Matilda’s hands shook as she dialed her daughter’s cell phone number and held the phone to her ear. Six rings, no answer. It went to her voicemail.

Hey, this is Margaret. I’m busy right now, but leave a message and I’ll call you back when I’m free. Thanks… BEEP…

Matilda took a shuddering breath. “Margaret, Sweetie. It’s Mom. Where are you? Are you okay? Please call me back. I’m worried. I just want to know you’re alright… I love you…” she said, her voice shaking. She tried to press the End Call button but dropped the phone instead. It clattered to the polished wood floor with a small thud.

“I’ll get that for you, Mom,” Juliana mumbled, stooping down to pick up the phone and end the call herself. There were tears glistening in her eyes. Where was her baby sister? Thaddeus, who had been sitting quietly in the armchair in the corner of the room suddenly stood up, his hands balled into fists.

“You see?” he shouted. “You see what happens when you let a teenager run wild, wearing whatever they want, going wherever they want, whenever they want? They get into trouble! I tried to warn you, but would you listen to me? Of course not! You were too busy letting her ‘express her individuality’ to notice that she’s becoming a delinquent!”

“How dare you blame this on me?!?” Matilda screamed. “What does the way she look have anything to do with her behaviour?” Thaddeus gave a furious snort.

“You are unbelievable, Matilda, you know that? You live in your own little lala land and I’ve spent the last seventeen years letting you live in your little bubble of insanity, walking on eggshells because I was terrified of you doing something crazy! Do you have any idea how draining that is?”

Juliana looked between her father and step-mother with a frown. This fight wasn’t even about Margaret anymore. They were just taking all their frustration out on each other now. She stepped in between them. “Stop it!” she said sharply, making both Matilda and Thaddeus fall silent and look at her. “This isn’t doing anyone any good! Margaret’s still missing. Whatever problems you have with each other, you can put it aside and figure it out later! Your daughter; my sister, is still out there somewhere! Focus on finding her first instead of acting like children in a fight on the playground!”

Her overemotional tendancies getting to her, Juliana burst into tears and grabbed her car keys, running out the door. “Where are you going?” Thaddeus demanded.

“To find my sister!” Juliana shouted. She ran to the garage and got into the white Prius Matilda had given to her after she’d received her own squad car from work. She regretted keeping Margaret’s actions from her parents more and more every day, but it wasn’t as though she could just turn her in to her mother, who was on the Vice Squad. She was her baby sister… her only sister. Her only sibling, for that matter. All her life, she’d wanted a little baby brother or sister and never had one growing up. Granted, she’d wanted that baby to come from her biological mother and father, but life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. She’d ended up with a half-sister instead and that was as good as having a full-blood sister to Juliana. How could she turn her in and lose that trust they had between them? How could she deal with her only sister… the sister she longed for for so many years hating her?

She headed straight to the abandoned warehouse where she knew Margaret hung out after school. She trusted Juliana and so told her everything about what she did. A lot of it made Juliana shudder. She still remembered the night she had walked in on Margaret having sex with a guy she’d never seen before and being horrified that not only had Margaret not known who he was, she wasn’t using any kind of protection, either. She’s only fourteen, for crying out loud! I’m twenty-one and still a virgin! What the hell is wrong with her?!? Juliana thought shrilly to herself as she pulled into the warehouse’s parking lot and snuck around back. She recognized a mocha-skinned blonde right away and ran towards her step-cousin. “Marina!” she shouted. Marina looked up at Juliana and waved, flicking the ashes of her cigarette to the ground.

“Hey Juliana. What’s up? You looking for Margaret? I can’t see why someone so prim and proper would be hanging around here otherwise,” she chuckled. Juliana nodded, panting slightly from running.

“Yes. Where is she?” Juliana asked. Marina’s face went dark and she scowled, throwing her cigarette on the ground and stomping on it.

“Fucked if I know,” she answered icily. “Probably out somewhere screwing my boyfriend, the little two-timing bitch. How could she do that to her own cousin, huh?” she demanded angrily. Juliana didn’t have an answer to that, so she chose to ignore it.

“Where does your boyfriend live?” she asked.

