Chapter 1

Wilson High

"I fail at life."

Shannah looked up at Kim moments before she slumped onto her cafeteria chair and buried her face in her arms.

"What's wrong?" Shannah asked, taking a nonchalant sip from her milk carton.

"I think I might fail my Geometry class. Because last week I had that unexcused absence, and we had a chapter test and—ugh, Shannah, Geometry is the most useless class ever. I'll never use it for the rest of my life, the teacher hates my guts, and that jerk who sits behind me won't stop making lude comments at my back. I mean—" Kim shot up straighter, face indignant. "—they spend all this time and money teaching us how to calculate the circumference of a circle—as if I give a shit—and yet we don't have a writing class, which might actually pertain to, you know, writing resumés and such. What the hell?"

"I don't know." Shannah took another bite from her yogurt.

"Thanks, Shannah. As always, you're such a big help." Kim's head made a thump as it hit the table.

Jacky plopped down beside Shannah, looking cheerful, as was normal for her. "Guess what, guys? Next month I'm going to Puerto Rico!"

"That's cool."

Kim just groaned, as if in pain.

"What's up with you?" Jacky asked. She didn't get an answer, as Elizebeth took this moment to show herself.

"It seems every time I find away around these stupid blocks on the school internet, they up them. They might be on to me."

"Cry me a river, Elizebeth." Kim rolled her face to look up at the redhead. "I'm gonna fail Geometry."

Elizebeth only raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. "And this is a shock because . . .?"

"Screw you, Liz. I have a headache. I want to sleep."

This wasn't anything new, as far as lunches at school went. Normally Kim would sit with her more glamorous friends, but she'd gotten C lunch this semester, and no one she knew outside of them had it as well. Shannah knew Kim would probably prefer her more attractive, more normal friends, but Shannah was glad they weren't around. Nothing rotted self-esteem more than a bunch of fasionistas with perfect hair. Besides, Kim's entourage was just a tad too superficial for her tastes. At least Jacky and Elizebeth had attractive nonphysical qualities.

"Told you you shouldn't skip class." Elizebeth sat down gracefully, splaying her reed-thin fingers across the tabletop. "You should have known it was gonna bite you in the ass."

"No one told me that it was the day of the test." Kim glared at Elizebeth, as if this were her fault.

Elizebeth was unfazed, sliding a pen behind one dainty ear. Elizebeth would be the very image of sophistication—slim, proper, reserved—if it weren't for her huge mass of wild red curls. Those who didn't know her name called her "that computer girl", because often Elizebeth was more reliable to fix the computers than the school technician was. Shannah wasn't sure what her future held for her: a lucrative career as a computer programmer or a criminal life sending viruses to the CIA. Knowing Elizebeth's tendency to be morally ambiguous, she could go either way.

"Don't blame other people for your own poor bookkeeping."

"Maybe Ms. Jenkins will let you make it up?" Jacky looked to Kim imploringly. Where Elizebeth was cold and calculating, Jacky was always looking to please. Her warm nature made it so that Shannah hadn't found a soul so far that disliked her.

"No. Even if she were that nice—she hates me, as you know—she's not allowed because it was an unexcused absence. She says all she can do is offer me extra credit and gawd, I hate doing extra credit." Kim crossed her arms over her chest. "I need something smothered in chocolate right now or I'm going to explode." She rocketed to a stand. "I'm hoping this school has pudding today."

Then she was headed toward the lunch line, jean skirt and blonde waves swaying to her stride.

"You'd have thunk that she'd stop being so moronic by now," Elizebeth said. "This happens to her all the time."

"School isn't Kim's strong suit. But she has talents in other areas," Jacky defended.

"Yeah. Seducing football players and looking like a shampoo ad every second of her life." Elizebeth pulled open her paper bag lunch and yanked out the fruit smoothie she brought every day. "Not the greatest talents to have in the real world."

Shannah tuned both of them out, having heard this schpiel before. Her eyes came to rest on a table halfway across the room, filled with four boys and two girls. It was loud, as usual, and almost every lunch it was the source of a loud "OH! OWNED!" that would send the guys into hysterics. Shannah didn't really care about that. She cared mostly about the blond guy who was seated halfway facing her, eating fries as he smiled at something that was said. Shannah sighed heavily and tried to peer out from behind a curtain of hair, in case he looked up and caught her staring. God, he was gorgeous. Not just gorgeous, but smart and funny and—

Jean-clad hips suddenly blocked her view. Shannah looked up, quickly brushing her hair from her face.

