Ava blew out a breath as she leaned against the back of the bench seat in the rear of her mother’s car. Looking up through the rear windshield as the street lights flashed past. “How much longer?”
“We’re almost home, just relax.” Randy Sharpe turned in the seat so he could look at his daughter. “I know you are upset about the move, but-”
Closing her eyes Ava shook her head. “It’s fine.”
“I talked to Nathaniel about taking you out tomorrow to meet some of his friends.” Without looking Ava knew her mother was watching her through the rear-view mirror.
Huffing Ava opened her eyes, but didn’t look up. “I’m sure that’s exactly what Nate wants to do. Drag his cousin around and introduce her to all of his friends.” She pulled her beanie over her eyes. “No thanks.”
“Ava.” She could her the disappointment in her mother’s tone. “I know the situation isn’t ideal, but we need to make the best of it.”
Rubbing the bridge of her nose Ava sighed. “I know and I will. I really just don’t want to spend the rest of summer break following Nate around like a lost puppy. I’m sure once school starts up, I will be able to make my own friends.”
Her dad cleared his throat. “If you could keep things low-key here, you have a chance to start your senior year fresh.”
“Randy . ” There was a warning in her mom’s tone.
Ava set her jaw to prevent herself from saying anything. She didn’t see a point in having the same argument over and over again, much less in the car where she wouldn’t be able to create some distance when needed. Her attention was drawn away from the tense silence that fell over the car by a nudge against her hand. Rolling her head to the left she regarded the dog stretched out on the seat next to her by peering under the rolled brim of her hat . He nudged her hand a couple more time until her palm was resting on his muzzle.
Making eye contact with the corgi caused his nub of a tail to start to wag. Sighing Ava ran her hand up his head and started scratching between his ears. In response he crawled closer and rested his head on her thigh. Even if she wanted to Ava was unable to stop the smile that his actions triggered. After a few minutes her mom angled the car into a driveway and Ava immediately open the door needing to be out of that environment as soon as possible, pushing her beanie back to the top of her head in the process. The sound of paws hitting concrete behind her let Ava know the tri colored dog was right on her heels. After making sure he was clear she closed the door and moved to the rear of the car waiting for the latch to release the trunk.
She heard it pop and immediately opened the lid to retrieve her suitcase. The garage door was opening and the blonde made note that half of the square footage was taken up by stacked boxes while the other half housed her father’s convertible Mustang. She made sure to walk carefully around the flannel covered car. Looking back towards her mom’s car Ava noted the dog lingering outside. She whistled to get his attention. “Come on, Nick.”
The dog’s head popped up and looked in her direction, but he didn’t move to follow just continuing to sniff a shrub outside the garage.
Rolling her eyes Ava jerked her head towards the door. “Come on, let’s do dinner then we can go for a walk.” In response he yawned then reluctantly followed her into the house. Walking through the mudroom and kitchen she dropped her suitcase off at the foot of the stairs before returning to the kitchen. Looking around the unfamiliar space she took in the room for the first time. “Mom, where’s Nick’s stuff?” The corgi walked past her and continued deeper into the house.
“Laundry room.” Pam walked into the kitchen as she spoke and hung her keys next to the door.
Raising her brows Ava held her hands out. “Laundry room?”
“Right.” Pam gestured over her shoulder. “This way. Want me to give you a tour?”
Moving past her mom to find the food and dishes, Ava shook her head. “Maybe later. I want to get him fed and walked first.”
“Honey, it’s late.” Ava grabbed what she needed off the top of the washing machine and took it into the kitchen with her. “You should probably just stay in for the night.”
Filling one of the dishes with water Ava sat it on the floor and whistled. “It was a long flight, I really want to stretch and get some fresh air. I’m sure he needs it too.” When the first piece of food hit the bottom of the stainless-steel dish the corgi sprinted around the corner, back into the kitchen. He spun in a few circles as the blonde sat the dish on the floor next to the water.
Relenting Pam nodded. “While he’s eating at least let me show you where your room is?”
As she stood Ava wiped her hands on her jeans. “Sure.”
Moving through the house her mom went ahead and pointed out the various rooms when they walked past. Ava noted that most of their boxes had been unpacked and had already been put away. I guess this is home for now. She followed her mom upstairs, pausing to grab her suitcase.
“The bathroom is at the top of the stairs. Our bedroom is to the left.” Pausing Pam nodded to the second door at the top of the stairs. “We’re putting Danny in that room, and Carly took the bedroom in the front.”
Ava walked to the last door and pushed it open. Her boxes were still stacked in one corner of the room. Her bed was in the middle and even though it was unmade there was bedding still folded and sitting in the middle of the mattress. It put her in the mind of a prison movie. Don’t be dramatic, it’s not that bad.