“North end of town, but don’t bother going to his house. He’s never there. He only shows up there maybe once a week to get some food. The rest of the time, he just wanders around town, sleeping wherever. He and his dad hate each other’s guts,” Marina explained. Juliana sighed. So Margaret could be anywhere.

She thanked Marina and sped off again. Deciding to look in the park, she got out of her car and started scanning the people there. It was late so there weren’t many. Just a brunette bearded guy in a reporter’s outfit. Juliana slumped into a bench and cried. She would never find Margaret. What if she was hurt? Or dead? She was usually defiant, but it wasn’t like her to be gone for so long without calling her. Matilda had every police officer on duty combing the streets and even they hadn’t found her yet.

“Er… sorry to bug you, but you seem upset. Are you hurt?” the brunette guy she’d spotted earlier said. She hadn’t noticed him walk up to her. Juliana wiped her eyes and shook her head.

“No, I’m fine. It’s my sister… well, my half-sister. She’s missing and I can’t find her. She’s fourteen with short brown hair with purple streaks, blue eyes, and wearing torn jeans and a skull tank top over a red see-through shirt. Have you seen her?” Juliana asked. The man frowned.

“Actually, I saw a girl like that tonight. She was with some guy with a mohawk. They asked me how much I wanted for some E. They mistook me for a drug dealer. I told them I wasn’t selling anything and that they should stay out of trouble. They left,” he informed Juliana. Juliana sighed.

“I’m really sorry about that… I just don’t know what to do with her. My dad and step-mom are too busy fighting with each other back at the house to do anything to find her and… ugh, my family is a mess…” she sobbed. The man sat down beside her and put an arm around her.

“You want to hear about a mess? My brother and I were orphaned when we were babies. We grew up in group homes our entire lives. As soon as we got out, my brother Jared went wild and ended up getting his girlfriend pregnant. Being the jerk that he is, he left her when he found out and now he’s living with me and paying child support for his daughter whom he’s never met and refuses to acknowledge,” he chuckled. “You’re not the only one with a messed up family, trust me. I’m Connor, by the way. Connor Frio.” Juliana smiled and shook his head.

“Juliana Corcoran,” she told him. “My step-mom is Matilda Charm and my dad is Thaddeus Charm.” Connor’s eyes widened.

“Wow, your family is famous world-wide. You’ve got astronauts, presidents, business big-shots, rock stars and movie composers in your family. No wonder you guys have problems. That must be a lot of pressure. I bet us paparazzi don’t leave you alone, huh?” he grinned. Juliana giggled and shook her head.

“My step-mom hates them. They used to swarm the property every day, but since she started arresting all of them herself for trespassing and invasion of privacy, they’ve learned to just take pictures from the sidewalk,” Juliana grinned. Connor Frio was doing an excellent job of brightening her spirits when she was so afraid for her sister. Connor stood up and took her hand.

“Well, let’s go find Ms Margaret Magnolia Charm, heiress to the million dollar Charm estate,” he winked. He had done is research on the Charms for his job, apparently. Juliana smiled and nodded, leading him to her car.

“So what do you do? I knew the Charms had a step-daughter, but since you’re not part of the Charm bloodline, us reporters don’t focus on you all that much… no offense,” he added. “You don’t exactly look like a Charm, either,” he commented, eyeing Juliana’s black hair and dark skin, comparing it to the the mostly light-skinned, blonde Charm women. Juliana grinned.

“None taken,” she assured him. “I’m half Indian. My mother was from East India, but moved here when she was really little with her parents. My dad is Irish, but I look pure Indian. As for what I do, I don’t have a 9 to 5 job. I don’t really need one, living with the Charms, but I’m not trying to mooch off of them. I’m trying to become a Professional Author. I’ve only published one book so far, but it was a best-seller, Tales of Gormley.” Connor gasped.

“You’re the author of Tales of Gormley?” he asked, stunned. “I love that book! I’ve read it so many times, the binding is falling apart. The writing is sheer poetry!” he enthused. Juliana went red and mumbled a polite thank you.

Connor and Juliana continued to chat about books and literature. Connor even went so far as to say he was in the presence of the Modern Goddess of Literature. Juliana’s heart beat a bit faster and she beamed. She’d never received such high praise for her writing before.

