Revised/edit: completion/uploaded - May 23, 2008

Chapter one

"It wasn't my fault."

"I saw you with my own eyes, Cassidy. Are you calling me a liar?"

Patience was almost nonexistent to me. Incessantly, I explained to him what really happened and how he came to walk in on me at a (very) bad moment. I mean, was it really that putrid to see my fist connecting with someone's eye?

Oh, who was I kidding? Of course it was.

"No." I gritted the word out from sheer will. "I am not calling you a liar, sir. What I'm trying to say is that…." I paused, floundering for words.


He was doing this on purpose. I bet my lifesavings that he enjoyed getting a rise out of his students.

"I apologize for my actions," I said at last. I somehow stopped myself from twitching. "I will refrain from punching someone whenever I feel the need to." Ooh. The sarcasm was automatic, I swear.

The aged man eyed me. The cherry wood desk separated us as I sat directly in front of him. The office was spacious, and I knew without looking to my right that the wall had at least twenty frames holding his certificates. A green plant was at the far left corner to my back and behind him was his wall bookshelf.

I, honestly, found it extremely sad that I had this place memorized.

"You have been sent down far too much, Cassidy. I don't understand why you enjoy getting into trouble."

"You think I like being yelled at in front of the class?"

"Well, from how you've began your senior year, I suppose that assumption would be correct."

I gaped. It was only a few heartbeats later I caught the quiver to his lips. Peering at him with a frown, I gasped in sudden realization.

"You're enjoying this aren't you?" I demanded.

"Not as much as you think I am," he admitted with a grin. "I let you off with multiple warnings before. I think it's time to have a little chat with your parents."

"No," I blurted before I even knew what I was going to say. But really, he can't call my parents. I'm always practically in tears by the time Mom finishes with one of her lectures. She knew exactly how to push your buttons. "How about we compromise?" I said reasonably.

He looked at me. "I'm listening."

I stared at him, racking my brain for something—anything!—useful.


My gaze was blank as he cackled insanely. His cheeks were turning cherry red, I noted, impatiently waiting for him to stop dying so I can stop feeling like a moron. I didn't even notice my eyebrow twitch as he slapped his hand on his knee.

Jeez, I did not say anything amusing.

"May I ask what on earth is so funny?"

He continued chortling, "You should've seen—your face!"

Oh. Well. Fine, that made me feel better. He was laughing at my face.

"I swear, you're too strait-laced." He smiled, his eyes alight with humour. "You should come down more often." He paused delicately. "Visiting."

"That was a wonderful subtle hint there, sir." I shook my head, amused. "All right, I'll stop unleashing my fist on my fellow classmates. I promise."

"Last chance," he warned. "I'm taking your word for it. You're lucky I like you, or else you would've been suspended long ago."

I was halfway through the door when he called my name.

His voice was casual. "By the way, you have detention after school. I'm supervising so I better see you. Or else," he said meaningfully.

It was understandable, if not considerate. I mean, I was initially supposed to be suspended, but thankfully, he spared me. Even though I was thinking it, I still couldn't stop myself from exaggerating a scoff/sigh.

The hallways were empty when I twisted the door to the main office and stepped onto the tiled flooring. My hand was burning from its earlier excitement and I belatedly decided that I should run it under hot water.

"Well if it isn't Cassidy Summer." The voice was supercilious and very familiar that I had to turn around.

My teeth flashed. "Kari Lendrez."

The brunette held a tube of clear lip-gloss in her hand and she began to apply it in front of the washroom's mirror. I felt the lower part of my back stiffen whenever I was in her presence, but other than that, my demeanour was nonchalant. I tried to stop myself from shuffling.

God, how can she thicken atmosphere in a room just by her presence alone?

"How was your summer?"

Her voice was too casual. I looked at her sharply from the corner of my eye but I tried to keep my answer on calm tones.

"It was hot."

No one said I had to be a conversationalist.

She flipped her long brown hair from her shoulder and turned to me. "I was at Hawaii, visiting my cousins. You could not imagine the heat. But I got a gorgeous tan, can't you tell?"

