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418 pages
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Mar 27, 2017


"So which is it, Banks? Or should I say Matthew?" - Rylie
Mar 27, 2017

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Lakeside - L. Ladia


On a cold morning, as the rain poured down on the small town of Silver Creek, an eleven-year-old boy with dark brown hair and fair skin walked down a desolate street. He was dressed in his black spray jacket and was holding a soccer ball. Walking beside him, holding a red umbrella in one hand and a single red rose in the other, was his mother, Vanessa Banks. He turned to her and when he saw her looking at him with a warm smile, he grinned goofily.

Thanks for today, Mum, he said.

Of course. It’s your birthday.

True, but can we please not do it again next year?

What? Why? It wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t celebrate with your favourite crème brûlée cheesecake. And I wouldn’t be able to get my favourite flower. She showed him the red rose.

But Dad might hurt you again.

He watched her smile slowly fade into a frown, her mouth releasing a soft sigh, and he lowered his head in despair. Not realising that she had halted in her tracks, he walked ahead a few more steps before he finally realised he was alone.

Mum? he called to her with concern, making his way back to her. He could see that her eyes were closed. You okay?

She slowly opened her eyes again, using her free hand to brush away a few strands of hair veiling her face before looking down at him.

Oh Matthew, she started softly. Lowering herself to his level, she reached out to straighten up his spray jacket. I’m fine.

You sure?

She smiled reassuringly. Come here, she reached out to embrace him tightly, the umbrella steady on her shoulder.

Mum… he chuckled, embarrassed.

She chuckled in return, loosening her grip to face him once more.

Listen Matthew, I really want you to stop thinking that it’s your fault. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t enjoy yourself just because of me. You’re still young, you know? She cupped her hand around his cheek. You don’t have to worry about me.

But it feels like it’s my fault when Dad…you know… his voice was low and a bit strained.

No, sweetie, it’s never your fault. If it’s anyone’s fault it’s… She paused for a second time and closed her eyes. After she opened them again, she said, It’s mine for staying with such a man for so long in the first place.

Then why did you choose someone like him?

Because he wasn’t always like this. I loved him, and sometimes I still hope that the man I fell in love with will come back to us.

But he hurts you. How can you keep hoping?

Because it’s what keeps me going. Hopefully you’ll understand one day.

I don’t think I want to, though.

I understand that, but you know, if I wasn’t with such a man… She rekindled her smile and reached out gently for his hands. I wouldn’t have such a precious child.

His face lit up. You mean that, Mum?

She nodded and it was his turn to embrace her. She returned it and for a while, they stayed in the moment. Eventually they let go, but their smiles remained.

Promise you won’t leave me? he asked in a cheerful tone.

Of course I won’t. I could never leave you. You’re the one who protects me, remember?

No, we protect each other.

She laughed. We do, don’t we. Oh, but I have a feeling it may be different again when you go back to school.

Maybe I shouldn’t go then.

Don’t be silly. You know I never got to finish high school, so I’m counting on you to finish for me.

Okay, and when I finish I’m going to take us away from this place.

That’s my boy. As soon as the words left her lips, he noticed her frown returning, her eyes looking pensive. He watched her look over his shoulder and tracked her gaze to their mailbox a few metres away. Soon they’d be home and tiptoeing around his dad again.

Matthew, she called gently. He turned and met her gaze. Promise me this, okay? He nodded. Whatever happens to me, please don’t blame yourself for it.

He furrowed his brow. Why are you making me promise such a thing? he asked worriedly.

Because I know you, she teased. He didn’t respond to her teasing as his mum continues thoughtfully. You know, for a kid, you can be quite serious sometimes.

Mum, he said with a hint of authority.

Please promise me first.

But Mum…

Listen, she interrupted softly. I don’t know what will happen in the future…but I want you to know that I care for you and that I’ll always love you. That, I am always certain of. So, please, promise me that you’ll never blame yourself and that you’ll always live your life the way you want to.

I love you too, but where are you going with this?

