprised. She had never been quite this nervous and excited about a date before. In addition to that, this was also her first school dance. In one day, Mila had experienced a lot of new high school things--her first football game, her first time cheerleading in front of a large group of people, and now her first dance. It was definitely looking like an enchanting evening.

Just then, she spotted Grant across the parking lot, stepping out of his car. Mila's heart fluttered. He looked spectacular in a traditional black tuxedo, and he was carrying a small box. It was her corsage. Mila took one glance at it and panicked.

Oh no! she thought. It's red! My dress is pink! That's going to look terrible together! She took a deep breath, and waved to him. Get a hold of yourself, Mila, she scolded herself. You're going with a wonderful guy! Who cares if your corsage clashes?

She smiled shyly at him as he approached her.

"Hey Mila," he greeted her.

Mila's voice caught in her throat. Just being near him was making her heart pound at an unbelievably fast rate. "Hi Grant."

"You look really great," he complimented her.

She lowered her eyes modestly. "Thanks. You do, too."

He looked over her shoulder towards the teenagers filing into the gym. "So have you seen Sydney?"

Mila shook her head slowly. "No... why?"

Grant held up the corsage. "She's my date. Who are you going with?"

Sydney emerged from her bedroom wearing her beautiful, long dress. She had spent the remainder of the evening at the beauty parlor, making sure she had the perfect updo and french manicure. She smiled to herself. She honestly couldn't be happier. Things with Garrett had worked out perfectly, and now she was ready for a night on the town. It didn't matter that he couldn't afford to take her to a fancy restaurant, or that he couldn't get her a limo. All that mattered was that they were going to enter that gym looking like a million dollars, and they were going to make their first "public" appearance.

"Mother!" she called. "I'm ready!"

Mayor Rutledge stood at the bottom of the stairs, and watched proudly as her daughter walked slowly down the steps. "How do I look?" Sydney asked, twirling around so her mother could see her dress from every angle.

"Oh Sydney, you look lovely," Mayor Rutledge breathed, snapping a picture. "You're going to have such a wonderful evening."

She smiled. "I hope so." She pulled a compact out of her evening bag and checked her hair. It was perfectly swept on top of her head, and a small silver clip accented the style. "I'm so excited!" she admitted.

"As you should be. I remember going to my high school homecoming dance," Mayor Rutledge said in a reminiscent voice.

"Who did you go with?" Sydney asked with curiosity.

She laughed and waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, that was ages ago. Speaking of that, who are you going with? I've been so busy lately I haven't had time to ask!"

"He'll be here any minute, Mother. Then you'll see for yourself," Sydney replied mysteriously.

The door bell rang. "And here he is now!" Sydney took a deep breath. Here goes nothing, she thought to herself. She pulled the door open, and Garrett stood on her front porch. He was dressed in his tux, and he was holding Sydney's corsage. He smiled confidently and winked at Sydney.

"Mother, you know Garrett. He's my date to the homecoming dance."

"So, they were a couple?" Pedro shouted over the loud rock song now playing in the dance club. He held his hand against his ear, trying to drown out the sound.

Captain Walker sighed. He was getting rather irritated at the screaming teenager at the other end of the phone line. "I guess so. My daughter isn't one to open up a lot about her social life, but ever since we left Swans Crossing she's been moping around the house. And I know that she talked about Jimmy a lot while we still lived there, and they used to do things together often."

"Mm-hmm," Pedro said, frowning a little.

"I would say that... yes, Callie and Jimmy were a couple," Captain Walker concluded.

"Thanks," he said, and replaced the pay phone in it's receiver. Pedro turned to his sister glumly. "Well, it looks like I was right."

Ana nodded. "Then we need to do something! I mean, just because we like them and everything..." her voice trailed off. "We should try to get them back together. It is pretty obvious that they still like each other."

"Yeah," he agreed. "It is."

The two went back over to Jimmy and Callie, who were standing awkwardly in the middle of the dance floor.

"Hey!" Ana exclaimed. "You two ought to dance!"

Callie quickly shook her head. "Nah, that's not a great idea. We came here with you guys, and..."

"Oh come on! You two were friends back in the states. You must have a ton of catching up to do!" she remarked, pushing them further into the crowd.

Jimmy groaned. "Fine, fine," he muttered grudgingly.

At the instant Pedro and Ana disappeared, a slow, romantic song came on over the speakers. Callie and Jimmy eyed each other nervously, and Jimmy said, "Well, I guess we should dance..."

Sandy and Saja were one of the few couples on the dance floor. Not everyone had arrived, but they had been there from the minute the dance started. Even when people showed up, it seemed as if a lot of them were hanging back, watching Saja twirl Sandy around the wooden gym floor.

"You're a great dancer!" she exclaimed as they flowed to the beat of the music. It was "Emotions" by Mariah Carey that the DJ was playing, and Sandy was enjoying being on the opposite side of the stage.

"You're not so bad yourself!" Saja replied, spinning her around again. "I'm so glad we decided to go together!"

"Me too," she said honestly. She was having a great "official" first date with Saja. He had come by her house, and had impressed her parents with his politeness. He had given her a very beautiful corsage, and he had shyly slipped it onto her wrist. Things couldn't be more perfect.

For a few moments they were silent, and Saja smiled to himself. He hadn't expected for things to work out the way they did, but something was definitely happening between him and Sandy. And as he twirled her around and pulled her close to him, he smiled again. He was up for whatever was happening.

"Hi guys," Owen greeted them. He had just arrived at the dance and quickly noticed that Sandy was the center of attention.

"Hi Owen," they replied, not stopping their dancing.

"So who are you here with?" Sandy asked, realizing that she hadn't discussed the dance at all in Owen's presence.

"Um, no one actually," he admitted, feeling very embarrassed.

Sandy nodded sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Owen. Well, maybe you'll meet someone tonight."

Owen rolled his eyes. "Yeah right," he muttered. Sandy and Saja continued to dance, and Owen turned around. I'm just in the way, he thought to himself as he stormed out of the gym.

Mayor Rutledge looked on horror stricken as Garrett stepped into her mansion. "You look great, Sydney," he complimented her, admiring her dress.

"You do too," she replied, acting as if her mother wasn't even there. She hoped that this strategy would work.

"What in God's name is this?" Mayor Rutledge asked.

Garrett didn't answer; he was busy slipping the corsage made of miniature red roses onto Sydney's wrist.

"Well, Mother. Garrett and I are going to the dance together," Sydney answered simply, smiling at him. He gently slipped his arm through hers.

"I don't think so!" Mayor Rutledge said sharply, pulling her daughter away.

Sydney set her mouth in straight line. "Mother, I am a sophomore in high school, and I think I am more than mature enough to choose who I date," she announced firmly. Her mother opened her mouth to speak, but Sydney continued. "Furthermore, just because you don't like Garrett's father doesn't mean I can't like Garrett. He never did anything to you!"

Mayor Rutledge rolled her eyes. "He did plenty to hurt you! Am I just supposed to ignore the fact that he blackmailed you?"

"No, you're not," Garrett spoke up. "But that's in the past. Sydney can forgive me. Can't you?"

She sighed, and turned away, not wanting to answer his question.

Sydney went on with her speech. "You liked Garrett's father when you were younger, and you were forced to meet with him in secret. Do you want us to have to do the same?"

Mayor Rutledge took a deep breath. "You've really thought this out, haven't you?"

Sydney smiled. "Yes. I've been waiting far too long to tell you this. I should have been honest from the very beginning."

"I don't like this one bit, you know."

"I'm pretty aware of that." All three of them laughed nervously at Sydney’s comment.

"I still think there's a lot we have to talk about. I'm not quite ready to accept this. But I'm also not willing to ruin your big night," Mayor Rutledge said calmly.

Sydney's eyes brightened. "Does this mean...?"

Her mother nodded. "Go out and have a good time."

Sydney flung herself into the mayor's arms. "Oh, Mother!"

Mayor Rutledge looked over at Garrett. "You take care of my daughter," she told him warningly.

"I will," he promised with a grin.

"And I want you home by eleven."

"Eleven thirty?" Sydney asked hopefully.

"Eleven," Mayor Rutledge repeated sternly.

Sydney rolled her eyes and smiled. "Okay, eleven."

Mayor Rutledge stepped back away from Sydney, and watched her link arms with Garrett. They turned to wave before they exited, and with an enduring sigh, she snapped a photo of Sydney and her date.

"What?!" Mila's voice rose several octaves. Immediately, her eyes flooded with tears. "What do you mean?"

"Sydney and I are going to the dance together. She came over my house every day trying to get me to go," Grant explained.

The tears started flowing down Mila's cheeks and quickly ruined all the makeup she spent an hour applying. "And then you called her on the phone and asked her?" she questioned him hoarsely.

Grant nodded. "Mm-hmm. How did you know?"

"Because you asked me!" she cried, turning away from him. She couldn't let him see the humiliation in her face.

"What are you talking about?" he asked. He wasn't quite understanding her.

"I answered the telephone at Sydney's. She had been trying to get you to go with me!" Mila told him.

The color drained out of his face. "Oh no! I really screwed up. I'm really sorry, Mila."

"It's okay," she said between hiccups.

"No, really, it's not. Look, this wasn't the way I had planned it, but why don't we go in there together anyway? I assume Sydney already has a date." He slowly took her hand.

She quickly yanked it away from him. "No!" She stepped several feet away from him, and looked him in the eyes. "Look, I know you mean well, but I don't want to be second to Sydney Rutledge, or to anyone else." Mila turned on her heels and started walking away.

"Mila!" he called after her.

She broke into a run. "Just go away!" she yelled before darting out of sight.

The slow song immediately made Callie nervous. She and Jimmy hadn't danced together since the night of the concert... which seemed like ages ago. They exchanged glances, and both seemed to be saying that even though they didn't like the situation, it would look weird if they refused to dance together. Not wanting to arouse suspicion, they started to sway to the music. At arm’s length they danced, for pure fear of being close to one another.

"'In the still of the night, I held you, held you tight, Oh I love, love you so... promise I'll never let you go, in the still of the night....'" The song playing in the dance club was "In the Still of the Night" by Boyz II Men, something that had been popular back in Swans Crossing. It made Callie even more homesick. As if reading her mind, Jimmy started a conversation.

"You know, tonight is homecoming back in Swans Crossing," he commented. As the music lilted over them, they instinctively danced closer.

"It is?" she asked. "I didn't know that." There was a silence between them, and both were deep in thought. "I wonder what we would have been doing," Callie thought out loud. Immediately after saying that, she wanted to kick herself. Nice job bringing up "we"! she scolded herself silently.

Luckily, Jimmy didn't notice. "Well, come to think of it we'd probably be doing the same thing we are right now."

Callie laughed at the irony. He was right. They would be doing the same thing, but the circumstances would be so different....

After winning the game against Newport, Jimmy and Callie would meet at the edge of the football field. She would congratulate him and the rest of the SCH football team. After a few minutes of excited chatting, everyone would go their separate ways and get ready for the dance. A few hours later, Jimmy would knock on the side of the sub with a wrench. (Even though Callie wasn't living with her father the last time they were in Swans Crossing, she often imagined that nothing had happened to her home).

Captain Walker would invite him in, and Callie would be wearing an elegant, long dress. Her father would tell her that she looked beautiful, and the expression on Jimmy's face when he saw her would let her know Captain Walker was right. As Jimmy pinned the corsage on her, she would laugh, joking about how she felt so weird being this dressed up. When Captain Walker turned to get his camera, Jimmy would whisper, "You look great, Walker Woman," in her ear.

Her father would take pictures, and then they would head over to school. Once they got there, they would say hello to all their friends. The first slow song would begin, quite possibly the same one they were listening to in Brazil.

"'In the still of the night, I held you, held you tight, Oh I love, love you so... promise I'll never let you go, in the still of the night....'"

They would walk to the middle of the gym floor, the ground littered with streamers and fallen decorations. Their embrace would become tight as they twirled around the gym.

"I'm having such a great time," Callie would say.

Jimmy would gaze deeply into her eyes and smile. He wouldn't have to say anything in reply. She knew he was thinking the same thing. They would continue to dance, holding each other close, and then they would start leaning towards each other....

With a sad sigh, Callie snapped out of her reverie and looked around at the reality of the loud Brazilian dance club. It was almost easy to get caught up in her fantasy and believe she really was at the homecoming dance back in Swans Crossing. She looked up at Jimmy and saw that his eyes were glazed over... almost as if he were lost in the same world.

Glory laughed as she and Neil danced across the floor. The dance had been going on for about half an hour, and they were having a great time. She was glad she had chosen to go with Neil... he was proving to be a fun date.

Neil wasn't having too bad a time himself. Technically, this was their first date, but it didn't really feel like it. It was more like he and Glory were just having a good time as friends getting to know each other.

"Hey Neil!" J.T. called, having just entered the dance. Neil and Glory exchanged glances. She wasn't really ready to see him in a social situation with another girl. But, she told herself, taking a deep breath, there's nothing I can do about it.

"Hi!" Neil greeted his friend. Carolyn came up behind him. A hint of jealously flickered in Neil’s dark eyes.

At the sight of Carolyn, Glory's jaw dropped. They were wearing the same dress!

Mila sank down on a bench next to the baseball diamond, far away from the crowd filing into the gym. She now could cry freely, and did. Within a moment, she was sobbing, and she didn't care. What did it matter? It was strikingly obvious that no one wanted to be with her... that she was just something guys toyed with until they were bored.

"And it's all Sydney's fault!" she said out loud. In the week leading up to the dance, Mila had been thinking a lot about her past relationships. Before, she had just thought she was unlucky in love. But now she noticed a pattern emerging--Sydney. Sydney had been involved in the ending of every single one of her relationships. Sydney and Garrett had been using her when she was dating him for the first time; Sydney had picked up the pieces for Billy after Mila had been grounded; Sydney had been blackmailed by Garrett, causing Mila to dislike him and dump him again; and Sydney had encouraged Mila to break up with J.T. in order to go out with Grant. Now Sydney had gotten in the way of that, too... she had led Grant to believe that it was her he should go out with.

"This is my best friend?" Mila asked herself. Although she was inexperienced and even somewhat naive, she knew better than to believe that this was typical friendly behavior. In anger, she pulled off her high heels and threw them down in the sand. She pulled off her long gloves and tossed them as well. It didn't matter how she looked anymore. She was going to miss her first high school homecoming dance.

Mila heard the shuffling of dress shoes behind her. She looked up, figuring it was Grant coming to apologize. She certainly didn't want to be a pity date. "What do you want?" she snapped.

"Nothing," Owen mumbled, sitting down next to her.

"Oh, I'm sorry Owen," she apologized. "I didn't know it was you."

"Who did you think it was?" he asked.

She shrugged. "Oh, no one important. So what are you doing out here?"

Owen rolled his eyes, and loosened his black bow tie. He noticed all of Mila's discarded items and threw his tie next to them. "There's no point in being in there. I don't have a date, and no one's interested in hanging out with a big loser."

Mila nodded sympathetically. "You mean Sandy's not interested... right?"

He sighed. "I never wanted Sandy to be interested. But then..." his voice trailed off. "Really, it doesn't matter. So why are you out here?"

She wiped at her cheeks, realizing then that dark black streaks of mascara were staining her face. "It's a really long story. Basically my date thought I was Sydney."

Even though that didn't make a lot of sense, Owen didn't question her answer. "Hey, I've got an idea."

Mila sniffed. "What's that?"

"Well, what's the point of us missing out on our first home- coming dance?"

"None, I guess. But I'm way too humiliated to go in there," she told him.

A smile spread across his face. "Would you feel better if you had someone to go in there with you?"

Slowly, she smiled, too. "What are you asking me, Owen?"

For once in his life, Owen didn't feel overwhelmed in Mila's presence. Instead of seeing her as a goddess, he was seeing her as a real person. He held out his hand to her. "Why don't we go together?"

Mila nodded. "That sounds like a great idea." She knelt down and picked up their discarded garments. She looped her arm through his. "Come on, let's go."

Sydney sipped her punch and smiled up at Garrett. She was having a wonderful time, and so was he. They had spent most of the time dancing and were taking a much deserved break.

"Hey Garrett," she whispered to him.


She looked up at the clock that hung near the gym doors. It was ten o' clock. "I think that they're going to announce who won homecoming court soon!"

"You think we have a chance?" he asked.

Sydney nodded. "I know we do. Look at us, we're the best looking couple here!"

Garrett grinned confidently. "Yeah, we are."

"Speaking of good looking couples, where are Grant and Mila?" She looked over his shoulder, scanning the room for her friend.

Garrett gave her a quizzical look. "I didn't know you actually got Grant to ask her."

"Well, I did. He called my house a couple days and asked her. Why, he didn't mention anything about it?"


Sydney shrugged. She guessed they had either decided to blow off the dance and spend some more private time together, or something bad had happened. Either way, there was really nothing she could do about it.

Paul Fields and Dawn Carlsen, seniors and members of the student council, walked up to the podium set up off to the side. The music stopped, and everyone fell silent. All the students in the gym were anticipating the moment when they would announce the homecoming King and Queen.

"Hey there, Swans Crossing High!" Dawn, a tall, willowy brunette yelled into the microphone.

"We now have all the votes tallied for this year’s Homecoming King and Queen! It was a close race, but will Sydney Rutledge and Garrett Booth please come up and accept your crowns?!"

The crowd broke out into applause, and Sydney turned to Garrett. "See? What did I tell you?!"

He took her hand, and they walked up to the podium. Paul placed a tiara on Sydney's head, and Dawn gave Garrett a crown. They waved to the crowd, and everyone clapped again.

"Now, we are going to have the royal dance. Everyone but Sydney and Garrett has to sit this one out," Dawn told the other students.

The other kids cleared the floor, and the music began. "Everything I do" by Bryan Adams came on over the speakers. Garrett took Sydney's hand, and they began to sway gently to the music.

"This has been the best night!" Sydney exclaimed, touching her tiara. "I always wanted to be Homecoming Queen."

"Well, you deserve it. Look at you... you're the perfect Homecoming Queen," Garrett remarked, spinning her around.

She snuggled closer to him. "And you're the perfect Homecoming King. You know Garrett, all this heartache, everything we've been through... it's really been worth it."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, we've waited a long time to be together. And now, here we are." She motioned around her, to the deserted dance floor, the romantic lighting, and all their classmates’ eyes turned towards them.

"'You know it's true... everything I do, I do it for you....'" the song drifted around them.

"Good things come to those who wait," Garrett agreed. The music swelled as he pulled Sydney into his arms, and kissed her... as all of Swans Crossing High watched.

All songs in this chapter ("In the Still of the Night"-Boyz II Men; "Emotions"-Mariah Carey; and "Everything I do"- Bryan Adams) are (c) 1991-1992 Columbia Records, Motown Records, and other labels.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Swans Crossing High's students applauded their homecoming King and Queen as the music came to an end. Sydney looked up at Garrett and smiled.

"If this is as good as life gets, I'm perfectly happy," she told him softly.

He laughed. "My thoughts exactly."

The couple stared into each other's eyes, basking in the moment. All the longing they had experienced, from their parent's disapproval to their mind games, had melted away and was merely a distant memory. All that was important was the present: Sydney Rutledge and Garrett Booth, the homecoming Queen and King, dancing and kissing in front of the whole school.

"Nothing could ruin this night," Sydney said, as she and Garrett began dancing to the next song the DJ's were playing. From across the crowded gym, they saw Mila enter the dance with Owen. Sydney furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. "I thought Mila was going to the dance with your brother."

Garrett shrugged. "Don't look at me. Grant never tells me anything."

Sydney waved, and signaled for Mila to come over.

"Hello Sydney," Mila said, setting her pink lips in a straight line.

"Hey Mila. Where's Grant?"

Mila crossed her arms in front of her. "Do you want to know where Grant is?"

Sydney nodded.

"Well, Grant stood me up," she stated in a sharp tone. "And do you want to know why?"

Sydney nodded again, this time more slowly. She could hear the anger in her friend's voice... and it didn't sound good.

"Because he thought he was going with you. Your little plan to convince Grant Halsey Booth, the college boy, to go to a high school homecoming dance worked a little too well. He thought I was you on the telephone."

Sydney's jaw dropped. "Oh, Mila! I'm so sorry."

Mila blinked away her tears and scowled, obviously not accepting Sydney's apology. "You just don't get it, do you? Every relationship I've ever had has ended because of you!"

"Just a series of strange coincidences, I'm-"

"And you're supposed to be my best friend?" Mila interrupted.

"I know it must look bad, but-"

"I don't want to hear it! You're not a true friend, and you never have been. You only care about yourself. As far as I'm concerned, we're not friends anymore!" With that, Mila turned on her heels and flounced away... leaving Sydney completely stunned.

Late that night, Callie let herself into the house. Her father had left the light on for her, but had already gone to bed. She was actually relieved he wasn't up; she needed to be alone. It seemed that ever since she moved to Brazil, whenever she was alone was the only time she didn't feel lonely. Being with her new group, Pedro, Ana, and Jimmy, was one of the most awkward situations she had ever been in. Especially their outing to the dance club. After she and Jimmy had shared one slow dance, swaying in the warmth of each other's arms, things had become even more awkward. They couldn't face their feelings, the good ones and the bad. So Jimmy had mumbled a thank you, and then stayed glued to Ana's side for the rest of the night. Callie watched on enviously, and was too caught up in it to pay much attention to Pedro.

"That's it!" she said aloud. "I'm never going out with the three of them ever again." Then she remembered that earlier tonight she had agreed to go with them to a really nice beach-front restaurant the following day. Pedro had insisted, saying that the reservations had been extremely hard to get. Both Jimmy and Callie had been reluctant... but agreed nonetheless.

Callie stomped her foot angrily. "I guess that will have to be the last time I go out with them then," she mumbled as she headed off to bed.

Carolyn smiled and looked her outfit up and down. "I like your dress, Glory," she joked.

Glory laughed and eyed her identical cream colored dress. "Great minds think alike," she remarked, becoming immediately at ease with Carolyn. She had expected to dislike her, since she was J.T.'s date, but Carolyn's exuberant personality made her immediately likable.

The four made small talk for a few moments. J.T. was relating how he had gotten hopelessly lost on the way to pick up Carolyn, when Saja and Sandy approached the group.

"Well if it isn't the star of the game!" Saja yelled, referring to J.T., and a smattering of applause followed.

J.T. lowered his head modestly. "Aw, come on."

"And," Sandy added, "We can't forget the star cheerleader!"

This time it was Glory's turn to blush.

Carolyn smiled slyly. "I think that you guys, the big ‘stars’ of the night, ought to dance!"

The rest of their friends agreed. "J.T.! Glory! J.T.! Glory!" they chanted.

"All right," J.T. agreed with a laugh.

Glory's heart started pounding, but she too laughed off her nervousness. "Yeah, I guess we could manage one dance."

A slow number began, and they started dancing to the music.

"You played a great game," Glory said softly, trying to keep her cool. "I mean it. I was really impressed."

"Uh thanks," he replied, his voice raising several octaves. "And you were really great tonight, too. The best cheerleader on the squad."

She looked at him seriously. "Better than Mila?"

"Glory," J.T. began, his tone becoming serious as well. "That's not fair."

She lowered her eyes. "It might not be fair, but it still hurts sometimes."

"It hurts me too. Dumping you for Mila was the biggest mistake I ever made. I love you Glory, and I always will."

Glory's eyes flooded with tears. "J.T..."

He stepped out of her embrace and reached into his pocket. "I wrote this for you," he told her in an emotional voice. "I was going to put it in the envelope with the money, but.."

"You? You're the one who left me the money?" Glory asked with surprise, interrupting him.

J.T. sighed. "I wanted you to be able to go to the dance, even if you weren't going with me. You deserve it."

The tears welling in her eyes spilled over. "That's so sweet."

He put his hand on top of hers and smiled. "I'm glad you still think so."

Glory looked down at the wrinkled piece of paper in J.T.'s hand. "Is that another poem?"


"Will you read it to me?" she whispered.

J.T. unfolded the paper and cleared his throat. "’The night was still when we said good-bye, the air was thick when I heard you cry, I looked to the stars and wished you'd come back to me, without you my world's so empty, All I have are my memories, poems rhyming with the things I cannot say, and I miss you more with each passing day, the pain of longing is forever strong, you don't realize you miss something until it is gone’." His voice broke with emotion, and he looked into Glory's eyes, searching for a reaction.

Glory swallowed hard and took his other hand, which was clammy and trembling. "J.T., that's beautiful."

"Do you think so?" he asked in a vulnerable tone.


"Does that mean...?" he said, trailing off.

She nodded again. "As much as what you did to me hurt, I still love you."

A wide smile spread across his face. "I love you Glory."

"I love you, too," she murmured as they leaned together. Their lips met in a long, gentle kiss, an urgent kiss that their time apart had created.

Their lips parted, and they looked into each other's eyes. J.T. tucked a strand of Glory's red hair behind her ear and smiled. "Oh, and Glory," he began with a laugh. "I forgot to tell you. I really love your haircut."

Nancy stood in the glow of her front porch light after the dance, with Kevin standing closely beside her.

"I had a glorious time tonight, didn't you?" she asked, shifting her weight nervously from one foot to the other.

"Yeah, I had a lot of fun," he replied, flashing her a charming smile which sent a shiver down her spine. "Are you cold?" he asked.

"A little," she answered.

Kevin took off his tuxedo jacket and shyly wrapped it around her shoulders. "Is that better?"

"Much," Nancy assured him. "But I should probably go inside."

"All right. Well, maybe we should do this again sometime."

She nodded quickly, and then she scolded herself for seeming too eager. "Sounds pretty good," she told him in a smooth voice. Inside though, her mind was racing. He was actually asking her out again! Nancy handed his jacket back to him, and their fingers brushed against each other.

"Good night," she whispered, opening the door and stepping inside.

"Good night."

Morning light shone in through Sydney's window, forcing her to wake up.

She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and sat up in bed. She had gotten in pretty late after the dance, and her mother had already gone to bed. Although Sydney had wanted to tell her mother about being crowned homecoming queen, she was glad that she had avoided being grilled about her date with Garrett.

Untangling the sheets, Sydney stepped out of bed and walked over to her vanity table. She picked up the tiara she had gotten at the dance and placed it on her disheveled hair. She smiled at her reflection, remembering the wonderful night, and spun around.

"Sydney?" Mayor Rutledge called, appearing in the doorway.

"Mother," Sydney said, feeling slightly embarrassed for dancing around her room in her crown.

The mayor crossed the room and gave her daughter a hug. "Well, what is this?"

"I was crowned homecoming Queen," she informed her proudly.

"Well that's just wonderful, darling! I'm so proud of you," Mayor Rutledge said with a smile. "So, do you want to come downstairs? Ralph made a delicious breakfast."

Sydney looked at her mom with confusion. "You mean you don't want to hear about my date?"

"I trust you," she answered simply, and she headed down the stairs.

Sydney shrugged and followed her.

Mila sat in Swans Soda Shop, busily writing an essay for her American history class. "It's been some weekend," she commented, not moving her eyes from her paper.

"Mm-hmm," Owen responded absently, stirring the straw in his quickly melting milkshake.

"I'm just so mad at Sydney! I can't believe we were ever friends. She's a back-stabber, and..." Mila clutched her paper angrily and then released it, realizing that she was ruining her homework.

"Don't worry about it," Owen said calmly. "You had fun last night anyway, didn't you?"

She shrugged. "I guess."

Mila went back to her homework while Owen let out a dreamy sigh. "Yeah, me too."

Callie sat on a plush leather chair, quietly waiting to be seated at Tortina's, a very posh restaurant in Brazil. "This looks pretty expensive," she commented to Pedro, who was sitting next to her.

"Don't worry about it," he told her with a smile.

Callie played with the ends of her wavy hair in response. She didn't know how to bring it up, but she was getting very tired of double dating with Jimmy and Ana. It was far too painful to be spending so much time with her ex-boyfriend.

The maitre'd called their party and the four teenagers stood up. The man led them into an outdoor dining room over-looking the beach. The table was lit only by a few candles, and an impressive centerpiece of exotic flowers gave a beautiful touch.

Pedro rushed around Callie to his sister's side and pulled out her chair.

"Thanks bro," Ana said, while Callie gave him a strange look. He was acting kind of weird.

Jimmy looked from the twins to Callie, and he politely pulled out the chair for her.

"Thanks," she said in a low voice.

"No problem," he muttered. There was a long, awkward silence.

Pedro cleared his throat. "So, uh, I think you guys will really like this place."

Callie sipped her water and nodded, trying to appear interested. "Oh yeah? Do you come here a lot?"

"Yes," Pedro answered, and Ana answered "No," at the same time.

Now it was Jimmy who shot the siblings a strange look. It took all of Callie's strength not to throw her hands up in frustration. It was bad enough that things were tense between her and Jimmy. Now Ana and Pedro were acting strangely too.

"Should we order?" Ana suggested.

Jimmy tugged at his tie, noticing the thick tension hanging heavily above the table. "Ordering is good." He opened his menu and then sighed. "Great, it's all in Portuguese."

"Callie can help you," Ana said quickly.

"Why?" Jimmy asked, shaking his head in confusion. "You guys are the ones who grew up here."

Ana laughed nervously. "Right. I guess I forgot." She gave her brother a frustrated look.

The four looked over the menus, Ana translating for Jimmy, and they ordered without a problem. They engaged in small talk for a little while, even though nothing being said was particularly interesting to either Jimmy or Callie.

"Paging Ana and Pedro Tava. Please come to the hostess stand," a voice over the loudspeaker said.

"Hmm, I wonder what this is about," Pedro muttered. "Excuse us," he said, and he and Ana headed in the direction of the hostess stand.

Jimmy and Callie eyed each other after Ana and Pedro had left. Silence passed as they waited for their friends to return. Then Callie noticed something peeking out from under Pedro's water glass.

"What's that?" Jimmy asked.

Callie pulled out a hundred dollar bill and held it up for him to see. "It looks like we've been set up."

After having breakfast with her mother, Sydney excused herself to go call Mila. She was feeling really badly about their argument and even worse about "stealing" Grant away from her.

"If I had thought for one minute," Sydney muttered to herself while dialing the phone number, "that Grant was really interested in me, I never would have gotten involved."

"Hi, you've reached Mila's room," Mila's perky voice on the answering machine said.

Sydney slammed the phone in its receiver. It was going to take a lot to get this friendship back together... and she wasn't sure she was up for it.

"You know we're not going to get any studying done," J.T. remarked, sitting next to Glory on her porch swing, his arm draped casually around her. It was just like old times. After the dance the night before, and after J.T. and Glory had reconciled, things had gone back to the way they used to be between them... it was like they hadn't broken up at all.

"I know," she agreed. Glory giggled when he tossed his book over his shoulder. "So let's talk instead," she suggested.

"What about?"

"Well, it's been a long time since we've seen each other. We have a lot to catch up on. Tell me about your project."

J.T. grinned. "UB2B is finally paying off." He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. "And I do mean paying off."

Glory's eyes became clouded, and she turned away. "I'm glad to hear that," she said sarcastically.

"Aw, ram cram. I guess I uh, kinda forgot your family isn't exactly rolling in the pesos anymore."

"You could be a little more sensitive about it," she snapped.

He looked at her sympathetically. "I'm trying."

She placed her hand over his. "I know you are. Anyway, let's talk about something else. How was your, uh... date last night with Carolyn?"

"Another very comfortable topic," he joked. "We just went as friends, you know."

Glory pursed her lips at him. "I know. Actually, it seemed to me that Carolyn was eyeing Neil."

"Neil?" he asked incredulously. "What gave you that idea?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I just had a feeling about it."

J.T. took her hand in his. "Well, you always have been good at matters of the heart."

Glory blushed. "Thanks, J.T. So what do you think? Should I ask her about it? And maybe we could play matchmaker?"

"Yeah," he agreed. "It's about time Bucky Ball got himself a girlfriend."

Jimmy stood up. "Well, let's get out of here then." He felt very embarrassed that Pedro and Ana had so easily conned them, although he didn't exactly know what their motivation was.

Callie stood up with him. "But what if they come back?"

He took the money from her hand. "Does it look like they're coming back to you?"

She didn't have time to answer him because the waiters arrived at their table carrying two steaming plates of food. The dishes Ana and Pedro had ordered were conspicuously missing.

"Are you staying?" the waiter asked them, noticing they were standing up. "Or should I return this?"

Callie and Jimmy exchanged a glance. "It would be rude to send the food back," Jimmy admitted under his breath.

"Right. I'm sure they'll come back," Callie said, even though she knew in her heart that they had no intention of returning to the table.

"Oh, I almost forgot. Your friends asked me to give you a message," the waiter told them. "They said their mother needed them at home. They want you to stay and enjoy the dinner and they will be back as soon as they can."

Callie's heart rate quickened. They weren't coming back... she and Jimmy were going to have to spend the evening together... alone.

"I just don't know what to do about Mila," Sydney said as she and Garrett approached the front door of Swans Soda Shop.

"I'm sure you guys will make up. I mean, come on, this is Mila we're talking about," Garrett assured her casually as he and Sydney entered the diner.

"I don't think so, Garrett. Mila's really mad at me right now. I don't know if she's ever going to forgive me."

Sydney and Garrett went up to the counter and greeted Jazz.

Jazz looked very taken aback when Sydney and Garrett sat down together. "Well, I must be dreaming. Could Sydney Rutledge and Garrett Booth actually be hanging out together... without throttling each other?!" She placed her hand on her forehead and pretended to faint.

"Very funny, Jazz," Sydney said shortly.

"Hmm, maybe I was wrong. This looks like a pretty serious conversation." Jazz turned to wait on some other customers.

"Wait!" Sydney exclaimed, signaling for her to come back. "Has Mila been in here today?"

"Actually, yes," Jazz answered. "She was here this morning with Owen doing some studying. To tell you the truth, I overheard her talking to him..."

"And?" Sydney prompted.

"And she seemed sort of ticked off at you," Jazz replied, and then she walked away. Sydney turned around on her barstool to face Garrett.

"See?" Sydney moaned, rolling her eyes. "She's never going to forgive me!"

"Look, um, even though we had no idea what we were in for tonight, I want you to know that I am having a good time," Callie told Jimmy shyly as they sat at the table, picking at their food and listening to the roar of the ocean. Although things had started awkwardly, somehow they had managed to engage themselves in some interesting small talk, and they even laughed a few times.

"I'm having a good time, too. We'll have to remember to thank Ana and Pedro for the free meal," Jimmy joked, nervously twisting his cloth napkin.

"Yeah," she laughed in reply. She drew in a breath. "Jimmy, um, there's something I've been wanting to ask you."

He immediately looked up. "What?"

"I just-" she paused, losing her nerve. "Never mind, it's not important."

"No, really, what is it? Tell me," he insisted.

Callie hesitated. "It's just that, ever since you..." her voice trailed off. "What are you doing here anyway?"

Jimmy was taken aback. "Excuse me?"

"I mean, why did you come here, to Brazil? You never told me why you just suddenly showed up here."

Jimmy rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry, " he said sarcastically. "I didn't know I had to call you and set up an appointment whenever I decide to take a vacation."

She sighed. "Come on, Jimmy. I was just wondering. Besides, you have to admit it was kind of strange that you just showed up here unannounced and just happened to be ‘vacationing’ at the same place I moved to."

Jimmy was growing frustrated. "What exactly are you getting at?"

"I'm not getting at anything!" she exclaimed defensively. "I told you, I'm just a little curious, that's all."

He sighed and then admitted softly, "Look, if you want to know the truth, I came here because of you."

"Why?" she asked, her voice suddenly dropping to barely above a whisper.

"I felt really bad about the way we left things in Swans Crossing. I said a lot of awful things to you during our fight," he explained. "I guess I came here to apologize."

"Oh," she said hollowly, not bothering to disguise the disappointment in her voice. "So that's the only reason you're here?"

"Yeah," he lied. Then he sighed and shook his head. "No, it's not. I also hoped maybe I could fix things between us."

"Fix things?" Callie asked cautiously, trying not to seem too eager. She wasn't quite sure what he meant, and she didn't want to make any assumptions. "What do you mean by that?"

"Things... you know, like our-" he stopped abruptly, and then shook his head. "Look, just forget I said anything. It doesn’t matter anymore.

Her stomach dropped. She didn't want him to give up on her... if that's what he was talking about. "What do you mean it doesn’t matter anymore?

"I mean, I shouldn’t even be telling you this, since it’s obvious you’d rather be sitting here with Pedro right now, so-" he began in a hurt tone.

"Jimmy, please tell me what’s wrong."

"Nothing’s wrong," he insisted. "Just forget about it, okay?"

Callie was about to protest, but noticing the stubborn look in his eyes, she knew that wouldn't be wise. "Fine," she said simply.

"Fine." He folded his arms in front of his chest.

Callie set her mouth in a straight line. "Fine."

After a long pause, Jimmy spoke. "So."

Callie rose her eyebrows and shrugged. "So."

"So..." he said, and there was another long pause. Finally, Jimmy rose his hands up in mock surrender. "Okay, okay, you won!"

"What do you mean, I won?" she asked, stifling a laugh.

Jimmy turned to her and smiled. "I mean, you got me to start talking. You always could do that, Walker Woman," he confessed, gazing at her wistfully.

Callie gazed back at him and paused for a moment, involuntarily losing herself in his eyes. Although he seemed unaware of the fact, this was the first time in what felt like ages that he had used his pet name for her. Then, she snapped back to reality and cleared her throat, feeling embarrassed. "Well, now that I’ve gotten you to start talking, what’s on your mind?"

"Well.... us," he admitted quietly.

Callie looked away quickly, and Jimmy could tell he had upset her. "What about us?" she asked.

"I... never mind. It’s obvious you feel uncomfortable talking about what I want to talk about, so let’s just drop it," he told her, his voice becoming cold once again.

Callie looked back at him. "Yeah, well, I guess I don’t really feel like talking about how much you really don’t want to be here with me."

"What?" Jimmy asked in surprise.

"Look, you don’t have to pretend, okay? I mean, I know that you probably wish you were anywhere but here right now," Callie said, hurt gleaming in her eyes.

"Hey, you’re the one who looked so upset when Pedro had to leave," he deadpanned.

"Oh, and like you wouldn’t rather be with Ana right now!" Callie shot back.

He rolled his eyes. "Look, if you want Pedro to be here so badly instead of me, then why don’t you go over to his house and join him?"

"Well, since you want to be with Ana so much, why don’t you come with me?" she challenged.

Jimmy quickly shook his head. "I think I’ll just stay here since you obviously can’t stand to be around me for another second."

"No," Callie replied stubbornly. "I’ll stay here and you go find Ana."

"No, I insist," he told her with mock politeness. "Go back to your boyfriend."

"Pedro is not my boyfriend," she said sharply.

Jimmy rose his eyebrows. "Really? That’s not what it looks like to me," he remarked.

"We’re just friends!" Callie insisted, raising her voice. "But I can’t say the same for you and Ana."

"Well, don’t even try saying she’s my girlfriend, because she’s not."

"Right," Callie said sarcastically.

Jimmy looked up at her, a curious look playing on his face. "Why do you care so much anyway?"

"Hey, you’re the one who brought up the subject by saying that Pedro’s my boyfriend."

"He is, isn’t he?"

"I can’t exactly get involved with him when I care about someone else," Callie commented softly, talking more to herself than to him.

Jimmy was surprised by what he thought she had just said. "What was that?"

"Nothing," Callie answered quickly.

"Anyway, why wouldn’t you get involved with Pedro? I mean, I know I must’ve paled in comparison to him--" he began sarcastically.

"Jimmy, don’t do this, okay?" she interrupted warningly.

"I mean, he’s nice, friendly, non-confrontational, he doesn’t shut people out, you probably think he’s really good-looking, too--"

"Would you cut it out?" she said sharply.

"I can understand why you’d wanna drop me for him--" he continued.

"Look, he isn’t you!" she yelled angrily. Then she paused, realizing how loud she was. Her cheeks flushed and she said more softly, "Okay? He’s not my boyfriend because he isn’t you. Although you drive me so crazy sometimes, I honestly don’t know why I even still bother with you."

Jimmy was lost in thought for several moments, allowing everything she had just revealed to sink in. "If I make you so angry then why wasn’t it easier for you to just fall for Pedro? I mean, I really can understand why you’d hook up with someone else, considering how awful I treated you back in Swans Crossing."

"Jimmy... for some strange reason, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get myself to stop thinking about you or wishing that things between us didn’t get so messed up. Did you really think that I could just forget about what we had so easily? That I could just stop caring about you that fast? I couldn’t."

Jimmy’s mouth slowly spread into a wide smile. "I couldn’t, either. Walker Woman, I still care about you... a lot. You still mean so much to me."

"Really?" she whispered.

"Yeah, really. As soon as you told me you were moving to Brazil, I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I couldn’t lose you. After we had that huge fight, all I wanted to do was tell you how sorry I was and how much I needed you," he confessed.

"Then why didn’t you?"

"I tried. That’s why I came to Brazil. I wanted to make things right with you... but then--"

"But then you saw me with Pedro," she concluded.

"Right," he said. "Callie, you have to tell me, does Pedro mean anything to you? I mean, do you care about him at all? Because if you do--"

"No, no. I don’t," she quickly assured him. "Not the way I care about you.... Does Ana mean anything to you?"

