One Struck

Gwen Evans is looking forward to summer - until she finds the One Direction, England's top-selling band, hiding in her barn. Now, she has to deal with rock star egos, an unwanted admirer, and the dark force that sent them into hiding in the first place.

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When Monday morning finally dawned, it brought with it a canvas of clear blue sky and plenty of hot sunlight to shine down upon the Evans’s' vacation preparations. A sense of cheerfulness pervaded the family as they packed up their car that morning, due to both the perfect summer weather and the rest and relaxation that awaited them at the lake house. Gwen in particular had always looked forward to these trips; she loved the outdoors, and their cottage location on the lake was full of fun things to do—tubing, waterskiing, hiking, volleyball... Gwen liked to do a little bit of everything while she was there, and on the odd day that she felt like being lazy, there was always a nice tranquil spot on the water's edge to sit down and unwind. Right now, there was nothing she wanted more than to be away from this place, out on the water with her father or lazing around on the shore with a book. Normally, the best thing about the lake house was that Sydney preferred to stay inside and "protect her skin", meaning that they didn't see a lot of each other while they were there. This year, however, its main draw was the fact that it was miles away from the One Direction. The only one who didn't seem to share in the enthusiasm was Sydney, who had been throwing tantrums all morning. While Gwen couldn't have been happier at the prospect of nine whole Marauder-free days, her sister had so far spent the entire day devising new excuses not to accompany her family on the trip, and they were growing more and more ridiculous as the morning wore on. Gwen had just stepped out the front door holding Copper's empty carrier when she heard a dull thud and a squeal of "Oh no!" from in front of her. Sydney, who was standing near the car, had apparently dropped her suitcase onto the pavement, and was looking down at it with an exaggeratedly horrified expression. "What's the matter, Syd?" Max queried, removing his head from the trunk of the car and ceasing his loading actions to stare at her. When he didn't spot anything out of place except for her fallen luggage, he looked mildly confused. "I dropped my suitcase," Sydney whined, staring at it sadly. "I guess we can't go." While Gwen scoffed loudly from where she stood, surveying the scenario in disgust, Max merely chuckled. "Nice try, Syd, but you're not getting out of this one," he told her, grabbing her bag from the ground and hoisting it into the car. "Besides, I don't see why you're so down about this trip. I thought you liked the lake house." Sydney, whose face had morphed into an expression of utmost sourness, did not respond. "Hey dad," Gwen called, coming down the stairs from the porch. "Have you seen Copper? I can't find him anywhere." Max looked thoughtful and scratched his chin. "Can't say I have, Gwen bear. Did you check out back?" "Yeah," said Gwen, her forehead creasing in thought. "His food from this morning is gone, but he wasn't in the shed, or in that bush he likes..." She trailed off and set the carrier down at the bottom of the steps before going to join Max at the back of the car. "He's probably just hiding; I guess I'll have another look around later. Do you need a ha—" "Oh no!" She stopped in her tracks at the sound of Sydney's panic-stricken voice, rolled her eyes and grudgingly turned to face her sister, wondering what excuses she could possibly have left. "What is it now, Sydney?" Sydney pointed at the empty cat carrier, evidently trying to look distraught. "We can't leave if Copper's missing! What if he gets lost? Or gets attacked by something? What if—" "Oh, shut it, Sydney. You've never cared about Copper before in your life." Fed up with Sydney's antics, she turned her attention elsewhere. "Need a hand, Dad?" Together, they fitted everything snugly into the trunk in record time, while Sydney stood back and continued to tell them that there was no way they were going to get everything in, and that, if she needed to, she'd oh-so-generously stay home and sacrifice her seat for some extra baggage space. Max laughed to himself and Gwen simply ignored her, and two of them managed to cram everything into the modest space, even leaving some room for the things they hadn't yet packed. "Looks like you can come after all, Sydney!" Gwen announced gleefully, clapping her hands together and—when her father's back was turned—sticking her tongue out at Sydney, who made a face in return and walked off in a huff. "Great work, Gwen bear," Max said affectionately. "Now, why don't you—" "MAX!" Mr. Evans was cut