A girl was sneering down at her. Despite her freckles and baby-blonde pigtails, she was beyond fierce, and nothing about that smile was kind. Small gray eyes stared at her from behind light eyelashes, the eyes of the devil if Shannah had a say in it.

"Who ya lookin' at, Rodensky?" Paula asked. She put a hand on a cocked hip. She wore the usual: gray muscle shirt, ratty black jeans, and combat boots with laces that dragged behind them. Only a tattoo of a flaming skull could have made her look any tougher.

"Not you," Shannah said.

"Where's Kimzilla? Giving out blowjobs in the bathroom?"

"Paula . . ." Jacky sighed. Jacky was one of the few who tried to see the good in Paula, despite how hard Paula made that.

Elizebeth tapped the table sharply with her plastic fork. "Have you run out of assholes to harass, Paula?"

"They aren't biting at the moment." Paula swept a hand through her snarled hair. "And I just came to see if Kim's around for a good ole bitch fight."

"She's in line for pudding."

Paula twisted around to look at the line. "Oh. Right."

Paula frightened Shannah. She tried to be pleasant to her, because she certainly didn't want to make an enemy out of her. But Paula was tough enough to illicit her own tall-tale rumors, one including that she beat up a gang of five single-handedly and then pissed on them. Shannah wasn't so sure about the peeing part, but knowing Paula, the beating-up-of-a-gang thing didn't sound so far-fetched. It was confirmed that Paula had taken karate in her younger years, and she had gotten kicked out because she broke a kid's nose after he insulted her. So far she hadn't landed in jail or permanently injured anyone since, so perhaps she was behaving herself. Still. Shannah didn't want to be her next target. Shannah couldn't even slap hard.

Kim strode over then, and her eyes narrowed when they settled on Paula.

"What are you doing over here?" Kim asked, sitting down sharply. "Are you finally so friendless that you've come to me as a last resort?"

"Maybe I just wanted to talk to Jacky." Paula turned to Jacky. "Hello, Jacky."

"Uh, hi."

"Why don't you go enjoy your lunch in the Dumpster, where you usually live?" Kim raised plucked eyebrows. "Or do you just get your clothing there?"

"Only a materialistic bitch like you would think that insulting my clothes would hurt me." Paula clutched a fist to her heart. "Oh, woe is me! A burning spear through the chest, it is!"

"Go away." Kim sent an acid stare in her direction. "Don't you have a boy toy or whatever? Go spend time with him."

"Look, you can say what you want about me, but if you insult my boyfriend, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to—"

"Punch me? In school?" Kim chuckled humorlessly. "Take your best shot. You'll get expelled and I, the helpless victim, will stay and benefit from your absence."

"Why do you gotta say shit about Jake, anyway? You like him."

"Until he started dating you." Kim sniffed. "He clearly has no taste."

Shannah sighed and ducked her head lower. This was nothing special, really. She realized Paula could be annoying at times, but Kim only threw oil on the fire. Maybe if Kim would just ignore her, Shannah wouldn't be subjected to this war every week.

"Or maybe you're sour because he chose me over you. I didn't know your ego was so delicate."

"Ha, as if—"

"As fun as this is to listen to," Elizebeth interrupted. "It's really starting to get old, and I'm eating. If you two want to duel it out, why not step outside the cafeteria and do it there. But I have an appetite I'd like to maintain." Elizebeth took a big bite from her muffin. Both girls turned to glare at her, but Elizebeth was indifferent.

Paula clearly wasn't going to give up, but the appearance of her boyfriend handicapped her retaliation against Kim.

"Hi, guys." Jake Kirkwell came up beside her. He was what most considered a "skater boy", but he had such a ruffled, good-natured attitude that even the yuppiest couldn't say a bad thing about him. This was why no one could believe it when he befriended and later began dating the Ice Queen of the school.

Kim waved. "Hi, Jake. Put your girlfriend on a leash and get her away from me."

"Leash? More like chain." Paula elbowed him playfully, and he chuckled. "Okay, Paula. Leave the nice people to their lunch."

"Whatever." Paula stalked away in her usual flurry of gloom and doom.

