Chapter One

S

This is the year it's all going to change.

The year when some popular guy will fall for my fiery personality. The year when one of the rebels will realise that only my innocence and kind-heartedness can redeem his life of crime and bad attendance records. The year when one of the nerds might admire me from afar, eventually his love for me making him realise that there are some things that can't be learnt from books. Somehow this love will also improve his eyesight, ending his need for glasses.

Go figure.

It's also highly likely that along the way I become the prettiest girl in school (just by changing my hairstyle), win prom queen (even though we don't have proms down here in Australia, just school formals) and teach my fellow classmates that it's what's on the inside that counts.

Yeah, right.

I mean, not only are the popular males in my school all arrogant jerks, but have you seen their hair? I swear they must only wash it once a year, and even then with soap. Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly a great beauty myself, but isn't cleanliness supposed to be next to godliness, or something? Or even just next to hygiene?

And the rebels aren't much better either. I can forgive them their love of screamo music with unintelligible lyrics (barely), but I'm not exactly a part of the drug-taking constantly inebriated crowd. Not my scene.

And as for making nerds realise there's more to life, well, I'm practically a nerd myself, so I don't see that cliché going anywhere. Rather than sharing a passion that burns with a greater intensity than the fire of a thousand suns, we'd probably just end up talking Latin origins of words, and essay structure.

Besides which, nothing ever happens to me. Seriously. I hate to sound like a whiny bitch, but my life is pretty ordinary. I do well in school, but I still manage to escape being mercilessly mocked by the popular crowd so I can't even claim to be victimised. I'm average height, have average hair (not too dull, not too shiny) and wear average clothing. I'm average niceness, and average bitchiness. I'm average.

It's not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, sometimes it's a blessing in disguise. It just means that nothing ever happens in my life.

The bell rings, signalling the start of day one, term one of Year Eleven. What is it with every coming-of-age story staring on the first-something of the first-whatever, anyway? I bet that day two, second semester feels pretty left out.

I make my through the crowded hallways, sidestepping students and on the look out for any new faces. I didn't even have to change schools to go to college, and all my friends are still here too. Apart from a few exceptions, my peer group remains the same as it ever was, a medley of uniformly clad students. Not that we have a uniform, or anything. It's just that whenever there's a new trend, people follow it, and everyone starts looking the same. It's kind of creepy, most of the time, as if the majority of the school joined some weird cult that promotes the wearing of gold belts too big for any belt loop, or jeans so tight they look as if they're painted on.

I make my way to the equivalent of roll call, except our school insists on calling it 'support group,' as if we all sit around and support each other. I am so sure.

Bethany waves as I enter the classroom, smirking. She's always smirking.

"Abigail," she says as I approach. "Don't you look nice this morning?" I look down at my outfit apprehensively, slightly alarmed and thinking that maybe I've somehow walked out of the house wearing aforementioned gold belt and paint-jeans.

Her brow furrows, and she sighs. "No, for once I wasn't being sarcastic." She actually looks mildly worried that I didn't pick up on this fact. "I really need to work on that whole 'sincerity' thing."

Meet Bethany, she's a bitch. In a good way, though. She doesn't take crap from anybody, and at least you can count on her to always tell you the truth. But as well as being a cynical, empty husk of a human being, she's also one of the most supportive friends you could ever get.

"Jasmine and Grace aren't here yet," she sighs, and I nod in agreement, because they aren't, and how can I argue with that?

Jasmine, Grace, Bethany and I all bonded at the start of high school when we had the luck to be placed as the only girls in a "support group" predominantly made up of hooting, drooling, generally uncouth males. Trust me, you have to bond quickly in this situation, especially when Mr Harper is there to be your support teacher. He once said that he didn't expect us girls to do as well throughout our schooling careers because we'd all be too obsessed with creating the most dramatic friendship groups we possibly could, seeing as how we were emotionally-needy females. He now says he was joking.

Whatever.