Jimmy gazed deeply into her eyes. "The only person who’s ever really meant anything to me is you," he told her huskily. He started leaning towards her. She tilted her head, and closed her eyes. She leaned towards him... but then suddenly backed away.

"No, we can’t."

A look of confusion and frustration crossed Jimmy’s face. "What? Why not? I thought that... I still care about you, and you just told me that you feel the same way about me, too. You don’t?"

Callie sighed. "No, I do."

"Then what’s the problem?" he asked.

"I just don’t want us to start something again that we won’t be able to continue," she explained with sadness.

"What do you mean, we won’t be able to continue?"

"I mean, I don’t see the point in us getting involved again if you’re just going to have to go back to Swans Crossing in a few days."

"Walker Woman, please don’t start this again," he said, not wanting to think about having to return to Swans Crossing.

"I have to. Jimmy, I’m sorry, but we don’t have any other choice. This is exactly what I was trying to tell you before I left Swans Crossing, but you wouldn’t listen to me."

"I was listening to you," he insisted. "I just didn’t think that what you were saying made any sense. I mean, we both still care about each other a lot, so why can’t we be together?"

"Jimmy, it’s not that easy. There’s a lot more stuff involved. Namely, our feelings. I don’t want either of us to get hurt."

"The only way we would get hurt is if we care about each other but can’t be together.... But maybe you don’t care about me. Is that the problem?" he asked, looking at her seriously.

"Jimmy, you know I do."

"Look, if you really do care about me, you wouldn’t be trying so hard to break up with me. You don’t just leave the people you care about."

"I know you don’t. But you don’t try to set them up for hurt and disappointment, either." She sighed, wishing he would just understand. "And that’s what would end up happening if we got back together again."

"See, this is the part I don’t get. How could we end up being hurt or disappointed if we stay together? I thought that was what people who care about each other are supposed to do. Long distances don’t matter, as long as we care about each other, that’s all that matters." He looked at her with a pleading expression on his face. Jimmy didn't usually express his feelings... but now that he was spilling his guts, it still didn't seem like Callie understood him.

"Jimmy, long distances do matter. I mean, it’s not like we’re only a few miles apart. I’m not even just in another state. I’m in another country, another continent. That makes a huge difference."

"Not to me. Callie, you could be on the moon and I’d still care about you and do anything to be with you. We can make the long distance thing work, I know we could," he told her honestly.

"But what if we can’t?" she asked in a low voice.

Once again, Jimmy sighed in frustration. "Why are you being so negative about this?"

"I’m not being negative, I’m being realistic," she replied.

"No, you’re being negative. And I’m beginning to wonder if you really do care about me at all."

"Jimmy, I already told you, I do care about you. That’s why I had to break up with you," Callie stated, realizing he would find this justification very twisted.

"Walker Woman, when you care about someone, you usually try to have some sort of relationship with them. You don’t just cut them out of your life."


"Don’t you believe in us?" he asked, cutting her off. "I mean, it took us forever to finally get together, but we did. Do you really want to throw it all away just because you had to move to Brazil?"

"Please just hear me out on this, okay? I though that if I tried holding on to a long distance relationship with you, I'd end up getting hurt." A lump rose in her throat. It was difficult, but it felt good to be getting all of her feelings out in the open. "I was so afraid that you'd lose interest in me while I was away that we'd start drifting apart. That thought really scared me. I couldn't stand caring about you so much, then later have you not feel the same way about me. I didn't want it to me a one sided thing."

Jimmy stared into her eyes, realizing how vulnerable she could be. "Callie, you know that wouldn't happen. I could never hurt you like that."

"I know you wouldn't do anything like that now, but how can I be so sure that you won't later on? It's a long way from here to Swans Crossing."

"Well, I did come here , didn't I?" he pointed out.

"Yeah, but you can't just keep traveling to Brazil whenever you feel like it."

"Why not?" Jimmy challenged.

"Jimmy, please be realistic about this, okay?" Callie pleaded. "We can't continue a relationship when we're living thousands of miles apart. It just won't work."

"Look, I know why you're doing this. You're afraid that I'm going to dump you later on. Callie, I already told you, I could never hurt you like that." Gently, he titled her face upwards towards him. "Please believe me."

She gazed into his eyes. "I want to. I really want to..." she whispered. Feeling the intensity of what she was saying, she stood up, averting her eyes from his. She slowly walked a few paces away from the table. "But you can't guarantee that we won't hurt each other again one day. That's why I think it would be best if.." she hesitated, then continued quickly, "if we just forget everything that ever happened between us and move on."

Jimmy followed her and reached for her arm, making her face him. "I can't do that," he stated, shaking his head firmly.

"Jimmy, why are you making this so hard?"

"Walker Woman, I never wanted to-- I can't lose you."

She sighed and looked away. "No, don't," she whispered.

"I can't stand how we're not together anymore just because you've moved away." he continued. "Why--"

"Jimmy, don't," she interrupted. Callie looked down at the floor and a single tear trickled down her cheek.

"Callie, I love you," Jimmy blurted out.

Callie looked up, stunned. He gently put his hands on her face and brushed away her tear. Her heart pounded as he drew closer.

"No matter how far apart we are from each other, I'll always love you," he promised her, his voice hoarse with raw emotion.

"I love you too," she whispered. The world moved in slow motion as they leaned towards each other... and their lips met in a warm, gentle kiss.

Chapter Twenty-Nine Co-written by Maxiom)

The red, glowing numbers on Mila's alarm clock red 12:45 A.M. She sighed, crumpled up another piece of paper, and tossed it across her room. Her usually immaculate pink bedroom was littered with rejected essays thrown around in a fit of frustration.

"I am never going to get this finished," she moaned. It was her first all-nighter, something that actresses never had to go through. Back when she was acting, whenever she had a paper due in school and was having problems writing it, she got her private tutor to help her... and she could turn it in any time she wanted. And of course, there was no competition. She was one of the only young people on the set of Three O' Clock Dreams, so that meant there was no one who "set the curve" or was the teacher's pet. Mila was rather surprised with the competitiveness at Swans Crossing High. And she couldn't admit to any of her friends that she was quickly falling behind in many of her classes.

"Not that I have anyone to talk to anymore anyway," she said out loud, remembering her fight with Sydney. In all of Mila's life, she had never had as close a friend as Sydney... but she had also never had anyone treat her the way that Sydney did.

Mila put aside her homework and crossed her bedroom. She opened up the closet door and pulled out a hat box sitting on the floor. Inside were pictures, many cut from magazines in which she appeared. Also inside were her black and white photos of Garrett, Billy Gunn, and J.T. All of her past relationships were now just photos buried in a box. "And all because of Sydney," she said wryly.

She placed the lid on the box and shoved it back into the closet. One of the photographs floated out of the box, and she knelt to pick it up. It was of Mila and Sydney.

Mila studied the picture for a few minutes. She and Sydney were standing by the Swan Club pool, smiling with their arms around each other. For a moment she felt nostalgic, wishing she still had Sydney for a best friend. "She was never your friend Mila," she told herself. But she couldn't bring herself to throw the picture away, and instead, she put it back in the box... and returned to her homework.

After Jimmy and Callie kissed, they stared at each other, awestruck. The one thing that they'd wanted to happen sine they met each other so many months ago had finally come to pass. A few silent moments passed between them as both were letting the last words, "I love you," that they had said hang in the air. Then, coming to reality, they sat back down at the table.

Jimmy raised his water glass in the air. "Here's to... reconciliation," he toasted. Callie clinked her glass against his and smiled.

The both sipped their water, trying hard to wipe the silly grins off their faces. It didn't work. "You want to go do something?" she suggested.

"Yeah," he quickly agreed. He couldn't think of anything he wanted more than just to be with her. All he wanted was for them to be with each other, anywhere, doing anything.

They paid the bill with the money Pedro and Ana had left them, and then they walked down to the beach. The stars were burning brightly in the sky, and the roar of the ocean set a perfect romantic scene. As they walked down the beach hand-in-hand, Callie pointed out the Southern Cross to him, and went on to tell him how her dad had first shown it to her when she was a child. They were lost in conversation for the longest time before realizing they'd walked a very long distance, away from the city, and they decided to sit down on the beach to rest.

Jimmy held her in his arms, and they just sat there silently for a few moments, relishing in the feeling of finally being so close to each other. As many times as they'd pictured being in this situation, imagined what it would feel like to be so close to each other, neither had imagined it as pristine as this... the strength in his arms, the softness of her hair, the periodic synchronization of their breathing, the pounding of their hearts. Each breath was not exhaled, but released, like mini sighs of relief. Their hearts pounded not from their long walk or even of nervousness (in fact, neither had felt more calm and at ease in their lives). It was more like something had been awakened, as if their hearts had discovered a delicacy more precious than blood and were eagerly engorging themselves, feverishly working to fill a seemingly bottomless void.

The sounds of the calm surf and night sounds from the jungle behind them blended together into a kind of background music of nature, which was appropriate because there was nothing more natural than what was going on between them. It was the first time in Callie's memory that she was not looking to the future, hoping for what might be, but living in the now, relishing in the splendor of all that was. And it gave her a sense of security and satisfaction, just as hoping for what might be gave her a sense of uncertainty and fear. There was a oneness, an openness, between them. Anything could be said. The deepest thoughts... the most repressed longings.

"Jimmy, do you know I've always loved you?" she whispered over the ocean sounds.

"I think I felt it," he replied thoughtfully. "But I didn't want to face it. I was afraid, but I don't know exactly what I was afraid of. I mean, I saw so much of myself in you. You were so different from the other girls. I just loved being around you, Callie. Whether we were fighting or arguing or whatever, it didn't matter. I loved being around you. I admired you so much," he confessed, feeling as though he could tell her anything. It felt so good to be able to tell her all of the things he had hidden for so long.

"Then what was the problem? Why did you constantly push me away?" Callie asked, referring to the time when she had just moved to Swans Crossing and they weren’t together yet.

"I didn't want to, Callie. I just... this was all new to me. With Sophia, it was just a mutual admiration. We both understood that. But when I met you, it was different. I could relate to you in a way that I couldn't with any other girl. I had genuine feelings for you, and it scared me. So I looked for any opportunity to push you away. I didn't want to deal with it. But you know what? At the same time, I was holding out for you. I could've gotten another girlfriend right after Sophia split. But I didn't want to date anyone. I was afraid if I did, you'd give up on me and go after someone else yourself. All that conflict going on in my head... it was so stupid! But I could never admit it to myself. If I did, I would have realized how foolish the whole thing was."

Callie pulled back far enough to look in his eyes, her smile showing a mix of warmth and admiration. She raised an arm off his shoulder and ran her hand through his thick, dark hair. "I could tell there was something eating away at you, but I could never figure out what it was. I mean, you had everything going for you. I couldn't understand what was going on in your life that was causing all that distress."

"Part of it was Barek," Jimmy began. "I really looked up to that guy. He was like a brother to me. I couldn't understand what you and Saja had against him. But that time you caught him in a lie about the cotton balls, that's when I began to suspect him myself. I saw that you were right to be suspicious of him. That made me realize how much I admired you, and it gave me the confidence I needed to finally make my move. I had to get you alone somewhere. I just used going to the Tool n’ Die as an excuse. I didn't want you to suspect anything, just in case I lost my nerve."

Callie smiled to herself, remembering how Jimmy had first made a pass at her that night. She did have that crazy fantasy in the back of her mind about Jimmy having ulterior motives whenever they were out sleuthing together, but she would always suppress it. "The higher you raise your hopes, the harder they come smashing to the ground" was one of life's lesson's she'd learned. But once they were at the Tool n’ Die and Jimmy unexpectedly made his pass, everything became like slow motion...

Is this really happening? Or are my fantasies finally overcoming me? Callie had thought to herself as Jimmy started leaning towards her.

A split second later, just as she'd snapped back into reality and realized this was actually happening, and braced for the moment she'd longed for... Saja had kamakazied through the door.

Saja realized what he'd interrupted, and he went into some kind of explanation. But Callie didn't hear whatever it was he was saying. She didn't feel like listening to his foolishness, not at a time like this. She could only look at Jimmy. Although she had been furious at being interrupted at such a critical moment with him, the realization that he actually was attracted to her in that way had the effect of canceling out her anger.

After they'd left the Tool n’ Die, Jimmy and Callie didn't talk about what had just happened between them. For that reason, she supposed that it was more or less spontaneous.

"I wanted so much for something like that to happen," Callie said after recalling that night. "I just wish Saja and Barek hadn't shown up when they did. But even they couldn't spoil what went on between us that night. It was the first time I realized you cared for me, and it gave what I felt a legitimacy."

Jimmy pulled her close to him once more. Contrary to the tough exterior Callie so often projected, she felt soft and delicate in his arms, as though she might break if he wasn't careful how tightly he held her.

"I've always loved you, Callie," he told her softly. Then he blurted out impulsively, "I want you to come back with me to Swans Crossing."

Callie was lost in thought for a moment. "I want to go with you, Jimmy," she finally answered. "Believe me, I don't want to be away from you ever again. I just don't know how I would tell Dad."

"I won't be going any time soon," Jimmy assured her. "I'll stay with my brother for a little while longer. That should give us time to tell Captain Walker. But when I go, I'm taking you with me, whether he likes it or not."

Glory was dreamily brushing her hair before school when Garrett came bounding into her bedroom. "You look happy," she commented. Her brother responded by giving his sister a warm hug.

"Well, why shouldn't I be? Things between me and Sydney are really working out," he said, looking over Glory's shoulder at his reflection in the mirror.

"Sydney, Mila. Mila, Sydney... it's all the same," she sighed.

Garrett gave her a cross look. "I guess you don't think this is serious, do you?"

Glory walked across the room and grabbed her backpack. "I have my doubts. You were always playing games with Sydney."

"Well, this time is different," he insisted.

"If that's the case, then I'm happy for you." She smiled. "And, maybe we could double date sometime," she suggested slyly.

Garrett winced. "Oh, don't tell me you and Neil hooked up. If I have to have that tech-weenie running around my house--"

"It's not Neil. I got back together with J.T.," she told him.

"Even better," he muttered.

"Garrett," she began warningly.

"All right, all right. I won't say anything negative about you and J.T. as long as you lay off me and Sydney," he bargained, holding his hand out for her to shake.

"Agreed," she said, shaking his hand.

"Agreed on what?" Grant asked, appearing in the doorway.

Garrett and Glory looked up at their brother, their eyes growing wide. "Nothing, Grant. I just, uh, promised to help Garrett with his math homework," Glory answered quickly.

Grant looked at them strangely. "But you're a grade lower than him."

"Uh, well, you know how terrible I am at math." Garrett laughed, hoping Grant would buy that.

"All right, well, I'm here to take you guys to school. Come on, let's go."

Glory and Garrett exchanged a glance. Glory brushed past her brother and gave him a look. "You can't keep this a secret from him forever."

Sydney twisted the combination on her locker over and over, not able to actually hit the numbers and open the locker. She was far too distracted. Even though things were working out perfectly with Garrett, other things were bothering her. For one, her mother was acting very strangely. Mayor Rutledge was a very independent woman --usually at the office, or giving a speech, or dedicating some new building-- but lately, she was always at home. She had Ralph cook big meals and then insisted Sydney sat down with her to eat them.

Sydney exhaled loudly. "I guess it's just my imagination," she muttered, finally opening her locker. She tossed in her books and caught sight of the photos she had hung inside. There was one of her and Mila at the pool. And then of course, there's Mila, she thought to herself, which just made her more depressed.

The night before, she had called Mila three times and just got the machine. She knew Mila was at home... but she just didn't want to talk to Sydney. That hurt. Sydney never would admit it, but the fact that her friend was upset with her was actually causing her to feel depressed.

And who do I really have to talk to now? she asked herself. She had Garrett, of course, but which one of her girlfriends could she call up and spill all the details about her date with Garrett to? Mila wasn't even speaking to her, Callie had moved away and hadn't even called Swans Crossing since she did, Glory was Garrett's sister, and...

"Sandy!" Sydney said, suddenly spotting her friend coming up the hall.

Sandy came over to Sydney's locker. "Hey Sydney, what's up?"

Sydney smiled. Of course, I forgot about Sandy! "Nothing, Sandy. I just wanted to say hi. How are you doing?"

Sandy checked her watch. "Pretty good, but actually, I gotta run."

"Oh? Where to?"

"Choir. We have an early morning practice preparing for the holiday concert coming up soon," Sandy explained, moving a few steps away.

"Well, then I'll see you at lunch?" Sydney asked.

She chewed her bottom lip. "Actually Sydney, I’m having lunch with Saja. We're going to go over our chemistry notes for the big test tomorrow."

Sydney couldn't help but roll her eyes. "What is it with you and Saja anyway?"

Sandy shrugged. "I really like him. It looks like something's happening between us," she stated simply.

Well this is new, Sydney thought. She had never seen Sandy be so straight forward about anything. She usually would feel embarrassed about something until she got the approval of Sydney and Nancy and just about everyone else around her. But here she was, smiling and telling Sydney that something was happening between her and Saja. "That's nice," Sydney muttered.

"Anyway, I gotta go," Sandy said, waving and heading back into the crowd of passing students.

Sydney furrowed her eyebrows and watched after Sandy. She had been surprising her a lot lately, but never as much as right now. It seemed as if Sandy had morphed into a confident, beautiful Swan. In fact, she was acting a lot like Sydney... and Sydney, who was worried that she had no friends left, had become more like Sandy.

Sydney held her head in her hands. "This is awful!" she exclaimed out loud.

"What's awful?" asked a voice from behind her.

"Nancy! Just the person I wanted to see," Sydney said, putting on a bright, wide smile. Nancy was better than no one. "How are you doing?"

"Spectacular. My date with Kevin was simply wonderful," she gushed. "And yours with Garrett?" she asked.

Sydney grinned. Finally, she was going to get to confide in someone. "It was perfect Nancy, I had-"

"Can you spare me the details until lunch? I must be running," Nancy interrupted.

"Oh, and where are you off too? Charm school classes?" Sydney asked sarcastically.

"No," Nancy answered, pursing her lips. "Actually, I have a peer helpers meeting."

"Peer helping? Since when are you in any clubs? I thought you only signed up for them for your resume."

"Well, I happen to like this one. I'll see you at lunch, Sydney-O! Ta!" And with that, Nancy was gone.

Sydney but her lip, clutched her books to her chest, and walked to first period by herself.

Callie looked up at Jimmy slowly. "Jimmy, I know it’s the right thing to do. There isn't any other way it can be, unless dad jumps for joy and starts making wedding arrangements." She could feel Jimmy silently chuckle to himself at the thought.

"No, Walker Woman," he replied in a light but deliberately sarcastic tone. "Somehow I just don't think that's going to happen." Then he said in a somewhat upbeat and sentimental tone, "It would be nice, though. It would make what's going to happen a lot easier for everyone."

Callie pulled away and sat right in front of him, holding his hands and looking deeply into his eyes. "Jimmy," she began in a gentle but serious tone. "What's coming up isn't going to easy. When we tell dad, he's going to freak. Right now is a very special time for me; it’s very special for both of us. I don't want anything to spoil this. I want to be able to enjoy you without a hitch for once in my life. We have to be careful not to give him any idea of what we have planned, at least not until we get a sense of what it’s like to enjoy being with each other."

Jimmy squeezed her hands affectionately. "Don't worry about anything, Walker Woman. I promise you the next few weeks will be the best time of our lives. I won't allow anything to spoil this for either of us. All I want is to make you happy."

Callie’s looked into his eyes and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "I'm as happy as I've ever hoped to be," she told him with a wide smile. "And I never thought I'd hear myself say that."

None of this is making sense! Mila's mind screamed at her as she tried her hardest to understand the complicated geometry problem on the chalk board. She pushed her pencil across the paper in her notebook, but it was as if she was writing in another language. Hidden underneath her math notes was her history essay, unfinished from the night before. She was wildly switching back and forth, trying to write the essay and take notes at the same time. As of late, it was not working. The essay had gone from bad to worse... she knew it wasn't worth anything higher than a C-, and she needed at least a B on the paper to even pass the stupid class.

Her mother's words from several weeks ago rang in her head. She had said that if Mila didn't pull up her science grade, she wasn't going to be able to sing or be on the cheerleading squad. The Countess didn't even know that her geometry and history grades were just as bad as the science one.

"Miss Rosnovsky?" Mr. Pahl said, snapping her back to attention.

"Yes?" she replied, wincing. Even if Mr. Pahl didn't think she had been zoning out in class, Mila still wouldn't be able to answer any of his questions. She simply couldn't grasp the concept.

"I just asked you to apply the Pythagorean theorem to problem number eight in your book to find side c," he stated.

"The Pythagra-what?" she asked. The class snickered.

Mr. Pahl did not look amused. "Miss Rutledge, would you please answer the question for us?"

Sydney, who sat a few desks away from Mila, punched some numbers into her calculator and then smiled. "Fifty," she answered confidently.

The teacher smiled. "Correct."

Mila groaned and went back to finishing her history paper. Where was Sydney when she really needed her?

It was a long walk back to Callie’s house, but it was a journey in which time and distance meant nothing. Both Callie and Jimmy were completely content to be with each other. Finally, they reached the house. Neither wanted to part from the other, but each knew it was the best thing to do for now. They knew that soon they'd never have to be apart again.

Before they departed, they looked intensely into each other’s eyes. Jimmy noticed a touch of sadness in Callie’s eyes. He felt the same way she did, but he didn't want to show it.

"I love you," Jimmy said. He knew that was what she needed to hear one more time and watched the sadness in her eyes melt into warmth and admiration as she smiled at him.

"I love you too, Clayton," she told him.

Jimmy put his arms around her and pulled her close to him. When their lips met, it was a new connection between them that they hadn't felt before. And it was so ironic, because how could anything impact so intensely after the deluge of bliss they'd already experienced between each other that night? Their kiss slowly went from being soft and tender to more and more profound and impassioned. Their embrace slowly constricted like the tightening of a knot. This was unmitigated ecstasy. Callie felt as though she suddenly had no strength in her legs, and she earnestly hoped Jimmy would hold on to her if her knees gave way.

"Jimmy..." she began, trying to regain her composure... and catch her breath.

"Shh... don't say anything," he replied gently. He put his hand on the side of her face.

Callie put her hand over his and squeezed it. "I’ll see you tomorrow," she said.

Before Jimmy departed, they gazed into each other’s eyes, and it was like a whole new means of communication they'd just discovered. But yet, it was a language both spoke fluently, something each knew by heart. Their gaze spoke volumes. It was a meeting of minds, a communion of the heart. It spoke of sheer love, undying friendship, ardent companionship, and that they were colleagues in the discovery of something that was just as new and exhilarating to one as it was the other. As Callie watched Jimmy walk away, she felt no pain or loss... no feeling of separation. Instead, she felt an extraordinary sense of contentment and gratification, mixed with utter fondness and admiration. There was an ardent sense of security knowing that he belonged to her completely, and there was no force that could keep him away from her the next day.

Callie stepped inside the house and barely noticed her father studying his beloved nudibranchs in one of the many aquariums that decorated the living room. "Callie, my dear," Captain Walker greeted her. "How was dinner?"

"Oh... it was... okay," she answered dreamily with a contented smile. She wandered through the living room going nowhere in particular, looking off into space.

Captain Walker smiled. "You patched things up with Jimmy, didn't you?"

Callie eyes widened as she snapped back into reality, and she immediately gave him her full attention. Her mouth opened, but she didn't know what to say.

"You don't know how much it means to see you looking so happy!" her father exclaimed, walking over to her and giving her a warm hug. "You've been nothing but miserable since the moment we left Swans Crossing."

"You... you know about me and Jimmy?" she asked, confused that he knew so much more than he should.

"I should. That dinner was planned by your twin friends and myself. We were hoping you and Jimmy would get back together if you were left alone. And from the looks of things, it was an overwhelming success."

Callie’s eyes widened once more. Normally she would have been furious at being set up by anyone for anything. She didn't like being used. But this was one very forgivable exception. "You mean it’s okay? Me and Jimmy?"

"Okay?" Captain Walker repeated with a smile. "I wish you both nothing but the greatest happiness as being a couple once more."

"Dad, I love you so much!" Callie exclaimed, hugging him very tightly. "Now I know everything is going to be okay. Thank you so much."

"You're quite welcome," he said, returning her hug.

Callie pulled away and began to tell her father about her evening. "Everything went perfectly at the restaurant," she told him. "Jimmy and I finally talked to each other about our break-up. He told me he loves me, Dad. He loves me more than anything in the world. And I told him I felt the same way. We walked on the beach for hours, and it was just beautiful."

The Captain looked a little concerned. "My dear child, why did you pledge such allegiance to him? You should know better than to get yourself so involved, since you know he's going back to Swans Crossing soon. He can't stay here, you know." Callie didn't know what to say, but looked indifferent by this fact. "So am I to understand you already discussed this matter with him?" Captain Walker asked her.

Callie thought quickly. "Yeah Dad, and we decided we’d just try to make the most of things while he's still here. And we're definitely not going to part on such a sour note as we did last time. He even said he's going to visit Johnny again in about four months so we can see each other again soon."

Captain Walker immediately sensed that there was something wrong. Johnny had told him not long ago that his job was going to have him traveling all over the world for the next year and a half at least. But the Captain hid his concerns from Callie expertly. He was well-practiced at keeping things from her that she didn't need to know. He could certainly lie for the thousandth time still keep a straight face. He smiled at her warmly. "I'm so glad to hear that, my dear!"

Callie smiled back at the Captain. He bought it, she thought. Now realizing that the next few weeks were guaranteed bliss, she went back to dreaming about Jimmy again. "Dad... it’s kinda late. I guess I’ll go to bed."

"Good night, my dear. I'm so happy that you're no longer the miserable shell that you once were. I love you very much," he told her.

"I love you too, Dad. Good night," she said distantly. She strolled into her bedroom with a dreamy, care-fee smile on her face that was quite out of character for her. As soon as her door was closed, Captain Walker's smile vanished. It was replaced by a look of doubt and concern. He sat down and placed one hand over his mouth, looking into space, lost in deep thought for a moment. Then he picked up the phone and dialed.

"Pedro? Captain Walker. Yes, everything went well. In fact, it may have gone too well. I want Ana here the first thing in the morning. And you're going to pay a little visit to Mr. Clayton."

The scenes including Jimmy and Callie were written by Maxiom. Much thanks to him for letting me include his wonderful story in my novel!

Chapter Thirty (co-written by Maxiom and Miss Swan)

"I’ll get it!" Callie yelled as she raced toward the ringing phone. She grabbed the receiver before Captain Walker could react. "Hello?" she asked, with a hopeful, expectant look on her face.

"Walker Woman!" Jimmy’s voice exclaimed on the other line. "What's up?"

Callie held her hand tightly over her mouth, trying to suppress the joyous laughter that demanded to surface. "Hi Jimmy," was all she could manage to say. She couldn't help to smile, but she knew it’s intensity may tell her father more about her feelings than she'd like for him to know. She turned around so as not to face him, and motioned with her hand for him to leave the room.

Captain Walker would have liked to hear his daughter's side of the mysterious conversation, but was content not to. All in good time, he thought to himself as he complied with her wishes and stepped outside into the warm, tropical morning air. He picked up the newspaper and sat down in a chair on the front porch. Before opening it, however, he scanned up and down the street, looking for an "unexpected" guest to arrive.

"Hi yourself. I was just wondering... do you have any plans for today?" Jimmy asked.

"Oh, I don't know. I was thinking about spending the day with my boyfriend, but I don't know if I will or not," Callie teased. "Why, do YOU have plans for today or something?"

"Yeah, I was thinking about going to the beach and scoping out the babes. Maybe I’ll pick up a few of them," Jimmy replied.

"Whatever!" Callie said, playing along.

"I wasn't planning on taking you or anything, though. I just thought I'd call you and tell you that," he quipped.

"It’s not like I would have gone anyway, gear-head. Don't flatter yourself."


"Fine," she countered.

"I'm hanging up now," he told her.

"Whatever," she repeated sarcastically.


"The time allotted for you to dial has been exceeded. Please hang up and try your call again," she said, mimicking a recorded voice.

This meaningless, lighthearted conversation went on for quite a while, because both lost track of time. But somewhere in the senseless chatter, Jimmy said he'd pick her up and they'd go do something. Callie asked him to give her some time to get ready first.

Ana came over before Jimmy did, and she hung out with Callie until he arrived. Pedro was with him, and the twins kept quizzing them and bugging them about what went on with them the night before. They finally confessed their plans to leave Brazil together, and when Pedro and Ana still wouldn't leave them alone, Jimmy and Callie decided to go to Johnny’s house in order to get away from them. When they arrived at Johnny’s house, Jimmy went in first and held the door open for Callie after him.

"Hi Jim," Johnny said, hardly noticing him. "I didn't expect you back so soon. I thought you were..." Then Johnny saw Callie walk in, and he quickly rose to his feet and walked over to them. "Hey Jimbo, is this your woman?" he questioned him with a curious grin on his face.

"I'm not anybody's woman," Callie returned firmly but politely. She looked at Johnny with a confident smirk that announced that she wasn't going to tolerate any amount of belittlement from anyone just because she was a woman. Jimmy was secretly impressed by her fortitude, as he had always been whenever she stood her ground. "So you're Jimmy’s brother, huh?" she asked him. She was amazed by how much Johnny reminded her of Barek. If she'd known him when Barek first showed up at Swans Crossing, she would have been much more tolerant of him, for Jimmy’s sake. She could now see how easy it was for Jimmy to sympathize with Barek, and how easy her suspicion of him would appear to Jimmy as rude.

"Johnny, I'm going to spend a few hours alone with Callie," he informed his brother. "So make yourself scarce."

Johnny’s eyes widened involuntarily, and he smiled slyly. He glanced at Callie, who looked pleasantly contented at knowing what was in store for her. "Um... yeah, sure," he replied, flabbergasted. He was surprised by Jimmy’s boldness. He opened the door behind the couple. "See you guys later." Before he stepped out, he winked and smiled at Jimmy knowingly.

"Don't rush back, " Callie said cheerfully as the door closed. They waited a few seconds until they heard Johnny’s Mercedes start up and drive away slowly. Then they faced each other. Callie put her arms on Jimmy’s shoulders and he tightened his arms around her slim waist, pulling her close to him.

As their lips met, she closed her arms, returning his embrace. They kissed slowly, gently at first... relishing the moment. Their kiss soon became more passionate. Jimmy led her to the couch and they sat down. They continued for a few minutes, but then he painfully weaned himself from Callie’s lips and loosened his embrace.

"Umm... could I get you anything?" he managed to ask.

Callie laughed, and he smiled back at her. The question was totally unexpected, and she was at a loss for words. She suddenly realized she couldn't remember any name of any drink.

"How about a Coke?" Jimmy suggested.

"Oh yeah, that would be fine." She smiled at him, trying to imply that that's what she'd had in mind. As soon as she'd spoken, she couldn't remember what she'd agreed on having.

"Cool. Be right back," he said, getting up. She held onto his hand loosely until he walked away, then let it fall playfully. She watched him, transfixed, until he disappeared into the kitchen. Then she relaxed, sitting back and savoring the glorious situation she was in. I'm in Heaven, she thought. I'm not complaining a bit, but I sure wish I had my friends to share this with. Then she had an idea. "Jimmy, do you mind if I call Glory?" she asked excitedly.

"Go ahead, Walker Woman," his disembodied voice emanated from the kitchen, along with the sound of ice being dropped in glasses. Callie took the phone and placed an international call to Swans Crossing, USA.

"Hello?" Glory's familiar, cheerful voice erupted in her ear.

Callie immediately felt like she was back home in Swans Crossing. "Hey Glory, what's up?" she asked, unable to suppress a warm smile upon hearing Glory's friendly voice.

"CALLIE!" Glory shrieked, sounding overjoyed. "What have you been doing? Why haven't you called?"

"I meant to. I just never got around to it. Sorry," she explained cheerfully. Before getting back together with Jimmy, she felt so homesick that hearing the voices of her friends would only have made her feel worse. So she dreaded the idea of speaking with them. But now it was something she relished.

"Callie, we miss you so much! Have ...you met Jimmy yet?" Glory asked hesitantly. She knew Jimmy was a sensitive subject to bring up with her. "He went down there to see you."

"Um yeah," Callie replied, trying to suppress her laughter. Then she whispered, "We're back together. I mean, we're really back together."

"That's great!" Glory exclaimed enthusiastically. "We've been hoping you guys would work everything out. I mean, you guys deserve it after all you've been through."

"I know, I couldn't be happier," Callie told her honestly.

"So, how ‘really’ back together are you?"

"Glory, he looked in my eyes and told me he loves me."

"That's so romantic!" she gushed. "Did you tell him you love him back?"


"Have you seen him today?"

"He's with me right now. We're alone at his brother's house," Callie explained.

"Is he listening?"

"No, he's in the kitchen."

"Having fun?" Glory asked slyly.

"Yeah..." Callie laughed.

"I see." Glory laughed knowingly in return. "Wait, I'm going to put you on hold a sec..."

A minute later, the line exploded with voices. "Callie!" "How are you doing, Callie?" "Hey!"

Callie recognized the voices of Sandy, Sydney, and Mila. Glory had called them and put them all on extension. Callie felt overjoyed at talking with all her friends again. She hadn't felt so at home since she'd left Swans Crossing months before. She chatted with them a few minutes. Then Jimmy walked back in the living room carrying two glasses. He handed Callie one and sat down beside her.

"Is Garrett there?" he said.

"I’ll ask," she replied. "Glory, Jimmy wants to talk to Garrett."

"Oh man, this is going to be great!" Glory exclaimed. "Shhh, you guys..." A minute later, Glory brought Garrett into her room told him who it was.

"Clayton?" he asked.

"Yeah man, I'm here," Jimmy answered.

"Hey, I'm glad you made it down there okay," Garrett told him. "Glory's acting all excited over something. How are things going with Callie?"

"Couldn't be better. She's with me right now, and we're more together than we've ever been," Jimmy commented, smiling at Callie.

She smiled back at him, and then got up. "I’ll be right back," she said.

"Okay," he replied. After she left, Jimmy told Garrett in a low voice, "Man, we are so together. Everything is so perfect between us."

"I knew it would happen sooner or later. Everyone knows you guys were meant for each other," Garrett remarked.

"Coming here was the smartest thing I ever did, Garrett," Jimmy confided to him. "It wasn't easy at first. But then we just opened up to each other and I told her how much I love her."

"How did she take it?"

"She kinda had tears in her eyes. She was still pretty hurt from that argument we had back in Swans Crossing, and there was a lot of uneasiness and stuff. But we finally said we love each other, and it was like a big weight had been lifted off our shoulders."

"How long have you guys been together now?"

"Since last night. We were alone on the beach and everything went just perfectly."

"Just how perfectly?" Garrett asked slyly.

"Well, that didn't start until later. But man, she's a great kisser." They both laughed. Then both were surprised to hear the line explode in additional laughter.

"What the...?!" Jimmy exclaimed.

Callie walked back in the room, laughing heartily. "Gotcha, Jimmy!" she said.

"Glory!" Garrett shouted angrily. Glory could be heard in the background laughing as well.

"Ooooh, loverboy," Sydney said between laughter.

"Happy Birthday, Mis-ter Pre-si-dent..." Mila mocked, doing a surprisingly good Marilyn Monroe impersonation.

"Me next, Jimmy!" Sandy exclaimed.

"Man, can't a guy have a decent, private conversation?" Jimmy asked, half-joking.

"It didn't sound too decent to me," Sydney commented.

"You should talk, Sydney," Jimmy countered.

"I'm not saying anything," Garrett announced.

"You'd better not, Booth. Or I’ll tell them about the time..."

"Sydney, shut up!" Garrett shouted. Sydney chuckled knowingly. "I'd better go, Jimmy," Garrett said. "Take care of Callie."

"You know it, man. Later Garrett. Later you guys," Jimmy told them.

"Wait, let me talk," Callie said, and Jimmy handed her the receiver.

"So Callie," Sydney began. "Gonna be busy tonight, huh?"

Callie laughed nervously. "Yeah, maybe. We'll see." She glanced at Jimmy, who was sipping his Coke and smiling at her.

"Well, don't do anything I wouldn't do," Sydney instructed her.

"Sydney, coming from you, that doesn't mean a whole lot," Callie replied rather matter-of-factly, but cheerfully.

"I know," she quipped, and everyone burst into laughter again.

"Callie, follow your heart. You can't go wrong if you let love lead the way," Glory advised.

"Oh, give me a break," Garrett muttered in the background.

Jimmy put his Coke down and put his arms around Callie. She playfully screamed in surprise and laughed. He began making growling sounds into the receiver. "Guys, I think Jimmy wants to borrow me for a while," she told them.

"Callie, Swans Crossing hasn't been the same without you. Say you'll come back," Sandy whined.

"Thanks, Sandy. I’ll certainly come back if I can. Hopefully soon." She smiled at Jimmy knowingly. "I have to go you guys. I love every one of you." After what seemed like five minutes of good-byes and well wishes, Callie finally hung up the phone.

Glory set her phone in the cradle back in Swans Crossing and sighed. "That was really fun, but I sure miss Callie," she commented to Garrett.

"Yeah," he replied. "I wish Jimmy were here, too. There's so much going on right now. I never even got to tell him about me and Sydney."

Glory looked at him seriously. "Speaking of that, Garrett, when are you planning on telling Grant that you and Sydney are an item?"

Garrett gave his sister a distasteful look. "Why do you think I should do that? It's obvious that he liked her too, since he thought it was her he was asking to homecoming. It's only going to make things tense around here if I tell him."

She nodded. "True," she said slowly. "But don't you think that he's eventually going to find out?"

Garrett shrugged nonchalantly. "Nah, he's probably going back to school pretty soon anyway."

Glory avoided Garrett's eyes, and stood up. She crossed the room, careful to keep her back to him. "I'm not too sure about that," she said vaguely, in a distant voice.

Since Garrett knew his sister pretty well, he picked up on it right away. "What's that matter, Glory?"

She chewed on her bottom lip, deep in thought. "I heard Grant talking to Mom and Dad last night."

"And?" Garrett prompted.

"And... Daddy says he might not be able to afford Grant's tuition for another semester. You know how things are financially for us."

Garrett rolled his eyes, thinking of his back-breaking job at Swans. "Don't I know it," he muttered. "So what would happen to Grant?"

Glory looked at him carefully. She knew he wasn't going to react well to what she was about to say. "Well," she told him slowly. "I guess he would just stay here."

After Callie had hung up the phone with the girls in Swans Crossing, Jimmy sat beside her with his arm around her shoulders. She picked up her Coke and sipped it. She grinned at him and Jimmy just looked at her with a slight smile on his face, shaking his head in semi-disbelief.

"That wasn't very nice, Walker Woman," he remarked.

"What?" she asked.

"Letting the girls listen in on my conversation with Garrett."

"Oh, that? Well, who said I was nice?" she replied, raising an eyebrow and smiling slyly at him. He smiled back at her knowingly.

Callie changed her position and leaned on him, putting her head on his shoulder. "That's a nice stereo system," she commented, looking at the massive entertainment center in front of them.

"Yeah, Johnny likes everything top-of-the-line," Jimmy explained.

"Does he have any movies?"

"Yeah, he has about every movie ever made. Want to watch something?" he asked. Callie nodded.

After deciding on a movie from Johnny’s extensive collection, they watched it with the lights out. Jimmy was laying on his back on the couch, and Callie was laying next to him. It was getting late in the evening, and the atmosphere inside was becoming dark and cozy. Little was said as they watched the movie, but neither paid a great deal of attention to it. It was more of an excuse for them to just spend quality time together. The real gratification came from just being together.

At one point, Callie broke the silence between them. "Your heartbeat is so faint."

Jimmy was a little taken aback. He thought she was just lying there watching the movie. "To tell you the truth, Walker Woman, I didn't think I could be this relaxed without being asleep or something," he told her.

"I almost went to sleep earlier," Callie said. But she didn't want to confess that being with him was too exciting to allow sleep. Jimmy ran his hands slowly up and down her back, and she closed her eyes, cherishing how good it felt. "Jimmy, can I ask you something?"

He picked up the remote and lowered the volume on the entertainment center. "What is it?"

"I was just wondering... where are we going to live back in Swans Crossing?"

"Maybe over the Tool n’ Die, where Barek used to live. But, I mean, you don't have to live with me. If you didn't want to do that, you could stay with Glory or something. It’s completely your choice."

Callie raised up and looked at him. "No, I want to. I really do." Then she kissed him tenderly. "I want to," she said again between kisses, now whispering. They kissed for awhile, then suddenly, there was a loud, firm knock on the door. Callie raised up quickly, surprised, with a somewhat angry look on her face.

"Who could that be?" Jimmy wondered, insulted by the interruption.

They scrambled off the couch and walked to the door. Jimmy opened it, and there stood Captain Walker, with a stern look on his face.

Sydney sat at her window, working on her geometry homework. It wasn't difficult by any means -- in fact, school was coming to Sydney quite easily this year, but she was very involved in it and didn't hear when her mother entered the room.

"Sydney?" Mayor Rutledge called, trying to bring her daughter back to earth.

Sydney snapped back to attention. "Oh, Mother. I didn't see you come in." She set her pencil down on the book and smiled. "Is something up?"