off when a loud, murderous yell erupted from the house. Gwen spun around to see her mother standing in the doorway, holding a packet of sherbet lemons in her hand and trembling in fury. Max shot Gwen a fearful look and then turned back to his wife hesitantly. "Err, yes dear?" he replied in a meek voice. "Would you care to tell me what these were doing at the back of the cupboard?" She raised the bag threateningly and narrowed her eyes. Gwen and her father exchanged another look. They had been caught out—from experience, however, they knew that the best thing to do was to play it innocent until the last possible moment. That way, some of Sue's anger would have dissipated by the time she actually got them to confess to anything straight out. "Absolutely no idea, honey," said Max, flashing her a huge smile. Gwen mimicked it, though she realized after a moment that the effect must have been completely ridiculous. Sue's eyes narrowed further yet. "Oh, really? And you wouldn't happen to know anything about the pile of crisps, biscuits and chocolate I found them buried in?" Oh, shit, thought Gwen. She'd really found it all—and, knowing Sue Evans, there was absolutely no doubt that she would confiscate everything down to the last crumb. Gwen might have considered attempting a salvage mission (as she and her father had done on many occasions before), but her mother had become very experienced at this process, and by this point there was no hope of recovering even a scrap of her beloved junk food. Sue would probably chuck it in an incinerator or something. It pained Gwen to think about it: all that deliciousness, burnt to a cinder in a dark vault somewhere out of her reach... Max, meanwhile, shrugged pathetically in response while obviously still holding to the belief that smiling was the best way to get out of trouble. He should have known better; Sue knew that smile too well, and after taking a calming breath, she lowered the bag of sherbet lemons and shook her head. "I don't know what to do with you, Maxwell. You swore last time that this wouldn't happen again." Max hung his head in shame, still smiling slightly as he half-turned to wink at Gwen. The overall effect was quite amusing—like a dog with its tail between its legs, her father mumbled, "I'm sorry, honey," and shuffled submissively toward the front door, which his wife held open for him. "Does this mean we can't go on vacation?" Sydney called out hopefully after them, but merited no response. When the door slammed close, she let out a loud, frustrated "Argh!" Gwen tried to smother a laugh as she regarded her sister's antics. "Sydney," she said, shaking her head, "why is it such a big deal? You love the lake house, remember?" "I wouldn't expect you to understand," Sydney responded, crossing her arms and refusing to say any more. Her mouth twitched a couple of times, however, and it was clear that she was waiting for Gwen to beg her to elaborate. Rolling her eyes slightly, Gwen figured she might as well play along with her sister's twisted mind game. "What is it?" she asked, sounding less than enthusiastic. Those three words were all it took—in a split second, the floodgates fell open and Sydney's hysterics were unleashed. "Don't you see, Gwen?" she burst out, sounding quite demented. "This is my one chance with Harry! What if they're gone by the time we get back? What if I never see him again?" Gwen just laughed at that, as cruel as it seemed to respond in such a way to her sister's desperation. "Oh, please," she said, "you'll see him plenty. There's no escaping them, remember? They're on TV, on the radio, on posters... Haven't you got like twenty billion Harry Styles’ in your bedroom?" "But it's not the same!" Sydney wailed, throwing her arms out in an overdramatic display of exasperation. "Gwen, you don't understand what it was like for me, when I saw him in that barn. I'd been dying to meet him for years, and then poof! There he was! It was like a dream, okay? That sort of thing doesn't happen every day, and if we leave now, I'll never get that chance again. I'll never get the chance to prove... to prove that we're meant to be together." By the time she'd finished her overemotional spiel, she had tears in her eyes. This was a little much for Gwen, but after hearing all that, she couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy. For a moment, she wondered what it would be like to be obsessed with something to the extent that Sydney was obsessed with Harry—to be presented with an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and then have it ripped away, just because nobody else could see it from the same perspective. Granted, Sydney's perspective was a little twisted, but as Gwen thought about it, she came to a reluctant conclusion: If she were the one to burst Sydney's bubble at this