I cringed as the floor flew up to meet me, gritting my teeth against the sharp blow that followed. The distinct taste of rusty metal filled my mouth as my jaws accidentally snapped together over my tongue. I felt several hands help me up, supporting my wobbly, wrongly distributed weight.

I stood up to my full height, glaring at the boy standing just a few feet from me. I couldn't help but choke on the air that surrounded him, thick with arrogance. His mocking laugh was as cold as it was cruel. His friends stood behind him, echoing his wicked taunts like a bunch of stupid, annoying parrots that just wouldn't shut up.

My name is Nevaeh Mulzet (pronounced nuh-vay-uh), and this is my story. I'm a senior, eighteen years of age, at our ever-humble Raritan Bay High School of New York City, the city of squashed dreams and frequent muggings. As much as I willed it to be, my stature was less than threatening at 5'5". By no stretch of the imagination was I skinny, but I was also far from being fat. My mid-back length hair, mostly left down, fell in natural, auburn waves, often framing my face in a way I thought looked decent. My skin in all honesty was moderately fair, but it had a tendency to tan rather well. Sunburns were no threat to my originally pale complexion. Overnight, the scarlet that tinted my arms and legs browned, and I woke up looking as if I had been at a tanning salon for hours.

People who meet me for the first time will initially tell you that I am quiet, shy, and reserved. But my close friends would recoil in horror at such a description and demand to know who I was and what I had done with their friend. In reality, my personality can be summed up in a few words: hysterical, feisty, stubborn, affectionate, and utterly lovable.

My parents and I occupied a fairly large house near the coast. I had no siblings, and was therefore, bluntly speaking, spoiled rotten. My mother and father were two warm and caring people who wanted nothing more than my total happiness. I loved them with everything that was in my heart.

But no one's life is completely perfect.

Hence the presence of the most infuriating, horrible, maddening, childish, immature, selfish, and wholly irritating boy on the entire planet in my life. Isaac Russell. (shudder) Just his name makes me want to vomit. Ugh.

Ever since kindergarten, when I refused to share my crayons with him, I've had a huge red target on my back. (Okay, maybe I deserved it a little. I mean I did announce to the entire class that he was eating all the glue in the bottle. He was severely limited in arts and crafts after that, only allowed to use other, less sticky adhesives, like tape.)

In second grade, he pushed me in the mud at recess, and I walked around all day with sticks and leaves stuck in my hair while my classmates laughed at me. I got back at him by pouring my lunch, consisting of macaroni and cheese, steamed carrots, and a cupcake, down the back of his shirt, taking care to mash it into his back. (In retrospect, it wasn't a very good idea. I was so hungry that when I sat with my best friend afterward, I stole her cupcake, and she ended up giving me the silent treatment for a week.)

In sixth grade, he spread the word around school that I was in love with our (gorgeous) teacher, and I was ridiculed for months after. But revenge is oh so sweet. I retaliated by "accidentally" spilling to the rudest, most obnoxious girl in our class that Isaac wanted to be her boyfriend. Instead of being appalled by the idea and beating him up, like I had expected, it turned out that she had been secretly crushing on him for weeks and was ecstatic that he wanted to go out with her. His rejection was swift, but alas, so was her fist. (He has never completely forgiven me for that.)

Our senior year of high school has been the absolute worst of them all. I am positive that he wants to torment and ridicule me as much as possible since we'll be graduating soon. Endless taunting, pushing, and teasing have ensued. And tripping. Oh, the glorious tripping.

Which brings me back to the present. Isaac Russell has just tripped me, that jerk!

My feet marched me over to where Isaac was standing of their own accord. I shoved him backward with all my might, effectively erasing the scorning laughter from the air, though the cocky smirk still remained. He stepped forward while I obstinately refused to back down, unintentionally creating the opportunity for him to demonstrate his superior height.

Eighteen year old Isaac Russell, though the most loathsome being on the face of the earth, was actually somewhat good-looking. He was all of six feet two inches and had a body to die for without even trying. Neither oversized nor undersized biceps fit perfectly under his strong, masculine shoulders. His light copper skin tone, though moderately dulled from lack of sunlight - as "manly" as he was, he'd always hated the outdoors - prompted suspicion of Indian heritage. Jet black hair, naturally curly and kept cut neatly short, covered his head, and I'd learned long ago that he straightened and spiked it every day (I'd extracted all the mileage I could from that one, but its potential for ridicule had dimmed over time. I no longer bothered with bringing it up.). Dark brown eyes, full of secrets and constantly dancing with mischief, complemented his beautiful face, wary of a nose that borderlined aristocratic, a strong, chiseled jaw, and a mouth that could change from a smirk to a scowl with one muscle movement.