I stared at her perfectly tanned face. What was the difference? She always looked like that. My eyes snagged her eyes and I saw her left eyebrow raised slightly, as if challenging me. Her expression mirrored my own, I knew. It's always been like this, trying to outsmart the other; trying to provoke the other so we had a legible reason to strike like a snake.

"Oh yeah," I drawled. Fine, I'll take the bait. "You'll always have a guy in your room when your boyfriend's gone. Has he suspected?" My voice was angelic, but my smirk was not.

Her eyes hardened at once at the mention of her boyfriend. I knew that was a touchy area for her during one of our preceding arguments. It's all about trial and error, baby. "What're you trying to say, Summer?"

"What do you think I'm saying?"

"I think you're implying that I'm a slut." Her jaw worked. If there was one thing about Kari that I knew for sure, calling her a slut was a giant no-no. The last girl that called her a slut ended up with a broken nose and hairless patches on her head. She transferred two days later.

But you know me; I'm a rebel and all.

"Is that a guilty conscience I'm sensing?"

As soon as those words were out of my mouth, I saw her blurred figure headed for me. With my heart pounding, I dodged right in time. She was snarling at me.

Why does she look good doing even that? I thought distractedly as I tried to watch myself and keep her and her vicious talons away from my flesh.

I had a horrible moment where I imagined my eyes gouged out by her fingernails.

Oh, my God. "Wait!" I exclaimed unintentionally. She was glaring at me, her eyes locked into a furious gaze. My eyes cautiously slipped to her perfectly manicured nails (why were they so long?) before my eyes found her face. "Um…"


My gaze was blank. Why did I say that, anyway? I scratched the back of my head sheepishly before flashing a bright smile. Her glare faltered and her eyebrow quirked. This was somewhat amusing, in a what-the-hell-is-going-on kind of way. I have managed to confuse her yet again!

"It's nothing, really." My voice was pleasant as I grabbed paper towels to dry my hands. "Ta!"

I could almost see her fuming. She hated it when I bid her farewell like that. She once claimed I was "mocking" her since I happened to die of laughter when she said that to me before and turned around, only to smack right into a pole. Of course, I would never mock her. Never.

Okay, maybe once in a while.

I had a right to, undoubtedly. I had a right, I amended, but that doesn't mean I abuse it. You'll notice how she'll always be coming up to me randomly when I'm having a good or bad day (she's not picky) and start poking at me like I'm some dead animal on a sidewalk.

Despite everything she has done, I felt nothing but amusement (and the occasional annoyance) towards her. I've seen her with other people and if I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would never believe it. She was nice to everyone, friend or not.

Those two categories don't include me, if you failed to realize.

I still remember our first encounter. It was a sunny day in August and ninth graders attending Highland Academy populated the green field. I was in the midst, getting lost between unknown bodies. Sadly, I knew no one at that moment. I recognized mostly everyone to come from the higher class of society, their parents owning chains of hotels, banks, their own business, and the like.

Kari Lendrez was the first to speak to me. I had been standing off to the side under a tree as I waited for the orientation to begin. My face was carefully passive and disinterested as I tried to fake the fact that I was calm and not inwardly freaking out. I mean, come on. Rich kids with their designer clothing and words that involved how rich they were and how much allowance they received, surrounded me.

If I knew I was coming to this then I would not have begged my parents to attend this prestigious school. The only real reason I'd wanted to attend was the fact that I heard the education methods were outstanding, not to mention the extra praises from a close family friend who once was a student here didn't hurt.

"Hi! I'm Kari, what's your name?"

Startled, I remember nearly falling over after I bumped into the tree behind me. "Cassidy Summer," I'd groaned before straightening and flashed a polite smile. Looking at her, my smile had faltered just a fraction. She was exceedingly pretty. I felt like dung just standing in front of her.

I hesitantly swapped words with her as she had no problem chatting. My initial thought was that she was pulling a prank on me, but I saw her genuine smile and thought, maybe she's actually nice. Just as I was warming up to the conversation, a group of boys nearing caught my eye.

