13 to Life

13 to Life (Volume 1)

Shannon Delany

St. Martin's Griffin

Prologue: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Rio stiffened beneath my touch, striking a glossy hoof against the floor.

“What, girl?” I asked, still fighting the tangle that snarled her ebony mane. She snorted, nostrils turning the red of fresh blood. She shook, long neck yanking the brush out of my fingers. It bounced off the opposite stall wall with a thump. “Rio!” Keeping a hand on her, I walked around to her other side and leaned down to search for the brush. For a moment everything was eerily still — completely quiet. Then my dogs, Maggie and Hunter, leaped up from where they’d been dozing, snouts propped on a bag of feed. They rushed the barn door, exploding in a fit of barking.

The other horses whickered, voices filled with equal parts concern and frustration. Hooves stomped, crackling hay.

“What the--?” My fingers danced down Rio’s velvety nose. “Shhh. It’s okay, girl.” Slipping out of her stall, the fine hairs on my arms stood as if lightning charged the autumn air. “Everything’s okay,” I insisted as I marched over to Maggie and Hunter.

They were not convinced. Wedging myself in the middle of the two of them, I snaked my hands around their collars and peered through the narrow opening separating the barn’s huge doors. The barnyard was strangely silent, as if everything simultaneously shut its mouth to stare with fearful wonder at whatever stalked the shadows. The dogs pulled, pawing and growling.

The unnaturally white expanse where the barnyard spotlight flooded the space between the first barn and the house stretched out like a broad scar before me. Never before had it seemed so ugly and bare — or such a great distance. A cool night breeze pushed the faint noise of television to me. Dad was watching reruns of that crazy video show. Would he hear us over the blare of television if we needed help? The answer hit like a rock dropping into my stomach as Dad’s laugh punctuated the suddenly calm air and he cranked up the volume.

I glanced down at the dogs. Crap. I was on my own with only Dumb and Dumber to help.

My gaze scraped across the yard from the reassuring glow of my home’s windows to the tall spotlight. I whispered calming words to the dogs — vague promises of tasty snacks. Huh. Usually gobs of moths fluttered in the glare of the spotlight, bats darting in and out to catch dinner. Tonight there was nothing. The air had gone still, but my apprehension made it seem to buzz with electricity.

I swallowed. A shadow sliced across my field of vision, briefly blotting out the light and I stumbled back, fingers slipping free of the dogs’ collars. Maggie and Hunter’s voices blended into a single thin and wavering whine. I grabbed a pitchfork leaning against the wall and held it before me.

Something shoved at the other side of the door. Nudged the giant door so it wobbled. The creature whuffled the airlike a hound searching for a trail. Its nose, nearly broad as my palm and black as the shadow its body cast, thrust between the doors, nostrils stretching as it sucked down our scent. The dogs slinked back to me, tails tucked and bodies trembling as I brandished the pitchfork.

But far more frightening than the huge nose (at the height of my chest, I realized) was the line of teeth visible between dark rubbery lips. Long and jagged, they left no doubt they were designed to shred.

The beast snorted, a sound that rivaled Rio, and then — as suddenly as the thing had appeared — it was gone. I gasped. Trembling like my dogs, I looked at the pitchfork in my hands and laughed. Add a torch and I’d be set to join the mob in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What did I think was out there? A monster?

I winked at Maggie and Hunter. “Probably just old Monroe’s dog Harold anointing everybody’s fence posts,” I assured. They wagged their tails, but knew better than to trust my words.

I set the pitchfork back in place and busied myself tidying the barn, too aware I hesitated to switch off the lights and cross the bare and bright white expanse between here and home. Too soon there was nothing left to clean or rearrange. And tomorrow was a school day.

I steeled myself for the walk back to the house. “Come on, Hunter. That’s a good girl, Maggie.” Dread clenching my heart, I remembered the strange stories that came out of the city of Farthington last year. Flanked by my dogs, I walked swiftly to the house.

I only relaxed when the door closed and the bolt slid into place. Hunter looked up at me expectantly, sitting like the gentleman he was far from being. And very happy to remind me with a solemn look from his soulful golden eyes of the snacks I’d recently promised.

Chapter One: Summoned

I closed the door behind me, heading down the hallway and straight to Hell. The hall glowed eerily in the morning light. Outside, the wind snarled and threw a kaleidoscope of dry leaves against the large windows. I was sure whoever summoned me had very good intentions, but that only encouraged the gnawing sensation in my gut. Wasn’t the road to Hell paved with good intentions?

