Tuesday, April 30, 2013

First draft of Chapter One of Ice (Smitten Trilogy) — Critiques and comments wanted!


I woke to the sound of rain assaulting the two windows in my room. Groaning, I rolled over and blinked at the neon-green display of my alarm clock. 4:32AM. Brilliant. One of those magical hours of the early morning that left you just short of a perfect night’s sleep, but unable to fall asleep again. I knew right then that it would be a long day.
I rolled over and tried in vain to fall asleep again. After another half hour, I sighed and sat up, swinging my legs over the side of my bed. Yawning and stretching, I stood up and padded out of my bedroom and into the bathroom.
Through the thin walls of our new home I could hear my mom shifting restlessly in her sleep and my dad’s incessant snoring. It was as I’d figured it would be, the morning of my first day at a new school. Although a part of me had been hoping that my mom might actually get up and maybe make me some breakfast or wish me good luck, I knew that was pushing it.
Mom had been laid off shortly before we moved, following my dad’s layoff two months previous. That had been what sparked the move; $1500 per month was too much for my mom’s salary combined with the unemployment insurance. It was definitely too much once mom lost her job as well.
So now we lived on the wrong side of the tracks in Fridley, just 10 miles from Uptown Minneapolis, where I grew up. Ten miles from all of my friends. In some ways it was a good thing that we only moved that far, but in others it was terrible. I could still see my friends, sure, but I knew they wouldn’t come to Fridley.
And, of course, it meant I had to change schools. It was September 5th, the first day of my Senior Year of high school. It was the year that I was supposed to come out on top. My friends and I had been set to rule Benilde, in a way, where I’d gone from Seventh Grade on, but even my grandma’s generosity didn’t extend to transportation for that great a distance just for school, when I’d lived pretty far from school to begin with.
I sighed as I caught a glance of my face in the bathroom mirror. There was no way I’d fit in at Fridley High. At Benilde St. Margaret, I’d been Gwynnie, the girl with a ton of friends. The girl that everyone liked, or at the very least, the girl that nobody outright hated.
I showered quickly, the building’s ancient plumbing groaning and knocking in staunch protest. It was nice to find that, if nothing else, the building had a decent water heater.
Wrapped in my favorite fluffy bathrobe, I exited the bathroom, absently drying my hair with a hand towel. Dad wasn’t snoring anymore, but their light was still off, door still closed. I went into my room to finish getting ready for school, firmly closing the door behind me.
I opted for the simplest possible option in just about every aspect of my life. My parents thought it was because I was lazy, but really it was because I didn’t want to waste my money on what was trendy. So I stuck to tees, tanks, and jeans.
I finished toweling dry my hair, leaving it just slightly damp and a bit more cooperative. I pulled on a pair of new jeans and undid my robe. I shrugged it off my shoulders as I ran a brush through my hair, fluffing it out just a bit. As I began to rummage through my half-unpacked boxes in search of a shirt, there was a knock at my door.
“You’re up early,” I heard my dad say. The remark held no emotion, it was a simple statement of fact. “Nervous?”
“Nah,” I replied, finding one of my plain tank tops and slipping it on. My dad opened the door a crack.
“You sure?”
“Do I have a choice?” I asked, a little more harshly than I’d intended, as I sat down at my vanity to apply the small amount of makeup I wore and finish my hair.
“Gwyneth, I know it wasn’t your idea to change schools, but this could be really good for you. You’ve got a clean slate here.”
“Dad, can we not?” I asked, scowling at him. He sighed.
“I’ll have breakfast ready for you in about ten minutes. Eggs and bacon.” With that, he closed the door, leaving me a bit shocked. I shook my head, turning back to my mirror to apply my eyeliner. I wondered briefly if my dad had suddenly acquired mind-reading powers. I put on some tinted lip balm and loosely braided my hair, tying it off with a rainbow hair tie. It was nice to be able to wear what I wanted.
“Come get your food before it gets cold, Gwyn!” my dad hollered. I rolled my eyes, grabbed my backpack, and left my bedroom, closing the door behind me. No need to make it easier for them to snoop.
