Chapter One – Lab Partners

It was lunchtime, and Scarlett White was ready to go home. Though she liked school and made the highest average in the junior class, she was ready to plop down on her small bed in her plain room and sleep the rest of the day away. She was tired of this. She was tired because she had stayed up all night studying for her next mathematics test, which happened to be next Monday

Scarlett was eating lunch at the 'loser's' table, as some liked to call it. At the 'loser's' table, there was Ginny, who had her pitch black hair in two braids and was wearing a plain blue T-shirt with jeans and last season's Sperry's. Kate, who was wearing a fairly big button down white blouse and had her pants high on her hips, was frantically working on her English Lit paper, which was due next month. And the last member of the table was Meghan, who wore a long plaid skirt and had taped her glasses together because her older brother had 'accidentally' broken them.

Scarlett missed her youth days. She missed being in middle school and having the world in her palm. She constantly thought of the days when she had been happy and totally carefree. She knew that she was being selfish by wanting things to go back to what they were before the incident. She knew it was selfish to want to rewind her life because back then she hadn't known Ginny, Kate, or Meghan. And even though the group wasn't popular, they were still fun to be with. They had a good time together, but Scarlett still missed her old life before high school hit and the thought of popularity really became drastic. She felt a feeling of nostalgia as she remembered that back in middle school popularity wasn't as big of a deal. She remembered when smart people, who actually cared about their grades and got A's on tests, weren't frowned upon by the bimbos and jocks of the school. She recalled when cheerleaders and pretty girls didn't just get their way because of the status or looks.

Scarlett sighed at the bunch and continued slowly eating her now cold lunch.

"What would you rather: living on the streets or living in a bomb shelter?" Meghan was asking the group of friends, playing the game that she was obsessed with, but everyone else was getting fairly tired of.


"Bomb Shelter."

"Scar? Scar, are you going to answer?" Meghan asked, pulling Scarlett out of her frequent daydreaming of being popular for once.

"Uh...I honestly don't know; both sound pretty stupid to me." Scarlett answered at last.

"Well, duh, that's kinda the point. You have to pick one."

"Fine...I pick: Bomb Shelter. It's the more logical answer because most bomb shelters have food and drinks stored in them where as if you live on the streets, you have to find shelter in garbage and scavenge your own rotten food."

"And this is why we are considered geeks: because we answer simple questions with long, complicated responses." Ginny replied, not looking up from her seven hundred page novel about science fiction cloning. Ginny was fixated on the idea that cloning would become an actual, scientific finding soon. She was consumed with the thought that one day she would be able to clone herself.

The entire grouped sighed with mutual yearning to belong to the more popular cliques.

Scarlett began to distractedly stare off into space as the memorized cliques flashed into her mind. There was the JV Jocks and the Varsity Jocks, who were always talking about sports unless their girlfriends were around. Their girlfriends usually consisted of the Cheerleaders, who only ever talked about makeup and hair product while reminiscing about their most recent shopping trip. After the jocks, came the Preps and Bad Boys. The preppy girls loved the bad boys because they were complete opposites. The bad boys rarely talked, so the girls could chat as much as they wanted about this season's new fashions. Then there were the Semi-Cools, who were into minor sports such as dancing and gymnastics. The boys were usually into some type of trivial activity like lacrosse or track. After the minor sports faction, came the Hostile Hotties, who only kept to themselves. The HH's were never seen outside of their own group. All of the students in this clique were hot, you couldn't deny it, but they were total bitches. Then still lower on the school chain were the Wanna-bees, who acted like they were totally cool, but in reality were no better than those below them: The Sluts and the Players. They actually—oddly—liked to belong to their particular group. The sluts loved playing around with the players, and the players loved being slutty with the sluts. After the whores, came the Band Geeks and lovers of War videogames. Those dorks were classified as antisocial because they didn't care to be around other people, instead they occupied their time being shut up in a dark rook with a television. And then finally came the Nerds at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The nerds, who mostly consisted of Scarlett, Meghan, Kate, and Ginny, were the only students in the entire school who actually cared about their grades.

