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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4. homemade jam

"Gwen." At the unwelcome intrusion to her slumber, Gwen rolled over and scrunched up her face, fighting hard to remain in the soft clutches of sleep. She didn't want to wake up. Waking up meant facing the rubbish heap that had somehow managed to become her life, and that, she decided, was simply too depressing to contemplate. At least in her dreams, she could pretend that yesterday had never happened—or better yet, that Sydney was not her sister. "Gwen!" The voiced sliced through the air again, louder and more agitated this time. Gwen could feel her safe haven beginning to slip away, and she gritted her teeth. "Mmph, go 'way." Reaching up a clumsy hand, she waved it limply in a 'get lost' sort of gesture, hoping that her sister would get the message. To her utmost astonishment, Sydney seemed to heed this advice, and the room fell silent. She must have been feeling particularly sympathetic that morning, Gwen thought happily; maybe she was beginning to regret having been so heartless yesterday. These thoughts, however, dried up not a second later when the sheets were stripped unceremoniously off of her bed and a rush of cold air acted as a cruel return to consciousness. "Oi! What the—?" Groggily, Gwen sat up, squinting around the room for any sign of the culprit. She caught her a moment later, sheets clutched tightly in her bony hands, face twisted into an evil smirk. In an instant, Gwen was wide awake. She jumped to her feet furiously, glaring at Sydney all the while. "What’s your problem?" she demanded. Sydney didn't even react. Calmly, she deposited the wad of bedding back into its original position and then wiped her hands onto her skirt as though she had been handling hazardous waste. "I need you to cook breakfast," she informed her coolly. "Excuse me?" Gwen's jaw dropped and she let out a ridiculously loud scoff at her sister's order. "What am I, your slave? Go cook your own sodding breakfast!" "No," Sydney sounded irritated as she shook her head back and forth, "I mean, you know, pancakes and stuff. Like the other day." Realizing with a horrible sinking feeling what she meant, Gwen was hit with an overwhelming urge to wring her sister's neck. Instead, she shook her head adamantly. "I am not making pancakes for the bloody One Direction, if that's what you're asking." Sydney, who looked strangely desperate, pinched her lips together. "They're not for the One Direction," she told her in a tight voice. "They're… they're for me." At this, Gwen let out a loud, harsh snort and folded her arms with contempt. "Give it up, Sydney. You haven't eaten pancakes since before high school." "Please, Gwen." Sydney's face broke into an expression of all-out beseechingness. "You know I can't cook that stuff properly. It's all so greasy and horrible and it's going to get all over my clothes and then I'll look like a dirty kitchen hand, and—" She broke off, heaved a dramatic sigh and slumped her shoulders forward, evidently trying to look helpless and defeated. "Please? You're so much better at it than I am." But Gwen wasn't about to be fooled again by her false display of sisterly dependence. After all, her failure to see through Sydney's act yesterday had been what had caused her to get stuck in this situation to begin with. She wasn't the kind of bird that flew into the same window twice. "Forget it, Sydney," she said resolutely, shaking her head. "I'm not doing it. If you want to impress them, then do it with your own cooking." She knew full well that Sydney would never so much as touch a frying pan, but that was the point—if she couldn't bring herself to cook anything, then the One Direction would go hungry. And if the One Direction went hungry, then they would be forced to leave. Gwen felt a surge of joy at the thought. Sydney, however, wasn't willing to give up so easily. For a moment she looked hurt and betrayed, but then her eyes widened with inspiration, and Gwen could practically see the light bulb hovering over her brown head. "If you don't cook their breakfast for me...," said Sydney slowly, and then paused for dramatic effect, "I'll call Mom and Dad and tell them you faked sick yesterday." Gwen rolled her eyes. Sometimes, she couldn't believe how boundless her sister's stupidity really was. "Yeah, go ahead—if you want them to come home and see you're harboring a bunch of teenage boys in the barn. Wasn't that the point of sending them away?" Her sister's eyes narrowed and her shoulders rose, and then with an annoyed "Hmph!" she turned around and stomped out of the room. Gwen wasn't sure what she planned to do about the whole breakfast dilemma, but quite frankly it didn't really matter to her—she just wanted to get back to sleep. So, once Sydney was gone, she shut the door and threw herself back into bed, rolling over so she was just inches from the wall and trying to be engulfed in the soft, warm cocoon of obliviousness she'd been so unceremoniously yanked from. She managed to get back to sleep within a couple of minutes, but it was barely peaceful. Instead of the butterflies and rainbows she'd been hoping for, she dreamt of Jack-in-the-boxes. