"Dude, Caleb. Jesus Christ I didn't even think you could find this fuckin' room." Todd shakes my hand in a congratulatory manner and grins at me as I walk into the classroom. There are about a dozen other kids in the room, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't even know they go to the same school as me, except they're sitting in in-school detention, which means they're probably not just visiting. Slinging an arm over my shoulder and walking me toward the rest of the group Todd tells me to, "Have a seat. Officer Hearn stepped out for a moment, and Jordan here is teaching the class a lesson in pick pocketing," indicating a wiry little white guy in a baggy polo shirt and jeans while Jeff and Chris follow me into the room. I know Todd from elementary school. He pegged this girl, Megan, in the face with a dodge-ball, and after that they split the P.E. classes into boy's and girl's sections. At the time, I (and pretty much every other guy in our class) loved him for it. But, Todd and I are not actually friends in any sort of meaningful way. I don't have friends in a meaningful way, because they're just one more thing I can't control. Unfortunately other people seem to like me; I have a bad habit of talking back to teachers which apparently makes me cool. In 8th grade geometry I told Coach Perry that the answer he got for one of the problems he wrote on the board was wrong. When he didn't listen to me I decided to make a point and stood up to ask the class, "Who are we gonna believe? The coach or the book?" It stated a strange sensation. Overnight I was popular.

"So, what did you guys do, get caught smokin' weed in the parking lot?" Todd apparently thinks this is hilarious, and starts laughing before he even finishes the sentence. He kind of reminds me of that stupid Chucky doll. It's probably his wild red hair, big teeth and freckles. But, it might also have to do with the fact that his laugh sounds seriously creepy, sort of a cross between a witch's cackle and a donkey's bray.

"Yeah, you know us, we're hardcore." Jeff snorts. Jeff is on the basketball team. Blond hair, blue eyes, tall, lean. The entire Bridgeway High female population drools over him, and I'm pretty sure he's never been under the influence of anything but alcohol.

"Mr. Bravo is such an asshole, he gave us all pink-slips." Chris is trying really hard to sound pissed off, but he mostly just sounds like he's about to piss himself. He's one of those kids who are terrified of their parents. "He was mad at us for ignoring him during lecture. It's not like he actually teaches us anything, and we're a semester ahead of the rest of the class. He gave us this insane test that he didn't want us to pass anyway!" Which is true. I'm good at computer science, and so are Chris and Jeff. But I'm pretty sure everyone else in that class is retarded. So no, we don't pay attention to Mr. Bravo as he tries to explain the lesson from two weeks ago for the third time. But, since we're technically taking the class independent study, Mr. Bravo decided to give us a test over a bunch of shit he knew we weren't advanced enough to know yet.

"We decided to make the test a cooperative effort." I explain, grinning. I may be about as anti-social as they come, but I've gotten good at pretending I'm normal. "Apparently we weren't all supposed to get the same answers. But, whatever man. He saw us working together. Figured if he cared, he would have said something before we actually finished the thing."

"Yeah, go figure" Jeff says. "The only thing I care about is getting this stupid pink-slip signed. That bitch Connors said they were gonna call our parents to make sure we tell 'em about it, and don't forge their signatures, or whatever."

"Shit, my parents are gonna kill me." Chris mumbles, running his square hands through his too long, mousy brown hair as officer Hearn stalks back into the room breaking up the pick pocketing lesson and our group, sending us each to cubicles around the room to do our class work, and collecting Jeff's, Chris's, and my explanatory notes. After everyone else has scrambled into their seats, I choose a cubicle along the front wall, the door to my left, and Chris to my right. Once I'm seated, Officer Hearn begins forcefully explaining exactly how detrimental we juvenile delinquents are to society. His face is turning a strange plum color, and his graying, wiry mustache is practically dripping with spittle, as once more the door swings open, and Oren Myles saunters into the room. He's wearing semi-tight, dark jeans, a black and green Flogging Molly t-shirt, and classic, low-top, black converse. His family moved to Texas a year and a half ago. The next day he was the most popular guy in Bridgeway. I don't understand the appeal, but my younger sister Sia says he's compelling.

"When you talk to him, it's like he's listening. Really listening. And you're the only person in the room he cares about. Plus, I mean, his looks don't hurt. He's the most beautiful person I've seen up close." Sia gets dreamy when she talks about him, which is one of the reasons he pisses me off. He's fucked every girl in school worth looking at, and even though I don't understand, or necessarily like my sister, I really don't want her to end up on that list.