"No," Mayor Rutledge answered, returning the smile. "I just wanted to talk to you about something,"

"Go ahead," she said with a shrug.

Mayor Rutledge sighed, as if she didn't quite know where to start. Sydney frowned... whenever her mother started a conversation with a sigh, it was never good news.

"Is something wrong?" she asked carefully.

"No, no, nothing's wrong," her mother replied, playing with the pin on her blazer. "I just have something I need to discuss with you, which you probably aren't going to like too much."

"Oh," was all Sydney could say.

"It's just that, well, I've been asked to speak at the capitol for a convention," she started.

Sydney exhaled with relief. "I thought you said I wasn't going to like it," she said, smiling. "I think that's really good news."

"Yes, I do too, but the thing is the convention is being held the day after Christmas. So I'd have to be gone for most of your vacation from school," Mayor Rutledge explained. "I know we usually take a trip over the holiday season but--"

Sydney hugged her mother. "Would you stop worrying? I'll be all right here," she assured her mother.

"Are you positive? I mean, I know it might be kind of lonely, but you'll have Ralph..." Mayor Rutledge prattled on. As her mother spoke, Sydney's eyes lit up. She had a perfect idea... and this was the perfect time to bring it up.

"Well," Sydney broke in, putting on a disappointed face. "I will feel kind of lonely, your not being home and all. Maybe I could throw a little get together, you know, have a few friends over to keep me company?" she asked hopefully.

Her mother thought about this proposition for a few minutes. "Will you promise to make it a small gathering?"

Sydney nodded eagerly. "Close friends only. Very exclusive."

"And Ralph must be present," she instructed.

"He'll be the guest of honor if you want him to be," Sydney offered. Her mother just gave her a cross look.

"And must you invite Grant Booth's son?"

Now it was Sydney's turn to scowl. "Mother," she began warningly.

"All right, all right. Agreed," Mayor Rutledge gave in. Sydney embraced her.

"Thank you!" she exclaimed. As she hugged her mother, a wide smile spread across her face. It was going to be the party of the century.

Captain Walker scowled at Jimmy silently, as if he were looking at trash.

"Dad..." Callie said, standing behind Jimmy. "What are you...?"

Captain Walker looked past Jimmy, not even speaking to him. "Callie, I am so disappointed in you."

"We... we were just..."

"I don't want to hear it," he broke in sharply. "I know all about your plans to go back to Swans Crossing together. Well, guess what? It isn't going to happen." He pulled something out of his pocket and held it up. "Take a look." Callie studied it, not recognizing it at first. Then the Captain opened it, and she saw that it was her passport. "You're not going anywhere without this."

Callie didn't know what to say. She realized there was no way she could go back with Jimmy without her passport. She suddenly felt extremely helpless and very angry. Everything was ruined! She could only glare at her father furiously, all her dreams fading away as harsh reality began to rear it’s ugly head.

"Come on Callie, we're going home," Captain Walker commanded. "You're not going to see this low life mechanic ever again." He reached out to Callie, as if to take her by the arm. But Jimmy moved between them. "Get out of my way," the Captain sneered at him.

"No," Jimmy said firmly, not backing down.

"Callie, come on. We're going home," he told her.

"I'm not going anywhere with you," she replied slowly.

"I’m warning you, Callie," the Captain said more firmly this time, attempting to walk around Jimmy. But he stood his ground. "Get out of my way!"

"No," Jimmy responded flatly. "Callie isn't going anywhere. She's staying with me."

Captain Walker made one last attempt to move around Jimmy, but realized it was fruitless. Jimmy wasn't about to let him near her.

"You're going to be sorry, Clayton," Captain Walker threatened him with gritted teeth. "I'm calling the police. I'm going to have you deported for kidnapping." He walked away angrily.

Jimmy watched him for a few seconds, dumbfounded, not sure of what to do next. Then he angrily slammed the door.

"I can't believe this is happening!" Callie yelled, throwing her head back in frustration.

"How did he know?" Jimmy wondered angrily.

Callie composed herself and looked at him. "Pedro and Ana," she concluded. "They were the only ones who knew."

"They wouldn't do something like that," Jimmy protested, although he was becoming more uncertain by the second. "Why? Why would they tell him?"

"Who knows? I thought they were our friends!"

"It doesn't matter now, though. He knows all about us. The police will be here soon," Jimmy said, sitting down on the couch and looking despondent.

Callie shot him a frantic look. "Jimmy, we’ve got to leave! They can't find us. If they do, we may never see each other again!"

Humming to herself, something Sydney rarely ever did, she grabbed a dark gray cardigan and headed towards her front door. She had to tell Garrett all about the good news: that her mother was going to let her throw a party. Sydney could picture it now -- her friends standing around dressed up for the holidays, helping her decorate the large tree in the living room, sipping apple cider, and exchanging gifts. Maybe Callie would even be able to come back and visit, since she had talked to her that afternoon.

"Yes, it should work out perfectly," Mayor Rutledge's voice said from behind the slightly ajar door of her study. Sydney, who was reaching for the doorknob, stopped in the foyer. "Well, all you need to do is make the arrangements and it should be just fine." The mayor paused, allowing whomever she was speaking to respond. After a moment or two, she let out a girlish giggle. "Oh, you," she gushed, still laughing.

The hair on the back of Sydney's neck stood up instinctively. She wasn't sure, but there was something very mysterious about her mother's conversation... it almost sounded like--

That's silly, Sydney, she quickly assured herself, pushing all of those thoughts out of her head. There's just no way.

"Leave?" Jimmy asked Callie slowly. "Go where? There's nothing left for us here in Brazil."

"I don't know," she answered, feeling helpless.

Then Jimmy said thoughtfully, "Johnny has a Harley in the garage. It’s got a huge fuel tank. You wouldn't believe how fast it can go."

"Then what are we waiting for?"

Jimmy’s despairing look faded into a sly grin. Callie smiled back at him knowingly. He stood up and embraced her roughly, kissing her hard. She welcomed it, kissing him back.

Suddenly, Jimmy pulled back, still holding her in his arms. He had a look on his face as if he were realizing something. He began turning his head and scanning the room.

Callie looked up at him questioningly. "What is it?"

He let go of her and started heading into another room. "I’ll be right back."

Jimmy, come on... she thought to herself, peeking outside through the curtains.

Shortly, Jimmy walked back into the room. "I've got the keys, and about two-thousand dollars Johnny has lying around," he announced. "Pocket change to him, so I'm sure he won't mind. And if he does, tough. I mean, I'm in enough trouble as it is. So what does it matter?" He smiled at Callie and she smiled back at him.

"I'm as deep in this as you are, Clayton," she told him. "Now let's ride."

He kissed her one more time, and they stepped outside. They listened for sirens, but thankfully they heard nothing. Jimmy opened the garage and, wearing a helmet, soon brought out the Harley.

It’s beautiful, Callie thought.

Jimmy gave her a helmet. "Get on."

She complied eagerly. She couldn't wait to ride it. "When you get tired, I'm taking over," she said excitedly from behind him.

"Fine by me, Walker Woman. We're outta here!" Jimmy fired up the motorcycle and Callie was startled at the sheer volume of the engine. He let out one of the trademark howls that he did when he was in an especially good mood, and gunned the engine. Their heads went back in unison as the motorcycle bolted down the driveway and onto the darkened road.

Saja strolled through the halls of SCH, subconsciously searching for Sandy. Ever since the homecoming dance the two of them were spending nearly everyday together. They were sort of unofficially official, and this had put Saja in a very jovial mood... until he spotted his sister walking towards him with a look he knew very well.

"Saja," she called, waving to him.

"Oh boy," he muttered to himself, walking over to Sophia's locker. "Yeah?" he asked, not disguising the annoyance in his voice.

"I have one little favor to ask you," she told him matter-of- factly, smoothing out her dark hair.

He sighed despairingly. "What is it now, Sophia?"

She placed her hands on her hips. "Is that any way for you to talk to your sister? Let alone a senior." She shook her head disgustedly. "Anyway, I just have something I'm planning for my winter vacation, and I need you to help me pull one over on Mom and Dad."

Saja shook his head firmly. "If I'm going to end up in trouble like the time you used me as a cover to see a rated R movie when you were thirteen and I ended up stranded at Little League practice for three hours, there's no way."

"I'm surprised you remember that," she remarked loftily. "Anyway, it's nothing like that. I just need you to go along with my story and everything will be fine."

He checked his watch. "Hurry up, what is it?"

"Well, see me and a few of my friends want to go skiing in Vermont," Sophia began.

"What's wrong with that? You're seventeen. I'm sure Mom and Dad wouldn't be opposed to that, even though one should be doing something a little more important on such a spiritual holiday such as Christmas."

"Saja," she said warningly. "The reason they would never go for it is because I'm going with my friends and Edward."

Saja groaned. "You’re still seeing that frat boy?" he asked distastefully. "Well, you're right, they'd never go for it."

"That's why I'm telling them that I'm going to visit the University of Vermont. You'll go along with that, right?" she questioned him. Saja opened her mouth to protest, but Sophia continued on. "Great! Thanks," she said, without even waiting for a response.

"But Sophia!" he yelled at her, but she was already half way down the hall... and there was nothing he could do about it.

Jimmy opened the front door and hung his leather jacket on the coat rack.

"Daddy!" yelled the little auburn-haired child who ran up to him. Jimmy got down on one knee and greeted his three-year old son with open arms.

"How's my little Hell's Angel today?" he said, picking him up and kissing him on the cheek.

"I'm okay," Johnny replied.

"Daddy loves you, do you know that?"

"Uh-huh," he said innocently.

"Do you love Daddy, too?" Jimmy asked, smiling warmly at his son.

"Uh-huh," he said again.

"’Uh-huh?’ Is that all you can say?" Jimmy wondered, trying to suppress his laughter.

"Uh-huh," Johnny said once again. Jimmy laughed openly, and Johnny laughed heartily with his father. Jimmy put him down and they both walked up to a pile of toys on the living room floor.

"Son, looks like you've been decorating the house again."

"Look, Daddy," Johnny said, holding up a toy race car. "It won't go."

"Let's take a look at it." Jimmy sat down on the floor beside his son. He examined the car momentarily, then turned it over and removed the battery cover. "Well here's the problem. It’s out of gas. Looks like it has an oil leak, too. This may be pretty expensive," he commented. "How are you going to pay? Cash or charge?"

"Umm, charge."

"Okay, I hope you're not over your limit."

"I'm not," Johnny told him innocently, not really knowing what his father was talking about, but enjoying his attention.

"Here goes," Jimmy said, doing make-believe work on the car and making funny sounds with his mouth, and Johnny laughed heartily once again. Finally, Jimmy pushed the loosened battery back into place and the car came alive in his hands.

"Yea!" yelled Johnny. "Daddy, you're cool!"

Callie stepped quietly into the room, out of their sight. She watched Jimmy on the floor playing alongside Johnny almost as if he were one of his playmates, not his father. It never ceased to fascinate her how Johnny brought out a hidden side of Jimmy that she'd never seen before. "Are you two gear-heads finished trashing my living room? Dinner's going to get cold," Callie told them.

Jimmy immediately stood up and greeted his beloved wife with a kiss. "I am now." He embraced her and kissed her again.

"Jimmy, come on, stop." She laughed, trying to hold him back. They glanced at Johnny, who stood nearby grinning at them.

"Supper smells delicious. I'm starving," Jimmy said. Then he asked Callie, "So what's up tomorrow?"

"I'm going to be checking on the other Tool n’ Dies," she replied. "Newport has some trainees, and then the Boston manager called to tell me they had a small fire. Not much damage, but I have to do an assessment and make sure everyone's following proper safety procedures." She gave him a pointed look. "You shouldn't have shown them how to make grilled cheese sandwiches with the blow torch."

"Ha ha, very funny," Jimmy quipped. "Yeah, I heard about the fire. I would have gone myself, but I was too busy. Can you believe it? Ralph is STILL having problems with that jet ski. I must have worked four hours on it. With the money he's put into that thing, he could have bought an entire fleet of them by now."

"I guess it must have sentimental value to him," she remarked. Then she saw Johnny walking to the dining room. "Hey, hey, hey, where do you think you're going?"

"I want supper," he said.

"Come here first," she told him. She knelt down and wrapped her arms around her son lovingly. "What did I tell you about putting away your toys?"

"Oh, yeah." Johnny smiled guiltily.

"Oh yeah." Callie laughed, mocking him. She gave him a kiss, and he giggled in her arms. Jimmy stood beside them, quietly admiring Callie.

Jimmy suddenly woke up in the motel room he had gotten the night before, and had to smile at the dream he had of this possible future with Callie. It was so beautiful, and idealistic... but then his smile faded. He wasn't sure why, but he was disturbed by the dream, too. Quietly, so he wouldn't disturb Callie who was sleeping, he went out on the balcony of their room. As he realized their current situation, he asked himself, Would I want to bring up a child who was alienated from his grandfather and uncle because of our selfishness? It was a tough question for someone his age to contemplate, but suddenly, thoughts of lonely holidays and no family interaction flashed in his head. It hit him like a ton of bricks. Being with Callie seemed like the thing to do now, but they were going about it the wrong way. He felt truly ashamed of himself for running away with her.

He walked back into the motel room, trying to be careful not to wake her. As soon as he quietly stepped into the room, Callie sat up in bed, obviously shaken. She looked confused, and was breathing heavily. "Callie, are you all right?" Jimmy asked, sitting down on the bed beside her.

"I'm okay," she replied, making it clear that she didn't want to talk about it. "I just had some dumb nightmare." She tried to change the subject. "Where were you?" she asked, waking up a little more.

"I stepped outside for a minute to get some air," he said, still studying her with concern. "What's wrong?"

"I... just had a bad dream, that's all," Callie told him, somewhat embarrassed.

Jimmy put his arms around her to comfort her, and she put her head on his shoulder. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Callie sighed reluctantly. "I just dreamt that Dad showed up here with the police and had you arrested," she explained. "It’s no big deal."

"Well, you don't have to worry. That's not going to happen, Walker Woman. I’ll never leave you," he assured her. Although he was sincere in not wanting to leave her, he wondered how he was going to justify this lie when the time came to end this charade go back to Rio. "Let's try to get some sleep, Callie," he said, lying down with her gently, still in each other's arms. "It’s still early. We've got a lot of rest to catch up on."

"Thanks for being here, Clayton. It really means a lot," she told him, lying snugly in his arms, her eyes closed.

"I'm never going to leave you, Callie," Jimmy promised her again. "I love you."

"That's so nice to hear," she commented quietly, subtly urging him to repeat himself.

"I won't leave you, Walker Woman," he whispered to her, realizing she needed some reassurance at the moment. "I love you more than anything in the world." They embraced tightly, and a contented smile graced her lips.

Jimmy felt his heart break as he looked at her happy expression, assuming that no one would ever separate them... he knew it was going to happen eventually, but the fact that she didn’t realize it made him feel even more helpless. Why are you making this harder on us, Callie? he thought to himself somewhat sadly, although he felt no animosity towards her. Only compassion... and perhaps pity.

After school, Mila shuffled through the mail before taking the elevator up to her room. The maid had brought it in, and her mother had obviously not taken a look at it yet. A small, thin letter fell out of the pile, and Mila bent down to pick it up.

It was addressed "To the parents of Mila Rosnovsky", and was from Swans Crossing High School. Mila's stomach fluttered as she looked at it. Even though she had never attended a real school, she knew that it wasn't good news to get a letter home from school. She quickly glanced around her, and seeing that her mother was not in the room, she tore the letter open.

To whom it may concern,
I am writing to acknowledge that Mila Rosnovsky is not
doing well in my geometry class. She has been doing work from
other classes during my class, and has not been understanding
the material. Her class participation is low, and her test
scores are very poor. I suggest that Mila work with me after
school sometime, or gets herself a tutor in the subject. If
you have any questions, call 555-7235.
-- Andrew Pahl

Mila's throat had gone completely dry, and she ran her fingers nervously through her blond hair. There was no way she was letting her mother see this letter. If she knew she was doing poorly in another class, she would make her give up cheerleading and her singing career right away.

She stuffed the letter in the back pocket of her jeans. "I'm not going to let that happen," she declared aloud, and headed up to her bedroom.

It was late afternoon, but the sun was still up. Callie walked back over to the spot under the trees where Jimmy had parked the Harley. When she got there, she saw that he was sitting down on the ground silently with his back against the motorcycle. He looked lost in thought and was staring off into space. He didn't seem to notice Callie approaching him, so she stepped closer to him, hoping to catch his attention. It didn't work. Jimmy appeared to be completely oblivious to his surroundings, almost as if he were in a trance. Callie studied his face carefully. It was wooden and distant. The look in his eyes was unrecognizable and scared her. The only explanation she could come up with for Jimmy's lack of expression was that something was seriously troubling him.

What's wrong with him? Callie wondered to herself. He must be upset about something. But how could that be when we've been living out a fantasy for days now? For the very first time, we're completely alone together. No adults, no responsibilities, just the two of us. I thought this was what we both wanted.

Callie sat down on the ground beside Jimmy in an effort to snap him back to attention. "Jimmy?" she called softly. "Earth to Jimmy... come in Jimmy," she said more loudly, doing a mock impersonation of a radio broadcaster.

Finally, he snapped out of his trance and looked at Callie. "Hey, Walker Woman," he greeted her with a smile. He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to him. "What's up?"

"That's what I should be asking you," she replied. "Why were you so quiet just a few seconds ago? I kept calling your name but it took you forever to answer me."

"Oh." Jimmy paused, somewhat sheepishly. "I was just thinking...."

"About what?"

For a moment, Jimmy contemplated giving her a short, light- hearted answer, but he knew that she wouldn't buy whatever he made up. She was already sensing that something major was on his mind and he didn't want to lie to her. He had been thinking about this for awhile now. In fact, he had been thinking about it ever since they left on their motorcycle adventure, and he couldn't keep quiet about it any longer.

"Jimmy?" Callie prompted him, her voice and expression full of concern. "What's wrong?"

He took a deep breath. "I was thinking about your dad," he admitted. "I feel so guilty about taking you away from him."

Callie reached for Jimmy's hand and squeezed it reassuringly. "Hey, that's not your fault, okay? I was the one who made the decision to leave Rio with you. You didn't force me to come with you, it was entirely my choice. In fact, I was the one who came up with the idea for us to run away, believe it or not. Remember?" She laughed slightly, trying to make him smile. "So don't blame yourself."

Jimmy looked into her eyes, wanting to believe that what she was saying was true, that running away together was the right thing to do. But he knew deep down that it wasn't. "I can't help blaming myself, Walker Woman. Look, I've thought about what we did for awhile now and began realizing that it was wrong of me to try and take you away like this."

"Jimmy, I already told you, you didn't take me away. I agreed to come with you, remember? Will you just stop blaming yourself?" Callie replied, her tone still light.

He shook his head, his expression still serious. "You may have agreed to come with me, but I should've stopped you when I had the chance. I was only thinking of myself. Now I keep thinking about your dad and how much he must miss you... and how much he probably hates me now."

The carefree expression left her face as she began to understand how troubled he really was. "Don't worry about my dad, okay? If our running away together is anyone's fault, it's his. I don't care how angry he may be with the two of us right now. He brought it on himself for not letting us be together back in Rio."

"But I can't blame him for hating me," Jimmy insisted. "What I did was wrong; it was stupid! What was I thinking when I decided to take Johnny's Harley and ride off into the sunset with you? That's not reality, it's just a fantasy. We can't keep running away forever. It isn't fair to your father and it isn't fair to you. I was only thinking of myself, and how I'd do anything I could to be with you. But now I understand that if I really love you, I wouldn't try to take you away from your father. I'd never do anything to you that would ruin your life and make you resent me later on."

"Being away from you is the only thing that would ruin my life," Callie told him, her voice breaking with suppressed emotion.

But her voice was so soft that he couldn't hear her, and he continued on, "That's why I think it's time that we head back to Rio."

As the "Moving Brazil" storyline comes to a close I would like to thank Miss Swan and Maxiom for their immense help and writing submissions. This storyline, which was introduced several chapters ago, was created by Miss Swan, and she and Maxiom wrote many great scenes, scenarios, and chapters for this story. I could never had come up with some of the things that they have, and I would like to give them both a huge thanks! They are both very talented writers, and I feel honored to have had their writing published with mine.

Chapter Thirty-One

Thanksgiving went on without a hitch at the Booth's, despite Mr. and Mrs. Booth’s worries. They managed to scrape up enough money for a nice, home cooked meal. It was like any other Thanksgiving, and the kids didn't notice the foreboding atmosphere amongst their parents, but Mr. and Mrs. Booth were worried about how they'd pay the bills... and how they'd afford Christmas.

Mila's mother had a huge staff of cooks create the Thanksgiving feast to end all feasts... and they shared a lovely meal, just the two of them. But Mila's mind was somewhere else... worrying about her grades, and her fight with Sydney.

Things at the Rutledge home weren't much different from those at the Rosnovsky's. Sydney, Mayor Rutledge, and Ralph had a quiet dinner... very quiet because Sydney was a little distracted. She kept thinking of her mothers vague vacation to speak at the capitol, and the strange phone conversation she had overheard. Was there a connection? And if so... what was it?

Upon returning to Swans Crossing, Jimmy did nothing but mope around the house. He kept replaying what had happened back in Brazil:

"NO!" Callie exclaimed firmly when Jimmy told her they needed to go back to Rio. "We can't go back there, Jimmy! Don't you get it? The moment we get back to Rio, my dad is gonna separate us! He'll lock me up forever and he'll definitely ship you back to Swans Crossing as fast as he can. And judging from what we've tried to pull now, running away like this, he'll probably try to arrest you for kidnapping! And we'll never see each other again. Jimmy, I don't want to- I can't lose you."

Jimmy took her in his arms and hugged her tightly. "I know. I can't lose you, either. I just don't know what else to do. I'd never be able to forgive myself as long as I knew you were being kept away from your only family just because of me. We really can't keep running away forever."

As Jimmy continued to hold Callie in his arms, she suddenly quieted. Her anxious cries and tears stopped. Her silence scared him more than her yelling had.

"Walker Woman?" Jimmy asked gently. "Are you okay?"

Callie lifted her head from his chest and looked up at him. Her face was still tear-stained, but it had a sad calmness to it, as if she had realized something that depressed her but she knew it was for the best. "Yeah," she told him, her voice wavering slightly. "You're right, you know," Callie admitted slowly. She knew in her heart that every word that was coming from Jimmy's mouth was the truth. She just didn't want to face it. And it was so ironic, because Callie was usually the one to say things like that. She was the one who prevented people from getting into any trouble and always had a mature, reasonable approach to tackling dilemmas. But ever since she was faced with the danger of losing Jimmy, every sense of logic slipped out of her head. This was the first time in her life that she felt incredibly desperate, wanted something so badly that she was willing to go to extremes and do something impulsive and irrational to hold on to it. If she didn't quite know it before, Callie realized now that she truly loved Jimmy. She reached into her pocket, and pulled something out, carefully placing it in his hand.

"Here," she said. "I want you to have this."

Jimmy looked down, and saw a picture of him and Callie taken at Swans, right after the big concert a few months ago. They were smiling, looking completely carefree. "Where did you get this?"

"Glory gave it to me," she explained. "It helped me get through all the time we spent apart... and now I want you to have it."

He stared at it for several minutes before putting it inside his jacket. "Maybe.... I'm not good enough for you," he said, changing the subject. "It seems like all I've done since we met each other is hurt you. Maybe you deserve better than what I can give you."

"I want you," she told him without hesitation. "I don't care what happened between us in the past. What matters now is that we love each other."

"The past..." his voice trailed off as he recalled what they had been through upon their first encounter. All the meaningless fights, the suppressed longings, the denied emotions, and the pain of not being with one another sooner just because of their foolish pride, which always held them back. "Looking back on all that right now, I can't believe how much we hurt each other. I'm never going to do that to you again, Walker Woman. That's why I have to let you go back to your dad. I don't want to cause you any more pain than I already have."

"I'd do it all over again, relive all that pain again, just to be with you like this right now," she declared.

"I wish I could hold you forever," Jimmy told her, his voice just above a whisper.

"Never let go..." Callie murmured. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes.

"But we have to," he admitted, saying the words slowly and reluctantly. "For now," he quickly added. "But just in case this is the last time--"

"No," she interrupted. "Don't say that. We have to believe that we'll be together again someday... no matter how long it'll take."

"I know we will, Walker Woman," he agreed. "One day.... but for now, we need to accept that we'll probably be kept away from each other the minute we get back to Rio. This is gonna be our last moment together before..." He paused and sighed sadly. "Before they separate us."

They said nothing, but leaned together for one last kiss... kissing urgently for several moments so they would never forget exactly how the other felt.

"I love you," Callie told him firmly, as if trying to implant her words into his brain so he would never forget.

"I love you, too," Jimmy replied, stroking her face tenderly. "Always."


Jimmy and Callie painfully released their arms from one another. Letting go was the hardest thing both had ever had to do. The emotional agony that both were enduring at this moment was so penetrating, it could be felt physically as well. As they left one another's grasp, both felt an incredible pang in their chests. It was as if someone was repeatedly stabbing them in the heart.

Captain Walker had not taken it well when he and Callie returned to Rio. He had looked at them, his expression stone cold, a disgusted look on his face, and then he slammed the door on Jimmy. The last thing he saw was Callie's face, crinkled with pain, stained with tears. He had nowhere else to go but home to Swans Crossing. When Jimmy arrived there, he got on his bike, and just rode around town. There was no snow yet, so he sped through the back roads as fast as he could, trying to escape the memory of Callie being pulled away from him, and their last good-bye. He stopped at the Tool n’ Die, which he discovered was in shambles after Garrett and Saja had taken such poor care of it. Besides, it brought back too many memories... he could almost hear Callie's voice in the shop. He pulled out the picture Callie had given him and tacked it to the wall. He closed the Tool n’ Die, and vowed not to open it until she was back in Swans Crossing and they were smiling the way they were in the picture.

Sandy had a much happier Thanksgiving, as she had a lot to be thankful for. Nancy, as well, ranked Thanksgiving of 1992 as one of her best ever. She ate a nice meal with her parents, and then Kevin came over just to wish her a happy Thanksgiving. He brought flowers for both Nancy and her mother. Needless to say, Mrs. Robbins was quite impressed.

Owen's Thanksgiving was pretty conventional, although his head was in the clouds. Neil's head, too, was in the clouds, although for a very different reason. Owen was smitten by Mila again, while Neil was working on coming up with a new project. UB2B was pretty much finished and ready to be tested, and he was getting restless. J.T.'s holiday was more of the same, he took countless calls from Neil who was trying to trouble shoot some equations, and he played the "Muffin Meets Moonbeam" board game with Katie six times. The highlight of his evening was when Glory called him, and they talked for an hour.

Saja's holiday was a little less uneventful... over turkey and mashed potatoes Sophia told Mr. and Mrs. DeCastro she wanted to go to the University of Vermont over Christmas break. She was well prepared-- she produced a detailed explanation of where she would stay (with a few college girls in a freshman dorm), and she displayed a glossy brochure of the university, full of pictures of the sprawling campus, and a list of courses she could possibly take if she decided to go to the U of V next fall. "It would be a great opportunity," Mrs. DeCastro agreed. The next thing Saja knew, Sophia had a check in her hot little hands, and Saja couldn't do anything about it. Sophia was going off to ski in Vermont with her boyfriend... and he couldn't tell a soul.

And thousands of miles away, Callie sat staring out the window at the foreign scenery. She had been staring for countless hours, not speaking to her father. He wasn't pleading with her to patch things up either. Instead, the house was eerily silent, and Callie was more depressed than ever. Without a word, she went into her bedroom. She picked up the phone once she had closed the door and dialed the Clayton's number. She knew her father wouldn't approve, but she didn't care. It had been so long since she'd even talked to Jimmy--well, a week--and she needed to hear his voice.

After three rings, the machine picked up. At the beep, Callie sighed into the receiver. "Hey Jimmy, it's me. I uh... well... happy Thanksgiving first of all. And I miss you," she said emotionally. Her call waiting beeped. "I gotta go. Bye," she whispered, and pressed the button on the side of the phone to answer the other call.

"Hello?" she said, quickly drying her tears.

"Is Captain Elia Walker there?" a male voice asked.

"Who's calling?" Callie questioned suspiciously.

"A colleague," the man answered in a curt tone.

Callie rolled her eyes and headed out of her room. "Dad!" she called. "Telephone!" `

"I didn't hear the phone ring," he said, raising one eyebrow.

"I was on it," Callie replied monotonously.

He picked up the living room extension, and waited until Callie hung up her phone before speaking. "Hello, this is Captain Walker."

"Captain," the voice said. "We have reports that we were right in the first place... Swans Crossing is where you need to be."

He slammed his fist against the table. "So I accepted this new job for nothing?"

"Looks that way," the man answered dryly. "We'll make sure that you get another sub to continue your research."

"Fine, fine. But are you absolutely sure? I don't really want to go back to Swans Crossing. I'm trying to keep my daughter away from this trouble-making mechanic," Captain Walker snapped bitterly.

"Hey," the man said. "If this isn't important to you..."

"It's important," the Captain insisted. "All right, book my daughter and I on a flight to the U.S. We'll pack and be ready in a few days." He set the phone in the cradle and exhaled a heavy sigh.

"Callie," he called up the stairs. "Pack your stuff. We're going back to Swans Crossing."

"What are you so hard at work on?" Garrett asked Sydney in the library at school the day after Thanksgiving vacation.

She held up her pad of paper and grinned. "I'm working on the guest list to my Christmas party."

"Christmas? It's only the beginning of December," Garrett said, snatching the paper away from her. She hit him in the side playfully.

"One has to be prepared," she answered.

"God, who are all these people?" he exclaimed, surveying the list. There were over seventy names on it, some people Garrett didn't even know.

"Friends, acquaintances, people... you know," she explained, waving her hand dismissively.

"Your mother will never let you have that many people at your house."

Sydney suddenly had a faraway look on her face. She had, when her mother first agreed to let her have the party, thought she was just going to invite the core group. But then she had overheard her mother's telephone conversation, and she knew in her heart of hearts that the mayor was up to something. So if Mother is going to hide something from me, well then I'm going to hide something from her. "Mother won't be home."

Garrett's eyes widened. "So you're throwing a party without her permission?"

Sydney thought back to the way her mother was abandoning her. "Why not? She'll never know."

Garrett smiled slyly and took Sydney's hand. "I'm there."

"’Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let the Yuletide gay, from now on our troubles will be miles away...’" Sandy sang in her choir class with ease. She was working on her solo for the SCH Christmas Festival, even though school had already ended for the day. From the back of the auditorium she heard applause.

She stopped singing and looked up. "Saja!"

"Beautiful... as always," he complimented her shyly.

She lowered her eyes. "Thanks, I'm just trying to get the notes right. We only have a week and a half until the concert."

"You'll do well. Just let your inner light guide you," Saja advised.

"You know," Sandy said as she gathered her sheet music and backpack. "What you've been saying lately makes a lot of sense."

"It does?" he asked in surprise.

"Yeah. You give good advice. Everything you've been telling me about letting my inner light guide me, and to project my hidden talents makes a lot of sense. And you're so intelligent."

Saja pasted on a phony smile. They were nice, all the things Sandy was saying, and no doubt she meant them... but in Saja's heart, he knew they weren't true. If he was so nice, such an upstanding person, so intelligent, he wouldn't be letting a person get away with lying... and he wouldn't be lying himself.

"I can't wait to get back!" Callie exclaimed eagerly, fidgeting with her tray on the airplane.

"I know," Captain Walker replied dryly. "You've said that five times already."

Although they weren't getting along completely... slowly but surely Callie and her father were making amends. Captain Walker didn't want to hold a grudge against his own daughter, even though her running away had terrified him. She should have known he wouldn't be able to handle another...

"Dad? Do you think I did the right thing by not telling anyone I was coming home?" Callie wondered, interrupting his thoughts.

"Well, my dear, I think you did indeed make the right decision," he answered distractedly. "What a great surprise for," Captain Walker cleared his throat, "all your friends."

Callie didn't look him in the eye. "Right," she echoed.

But there was an unspoken understanding between Callie and her father. Captain Walker knew that the second they stepped foot in Swans Crossing, Callie was going to run to the telephone and call Jimmy. He knew this, but didn't say a word about it. He knew that if he did, she would simply disobey him again, and this did more harm than good. His daughter was independent, headstrong, and for the most part made wise decisions. As long as she was safe he wouldn't have anything to worry about.

Glory was humming Christmas songs while J.T. leafed through a science magazine. Both had been waiting in the University of Maine's lounge for twenty minutes and there was still no sign on Neil or Carolyn.

"Where is he?" J.T. asked no one in particular, glancing at his watch. "That bonehead! We have work to do!"

"I know." Glory smiled slyly, then said, "I have work to do, too." She pulled something from her backpack and held it up for him to see.

"Mistletoe?" he asked, seeing the leaves she was holding up above him.

She smiled again, and continued humming.

"Isn't it a little early for mistletoe?" he questioned her with a quizzical look.

"Oh... so I guess it's too early to test it out?"

A grin spread across J.T.'s face. "It's never too early for that." He leaned towards her.

"J.T.!" Neil called.

He and Glory stopped moving closer. "Hosed," J.T. muttered, and Glory quickly stashed the mistletoe under a pillow on the couch.

"Where have you been? We were supposed to work today!" J.T. said crossly.

"Done and done," Carolyn replied. "Neil and I met here early, fixed the problems with the trajectories, and still had time for a soda."

Neil nodded. "And now we're off to the campus library."

J.T. stood up from his seat on the sofa. "Why are you going there?"

"To do some research," Carolyn answered.

"Yeah. There's gotta be some discovery still to be made out there," Neil guessed. "And we're not going to stop until we've found it." And with that, he and Carolyn were off, talking and laughing like old friends.

"Looks like my plan worked," Glory remarked, standing up next to J.T.

"Yeah," he said in a faraway voice. "Too well."

It was dusk in Swans Crossing when Callie stepped off the airplane. She rushed to a window, and quickly took in her scenery. The trees were bare and although there wasn't snow on the ground yet, she knew it was cold outside.

Every nerve ending in her body felt like electricity. She was nearly bouncing off the walls as she and her father claimed their baggage at the carousel, and got into a taxi. The taxi ride, which felt agonizing long, took Callie and Captain Walker to the Swans Crossing harbor where a sub just like their old one was docked.

"Dad! How'd this get here?"

Captain Walker, who looked emotional, explained that a friend had arranged for him to continue his work in Swans Crossing, and had gotten him a sub. They had sent their things ahead... and Callie's bike sat on the docks.

She glanced at it, and then back at her father with a hopeful look on her face. "Do you think I can go out for a ride?"

Captain Walker looked resigned. He was fully aware of what she was asking... to go find Jimmy. He sighed, deep in thought, and was silent for several moments. "You can go," he finally answered.

Callie looked up at her father, tears gleaming in her eyes. "Thanks Dad." She wrapped her arms around him and he returned the hug.

"Just be careful," Captain Walker advised. "You're a wise young lady, and I know you'll always make the best decisions you know how. Just look out for yourself... someday I may not be there."

Callie, who was nearly in tears at this point, whispered, "I love you Dad," and got on her bike, heading into the dark, cold night.

Mila's coffee tasted bitter, and she wished she had put more sugar in it. She would have gotten up to get more, but the kitchen was so far away. Instead, she just held her nose and gulped it down. She needed the caffeine if she was going to stay up all night once again. She had chemistry to work on, and then geometry.

It never ends, she thought to herself as she mindlessly worked through equations. Her telephone rang and she reached for it.

"The Rosnovsky prison," she answered wryly.

"What?" a confused Sandy asked on the other line.

Mila put down her pencil. "I know it's almost ten, but I was wondering if you could come over for a little while. Just a half an hour," Sandy said, her voice hopeful.

Mila was growing annoyed. "What? Why?"

"Well, we haven't practiced in awhile, and Owen wants us to," she explained.

"Look, not right now, okay?" Mila said in a strained voice, massaging the sides of her temples. The headache was really getting to her.

"Well, when?"

"Later, Sandy," Mila groaned, hanging up the phone. She glanced back at the book, the equations and words in her chemistry book swirling as her eyes unfocused. It looked like another language... and she wasn't in the mood to translate.

I'll do it in ten minutes, she thought to herself, closing the book. She set her head on top of the stack of books and within a minute, she was fast asleep.

The streets of Swans Crossing were deserted as Jimmy walked along them, not paying attention to where he was going. Just nowhere... everywhere.

He had to get himself pulled together. It was going to be his first day back at SCH since he had gotten back from Brazil, and he wasn't sure how he was going to handle it. After what he had experienced trying to get back together with Callie, and then running away and living on the lam with her, he knew it was going to be hard to jump back into carefree high school life.

A few blocks away, Callie was walking in the opposite direction, bringing her bike with her.

She shivered, not quite used to how cold it was in Swans Crossing. She had gone from summer to winter within a few days. Callie had been walking for a long time, not having any destination in mind. She walked past Swans, but didn't go inside. She wandered the residential streets, admiring the Christmas lights. At the Booth's, she could see in the front window. A fire was roaring in the fireplace, and Glory was reading by the light of the flames. Callie couldn't go to the door just yet. She was a little apprehensive about jumping back into things in Swans Crossing. She knew her friends missed her, and she missed them too, but her time spent in Brazil was full of emotions that she was sure they could never comprehend... or understand. She needed one thing to make it all right...

"Jimmy," she said along with surprise. He had appeared from the shadows out of nowhere and stood before her in the glow of the street light.

He was speechless. He had been strolling along, lamenting about Callie; playing her message on his answering machine over and over in his head, when she appeared... a mirage he hoped was real. "Callie?" he whispered.

She stepped closer to him, and took his hand. "My dad needed to come back," she explained.

His eyes searched hers as if he still couldn't quite believe she was in front of him. "You're back to stay?" he whispered again.

"Yes," she answered. With a grin on his face, Jimmy lifted her into his arms and kissed her slowly. This time they really did have all the time in the world, and as they kissed a few flakes fell from the sky... the first snow fall of the winter.

Glory set her book down on the couch when Garrett came into the living room. "Garrett?" she called.

He stopped on the stairs. "Yeah?"

She cleared her throat. "Do you notice something different?"

Garrett thought for a minute. "You didn't do something with your hair again, did ya?"

She sighed and folded her arms in front of her chest. "No. Garrett, I'm really worried. It's December and Mom and Dad haven't said anything about Christmas yet. We don't have a tree, or any lights outside. There's no Christmas music, baking cookies, or wrapping gifts. You don't think we're in such trouble that we can’t afford Christmas... do you?"

Garrett strolled to the front of the window, looking at the bright lights on the beautiful New England homes, the flurries falling from the sky... all signs of Christmas in Swans Crossing. He ran his fingers through his hair and looked back at Glory. He honestly couldn't answer that question.

Snow fell all night long, blanketing Swans Crossing with a record of two feet of snow in one night. It was unheard of for that much snow to fall in such a short period of time, and when Sydney looked out her bedroom window and saw the pure white streets, she rushed to the radio. "School in Swans Crossing," the announcer on WSCR said, "is canceled."

"Yes!" she exclaimed, jumping up and down.

"You seem happy," Mayor Rutledge commented, stepping into her room.

Sydney was caught off guard. She was still a little put off by her mother's mysterious upcoming vacation, but she tried to push those thoughts out if her mind. "School just got canceled. Of course I'm happy."

Mayor Rutledge smiled nostalgically. "Ah yes," she said, clasping her hands together. "I remember being a young girl and looking forward to snow days. So, what are you going to do today?"

"Ice skating," Sydney replied quickly, referring to her favorite winter past time. "I have to practice for the big competition. I guess I'll go call everyone and see if they want to go."

"That's a good idea. Let me know when you're done. I need to use the phone."

Sydney eyed her mother suspiciously. "What for?" she asked, once again feeling that her mother was hiding something from her.

"Just business," she replied vaguely, retiring to her study.

Sydney reluctantly went to her phone to call her friends... wondering just what exactly her mother was up to.

The pink bedroom came into focus as Mila struggled to wake up. The fist thing she realized was that she was seated at her hippo shaped desk instead of asleep in her bed. Then she noticed she was still dressed in her light colored jeans and pink knit sweater from the day before. Lastly, her eyes fell upon the unfinished geometry and chemistry homework.

"Oh great," she muttered. "My teachers are going to kill me for missing another assignment." She gathered up the books, silently praying for a miracle.

"Mila, my angel?" the countess called, appearing in the elevator.

Mila quickly stashed away the homework. "Yes Mama?"

"You're not going to believe what happened," she said with a laugh.

"What's that?" Mila asked, silently hoping the teachers had gone on strike.

"It snowed all night!" the countess exclaimed. "School is canceled and you can spend the rest of the day doing whatever you please. Isn't living in this charming New England town glorious?"

Mila caught sight of the school books peeking out from under her bed, and a smile spread across her face. "Yes Mama, it is glorious."

"What a lame excuse!" Sydney exclaimed angrily, tugging at the laces on her ice skates.

Garrett draped his arm around Sydney, trying to lend a sympathetic ear. "Maybe she really had to study."

Sydney rolled her eyes, dismissing this idea. "Please! School gets canceled for the first time this winter and Mila has homework to do? Spare me. She's still mad about the whole Grant thing."

