Chapter 1
The Boy Toy


"This is lame."

By being the proud owner of a silver Buick with many serious mechanical issues, I was able to pretend that Terra's comment went unheard by frowning worriedly over a strange noise that my car made as I turned a corner. In the back seat, I pictured Macy fake intent interest in her latest romance novel as the sound of a page flipping met my ears. Somehow, I managed to withhold the smirk fighting its way to my face.

Terra wasn't buying any of it. "I said this is lame," she repeated, louder, and stared at me expectantly before planting her head on the fogged up window with a huff.

I gave in and shot Terra a strange look, taking in the expression on her face in disbelief. Her pale face was twisted into a look of agonizing pain as she gripped her seatbelt tightly, knuckles a ghostly white. I rolled my eyes at her theatrics. "Oh, suck it up," I finally said, indulging her in conversation.

Macy, my other best friend, tsked, more than likely annoyed from being forced to sit behind us. I cringed at the influence Terra's complaint probably had on her. "It's school," she told her defensively. "It's not lame. Right, Anna?"

Wrong.

I hate being pulled into their arguments at 7:25 in the morning.

"Um…for the sake of the conversation, yes," I murmured, flicking the turning signal to enter the parking lot of our school.

Terra sighed. "Yeah, well, when you're a straight A student like someone in this car," she said, gesturing behind her, "school is—what was it she said?" At my response, or lack thereof, she made the effort to lift her head and peer behind her seat quizzically. I often refused to get into their daily banter, much to their chagrin. "What was it you said?"

Macy crossed her arms. "Enlightening."

"Right. That."

"You could at least try, Terra," I said weakly while glancing at Macy through the rearview mirror. An encouraging nod met me in return, along with a dark scowl from the girl sitting beside me. "What about, um, drama, or something? You like acting."

"Thank you," Macy said. A lone hand crept up and played with her braided black hair subconsciously, fingers flipping the ends. Smiling victoriously, she leaned forward, between our seats. "You love drama, Ter'. And the musical they're doing—"

"—sucks," she finished. "West Side Story sucks. I'd rather prance around in a leotard than do a modern day Romeo and Juliet." She rolled her blue eyes. "Puh-lease."

I snorted. "You'd rather prance around in a leotard than wear normal clothes from a popular musical?" My arm shot out, temporarily letting go of the wheel, as I whapped her upside the head. "Psycho girl," I breathed.

Terra, eyes a dangerous darker shade of blue, shot me a glare. "You think so?" she said. "Then why don't you try out, Anna."

"You know I can't sing," I said absently, scanning the crowded parking lot for an open space. I turned a bend and restrained a groan at the sight of another filled row. "Dangit."

"You'd be perfect," Macy prattled on. Her disregard for Terra's short-wired temper never failed to surprise me. It also never failed to irritate Terra, which was by far the worst reaction of the two. "I can just see you as Mary, sing—"

"Maria," Terra corrected automatically. "It's Maria."

"See? You even know the character's name." Macy pulled her lips back into her business smile that she used to charm her interviewers and teachers. "That just proves how perfect you are for the role."

"Not there," I muttered, annoyed. I turned the next corner and began searching up and down the rows. Trekking our way down, I, frustrated, frowned as we reached the end of it. "Not here, either."

"That proves nothing," she said. "You just want all of your friends to be in an extracurricular activity to make you look better."

A miffed cluck resounded through my car. "That is not true," an indignant Macy shot back. "I can't believe you'd even suggest—"

"—okay, seriously, guys. Where the heck is a parkingspa—?"

"—well, I can," Terra said. "And I'm not gonna try out." At Macy's opened mouth, she pointed at her. "Don't even think about arguing back."

I turned another corner. "Seriously guys, we need to find a parking space, like," I risked a glance at the clock, "now."

Macy sighed pettily, sitting back in her seat. "Fine," she muttered. "See if I care what your college resume looks like."

Terra let loose something close to a smile at Macy's submission. "There's a parking space open just ahead of you, Anna," she said, gesturing at a gap between two cars a few meters ahead.

I almost cheered as my eyes zeroed in on the said space. "You, my friend, are an angel." I grinned cheekily, giving her a sideways glance before I pulled my car in. "Well. Kinda."

