A/N: I wrote most of this during NaNoWriMo this year, and I'm just trying to finish it off now. Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view, except for "The Pack" chapters. Those are in third person and generally involve all the characters (what a surprise). Enjoy this first chapter!

The Pack

A drummer, a black belt, a complete band nerd, a bookworm, and an artist. Together they formed a group they called "The Pack," as in a family of wolves. They did everything together. During their freshmen year of high school, they had had every single academic class together, bonding them through the trials of tests, homework, and projects. They had become inseparable friends that year, and had stuck it out through the think and thin of the high school melodrama. They were so often at each other's houses that all their parents had become accustomed to either having all five of them, or none at all.

Jesse, the drummer, had a passion for dying her hair. Its natural color was a medium shade of brown, but it had at one point or another been every color from white-blonde, to black, to ocean blue. She envied the character Tonks from the Harry Potter series for her ability to change her hair color at will. Jesse's hair was currently dark brown with bubblegum pink streaks. Though her parents rather despised the ever-changing hues of their daughter's hair, they had long ago given up trying to stop her. They had on one occasion carried out their threat of shaving Jesse's head, but Jesse had simply passed it off as a new fetish of all things military – and dyed it forest green.

Michael, a second degree black belt, practically lived for taekwondo. When he wasn't training at the do jang, he was watching sparring videos on youtube. His grades often suffered because of this overwhelming martial arts priority. He knew how to break a leg or arm at least two different ways each. He could have an opponent pinned on the ground before they even realized what was coming. He knew how to knock someone out, have them curled up in a ball of pain, or make them plead for mercy. Michael knew these things, but would also never use them except in self-defense. Besides, his mere presence seemed to make most would-be brawlers think twice.

Taylor was addicted to band. He was constantly practicing his trombone or at a rehearsal for marching band, jazz band, wind ensemble, brass quartet, or his church's orchestra. Despite all this practicing, Taylor somehow managed to find time to keep up his grades and hang out with the rest of The Pack.

Mary always had her nose in a book. Like Jesse, she adored the Harry Potter series – she had read all the books at least twelve times – and one of her idols was Hermione Granger. She was, predictably, the smartest of the group, and forever helping Michael cram for tests and quizzes. She had taken more AP classes than the other four combined, and had something like a 4.3 GPA. Her room was practically plastered in stacks of books and manga. One of her favorite manga series, Wolf's Rain, along with Lindsey's complete obsession with wolves, was the inspiration for the pack's name.

Lindsey loved drawing more than anything. She was never without her sketchbook, pencils, and kneaded eraser. Her Christmas and birthday gifts to the rest of The Pack more often than not were charicatures or manga-esque portraits of them. She dreamed of going to an art college like Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD for short) and becoming a manga-ka, an author of the Japanese comics called manga that she and Mary so dearly loved.

Even though The Pack had highly differing agendas thanks to their various extracurricular activities, they always found time to hang out at least once a week, usually on Sundays. One of those Sundays, the day before the start of their senior year, The Pack sat scattered around Michael's room discussing various topics. Mary, flipping through the latest issue of Shojo Beat magazine, idly asked, "You guys think we'll have any classes together this year?"

"Well, seeing as you're taking AP Rocket Science and Calculus 12 or whatever it is, you probably won't be in any classes with the rest of us less intelligent creatures," Michael said as he bounced a blue rubber ball off his closet door.

"Greenbriar doesn't even offer AP Rocket Science," Mary calmly responded without looking up from her magazine. She was by far the most even-tempered of the group.

"So are you saying you would take that class if Greenbriar had it?" Michael asked in an almost accusatory tone.

"Rockets don't interest me," Mary replied in a very vague manner.

Jesse looked at her friend. "You remind me of Luna from Harry Potter right now."

Mary finally looked up from her copy of Shojo Beat, one eyebrow raised in a curious and disbelieving look. "Why?"

"The way you were being all vague just a second ago," Jesse said. "It was more like the movie Luna than the book Luna, though."

"Is that a good or a bad thing?" Taylor asked from his perch on Michael's desk, which was, incidentally, buried in papers and summer homework Michael had yet to finish.

"Good in my mind," Jesse answered. "In the movie Luna's all vague and out-there in a lovable sort of way."

"Are you calling me crazy?" Mary asked the drummer increduouly.

"In a lovable sort of way," Jesse repeated, grinning at Mary. "You know I love you. Besides, all the coolest people are insane."

