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Chapter Eighteen

California is everything that you ever said it would be, plus more.

Dad is amazing. I know I always said that he would be some stuck-up rock star who probably wouldn't want anything to do with us even if he did know we existed, but I was wrong. He is a genuinely nice guy and he's been more helpful than I ever could have imagined - getting more detectives on your case, getting his entire fanbase involved - and I know that even if I try for the rest of my life, I'll never be able to repay him.

The rest of his band are great too, just like you said they would be. I really like Matt and Brian. Dad doesn't know this, but Gena told me how freaked out he was when he found out about me and how much Matt and Brian helped him to prepare. How much they're still helping him. I won't say much more about any of them, because I want you to get to know them for yourself. There aren't words to describe them, anyway. They're just an amazing group of guys.

I'm still getting used to Gena. She's not Mom. She never will be, and I know that she knows it. But she's trying her best. I can see that. And I appreciate it. She's a better person than most people give her credit for. We're getting to know each other slowly, and it's great. I thought maybe she would resent having me around at first, but she seems legitimately happy.

But these are all people that you already know about. I've made friends here in California. I didn't really expect to - and if I did, I never expected to get this close to them - but I have, and I'm excited for you to meet them.

Nobody could ever replace Kieran of course, but Jack has fast become my best friend around here. He took me under his wing on my first day at Huntington Beach High School and we've been friends ever since. He looks like a surfer, but don't get your hopes up. He doesn't play for your team. He gets bullied a lot for it, but we're dealing with that issue.

Then there's Eliza Beth. I don't know what it was about her that drew me to her. I think maybe it's the fact that in some ways, she reminds me so much of you - you both dress the same way, listen to the same sort of music. Sometimes she even looks like you, when I glimpse her at the right angle. She's sweet and she's kind, and she's beautiful, of course. She became my girlfriend this past weekend and for the first time since you went missing, I felt genuinely happy. Like I could be myself again for a little while. It was fantastic.

It's weird not having you around. You'd think that we'd be used to being separated since we're fifteen already, but it's strange. I don't like not having you around, even if it's just by phone. Maybe it's just because Mom got ripped away at the same time, but I'm feeling a little separation anxiety setting in. I think that's why I'm writing this letter. I know you'll read it eventually, so it's my way of talking to you now.

You'd better not make fun of me for this, either.

Anyway. It's almost five-thirty, so I'm going out for a run. You'd better be found soon, sis.

Lysander put the letter aside and got to getting dressed, switching his pyjama bottoms in favour of a pair of track pants and a wife-beater. He pulled his sneakers out from their new home under his bed and shoved his feet into them briskly, eager to get out into the fresh morning air. His phone was stuffed into his pocket carelessly. He carried his usual note for Zacky and Gena as he made his way downstairs, the one that he had taken to leaving every morning in case they woke up and discovered that he was gone, and dropped it on the kitchen counter where it could easily be found. A couple of stretches and then he was off, out on his morning run.

He felt like he was back into his old routine now. It was Wednesday and he had been out on a run every morning for the past week, with the exception of Sunday, after the party. He knew the paths well, knew how far he could run and still have time to make it back to the house in time to get ready for school, and he travelled them confidently. He decided to take his new favourite that morning, the one that led him down to the beach that he had finally braved again on Monday. A trip down to the sandy shores was exactly what he needed to start his day.

The sun rose on his back as he ran. It warmed his neck and framed his head with gold. He knew this because he glimpsed it in the glass of a storefront as he passed it. It must have appealed to the female population though, because he got several double-looks as he made his way down to the Pacific Coast Highway. He nodded to each of them in acknowledgement, chuckling to himself when many of them quickly glanced away again.

The sand greeted him like an old friend. It curled up around his shoes and tickled his ankles when the wind allowed it to. He closed his eyes and let the rest of his senses tell him what was happening - from the tide pulling in and out to the salty breeze playing with his hair and the sound of somebody walking in the sand behind him.

"Jeez, you run fast, kid."

Lysander knew that voice. He opened his eyes and turned in surprise, smiling when the familiar face greeted him.

"Uncle Brian," he said in greeting. "Bit early for you to be up, isn't it?"

"Just 'cause your old man sleeps all day, doesn't mean the rest of us do." With a short smile he added, "Figured I'd come down here and get some surfing in before I really had to start the day."

He gestured to the board that he carried under one arm. Lysander eyed it, surprised that it hadn't been the first thing that he'd noticed upon turning around. The rest of Brian's attire had made his intentions of getting into the water fairly clear - he was wearing nothing more than a pair of board shorts.