My feet dragged the whole way to Guidance. The call had gotten me out of Ms. Ashton’s Literature class — not gym. Nobody ever got called out of gym.

The whole thing made me suspicious. Why did Guidance need me? Had they finally figured out who wrote that scathing editorial about the double standards between the jocks and the nerds? Considering what I knew of Guidance I could be fairly certain they hadn't, at least not without assistance.

When the call came rattling through the intercom system, I’d shot a look at a fellow editor who shrugged. I presumed I hadn't been ratted out.

Then why was I being summoned? Sure, I was perpetually late handing library books in and there were at least three times I'd signed in tardy with the nurse and accidentally taken her pen. But seriously. If Guidance wanted to summon a troublemaker they had the wrong girl. Well — pretty much.

My sneakers scuffed along the oatmeal-colored tile floor and I sighed. God, I asked, don't let them be holding some stupid intervention for me about Mom. The thought stopped me cold. I looked at the flimsy blue pass in my hand. How bad would it be to forge a time and signature on it and go back to class? Would Guidance remember they'd called? It was nearly the end of first quarter so wouldn’t they be scrambling to organize last minute study sessions with the kids slipping (or diving) through the cracks?

I glanced up the hallway; its cinderblock walls seemed to tighten around me. Breathe… The walls retreated. There was no witness to see me scrawl the signature Mr. Maloy joked was proof he could have been a doctor. I could make a quick u-turn and head back to class… I chewed my lower lip, considering the odds I’d get caught. Hmph.

I turned down the hall and opened the door to Guidance; scanning the waiting room I looked for a coat or hat belonging to my dad — anything to warn me to leave before someone with a Master's degree decided it was best for me to talk about my innermost feelings — again. But there was no sign of Dad.

A poster hung on one wall, obviously an art project, raising awareness about the rash of teen suicides occurring on the train tracks between Farthington and Junction. Could things ever be so bad I’d willingly jump onto the tracks before an approaching train? The tension fell out of my shoulders. No. I wasn’t a suicide risk. I’d witnessed the worst and I was still here. I exhaled, surprised to find I’d been holding my breath.

The secretary was focused on a magazine.  Its blaring red cover featured titles including “What Type of Tree Would Your Lover Be” and “When to Worry about His Psycho Ex.” I cleared my throat. She looked up, saying, "Oh. Jessica," and pointed a carefully manicured finger towards the conference room. "Mr. Maloy's waiting."

"Fabulous."

She smiled, big eyes pleasantly blank. Clueless. I figured it was best to have someone like her greeting folks as they entered Guidance. She'd never panic if bullets started flying. She probably wouldn’t even notice unless they clipped her stylish hair.

I knocked on the conference room door, goose bumps raising the fine hairs on my arms. I'd been here before, sitting on one of many hard plastic chairs pulled in a tight circle as counselors and teachers told me how much I still had to look forward to in life. How great it would all still be if I only tuned back in… How they all cared for me and were there to support me… And I'd hated it. None of what they said mattered. They were paid to say stuff like that. Probably contractually obligated.

Besides, I always hated things that made me cry. And I knew I was strong enough to cope with what happened. Without help.

As the door opened I saw a group of people I didn't recognize, along with Junction High’s head counselor and a police officer. Weird, but a relief. No intervention, then — obviously this party wasn’t for me; I was merely a guest.

"Jessica," Mr. Maloy rose from his spot at the far side of the table.

The cop leaned against the wall by the window.

The others turned to face me. They were tall and well-built with high cheekbones and strong jaws — even the single girl standing with the three guys. They had thick dark hair, glinting eyes — and nametags.

"These are the Rusakovas." Mr. Maloy motioned to the group.

Out of the corner of my eye I watched the cop pick up a brochure on the windowsill. It had to just be coincidence he was here. Just more bad timing — typical stuff at my high school.

I turned my attention back to the Rusakovas. I smiled encouragingly.

They did not.

Mr. Maloy rounded the table, and peering none too subtly at their nametags pointed to one of them, announcing, "This is Peter Rusakova. He's in tenth grade this year. A sophomore, just like you."

I kept the smile plastered across my lips, groaning inwardly. So that was what this was about. "Hello, Peter." I couldn’t help my uninspired tone. I wasn’t a girl who liked being saddled with the responsibility of escorting newbies to classes.