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as she wound the handle of a colorful wooden box, haunting music floating through her subconscious. In a terrifyingly sudden movement, the lid sprang open, and Harry Styles’ head burst from inside, supported by a twisted spring and laughing madly. Panicking, Gwen attempted to close the box, but to no avail. All around her, other boxes appeared and opened to reveal the altered faces of Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson. They began to close in around her, singing Mischief Managed, their most recent hit, in wonky, distorted voices. Screaming as they drew closer and closer, Gwen curled up into a ball, waiting for her inevitable doom… And then, with a choked gasp, she sat up in bed. The acrid smell of burnt toast was all around her, so intense that she was forced to lift her sheet up to her nose and use it as a facemask as she squinted into the sunlight. Eyes watering and stinging, she bolted toward the window and flung it open, sticking her head outside and gasping in a breath of fresh air. For a moment, Gwen feared that her sister had burnt the house down in her attempt to cook breakfast. Coincidentally, however, the back door slid open at exactly that moment, and Gwen watched as Sydney emerged from the house, holding a couple of cereal boxes and a jug of milk and looking royally pissed off. Gwen took a moment to smirk in malicious satisfaction at her sister's obvious failure in the culinary department. She could only imagine the dismay Sydney was feeling at having to present her idols with such an ordinary breakfast. Judging by the smell, however, Corn Flakes were a step up from whatever it was that she had attempted to make in the first place. Deciding that she should probably use this opportunity to assess the kitchen for damage, Gwen descended the stairs in trepidation of what might await her. For good reason, it seemed. The smoke in the kitchen was so thick that Gwen coughed and had to wave a hand in front of her face before she could see properly; when her eyes managed to focus, she was confronted with a horrible sight: with pieces of black ended toast strewn all over the counter (and some on the floor), a bottle of maple syrup knocked over and oozing its contents into the utensil drawer, and an assortment of eggs, flower and other baking supplies scattered everywhere, it looked as though a bomb had hit the place. It was a wonder the smoke alarm hadn't gone off by now. No, scratch that; what was more incredible was that Gwen had managed to sleep through the entire thing. With a deep sigh, she traipsed to the laundry room and returned armed with rubber gloves, a pail of water and a few rags. Scrubbing down the kitchen wasn't exactly her idea of an enjoyable morning activity, but she knew her sister, and there was no way in Hell that Sydney was ever going to clean this up. Fifteen minutes later, Gwen was flushed pink and covered in a sheen of sweat from all the scrubbing, and she was beginning to feel very hot and bothered in the stiflingly smoky air. The fabric of her pajamas was sticking to her skin unpleasantly and her hair was too warm on the nape of her neck. She was in the middle of throwing the long, red strands into a messy knot on top of her head when the door burst open, revealing a very peppy Sydney. Gwen opened her mouth, ready to give her sister a piece of her mind, when suddenly, more figures began to shuffle through the doorway. The words dried up in her throat. "Oh, hey Firecracker," said Harry, who was the first to notice her there, on the floor, gaping dumbly at them, covered in sweat and grime, hands frozen above her head where she hadn't quite finished putting her hair back. When she didn't respond, he grinned lazily and carried on. "So why is it that you're always in pajamas when we see you? Is it like... a fashion statement or something?" He was mocking her, obviously. You don't look much better yourself, she wanted to snap at him; he and the other One Direction were completely disheveled, with straw in their (now unintentionally) rumpled hair, dirt coating them from head to toe, and bug bites evident where their skin was exposed. Louis’s face was scrunched up in discomfort as he scratched at a red spot on his neck, and Liam was rubbing his lower back. Zayn, Niall, and Harry didn't look like they'd fared any better. That, however, was the last thing on Gwen's mind right now. When she could finally bring herself to move, Gwen let go of her hair and shot to her feet—so abruptly that she knocked over the bucket of water and suds next to her—and shouted, in what was quite possibly the most thunderous tone she had ever employed, "SYDNEY!" Her sister, at the very least, had the sense to look a little stunned. The flicker of emotion, however, passed almost as soon as it had appeared, and in an instant, she was back to her composed, collected self. "It's boiling hot out there, Gwen," she pointed out, a pleading quality to her voice. "It's not fair for them to be suffering in that god-awful barn while we have all this free space…" "Oh, no." Gwen stood up, voice dangerously low, and removed her rubber gloves with a 'thwack'. "This is not happening. They are not coming in the house." Sydney let out a frustrated noise. "You are so heartless!" she burst out. "Look at them! The least they could use is a shower and a proper meal—" "Bloody hell, Sydney, you've been feeding them five times a day! They're not about to starve! And if they want a shower that badly, they can damn well go to a hotel!" A short, embarrassed cough