The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron Year 3 Episode 1: What Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Welcome to The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, entering its third year. If you’re new to this series, just start reading. 

If you enjoy this episode and want to catch up on Year 1, you can start with Year 1, Episode 1: Winners and Losers or check out the List of Year 1 Episodes or read the Year 1 Synopsis.

Episode 1: What Doesn’t Matter Anymore

I stood in the massive hallway of the Cameron Mansion and spun in a slow circle. The skirt of my pink dress twirled around my knees. Where was everybody?

Plenty of people were here for one of Mother’s summer parties. Talking and laughter rang into the hall from the open rooms on the first floor. I’d walked a circuit of the basement level, and the pool table and games tables were surrounded, and some movie played in the theater. But almost everyone here tonight was an adult. I’d seen a few people close to my age—fourteen for another forty-three days—but I hadn’t seen my sometimes-friend Jaxon Braddock or his friends Trey and Wynn. And I hadn’t seen my younger sister, Jessica, or any of her friends. Was I at the wrong party?

Not that I cared. I didn’t really want to be at any party.

I walked toward the back of the mansion where the French doors opened to the pool. Out here, white jacketed waiters wove between groups of people, carrying trays of one-bite foods. Maybe that was why Jaxon and Jessica and the others weren’t here. They’d gone some place to eat a real meal.

An hour ago, I’d descended the stairs from my third floor bedroom. Mother had barely glanced at me, but that was normal. What mattered was that she’d seen me. She wouldn’t notice or care if she saw me again tonight. So I had no reason to stay.

I wound a path past the pools, through the gardens, and out the other side. The sight of my basketball court greeted me, but I wasn’t interested in shooting hoops. I slipped off my spiked sandals and started running.

My quick breaths strained the seams of my dress. The air tugged my hair loose from its French twist, and prickly grass poked my bare feet. I would’ve run forever if I hadn’t reached the back gate. But I had to stop and punch the code into the keyless lock to become completely free from this weekend’s obligatory party. Why had Mother made me attend if no one—like her best friend’s son or my sister—was going to be there? Probably to make me miserable. That was her number two hobby right after shopping. At least she was only here in the summer. The rest of the year I was free to spend all my time on the other side of the fence.

I stepped through the gate. The Claytons’ house stood before me, less impressive than the Cameron mansion, if size determined admiration. But if the cliché about home is where the heart is was right, this was home. This was where my heart lived. Where all the people I loved lived. Where all the people who loved me lived.

I ran up the porch steps, the wood rough under my bare feet. I reached for the screen door handle and froze. Should I have ditched Mother’s party to come here, even if this was practically where I lived? While I had a bedroom in the mansion, I rarely did more than change clothes there. The Claytons’ house was where I slept, in a bedroom shared with Elizabeth Clayton.

The door swung open and I jumped.

“Sydnee? What are you doing here?” Chris Clayton, my best friend of seven years and my boyfriend-for-the-third-time of four weeks, pushed open the screen door. He sounded surprised but not disappointed to see me.

“I . . . uh . . .” I stuttered, not having found an answer for my should-I-have question.

“Are you going to come in?” Chris opened the door wider. He looked me over, from head to toe, his gaze heating my skin more than the run.

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“I don’t know if I can.” I rubbed bare foot against my naked calf, kind of a silent imitation of a cricket.

“Why not?” Chris scanned the dark yard behind me, looking for a reason I wouldn’t go inside. “Why couldn’t you come in?”

“Is David or Candy here?”

“No.” Chris spoke slow, like I should’ve known where his parents were. And I did. “They’re at the mansion. Your parents are having a party.”

“So I can’t come in. David said we weren’t supposed to go inside the house if one of them weren’t home.”

“When did Dad say that?”

“September 19, 2013.”

Chris gave me a funny look, but probably not because I’d given him a specific date—he should be used to that. “That was almost two years ago, Sydnee.”

“So? That’s what he told us.”

“But things have changed. They left us here tonight—Derrick, Joseph, and me.”

I pinched my lower lip and peeked around Chris. Joseph sat in a chair, playing on his phone. A basketball game was on TV. I squinted and tried to see the score.

“Did you really come back here just to sit outside?”

“Huh?” I pulled my gaze off the game. “No, I just didn’t remember until I got here.”

“Because there’s nothing to remember. Dad’s never brought it up again. So come inside.”

