Regan did not come with much baggage. Gracefully over her shoulder she had her Coach purse, her one prized possession--a graduation gift from her last foster parents, Larry and Patricia Jackson. Behind her trundled a red mid-size suitcase. Regan was proud of herself. The uncertainty that had plagued her before her voyage seemed silly now. She had survived her first plane ride (flying first class had helped!), and was now walking through the terminal like she had been doing it all her life.

Kennedy Airport had been huge and terrifying. Larry had simply dropped her off at the airport entrance with his signature, a shy hug and a nervous smile. “You can do this,” he told her, “just keep your head up, eyes open and nose clean.” That was her foster parent’s motto. Regan had smiled, faking confidence. Once she was inside the airport, panic had gripped her by the throat. At Kennedy Airport people moved past her so swiftly, it made her dizzy. But she had done it, made it to her final destination--Asheville, North Carolina.

Here, people moved slower and seemed more relaxed. The smiles and hello’s people generously gave her were a bit unnerving, but Regan attempted to smile and nod her head in reply. In Newark, people just did not speak without cause, and if they did, it usually was not to say anything nice. So she had grown up trying to keep as low of a profile as possible in public, the same rule had applied to her private life too. Things were obviously different here. The Southern accents, however, were not as noticeable as she had thought they would be.

At her going away party in Jersey, her foster-family had joked that she would hardly be able to understand anyone here because of the Southern twang. They also joked that there were no black people in the mountains of North Carolina. That was a prejudice she was not going to allow her mind to play into, but the nine or ten faces of color she had seen did make her wonder. In her neighborhood there was nothing but people of color, every kind of color you could think of but white. Yes, things really were going to be different here.

Usually she loved to watch people in crowds, like at the mall in Newark where she worked at the Pretzel Palace--a job she hated. She would make up stories about how they lived from their facial expressions and clothes, or even the way they walked. But she could not escape into her game today: she was too worried about how her new family would judge her. She already knew her half-sister looked like a blond, grey-eyed Barbie, minus the boobs, who at twenty-nine had the air of comfort and confidence that only came with a family history of entitlement. She had smiled the entire three days she had visited Regan in Jersey. It was the weirdest thing. No one could possibly be that happy when their father had just died. And she had informed Regan that her new “family” would also include two older brothers, Ian and Troy.

Regan told herself that it did not really matter what they thought of her. Right? She was just here to kill some time, take a couple of free classes, and get her money and leave. It was great that they were paying her tuition. The idea of attending a regular, four year college never occurred to her. It was not because her grades were not good enough, just that she would never have been able to afford it. Maybe she would have settled for some computer classes or an Associates Degree in something she really had no interest in. But now, in four days she would officially be a college student. That made her smile.

And the smile made her wince: the inside of her bottom lip was raw because of her constant biting. But she could not help it. It was a dull pain, a needed distraction from her stress.

Regan did not think of herself as good-looking, just different, but it was her differences that made people notice her. They noticed her hair, a massive mane of unavoidable shiny spirals cascading from a center part and falling to her shoulders: it was neither black, nor brown, nor blond, but an unusually natural mixture of the three--depending greatly on the light. And they noticed her steely grey, almond shaped eyes. There was a sharp contrast between their crisp clarity and her deep ocher coloring.

As an adolescent, she had hated the hair, the eyes and most of all her early-developed body, which had brought her much unwanted attention. Thankfully, she had grown taller and now at eighteen, she was five-six, which simply slimmed and elongated her waist, making her healthy allowance of hips and ample breast all the more appealing. She had to be very careful about the clothes she wore; the wrong choice could easily give the wrong impression because she was so curvy. However, time had taught her many lessons and she had learned to accept herself as she was and to protect herself because she was the only one who would. Most of all, she had learned to never show fear.

In some places and sometimes it was dangerous to even let people see your breath catch or show any form of uncertainty. There were always people waiting, watching for a weakness to pounce on. She had mastered a blasé countenance. But even that was failing her now. What if they had forgotten about her? What if they had changed their minds?

“Regan?!” She heard her name before she saw where it was coming from.

Finally she saw Audra, making her way through the crowd. In no time, her half sister stood before her, breathing deeply from exertion. The blond woman wore a fitted grey pants suit and a pink silk dress-shirt. Her flawless pale skin was flushed with excitement; her thin pink lips and pale grey eyes smiled down at Regan.