"You surf?"

"Yep. You ever tried?"

"Never," Lysander confessed. "Hell, I'd never even been to the beach before I came to this one. Columbus isn't exactly known for its coastlines."

"Now that," Brian said with a look of disgust, "is just unacceptable. What kind of kid has never been to the beach?"

Lysander knew it was probably difficult for the man to comprehend such a life. He knew that Brian, along with the rest of Avenged Sevenfold and the vast majority of their friends, had grown up in California - always right by the beach. But it wasn't the same for everybody. Columbus was hours away from the ocean. It wasn't something that had ever really bothered Lysander, though he had often thought it would be nice to see nothing but water on a horizon. Water had never really been his calling.

"Well, let's see it, then," he said instead, nodding out towards the waves. "Are you any good?"

"Oh, sure. I'm the best."

Lysander caught the sarcasm in Brian's words and chuckled, assuring the man that he would judge for himself. He sat in the sand then and watched Brian headed for the water, getting more than a few stares of his own from the bikini-clad girls on the beach. It was hard to tell whether they were fans of the man as a guitarist or simply admirers of his fine physique.

Brian turned out to be a pretty good surfer by Lysander's standards, which were fairly low given that he knew nothing about the activity. All he knew was that Brian didn't once fall off his board, and that was good enough for him. He watched the man navigate the waves with ease, weaving this way and that way and taking turns that Lysander was certain would make him lose his balance. But he never did.

The sun had fully risen by the time Brian made his way back onto the sand. He was drenched from head to toe and looked utterly pleased by it.

"And that's why you need the beach," Brian told him, as if he had been giving the boy a lesson this entire time. "The ladies love a wet man."

"You look like a drowned dog."

"Real cute," Brian said, pushing his hair back out of his face even as Lysander grinned. "You just like him, you know that?"

He stuck his board into the ground and dropped down into the sand beside Lysander, waving at a couple of teenage girls who had spotted him and were frantically waving at him themselves.

"Never a dull moment," he mused, more to himself than to the boy beside him.

"Do you ever get tired of it?"

This was something Lysander felt he should have asked Zacky, but it had never really occurred to him until now. He knew that he wouldn't have been able to handle being recognised everywhere that he went, but he didn't know if it bothered any of the band. Admittedly, he had never really been out in public with any of them - not even his own father - so he hadn't been able to judge for himself.

"Sometimes," Brian admitted. "There are times when you just want to be left alone, y'know? Like when Jimmy died. We just wanted to be with our friends and family, but there were some people who insisted on being in our faces about it. A couple of fans, a journalist or two. They wouldn't leave us alone. It got pretty irritating."

"Jimmy," Lysander repeated. "I know that name."

"He was our drummer," Brian said with a sad smile. "Practically our brother. He died a little over five years ago."

Lysander knew this. He remembered now when Dakota had told him, struggling to get the words out through her own tears. He had comforted her while she had mourned for the uncle that she had never really known, mourned for the drummer of her favourite band, mourned for one of her father's closest friends. He remembered her babbling on about how much it must have hurt them all. It was a pain that he hadn't been able to understand.

Until now.

"I'm sorry to hear it," he said in earnest. "I shouldn't have asked. I would have remembered eventually."

"It's fine," Brian assured him. "It's easier for us to talk about him these days."

But there was still a sadness in his eyes that Lysander didn't like seeing, so he made a mental note never to mention the fallen drummer again. He wondered if that was the reason that people so scarcely brought up his mother - because they knew how it felt to have the death of a loved one shoved in their faces.

"Skipping school today?"

"I don't skip school," Lysander replied. He briefly checked his watch before adding, "I have fifteen minutes before I officially have to head back to the house. Might as well make the most of it."

"...or you could skip school and hang out here all day," Brian added with a wink. "Zacky used to do it all the time."

"Maybe some other time."

Brian chuckled.

"So. You come here often?"

"Lately, yes," Lysander admitted. "This is the third day in a row now. I don't even know why. I never really cared for the beach before, but now..."

He struggled to find the words. He enjoyed the feel of the sand around him; he liked the scent of the salt on the breeze. He liked listening to the waves and watching the early risers arrive. He liked watching the people on the street rush back and forth, many of them not even taking a moment to admire the beautiful beach that was right there on their doorstep. And all while he was able to just sit back and drink it all in.