Mr. Maloy slid his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and gave me a warning glance. "Here is Peter's schedule. Show him around and make sure he's not late."

The police officer glanced at me, saying slowly to Peter, “Got that Rusakova? Don’t be late.”

Something prickled along my spine at his tone.

The eldest in the group smiled broadly and wrapped his arm around Peter. “Of course he won’t be late, Officer Kent,” he guaranteed. “Peter is very glad to be at Junction High.”

Peter did not seem so convinced.

Officer Kent said, “We can’t have people avoiding an education.”

“We were getting one,” the other boy, according to his nametag Maximilian, muttered.

The eldest cuffed him on the back of the head, attempting comedy, but I sensed a threat in the display.

I took the slip of paper and quickly compared it to my own. I looked from the officer to Peter and back to the schedule. Handing my pass over for a signature, my eyes paused on Peter again. He glowered darkly before me, a sharp contrast to the eldest male’s bright smile.

I should have forged Mr. Maloy's signature after all.

"Okay," I said, more to myself than my silent ward. "We're both in Ashton's Lit class; let's head in that direction for starters."

Peter gave one brief nod of his head, but his face was a tight mask of disinterest.

Exiting the office, I tried to keep my curiosity in check while I steered him by locations he’d need to know as a student at Junction High. I pointed and explained until my arms were tired and my mouth was dry. He never said a word. Never responded with more than a nod. Bathroom, library, cafeteria, art, shop, band, gym, main office, nurse…

In-School Suspension…

I eyed him, speculating. Who knew how fast somebody like him could land in ISS? He had that could-be-trouble look. And obviously he came with baggage of the police escort type. But surely he wasn’t dangerous… The cops would never let me lead a real criminal to classes, would they? I continued walking and explaining, gradually increasing the distance between us.

If he noticed, he never mentioned it.

The thought he could be dangerous made me nervous. And when I get nervous, I get talkative. I glanced at his schedule again. “Oh. Your name’s not Peter,” I said, wondering if I’d been pronouncing it at all correctly. Huh. P-i-e-t-r. “It’s Pie-eater-”

He winced.

I read it again, “No, Pee-yoh-ter--”

He stared at me.

“Pay—oder?” I tried. I was determined to get it right. Mr. Maloy had obviously botched this like everything else. My mouth twisted, ready to go one more round with the word, but he raised a hand, staring at me like he was in shock. Or maybe pain. I felt my ears go tomato-red.

“I have never heard so many — creative — pronunciations of my name.” He smiled, but only briefly. “Peter,” he said. “The pronunciation is the same. Just not the spelling.” He tugged off the misspelled nametag and crumpled it up.

"Oh.” He didn’t seem dangerous… “Weird,” I said suddenly. “You know, it’s actually kind of spelled like my worry stone…” I dug into my jeans’ pocket and pulled out the large flat bead I carried. Gold, silver and milky white threaded through dark blue. “This is Pietersite. P-I-E-T-E-R.” I held it out in my open palm and thought I saw momentary interest in his eyes.

“A worry stone?”

“My dad’s idea. It’s also called Tempest Stone. People say it’s good for a lot of stuff, like dealing with change and transformation. Oh. And your gall bladder, I think. Or spleen.” I shrugged, slipping it back into my pocket. He definitely looked interested now. Maybe he had spleen issues.

“What do you think it’s good for?”

“Rubbing when I’m stressed.” I shrugged again. “Besides, like Shakespeare said: What’s in a name, right?”

He looked past me. “Romeo and Juliet. I hate that play.”

“Well.” How could anyone with a brain hate a classic like that? “A good writer should get people to feel something, I guess.” I started walking again, hoping to catch his attention. Even when he spoke directly to me he seemed distant. Unreachable. Like this wasn’t important.

What was it with him? Was I being blown off?

“So, um. Why the cop?” I figured I’d just go for it. Ask the question about the elephant in the room.

Pietr didn’t pause, just continued walking beside me. “We went to Europe last year and didn’t tell the school.”

“Oh.” My brain reeled at the thought of just going to Europe. “So you basically skipped school for a few--”

“Months.”

“Oh.”

We walked for a while in silence, down the long corridor of tall windows leading towards the English department’s classrooms. There was just the noise of my shoes squeaking on the tile floor. His sneakers never made a sound and I looked over more than once to make sure someone actually walked beside me.

