As I weave my way through the crowded post office, I rummage through my backpack for my box key. I have not come to check my box in over a week, so it is bound to be stuffed, or there is a key to the bigger boxes. I stuff my key into the keyhole and open it to a near avalanche of parcels. I start to stack them in my arms, looking at the return addresses as I go, when I spot Jace’s name. I hold back a squeal of delight as I shut my box and hurry to get back out to my car.
It takes me twenty minutes to get back home, and I stack my packages in my arms and hurry to my room. I dump them on my bed and start to set up my camera to film an unboxing video. But then someone calls my name. I groan and swing my door shut as I go to the living room.
“Bella,” Dad says, placing his hands on my shoulders. “Annette and her son are going to be arriving in half an hour. I need your help to help make Jason feel at home.”
“What happened to him coming slowly?” I ask, raising an eyebrow as my dad faces me towards the basement staircase.
The sounds of kids running around in the upper level is much louder than usual. The usual being level 100 on a scale of 50.
“He wants to see how it works out,” he replies, taking me downstairs, the noise lessoning. “I told him that I would have the basement set up as a room. He asked if he could build some shelves and I told him that would be just fine.”
“Back to the main thought, please. I am to help him be settled. What happened to your daughter is a shy introvert?”
Dad chuckles, “Bella, I have seen how you behave with people once you get to know them. You will be fine.”
I sigh and nod, though I am not thoroughly convinced. Later, I hear the blare of a car horn and the pounding of feet.
“Let’s go welcome the new members of our family,” Dad says, smiling ear to ear.
I exhale and follow him up the stairs. My mom is already outside helping to bring Annette’s things in. I don’t see Jason’s face, because he has his back facing me, but man! The dude is tall! His hair is dark, and his shoulders are large, but not football large. Great, I will be in his shadow in my final weeks of high school.
“You’re Isabella!” Annette says, pulling me into a gentle hug. “You look so grown up compared to the last time I saw you!”
“It’s good to see you again,” I say as she lets me go. “Welcome to the family.”
“Thank you dear! I would like you to meet my son. Jason! Come here a moment.”
I gasp the moment he faces me. He freezes and his blue eyes grow wide. My heart drops to my stomach; Jace.
“Bella,” he says, his voice gently makes me wake up.
“Hi,” I say, turning into Jell-O as I make an attempt to wave. “Funny seeing you here, because I got my package today. I did not open it yet, I was getting ready to . . . I am sorry. Please, come make yourself at home.”
I turn and lead the way to the living room. I know for a fact that the other kids are still out; soccer, lacrosse, cheerleading and other extra-curricular activities. Yes, the younger kids are all into sports, cheerleading, but not me. That would make me the abnormal one in the group.
Annette and Jason . . . Jace, sit on the sofa. I sit in the chair and try my best not to fidget. How am I supposed to react knowing who Jace is and who I am supposed to see him as? Jace is my stepbrother.
“Bella, how do you know Jason?” Dad asks, carrying two glasses of lemonade.
“I prefer Jace,” he says at the same time that I say, “It’s Jace.”
“We have been exchanging books for a year and a half,” I reply, shrugging.
“Isn’t that great?” my mom says, touching my shoulder as she stands behind me. “The two of you got to know each other beforehand. I bet you will get along fine.”
“Yeah,” Jace nods, but there is no enthusiasm in his voice.
I deflate; this is going to be awkward.
“If you will excuse me,” I say, standing from the chair. “I have a mess of a room and a very large stack of boxes on my bed. Welcome, again; I guess I will see you folks at dinner.”
Before Mom or Dad can say anything, I make a quick exit and hurry to my room. I close the door, resting my forehead to it in despair. Forget all thoughts of Jace being cute. Forget that we even flirted with each other. He is now off limits. I could burst into tears right now, but push them aside.
Suddenly, I hear some muffled voices coming towards my door. I back away and quickly make myself look busy. Someone knocks.
“Yeah?” I say, pretending to stack the packages on the floor, at the foot o my bed.
I look up at my mom, but turn away. I can tell that she is coming to question my sudden need for an exit.
“Is everything all right, honey?” she asks, coming to sit on my bed. “You ran out of there really fast.”
“I wanted to straighten up my room,” I reply, realizing too late that my room is nowhere near messing.
“Right, sweetie; I am your mother. I can always tell when something is bothering you. Are you starting to feel like you are being replaced, or me?”
I sigh, “It’s not that, Mom,” I say, sitting next to her. “I don’t feel like that at all. I am used to someone new joining the family. I may be older, and not as ignorant, than I was at seven years old, but I am not letting this sudden change get to me. I love being in a big family. I just . . . I guess I am a little shocked that Jace is going to be my stepbrother.”
“I see,” Mom says slowly, lifting my chin to have me look at her. “You and Jace have been friends for a while and now you have to shift to him being in the same house and sharing your dad with him.”
I nod, sighing as I flop on my back against the bed.
“Well,” Mom goes on, flopping beside me. “If it makes you feel any better, I really do think that you and Jace are going to get along really well. You are very close in age and you both have similar interests. Who knows all the good that will come out of this?”