The two stood up and headed out to the frozen pond where they were going ice skating. Immediately, Sydney began twirling on the ice. She always looked forward to winter because she was an exceptional skater. Garrett could skate, and he and the guys often played hockey against one another in the winter months, but he had to push himself to keep up with Sydney.

"So who else did you call?" he asked as they skated around on the ice.

"Everyone. You, Mila," she rolled her eyes at the latter, "Glory, J.T. Neil, Nancy, Saja, Sandy, Owen, and Jimmy."

"I doubt Jimmy will come. He's been kinda bummed lately," Garrett said with a frown.

Sydney took both of his hands in his and started skating backwards. "Well, if you had to leave me in some foreign country, wouldn't you be bummed?"

He grinned devilishly. "I don't know. Maybe."

"Maybe?! That's it, Booth!" she yelled, letting go of him and skating in the direction of a pile of snow. She grabbed a handful of it and flung it at him. Within a few minutes, they were engaged in an all out snowball fight. They were laughing and launching snow balls at one another, so involved that they didn't notice someone arrive.

"I don't think you're going to win the skating competition by playing around in the snow," Nancy remarked, placing her hands on her hips and staring Sydney and Garrett down like they were children.

Sydney stood up and brushed herself off. "Well, I don't think you'll win against someone who has real talent."

"What are you two talking about?" Garrett broke in.

"The skating competition. This year the state is holding the competition here in Swans Crossing," Nancy explained.

"And the two of you are signing up?"

"I already did," Nancy replied smugly.

"I am tomorrow," Sydney said, slightly disappointed she couldn't top Nancy.

Garrett let out a low whistle. "This is going to be interesting."

Sydney was about to respond when they heard the crunch of snow in the park. They all looked up and Garrett's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Jimmy?"

Jimmy smiled, which also surprised Garrett. "Yep. Sydney called me to go skating so I thought, what the heck?" He grinned again. "And I brought someone with me, if you don't mind."

"No..." Sydney said slowly.

Callie came out from behind a nearby tree. "I'm back!" she announced.

Sydney's jaw dropped, and she ran to her friend's side. "Callie!!!" she shrieked. "I can't believe you're really here!"

"Well, my dad had a change of heart," she explained, feeling a little overwhelmed by Sydney's enthusiasm, but pleased at the same time.

"I am SO glad! There's so much to tell you, and I want to hear all about your trip." Sydney took Callie's arm and lead her in the direction of the warming house to get some her some ice skates, and she was talking a mile a minute.

Garrett and Jimmy exchanged glances, laughed, and then silently followed their girlfriends.

Two hours later, Mila slammed her book shut and groaned.

"I should be thankful, but it's going to take an even bigger miracle than a snowstorm to get this chemistry homework done," she muttered.

She crossed the room and carefully stepped out on the balcony. It was cold outside, and the balcony was covered in snow. Outside, heavy white flakes weighed down the evergreen boughs and below the room, neighborhood children were sledding down a hill, tumbling off every now and then, and dissolving into a fit of laughter. Mila sighed.

"If I wasn't so dumb, I could be outside skating with everyone. I'd even tolerate Sydney just to get away from this homework."

But Mila just didn't understand it. She was doing well in English. Ever since her fling with Chandler--Garrett--she had a true passion for poetry and literature. History wasn't much of a problem either. But geometry and chemistry were merely formulas and equations floating high above her head, completely out of reach.

Mila decided she had to get out of the house. She put on her hat and gloves, coat and scarf and headed outside. She planned to walk to the library. There she could get some studying done but could still enjoy the beautiful winter day on the long, leisurely walk.

As she crunched along in the snow, she started humming one of Inspiration's songs. She had completely blown off the band the past few weeks. She'd blown off cheerleading too, but luckily she still had until after winter break to get ready to start cheering at hockey games. Mila's mind was wandering, thinking of all the responsibilities she had shirked, the friends she'd deserted, the homework she'd put off. She didn't even notice when she walked nearly head first into Grant Booth.

"Mila," he said in a friendly voice, snapping her back to reality.

Her heart started pounding, but she ignored that sensation. Grant wanted Sydney. Everyone wanted Sydney. "Hello Grant," Mila greeted him stiffly.

"So where are you off to?" he asked.

"The library," she replied.

"The library? On a day like this? You should be off sledding or skating with your friends," he told her.

She gave him a steely look. "Why? Because I'm just a child?"

"You're not a child," he said defensively. "When did I ever say that?"

"Well, I guess we all can't be as mature as Sydney," Mila continued.

"What makes you say that?" he asked.

"You think I've forgotten about how you really wanted to go with Sydney to the dance."

Grant lowered his blue eyes and then looked back up at her. "I'm sorry I hurt you before."

"You didn't hurt me. It doesn't really matter," she insisted, avoiding his eyes.

"Do you want to go get some hot chocolate at Swans or something?" he asked, changing the subject abruptly.

"I can't. I have to do my chemistry homework," Mila said softly.

"Chemistry? Chem is one of my majors," he told her enthusiastically. "Why don't we go get that hot chocolate and I'll give you a hand with your homework?"

Mila thought about this for a minute. She felt uncomfortable around Grant, because in her heart she knew she was not the one he wanted, but she desperately needed help on her assignment... no matter whom it came from. "All right," she agreed, and she and Grant headed to Swans.

Callie rubbed her hands together, trying to warm up. She and Jimmy had just spent two hours skating with Sydney, Garrett, and everyone else in the park, and he had asked her if she would go to the Tool n’ Die with him afterwards.

"I've truly never been happier," she told him as he unlocked the padlocks on the door. "It feels so good to be back."

Jimmy stopped what he was doing and looked into her eyes. "It's sure good to have you back. And just in time for Christmas."

"Yeah," she agreed. "I almost forgot that it's time for Christmas."

He gave her a funny look. "How could you forget when Christmas is? You do celebrate, don't you?"

Callie smiled uncomfortably at him. "Sort of. I mean, we do... but I've never had a traditional sort of Christmas. I mean, there really isn't room on a submarine for a tree, and there aren't many shopping malls underwater."

"I guess you're right," Jimmy said slowly, an idea forming in his head. He unlocked the door, still thinking, and let them into the shop.

Callie looked rather taken aback when she entered the Tool n’ Die. "It's a mess!" she exclaimed.

"Yeah, I guess it wasn't the greatest idea letting Garrett and Saja take care of the shop while I was gone," Jimmy remarked, laughing. "But it really doesn't matter. We're both back, and we'll get it cleaned up soon enough."

She clapped her hands together. "Let's get started."

Jimmy looked up, and feigned surprise. "Well, that's going to have to wait for a minute. Look." He pointed to the doorway, which had a sprig of mistletoe hanging from it.

Callie laughed, and he tipped her chin towards him. They leaned forward, and their lips met in a long, tender kiss. "Now we should get to work," she told him, her voice much more breathless. They walked together to the table, which was cluttered with engine pieces, and Callie started to clean it up.

"Walker Woman," Jimmy said, pointing to the ceiling once again. More mistletoe was hung there. "Looks like we've got to take another break."

She smiled, and eyed the ceiling. Then she burst out laughing, and nudged him. "Clayton! You hung it everywhere!"

He gave her a fiendish smile. "You caught me. But it's a Christmas tradition." He stood, waiting for her to kiss him again.

"Well," Callie began, "I guess we can't break a tradition." She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. They kissed again, this time for much longer. "And a great tradition it is," she murmured after their lips parted.

Jimmy smiled, the wheels in his brain turning. He was going to give Callie the best traditional Christmas ever.

After ice skating, Glory and Garrett returned home. "This is so great," Glory commented. "It's officially winter and Christmas is just around the corner."

Garrett nodded, and hung his ice skates in the front closet. "Yep. I've got Sydney, you're back with J.T., and all is right with the world."

Glory smiled, and a romantic look crossed her face. "You're right. This is going to be the best Christmas ever."

The front door opened, and Grant walked in. "Hi guys!" he greeted them cheerfully, hanging his coat up in the closet and shivering from being out in the cold.

"Where have you been all day?" Glory asked.

"I went for a walk, and ran into Mila Rosnovsky," Grant explained.

Garrett gave him a look. "What happened? Did she chew you out?"

Grant looked confused. "How did you know that she was mad at me?" he asked suspiciously.

Garrett and Glory exchanged a glance, and Garrett sighed. "Look man, there's something I've got to tell you."

"What's that?" Grant questioned him.

"See, I know that you had thought you were going to homecoming with Sydney, but you didn’t because... Sydney went with me." He winced, waiting for Grant to get angry.

"Hey, that's all right."

Garrett did a double take. "What?"

"Yeah. I mean, I wanted to go with her to homecoming, but it wasn't like I'm in love with her or anything. I thought she wanted me to ask her; that was the impression she gave me," Grant explained, his voice calm and good natured.

Garrett sighed again, this time with relief.

"See what I mean?" Glory said with a wide smile. "Things are just perfect. So what were you doing with Mila?"

Grant gave his siblings a strange grin. "I was just helping her with her homework. But I don't think she hates me anymore."

"Do you guys want to get out the Christmas decorations?" Glory suggested. "Mom and Dad aren't home, so maybe they went to pick up the tree."

"Without us? But it's always been tradition for us all to go together," Garrett said.

Grant shrugged. "Who knows? They've been acting sort of strange lately."

Garrett stared out the window. "I know. I mean, it's about money obviously. But I've been getting paid pretty good money at Swans, and it's not like we shouldn't have Christmas at all this year. I don't think we've lost that much money."

"I'm sorry to say this," Mr. Booth said, opening up the front door. He and Mrs. Booth had just gotten home, both looking forlorn.

Garrett, Glory, and Grant huddled closely together, all frightened by what their father was about to say.

"Kids... I don't think we can have Christmas this year."

Sydney lay sprawled out on her bed, carefully lettering people's names on the bright red and green invitations. She was so ready for her Christmas party, it wasn't even funny. She just had to buy the food and decorations and make sure all the invitations were sent out on time. And of course, she had to figure out a way to get Ralph out of the house.

She tapped her finger against her cheek, deep in thought. Then an idea struck her. She pulled out one of her invitations in the box, and wrote one up for Ralph. She signed Mr. Han's name to it, saying that he wanted to meet Ralph for Christmas tea at the Swan Club. It was corny, she knew, but completely believable. She placed it next to the rest of the invitations, planning to mail it the next day so it would be even more realistic.

"Now I just have to get a few people to help me with the decorating and I'm set," she said aloud, climbing off her bed and crossing the room. She wanted to call Mila and ask for her help, but she knew her friend still wasn't speaking to her. It hurt a little; Sydney wasn't used to people being angry at her, especially during the holiday season. Nancy will have to do, she thought to herself, picking up her telephone.

"No darling, my daughter doesn't suspect a thing," Mayor Rutledge said on the phone.

"Well that's just wonderful then. I will meet you at the airport on Wednesday," a male voice replied.

Sydney's eyes widened. Her fears were confirmed... the trip to the capitol wasn't business at all... it was a romantic rendezvous! She knew she shouldn't, but she covered the mouthpiece and continued to listen to her mother's conversation.

"I feel bad about leaving Sydney during the holidays, but I'll be back on Christmas day, and we never get to have any time alone," Mayor Rutledge said in a breathless voice that Sydney didn't recognize her mother ever having used before.

"Yes, my dear. It is so difficult dating a mayor. You have your political reputation to worry about," the man told her with a laugh.

"Ah yes. Well, I need to be going. I'll see you on Wednesday."

The man made a kissing noise on the other line. "Until then. Good-bye Margaret."


Sydney heard the dial tone, and with a shaky hand, replaced the phone. A few tears fell from her eyes. Her mother was in love with some strange man, and she wasn't even telling her own daughter about it! Not only that, she was running off to spend the weekend with him, and abandoning Sydney during the holidays.

Sydney wiped at her wet cheeks with the back of her hand. "Mother has to realize that everything has a consequence," Sydney declared, growing angry. She took her invitations out of the bag, and started filling them out for other kids at school. Two could play at this game.

After the gang's last day of school before winter break at SCH, the girls headed to the Swans Crossing Mall for some Christmas shopping, even Mila. She wasn't speaking much to Sydney, but she had still agreed to go.

The mall was decorated in lights, garlands, and a lovely Christmas tree for the holidays. Christmas carols were being played over the loudspeaker, and just being in the mall was putting Sydney in the Christmas spirit. She was still upset with her mother, but her being gone was giving Sydney the perfect reason to throw the party of the century. Mayor Rutledge had left the previous day, still not breathing a word to Sydney about this new love affair. Oh well, I'm not even going to think about it, she told herself, plastering a smile on her face.

"So you're all going to my party, right?" Sydney asked the girls as they strolled through the mall, stopping to admire the displays in the windows.

All the girls chorused yes, and Mila just shrugged. "I suppose," she said. Every one else exchanged tense glances.

"Mila, it's been almost a month since homecoming. Aren't you ever going to forgive me?" Sydney wondered.

Mila stared at her coldly. "I don't know."

Sydney sighed. "Mila. You're one of my best friends. Please, I don't want to fight on Christmas." Her eyes filled with tears, which surprised her. She usually was not an emotional person.

Mila thought for a few moments. Sydney had hurt her in many ways. But she had to admit that she meant well... at least this time. And she wasn't angry at Grant anymore. She had let him help her with her homework, and buy her some hot chocolate. Mila had known Sydney a lot longer, so she really should do the same. "All right Sydney, I'll forgive you. On one condition."

Sydney smiled. "Anything."

"You stay out of my love life!"

After several hours of shopping, the girls were weighed down with packages. All except Glory.

"Hey Glor, aren't you in a shopping mood?" Callie asked, surprised. She even had a couple of bags of gifts for her father and Jimmy.

Glory had a faraway look on her face. "Not really," she whispered.

"Oh come on!" Sydney said. "Everyone likes shopping. You only have a little time to buy presents for your family."

"I have plenty of time," she muttered.

"Glory, what's wrong?" Callie questioned her, immediately able to tell that something was troubling her friend.

Tears clouded Glory’s blue eyes. "I really shouldn't say."

Mila put her arm around her. "We won't tell Glory." The rest of the girls nodded.

Glory drew in a deep breath. "I guess it's no secret that my family isn't doing very well financially anymore, considering you all know about Garrett working at Swans. But..."

"But..." Sydney prompted.

"But we're apparently even worse off than before." Tears trickled down her cheeks and she didn't bother to wipe them away. "We're not having Christmas this year," she choked out.

Everyone gasped, and then lent their sympathies to Glory. But Sydney didn't say anything. Garrett hadn't given her any clues as to what was going on. But she had an idea... she was going to bring Christmas to the Booth’s if it killed her.

Jimmy caught himself humming a Christmas tune as he dismounted his mini-bike. He had been all over town gathering things for Callie's surprise: tinsel, poinsettias, garlands, and lights. After dropping all those things off, he drove to a local Christmas tree lot to pick up the finishing touch.

He smiled as he looked at all the sweet smelling pine trees. He was happier than he'd ever been. He was back in Swans Crossing and the girl he loved was back with him. And he was determined to make their first Christmas together one she would never forget.

"Jimmy!" Sydney said with surprise, her manicured hands lugging a giant Christmas tree.

Jimmy grinned. "Hey Sydney!" he greeted her jovially. "What are you doing here?"

She stepped closer to him confidentially. "Promise not to tell?"

"Sure," he agreed.

"Well, I found out that Garrett's family isn't going to be able to have Christmas this year."

Jimmy's smile quickly turned into a frown. "Gosh, that's pretty rough."

She nodded. "I know. But I'm going to bring Christmas to them!"

"Ah, well, I'm bringing Christmas to Callie," he explained.

Sydney smiled knowingly. "Well, good luck."

He continued on his tree hunt and started humming again. "Good luck to you, too."

"’He sings a love song, as we go along, walking in a winter wonderland’," Sandy sang grandly, standing in the spotlight at the Swans Crossing High auditorium. She was wearing a long, red velvet dress, and her hair was piled on top of her head. She had sung with the rest of the choir throughout the Holiday Festival, and then took center stage and was concluding her solo--a medley of Christmas songs.

She finished, raising her hands high in the air and holding the note. The crowd jumped to their feet and applause rung in her ears. She had never in her life felt so popular, so sure of herself. Standing in the bright stage lights in front of all those people made her feel beautiful.

After the concert, Sandy met her family in the lobby. They hugged and congratulated her, and so did her friends... even some people who she didn't even know. Sandy was just about ready to leave when a pair of hands covered her eyes. "Guess who?" a voice from behind her said.

"Saja!" she exclaimed, knowing right away who it was.

"You were so terrific out there!" he commented enthusiastically. "You were like a vision, something only the gods could create."

She laughed. "Thanks... I think."

Saja shuffled his feet, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Uh Sandy?" he asked nervously.


"I just wanted to..." his voice trailed off, and he impulsively took her hand and pulled her into his arms. "Merry Christmas," he said before planting a sweet kiss on her lips.

Sandy’s heart was beating, and had jumped into her throat. Everything was spinning... and she didn't know what to say. She simply smiled weakly and replied, "Merry Christmas."

Nancy was spinning around on the ice at the park the next day, while Kevin smiled from his spot on the bench. "Are you sure you don't want to come out here?" she asked him.

Kevin laughed. "Positive! There is no way you're getting me on that ice... every bone in my body would be broken just in time for the holidays!"

She smiled, enjoying his attention. She had been practicing all afternoon, determined to become as good as Sydney, better even, in time for the competition in a few weeks. Nancy made another trip around the ice, and then jumped, trying to perfect her axle jump. She looked perfect in the air, but when she landed her left foot slipped a little, causing her to awkwardly flail her arms.

"Nice job, Nance!" Sydney said, appearing in the park, her ice skates slung over her shoulder. She clapped her hands snootily, and grinned. "Really, if you're going to even enter the competition you need to practice that jump a little more."

Nancy skated over to Sydney. "Well, unlike the way you acted when we were horseback riding last fall, I plan to actually show up and practice. Just because you're talented doesn't mean you'll necessarily win. I plan to practice every day from now until the competition."

Sydney stepped up to her, and placed her hands on her hips. "Why? It's not going to do any good."

"Because I want to prove once and for all that Sydney Rutledge doesn't win everything in life," Nancy shot back, and then turned on her skates, and went back to her practicing. She caught sight of Kevin when she skated around the pond... and saw the disapproving look on his face.

Carolyn glanced over at Neil, and caught his eye.

"Yes?" he asked, wondering why she had been staring at him. It was making it difficult for him to work.

She lowered her eyes. "Oh, nothing."

Neil sighed and placed his pencil down on the pad of paper where he and Carolyn were working out equations. "No, what is it?"

"Well, it's kind of silly, but I..." her voice trailed off and she leaned down. She unzipped her backpack and pulled out a crudely wrapped present. "I got you a Christmas gift."

He took it from her hands and gave her a small smile. "Well, uh, thanks, but I didn't get you anything."

Carolyn laughed. "That's okay. I don't give gifts to get stuff back." She noticed that he was turning the package over and over in his hands. "Go on, open it," she told him.

Neil pulled back the wrapping paper carefully. Carolyn rolled her eyes. "I should have guessed you wouldn't be the kind of guy to tear into it."

A moment later he had opened the gift, and he gave her a smile. It was a violent looking computer CD-ROM game. "Thanks," he said enthusiastically. "I guess you know that I don't really have any of these things on my computer."

She grinned. "Yeah, I figured you needed a little fun in your life."

They looked into each other’s eyes for a minute... Neil not sure exactly what to say.

Sophia dragged another suitcase out to her powder blue convertible and tossed it into the backseat. "Well Saja, I'm off."

He scowled at her. "You know you're making a big mistake, don't you?"

She smiled. "Please. I'm going to ski with Edward and some of my friends. What's the harm in that?"

Saja sighed, annoyed at his sister's dense attitude. She never seemed to get the big picture. "Don't you understand Sophia? You can't just lie to everyone and run off with your boyfriend to Vermont and expect everything to turn out okay. Your karma is going to be so bad... something is bound to go wrong."

Sophia opened her car door and got in, started the engine, and rolled down the window. "Well, Bobby," she said, making a point to call him by his real name, "You're lying too. Looks like you're in as deep as me! See ya later!"

Saja watched her tear out of the driveway, a knot tightening in his stomach. She was right. He was in as much trouble as she was.

On Christmas eve, late in the evening, Jimmy opened the hatch to Callie's sub. He was surprised that it was so much like the old one, and it brought back memories of when he and Callie had first met. He had called Captain Walker's line, and asked if he could come in to set up Callie's Christmas "present". Captain Walker had sounded irritated, but agreed nonetheless. Jimmy walked down the ladder, and pulled the large Christmas tree down with him. Needles fell from the branches, sticking in his hair and getting all over the ground. He suppressed laughter... knowing how upset her father was going to be when he saw how messy Christmas trees were.

He set it up in the middle of the room, and then went to work. He hung tinsel all over the tree, and hung some ornaments on the branches as well. He set up the poinsettia plants around the room, hung a wreath, and hung lights all over the tree and the sub. He placed a tape of Christmas songs in his boom box and hit play. Within about thirty minutes he was done, and was grateful that Callie hadn't gotten home yet from spending time with Glory.

Just as Jimmy expected, he heard her pull up on the docks a few minutes later. He stood anxiously by the tree as he watched her climb down into the sub.

"Surprise," he whispered when she was all the way down, and gaping at him.

"Oh my gosh..." Callie murmured, her eyes wide. She marveled at his decorations, the tree.. everything. "What is this?"

Jimmy smiled and took one of her hands. "It's Christmas, Walker Woman. Just the way we do it here in Swans Crossing."

Her eyes filled with tears and she threw her arms around him. "It's beautiful!"

"You like it?" he asked, returning the hug.

"It's the best Christmas present I've ever gotten," she replied emotionally. He looked choked up as well when she said this. "Merry Christmas, Clayton."

"Merry Christmas, Walker Woman."

Sydney tiptoed across the Booth's porch, even though she knew they weren't home. Grant and Garrett had gone to the mall--Garrett was going to spend his paycheck on Christmas gifts for the family. Glory was at Swans with Callie and J.T., and Mr. and Mrs. Booth were at the bank, trying to work out their savings account problems, otherwise they weren't going to be able to pay any of the bills.

Sydney lifted up the welcome mat, and of course, as she had figured, there was a key to the house. She inserted it into the door, and let herself in. As she groped for a light, she prayed that no one would find her. Imagine the headlines: Mayor's daughter arrested for breaking and entering!

As soon as she was safely inside, she went to work quickly. She wasn't sure when any of the family might be home... but she didn't want to chance it. She set up the tree, hung stockings above the fireplace, and then decorated the tree and hung lights. It took a rather long time... and Sydney Rutledge wasn't used to doing manual labor. But when she was finished, she had to admit it looked very good, perfect even.

She let herself out of the house, and locked the door behind her. She dashed across the lawn, and hid near the wall in No Man's Land. She wanted to watch their faces when they returned home, but didn't want to be seen.

After what felt like years, all of the Booth's appeared on the porch. None of them looked particularly happy. Garrett had a few bags with him, but he had realized when shopping with Grant that a minimum wage job did not buy lots of Christmas gifts. Mr. and Mrs. Booth were talking amongst themselves.... not optimistic about their meeting at the bank with the financial advisor. Glory opened the door, and turned on the light.

She gasped, and when the rest of the family saw what Sydney had set up in their living room, they gasped too. "Who could have done this?" Glory wondered.

The whole family checked out all the beautiful, expensive decorations, the gorgeous tree, all oohing and ahhing.

Glory and her mother were crying, and the men of the family were looking a bit emotional. Garrett glanced out the window, snowflakes whirling past, and then turned back to his family. "It's a miracle."

I just wanted to wish all of the Swans Crossing fans a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Years! I know time in Swans Crossing passed pretty quickly in this chapter, but I wanted everyone to share the holidays with the Swans gang! Thanks for reading... I don't think The Return would have lasted an entire year and counting without all your comments, suggestions, and support! Thanks everyone and have a very happy holiday season! Plus, look for chapter 32, when Sydney throws a New Years/Christmas party... and things get out of hand!

Chapter Thirty-Two

Someone knocked on the door at the Booth house on Christmas morning, and Glory jumped to answer it. So far, she was having a wonderful Christmas. Even though there weren't tons of presents under the tree, the Booths were happy for the things they had received this Christmas. None of them knew who--or what--had set up a tree and hung stockings... given them all the things that they were almost forced to go without this holiday season. But whoever was watching over their family had made them the happiest people in Swans Crossing.

When Glory opened the front door, she had to smile even wider. J.T. stood on the porch with a beautifully wrapped package in his hands.

"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!" he shouted happily, handing her the present.

She accepted it, and stepped away so he could enter the living room. "Did you have anything to do with this J.T.?" Glory asked, motioning to the decorated tree.

He gave her a confused look. "What? No, why?"

"I just thought that since you were the person behind the mysterious money on homecoming, that maybe you were our Christmas angel."

"Nope, you’ve got the wrong angel. But, I did bring you something," he said shyly.

She gave him a romantic smile. "Oh, J.T. You didn't have to do that. You know getting back together with you is the best Christmas gift I could ever receive."

Gently, he took her hand in his. "Thanks. I feel the same way. But open it up."

Glory removed her hand from his and carefully tore at the wrapping paper. Inside was a long, gray box. Looking up at him, she opened the box, and inside sat a delicate silver necklace. "Oh, J.T.! It's beautiful!" She looked at it again, and noticed that the charm hanging from the silver chain was a small angel.

J.T. laughed as she looked up at him through teary eyes. "I really had no idea that there really was an angel watching over you, but something just told me you'd like this."

"I love it," she breathed sincerely. He pushed aside her shoulder length hair and clasped the necklace on.

Glory grinned, admiring how wonderful it looked on her, and stared up at J.T. He kissed her gently on the lips, and she sighed with content. No amount of money could buy the happiness she was feeling right now.

It wasn't until Christmas morning that Captain Walker came up to the living quarters of the submarine from down below. He had been hard at work on some sort of research, not even really knowing that he was working straight through the holiday season.

He did a double take when he came on deck, surprised at all the stuff cluttering the room. "What is the meaning of this?"

Callie, who had woken up early and was having breakfast, laughed. "It's Christmas morning, Dad."

"I've been alive many years and I haven't ever had a Christmas with all this junk! Where did it come from?"

Once again, his daughter laughed. "Dad! You told Jimmy he could give me a Christmas surprise," she reminded him.

Captain Walker reached for a broom, and began sweeping up the pine needles that had fallen off the Christmas tree. "Of course it would be the work of that young man," he grumbled. "Doesn't he know when to leave well enough alone?"

Callie's smile faded. She had thought her father’s grumpiness about the tree was amusing at first, but now she wasn't sure if he was serious or not. He seemed genuinely disturbed that the boy who had convinced his daughter to run away with him was still in their lives, and messing up his home. Without another word, Captain Walker retreated back to his work, leaving Callie very apprehensive... and ruining her joyous Christmas mood.

Several days later, Sydney scrubbed the floor, grunting and looking up at her friends in desperation. "This is the one problem with not having any of the grownies involved in the party planning. I'm stuck doing the dirty work!"

"And dirty work it is Sydney-o," Nancy said smugly, sitting down at the dining room table. She hadn't done any manual labor since she arrived early that morning at the Rutledge's. In fact, she was doing more criticizing and giving more orders than anything else. "Where do you want these?" She held up a set of wine glasses rimmed with 24 karat gold.

"Should we really use those?" Sandy asked skeptically. "They look sort of expensive."

"Don't worry about it. It wouldn't be New Year's Eve without those glasses." Sydney stood up, and brushed herself off. She eyed the floor critically. She knew nothing about housekeeping, so the floors didn't look much different than when she first started. Oh well, she thought. If I can't tell the difference, than neither will the guests.

"So, has your mother called?" asked Mila, who was folding cloth napkins.

Sydney averted her glance. "Not yet," she replied softly. If her mother wasn't with some man, Sydney wouldn't really be upset. Sometimes the mayor went on business trips and didn't call; she was simply busy campaigning or signing contracts. But the reason Mayor Rutledge hadn't called had nothing to do with business.

"That's probably better anyway," Mila said. "I mean, if she had any idea that you were throwing such a huge party, she'd be on the first plane back to Swans Crossing."

Sydney turned away, and nodded... even though she had no idea as to whether or not that was true.

Glory sat in Swans Soda Shop with J.T., dreamily playing with the necklace he had given her the day before. "They are coming, aren't they?" she asked.

J.T. glanced at his watch. "Yeah, they're coming."

She noticed his voice sounded a little bitter. "What's wrong?" she questioned him.

"I don't know," he answered honestly, thinking aloud. "It's just that, well, Neil is trying to come up with a new project."

Glory furrowed her brows in concern. "Are you sure that's a good idea? I mean, after that happened with UB2B?"

J.T. thought back to the disasters that had occurred during the summer and fall--Glory's kidnapping, Barek's taking the group hostage, the trial. "Well, you know Neil. Now that there's no danger, no excitement involved in UB2B, he wants to move on to something new."

Glory looked up at him sympathetically. "And this hurts you, doesn't it?"

"Well, it's just that it was such a big part of who we were... of what our friendship was. And now he's coming up with new ideas and new equations with... with her," J.T. concluded.

"Carolyn?" Glory asked with confusion. "I thought you wanted them to hook up."

"I did. I do. It's just that... well, I thought they were going to get together romantically. I didn't think she was going to take my place," J.T. said, looking embarrassed. He wasn't entirely sure why he was feeling the way he was, and he surely didn't know what to do about it.

"J.T., she's not taking your place! You and Neil are best friends. There's no one who could take the place of you," she told him.

He smiled at her sheepishly. "I guess now I know how Neil felt about you and I."

Glory took his hand. "I guess you do." She looked up and saw Neil and Carolyn walk into the soda shop. They waved, and made their way towards the table. "You probably better not say anything," she said warningly.

J.T. rolled his eyes.

Neil greeted them with a smile. "Hey, you guys! How are you?"

J.T. put on a phony smile. "Great," he lied.

Looking over the rims of her dark sunglasses, Sydney checked the interior of the store to make sure that no one she knew was there. She didn't know what she would do if one of her mother's friends saw her in a liquor store. Of course, she was just there to get some sparkling grape juice in a champagne bottle. No one was going to drink at her party, but her friends had to have something to toast in the new year with.

She reached for a bottle on the shelf, and then grabbed it. She examined the label, saw that it was non-alcoholic, and then placed five more bottles in the shopping cart. "That ought to do it," she muttered aloud, and then pushed the cart towards the check-out counter.

"Sydney Rutledge!" a voice called from behind her.

Startled, Sydney turned around, and removed her glasses. Standing before her was a young man, well-dressed, carrying a bottle of expensive wine. "Do I know you?" she asked, not able to place his vaguely familiar face.

"Don't tell me you've forgotten already," he said, placing his hand over his heart in mock anguish.

It suddenly hit her. She flashed back to the night at the Caboose a few months ago when she went to hear Sandy, Owen, and Mila play....

"What's going to be different?" a voice asked from behind Sydney.

"Oh nothing," she told the man standing before her, her face flushing from embarrassment. She hadn't meant for anyone to overhear her.

The man smiled, realizing he had embarrassed her. "Aren't you a little young to be in a club like this?"

Sydney tried to keep her cool. She certainly didn't want anyone to tell the owners of the club that there were a bunch of underage kids there. "How old do I look?" she questioned him cautiously.

He gave her a grin. "Well, I would say you're around sixteen, although with the outfit and makeup I can see how they let you in."

"How did you get to be so perceptive?" she asked coyly.

The man smiled again. Sydney noticed he had a very charming smile. "Well, I'm a psych major, and I am also pre-med."

"Pre-med. Very impressive." Sydney glanced over her shoulder, wondering what was taking Garrett so long. She didn't mind the man's company, and it would make her feel sort of important if Garrett got jealous from the innocent conversation. But another part of her wanted to keep things honest. She and Garrett had played so many games in their lifetime, and this time she wanted things to be easier for them. "What's your name?" she asked the man.

"Danathan," he answered. "My name is Danathan Hartfield. And you are?"

"Sydney," she told him, not offering up her last name. He for sure would recognize the last name Rutledge.

A flicker of recognition flashed in Danathan's dark brown eyes. "You're Sydney Rutledge, the mayor's daughter... aren't you?"

"Well... yes," she said softly. "But look, my mother would kill me if she knew I was here..."

Danathan smiled. "Don't worry," he assured her. "I was in high school once too."

Sydney looked up, and saw Garrett heading in their direction. "Um, it was really nice to meet you," she told Danathan. "But I really have to go." She quickly excused herself, and went to meet Garrett. She was acutely aware of the fact Danathan stared after her the entire time.

Sydney turned back to the man and smiled. "That's right! I met you at the nightclub a couple months ago. Don something?"

He flashed her a engaging smile. "Danathan," he corrected her. "Danathan Hartfield."

She nodded politely. "Right. So how have you been Danathan?"

"Pretty good. Things are more of the same, you know, the stresses of law school and all."

She narrowed her eyes. "Law school? I thought you were pre-med."

He faltered. "Uh, that's what I meant. It's so stressful, I've forgotten what field I'm even going into!"

Sydney put her sunglasses back on. "Right. Well, if you'll excuse me." She pushed her way past him. There was obviously something a little off about this Danathan character, and she really didn't want to stick around and find out what it was.

"I certainly keep running into you in the strangest places. First an over eighteen night club, and now a liquor store." Danathan smiled, and although it was meant to be alluring, it sent an involuntary shiver down Sydney's spine. "You really should stop playing grown up, Miss Rutledge."

"Who says I'm playing?" she countered. She couldn't believe the nerve of this virtual stranger!

"Well, what's in the cart?" he asked, looking around her.

She reached into her shopping cart and produced one of the bottles. "Grape juice," she said superiorly. "Are you happy?"

He coughed, and looked up at her sheepishly. "Hey, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to be rude."


"So, uh, are you having a party tonight?" he asked, trying to make conversation.

Sydney looked longingly at the exit. "Yes," she answered sharply.

"You know, I think I'm going to be in the neighborhood. Why don't I pick a cake up or something at the bakery and bring it by. You know, to make up for my rudeness." Danathan smiled at her again, his eyes shining with sincerity.

Sydney wanted to say no, but heard herself accepting.

"Great. Then I'll see you tonight. Nice to see you again, Sydney." He waved good-bye, paid for his groceries, and left.

Sydney stared after him, wishing she had never even set foot in the store.

Pressing a forest green dress to her chest, Mila looked at her reflection in the mirror. "No!" she exclaimed out loud, tossing it over her shoulder. She had very little time before the party was going to begin, and there was nothing in her immense wardrobe to wear.

She pulled out a long skirt, and eyed it critically. She groaned in frustration and threw that in the "no" pile. The telephone rang, and Mila lunged to get it, glad to have a distraction from her hunt.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Well, hi there! Are you able to talk, or are you still buried under a mountain of homework?"

Mila smiled, recognizing Grant's voice on the other line. "Nope, I got it all finished. Right now I'm buried under a mountain of clothing."

"What?" he asked.

She giggled. "Nothing. Anyway, what's up?"

Grant cleared his throat. "Well, I was just calling to see if you were in need of some more homework help."

"Homework?" she repeated incredulously. "Grant, it's New Year's Eve. Aren't you going to Sydney's party?"

"I don't know. I'm not a big partier," he admitted.

"Oh," she said. "Thanks for offering, but I'm going to Sydney's party. We're not fighting anymore."

"That's good to hear," he told her sincerely. "Well, since you're going to be there, maybe I'll stop by and say hello."

Mila's heart rate quickened. Even though she had been convinced that Grant didn't like her, he seemed to be insinuating that she was the one and only reason he would attend the party. "That'd be really nice," she said, feigning calmness.

"Great. I'll see you then."

She grinned, and started rummaging through her clothes. "See you then."

The music came to an abrupt halt when Sandy hit the stop button. "Owen, you're not paying attention."

Owen snapped back into reality. "What?" he said distractedly.

She sighed, and flopped down at the seat behind their keyboard. "You haven't been listening at all! We need to practice to play a set for the party tonight."

His reply was a blank stare.

She rolled her eyes. "What's wrong with you today?"

Owen got up and crossed the room. "I can't really say," he answered vaguely.

She walked next to him. "Come on Owen, you can tell me. We're friends."

He was silent for several moments, contemplating whether or not to tell Sandy. "You know that I've sort of... liked Mila for awhile?"

She smiled at him coyly. "Hadn't noticed."

"I think I'm going to tell her tonight," Owen suddenly concluded. "I'm tired of waiting around while she goes through boyfriend after boyfriend. I'm going to tell her the first minute of 1993."

Sandy rose her eyebrows. If Owen had declared this during the summer, she would have been heartbroken. But so much had changed since the summer, and she had Saja, and could accept that Owen had feelings, strong feelings, for Mila. "I think that's a good idea," she told him finally. "I mean, it feels good to stand up and get what you want," she said wisely. She had learned standing up for herself was the best feeling in the world.

"So you think it's a good idea?"

She nodded. "Definitely."

Owen twirled his drumsticks between his fingers and bounded towards the door. "Then I'm going to go get ready for the party!"

"Hey Jimbo! You ready for the party tonight?" Saja asked, bounding into the Tool n’ Die.

Jimmy looked up from his work and grinned. "Couldn't be readier! I'm so glad to be going to my first party in Swans Crossing since I've gotten back."

Saja jumped up on the counter and sat down. "And this one is going to be great. After all, Sydney's mother won't be there."

"Right," he said, raising his eyebrows. "So do you have a ride there?"

Saja quickly looked away. "Uh... not exactly."

"What do you mean? Your sister's not one of the million people Sydney invited?" Jimmy wondered casually, returning to his fiddling with an engine.

"No... she was invited," Saja admitted.

Now Jimmy was slightly curious. "So she's invited, but she's not going?"

Saja sighed with resign. "Do you promise not to tell a soul about this?" he asked.

Jimmy nodded. "Of course."

"I mean it, Jimmy, this is really big. I promised Sophia I wouldn't tell anyone. Not a living, breathing human being..."

"Saja," Jimmy said, motioning for him to stop. "I promise. Now what's going on?"

"Sophia told my family that she's visiting a prospective college in Vermont. And she is in Vermont. Just not at a college," Saja explained, nervously cracking his knuckles.

"So where is she?"

"She's skiing with Edward," he blurted out. As soon as he did though, he felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

Jimmy was silent a moment. "Oh, wow. That is pretty big. Are you worried?"

Saja nodded slowly. "Yeah, I mean, you can't tick the gods off like that. She's lied, she's made me lie, and now we're both in for it."

"Saja," Jimmy began warningly, which he did any time his friend launched into the ninja warrior, spiritual talk. "She's a big girl, and I'm sure she can take care of herself."

Saja studied Jimmy's face for a moment. "You're worried too."

Jimmy turned away. "No I'm not," he said unconvincingly. He saw Saja looking at him crossly. "It's just that, well, no one should get into a situation that they can't get out of. It doesn't mean that I care or anything."

"Care about what?" Callie asked, entering the shop from behind them.

Saja and Jimmy looked up at her, and exchanged guilty glances.

"Are you sure you can handle this, Miss Sydney?" Ralph asked as Sydney ushered him towards the door.

"Of course I can, Ralph. I'm just having a small gathering, and mother approved. Besides, you wouldn't want to keep Mr. Han waiting." She opened the front door, and Ralph stepped outside.

"No," he said slowly. "But still, are you sure about this?"

"Good-bye Ralph." Sydney shut the door on him, and sighed. She had been decorating and cleaning all afternoon, and then she had spent two hours getting herself ready. She turned and admired her reflection in the full length mirror. She was wearing a short, black slip dress and a cropped red jacket over it. Half of her brown hair was pinned up, and she had curled the rest of it. She looked good... and knew it.

The doorbell rang, and she hurried to answer it. Her first guest! Mila stood on the front porch, a dish in hand.

"What's this?" Sydney asked, taking the plate from her friend and letting her into the house.

Mila rolled her eyes and took off her jacket, revealing the light pink sweater and pleated black skirt she was wearing. "It's fruit cake. Mama made me bring it."

Sydney laughed, and took it into the dining room. "Well, thanks."

Mila looked around at all the gold and white decorations Sydney had put up since she was last there. "The place looks great! Am I the first one here?"

"Yep, but I'm sure the rest will be here soon," Sydney answered, taking one last look around her house.

"You're not going to believe who called me today and said he was going to meet me here," Mila gushed.

"I'm sure I'm not. So who is it?" she urged.


Sydney raised an eyebrow. "Grant Booth. As in the one who stood you up at homecoming? The one who almost ruined our friendship?"

"It's not like that this time," she insisted. "After he helped me the other day on my homework, we've been talking, and we're sort of becoming friends," Mila explained in a dreamy voice.

"Well, that's good," Sydney said slowly.

"I think this is the way to go. You know, instead of just jumping into things. I want to really know the next guy I go out with."

Sydney was about the respond when the doorbell rang again. "Hold that thought," she told her, opening the door to a large group of kids she barely knew. They barged into the house without a word to Sydney, and it was then that she realized it was going to be an interesting night.

"Care about what?" Callie asked again. The boys just gave each other nervous looks. Callie placed her hands on her hips. "What is going on you guys?"

