1. Entre: Circe, Reese, Mitch, Matt, and ME

If this wasn't one of the single most horrible days of my life, then I want to be shot.


Circe Byran was flicking pen caps at the back of my head again. I rolled my eyes and pulled my black hood up over my head, sinking into my chair. Mr. Bennett droned on about articulation and staccato—it was sixth period; the advanced placement musical education honors class—while Circe and Mitch Rivers continued lobbing bits of paper and trash at me. I glanced over my shoulder and gave them a look, but Circe simply raised his eyebrows and shrugged in an 'Oh-I'm-just-so-innocent' expression. I rolled my eyes again and turned back around.

", you violinists have only got to worry about your basic three articulations; the dot, the line, and the accent." The bell rang for end-of-the-day announcements, and Mr. Bennett spoke over it quickly as we all hastily grabbed our things. "I'll be playing a selection from Bach to illustrate this, Monday! Homework for tonight is to practice the comps I gave you all—I'm going to have you all perform them in front of the class next Wednesday!"

As the voice of one of the Seniors came into the classroom through the intercom system, I stood up and pulled my backpack onto my chair, unzipping it and carefully placing my folder of notes and compositions into it. As I reached over to zip it closed, Mitch came from behind me and bumped into me. I turned and snapped, "Oh, get over yourself, Mitch," and heard the thud and smash of my backpack hitting the floor and my stuff spilling out of it.

I spun back around and watched Circe step over the mess he had just created. "My bad," he smirked, shrugging again and leaving the room, Mitch—the faithful goon—following him like a lost puppy.

Clenching my jaw, I felt my fingers curl themselves into angry fists. Everyone else left the classroom, leaving me alone with the misarrayed clutter that was my stuff, scattered across the floor. Mr. Bennett had already left, and I let a few low curses leave my mouth before I knelt down and snatched up my stuff, putting it all back into my backpack as quickly as I could.

I realized—with a sinking in my gut—as I put my things back, that my wallet was missing.

What a beautiful way to start off the weekend.

My locker swung shut on its own, narrowly avoiding snapping my fingers off. I glanced up at the wise-guy and found Reese Davidson grinning down at me wide enough to make my cheeks hurt from looking at him. "Hey, Ray," he said through that smile.

I grunted some form of response at him and turned back to my locker. I entered in the combination without looking at him. Cautiously, I opened the locker, and watched without a reaction as Reese shut it again. Taking a deep breath, I reached for the lock again. Reese's smile disappeared. "Ray, you know I'm wearing you down."

I scoffed. "Not at all." I pulled my locker open again, and—again—Reese slammed it shut, just missing my fingers again. "What do you want, Reese?"

He kept his hand over my locker as he responded, "Same thing I always want, Ray."

Keeping my expression blank, I replied, "You already know you're not going to get what you want, Reese. Why don't you just cut the session short and let me get my shit without causing a scene?"

He held his hands up in a surrender gesture and backed away slowly. "Alright, fine, Raven. But we both know you want it just as bad as I do."

I rolled my eyes for the millionth time that day. "Yeah...right." I got my locker opened and pulled out a few notebooks, putting them into my backpack and replacing them in my locker with a few other books. I shut the locker and pulled my red backpack over my shoulder, turning to leave the near-empty hallway.

Reaching the exit, I yanked the hood back up over my head; it was sunny outside. I kept my face pulled back under the hood, hiding from my classmates as best I could. The less attention I attracted, the better.

Of course, there really was no avoiding Circe, Mitch, and Reese. They all made it their business to know how to find and aggrivate me at any time possible. So,naturally, I shouldn't have been so shocked to hear them following me as I walked home.

"...started working on your comp, Circe?" Mitch was asking. I could picture him clinging to Circe's arm, begging for details on anything and everything.

Circe chuckled. "It's only Debussy—I shouldn't have too much trouble with it." His voice carried in a way that made me suspicious of who he intended the information for; Mitch, or me?