She could sense her mom’s presence behind her. “What do you think?”
“It’s fine.” taking the hat off her head she tossed it onto the dresser and sat on the edge of the bed looking around at the beige walls.
Pam sat down next to her. “We can paint once you get settled in.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Her mom wrapped her arm around her shoulders. “How far is school?”
Pam thought for a moment. “About 2 miles, I think. Why?”
“I’ll probably go early so I can see if I can get my schedule before try outs.” She shrugged. “Maybe see if there’s someone that can show me around the school and see what kinds extracurricular activities they offer.” From downstairs a single bark rang through the house. Standing up Ava started towards the door with her mom in tow. “Where is Carly?”
“She made a few new friends and I think they went to get pizza.” As they descended the stairs the corgi appeared at the landing. “She should be home in an hour or two.”
“We won’t be gone long.” Ava reached for the knob to the front door.
“Ava, take the leash. I’m not sure what the laws are here, but I’m pretty sure you need to have him leashed.” Turning the blonde saw her mom holding a leash towards her. Taking it from her Ava slipped it around her shoulders and walked out the door with the short dog right on her heels. “Ava!”
She held up and hand and kept walking. “Thanks, mom.” Arriving at the sidewalk she looked up and down the street to determine which way she wanted to go. Finally, she turned to the left and started walking. All of the houses along the street seemed very nice, but that wasn’t too surprising. Of course, her dad would find one of the better neighborhoods in Star City before moving them to the other side of the country.
Nick trotted just ahead of her with his nose in the air. Ava could hear him sniffing as they went along. She knew she would need to make the best of the situation, and it was only one more year then she’d be on her way to college. Honestly, that was the part that upset her the most. She’d have to spend her Senior year at a new school.
“What’s wrong with your dog?” A voice came from somewhere to her left.
Turning her head Ava saw a dark-haired girl sitting on the stairs of one of the nicer looking houses on the street. “Excuse me?” As she spoke Ava snapped her fingers to get Nick’s attention, and he came back and sat next to her.
“Your dog.” The girl jutted her chin towards the corgi. “What happened to his legs?”
Ava looked down at him then back to the girl. “Nothing? He’s a corgi.”
“Huh, so he’s supposed to look like that?” Standing up the girl walked closer and Ava could see she was wearing mostly black.
She was trying to figure out if this girl was serious or just messing with her. “Yes. They were bred as herding dogs in Wales.”
The girl laughed. “Wasn’t looking for a history lesson.” The brunette seemed to be sizing her up. “You move into the house on the corner .”
“Yeah.” She automatically held out her hand. “I’m Ava.”
The girl looked at her hand and then back up raising an eyebrow at her. “Cool.”
Ava slowly dropped her hand as the dark-haired girl walked back towards the house leaving Ava standing on the sidewalk. Looking down at the dog at her feet Ava shrugged. “Well, that was weird.” As Nick tilted his head at her, she smiled. “No weirder than talking to your dog, huh?” She started an easy jog continuing down the street away from her new home.
Walking back into the house, Ava heard several voices in the kitchen. She held the door open until Nick ran into the house. Closing the door, she looked at the stairs considering just retreating to her room when she heard her sisters voice yell for her. “Aves! Come meet my new friends.”
Groaning she looked at the dog who was panting and wagging at her. Deciding to at least say hello Ava walked into the kitchen to see her mom, sister, and three other people she didn’t know. “Hey.”
Carly walked around the island and wrapped her up in a hug. “It’s about time you got here.” She then turned back to the others in the room. “This is Oliver, Laurel, and Kendra.” Carly turned back towards her. “And this is my sister, Ava.” Dropping to her knees Carly patted her thighs calling Nick over. “And this little guy is her dog, Snickerdoodle.”
“Oh my God, he’s adorable.” The girl Carly had identified as Laurel joined her in petting the dog almost immediately.
The man just remained leaning against the island. He had a buzz cut and kept a closely cropped beard, which was really more like a long five o’clock shadow. He did have a warm smile as he offered her a nod in greeting. “Nice to meet you, Ava.”
“Oh no.” The brunette that had been petting Nick stood up. “I’m so sorry. It really is nice to finally meet you.” When she held her hand out Ava noted the slight flush on her cheeks. “Carly has told us a lot about you.”
“I totally understand, Nick is irresistible.” She moved to the fridge to grab something to drink. “Anyone need anything?” When the group declined and Kendra joined the other two girls lavishing attention on the corgi, Ava decided to try to keep the small talk going. “So, do you all go to Star City?”
Oliver shook his head. “Laurel and I graduated two years ago so, we are going to SCU.”
“I’ll be a Senior with you and Carly.” Kendra was rubbing the dogs exposed belly. “So, are you guys twins or something?”