They were tall for our age, but nicely built. Kari noticed my silence and turned around and greeted them all by name. I felt their raking eyes and I could practically hear their thoughts. She's not hot.

Fortunately (note my sarcasm), they were distracted by someone else who'd walked by. It felt as if a cold bucket of water made its way down my back. I knew that he was their target. The gawky boy had braces, thick glasses, and he looked lost. Why pass up a good opportunity, right?

God, I can almost remember the fury pumping through my veins when a dark haired boy from the group not so discreetly snorted and made some lame joke that had everyone else laughing as if it was the funniest sentence they've ever heard. Kari giggled awkwardly, her eyes darting back and forth from the boy to her friends, before half-heartedly reprimanding them.

"What's your name?" the dark-haired boy sneered unfriendly, yanking him back when he tried to slip away. I cringed to myself, inwardly praying that the boy would do something—anything—to stop his humiliation.

Yeah, it was wishful thinking. They mocked him, doubling over in laughter when a blond boy imitated the boy's lisp when he tried to excuse himself. I had looked at Kari imploringly. They were friends right? Couldn't she see that this was wrong?

But she just stared straight ahead, blank faced, and only smiled when her "friends" looked at her with a huge grin.

Before I knew what I was doing, I'd marched in front of the smaller boy with my perfectly practiced death glare that made my unique eye colour more prominent. I was pissed.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I asked, emphasizing every other word in case they've mysteriously grown deaf. They stopped talking, but the chortle was there, and I saw the challenge rising in their eyes. They were male, naturally. They'd never have a girl tell them off.

"Just who the hell are you?" an arrogant voice drawled. He obviously thought that he was the sexiest piece of ass that's ever walked on the planet.

"I'm Cassidy Summer." I really had nothing to lose, besides the chance at a social life in this school. But did I care? I cared a little, maybe. It was my first real school. Now I was ruining that chance by standing up for something I knew that was wrong.

"Do we care?" another one snarled.

"You apparently care since your friend asked." I had rolled my eyes at them then, making sure they saw. I saw their furious faces, and some were even cussing me off. I ignored their lame insults. "I don't understand why you're picking on him just because he actually has brain cells floating in his head, opposed to yours. So why don't you just run along and pick on someone else who has the same level of stupidity that you all contain, got that?" I sneered before whirling around and yanked the smaller boy after me.

I saw Kari's bewildered expression before they left my line of vision.

After that, the first day of school rolled around. The details are blurry, but Kari seemed to have remembered our last encounter because she was awkward and cautious around me, as if she was trying to ignore my presence. But at the same time, she was friendly and warm. Did that even make sense?

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I roused myself from the trip down memory lane. Thinking about previous friendships made me exhausted. I've went over it a thousand times, but every time we spoke, she just grew more distant. I noticed, of course, so instead of frying my pride, I allowed her to act cold and ignore me whenever I walked around a corner. That is, until I had enough.

I confronted her and demanded what her problem was. I was never one for tiptoeing around a problem that got on my back. Instead of the calm conversation that I was expecting, she abruptly snapped, telling me to mind my own business.

We've been treading shallow waters ever since.

"It still wasn't a proper answer," I muttered under my breath, shaking myself out of my reverie. I shook my head rapidly—and abruptly knocked into the door, my head pounding from impact.

Oh yeah. Life was beautiful.

"So? How was it?"

Startled, I wrenched my eyes from my book and saw Amy Duran bouncing towards me with a smile on her face. I morphed my expression that clearly said what-do-you-think as she sat down, her enthusiastic eyes on my blank ones. Okay, now picture two people staring at each other, faces mirroring the opposite emotion, the difference in physical appearance patently obvious…

Yeah. Look for that in a crowd and you'll know it's us.

Amy chucked. I gave her a scrunched up amused slash odd look. "How was it?" Her voice was interested.

She meant the meeting with the principal. Here, I gave a wince and glared over the table. "You're not supposed to remind me about my darkest hour."

"Sorry." She, clearly, was not. "Well?"