I found a heaping pile of scrambled eggs and a formidable amount of bacon waiting for me on the kitchen table. “Thanks, Dad,” I said. He grunted in response. He was at his desk, getting ready to look for a job all day. At least, that’s what he said he was doing. He erased all of the browser history whenever he left the computer.
I sat down and dug in, devouring the entire plateful. My friends had always been envious of my metabolism. I was naturally underweight. No matter what I ate or how much of it, I was stuck at 94 pounds. At almost 5’5, I hated it.
My parents hated it, too. In a desperate bid to gain weight, I would gorge myself on anything I could get my hands on. When they weren’t around, of course. I was limited to two snacks when my parents were around, three if I could be sneaky. There were never leftovers; I was never limited when it came to mealtime.
I walked into the main of the kitchen and grabbed my lunch box, which was one of my dad’s old briefcases. Mom packed it full of snacks and sandwiches, along with a quart of chocolate milk. I also had $500 in my lunch account, and would have more deposited by my grandma as I needed it. She knew how my need to constantly eat hurt my family’s budget.
I grabbed a banana from the counter, peeled it and ate it in three bites, trying to destroy the evidence before my dad could realize I was done with breakfast. Almost as if I’d called his name he appeared on the step into the kitchen area, an eyebrow raised. “Not enough eggs?” he asked. I sighed. Busted.
“I guess I am kinda nervous.”
“It’s a nice enough day out,” he commented, “maybe nice enough for you to bike to school?”
“Are you kidding me?” I scoffed, gesturing at the window, “It’s raining to beat the band out there and you’d have me bike?”
He held out his phone, a picture of a shiny blue bike pulled up. “Grams thought you should have that. For good luck.”
“Grams bought me a bike? Really?” I exclaimed, my eyes huge. “Oh my god, that’s so cool! I love Grams!”
“This rain’s supposed to clear up in another twenty minutes or so, just wear your poncho until it stops. And make sure you call her after school, okay? And don’t go riding in the middle of the road. That’s not how it works up here in the suburbs. Stick to the sides. And I want you home right after school, don’t go wandering off.”
“I’m almost 18! When are you guys gonna stop being so protective of me?” I demanded. How was I supposed to make friends if I had to come home right after school?
“Yes, almost 18. Not quite yet. And until you’re out of our home, you’ll listen to your mother and me.”
I sighed, vowing silently to find my own place as soon as I turned 18. Time to start looking for a job. I glanced at the clock that hung on the wall above the family computer. It was just past 6:00AM. I had about two hours before I really needed to be to school, but I knew it would be a good idea to get there early, even if it meant biking in the rain. I had a brand new bike! I could dance the entire way to school in the rain and it wouldn’t bother me now!
“I’ll be home right after school,” I said quietly, pushing past him. I stopped at the front door to slip on my shoes and shrug into my backpack. I slung the strap to the briefcase across my chest and wiggled into my rain poncho. Thank god my bags were waterproof. I’d hate to find a soggy sandwich in my lunch.
“Have a good day Gwynnie,” my dad called after me.
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered as I slipped out, not bothering to lock the door behind me. My dad was in his underwear. Any person who just walked in without knocking would see far more than any reasonable human being would want to.
Once I was outside, I had to stop and think and try to remember what garage was ours. It wasn’t the same number as our apartment, which was 113. I decided to just walk along until something felt familiar. It was raining so hard that I wasn’t sure I would find it.
It turned out to be the very last garage on the second building I walked past. I eagerly opened the garage door, practically jumping up and down with excitement. My old bike had been decent, but the one my grandma had bought for me was even better. Top of the line, flawless… I couldn’t wait to test it out.
After I had the garage locked back up, I mounted my beauty and tested it out. It rode so smoothly I thought I was riding on a cloud. The parking lot of the complex I lived in was filled with small cracks and holes in the pavement. It was hell to maneuver walking, and even in Mom’s Lexus it felt like we were driving over those weird spots in the shoulder of a highway to alert drivers that they’re about to go off the road. Constantly.
I hopped the curb onto the bike path that ran the length of the complex and followed it as it continued alongside the neighboring complex and a park. I hopped off the trail as it began to wind past an elementary school and made for the playground on the other end of the parking lot. I brought my bike up into the sand with me and I leaned against a jungle gym, opening my lunch to find my first snack of the day.
