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Begin Again

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Begin Again

  Table of Contents

  Title Page



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Thank You

  Begin Again

  By Brittney Mulliner

  Copyright © 2014 by Brittney Mulliner

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Cover Design: Claire Lovell of C K Creations

  To my family and friends,

  Your support and encouragement made this possible

  To my husband,

  Thank you for loving me through the madness.

  Chapter 1

  I jerked awake, confused. The dream that had been haunting me for the past several weeks began to fade. My therapist told me leaving should take them away. She also told me I had nothing to worry about. Just then two dings rang through the plane and I remembered where I was.

  “Folks, sorry about that little bump. We have begun our descent to John Wayne Airport, where the current weather is 63 degrees and sunny. We’ll be arriving at the gate in about twenty minutes. Flight attendants prepare the cabin for arrival, and we would like to thank you for flying with us today . . .”

  I shifted in my seat and watched out the window; watching the houses and cars grow larger. The lines of freeways intertwined interrupting the flat land of shopping malls and houses. I couldn’t rip my eyes from the ocean looming in the distance. It all looked so foreign from the city I was born and raised in without the clutter and skyscrapers. Summer vacations on the beach seemed like a long time ago.

  The plane banked giving the older lady next to me the opportunity to lean across me and catch a glimpse of the ocean through the window before we landed. I caught a whiff of her perfume and scrunched my nose, trying not to sneeze. Why do all old women smell the same, was there a specialty store only they knew about? That’s probably where they find that oddly unflattering shade of pink lipstick and limitless amount of colorful, stretchy pants.

  “Do you live here, dear?” The woman was taking advantage of finally being able to make small talk for the last twenty minutes of the flight. I had put my headphones on before we left the gate in Chicago and quickly fell asleep after takeoff. Apparently she didn’t know this was a clear sign of ‘Please don’t talk to me’ in teen language.

  I pulled off my headphones and glanced at the woman. ”I do now.”

  I tried to sit up straight to see the front of the plane trying to guess how much longer I had in this recycled air capsule.

  “Oh, how exciting! Orange County is such a lovely place. My son and his family live just a few miles from the beach.”

  The woman babbled on about her wonderful grandchildren all the way to the gate. When the door opened allowing the front passengers to make their escape I prayed for the rows in front of me to move quickly. I wasn’t necessarily in a hurry to start my new life, but I couldn’t handle the ramblings of this grandma. Not while a hundred thoughts and worries were racing through my mind about the changes in my life that had occurred in the past few days.

  Would Brandon recognize me? Am I going to fit in here? Is Morgan still thinking about me?

  Finally the row in front of me started forward. I picked up my purse as the granny and I stood up and shifted to side-step our way out of the crowded row to grab our luggage from the overhead bin. A guy about my age standing in the row behind me reached to grab down granny’s bag.

  She took it from him and smiled back at me. “It was nice talking to you. Good luck!”

  I struggled to smile in response before she turned and headed toward the exit.

  The boy turned back to me and smiled before reaching for my black bag. It was the last one in the overhead bin and had a dancer embroidered on the front with my name in teal below.

  “This one for you . . . Aubrey?” He asked as he glanced down at the name and back at me with the same smile on his lips. I took in his designer jeans and wrinkled t-shirt and his golden brown hair. There was something off about his smile though. It was more of a smirk, the trademark of cocky guys. My eyes then dropped to his sandals and with a furrowed brow I lifted my head to greet him.

  “Yeah, thanks for getting that down for me.” I struggled to get out of the row gracefully with the boy and the bag now blocking my path. I did my best to smile as I reached to meet his hand and take my bag. Mystery boy continued to smile as he held the bag a few beats too long before releasing it to me.

  “It’s Tucker by the way, and it was my pleasure.” Still smiling, he picked up his backpack and followed me down the aisle toward the exit door. I sighed inwardly noticing him following closely but decided that now was the time to officially start over. I turned with a friendly smile and paused to let him catch up.

  “So Tucker, isn’t it a little out of season to be wearing sandals?” He glanced down at his bare toes, then with a lifted brow looked pointedly at the brown leather ankle boots I had paired with tailored pants, a cream sweater, and a fitted blazer.

  “Aren’t you a little overdressed for the season, Aubrey?”

  I smiled to myself at his hint of flirting banter and shrugged as we continued walking. “It’s December! What do you mean I’m overdressed?”

  He laughed at my confused face as he pointed toward the windows of the airport to the palm trees and clear, blue skies. “You’re probably used to Chicago weather but here it’s sunny and seventy year round. I hope you packed something other than boots and sweaters ‘cause you are going to be burning up in a few minutes.”

  I rolled my eyes immediately regretting my decision to be friendly and looked toward the luggage carousels that were coming into view.

  Panic set in when I didn’t see my ride waiting.