"We were just talking about my esteemed older sister," Saja replied sheepishly.

Callie looked slightly taken aback. "Oh."

"Callie, please don't get the wrong idea," Jimmy told her quickly.

"What is there to get a wrong idea about? I mean, I turn my back for ten minutes and you and Saja start chatting it up about Sophia. Why should I be worried?" she said sarcastically.

Jimmy looked back at Saja. "Would you tell her what you just told me?"

Saja buried his head in his hands. "I knew this was going to happen!"

Callie looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean? You knew what was going to happen?"

"I tell one person, and next thing I know, the whole world knows!" Saja continued.

"Saja," Callie began, stepping closer to her friend, "I'm not the whole world, okay? Whatever you tell me, I promise it won't go any further than this room."

Saja sighed, knowing Callie was trustworthy. "All right. See, Sophia and her boyfriend of the moment, Edward, are off gallivanting around Vermont as we speak."

"Ah," she said, suddenly understanding. "And this wasn't approved by your parents, I take it?"

He shook his head. "They would kill her if they knew where she was. And," he added, "they'd probably just maim me for being a part of it."

"So you get it now?" Jimmy asked Callie.

She gave him a teasing look. "Yes, I get it," she replied, imitating his voice. "But I don't see what the big deal is. I mean, Sophia doesn't seem like the type who will get caught, so I don't think you have to worry Saja."

He jumped off the counter and started pacing in front of them. "See, that's just it. I am worried. I have this awful feeling that something's going to go wrong, that our karma is going to get the best of us."

"Ah, not the karma thing again," Jimmy said with a laugh.

"Look Saja, I don't think there's anything we can do now. You just have to hope your sister will get back okay and everything will be fine. Until then, you just have to stop thinking about it," Callie advised. "Come on, we have a party we've got to get to."

Saja shrugged. "I guess so."

"And here's a little something for my favorite hostess," Garrett said as he stood in Sydney's doorway.

Sydney smiled upon seeing him. He pulled a red rose from behind his back and handed it to her. "Why thank you," she told him, bringing it to her nose. "It's beautiful."

He glanced over her shoulder, and saw that there were countless amounts of teenagers already making themselves at home. "Looks like the party's in full swing."

Sydney looked into Garrett's blue eyes. "It is now. Now that you're here." Garrett laughed, and was about to give Sydney a kiss, when the doorbell rang.

She sighed. "If that thing rings one more time..."

Garrett reached for her hand. "Come on, I'll go with you."

They walked to the door together, and Sydney pulled it open. Standing on the front steps was none other than Danathan Hartfield, carrying a bakery box.

"Well, hello Sydney Rutledge," he greeted her flirtatiously. "It's wonderful to see you again."

Garrett stared down this handsome young man hitting on his girlfriend. "And you are?"

"Danathan Hartfield. Friend of Sydney's."

"I know all of Sydney's friends, and uh, you're not one of them," Garrett remarked. Sydney quickly intervened.

"Garrett, Danathan. Danathan, this is Garrett Booth. My boyfriend," Sydney added carefully.

"Oh," Danathan said, stepping inside. "You never said anything about a boyfriend." He didn't say another word, but disappeared into the crowd. Sydney watched after him, and although she didn't know why, she felt a little upset by what had just happened.

Loud music nearly shook the walls of the Rutledge mansion when Callie, Jimmy, Saja, Sandy, and Owen arrived at the party. Kids were everywhere--on the couch, dancing, eating her food... and things looked like they were snowballing out of control.

"I don't think Mayor Rutledge has any idea what she's gotten into," Sandy said, eyeing the scene.

Jimmy smiled. "Well, she's not here now, so I guess we should just go with it!" He took Callie's hand and led her onto the dance floor.

Owen wandered off, in search of Mila no doubt, and Sandy and Saja were left alone. "You want to go dance?" she suggested.

"Uh, I don't know," he replied.

"Is something wrong?" she asked with concern. Saja tried not to look her in the eyes. He knew if he did, he was going to spill to Sandy what he was worried about.

"No, I'm okay," he lied.

"No you're not. Is it... me?" Her voice sounded vulnerable, much like the way she used to sound.

Saja broke immediately. "It's my sister." He told her the whole story, including the fact that he was getting the strangest feeling that something was going to go wrong. It was like he was getting a premonition.

"I'm sure everything will be okay," Sandy assured him.

He raked back his dark hair with his fingers and sighed. He was sure it wasn't.

"Cut it out!" Sydney shouted as some kids she didn't know smacked each other with her mother's throw pillows. "I said, cut it out!"

The kids didn't listen, but just ran out of the living room. She sighed, blowing a strand of her hair that had fallen in her face. She turned around, and saw a girl rummaging through one of the boxes sitting on the floor.

"Excuse me! My house is not your personal shopping mall, so kindly keep your hands off my stuff!" Sydney yelled. The girl's eyes widened, and she quickly darted away.

Garrett heard Sydney yelling from the other room, where he was talking to some of the guys, and he quickly went to her side. "What's going on?"

Sydney groaned. "This is getting totally out of control! I've had to deal with the immature, several thieves, and..." her voice trailed off when she noticed a paper cup sitting on one of the end tables. She picked it up, and sniffed it. "And now the drunken have entered the race."

Garrett took the cup and threw it into the trash can. "Do you want me to ask them to leave?"

She thought about it for a moment. "No. I've gotten myself into this mess. And the night's almost over. What else..." her voice trailed off again when she heard a loud crash.

She quickly rushed into the kitchen and discovered two of her mother's wine glasses on the floor, broken into many shards of glass. She buried her face in her hands and sighed. "This is a disaster!"

At 11:50, Sydney was covered in sparkling grape juice. She and Garrett were pouring the juice into paper cups; she wasn't about to trust the crazy people loitering in her living room with champagne glasses.

"Will you please remind me why I threw this party?" she shouted over the music.

Garrett wrapped his arm around her sticky shoulder and laughed. "Because you are socialite of the year."

She groaned, and pulled open a fresh bottle. "Can I turn in my crown?"

A group was gathering in the living room around the television set, which was set to the live countdown in Times Square in New York. Sydney handed the bottle off to Garrett, and went into the living room. "Hey you guys!" she called. No one was listening. She swept a bunch of garbage off her coffee table and jumped on top. She whistled, and everyone grew silent. "Listen!" she yelled. "There's sparkling grape juice in the kitchen for you to toast the New Year with. Go get it... but not all at once!" It was too late; everyone stormed her kitchen at once.

Garrett stumbled his way through the crowd, and handed Sydney an elegant, tall champagne glass. "Here you go," he said.

She smiled gratefully at him. "Thanks."

The rest of her friends gathered around her, as they only had a few minutes to go before midnight. Sydney rose her glass. "1992 has been an incredible year. I want to make a toast to the new year, to friendship," she smiled at Mila, "and to a second chance," she gave Garrett a meaningful look.

Glory rose her glass. "Here's to miracles."

"And true love," J.T. supplied.

Jimmy rose his glass, and glanced over at Callie. "I second that one!"

"Here's to spending my first year in the most wonderful place I've ever lived," Callie toasted. Mila nodded enthusiastically.

"Yeah, here's to Swans Crossing!"

Sandy lifted her glass into the air. "Here's to self-confidence."

Nancy rolled her eyes. "Or lack thereof."

"Here's to the band," Owen toasted.

"And to science," Neil added.

"Here's to hoping this year begins without a disaster," Saja muttered.

Garrett reached for the remote. "And here's to the countdown we're about to miss."

Everyone quieted down as the lighted ball began to drop in Times Square. "Ten!" they all chanted. "Nine, eight, seven, six," the rest of the party joined in, "five, four, three, two, one... Happy New Year!!" they all chorused. Someone released confetti into the air, and everyone took a sip of their drink. Garrett planted a kiss on Sydney's lips in front of everyone, while they all cheered. Jimmy kissed Callie, J.T. kissed Glory, and Owen rushed to Mila's side.

"It's 1993 now," he said to her as she looked at him with a polite smile.

"I know it is, that's why we're here," Mila replied, laughing.

"No, I mean, now that's it's 1993, I have to tell you how I feel about you. Mila, I've been in love with you since the first day I saw you on the pier," Owen declared in an emotional voice. Mila's eyes widened, as she was completely and utterly blown away.

Sandy looked up at Saja, expecting her New Year’s kiss, when the telephone rang. Something tightened in Saja's stomach, and he reached to answer it.

"Hello?" he said. He was silent for several moments, and then he dropped the phone. "Sophia's missing."

©1998 Stephanie Blydenburgh. Happy 1998 Swans Crossing fans!

Chapter Thirty-Three

People started whispering as Saja handed the phone back to Sydney, who placed it on the table.

"Saja, what's going on?" Sandy asked cautiously. Saja was silent for several moments.

"That was Edward, Sophia’s boyfriend. Sophia had gone out on the slopes by herself, and she never came back," he explained in a monotonous voice.

"Saja! You've got to call your parents!" Callie interjected.

Saja looked panic stricken at her suggestion. "I can't do that! They'll kill us!"

"But your sister's missing! You have to do something," she said.

Sandy spoke up quietly, "Callie's right, Saja. Her friends aren't going to do anything because they're so worried about getting in trouble. You have to be stronger than that."

He had a faraway look on his face as he sunk onto Sydney's sofa, completely dejected. "I know."

Danathan pulled Sydney aside as some of the guests slowly launched back into party mode.

"So, how are you enjoying the party?" he asked smoothly, leaning up against the wall.

She rolled her eyes. "Well, aside from the fact that a girl I know has disappeared, my house is completely trashed, and my mother is off with some strange man for the weekend, I'm perfectly fine!"

"Whoa, whoa, back up," Danathan interrupted. "What's this about your mother?"

Sydney's eyes widened. She hadn't meant to slip. "Nothing. I didn't meant to say anything."

"Well, you did. So tell me. I promise I won't say anything to anyone," he swore.

"My mother is off spending the holidays with some guy. Except she didn't even tell me." She turned away from him. "We tell each other everything."

"Did you tell her you were having this party?" he questioned her pointedly.

"No," she admitted.

"Or did you tell her that you're dating that guy she doesn't like?" he asked.

Sydney looked up at him suspiciously. "How do you know so much about me?"

Danathan shrugged and gave her a half-smile. "Anyway," he said, avoiding her question, "you don't need to worry so much about your mother. She's a big girl; she can take care of herself. If I got freaked every time my dad went away for the weekend with a woman..." He rose his eyebrows suggestively.

"You mean your father is spending the weekend with a woman right now?" Sydney asked.

"Yeah," Danathan responded casually. "He mentioned something about the capitol. Why do you want to know?"

She blinked a few times and looked back at him. "No reason."

Mila's jaw dropped. "What was that?" she asked Owen, not trusting her own ears.

Owen walked a few paces ahead of her. He hadn't wanted to repeat himself, but what he had to say was so important. At this point it didn't matter anymore to him what she felt about him. He just knew that he had to tell her how he felt. The crush he had on her was weighing down on his shoulders, and it was time for the weight to be lifted. If he didn't do it soon, she might get involved again.

"Look, Mila. I really, really like you. Whenever you walk into a room I lose all logic. But you brighten my everyday. That's why I wanted you in the band so much," Owen declared, feeling more confident. But his confidence was quickly dashed when he saw the look on Mila's face.

"Oh Owen," she moaned.


She exhaled loudly. Owen was a good friend, but she didn't feel anything more for him. And although she had always sensed he may have had a fondness for her, to hear him declare it in front of all their friends freaked her out. "You can't really mean this," she said.

"Yes I do. I'm in love with you," he told her, his voice barely above a whisper.

Tears fell from Mila's blue eyes. "I'm sorry, Owen. I wish I could give you the response you want to hear, but I know I can't. We're too good of friends for us ever to be anything more."

"But the best relationships start out as friendships," he said in his defense. Awkwardly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a tissue. Mila wiped her cheeks and smiled gratefully. "Mila, you make me feel really special. Every time I see you I get this tingling feeling, and I can't help but smile. You make it worth getting up and going to school, and when I write songs, you're the one that inspires me. You just make me feel whole."

Mila was crying even harder. "That's the sweetest thing I think anyone has ever said to me, but...." her voice trailed off.

"But," he prompted.

"But you don't do those things for me," she concluded. Owen's face fell. "Owen, I'm so sorry. I just think it would be best if we were just friends. I care about you, but more like a brother than a boyfriend. I think what we have is better than that."

He rolled his eyes. "Better. Right."

She turned away from him. "So I guess this means we can't be friends anymore."

"I didn't mean that!" Owen said quickly. "I only told you how I felt because I thought it was important for you to know. I didn't want to go through life thinking 'what if?' But I would rather have kept my feelings hidden forever than lose your friendship."

Mila smiled through her tears. "I'm glad to hear that."

There was a long, awkward silence. "Well, I guess I better, uh, go help Sydney," she said, shuffling her feet.

Owen didn't meet her eyes. "Yeah, um, I'll go see if Saja's all right."

The two turned and walked away from one another, both knowing that things would never quite be the same between them again.

Saja shuffled his feet when he, Sandy, Jimmy, and Callie left Sydney's house and stood outside in the brisk winter air. "This isn't how I thought I'd be spending my first few hours of the year," Saja muttered to himself. He walked a few steps ahead of the group and Sandy followed him.

"You know you have to go home and tell your parents. Your sister could be in real danger right now!" Sandy told him in a slightly scolding tone. Saja didn't seem to be making any moves to rescue Sophia.

"I'm just so mad at her right now! She gets me all involved in this stupid lie to my parents, and now she's probably off skiing on some hidden trail and scaring everyone half to death! When is she going to stop thinking of herself? I'm going to get in so much trouble!" he exclaimed, running his hands through his hair and then rubbing them together to keep warm.

"Saja, you're the one right now who's only thinking of himself. How could you be worried about getting in trouble when your sister could have really hurt herself?" Sandy was growing angry. As much as she cared about Saja, he wasn't being his usual wise self.

He was silent for a minute, turning her words over in his head. "You know, you're right, Sandy. I really have to think of Sophia right now, even if I'm going to put a curse on her the moment she gets home."

Sandy gave him a small smile.

"I guess I better get going then. Wish me luck."

She squeezed his hand. "Good luck."

A few yards away, Jimmy paced the snow-covered ground in front of Callie.

"Sophia's always causing trouble," Jimmy said to no one in particular as he passed by Callie.

"Maybe," Callie agreed. "But I know you're still worried."

He stopped his pacing and crossed his arms in front of him. "No, I'm not," he replied unconvincingly.

"Jimmy, it's okay," she assured him. "She could really be in trouble."

"Yeah, I know." He was silent for a few moments. "I mean, after everything that's happened with her, I'm still sort of worried."

Callie wordlessly took his hand.

A few moments later Sandy went back into Sydney’s house, and Saja approached his friends.

"Are you ready to go?" Callie asked him.

Saja nodded. "I guess it's time for my justice to be served."

Sandy picked up shards of broken glass and sighed. "I hope Saja's okay."

Sydney groaned. "I know you do. You've said it about fifty times!"

"Well, I-"

"Don't talk," Sydney commanded. "Just clean."

"Sydney, your mother isn't going to be home tonight. What's the big deal?" Sandy wondered.

Sydney picked up a pile of dirty plates. "Ralph is. Look at this place!" She heard someone clear their throat behind her, and she dropped her fistful of paper plates. "Ralph!" she gasped.

"Yes, Miss Sydney. I see you and Miss Sandy have made quite the mess here."

Sydney leapt to her feet. "I can explain..."

"Oh, I am sure that you can," Ralph replied, "and maybe you should start by explaining why you threw a rather large party when your mother told you that you could only have a small gathering."

Sydney's eyes slowly widened. "You're not going to tell her... are you?"

"Well, I-"

"She won't like that you left me here so you could hang out with Mr. Han, you know," Sydney pointed out coyly.

Ralph gave Sydney a cross look. "Shall we call it even then?"

Sydney smiled. "Thanks Ralph."

Owen flicked on the light in his studio and sat down at the keyboard. He pressed a few of the keys, the notes not making any kind of harmony. It matched his mood though--off key and disjointed. He spun around in the chair and looked at a picture of him, Sandy, and Mila, taken right before the big concert in the fall. Things were so simple then. He had his unrequited secret infatuation with Mila, and if that didn't work out he could always fall back on Sandy, who had had a crush on him. But now things were so complicated. Sandy had a quasi-relationship with Saja, and Mila knew his feelings, and they were still unrequited.

How was he going to face her? Owen groaned, imagining running into Mila in the halls, at lunch, when they were practicing. She would think everything he did and said was to make her like him. And she would give him a strained smile, showing her obvious disinterest and slight annoyance with him. Slowly they would stop hanging out, and Sandy would get caught up with Saja, and next thing he would know, the band would break up and he'd have no friends left.

Owen stood up and shut off the lights. His life was officially over.

Once they arrived at the DeCastro house, Saja put his key in the door and let himself and his friends inside. Jimmy and Callie hung back while Saja called into the living room.

"Mom? Dad?"

Mr. and Mrs. DeCastro appeared in the foyer. "Saja," they said sternly.

He winced.

They began speaking in Japanese, raising their voices with each syllable. Saja tried to get a word in, but his parents cut him off and continued yelling at him.

"Where have I seen this before?" Callie muttered under her breath, thinking of the way that Sophia had insulted her in another language at the club dance last summer.

Jimmy grunted in reply.

A few moments later Saja returned in the front hallway. "Edward called my parents. They're organizing a search party right now. They know everything. They know about her spending the weekend with her boyfriend, they know there was no college visit, and they know I lied to them."

"I guess we better go," Callie said, glancing at her watch. "It is after all one in the morning."

Saja put his hand on his friends' shoulders. "Wait. Do you guys want to drive up to Vermont with me and my parents?"

Jimmy rose his eyebrows at Callie, thinking about the offer. "I guess we could... do you want to?"

She nodded. "I think it'd be nice for us to help them out with the search party. Do you think your parents are going to mind?"

Saja shrugged. "Maybe somehow, this will make it up to them. Come on, let's get going. I've got to find her!"

Mila knocked on Sydney's door, looking at her watch. It was already two in the morning, but she had walked through the cold all the way to her house from Sydney's and was so restless that she had to turn around and walk back. She was so freaked out about what Owen had told her that she needed to talk to someone. She had seen Grant at the party... an encounter that brought a smile to her face. However, Owen's declaration of his feelings for her had clouded that memory. She had always suspected that maybe he had a slight thing for her. After all, every time she was around Owen seemed to forget his own name. But they had been such good friends that Mila didn't think it mattered. Now there was this roadblock between them. No matter what they did, he would always feel rejected by her.

She knocked again. Sydney pulled open the door, a scowl on her face.

"What do you want?" she snapped, rubbing sleep out of her eyes. She was still dressed in her party clothes, and she looked like she had just crashed after everyone had left. Sandy appeared behind her.

"Oh, Sandy, I didn't know you were here," Mila said with surprise.

"I couldn't sleep," Sandy explained. "You know, after everything with Saja."

Mila nodded. "I understand."

"That's nice," Sydney said in an irritated tone. "Now is there anything else you need?"

"I just want to talk," Mila replied, wrapping her coat tightly around her.

"Well, come on in," Sydney said, stepping away so Mila could go inside. "I guess the more the merrier."

Mila walked inside the Rutledge house and Sandy, Sydney, and she sat down on the sofa in the living room. "So, what's your problem?" Sydney asked. "I've already heard all of Sandy's traumas; now let me hear yours."

Mila was silent for a minute. "It's just that tonight, at midnight, Owen told me how he felt. He said he's been in love with me since first he met me. I just don't know what to do!"

Sydney covered her mouth and tried not to laugh. "Do you feel the same way about him?"

"No. I mean, Owen is a wonderful guy. But I don't feel anything more than friendly towards him. I really wish he hadn't told me. I think this is going to really hurt our friendship."

The color drained out of Sandy's face. "Oh, no," she whispered.

Sydney and Mila's attention was diverted to her. "'Oh no', what?" Mila asked.

Sandy stood up; she didn't want to see the look on Mila's face. She thought back to her conversation with Owen the afternoon before the party:

Sandy sighed, and flopped down at the seat behind Owen’s keyboard. "You haven't been listening at all! We need to practice to play a set for the party tonight."

His reply was a blank stare.

She rolled her eyes. "What's wrong with you today?"

Owen got up and crossed the room. "I can't really say," he answered vaguely.

She walked next to him. "Come on Owen, you can tell me. We're friends."

He was silent for several moments, contemplating whether or not to tell Sandy. "You know that I've sort of... liked Mila for awhile?"

She smiled at him coyly. "Hadn't noticed."

"I think I'm going to tell her tonight," Owen suddenly concluded. "I'm tired of waiting around while she goes through boyfriend after boyfriend. I'm going to tell her the first minute of 1993."

Sandy rose her eyebrows. If Owen had declared this during the summer, she would have been heartbroken. But so much had changed since the summer, and she had Saja, and could accept that Owen had feelings, strong feelings, for Mila. "I think that's a good idea," she told him finally. "I mean, it feels good to stand up and get what you want," she said wisely. She had learned standing up for herself was the best feeling in the world.

"So you think it's a good idea?"

She nodded. "Definitely."

Owen twirled his drumsticks between his fingers and bounded towards the door. "Then I'm going to go get ready for the party!"

"I uh...." Sandy’s voice trailed off. "I kinda told Owen he should tell you."

The unfamiliar sights whizzed by the window of the DeCastro's sedan window. Callie shifted uncomfortably in the backseat, and glanced over at Jimmy. She stifled a giggle. He had fallen fast asleep, and his head was bobbing back and forth. Callie had to quickly look over at Saja for fear that if she looked at Jimmy any longer she would burst out laughing--and the somber atmosphere in the car was not conducive to laughter.

Saja was staring out the window, cracking his knuckles. Callie had never seen him so quiet. He usually had a theory and spiritual theology on every situation he found himself in. But this time the ninja warrior was mute.

In the front seat Mr. and Mrs. DeCastro were silent. All that could be heard in the car was the tired gliding over the freeway at seventy miles an hour, speeding towards Vermont. They had been driving for over an hour, and Callie kept wondering when they were going to reach even signs of Vermont. She had never been in this area... and it was honestly making her a little nervous. She hadn't driven along the New England coast in the back of a car since...

"Here's the lodge Edward told me they were at," Mrs. DeCastro said hollowly. She pulled the car into the driveway of a snow-covered building. Callie hadn't even seen it come over the horizon. She must not have been paying very close attention.

"Jimmy," she called, poking him in the side.

He snorted, and then woke up. "We're here?" he asked groggily.

The five filed out of the car and trudged up to the lodge, Saja ahead of his parents and friends. "Please let her be okay," he pleaded softly. "Please."

Danathan loosened his tie and tossed it onto the night stand. His drive to the outskirts of Swans Crossing had taken a long time; the roads between his small apartment and Sydney Rutledge's sprawling mansion were slippery. Nonetheless he had managed to maneuver his run down Honda (which he had hidden a few blocks away from the Rutledge's) all the way home in around an hour.

"Nice to see you finally made it."

He looked up, and gave a coy smile to the female sitting at the dining room table, wearing a white shirt and jeans.

"The roads were bad," he stated simply.

"So how promising does it look?" she asked, crossing the room to greet him.

He turned slightly away. "It looks good. This is really the perfect town for our plan."

The girl tucked a strand of her red hair behind her ear. "Yes. There's something about this little ‘burb. I somehow knew this was the perfect place for me to end up. It was like I was drawn to it somehow."

Danathan groaned, noticing that familiar, faraway look in her eyes. "Anyway," he said, quickly changing the subject, "I think we'll have what we need in no time."

She smiled. "The perfect way to start 1993."

Sophia drew in a shaky breath. She'd been out in the cold for what felt like centuries, and her shivers had turned into violent shakes.

"Edward!" she yelled hoarsely. Her boyfriend was nowhere to be found... and neither was Beth, the friend she had been skiing with when she decided to try the expert's trail. Next thing Sophia knew she was lost. She kept skiing... figuring she'd find her way back to the lodge. But her foot slipped and she took a tumble... twisting her right ankle.

She dug her pole into the snow in a futile attempt to lift herself up. She yelped in pain, and collapsed back into the snow.

"Edward!" she yelled again. She cursed him under her breath. Some boyfriend, Sophia thought to herself. He hasn't made any attempt to rescue me. The minute I get back to the lodge I'm going to have to have a talk with him... her thoughts drifted off. "If I return," she whispered as a cold gust of wind swept through the trees.

Sophia shivered again, and felt light-headed. "What a way to start the new year," she said bitterly as everything went black.

Sorry about the delay Swans Crossing fans... but I promise to get more chapters out once school calms down a little bit!

Chapter Thirty-Four

Saja walked nervously up the steps of the lodge. He saw a group of seniors from school, all friends of his sister's, gathering on the front porch.

"Hey! It's Sophia's family!" a short brunette girl exclaimed. The tall, blond guy on her arm whispered something to her, and the group of teenagers sauntered over.

"Have you heard anything?" Mr. DeCastro asked them.

They all chorused no, and Edward stepped out onto the porch, a cordless phone in hand.

Jimmy recognized the tall, dark-haired boy as the one who Sophia had dumped him for. He remembered the Swan club dance last summer when Edward had stood Sophia up, and she had turned to Jimmy for advice and support. He assumed they had patched things up. Although he felt no animosity towards Edward, he still slipped his arm around Callie... as if to make a point.

"I just got off the phone with the rescue team. There's no sign of her yet," Edward said monotonously. "But they're sending out a helicopter to check the area Beth saw her last."

Beth, a thin girl with curly black hair, sighed. "This is all my fault! I never should have left her alone up there!"

"No! It's all my fault. I'm the one who organized this stupid ski trip in the first place," Edward declared, burying his head in his hands.

Anger built up deep inside Saja. He pounded his fist into the wall next to the entrance. "No!! Don't you see? I'm the one who lied to my parents and went against every moral and belief I have! It's all my fault!" He turned on his heels and marched into the lodge, slamming the door behind him.

"I can't believe you encouraged him!" Mila exclaimed, raising her voice several octaves.

Sandy quickly jumped to the defensive. "Hey, I didn't know you'd hurt him. He had genuine feelings for you! I thought he shouldn't go another year without telling you!"

Sydney cleared her throat. "As much as I really want to hear this, I'm going to go get some hot chocolate. I have a feeling this is going to be a long night."

Her friends took no notice of her, and she went into the kitchen. She never spent much time in her kitchen, as Ralph did almost all of the cooking, but she was able to locate some hot chocolate and she put some on the stove. As she was stirring it, she noticed something on the floor near the back door. When walked closer, she realized it was a piece of paper, and she curiously picked it up.

Her name was scrawled across the front in an unfamiliar handwriting. She tore it open, and read it quietly to herself.

"'Thank you for the lovely time. I'm sure to see you soon. Love'," she paused and her voice caught in her throat, "'Danathan'."

As the other people on the porch followed Saja into the lodge to go wait for news, Jimmy pulled Callie aside.

"Hey, Walker Woman, I've got an idea."

Callie smiled. "Did it come to you in your sleep?" she teased.

He shook his head at her. "I'm not really one for sitting around and waiting. Why don't you and I hit the slopes and look for her?"

"Clayton, it's two thirty in the morning!" she pointed out.

"So? Come on, we've braved the Walker Estate at night, have been held hostage, escaped a sinking sub, and lived on the lam in the middle of Brazil. I think we can handle a ski slope at two in the morning," he said, chuckling a little at recalling all the outrageous things he and Callie had been through the past year. "We haven't had an adventure in awhile."

"My dad is going to kill me, but what the heck?" Callie conceded, always ready for an adventure. "But, it's dark. Do we have a flashlight or something?"

Jimmy thought for a moment. "I think the DeCastro's have a flashlight in the trunk. But the trunk's locked."

A sly smile spread across Callie's face. "I can take care of that."

A few minutes later, she had pried the lock open with a pin. They grabbed the flashlight that was in the back, and started walking off into the night.

Sydney tucked the note into her pocket. The last thing she needed to think about right now was Danathan. She had Garrett, and things were finally going smoothly between them. She didn't want to mess that up for anything... especially a handsome, but potentially dangerous young man.

She poured her hot chocolate into a mug and went back into the living room. Things seemed to have quieted down. Mila was sitting on the couch, her head hanging off the end, and Sandy was sitting cross legged in front of her. "I just don't know how things will ever be the same, you know?"

"You really shouldn't worry," Sandy told Mila in response. "Owen's a pretty strong guy. He's not going to change your friendship just because you know how he feels."

Sydney sat down next to them and sipped her hot chocolate. "Yeah, Mila. I've known Owen a long time. He handles rejection very well."

Mila sighed. "Can we talk about something else?"

Sydney nodded. "How about Grant? How are things going with you two?"

Mila shrugged. "We had a good time tonight at your party. He asked me to dance a couple of times."

"Then that's definitely a sign that he likes you," Sydney told her.

"I don't know. He seems like he likes me one minute, and then the next he's sort of quiet around me. I just can't read any of his signals," Mila said discouragingly.

"Isn't Grant kind of old for you, Mila?" Sandy asked.

Both girls turned their attentions towards her. "He's not that old," Sydney pointed out.

"He's a freshman in college. You're a sophomore in high school. I just don't see how that could work out... even if he does like you," Sandy remarked.

"Oh, and now you're the expert on May/December romances?" Sydney snapped.

Sandy jumped to her feet. "Just because your mother isn't home and you threw an out of control party that's going to get you in trouble or whatever else is bothering you doesn't mean you have to take it out on me." Sandy grabbed her purse. "I think I'm going to get some sleep at home."

Sydney watched her leave, not even a bit surprised. These outbursts were becoming typical of Sandy. "So Mila," she asked, "want some hot chocolate?"

The beam from Callie's flashlight led the way as she and Jimmy trekked through the snow. It was bitterly cold outside, and she was beginning to lose feeling in her face.

"Sophia!" Jimmy called out loudly. "Sophia!"

"I don't think she's going to be able to hear you, Jimmy," Callie pointed out. They continued walking, climbing over snow banks in a unsuccessful attempt to find a ski trail. They had lost all signs of other skiers. No one had skied in this area for awhile... there were no tracks. Callie shone the light on a nearby tree, and saw a bright orange rope tied around it.

"Haven't we seen that tree before?" she asked slowly.

Jimmy stopped and studied it for a moment. "I, uh...."

"Yes?" she prompted, knowing what his answer was going to be.

"I think we're lost."

After cooling down, Saja went over to the table where his parents were sitting, drinking cup after cup of coffee and asking every five minutes if there was any news. "Mom? Dad?"

His parents looked up, and gave him a strained half-smile.

"Look, there's something I want to tell you," he began.

"Saja, I really don't think this is the best time," Mrs. DeCastro said.

"No, I really need to tell you this," he insisted. "See, I really wanted to tell you what Sophia was doing this week. It's so hard because even though she and I fight all the time, I care about my sister. And on one hand, if I had told on her I would have gotten her grounded, but would have avoided her being missing. I was faced with quite a dilemma... and I made the wrong decision. It is a wise man that can learn and admit his mistakes. So I want you to know that I offer you a thousand apologies."

"Thank you son," Mr. DeCastro replied cordially. "It means a lot that you know what you did wrong. But when we find your sister we're still going to have to ground you two."

Callie stomped her foot angrily in the snow. "I can't believe we're lost! How could this have happened?"

"Well," Jimmy said, scratching his head, "it is dark, and everything out here looks the same."

"This was such a stupid idea! Now not only are we not going to find Sophia but we're going to have to call in a search party for ourselves too!" Callie snapped. She was tired, and this setback was making her irritated.

"Oh, so it's my fault for coming up with such a stupid idea?" Jimmy asked defensively.

She nodded. "Yeah! I mean, who are we? Why should we be the ones to go find her?"

"Well, they haven't found her yet. And we're her friends," he explained.

"Hardly," Callie muttered.

"What was that?"

"I just mean she and I aren't exactly the best of friends," she said.

Jimmy rose his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh, so since you don't like her you want to just leave her out here to freeze to death?"

Callie reached up and massaged her temples. "Can we stop this fighting? I just want to hurry up and find her so I can go home and go to bed!"

He stooped down and picked up something lying in the snow. "Well, would you look at this?" he held up a blue ski hat. "We were so busy arguing we missed this clue."

"Do you think it's Sophia's?" Callie asked.

"It might be." Jimmy took her hand. "Come on, let's go!"

Saja and his parents ran outside when they heard the wailing sirens of an ambulance. Callie and Jimmy stood outside, and the paramedics were lifting his sister into the vehicle.

"Is she okay?" Mrs. DeCastro asked worriedly.

"Yes Ma'am. She'll be all right. The only bone broken is in her ankle, and although she was unconscious for a little while there she's doing well now. We're going to take her to the hospital for observation, and to make sure there was no frostbite. But your daughter's very lucky. These kids really had the right idea going to look for her," the doctor explained.

The DeCastro's heaved a sigh of relief. Mrs. DeCastro said she wanted to ride in the ambulance with Sophia, and Saja jumped at the chance as well. Mr. DeCastro volunteered to drive Jimmy and Callie back to Swans Crossing, as their father's were probably worried by now... it was nearing three AM.

Saja stepped into the ambulance and looked at his friends. "Thanks for all your help!" he called to them.

Both smiled, happy to have helped. It turned out that Sophia was only a few yards away from where they had found her hat. Callie had gone back to get help and Jimmy made an effort to carry her to safety. Then the paramedics moved in, and found that Sophia was going to be all right. "No problem Saja!" Jimmy called back to his friend.

Saja turned to his sister and mother and grinned. "Happy New Year."

Upon arriving for the first day back at school after winter break, Sydney saw Nancy dragging her feet through the hall. "Hey Nancy!" she called to her friend.

Nancy came over to Sydney and gave her a pathetic smile. "Hi Sydney."

"Well, you sure look like death warmed over. What's going on?" Sydney commented as they started walking to class.

"It's Kevin," Nancy answered quickly, glad to have someone to listen to her. "He didn't make it to your New Year's party because he said he was sick, but he didn't call for the rest of the break!"

"Nancy. That was two days. I'm sure it doesn't mean anything," Sydney said, trying to sound encouraging.

"Maybe you're right. But I don't know how I'm going to skate! I feel so depressed, there's no way I'm going to be able to concentrate on the competition next week," she moaned. "I'm going to go to class."

"Later," Sydney muttered, her mind still stuck on what Nancy had just said. Even though she knew it was a horrible thought she couldn't help but contemplate it. If Nancy was so upset about Kevin not calling that she wasn't sure she was going to able to skate... what would happen if she and Kevin broke up?

In the library Neil pounded the keys on the keyboard. He was spending his lunch hour there, trying to come up with an equation. He and J.T. were supposed to go work at the University with Carolyn that afternoon, and even though their task was to work on writing up the equations for UB2B to be published in a scientific journal, he and Carolyn wanted to try and come up with a new project. His only idea dealt with electricity, which was the subject matter of his latest physics class. However, he wasn't sure what kind of theory he could come up with that hadn't been done, so he was working day and night to create something.

Things weren't quite going the way Neil had anticipated, and he pushed the keys in frustration... wanting desperately to hit upon a new discovery. Accidentally he hit a series of keys which opened a window. It was an e-mail to one of the teachers, who all had addresses on the school's network.

Although it wasn't in his nature to invade the privacy of another, the letter was right on the screen as plain as day. No one was near the computer, so he took a peek.

Dear employee:
In reviewing Swans Crossing High's expense report I have learned that the school has gone over budget on many of the new additions to the building as well as the lavish upkeep, the many teachers employed, and the expensive activities. There will need to be some dramatic cuts in Swans Crossing High's budget, which will be discussed at the next school board meeting. Please do not inform any of the students of this event; we do not want an uprise like the cut of '88. Thank you very much.
-- Superintendent Wallson

Neil's eyes widened at the information up on the screen. He knew that if any of the wealthy SCH students learned of this they would be extremely upset. He shut the e-mail quickly, not sure what to do about what he had seen.

Sydney sat down in the board room during her lunch hour. Because she was one of the sophomore student representatives, she had to make an effort to attend a few meetings with the student council, much to her dismay. She would much rather be at lunch with her friends and Garrett, whom she hadn't seen much of in the past few days.

The council called the meeting to order, and while the members debated whether or not to buy a new sofa for their meeting room, Sydney's thoughts wandered. So much was on her mind that she didn't know how to balance it all. Her mother was supposed to arrive home that evening from her "business" trip, and she wasn't sure how to act. She also had the upcoming skating competition, and her idea that could maybe help her chances of winning. And on top of all that there was that cryptic note left by Danathan... that he was sure to see her again soon. Even though he was an interesting person, and good looking, there was something about him that Sydney was unsure of. She couldn't quite place what it was, but she knew that there was something unusual about him.

"So what do you think, Sydney?" Amber Rider, the class treasurer, asked.

"Uh," Sydney faltered. "What do I think about what?"

She rolled her eyes. "Not much happens in the winter months, and I just moved to open the floor to some suggestions on activities we could hold in the near future."

Sydney thought about it for a moment. "Hmmm. Maybe we could organize some sort of charity benefit."

Some council members murmured in agreement. Sydney continued with the idea that was quickly forming in her head. "Yeah, we could pick some charities and hold all kinds of fundraisers during the week. There could be contests, a dance, a food drive..."

"Maybe we could hold a concert," someone suggested.

"Yeah, and a talent show!"

Dawn Carlsen, the student body president, stood up. "Well, since this was Sydney's idea--and a terrific idea it was--I think she should be the chairperson. All in favor?"

"Ay!" everyone chorused.

"All opposed?" No one replied. "Then it's settled. Sydney, you are in charge of making Swans Crossing High's first every charity drive happen!"

Sydney gave the council a strained smile. "Great."

Saja tapped his pencil on the side of his desk, making a soft rhythm... anything to keep him awake. He was sort of glad to be in school... life at home wasn't exactly very exciting. He and Sophia were grounded for lying, and his only solace was being at school. However, Mrs. Winters’ class wasn't very exciting either. He, Jimmy, and Callie, who shared the sociology class, were sitting together in the corner, only half-listening to what Mrs. Winters was saying.

"Anyhow, as there are only a few minutes left of class, I would like to tell you about a project that you're going to have due in a couple of weeks," she announced, gathering some papers on her desk. A few students groaned.

She passed out descriptions of the project to the class, and Callie glanced down at her sheet. "Family Tree Project" it said in big bold letters at the top.

Oh no! she thought to herself in panic. Her stomach dropped, and she quickly glanced around to make sure no one saw her reaction. I can't do this project! For her whole life she had avoided speaking of her family history, and now, all of the dark secrets of the Walker’s were going to be put on colored poster board and presented in front of the class. This was Callie's worst nightmare.

The bell rang, and the class jumped from their seats. Callie, however, still sat in her desk.

"Aren't you coming?" Jimmy asked.

Callie snapped back to reality, and looked up at him. "Um, actually, I have to talk to Mrs. Winters about this. Go on without me."

He agreed, and he and Saja stepped out into the hall. She gingerly stood up, and crossed the room to speak with her teacher.

"Mrs. Winters?" she said.

The woman looked up, and peered at Callie from behind her glasses. "Yes?"

Callie shifted her weight from one foot to another. She didn't really know her teacher very well, and she wasn't the person who she really wanted to confide in. "I, uh, I want to know if there is any chance I can be excused from doing this project."

Mrs. Winters chuckled. "Callie, this is a required part of the course."

"Yes, I know," Callie replied, her voice sounding strangled. "It's just that I really, really feel uncomfortable doing this."

"Then you need to get over your shyness. There's nothing to be nervous about. It's a simple project about your family."

"Fine," Callie muttered, gathering her stuff and leaving the classroom hastily before she got upset. Her mind was racing as she walked down the hall... trying to think of a way out of having to do this project. As she rounded a corner she saw Jimmy waiting for her by her locker.

"What are you doing? You're going to be late to class, you know," she told him in an effort to sound normal.

"I just wanted to see what's going on," Jimmy replied. "You seemed kind of upset in class."

"Well, maybe I was," she said testily.

"Do you... want to talk about it?" Jimmy asked cautiously.

"It's just that I really don't want to do this project," she stated.

He grinned. "Is that all? Well, neither do I. But you've got it much easier than I do." She gave him a blank stare. "I mean, you're an only child. You don't have a million brothers to write about."

Callie's face flushed. "Why does everyone assume I'm an only child?!" she yelled.

Jimmy looked very taken aback. His mind wandered back to the time over the summer when he and Callie had spent the afternoon looking at the clouds.

"Sometimes I wish I was an only child like you," Jimmy had remarked.

Callie bolted straight up in her chair and shot him a hard look. "How do you know I'm an only child?" she asked.

And now here she was... getting very defensive about the obvious... that she lived with her father, and it was just the two of them.

"What are you saying Callie?" Jimmy questioned her, staring at his girlfriend in confusion. "Are you saying you're not?"

Chapter Thirty-Five

Callie's mouth went dry and she quickly turned away from Jimmy. "Wha-what do you mean?" she faltered.

"Come on Callie; anytime the subject of siblings is brought up you freak out. So tell me... are you an only child or not?"

She rolled her eyes, quickly losing control. "I just hate it when people assume things."