It felt a bit strange, eating a cupcake at a playground at six in the morning. I didn’t much care for the spot. I’d have to find a different spot to stop the next morning.
Once my snack was finished, I looked at the sky. The rain was starting to let up, so I got back on my bike and rode up and across the street, following traffic. I turned right at Mississippi Street and pedaled hard until I hit University Avenue and had to stop. The intersection was insane. I pulled off my poncho and jammed it into the cupholder.
When the light finally changed and I could cross, I heard someone honking their horn rather desperately off to my right. I turned and saw someone I’d never expected to see again.
His name was Vincent. Vincent Montagna. He had been my best friend from second grade until the beginning of high school… But he’d just disappeared that summer. And I’d never heard from him again. Until now.
“Oh my god!” I squealed, abandoning my plan to cross and jogged over to where he’d pulled off with my bike in tow.
He drove a bright red late model Ford pickup. He threw on his hazard lights and climbed out through the passenger seat. “Gwyn! Is it really you?”
“Vincie!” I squealed happily, dropping my bike and throwing my arms around him. “When did you move to Fridley?” I demanded.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Didn’t you hear? My mom… My mom passed away. I had to move in with my grandparents. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anybody and I lost my list of phone numbers in the move.”
“All these years…” I murmured. “You hardly look any different.”
“Hey, where you heading? I could drive you and we could catch up.”
“Oh, just the high school.”
“Totino Grace?” He asked, scrunching up his nose at the thought. I shook my head.
“No. FHS. My parents both lost their jobs. We’re kinda broke now.”
“Oh, hon, I’m sorry!” He looked me up and down, “Don’t worry. We’ll do something about that wardrobe. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you can’t dress fabulous. And with your figure! But at least there’s one good thing in all the bad.” I raised an eyebrow. “We’re classmates again!”
“Oh my god you’re stuck in public school too?”
“Yeah, unfortunately,” he said as he slid my bike into the bed of his truck, being careful not to scratch the paint. “It’s been kinda interesting though. Some of the girls in our grade have children. Multiple children.” He waggled his eyebrows at this and I shoved him playfully.
“You’re kidding. That’s disgusting.” He gave me a boost into the cab of his truck and then climbed over me. “Thanks for the ride,” I said once his butt was no longer in my face.
“How could I let you keep going in this rain?” He asked. I looked out the window.
“The sun’s coming out,” I pointed out.
“Can’t let you get sunburn,” he replied. “So, dish, what’s been new and big since we last saw each other? I mean aside from you being a total babe now.”
I blushed, rolling my eyes. “Oh, not much. Francie and Shelly came out last year, shock right?”
“Because it needed to be said,” he said, stifling a chuckle. “They’ve been cute together since fourth grade.”
“Wait, remember Clint? Yeah, he dumped me right before prom last year.”
“You two were together for six years. I’d think you both would’ve wanted to see other people after six months. I never did like him with you, Gwynnie.”
“Well what about you? You’ve sure gotten… big,” I said, eyeing his nicely toned arms. He flashed me a toothy grin.
“One class I like. Strength Training. I’ve taken it every year. I’ve still got more credits than I need.”
We sat a long moment in silence at a red light. “It’s gonna be nice to know at least one person going into this.”
“Think of me as your own personal guide into this hell called a high school.”
“You know, it would be a better idea on your part to tell me the good aspects of the school instead of focusing on the fact that it inevitably sucks?”
“Well you already know the good part. Me. No use sugarcoating the rest of it.” I laughed.
It was a pretty short drive. “So what’re you going into school so early for?” I asked.
“I’m supposed to help out the freshmen and other new students. Sweet gig. Get to add community service to my letter jacket and I get free breakfast all this week. Not the crap they serve the kids that come off the buses, oh no. I’m talkin’ breakfast burritos and pancakes and bacon.”
“But you’re only doing it for the warm feeling of giving back to your fellow students, right?” I teased, batting my eyelashes at him.
“Of course. And since I found one of you newbies before I even got here, I consider my giving back for the day to be complete, and I invite you to share my feast,” he said as we pulled into a parking space near the main door.