Scarlett did have a secret that she kept hidden under cover—well, more like under her clothes. She had the looks to belong to the popular groups, but she'ld rather get into a good college than be popular. Or rather her mother wanted her to be accepted into Harvard or Yale. Scarlett's mother sounded like the kind of mother who cared about her daughter's education. But that wasn't all true. Scarlett's mother only wanted Scarlett to get good grades because she wanted Scarlett to receive a full scholarship to college, just so Rosa, Scarlett's mother, didn't have to spend any of her beer and cigarette money on education. That was the only reason Scarlett went to public school, and not the private high school just down the street that she had always dreamed of going to. Scarlett didn't want to go to Star's Hallow High School because it gave excellent education, but because everyone dressed in the same clothes due to the uniform regulation. And that meant nobody could judge Scarlett on her modesty and lack of wearing skimpy clothes.

Scarlett just wanted to fit in and be liked at school, instead of being mocked by those higher up on the chain. Scarlett did have the body of a supermodel from Victoria's Secret, but she was a modest girl and didn't wear skimpy clothes like most teenagers. Scarlett had the perfect hourglass shape that every girl craved and starved themselves for, but it was covered with a baggy T-shirt and jeans. Scarlett's full and curly hair was quickly brushed and knotted into a bun behind her head. And her blemish-free face was bent deeply into the binding of her new book.

Tristan Cox sat at the Varsity Jocks table at lunch. It was where all of his friends sat. And being nominated MVP all year pretty much gave you a free pass to the center of the table. He was the most popular boy at school and he loved every bit of it. All the advantages that he got being well-known and most liked were thrilling to him. All the girls dropped dead over his gorgeous looks and giggled when he spoke a single, simple word. It made him feel powerful and unique. But sometimes being popular got overwhelming. Seriously, it was fun at times, but then when girls laughed at something that wasn't even supposed to be a joke, it really bugged him. And sometimes he wanted to just be left alone. He felt like some bombarded celebrity by the paparazzi, which, technically, was somewhat true seeing as everybody at Watson High School was infatuated with the idea of Tristan Cox being the superstar of the decade.

Tristan realized everyone else at his table—yes, his table—was laughing, so he joined along. He didn't pay much attention to his fellow classmates at this particular table because they were mostly uneducated. Or at least they didn't pay attention during most of their classes. The football team did, however, pay a lot of attention in sex Ed. But other than that one particular class, the majority of the football team was failing, and the coach had to make special exceptions to even allow some of the players a spot on the team.

But, not Tristan. No, he was a straight A student. Not that anyone knew that. Being smart at this school meant being unpopular. It was a pretty lame rule to Tristan, but he met the guidelines to popularity. He was a jock, he was athletic and strong, he was gorgeous, he was 'clueless', he was very much familiar with the opposite gender, and he had plenty of connections when it came to refreshments at a party, seeing as his father own a very successful beer company. Tristan knew what it meant to be unpopular. It would mean that nobody would care about anything he did, and even though Tristan was a bit more realistic and considerate than the other admired students, he still liked the attention he received from everyone, especially girls. He was a social kid, and Tristan didn't even want to think about a life where he was totally ignored. He didn't think he would be able to show his face in this school again if nobody even wanted to talk to him. Maybe that was a bit shallow of him, but, hey, everybody had their materialistic side, didn't they? Well, that was what Tristan was going to believe, anyway.

"So, Tris, what did ya think 'bout that wicked pass I threw to you in the last game? I was, like, whoa, and then you were, like, ca-ching. It was absolutely awesome." Kyle was saying with exaggerated hand motions.

"Yeah, maybe, I would probably think it would be as 'awesome' as you say it was if you could have actually explained the replay in English." Tristan mumbled, and the entire table roared with laughter.