Jimmy shook his head. "That's not it," he said, able to tell she was lying. "I've been to your house and it's pretty clear that the only people who live there are you and your dad. So what is it you're not telling me?" he approached her slowly. "Callie, I'm your boyfriend, I think I have the right to know."

Rage boiled within her. She kicked the locker near her, releasing some of the anger. "No you don't! This isn't anyone else's business but mine!" And with that, she took off.

Gathering her dark hair into a ponytail, Sydney got ready to go onto the ice. She was planning to get in some practice after school, as the competition was only a week away. Garrett sat on the bench, warming his hands on a cup of hot chocolate.

"You're going to do great Sydney!" he called. "Next week you're gonna sweep Nancy right off the ice!"

Sydney laughed and blew him a kiss. "Thanks for the pep talk, Booth!" She started out skating around the rink, and then moved to the center to try out some of her more complicated moves. She took a deep breath, pulled her arms close to her chest, and spun around in several dizzying circles. Garrett, thoroughly impressed, applauded.

Feeling more confident, Sydney decided to attempt her double axle, even though in the program she had coordinated for the competition the jump didn't come in until later. She spun around, and lifted her body and legs into the air. It was one of the most perfect starts she had ever had, and she was just about to land when she saw someone enter the park behind Garrett. It was Danathan.

Sydney landed on her right leg, her ankle buckled, and she tumbled to the ice. Garrett quickly jumped to his feet. "Sydney are you okay?!"

Brushing herself off, Sydney slowly got back on her skates. "I'm all right," she told him breathlessly.

His face was twisted with concern. "I'm going to go get your shoes," he said, heading in the direction of the warming house.

"Thanks," she replied, skating over to the bench. Danathan was waiting there for her. She looked him squarely in the eyes, and then glanced over her shoulder to see if Garrett was in sight. "What are you doing here?"

"Nice to see you too, Miss Sydney," he said with a grin. "Did you get my note?"

Sydney thought back to the cryptic letter he had left after her New Year's party. "Yes, I got it."

He grinned again. "Good. It looks like you need a little practice before your competition."

"How do you know about that?" she asked him, trying hard to stay calm. Something about Danathan seemed to creep her out... and he always knew things about her that she hadn't told him.

Danathan for once did not smile, but rather, looked at her seriously, his expression seeming kind of vulnerable. "I know a lot about you, Sydney."

"And why is that?" she said, her voice barely above a whisper. She looked again for signs of Garrett. Part of her desperately wanted her boyfriend to come rescue her, and half of her didn't him to see her with a handsome, older stranger.

"You intrigue me," he answered simply, giving her his charming smile. He saw Garrett coming out of the warming house, and knew he had to get out of sight. "Look, I better get going, but there's something I need to talk to you about." He handed her a card with his number on it. "Call me."

She shoved it into her pocket, but didn't respond. He turned around, and by the time Garrett handed her her shoes he was gone.

"Who was that?" Garrett asked, not recognizing Danathan from his backside.

Sydney felt the piece of paper in her pocket and sighed. "No one."

Glory watched J.T. sullenly stir his soda, which was quickly becoming flat. "Are you going to mope all day?"

He tapped his pencil on the side of his open calculus book and shook his head. "Nope. First, I'm going to do this homework... and then I'm going to mope all day."

She reached for his hand. "If I had known that trying to fix Neil and Carolyn up was going to cause this much trouble..."

"It's not your fault. I would have been happy if we had successfully fixed them up. But all he's done is replace me with her," J.T. remarked in a self-pitying tone.

"J.T," she said warningly. "Anyway, we haven't really done much to fix them up... yet."

He looked up at her. "What are you planning?" he asked, recognizing the slyness in her voice.

Glory was about to respond when Neil entered the soda shop. She smiled to herself... this couldn't have worked out any better! "Neil!" she called out to him.

Neil approached the table. "Hi guys. What's up?"

"Nothing much," Glory replied. "Sit. I actually wanted to talk to you for a minute."

Neil looked a little distracted. "I wanted to talk to you guys, too. I kept this in all day, and I can't take it anymore."

J.T. perked up. "What's going on Buckyball?"

"What would you say if I told you I knew that the administration was covering up something really big at school?" he asked with a devilish grin.

For the moment Glory forgot about her matchmaking plan. "I'd ask you to tell us more."

"Well, you guys have got to promise you won't say anything to anyone."

They nodded. "We won't."

"Okay. I was working on a new equation in the library for my new project with Carolyn," Neil explained. J.T. rolled his eyes. "Anyway, I accidentally hit the wrong button, and I got into one of the teacher's e-mail accounts."

"What did it say?" Glory asked.

"That the school is very much in debt, and there are going to have to be some budgetary cuts."

"Big scoop, Neil," J.T. said disappointedly, rolling his eyes again.

"But don't you see, Buckyball? They're trying to keep it a secret so none of us will cause an uproar like in 1988. Superintendent Wallson said so himself in the memo."

"What happened in 1988?" Glory asked.

"They had to cut a lot of money out of SCH's budget, and when the students found out that their music, sports, and other things were being cut they walked out, held protests..."

"Did anything to stand up for what they believe in that the school board would find disruptive," J.T. chimed in, finally understanding.

"Exactly. So they think now they can just keep it under wraps and no one will disrupt the learning process," Neil concluded.

"Well that doesn't seem fair!" Glory exclaimed. "Don't we have a right to know?"

"Yeah, you should take that information to the school board... or the school paper or something!" J.T. suggested.

Neil shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe. Anyway, don't say anything. I'll decide what I'm going to do later. Right now I've got to work on the new project."

J.T. rolled his eyes once more and glanced at Glory... who raised her eyebrows sympathetically.

Mila lay upside-down on her bed and twisted the phone cord around her finger. She giggled. She and Grant had been on the phone for around half an hour already, and she couldn't believe how wonderfully it was going. He called to chat, apologizing for not being able to talk much at Sydney's party. She had been worried that he hadn't liked being around her, so she was so happy to hear from him. He then launched into a million different humorous stories about his awkwardness at parties growing up. This was a different side to Grant Booth. He was still charming and polite, but she was able to see his funny and more vulnerable side.

Her call waiting beeped, and she cut into his anecdote. "Grant? Can you hang on a second?"

"Sure," he agreed.

She pressed the button down. "Hello?" Mila answered.

"Uh, hi Mila. It's Owen," he said in a quiet voice.

"Hi Owen," Mila replied awkwardly. "What's going on?"

There was a long silence on his end of the line. "I uh, was wondering if you would like to come by the studio and practice for an hour or something."

She quickly glanced around her room. "Gee Owen, I would really like to, but," her eyes fell on her chemistry book, "but I have some chemistry homework to catch up on. Can we do it another time?"

"Sure," he agreed.

"Great," she said.

"So, uh, I'll talk to you at school tomorrow then?" he asked.

"Yeah. I really better go and do that homework," she lied.

"All right. Bye."


She switched onto the other line. "Hi Grant, I'm back."

"Hey! Who called?" he asked.

"Just a friend," Mila quickly replied. "Now, what were you saying?"

Sydney tossed her ice skates in the hall closet and started up the stairs to her room. She wanted to go to bed and not think of the odd meeting with Danathan in the park.

"Sydney?" Mayor Rutledge said, emerging from the living room.

"Mother!" she exclaimed with surprise. She embraced her. "How was your trip?"

Mayor Rutledge kept her daughter enveloped in her arms. "It was very trying, and I'm glad to be home. Did you have a nice party?"

She thought back to how the Rutledge mansion was in shambles only a few nights before. "Yeah, it was fun."

"Well, good. Now I want to hear all about your week over the delicious dinner Ralph has prepared," she told her, taking Sydney's arm and leading her towards the dining room.

"I want to hear about your week too," she quickly said, prying for details on Mayor Rutledge's mystery man.

"Oh, I'm sure you won't find anything interesting about my week," she replied nonchalantly, stepping a few paces ahead of her daughter.

"I don't know about that," Sydney muttered before following her mother.

"I told you this was gonna happen!" she exclaimed, tossing several plastic shards in Danathan's direction. Danathan had just walked in the door and already she was starting with him. He picked up the pieces of her ATM card and examined them.

"What happened?" he said angrily.

She scowled. "You think they wouldn't find out? I filled out three hundred dollars in empty deposits, put them in the machine and took the money. Then I tried to do it again and the machine ripped up the card."

"So get a new one." He rolled his eyes.

"I tried that," she snapped. "I went into the bank and they said for the rest of my life I have to do all my business with them in person. So there goes that idea."

He was silent as he loosened his tie and sat down.

"That deal better be going through soon, Danathan," she told him warningly.

He thought back to his brief meeting with Sydney in the park. He could tell he was getting under her skin, which was an important part of the plan. "Don't worry. It'll all be over soon."

Garrett walked into the Booth house and was surprised to see the whole family sitting in the living room. Since the Booth's recent financial woes they hadn't been spending much time together.

"What's going on?" he asked suspiciously.

"I have some good news," his father announced. The rest of the family, who already knew what he was about to say, smiled widely.


"Well, my stock portfolio got a boost today." He saw his son's eyes light up. "However, this doesn't mean we're in the clear yet," he added.

"What your father is trying to say is that we're on the road to recovering the money we lost in the election," Mrs. Booth interjected.

Garrett let out a whoop, and went around the room to hug all of his family members, even his brother.

Something occurred to Grant as the family was talking excitedly about having money once again. "I guess this means I can finish up the semester back at school."

His father nodded. "Yes, that's exactly what it means."

Grant's face fell. "Great."

Sydney was quickly growing bored of Nancy's conversation. She had been moping non-stop about Kevin.

"I just don't get it Sydney. Why hasn't he called?" she asked for the umpteenth time. "And don't say, ‘maybe he's been busy’, because that's exactly what Mila said."

"I wasn't going to say that," Sydney told her slowly, carefully thinking through her words. "Mila is far too naive. When a guy doesn't call... it's usually for a reason."

Nancy sniffed. "Is that what you really think?"

"I'm sorry," was all she could say. Nancy mumbled something about having to get off the telephone and quickly hung up.

As Sydney listened to the hum of the dial tone she felt sort of bad for dashing Nancy's hopes. Then she looked at her dresser and imagined the first place skating trophy sitting proudly there. She had to win. She was Sydney Rutledge.

Garrett grabbed his jacket and headed next door to tell Sydney the good news about his family's finances. As he approached the Rutledge's front door he heard some noises coming from the backyard. Carefully, he rounded the corner of the house to see what was back there. He heard more rustling, and then crunching in the snow.

His heart rate quickened. Someone was back there! As he entered the back of Sydney's house he saw a dark figure take off swiftly into the woods that surrounded No Man's Land.

"Hey! Get back here!" he yelled, but the figure was gone. Garrett regained his composure and went back to the door. He decided not to tell Sydney that someone may have been watching her; he didn't want to alarm anyone.

Callie kept her head lowered when Jimmy walked into the Tool n’ Die. She had been working on the same engine all afternoon, unable to concentrate on it or anything else.

"Hey Callie," he said quietly.

"Hello," she responded stiffly.

"So, uh, you're not going to kick anything else in, are you?" he asked jokingly.

She looked at him crossly. "Funny."

"You know, the locker really didn't deserve it," he teased.

"Jimmy," Callie warned.

He gave her a small smile. "I got you to talk, didn't I?"

"I guess," she admitted.

"Now can we please discuss what's going on with you?"

Callie said nothing in reply... unable to find the words.

"Look, I know it was a long time ago, but do you remember what I said to you the night we staked out the Walker Estate? About how you can talk to me?"

Callie's mind wandered back to that balmy summer night. Jimmy had just returned from the site where Saja had seen the bald man, and had found a single Band-Aid--their only clue. After Saja denied that it was his, they had discussed where it may have come from.

"A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Band-Aid is right up your alley," Jimmy teased Saja. Then he turned to Callie. "Did your grandfather ever wear Band-Aids?"

"I wouldn't know," Callie said quietly.

"You never knew him?"

"No, he stayed in the Walker Estate and I never came to Swans Crossing," she explained.

"Rumor was he burned down the house, went down with it, and no one ever found him. True?" he asked.

"Hey, you seem to know it all," Callie said wryly.

"Walker Woman," Jimmy began, sensing the sadness in her voice. "Someday when something comes up that makes you uncomfortable... share it, don't back off." He offered his hand out to her.

She placed her hand in his. "Thanks for understanding."

Callie gave him a weak smile. "Yeah, I remember. But I think this makes me a little more than uncomfortable."

Jimmy put his arm around her affectionately. "You don't have to talk if you don't want to, but I'm here if you feel like it. Anything you say won't change a thing between us. I'll always support you."

"There's so much you don't know about me... and my family," she began slowly. She sighed. "There's so much no one knows. But..."

"But?" he prompted gently.

"I'm just so tired of keeping secrets." Callie started pacing, her heart beating quickly, her hands shaking. "Jimmy, I..."

"Yes?" he whispered, somehow sensing that what she was about to tell him was going to be monumental.

She took a deep breath. "You're right. I'm not an only child."

Chapter Thirty-Six

"You're what?" Jimmy asked, stunned at Callie's revelation.

"I'm not an only child. I mean, I'm the only one who lives with my father, but she's out there, somewhere," Callie said in a detached tone.

"A sister?" Jimmy guessed.

At this, Callie's eyes watered. "Yes. I have a sister."

Jimmy reached for her hand to comfort her, but she continued pacing.

"It was a late night, near the holidays. I was around two years old, but I remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday," she began her story in a steady voice. "I was born in a small providence in Canada, where every night at this time you could see the Northern Lights. I had a mother. And a sister. We were driving in, of all things, a station wagon." She let out a bitter laugh. "My life was so normal then."

Jimmy stopped her from pacing and took her into his arms. Both were having a difficult time with the emotional subject matter.

"We were driving towards Swans Crossing to see my grandfather," Callie continued. "Obviously we never made it. The roads were slippery, and my dad was having a hard time controlling the car. My mother, Leda Walker, was upset. I... I don't know why. My sister and I were in the back seat. I was strapped in. Vanessa had unbuckled herself." Callie pulled out of Jimmy's embrace and looked up at him, her brown eyes gleaming. "That was her name. Vanessa Walker. She was three years older than me. Vanessa was being loud, distracting my father from driving and making my mother more upset. Dad yelled at Mom, told her to calm Vanessa down. She was upset," Callie repeated, "so she listened. From my car seat I watched her reach down and release her seat belt. It happened in slow motion. She turned around, trying to buckle Vanessa in. At that exact moment my dad hit black ice and the car went spinning, around and around. I'll never forget how it sounded," she whispered, hearing it once again in her head... the squeal of tires, the crunch of metal... it screamed in her head at an ear-shattering pitch as it often did in her nightmares.

"Callie?" Jimmy whispered, seeing the faraway and panicked look on her face. "Are you all right?"

She nodded, collected her thoughts, and continued. "After the accident my father pulled me from the car. He left me on the side of the road as he went back for Vanessa and Mom. It felt like an eternity standing out there in the dark. I was all alone... and it was so dark."

"Is that why you're afraid of it now?" Jimmy asked.

"I never thought of it that way," Callie admitted. "I guess it must be." She lifted herself up onto the counter and ran her fingers through her curly hair.

"So what happened to them?"

"My mom was killed instantly in the crash," Callie declared in a flat voice.

"I'm sorry," Jimmy said, trying to console her.

"There's nothing you can do. It's just reality," Callie replied... almost as if she was convincing herself of it.

"Was Vanessa... killed too?" he questioned her carefully, hesitating at the word "killed".

"Honestly, I don't know. Dad went back for her, and she wasn't there. The paramedics, the police, they never found a body."

"So at five years old she ran away from the accident site?" Jimmy asked incredulously.

"That's what my dad's convinced of. Why do you think we've moved around all this time?" she pointed out.

"You mean you've been looking for her for all these years?"

She nodded. "Dad's hired every private investigator he could. She'd be eighteen now," she added wistfully.

"Do you think she's still alive?"

She shrugged. "I don't know what to think anymore." Callie sighed and slid off the counter. "So there you have it. The pathetic story of my life."

Jimmy stared at her, feeling such admiration for her bravery, and so sorry for what she'd been through. "Oh Callie," was all he could say.

"I guess you're pretty repulsed at my dysfunctional family," she muttered.

"Callie, you're the bravest person I know. I just wish there was some way I could help you." He gave her a half-smile. "I'd give anything to reunite you and your sister."

"My dad's been searching for years. I doubt we'll ever find her," Callie remarked pessimistically.

"Walker Woman, I know you don't want to do this family history project in school--"

"That's an understatement. They'd take one look at my paper and send me to be a guest on Geraldo."

"Just hear me out. Maybe by researching your family's history you could solve this thirteen year-old mystery," Jimmy suggested.

"Clayton, you're a dreamer," she told him before throwing her arms around his neck. Then whispered in his ear, "Thanks for being that way."

"I am so psyched," Sydney said excitedly, motioning with her free hand. "It's been awhile since the concert and I need something to organize."

Garrett smiled at her. He understood her craving for power. She had been talking nonstop about her charity event while the two walked hand in hand to class.

"I guess I'm going to talk to J.T. and Neil about it," she continued.

"Why? What could those techno geeks have to say about your charity week?" he asked, rolling his eyes.

"Remember? J.T. and Neil held their own benefit last summer. They must know something about fund raising," Sydney explained.

Garrett shrugged. "Yeah, I guess you're right." The bell rang, and he gently dropped Sydney's hand. "Hey, Syd, do you have a pen?"

She laughed. Garrett was always so disorganized. She reached into her pocketbook, her fingers reaching for a pen. She grabbed one and handed it to Garrett. "Here you go."

A piece of paper she had also grabbed floated to the floor. Garrett knelt down and picked it up. In red ink there was a telephone number, and the name "Dan" was scrawled across it.

"What is this?" Garrett questioned her in an accusatory voice.

Sydney's eyes widened when she saw the number Danathan had given her. "It's uh-- a contact. A number of someone I'm supposed to call about the benefit," she lied quickly.

Garrett's angry look melted away. He seemed to buy it, and handed her the number back. "You're such a go-getter," he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek before heading off to class.

Sydney heaved a sigh of relief. "That was close."

"This stinks," Nancy commented during her study hall, slumping down further in her chair.

Sandy looked up from her math homework. "I know, but you'll be okay," she said reassuringly.

Nancy sat up straighter. "You're right. I can't let this get me down. I have to stop crying."

Sandy gave her a half-smile. "Well, good for you."

Nancy's face fell. "But don't I have a reason to cry?" she asked in a small voice.

Sandy resisted the urge to groan and nodded sympathetically. "Of course you do. So cry."

Nancy sniffed and reached into her blazer pocket for a tissue. "He's really not worth it."

"Of course not," Sandy muttered in reply, continuing her homework.

"I mean, he worked in a stable," Nancy began.

"Such a second class boy," Sandy remarked sarcastically.

"And his hair?" Nancy said snootily, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

Sandy pursed her lips in an imitation of Nancy. "How dare he wear his hair like that?"

Blotting her eyes, Nancy sniffed again. "You don't like his hair?"

Sandy was growing annoyed having to placate to her. She put her pencil down. "I think his hair’s great. I think he's great!" she nearly shouted.

"Then why hasn't he called?" Nancy whined.

Sandy stood up.

"Where are you going?"

"To get some peace and quiet!" she replied. "And Nancy? Call him!"

Jimmy smiled when he walked into the library. Callie was already there, tapping a pencil against a book, half-listening to something Saja was saying.

"Hey you guys," he called, sitting down and taking Callie's hand under the table. She smiled up at him gratefully. "How's it going?"

Saja sighed. "Still grounded," he said mournfully.

"It's not the end of the world," Jimmy pointed out. Saja shrugged.

"I'm going to go get some books on Eastern teachings and ninjas," Saja announced, standing up.

Callie giggled. "Why? We're supposed to be researching our family history. I doubt there are any ninjas in your family."

"Well, not my immediate family," Saja said seriously, bowing to his friends before disappearing into the stacks.

As soon as Saja was gone, Jimmy turned to Callie. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

"I'm all right," she replied unconvincingly.

"I know you're still thinking about last night," he said.

"It's hard not to. I mean, before it was my problem. Now it's out in the open and I have to deal with it," she explained in a quiet voice.

"Are you sorry you told me?" he asked.

Callie stared into this eyes for a few moments, feeling so lucky that he was being incredibly supportive. "No. I'm glad I told you."

"So am I. I..." his voice trailed off shyly. "I feel like I know you more than I ever have before. I feel really close to you."

Callie lowered her eyes. "I feel close to you too. And it's almost hard because," her voice broke.


"My whole life I've never been close to anyone before. Since my sister disappeared and my mother was killed it was just me and my dad, and you know he's not the easiest person to talk to." She laughed sadly. "I never really even had friends until I came to Swans Crossing. But now here I am," she continued, almost talking to herself instead of to him, "and I have this incredible guy who knows everything about me now, and still," she looked up at him, "you still care."

Jimmy cocked his head. "Of course I care, Callie. I love you."

"I love you, too. This is just so hard."

"Well I'm here," he told her supportively. He looked at her, studying her sad, somewhat insecure eyes. There was something he wanted to ask her, something he'd thought about all night after he had taken her home. "Callie?"

She looked back up at him. "Yes?"

"You're probably not going to think I'm so incredible after I say this, and I want you to know this is only a suggestion and--"

Callie put her hand on his arm. "Clayton, you're babbling."

Jimmy drew in a deep breath. He wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing by breaching this subject with her, but he felt he had to. "Callie? What do you think about maybe getting some therapy?"

Her jaw dropped. She couldn't believe what he had asked. "You think I need to see a shrink?"

"So what do you think?" Sydney asked, having just told J.T. and Neil about her charity week plan.

"It's a really great idea, Sydney," J.T. answered slowly. "I mean, I think it'll be a great way to unite SCH. But honestly, you might have a hard time finding charity cases in a town like Swans Crossing."

Neil laughed. "Well, Buckeyball, you never know. After all, SCH appears to be a charity case itself."

Sydney narrowed her eyebrows. "What are you talking about?"

J.T. looked at Neil, not sure why he was telling so many people at school his discovery, but let him continue nonetheless.

"See, I found out through a teacher's e-mail that SCH is having budget problems," he explained, chuckling to himself. "If you really wanted to help people you should make the school your charity."

Sydney twirled a strand of her dark brown hair around her finger, deep in thought. "Hmm." She took a couple of steps away from them. "Thanks you guys."

"But we didn't even really talk!" J.T. called in protest.

Sydney was already halfway down the hall. "We'll talk another time," she said dismissively. She trotted to the student council lounge, the wheels in her head spinning. What a terrific idea Neil had! She could imagine how pleased the administrators would be when sophomore Sydney Rutledge solved all their budgetary problems.

She opened the door to the room and was glad to discover that the only other person there was a junior representative, somewhat of a slacker, sound asleep on the couch. Sydney rolled her eyes, and grabbed a fistful of markers and some paper. She began brainstorming ideas. Charity: Swans Crossing High's own failing budget, Sydney wrote precisely in purple ink. Weekly Events: dance, carnival, talent show. As her mind wandered, searching for more ideas, her eyes landed on the telephone. Then she thought about the phone number in her purse. Even though Danathan's presence creeped her out, there was something about him that made her curious... made her want to find out why he appeared in the park and told her to call him.

Glancing at the dozing junior who was still fast asleep, she picked up the phone, pulled out the number, and dialed it impulsively. It rang once, twice. On the third ring Sydney was about to hang up when a woman picked up.

"Hello?" she answered, sounding obviously annoyed.

Sydney didn't quite know what to say. "Is, uh, is Danathan there?" she sputtered.

The woman on the other line didn't reply, but covered the phone with her hand and shouted, "Danny! Phone!"

Sydney rolled her eyes. This was obviously a bad idea.

"Hello?" he said, coming onto the line.

"Hi," Sydney greeted him, not sure how to explain the reason she had called.

Danathan immediately recognized her voice. "Well, if it isn't Sydney Rutledge! I am so glad you called."

"You are?" she asked, taken aback by his chipperness.

"Yes. I wanted to see if you needed help with your charity week," he said smoothly.

"How did you know about that?" Sydney demanded, a chill running down her spine.

"Sydney, did it ever occur to you I know these things because I want to know about you?" he questioned her. His voice had a trace of vulnerability that did not match his usually aloof demeanor. His question hung in the air for a few moments, until Sydney continued, in a more friendly tone.

"So what could you, the mysterious med student, know about fund raising?"

"Well, I happen to have taken several business and accounting classes," he stated proudly.

"Ambitious," Sydney remarked, and then thought for a moment. It was up to her to organize nearly every facet of the charity week, since it was her idea. Now, she could have a student council member, like the napping one right before her, be the treasurer, or she could ask Danathan, who at least appeared professional, and had some life experience. "You know Danathan, I think that's a great idea."

She could almost hear him smile on the other end of the line. "Great! You won't be sorry."

She said good-bye, and hung up. "I hope not."

Callie stood up, slapping her palms against the table. "You think I need a shrink?!" she repeated loudly, and when a few other students looked up, she lowered her voice. "How could you even suggest that?"

Jimmy stood up with her. "Because I care about you. Now that I've heard what you've gone through maybe you should talk to a professional about it."

Anger gleamed in her eyes. "I've lived my whole life thinking about the sister I had that might still be out there. You've known about it for all of two seconds and suddenly you can fix me?"

Jimmy's stomach turned when he realized that mistake he had just made. Things between him and Callie were often slightly fragile. Sometimes they felt they could tell each other everything, and others, it was if a wall was erected between them. It wasn't a physical wall, like with Sydney and Garrett, but the implications were the same. If she was offended by his suggestion, he would cut her off again, just when they had seemed to finally break down that wall for good.

He touched her arm in an effort to calm her down. She didn't resist, and he took this as a good sign. "Listen Callie. I only thought seeing a psychiatrist might help things a little bit... you know, make it easier for you to deal with everything that's going on in your life. But I know you're strong. You're a lot stronger than I am, and you shouldn't do anything you don't want to do," he told her with a smile. Her lips twitched into a half-smile in return. "I hope I haven't ruined it for us. Our talking, I mean."

She shook her head and slowly sat down. "You haven't. It's just hard to hear your boyfriend say you need professional help."

Jimmy buried his head in his hands. "God, I'm an idiot!"

"Only sometimes," Callie said with amusement. "Anyway, I've been thinking, and although I'm not going to see a shrink," she shot him a pointed look, "I'm going to talk to my dad. He hasn't brought up Vanessa in ages, and now that I'm older I want some answers." She looked past him. "I want to know why he’s convinced that she's alive. If he still thinks that..."

Jimmy watched her turn these questions over and over in her head, feeling infinitely sorry for her situation. And determined. He wanted answers too.

When Glory pushed open Swans’ double doors her spirits were immediately lifted. The jovial atmosphere at the soda shop always put her in a good mood... even if she had just come from a grueling cheerleading practice.

She took a seat at the counter, waiting to meet Carolyn for a soda, who had yet to arrive.

"Glory!" a voice called. She looked up, and smiled at her brother, who was happily waving an envelope over his head.

"Hi Garrett," she greeted him.

"Look," he said, handing the envelope to her. "My last paycheck!"

"You quit?" she asked, concern tracing into her voice. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

He laughed, pretending to kiss the check. "Dad's business is in good shape and I don't have to clean syrup dispensers anymore. It sounds like a good idea to me!" Garrett gave Glory a big hug and started towards the door. "And now I'm off to spend some cash!"

Glory laughed and rolled her eyes. As Garrett left the diner, Carolyn entered. She waved once she spotted Glory, and headed up to the counter.

"Hey Glory, what's up?" Carolyn asked with a grin.

"Not much, but I was kind of wondering if I could talk to you about something," Glory said slowly, tucking a strand of her strawberry blond hair behind her ear.

"Sure. Go ahead," Carolyn replied amiably.

"Well, what do you think of Neil?" Glory asked.

At first, Carolyn seemed taken aback at her question. Then when she saw Glory's eyebrows raised and a sly smile on her face, Carolyn knew what she meant. A blush crept across her face. "Neil's... a nice guy," she said vaguely.

Glory nodded. "Yeah. He and J.T. have been friends forever, and he is a great guy. He's just a little shy," she commented, then added, "around girls."

Carolyn lowered her eyes. "I've kinda noticed that."

A grin spread across Glory's face. "But, you are the only girl who he's never issued a quarantine on."

Carolyn was quiet for a minute. "Really?" she finally asked with an involuntary giggle.

"You really should double with me and J.T. sometime. Neil is perfect for you. He's serious, and smart..."

Carolyn's grin turned into a frown as her eyes glazed over--as if she wasn't really a part of the conversation anymore. "Yeah," she said in a faraway voice. "But honestly Glory, I don't think I'm good enough for Neil."

Chapter Thirty-Seven

The phone on the wall rang over and over again while Callie stared it down. "I could be out," she rationalized over the incessant ringing. "I mean, I do go out."

"Callie!" Captain Walker boomed from down below. "Are you going to answer the phone? It's bothering me!"

She looked at it again. It was probably Jimmy, and although she wasn't still angry at him for his less-than-tactful suggestion, she hadn't asked her father about her sister and the accident. She didn't want to seem like a chicken. She was tough, but she just wasn't... ready.

"Hello?" Callie said, finally giving in to the phone's demands.

"Callie!" Sydney exclaimed in a mock scolding tone. "Your phone has been ringing off the hook. Where have you been?"

"I was out," Callie lied. "I do go out."

Sydney laughed. "Of course you do. But this is really, really important, so I'm glad I caught you."

Callie twirled the phone cord around her finger and grinned. She wasn't even annoyed by Sydney's pushiness; at least she didn't have to explain to Jimmy why she hadn't talked to her father yet. "What's up?"

"Well, to make a long story short I really need your help." She quickly brought Callie up to date on her charity fair idea.

"So what does this have to do with me?" Callie asked, not quite understanding.

Sydney sighed. "See, I asked Danathan to help me and--"

"Wait a minute? Who's Danathan?" Callie interrupted.

"I guess we haven't really talked in a while," Sydney said, laughing sheepishly. "See, Danathan is..."

"Yes?" Callie prompted.

"Well, I met him... and I kept seeing him..." She paused for a minute. "Gosh, I really don't know how to describe him!"

Callie raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying you like this guy?"

"No!" Sydney said quickly. "Of course not! I'm with Garrett, you know."

"I know. It just sounds like there's something there," Callie pointed out.

"Well there's not. He's just this guy that I met when you were in Brazil. He's sort of a friend, who just keeps appearing everywhere I go."

"Sounds kind of creepy to me," she told her honestly.

"Are you going to help me or not?" Sydney asked, growing annoyed at Callie's unsolicited opinions.

"I will. What do you want me to do?"

"I asked Danathan to help out with the treasury. Actually, he volunteered himself." Sydney could imagine Callie furrowing her brow with concern. "Before you say anything else, I am being cautious. That's where you come in. I don't know him very well, and I thought maybe you'd sort of keep an eye on him. You know, be his assistant or something. Are you good with numbers?"

Callie shrugged. "I guess."

"That's good enough for me. So you'll do it?"

"Why not?" she agreed. "It should be a good distraction," she added under her breath.

"Thank you so much! You're a great friend," Sydney said sweetly. "I'll be in touch with more details."

The girls said their good-byes, and Callie hung the phone up on the wall. Now that it wasn't ringing, she was faced with an even more demanding task... talking to her father.

Glory gave Carolyn a skeptical look. "Oh come on! You are so good enough for Neil! I think you'd be the perfect couple."

"I think you're getting ahead of yourself, Glory. There's a lot of stuff that you and Neil don't know about me, and I'm not sure if we'd be the next Swans Crossing super couple like you and J.T.," Carolyn explained self-effacingly.

Glory laughed. "Well, maybe so, but I still think you should give it a chance. How about if you and Neil double with the ‘super couple’ on Valentine's Day in a couple weeks? I'm sure we can think of something fun for us to do, and we'd all have a great time."

"You want to spend Valentine's Day with me and Neil?" Carolyn asked incredulously.

"Sure," she replied with a smile. "I'd spend any day to see Neil on a date."

Carolyn nervously played with the edge of a placemat on the counter. "What makes you think he'd even say yes?"

"I've seen the way he looks at you," Glory said confidentially. "He never seems to want to hang out with girls. Except for you."

Carolyn looked resigned. "Well, what have I got to lose? I'll do it."

Glory smiled triumphantly. "Great! This is going to be so much fun!"

Carolyn sighed, and did her best to smile in return. "I hope so."

Sandy drummed her fingers against the counter at the local music store while Owen wandered around, as if he was a little kid in a candy shop. She rolled her eyes in Mila's direction. "We'll be here for hours," she whispered.

Mila snickered. "But he's only got to get some new drum heads."

"It doesn't matter. It'll take him forever just to find them, and then he'll get distracted by something else." Sandy glanced over Mila's shoulder. "So, you and Owen are okay now?"

Mila sadly watched him shuffle through sheet music. "I guess so. Things are a little bit strained between us, but I suppose they'll eventually be all right. I mean, he liked me all summer and it never hurt our friendship, so now that I know how he feels it really shouldn't either."

Sandy nodded. "You're right. I'm going to wander around a little bit," she said, and then left to walk around the music store. As she stared up at the displays she sensed someone come up behind her.

"Do you need some help?" an employee asked.

Sandy smiled politely. "Oh, no. I'm just looking."

The girl stared at Sandy curiously. "Do I know you from somewhere?"

Sandy looked back at her. She had white blond hair, several holes in her ears, and ripped up jeans. Sandy doubted she had ever met her before. "I don't think so..."

"You're a singer aren't you!" the girl exclaimed. "Some local pop band, right?"

Sandy nodded slowly. There was something in the girl's tone of voice -- something condescending that made Sandy feel insecure and didn't make her want to talk about her band... the thing she was truly most proud of. "Yes, that's me," she said softly, and then turned on her heels to go back to the counter with Mila. She heard an amused giggle from behind her, making her feel about two inches tall.

Sydney took a plush terry cloth towel off the hook in her bathroom and wrapped it around her damp hair. Humming to herself, she went into her bedroom to examine a pile of clothing on her bed. It was Friday evening and Garrett had asked her to go out to dinner. They really hadn't been on a real date since homecoming, and she was immeasurably excited. She picked up a black, long sleeved dress and held it against her body. It looked good, but it was a little boring. Surveying all the clothes in her closet told her she was in desperate need of a shopping trip. She threw the dress aside and grabbed another garment. She was examining it when the telephone rang. She reached for it and answered, "Hello?"

"Hi Sydney."

Sydney stifled a groan and flopped down onto her bed. "Danathan. I'm sort of busy; can we talk later?"

"How does tonight sound?" he asked.


He cleared his throat, sounding a tad bit nervous. "I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me at the Swan Club. We can discuss the benefit."

Sydney caught sight of Garrett's framed picture on her vanity table. "I have a boyfriend, Danathan."

"I know," he said in an almost bitter tone. "That Booth boy."

Sydney didn't like the patronizing sound of his voice. "That's right. And we were actually going to go to the Swan Club tonight for dinner."

"What time?" he asked.

"Eight o' clock," Sydney responded slowly.

"Perfect. I'll see you guys then."

"Wait!" she shouted, but only heard the hum of the dial tone. "Great," she muttered, sensing this was going to be a huge disaster. She began dialing another number... of the one person who could help her in all the catastrophic situations she got herself into.

If I don't do it now I'm never going to do it, Callie thought to herself as she paced the floor of the sub. It's my dad after all. I can talk to him.

She drew in a deep breath and before she lost her nerve, she headed down the steps to where her father was working. "Dad!" she called.

Her father looked up. He was penciling something on a map, appearing to be hard at work.

"Can I talk to you about something?" she asked, nervously playing with the ends of her hair.

"Of course. What is it?"

She cleared her throat. "Well--" she began, and immediately was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. "Not again!" she groaned in frustration.

"That's the problem with having friends. They're always wanting something," Captain Walker said seriously. Reluctantly, Callie headed back up to the main deck.

"What?" she answered testily.

"Oh Callie! I'm so glad I caught you! You have to help me!"

Callie recognized those words immediately. They could only have come from... "Sydney," she sighed, irked at the untimely interruption. "What's going on now? I already agreed to help out with charity fair."

"I know. But I need something else. Something even more important than keeping an eye on Danathan," Sydney explained breathlessly.

"But it has to do with him... doesn't it?" Callie asked. Hearing the panic in Sydney's voice, she guessed that her friend was in over her head with this Danathan person.

"Yes," Sydney admitted. "See, he just called and said it was important for me to meet him for dinner tonight to talk about the benefit. With Garrett."

"With Garrett?" Callie repeated in surprise. "That's going to be comfortable."

"Do you think you could come along, too?" Sydney asked.

"You want me to come?" Callie said, stifling a groan. She wasn't really in the mood to socialize.

"Yes," she pleaded. "You ask Jimmy and we'll make it some sort of triple date or something."

"With Danathan by himself?"

Sydney shrugged. "I guess so. So will you come?"

Callie was silent for a moment.

"Please! I wouldn't ask, but this is going to be totally embarrassing as it is, and if I have you to back me up it would really help."

Callie wasn't sure why Sydney was asking her for all this assistance and not Mila or someone she was closer to, but she did sense that Sydney was in danger of getting in over her head like she had last summer. Maybe if Callie was there she could stop it before it started. Besides that, if she was out for the evening she'd have an excuse for not grilling her father about Vanessa. "All right. It sounds like it'll be... interesting," Callie agreed.

"Thank you so much! I'll meet you guys at the Swan Club at eight!"

Callie laughed and hung up the phone. She went to her bedroom to start getting ready for the evening. This was just the kind of distraction that she needed.

After her trip to the music store with Owen and Sandy, Mila checked out early on practice and went home. She was tired from a long week at school, cheerleading, and band practice. She just wanted to lay down on her big pink bed and do absolutely nothing.

As soon as the elevator door opened to her expansive room, she heard the ringing of the phone. She slowly went over to her desk and picked up the red high-heeled shoe and pressed the talk button.

"Hello?" she answered wearily.

"Hi Mila, it's Grant," he said in a friendly voice.

Mila's tiredness melted away. "Hi Grant! What's up?"

"How come you're home on a Friday night?" he asked curiously.

"Oh no reason," she answered demurely.

"Are you busy?"

"No," she replied with an excited giggle. Every time she talked to Grant she became very giddy.

"Well, how would you like to have dinner with me tonight?" he asked.

A date!! she thought to herself ecstatically. "I... I'd love to," she said with an eager smile. "What time?"

"How about in an hour? We'll go to Gicones," he told her.

"Gicones?" she repeated, her eyes widening. "Gicones is really expensive. Are you sure you can... afford it?"

"My dad's business is back on track, so I can definitely afford it," Grant explained.

"Well that's great!" she said happily.

Grant thought back to his conversation with his father earlier in the week.

"I guess this means I can finish up the semester back at school," Grant said after his father told him their family was financially stable again.

Mr. Booth nodded. "Yes, that's exactly what it means."

Grant's face fell. "Great."

"Anyway, would you like to go? There's uh... something I need to tell you," Grant said, quickly changing the subject.

"It sounds wonderful. I can't wait," she told him. Then she said good-bye and hung up the phone.

Grant thought about what he had to tell her. No Mila, he thought to himself. I'm sure you can wait.

Nancy watched the blue lights from the television flickering on the wall. She was so entirely bored of watching mindless sitcoms that she felt like she was going to go crazy. Kevin still hadn't called, and she kept thinking of what Sandy had told her that afternoon at school: "And Nancy? Call him!"

Nancy stood up. "Yeah!" she said aloud. "I should call him. Why should I wait around for him to call?" She groped for the telephone in the dark, and dialed Kevin's familiar number.

"Hello?" Mrs. Hall answered.

"Hi, is Kevin there?" Nancy asked, wondering what kind of excuse he was going to have for not calling her for such a long time.

"Actually dear, he's been grounded this week," Mrs. Hall explained.

Nancy wasn't expecting that. "Grounded?" she echoed in surprise.

"Yes. He didn't do so well on his report card, so I haven't let him use the phone this week."

Nancy almost laughed with relief. "Well that's great!"


"No," she corrected herself quickly, realizing what she had just said. "I was just wondering where he had been all this time and why he hadn't called." Nancy noticed she was babbling. "Just tell him to give Nancy a call when he's not grounded anymore."

Nancy hung up the phone and smiled. So Kevin hadn't been ignoring her! She felt so silly having worried and whined to her friends all that time when there really had been a simple answer to it all. And Sydney had tried to convince her that Kevin didn't like her anymore. Upon thinking of Sydney, another thought entered Nancy's mind: the skating competition! Because she had been so consumed with thinking Kevin had dumped her, she hadn't practiced at all! And the competition was the following afternoon!

Nancy grabbed her skates from the front closet, slipped on her winter coat, and headed out the door. She had to practice before it was too late.

A few minutes after eight o' clock, Jimmy and Callie arrived at the Swan Club.

"So how are things at home?" Jimmy asked while they waited for the rest of their party to arrive.

Callie groaned. "I haven't talked to my dad yet if that's what you're asking."

"Hey," Jimmy said, sensing she was getting angry, "If you're not ready to talk to him, then you're not ready."

She sighed, and then looked up at him apologetically. She didn't mean to be on the defensive all the time. "How did I get to be so lucky?"