came from the general direction of the One Direction, and both sisters turned to see all four boys looking slightly sheepish. "Don't worry about it," Liam offered, making to head back through the door. "We can see that it's causing you some, ah, trouble…" "No! Don't go!" Sydney rushed toward the exit immediately, slamming her back up against it and effectively blocking their escape route. "I'm sorry my sister's such a pain, but don't let it stop you from—" "Really," Harry tone was firm, "we don't want to impose." He glanced at Gwen, who in turn raised her eyebrows. "Obviously this, err, isn't the best time." Gwen narrowed her eyes and snarled: "Finally catching on, are you?" Ignoring this snappy reply, Harry continued toward the door, pushing past Sydney. The rest of the One Direction followed, and the elder Evans sister could only watch in dismay as they filed back out of the house. The moment the door slid closed, Sydney rounded on Gwen like some sort of possessed, demonic monster. "Are you happy now?" she ground out, glaring with such intensity that flames might have started to shoot from her eyes. Finally managing to secure her hair in a messy bun, Gwen breathed in through her nostrils. "No, I'm not," she shot back. "And I won’t be until you get rid of those idiots." Sydney's eyes went wide in frustration. "Why do you always have to ruin everything?" This outburst was let loose with such emotion, such frustration, that Gwen started slightly. Recomposing herself, she turned toward her sister angrily. "Me ruin everything? God, Sydney! You ruined my entire vacation!" "No I didn't!" Sydney yelled back. "It was your choice to stay here—don't blame me." "Ugh!" Gwen threw her hands up in frustration. "Don't act like you didn't practically force me into it!" "I didn't!" "Yes, you did!" "No, I didn't!" "That's it! I can't take this anymore! I am leaving!" Gwen spun around and stomped down the hallway in rage, pausing momentarily to grab a jacket from a hook on the wall. Behind her, Sydney called out: "Good! And don't come back!", and that was the last thing she heard before she flung the front door open and stormed outside. The door slammed violently behind her with a resonating bang and she launched herself down the porch steps, skipping all of them in her haste to get as far away from here as was physically possible. In another couple of seconds she'd crossed the empty driveway and veered right onto the sidewalk, where she began stalking down the street with an ugly glower on her face. She had no particular destination in mind—only a purpose: to put as much distance as she could between herself and the mess she'd left behind. Yesterday, she'd thought she'd made the right decision—for her sanity, if nothing else—by staying home. She'd managed to convince herself that it couldn't possibly be that bad, just as long as she stayed around to make sure things didn't get out of hand. Evidently, though, the job description wasn't quite as simple as just sitting there and saying "no"—it was like playing warden in a nuthouse, and if things carried on like this, Gwen feared that she, too, would go completely barmy by the time these five days were through. Hell, it had only been twenty-four hours since her not-so-wise decision and already her patience was dangling by a thread. Her feet carried her swiftly down the street, pounding the concrete footpath with every step. Around the corner, she ran into a group of children on tiny bicycles with training wheels and bright-colored streamers pouring out of the handles, and the small gathering parted like the Red Sea as she approached them, fearful looks on their faces. Gwen felt a twinge of remorse for this, and once she was a few meters ahead she slowed her pace in an attempt to calm down. This did little to help, unfortunately, for without the constant hum of the wind against her ears, she felt her mind drifting right back to the One Direction and Sydney. Every time she thought about the situation at home, she cycled through a whole array of bitter emotions—anger, regret, despair, annoyance—and ended up with the urge to punch somebody. She pictured Harry' conceited, smirking face in front of her, and had to restrain herself from taking aim at an imaginary target. So she sped up again, and continued travelling in no distinct direction—across the road, down a couple of side streets, and into downtown Gryffindale (which, given the town's measly population and square mileage, wasn't much of a "downtown", and consisted of a grand total of one strip mall, one country steakhouse and a variety store that doubled as a gas station) —until she came to a long residential road on the other side and realized that she was quickly approaching the worn blue sign at the edge of town that announced "You are now leaving GRYFFINDALE". It was as if the sign had been put there to tempt her, and admittedly, it was a very tempting option. She contemplated going that extra hundred meters, but then her conscience got the better of her and she stopped halfway down the street, turning instead onto a gravelly path that led down a slope and into a small park shaded by several majestic oak trees. The playground held many happy childhood memories for Gwen, and for a moment, reminiscence overshadowed her bad mood as she admired the yellow plastic slide, the rusting monkey bars and the single swing that she and Sydney had spent many