There's more to Oren Myles than his "amazing" personality though. My sister is right about his looks. He's got dark, wavy hair, and stunning green eyes. His features are delicate, without looking too feminine, he's lithe and athletic, has thin-ish lips with an endearing crooked smile, elegant, artistic hands, and a porcelain complexion. He's also apparently so God damn fun to hang out with, that even though they can't trust him with their girlfriends, most of the guys at Bridgeway have him on their speed-dial.

For some reason, the majority of the people at school think Oren and I are friends. We're not. Not even close. I avoid the guy as much as possible. He seriously bothers me, and it's not just because my sister is in love with him. It's because he can see through me. He knows that I'm fucked up, that I don't have normal emotions, that I have to fake most of them. It's like all he has to do is look, and there I am, without my mask. And I never go anywhere without my mask. It's not fair that he can see through mine, and I can't see through his. It pisses me off, and he knows it.

I do everything I can to avoid him. I don't go to parties that he might be at; I stopped hanging out with the people he's with on a regular basis. I rearranged my schedule at the beginning of the semester so that I could get out of the English class he was in. I don't eat lunch in commons, because I know he'll be there. But the bastard still approaches me every chance he gets. He likes talking to me, knowing that I'll fake it because I can't afford for people to know what I am. Because everyone loves him, and if I make it obvious that I don't, people will start wondering what's wrong with me. So he talks to me, invites me places, and introduces me to people, the whole time looking at me like it's all a big joke and the only reason he's not laughing in my face is because it's more fun to watch me wriggle, and squirm and try so damn hard to be normal, and if he outs me the game will be over.

He flashes a grin at Officer Hearn, hands over his explanatory note and glances around the room. Thank God there's not an open spot next to me. Even though I know it's impossible, I'm still hoping he won't notice me, but as expected, his casual glance turns something more than casual when he spots me, and he walks over to Chris, grabs his shoulder and shakes his hand. Chris looks like he's just won the lottery, and I know where this is headed.

"Do you mind if I take your seat?" God, even his voice is perfect, melodic, yet masculine. He glances over Chris's shoulder at me and smirks before looking back down at Chris. "I wanted to talk to Caleb about something, if it's alright with you."

"Sure! I mean, yeah. I mean, it's not a problem." Chris looks like he thinks Oren is doing him some huge favor, as he shoves his books back into his backpack and practically leaps out of his chair. He almost hits Oren in the shin with one of the chair legs. Unfortunately the bastard steps out of the way quickly enough to avoid it. I wish Chris could find a backbone, or at least borrow one.

I glare back down at my statistics textbook as Oren slides the chair out a little more, puts his thin, black backpack down to the right of it and moves to the left to sit down. He doesn't even bother facing forward or pulling out a book. He just turns his chair towards me, and bends over, putting his elbows on his knees.

Officer Hearn having recovered from his apoplexy, is sitting at his desk in the opposite corner of the room, reading a newspaper, but he like everyone else loves Oren, and if he notices they guy's intention to not do homework, probably won't say anything anyway. I wonder vaguely who had the balls to send Oren Myles to detention and think about buying them flowers, or at least the traditional apple.

"Caleb." Even though he says it softly, it still sounds like a command, or a warning. I feel uncomfortable hearing him say my name.

I don't look up from my homework. He releases a soft chuckle. Isn't there anything I can do that won't amuse him?

"You know, I'm just trying to be nice." He kicks the back of my right leg. Hard.

"That fucking hurt asshole." I hiss.

Another chuckle. "Hey, you're the one who was ignoring me."

It's the hardest thing I've ever done to set my pencil down gently instead of trying to smash it against the desk. I sit up straight and turn to face him. "Fine. What do you want?"

"I'm bored." He leans back, looking at me expectantly.

"And you want me to do what about that, exactly?" I practically spit.

He grins. "Why Caleb, you're just naturally entertaining. I want to talk."

"No." I pick my pencil back up, gripping it hard.

"I'm shocked. You're usually so much nicer to me." I want to punch the smile off of his face.

"Yeah, well. I'm in a bad mood, so maybe you should just piss off." I'm gritting my teeth. This is a bad sign. I can't lose control. Not in front of him. Not because of him. How is it so easy for him to make me feel?