Just in case anything happens to me. I’m not going anywhere if that’s what you’re wondering, but I just want to hear it so I know that I don’t have to worry about anything.

But you don’t have to—



Matthew, she pressed in a tone filled with maternal authority. He finally surrendered with a silent breath.

I…I promise.

He watched as her smile returned. Thank you, she said before she stood up. Now, come on. We’d better get home before it gets dark.

At least she’s not upset anymore, he thought, even though a sick feeling continued to churn inside his gut. Should I have made that promise? And why now? Is something going to happen?

Wanting to distract himself from his own thoughts, he swiftly turned away, quickened his pace and dropped the soccer ball to practice some dribbles. As much as he tried however, he couldn’t stop thinking about the promise, and in his distraction, he accidently kicked the ball towards the street, passing by a parked van. Distantly he heard the sound of screeching tires, but ignored it in favour of going after the ball, his mind still thinking about the promise.


It wasn’t until he heard his mother shout his name that he finally turned around, shoes scraping against the gravel on the street. The second he laid eyes on the oncoming car, his body became numb and everything slowed down.

Headlights engulfed him.

Horns blared.

Tires screeched.

With a final breath, he braced himself for the impact.

Chapter 1


Matthew suddenly jolted upright in his bed while the alarm on his phone continued to blare beside him. His chest rapidly rose and fell with his panting; his heart pounding just a little faster. He ran a hand across his dark brown hair, which slightly covered his eyes and realised it was damp with sweat.

Why? Why am I still having that nightmare?!

In his last year of high school, despite all his sessions with a psychologist, his demons continued to haunt him.

What is it going to take?


Argh! Enough already!

He calmed himself down by taking deep breaths before grabbing his phone and pressing the snooze button. He flopped back onto his pillow with a thud, arms spread-eagled to the side and stared blankly at the ceiling, his mind drifting.

That day…

The last thing he remembered was the feeling of two strong arms embracing his small body just in those moments before the car made impact. When he finally felt the hit, he knew that with her last act, his mother had saved him. Thinking back on it now, he found it ironic that she would died from a car accident rather than at the hands of his father. That would’ve made more sense to why she had made him promise not to blame himself if anything happened to her and to enjoy life as he wanted.

Life sure had a sick sense of humour sometimes.

For the second time that morning, his alarm rang and just as he was about to turn it off, he saw the date.

Maybe that’s why he had the nightmare.

He let out a long breath before finally switching the alarm off completely. Then he turned to the picture of his mother on his bookshelf.

Happy birthday, Mum, he said under his breath before pulling himself out of bed to get ready for school.

It took him half an hour to get ready, hands shoved into the pockets of his black pants as he ambled downstairs dressed in his school uniform. His white button-up shirt rumpled with each step he took while the tip of his black tie bounced across his stomach. On the tie was the school insignia; a picture of a silver phoenix with the motto underneath it reading If We Fall, We Can Rise Again.

When he finally reached the bottom, he dropped his grey shoulder bag by the front door and made his way to the kitchen. The smell of toast and eggs filled the air and he couldn’t help but laugh a little bit.

You burnt breakfast again, didn’t you? he jested lightly.

The man who sat on the other side of the table peeked from behind his newspaper and smiled, then folded it, revealing his police uniform. He placed the paper to the side, near the small tracking device that he used for work.

And good morning to you too, sunshine, the man greeted cheerfully.

Good morning, Uncle. Breakfast looks nice, as always.

Why, thanks. It’s nice to actually get a compliment from someone like you. Makes me wonder sometimes if you really are my little sister’s kid. Woman praised me like no tomorrow.

Only when she needed favours, Matthew teased. His uncle, Sergeant James Lear, laughed. He was approaching his mid-thirties, but looked no older than a man in his late twenties due to his clean-shaven, chiselled face, well-groomed brown hair and muscular body.

By the way, his uncle began casually just as Matthew sat down at the other end of the table with a bowl of cereal. Chloe’s niece finally came in last night.

Matthew eyed his uncle with amusement. Do I want to know where you’re going with this again?