As suddenly as she met Connor, the conversation ended. Connor pointed across the road. “Look! Isn’t that Margaret?” he asked. Juliana gasped and nodded. Her sister was stumbling in a zig-zag pattern down the sidewalk, giggling to herself. She leapt out of the car and ran for Margaret as fast as she could.

“Margaret!” she screamed. “Margaret!” She grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her around. Margaret’s eyes were glazed and her pupils were as big as saucers. She grinned when she saw Juliana.

“Man, this stuff is sick! You’ve got three heads, Julie!” she giggled, slumping into her sister’s arms. She was high and apparently drunk by the way she was weaving and stumbling every which way.

“Dammit, Margaret! What did you do to yourself! Mom and dad are freaking out at home!” she snapped, dragging her to the car. “Get in!” she shouted, beside herself with anger. Margaret climbed into the back seat and Connor stepped in to help buckle her into the car.

“Whoore yoo?” Margaret slurred.

“Connor Frio. I’m a friend of your sister. Er… nice to meet you?” he said tentatively, holding out his hand, which Margaret promptly threw up on. Juliana smacked a hand to her forehead and sighed, helping Connor clean up the mess on his hand and scrub the puke off of the pristine seats.

They drove Margaret home in silence. She passed out right after she threw up on Connor. They pulled up to the Charms’ driveway and Connor picked up Margaret, carrying her to the house. They were greeted by Matilda’s frantic scream and Thaddeus’ panicked shouts. “It’s okay! She’s fine! Just sleeping. I’ll put her to bed,” Juliana assured them trying to get Margaret out of her parents’ sight quickly before they noticed how out of it she was. She still wanted to keep her sister’s trust.

Juliana took Margaret upstairs and undressed her, putting her in pajamas before tucking her safely in bed. “You’re an idiot… but I love you, little sis,” Juliana whispered, giving Margaret a quick kiss on the forehead before running back downstairs.

“How is she? I want to see her! I want to see my baby!” Matilda said tearfully as Juliana walked downstairs. Juliana nodded and pointed upstairs to Margaret’s room.

Connor seemed to have vanished and Juliana sighed to herself. Of course he vanished. He probably wanted to get as far away from this nuthouse as possible. Margaret puked on him, for crying out loud! she thought miserably. She’d actually kind of liked him, too. Well, he certainly wasn’t coming back. Margaret saw to that. Juliana stepped outside to get some air.

“Hey, is she okay?” a voice asked, making Juliana jump. It was Connor. He’d been waiting outside. He gave a sheepish grin. “Sorry. You’re not going to have me arrested for trespassing, are you?” he asked, looking down at his reporter’s outfit. Juliana smiled and shook her head.

“Not this time,” she teased lightly. “Margaret’s fine. She’ll sleep off whatever she’s got in her system. Thank you so much for your help. You probably want nothing to do with me or my family now after that fiasco. Talk about a bad first impression,” she groaned. Connor chuckled and shrugged.

“Like I said, I’ve got a wacky family, too,” he assured her. “So you really love her, don’t you? Margaret?” he asked. Juliana eyed him suspiciously and Connor got the hint. “Consider this entire night off the record. If the media gets hold of this, it won’t be from me,” he told her. Juliana nodded.

“Yeah, I do. She’s the only sibling I have. She means the world to me… and I’m terrified that one day, she’s going to do something stupid and suddenly, she won’t be here anymore…” she muttered, her eyes glistening. Connor nodded understandingly and gave her a friendly, comforting hug.

“I know what you mean. As stupid and as much of a jerk my brother is, he’s all I’ve got. I’d be devastated if something ever happened to him. I don’t get to see my niece because of him. That makes me angry, but he’s still my brother, you know?” Juliana nodded.

“Juliana, come inside. It’s cold out and you must be tired after running around town all night,” Thaddeus called from the door.

“Coming, Dad,” she said. She turned to Connor and smiled. “Thank you. I hope we can talk again,” and doing something very brave for her, she stood on tiptoes and kissed Connor swiftly on the cheek, running inside before he had the chance to to react.

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