I peered out of my window curiously and checked to make sure I was within the faded white lines at an even distance. My keys clinked together noisily as I turned off the ignition, pulling them out and dropping them in my open purse. The noise of the car doors unlocking met our ears as I sat up and pressed down a button.

"Clever," she replied, not restraining the sarcasm that had leaked into her voice. "Really clever of you."

The sound of car doors opening and slamming echoed through the mostly silent parking lot. Around the time we pulled in each morning, the majority of the students were inside, milling about the halls and heading to their classes. To put it lightly, Terra and I weren't the fastest people in the world in the morning, and it was a wonder that Macy still wanted to ride with us each day. Most over-achievers wouldn't.

Personally, I think her and Terra's routinely banter energizes her for the day once you consider her competitive nature. Just an observation, though. Of course, if you would even hint at that with Macy around you'd be slaughtered from a string of SAT vocabulary words that'd leave you scratching your head in confusion.

Macy is smart like that. And temperamental. And stubborn.

As we busted it to the front doors looming ahead of us, hair flying into our faces, different colored eyes glancing at our cell phones to check the time, I caught the last snippet of the morning's energizer:

"At least consider trying out," Macy offered.

"No."

"But—"

"No."

I grinned.

-&-

Sterling High School, unlike all of the other schools in the area, looks as if it were built to become a prison for us hoodlums. And for all I know, maybe it was. But that is possibly the lightest way to put it. The brick that it's composed of is incredibly bland: the bricks are a mixture of off-white and gray with black block lettering stretching at the top of it to announce its name. To hold up some of the structure, they built metal posts at an even distance from each other, which makes it look like Sterling has prison bars guarding the front, funnily enough. It's truly an intimidating school if you were from the outside looking in, especially to little kids.

Go Knights.

However, I'm on the inside, and when you're on the inside there's a complete difference.

Like now, for instance.

My first period teacher, Mr. Snyder, had asked me to deliver some form to another teacher on the other side of the school. Which sounded wonderful to me because the last thing I wanted to do in the morning was to sit in his classroom, learning. The most positive result of my delivery, besides getting to miss part of class, was that the fastest way to get there was to cut through a small garden in the middle of the building.

Yes, a garden.

When the school was first built, the graduating class decided to use their money that they had raised to beautify the school since a class trip was out of the question. They probably thought Sterling looked like some jail ground, too. The janitors, I guess, liked how it made the school friendlier and have kept it up since then. It's quite pretty, really.

To get to it you have to go through a set of doors, considering that the garden is outside and no one wants a wet floor when it rains. To rectify the issue, they had taken away part of the building in the middle, opened up the ceiling, and closed off the rest of it with glass walls during the summer. Once you go out of the doors you walk on a stone path to get to the other side. On each side of the path there are bushes and vines that each holds a certain type of flower.

The vibrant colors make it seem like a kaleidoscope. The only difference is that it smells amazing.

I shifted the form in my hands so I could open the glass door leading to it in a more comfortable manner. As I stepped inside I inhaled a deep breath of fresh air, hands swinging by my sides, hardly registering the door swinging shut.

My eyes fluttered closed as I walked down the path—

—only to whip back open when I tripped over something.

I looked down and nearly shrieked my lungs out.

Or someone.

Crap.

"Oh, crap," I said, voicing aloud my thoughts. Taking a step back, I watched the boy I tripped over stand up to dust himself off. "I am so sorry and—"

I stopped as he held up a hand. "Did you see where my glasses went?"

Um…what?

My hair swished to the left when I confusedly tilted my head to the side. "What?" I scanned the ground below me as if they would suddenly appear before moving my gaze to his face. His eyes were planted to the stone path. "No," I said slowly. "No glasses that I see. W-why?"

I blinked and resisted the urge to cover my face with my hand. What an obvious question.

A soft laugh met my ears and I immediately found myself taking a step back at the masculine ring it had to it. "They flew off when—well, you know." His smile met his brown eyes.

A gasp flew out of my mouth. "I tripped over your face?"

Oh, dear God.