“Well then, I accept. But only if we can go get my schedule first.”
“Good, then I can laugh at you for getting stuck with teachers that suck!” I rolled my eyes at him.
We walked in and he led me to the cafeteria, which I could have found on my own, I’m sure. It was directly in the center of the school. We located my schedule with no trouble and hunted down my locker.
“Ugh, lucky, your locker’s right by the door. And your last class is Chem? You’ll be out the building before anyone else is even at their lockers!”
“Well lucky me,” I replied as I put my stuff away. I kept the briefcase secured across my chest.
“You know you can’t have something that big as a purse, right? They won’t let you bring that around the school.”
“Yeah they will. We came in a few days ago. Had to talk to the principal and a bunch of office types about it. It’s got my food in. I get cranky if I don’t have a snack just about constantly, so yeah. Plus if my weight drops too much lower I’ll be stuck in a hospital and monitored.”
“Are you anorexic?” he asked, concerned. I shook my head.
“Are you kidding me? I love food too much. My metabolism’s just crazy.” I stuffed a notebook into the back pocket of the briefcase and followed Vince back to the cafeteria. True to his word, there was a feast to be had. All the volunteers (and a few of us lucky newbies) got McDonalds breakfast burritos.
That was when I first saw him. Across the cafeteria from where Vince and I decided to sit stood a boy that was simply beautiful. His skin was flawless milky white, his hair a tangle of jet-black hair pulled back in a low, tight ponytail. Vince noticed that my attention was no longer on him or his conversation and quickly moved to become the center of my attention again.
“Wonder who he thinks he’s fooling with that wig,” he said, tugging on my arm. “Anyway, looks like we’ve got mostly the same classes. I’ll show you where my locker is and you can come wait for me after school, huh? I’ll drive you home. It’d be nice to see your parents again.”
I forced a smile and nodded. “Yeah, that’d be great.” When did Vince get so clingy? I glanced back over to where the other boy had been and sighed when I found that he was no longer there.
We finished our breakfast and I felt absolutely too full to do anything, but Vince pulled me along, dragging me to our first class, Studio Art.
There were only six other people in the class, at least that’s what Vince insisted. We were the only ones in the classroom at first, so we had our pick of what table to sit at. We decided on the one closest to the sink at the back of the room.
As the first warning bell rang, the teacher, Mrs. Scammahorn, finally entered the room, looking rather confused. “Oh! Didn’t see you there. Hello Vince,” she said as she noticed us. She set down the stack of paper she’d been carrying and made her way back to us.
“Hey Ms. S,” Vince replied with a grin, “This is Gwyneth Howell. She’s new this year.”
“Hi,” I said, waving my hand a little. She smiled at me.
“Do ya like gettin’ messy, Gwyneth?” she asked. I could hear a hint of a southern drawl to her voice and I wondered briefly why she’d moved so far north. I shrugged, nodding my head slightly. “Well that’s what I like to hear! Welcome to FHS, kid.” She scurried off into her office as other students finally began to shuffle into the room.

After class, Vince followed me like a puppy back to my locker. My next class, Keyboarding I, was one of the two classes we didn’t share. Of course, that wasn’t about to stop him from walking me to class and hovering awkwardly close until just before the bell rang for second period.
I sat near the back of the computer lab and scribbled in a notebook while the teacher, Mr. Terebayza, passed out worksheets and lists of additional supplies we’d need to bring for the class. About ten minutes into his first day lecturing, the door opened and that boy I’d seen earlier walked in. My heart skipped a beat as our eyes met.
“Sorry, Mr. Terebayza,” he began, “I’ve got a pass. I had to see the nurse. Burnt myself in Gym.”
The teacher took the boy’s pass and looked it over, then glared at him. “All right, Gerard. Let’s not make a habit of it like last year in English Lit. There’s one open computer, back next to Gwyneth. Raise your hand, Gwyneth.” I flushed bright red, my arm shaking as put up my hand.
The boy, Gerard, smirked when he saw me, and strode quickly to the computer to my right. He turned on his computer and immediately went on the internet. I tried to focus on the doodle I was working on in my notebook, but I couldn’t help but stare at him.
