I slipped into the dimly lit room to find a herd of people crowded around the DJ's table, making requests. This was my first high school party. Sure, I was a freshman, and I had never experienced the total chaos that is a ''masquerade'', but I wanted to make the best of it. I had no clue where Alexa and Charlie were. I had lost Alexa about thirty minutes before, when she ran off with Stevie Harper and some of his friends, and Charlie had split from us as soon as we walked in the door.

I glanced around. A few people were in the back of the huge living room. It was the Emos. I could tell who they were because of their eerie black vibe. They stared at the walls, not saying anything to each other, almost blending into the darkness. I stood around like some stalker for a few more seconds before Kylee Fisher strutted up to me, flicking her blonde hair when she passed the football players.

''Hey!" she exclaimed at the top of her lungs. I forced a smile. I wanted it to seem like I was having fun, because this was her sixteenth birthday party.

''Hi,'' I replied, trying to make myself sound enthusiastic. I knew that the only reason she was talking to me was because she couldn't recognize me. I knew that whatever she said was insincere. She didn't want to be caught dead with a freshman. Especially a freshman that nobody knew or cared to ask about.

''Having fun?" I nodded. She started dancing when 'Dynamite' came over the huge speakers. ''Cool!" She walked away. So much for having a conversation. I looked around, trying to identify someone I knew under the hundreds of masks in the center of the room, but my attention was drawn back to the Emos again. There was something about them that was intriguing. I didn't know if it was their many black piercings or the eyeliner, but I couldn't rip my gaze from them. Their eyes shifted from one spot on the wall to another, like they were completely ignoring the fiasco that was Kylee's party. It was like their eyes just saw vacancy in this hot, overcrowded room.

I stood around for a few more seconds before glancing into the right corner of the room. Then, everything else stopped. I wasn't worried about the Emos, Alexa, Charlie, Kylee, or the other hundred people in the room. I was only worried about the dark brown eyes that stared back at me through a black and gray mask. The sound vanished, and I could feel my heart start to pound. One thing popped into my mind: please don't let him be in love with someone else.

One week earlier

''Kylee's having a party Friday,'' Alexa told me on our way to the buses after school. I sighed.

''So?" She gasped.

''So! Kylee is like the most popular girl in school! If we get in with her group, we're good to go for the next four years!'' She'd always thought like this. Even in elementary school, she'd wanted to be the girl that everyone knew and liked. I was the complete opposite. Sort of. I didn't really know what I wanted to be. Deep down I knew that I was an artist. I belonged with the people that didn't care what the populars thought of them, as long as they had a pencil and paper in their hands at all times.

''So?" Alexa looked at me anxiously.


''Will you go? Please?" I sighed louder and longer than necessary.

''Fine, I'll go.'' She squealed. ''Only, and only if we can leave by nine thirty.'' Her expression dropped slightly, but then went back to usual.

''Okay. It's a deal.''

I was outside that night, watching the stars. I could hear my mom and step dad's quiet mumbling from the open kitchen window. The bills had come again. This week was going to be rough. We weren't poor, we just weren't rich either. Orion's belt. I forced myself to name the few constellations that I knew.

''-because it gets harder and harder every time-'' Draco...

''-we can't just not pay it... I don't know what-'' Aquarius...

''-I know, I know... maybe we can ask for another loan...-'' Hydrus...

My dad left when I was eleven. He always used to tell me that he loved me. That he'd always be there for me. Then he left for another woman and two daughters. I haven't spoken to him since. I promised myself that I would never believe in love again. Because the one love I knew left me for someone better.

My alarm clock's glaring red numbers woke me up at six the next morning. My step dad was at work, and my mom was volunteering at the hospital this week. I was home alone.

It was cold when I met Alexa outside of the school. Our breath instantly turned to fog in front of us, illuminated only by the rising sun. We came in early to work on a history project that was due at the end of the week. Only a few people were scattered in the hallways.

''I don't know what to wear for the party on Friday.'' She'd been talking about it nonstop since she found out that freshmen could go. ''We're supposed to wear masks.''

''That's highly overrated,'' I replied simply, leaving her in stunned silence.

''What? It's not overrated! It's romantic!'' she cried. I laughed silently.

''Whatever floats your boat.'' She gasped in astonishment.

''I can't believe you. You'd think you were one of those weird people that hang around outside Mr. Church's room after school.'' Mr. Church was our school's AP art teacher. He held art club before and after school almost every day. I'd never gone.