of their younger days fighting over. In what was perhaps a subconscious desire to annoy her sister, Gwen plodded across the sandy ground and plonked herself down on its cracked seat, allowing it to sway gently back and forth. The placid rhythm succeeded in lowering her heart rate, and after a few minutes, she felt her breathing begin to slow. Suddenly, however, a burst of female chatter invaded her peaceful bubble and she glanced behind her to see a trio of preteen girls climbing the playground's wooden ladder, giggling. Gwen, who had rather been enjoying the silence, found herself annoyed at the interruption. Weren't they a little old to be making use of the playground equipment? Well, she was there, of course, but obviously the swings were quite a different story—they were acceptable for all ages. The slide? Not so much. However, the girls didn't seem to intend to make use of the slide. Instead, they stationed themselves on the wooden planks of the tower in a circular formation and began a giggly conversation. Turning back to face the other way again, Gwen allowed the strands of their voices to float toward her ears... And froze. "Nuh-uh, Zayn is way hotter than Harry!" Bloody Hell. Was there no escape? "Stacy!" This one sounded as though the sky had fallen. "How can you say that? You said two weeks ago that Harry was your favorite!" "I know, but I changed my mind. I took this quiz in Quibble last week, and it said Zayn was my type—so now he's my favorite." Well, golly-gee, thought Gwen sarcastically, if a magazine said so, then it must be true. "Well, I haven't taken that quiz, but I'm sure Harry is my type," said the first voice. "I mean, we're perfect for each other—he has brown hair, I've got blonde"—Gwen couldn't say she was surprised to hear that—"he's tall, I'm short... Oh my god, and remember that time we were on live chat with them and he answered my question with a winking face?" This prompted a long string of gushing and squealing—and, in Gwen's case, gagging. "You two are so meant to be, Becky!" said the third girl, who spoke with a distinct lisp that made her comment sound even more comical than it was to begin with. She sighed. "I wish I'd gotten to talk to Liam..." Except it came out sounding like “Liamuth", and Gwen had to bite back a snort. "Why do you like Liam so much?" asked one of the others. "He's so, like... shy," she said, as if it were an incredibly insightful assessment of his character. "But that's what I like about him! He's so mysterious and brooding..." The one called Stacy relented. "Yeah, okay," she said. "I guess they're all pretty hot... so long as they're not wrinkle." The girls broke into a chorus of giggles at this, which grated on Gwen's ears for a good minute before they finally died down into sighs. They were silent for a moment, and Gwen wondered if they might have left—but then they spoke again, and the conversation had a much more miserable tone to it. "I can't believe they're like... gone...," said one sadly. "I wonder where they are." A long pause followed, and Gwen's ears were exceedingly grateful for the reprieve. Unfortunately, it was short-lived—there was an excited intake of breath, and then Lisp-Girl burst out: "Hey, guys, imagine if they were here in Gryffindale right now." "Yeah, right, Kelsey. As if that would ever happen." Gwen had stopped breathing. If only they knew, she thought sourly as they continued to titter about this possibility. It was all too much. Even in the sanctuary of the little park, the One Direction wouldn't leave her alone, and it was beyond infuriating. With a deep sigh, Gwen rose from the swing, leaving it to rock faintly back and forth with a creaky groan. For a moment, she contemplated extending her walk, but the thought of leaving Sydney alone for too long was mildly terrifying, and so she found herself trudging back in the direction of her house, head filled with a single, depressing thought: Why me? ________________________________________ Gwen took the porch steps one at a time, psyching herself up to go inside. The house, she noted, didn't look quite so evil anymore—at least, not from out here. There was no sign that the One Direction had ever been here—no sign that they had ever come to Gryffindale and ruined her summer. Part of Gwen embraced this wishful thinking and began to hope that she had been imagining things all along, from the night at the barn right up to this morning, with Sydney and her screaming at one another. She put her hand on the doorknob and stepped inside. Instantly, Cooper shot across her path. And then... Chaos. Everywhere. Gwen took another step past the threshold, eyes wide and unblinking as she attempted to work out what was going on. It was loud—much too loud. The sound of water running crashed through her ears as though both the upstairs and downstairs showers were running full blast, (which, she realized a second later, they were) and an assortment of T-shirts and jeans belonging to her father was scattered across the hard-wood floor leading into the kitchen. At the end of the trail, she found Sydney standing in its midst, rifling through the garments carelessly. "Sydney," Gwen's voice was shaky as she addressed her sister, "what the hell are you—?" "Oi, Twiggy, haven't got any crisps, have you?" Zayn Malik burst into the kitchen suddenly, speaking through a mouthful of food and clutching a crinkled package of pretzels