It was the closest I’d ever been to such a thing of beauty as that boy. Maybe if my parents had taken me to more museums when I was a child I’d have been better equipped to handle living statues carved by the gods themselves.
“Can I help you?” His voice was deep and vibrant, almost lyrical. I jumped, realizing I’d turned in my chair to face him. I quickly turned my attention to the front of the room, feeling my face flush red again. “Well?” He persisted.
“I- Uh- Well…” And the award for Most Articulate Teenage Girl goes to… I thought miserably.
“I’m Gerard,” he said after a moment. His introduction only served to fluster me further.
“Gwyn,” I squeaked. He grinned a nearly imperceptible grin and turned his attention back to his computer. After a few minutes had passed and I’d managed to not stare at him, I decided to glance over and see if I could tell what he was doing.
He had a browser window open and was on ChirpBox, one of the more popular social networking sites. I didn’t understand the hype. All you could do on CB was write 200-character-or-less status updates and follow other people’s status updates. There wasn’t even a proper way to share photos.
Terebayza wrote our first assignment on the whiteboard at the front of the room and there was a collective groan from the rest of the class. He would probably be the only teacher to assign actual homework on the first day of school. At least it was easy. All we had to do was write a letter introducing ourselves. With more than a half hour left of class, most of us probably wouldn’t even need to worry about it as homework.
I opened Word and started banging away at the keyboard. Typing was one of my favorite things to do. I wanted nothing more than to be a professional writer and have nothing to do all day but read and write, so I took all the typing classes I could to hone my skills.
As I began typing the last paragraph of my letter, I realized that Gerard was staring at me. “You type fast,” he said when I stopped. I glanced over at his screen. He was still on CB. I sighed.
“Not as fast as you, obviously,” I replied, “Already done?” He chuckled.
“Actually, not even started. Don’t tell anybody, but this is my throwaway class for the year. I’ve taken it before, at my old school. I’ll probably just recycle last year’s introduction paragraph. Still got it on my computer.”
“Isn’t that cheating?” I asked.
“Probably.” I smirked. A bad boy. This just kept getting better and better.

Second period ended too quickly and Vince came in to collect me for our next class, Strength Training. Gerard looked disappointed that Vince was there. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed, too. As much as I liked Vince, and as much as I’d missed him, this was getting to be too much. I would have to remember to remind him that I needed space sometimes, too.
Still, he hovered probably two inches from me right up until the bell rang. We were split into six squads, which was what Mr. Fowler called our little desk-less rows. That was when I realized that Gerard was there, too. He was to my right, three people behind Vince. He was the last person in his row.
He seemed to realize that I was there at about the same time because once more our eyes met. Before I looked away, I could’ve sworn I saw him smile.
“This class is not an easy ‘a,’ guys. The only way to get an ‘a’ in my class is to give it your all every day. Slackers will not make good grades. Horseplay will earn you detention. There is nothing inherently safe about this class. We work with heavy weights and machines. Vigilance, constant vigilance, will be what keeps you from losing a limb here.”
He shoved a large bucket forward with his foot. “When I call your name, come up here and pick out a lock. Then go and find the locker number that I give you and put your lock on that locker. Memorize your combination. Do not leave the sticker on the back with the combination. That’s just dumb.” I rolled my eyes, scoffing audibly. Public school kids actually had to be reminded of this?
He began calling people up. I turned to face away from Gerard and Vince- it was just easier to avoid the temptation of staring and making Vince even clingier- and stretched my legs out in front of me.
“Hi!” an overly chipper female voice said from somewhere to my left. I looked over and found a girl with wild orange curls and pale skin that was speckled with freckles smiling at me.
“Hi,” I said, returning the smile.
“I’m Tamara Bates,” She said, looking at me expectantly.
“Uh, nice to meet you,” I said, “I’m Gwyn.”
“Oh Gwyn so good to meet you. See, I saw you in Keyboarding and you looked like you were getting kinda friendly with the other new kid.”
“Gerard’s new too?” I asked. The way he’d spoken…
“Well, not really so new, but new enough. He transferred here near the end of last year. You’re the first girl he’s actually spoken to here.” So that’s what it was. Jealousy. I sighed.