Carly grunted. “Or something.” Their mother laughed before leaving the room. “I failed the fourth grade so now I’m in the same grade as my kid sister.”
Rolling her eyes Ava shook her head. “You know, you make it sound so much worse when you say it like that.” She twisted the lid off the bottle of water she pulled from the fridge and took a drink.
Carly’s eyes darted around the room and she craned her neck so she could see down the hallway. “Okay, now that mom is gone. Oliver is having an end of the summer party on Saturday. You should come.”
Suspicious , Ava studied her sister’s face. “Why would you want me to go?”
“Okay, consider. I might need a ride home?” Ava scoffed, but before she could say anything else Carly kept talking. “There will be a lot of people there. Including some high schoolers. Oliver’s sister, Thea, is a Junior and it’s kind of her party too.”
Laurel nodded. “For sure. I know my sister and her friends are coming too.” She waggled her eyebrows at the blonde. “Come on, you can meet some people before you start your senior year. It’ll be great.”
Oliver’s baritone cut in. “You might as well say yes. Once Laurel gets started, she won’t take no for an answer.” Ava took note of the unspoken connection between Laurel and Oliver. “She’s going to make an amazing DA someday.”
The brunette shot him a challenging look. “Don’t start, Ollie.”
He held up his hands in surrender. “See what I mean?”
Ava rubbed the back of her neck. “Fine, but you owe me.”
“ Yesss ! You’re the best, Aves.”
Ava walked into her room and looked at her unmade bed. Moving the folded bedding on top of her dresser she grabbed the fitted sheet and started making the bed so she could all it a night. As she was tucking in the first corner Carly walked in and grinned at her widely. “Thank you so much, Aves!”
“Yeah, yeah.” She continued working on getting her bed made and Carly started to help by tucking a corner on her side. “I meant it though you really do owe me, and please don’t get completely trashed. I don’t want to have to explain that to mom and dad.”
Once the fitted sheet was tucked in Carly jumped onto the bed stomach first. “Speaking of dad, how was the drive from the airport.”
Ava dropped her voice an octave or two. “Now Ava, you have the opportunity for a fresh start, so you should try to stay low-key. Or something to that affect.” Grabbing the flat sheet, Ava just unfolded it and draped it on the foot of the bed.
“I mean, everyone that I’ve met seems pretty cool, but dad may have a point.” Ava shot her sister a pointed look. “Aves, I love you to pieces, but you shouldn’t make things any harder than they need to be. Come to the party, meet some people, make a friend or two and skate through this year. Then get to college and experiment all you want.” Carly waggled her eyebrows at Ava.
A wave of heat ran through Ava’s body. “Get out.” She tried to keep her tone even as she gritted her teeth.
The smile fell from Carly’s face. “Ava, I didn’t mean-”
The blonde cut her sister off. “I’m serious, just get out.” She ran her hands over her face. “I’m tired and I have a full day planned tomorrow.”
Retreating Carly looked over her shoulder as she walked out of the room. “I’m sorry.”
Once her sister was gone Ava walked over to close the door, but before she could Nick waddled into the room without even acknowledging her and jumped onto the bed. “Are you serious?”
He rolled onto his back and wiggled on her clean sheets. When he stopped his head was facing her upside down, and gravity pulled at his jowls so it looked like he was grinning at her. Sighing she dropped onto the bed next to him. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”
Bouncing down the stairs Ava looked at the home screen of her phone noting the time. As she walked into the kitchen her dad looked up briefly from the newspaper and gave her a once over. She could practically feel his disapproval over her choice of sweatpants and an old tee shirt for the day, but for what she had planned it made sense. “Good morning.” She was still resistant to being the one starting the fight.
He mumbled something that sounded like ‘Morning’ into his coffee cup and lifted the paper up again.
Pam came around the corner. “Wow, I’m not used to having my morning child home yet.” Her mother gave her a warm smile as she walked towards the refrigerator. “Did you want me to make you something for breakfast? I already fed Snickers.”
It felt like her dad’s eyes were burning into the back of her head. “No, I’m going to go ahead and head out. Check out the area before I head to the school.”
“Did you want me to pick you up? I can take a half day.” Pam turned back towards Ava.
The blonde wrinkled her nose. “No, that won’t be necessary . It’s not that far, I Googled it. Besides you just started this job, I don’t want you to start missing work so soon and get in trouble.”
“Alright, but if you need anything call me.” Pam kissed her forehead and gave her a quick hug.
As she walked past her dad he nodded. “Stay out of trouble.”
“Right.” Sighing she grabbed her backpack as she walked out the door. As she walked towards the school, she had noted there was a small area with a few shops. A local coffee place was the one thing she had definitely decided to check out.