"I don't know, Kim. Something about you gets her hackles up."

"Probably the fact I'm prettier and funnier." Kim pulled a celery stick from her lunch and bit into it. "No offense to your tastes, Jake—"

"Yeah, okay." He shrugged. "Anyway, Kim, I hear you're having some sort of party Friday night?"

"Just a little one. You're invited as long as you don't bring her with you."

"I'm not gonna go to something my girlfriend can't come to."

Kim shrugged. "Well then, that's your choice."

Jake sighed and walked away. Kim glared after him.

"You know," she said after some silence, "he's such a nice guy. Not bad looking either. I just don't get why he chooses Facksi to hang around. I wonder if he can even kiss her without asking for permission."

"Maybe he likes her because she's attractive," Elizebeth noted.

"What? Paula is not attractive. Maybe if you're into She-Hulks or something . . ."

Elizebeth sighed. "I'm only saying."

"Probably because she's blonde." Kim took another bite from a carrot.

"Kim, you're blonde."

"Not as blonde as her. Youda thunk they just imported her from Norway or something."

Shannah tuned out again. This was a repeat of a thousand other conversations. She didn't really care to hear anymore about Paula, and there was more interesting subject matter elsewhere. She turned her eyes back to the man at the table halfway across the room, and wished she knew what he was saying, because she was sure it would be both witty and charming.

*

. . .so she only had to pretend to be a little slower than him.

Nathan Carns had been the object of Shannah's infatuation since seventh grade. Even though she was now five years older, the infatuation still ran deep. Her heart had been broken when Kim dated him as a freshman. Kim broke up with him just four months later, but it wasn't until earlier this year that Shannah had admitted her crush to her. Since then, Kim had taken upon herself to get Shannah together with her ex and now good friend. A part of Shannah was grateful, because she knew that otherwise her crush would never be anything more. Another part of Shannah felt depressed, because she found it pathetic that her gorgeous and popular friend had to get involved in order for Nathan to even realize Shannah existed.

Nathan was cute, charming, smart, funny, everything a girl could want. Even better, he wasn't a football player, which meant Shannah wasn't required to go to games or pretend any interest in the sport. He had been on the track team once, and the soccer team before that, but as far as Shannah could tell, he wasn't much of a jock. Which she also liked, because after seeing Kim go through jock after jock, Shannah was rather determined to stay away from that demographic.

Shannah headed to her only class with him, Trig. Now, Shannah wasn't exactly a math whiz, but she did better than about eighty percent of the class. Unlike Elizebeth, however, she didn't have a reputation for being incredibly smart, so the moochers, for the most part, stayed away from her. Kim often seeked out Shannah for help, and occasionally Jacky, but that was about it. Shannah was glad of it. Kim told her that smart girls intimidated men. Shannah figured Nathan was about as smart as her, so she only had to pretend to be a little slower than him.

Because Nathan was in her Trig class, she tended not to despise it. However, there were three jocks who sat around her who wrought enjoyment from embarrassing her. Once they found out how easy it was, there was no stopping it. The teacher found it amusing. So did Nathan. Shannah tolerated it for him.

Hauling her heavy book and folder to class, she found her seat to the back of the room. She watched the door anxiously, hoping that maybe perhaps Jack, Ethan or Brandon would be absent. They worked as a threesome and rarely made trouble without their entire gang. Ethan, the quarterback of the football team, was Kim's new boy-toy.

Unfortunately, the threesome was complete and looking especially obstreperous today. Jack, who took the role as leader of this group, smirked at Shannah and slapped himself down in the desk next to her, which sadly was his assigned seat.

"Shannah, I have something for you."

"What's that?" she asked, even though she was far from wanting to know.

Jack pulled from his pocket a crown of dandelions and gently placed it around her head. Ethan and Brandon guffawed and exchanged smirks.

"What the . . ." Shannah trailed off.

"You are now our queen, Oh Mighty One," Jack groveled, clasping his palms together and giving her a short, quick bow. "You have sought out Our Almighty Lord's attention, and now that you will be wed, we feel it is our obligation to award you with this spectacular and dazzling display of power. We are not worthy!"

With that, all three of them dropped to their knees and began kissing her sneakers. She pulled them up onto the chair, pushing them into her chest. She should have expected this, but that didn't make it any less disturbing.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Shannah whispered.