“Well we weren’t really talking,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Still, he talked to you. What was it like?” I could feel both Vince’s and Gerard’s eyes boring into the back of my skull.
“It was… like… talking?” Total lie. “Why don’t you try talking to him yourself?”
“Are you kidding? Have you seen this boy?” She giggled.
“I guess he is kinda pretty,” I admitted. I heard muffled laughter behind me as Mr. Fowler called my name.
“Gwyneth Howell, you’re locker 256.” I got up and crossed the gym, grabbing a lock as I sauntered into the girls locker room. “Tamara Bates, you’re locker 259.”
“Same locker I’ve had every year,” she said as she stood up. As if any of us actually cared. She hurried across the gym to catch up with me. “Hey, wait up!” She caught me at the door.
“What’s his voice like?” she asked. I stared at her in confusion. “You know, Gerard. What’s it like when he talks?”
“Haven’t you heard him talk in class?” I asked pointedly. She shook her head.
“He doesn’t participate. Like, ever. Ew, I sound like a total teacher when I say that, but it’s so true. I was in a group with him last May and he didn’t say a word the entire time. I was almost convinced he couldn’t talk or something, y’know? So what’s his voice like?”
I stopped to think as I glanced casually at the numbers on the lockers we passed. “Well… You know Josh Groban’s singing voice?”
“Mmm, of course I do. So dreamy.”
“It’s like that, only not quite singing. There is a musical tone to his voice though. It’s like…” I didn’t have any proper words to describe it.
“Like…?” She pressed.
“It’s smooth and deep. There’s the faintest accent I can’t quite identify.”
“You should ask him to sit with us at lunch,” she said as we finally located our lockers.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware I had plans to sit with you at lunch. See I’ve already-”
“Look, I know, you’ve probably already heard all sorts of things about me. But really, I’m not as mean as everyone thinks I am. You seem like a cool girl and I wanna introduce you to some of my friends. Maybe you and Gerard could both become regulars in my group.”
“But you see, I’ve already got a friend to sit with. Vince.”
“Vince?” She spat the name, “You’re kidding, right? Vince Montagna?”
“Yeah, I’ve known him since we were kids. He used to be my best friend.”
“Well that must’ve been a long time ago. He’s bad news now.”
I glared at her as I locked my locker and peeled the tape from the back, testing the combination as quickly as my stumbling fingers could manage. “You know, I think you can talk to Gerard on your own. I won’t be joining you at lunch.”
I stormed out of the locker room then, shaking my head and fuming. The nerve of that girl, thinking she could decide what I would do, where I would go, who I would hang out with! Neither Vince nor Gerard were in the gym when I crossed back to where everyone was congregated, so I sat back down in my squad with the boy who sat in front of me.
Tamara didn’t come back out for the rest of class, and once it was over she stormed up the stairs and down the hall toward the cafeteria in a huff, glaring at me as I recounted what she’d said to Vince. He wasn’t pleased.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said as we headed for the cafeteria, “Tam and I dated last year, and it didn’t end well. Things were said- and thrown- that neither of us meant. In the end I was the bad guy. I broke up with her.”
“So now she wants to convince all other girls in school that you’re not worth their time?” He shrugged.
“Something like that. She’s always trying to pin stuff on me. I’m not surprised that she’d tell you I was bad news.”
“So you didn’t do anything sinister?” I asked. He shook his head. “Good. Cuz I like you. And I wouldn’t want something nasty tainting all my good memories of us.”
“Hopefully we’ll be able to make plenty more good memories,” He replied with a smile that was just a little too friendly. It made me very uncomfortable.
We found a table under a tree in the senior courtyard and Vince ventured off to the a la carte line to get us each something to drink. I opened my lunch and arranged it on the table neatly, deciding what I’d eat first.
I didn’t hear Gerard approach, didn’t notice him sitting across from me. “Hello again, Gwyneth Howell,” he said, his voice quiet. I jumped about a half mile out of my seat and jerked my head up to look at him. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He looked even paler out in the natural light. His eyes were obscured by the oversized sunglasses he wore, and despite the warmth of the day, he wore an unzipped hooded sweatshirt.