  As Tucker and I walked closer I spotted my brother leaning against a pillar near the carousel. He was taller than the last time I’d seen him. Of course, that was nearly four years ago so we had both changed considerably. His brown hair was darker than my auburn locks, he took after our father. The sides were cut short and the top was left longer and swooped over to the side. He wore black rimmed glasses, similar to the ones he had worn in high school before they were made trendy by hipsters. I had always seen girls fawn over him and struggle to hold his attention but he regarded himself as a computer dork, oblivious to his good-looks and charming personality.

  A smile broke across his face when he turned my direction, almost looking past me, before recognizing his little sister. His mouth dropped slightly. “Aubrey?” I smirked at his shock as he t
ook me in.

  “Is that your boyfriend or something? He’s a little old for you Aubrey.” Jealousy streaked Tucker’s face as he waited for me to respond. Strange. I had forgotten he was standing next to me.

  “No Tucker. This is my brother. Thanks for getting my bag down and walking with me. Have a great day!” I didn’t let myself look back as I walked away despite how badly I wanted to see his expression. Boys like Tucker, with their designer clothes and over-confidence were what I was trying to leave behind. Besides I’m pretty sure he would get over it quickly once he spotted another pretty girl to annoy.

  “Hi Brandon.” I smiled realizing he hadn’t seen me since I was a scrawny thirteen year old with braces.

  “I’m so happy I’m finally here!” I threw myself at Brandon while dropping my bag and purse to the floor and catching him in a hug. “Mom has been out of control. I can’t tell you how grateful I am you saved me. I promise. I will not make you regret this!”

  Brandon laughed heartily, shaking his head. “Aubrey, I promise nothing you do would ever make me send you back to Mom and Neil. I graduated high school early so I could get away from them as fast as possible. I’m just sorry I wasn’t in a position for you to come with me. But now, here we are! Roomies until you leave me for college.”

  We stood waiting for the carousel to deliver my bags. When I snuck a glance up at him out of the corner of my eye I caught him smiling at me. “I’m so glad you’re here Bree.”


  We made our way to the parking structure and found his silver BMW amongst the sea of shiny, silver luxury vehicles. Apparently there is only one color option for cars costing over sixty thousand. I settled into the soft black leather seat and watched the rows of palm trees passing by as we wound our way through the traffic Southern California is famous for.

  “So, is your condo close to the ocean?” Small talk shouldn’t feel strained between siblings, but I was finally getting nervous about the idea of living with my brother whom I had barely seen since he moved out when I was nine. Regular emails and phone calls kept us close, but I didn’t really know what to expect with him.

  “Uh, yeah I guess it is. It’s nothing spectacular. It’s just a little two bedroom condo. I mean, you can see the ocean from the living room and my bedroom which is great, but yours faces inland . . . sorry.”

  “Oh please, I would take a cardboard box to get out from under the same roof as Mom.” Closing my eyes I tried to block out thoughts of anything from back home.

  “I know the past couple of months have been rough and you’re probably nervous, I am too. This is probably the craziest thing either of us has done, but this is your chance to get away from everything that happened and start over.”

  “I really hope so.”

  A few minutes of silence passed before he seemed to sense my tension and changed the subject. “Are you excited about starting at a new school?”

  Coughing to cover my laugh I shook my head. “Am I excited about being the new girl in the middle of the year? Really?”

  He chuckled, realizing how absurd that sounded. “Fair enough, but at least you already know someone. Mckayla will watch out for you.”

  Mckayla, my cousin, was my age and we had spent every summer together growing up, though that tradition stopped a few years ago. Her mom and mine were sisters, but acted nothing alike. Aunt Diane treated me more like a daughter than mine ever did. “I know but we haven’t seen each other for a while. What if we don’t have anything in common anymore?”

  “Just trust me. Plus everyone at school will love you since you’re the new kid. People will be fascinated by the beautiful city girl.” He winked once before looking back at the road.

  I snorted at his description. Me? A beautiful city girl? HA! “Whatever you say, dork.”

  After a few moments, I figured it was time to get some of the awkward items out of the way. “So should I look for a job? I want to find a new dance studio soon, but I can probably get a part-time one to help out with things.

  He looked confused for a moment before answering. “Don’t worry about getting a job. Mom has taken care of everything for you financially, and Neil even told me to take you to pick up a car for you tomorrow since he is selling your Jetta. We just want you to focus on school and dance.”

  Okay, this is going to be perfect! I get my own life away from my parents and their twisted expectations, plus I get to live with Brandon, the coolest older brother ever! I decided in that moment that I would make the very most of this chance and make sure nothing ruined it.

  Chapter 2

  Brandon was being modest in the car about his “little condo.” We arrived at the penthouse and he opened the front door allowing me into my new home. After walking in through the entry hall the first room we entered was the kitchen. White cabinets and light wood floors added to its modern style.