Ethan moved to answer, but he was interrupted by the reason. Nathan stepped into the room, his hair disheveled in that certain I-care-but-not-too-much way. He was perfect at every angle, every facet.

"Our Almighty Lord graces us with his presence!" shouted Brandon, bowing over and over again. "We are worms. We are worms."

"Ah, my slaves," Nathan joked, stepping up in front of them. "What are you up to now?"

"We have just crowned the Oh Mighty One. Soon you shall be wed, and you will be bound by love, soul, eternal spirit, and awesome sex—"

Nathan laughed in good humor, but Shannah got the feeling of shrinking further and further into herself. She could put up with Jack, Brandon and Ethan. Nathan was a completely different story. Lately he'd been talking to her more often, winking at her, making her blush. Shannah knew it was all because Kim asked him to, but she couldn't help but wonder if he enjoyed it for his own sake.

"So now I'm married to her?" Nathan asked. It was odd how instead of looking at the guys, as he had directed the question to them, he looked at Shannah, amber eyes amused.

"Indeed."

"Guys . . ." Nathan shook his head. "You have serious mental issues. I advise the psychiatrist Jack goes to."

"Hey, it isn't my fault I'm bipolar," Jack joked, when in fact he was not bipolar.

At that time, Ms. Kat entered the room. She called the class to order, and the threesome was forced to break up and go to their designated seats. Last class's tests were handed back, and Shannah was pleased to see a gigantic letter A scribbled across her paper.

"You should all go over these tests in the next half hour, and then hand the corrections back into me. Corrections aren't mandatory, but I might be persuaded to give bonus points to those who need it—"

Her next words were drowned out by the murmur of classmates. Most were talking about subjects that were in no way related to trig.

Shannah bit down hard on the cap of her pen and looked down at the red checks. She was lucky to scrape past with an A. She was so absorbed in corrections that she was hardly aware of the insistent tapping on her shoulder. She spun around. Nathan was leaning forward expectantly, eyes scanning the large A on her paper. Shannah resisted the urge to hide it, in fear he'd be intimidated.

"Hey," he murmured, eyes flashing back up to hers.

"What did you get?" Shannah asked. Nathan blinked for a moment, as if it was a question he hadn't expected. He quickly looked down at his paper.

"I got a ninety something," he muttered quickly, then dismissed the subject with a flick of his hand. "Anyway, I wanted to talk to you."

Shannah's lower half froze. Her legs seemed cemented to her chair. It was a normal reaction of hers when conversations had the slightest hint of intimacy.

"A— about what?" she stuttered, unable to meet his gaze.

"Did you hear about Kim's party?"

Shannah nodded slowly.

"Well, are you going?"

"Wasn't planning on it." Shannah had been Kim's friend since seventh grade, and she'd been to only one of her parties. It had not ended well.

Nathan gave her a tiny pout, one so small that she barely noticed. It got the message across just fine though. "I think you should go."

"Why?"

"Because I wish you would."

"Why do you want me to come?"

"Should I have to answer that?" Nathan smiled warmly.

Shannah gaped at him with an open mouth for a second, wondering if perhaps he'd been persuaded to say such an insane thing through long and slow torture. No one willingly sought Shannah's attention. Not even Kim. Maybe there'd been a rumor going around that Shannah was easy. Maybe she suddenly grew beautiful. Maybe she suddenly grew beautiful and gained a personality. All things were possible.

"Um . . well— I don't— um . . ."

Nathan waited patiently for her tongue to catch up with her brain.

"Um, well, my mom—I have this dinner thing I have to go to and—well, I can't exactly skip—" It was a lie, all of it, but Shannah was desperate.

"That's okay." He looked slightly disappointed, but not heartbroken. "Maybe we'll find some other way to hang out, right?"

Shannah nodded vigorously. "Yes! Most definitely. If I weren't busy—"

"It's okay. We'll schedule something." He gave her a wink and smiled. Shannah nervously returned it. Then she turned back to the blackboard, gut twisting. For the rest of the class, she could be seen with a goofy grin on her face.

Author's Note: Deleted Chapter Two and fixed Chapter One. It is better this way. ^_^

Reading through this, I realize just how many characters I introduce in such a small segment of time. D: Oh well. I hope everyone can keep up with it. XD Hopefully the girls all have distinct enough personalities that they can be told apart. *nods *