in his hand. Swallowing, he made a face, and then held the bag out to Sydney as though expecting her to exchange them for something better. Sydney didn't even bother to look at him. "Ew, gross," she said, chuckling aside a faded grey sweatshirt with the words "World's Best Dad" written on the front. Gwen had given that to Max for Father's Day three years ago, and seeing Sydney handle it so shoddily only served to make her even angrier. "We don't keep that sort of food in the—" "You have GOT to be kidding me." Staring at the scene in disbelief, Gwen had been walking slowly past the trail of clothes to where Sydney knelt. Her presence had gone unnoticed until now, apparently, because Sydney jumped when she spoke up and dropped the garment she'd been holding (a dark red hooded jacket) as she turned to regard the new arrival in the doorway. Gwen just stood there and shook her head disbelievingly. It was in that moment that she noticed Zayn' wet hair and freshly shaven face, and… Her eyes darted to his clothes and then widened to about three times their usual size as she noticed what he was wearing. "I don't believe this," she said faintly. Ignoring her, Sydney siphoned through the clothing heap again, this time extracting a brown sweater that Max hardly ever wore due to the fact that it was about three sizes too big for him. "Did you find anything?" Niall’s head appeared suddenly from behind the doorway leading into the hall. He looked oddly nervous, blinking repeatedly whilst eyeing Sydney with a hopeful gaze. Sydney held up the sweater. "Is this alright?" she queried. "Yeah, great," Niall replied, sounding relieved. "Mate, what's with the sweater desperation? It's the middle of summer, in case you hadn't realized." Zayn raised his eyebrows as Niall dashing back down the hallway and escaping to the bathroom. Gwen, who had barely paid attention to a word of this exchange, rounded on her sister once again. "Why is he," she pointed toward Zayn, glowering mutinously, "wearing Dad's clothes?" Sydney rolled her eyes. "Well, I couldn't exactly have them changing back into their filthy ones after cleaning up, could I?" she replied snappishly. "You let them use our showers?" Gwen asked, face frozen in an expression of dread. "Duh," came Sydney's response. Gwen was so blown away by the insanity of the entire situation that she didn't even notice when the upstairs water stopped running. Sydney, on the other hand, was immediately on alert; she shot to her feet, smoothed out her white blouse and flicked a tendril of blonde hair over one shoulder. Her gaze gravitated toward the front hall, but Gwen snapped her fingers impatiently in front of Sydney's face. "Hey! Listen to me! Do you even have a clue what you've done?" Sydney rolled her eyes. "I did what we should have done right from the beginning. I gave them what they wanted—some food, clean clothes, a nice place to stay. I don't see what your problem is—I'm just trying to be a good hostess!" "Oh my god, Sydney! You are such an idiot! If we'd just left them outside, then—" At that moment, there was the sound of sloppy male footsteps coming down the stairs, and Sydney disappeared right before Gwen's eyes. Too angry to react quickly, she stood there for a moment, staring evilly at the spot Sydney had just vacated. Then, with what could only be described as a growl, Gwen swiveled around—ignoring Zayn, who was munching noisily on a mouthful of pretzels and regarding her with amusement—and followed her sister into the front hall. Of course, she'd known it would be Harry coming down the stairs if Sydney was this much on edge about it, but she wasn't quite prepared for the sight she was met with when she emerged from the kitchen. There he was, sauntering down the stairs in all his typical arrogance, smirk firmly in place, wearing her dad's favorite T-shirt. The one with the Gryffindale Griffins logo on it; the one that looked so Max that Gwen just felt like giving him a big bear hug every time he wore it. Seeing it on Harry was the hugest juxtaposition in the history of the universe—and it quickly revived her thoughts of socking him one in the face. Harry, however, seemed to interpret her staring as something entirely different. "Checking me out, Firecracker?" he said suggestively, wiggling his eyebrows. "I know, you can say it—I look amazing in red." An indistinguishable noise came from the back of her throat, and she narrowed her eyes. "Take that shirt off. Right. Now." Harry's eyebrows shot up. "Well, if you insis—" "No!" Gwen's face flushed in a combination of anger and humiliation. "Don't… That's not what I… I mean… Sydney!" Giving up, she whipped around to fix her sister with a murderous glare. She breathed in slowly, incensed. "What is he doing in Dad's Griffins shirt?" Dreamily, Sydney sighed, eyes still firmly attached to Harry' chest. "I thought it would suit him," she replied faintly. For some crazy reason, Gwen was hit with a sudden urge to just fall to the floor and break down in tears. Or jump off a cliff, maybe—anything to save her from this nightmare. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you looked at it), she wasn't given much of a chance to act upon this impulse, because at that moment, Sydney turned and began sprinting up the stairs. "Hey!" Gwen called out, shooting after her angrily. "We aren't finished here!" She was completely and utterly ignored, and within an instant, Sydney had disappeared into the bathroom that they shared with a vacant giggle. Give me strength, Gwen thought as she took a reluctant step through the doorway after her sister. Inside, the bathroom was a mess. There was water all over the floor, bottles knocked over on the counter, and a heap of dirty clothes piled into one corner. Sydney, standing in the middle of it all as if she were in heaven, had latched onto a fluffy green towel and had her face buried in the cottony material as she inhaled deeply. Two things about this were exceptionally disturbing: one, that towel belonged to Gwen, and as she put two and two together, she vowed that she would never use it again; and two... Well, the second thing pretty much spoke for itself in terms of the creepiness factor. Gwen made a face. "You are really demented," she said flatly, yanking the towel out of Sydney's hands. Then, with a horrible realization of what she was touching, she dropped it on the floor and backed away as if it were a bomb about to explode. Sydney didn't seem to be bothered by Gwen's intervention, though. As soon as the towel was out of her grasp, she headed straight for the shower, whose glass panes were still all fogged up with condensation, and stepped inside. With a look of utter reverence in her eyes, she reached out with a slightly trembling hand to pick up the bar of soap that was perched on the ledge by the showerhead. Once she had it in her grasp, she cradled it in two hands and pulled it toward her. "Harry Styles touched this soap," she breathed, as she stepped forward out of the shower. Unable to watch the disturbing spectacle any longer, Gwen reached forward and snatched the bar from her sister's hands. She dropped it into the garbage bin, gagging slightly, and said in a tone of utmost revulsion and horror: "Harry Styles touched this soap." This bathroom would never be the same again. She then proceeded to turn on the tap and scrub her hands under scalding water for a few seconds, trying to erase all traces of him from her skin. Switching the water off, she remembered her green towel's fate and settled for wiping her palms a couple of times on her shorts. Male laughter rung out suddenly from downstairs, and Gwen was reminded of the One Direction's presence in the kitchen. Feeling like some sort of harebrained baby-sitter, she left Sydney standing dazedly in the middle of tiled floor—evidently torn between her aversion to garbage and the need to retrieve the sacred bar of soap—and rushed back down the hallway to the staircase. These stairs, she thought, served as a sort of passageway into Hell; every time she descended them, she feared what she might find at the bottom. In the kitchen, Harry and Zayn were throwing pretzels into the air and attempting to catch them in their mouths while Niall and Liam, who seemed to have joined them in Gwen's absence, watched them from the couch, chewing on something. "Does anybody smell… chocolate?" Sydney, who had apparently followed Gwen into the kitchen, was sniffing the air, junk-food radar on alert. Liam glanced up at her immediately, looking both sheepish and confused. "Err... yeah, sorry. I had it in my pocket. Is somebody allergic or something?" Sydney's body tensed up and she forced a smile, but her face just morphed into a grotesque expression that made her look like a maniac. For one brief—and obviously empty-headed—moment, Gwen thought about apologizing for her sister's rude behavior, but she quickly thought better of it. Liam may have been the most tolerable of the One Direction, but that only made him the lesser of five evils, and that was no reason to stick up for him. Instead, Gwen folded her arms and smirked at the look on Sydney's face. "She might as well be," she said, answering Liam’s question and eliciting a glare from Sydney. "Hey, where's Lou?" Harry asked suddenly, changing the subject as Liam awkwardly stowed his chocolate away in his jeans pocket. "Dunno," said Zayn. "He kind of wandered off before, after Twiggy gave him a jacket..." At that moment, as if prompted by the turn of their conversation, the back door swung open and Louis stumbled casually in, hands in pockets, eyes on the floor, whistling a dumb tune to himself—and apparently unaware of the fact that everybody in the house had their eyes on him. "Where've you been?" Harry questioned, regarding his friend with raised eyebrows. Louis looked up. "Oh, just… making a phone call," he replied, tugging at his sleeves. "Mate, you idiot!" Zayn exclaimed, his brown eyes narrowed. "Didn't we agree not to contact anyone? Who were you talking to?" At this, Louis’s eyes went wide and then he looked down embarrassedly, eyes trained on the carpet as he mumbled: "I was trying to call… Eleanor. No reception, though." Around him, Harry and Liam exchanged identical looks of exasperation and Zayn clapped a hand to his forehead. "Don't do it again, mate. The last thing we need right now is for someone else to find out where we are." Someone else. The words struck a nerve with Gwen, and she felt her hands curl into fists as she realized that, in the One Direction's eyes, she and Sydney were simply an inconvenient hindrance in their quest for anonymity. Did they not understand what an inconvenience they were to Gwen? As if it wasn't enough that they had barged into her life and destroyed what might have been a beautiful, tranquil summer, they had to