It’s not that I want you two to get together. Like I said she’s extremely shy, so I thought that you could be her friend and show her around. You know, make her feel welcome here.

What’s stopping you from showing her around?

I have plans with Chloe tonight, and you know how long I kept that woman waiting. I mean do you want to break up a happy couple?

Matthew rolled his eyes. Bit over-dramatic, don’t you think?

Look, I already promised Chloe that you’d do it because I wanted her free this evening. I even bought that small flower pin that she’s always wanted. He took out a small navy box from his pocket, opened it and showed Matthew the silver pin. It looked nice, but Matthew knew that it was just another one of his uncle’s tactics to get him to say yes.

Okay, but if Chloe’s her aunt, then that means Kyle is her cousin. Maybe he could show her around?

He has plans tonight, his uncle replied quickly. Matthew raised a suspicious eyebrow. They don’t really get along, his uncle corrected sheepishly.

And you think we will?

Please, Matt. You’re my only hope.

Matthew finally sighed in defeat. What’s her name again?

Nina Hays, his uncle answered, his happiness evident through his elated tone. And thank you so much for doing this. Matthew nodded. So, where do you plan to take her?

Well, the founders’ festival is on.

Hey, that’s where Chloe and I are going!

Really? Matthew droned sarcastically. Now, who would have guessed?

His uncle could only laugh again.

* * *

Half an hour later, Matthew left for school.

As he walked along the footpath he indulged in the morning scene; a gentle breeze ran through his hair, the main lake quietly lapped against the nearby rocks and the sun’s rays slowly appeared through the clouds making the surface of the lake glimmer. For as long as he had been there, Lakeside had always been a beautiful town and Matthew sadly knew that if he and his mother got away from his no-good father, it could’ve been the paradise that he would’ve taken her away to.

When he finally reached the central district known by many as The Village, he observed the familiar morning routine of storeowners opening their shops. He also saw some of the other locals hanging banners and setting up stalls for the town’s upcoming annual founders’ festival. It was another fifteen-minute walk before he finally saw his school in the distance.

The first time he laid eyes on Lakeside Academy during orientation day, his first thought was that it could’ve passed itself off as an exclusive boarding school for affluent families. Beyond its splendid silver gates, its general architecture sprawled grandly across the grounds. Heavily inspired by the Victorian Era, the three-storied buildings were characterised with buttresses and small towers, their foundations built from solid granite. The windows were shaped into arches and a fountain was built a few yards away from the building’s front doors.

As Matthew reached the brick fence of the house at the end of the street, he saw at a good distance a group of Year 12 students gathering near the fountain, greeting each other with high fives and laughing out loud in the sunshine. The sight of them caused him to frown with frustration. He sat on the brick fence, sheltered from the sun by a tree’s shadow.

There were three of them at that moment.

First of all, there was the egotistical Evan Gray—the captain of the football team and a guy whom most girls wanted to sleep with. Next to him was Kyle Wilson—Evan’s arrogant right hand man and Nina’s cousin. Finally, there was the annoying Sasha Arnett. She was twirling her brunette hair around her fingertips and cackling loudly at whatever Evan said while trying to wrap her arm around Evan’s waist at the same time, only for him to push it angrily away.

Enjoying the show?

Matthew turned his head towards the voice and smirked at the snub-nose, lanky, freckled boy who asked the question.

More like I didn’t feel like dealing with them…yet, Matthew answered. The boy, Lucas Rivers, laughed, his auburn hair dancing with the breeze.

Speaking of dealing with, your arch-enemy is back from her holiday and I actually spoke to her this morning by the main lake.

Is that so? Matthew replied with disinterest.

Yep, and speaking of her… Lucas said as he turned his attention back to Evan and his friends. Matthew did too. They watched Sasha excuse herself once she saw the girls’ school captain, Lily Lopez—a spirited girl with a heart-shaped face and a wide forehead—join the group. She was accompanied by the boys’ school captain, Daniel Allen—a charismatic teen with dark skin—and by Rylie Hillcrest—a fair-skinned, red haired beauty with narrow cheekbones—and, as Lucas stated, Matthew’s arch-enemy.

