Seeing the Forest

Chapter 1: Late

Today is my birthday: August 27th. That makes me a Virgo, if you're into all that junk about zodiac signs and what they say about you. I've looked it up online. Virgos are supposed to be reliable, practical, and intelligent.

I can't think of a worse description for myself.

Somehow I doubt that anyone will have remembered that it's my birthday. My own da doesn't even remember. I hung around the kitchen this morning for much longer than necessary, seeing if by some stroke of brilliant memory he would realize that it was his little girl's birthday. "Do you know what the date is, da?" I had asked him, pretending to fuss with my hair in the reflective surface of the microwave as he had eaten the scrambled eggs and toast I'd made him, something I do every morning. "Oh, the 27th, I believe," he'd responded absentmindedly, yawning and ruffling the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle. I wonder if my mom will call tonight.

Today is also the first day of school. All the windows in my car are rolled down, and a refreshing wind whips loudly through the vehicle, drowning out the music on the radio.

Matthias High School is in a state of typical first day chaos. Our administration is appallingly unorganized. The first person to greet me as I wander onto the campus is Melanie. She does her typical little scream, hey oh my god you look great where did you get those shoes thing, and hugs me tightly. She smells like a new perfume, kind of flowery.

"Nordstrom's," I reply in answer to her question, unconsciously tossing my head back a little to get my bangs out of my eyes. They're getting long again.

"Nice," Mel says approvingly. She's completely stylish, as usual. She's wearing a white Ralph Lauren polo, vintage jeans that look like they're from Abercrombie, and flip-flops. Her raven black hair hangs long and straight down her back, and a pair of rhinestone studded Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses is perched on top of her head. "How were your last two weeks of break? You didn't call."

"I know, I'm sorry," I say, "I went back east to visit some family. How 'bout you?"

"I had fun," she chirps happily, "Sandy and I went to this pool party at Amanda Coleman's. There were these guys from St. Giorgio's. St. Giorgio's, Meg! They were so incredibly –"

" – hot, remember that blonde?" Sandy has arrived, jumping into the conversation readily.

"Hey!" Mel cries, and the two hug.

"Hey Meg, I missed you!" Sandy says, hugging me as well.

"Yeah," I say. "Missed you too."

Now that Sandy has arrived, she and Mel start chattering away. It's usually like this. They talk, and I listen on the side. Occasionally they ask me for my opinion. It's really best to just agree, whatever the topic is (for the record, it's usually fashion or guys).

The rest of our group slowly starts to show up: Tori, Sarah, Denise, and the guys – Marcus, Bobby, Phil…and Michael. I feel my pulse quicken when he shows up, and I pretend not to notice when he glances at me every couple of minutes, but I'm looking at him too, out of the corner of my eye. I can't help it. It's this kind of self-destructive behavior that gets me in trouble. But he looks good. He's gotten a haircut, and that must be a new shirt –

No. Stop.

I'm not looking at Michael Morrison. I'm not. I'm engaged in conversation with Sarah. Honest, I am.

"Uh-huh," I say as Sarah talks about…um, wait…oh, the last date she had with her new boyfriend. Sarah's really very nice. Not the smartest gal, but I suppose that's not her fault. But she is nice, which really counts for something these days, if you think about it, so I always feel a little guilty that I get bored so easily while listening to her talk. I sneak a look around our group. Everyone is here, except for one. Where's Kenny?

That seems to be what everyone else is wondering too. Eyes are wandering around the courtyard, straying to the entrance closest to the student parking lot. Kenny is the alpha male – we aren't complete without him; a party isn't grooving unless he's there; everyone's nervous when he's pissed (which isn't often, luckily). He still hasn't shown up when the bell rings, and we all wander off to our first class of the year reluctantly. I've got a free period, so I go to the school library to read.

The morning passes uneventfully. The first day of school is never particularly interesting. At brunch time, I'm starving, and buy an apple from the cafeteria. I'm so absorbed in eating as I walk to my next class that I suddenly find, in the middle of E hall, that I've gone and tripped over something. I catch myself in time though, and save myself from an embarrassing fall.

Turns out I've tripped over a book. A little girl is on the ground, frantically trying to pick up all her stuff while everyone sidesteps her. No one stops. I swiftly kneel down next to her and help. I pick up a binder, a text book, and a book that she is obviously reading for pleasure that's called The Playmaker, and wonder if it's a good book. I offer her a very small smile as I hand her back her stuff.