My knees knocked against the stone path painfully as my hands tightly clutched tufts of grass before he had the chance to confirm my assumption. Or see the blood that I could feel rushing to my cheeks. "I am going to help you find your glasses right now," I said quickly. "Seriously, I am so sorry. I had no idea—"

"—hey, hey, chill out. It's not that big of a deal." Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw him bend down next to me. His hands hovered over the ground as they moved over the grass. "I probably shouldn't have been lying there anyways." The amusement in his voice was easily recognizable.

I forced out a weak laugh and scooted over to the side. The distance between us grew inch by inch. "Um, yeah, probably not."

Silence ensued as we searched for his glasses in our respective places. The ache in my back began to slowly expand lower from my arched position on the ground, knees still throbbing after the sudden impact upon the path. I crawled forward, closer to the bush of flowers in front of me, for a better look. Our steady breathing filled the air and, vaguely, I wondered if he was in as much pain as I was.

Probably so, since my foot collided with his face.

Ugh.

"So, why are you here?" he asked lightly. I could just hear him smile.

Without looking back at him, I held up the form that was now sprinkled with dirt. "Errand." I blinked, turning my head so I could see him for a second. "You?"

He shrugged, blond hair bouncing as he followed my example and crept forward. "Oh, you know." His eyes flickered to mine and then back to the ground to continue his search. The smile on his face widened. "Hiding."

My eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "From who?"

He shrugged his shoulders, and it was then that I took note of the fact that he wasn't wearing a jacket unlike the rest of the student body who weren't accustomed to the chilly weather. "Some girl—a cheerleader, I think. Supposed to be my ambassador for the week or something. I dunno, really."

I nodded my head in understanding. "Blonde hair?" I inquired. "Blue eyes? Fake tan?"

"Yep."

"Oh, that's Jennifer." I could feel a grimace pass over my face. "Can't believe you don't know who she is." I prevented the laughter climbing its way to my mouth by choking on my own spit when the realization hit me. Jennifer was voted ambassador for new kids, so that meant—"Wait!" He froze as I turned around as fast as I could. "Are you new?"

Another smile. "Yeah. Just moved." He turned away from me as a light sparked within his eyes. Instantaneously, his arm shot forward and curled around a dark object hidden between the leaves that had fallen from the plant above. "Oh." Black-framed glasses were held loosely from his hand when he faced me once more. "Found them."

I leaned back on my heels. "Great." I forced another smile as I stood up, feeling my back groan out of relief. "I guess I'll be on my way then."

Thank God.

He nodded without looking at me, cleaning his glasses with his shirt. "Uh-huh."

Yeah, you're welcome.

What a rude new kid.

Then again, I hit him in the face.

I really don't think I'll be forgiving myself for that action anytime soon.

Taking in a breath, I walked forward, passed him and the rest of the flowers that I hardly had the time to enjoy. A small groan issued out of my mouth as I realized the time I had lost due to this small detour. No doubt Mr. Snyder will be wondering where I went in a matter of minutes.

Great. Like I really want a teacher assuming that I cut class and unfairly give me detention.

With that incentive in mind, I quickened my pace until the door was within arm's reach. The cool handle that met my warm hand felt incredibly refreshing. I leaned forward, about to open the door—

"Wait."

I did, turning to face the new kid. "Hm?"

"I'm Jace," he said, closing the distance. I watched him curiously as he came closer until he stopped a couple of feet in front of me. He offered his hand. "Nice to meet you."

I stared at his hand dumbly, as if there was something wrong with it. A fake cough met my ears and I suddenly blinked, jolted back into reality.

"Oh, sorry," I said, laughing nervously and shaking hands with him. "I'm Anna."

Once I let go of his hand, he stuffed them both into his pockets and refused to break eye contact with me. Along with the conversation, for that matter.

"Thanks for helping me look for the specks," he said conversationally, gesturing with his head to the area we had both just been in.

Specks?

"Um, yeah, no problem." I slowly backed closer to the door, running through ideas to leave the conversation politely. "It's the least I could do since I…"

…tripped over his face.

How embarrassing. Seriously.

"Yeah," he said. "It's okay. Um, what—" He took a step closer to me, effectively ruining my plan. "—what teacher are you going to?"

I glanced down at the form. "Moyer." Let's see if the new kid could start a conversation with that!

He nodded, as if he knew who the teacher was. What was this guy trying to pull? "Moyer?" I nodded. "I think I have her next."