They watched as Kyle flicked his blonde hair out of his face with a toss of his head before smugly approaching Lily. In response, Lily turned around, her brown hair swishing, and walked haughtily towards the school entrance.

At the same time, Evan approached Rylie, directing an angry sneer at Daniel as he wrapped his arm around Rylie’s shoulders. Although she didn’t shrug Evan’s arm off, she looked perturbed by the possessive gesture and Daniel seemed very irritated from the way he shook his head.

Looks like an opportunity for you, Lucas, Matthew pointed out in a kind tone.

Come on, I know my face glows like the sun’s light, but…I’m still way out of her league, Lucas replied a little glumly.

Matthew looked at him. So those times during the holidays when you spent one on one moments with Lily at Café Willow don’t count at all?

She was just filling in the void that Rylie left.

Matthew smiled quietly. You need to give yourself more credit.

Lucas blinked. Okay, I’ve been wondering about this for a while now, but are you really Matthew?

Matthew furrowed his brow and frowned, puzzled by his friend’s question.

"First, a greeting without a deadpan tone, then you didn’t scowl at the mention of your enemy, then, you took my face-glow joke without rolling your eyes and now, you’re cheering me up. Something you’d like to share? Because you’ve really been creeping me out with those smiles of yours for the past few months."

And you’re bringing this up now because…?

Lucas shrugged nonchalantly. Feels like a good time to do so. So what’s going on?

Before Matthew answered he returned his gaze to Rylie. She disappeared through the front doors with Evan just as the school bell rang.

Who knows? Matthew replied as he got up to his feet. Maybe I’m just tired of being that person.

I’m sure Rylie would appreciate that, Lucas stated with a smirk.

Matthew simply sighed as the two crossed the street and entered the silver gates.

There he is, Lucas teased.

Chapter 2

The interior of the school continued with its Victorian Era likeness. There were big courtyards fashioned with granite benches, gorgeous gardens and perfectly trimmed hedges. The hallways of the buildings were wide, accented by arched ceilings and polished marble for the floors.

The school was divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant had buildings for classrooms and specialised in different academic departments. The east section was home to the school’s grand football field, the swimming pools and a huge gymnasium. The west was home to the creative arts facilities. The north carried the administration buildings, the main school theatre, infirmary and the cafeteria, and the south housed the science facilities and the library.

* * *

When Matthew and Lucas entered their homeroom class, Rylie, Evan, Kyle, and Lily were already in their seats along the front row. Evan nudged Rylie and cocked his head to signal that Matthew was there. She looked at Matthew and scoffed at him coldly. Matthew ignored her in return and headed to his seat in the back row with Lucas.

Okay, everyone, settle down, thirty-year-old Mrs O’Hara began as she strode into the room. Her long dress looked like it was reserved for older women and it swayed about her legs as she made her way to her desk in the corner. Once she stood behind her desk, she adjusted her glasses before looking at the class. Before we begin, I have some news for you. We have a new student today who will be joining us for our final year, so please treat her well. Please welcome Miss Nina Hays. Mrs O’Hara turned to the door, held her hand out towards it and nodded. You may come in now.

So this is Nina Hays.

Matthew studied her with curiosity after watching her nervously walk into the classroom and stand near the teacher’s desk. Her face was pretty much hidden by her chin length black hair and huge black-framed glasses. He could just barely hear the few snickers from the front end of the room.

It’s no wonder that she and Kyle didn’t get along. As his uncle said, she was clearly a very shy person. She had her head down, eyes focussed on the floor and hands and fingers fidgeting restlessly.

Tell us a little about yourself, Nina, Mrs O’Hara prompted politely.

Oh, no.

Um… hi, Nina began in a quiet voice, never once looking up. Matthew barely heard her. I’m…Nina.

Holy shit, Kyle blurted in frustration. Is it just me or do I suddenly need my grandma’s hearing aid?

Some students roared with laughter, causing Nina to tremble, her cheeks turning a bright shade of red.