“Accept our apologies,” she said, hugging Regan as if they were old friends. Regan unconsciously flinched. “We’re late. We were supposed to meet you at the baggage ramp, right? But here we are.” She held her hands out as if to say Ta-Da. There was a small pause and she started up again. The woman was talking a mile a minute.

“We are missing one person but you will get to meet him later. Ian. God only knows where he could be. But, he would have been here, believe me, if he had been able to. He’s a Professor, just like our father. Was your flight comfortable? I bet it was. Did they feed you? I hope not. Do you like French food…”

Regan did not hear the plethora of questions and answers being thrown at her. She was too busy taking in the others that fell in step behind Audra. The blond headed giant of a man at Audra’s right was broad shouldered with a massive chest that tapered in at the waste. The cream colored polo shirt hid nothing and neither did his jeans. The man was ripped. Even his neck was a thick muscle. He obviously worked out, but he was not obscene. He had to be at least six feet and a half with a natural healthy tan that was in great contrast to Audra’s delicate alabaster coloring. His blond hair was cut close and edged perfectly.

Regan felt his cool blue eyes narrow on her, weighing her. She immediately tensed. He just had time to say, “Hi, I’m Tr…,” when another woman quickly stepped from behind him with an extended hand.

“I’m Allysia, Regan,” she said with a noticeable New York accent. “I’m this,” she pointed a thumb at the giant, “man’s wife.”

Regan reached out and shook her hand firmly.

The woman gave her a conspiratorial wink. Her light brown eyes twinkled as she smiled warmly. It immediately put Regan at ease and she let out a deep breath, which she had not realized she had been holding. The woman was gorgeous, but in a totally different way than Audra and her brother. Allysia’s golden coloring and thick, dark hair was completely opposite from theirs. Her look was more Mediterranean, more exotic.

Regan noted how shapely she was too, dressed very femininely, in a sheer gauzy mustard-colored top with ruffles at the cuff and around the neck. The ruffled neckline fell into a V revealing a full cleavage. The top was tucked into a snug pair of low slung jeans with mustard piping down the side seams. The piping led the eye to perfectly manicured toes sticking out of nice, strapped sandals. It put Regan’s attempt at fashion to shame. Troy’s wife had style and Regan liked her look. She was tall too, making Regan feel like an ill dressed dwarf standing next to them all.

Troy finally revealed a slow smile of approval, finding whatever it was he was looking for. His smile revealed even, white teeth and changed the entire look of his face from intimidating Nordic God to warmhearted giant. He was extremely handsome in that clean cut All-American kind of way. He did not extend his hand to be shaken, but he smoothly relieved her of the red suitcase, snapping the handle back into place and lifting it off of the floor like it was nothing.

“I’m Troy.” His voice was strong and deep, lacking the Southern accent that Audra so dramatically displayed.

“You don’t look African!” A small brown-headed boy pushed his way to the forefront. He looked like a miniature Troy, but his eyes were shockingly bluer and pierced Regan in confusion. “She’s not African,” he exclaimed turning to his mother and knotting his brow.

“We said African-American TJ,” Audra said, suppressing a laugh. Troy looked embarrassed as he drew up beside Regan and put his huge hand at the small of her back. This also made Regan flinch and did not go unnoticed by Troy.

“Audra,” Allysia scolded both the child and her sister-in-law, giving Regan a quick apologetic look.

“Well partly African-American,” Audra added indulgently.

“I’m Troy Junior,” the little boy said, holding out his small hand like a little gentleman. He was smiling up at Regan mischievously, deep dimples forming like commas at the bottom of each cheek. “I’m partly Italian,” he announced, then whispered up at her. “Now me and mommy won’t be the only black sheep in the family.”

“Okay,” Troy sighed, his patience obviously leaving him by the look on his face. His blue eyes scanned the airport. “Shall we get out of here ladies.”

Regan had to laugh. The rambunctious child was obviously smart and extremely frank. His aunt and parents laughed nervously. The boy quickly fitted himself beside Regan and took her hand as if, like his father, he was responsible for getting her safely through the airport.

“You’re so pretty,” he decided. “You can call me TJ. Aunt Audra said you were pretty too and you have Papa’s eyes. Your eyes look more like Papa’s than Aunt Audra’s does.”

Regan looked at Audra, slightly surprised. Audra laughed just a little too loudly.