I fidgeted uncomfortably. "Cool." Hopefully he was lying, because that would mean that I'd have him in my second period.

"Yeah. So—"

"—you know," I interrupted. "I really have to go. So, um, it was really nice meeting you Jack, um, Jace, sorry, and, uh, welcome to Sterling and—and stuff." I turned away and wrenched the door open, darting back inside the school as a gust of the cool air condition lightly blew my brown hair back.

"Oh! Uh, yeah. See—"

The door closed as relief flooded over my body.

I really hate awkward conversations. Especially when the other half of it is with a guy.

Ugh.

-&-

It turned out that Jack/Jace/the new kid didn't have Mrs. Moyer for second period, which called for immense exaggerated rejoicing on my part and weird looks from everyone else. I had been dreading entering the room during passing period as Macy and Terra met up with me, arguing as normal. After my rude departure from the garden, I had given Moyer the form and took the long way around, just in case he was waiting in the garden to ambush me. So I couldn't help but feel at ease when the bell rang and Jack/Jace/the new kid hadn't turned up.

When lunchtime rolled around and I had seen no sign of the guy, I began to forget about him. The chances of running into him ever again were slim to none. Preferably none, considering the large size of the school.

Terra rolled her eyes in irritation as she dumped her lunch out of her paper bag. "Want to trade?" she said routinely, already trading her ham and cheese sandwich for my peanut butter one.

"Of course."

On cue, Macy's familiar footsteps quickly approached us. Terra and I exchanged blank glances as we both prepared ourselves.

"She's already gotten to him," Macy said, eyes alight with a new piece of gossip in the making. Terra and I watched her almost nonchalantly as she flung her books onto the table and slid in across from us, breathing heavily. It looked as if she had run a mile simply to tell us something as pointless as this. "I swear that girl wants to get with every guy in the school."

I savored my bite of sandwich before joining in on the mostly one-sided conversation. "Who the heck are we talking about?" I got out between chewing.

Macy stared at me, wide-eyed, like I was an alien from some planet called Zardon and I had just spoken my first nonsensical words. "Jennifer and the new guy, of course."

Of course. How could I have been so stupid?

I stared at her evenly. "Oh."

She looked as if she were about to faint. "Oh? Oh? That's all you have to say?" she said incredulously. "Just look at them!" Her command automatically made me and Terra look over our shoulders to see Jennifer giggling stupidly over a comment that the new kid probably had made. A smile was stretched across her face as she pushed him gently in the shoulder.

Oh, gag me.

Simultaneously, we turned back around. Terra was the first to comment: "So Jennifer found another boy toy. Big deal."

"But he's the new kid," she said. Her voice strained on the last two words, as if his status as an outsider was confirmation enough that a girl like Jennifer shouldn't hang around a guy like him.

Terra and I once again exchanged glances. "You're kidding me, right?" I said. "Don't you realize the implications that the phrase 'new kid' has?"

"Yeah." Which really meant no in Macy Language. "But he's an outsider."

Terra rolled her eyes, dropping her newly owned sandwich onto her paper bag. "Okay, who seriously uses the word outsider?" She grabbed a handful of chips from a zip-loc bag in front of her and stared down at it disinterestedly as she counted the amount she had gotten. "He's new—he's not an outsider. And that means fresh meat for us."

Macy frowned. "Yeah, but—"

Terra immediately held up her free hand. "Nope. Don't argue. We won and you know it."

Macy looked at me for help, to which I shrugged. "Hey, when she's right," I took a sip from my carton of milk, "she's right." I sighed and then drew the sigh back in when my eyes widened. "Wait. Jennifer and the new kid?"

"Yeah. He's—"

I whirled back around, immediately recognizing the familiar black glasses I had helped him search for only hours ago perched on his nose. It was as fast as I had looked back at him, I turned back around, shrinking further into my seat.

"…in our grade," Macy finished slowly. Her eyes searched mine suspiciously. "Do you know him, Anna?"

At this, Terra perked up, turning her full attention to me. "You know him?"

I trained my eyes onto my sandwich and filled my time by peeling off the crust. "Um, no, not really. I just, y'know, heard about him." Their silence filled their reply and I found myself looking up at them. "What? You guys don't believe me?"