“Hi,” I said finally, my voice shaking. He was laughing quietly and I realized too late that I probably looked like a deer in headlights and I quickly looked down, snapping my briefcase shut.
“Hi,” he said, flashing a perfect smile. His teeth were so white it was almost like they were glowing. I had to force myself to concentrate on speaking.
“So, what’s up?” I asked.
“Well, I thought I might sit with you today. You looked lonely out here, all alone.”
“Oh. Cool,” I said, “But, um… I’m not really sitting alone. My friend Vince went to get us drinks.” I glanced up at him apologetically. “He’s a bit clingy.”
“I know. I’ve been watching him monopolize your time. I’ve been hoping to get you alone for a few minutes.”
As though Gerard’s words had summoned him, Vince approached the table holding two bottles of iced tea and a cookie the size of my head. “Hey, sorry I took so long,” He said, glaring at Gerard. I scooted over to give him room to sit, since Gerard had taken his spot. He sat as close to me as he could without being in my lap, putting one possessive arm around my waist. Gerard’s eyes narrowed at this.
“So, you’re new too, then, Gerard?” I asked, trying to break the tense silence that had fallen. He nodded once.
“Yes. I moved here from Seattle last April.”
“What prompted the move?” Vince was the one who asked the question and I looked over at him, surprised. Gerard shrugged.
“Nothing too complicated. My mom was transferred to Minneapolis and we moved.”
I shifted uncomfortably against Vince’s arm, trying to clue him in to my discomfort, but he didn’t loosen his grip. The two boys stared at each other as I scarfed down my sandwich and chips, lingering over my dessert. I drank the rest of my chocolate milk from breakfast, replacing it in my lunchbox with the tea Vince had gotten me.
“We’re all alike, sort of,” I said. Neither of them looked at me, their odd little staring contest growing even more intense. “I mean, none of us have been at Fridley for all that long. Vince and I used to attend a private school together,” I continued, poking Vince in the side. Still no response. Inside, the bell rang, and Vince finally let go of me. I stood up quickly, stretching and looking expectantly at them.
After another long minute, Gerard stood up and left the courtyard without saying a word, and Vince turned to face me. “So, ready for Political Science?” he asked with a slight grin.
“I guess. What was all that about?”
He led me back into the school and down the social studies hall. “What was all what about?” he asked, very obviously playing dumb. I rolled my eyes.
“That little staring contest you two had. And that business of grabbing my waist. I think I’m gonna have a bruise.”
“I don’t like him,” he said after thinking for a moment. We walked into the classroom and groaned to find that there was already a seating chart. We were on opposite sides of the room from each other. Still, that didn’t stop Vince from taking up residence in the desk next to mine until the bell rang and Mrs. Rmayti caught him out of his own seat. Whoever was supposed to sit next to me never showed.
Mrs. Rmayti was very young and intensely beautiful. She wore a plain black abaya and an intricately wrapped purple and blue hijab. “Hello class,” she said as we settled into our seats, “Welcome to your senior year. I want to be the first to tell you congratulations! You’ve almost done it! But I also must warn you that you’re not done yet. I’ve done my best to make this a fun class in the two years I’ve taught it now, but I still expect a lot of effort out of every single one of you.”
About half of the class groaned and she got this stern look on her face. “I don’t have to make this fun for you. That is a choice and it is only mine to make.” I could tell it would be a long trimester if she got this defensive over something as trivial as everyone groaning about something. Across the room, I could see Tamara glaring at me. I knew she’d seen Gerard come sit by me at lunch and I could tell she was going to be a problem.
Just what I needed, an enemy on the first day of school.
Mrs. Rmayti droned on about what we’d be covering this term and made us each stand up and tell a random fact about ourselves to the rest of the class. How embarrassing. Tamara’s fact was that she’d met some kid from a band I didn’t like. Vince’s was that used to be kind of a geek, which made most of the boys in class laugh. He’d obviously asserted himself as a jock, as evidenced by the heavily muscled arm he’d held onto me with at lunch.
When it was my turn to speak, I stood up and said, “I’m Gwyneth Howell...” Everyone stared at me, expecting me to say something about myself but I couldn’t think of anything interesting. “I, uh, I like to read.”