I hoped I hadn’t suddenly suffered a psychotic break and imagined the meeting in Maloy’s office. Although I wasn’t sure why I’d conjure someone like Pietr during a psychotic episode… That was probably just it, though. You didn’t know what to expect during a psychotic episode. Or when it would happen. You just knew everyone expected you to snap and eventually have one. At least, if you were me.

To relieve the silence I asked, “Where are you from?" If he wasn’t going to talk maybe I shouldn’t keep encouraging conversation. But I was determined to give him a chance. Coming to a new school was bound to be difficult. Coming with a cop in tow… And then, not making friends — or even acquaintances — wouldn’t make it any easier.

He looked over his shoulder and said, "Farthington." He seemed to regret even the single word.

I paused, stopping in the hall to look at him. "Wow. I would've totally left that place, too. You guys had all that weirdness with that wolf attack."

He nodded.

"I didn't even know there were wolves that close until I heard it on the news. I mean, you occasionally hear about a rabid raccoon leaping onto somebody’s porch and biting them, but… Wolves?"

He remained silent.

"Did they get the wolf that did it?”

"They think so."

From Farthington and reprimanded by a cop? There had to be a story here and I was starting to feel like I had to be a code breaker to piece it together. “I’m with the school newspaper — I’d love to interview you about it.”

“No thank you,” he said with absolute conviction.

My reporter instincts made me twitch. Even a reporter for a small school paper has to react when a student admits to being from the site of the bloodiest, goriest, most mysterious and bizarre wolf attack in a century and the guy doesn’t want to talk about it. It was an eye-poppingly big story. And Pietr summarily turned down my shot at writing the article — writing something far more exciting than “Students Struggle with New Library Filing System.”

Okay. He’d rejected my request about the Phantom Wolf of Farthington. I wasn’t beyond trying again.

But something about him was bugging me, and it was more than the fact he came from a place where things actually happened. Living in Junction made you aware the grass was greener everywhere else. I wanted to live someplace exciting, too — okay, maybe not Farthington, because the idea of a rampaging savage beast freaks me out. I shivered, remembering last night’s strange encounter at the stables.

Blinking I refocused on my more immediate problem. Pietr. It wasn’t that he was shy — I’ve been shy, so I can read that vibe like reading the alphabet. Shy was nothing like he put out.

I squinted at him, trying to figure out what his problem was while he looked everywhere but at me. He was handsome enough. His dark hair spiked up and out in an unruly shock, a strand or two shadowing eyes that seemed nearly navy. Comparing him to Derek (whose stats I absolutely knew by heart) I estimated he was 5' 9" or so and probably growing by leaps considering the other family members I'd just seen.

He didn't look like he had a reason to be mysterious. He looked like he could actually be somebody. Probably another snotty out-of-towner who thought he was too good for a small town. Maybe Farthington with its bizarre news made him immune to what was important to folks in an old railroad town like Junction. Maybe it was simply beyond his capability to care.

But that couldn’t be true. If I could still care about something — anything — anyone else could, too.

He just stood there. Silent and absolutely inattentive.

"You’re not really interested in any of this, are you?" I said, waving my hands to encompass the whole school.

He looked down at me for the briefest moment. Our eyes connected and I caught my breath. His eyes were so much more than nearly navy blue. Looking at them was like looking at the variations in the Pietersite in my pocket. He tore his gaze away coolly and simply stated, "I’m not interested in much."

He shrugged, not bothering to look at me again.

Had that been a complete dismissal of me? Was it me and not the school or my hometown that he thought he was so much better than? I WAS being blown off.

Fuming, I began walking again, lengthening my stride to close the distance between us and our first real destination quickly. He kept up easily. “Well, you'll have to care about school if you ever want to get out of here," I snapped, turning the door's handle. "Welcome to Lit."

Chapter Two: A Little Class

I stalked into the room, my peers' eyes trying to catch a peek at my expression. I released the door, letting it — and hoping it would — smack into Pietr's face.

He didn't even glare in my direction. I made my disappointment obvious: handing my pass to Ms. Ashton, I rolled my eyes. But she didn't notice, letting the pass slip through her fingers as she crossed the floor, apologies to Pietr falling from her lips — for my behavior!

"I'm so sorry Jessie let go of the door too soon — are you okay?" She scanned his face, her eyes bright and oddly eager. I took my seat and watched the other students' reactions to our arrogant new class member. The girls were all sitting — literally — at the edge of their seats, fingers white around the knuckles as they gripped their desks and made mooneyes at him.

