CHAPTER ELEVEN:

"Teenage recording artist and former Disney Channel star, Demi Lovato has been identified and confirmed as the young woman who died in Saturday evening's downtown Los Angeles fire. The feu is suspected to be arson and considered to be related to a conflict Saturday afternoon at the place in question, a restaurant called Italiana..."

Quietly, I raised the remote and shut off the TV before turning to my brothers.

I tried not to think about how the media was wrong about the person who died.

I tried not to think about how no one knew where Joe was.

I tried not to think of all of it.

"Should we call in and say Frankie and I aren't coming to school?" was what I a dit instead.

We all looked toward Kevin.

Trembling, he ran a hand through his curls, his eyes rimmed with sleep as he nearly chugged down a cup a coffee. Coming up for air, he sucked in a choking breath before he shook his head. "No. I don't want Frankie to see Joe like this." He didn't have to explain for the rest of us to understand what he meant.

"Take him with toi and keep him as close to toi as much as possible. Make sure both of toi have your phones and your back up batteries with you. And remind him of the emergency plan." Kevin rubbed his five o'clock shadow as he tried to think. "Keep both of your phones on. I don't think Galaxy's administration will haggle toi much today because she was one of us."

Us? I wanted to cry. As in us versus them?

But I knew now was the wrong time to bring up that conflict once more. It was the last thing any of us needed to remind of, another splitting branch in the dying arbre of our family. The fight yesterday and now this-Demi's death .

And then I thought of something else he'd said: was.

As in Demi was one of us but no longer...because she was dead.
Stinging tears sprung to my eyes and I shook my head. I couldn't do this. I almost ran to the door, "Excuse me," I barely managed to choke out before I was out the door. It was like someone had their merciless hand around my cœur, coeur and were trying to strangle the life out of it.

Hot tears fought against me for control and with no strength to fight back, I sank down to the ground my body shaking in body-racking sobs.

I wanted Taylor right now so bad. I wanted him just to be at my side. If not to Kiss me, then just to hold me and take away some of this all-too-familiar agony away. Along with the numbing fear of losing someone else. And the hysterical worry that Joe will spiral into something amer and unimaginable.

But as the nausea began to torture my stomach, making me feel so wrong, so dirty, so disgusting.

I was betraying Demi and her memory par wanting one of the ones who did this to her. I hated myself. But I didn't hate myself enough to not call him.

"Taylor?" I sobbed once I heard the phone click in my ear.

"Alexie." He half nodded, half sighed.

Tearfully, I choked out, "It wasn't Leigha after all."

Solemnly, he answered, "I know."

I sobbed harder. "It was Demi."

He swallowed into the speaker and a dit it again. "I know."

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Half an heure later I silently climbed the stairs to my room silently, my arm hugging my waist.

Demi's dead.

My mask dissolved.

Demi's dead.

The tears streamed.

Demi's dead.

I crumbled.

But she couldn't be, right?

They were wrong before when they thought it was Leigha. They could be wrong again. It doesn't seem possible.


I froze, standing near the door my eyes running over the interior of the room. Just Saturday—two days ago—we sat in this very room together and talked. She spoke about how much she loved Joe and I thanked her for saving him. She told me that she loved him...so she couldn't be dead! That would be too cruel.

But somehow everything I touch is the color of mourning, of death. I pulled on a pair of black pumps. I had a black tie-around cardigan dress. Even all my school things were stuffed in a leather backpack. I grabbed a pair of sunglasses even though it was cool outside. I was sure sometime today we'd get attacked par the paps and I didn't want them to see me cry.

Once I was ready I headed downstairs; the house was quiet. Brendan had gone to the airport to pick up Lilith. And no one knew were Bliss was, not that she lived at the plage château anyways. I was sure Nick and Kevin were trying to find Joe ou mourn on their own. Because, despite what Joe said, Demi is apart of this family.

ou rather, was.

Keeping on the glasses, I fixed Frankie breakfast par handing him two Pop Tarts. They were the type I usually don't allow him eat because they are the over-sugared, chocolaty type. I slid him a bottle of Yoo-hoo chocolat lait then after a seconde thought, added a banane for good measure.

He gave me a strange look but didn't say anything as he took his breakfast into the casual dining room and flipped on Cartoon Network. I didn't have the appetite to eat anything myself so I just grabbed a bottle of water and sat at the table, tableau with him until he was done.

