The snow was piling up in the driveway as Addy stared out the window of the music room. She pressed her hands flat against the cold glass, watching as the condensation outlined her fingers. Movement outside caught her eye and she looked on as the boys loaded their snowboards into the back of the truck.
It was her eleventh birthday and she couldn’t believe they were going to miss her party to go on a ski trip. Gage had been there for every single birthday she’d ever had, and Matt had been at every one since he moved to the estate six years earlier.
The sound of footsteps made her whip around and she slid back into the bench in front of the piano. She started flipping through the sheet music in front of her, trying to look interested.
“I don’t hear any music,” Doris said, walking in and taking a seat on the davenport. “Your grandfather will be back from meeting with the West family soon and he’ll want to hear you play.”
Addy dropped her hands into her lap. “It’s not fair I have to practice on my birthday.”
“You didn’t mind doing your combat practice this morning,” she said, raising her eyebrows at Addy.
“That’s different—it’s fun. This is—” Addy paused and looked out the window as Matt passed by on his way into the house. “Not as fun.”
Doris sighed. “Alright fine—since it’s your birthday, you can—”
Addy was on her feet running for the door before Doris was finished speaking. She turned around and popped her head back through the door. “Thanks!”
Doris smiled at her and nodded.
She hurried down the hallway toward the coat room. She figured that’s where Matt would be heading to get his gear. She rounded the corner, still running, and smacked right into him. They both fell down, hitting the marble floor hard.
“Geez, Addy!” he said, getting to his feet.
She stared up at him from the floor, rubbing her throbbing palms together. He was almost fourteen, but Addy thought he still sounded like a little kid when he yelled.
“I’m looking for my blue goggles,” he said, turning into the coat room. “Seen them?”
Addy pushed her long dark hair out of her eyes and stood up, following behind him. “Why do you have to go today? Can’t you go tomorrow—or later tonight, after my party?”
“It’s not up to me. Gage wants to go early—he’s driving,” Matt said, tossing the items from the shelves onto the floor as he searched.
She glanced up, spotting the blue goggles he was looking for peeking out from under a pink hat. “How come Gage doesn’t like me anymore?”
“I don’t know,” he said, tossing his hands in the air. “Could you help me look since you’re just standing there?”
Addy kept her eyes on the goggles, but didn’t point them out. “He doesn’t even talk to me. We used to be friends.”
Matt dropped his shoulders and turned to face her. “I guess I’ll have to buy some new ones when we get to the lodge.”
She crossed her arms and looked at him. “Are you gonna stop liking me when you turn sixteen too, Mattie?”
“Who says I like you now,” he said, making a face at her.
Addy stuck her tongue out at him. “I’m not saving you any cake and you don’t get to play with any of the cool stuff I’m gonna get since you don’t—”
“Dude, what the hell’s taking so long to grab goggles?” Gage asked from behind them.
Addy turned around and looked up at him. He’d gotten so tall over the last couple years that she was barely above his elbows when she stood up straight. His blond hair was wet and had melting snowflakes sticking to it.
Matt kicked at the items he’d strewn all over the floor. “I can’t find them.”
“They’re right there,” Gage said, pointing at the shelf. “Grab them and let’s go. The roads are getting bad.”
“Sweet.” Matt reached over and snatched the goggles from the shelf. “All of my gear went flying last time I wiped out—I thought maybe I’d lost them.”
Gage turned around and walked out of the coat room without even acknowledging she’d been standing there.
“Happy birthday, Addy,” Matt said over his shoulder as he followed Gage. “Save us cake!”
She plopped down on the floor and kicked the door shut with her foot. On their birthdays, Gage’s mom always made chocolate cake with coconut frosting for her and Gage because it was their favorite.
Since the boys thought snowboarding was more important than her party, she was gonna make sure him and Matt didn’t get any cake—even if she had to eat it all herself.
The door was suddenly whipped open and she looked up. Gage walked in and stepped over her. He started looking through the shelves like she wasn’t even there.
There was a time when Gage would’ve sat down on the floor next to her and asked why she was sitting in there all alone on her birthday. Over the last few months he’d changed though. He never spoke to her and hardly even looked in her general direction.
Gage moved to the estate with his mom the same week Addy was born. She’d known him her entire life. Every memory she had included him in some way. Having him treat her like a stranger was devastating.
She tried talking to her grandfather about it, but he just said Gage was older now and probably didn’t want a little girl following him around anymore. It seemed like more than that to Addy—one day he was her friend and the next it was like she didn’t exist.
Not finding what he was looking for on the shelves, he glanced at the items Matt had tossed on the floor. She noticed he was holding a black and green glove in his hand, so she started looking around the pile for its mate.
Gage crouched down, spotting it under Addy’s foot. She looked at the faint blue symbols covering the top of his hand as he wrapped his fingers around the glove and pulled it free. He was an Akori like Matt, but Addy was just a human. She wondered if that was the real reason he didn’t want to be her friend anymore.
He glanced into the hallway, and then back at her. “Happy birthday.”
It was the first time he’d spoken to her in weeks. Addy felt her lip quivering and she bit it, trying to hold in the sob she felt coming on. She blinked and the tears she was trying to fight off trickled down her cheeks.
He reached over and wiped her face with his thumbs, looking at her with his bright blue eyes. She thought he was gonna say something, but he just looked down at the floor instead.
“Gage, please don’t go,” she said, sniffling. “You always come to my parties. It won’t be fun without you and Mattie.”
Addy watched his shoulders drop. Gage took a deep breath and stood up. He jammed the gloves into his back pocket and walked out the door, closing it behind him.
As soon as the door closed, she got to her feet and wiped her hands across her face. If he didn’t wanna be her friend, then she wasn’t gonna try to be his anymore either. And if he ever tried—she was gonna turn her back on him, just like he did to her.
Eight years later….
The thin curtains waved wildly from the warm breeze that filled the room with sea-scented air. It was mid-morning and the sun was shining brightly outside.
Opening her eyes, Addy froze when she remembered she wasn’t alone. Assessing the situation, she noted she was lying on her side up against Gage, who was on his back. Her head was on his shoulder and her arm was across his chest, tucked under him. One of her legs was even looped around his. He moved slightly and she could tell he was already awake.
Addy braced herself and peeked up at him. “You’re still here.”
He smiled down at her. “It was kind of hard to get out of your iron grip.”
Addy bit her lip, realizing he was her hostage. She started to move but he pulled her back, making her feel a little less like she’d been holding him against his will.
Addy scooted up so her chin was resting on his shoulder and he ran his fingers through her hair.
“I expected you to have princess or pony sheets on your bed still.”
Addy buried her face in his shoulder and lifted the blanket to show him the other side of it.
“You have a reversible kitten comforter on your bed?” Grinning, he moved so he was on his side with his head on his elbow. “The truth is out—you’re not a grown-up at all.”
“Shhh… don’t tell,” she said, giggling.
He set his head down on the pillow next to hers so they were lying on their sides, face to face and his fingers traced the outline of her neck. The light touch of his fingertips made her skin tingle and she closed her eyes. He slid his arms around her and pulled her closer.