Did I say "somewhat good-looking?" What I meant was "so inhumanly gorgeous that Michelangelo's David would have been jealous."

Yet all of this did not curb my anger as it probably should have.

I shoved him back again, expelling a grunt of anger and frustration, but he didn't budge. I kept heaving and pushing, if only for my benefit. He never moved. I threw a punch at his chest, but again he was unfazed. "Rrrrgh!! Leave me alone, you stupid jerk!" I shouted.

"You're the one throwing punches at me, remember?" He grinned. I swung at him again, but he caught my wrist and grinned wider. His entourage snickered quietly behind him.

I struggled to get out of his grip. "I hate you!"

"Love you too!" he replied, his voice sounding nothing less than sickly-sweet, as he leaned forward and had the audacity to kiss my forehead as if we weren't bitter enemies!

That was it. My friends felt as if they couldn't stand to watch anymore as they wrenched me away from Isaac's grasp. For years they thought he was flirting by constantly bullying me. You know how the old saying goes. "He teases you because he likes you?" But now they were just as convinced as I was that he hated me with every fiber of his being.

My group of friends consisted of three, plus me. We were as different as night and day, but that was partly why we meshed so well.

My oldest and probably closest friend would have to be Isabelle Winter, fondly nicknamed Izzy. I'd known her as long as I'd known Isaac, which is how I survived years of suffering with him. True to her name, she had a love for snow and was in her best mood in a cold climate. Though we were all seniors, she was the youngest at seventeen and as perfectly naïve as they come. She practically exuded innocence, and with it an unintentional charm that drew people to her like a moth to the flame. Her complexion was pale, as her dislike of the outdoors was almost as great as Isaac's, and her black hair was short, angled, sometimes spiked in the back. Much like me, she was timid at first glance, but once you got to know her, she was a riot.

Newer to the group, but still dear to my heart was my best guy friend, Logan McClintock. Irish heritage colored his curly hair a bright red and his eyes an iridescent green. He was Isaac's equal in height and in strength. Puberty had been kind to the boy, I must admit. His skin was pale, like mine, but instead of tanning, his skin freckled like nobody's business, making him look a bit younger than he was. (Ironically, he was the oldest of us at nineteen.)

We met in our freshman year of high school and had been inseparable ever since. We dated some in our sophomore year after much prodding from our friends, but in the end decided we were better off as best friends. He was sweet and caring and kind and compassionate and funny and adorable and everything an amazing boyfriend should be, but we were doomed to be "just friends." How unfair is that?

Our most recent member, joined as of last year, was Lily-Rose Hawthorne (Her mother had a thing for plants, I'm guessing?). Older than me but younger than Logan at eighteen, she was a loaded pistol and everyone knew it. She was the biggest hot shot of the group with the shortest fuse. Fiercely protective of all of us, she may very well have hated Isaac even more than I did with the way he constantly pushed me around. To us, she was confident, loyal, strong, and determined. Always the first to jump into a fight, ever the spitfire, that was our Lily.

Physically, she was stunning in every way. Her dark, ebony skin literally gleamed in the sun, and darkness seemed to give her an exotic glow with the way it cloaked her. Seldom seen without a headband covering her hairline, she often kept her dark brown hair pulled back in an unkempt bun, making messiness look unfairly elegant with minimal effort. She had a body that made supermodels green with envy, tall at 5'9", as slender as a swan, and just as graceful. Her chocolate brown eyes, outlined by attractively high cheekbones, radiated the spirit of competition when she was presented with a challenge and blazed with indignation when she was angry. All in all, fire was her element, and fury seemed to suit her well.

So you can guess who was the first to leap to my rescue.

Logan gently held me back by my shoulders while Lily resumed my task of telling Isaac off. Izzy stood back with Logan and me, glaring at Isaac as venomously as she could.

He made the mistake of throwing a smirk at me, further infuriating both me and Lily. Were she any more heated, I was certain she would have spontaneously combusted. "Don't look at her! You don't deserve to even know her, you snake!" she snarled, shoving him back as hard as she could. Her strength caught him off guard, and he stumbled back a bit.

A low rumble erupted from deep within his chest as he stepped forward to retaliate. Quick as a flash, Logan was in front of Lily, staring Isaac down, daring him to make a move. I hadn't even noticed that I had been passed to Izzy until several seconds after the two boys were eye to eye.

The silence was deafening as students began to gather round, expecting a fistfight to break out at any moment. I almost forgot to breathe. In truth, I didn't want any physical violence to arise between the two boys, as I wasn't exactly sure of who would win.