stage, the guilt would likely eat away at her all summer. And she simply couldn't bear to have her vacation ruined by something as petty as Sydney's boy band dramas. "Whatever," she finally said. "I don't care if you stay behind. If you can convince Mom and Dad, I won't stop you—hell, it'll be a better trip without you there. But if you dare say a word to those idiot One Direction before I have the chance to get out of here, I swear, I will burn every poster of Harry you own." Drawing in a sharp, frightened breath through her nostrils, Sydney nodded quickly. "Right," she agreed. "I won't tell them." She paused, perhaps unsure whether or not it would be appropriate to speak these next words. "Well, err, tha...t's a relief," she said, seemingly changing her mind halfway through an awkward "thank you". Not offended in the slightest, Gwen rolled her eyes and walked away. After all, a display of gratitude from Sydney would simply be too weird to handle. ________________________________________ After a morning of hard work, nearly everything was loaded into the trunk and ready to go—duffel bags, lawn chairs, towels, crates full of sporting equipment—and the family's small motorboat had been pulled out of the garage and hitched up to the back of the van. Departure was imminent. It was for this reason that Gwen found herself in a particularly good mood as she hauled the cooler out to the car; despite the fact that it was killing her arms, she hummed a merry tune to herself as she descended the front steps, confident at this point that nothing was going to come between her and a good old fashioned family holiday. With one final lift and an accompanying grunt, Gwen hoisted the cooler into the back of the car. She then stepped away and shook out her sore arms, regarding the jam-packed trunk with satisfaction. Smiling, she turned around and headed back to the front door—but before she could even get past the garage, something came out of nowhere and grabbed her by the collar of her shirt, yanking her backward with staggering force. Next thing Gwen knew, she was around the corner in the vine-coated alleyway between the fence and the house, crammed into the tiny area and face to face with Harry Styles. But it wasn't the Harry Styles she was used to, with the arrogant eye-twinkle and the crooked smile. This Harry was staring down at her with a perfectly serious expression, his eyes narrowed and his jaw set. He let his hand drop from the back of her shirt, but she still felt trapped under his gaze as he furrowed his brow and regarded her with suspicion. "What is this?" he demanded a little too loudly, pointing a rigid arm in the direction of the car; Gwen's heart dropped to the pit of her stomach. "Where the hell do you think you're going?" Gwen did a quick survey of the area to make sure nobody was in earshot before turning back to him. "What does it look like?" she whispered darkly, and crossed her arms. "We're going on vacation—not that it's any of your bloody business, Styles." His eyes widened a little, and then he fiercely shook his head. "No. Absolutely no way. You are not leaving." As per usual, his attitude got her temper going and her voice began to rise. "What? You think I'm going to take orders from you? Refusing to leave yourselves is bad enough, but now you have to go and—" "What are we supposed to do if you're gone?" he cut in, a hint of desperation in his voice. Gwen scoffed. "Oh, that's right, I forgot. You'll die if you don't have a couple of slaves around, won't you?" "That's not what I meant," he growled, shaking his head impatiently. "We need you to be here so that—" "So that you can stalk us? Yeah, you've already made that perfectly clear, thanks." Looking frustrated, Harry replied, "It's not like that, okay? You don't understand." "No, I don't," Gwen snapped. "But if you think you can just show up here and ruin my summer, you've got another thing coming." His eyes blazed. "Ruin your summer?" he repeated incredulously. "Do you think we're running from little pink bunny rabbits here? If we get caught, really, really bad things could happen. It's not like DeMort is just going to—" He stopped abruptly, and it was clear from the look on his face that he'd said too much already. He sighed heavily. "Look, I can't tell you everything, but you have to believe me—this is more serious than you think." It was lucky for him that he'd thrown in some valid reasoning, because if he hadn't mentioned Dal DeMort, Gwen wouldn't have believed him. In all honesty, she still thought this whole band-on-the-run thing was taking things a little far, but she'd researched DeMort quite extensively for a school project, and she knew he wasn't wrong about any of that. Still, she really didn't want to be involved in all this, and she felt it was unfair of Harry and the One Direction