Sure enough, when we rounded the corner to go to our lockers, there was a large group of colorfully dressed people crowded outside Mr. Church's room, waiting for him to get there. I recognized Charlotte, a junior, immediately; she must have been the leader of the group. It was hard to miss her. With her short, wavy, bright maroon hair, Steve Urkel glasses, trench coat, knee high biker boots, red jeans and bowler hat, she stood out more than anyone else. I glanced beside me as we walked past them. The group ranged from freshman to seniors, and they were all talking like old friends, almost like family. I only saw a few people that were in some of my classes. Ben; physics. Harper; Algebra I. Devon and Kimberly; Literature. I was glancing amongst them when a pair of dark brown eyes met mine. They belonged to a relatively tall freshman with longer brown hair; the only one that looked normal. I quickly looked straight ahead, hoping Alexa didn't notice.

My mind wandered all day. I didn't catch a word of anything my teachers said. I stared out the windows, gazing into the forest that surrounded the school. The trees were tall and the leaves were turning bright shades of orange and yellow.

''Maddie!" My thoughts were brushed violently away by Charlie, Alexa's brother, in Physics. He peered anxiously at me.

''What?" I hissed back.

''Sorry. You zoned out there for a second. I thought you were dead.'' I smacked him on the back of the head. He and Alexa were twins, as in both born on the same day at the same time, but looked nothing alike. While Alexa was short and had a darker complexion and hair, Charlie was tall and skinny, pale, red-headed, and had bright green eyes. Since I was an only child, him and Alexa were like a brother and sister to me.

''Shut up,'' I replied back. Mr. Bartlett glared at us from behind his desk.

''Hey, Maddie!" Alexa ran to catch up with me after school.

''What's up?"

''You need to ride home with me on Friday so we can find something to wear,'' she said as we climbed the hill towards the buses. Our feet crunched the leaves on the sidewalk.

''Okay.'' I wasn't really paying attention.

''Oh no!" She stopped in her tracks, and looked at me with horror in her eyes. ''What are we going to do about masks?" I laughed silently.

''I'll make them.'' She looked surprised.

''You can do that?" I nodded. She looked taken aback.

Friday came all too quickly. Alexa, Charlie, and I got to school early to get a physics project done. We shuffled down one of the many hallways, our footsteps echoing off the dimly lit tile.

''-and the window wasn't even open!" Charlie was trying to get us to laugh at one of his infamous jokes.

''No, that one's not good either,'' I replied casually. He slumped over moodily.

''You never think any of them are good,'' he sighed.

''Because they're not!'' Alexa exclaimed, getting us a dirty look from the janitor. ''What do you get them off of, bubblegum wrappers?" Charlie glanced at her.

''Maybe. Why do you care?" She chuckled.

''Out of all the fourteen year old guys in the world,'' she said to me, ''I just had to get stuck with him.'' I tried not to laugh. As we rounded the corner towards the library, we were met by, who I recognized after a second, the same guy I had seen outside Mr. Church's room on Monday. His hands were full of shading pencils, kneaded rubber erasers, and sketchbooks. He practically ran into Alexa.

''Hey! Watch where you're going!'' she yelled.

''It's fine, Alexa,'' I said, before she went into a rampage.

''Sorry,'' he mumbled. He caught my eye for half a second and I could have sworn I saw him smile, before running to the other end of the hallway we had just come from. I noticed Charlotte outside Mr. Church's room.

''Come on, Will! How long does it take to get from the supply closet to here?" she asked playfully.

''Sorry. Roadblock,'' he replied, making her smile. When I glanced back to Alexa and Charlie, they were already on the other end of the hallway, not even noticing I wasn't there.

I rode the bus home with Alexa. Her parents greeted us with snacks when we walked in, and I was going to accept since I was starving.

''No time! The party starts in only four hours!" she exclaimed, dragging me resentfully up the stairs. She spent over an hour picking out something to wear, while I sat on her bed doing nothing. She finally settled with a purple and black dress, along with the silver mask I had made her.

My outfit, on the other hand, was quite difficult to pick out. I almost never wore dresses, and fancy clothes were so not my thing. I wanted to gag when Alexa pulled out a black and white dress that cut off above the knee. But I put it on anyway. Looking in the mirror, I had to admit that I looked pretty good.

''This party has to be perfect!" Alexa exclaimed as we walked towards Kylee's front door.

''Not perfect,'' I mumbled under my breath, ''bearable.''