Jasmine is the beautiful, popular, extroverted one of our group. Everyone loves her; teachers, other girls, all the boys… Sometimes it's quite nauseating, and if she weren't so much fun to be around I'd be inclined to hate her on principal.

Grace is probably the most shy in our posse, but Bethany and Jasmine do well at respectively forcing and coaxing her out of her shell. The one word to describe Grace would be 'nice,' and I don't even mean that in a bad way. Nice is usually such a bland word, but she really is sickeningly sweet, always knitting scarfs for freezing children in Mongolia and helping tutor people who are failing Maths. She makes you want to protect her.

Speaking of. Jasmine and Grave both enter the classroom, giggling, and I can guess about what. Both of them are completely obsessed with…

"Boys!" Jasmine says in a stage whisper when she reaches us, leaning so that we're at eye-level. "Have you seen all the new boys?" Bethany and I exchange glances, and Grace giggles once more.

"No," I say warily, "Why?" It's a risky business asking Jas this. She could go on talking for hours.

"Because are lot of them are damn fine," she says grinning animally. "This one guy, Timothy? He's hot stuff."

"How do you know his name?" Bethany asks, ever practical. "Or this just another name you've invented so that you don't have to go around calling him 'the guy with the hair'?"

"No, no," Jas says, shaking her head. "This is definitely his name. I talked to him already." Ignoring our groans, she goes on. "Hey, I couldn't let a figure that lush get away."

There's a pause as she gives us time to let this statement sink in.

"Can you please never describe someone as 'lush' again?" I ask, "It's kind of gross."

Jasmine opens her mouth to reply, but is cut off as Mr. Harper enters the room. We all glare at him menacingly. Bethany, Jasmine and Grace haven't forgiven him for being a sexist pig in year seven, either.

"All right, ladies and gents, settle down now." As if us ladies are acting un-settled.

The same can't be said for the guys, though. I think being away from school for the holidays has killed whatever mental capacity they ever had, and now they can't tell the difference between the football field and the classroom. A football goes whizzing past my head.

What is it about guys and playing with their balls?

"Okay, okay now," Mr Harper booms. For a second I think he may actually be about to reprimand the guys and tell them to keep their energy for the sports field, but apparently I have too much faith in humanity. "I'm going to be handing out your classes now, and nice pass, Joel."

Joel grunts. How eloquent.

I take my slip of beige paper disinterestedly; I already know what all my classes are anyway. I handed in my class choice form so early it's just not humanly possible that I don't get the selection I wanted.

"Ooh," Jasmine says excitedly from beside me, "I got into Fashion Design."

"I got both Politics and Psychology," Bethany adds in.

"Grace?" I ask, and she smiles at me.

"A whole bunch of Maths." Bethany rolls her eyes, and Grace glares.

"Hey, not all of us can be a humanities-freak like you. What about you, Abi?"

Bethany rolls here eyes once more, and accompanies this gesture with a snort. "Need you even ask? It's a whole bunch of-"

"English," I quip, and all three of my friends feign being surprised. Hey, I can't help it if I'm a bit of a Grammar Nazi. And, as disgusting as it sounds, I actually enjoy doing essays.

Mr Harper has moved onto talking about the boys, and I catch phrases of conversation like 'support pyramid' and 'team spirit and strength.' God, you'd think they were a cheerleading team filled with hormonal girls. They must be pretty needy if they have to have a "support pyramid."

In any case, the lessons must be officially over, seeing as we're not getting any extra first day information. Maybe the teachers realised that hearing the same speech each year about "trying really hard" is getting old.

Grace is talking animatedly about how some jerk asked her how her holidays were, and how she thinks that maybe he might have a thing for her. Which, in Grace-speak, just means that she has a thing for him. I hate to sound mean, but it seems like some rule that everyone (teenyboppers and nerds alike) has to fall for the popular boy. It must be some instinctual, chemical thing to do with them being able to provide us weak women-folk with wild boar and mammoth, or something. But it's kind of a bad thing, because unless you are popular, you don't date popular. It's a law of nature, and I don't know why Einstein didn't include it in his laws of relativity.