"Better tell your girls to watch themselves. Wouldn't want any of them getting hurt." He smirked, not bothering to throw a look at me. Even if he had, it wouldn't have been necessary. Everyone knew that I was the reason he had any conflict with us at all.

"Don't you worry. I'll be around to make sure they're safe and sound," Logan replied with a pleasant smile, though all heard the warning underlying his words.

Murmuring in hushed, disappointed tones, the crowd began to disperse after realizing that the quarrel wouldn't be turning violent anytime soon. I, for one, was secretly thrilled that we no longer had an audience. Confrontations were stressful enough without the added pressure of nosy, excited teenagers all around, cheering and jeering.

Isaac sneered and walked past Logan, making sure their shoulders collided spitefully, while his companions followed behind obediently. It was comical, really, the way they shuffled after Isaac as if they worshiped him. I caved under the urge to laugh, and he turned sharply to shoot me a glare/grin. I replied with a curt sneer and an unmentionable obscene gesture involving a certain finger. He smirked at me and blew me a kiss. Unknowingly playing his game, I pretended to catch the kiss, throw it on the ground and stomp on it repeatedly, making sure it was dead and would never live again.

Chuckling, he resumed his dramatic exit, turning the corner just as my friends burst out laughing. "Did he just blow you a kiss??" Izzy cackled.

"For someone who hates your guts, Nevaeh, he sure does seem to like you!" Lily leaned against a locker and let out a long sigh before exploding into hysterics again.

All three of us noticed that Logan kept strangely silent, not finding the situation funny, but we chose not to comment on it.

Slowly but surely, Izzy and Lily's laughter faded as they began to calm down. We stood in silence for awhile, staring at each other for no particular reason.

Needless to say, I was startled when Logan finally spoke. "I think he's trouble."

He shifted uncomfortably as he felt more than saw us staring at him questionably.

Uh, thank you, Captain Obvious.

"Well... yeah..." Lily eyed him as if he were insane.

"Trouble..." Izzy echoed.

"For lack of a better word," I finished.

Logan shook his head as if ridding himself of some crazy notion and grinned at us. "Yeah." Staring at the ground, he shoved his hands in his pockets and kicked at an imaginary rock. Why was he acting so weird? "I'll see you guys later, okay?" he muttered.

We all nodded, not knowing why he was suddenly so down but unwilling to press it. Even Lily, usually blunt, was being unusually silent as Logan walked away.

I followed him with my eyes worriedly and bit my lip, torn between giving him his space and going to comfort him. Lily and Izzy exchanged knowing glances and wordlessly urged me along. I complied hurriedly, scooting off in the direction that Logan had disappeared.

Once I rounded the corner, I discovered, more surprised than annoyed, that Logan was nowhere to be found. Sheesh that boy is fast! After describing him in detail to various passersby, I quickly found out the general direction in which he had gone.

It took me quite awhile to catch up with him (those years on the track team must have done him good!), but when I did, I found him in the gym, shooting a few hoops.

I tentatively walked up behind him and opened my mouth to say something. I jumped when he sighed and called my name before shooting again. He'd always had a knack for knowing without seeing that I was there.

I wondered out loud how he'd known I was behind him.

"I knew someone was going to come after me - you girls just don't know the meaning of space, after all - and those two always send you. I'm closest to you, I guess," he replied deucedly.

I lifted a quizzical eyebrow at him and shook my head. "Brilliant, Holmes."

He smirked and shrugged.

After moving to the uncomfortable metal bleachers, we sat in silence for a few moments, each trying to figure out how to approach the subject cautiously. My thin patience wore thinner yet.

Screw caution!

"So, why the moodiness?" I was never one to beat around the bush.

He smiled a little and lied, "I don't know."

"BULL." The objection was out before I could stop it. My mouth, miles ahead of my brain, sometimes just didn't know when to call it quits.

Logan shrugged again, as he was used to my frankness. He also must have realized that I wasn't going to leave him alone about this. "I just think Isaac needs to let go of that stupid childish grudge he's holding on to. And maybe that's not the only reason he still picks on you..."

Well, incredulous little Nevaeh couldn't possibly fathom what other reason there could be, and I said as much.

He grinned at me and ruffled my hair affectionately. "Sometimes I think you're even more naïve than Izzy." He stood up and walked away before I could retort.

I got up and followed him, pelting him with questions like, "What's that supposed to mean?"

When he got fed up with me, he accused me of being as hotheaded as Lily.

I followed, fuming but unwilling to prove his claims true by bombarding him with more questions that boasted my offense.

When we caught up with Lily and Izzy, we all went to our respective classes. No matter how closely-knit we were, we had to be away from each other at times, else we would all go nuts.

It didn't matter that we were so dissimilar. We were a family, in our own little insane kind of way.