As far as I was concerned, Nicholas Runner had never existed,

It was easy, really, to live in this façade. No one asked me about him. No one questioned me about him. No one at my school even knew about him. Or so I had falsely believed.

I had transferred to River High for my senior year, just to escape the insanity that had threatened me at RidgeWar High, miles away behind me now. Here, I would start a new life, a new identity. No one would pity me like they had before. No one would look at me with those eyes again. I hated it. Hated the fact that I got treated special because my best friend, Nick had died trying to rescue a little girl stuck in a burning building.

No lie. That's how he died.

My best friend Nick died from smoke inhalation after saving the life of a little girl. She lived, just so you know. When the paramedics told Nick that, that she would live, he closed his eyes and used his last breath to say, "Good."

And then he died. I could—would never forget his eyes. I had always envied his eyes. They were unique. Nick's eyes were a silvery blue with white gossamer rings that circled the black center. And at that moment as he died, his eyes were filled with relief. Not regret, not pain, not even fear: relief.

And Nick was a hero. But I had lost my best friend. The only one I had since kindergarten. The one who had been my hero since the time we met and he staved off packs of bullies who made fun of my deformed face.

Yeah. My face was deformed. But Nick never even seemed to notice. He was lucky. He had a very handsome face, one a girl sighed over dreamily. I wondered what it was like to be that popular, to have so many girls pine over you.

At that moment, I shook my head and focused on the towering school in front of me. Whereas RidgeWar was a small, one floor high school, River High was monumentally humungous. At least, that is, it was to me. It was a towering four floors surrounded by a large, vaulting cement wall. I walked over to the shining, open, metal gate and took a deep breath, readying myself for the stares.

I always got them, even before Nick had died. My face drew stares. When I was little, I got hit by a car while chasing after a soccer ball I had inconveniently kicked into the street. The doctors were amazed that I had survived such a fatal looking wound on my face, but I had managed to pull through, with my twisted features.

In some ways, I liked the deformity. It allowed me to realize that beauty wasn't everything in the world. And I looked forward to the day that a girl liked me for me and not my appearance. A girly hope, I know, but I wished for it anyway. And I probably would never see the day when it came true.

Other than the twisted hope it gave me, I loathed my face. I hated the stares, the uncomfortable questions, the snide remarks… people made me feel wrong. When I met Nick, I started to see that I was no different than anyone else at school, that only my past and my personality set me apart from them.

I reached the school and forced myself to stop thinking about Nick Runner. He didn't exist. Nick Runner? Who? I imagined myself saying. I walked past staring students in the hallway, looking at my palm where I had scribbled my locker number and combination that morning. It took me fifteen minutes to find my locker, open it, and put my book bag inside.

I turned around and yelped, finding myself inches from a girl. And not just any girl; I recognized her. Well, at least the eyes.