“It’s going to be a bit weird, I admit that,” I say, blowing the stray hair from my face.
“It’s going to be fine.”
Mom sits up and pats my leg before leaving. I rise to my elbows and sigh. Mom is right, as usual. Many good things can come out of this change. I might have the older brother I always wanted. If Jace does not want to be a brother, than at least we can be friends. I sigh and push myself off my bed. Time to finish that book I was reading this morning.
* * *
I have been reading for well over three hours, and my stomach is giving me a warning. It is telling me that if I do not feed it soon, it will make me miserable. I put my book down and stand from my window bench. My dad built this bench for me after I told him that I needed a cool place to read. Just as I am about to open my bedroom door, someone knocks. I wait a moment before opening it.
“Jace?” I say when I see him standing there, holding my copy of The Rosie Project.
“I found this on a table in the basement,” he says, handing it to me. “I figured it was yours, since your sister rolled her eyes at it.”
“Thanks,” I say, taking it. “I probably left it down there when I was hiding from guests last week.”
“Sounds like something you would do.”
I smile, tossing the book to my bed.
“What are the odds that I come to live with you and your family?” he asks, leaning in the doorway.
“Pretty slim, I guess,” I reply, turning my attention to the light switch. “I admit being shocked.”
“I have a confession . . .”
I meet his gaze, frozen and scared of what he is about to say.
“When my mom told me where we were moving,” Jace says with a chuckle. “The first thing that popped into my head was that I would get to hang out with you, because you lived near here.”
I laugh, relieved. “Collaboration videos and all that?” I ask.
“Heck yeah! I have never collaborated with anyone, and I know you haven’t either. It would be fun to make videos together and hang out . . . Speaking of hanging out. I know school starts back up on Monday. Since my car is not here yet, would you drive me until it arrives?”
“Like you need to ask!”
Jace grins; I laugh as he takes a curious step into my room.
“So, this Bella’s Book Corner?” Jace asks, looking over my bookshelves and camera set up.
“This is it,” I reply, sitting on my bed.
“It’s a lot smaller than I originally thought. If you need shelf space, there is plenty of room in the basement.”
“Oh, no, that’s okay. That’s your room now.”
Jace turns and gives me a look that I cannot describe.
“Actually,” he says, heaving a sigh as he comes to sit on my bed. “Your dad offered me the room across from yours. I simply asked to put shelves in the basement so that I had a place to film videos.”
“Why have I never thought of that?” I ask myself, resting my hand beneath my chin. “It’s actually perfect, considering all the lights we use anyway.”
“Are those your packages?”
Jace draws my attention to the stack of boxes at the foot of my bed. I bit my lip and nod.
“Did you open the one from me yet?” he asks, standing and looking through them.
“I was going to film a video,” I explain, standing and walking over to the stack. “But then my dad asked me to help straighten up the basement and I forgot.”
“Then what are you waiting for? Let’s set up the basement tonight and film tomorrow. You don’t do anything on Saturdays, right?”
“Aside of anything related to books? No, I don’t do anything.”
Jace grins, “My books are not here yet,” he says, pulling his package out of the stack and placing it on my bed. “I know for a fact that you and I both have mostly the same books, so we can put your books in the basement until mine come. Then we can just joint-share the shelves.”
“I think we can work that out, if you want,” I say, nodding. “But before we do anything, I need to eat something before my stomach has a fit.”
“Mind if I join you?”
I smile, “Sure.”
I lead the way out of my room and towards the kitchen.
* * *
“How’s that?” Jace asks, stepping back to admire his book organization.
“Looks like you’re already at home,” I reply, adding the stack of books in my hands to the shelves. “So . . . tomorrow, we are not filming any collab videos, or do you want me unbox your package, featuring you?”
“I think we should do both,” Jace picks up some more books and adds them to the shelves. “You film your unboxing video, and then we film two collaborations.”
“What should they be about?”
“Well . . . all of my subscribers know that I am moving around. So, the video on my channel will be about how I am almost settled and that I live near you . . .”
I laugh, “If you were to say with me,” I begin, placing the last book on the shelf. “People might get the wrong idea.”
“Exactly,” Jace chuckles and clears his throat. “Then on your channel, we can do something random.”
I nod and step back to admire the new filming area. It looks as if Jace and I smashed our shelves together, because there is a little bit of both of us in it.
“You are really going to like what I sent,” Jace says, sitting in my beanbag chair.
“Do I get a hint?” I ask, sitting on the other beanbag.
“Nope,” he replies, popping his lips. “Tell me, Bella, what is it like to know your dad is married this way?”
“It’s normal,” I shrug and cross my ankles. “It’s all I have ever known. It’s just normal.”
I look at Jace, who does not seem to get what I am saying.
“Okay, say you are going to India. They have a different way of living that is normal for them. You are raised American, so you have a different lifestyle. You can’t go to India and expect them to change their lifestyle because it is not your type or kind of normal.”
Jace nods slowly, almost understanding. I look at my wristwatch and grimace.
“My mom will have a fit if I don’t go up to bed soon,” I say, standing. “What time do you want to start doing videos?”
“Right after breakfast, I guess,” he replies, standing as well. “I guess I will see you in the morning.”