"Yeah, you're right," Mitch agreed. I envisioned him with a shirt declaring 'I-Love-Circe!' and a haircut identical to Circe's. He could have a jacket, too, that said '#1 Circe Fan!' on it in big, bold letters. "You are an incredible pianist," Mitch complimented. I shook my head in disgust that they could plainly see.

Circe sighed, "Yeah, I know it." At this, I actually laughed. "What was that, Stewerts?" Circe called to me, using my last name to address me.

I shook my head. "Never mind me," I called back. I turned left onto Brine Street at the end of Colby Lane. Once there, my house was within sight. The little red two-story made my heart throb painfully; I was still not completely content with the new house...I missed living in Port Rikston. There was no way I had warmed up to the idea of Sandyvale.

"You guys coming over my house?" Circe asked Mitch and Reese.

Mitch immediately responded, "Of course."

Reese took a moment more to consider. "Is Matt going to be home?"

Sighing, Circe responded, "Yeah. He just got back from the stupid M-Sap thing today."

I coughed and froze where I stood. "Your brotherwent to M-Sap?" I spluttered, dropping all pretenses of disinterest.

Circe, Mitch, and Reese walked past me as if I hadn't said anything. "Ugh...are we going to have to...hang out with him?" Reese inquired now, sounding like he liked that idea less than having his eyes gouged out with plastic forks.

"'Fraid so," Circe sighed dramatically. "Oh, come on, Reese—Matt's my twin; he has to have at least one cool gene in him."

Reese considered. "Alright, but if he thinks for one second that I'm going to listen to him blab about the process of disecting a...a...Celeste piano or something, there is no way—"

"Reese, chill, man," Mitch interjected. "Matt's pretty cool, and he doesn't talk about music all the time. Well, not the classical stuff—he's more into that Countdown to Failurescreamojunk that Ray likes." He jerked his head back to indicate that he was talking about me.

My heart stopped. Not only did he attend M-Sap, but he was a CTF fan, too? I walked as quickly as I could to catch up with the three of them. "I need to meet your brother," I said to Circe.

He glanced down at me. "Oh, I'm sorry—are you talking to me?" I rolled my eyes in response. He turned to face the other guys. "Mitch, call up Channel Nine—Raven Stewerts is actually talking to me!"

I hit his upper arm and clenched my jaw again.

Laughing, Circe said, "There's only one way I'm ever letting you meet my brother."

I stared at him and growled, "And what way is that?"

"You would have to come and hang out with me, Mitch, and Reese, too."

Groaning, I shook my head. "Not worth that amount of aggrivation."

I walked ahead of them and pulled my MP3 player out of my black Cargo pants pocket, plugging the speakers into my ears and blasting the volume. One of my favorite CTF songs screamed in my ears; "Are You Listening?" One of their first songs.

Finally, I reached my house and got inside, shutting the door behind me and glancing casually out the window. I watched the three goons walk past my house and into Circe's house next door. If I ever got to meet him, I had to hope that Circe and Matt were identical—Circe was without a doubt one of the most attractive boys at Sandyvale High...which made it that much harder to resist when he asked me to hang out with those morons.

I walked further into the little house, calling for Karen. "Mom?" I called. No response. She was probably still at work; her new job offered only odd hours, leaving me at home alone for copious amounts of time.

Once I was sure no one was in the house to yell at me for it, I popped my favorite CTF CD—Swallow Sick With Shame—into the main DVD player—the one that was hooked up to the surround-sound—and turned the volume up loud.

"Kiss these disaster-stricken wounds away," I sang along as I skirted around the stairs and strolled into my room at the back end of the house. "And kill the enemies who, destroy and under-pay..." I hummed along with the guitar rift, and then dumped my backpack in the corner of my dark little room.

As Adam Bruce—one of the co-singers—roared, sending a tingle down my spine, the doorbell rang, echoing through the house.

"Run, from, survivors," I yelled along with Adam, and then made my way to the front door. When I opened it, I shut it immediately; it was Circe.

The doorbell rang again, and I groaned as I opened the door again. "What, Circe?" I asked, emphasizing my dislike for him with both syllables.