Finally he stops smiling. Instead he's looking thoughtful, sort of puzzled. He leans forward, into my personal space. His face is inches from mine, his green eyes piercing my blue ones, and I really need him to back the fuck off. "Why don't you just let go?" He asks.

I am practically gasping for air. Why can he see me, how does he do this to me? I'm about ready to jump up and run out of the room so I can get a handle on myself when suddenly he leans back, faces his desk, and pulls out The Scarlet Letter and a pencil. And like that, I'm not there for him any more. It's so easy for him to ignore me, to forget about me. Why can't I do that? Why am I still sitting here staring at his stupid, smug face? My pencil snaps in my fist and at least one piece of wood lodges itself in my left palm. I don't even notice. But, on the side of his face that I can see, Oren's mouth is curving up slightly. I don't know what there is in The Scarlet Letter to laugh about. I turn back to my statistics homework and notice the blood dripping down from my clenched fist onto the notebook paper. Great, now I have to start over.

I hold my hand in front of me, palm up, and unclench it gradually. I let the pieces of pencil that are not lodged into my flesh fall onto the desk and give what's left a clinical examination. Blood is pooling up in my palm and it's difficult to tell how many pieces are hooked into my skin. I pull the one big shard out and drop it onto my notebook paper. Good, this is good. I have something to focus on, and my feelings are starting to recede. Carefully cupping my hand so as not to leave a trail of blood, I stand up and approach Officer Hearn.

"Sir, may I go to the restroom? I'd like to clean off my hand."

He looks up, sees my hand and shouts, "Will someone please take Mr. Lehigh to the nurses office?"

Todd immediately volunteers himself, but Officer Hearn apparently doesn't trust Todd's intentions. Not that I blame him. "Myles. You'll accompany Lehigh." Shit. Oh, shit.

"Really. It's not that bad. If you'll just…"

"That enough, I don't want you bleeding all over my classroom. You'll go where I tell you to go, and you'll do it now." If I argue with him now it's going cause more problems than it fixes. I really don't see a way out of this, so I just turn around and head out the door. When I passed him, Oren seemed rather involved with his book so I'm about to take off to the bathroom, in hopes of escaping, when the door opens behind me. I start walking towards the nurse's office. Oren starts laughing. Like he can't hold it in anymore.

"You are such a moron." He sniggers, catching up easily and walking on my left. "Let me see it." He grabs my wrist, pulling the hand up towards his face. I stop walking to face him, and yank my hand away, blood spilling down between my fingers and onto his jeans and shoes. He doesn't even notice.

"What do you think you're doing?" I snap. I don't really want an answer, so I spin around to continue walking, hoping he'll slip on some of my blood and break his neck.

"Are you going to Morgan's party tonight?"

I snort. Morgan is one the people he's always hanging around with. He knows the answer before I say it. "No."

"I know. You're afraid to see me there."

It stings because it's true. "Jesus Christ, does everything have to be about you?"

"Only when it comes to you, Caleb." I can hear the smile in his voice. I really wish he'd stop saying my name.

"I'm not fucking afraid of you; so can you just drop it, and leave me alone?" I hate the hint of a plea in my voice. No one else would hear it, but it's Oren. He hears it.

"You should come tonight." He says it like it's a joke. I wish I knew what he wants from me. Maybe then I could get him to leave me alone. We reach Nurse King's office and he starts to follow me in. I turn around so fast he almost runs into me. It is so irritating that I have to tilt my head up a little to look him in the eyes.

"I'm not a little kid."

"Don't you think I know that Caleb?"

"I don't need you to come in with me. And stop saying my name!" I'm trying not to shout.

"What would you prefer I call you Caleb?"

"Nothing. I'd prefer you to leave me the hell alone."

"But Caleb, where's the fun in that?"

"You know what? You can go fuck yourself."

He laughs. "I haven't had to resort to that in years." He looks thoughtful, "It might be fun though, you know, if I get someone to go with me." He stares at me, and I turn around, about to open the door, when he whispers in my ear, "Maybe I'll get Sia to come with me." I feel his breath against my neck and before I know what I'm doing I've spun around again, left arm swinging, aiming to break his face. He catches my arm with his right hand, and part of me wants to just break down and cry.

"Now that was fun. See you on Monday... Caleb." He turns around and walks off, hands in his pockets, like nothing happened. I don't even realize I'm watching him until he turns the corner. I open the door to the nurse's office and go in.