to be imposing on her like they were. And she certainly didn't like their attitudes one bit. "Maybe it is," she said a little more softly, while continuing to glare icily at him, "but I didn't ask for you to come here." Harry stepped back a few inches, the fire in his eyes subsiding to some degree. He sighed. "I know. And trust me—if we had another option, we wouldn’t be here." There was a moment of silence. Gwen caught an overpowering whiff of Harry' cologne—an expensive-smelling fusion of cinnamon and something unidentifiable—and suddenly became very aware of just how closely they were squeezed in. She tried to take a step backward, but her heel caught the stone wall and she ended up stumbling slightly, barely shifting from her original, claustrophobic position. Unfortunately, her action was quite obvious and Harry, clearly aware of her intent, smirked. The previously dying fire inside Gwen lit up again like a tank of gasoline at the infuriating expression. "Are we done here?" she snapped, pushing her hair behind her ears and making to leave the alleyway. Harry' hand shot out at lightning speed and grabbed onto her upper arm, tugging her back. "No, we're not," he told her, quite seriously. "Not until you give me your word that you won't be leaving." "What? No!" Gwen exploded. "Didn't we already go through this?" Smirking, Harry responded with, "Sure, but I didn't get the answer I wanted. Say you're not leaving, and I'll let go." He tightened his grip around her wimpy bicep, making it clear that he was serious about this. "NO!" said Gwen stubbornly. "I've been looking forward to this trip for weeks, and I'm going, and that's that! There's nothing you can do to change my mind." "Oh, really?" Harry cocked his head to one side, adopting a downright evil expression as they stared into one another's eyes, both of them unrelenting. "And if you leave, what's stopping us from coming inside and trashing the house, huh? Zayn would be happy to have a comfy bed to sleep in—and I hear guys just been dying to use a proper toilet..." Gwen cringed at the mental image. "You disgust me," she spat, but before she could go on, she heard rapid footfalls coming from the direction of the front door. Somebody was coming. "Get out of here!" she hissed at Harry, keeping the volume to a minimum but making frantic arm gestures to instil a sense of urgency. He opened his mouth to protest, but she interrupted him. "Save it! Someone's coming—quick, you idiot, or you'll be seen!" That got him moving, but not without giving her a warning glance by way of farewell. Gwen heaved a tired sigh and began to plan a discrete escape from this odd location that wouldn't rouse suspicion, but before she could even step out from behind the wall, a figure appeared out of nowhere in front of her. She was so frightened at first that she gave a tiny cry of alarm and jumped back—but then she realized that the figure was stick thin and dressed in pink, and she knew she was relatively safe. Never before had she been so relieved to see her sister. "Sydney, what are you doing?" she asked breathlessly, her eyes still wide from the sudden shock. "You scared the hell out of me!" Sydney, apparently, didn't sympathize (but there was no surprise there). She stood square in front of Gwen with an expression even colder than usual, her arms folded determinedly, her jaw stuck out in annoyance. Clearly, she had a bone to pick with her sister. "Was that Harry you were talking to just then?" she said in a frosty voice, her eyes growing more slit-like with every syllable. Oh dear God, she was actually jealous. "If you call being manhandled and threatened 'talking', then yes it was," Gwen snapped, feeling strangely irritated. She rubbed her shoulder, upon which his grip still lingered, and growled, "Ruddy git thinks he can force us to stay." As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them; Sydney's eyes lit up with a disturbing sort of glee and she gasped so powerfully that a fly hovering nearby was almost sucked right into her wide open mouth. "He does?" she squealed, and then stared into the distance with a breathy expression of: "I knew he didn't want us to be apart." Apparently, Sydney's delusion had reached new heights—if such a thing were even possible. She'd been so quickly swept off into one of her typical Harry Styles daydreams that she hadn't even reacted to Gwen calling him a "ruddy git"—and now Gwen could practically see her mind working, churning out unrealistic visions of the future at record speed. Irritated, Gwen was hit with an irrepressible urge to smack Sydney in the face. She decided, however, that this would be a little much, and opted for smacking herself instead. "Sydney, you are unbelievable," she said dully, shaking her head. "You really don't see what they're trying to do here, do