2 | Roland

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It was strange, being the only child.

Roland Green had spent his entire life living in his older sister's shadow, seeing as Erin was everything his parents had wanted in a child: attractive, popular, athletic, and usually dating people who could bring even more money into their already overly rich family. Roland, on the other hand, was everything his parents didn't seem to care about in a child: musically talented, goal-driven, incredibly intelligent and kind to the people around him.

Kindness didn't bring in the dough.

So, it was strange to Roland now, being the only thing in his parents' lives. Sure, they were divorced, but they still shared their massive home that outshone every other home in the entire city. Cynthia Ryle and Steven Green knew that they couldn't afford to have two of those massive estates and living with their ex seemed to be less of a challenge than living in a slightly smaller home would be.

As he drove towards Barnum Preparatory School on the first day of the new school year, Roland realized that he was more than happy to return to classes. It meant getting out of his torn home, both parents ripped apart by the death of their favorite child. It meant getting away from the constant back-and-forth of his parents either neglecting to even look at him for an entire week or spending three hours telling him just how they could help him become more like his sister had been.

At least their agreement on how much of a disappointment their son was brought the Green parents together. Roland didn't think anything ever would after their divorce—and the secret that caused it.

He parked in the back of the Barnum student parking lot, stepping out of his car and looking back at it for a moment before turning to walk into the school—it was the only thing that made him feel like he fit in at the school at all. Rich parents meant nice cars.

Roland had never driven to school with his sister in the past, as he wasn't nearly "cool" enough to be seen with her. Walking in on the first day of his senior year seemed like any other day of school, beside the side-eyes he was receiving from everyone he passed. He was Erin Green's brother, and everyone knew that. Just like everyone knew what had happened just three months earlier, when the only Green sibling worth anything to Easton society was killed in a car wreck.

Roland walked into the school building and headed for his locker, his mind turning to the other four kids in his grade who had also lost their siblings in that crash: the ever-popular and vicious Hadden twins, the ultimate nice girl and captain of the soccer team Lindsey Marcum, and Roland's long-time crush and minion of Mary Hadden, Jordan Conrad. All five of them had lost their older siblings three months earlier, and it seemed to be the only thing that people were whispering about as the new school year began.

"Hey, man. Surprised you even showed up."

Roland turned around to see Benny Ront, his best friend since grade school, and Benny's girlfriend Veronica approaching him. The two were some of the only people that Roland was friends with at school, and seeing friendly faces caused a giant wave of relief to wash over the poor boy.

"Anything to get away from the parents." Roland replied, shaking his head. "I don't think I've ever been less jealous of Erin in my life."

Benny and Veronica looked uncomfortable at the mention of Erin's name, and Roland had to keep himself from rolling his eyes. He wasn't a child. He was perfectly capable of talking about his sister.

"Well, at least you're here, so I don't have to listen to Benny talking about old 80's songs alone." Veronica tried to break the awkward silence, "I love him, but I'm not interested in that type of stuff."

"But you have to listen to me talk about it. That's what you signed up for." Benny gave her a kiss on the cheek and Roland mimed a gag. The three started laughing together and Roland was immediately grateful that he felt as if he were being treated like a normal human being for the first time in weeks; he hadn't seen his friends since his parents had relented to allowing Roland to invite them to their famous Independence Day barbeque.

***

"You do realize that this is the first time either of us have been allowed into the sanctuary that is the Green home?" Benny laughed as Roland opened the front door to him and Veronica on July 4th.

"I would hardly call this a sanctuary." Roland shook his head and closed the door behind his friends, "If anything, it's a prison. Since the accident they've hardly let me out of the house." He shrugged and rolled his eyes, "At least it's something they can agree on."

Benny and Veronica nodded silently as they followed Roland out into the backyard where everyone was talking and laughing with their friends. This year was different than most years at the Green barbeque—where the guests were usually restricted to just the elite friends of Roland's parents and their children, they had opened their home and yard to a few, less prestigious faces this year.

In light of Roland losing his sister, they had allowed him to invite over Benny and Veronica, both of whom came from less-than-wealthy homes and who had never been allowed at the Green mansion in the many years of their friendship with Roland. Appearance is everything, and if the neighbors saw their old cars parked outside of the meticulously-kept grounds, there would surely be talk.

Aside from Roland's friends, the Greens had invited the Marcum family for the first time since their parties began. Cynthia and Steven had fought over it for weeks before Steven relented to his ex-wife's wishes: they had plenty of reason to hate the Marcum family, but they hadn't been invited in the past due to their income totaling less than six figures. This year, they would have been the only family who had lost a child in the car accident who wouldn't be invited, and Cynthia simply couldn't deal with the possible mark it could cause on her reputation as a hostess.

So this year, the Marcum family was there, in all their glory. Four children still with them, ranging in age from twenty-four down to thirteen, all of them living at home and none of them capable of doing anything for themselves except exploit others for their secrets.

No one would be able to forget this Independence Day barbeque, and that was exactly what could end up saving the lives of the family members left.

***

"Well, I'm gonna head to class. I'll see you guys later."

Roland closed his locker and started to walk off, glancing over at Mary Hadden and her posse as he went. He hoped Jordan was doing alright, and not just because he had been in love with her for years. He hoped that she was alright because he needed someone to talk to about everything that had happened, and out of all the siblings, she might be the most likely to talk to him.

 He hoped that she was alright because he needed someone to talk to about everything that had happened, and out of all the siblings, she might be the most likely to talk to him

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