He smiled at her teasingly. "You are lucky... aren't you?"

She gave him an affectionate push. "Oh please. Don't start acting like..."

"Garrett!" Jimmy called, noticing his friend enter the country club. Callie snickered, realizing that she had almost insulted Garrett to his face.

Garrett walked towards them, Sydney clinging to his arm. She was elegantly dressed as usual, but her expression seemed very distracted. "Hi you guys. It looks like I'm sharing Sydney with you tonight."

Sydney looked in Callie's direction gratefully. The whole way to the club Garrett had sort of complained about the fact that he and Sydney were not going to be alone that evening.

"So where's the other guy we're supposed to meet?" Garrett asked.

Sydney searched the crowd for signs of Danathan. "I don't think he's here yet."

"Who else are we meeting?" Jimmy asked. Callie had forgotten to explain to him exactly why they were there.

"His name is Danathan. I'm helping him help Sydney with her charity event," Callie explained. Jimmy gave her a quizzical look. "I'll tell you later," she whispered to him.

"Danathan?" Garrett repeated. Callie shot Sydney a look. Apparently, she hadn't fully explained things either. "Why does that name sound familiar?"

Sydney opened her mouth to tell Garrett that Danathan had been at her New Year's party when she saw a tall, dark man out of the corner of her eye. "There he is," she said, waving in his direction. As he came towards the two couples, Sydney noticed he wasn't alone. On his arm was a tall, thin, red-headed... woman.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

A long, awkward silence passed between the three couples. Sydney stared at the young woman with a hurt look in her eyes. Callie elbowed her.

"Sydney, this is Heather Kagan, my..." Danathan glanced at her, and she gave him a steely glare. "My girlfriend."

Sydney didn't respond for several moments. "Um, nice to meet you." She looked over her shoulder at her friends. "And uh, Danathan, this is Jimmy Clayton, Callie Walker, and this," she smiled at Garrett, "this is Garrett Booth. My boyfriend." She smiled again. Two can play at this game, she thought to herself.

Danathan nodded politely. "Yes. We met at the New Year’s party."

Garrett snapped his fingers. "That's where I know you from. Why didn't you tell me, Sydney?"

Sydney shrugged. "I forgot?" she offered lamely.

"Why don't we sit down?" Callie suggested, sensing the tension in the air.

"Good idea," Sydney muttered. The six of them strolled to their table, and sat down. Sydney watched with jealousy as Danathan pulled out Heather's chair. She wasn't sure why she felt envious toward his girlfriend, but for some reason she did.

Silence loomed over the table again as they studied their menus. Sydney was still staring at Heather, and Jimmy glanced up from his menu a couple of times in the direction of Danathan and Heather.

In a weird sort of way he thought Danathan and Heather resembled an older Jimmy and Callie; he was dark-haired and she had red hair and dark eyes. In fact, the more that he looked at her, the more she looked like Callie.

"So, uh, tell me about yourselves," Jimmy said to Danathan and Heather. Something told him he should try and find out more about her... just in case.

"Well, I am pre-med at the University of Maine," Danathan began.

Callie sipped her water. "We have a couple of friends doing research there. Maybe you know them."

Danathan laughed in a condescending way. "I seriously doubt that. It's a rather large institution."

"Do you go to the University too?" Jimmy asked Heather.

She looked at him curiously. She wasn't really sure why he was giving her and Danathan such attention. "No," she responded slowly. "I... work."

Her voice too! Jimmy thought to himself incredulously. He didn't want to even let himself think about what the possibilities might be, but there was something so strangely familiar about the girl. "So, um, are you guys originally from Swans Crossing?"

"I'm from New York," Danathan said. "And Heather was born out of the country."

Jimmy's mind wandered back to what Callie had told him about her childhood. She was born in Canada... out of the country! "Well, that's interesting. What country were you born in?" he questioned her.

Heather was about to answer when the waiter arrived at their table to take their order. As he went around the table, Heather and Callie both ordered the sushi. "What do you know! You and Callie here seem to have a lot in common," Jimmy commented, feigning surprise for the coincidence.

Heather smiled at him warily.

"Callie?" Sydney hissed. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Callie stood up and looked at the other people at the table. Garrett was sitting in silence, Heather looked uncomfortable, Danathan looked angry, and Jimmy kept asking them questions. It was a very strange scene. "Sure," she replied, placing her napkin on her chair and heading toward the cabanas with Sydney.

"What's with Jimmy?" she demanded, placing her hands on her hips.

Callie looked back at the table, where Jimmy was leaning across the table talking to Heather again. She shook her head. "I have absolutely no idea."

"Well, could you get him to stop the twenty questions?!"

"What's the matter?" Callie asked her, noticing how she was becoming very flustered.

Sydney sighed. "I don't know! I just feel so uncomfortable, and I never even thought that he might have a...."

"Girlfriend?" Callie supplied.

"Yeah. It doesn't matter. I mean, it shouldn't matter... but it does and I don't know why," Sydney tried to explain.

"Do you have feelings for him, Sydney? Honestly."

"I don't know," Sydney replied with a moan. "This is all way too much for me right now. I think there is something that... draws me to Danathan. But I really care about Garrett."

"Well, maybe there's something missing in your relationship with Garrett that you think you could get if you were with Danathan," Callie offered.

"Maybe. So what should I do?" Sydney asked.

"Well, just don't act on anything until you know for sure how you feel," Callie advised. "If you tell Garrett that you might have feelings for another guy he's going to flip out." Sydney nodded.

"Thanks Callie." She looked over at the party. "Do we really have to go back there?"

Callie laughed. "You wanna ditch them?" she teased.

"Sort of. But I created this mess." She took Callie's arm. "Come on."

They went back to the table, and while Sydney sat down, Callie stood behind Jimmy. He was still questioning Heather and Danathan, acting like a talk show host. She cleared her throat.

"Callie!" He turned to her and smiled. "I was just asking Danathan and Heather how they met."

She grabbed his arm. "Well, you can get their answer after this brief commercial break." She glanced at Danathan, Heather, Sydney, and Garrett. "Excuse us for a moment."

She dragged Jimmy off to the area where she had just been talking to Sydney. "What are you doing?"

Jimmy shuffled his feet, appearing very eager to return to the dining area. "What do you mean what am I doing?"

Callie frowned. "What I mean is," she said in a lowered voice, "why are you flirting with Heather?"

Nancy skated around the park, listening to the sound her skates made as they sliced through the ice. It was so peaceful there at night, colder too, but Nancy was enjoying the way a slight breeze whipped past her in the otherwise still night. She gained momentum as she circled the pond, and then leaped into the air, and landed perfectly... the most perfect jump she had ever executed. She punched the air triumphantly. If she could just perform the jump like that at the competition there was no doubt in her mind that she'd beat Sydney.

She heard clapping in the dark, and the crunch of footsteps approaching in the snow. Nancy stopped skating with surprise, wondering who else would be in the park this late at night.

"Is someone there?" she asked timidly. She didn't really like being alone at night.

"It's Kevin," Kevin said, stepping into the light surrounding the pond.

Nancy smiled with surprise. "I thought you were grounded."

"I got off for good behavior," Kevin explained, grinning at her. "You know, I've missed seeing you."

"I've missed seeing you, too," she admitted shyly.

"You're getting really good since the last time I saw you skate," he commented.

"Thanks," Nancy replied, not bothering to mention that she hadn't really practiced all week. She and Kevin stared into each other's eyes for a minute, enjoying the silence of the beautiful moonless night. Then the world moved in slow motion as Kevin leaned towards Nancy, placed his hands gently on her shoulders, and kissed her on the lips. She melted under his touch, and couldn't even believe what was happening... her first kiss! As she stood in the floodlights of the skating rink kissing Kevin, she felt on top of the world, and like she could accomplish anything.

Mila dabbed a drop of perfume behind her ear and grabbed her purse. She looked into the TV screens by her dressing area and examined her outfit. She was wearing a long floral dress with bell sleeves and a white crocheted vest. She had put her long blond hair in hot rollers, creating a cascade of golden curls. She smiled at her reflection and headed to the elevator.

When she reached the ground floor she saw Grant, dressed in a navy blue suit, waiting for her, a bouquet of pink tulips in hand.

"Oh! Thank you!" she exclaimed, taking the flowers from him. She handed them to Felicia, the new maid, to put in some water.

"You look especially beautiful tonight," he complimented her, and held out his hand. "Shall we go?"

Mila nodded and placed her hand in his. "Mama! I'm leaving!" she called.

The countess rushed into the foyer, Tutu perched on her shoulder. "Have a splendid time, my angel!" she exclaimed, pecking her daughter’s cheek.

"Thanks. I'll be home later Mama."

"And we'll be careful," Grant added for good measure.

They said good-bye and headed out the door towards the Booth's BMW. Grant opened the door for Mila and he started the car. He pressed down on the accelerator and they started off on their date.

Heather gave Danathan a cross look. "Darling," she said, her voice dripping with sweetness. "May I speak with you for a moment?"

Danathan looked straight at Sydney. "Sure," he answered, walking away from the remaining couple without a word.

"Well, this is fun," Garrett remarked sarcastically, loosening his tie. "Sydney?"

"Yes?" she answered distractedly, wondering where Heather and Danathan were off to.

"Why are we here?" he asked.

Sydney was taken aback. "What?"

"Well, this triple date is ridiculous!" Garrett exclaimed with frustration. "I mean, you still haven't told me why we had to meet this Danathan guy and why Jimmy and Callie are here, and I haven't had much time to be alone with you! Apparently, everyone else wants to be alone too," he pointed out, surveying the empty chairs.

Sydney gave him a devilish look and scooted her chair closer to him. "We're alone now," she whispered, pushing the thought of Danathan out of her mind for the time being.

Garrett smiled for the first time that evening and placed his hand on her cheek. "Yes, we are," he replied, tenderly kissing her.

Meanwhile, in the trophy room, Heather stood with her arms crossed in front of her chest. "Danny!" she whined. "This doesn't seem to be working. She probably isn't even going to pay for our dinner!"

Danathan frowned. "Well, you've been hanging all over me. I get the feeling that Sydney keeps coming around because she has romantic feelings for me."

"Well, of course Danathan," she said sarcastically. "With your good looks what girl could resist?"

"Just tone down the 'darlings' okay?" Danathan snapped.

Heather pouted her lips and wordlessly followed him back into the dining room.

The light from the candles flickered on Grant's face, illuminating his handsome features. "This is really nice," Mila said, gingerly eating a piece of bread on her plate.

Grant smiled. "I thought you'd like it here. You know," he began thoughtfully, "I really should have brought you here for homecoming. I feel so horrible about the way it all played out."

Mila thought back to that warm fall evening.

She spotted Grant across the parking lot, stepping out of his car. Mila's heart fluttered. He looked spectacular in a traditional black tuxedo, and he was carrying a small box. It was her corsage. Mila took one glance at it and panicked.

Oh no! she thought. It's red! My dress is pink! That's going to look terrible together! She took a deep breath, and waved to him. Get a hold of yourself, Mila, she scolded herself. You're going with a wonderful guy; who cares if you're corsage clashes?

She smiled shyly at him as he approached her.

"Hey Mila," he greeted her.

Mila's voice caught in her throat. Just being near him was making her heart pound at an unbelievably fast rate. "Hi Grant."

"You look really pretty," he complimented her.

She lowered her eyes modestly. "Thanks. You look nice too."

He looked over her shoulder towards the teenagers filing into the gym. "So have you seen Sydney?"

Mila shook her head slowly. "No... why?"

He held up the corsage. "She's my date. Who are you going with?"

"It wasn't the best night of my life," Mila admitted truthfully. "But that's all in the past now." She looked down at her place setting for a moment. "Actually," she said slowly, "it worked out for the best."

Grant gave her a confused look. "What do you mean?"

"Well, the whole homecoming thing was set up by Sydney. I made her do all the pandering for me. Even if we had gone out together for homecoming, things would be different now."

"They would?"

Mila nodded. "I mean, we're on this date because we got to know each other. It's different than being set up. It's like, we both want to be here in this restaurant with one another. We made it happen."

"That's pretty mature," Grant remarked, studying her pretty face through the glow of the candle. "It's so hard to believe you're only fifteen."

"That's another thing. I used to feel like a child because you didn't like me and liked Sydney."

"I never liked Sydney," he broke in.

"But now because we've taken this slow, I don't feel that way anymore," Mila concluded. "In fact, I think this is the most sincere date I have ever been on."

"Well I'm glad to hear that," he replied with a sad smile. "Especially now."

"Especially now? What are you talking about?" Mila asked, trying to read his expression.

"Mila," Grant said, taking her hand over the table. "There's something I really need to tell you."

Jimmy knitted his eyebrows in confusion. "What do you mean? I'm not flirting with Heather."

Callie rolled her eyes. "You were asking her a million questions!"

Jimmy took her hand and led her into one of the cramped cabanas.

"What's going on?" she asked.

He hovered over her. "Callie," he said softly. "I was not flirting with her. I promise."

Callie smirked and closed the cabana curtain. "Prove it," she told him, tugging softly on his tie. Their lips met in a long kiss. As Jimmy ran his fingers through Callie's long curly hair he completely forgot all about what was going on in the dining room. Abruptly, Callie pulled her lips from his.

"What's wrong?" Jimmy asked huskily, wanting to return to their activities.

Callie turned away from him. "Well, if you weren't flirting with her then what is up with all the questions?" She tilted her head towards him. "You're not the most social person in Swans Crossing, you know."

"I wasn't being social either," he said.

"Well then what's going on?"

Jimmy sighed. "I'm doing some investigating."


Jimmy peeked through the curtains at Heather, and her striking resemblance to Callie. "Don't you notice anything strange?"

"Well Danathan seems a little bit creepy, and Garrett's being uncharacteristically quiet--"

"No, no," he interrupted. "I mean about Heather."

Callie looked at him quizzically. "Heather? No, not really."

"You don't notice that she looks like you? That she could be your..." his voice trailed off.

"My what?" she whispered hoarsely, knowing exactly what the next words out of his mouth were going to be.

"Your sister."

Chapter Thirty-Nine

The reaction Callie gave him was not what Jimmy expected. A slow smile spread across her face. "Are you kidding, Clayton?" she asked with a laugh. "You think Heather is my sister?"

Jimmy gave her a serious look.

"You really almost had me going there for a minute," she said, laughing harder. He didn't find it amusing. She noticed this, and quickly, her laughter ceased. "You're serious."

"Well, why shouldn't I be? It seems sort of obvious to me." He pointed outside the cabana to where Heather and Danathan were now heading back towards the table. "Look at her, Callie. She looks like you."

Callie glanced outside and gave Jimmy a patronizing look. "She has red hair. So do lots of people. Is Glory my sister?"

Jimmy sighed, and Callie continued. "How about Jazz? She's a red-head. Gosh, I must be related to half the population!"

"Cut it out Callie, I get it. But there's just something about her. Her eyes, her voice, her mannerisms. She reminds me of you," he told her honestly.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, realizing that she had been mocking him when all he was really trying to do was help her. "But see, ever since she disappeared I've thought about her, you know? And I've imagined running into her on the street, or seeing her in a store, and I always knew I'd have some feeling. I'd take one look at her and say, ‘There she is. That's Vanessa Walker.’"

"But maybe you're so close to this situation that you can't see what's right in front of you," Jimmy declared.

"I get feelings about people. You know that. And right now I don't have a feeling one way or another about Heather. Now, I understand that you want to help me find her, but let's not go around and suspect everyone, all right?"

He nodded. "Can I still ask her a few questions?"

Callie patted his chest playfully. "No Arsenio, I think your interviewing days are over. Let's go back and eat."

Jimmy followed her out to the dining room, not so sure if he was going to give up that easily.

Mila looked expectantly at Grant. "What is it?"

He was quiet for a few moments, not quite sure how he should tell her what he needed to. "Mila? I'm leaving on Sunday."

Of all the things she had thought he was going to tell her, this was most certainly not one of them. "You're leaving? Where are you going?"

He laughed sadly. "Don't you remember? I'm in college. I had to take some time off when my dad lost money, but we're okay now, so I have to go back to school."

"In Vermont?" she asked in a small voice.

He nodded. "It's really not that far, and I might come home for the summer."

She let a single tear fall and didn't bother to wipe it away. "I don't understand. If you knew you were leaving then why did you ask me out tonight?"

Grant looked deeply into Mila's eyes. "Ever since I jilted you on Homecoming I have felt terrible."

"So this is a mercy date?" Mila broke in.

Grant looked horrified. "Of course not! Mila, I like you. I like you a lot. I just never realized it until I saw what a beautiful and sweet girl I passed up escorting to her dance. I think I'll always regret that, and I didn't want to go back to school without taking you out at least one time."

She smiled through her tears. "Do you really mean that?"

He reached across the table and laced his fingers through hers. "Of course I do. I want to make this a night we'll both remember." He stood up, still holding her hand. "Come on, let's get out of here and go make some memories!"

Sydney flopped onto her bed without even bothering to get changed. "What a horrible night!" she said out loud, yanking off her heels and throwing them across the room. After Heather and Danathan and Jimmy and Callie had returned to the table things had gotten even weirder. Danathan brought up the charity drive, and they briefly discussed it. But Heather interrupted several times by leaning her head against Danathan's shoulder, and when the food arrived she placed little pieces of it in his mouth. It was utterly sickening. But Danathan looked thoroughly ticked off every time she got near, and conversed with Sydney through most of the dinner. Garrett didn't really say much of anything, and pouted for most of the night. Jimmy attempted to ask Heather about her favorite color or whatever trivial little facts he was interested in, but Callie stopped him by kicking him underneath the table. Sydney imagined his legs must be black and blue by now.

I just hated seeing him with that other girl! Sydney thought angrily. She didn't know why it mattered so much; in fact, life would be so much easier if she had never even heard of Danathan Hartfield. Yet there was something about him that intrigued her. Maybe it was his mysteriousness or the fact that he was significantly older than her, but something made her want to be around him. It defied all logic, but the strange attraction was there... however primitive.

Sydney crossed the room and sat down at her mirror, studying her reflection. She had always liked the way she looked, with her long brown hair and large green eyes, but now she just looked... like a fifteen year old girl. Heather on the other hand had something that Sydney didn't. Maturity. She was older, and could never be accused of looking or acting like a child. Sydney sighed, and grabbed her hairbrush. She worked on putting her hair into a ponytail to sleep in, but when she lifted her hair up to her chin, she gasped at the reflection. With her hair just skimming her chin she could easily pass for seventeen.

Sydney quickly changed into her pajamas and leapt into bed. She wanted to get a good night's sleep so she could get to the beauty parlor first thing in the morning. As she drifted off another important activity for the next day flashed in her mind. Oh, yeah, she thought groggily. That skating thing.

Glory heard the front door slam shut, and she slid off her bed where she was reading and came out into the hallway. "How was your date, Garrett?" she asked in a low whisper, for their parents had already gone to bed.

Garrett rolled his eyes. "Don't even ask, all right?"

"I already did," she pointed out.

He walked into her room and sat down in one of her wicker chairs. "Will you answer a question for me, sis?"

She sat down next to him. "Of course."

"All right. Should a guy be offended when his girlfriend invites the whole world along on a special date?"

Glory gave him a blank stare. "What are you talking about? Who did Sydney invite?"

Garrett threw his hands up in frustration. "That's the thing! I don't even really know! She invited Jimmy and Callie along, but then there was this older, twenty-something couple there, too. She said it had something to do with the charity drive, but I just don't see the connection. If you ask me, there was something really, really strange about tonight. Sydney and Callie were acting all secretive, and Jimmy kept asking the one girl all these questions. And this Danathan guy wouldn't stop looking at her! It was like I had entered the Twilight Zone!"

Glory tried not to laugh at Garrett's distress. "I'm really sorry, Garrett."

He stood up and let out an exaggerated sigh. "I know. Look, I'm going to bed."

"Good night," she said as he crossed the room.

He still looked bewildered as he turned back to his sister. "Yeah," he muttered. "Good night."

Mila giggled as she looked at the large purple turtle that Grant had won for her. "This thing is so scary!" she exclaimed.

He let out a loud laugh as well and pointed out it's large, buggy eyes. "Yes, it's probably by far the ugliest stuffed animal I have ever seen. But it's so ugly that it's cute."

She nodded in agreement. "So where are we off too now?" she asked, noticing that Grant was leading her by the hand out of the crowded arcade where they had been playing skee ball for an hour.

He grinned. "Well, I plan to take you to all the childish places I can think of. What do you think of," he rose his eyebrows, "roller- skating?"

Mila looked down at her long flowing dress. "Roller-skating?" she repeated dubiously. "In this?"

Grant opened the door to his BMW and tossed the large turtle inside. "Oh, come on! We'll be the only people there over ten!"

She giggled and hopped into the car. As Grant stomped on the gas pedal and headed towards the roller-skating rink, Mila looked out the window at the trees whizzing by and sighed. This was turning out to be the most amazing date she had ever been on.

Grant maneuvered the car into the parking lot and shut off the ignition. They headed into the run down skating rink, which hadn't been remodeled since the early seventies, and jogged inside to get out of the cold. Mila couldn't believe that they were going roller-skating in the dress clothes they were wearing, but the next thing she knew she was wearing hideous brown rental skates and Grant was trying to drag her out on the floor.

"I've never done this before!" she admitted, trying to keep her balance.

"You're kidding!" he shouted over the loud music.

She shook her head, and gripped his hand for support. Slowly, he led her out onto the floor and they began skating in a circle with all of the young, adolescent kids. Grant laughed when multi-colored lights began flashing and the DJ played "Shoop" by Salt n' Pepa. "The ultimate skating anthem," he remarked, laughing. He took her other hand and skated backwards while she shakily skated in front of him. They worked up a sweat circling the rink, going so fast that their hair blew back and Mila's dress trailed behind her. After Mila had taken her fifth spill, Grant decided it was time for them to leave. They turned in their skates and on the way out the door he noticed there was an photo booth near all of the arcade games.

"Hey!" he exclaimed. "We have to get our picture taken!"

They crowded into the booth and Mila blushed when Grant pulled her onto his lap. She put her arm around his shoulder and they leaned their heads together. "Smile," Grant said as he and Mila grinned for the camera flash. On the second photo both made a goofy face, and out of nowhere for the third picture Grant gently kissed Mila's cheek. She turned towards him and smiled shyly. He had a romantic look in his blue eyes when he tucked a blond curl behind her ear. They leaned towards each other, and when their lips met in a lingering kiss, the camera took the final picture.

Sydney wrapped a white cashmere scarf around her neck; the wind was whipping against her bare skin. Of all the days to get a haircut, she thought to herself. As she made her way to the Swans Crossing Ice Arena to put on her skates and stretch she saw Garrett, bundled up and waiting for her. When he saw her his jaw dropped.

"Wow!" he exclaimed, coming over to her side to examine her new hair style. "You look..." his voice trailed off timidly.

She patted her chin length hair and smiled. "What?"

"Sexy," he concluded with a shy grin. She elbowed him playfully, but was secretly pleased. If Garrett liked her new look she was sure to impress Danathan. Stop it! Sydney scolded herself. He was far too old and she was finally getting things together with Garrett. They hadn't had an argument since homecoming, and Sydney wanted to keep it that way. It was all too confusing.

Luckily, she didn't need to think about it much longer, for Nancy and Kevin came up behind her, holding hands.

"Glad you could make it, Sydney-O. I was sort of thinking you had forgotten." Nancy crossed her arms in front of her chest and smirked.

"I haven't forgotten," Sydney said, stepping up to her. "I've cleared a spot for my trophy."

Nancy laughed. "I wouldn't be so sure about winning." She looked over at Kevin and beamed. "I don't have a thing distracting me." She then recognized the faraway, distracted look in Sydney's eyes. "What about you?"

Sydney had no comeback as Nancy turned on her heels and flounced away. "Don't worry about her," Garrett advised, touching Sydney's shoulder. "You're going to do great."

Out of the corner of her eye, Sydney saw Danathan enter the building holding Heather's hand. "Yeah, right."

Over breakfast that morning, Callie decided it was time to talk to her father. He wouldn't be engrossed in his work and most of her friends were already at the skating competition so there wouldn't be any interruptions.


Captain Walker looked up from the morning newspaper. "Yes, Callie?"

She had been planning what to say all night, but now her mind drew a blank. "I uh... we're doing a project in school," she began.

Captain Walker did not look enthralled. "Mm-hmm..."

"Well, it's about our family. Where we come from. Who our relatives are."

He became a little flustered and choked on his orange juice. "Well, I'm sure that your teacher isn't looking for all the answers," he said nervously.

"I know," Callie interrupted. "But I am."

The skating competition had not yet begun when Garrett went up to the bleachers and sat down next to Jimmy. Sydney was on the ice warming up, and he was eager to see her program. "Hey Jimmy," he greeted him jovially.

Jimmy looked up at his friend and smiled. "You're sure in a different mood from last night."

Garrett thought back to that very strange evening the night before. "Yeah, well last night was really weird." He paused and looked at his friend. "You were acting kinda weird yourself. What was with you and Heather? You wouldn't stop asking her questions!" Jimmy didn't say anything, and Garrett continued. "I mean, if you're thinking of dumping Callie for her, stick with Callie. I mean, they look the same and Callie at least has the sense to be dating you and not some creep like Danathan."

Jimmy nodded in agreement. He was still thinking about Heather and her likeness to Callie, and how she had deemed his observation as inaccurate. It just wasn't adding up. Heather looked quite a bit like Callie, and she was quiet, and from another country. There was something that needed to be done about this incredible coincidence... he just wasn't sure what.

"Are you all right?" Garrett asked, noticing that Jimmy was staring off into space.

"Uh, yeah," he muttered. "I was just thinking about last night."

Garrett groaned. "Let's not even talk about that, okay? I really didn't like that Danathan guy."

Jimmy laughed, knowing what Garrett was talking about. Danathan was smooth, suave, and he seemed to have Sydney under his spell. "You really shouldn't worry about it, Garrett. Sydney's with you... for some odd reason."

Garrett punched him playfully. "So Clayton, what are you doing for Callie on Valentine's Day?"

Jimmy rose an eyebrow. He hadn't even realized that Valentine's Day was so soon. "Gosh," he remarked, deep in thought. "I haven't even thought about it yet. What are you going to do for Sydney?"

Garrett rubbed his hands together. "Well, I have lots of ideas. All I know is that this is the first time we're celebrating as an official couple and I want to make it really special."

Jimmy was about to ask him what he meant by special when he noticed Danathan and Heather sitting on the other side of the skating rink. He stood up. "I'll be right back," he told Garrett as he made his way over to them. He wasn't quite sure what he was going to say, but he had to do something.

Captain Walker sighed with resignation. "I've honestly been waiting for this day for a long time. I knew you weren't going to content with being in the dark forever. In fact, I'm a little bit surprised you didn't ask before."

"I was scared," Callie admitted. "I still am. But I think I can handle the answers now."

The captain hugged his daughter. "All right. What do you want to know?"

She looked up at him, her face full of emotion. "Do you think Vanessa's still alive?"

"You had to ask the difficult question," he said, avoiding having to answer her. "Couldn't we have started a little slower?"

"But this is what I want to know," she told him in a small voice.

"All right. I think it's hard for a parent to ever give up hope. I've spent such a large part of my life looking for her, and I want to believe that someday I'll find her," Captain Walker replied honestly.

"Is that why we're here?" she asked suddenly. "Did we come back to Swans Crossing because you got another lead?"

He cast his eyes to the floor. "Sometimes we move because I hear from the private investigators that someone who matches her description has been spotted. Other times it's because I get tired of staying in one place that doesn't seem like it's the right one."

Callie crossed her arms and looked into her father's eyes curiously. "You didn't really answer my question, Dad. Is Vanessa the reason we're in Swans Crossing?"

Sandy was surprised to see Saja sitting in the stands at the ice arena. "Hey!" she called, taking the seat next to him. "Are you still grounded?"

He grinned. "As of today I'm a free man." He shyly slipped his arm around her shoulders, and she snuggled closer to him.

"Well, good. It's been sort of boring around here without you," she told him with a happy smile.

"Anything new with you?"

Sandy thought back to her trip to the music store the other day, where the interestingly dressed girl had more or less made fun of her music. "No, nothing really."

Saja was about to ask Sandy another question when Mila came over and sat down on the bleacher in front of them. "Hi you guys," she said, leaning in between the couple.

Sandy noticed that Mila was beaming, and while she looked tired, she was grinning from ear to ear. "What's going on?"

"I had the most amazing date last night," Mila commented dreamily.

"With who?" Sandy asked.

"Grant Booth," she answered with a sigh. "I tell you, he was without a doubt the most incredible guy I have ever gone out with. It was his last night in Swans Crossing and he made it so memorable."

Sandy raised her hand to stop Mila's banter. "You're going to have to back up. Where's Grant going? And why aren't you upset?"

Mila giggled. "Well, he's going back to school in Vermont," she had that dreamy look on her face again, "I don't really know why I'm not upset. I guess it's because it ended on such an fantastic note. And I'm sure we'll go out the next time he's in town."

Sandy smiled. "So... details!"

Saja coughed and pretended not to be listening to the conversation.

"Well, he took me to dinner at Gicones."

"Gicones?!" Sandy exclaimed. "Swanky."

Mila laughed. "Then we played games at the arcade, and after that we went to the roller-skating rink."

"How cute."

"But it gets even better after that," she remarked.

"There's more?"

It was getting to be far too much for Saja. "I'll be right back," he said, overwhelmed by the gushy gossip. Sandy giggled as she watched him aimlessly walk towards the concession stand.

Mila's mind wandered back to the night before as she related the story to Sandy.

After they left the skating rink, Grant and Mila hopped in the Booth's BMW. Mila buckled her seat belt and glanced up at him. "I had a good time tonight."

Grant looked back at her strangely. "Well... I didn't think the night was over yet. There's one more place I wanted to show you."

Mila agreed and in a few minutes he had driven the car up to the cliffs. Mila, unlike all her friends, had never been to the cliffs, and was surprised at the beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean. "Wow. It's gorgeous."

Grant nodded and unlocked his door. He got out of the car and grabbed a wool blanket from the backseat. Mila followed him outside into the chilly night. Grant spread the blanket on the hood of the car and took her hand. "Come on," he said, climbing up onto the blanket. Mila cautiously sat next to him. "See the stars up there? They feel a million miles closer up here." She stared up at the black sky. It looked like velvet with holes poked in it, and bright white lights shining through.

"It's beautiful," she commented. "Do you come here a lot?"

He nodded. "Whenever I visit Swans Crossing. No matter how pretty it is in Vermont, France, or Switzerland where I've gone to school, nothing is as breathtaking as this place, at this time of night."

Mila scooted closer to him, and leaned against his shoulder while gazing up at the sky. "Do you miss it here? When you go away?"

Grant looked at the stars for a minute before answering. "Yeah, I do. I try not to let it bother me because my dad expects a lot out of me. When I was in high school it would be unheard of if I asked to stay at home and go to public school. We had a lot of money in the eighties... lots more than we do now. But it wasn't even a matter of money. I just had to go to prestigious boarding schools because they thought I could excel there. Sometimes though, I felt like Mom and Dad never really wanted me in town. I know Garrett and Glory think our parents favor me, but sometimes I think they... at least they get to live at home."

Mila looked up at him, searching his soulful blue-green eyes, short blond hair, a five o' clock shadow on his chin, and his usually smiling mouth that was currently set in a frown. She had always thought he was perfect, and had the perfect life. But seeing him insecure made him seem more human... and in a strange way even more perfect. "I'm going to miss you, Grant. I want you to know that I want you here in Swans Crossing."

"You're a sweet, wonderful person," he told her, kissing her lips lightly. "See that star?" He pointed to one of the brightest stars in the sky. "Sunday is Valentine's Day. Go outside that evening at ten and look at this star, and I'll do the same in Vermont. It'll be like we're still together."

Sandy swooned at the end of Mila's story. "That has to be the most romantic thing I've ever heard."

She nodded, surfacing from her hazy, dreamlike state. "Isn't it? I'm totally looking forward to tomorrow. Even if he's miles away, it is for sure going to be the most memorable Valentine's Day ever."

Sandy bit her lip in thought as she saw Saja walking up the bleachers trying to balance cups of hot chocolate. "Yeah, I have a feeling it's going to be a great Valentine's Day for all of us."

Sydney stood in front of the mirror, practicing her smile. She was on in ten minutes, right after the younger division. Nancy sauntered confidently into the bathroom and stood next to her, arranging her curly hair.

"Sydney dear, you're not going to believe the gossip I just heard."

"I thought you weren't going to be distracted by anything," Sydney deadpanned.

Nancy scowled. "I am most certainly not distracted. If you don't want to hear my story, then fine."

"No, no. I'll hear it."

Nancy grinned. "I just heard Mila talking to Sandy about her most amazing date with Garrett's much older brother before he went back to Vermont."

"So?" Sydney said with disinterest.

"They were out all night," she told her, raising her eyebrows suggestively.

"Oh, come on Nancy, you don't honestly think..."

Nancy gave Sydney an innocent look. "I'm not saying anything. It's just they were gone until dawn and he is so much older..."

Sydney laughed. "Do me a favor, Nance. Stick to the ice skating." She turned and left the bathroom, with Nancy hot on her heels. As soon as they had left, a girl came out of one of the stalls, and grinned at what she had just overheard.

"Well if it isn't Danathan and Heather!" Jimmy exclaimed, pretending that it was a surprise that he had run into them.

Both smiled cordially. "Good to see you, too," Danathan replied. "You're Jimmy, right?"

Jimmy nodded. "Yep. Are you guys here to see Sydney skate?"

Heather gave Danathan a dirty look and nodded. "Yeah, I guess so," she said bitterly, wrapping her sweater tightly around her shoulders. She appeared very distressed and annoyed. She turned to her boyfriend. "Danny, I'm going to get something to drink. Do you want anything?"

His dark eyes were scanning the skating rink for Sydney, and he hardly even noticed that Heather was speaking. "No, that's all right."

Heather stood up and started stomping down the bleachers.

"I'll come with you," Jimmy offered, seizing the moment when he could grill her for more information without anyone getting angry at him.

She shrugged, not seeming to care one way or another if Jimmy tagged along.

"So, uh, Heather? How's it going?"

"Not too bad," she replied, and then added, "and yourself?"

"Good, good. I, um, I had a stressful morning though. All my older brothers were hogging the bathroom." He looked into her dark eyes, searching for some sort of reaction. "Do you have any siblings?"

Her eyes widened slightly with surprise, but she quickly blinked it away. "No," she answered shortly. Jimmy, however, noticed that at first she seemed frightened at his question, and noted this.

Without another word, she went up to the concession counter and ordered herself a cup of coffee. When the employee returned with her coffee and read her the total, Heather reached into her purse and started rummaging through it. Her face flushed and she looked up at Jimmy. "I must have forgotten my wallet at home. Do you have a dollar I could borrow?"

He nodded and pulled out some cash from his pocket. She accepted and paid the woman behind the counter. "Thanks so much," she said to him, and then hurriedly walked back to where she had been sitting. Jimmy was more confused then ever.

"Listen Callie, there are only so many questions we can address in one morning, okay?" Captain Walker rubbed at his temples, and Callie figured this was her cue to stop.

"All right. Can we talk about this later?"

Her father nodded and headed down the stairs, his fingers still pressed against the side of his forehead.

Callie stomped her foot on the ground in frustration. As usual, her father didn't want to talk about the important but controversial aspects of their lives, so Callie was left wondering. She probably would be wondering all of her life.

She sighed, grabbed her brown suede jacket, and headed up the ladder. Once she was on the dock she stopped at her mini-bike. She knew all of her friends would already be at Sydney and Nancy's skating competition, and if she didn't hurry she might miss the entire thing all together, but her mind was swimming with all of the unanswered questions about her sister. Obviously Vanessa had something to do with the Walker's moving around, but Callie wasn't sure how her sister would have ended up in some of the exotic places where they had docked. In addition to that, this was the second time they had ended up in Swans Crossing. The first time they had been on a quest to find Vanessa; Captain Walker had told her that. But Callie was growing tired of moving around, and her father was getting frustrated with the lack of leads. So she convinced him that there had to be one place they could go where there might be a lead, and just stay and investigate. Captain Walker chose Swans Crossing. Once they were there, Callie got caught up in things with Barek and had almost forgotten their plan. But when Captain Walker made a mysterious trip to Brazil and then they ended up moving there, Callie's interest was piqued again. Furthermore, after Callie had run away with Jimmy and ultimately returned to her father's house, she was certain she would never see him again. But within a couple of weeks, they were back in Swans Crossing. The captain wouldn't have gone back unless it was important... so could Vanessa be in town right at that very moment?

Callie rolled her eyes. I'm starting to sound like Jimmy, she said to herself, and remembered the previous night when she had thought Jimmy was being ridiculous for suspecting that Heather was really Vanessa.

She climbed onto her bike and put on her helmet. She had to go to the skating competition, hang out with her friends, and have a carefree time... she was starting to lose it by thinking so much.

After the children's competition, Sydney's name was called. She took a deep breath and rubbed her hands together. She looked over at Garrett. "Wish me luck!"

He squeezed her hand. "Good luck."

Before she lost her nerve, she skated out onto the ice. The music she had selected came on over the stereo. She raised her arms in the air and circled the rink, making dance moves and leaping across the ice. She skated towards the center of the ice and did the spin she had been practicing. It went perfectly, and she gained confidence when she finished it successfully and was met with a smattering of applause. She did more dance moves, smiling widely as she passed by the judges. It was going so well! She was incredibly pleased by her performance, and felt confident enough to complete her program. Once again she made her way to the middle of the rink and took one look out into the audience. As she rose into the air for her double axle jump, she saw Danathan and Heather in the stands. Once she was in the air she knew this was going to prove to be a fatal distraction... and when she landed on the ice with a thud she realized she was right.

A few people gasped, and she quickly rose to her feet. But the damage was done. Sydney saw the judges making notes on her fall, and tears sprung to her eyes. Right then and there, because of Danathan, she had just ruined her chance of winning.

Chapter Forty

As the skating rink cleared out, Sydney sat on the bench, staring off into space. Garrett approached her cautiously and sat down. "Are you all right?" he asked.

Sydney thought about the question and turned to face him, her face stained with tears. "How could I possibly be all right? I just lost a competition. Me!"

"Sydney, winning isn't everything."

She rolled her eyes. "Am I hearing this from Garrett Booth? The one who basically ruined my life so his father could win the election? The one who almost killed himself to win a motorbike race two years ago? The Garrett Booth who cheated to win some stupid reading contest in the third grade?"

He folded his arms in front of his chest and scowled. "Real nice, Sydney."

"You know that it's true. Winning for us is important. And how am I ever going to live down the fact that Nancy Robbins beat me at something? My reputation is never going to be the same." She tucked a strand of her newly shortened hair behind her ear and made a halfhearted attempt to brush away the tears with the back of her hand.

"But what can you do about it? The contest is over," he pointed out.

Sydney's eyes landed on a dark figure heading towards the arena door. "I can talk to the person who's responsible for my losing."

Garrett gave her a quizzical look. "Nancy?"

She shook her head and trotted after the figure, leaving Garrett behind. "No," she muttered to herself. "Danathan."

After the skating competition Glory and J.T. went to Swans. As soon as they sat down Glory cleared her throat. J.T. knew this meant she had something to tell him. "What is it?" he said, knowing something was up.

"Well, I've been thinking about Valentine's Day," Glory began.

J.T. grinned romantically. "Me too."

"I was wondering if you would mind a whole lot if Neil and Carolyn went with us to whatever we decide to do?" Glory asked, looking at J.T. hopefully.

"What?!" he exclaimed. "Why?"

"Remember? We wanted to hook the two of them up," Glory replied.

J.T. nodded. "Yeah, I know. But our plan backfired and the two of them ended up comrades instead of dates."

Glory played with the edge of her menu and smiled authoritatively. "But I finally got Carolyn to admit that she likes him. We have to do something. So I told her that we'd go out as a foursome on Valentine's Day."

Even though he was slightly annoyed that Glory had made plans without him, he had to smile. "Carolyn actually has a thing for him?"

Glory giggled. "Amazingly so."

"Well then, I guess that should be all right. I'll talk to Buckeyball tonight and see if he'll go," J.T. agreed. "But can we do something romantic so the whole night won't be spoiled?"

Glory smiled to herself, growing excited about the holiday. "Of course. Judging from the feelings that Carolyn seems to have for Neil I'm sure she'll want to do something romantic, too."

Meanwhile, Nancy sat at the counter in Swans watching the way the lights glinted off of her golden trophy. "Can you believe it, Kevin?" she asked excitedly. "I mean, I actually won over Sydney Rutledge."

Kevin stirred his drink with a straw. "Yes, I think you've mentioned that a few times tonight."

"I know, but I can't help it. It's just such a huge deal for me."

Kevin stopped stirring and looked up at Nancy quizzically. "What is it between you and Sydney? Have you always been in competition?"

Nancy shrugged and lowered her eyes. "Yeah, I guess so. It just seems like Sydney has everything and I always got the leftovers." She eyed her prize again. "That is, until now."

"You know Nancy, I'm sure this trophy isn't the only thing you've ever had over Sydney. You're a wonderful girl," Kevin told her shyly.