Then together, we grabbed our school things and walked over to Kohl's house to see if she and Kyle wanted to ride with us to school. The entire sky was a pale gray, a shroud of clouds hiding its endless blue. It seemed like it might rain so I quickly added a (clear) umbrella to our ensemble. Kevin insisted on being the one to take us today and I knew Nick would probably come along too to make sure we all made it to Galaxy in one piece.

"Did toi see—" Kohl began as soon as she opened the door.

Fighting back my tears, I nodded slightly in Frankie's direction, who was suivant to me.

After sending him in Kyle's direction inside the house, she spoke freely. "Lex, I'm so sorry." She cried, moving vers l'avant, vers l’avant to hug me.

I hugged her back, my body trembling as I tried to dam up the tears threatening to overflow.

"How's Joe?" She asked after a moment.

I pulled away. "I don't know. We don't know where he is but Kevin wants us to go to school so they can find him."

"Do toi think he's—"

I swallowed hard. "I don't know. I hope not but Demi's the one who got him off last time so I wouldn't be surprised if he was." I shook my head as my voice broke. "I can't believe this. Just the other night we were talking about how she saved Joe and their relationship together. I can't believe she's dead."

Kohl shook her head. "I can't believe they killed her."

They.

She meant the Teagues.

She meant—and yet at the same time—didn't mean Taylor, my Taylor.

I wasn't sure what to say then but luckily Frankie reappeared with Kyle. "So can they, Lex?" He wanted to know.

Dully, I turned to him. "Can who what?"

He rolled his eyes. "Can Kyle and Kohl ride with us to school?"

Oh.

Right.

I turned to Kohl questioningly and she nodded. "Yeah. Um, let me just go get my things and we'll go." She vanished down the hall for a few secondes before she reappeared with her bags and a umbrella. "Let's go."

The boys started out a little ahead of us while Kohl and I followed, our arms linked with each others. Neither one of us a dit anything. We were almost back to the house when Kohl suddenly froze.

"Is that..." her voice trailed off so I stopped and followed her eyes.

Kevin was sitting outside of the house on the pavement par the garage. I nodded. "Yes."

Kohl stared at him from afar for a long moment and I knew what she wanted, what my brother needed right now. What we all needed.

I nudged her. "I'm gonna go check on Nick." I told her quietly.

Her gaze unwavering, Kohl just nodded in response.

To give them privacy, I quickly turned and followed the boys towards the house. But in the cool, gray silence of the morning I could hear her footsteps against the pavement as she ran to him.

The impact she made when she crashed into his body, wrapping her arms around him.

I could hear it as he collapsed, sobbing against her as she held him up. Then came her voice— "Oh, Kevin!"

Turning around as I reached the patio door, I turned just in time to see as she pulled back. I could read her lips: "No matter what toi need, I'm here for you. All of you."

I entered the mansion and went upstairs to look for Nick. He was in the musique room sitting at the piano as I expected.

Silent, I stood in the doorway but he didn't acknowledge my presence. He continued to stare out the open window which overlooked the coastline and the outskirts of the city, his fingers lightly lying in the keys.

Finally he spoke. Is it time to go?

I nodded. Yes.

Slowly Nick stood. Twin, he said, turning to look at me as he got up. What are we going to do?

My eyesight blurred with unshed tears and I shook my head. I don't know. I answered. I don't know.

The ride to school was quiet. Kevin called the boy’s bodyguard, Big Rob, to come and be our driver for the day. No one except for Kyle and Frankie talked for the entire ride although he kept shooting the rest of us strange looks. We picked up Dakota and her younger sister, Elle, on our way before continuing to school.

Once we got through the press staked out in the front gates of Galaxy, Rob stopped the car in front of the main building of the school and we all got out.

Looking uncertain, we all glanced around as other Galaxy students roamed around campus looking lost. "Uh...let’s go see where we're supposed to go." Dakota said. "C'mon, Elle."

Once they left, Nick and Kevin pulled Frankie and me aside. Kevin hugged Frankie and gave him a fist bump, and then he moved to give me a quick Kiss on the forehead before whispering, "Remember what I told you. I l’amour you, princessa," in my ear.

Fighting back my tears, I gave him a quick hug. "Love toi too, big brother."