"Eugh, that jerk," Bethany groans, voicing what I'm thinking. Grace looks mildly affronted, and purses her lips.

"Hey, he's not that bad. When we had to do that assignment together in year nine…"

"You mean when he made you do all the work?" Jasmine asks helpfully.

"Yes, well no, well yes, but…" Grace pauses looking flustered. "But he was really nice."

I lean over and pat her sympathetically on the shoulder.

"They all seem nice," I confide, imparting the only pearl of wisdom I have learnt all throughout my teenage years, "but men are really all animals." Bethany smirks, and Jasmine shakes her head.

"Not all men," she says forcefully, "That Timothy for example…"

Bethany's head banging against the desk is drowned out by the shrill whine of the bell. Looking down at my class choices for the first time to figure out what I have, I see that I was right in my assumption of getting everything I wanted. What do you know, sometimes it pays to be organised.

I have Chemistry then English. And then the rest of my day is taken up with other classes, just like the rest of my week will be. And I'm stuck in this building every day from 9 till 3.15, while outside the world will continue flourishing, and the grass will continue growing, and the sun will continue shining.

Hey, just because I'm a nerd doesn't mean I have to actually like school.

Oh, the joys of learning.

S

Chemistry of uneventful, as they never actually make you learn anything on the first day of school, thank goodness. The whole hour is spent with the teacher explaining how our assessment for the unit will work, and everyone in the class paying as little attention as they can get away with. And English is the same, though at least it's a nicer room. The science rooms are just lined with unappealing black benches and uncommonly high stools; at least English has normal desks, even if there isn't anyone I know in this class.

"Abigail Ryan?" the teacher calls, and I raise my hand slightly, and call back yes. The teacher nods my way, and continues marking the role. She's one of those new, hip, young modern teachers that there seem to be an influx of these days. What happened to all the old, crusty teachers I used to call my friends?

Well, not really. That'd be kind of creepy.

I'm startled out of my thinking by the teacher calling one name that I've already heard many a time this morning.

"Timothy Vector?" she says, and I look around in interest to see who answers. Could this be Jasmine's new object of desire?

"Present," comes a voice from beside me, and I turn to look at him. What a fluke.

He's good enough looking, I suppose, in a metrosexual, well-groomed sort of way. His hair is short and spiked, a nice change from the rest of the boys in my school, and he's wearing one of those hideously expensive polo shirts. I imagine that shirt alone could be the reason fashion-minded Jasmine has decided she's in love with him.

He must feel my eyes on his back, because he turns in his chair, and looks me straight in the eye, giving me a roguish wink.

Cough. Pretty boy. Cough.

The teacher had apparently finished taking the names of everyone in the class, because she now stands up the font and is waving her arms exuberantly for silence. I hope she's not going to make us play one of those 'name games.' This is college.

"Okay," Miss Sedley chirps, "I think we should all try and get to know each other a little better." She laughs, and the class groans. Already I have doubts about the merit of this teacher for a serious English-scholar like myself. I mean, come on. Who chirps?

"So, turn to the person next to you, and tell them your name and a little bit about yourself. Maybe you ride a green bike to school? Tell them whatever you want." I straighten up to look at the people either side of me, but find that Timothy is already staring expectantly at me. I give him a grimace in agreement.

"Hi," he begins, and from that one word alone I can tell that he's one of those charismatic extroverts who take joy from manipulating others and making them feel uncomfortable. I'm already determined to hate this guy. "My name's Timothy, but you can call me Tiger. And I'm gay."

Whoa. There's something I wasn't expecting. My eyes flicker to his quickly, and he definitely isn't joking. Apart from his light tone, his eyes are steely, and I almost sense a challenge in them.

"Oh," I say, "My friend Jasmine is going to be heart-broken." He looks at me in confusion for a moment, and the lets a grin break out across his face.

"Does Jasmine do Fashion Design? Did she have it just then?" I'm kind of shocked by the questions, and just shrug.

"Yeah, she does do it, but I don't know when. Why?"