I couldn't believe how they all seemed so blatantly and suddenly obsessed with Pietr. I mean, okay — I looked him up and down without a hint of self-consciousness — measuring and weighing what I saw there. Yep. Not bad looking, sort of had that catalog-model look, good enough for print but not typical runway material.

But he simply didn’t care. It made me want to scream. But I remembered — most girls go soft over guys with that dangerously arrogant edge — that distance that marks them as unattainable. I sighed and took my seat.

Ms. Ashton was still rambling on about the importance of Literature to civilization, and, of course, to the class. Pietr occasionally said something softly in that too-cool way of his and all the girls giggled. Even Ms. Ashton. She had taken Pietr by the hand to better lead him to his desk. I was astonished by her utter disregard of teacher-student protocol.

I ruffled the pages of my Lit book, feeling a heat growing on my back. I turned and nearly choked on my own surprise. Derek was watching me. He winked at me and motioned with a jerk of his head at Pietr. I rolled my eyes, my insides melting at this small communication with my old ninth grade crush.

Derek chuckled silently and pointed to get me to turn back around in my seat.

"So, Jessie," Ms. Ashton was addressing me. "How did you manage to get the assignment of showing Pietr around?”

The girls all turned, glaring at me and yet seemingly hungry to know how they could get their very own new-boy-at-school, too.

"Just luck," I muttered. Bad, dumb luck.

I felt Derek's eyes on me again. Pietr didn't bother to acknowledge my statement.

Ms. Ashton closed class with a homework assignment. There were groans in response. Someone stated the obvious: "It's almost Homecoming!"

Ms. Ashton was unrepentant.

I didn't groan. Homecoming wasn't my thing. I barely followed our football team's adventures (other than staring at Derek and listening to people recounting his exploits on the field — that I could listen to for days). The idea of going to a parade, bonfire and dance… Well, what did it matter if I was curious about it? Who would ask me anyhow? Besides, there were always things to be done at home. A horse farm always had something that needed doing.

The bell rang — a sound even more obnoxious and less bell-like today because I had a special assignment. An especially unpleasant assignment.

I stood and gathered my things. I was annoyed to find a mob of girls hanging around Pietr's desk. They seemed oblivious to my presence. Nearly as oblivious as Pietr was to me. I cleared my throat.

No response.

I elbowed Izzy aside, pushing my way into their giggling midst. "Come on, Pietr. We’ve got math."

He rose, slipping his newly acquired Lit book under his arm.

"Math?" Izzy sighed. "Who does he have, Jessie? Mr. Belden?" She never once looked at me — his guide and holder of the evidently royal schedule.

"Yeah," I snapped. "Beany Belden." Now I did groan. Escorting Pietr was making me less pleasant about everything. "Now, Pietr."

"I'll walk with you," Izzy offered.

"Good." I headed for the door, saying over my shoulder, "I'll lead."

I did my best to distance myself from the pair of them, but occasionally I'd hear Izzy say something entirely insipid, and it seemed as if she'd shouted it down the hall. She was entirely too easy to impress. Her brightest moment in the very one-sided conversation was when she said to him, "You even smell good!"

I found myself rolling my eyes so often I nearly walked into a wall. Okay, the new boy was cute. So what if he smelled good? I mean — seriously. I totally get the idea that new things are attractive. New toys are shiniest. New cars smell best. But a new boy? Big deal.

Pietr finally returned her complement. “You smell — delicious.”

Odd. I sniffed. Well, Izzy did tend to pour on the perfume. I guessed anyone walking with her would eventually notice her scent, probably along with the slow burning of his or her nose hair in response to the olfactory assault. But that didn’t matter because there was no amount of perfume in the world that could overcome the strange smells lurking in Belden’s classroom. The man hadn’t gotten the nickname “Beany Belden” for his choice of hats. At least Pietr would have a different smell to comment on. Maybe then he’d start an interesting conversation.

Pausing by Belden's door I reassured myself that at least this weird fascination Izzy had couldn't last. Everything loses its luster eventually.

I turned to Pietr and Izzy. And saw four other gawking girls vying for Pietr's attention.

I didn't get it. What was it about him that they found so mesmerizing? Why didn't I see it, too? 