"That would make us the coolest click in the school, then," Lindsey commented from the floor by Michael's dresser. A moment later she frowned at the sketchbook on her lap and started erasing furiously. "Why, oh why can't I draw a good looking tiger?"

"I don't know. Maybe you're fated to draw tigers incorrectly all your life. Maybe you should try going back to the basics, you know, geometric shapes. Stick figures. Basics." Michael gestured to a comic strip style progression of a stick figure sparring match tacked to his wall. It was one of his favorite sketches from Lindsey.

Lindsey scowled at Michael's teasing comment and continued her erasing. Taylor, always the kindest and most supportive of The Pack, suggested, "Why don't you try a wolf instead? You always draw really great wolves."

"Thanks, Taylor." Lindsey smiled as she erased. "But I really need to challenge myself and get this tiger right. Wolves can only get you so far."

"You could be the next illustrator of Wolf's Rain," Mary suggested. "Then you'd just have to draw wolves, people, and the occasional dog."

"And I suppose tigers can get you farther than wolves in the world of manga illustration?" Michael asked skeptically.

"Well at least then I'll be able to draw a wider range of things," Lindsey said slightly defensively before turning back to her sketch.

"Aw, Linz, I'm only kidding," Michael apologized. "You're the best upcoming manga-ist I know."

Lindsey rolled her eyes. "It's manga-ka, Michael dear. And how many other hopeful manga artists do you know?"

Michael guiltily looked away. "Well…now that you mention it, I guess that'd be none. But still, you can draw better than anyone else I know."

Lindsey smiled. "Okay, okay. I guess I'll let you off the hook this time."

Now Michael rolled his eyes. "You know I could kick your butt through the window right now just for that."

"Yes, I know you could, but I also know you won't." Lindsey gave him an innocent smile. "You're far too chivalrous for that."

"You better watch it, girlie. Maybe someday I'll cast off my chivalrous shell and you'll get a good view of the ground as you're flying toward it," Michael shot back.

"Enough already!" Jesse finally shouted, sick of their squabbling. "You two argue like an old married couple. Michael, you are sarcastic, but could probably kill us all bare-handed in nothing flat. Linz, you are an excellent artist and far too lovable and sweet to kill. Happy?" Michael and Lindsey both let out a sound along the lines of "Hmph!", but stopped arguing under the influence of Jesse's defiant glare. "See, isn't that much better?" Jesse said in a theatrically bright tone once she was sure they wouldn't start bickering again. "Peace and quiet."

"Yes, Mother," Michael mumbled under his breath.

Jesse, halfway to sitting back down on the floor, leapt up and glared at Michael once more. "What did you just say? I may be a drummer, but that doesn't mean I'm deaf."

Michael laughed his characteristic laugh, head sticking forward and bobbing slightly as though he were guilty of finding a joke funny at a funeral. "Nothing, nothing," he quickly assured Jesse.

Luckily for Michael, his mother called The Pack downstairs a moment later. "Michael! Taylor! Girls! Dinner!"

"Coming!" Michael yelled back as The Pack put down their various activities and filed down the hallway to the staircase. Jesse glared at Michael as he wiped an invisible drop of sweat off his forehead. "You're gonna pay, kid," she warned him.

When they entered the kitchen, Michael's mother was dishing out spaghetti from an enormous pot, in a way Jesse would have related to Mrs. Weasley cooking for her wizarding family at the Burrow. "Jesse, be a dear and put these plates on the table please."

"Sure thing, Mrs. J," Jesse said, taking the platefuls of spaghetti over to the dining room table.

"Michael, get some drinks, please. Mary and Lindsey, would you two set the table? Taylor, why don't you help Michael?" Mrs. Johnson instructed. The Pack hurried to obey.

As Michael fetched glasses from the cabinet, he said, "Speak now or forever drink milk."

"Water for me, please, Michael," his mother said. "And for your father too."

"I'd like water as well," Taylor said.

"Okay, that's three waters and four milks," Michael announced to the kitchen at large. "Any objections?"

"All in favor say 'I'," Mary added.

"I," everyone in the kitchen responded. That left one undecided person.

"Dad?" Michael called to the man sitting in the recliner in the living room. "H2O good for you?"

"What? Uh, yeah, sure."

Michael rolled his eyes. "The correct answer is 'I'."

"Fine then. I!"