Brian nodded, as if he knew what Lysander was thinking without the boy needing to verbalise any of it. They both sat for a while, simply watching the waves ebb and flow at will. A comfortable silence surrounded them, broken only by the sound of some giggling girls as they eyed up Brian's figure. It might have been cute if those girls weren't far too old to be giggling the way that they were.

"Got a girlfriend yet?"

The smile that tugged at Lysander's lips must have been answer enough to this, because Brian laughed and clapped his hands together in delight.

"I do," Lysander confessed. "We've been going out since Saturday night."

"Oh, yeah? What's she like?"

"I think you guys would like her. She listens to your kind of music. ...actually, she listens to your band."

"She does?"

Brian's tone was cautious all of a sudden and Lysander was fairly certain that he knew why.

"She doesn't know that I'm related to Zacky," he said confidently. "She doesn't even know that I know any of you. I only know she likes your band because she told me so when one of your songs played at the party we went to. Other than that, the band has never been mentioned."

"Okay. As long as you're sure."

"I am. But thanks for caring."

Being with Brian was like being with a friend. He was easy to talk to and he made Lysander feel completely at ease, even when the occasional person started to stare. They talked about girls and what it was like back in Columbus and they spoke of Huntington Beach and where all the best places to go had been when Brian had been a teenager. He spoke with heart about his days as a young adult spent in Matt's parents' garage, where the band had apparently been practising even then. Lysander was wrapped up in the stories that he told, so much so that he didn't even realise when his fifteen minutes had officially run their course.

"Johnny's Bar," Brian went on, lying back in the sand with his hands behind his head. "Oh, the stories I could tell you about that place. ...but not until you're twenty-one."

"Oh, sure. Because you never went in there before you were twenty-one, right?"

Brian's grin was all the answer that he needed.

From somewhere deep within his pocket, Lysander's phone began to ring. He pulled it free and his heart skipped a beat when he saw both what the time was and who was calling him. He gave Brian a meaningful look before he answered.

"Hey, Dad," he said, quickly adding, "I'm sorry I'm running a little late this morning. I'll be home soon."

"You'd better be," came Zacky's voice over the line. "We need to pack."

It took Lysander a moment to figure out what was wrong with the statement.

"Pack?" he repeated. "What do you mean we need to pack?"

Brian raised an eyebrow. So he didn't know anything about this either, Lysander thought. He hadn't realised that Zacky had been planning any sudden trips and it seemed odd that he wouldn't have mentioned it at an earlier time - the previous night, for example. It was weird too, that this was happening on a Wednesday - he had school. Was Zacky pulling him out for a period of time.

"We're headed to Columbus," Zacky said, and then by way of explanation added, "They found Dakota. She's alive, kid."

The words rang in Lysander's head, again and again. They found Dakota. How long had he been waiting to hear them? How long had he waited for this phone call, for this moment of victory? He should have been on his feet, racing back to the house. He should have been dancing for joy. Hell, he should have been saying something! But he was speechless, unable to form a coherent sentence. Even seated, his knees felt weak.

"Lysander?" That was Brian's voice, laced with worry. "Is everything okay?"

"Lysander?" Zacky's tone was equally concerned as it came over the line. "Are you still there?"

Wordlessly, he handed the phone to Brian. He needed a moment to let the news sink in, a moment to gather his thoughts, a moment to find his feet and locate his voice. He barely heard a word of what Brian said to Zacky - the world around him was fading away, leaving him in his own little bubble.

They found Dakota.

He turned the words over in his mind, searching for a double meaning. He didn't find one. These words were true. These words were straight to the point. But more importantly, they were exactly what he had needed to hear.

They had found his sister.

His heart soared. The world came back to him in a rush of colour and sound, everything both brighter and louder than he remembered. His legs got their strength back; his mind managed to focus. When he looked up at long last, it was to find Brian right in front of him.

"Are you still with me?" he asked, holding Lysander's phone back out to him. The boy nodded, taking the tiny thing and shoving it back into his pocket. "Good. Think you can walk? My car isn't too far away."

"Are you kidding?" Lysander asked, unable to stop the grin that spread across his face. "They found my sister. I could run a damn marathon!"

Brian laughed. It was likely he couldn't help it - Lysander's glee was infectious.

"Come on, then," he said. "We'd best get you home. You've got a plane to catch."



I read this here, I read this at Mibba. I'm just obsessed with this story! I love it!
Nia_Flores Nia_Flores
Update! Soon! Please!
I can't help reading this twice. I love it! LOVE IT!!!
Nia_Flores Nia_Flores
I read this on Mibba & I re-read it here! It's really great.
Nia_Flores Nia_Flores
Update soon or i will DIE