go and act like she was the one at fault. Unsurprisingly, she was hit with yet another urge to slam her fist into their smug faces. She was so caught up in these angry thoughts that she almost didn't hear the doorbell ring—but when the One Direction suddenly went still and glanced warily at one another, the noise and its implications settled in, and for no apparent reason Gwen found herself panicking, too. "You expecting anybody?" Harry asked in a strained voice, looking between Gwen and Sydney as though they might have planned for this to happen. "No," Gwen responded in spite of herself. "Everyone thinks we're—" The doorbell rang again, and this time the caller sounded impatient, ringing multiple times in quick succession. Gwen quickly formulated a plan in her head. They didn't have to answer the door; as she'd already pointed out, the Evans were all supposed to be on vacation. If they just stayed still and didn't make any noise, then hopefully whoever it was at the door would go away. She was about to suggest this to the others when Sydney suddenly squealed "HIDE!" and the One Direction, in their state of panic, scrambled to their feet and dispersed. The resulting flurry of noises was such a ruckus that whoever it was at the door would, no doubt, be alerted to the fact that somebody was home by now. Before Gwen had time to respond to this, Sydney shot off after Harry like a puppy on the heels of its owner. Harry ran around like a headless chicken for a few seconds, and then, like the true idiot he was, headed straight for the front hall, of all places. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Liam leap agilely over the back of the couch he'd been sitting on and duck down below the windowsill. Niall, Louis, and Zayn were nowhere to be seen. Gwen slapped a hand to her forehead and ran after Sydney and Harry; when she found them, the latter was in the midst of shoving himself into the coat closet, apparently unaware of the fact that it had completely transparent Plexiglas doors. Sydney stepped excitedly into the closet after him, looking more like they were playing an exceptionally thrilling game of hide and go seek than harboring fugitive rock stars who claimed that not being seen was a matter of life or death. "Sydney!" she exclaimed, reaching out for her sister's arm but missing. The glass door slid shut between them, creating a nearly invisible wall. "You don't have to hide, you idiot!" she said incredulously, making wild hand gestures to indicate that Sydney was being a complete and utter moron. Sydney, however, just ignored Gwen and pressed herself closer to Harry, who had apparently just discovered the nature of the closet and was frantically trying to bury himself behind a wad of jackets. The doorbell rang again, at least seven times in a row. Gwen heaved an exasperated sigh and stomped off toward the door. By now, she had a fair idea of who was calling—but she had no idea why. Her suspicions were confirmed when the door swung open to reveal Jake Dursley standing on the front porch with what looked like a jar of jam clutched beneath his bony knuckles. "Jake?" Gwen exclaimed, trying not to let her panic show. "What are you doing here?" After giving her his classic you're-not-Sydney look of disappointment, he slouched a little and looked impatient. "Is Sydney home?" Gwen thought she heard whispering somewhere behind her, so she closed the door a couple of inches to try and block out the sound. "Err..." She paused, trying to decide on the most appropriate conversational tactic to get him to leave. "How did you know we were here, like... at all? Didn't we tell you we were going on vacation?" Jake straightened his glasses. "Well, yes, you did, but I was watching Sydney's window earlier this morning—err, I mean, not that I actually watch her window or anything... I just, well, happened to see it out of the corner of my eye—and there was a light on, so I assumed you must have stayed home for some reason. So I thought I'd drop by with this homemade blackberry jam for Sydney, but... Is she here?" He glanced hopefully past Gwen, trying to catch a glimpse into the hall. Gwen closed the gap even farther and put on a false smile; it mustn't have been a very good one, though, because Jake’s eyebrows formed a wonky shape on his forehead and he took a few quick steps back, nearly toppling down the front steps in the process. "Err, actually..." Gwen cleared her throat. "Sydney is home"—she decided (if only for good karma) to stick with at least a little bit of the truth—"but... she's sick. Like, really sick. Very contagious. So... I'll just take that and, err, give it to her later?" She reached out to take the jam from him, but he snatched it away and clutched it to his chest as if trying to protect it. "No!" said Jake adamantly. "I simply must give it to Sydney myself. I don't care how sick she is—I need to see her." Apparently, there was no stopping him. As soon as he finished speaking, he gave the door an almighty shove—whacking Gwen's heel and causing her to gasp in pain—and pushed past her into the house, shouting, "SYDNEY!" "No!" Ignoring the pain in her heel, Gwen shot in front of him with inhuman speed, casting a quick, fearful glance toward the door of the front hall closet. Her heart plummeted when she saw that Harry' arm was squashed up against the glass panel and Sydney's legs were quite visible beneath the hanging