Amy was a gossip-whore. She lived off the rumour mill, knowing every dirty secret each one of the students within Highland Academy is "hiding". I inwardly debated many times before whether I should ask her how—exactly—she knew what she does.

But I'd rather not risk it. Ignorance is bliss, am I correct?

"Detention," I reported. "I'm lucky, I guess."

She made a face. "He's putty in your hands, Summer. You can get away with murder! …Okay, maybe not murder, but practically anything."

I bopped my head, grinning. "I gave him cake once, 'member? I'm in his good books forever, baby. I consider that a pretty sweet thing."

"Don't abuse the privilege." Her mock scolding look was not for her face. I burst out laughing right at her, feeling my sides hurt. She pulled away, offended. Half a second later, she surrendered into giggles.

Amy Duran happened to be my closest friend. We're quite the opposite, I admit, but that hasn't been a problem. In fact, I'm pretty sure we strengthen each other's weaknesses. With her cheery and socially inclined personality, I've managed to slightly step out of my anti-social behaviour occasionally. (However, that was only when I felt like it.) With my, um, in-depth knowledge on… mathematics, I helped her bump her grade from a 58 to a 84. Schweet, was it not?

For five minutes the table was silent. I had a routine going with reading a page from my book and taking a bite from my sandwich on the table. I'm engrossed, okay. Stop staring at me like that.

"Huh," Amy mused from in front of me. I looked up from my book, giving her an inquisitive look, in which she shrugged. "Did you hear?"

Um, no. She had a talent for reading my thoughts due to my facial expression and accepted this one without complaint.

"It's been going around the school like wildfire!" she abruptly exclaimed. OK, maybe I lied about the 'without complaint' bit. "How can you not hear?"

Does she have… what, selective memory? "The principal's office, my dear," I reminded.

"Oh. Right. Anyway," she said, continuing breezily.

Shaking my head, I chuckled amusedly, turning my attention back to my precious book. Amy tends to speak about nothing in particular and I have learned (with a lot of practice) to tune her out; but at the same time catch bits and pieces of her conversation so she thinks I am listening. OK, it's not very nice, but it works. I mean, do you really want to hear a conversation (for two freakin' HOURS) on why the sky is blue?

I didn't think so.

" . . . I hear we're getting a new student and they're supposed to be . . ."

Hearing this, I barely stopped myself from either a) rolling my eyes, or b) gagging in disgust. Highland Academy was a prestigious school, only accepting the best of the best (how I got in, was a different story for a different moment). Students were always blabbing about how amazing and well known this student and that student was.

It's the beginning of the school year, for crap's sake. It shouldn't be that big of a deal.

". . . excited since he's really special . . ."

I distractedly took a drink out of my water bottle as I read the lines of my book.

". . . a bit late but I hear he's coming tomorrow and . . ."

My eyes roamed over the words.

Annabelle glanced at him, shocked, and took a step backwards. This was insane. She took in a shaky breath as she felt something numb spread in her chest. She raised her eyes to meet his . . .

OK, before you start pointing fingers, claiming that I am a complete fraud, I'll have you know that me, and half—all right, three-quarters—of the female population are closet romantics. Let me stretch the closet there, fellow readers. Amy has absolutely no idea of my intense love for romantic literature.

Let's keep it that way, yeah?

I took another gulp of my water, half-aware of Amy still rambling, though unaware of the whispers in the cafeteria increasing tenfold.

. . . and opened her mouth to speak. "You have what?" she asked with difficulty, not wanting to believe what he said.

(Oh, for crap's sake, what is it?)

He looked at her for a moment before tearing his gaze from her pleading eyes. He couldn't look at her with that broken expression on her face, knowing he was the one who caused it.

"I have cancer," he whispered.

I spat my water.


"I KNOW!" Amy's voice suddenly came out of no where enthusiastically. Then it lowered, "Um, Cassidy… you kind of spit on your food…"

I ignored her as my eyes furiously began to read the text over again. What the hell? How the hell can he have cancer?