Nancy sighed modestly. "It's just that ever since we've been in grade school Sydney was always the ‘it’ girl. Actually..." Her voice trailed off. She had never really talked to anyone about this before.

"Yes?" he prompted, the look in his eyes showing Nancy that she could trust him.

"Actually, I've always wanted to be like Sydney. A lot. I guess I always thought that if I was like her I could have the things she did. It seemed better than being myself," Nancy admitted, keeping her eyes cast downward.

Kevin saw how for the first time since he had met her she was letting her guard down. "You know that's not true. Look at what's happening now. You're being yourself instead of a Sydney clone and look what you've gained."

Nancy glanced up and saw that she was in Swans with a guy she really liked and she had just won the skating competition. "You know what... you're right. I think I need to start being Nancy Robbins and not Sydney Rutledge."

He grinned. "That's right!"

"Right," Nancy echoed. But if the Nancy who imitated Sydney Rutledge wasn't the real Nancy than who was?

Owen sighed and surveyed his band. Mila's eyes were glassed over and she was humming some cheesy love song. Sandy was drawing circles on the back of a piece of sheet music, pouting. "What is with you two?" he asked in frustration.

Mila smiled. "Not a thing! I couldn't be better."

"Nothing," Sandy replied monotonously.

"Come on. We really have to practice. Sydney wants us to play at the charity drive on Monday," Owen explained.

"Why?" Sandy suddenly asked. "They've heard the song on the radio. They know all of our stuff."

"What are you talking about?" Owen questioned her, giving her a confused look.

Sandy grabbed the microphone and got ready to sing. "Forget it."

Danathan had his hand on the doorknob when Sydney came running up to meet him. "Danathan!" she yelled. "Wait a minute!"

He looked slightly annoyed, but stopped. He shot Heather a look, who scowled and went out into the parking lot. "It's too bad you took a spill today, Sydney. You really could have won the competition."

"Oh, give me a break!" Sydney exclaimed, placing her hands on her hips.

"Excuse me?" Danathan said, taken aback at her outburst.

"You heard me. The only reason I lost is because you were here."

He rolled his eyes. "What? How could I have caused you to lose?"

She tugged on her hair and threw up her hands. "Because! You really creep me out! You're always showing up wherever I do! You follow me around and act like you're interested in me even though I'm far younger than you and we're both involved and you know everything about me even though I never say a word about my personal life and...." Sydney ran out of breath and stopped ranting at him just long enough to catch it. "I just want you out of my life!" she yelled. Several people turned around to stare at them.

"I'm scheduled to work at your little charity drive," Danathan reminded her quietly.

Sydney gave him a steely glare. "I know. So you can do your work there and then that's it." She turned on her heels and flounced away... well aware that he was staring after her.

"Glory," J.T. said over the loud crash of bowling pins, "this isn't what I had in mind."

Glory looked down at her semi-formal dress and bowling shoes and sighed. "Me neither. How was I supposed to know Carolyn likes bowling?" J.T. just groaned in reply. "We are going to dinner afterwards."

"Yeah, but with them," J.T. said through clenched teeth.

"Neil's your best friend!" she exclaimed. "Don't you want him to be happy?"

J.T.'s eyes landed on Neil, who was seated at the electronic score computer, trying to punch in their names. He was muttering something about the bowling alley being desperately in need of an upgrade under his breath. "He doesn't look very happy to me."

"So are we doing, guys against girls?" Neil asked as soon as he had punched up the correct menu.

"No!" Glory quickly jumped in. "How about... me and J.T against you and Carolyn?" Neil shrugged as if he could care less, and then entered their names. Carolyn went first, knocking over a few pins. Glory congratulated her while Neil sat silently, drumming his fingers against the side of a chair. "J.T.," Glory hissed.


"Get your friend to quit being such a creep!" Glory commanded. She went over to Carolyn's side and smiled. "This is going well," she whispered. Carolyn said nothing and stepped down from the lane.

"Hey Neil, it's your turn."

Neil picked up his bowling ball and waited for the computer to record Carolyn's score.

"You know," Carolyn began, "I'm really sorry that I bowled such a weak first frame."

"That's okay," Neil replied. "Everyone knows that bowling is more of a guys’ sport anyway."

Carolyn's jaw dropped, and she whipped her head around to glance at Glory, who shrugged. J.T. slapped his palm against his forehead.

Neil stepped up to the lane and threw the ball, which bounced before rolling into the gutter. He came back to the seating area dejectedly. Carolyn brushed past him. "Yeah... more of a guys’ sport."

J.T snickered and Neil looked embarrassed. "Fine, maybe you can bowl better than I can, but I still know way more than you do when it comes to physics."

"Oh really?" Carolyn said, placing her hands on her hips. "I think I've broken many an equation that you haven't been able to at the U. Just because you're a guy doesn't mean you know more than I do, Neil Atwater."

"Girls," Neil muttered. "They're always getting so sensitive."

"Hey!" Glory broke in. "Why don't we order some food while J.T. takes his turn."

"We're going to be eating dinner soon, right?" Carolyn asked.

Glory sighed and nodded. "How about we go pick some songs on the jukebox." She grabbed Carolyn's arm. "Come on," she urged, tugging her towards the jukebox. "And Carolyn?" she said as soon as they were out of the guy's earshot. "Do not listen to a word Neil says!"

Callie could hear the shuffling of her and Jimmy's feet against pavement and cars whizzing by. "Jimmy! Where are we?!"

He laughed and led her by the arm. "We're almost there."

Callie giggled, and hoped that there wasn't anyone on the streets watching her being led around blindfolded. "You know you could have just surprised me by telling me what we were doing tonight!"

"Would you just stop complaining, Walker Woman? If I had told you that would ruin all the fun. Besides, we're here." He reached into his pocket and Callie could hear him inserting a key into a door. He led her through the doorway, and when he pushed it open she heard a bell ring. The door swung shut and he gently tugged the blindfold away from her eyes. "Surprise!"

Callie's eyes widened when she saw where they were. Jimmy had taken her to his family's restaurant which had already closed for the evening. All the chairs were placed on top of the tables and the lights were off. The only area illuminated was one table, lit by two candles, and adorned with beautiful place settings. A card with their names on it sat in the center of the table, and a bouquet of Valentine's day balloons was tied to one of the chairs.

"Table for two, right this way," Jimmy said, looping his arm through hers. They sat down at their table, and Callie was silent. "Aren't you going to say anything?"

Callie smiled. "It's hard to. I'm... speechless. Once again you've managed to prove how completely amazing you are."

He grinned modestly. "Oh, come on."

"No, I mean it. First with the Christmas surprise and now this. I'm starting to feel like I'm not doing enough for you."

Jimmy shook his head. "Oh, no you don't. Just you being here is enough for me."

A blush crept across her cheeks and she played with the edges of her napkin nervously. "You know, I never thought we'd actually be together on Valentine's Day. I mean, after our breakup and everything that happened in Brazil."

He reached for her hand. "But everything seems to be working out perfectly for us."

Callie thought back to all of the things that had come out about her past recently. "Well, not entirely perfect." She cleared her throat and opened her menu.

"I hope you like chicken parmesan, because, uh, that's what the cook made for us," Jimmy told her.

She laughed, breaking some of the tension. "That's fine." She closed the menu and was about to set it aside when the name emblazoned in gold on the cover caught her eye. "Josephine's." Tracing her finger along the letters, she looked up at him. "What does this mean?"

Jimmy shifted in his seat. "What?"

"I mean, I never asked what the name of your dad's restaurant was, but why is it ‘Josephine's’?" She noticed he was looking incredibly uncomfortable.

He sighed with resignation. "I guess I haven't been entirely forthright with you lately."

She knitted her brow in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"Josephine was my mom. She, like your mom, died when I was pretty little," Jimmy confessed in an emotional voice.

Callie immediately placed her hand on top of his. "I'm sorry."

"My dad loved her so much, and everyday when he comes to work it's like a little piece of Mom is still here." He lowered his eyes and sighed. "She was a really wonderful woman. Full of life, and she really made my dad happy. She was the love of his life."

While Jimmy sounded sad, from the tone of his voice Callie could also detect that he thought his parents' story was touching. "How did she die?" she questioned him cautiously.

Jimmy looked deeply into her eyes before answering. "She died in a car accident."

Callie didn't hide her surprise. "You mean our mothers died in the same way?"

He nodded. "It's so hard, isn't it Callie? I mean, to not have a mother lecture you about your curfew."

"Or give you advice," Callie supplied.

"Or just be there when you've had a really horrible day," he added.

"And just to generally guide you through life," Callie concluded, her voice breaking slightly.

"It's good to know that someone else can understand what it feels like," Jimmy said with a sad sigh.

"Jimmy? Why didn't you tell me this before? When I told you about my mother?" she asked suddenly.

He was quiet for a moment, chewing on his bottom lip in thought. "Because I didn't want to take away from your problem by talking about my own."

Callie laughed, despite the fact that she felt like crying as well. "You really are the perfect boyfriend!"

Jimmy blushed. "Cut it out! Come on, let's hurry up and eat. There's one other place I think we need to go."

The crickets chirping in the background provided the musical score for Sydney and Garrett's Valentine's Day date. Sydney sat on the blanket and hugged her knees to her chest. "You're lucky all the snow has melted," Sydney remarked.

Garrett smiled. "I figured this would be the perfect way to spend Valentine's Day together. In our special place."

Sydney looked around No Man's Land. She could see her breath and Garrett's rising from their mouths, the crisp night air illuminating the stars, the trees still barren from winter, and the ground damp from the melted snow. It was quite a sight. "You know," she said, lazily studying the ivy growing on the wall, "this place has such a different feel to it now that we're together. Over the summer I hated coming here. Now it..."

Garrett took her hand. "Means something?"

She grinned at him. "Means a lot."

"Well, I was going to wait until after we ate dinner, but what the heck. I can't wait to see the look on your face when you open this," Garrett said, pulling out a box wrapped in red and silver wrapping paper. "Happy Valentine's Day."

"Oh Garrett," she breathed, taking the package from him. "Thank you!"

"Come on, open it," he encouraged her. She quickly tore through the paper. From the look of the box she could tell it was jewelry, and held it up to her ear, shaking it. Garrett laughed. "Would you just open it?!"

Sydney laughed as well, and lifted the lid of the gray felt box. Inside was a sparkling tennis bracelet. "Garrett! It's beautiful!"

"Do you like it?" he asked.

She had already clasped it on and was admiring it from all angles. "I love it!"

He smiled. "It's hard to shop for the girl who has everything."

"Well, you did well," she commented, leaning close to him. Their lips met in a long, sweet kiss that seemed to go on for a blissful eternity.

Reluctantly, he pulled away from her lips and started emptying out the picnic basket. "Are you cold?" he asked. She nodded, and he wrapped another blanket around her shoulders.

"You're such a wonderful guy," she murmured.

"You know, you're sure in a better mood now than you were yesterday."

Sydney’s mind wandered back to her conversation with Danathan. It had felt so good to take her power back, which she had been quickly letting slip through her fingers every time she was around him. "I finally took care of what was bothering me," she replied simply.

Garrett could tell from her vague answer that she wasn't willing to pursue the conversation any further. "So, are you looking forward to your charity drive?"

Sydney nodded, examining the expensive foods Garrett had packed for them. "Mm-hmm... except for Danathan."

Garrett looked up in surprise... realizing that this was the first time Sydney had ever really mentioned the mysterious Danathan in a negative way. "What's his story anyway?"

Sydney opened her mouth, wanting to tell Garrett all about him. She had promised herself that she would take great care of her renewed relationship with Garrett, and that there wouldn't be any more secrets between them. But this was something she just couldn't tell him about... especially since she couldn't explain it to herself. She took Garrett's hand and squeezed it affectionately. "It really doesn't matter anymore. After the benefit I don't think we'll be hearing of Danathan Hartfield ever again."

When the clock struck ten in Mila's pink bedroom she wrapped herself in her bathrobe, slipped on her slippers, and went out onto the balcony. She carried with her a single candle that she placed on the ledge. She breathed in the crisp February air and looked out to the sky. It was a beautiful night, and the sky looked just like it had when she and Grant had gone out on that magical date. Her eyes searched the evening sky until she found the bright, glowing star. She focused on it for several minutes, just watching and enjoying the peaceful evening, until her eyes flooded with tears and she could no longer see the star. "Happy Valentine's Day, Grant," she whispered into the empty night.

Saja watched Sandy from across the table with admiration. It was one of the first times he finally realized that the two of them were most definitely an item. They had been unofficially official since before the concert at the beginning of the school year, and there was so much he wanted to tell her. So he had taken her to his favorite Chinese restaurant on the edge of town, and had packed his own special fortune cookie. He had removed the slip of paper and replaced it with one he had written on. "Sandy, will you be my girlfriend?" it read. He knew it was going to be romantic once she opened it at the end of the meal.

"Thanks for taking me out, Saja," Sandy said, taking a bite of her food.

"Of course. Valentine's Day is a special holiday, and I'm glad I have someone to spend it with this year," Saja told her shyly.

Sandy smiled, but seemed a little distracted.

"Are you all right? Your aura seems to be a bit clouded," he commented.

"I'm fine," she replied. She looked up, and saw someone familiar enter the restaurant. It was the girl from the music store, the one that had haunted Sandy's thoughts for the past few days. She had to talk to her. She had to find out why she had made fun of her songs, why she had inadvertently resurrected part of the old Sandy Swan.

She jumped up from the table.

"Where are you going?" Saja asked.

"I just have to do something," she explained hastily, wandering to the front of the restaurant where the girl was standing with her date.

Saja watched her go. "Well, this is working out well."

"Are you sure you don't want to go to the Swan Club for dinner or anything?" J.T. asked, loosening his tie.

"I'd rather have you guys hang out where I did before I met you," Carolyn said, explaining why they were waiting to be seated at a 24 hour diner.

Neil wasn't listening to the conversation but rather studying the sign posted in the front of the diner. "Hmm. No card playing allowed."

J.T. shot a glance at Glory. "Happy Valentine's Day," he said sarcastically.

Glory grabbed his tie and led him to the corner. "Would you cut it out, J.T.?"

He threw up his hands. "Cut what out?"

"All of the comments you've been making all night." She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "I'm so sorry you're having such a horrible time."

"You know that's not it," J.T. told her in his defense. "It's just that this wasn't how I imagined our Valentine's Day to be." He pulled her into his arms. "I wanted to be alone with you."

She smiled shyly. "Oh, J.T."

"Hey! I've got an idea." He took her hand. "Carolyn! Neil! We'll be back in one second!" He pulled her outside into the parking lot.

"What are we doing?" she giggled.

J.T. held out his hand to her. "My darling, may I have this dance."

Glory laughed. "Why, of course." They swayed to imaginary music while people pulled in and out of the diner parking lot.

"Now this is much better," J.T. whispered into her ear. "Happy Valentine's Day, Glory.

"Happy Valentine's Day."

After eating and talking for several hours, Jimmy and Callie stepped outside of the restaurant. Both of them were laughing and crying at the same time. Over a very romantic dinner they had shared stories about their mothers and the different experiences they had had as children. Some were funny, and some memories were painful, but it was so relieving to both of them because they had never really opened up to anyone about them before. Jimmy was always too quiet and reserved with everyone else in town to open up, and Callie never really let herself get close enough to anyone to let them know that a lot of times she missed her mother so much it hurt.

It was a little after dawn, and the couple strolled down the deserted streets of Swans Crossing. "Is there really anywhere else to go? It's so early," Callie whispered into the still morning.

"Just one more block," Jimmy replied. He rounded a corner, and then his destination came into view.

"Church?" Callie asked.

Jimmy nodded. "My dad doesn't have much time to go with us anymore, so we hardly ever get to attend. But I remember for years we'd go here every Sunday and all the holidays to light a candle for my mom."

Callie squeezed his hand. "This is a wonderful idea." They approached the beautiful brick Catholic church and he pulled the door open for them. "You know, I've never been to church before."

"Never?" he whispered in disbelief.

She shook her head. "There was never any time traveling around like my dad and I did. But I've always found religion to be beautiful and fascinating."

Jimmy stopped in the foyer of the church and placed his fingers in the holy water. Callie watched as he made the sign of the cross and followed his lead.

The two made their way down the aisle and Callie looked up at the beautiful stained glass windows in awe. Jimmy walked up to the alter, deposited some money, and headed over to where several candles stood, flickering in the dim morning light. Carefully, he lit one of the candles for his mother and stared at the flame. Callie smiled at him, and then lit a candle for her mother. Jimmy started walking off to sit down, but Callie touched his arm. "Wait," she said. She took an unlit candle and touched it to the wick of the candle she had lit for her mother. "For Vanessa," she whispered.

Jimmy gave her a meaningful look, and they retreated down the aisle. He stopped at a pew and knelt down, making the sign of the cross before going into the pew. Callie followed him, and they knelt down side by side, folding their hands in silent prayer for their families.

"Excuse me!" Sandy called, jogging to catch up to the girl who was headed for the buffet line.

The girl showed no recognition of Sandy. "Yeah?"

"Remember me? I met you in the music store. I'm the one in the cheesy pop band," Sandy said with an edge to her voice.

The girl smiled. "That's right! What's up?"

Sandy didn't smile back. "How come you said what you did about my music?"

She grabbed a plate and placed an egg roll on it. "Oh, come on. If you're in a band you have to be able to take some criticism."

Sandy lowered her eyes in embarrassment. "But I want to know why you don't like us."

She stopped spooning sweet and sour chicken onto her plate and sighed. "You really want to know why I don't like your music?"

Sandy nodded.

"Because it is cheesy. You need something harder. Something with an edge. You're too Mariah Carey, too Janet Jackson. You need to try something like grunge music," the girl explained.

"Grunge?" Sandy repeated with confusion.

"Oh wow! You don't even know what grunge is! It's 1993, girl! You've never heard of Pearl Jam, Nirvana?"

"Not really," Sandy admitted.

She laughed. "Well then there's your problem. You need to write about something more meaningful than breaking up with your boyfriend. Something real... something full of angst."

"Angst?" Sandy repeated.

"Mm-hmm. I'm Rachel, by the way," the girl introduced herself, extending her hand.

"Sandy Swan."

"Well, if you don't mind Sandy Swan, I'm going to eat my dinner now. But if you want some help writing some lyrics or something I'd be more than glad to offer it," Rachel said.

"Right, thanks," she replied, wandering back to the table deep in thought.

"Sandy!" Saja said when she returned. "What was that all about?"

"What?" Sandy asked, shaking off her bewilderment. "Oh, nothing."

"Well, the check came. And uh, here's your fortune cookie," he told her, pushing the special cookie in her direction. She quickly waved it away from him.

"No thanks, Saja. I hate fortune cookies."

Sydney inserted her key in the door at eleven, which was a little earlier than she had promised to be home. She paused in the doorway and smiled. It has been such a wonderful evening, she thought to herself as she admired Garrett's beautiful gift and could still feel the tingling on her lips let over from his many kisses. She sighed contentedly. It was a perfect holiday.

Humming to herself, she turned on the light in the living room.

"Sydney!" Mayor Rutledge gasped.

Sydney’s eyes widened. She saw her mother kissing a tall, dark- haired man. She quickly turned on her heels and started towards the front door again.

"Wait! Don't leave," the mayor said, smoothing down her blond hair. "I know this must seem strange, but I want you to meet my new... friend."

Sydney turned to the man. "Friend?" she echoed, raising an eyebrow.

Mayor Rutledge cleared her throat with embarrassment. "Um, Sydney, this is Alex Hartfield."

Sydney's voice caught in her throat. "Hartfield? Danathan's father?"

Jimmy dismounted his bike in the school parking lot Monday morning and greeted Saja, who was waiting there for him. "Hey Saja! What's up?"

Saja shrugged. "The sky, the clouds, my entire love life coming to a destructive end in the cosmic plane... you know... the same."

"Right," Jimmy said slowly. "What's this about your love life?"

"Well, now, I consider myself an expert at astrology, fighting battles, lifting myself to a higher state of being..."

"Saja," Jimmy warned.

"But I think I am lacking in the romance department."

Jimmy grinned, thinking of his date with Callie on Valentine's Day. "Well, I think I can help you there. What's going on? I thought things with you and Sandy were going really well."

He shrugged. "I thought so too. But then at dinner she totally blew me off. I even had this fortune cookie made especially for her." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumbled remnants of the cookie and the slip of paper.

"'Sandy, will you be my girlfriend'," Jimmy read. "That's a really cool idea."

"Right, but she didn't even take it. And she was so quiet and distracted all through dinner," he complained.

"Well," Jimmy said. "There's not much I can tell you. Just talk to her today and see what's up. I'm sure everything's fine."

Saja shrugged again. "I sure hope you're right, my friend."

Sydney bounced up and down on her heels, waiting for Callie to arrive at the office where they were supposed to meet. As soon as she saw her friend coming up the hall, she started walking towards her. "Callie! We have to talk!"

Callie smiled. "Okay, what's going on?"

Sydney raked back her hair dramatically. "Life as I know it is over."

Callie gave her a skeptical look. "What do you mean?"

"My mother is dating Danathan's father," Sydney blurted out.

Callie's eyes widened. "You're kidding!"

"I wish," Sydney said softly. "Callie, what should I do? I walked in on them kissing, and I know she went away with some guy over the holidays. What if..." Her voice trailed off. She didn't want to even think of her mother seeing this man seriously.

"Look Sydney," Callie began, "tomorrow is a really big day for you. As soon as the charity drive is over talk to your mother and find out the entire story. Until then just throw yourself into planning the benefit."

"But I told Danathan after the charity drive that I never wanted to see him again. What's going to happen when I tell him our parents are seeing each other?"

Callie looked up, and pointed to Danathan, who was coming out of the office wearing a visitor’s name tag. "Speak of the devil."

Sydney laughed wryly. "The devil's right."

Feeling eyes following her as she walked down the hall, Mila clutched her books to her chest. "Is there any reason everyone's staring at us?" she asked Nancy.

Nancy smiled confidently. "Probably because of my stunning performance at the skating competition on Saturday."

Mila nodded, wanting to accept this explanation, although she could tell that the students whispering and pointing were talking about her. Trying to ignore them, she twirled the combination on her locker and tossed her books inside.

"I'm going to head to class, Countessa," Nancy said, stepping away. "Ta!" She waved good-bye and then headed off in her own direction.

"Mila!" Glory called, sprinting up the hallway and clutching onto her back pack.

"Hey, Glory. What's wrong?" Mila asked, noticing Glory seemed very flustered.

Glory looked over her shoulder, and then took Mila by the arm. "Can I talk to you about something?"

Mila nodded and the girls went into a corner near the drinking fountain.

"Okay," Glory started, her face flushing. "This is totally embarrassing and maybe a little out of line, but I think I have to ask you and find out the truth instead of listening to what people are saying," she babbled.

Mila's blood ran cold. "What are people saying?"

Glory nervously shuffled her feet. "Mila... what happened between you and my brother?"

"Hi Sydney," Danathan greeted her. Callie took a few steps away from them. "I know you don't want anything to do with me anymore, but we do have to get through this charity drive, so I thought you, Callie, and I could work on the budget."

Sydney nodded. "Right."

Callie gave her a look, trying to urge her to tell Danathan about their parents. "Come on," Sydney said, ignoring Callie's looks. "I'll show you to the student council room and we'll get right to work."

"What do you mean what happened between me and your brother?" Mila questioned Glory in a strangled voice.

She put her hand on Mila's shoulder sympathetically. "People are talking."

Mila still was not understanding her. "Talking about what?"

Glory sighed, realizing she wasn't going to be able to tactfully hint at the subject with Mila... she was actually going to have to spell it out for her. "People are saying that you and Grant did more than you did."

She still looked confused, and then realization washed over her. "Oh," she said flatly.

Glory rose an eyebrow. "Did you?" she asked with surprise.

"Of course not!" Mila exclaimed. "How could you even think that?"

"I don't know. You just didn't sound too surprised when I told you what people were saying," Glory explained.

"I don't believe this," Mila groaned. "Why would anyone think such a horrible thing about me?" Glory lowered her eyes, and Mila noticed this. "There's more isn't there?"

She nodded. "Yeah. They’re saying that because you've had a lot of boyfriends in the past and one of them was a rock star and that, well, you know..." Unsure how to phrase her explanation, Glory's voice trailed off. "It's just that people are saying you don't have a very good rep."

Tears welled in Mila’s eyes. "You don't believe it, do you Glory?"

"No! I mean, two of my brothers and my boyfriend are the ones you dated and they're not like that. Especially not J.T.," Glory assured her.

"Right. I mean," Mila said, wiping away her tears, "if you don't believe it than I'm sure it will all blow over in a few days."

The bell rang, and as the girls headed off to class Glory looked over her shoulder at several students standing around watching Mila and whispering. "Yeah. You're right," Glory told her... hoping that it was the truth.

Jimmy tossed his backpack on the kitchen table and grabbed a soda from the refrigerator. He had a lot of homework to do, namely beginning the research for his family project. After he and Callie had been talking about their mothers he realized he was actually excited about learning a little more about his family history. He cracked open his drink and headed over to where the entrance to the attic was. Pulling down on a chain, he released the ladder which led up to the small crawl space.

Once he was up in the attic he groped around for the light. Upon turning it on he realized he had his work cut out from him. The Clayton's rarely used the attic anymore, and it showed. All of the kids’ old toys, swing sets, wagons, and other things were cluttered into one area. The moth-eaten brown couch and orange furniture that his parents had displayed in their house in the seventies were shoved in the other corner. Many cardboard boxes full of miscellaneous things were sitting in the middle of the crawl space, covered in dust.

He found one box labeled "photo albums", and he tore at the tape holding it closed. He rifled through the photos, smiling at the many shots of him and his brothers when they were very small and pictures of his parents’ wedding. He set those aside and dug deeper into the box. His hand fell on something soft, and he pulled it out. It was a dusty, cloth-covered diary that he had never seen before.

"I wonder whose it is," Jimmy said aloud, hesitating before cracking the book’s spine. Curiosity won over and he opened the diary. The first entry was dated June 1, 1966. Jimmy's eyes widened as he traced his finger along the faded, familiar writing. "It's my mom's!"

Sydney paced along the side of the wall at No Man's Land, waiting for Garrett to show up. She had so many weird thoughts running through her head. She couldn't believe that Danathan's father and her mother were dating, and she didn't know what to tell him. And even though she had told Danathan that she never wanted to see him again, as soon as he had shown up at school she felt powerless once again.

"Sydney?" Garrett called, appearing on the other side of the wall.

She stopped pacing and looked at him, her eyes wide with confusion and fear. "Hi Garrett," she answered in an effort to sound normal.

"Glory said you told her it was important that I meet you here. What's going on?" he asked in a concerned voice.

Sydney broke down. "Oh Garrett, I don't know! It's all Danathan's fault. His dad is seeing my mom, and if that wasn't weird enough he seems to know all these things about me, and he creeps me out but I want to be around him and I don't know why!"

"What?!" Garrett exclaimed. "You mean you have feelings for this guy?"

"No!" she replied. "I just keep finding myself around him.... it's like I can't control it. He seems to have this... power over me."

Sydney could see the rage flashing in Garrett's eyes. "I'm going to kill him!"

"Garrett, wait!" Sydney protested, running to the hole in the wall to try and stop him. "Please, Garrett, don't!"

Garrett hesitated. "Listen Sydney, I'm not going to let this Danathan guy steal you away from me."

"Garrett, I don't like him. Really."

"You said that he has some power over you," he said.

"Well..." Her voice trailed off.

Garrett looked threatening. "Don't worry, Sydney. From now on I'm not going to let him hurt you. I'll make sure of that."

June 1, 1966. Dear Diary, Today was finally the last day of school, Jimmy read. He quickly counted off on his fingers and realized that this was his mother's last day of her senior year. Then he continued reading:

I finally am out of this school and I never have to go back. You don't know how liberating that is! Everyday I had to walk down those halls and see the "group": Muffy Rutledge, Valera Rosnovsky, Grant Booth, and Elia Walker. Even their names are pretentious! I can't even imagine what those kids are going to do when they don't have me and Rob and the rest of us "poor" kids to make fun of anymore. I guess they'll just spend a ton of money and raise kids of their own in huge mansions. I sure wish I could provide that kind of life for my kids. Ma and Pa would have a fit if they knew this, but Rob and I have been talking about getting married a lot lately. I know what you're thinking... we're too young. But I love him so much, and I know he feels the same way. We have the same thoughts on how we want to live the rest of our lives. We want to get good jobs and raise our kids so they can be in the "in" crowd at Swans Crossing High. Rob says that a few months after graduation he's going to take the money he's made from working at his dad's office, sell off his old bug, and buy us a motorcycle. Then we can drive out to Vegas and get married. My parents are always saying Rob Clayton and I are far too involved, but I mean, come on... this is the late sixties! I know I'm responsible... and diary, I'm ready to begin the first day of the rest of my life!

Sydney surveyed the crowd. It was finally the day of the charity event, and all of Swans Crossing High was seated in the gym, waiting for Sydney to make a speech. She turned around and saw Callie and Danathan seated at a table with a cash box. Different carnival games were set up around the gym, and Sandy, Owen, and Mila were setting up their music instruments in the middle of everything. She had to smile to herself. Things had really come together on fairly short notice.

Sydney went up to the microphone and cleared her throat. There was a smattering of applause, and as soon as it ceased she began talking. "Hey everyone! I'd like to welcome you all to the first ever Swans Crossing charity event!" The students clapped again, and Sydney smiled confidently. "There are lots of games you can play, and donations are gladly accepted. We also have Swans Crossing's hottest local band, Inspiration, playing for us today! Show them you enjoy the music by contributing to the tip jar. Everything goes to a good cause!" She stopped and listened to the cheering. "Now," she began as everyone quickly quieted down, "I'm sure you're all wondering what charity we're donating to. This year instead of contributing to a particular charity we decided to help out one organization we all take advantage of: Swans Crossing High. SCH has recently been faced with budgetary problems, and your donations can greatly help our school. Now..." she said, and Owen did a drum roll. "Let the games begin!"

Sandy took the microphone to provide music for the students, some of whom were crowding around the band to hear them, and some who were heading off to play games. She took a deep breath, and started to sing the song she had just written, and had only recently shown to Owen and Mila. "Truer lines were never spoken, than those from your lips, I want to crawl my way up, from the darkness you bring forth, but everything's so hopeless, I don't know what I'm living for."

Sydney listened to the lyrics from across the room, where she was proudly watching money pass between students and student council members. She couldn't believe what she was hearing... Sandy wasn't singing anything she had approved of, but rather a dark, depressing song.

As soon as it ended, Sydney marched up to the makeshift stage. "Sandy!" she yelled.

Sandy looked up from adjusting her microphone. "What?" she asked. "Sydney, we were just about to play the next song."

"Well it better be one of your old ones," Sydney said, placing her hands on her hips. "Because I think you just totally ruined the atmosphere!"

Sandy gave her a confused look. "What do you mean?"

"That song you played. It was way depressing," Sydney commented dryly.

"It's called ‘angst’, Sydney," she replied, rolling her eyes.

"Well, whatever it's called, I don't like it." She rifled through the sheet music and handed "Cross that Line" to Owen. "Here. Play this."

Sandy reluctantly started her song, and Sydney grinned, pleased that they were listening to her.

"Excuse me, Miss Rutledge," a voice from behind her called. Sydney whipped around, and saw Mr. Bronson, the vice principal, standing before her. "Can I talk to you about something?"

Sydney tried not to lose her cool, even though the tall man was quite intimidating. "Of course. Are you enjoying the fair?"

He loosened his tie. "Well, yes, but I need to ask you a question."

"All right," Sydney said.

"Can you please tell me, Miss Rutledge, where you got the classified information about the school's budget?" he asked, fixing his face into a stern frown.

"Classified?" Sydney repeated, furrowing her eyebrows in confusion. "I didn't know it was classified information."

"Well, who told you then?"

Sydney shrugged nonchalantly. "Neil Atwater."

Callie took a twenty dollar bill from a student and counted out her change. She handed it to her along with the seven dollars in carnival tickets she had asked for.

"Callie!" Jimmy called, pushing his way through the crowd. She looked up, trying hard to keep track of all the money coming in.

"Yeah?" she said, handing another kid his tickets.

"How did you get roped into doing this job?" he asked with an amused grin.

"Sydney," Callie answered testily.

"Well, when you get off I really have something to show you," Jimmy told her.

"What's that?"

"My mother's diary," he replied. "Walker Woman, you wouldn't believe it, I mean, it's a whole book of experiences my mother went through when she had just graduated from high school."

She smiled. "Wow. I sure wish I had something like that," she remarked wistfully.

"It really makes me feel like a little part of her is here again," he said softly. "It's like the prayer I said on Valentine's Day was answered."

Callie took the hand not filled with money and placed it over his. "That's really great, Clayton."

Jimmy looked up and saw Heather milling around the carnival, obviously waiting for Danathan. "Hey, I'll be right back," he told Callie, wandering over in her direction. He hadn't forgotten his promise that he'd find out once and for all if Heather was really Vanessa Walker.

Garrett saw Danathan at the ticket table and realized that this was the perfect opportunity to let him know that he needed to stay away from Sydney. "Excuse me," he said. Both Callie and Danathan looked up and saw Garrett standing before them, an angry look on his face.

"Yeah?" Danathan asked distractedly.

"I kind of need to have a word with you," he told him.

Danathan rolled his eyes and looked around at the big line of students waiting to get their tickets. "I'm a little busy here."

"That's fine. This will only take a minute. I just have one small request," Garrett said icily.

"Fine," he agreed.

Garrett stared him down. "Stay away from Sydney!"

"So, are you enjoying yourself?" Jimmy said, coming up behind Heather.

She shrugged. "Not really. I hate being around all these kids." She paused. "No offense."

"None taken. So, uh, how old are you?" he pried.

She laughed. "You sure do ask a lot of questions, don't you? I'm eighteen."

Jimmy thought back to Callie's story about her sister's disappearance. "She'd be eighteen now," she had said. This just keeps getting weirder! he thought.

"So, have you seen Danathan?" Heather asked in an annoyed tone.

Jimmy nodded. "Yeah, he's over there working the ticket table with Callie. My girlfriend." Your sister, he wanted to add, but held his tongue.

"So, he's not around that Sydney girl?" she asked.

"No, why?"

"It just seems like he's been all over the girl. I mean, I know it's part of the plan but..." She looked up at Jimmy. "Never mind. I'm going to go see him." She quickly trotted away before he had the chance to ask what she had meant.

Neil sat in the office, tapping his foot nervously. He couldn't believe that Sydney had ratted him out! "So Mr. Atwater, you broke into the school's e-mail?" Mr. Bronson questioned him accusingly.

"I didn't, um, break in. I just hit a button and uh..." His voice trailed off.

"But you did spread the classified information around school?"

Neil lowered his eyes. "Well, I mean, I did tell Sydney, and J.T., and Glory, but I don't think I spread it around school..."

"You're suspended for a week, Mr. Atwater!" he bellowed.

"But, but, Mr. Bronson!" Neil exclaimed, jumping to his feet.

"Don't argue with me or I'll make it two weeks. Now," he said, pointing to the office door, "you may leave."

Neil lowered his head and retreated from the office dejectedly.

After school Neil headed to the University, not sure what to make of his punishment. He had never been in trouble before... except for UB2B, and his parents had grounded him severely for that. He hated to think of what would happen once they found out he had been suspended for a week.

When he arrived at the bio lab he groaned. Carolyn was there, working on some equations. After the Valentine's Day outing Neil felt incredibly weird being around her. It was almost like J.T. and Glory had been trying to set them up.

She smiled when she spotted him and waved for him to come over. "I didn't think you'd be here today, Neil," she said cheerfully.

He didn't smile back.

"What's wrong? You look like someone died," she commented.

"Someone's going to," he muttered under his breath.

"What happened?" she asked, her voice full of sincere concern.

"I don't want to talk about it," he replied sharply.

She didn't want to push him. "Fine," she said, turning back to her work.

He didn't like this. "Well, maybe I do want to talk." She gave him a crooked grin. "It's just that this is going to shock everyone."

"I don't shock easily," Carolyn assured him.

"I got suspended," he blurted out.

Carolyn's eyes widened. "Okay. I'm shocked."

He relayed the whole story to her, while she listened intently. For the first time in his life he was talking to a girl like she was a person and was genuinely seeking her advice.

When he was done, Carolyn nodded sympathetically. "Look Neil, as long as this never happens again you'll be all right."

"But it'll be on my permanent record!"

"Records aren't everything," she muttered.

Neil noticed that something was up with her. "Personal experience?" he asked.

Carolyn bit her lip and turned away from him. "Yeah," she said in a quiet voice. "I have a permanent record. I..." She looked back at him, and for the first time realized she could trust him. "I used to be sort of a troublemaker."

Callie, Danathan, and Sydney came walking up the hall after school. Jimmy waved to them, and while Sydney and Danathan went inside the student council room Callie stayed to talk to him. "Hey!"

He smiled at her. "I'm glad you're finally finished with the grunt work."

She rolled her eyes. "Not quite. Sydney wants me to help her count all the money."

Jimmy looked around to make sure the hallway was empty, and then he took her by the arm. "Walker Woman, I was talking to Heather today..."

"Not again," she groaned.

"Just listen to me. She said something really strange."

"Like what?"

He lowered his voice. "She said something about how Danathan hanging around Sydney was ‘part of the plan’."

"Plan?" she repeated with surprise. "What kind of plan?

He shrugged. "She took off before I could ask her. But I think there's something really fishy about the two of them."

Callie nodded slowly. "I think so too. Look, if what you're saying is true I better get in there and make sure Sydney's okay alone with him."

"All right," Jimmy agreed. "I'll wait out here for you."

She slipped into the student council lounge, and Jimmy sat down against the wall and retrieved his mother's diary from his backpack.

June 4, 1966 - Dear Diary, Today was the most incredible day of my life! Rob got a motorcycle for his graduation present, and he came to pick me up. What happened next was something out of the movies....

Josephine sat on her front porch, enjoying the warm sunshine. She sipped the lemonade her mother had made her and sighed with content. The summer of '66 was going to be the best ever. She had been dating Rob Clayton for around eight months, and it was true love. Sometimes they would drive out to the cliffs in Rob's VW and look out at the stars, talking about the future. And now that school was over there was nothing stopping them from making that future come true. Except maybe for the money issue.

"Hey, Josie!" a sing-song voice called out. It was Margaret "Muffy" Rutledge. She was behind the wheel of her shiny new car. "Whatcha doing?"

Josephine played with the ends of her long, black hair and got up from the porch. "Nothing, Muffy. Just relaxing."

"Well, maybe you and Rob want to come over to the Swan Club later. A bunch of us are going to figure out a way to sneak in," she said with a devilish look on her face.

"But you guys are members," she pointed out.

"Sneaking in would be way more trippy. We stole some spray paint and we're going to paint the swans! So, are you up for it?"

Josephine shook her head. She wasn't sure why Muffy was being so nice to her, but there had to be some sort of ulterior motive. "No thanks. But maybe I'll see you around this summer."

Muffy shrugged. "All right. Later!" Josephine watched her speed away, and then she heard another engine coasting up the street. She saw a huge motorcycle come into focus, and a driver in tattered bellbottoms and a black T-shirt jumped off and pulled off his helmet. "Rob!" she exclaimed.

Robert Clayton smiled. "Hey, babe! Look what my parents got for me!" She circled the bike in awe.

"Rob, this is incredible!"

He took her hand. "Come on, let's go for a ride."

Josephine looked back at the house. She should probably tell her parents she was leaving, but she was officially an adult now. "All right," she agreed, and she hopped on the back of the bike. The couple sped off, and Rob directed the huge machine towards the cliffs. As soon as they were there he turned off the engine and he and Josephine stepped off the bike.

He knelt down and took her hand. "I love you, Josephine," he told her in an emotional voice. "Will you marry me?"

Sydney smiled at the stacks and stacks of money sitting on the table in the student council room. Her charity day had been an immense success. She stood up to stretch and watched Callie and Danathan counting out the cash. And Danathan has been on fairly good behavior, Sydney thought to herself. Yelling at him must have worked!

"Hey Callie," she said, breaking the silence in the room.

"Yeah?" Callie answered, losing her count.

"Would you help me get rid of these posters?"

Callie agreed, and the girls took an armload of advertisements for the benefit and made their way down to the trash compactor. "You know, I'm really impressed, Sydney."

Sydney smiled. "Thanks. I think we really made a ton of money. I bet we can make even more next year!"

Callie laughed at her friend's enthusiasm. "So have you told Danathan about your mom?" she asked as they stuffed the posters in the trash and headed back to the room.

"No," she replied softly. "And I don't know if I'm going to, either."

"Sydney," Callie said warningly. "If you don't tell him..." Her voice trailed off when they came back into the room. Danathan wasn't there... and neither was the overflowing cash box.

Sydney gasped. "Oh my god! The money! It's... gone!"


I hope everyone enjoyed the last chapter of Swans Crossing: The Return! It's been a great experience, and I have all the readers to thank! A special thanks to Miss Swan for publishing this novel on her web site! Look for the sequel to SC: The Return, Swans Crossing: Sweet Sixteen, coming soon! -->

"Clayton Family Secrets" storyline (c) 1998 Miss Swan