She's tiny. Her bright red hair is crazy curly, and pulled into a bouncy ponytail that seems to defy gravity. She's so cute. "Thanks for the help," she says, obviously flustered. Her voice is kind of squeaky.

"Anytime." I turn to leave, because I have to get to Stats class, but I feel a tug on my elbow.

"Can…can you help me? I don't know where the C hall is," she says shyly.

"Out that door," I tell her, pointing at the end of the hall, "Turn right. It's across the courtyard."

"Thanks," she says again, with a quick, nervous kind of smile, and scurries toward the end of the hall. I have to hurry too, otherwise I'll be late. The hallway is emptying rapidly. I dump my apple core in a trash can and am about to walk off when someone else touches my elbow, stopping me.

He's tall, well-dressed, and has messy black hair. But the thing I notice first is that his eyes are a color I have never seen before – they're black, but an odd, shimmering kind of black. Almost like a raven's feathers, with a sheen of dark purple.

"I was wondering if you could give me directions too," he says, with a lopsided, friendly sort of grin.

I'm still shocked by his eyes; his sentence takes me a moment to process, and so my response is a tad delayed. "Sure," I finally say. I feel like I'm staring at him, so I look instead at the class schedule in his hand.

"F-225? I haven't seen an F hall around," he says. His voice is smooth and confident despite the fact that he's asking for help. "I don't even know what this hall is."

"This hall technically has no name," I reply. "But we call it E hall; F is the one upstairs." I pause, and realize that I'm going there too. Would it be rude to leave him to his own devices when we're going the same way? It would be. "I'm going there…if you want me to walk you," I say halfheartedly.

"That'd be great," he says as we start walking. He pauses for a beat. "I'm Lee," he offers.

"I'm Meg," I say.

"Nice to meet you." He sticks out a hand, and I shake it, which is kind of awkward considering we're currently going up the stairs. "Are you a senior?"

"Nope, I'm a freshman," I say.

He stares at me for a moment, then bursts out laughing. Some girls turn around to look at him, and one of them puts a flirtatious smile on her face and tries to catch his eye, but he doesn't notice.

I have no idea how or why that slipped out of my mouth. "Sorry," I now say, embarrassed, positive that he's laughing at me and not because he thinks what I've just said is tremendously humorous and charming. Why do I always do this? I'm so terrible around boys. "That was really lame," I admit, trying to rectify the situation. I can feel my cheeks growing warm with humiliation. "I'm a senior. Are you?"

"Yeah," he nods, still smiling. "What class do you have now?" he asks conversationally.

Usually I don't like answering questions from random strangers, but he's glancing at me sideways in a way that's so friendly that I think brushing him off would be akin to committing capital offense. So I answer.

"Stats. You?"

"History." He seems like he's about to say something else, but we've reached his class.

"This is you," I say quickly, hot to make my escape.

"Thanks, Meg the freshman," he says. His eyes are sparkling.

"Anytime," I say, even more embarrassed now, though I try not to show it.

His hand kind of brushes mine on accident as some guy roughly pushes past me into the classroom. "I'll see you around," he says, and disappears into his classroom too.

I am late to Stats class.


I am late to lunch too. There is a problem with my schedule and my counselor calls me into her office five minutes before lunch. I'm squirming in my seat the whole time I'm in there, as she checks and double checks some things. I have to use the bathroom. Badly. I drank a whole bottle of water during Stats. My counselor tells me I have to switch my English and History periods, which are both in the afternoon. I tell her it's fine by me, but she triple checks some other stuff before I can go.

I rush to the bathroom, then make my way back to my locker to grab my lunch at a more leisurely pace. The cafeteria is packed when I walk in. The table I sit at is at the far side. It's a very exclusive lunch table. I don't take pride in that. I never get to eat lunch with new people.

Mel and Sandy have saved me a seat between them.

"Where've you been?" Tori asks. She's already almost done with her salad.

"Counselor's office. Scheduling problems," I explain. I glance around the table. Kenny's at the other end, and is talking to Phil about something. He looks up and spots me, a huge grin spreading across his handsome face.

"Meg!" he says enthusiastically. He jumps up from his seat, and I get up too, even though I've just sat down. I meet him halfway as he pulls me into a hug. I love getting hugs from him because he's so tall, and it's easy to get wrapped up in him.

"Hey Ken-boy," I smile. It's the first real smile I've given all day. "How are you?"

"Good," he chuckles, his eyes twinkling. I have the perfect description for the color of his eyes: they are exactly cafe con leche warm brown. "It's good to see you again. How was going back east?"