I hesitated a moment longer. The adrenaline from my run seeped out, leaving me feeling shaky. I hated breaking rules, but like Chris said, that rule was made a long time ago, and a lot had changed. My cousins lived with the Claytons now too, and they were here. Chris and I wouldn’t be alone.

I stepped over the threshold onto the cool wood floors.

Chris shut the door behind me.

“I’m going to change clothes.” Since I was here now, and inside, I had no reason to stay zipped in an uncomfortable dress. “I’ll be right back.”

The bedroom I shared with Elizabeth was almost a straight shot from the front door. I changed into jeans and a T-shirt, then hung up my dress.

I hadn’t forgotten about the missing party-goers. I dug my phone out of my sock drawer and texted Jax.

Where r u? I stared at the words for a second. Did I really care?

I heard voices in the living room. Sounded like David talking to Chris and Joseph. That should clear up the whole am-I-allowed question.

I deleted the text and retyped. U didn’t come tonight? Was I at wrong party?

Maybe that would come off as a joke.

I waited a few seconds to see if he’d respond. My phone stayed silent. I dropped it back into the drawer and returned to the living room.

“Did I hear David?” I sat next to Chris on the couch and glanced around. The only other person in the room was Joseph, sitting in the chair next to us and smiling at his phone like it told a joke.

“Yeah. He comes home every hour to check on us.” Chris sounded like he found that insulting.

“How’s the game?” I nodded at the TV.

“Pretty good.” Chris slipped his fingers between mine, the callouses on our palms scratching together.

Tingles raced up and down my arms even after four weeks of almost daily hand-holding.

“Are you still talking to Lilli?” Chris asked Joseph about his girlfriend.

“Yeah, why?” Joseph turned his phone upside down on the arm of the chair.

“If you’re not watching the game, you could go upstairs.”

Joseph’s eyebrows pinched together, and he looked at Chris like that didn’t make any sense. At least, it didn’t make sense to me. Joseph wasn’t actually talking to Lilli—not out loud—so why did Chris care if Joseph was downstairs or upstairs?

Joseph glanced at me, and his forehead smoothed out. He looked back at Chris. “No.” Then he picked up his phone.

Chris grip tensed for a moment.

“Why do you want to kick Joseph out of the room?” I asked Chris.

“I just thought he’d rather go somewhere quiet.” Chris shrugged and flashed a smile that looked more annoyed than happy.

“I’m fine. Thanks.” Joseph responded to Chris’s words, but something in Joseph’s tone, like a hint of sarcasm, sounded like he was responding to something completely different.

I gave up. If Chris wasn’t going to tell me, I’d never figure it out. Probably had to do with something that happened before I’d shown up. I’d rather watch the basketball game than get answers to sneaky glances.

Chris kept shifting next to me, pushing me closer to the arm of the couch.

“I’m getting squished here.” I shoved Chris toward the middle cushion.

Joseph laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Chris scowled.

“Just something Lilli said.” Joseph waved his phone.

“Like I said, maybe you should go upstairs.”

I glanced back and forth from Joseph’s amusement to Chris’s scowl. “Okay, what am I missing?”

“Nothing. Sorry.” Chris relaxed against the back of the couch, but he kept cutting his eyes at Joseph.

“Did Lilli really say something funny?” I asked Joseph.

He glanced at Chris then shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Okay.” Not that I believed him, but I just wanted to watch the game.

For a while, the only noises had to do with the game—either from the TV or between Chris and me. Then the hinges on the screen door squeaked.

Chris tensed up again, and he shifted away from me instead of closer.

The front door opened. David stepped inside, glanced around, and froze. He stared at me, eyes widening. “Sydnee? Why are you here?”

“I left the party.” I glanced at Chris who was avoiding looking at his dad. A dark, heavy feeling settled into my stomach and snaked slimy tentacles up my spine. “I’m not supposed to be here, am I? It’s still a rule, isn’t it, that we’re not supposed to be in the house if you or Candy aren’t here?”

David blinked like he didn’t know what I was talking about. Then he nodded. “Yes, that is the rule.”

“See? I told you.” I shot Chris a glare, angry with myself for listening to him. Being right wasn’t giving me any satisfaction.

“But that was two years ago.” Chris stood and faced David to present his defense; but was he trying to keep himself or me out of trouble? “And you left Derrick, Joseph, and me here, so how were we supposed to remember that rule?”

“Sydnee remembered, and it sounds like she reminded you.” David’s voice remained mild, calm. Hard to say how much trouble we were in.

I didn’t know whether I should agree with that or not, so I stayed silent.