  “Wow this is beautiful! The whole kitchen is so fancy! Do you like cooking?”

  Brandon turned and looked around. “Not really. I just like the look of stainless steel appliances.”

  “Oh, well I don’t really cook either. Guess it’s time to learn.”

  He laughed and shook his head. “I have a drawer full of takeout menus. I think we’ll survive.”

  I pulled my bags through the kitchen and into the monochromatic living room. “You seem to really like white.”

  “It came furnished and decorated. It was the model used to sell the other condos and I just haven’t felt like anything needed to be changed. Maybe down the road the all-white will get old.”

  I had been in the room for a few seconds and it was old. How could he stand to look at this place? I felt like I was in an insane asylum. Adding color would be my first task as his new roommate.

  “What’s your favorite color?”

  He looked at me suspiciously, but I just gave him an innocent smile. Batting my lashes would probably be overkill. “I like blue, why?”

  “I was just trying to get to know you.”

  A painting on the wall was the only color in the room. It appeared to be a blur of blue hues. I moved around the couch to the far wall to examine it. “Wow! You have a Lambert? I love his work.”

  “A what?”

  “The painting, it’s a Lambert. I had one of his oils in my old room. This is beautiful. The ocean views really accent it.” I laughed at my own joke and turned to look out the floor-to-ceiling windows that gave way to an unobstructed view of the ocean.

  “It came with the rest of the stuff. It’s cool, I guess.” He came up next to me enjoying the view. “There’s a patio through those doors. You’ll probably like that. It’s my favorite area in the house.”

  I sauntered in the direction he had pointed and opened the doors. Yep, I found heaven. There were a few chairs and a patio table waiting for me. “You might have a hard time getting me back inside if I go out there. This is the best view in the world.” I watched waves roll in and crash on the beach and sighed. This was a major perk of moving here.

  “It’s pretty great. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.” He moved back and sat on the large sofa. “How’s the family?”

  I found a spot next to the window to sit so I could keep watching the waves. “Peyton is good. She tries to act way older than ten, which drives Mom crazy. She’s already trying to wear makeup and wants a cell phone.”

  Brandon shook his head. “I can’t believe she’s ten already. I feel bad I haven’t been around for her very much. She probably doesn’t remember me.”

  He looked regretful for a moment before going back to a smile.

  “She seems to get along with them better than I do,” I replied with a bit of regret of my own.

  “Come on, I’ll show you to your room so you can put your stuff away then we have to go to Aunt Diane’s. I told her you were coming in today and she insisted on a welcome party for you.” He left the living room and disappeared down one of the halls. Grabbing my bags, I followed him and found him in a large bedro
om with large windows facing inland. Again, everything was decorated in white and the furniture was modern. He stood facing me apprehensively waiting for my reaction.

  The plush white bed in the center of the room was calling my name. I stole another glance at him before running full-speed at the bed and jumped, landing in the soft down comforter covering the new queen bed. “This is perfect. Thank you so much for letting me move here, Brandon.”

  He looked relieved. I guess he felt as much pressure as I did to make this work. “I’m glad you like it. Your bathroom is through this door.” He pointed back to the door next to the entrance. “You should have everything you need already in there, but if we need to grab anything let me know. Oh and your closet is the door next to the bath tub in there. I’m sure there is enough room for you, although if you take after mom we might need to get another wardrobe for your room.” He turned and walked out of the room laughing to himself.

  After he left my room, I got off the bed and opened the bathroom door. My jaw dropped at the bathroom that was almost as big as the bedroom. There was a huge soaking tub in the corner that I was already planning on using on a daily basis. Across from the tub and walk-in shower was a wide double sink vanity that was more than enough room for one girl’s makeup and styling tools. I caught my reflection in the mirror as I walked toward the closet door. I haven’t smiled like this in weeks.

  The closet was huge. Huge and waiting for me to fill every shelf, rack, and drawer. All that was missing was a chaise to lounge in while admiring my fabulous clothes and shoes. I could live and die in this room feeling fulfilled and perfectly happy!

  “Are you ready to head over? I told Diane we would be over by 6 and it’s already 5:45.” Brandon yelled from somewhere in the condo breaking me from the blissful trance that had consumed me at the sight of the miracle closet. Sighing I told myself I could come back and admire it further when we got home later tonight.

  Knots formed in my stomach as I threw open one of my suitcases on my bed and looked for something to change into. Remembering the way Tucker had looked at me at the airport, I knew I had to find something to blend in. It was silly to be nervous to see my own family, but I wanted to make the right impression. I settled for my favorite pair of gold ballet flats that resembled pointe shoes and threw on a flattering, black cotton tee that hugged all the right places over my skinny jeans.

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