Then Nick and I turned to each other before we hugged. If anything goes wrong, tell me, he insisted.

I nodded. And toi do the same for me especially when toi find Joe. I left no room for if, and's ou but's.

After he nodded back, we pulled away from each other.

You and me stick like glue? I questioned.

Nick forced the slightest of smiles. Just like Fred and Ginger do.

Sounding out of breath, Elle and Dakota reappeared. "We have to go to the P-A-C." Dakota explained.

I made sure Frankie and I both had our things before saying, "Okay, let's go." We started towards the sidewalk, making our way to the Joseph Pulitzer Performing Arts Center. No one a dit anything as we walked until finally Kohl stopped.

"Um..." Kohl bit her lip, eyeing something behind us. "I'll meet toi guys there in a couple minutes."

She didn't stop to wait for our answer and just dashed back down the street. Looking lost, Dakota, Elle, Frankie and Kyle all eyed me as if they were waiting for something. I shrugged. "Let's go. She can meet us there." I continued down the sidewalk again and after a moment the rest of the group followed me.

I wonder why Kohl left anyway, I suddenly thought. Curious, I glanced back, over my shoulder. Nick was back in the car and Kohl was hugging Kevin again. And he was holding onto her with all his strength, his face buried in her chest. And Kohl was holding onto him, cradling him to her. And she was crying too. She was saying something and she lifted his head up to say it. And whatever it was, it was making Kevin nod and straighten up.

I knew Kohl and Kevin weren't together but seeing the two of them together made me want Taylor right now plus than ever. I wanted to cry into him and have him par my side right now plus than I ever had. I needed him.

I wished for him on my birthday, I thought, the tears blurring my vision and for a moment I nearly swayed off the sidewalk. But when I a dit anyone I didn't mean one of the ones who might've kill my brother's girlfriend.

A wave of nausea seized my stomach and disgust ravaged my skin. How selfish toi are. Demi's never going to be able to do anything ever again and you're crying about boy problems? How selfish are you?

Guilt burning in my throat, I turned back around and we continued to the P.A.C. where we followed the line of students filing inside. When we finally entered, Frankie and Kyle grabbed a couple of their Friends and sat in the front along with the third and fifth graders in the farthest of the three sections on the left. The younger elementary students were being seated in the back. They were at that age where death generally makes no sense to them and everything seems funny.

Dakota and I sat with all of the Galaxy cheerleaders in the three rows of the middle and right sections for the middle and high schoolers. But unlike there normally is, there were non-cheerleaders wedged in seats in between us all. Hailie Jade Mathers (Eminem's daughter and our head cheerleader) was sitting between her boyfriend, Jake (Max from Wizards of Waverly Place) and her best friend India (Ashley from The Secret Life of the American Teenager). Bella and Zendaya (from Shake It Up—middle school cheerleaders) were sitting behind us with Elle and her best Friends China (A.N.T. Farm) and Joey (Ramona and Beezus).

As soon as we sat down a flock of people swarmed around us.

"Alexie, are toi okay?"

"How's your brother?"

"Yeah, how's Joe?" Eagerly, someone demanded.

"People, will toi back the fuck up?" Hailie Jade demanded.

They obeyed because when she wants to be, Hailie Jade can be pretty scary. But with Eminem as her father that's understandable. She shot me a slight, strained smile. "Excuse the language."

Shaking my head, I weakly responded, "It's fine."

Her expression turned sympathetic and she took my hand. "How are you?"

"Terrible," I whispered. "This all reminds me too much of what happened to my parents and Joe-" I shook my head. toi could never be too careful about what toi say so that it doesn't get leaked to the press. "No one knows where he is."

Jake set a arm around Hailie's shoulder. "Don't worry, Lex," he told me. "I'm sure he'll turn up soon. He probably just needs some time to himself."

"Maybe," I acknowledged. "But all I want right now is to know that he's okay," my voice cracked.

"We could help look for him," Zendaya suggested, glancing around to look at the others.

"Yeah!" China exclaimed, her head bobbing up and down. "With all the things fans use to find us, if we use some of those star-tracking sites too, it shouldn't be too hard!"

Hailie Jade nodded at her. "Good idea, Chi."

China beamed back at her.

Everyone whipped out their phones and got on the Internet

"We'll find him in no time." China promised with her brightest smile and I found it hard to not genuinely return it, no matter how doubtful I was.