Mr Wilson! Mrs O’Hara snapped, causing some students to stop laughing immediately.

Yes, Miss? Kyle replied arrogantly.

Give me your diary.

Kyle smirked as he took his black diary from his bag, got up and handed it to her. Evan continued to laugh out loud, but Lily and Rylie didn’t find it funny at all. Mr Gray, do you want to go to the principal’s office?

No, Ma’am, Evan answered coolly.

Then will you please keep your mouth closed or I will send you there, Mrs O’Hara threatened angrily, which made everyone in class snicker. Even Matthew felt his lips twitch with amusement. It’s all right, Nina. You may take a seat, Mrs O’Hara continued kindly.

Matthew watched the relief wash over Nina’s face. She quickly nodded to Mrs O’Hara before making her way towards an empty table in the back corner, a few students still snickering as she passed them. When she finally arrived at the table, she sat down without ever looking up again, her cheeks still red and lips turned down in a long frown. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.

* * *

At the beginning of recess, Matthew saw Nina placing her books inside her new locker. She still wore the long frown from the homeroom incident as she finished off what she was doing. She continued to be oblivious even as he approached her.

Hey, Nina.

Nina jumped with shock, making her locker door rattle loudly before turning to meet his gaze. Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, he apologised.

No, no, no, no, it’s okay. I should’ve been…paying more attention. She closed her locker before continuing. Ah…you’re that guy who was sitting in the other corner with that other…guy, she mumbled the last word.

The very same, he said with a small bow of his head. Matthew Banks.

She peered at him inquisitively. Mr Lear’s nephew?

I see I’ve been spoken of.

Oh, nothing bad…I mean, sort of.

He raised his eyebrows curiously as her hands flew to her mouth, her eyes widening. I mean, it’s all good things! Seriously, nothing bad at all and…oh no… She hung her head in shame, voice drifting out into silence.

Matthew chuckled. Don’t worry. I’m sure what they’ve said about me is true.

Nina tentatively met his eyes. You mean, ah…kind, thoughtful and friendly?

The other list.

You mean…emotionless, cold and sarcastic?

Now that sounds right.

She laughed a little. Well if it helps, I think that my first list is also true, she said, sounding slightly more at ease.

Believe me, if someone saw your list from this town, I’m sure they would think you’re talking about someone else, he joked, which made Nina laugh more. So now that we’ve been properly introduced, would you like to join me and Lucas for recess? He was the other guy next to me.

Oh…you don’t mind?

Anyone who can list down positive things about me within the first few minutes of meeting me is definitely worth getting to know.

She blushed. In that case, please lead the way.

As they began to walk down the hallway they bumped into Lucas who was already eating a packet of chips. Yo, what’s this? he asked as Nina timidly waved at him.

Thought I’d make a new friend, Matthew answered.

Okay, now you really are creeping me out, Lucas teased before he turned to Nina. "Still, it is a pleasure to meet you, my lady. Welcome to our group The Misfits."

She seemed pleasantly amused by the greeting as she turned to Matthew for an explanation. Yeah, he talks like that, and the name is a work in progress.

I still say that it’ll catch on. Also, I’m a devotee to chivalry, Lucas explained. Nina continued to look confused. Walk a mile in my shoes and you’ll understand.

Or he thinks that he has a better chance of making a girl fall for him that way, Matthew tattled.

Welcome back again, Lucas mocked with a sarcastic grin as Nina laughed. Lucas then fell into step beside them as they resumed their walk down the hallway and turned a corner. 

So how’re you finding— Lucas began, but caught himself when they ran into Rylie, Lily and Evan.

Look who’s here, babe, Evan started with a smug smirk. Picked up another loser to hang out with eh, Banks?

Matthew saw Nina cower at the insult and turned back to Evan with a harsh scowl.

Rylie sighed. Please Evan, not today, she requested, her voice sounding bitter.


I just got back, so I want to keep today argument free. Her green eyes met Matthew’s hazelnut ones. Is that okay, Banks?