"Um, anyway," Amy said, shooting me a weird look. But it's not like I noticed. OK, I had my moments, and this was definitely one of them. Now, just picture a black haired girl, gripping a thick novel as if it was her lifeline. Now add the movement of her eyes darting quickly back and forth.

When I read, I develop a… connection with the characters.

(Quit laughing and shut up. Listen to me! It's true.)

You cannot imagine what Annabelle is feeling, OK. You just can't.

"I heard it from Bernice in my math class, who heard it from Sarah, who heard it from Kari whose friends with Nicoletta, that dated him. . ."

. . . Her world broke. She took a step backwards as she tried to digest this information. Something rose in her chest that made it hard for her to breathe. "When . . . when did you find out?" she breathed, trying to control her breathing.

He looked away. "Two years ago."

I nearly choked. "WHAT THE HELL?" I practically yelled.

Amy nodded furiously. "I know. Can you believe it? I mean, at first I was like, okaay . . . whatever. . ."

"Two years?" she repeated, feeling all air leave her lungs. She wanted to die. "You've known for two years and . . . and . . .," she sputtered, unable to produce words. She breathed in heavily, trying to control the pain in her chest. "And you still insisted on being with me? Knowing that you'll… you'll end up leaving me anyway?" she choked out.

I groaned. "No . . ."

Amy looked at me sympathetically. "I know, Cassidy. But it won't be that bad." She gave an experimental laugh. "I mean, what are the chances that he's the one that you know?"

"I had to," he whispered, stepping forward. She glared at him, feeling herself torn. She wanted to run and hide, but at the same time, she wanted to hold onto him tightly, never to let go.

"Why?" she demanded fiercely instead. "You could've saved yourself and… and lived! Instead of… of having me hold you back" she choked out before breaking down into a heap of sobs.

I had to stop myself from banging the table in utter agony. I gripped the book tighter, noting my knuckles turn white. "That's not fair," I strangled. "What the hell—and he knew this?"

Amy touched my arm from over the table. "Shhh . . . Cassidy," she said, her voice stiff, her eyes over my head. "I don't think you should announce your hatred too loud. I might've been wrong about him coming tomorrow."

". . . I had to," he repeated himself, softly. "I had to . . ."

She looked up at him through tears. "Why?" she whispered again, voice broken.

"Because I've always loved you."

I stared at that line, feeling my eyes widen. I took a deep breath.

"Now, Cassidy," Amy said, a little nervously. "I know you're mad, but…"

I squealed.

Amy cut herself off as she stared at me.

OK, I admit that the squealing part was out of nowhere. But you have to understand how immensely adorable that line was. You cannot lie. Ergo, I squealed to myself, very unaware of the silence of the cafeteria, unaware of Amy's wide eyes and open mouth, unaware of everyone looking at me as if I'm some kind of freak, and unaware of the person right behind me…

Yeah. That was my fault, I know.

"Damn, Cassidy," a voice said from directly behind me. "I never would've guessed for you to be the enthusiastic type."

I froze instantly.

My eyes opened very slowly, feeling my heart pound hard against my ribcage. I locked gazes with Amy who was looking at me, wide eyed, before darting to something—someone—behind me.

Something crawled down my back and gripped my spine tightly. I had a dreadful feeling I knew who it was, but hoped against hope that I was dead wrong. I was suddenly aware of the silence in the cafeteria. I sucked in a quiet breath as I turned around to look at what caught everyone's attention.

My eyes met brown twinkling orbs and my world froze.

Oh, hell…

"It's been a while," he greeted, his voice practically dripping with charm (I knew better, of course). I could not move. I, literally, could not move a muscle. Then, a smirk tugged his lips when I didn't say anything. "What's wrong, my Belle?" he teased. My heart lurched to my throat at that unfamiliar though familiar nickname. "Didn't you miss me?"

Then everything clicked.

Crap. Oh freakin' crap. Please tell me I'm dreaming.

Taking a deep breath, I raised my eyes to meet his. "Dante," I greeted, my voice strained.

His smile was a cross between a smirk and a charming half-grin. "Cassidy Belle."

I resisted the urge to close my eyes in agony.

No, this was real…