"Oh," he laughs, "Because I just had Fashion Design with a girl called Jasmine who spoke to me this morning. I think she was trying to hit on me earlier but, well…" He gestured vaguely. "I think she realised I didn't swing that way after seeing me in a textiles class."

I laughed. Hating this guy was actually harder than I thought. Besides, the way he looked at me in a challenge after announcing he was gay made me think he hadn't exactly had good reactions in the past. And who was I to begrudge this guy a fresh start?

"Well," I continue, "I think she was probably very upset on the inside. You're the best dressed guy she's ever seen, I think."

He chuckled, and then shook his head. "Nah, she's not my type. Now you on the other hand." He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

"I thought you said you were gay," I accuse, and a devilish grin appears on his face, transforming the almost good-looking person in front of me to one that is devastatingly handsome.

"I am," he replies, and it takes me a second to realise the full implication of what he is saying.

"Hey!" I cry, "Bastard." He holds up his hands defensively, smiling, and I giggle.

I was right about this guy being a charmer, at least. Why are all the good ones gay?

"Anyway," he says, breathing out, "What about you?"

What about me? 'I'm average, a whiny bitch, good at school, have nice friends, and hate people who are extroverted just for the sake of it. Like you, "Tiger." But you're winning me over.' Though of course I don't say that.

"I'm Abigail, and, I don't know," I shrug, "I don't really like green bikes much."

Timothy/Tiger stares at me in shock for a second, and then bursts out into peals of laughter, far too loud in the relative quietness of the classroom.

He slings one arm over my shoulder, and wipes an imaginary tear from his eye, and sighs. "You know what, Abigail? You might be a pretty cool person after all."

Deciding to ditch my politically correct, modest, wet-towel impersonation for just a second, I click my tongue and roll my eyes.

"Duh."

S

Stepping into the school courtyard at recess, I feel ridiculously happy. It's twisted how joyful I can become just because a witty, attractive guy pays me the slightest bit of attention. Even if he is gay.

Oh, I know my place, and it's not like I'm going to start lusting after him. But Tiger (yes, I'll call him Tiger if I want) is the kind of charismatic guy that can make a girl feel wanted.

As I said, twisted. And sick.

I spot Grace, Jasmine and Bethany across the milling crowd of people, and start making my way towards them. Grace looks wistful, which is always a bad sign. She's a romantic, and so easily led on.

"Hey, Jasmine," I say as I approach, "Your lover boy Tiger is gay."

"Tiger?" she asks, sweeping her perfectly straight and smooth hair off her shoulder. Some people have all the genetic luck.

"Timothy," I clarify. She looks confused for a second more, and then comprehension dawns across her face.

"Oh, Timothy, I knew that," she says airily, dismissing the matter with a wave of her hand. "I've got my sights set on a new boy in my Australian History class, anyway."

I'm about to ask who, but she holds up a hand to stop me. "Not now, we have more important matter to attend to." Her hand transforms from a stop sign into an accusing pointer, and she directs this finger at Grace. "Grace in pining after the popular people again."

I look at Grace, eyebrows furrowed. She's always been more of a follower than the rest of us, just because she's so trusting and easily convinced.

At my expression, she pouts haughtily. "I'm not pining," she tries to assert, though not convincingly. "I was just saying how I wish I could be them because maybe then Jacob would talk to me more."

"Huh?" I ask, intelligently.

"Jacob," Grace repeats, as if I should know what she's talking about.

"That guy who she was pining after this morning," Bethany contributes. My "ooh" of understanding clashes with Graces fervent cries of "I was not pining!"

We all laugh good-naturedly, and even Grace can't help but smile sheepishly.

"I just really like him," Graces confesses, and Bethany and Jasmine break into some love song, I suppose with sung words similar to those Grace just spoke. I laugh and Grace tries to hush them, looking over at where Jacob-what's-his-name must be, as if she's afraid that our unconventional behaviour might ruin her chances.

I reach out to comfort her, but stop when I see Christopher approaching.