"You suck at lying," Terra said.

A frown replaced my unconvincing smile. "I really don't know him."

Which wasn't a lie, because I didn't know him. I only knew his name, and even that was doubtful since I wasn't really listening to him when he said it.

"Sure," Macy played along. A Cheshire grin spread over her face slowly. "Of course you don't."

I took a second bite out of my sandwich once the crust was taken off. "I don't. Honestly."

Macy was about to reply when her eyes darted over my head and into the distance, sharply focusing on whatever caught her eye in the first place. It only made her grin widen. "Then tell me, Anna."

I looked at her. "What?"

"Why is he looking at you?"

I rolled my eyes. "He's not," I said.

"Oh, I think he is," she said. "Almost like he knows you. Hm. Interesting. Care to explain?"

Terra looked behind her shoulder casually, scanning the cafeteria on my behalf and turned back around seconds later. "No, he's not." She snorted. "He's not even there anymore. I don't—"

"Terra!" she reprimanded. "I was trying to get her to confess. Why did you—"

"—oh, like I'd side with you."

"You should! It'd be a lot more—"

"—what? Helpful?" Seconds ticked by as she took a deep gulp of her bottled soda. It thumped loudly against the table when she placed it back down. "Because helping you is what I always dream about."

At this point I tune them out until they change the conversation or tire themselves out.

The former generally occurs more than the latter, fortunately. The end of their banter happens much faster that way.

"I still think you should try out for West Side Story," Macy said suddenly. I quickly tuned back in. See? End of pointless argument. Well, somewhat. "You'd be so good."

The supposed thespian held her ground. "Nope. Not gonna happen."

The genius refused to give in as well. "Please," she practically begged. "You have to do something decently impressive to put on your resume."

Finally taking part in the conversation, I nodded in agreement. "I have to go with Macy on this one, Ter'," I said. "Sorry."

Her normal scowl reigned over her features, darkening her blue eyes as they always did. Her mouth opened to retort with some scathing remark more than likely, eyes trained solely on Macy when the bell rang. At the sound of it, Macy jumped up and turned away from us, desperate to get to her next class on time.

Terra growled under her breath, "I really can't stand that girl sometimes."

I laughed and gathered up my trash. "But you love her anyways."

-&-

As far as I knew, Jace/Jack/the new kid wasn't in any of my other classes, much to my pleasure. I try my hardest to refrain from speaking to any of the opposite gender, not because they've done something wrong, just because, well…they're part of the species that's broken my mom's heart over and over again.

By default, I don't trust them.

When the day ended, Terra had to stay after school for detention and Macy had to go to some meeting of hers, leaving me to wander by myself until they finished. Regardless of what they had to do, I was always their ride home. Macy still hadn't learned how to drive and Terra refused to get her license until she turned eighteen, for some reason. So when afternoons like these occurred, I normally headed over to the garden with my iPod and my homework and finished it up there.

I don't mind it, actually.

What I do mind is when someone else is there, particularly conversational new guys who give girls a hard time to escape their presence. Not that I know anyone of that nature or anything.

I frowned, pausing in mid-step. "Aw, man," I breathed out quietly. The window was almost inviting me to bang my forehead against it repeatedly.

The jacketless new kid stood in front of the single rosebush which was conveniently placed right beside the window that I was standing in front of. If he were to look up at any second he would see me watching him, almost like some creepazoid stalker. Which, for the record, I was not. Regardless, the mere thought disheartened me, for sure.

Without another reflection on the matter I turned away, steps bouncing off of the walls as I hurried down the empty hallway. I heard a door open.

No. No, please, no. I really don't want to—

"Anna!"

So close.

I froze, turning around and half-wondering why I couldn't remember his name. "Um, hey," I said, shoving another pathetic attempt of a smile onto my face. "How was your first day?"

His smile naturally formed on his face unlike my own. "Good. I spent most of it in here," he said, gesturing behind him. "I really wasn't supposed to start school until tomorrow, but I had nothing else to do so I thought, why not?" At my response, or lack thereof, he continued on, "So I came here to check the place out. It's pretty nice, I gotta say."

I nodded. "Yeah, I like it." Even if the outside looks as if your walking towards your own personal doom.