Tristan inwardly rolled his eyes; they laughed at the most random things. But outwardly he laughed along at his not-really-a-joke with the rest of the table, just to please the expecting students.

That was another thing about being popular. Everybody had expectations for the Golden Boy. They all wanted him to be perfect in every way. The girls wanted him to be strong, masculine, and yet sincere and thoughtful, plus funny, and not to mention good in bed. The boys always wanted him to be carefree, sports-minded, cocky, and fun to hang with, in addition to rich. Now Tristan was all of those things and more, but he still hated that everyone wanted him to be that way. Couldn't they all just accept him for who he was and deal with that? No, of course not, they wanted him to be the clichéd Mister Perfect. And so he would be.

Tristan just couldn't wait to get to last period Lab class and be done with this exhausting day. Once he finally made it through lab, he could get home and play his Xbox 360 with his younger brother, Bryan. It would make him feel a lot better when he whipped his brother's ass in Halo 3. He loved to just kick it back at his house and be himself, instead of being the expected Mister Right.

Finally it was the last period of the day, and Scarlett, who always paid attention during class, was daydreaming about the ice cream that she was planning on whipping up as soon as she got home. Lab was so tedious, and Scarlett rarely ever paid attention in it. She had a 4.9 grade point average, and lab was her second best subject grade wise; she really didn't need to pay attention, but then she faintly heard her mother's strict voice, Scarlett Violet White, if you don't get that 5.0 GPA, I'm going to confiscate your cell phone right this very minute! You need to get into a good Ivy League college!

Reluctantly Scarlett pulled out of her trance of eating a nice, cool chocolate Sundae and began to take mental and written notes on today's lab lesson that Mr. Ortega was explaining.

"This month we will be working on a very fun and long Laboratory Project," Mr. Ortega, the lab teacher, was saying, pronouncing all of the syllables in all of his words in an elongated dialogue, "And I will pair all of you up with another partner. The objective of this project is to create a levitating orb." The teacher put a lot of emphasis on 'levitating', obviously hoping for some reaction, but the bored-to-death students just stared at him with blank expressions. The few preppy girls who made it into this honor's course were filing their manicured nails and checking out the couple of bad boys with their hand mirrors as they applied lip gloss.

"All right then, I am handing out a paper with the instructions and tools you will need. Now, here are the partners: Kenny and Laura, Jenna with Parker, Casey and Pat…"

Anybody but him. Anybody but him. ANYBODY BUT HIM. Scarlett's insides chanted as Mr. Ortega continued to call out the names of the selected partners.

"Cara with Cameron, Isobel and Troy, Kate with Kyle, Dakota and Ronnie…"

Don't put me with that boy. Anybody but that back-stabbing, arrogant, self-absorbed, son of a— Scarlett's thoughts were interrupted as Mr. Ortega called out.

"Scarlett with Tristan..."

NOOOOO! Scarlett's insides screamed with denial and regret. She absolutely hated Tristan with all of her guts. He was the most popular boy in school; most girls would have loved to have this once in a lifetime opportunity, but not Scarlett. She believed Tristan was an egocentric, narcissistic, all-about-me jerk. And she did not want to fail this assignment because he was too lazy or didn't have time because of football practice.

This is so typical that the school's biggest nobody would get partnered up with school's biggest celebrity, Scarlett thought to herself, just so freaking typical.

He knew Scarlett was the school's biggest nerd, but what was really wrong with that? A nerd was someone who merely cared for his or her grades. Was there really anything wrong with caring for one's grades? Caring for your grades would come in handy later on in life. When you were thirty or forty, were you really going to care about what jeans you wore or what shoe was in style in 2010? What will really matter at age thirty is what you learned and how you used it.