"Same old," I reply. "I got a tan. That's about it."

"I can see that," he laughs. "Hey, there's someone you have to meet," he says, steering me towards the other end of the table, where he was sitting. "Everyone else has already met him. Meg, this is Lee Summerfield. He's new here, just moved up from LA. He's damn good at basketball. We tried out together over the summer."

I think my voice is stuck. I can feel my cheeks flushing yet again as twinkling black eyes regard me amusedly.

Kenny carries on with the introduction. "Lee, this is Meg Calander."

"Nice to meet you, Meg," Lee Summerfield drawls, smirking.

"Likewise," I say faintly. I wish I could come up with a witty remark, but that's about the best I can do. Pathetic.

"Go eat," Kenny urges, poking me in the side.

"Meg," Sandy hisses a few minutes later, after I've started in on my turkey sandwich, sitting in my seat with my body angled away from the other half of the table.

"What?" I say with my mouth full.

"Is he hot or what?" Mel whispers. She swoons a little.

"What." That's always my answer to these types of questions. "Who?" I ask, swallowing.

"Lee," Sandy murmurs in an 'of course' sort of voice. She's looking down the table at him in a very conspicuous way. Not subtle, our Sandy.

I glance over at Lee, who has finished eating. He's sitting next to Kenny. The rest of the guys are talking animatedly about something, and his expression is amused as he sits quietly, listening to them. He's not exactly…hot, per se. But there's something about him. Maybe it's the shocking, attention-catching eyes. Maybe it's the way he carries himself, the quiet confidence he exudes. His features are kind of rugged; his jaw line is a formidable angle. He's not beautiful in the refined way Kenny is, but he's attractive, no mistake about it.

"Well?" Sandy and Mel demand in unison.

I shrug, taking another bite of my sandwich. "Sure," I say softly. I glance at him again. This time, he's looking back at me, and his eyebrow arches up a fraction. His lips twitch slightly. I look away quickly. "Have you talked to him yet?" I ask, in an even softer voice. I don't want anyone overhearing me.

"Not yet," Sandy sighs wistfully.

"We will soon. Right after lunch," Mel says firmly.

"Mmm," I say vaguely, continuing with my sandwich. Once I'm full, I wrap up the remainder of my lunch, and realize suddenly that I'm unconsciously humming the birthday march very quietly to myself, and stop.

"What was that, Meg?" Melanie asks absently. She's checking her makeup in her compact mirror.

"Nothing," I mutter. I brush my bangs out of my face. Maybe I should trim them during English class, if it gets boring enough. I sit quietly for the rest of lunch as the girls chat.

Right after lunch, the girls virtually ambush Summerfield, all of them vying for his attention and walking him to class. Typical. Happens every time a new good-looking guy shows up on campus. It's happened before.

I notice that Kenny hangs back from the rest of the guys, and waits for me.

"Hey Meg," he smiles as he falls into step with me.

"Hey Kenny," I reply, glad that instead of walking with his buddies, today he chooses to walk with me. "What's up?"

"Actually, I have something for you," he says, reaching into his pocket. He takes out a small box.

Does he remember? What else could it be for? I open it. Inside is a pair of sparkling peridot stud earrings.

"Wow, Kenny, thanks," I whisper, stopping right where we are to give him a big hug. People grumble as they are forced to step around us, but I don't care. "Thank you so much. You're the best."

"You're very welcome. You know me, stunningly good-looking and sweet," he winks.

I grin. "Of course."

"So, Meg, what's today anyway?" he asks in a fake thoughtful tone.

"Oh, I don't know," I say, playing along. "Monday?"

"Happy 17th, honey," he smiles warmly.

I drag him over to one of the tables closest to the exit of the cafeteria. "I'm going to put these on right now," I announce.

"What? No, you don't have to do that." He looks slightly alarmed, for some reason his eyes fixated on my shirt.

"Aww, is Ken-boy being modest now?" I tease as I slip them on.

"They don't match with your outfit today," he says, scratching the back of his neck bashfully, but he looks really pleased.

"I don't care," I declare proudly, and he grins. "No one else remembered," I say softly as we start walking back to class. "So thank you."

"Anytime," he says.

We make small talk, and Kenny walks me to my English class, tells me happy birthday again, and we part ways.


A/n: Hey everyone! I have returned, after a very long absence, I know. This is a chapter I've had written up for a very long time. I don't have a perfectly clear idea of where it's going, but we shall see, won't we? :)