When Derek came up behind me, I nearly jumped. “What do they see in that guy?" he asked, eyes fixed firmly on my own. I concentrated on breathing. In-out-in-out-in…

"I don't know," I admitted sheepishly. Good. That was at least coherent. I tried an endearing smile, but I could feel my lips stretch into a crazed grin. Oh-god-oh-god-oh-god… I forced my lips back into a less maniacal look, hoping Derek had somehow overlooked my stalker-like smile.

I felt someone watching us and glanced briefly away from Derek to figure out who… Still ringed by my female classmates, Pietr was glaring our way. No. Not our way — Derek’s way. Weird. And it wasn’t the glare a guy shoots a rival guy over a girl (not that I’ve seen one personally, but I’ve read about them plenty of times). No, it was like: I hate that guy and always will. Like Pietr already knew Derek.

Derek missed it. "So, I'll bet every girl in class is hoping he'll go to Homecoming with them."

I shrugged. "He's just some guy,” I countered, maybe a little loudly. “But yeah, he seems to have attracted a flock of followers."

"Not you?"

"What?" I blushed.

"You don't seem too impressed by him."

"Ye--ah." I tore my eyes away from Derek's face and looked Pietr over skeptically. Our eyes met and I thought I read a warning in them. Weird. "Nope.” I shrugged again. “I just don't get it."

"So you won't be going to Homecoming with him?"

"Of course not."

"Are you going with someone else?"

I blinked.

"Are you going with somebody else?" Derek repeated patiently.

"N-no."

"All right children, let's break it all up. We have things to learn, not time to burn. Inside, inside!" Belden herded us into the room, using his yardstick to round us up and breaking up my conversation with Derek.

I never hated math as much as that day. I watched Derek take his seat in the back and I took mine in the front, Pietr between us.

What had Derek been getting at out in the hallway? Guys like Derek didn't waste time on girls like me.

That day in math nothing seemed to be adding up. 

By the time math class wrapped up, my mind was swimming with questions. Most of them had nothing to do with mathematical equations. I packed up my things, noticing out of the corner of my eye that Derek hadn't passed by yet. I took a moment to arrange my pencils neatly in my backpack, blushing at my sudden and probably pathetically obvious attempt at subterfuge.

I looked up when I heard someone pause beside my desk, but my lips pursed, realizing it was Pietr. And his gaggle of girls.

Derek skirted the group, shooting me a glance I couldn't quite read as he left class. Left me.

I nearly growled at Pietr as I rose. His eyes narrowed, accentuating their oddly exotic appearance and he seemed to weigh me for a moment. I hadn't realized how distinctly his dark pupils were rimmed with brilliant gold — a bold barrier before the blue. His eyes nearly glowed, giving him a disconcertingly feral look.

The hairs on my arms stood up, but I would not back down. "Let's go," I snapped, pushing past the girls he'd inexplicably gathered. I knocked into two of them with my elbows out. It was absolutely calculated.

But they didn't notice, only reacting when Pietr moved to follow me into the hall.

"Where are we headed?" Pietr asked.

What? Was he actually taking an interest in his new school? I glanced at him. "Lunch," I said shortly.

"Oh, Pietr, that's awesome," Izzy, obviously the self-appointed leader of his flock, exclaimed. "We share a lunch period — we can sit together!"

I half-expected that strange "ee--eee" sound hysterical girls make when spotting this week's pop star to stream from her lips, but, mercifully, she just grinned like a psycho.

Pietr gazed at her with a look you'd expect from a doting sitcom dad. Then he turned his strange eyes to me. "Where do you sit?"

"With my friends." I couldn’t imagine such a phrase would attract more trouble, but it seemed I had a magnetic personality in just this one way.

"Excellent," he said softly. "I would like to meet them."

"Our table is normally full," I countered. It was true. Most days I had trouble finding a seat if I was running behind.

He smiled and I felt the girls around him try to set me on fire with their eyes. “Has today been normal for you?"

"No," I crinkled his schedule in my hands. As much as I didn't care for his attitude, I realized there was something — indefinable about him.

I caught a glimpse of Derek as he sauntered by with his fellow members of the football team. He shot me a look that made my heart stop. But I still couldn't interpret it! Maybe that was the key to a crush — you had it but you never understood it.

Pietr slipped the schedule out of my hand, his fingers touching mine and jarring me out of my speculation. My hand tingled where he'd touched it, the same way it had tingled after I accepted the dare to touch the Monroe's electric fence one wet spring day. I never thought the touch of another person could make the nerves jangle and dance beneath my skin. It was like I had slept the last four months away and now, suddenly, I was waking up.