I sat down quickly, hiding my face in my arms. A few of the same boys who’d laughed at Vince roared with laughter. “She likes to read!” One of them spat, “What a nerd!”
“James,” Mrs. Rmayti scolded, “go to the office. Now.” The boy stood up, still laughing, and strutted out of the classroom as Vince stared him down.
“Not funny, bro,” he hissed as James passed him.

When the bell rang I was out of my seat like a shot, and Vince had to jog to catch up with me in the hall. “Hey,” he called, “Gwyn, wait up.” I slowed my pace but didn’t stop for him as I weaved through the crowd of students clamoring for their lockers. “Gwyn, James is a dumbass. Don’t listen to his shit. You’re awesome and he can’t handle that.”
“It isn’t the cool thing to do,” I said, “I understand. You jocks don’t like building your brains, just your muscles.”
“Hey, why are you attacking me? You know I love reading.”
“I’m not,” I said, an exasperated sigh escaping my lips, “I- Vince, I’m sorry. I just need some space, okay? It’s awesome that we’re at the same school again but you’re kinda smothering me.”
But he was already walking down the hall, away from me. I shook my head and headed back to my locker before my last class of the day. I wasn’t looking forward to Chemistry but I knew that I wouldn’t have to deal with Vince, at least. He never did tell me what his last hour class was, but he’d always hated science. Since Chem was an elective, I knew he wouldn’t be caught dead there.
I stood at my locker, organizing my notebooks and textbooks so I wouldn’t have to linger after class. I hoped Vince wouldn’t forget that my bike was in the back of his truck, but I had to be prepared to walk, just in case. I slammed my locker shut and walked into the chemistry classroom. I was pleasantly surprised to see Gerard sitting near the back of the room, and he waved at me as I walked back to the seat next to him.
“Hey,” I said, “Are you as excited about this class as I am?” I asked, trying to feign some enthusiasm. I hadn’t really been all that interested in Chemistry, but it looked good on my transcripts, and I still hadn’t applied to college. I was pushing to have a year off after graduation, but my Dad and Gran didn’t want me to waste my potential. I still had a couple of months to apply anyway.
“Hey,” he replied, “So. Your friend Vince, he always that possessive?”
“He used to be clingy but never like today at lunch. I’m sorry.”
“What’ve you got to be sorry about? He’s the one with the issues, not you.”
“Hi Gwyn!” A familiar- and unwelcome- voice called, and I turned to find Tamara approaching with dangerous speed, “I didn’t know you liked science.”
“Of course you didn’t?” I gave her a confused look. Gerard turned his attention to his notebook.
“So, what’re you doing after school?” she asked, “Some of us are gonna go back in the dunes and hang out.”
“The dunes?”
“You know that disgusting patch of land across the street? That’s the dunes,” Gerard informed me quietly. Tamara was so awestruck at his voice that she couldn’t even defend her hangout.
“So she was telling the truth. Your voice is as beautiful as you are,” she said far more loudly than I would have liked her to. I flushed beet red and Gerard gave me an amused look. Tamara chose the seat right in front of him. As the bell rang, she leaned across the aisle and said, “You’re welcome to come, you know.” She turned to glance at Gerard, “You’re welcome, too.”
“Thanks, not interested,” he muttered.
I shook my head. “Gotta be home right after school, sorry.”

After school, I dawdled in the parking lot for a long time, watching Vince’s van to make sure he didn’t leave before I could remind him of my bike. I was about to start walking home when strong arms scooped me up from behind and I found myself being slung over Vince’s shoulder. “Vince find pretty girl, take back to cave,” he grunted in a caveman voice. I squealed, laughing and playfully pounding on his back.
“You’re not mad at me?” I asked as he set me down by his truck. He cocked his head.
“Why would I be mad at you?”
“Well I snapped at you earlier and-”
“Don’t worry about it.” There was a certain coolness to his tone, so I decided not to press the matter. He unlocked the doors and I climbed into the truck, buckling my seatbelt as he started the engine. “You got time for a milkshake?” he asked. I shook my head.
“Sorry, my parents are expecting me home right away. Maybe some other time?” I asked. He smiled and nodded.
“Of course,” he said, “Some other time.”