"Wow," Noriko choked out at last

I was dreading the upcoming week—in just eight days, school would be starting again. Sophomores, I sighed. Well, it's gotta be better than freshmen.

I hadn't kept in touch with most of my friends over the summer; I'd stuck with Noriko and Ian, and it showed. Ian's habit of dressing all in black had rubbed off on me, and although I didn't go as far as wearing a trench coat, the change was still quite noticeable. Noriko, too, had taken to wearing mostly black, but since she'd always dressed in somber colors it wasn't as obvious with her. I'd also gotten quieter—I used to love to talk and argue with my friends, but this summer I'd slowly learned to listen instead, so I rarely talked any more. But I did wonder how long that would last once school started; my friends would be dying to talk to me and tell me all about their summer vacations. Oh, well, I decided, I'll deal with that when it comes.

As it turned out, my friends weren't a problem. Most of them didn't even notice that I was quieter than usual, and those that did didn't particularly care.

It took me a while to notice when Ian and Noriko started acting strangely. I might not have noticed at all if it hadn't been for Brian. I'd been having a particularly bad day, and was sitting at my desk sulking when Brian came up to me.

"Bummed out about Noriko and Ian, huh?" he asked sympathetically.

I was puzzled. "No. Why should I be?"

"Well, since they're going out and all, it just kinda seems to me like they're leaving you out a bit."

I stared at Brian slack-jawed for several seconds and then burst out laughing. "They're not going out!" I giggled. Even the thought was uproariously funny, and the fact that people evidently believed it was just hilarious.

"Aren't they?" he asked cryptically. "Because they sure act like it." Then he walked off.

After that, I began to pay more attention to the way Ian and Noriko behaved, and to my amazement I found that Brian was right. They acted exactly as I'd seen my other friends act when they had a crush on someone—sneaking glances when they thought the other wasn't looking, blushing every time the person gave them the smallest compliment. I also began to notice that they didn't talk to me half as much as they talked to each other.

And as soon as I realized that, I realized something else—that I was in love with Ian. Maybe, deep down, I'd known it ever since the first day I saw him. Maybe that was why I'd protected him from Justin; maybe that was why I'd been willing to give my life to save him from the truck that killed me. And then he'd turned right around and saved my life too.

At any rate, it was a little late to do anything about it now. He and Noriko were obviously hooked up, and no matter how much I loved Ian I wasn't about to try and get between them. I just don't do things like that. Besides, I figured I didn't have to—time would do it for me, since Noriko would grow old and Ian wouldn't. I could be patient.

Still, as the weeks went by, it began to hurt more and more to see them together—the way Noriko would tip her head back and giggle at anything Ian said; the expression in his eyes when he looked at her; worst of all, the way he kissed her. It gave me a horrible gut-wrenching sensation every time I saw it, and I hated myself for it. I should be happy for them, they were my two best friends, the only people I had in the world. And yet I just couldn't do it. I couldn't force myself to be happy for them.

And then I met Lucas Andrews. He was introduced as the new student in my World Geography class. Mr. Wegner, the teacher, promptly assigned him to the only empty seat in the room, which just happened to be right next to me. At first, I took little notice of the boy. He didn't talk and he didn't try to copy my notes as Mr. Wegner began a lecture, so I ignored him. Until I saw the paper where he was 'taking notes'.

As I watched in amazement, an incredible sketch of a flying dragon formed under his quick fingers. Arching wings and back, scaled belly, and a curl of flame grew clearer and clearer.

"That's beautiful!" I gasped. Lucas had evidently been unaware of my scrutiny, because he jumped when I whispered. With an expert flick of his arm, he covered the drawing guiltily, and I grinned. "It's okay," I whispered. "It's just me."

Slowly he drew out his paper again, and gave me a hesitant smile. "It's nothing," he said with a shrug. "Just a dumb hobby."

"Can I have it when you're done?" I asked, not at all agreeing with his opinion. "It's awesome."

"You really like it that much?" He seemed surprised.

"Heck yeah! It's great!" I told him.

"Well, if you want it that bad, yeah, you can have it. It might take a while to finish it though."

"That's okay."

Suddenly he seemed to think of something. Fumbling in his backpack, he pulled out a folder that was positively brimming with other drawings. He opened it and leafed through. "Here," he said, pulling out another one. "You can keep this one until I finish the dragon. I think it looks like you."

As I took the drawing, I let out a tiny gasp. It did look like me, a bit more than I would have liked. It was a drawing of a vampire girl in a billowing trench coat, with long dark hair and great big eyes. It was incredibly detailed; I found myself wondering with shock whether I wasn't looking into a mirror. "This is amazing," I breathed. "Thank you!"

He just shrugged again. "It's nothing."

"Danielle! Lucas!" Mr. Wegner barked, and we both jumped. "Is there something so fascinating about my lecture that you just couldn't wait to discuss it? Because if there is, then by all means share it with the class."

"No, Mr. Wegner," we said in unison. Lucas hastily stuffed his drawings back into their folder and the folder disappeared into his backpack again.

"I'm in a good mood today, so I'll let you two off with a warning," Mr. Wegner went on, "but the pair of you really ought to know better."

"Yes sir," we said at the same time. A few kids giggled, and Mr. Wegner smiled.

"Have you rehearsed this or something?" he asked.

"No sir," we said together. This time the whole class burst out laughing. "Sorry," we apologized, and everyone laughed harder. I grinned at Lucas, and he grinned back.

"I think we're a hit," he said.

I didn't talk to Lucas very much outside of Geography class, but our conversations there were always interesting. We turned out to have a lot in common, which surprised me because my tastes are a bit odd.

Through all of that, though, it never occurred to me to think of Lucas as boyfriend material; I was probably still too absorbed by my feelings for Ian. So when a few weeks later Lucas asked me out, I just gaped at him in shock.

"What?" he asked, fidgeting. "Did I say something wrong?"

I shook my head. "No, of course not… I was just surprised, that's all. But yes. Yes, I'd love to go on a date." It couldn't hurt, I told myself. Ian certainly won't care, since he doesn't even realize I love him. And anyways he's got Noriko.

Lucas' eyes lit up, and he smiled. "Thanks. I like you a lot, Danielle." Suddenly he leaned over and kissed me very quickly. Then he leaped out of his chair and darted from the room, leaving me breathless with pleased excitement and surprise.