Ava realized that it was a shorter walk than she had expected as she slipped inside and approached the counter. She recognized the girl in black right away. A quick glance at her name tag and Ava smiled. “Good morning, Nora.”
“Oh good, you teach history AND you can read.” The dark-haired woman looked over at what Ava assumed was her manager before refocusing on Ava. “What can we prepare for you this morning?”
The level of cheerfulness Nora had tried to inject into the question almost made Ava laugh out loud at her. “Can I get and iced flat white and an egg white bagel, please?”
Nora punched the order into the register and took her money without any further pleasantries. Ava stepped aside so the man that walked in after her could place his order. She got lost in her thoughts as she waited. “Ava!” Looking up she saw a man place her order on the counter and walk away to work on the next one.
She stole a quick glance at Nora standing at the register on her way out. Well, she knows my name at least. She gave Nora a small nod, but got an eye roll in return. Oh yeah, making friends already. Ava took off her backpack and sat at one of the tables on the patio to eat before walking the rest of the way to the school.
After finishing up she made sure to pick up after herself before moving on. Once she arrived at the school, she walked into the office to sign in. She was greeted right away by a pleasant woman. “Good morning, how can I help you?”
“Good morning, I’m Ava Sharpe. I’ve been in touch with the principal about picking up my schedule this morning?”
The woman’s smile widened. “I’m Ms. Gideon! It’s nice to meet you, Ava. Things are a bit chaotic this morning.”
“Oh.” She shuffled her feet slightly. “I can come back another time.”
“No, no. I have your schedule and the list of extracurricular activities.” The older woman handed a couple pieces of paper over. “So, we do have new student orientation is a couple of weeks, but it’s going to be mostly freshman. If you are open to being a Guinea pig, I have a new student ambassador that could use...practice. He is here, I could have him show you around. What do you think?”
Looking over the list of extracurriculars she nodded. “Yeah, I’d be happy too if it helps and isn’t too much trouble.”
“Great, give me a minute.” The principal walked over to an office door and opened it to reveal a tall, lanky kid wearing glasses stapling some handouts together. “Gary, let me introduce you to Ava Sharpe.”
He jumped to his feet following Gideon into the main office where Ava stood waiting. He was grinning widely as he walked in. He thrust his hand towards her. “Hi, I’m Gary Green!”
When she took his hand, he gave her and enthusiastic shake. “Ava Sharpe.”
As they wrapped up the tour back at the main office Ava felt somewhat thankful. Gary seemed very nice, but the level of detail he went into during the tour was more than she needed to know. Not to mention he didn’t stop talking for the entire hour they had walked around the building. “What are you thinking about for extracurriculars? I’m in the GSA and we can always use more members...no matter your orientation...” He raised an eyebrow as though to ask without vocalizing.
She gave him a curt nod. “I’ll think about it.”
“Oh, cool.” He rocked on the balls of his feet. “So, this is the end of the tour. Thoughts?” His brows knitted in concern.
Ava gave him a smile as she struggled to find the right words that would encourage him without being overly complimentary. “You were very thorough, Gary.”
He gave a little fist pump in celebration. “Yes!”
She glanced at the time. “What’s the quickest way to the practice field?”
“Oh, are you trying out today?” Ava smiled and nodded. “I’ll take you!”
As she followed him out of the building, Ava started to feel the knots forming in her stomach. Stay loose, stay loose. As they approached the field Ava saw a group of boys gathered on one end-zone of the football field and a group of girls near the bleachers.
As she approached one of the girls, a short attractive blonde caught her eye and flagged her over. “Hey, are you new?”
Ava strolled over with one strap of her backpack over her shoulder. “Yes.”
As she smiled Ava noticed the dimple on her chin and brush of freckles across her nose. “I’m Sara.” Sara studied her for a moment. “Are you trying out?”
“Yeah.” As she spoke, Ava adjusted the strap on her shoulder.
“Cool.” She pulled out a list of names. “Did you sign up? What’s your name?”
“Oh, you think...” From somewhere behind her Ava heard a man yelling out names.
Ava shrugged her shoulders at Sara and turned to run backwards onto the field towards the sound of the man’s voice. “Sorry, I gotta go.” The look on the cheerleader’s face was priceless and Ava savored it for an extra minute before turning around and fully sprinting towards the group in the end-zone.
“A. SHARPE!” The man yelled again looking across the group gathered in front of him.
“Here! I’m here.” Ava arrived and dropped her backpack onto the turf as all eyes turned towards her.
“Uh.” The coach looked at the clipboard and then back up at her and scratched his head.
Exhaling slowly Ava looked at all the boys staring at her and then she looked towards the bleachers at the cheerleaders who were watching as well. Here we go again.