you?" Miraculously, despite how dazed she appeared to be, Sydney seemed to have actually heard her. "What do you mean?" she said airily, continuing to stare down the alleyway with vacant eyes. "They're not trying to do anything—they just want us to stay with them..." "NO, SYDNEY!" Gwen shouted, pushed beyond her limits now. "Snap out of it! They only want us nearby because they reckon we're going to go off and blab to everyone we know about having met them—but if we stay here, they have complete control. Do you want that?" She knew it was a stupid question, so she wasn't surprised at all when Sydney smiled vaguely and sighed, "Yes..." Gwen narrowed her eyes. "You need help," she muttered, her tone dark. Affronted, Sydney crossed her arms. "And you need to stop being so insensitive!" she shot back. "I overheard them talking yesterday when I went out to bring them breakfast, Gwen—whatever trouble they're in, it's really serious." Gwen let out a snort of disbelief. "Yeah, I'm sure." She rolled her eyes and dropped the sarcasm. "Sydney, one of them is called Papa and they still don't know the meaning of the word. Whatever it is, I'm sure it's just—" "You are so judgmental!" Sydney exclaimed in exasperation, and Gwen was shocked into silence mostly because she'd been completely unaware that Sydney's vocabulary even extended that far. "What have they ever done to you? I think you need to give them a chance. They say we need to stay here so that their secret doesn't get out, and I believe them." "Yeah, but you know I wouldn't tell anybody. I don't give a damn about meeting the One Direction." "Yes," said Sydney earnestly, "but they don't know that for sure. They can't really trust you, can they?" "Why not?" Gwen burst out, aggravated once again. "I've done more than enough to show what I think of them—if I did anymore, they'd beg me to get the hell out of here. So why can't I just go and leave you here to deal with them?" "Because," said Sydney simply, "you need to give them a chance to get to know you first—to learn to trust you—and then maybe they'll understand." All of a sudden, Sydney seemed amazingly calm about the whole situation. She kept a straight face, her stature was relaxed, and her eyes weren't filled with hatred or resentment or any of the other emotions she usually had on display when they argued like this. Gwen suspected, however, that this was merely an act she was putting on in order to be persuasive. Why Sydney wanted Gwen to stick around and take part in her happy little One Direction party, she had no idea—maybe she wanted somebody to keep cooking the meals that she took credit for, or somebody to stand there and make her look good. Whatever it was, she had to have some ulterior motive. This was Sydney, after all. The thing was, though Gwen recognized all this, she felt herself slowly caving in. Not because her sister was that convincing, but because she was beginning to realize that she had no choice. Leaving Sydney behind simply wouldn't cut it. If she was left in control, things would get very out of hand; she would, no doubt, give the One Direction free run of the house, continue to treat them like royalty, let them get their dirty hands all over whatever they wanted—and by the time Gwen and her parents got home, they'd have completely taken over the place. The Evans’s would probably be left homeless. "Please," Sydney begged childishly, perhaps sensing that Gwen was close to being convinced, "remember what I said before—I can't lose this opportunity with Harry..." Yes, she remembered. She also remembered what had swayed her in the end; guilt! Her subconscious screamed at her over and over. She won't ever let you forget about this if you ruin it for her! Gwen let out a long breath and finally folded her arms. "I'm not saying I agree with this," she said guardedly, raising her head to regard her sister with suspicion (despite the negativity of the comment, Sydney's face lit up with anticipation), "but even if I did say yes, there's no way in hell Mom and Dad are going to let us both stay home. How exactly do you suggest we would pull this off?" Sydney was momentarily stumped, and stood there biting her lip for a second or two. Then, she raised her head, and her eyes were alight with inspiration—a very sly, very evil sort of inspiration... ________________________________________ "I told you, I'm sick," Gwen said to her parents for the umpteenth time. She tried not to let her voice betray the annoyance that was seeping through every inch of her body, but she was sure nonetheless that her displeasure was evident. Her parents looked uncertain as they regarded her; she was tucked up neatly in bed (courtesy of a very chipper Sydney) with her comforter drawn right up to her chin and a generous amount of blush applied to her cheeks for added effect. Still, Max