coats—it was, she thought dully, the dumbest hiding spot that anyone could have chosen. Anxiety thumping through her veins, Gwen hurried to shift Jake's attention elsewhere. "Really… she's not well!" she insisted. But this feeble protest did little to deter him. With renewed vigor, he announced: "Well, if she's sick, then all the more reason for me to cheer her up," and darted around her and into the kitchen. No doubt, he was headed for the staircase, and Gwen's chest seized up at the thought; if he got to Sydney's room and found it empty… "Jake!" she cried desperately, racing to catch up with him again. "I can't let you—" At that moment, the pantry door creaked open and Zayn was momentarily exposed, fighting to maintain his balance in the shallow hiding spot. Gwen watched in horror as he toppled out, as if in slow motion, and crashed to the ground with an almighty thud. After looking momentarily horror-struck, he attempted to roll subtly around the corner and into the hallway. "What was that?" Jake, who had been looking in the other direction, snapped his head around to the open pantry, forehead wrinkled in suspicion. "What was what?" Gwen returned, her voice a little higher than usual. "I didn't hear anything." She put on a cheesy smile for good measure, deciding that feigning innocence was the only way to go at this stage. Frowning, Jake shook his head. "Nothing… I could have sworn I saw… Never mind…" Gwen, seeing this momentary lapse in determination as an opportunity to get rid of the unwanted visitor, grabbed his arm and began marching him back in the other direction. "Sorry, Jake," she told him, yanking the jam jar out of his hands. "I'll give this to Sydney straightaway—I'm sure she'll be so thankful," a faint coughing sound erupted from the front hall closet at this, and Gwen kicked Sydney mentally before continuing: "but she's not in any state for visitors right now, so if you want to come back in, say, a few weeks…" Arriving at the front door, she pulled it open and motioned for him to be on his way. "Something's going on here," Jake pronounced, crossing his arms from where he stood in the threshold. "Something… fishy. And I'm going to figure out what it is." Internally, Gwen cringed at the thought of Jake going into Sherlock Holmes mode—because, as she'd learned over the years, his investigations only ever resulted in disaster, and right now especially, having a nosy wannabe-detective snooping around was the last thing they needed. On the outside, however, she gave him a tight smile and said, "Okay, Jake. You do that." And then she closed the door in his face. After securing the lock, Gwen put her eye to the peephole in the door and made sure he was leaving. Apparently, he was satisfied to mull things over for now, because she saw him making his way purposefully across the lawn. She had a sinking feeling, however, that he would be back. Letting out the breath she'd been holding in a big whoosh of air, Gwen turned around. "Coast is clear," she called out, and the closet door slid open almost immediately. A very disgruntled Harry stumbled out while attempting to shake Sydney off of his arm, to which she was clinging as though it were some sort of lifeline. "That is the last time I'm dealing with him for you," Gwen spat, throwing the jar of jam at her sister with a sour frown. Sydney, by some stroke of luck, managed to detach her hands from Harry just in time to catch it. Rubbing his arm, Harry shot Gwen a look of gratitude. She made a point of ignoring this, instead turning her attention back to her sister, who was examining the jar with her lips pinched in distaste. "Ugh," Sydney commented disgustedly. "Doesn't he realize how many calories are in this sort of homemade stuff? It's like, pure carbs!" Gritting her teeth, Gwen pointedly ignored Sydney and pushed past her and Harry, heading down the hallway and into the kitchen. "You," she said when she spotted Zayn, "need to come up with a better hiding place next time. Do you realize how close that was?" Zayn, who, infuriatingly, wore an amused sort of half-smile, held his hands up and backed away from her just a little. "Relax, Quinn. I fixed it in the end, didn't I?" Gwen planted her hands on her hips. "Gwenn. And no, Zayn, you didn't bloody fix it." She rolled her eyes, exasperated; as she did, she caught sight of Liam emerging from the sitting room, brushing dust bunnies off of his pants. "At least one of you has some sense," she said, nodding toward him in acknowledgement of his well-chosen hiding spot. "And where's Niall and Louis, then? I suppose they under the table or something?" But just as she said it, a loud scream sounded from behind her and she whipped around just in time to see Jake's jam go plummeting to the kitchen floor, shattering into tiny pieces and painting the white linoleum dark purple. Sydney stood in front of the garbage can, her foot held down on the lever and her hands over her mouth. For a moment Gwen thought she'd overreacted at something particularly vile she'd seen in the garbage, but then a mousy brown head popped up from inside the bin, looking around with wide, worried eyes, and even Gwen was so startled that she nearly jumped out of her skin. Louis blinked, apparently oblivious to the massive shock he'd just caused, and spoke up in a voice so timid it was almost comical. "Is he gone?"

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