Maybe working with Scarlett wouldn't be too bad. But Tristan's reputation might be tainted by a single, public A+. Would his friends laugh and mock him because he was actually smart and not dimwitted like they were? Maybe; maybe not, but in the end who really cared? Maybe he could convince Scarlett to just get a B average. But, no, he didn't want to do that because he didn't want to ruin Scarlett's perfect grade. She had, like, a 4.8 GPA; she was considered the smartest girl in school, not that that was really praised at this school. Sometimes Tristan wondered why Scarlett didn't attend Xavier Prince's High School for the Gifted; she would fit in so much better there than here.

So, he would work with Scarlett and be done with it. That was the only solution to this minor dilemma. And the faster he could get this whole ordeal out of the way, the better.

Soon enough, last period ended, and Tristan met up with his friends as they all walked to their lockers to exchange books and then headed out to their cars in the parking lot outside.

"Can you believe I got paired up with Jenna? She's, like, a total slut. Do you think she is going to try and hit on me? Because I don't know, she is kinda hot if you really think about it." Parker was blabbing on and on while Tristan and a couple of others walked to their cars in the school's parking lot.

"Okay, well, I'll see you tomorrow." Tristan said as he reached his black Corvette. He pressed the unlock button on his keys and he heard an electronic beep as the car doors opened.

"Hey, sexy." a seductive, female voice said from behind Tristan.

Tristan turned around to see Alice, the Head Cheerleader. The Head Cheerleader was just as good as being the MVP and/or Quarterback of the Varsity Football Team. And since Tristan was both MVP and Quarterback, the unwritten rules of high school said that Alice Barrington and Tristan Cox should be "The It Couple". The couple everyone talked about. The couple everyone wanted to be. The couple everybody knew was going to happen sooner or later.

"Hey, Alice." Tristan mumbled. The truth was Tristan was really annoyed with Alice. She was always hinting that they should be going out and, more importantly, going to prom together. But Tristan didn't want her to be his girlfriend. Alice was too clinging, too needy. She was just that typical, hackneyed cheerleader who was most likely going to be prom queen and knew it.

"So, what are you doing this weekend?" she asked, casually leaning against his car, effectively blocking his way in and his escape from her.

"'m..." Tristan's attention was caught by a slim, redhead, and an idea clicked, "I am working on that lab project this weekend with Scarlett."

"Scarlett White? That loser?" Alice pointed her French manicured finger toward Scarlett, who was hustling to her little, lime green punch-buggy.

"Uh...yeah, I wanna get a head start on that project, so I won't have to worry about it."

"You. Want. To. What?"

"I want to get a head start on that project." Tristan repeated slowly, hoping that Alice would be able to comprehend it this time, "Look, I really need to go make plans with Scarlett. See you later." Not. The last person Tristan wanted to see later was Alice; Alice was even after Scarlett in his line of who he wanted to see later. And Tristan and Scarlett had absolutely nothing in common.

Scarlett pulled out her rusty car keys to unlock her hand-me-down buggy. She opened the back door and threw her backpack in the backseat. When she turned around to go to the front seat and take off, she almost ran right into...she looked up and saw Tristan smiling down at her.

Scarlett's cheeks burned with embarrassment from almost falling in front of him. Not because she liked him—which she absolutely did not—but from tripping in front of the one person she believed was the most egotistical person alive.

"Scarlett, right?" Tristan asked with a small smile on his lips.

"Since the day I was born." Scarlett replied, looking up at Tristan in confusion. "What do you want?"

"Right, well, we are partners for that lab project, and I just wanted to go ahead and get started on it. So, when are you free?"

Scarlett's mind went blank. She thought she was going to have to practically drag Tristan and sit him down in front of a desk to get that project done. Now he was all enthusiastic to finish it. This wasn't at all what she had been expecting from him. Why was he so wholehearted and excited to jump on the project even though they had a whole month to finish it? And then it struck her. I bet he wants to get it done with because I am his partner, and he doesn't want to be seen hanging around me, a small voice whispered in her mind.