Matthew glared at her, which she easily took with the utmost confidence, her gaze never wavering away from his. Just make sure to keep him on a leash, Hillcrest.

Hey, say that to my face you fucking assho— Evan started angrily as he took a few steps towards Matthew. Before he could take another step, Matthew quickly closed the remaining gap himself and grabbed Evan by the shirt with one arm, stunning the other boy.

Go ahead. Finish that sentence because I’ll be happy to break a few bones and make you miss your games this year, Matthew threatened coldly. Evan sneered with challenge and grabbed Matthew’s shirt in return.

Banks! Evan! Rylie intervened with a sharp tone. Enough.

You heard her, Evan taunted.

Matthew only tightened his grip on Evan’s shirt, narrowed his eyes and pulled him closer. Insult Nina again and I will make my threat real, he warned before roughly shoving the guy off him, making Evan lose his grip and stumble a few steps back before finally recovering his feet. Evan raised his fists defensively prompting Rylie to swiftly step in between him and Matthew, her attention focused on her arch-enemy.

And grab him like that again, she said angrily. "And I won’t hold back on what I tell Principal Walker. I’d hate for her to see you go back to your old ways. Matthew glared at her for the second time. What’s it going to be, Banks?"

Before he answered, he looked over her shoulder and saw that Evan was smirking smugly again. How he really wanted to make his threat a reality at that moment…but in the end, he knew she was right. He couldn’t do that to the principal.

Fine, he said. "Just make sure that I don’t see any of your faces from now and lunchtime. I think that’s fair for keeping your day argument free, right?"

She scoffed. We’ll note it. Now get lost.

It was Matthew’s turn to scoff, but he said nothing further. He turned around and started to walk away with Nina and Lucas following him.

As soon as they were far enough, Lucas spoke in a worried tone. Matt?

I thought you’d be used to that by now.

Doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t check each time.

Matthew smiled a little. Yeah, I’m okay.

It was Lucas’ turn to smile.

Uh… Nina started, catching the boys’ attention. So…that was a usual thing?

Yep, Lucas answered. "Those people be crazy! Except Rylie. As you saw."

Yeah, but I thought she was also crazy to suddenly step in like that, Nina said. She’s got guts.

Or the others are just a bunch of wussies, too scared to deal with Matt themselves, Lucas argued.

Matthew glared at him.

See? It’s not just them he gives it to, Lucas said, earning him a chuckle from Nina.

Anyway, Matthew said. Because it is Hillcrest that I usually deal with, a lot of people like this one here… He nodded at Lucas who was happily eating his chips once more. "Think that she’s my arch-enemy."

Bu…t she mmpf is yo ar enmy… Lucas mumbled with his mouth full, earning him a disgusted look from Matthew and an amused face from Nina.

Matthew shook his head before looking at Nina again. You okay? he asked.

Yeah. Actually… Her tone suddenly went low as she looked at the ground.. Thanks…for sticking up for me. No one’s ever done that before.

Any time.

She met his eyes again and smiled, her cheeks blushing with a tinge of red. The sight of it made Matthew blush a little himself, his heart unexpectedly racing.

It secretly surprised him.

* * *

During the beginning of lunch, Matthew travelled alone to the west section of the school until he arrived at a door that had a sign reading Mikhail EberHart - Janitor’s Office. He knocked.

Mikhail, it’s me.

Almost immediately, he heard shuffling on the other end, but it may have been another half a minute later before the door swung open and Mikhail stood in the doorway in his grey jumpsuit with a grin on his face. He was a burly man in his late twenties. He had black hair and a rough chin with stubble, and inked along the right side of his neck was a long flaming skull tattoo.

Hey, Matt. You heading to the old music building? he asked cordially with a hint of a German accent.

Matthew nodded and Mikhail handed him the keys. All right. See you after lunch.

The roof of the old music room (the furthest building in the west section of the school) was Matthew’s own hiding place. The area was shaped as a square, the edges barricaded by a high-wired fence. Matthew stood before the fence and gazed up into the sky as his thoughts flew to Nina’s smile and how it quickened his heartbeat. The memory caused

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