"Hey!" I looked up, startled. "I want to show you something." He turned around and walked back into the garden with a sudden determination. As the door clanged shut, I realized that he wouldn't be turning around to see if I was following him any time soon. Or ever, for that matter.

Gnawing on my lip, I issued out a resigned sigh and adjusted my heavy backpack before following him into my original destination.

Curse my weak will.

As I stepped into the garden I had to sidestep the new kid to avoid knocking into him for the second time of the day. His back was turned to me and I curiously watched him struggle with the rosebush that was planted in front of him. The sound of a rose being plucked from the bush barely met my ears, and yet I still found myself backing away once more.

He turned around, standing up, and I had to lift my head an inch to meet his gaze.

A red rose quickly filled my sight.

"Here," he said.

My eyes immediately narrowed. "That's not allowed," I blurted out. The rose slowly dropped from my vision until all that was left was his bewildered gaze. "It's against school policy to take flowers from the garden," I clarified. "So if you put it back, I think—"

"—it's for you, you know," he said firmly, as if it justified the matter.

Well, nothing catches a girl off guard except some stranger offering you some rose that was plucked practically illegally out of some garden in some school.

I swallowed. "Um…" Of all the questions running through my mind, I picked—"Why?" I asked lamely, taking another step back.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Your smile," he said.

"My…smile?" Questioningly, I raised my fingertips to my lips as if they would clear away all of my confusion.

"It's fake," he clarified this time. "So when you left all weird today—" I visibly froze, and he barked out a laugh, "—I'm not stupid, Anna. So when you left all weird, I started to wonder why you kept on forcing a smile on your face." His shoulders heaved up and down again, another shrug. "I was hoping this would put a real one on."

"How did you know it was fake?" I said before I could stop myself.

"My mom's a psychologist," he said. "She teaches me these things sometimes." The rose was brought up again and shaken in front of my eyes to emphasize his original point. "So. The rose. D'you—"

This time I didn't smile. "That's okay," I told him, backing away slowly again. "I don't want it."

He started following me. "You sure?"

"Yep."

"It'd look good with your…shirt."

"My shirt is orange."

"So?"

Guys have no sense of fashion.

"Look," I started, coming to a standstill, "I don't want the—the rose." The name of the flower was accidentally spat in contempt, and at the new guy's surprised look I almost kicked myself. "I don't like them," I explained hurriedly. "And I don't know you. At all. So, just…yeah. Don't give it to me. Give it to Jennifer or something."

The boy frowned. "You seriously don't want this?"

My disgusted stare dropped from his confused face to the rose gripped in his outstretched hand. I resisted the urge to groan. "I seriously don't."

"Okay."

And then he contradicted that simple statement by doing something that I would have never anticipated.

Slowly, hypnotically, his free hand moved forward and grabbed one of my wrists. I stood by, watching him, brain fogging from his sudden actions. Before this, a guy had never touched me. He uncurled my hand and kindly placed the stem of the rose on my palm. Without a word, he closed my hand again and smiled briefly, tilting his head in a nod and pushing my arm to my stomach.

"My name is Jace," he said.

How did he—

And then he was gone, leaving me, a rose, and an entire garden filled with flowers behind.

Maybe if I had a different mother—one who had been married to one man her entire life—I would've followed him out the door, chasing him down. Maybe if Nate had never walked out, and instead stayed with us, I would've had a real smile on the entire time. Maybe if I hadn't been so weak and took the coward's way out of my situation I would've kept the rose and pressed it between pages in one of the books I was reading. Maybe I would've even remembered his name.

But I didn't, and I wasn't.

After examining the rose, I dropped it on the ground and snorted.

As if.


In Which the Author Leaves a Note

Generally, every chapter will be about 10 to 12 pages long. I know, I know. I should probably try to shorten them, but I always tend to draw everything out. Sorry!

Thanks to those who reviewed and to those who simply read--you guys made my day! I'd also like to take this time to apologize for taking so long to update. I'll be trying my best to get the chapters out sooner (no guarantees, though). And now that I've introduced a few characters, I would love to know what you guys think about them. Like them? Hate them? Something I should work on?

Any and every response (questions, criticisms, comments) is greatly appreciated and welcomed. Thanks again!