and Sue looked confused at the rapid onset of this mysterious illness, and shared a concerned look before turning to face her again. "I don't understand, Gwen," said her mother. "You were perfectly fine fifteen minutes ago. Are you sure it's quite so serious?" Feeling very much like punching Sydney in the face, Gwen gave a mournful nod. "I feel horrible," she moaned. "I think I have a fever, too." At this, Sydney rushed forward and pressed a hand against Gwen's forehead, letting out an exaggerated gasp. "It's boiling hot!" she cried dramatically. When Sue made a move to feel for herself, Sydney swatted her hand out of the way with a cry of, "No, mom! You might get burnt!" "Sydney," Sue scolded, confused. She turned back toward to younger daughter with a worried expression. "Gwen, dear, I think we should take you to the hospital—you might have that virus that's going around…" "NO!" Sydney's shout was so loud that Gwen actually raised her hands to cover her ears. "She's fine—I mean, she's not fine, but she's fine. No hospital necessary!" Cringing at Sydney's garbled outburst, Gwen addressed her parents with the most convincing half-smile she could muster up. "I'll be alright, honestly. I think I just need to get some rest." "You could rest in the car," suggested Max, who'd been quite put out when Sydney had first told them of Gwen's sudden (and completely fake) ailment. It broke Gwen's heart to hear her father sounding so hopeful; typically, they did everything together at the lake house—but this year, he'd be boating and fishing and enjoying the great outdoors all on his own. "I'm sorry, Dad. I... I don't think I can go," said Gwen, struggling against the lump in her throat. Ironically, this was exactly what she needed to make the act more convincing—her voice sounded weak and strangled, her cheeks became warm with emotion, and both her parents looked at her with renewed expressions of concern. "It's not as if we can just leave you here...," said Sue worriedly, looking torn. In a split second, however, she seemed to make up her mind, and shook her head resolutely. "No, no, that's it—we'll all have to stay home," she said. "NO!" shouted Sydney and Gwen at the same time. They looked at one another with identical expressions of wide-eyed anxiety, and Sydney took it upon herself to rectify the situation. "Err, I mean...," she began hesitantly, "you should..." She trailed off again. Embarrassed by her sister's acting skills, Gwen decided to step in (figuratively speaking, of course, since she could barely move under the mounds of blankets Sydney had thrown on top of her). "Dad got the week off work, didn't he?" Gwen asked in a sad, quiet voice. "You two should really go. We need to get some use out of the lake house this summer anyway." She offered another miserable smile, but she could barely get her lips to curve upward at all. This was all too depressing—she was going to kill Sydney later. This line of reasoning seemed to do the trick; Gwen's mother and father looked indecisively at one another, but when Sue spoke again, it sounded like she'd made up her mind to some degree. "I suppose you're right," she said with a sigh. "We really shouldn't leave the lake house sitting empty for another year." She shook her head somberly, and then set to fussing about her younger daughter, tucking in her blankets, straightening the items on her nightstand. "But are you sure you'll be alright here? It seems horrible to leave you all alone, and when you're sick like this... I just don't—" "I'll stay with her!" Sydney burst in eagerly. It was obvious that she'd been anticipating this part of the plan impatiently right from the beginning; she had the look of an actress who'd been given a single line in a production and then delivered it a moment too soon, and with far too much enthusiasm. Gwen would have liked to slap her for being so bloody tactless. Then again, her anger toward Sydney was so exacerbated right now that she would have slapped her for just about anything. "Err... Are you sure, Syd?" Max asked doubtfully. "You'd really rather stay here and mind your sister than—" "Of course!" said Sydney, demonstrating her lack of judgment once again. "I mean, I'd be more than happy to stay back. Somebody needs to look after her—look how sick she is!" Not helping, Gwen thought, gritting her teeth. But from the looks of it, it didn't matter that she completely lacked any credibility whatsoever; Max and Sue were actually considering her offer. "Alright, Syd," said Max at last, "I guess you've finally got your excuse." "But we'll be calling to check in whenever we can," said Sue sternly, "so Sydney, you'd better make sure you look after your sister properly—I'll have no wild parties or anything of the sort..." It took at least ten more minutes for Gwen and Sydney (well, mostly