“It’s a stupid rule,” Chris muttered, but he had to know that wasn’t an acceptable defense.

“Is that why you talked Sydnee out of following it? Because you thought it was stupid or no longer applied?” David’s eyebrows lifted and his voice dropped into the disappointed zone. “Or did you see an opportunity to hang out with your girlfriend?”

That last possibility hadn’t occurred to me. I looked at Chris who avoided my gaze and waited too long before saying “no” without any conviction.

I felt an uncomfortable prickling, like an army of ants marched underneath my skin.

“Mm-hmm.” David made a sound like he didn’t believe Chris.

Neither did I.

“I’ll go get my phone.” The words sounded like I’d dragged them through the mud, and I headed for the bedroom before David announced the sentencing. I’d been through this way too often  recently. Being grounded and turning in my phone didn’t bother me. But knowing Chris hadn’t told me what he really thought was true and had manipulated me to do what he wanted ticked me off. If he’d wanted to hang out with me, we could’ve sat together on the porch. Then no one would be in trouble.

I got my phone out of the drawer and checked for messages on the way back to the living room. Two texts from Jax.

U don’t care

We’re not friends

The words blew a hole through my anger. I’d been the one to tell Jax we weren’t friends three months ago after he twisted around what we’d done the night of Alexander’s funeral to sound like something more than playing board games. I’d been angry, but I figured the next time we saw each other, he’d apologize, I’d apologize, and we’d go back to hanging out together when Mother forced me to attend some party or dinner. Like always.

Okay, maybe we weren’t friends. Not good friends. But that didn’t mean I didn’t care.

“You can keep your phone,” David said.

I looked up from the screen, surprised to find myself standing in front of David.

“Your mother needs to be able to contact you, and I think you find having a phone a bigger punishment than not.”

David was right. I thrust the phone at him. “Take it anyway. I’ll tell her I lost it.”

“Nice try.” He held out his hand to Chris. “Hand yours over.”

“But I didn’t do anything.” Chris dug his phone out of his pocket.

“Not entirely true. What you didn’t do was help Sydnee make the right decision.”

Chris slapped the phone into David’s hand but didn’t argue.

“Do you want me to leave?” I wasn’t sure where I’d go. Definitely not back to Mother’s boring party.

“Of course not.” David sounded almost sad that I’d asked. “I’m not going back to the mansion for a while.”

“Then can I go to bed?”

He nodded.

I headed for my bedroom.

“Sydnee.” Chris followed me.

I stopped outside the door.

“I’m sorry.”

“You said I could trust you.” I tried to summon up the anger I’d felt earlier, but I couldn’t raise my emotions to boiling or even simmering. I was more like a pot of water sitting on a burner someone forgot to light. “But you kind of lied.”

“I know.” Chris’s voice dropped and so did his shoulders and head.

“But we’re still friends.” I couldn’t end this thinking we’d fix it later. I didn’t want a repeat of whatever was going on between Jax and me.

“Friends? Are you breaking up with me?”

“Breaking up?” Another thought that hadn’t occurred to me. Boyfriend-girlfriend stuff was too complicated. “No. I don’t know. Am I supposed to break up with you?”

“Is this a test?”

“A test about what?” This conversation was more confusing than the one between Chris and Joseph.

We stared at each other for a few seconds.

“Do you want to break up?” Chris finally asked.

“No.” But was I supposed to? Boyfriends should come with a rule book.

“Okay. Good.”

“Good.” Another long, awkward pause. Was I supposed to say something? I had nothing else.

“Good night.”

“Good night.” And that was permission to continue into my room. But Chris grabbed my wrist, stopping me. What was I missing now?

Chris hesitated. He turned his head, glancing to his left, but not far enough to see over his shoulder. What was he looking for? The only thing down the hall that direction was seven-year-old Jamie’s room.

He looked at me again, like earlier when I was on the porch, in that way that warmed my skin from the inside out. Then he kissed me.

At least I hadn’t missed that.

“Uh, good night,” I said again, because I still had nothing else.

Chris let go of my wrist, and I went into my room, shut the door behind me, and looked at my phone again. But a few seconds passed before I could focus on Jax’s text.

U don’t care

We’re not friends

Yes we are, I typed, then hit send, probably violating David’s intent for keeping my phone. But I couldn’t go to bed without saying that to Jax.

If all my friendships ended because someone said something stupid and I got angry, I’d have no friends. And even if my friends got me in trouble, like tonight, I still wanted them in my life.

 

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