"Alright, that's all I needed to know. That wasn't so difficult, now was it?"

"Watch that sarcasm, son, or you'll be out of this house faster than you can say 'I object'," Michael's father warned. Michael was forever stirring up other people and creating trouble for himself.

For once, Michael wisely bit back his retort, and the slowly building tension died away.

The Pack and Michael's parents sat down around the too-small dining table. It normally seated six people, seven was slightly crowded, and eight was downright uncomfortable. "Where's Gabby?" Michael asked. His fourth grade sister would have pushed the table into the "downright uncomfortable" category, yet the room somehow seemed empty without her brown pigtails and swinging feet that still couldn't touch the floor from her chair.

"She went over to her friend Madyson's house for dinner," Mr. Johnson explained.

"Ah." Michael nodded.

"So, are you kids ready for school? You've got a big year coming up. Seniors already!" Mrs. Johnson said conversationally.

"I still have to figure out what parking space they assigned me," Jesse said. "And I'm definitely not looking forward to Calculus."

"Neither am I," Michael said. "Maybe we'll have that class together."

"I hope so, for your sake at least. You're gonna need all the help you can get," Jesse said teasingly.

Michael, as always, took the bait. "Psh, that's what you think. I bet I'll be the one helping you by the end of the semester."

"Ooh, that reminds me," Mary said. "Do you still need help on you Calc summer packet, Michael?"

"You helping me, right," Jesse muttered sarcastically.

Michael looked guiltily from side to side. "Maybe."

Mary smiled. "'Maybe' generally means 'yes' in Michael-speak. I can help you after dinner if you want."

"Thanks," Michael mumbled half grudgingly.

After they had finished eating and put their plates and glasses in the dishwasher, The Pack went back upstairs to Michael's room. Michael regretfully dragged out his Calculus prerequisite packet from the bottom of his backpack, attempted to smooth the many creases out, and sat down on the floor. "A calculator might help just a little," Mary suggested as she joined Michael on the sea green carpet.

Michael sighed and rifled through his backpack a second time. He finally extracted his TI-83 Plus graphing calculator, two mechanical pencils, and, with much reluctance, his Trig binder from the year before. When he sat back down, Mary tilted the packet so she could read it better and asked, "All right, which ones do you need help with?"

As Michael pointed to a problem and Mary launched into an explanation of how to solve systems, the rest of The Pack decided to start a card game to entertain them. Jesse browsed through Michael's CDs and put "Sunsets and Car Crashes" by The Spill Canvas into his mini stereo. She settled on the bed next to Taylor and Lindsey as Taylor dealt each of them five cards for Mao. He then placed the rest of the deck in the middle and proclaimed, "Mao begins now." All three picked up their cards and silently – one of the rules of the game was that no one could talk while holding their cards – began to play. A few minutes later, just as the opening notes of "The Tide" began to play, Taylor smiled and said, "Mao." Lindsey and Jesse groaned as Taylor scooped up the cards, shuffled them, and began to deal them out again.

An hour later Jesse's cell phone erupted in its familiar ring tone: "The Bird and the Worm" by The Used. Before answering, she paused to mouth along with it All alone he turns to stone, while holding his breath as he dies, terrified of what's inside to save his life, he crawls like a worm, crawls like a worm from the bird. Jesse flicked open the phone. "Hello?" A moment later her face fell a bit and she rolled her eyes. "Why? … But we're not actually going to do anything…. Okay, whatever. Bye." She closed her phone and rolled her eyes again.

"Parents?" Taylor guessed. He knew those were the only people Jesse would be that openly rude to without regret.

"Yeah," Jesse sighed. "My mom wants me to go home now. Some bullshit about being well-rested for the first day of school tomorrow."

"Why?" Lindsey asked. "It's not like we do anything the first day. The teachers just go over their stupid rules and syllabi."

"I know! I told her that, but she insisted I come home right now." Jesse sighed again as she got up and grabbed her flip flops. "I guess I'll see you guys tomorrow."

"Yep, bright and early!" Lindsey said in a falsely chipper voice.

The rest of The Pack got up and walked with Jesse out to her car. Even though it was only 9:30, once Jesse left they just didn't seem complete, and one by one they said their goodbyes and departed. After the other four had gone home, Michael went back to his bedroom and, with a resigned sigh, sat down to finish his Calculus packet.

A/N: Reading is loved, and so are reviews. The next chapter is from Michael's point of view.