Gwen) to assure Sue that everything would be alright, but finally, she gave in to practicality and decided that they'd better get away while they still had enough sunlight left for the trip. She left a whole stack of written instructions detailing what to do in an emergency, how to order healthy take-out dinners, and several other bits of information, most of which were completely unnecessary. She topped up the spare change canister, brought Gwen a fresh glass of water, and lectured Sydney (who, by this point, was practically jumping for joy) for a further fifteen minutes before her husband managed to drag her out the door. "Bye, Gwen bear," said Max as he headed out of her bedroom, after he'd kissed both his daughters goodbye. "Don't stay sick too long, eh?" Gwen tried to smile, but it was becoming more and more difficult to feign any hint of cheerfulness now that she was watching her dad walk out the door with that dejected look on his face. "I'll try," she said. "Have a good time, Dad." Sydney escorted their parents down the stairs; Sue left a trail of rambling behind her as she offered last minute advice, and Gwen heard one final exclamation of: "And please, Sydney, no boys in the house!" before the door slammed shut. Gwen waited. She heard muffled fragments of conversation from outsider her window, car doors closing, and then finally—several minutes later—the fading sound of the engine as her parents drove off down the street. That was her cue. In a single motion, she threw the blankets off of her and jumped out of bed, stomping out of the room. Anger rose within her as she took off down the hall and set to descending the stairs, and by the time she'd reached the bottom, she was about ready to explode. She spotted Sydney hovering by the front door, peeking through the curtain to make sure the van had disappeared; with a squeal of delight, she let it fall back into place and turned around, evidently intending to make a break for the back door; unfortunately, halfway there, she ran into a fuming Gwen (whose cheeks were quickly surpassing the shade of the blush) and shrieked. "Are you happy now?" Gwen demanded. She'd tried to remain calm throughout the ordeal with their parents, but it was beginning to hit her that she'd really agreed to this, and there was no turning back—and now her temper was quickly boiling over. Sydney looked rather frightened, but now that she had what she wanted, she didn't have any reason to assuage Gwen's irritation. So she simply folded her arms and stuck her chin up in the air. "As a matter of fact, I am. And now I'm going to see the One Direction—so you'd better go back to bed and 'get some rest', like you promised Mom you would." Gwen's hands balled up into fists at her sides and she gnashed her teeth. "So all that crap you fed me earlier about 'getting to know them'," she said in a tight voice, "about them 'learning to trust me'—you were just saying that so that Mom and Dad would have a reason to let you stay home?" Not even bothering to deny it, Sydney nodded curtly and said, "Uh huh." Incensed beyond belief, Gwen mentally kicked herself. She'd known all along, of course, that Sydney was working purely for her own selfish reasons (if she'd faked sick on her own, there was no way Max and Sue would have believed her—not when she'd already spent the entire morning trying to get out of the trip) but part of her had wanted to believe that maybe—just maybe—there was a tiny chance that at least some of what she'd said had been genuine... No, she decided, as her sister giggled euphorically and skipped away to the back door. There was no such thing as genuine where Sydney was concerned. She remained at the foot of the stairs for some time, unsure what to do, pondering the situation and feeling a sense of impending doom set in more firmly with every passing moment. Here she was, stuck at home with her maniac sister and four pig-headed rock stars, missing out on the vacation she'd been looking forward to for weeks. She had nothing to do, nowhere to hide, and nobody sane to keep her company... Just as that grim thought crossed her mind, she heard soft footfalls and a meowing noise from nearby, and looked up. Her heart leapt as Copper came trotting through the doorway, having returned from wherever he'd mysteriously disappeared to, and hurried toward her. "Copper!" she gasped, filled with a sense of joy for the first time since this morning. God, was she ever glad to have him around; even if he couldn't talk, he was better company than Sydney and the One Direction any day. Gwen smiled and scooped him up into her arms, scratching behind his ears and stroking him affectionately as he purred. Only then did she notice that he was covered in hay and smelled very faintly of cinnamon.

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