He looked at me reproachfully with his azure blue eyes from under that mess of auburn hair. "Uhm," he chuckled nervously, "I'm not're thinking of my twin."

I looked him over and took in his appearance; of course this wasn't Circe. I was just distracted by the similar features—theywere identical, but not entirely. Circe was a total prep; collared polos and light colors. Matt was...


Hisauburn hair was longer than Circe's, and fell into his eyes at that perfect angle. He was dressed in all black...baggy black jeans, a somewhat tight black shirt with blood-red print reading "The Countdown Begins." The shirt had ridden up enough to reveal the black studded belt and the black-and-red striped boxers he was wearing. He was wearing black-and-white checkered skater sneakers, and a chain glinted around his neck.

He was freaking hot. I couldn't believe how much I wanted him on sight. The next words out of his mouth stopped my entire chain of thought that I had been having there. "So...are you the cardboard cut-out stiff?"

I felt my jaw drop.

He seemed to realize he'd confused me. "Oh, those are Circe's words, not mine." He laughed lightly. "Is it safe to assume he doesn't like you?"

I smirked. "It's so safe, it's practically birth control." He chuckled again, and then stopped suddenly as a new song started on the CD.

"You like the Countdown?" he asked eagerly, his face lighting up. "Iknew you couldn't be a total stiff." He bobbed his head in time with the complicated drumbeat for a second and sighed, "Raise the Cries is one of their best songs."

I shrugged. "Eh, it's alright. My personal favorite is Under the Albino Sun..." I trailed off at the smile on his face. "What?"

"You're a big enough fan to have the Incarcerated Souls special edition CD with the twelve bonus tracks?"

I scoffed. "You're a big enough fan to know what that is?"

He grinned. "Touche." He glanced over his shoulder at his house. "Well, uhh, I really just stopped by to give you this." He held out my wallet. "It fell out of Circe's pocket while he was looking for his cell phone."

Taking my wallet, I smiled. "I knew the dumb bastard took it when he dumped my backpack." I shook my head. "Cardboard cut-out?"

Matt laughed with me. "Yeah, I thought he might be a bit cleverer than that."

"Oh, please—your brother is so stupid that trying to explain something to him is like...trying to give a fish a bath."

Matt cracked up at that, and then glanced over his shoulder again. "He's not so bad, you know..." He sighed. "He has some of his friends over, and they're trying to find excuses not to let me hang out with them...Circe said that if I could get the cut-out next door to come hang out, they'd let me chill with them..."

I looked up at his forlorn face as he continued, "I can see now that you'd rather not spend any time with them, so I guess I'm out." He flashed a charming grin at me. "It was nice to meet you..."

"Raven," I said, holding my hand out to shake.

He took it. "Matt," he responded. "You know, it's too bad you and I wouldn't be able to see each other too much; I'm in this advanced class thing in the's called M-Sap, and that stands for the Musical Student Achievement Program—I play the piano—"

My eyebrows raised themselves. "Hmm, you and Circe are more alike than I'd thought."

He chuckled. "Yeah...I thought you didn't like him? How'd you know that he plays?"

I shrugged. "Well, he and I are in the same Advanced Placement Musical Education Honors class, sixth period...that's when he gets in most of his spitballs-at-the-back-of-my-head antics, so..."

"Ahh, I see." Matt just nodded and turned to go. "Well, back to being made fun of and bored to death. Later, Raven."

When he was half-way down the walk, I called out. "Matt, wait!" He turned to face me, surprise etched into his face. "I'll come with you!" I held up my right index finger to signify 'one minute' and then dashed into my house quickly.

Stuffing my wallet into my back left pocket, I grabbed my iPod out of my bedroom and shoved it into my front left pocket, and then shut off the CTF CD. I shut the front door behind me as I walked quickly down the front pathway to walk with Matt, who was gawking at me. "I said I'll come with you; that does not mean that I'm going to enjoy the time spent here or be proud of myself for agreeing to this."

He laughed and shook his head, leading the way to his front door.