Scarlett's eyes narrowed. That was it. Tristan didn't want to be humiliated about being her partner, so he wanted to finish the project as fast as he could and pretend he never had to be paired with her.

"So, are you able to work this weekend or not?" Scarlett was able to hear the impatience in his tone now.

"No, sorry, I have to go...somewhere this weekend."

"Where?" The impatience was gone from his voice now, and curiosity had taken its place.

Crap, she hadn't meant to make that hesitation, she hadn't even meant to bring that up.

"Somewhere. Now, I have to go. Maybe sometime next week, we can finish that project."

Scarlett went to open her car door, but a strong arm was leaning against it. She glared up at Tristan now, "Move out of my way." she hissed through her clenched teeth.

"Where do you have to be?" Tristan seemed at ease.

"That's none of your damned business. Now, get the hell off my car." Scarlett said as her eyes narrowed up at Tristan's.

Tristan seemed reluctant, but he moved; nonetheless, sensing Scarlett's building anger. As Scarlett drove out of the parking lot, she could sense Tristan's stare on the back of her neck. Why was he so nosy? Now, she could add that to the list of adjectives about him: back-stabbing, arrogant, self-absorbed, egocentric, narcissistic, all-about-me, jerk, egotistical, and nosy.

Tristan watched Scarlett drive out of the parking lot flabbergasted. No girl had ever turned him down for anything. A date, dinner, movies, dance, club, a study group, anything. He was actually amazed at her bravado and the way she stood up for herself. Covering a mistake she hadn't meant to make by cursing at him. Normally, Tristan would have been outraged, but something about her made him almost giddy.

Tristan pulled out of his reprieve and turned around to see an empty parking lot. Tristan laughed at himself for being so day-dreamy lately. He wasn't going to let just one, little, insignificant girl who wasn't even apart of the B-list table make him look like a fool. And he was sure as hell not going to mention this little encounter to anyone he ate lunch with. He only hoped that Scarlett wouldn't mention this to anyone. But then he laughed at himself again. Even if she tried to tell people that Tristan talked to her after school, nobody would listen to her, and if they did, he could just tell them that she was making it up to get attention. But Scarlett wasn't that kind of girl, and he knew it. Unlike him, she didn't need attention to survive this high school world.

During the entire trip to his house, all Tristan could think about was Scarlett and how she had acted towards him. She was just so different, and he couldn't get over it. Even while Tristan was kicking his brother's ass at Halo 3 on his Xbox 360, all he thought about was Scarlett's secret that she was hiding from him.

How had he never noticed her before? Probably, because she sat at the 'loser's' table, but seriously he must have realized they were in the same Lab class together. Why had he never really gotten to know her? The answer came quickly: because they were both apart of two different cliques. But another question popped in his head before he could really let their different social statuses set in: What was she hiding from him?

He knew that she probably didn't trust him because he must have subconsciously treated her like garbage. But she seemed to be hiding something important from him.

"No, sorry, I have to go…somewhere this weekend," she had said.

"Where?" he had asked.

"Somewhere. Now, I have to go..."

Scarlett, frustrated beyond belief about the tiny, humiliating events that had just happened, almost forgot where she was going. She was so used to just turning left and heading home to work on her schoolwork, like she did every day of every week of every month of every year. Even during the summer, she was reading books that would help broaden her vocabulary, so she would have a better chance at getting accepted into a good college because her essay's terminology would have a diversity of words.

But, just in time, she turned the wheel of the car right instead of left, which was the direction that home—and that nice, yummy Sundae—was. Instead of heading home to her much needed dessert, she began heading toward the less metropolitan area of the state. She didn't like this part of town that much, but this was where her brother was. And she always visited her brother every week. And this week was no exception. Even though she knew she was going to spend some good family time with her younger brother, she was still thinking about that delicious ice cream that was in her freezer in her kitchen.