"Chris!" I yell, trying to be heard over the cacophony of noise that teenagers are bound to make. Somehow he manages to hear me, and turns around looking for the source of his name being called. When he sees me, his face breaks into a grin and he lopes over, drumsticks wedged into his back pocket.

Chris and I have been friends forever. Not only are our mothers friends through work, but we've attended the same schools our entire life and used to fight over who got to play with the red fire truck in pre-school.

We have history.

Not we hang out together at school, or anything, but we're still close friends.

"Hi Abigail," he says enthusiastically, sweeping his hair out his eyes, "What's up?"

I shrug in response, and have to bite my tongue not to say anything about his hair. I mean, it's only just shaggy, but I just don't get the appeal of wanting to look like a haven't-bathed-in-a-week rock star. Then again, that's what Chris wants to be, so I guess it's fair.

"You look nice," he says, gesturing vaguely at my clothing. I look down at myself for the second time that day, remembering Bethany's earlier slightly sarcastic comment. Have I got a huge stain on my shirt, or something, that everybody can see but me?

I glance back up at him, and glare. "You'd better not be joking." He laughs, and shakes his head.

"Anyway," I say, "Did you get into the classes you wanted?" And then he's off, talking animatedly about the two lessons he's had so far, bouncing on the soles of his converse-clad feet and waving his arms.

Watching Chris talk is really kind of hilarious.

Just then, Tiger appears next to him, and I raise my eyebrows in confusion.

"Hi Abi," Tiger says, smiling enigmatically, and smoothly interrupting Chris "What's up." I catch Chris glaring at him slightly, probably pissed off about being cut off.

"Um, Chris, this is Tiger," I say. "Tiger, this is Chris. Chris and I have been friends forever."

"And who's Tiger?" Chris asks me, still looking untrustingly at Timothy.

"Tiger is in Abi's English class," Tiger says, and then smiles at me again. I think he's actually doing it to annoy Chris, and I know it's just because Chris had such a bad initial reaction to him.

I can practically smell the testosterone emanating off them both. Please, shouldn't gay males be girlier, anyway?

"Well, it was nice talking to you," Tiger says, without actually talking to me at all, "I'll see you later." And with that he walks off to where it appears he has already formed a following of devoted females, all obviously art and fashion students.

I turn back to Chris, and he looks a little annoyed.

"Since when do you know that guy?"

"Since this morning," I laugh, surprised that the usual amiable Chris is acting so out of character. "Don't get all territorial on me, now."

Chris laughs, but it's short, and then he's back to looking at me again.

"And how come he calls you 'Abi'? Only your closest friends call you Abi."

I place a hand on his shoulder, and smile. "I don't know, I guess he's just comfortable with people, is all."

"Yeah, well, he seems a little too comfortable with you, if you know what I mean." His voice is light, but the scowl in back in place.

"Chris, he's gay," I say shortly. I hate it when he occasionally does this: the whole 'older brother' thing.

"Oh," Chris says. That seems to have put him in his place.

A group of his friends walk past, all with similar hairstyles, and call out his name. He turns around, and looks at them distractedly. He's not the classic jock, but Chris is pretty popular, in a "muso" kind of way. He and his band are pretty well known in the crap-music underage scene. Not that his band is bad, it's just that, well, they are a garage band.

"Just a second," he calls back to his friends, and then faces me once more, looking slightly ashamed.

"Uh, yeah. Sorry about being rude to your new friend Tigger, or whatever."

"Tiger," I correct, "And don't worry I think he was being a jerk too. Besides, I'm not that offended, I hardly even know him."

"Yeah, he was a bit of a jerk," Chris says, looking slightly better about himself.

"Chris," I warn, but he just laughs.

"Anyway, see you around," he says, backing away. I nod, and wave, and watch his retreating back, baggy jeans swinging with the weight of his drumsticks.

Men.

S

AN. I think my tenses are a little screwed, and I think I "tell" too much, with not enough "show." And the whole last bit where I introduce Chris is rushed. Constructive crit appreciated. And Abigail already freaks me out… Who enjoys writing essays? (Hehe.)