**Wishes and Ravens**

{Chaper One}

Like any other day, I ran down the driveway towards the school bus. I was late, but it wasn't exactly news to me. I was late almost every morning.

Waving briskly to the bus driver, I planted myself somewhere near the middle of the bus. The front was reserved for cool people; not me. And the back was taken by the trouble makers; also not me. I just sat in the middle, like every other person who didn't want to get beat up or socially massacred.

"Hey, Molly," I said to the girl across from me. She smiled, her pale skin and red freckles pulling my eyes away from the monstrosity of her crazy curly red hair. Now that I thought about it, she looked a lot like a homeless person, if she hadn't been wearing a pristine school uniform.

At that thought, I looked down at my own, imagining the colors of red, gray and blue throwing up all over the plaid skirt. Really, it was just an ugly outfit I still wasn't used to wearing.

"Sup, new girl. Nice shoes," Rodney sneered. Even though he didn't fall into the "rebel" category or the "popular" category, he still acted like a jerk.

"It's no big deal, Rod, I just forgot my pennies at work."

"Yeah, right," he muttered. I chose to ignore him. Only four weeks into this school and they were still treating me like some freak new girl. But four weeks in, I still refused to wear pennies.

As the bus roared into movement, I leaned back in my seat, imagining my previous school back in California. Bright sunny sunshine, tanks and shorts, salty ocean air. It was like heaven. Even now, I couldn't believe we had moved. It was like living my own nightmare.

"Have a nice day at school, students. Remember, bullying is against the rules and everyone is perfect in their own special way. Don't forget to study!" called Dory, another one of her famous lines rolling off her tongue. If I had a nickel for every time she barked something meaningless . . .

"Cora! Cora, wait up!"

Without turning, I knew Barbra was running over. Probably skipping, actually. I quickly made a bet with myself. Pigtails, lollipop, head band, way too much cherry lip balm. And when I turned around, I was almost exactly correct. Besides the head band. She wore a sparkly "diamond" crown instead. Her blonde hair bounced with every skip, tied up in loose pigtails. I forced a smile.

"Hey," I began. "What's up?"

Barbra shrugged, pulling the lollipop out of her mouth with loud sucking sounds. Its scarlet color dyed her—already red lips—even redder. "Nothin' much. You?"

That same dang answer every time. She shifted from foot to foot, waiting for me to respond. I half thought about not.

"Nothing new. Same old, same old every day."

Barbra snickered. "I know!"

The conversation died. Now, when I first met Barbra, I had expected her to be a part of the popular group like all the other girly girls dressed in pink, walking around with crowns as if they were royalty. Yet somehow, Barbie just didn't make the cut. I watched her examine the sewed-on frills on her skirt and let the question deteriorate.

"So, it's my birthday," I said unenthusiastically.

Barbra gasped! Her face brightened significantly. "That's great, Cor! Tots awesome! Whatya' doin'? Are ya getting lots of money? That's like, my favorite part. The presents!" She clapped her hands together and I suddenly wondered what it was about this girl that made me still talk to her. She basically just became my friend by grabbing my arm and saying she was so. Maybe it was the fact that whatever came out of her mouth was probably the most interesting thing I had ever heard. She was just so . . . obliviously innocent. That was it.

"Cor?" she asked. Her voice like a child's.

I shook my head and returned to the moment. "Uh, yeah. Presents, money and stuff I guess. Nothing too crazy. We only just moved here so all of our stuff's still in boxes."

She nodded, keeping pace with me as we walked towards the front doors. "Can I get you a present?"

Part of me wanted to say no. Somehow, I felt as if I was robbing her by saying yes. But it'd probably crush her if I didn't . . .

"Yeah, sure, if you really want to. I'm not asking for much."

"Perfect! I've got just the thing!" She pulled me to a stop and dug through her purple purse, pushing aside mounds of makeup and other girl stuff.
Her eyes lit up once she found what she was looking for. "Ah!" she cried. "Here." She handed me a cherry lollipop.

Staring at it for a moment, I leisurely took off the wrapper and put it in my mouth. "Thanks," I muffled. She grinned from ear to ear and wrapped her arm around my elbow.

"Wow! If you had blonde hair, we'd be like twins!" God, she chirped like a bird. But still . . . there was something I was just so fond of about her. The details, I knew, would probably forever be unknown.

"Now, students, if you would so kindly turn to page three-hundred and thirty-six in your book. Chapter twelve, the Bubonic plague, please."
I did as I was told, flipping through the hardback book and listening to the sound of groans travel across the room.

"I want you all to restudy the chapter and write a two thousand word essay on the symptoms, cause and effect and all other knowledge you will learn in this passage. I cannot give you all the answers!"

More groans.

Clearing her throat, Mrs. Batt continued. "I will be paring you in partners for this assignment. This work is due in one week. If I say your name, then please stand up." She stopped for a moment and consulted her clipboard. "Alicia Blair. Tony Rycles."

Alicia stood straight up, her eyes sparkling with satisfaction and haughty joy. She sat down next to the well muscled jock, both of them grinning.

"Melissa Jones and Talia Clare. Ronda Bekhams and Tyrees Jordan. Barbra Sarah and Markus Rufus. Rix Niles and Coralline Martin. Jake Steiner and—" I stopped breathing. No, no, wait. Did she just say Rix? As in, the guy that talks to cats and is most likely part vampire?

I raised my hand.

Mrs. Batt stopped and raised an eyebrow. "Miss Martin, I have been teaching and randomly pairing students for much longer than you have been alive. Just know that it is random and I do believe it will help you open your friend book. Now please take your seat."

"But—"

"Miss Martin," Mrs. Batt tested.

I gulped hard and rolled my eyes. Admitting defeat is the first step to overcoming it, right? I know Dory had said something quirky like that one day . . .

Picking up my backpack; I dejectedly made my way to the seat next to Rix. He barely looked up from the paper he was doodling on. In annoyance, I stared at him for a good thirty seconds, waiting for a "hello" or maybe a "go to hell." I wasn't quite sure.

"You going to sit any time soon?" he asked instead. I gritted my teeth and plopped down in the cold chair to his left. My entire body was on red-alert. This guy could kill me.

After a long silence, I sighed and searched through my backpack for something to do. Obviously, I wasn't going to just sit there like an idiot. Or do the whole thing myself! This was a huge essay.

"Okay, well," I said, deciding to ram on through. "If you can do the "effect," because that's just too terrible, I'll take "cause." If you want, of course. I mean, "effect" is not that terrible. It's just really gross. Not to dis anyone! I mean no disrespect to those who died, but . . . yeah." Great, now I felt like I was talking to a wall.

Rix sighed deeply, as if this was the most uninteresting thing in the world. Tightening his brown leather jacket, he turned to face me for the first time and I stopped short. His eyes were like solid gold.

"Um." I couldn't speak.

He stared right through my soul and then some. I think I lost it there for a minute.

"I'll take "effect." The Bubonic plague isn't exactly something new to me. Just look into how it was caused and I'll do the rest."

For another second, I just stared. He rolled his eyes, putting his shades back on. "If you've got a problem with that, wide-eyes, then text me. I've got to get changed." He stood up suddenly and stuffed the piece of paper he had been doodling on in his desk before waving to the teacher and leaving class. My jaw dropped.

Mrs. Batt started to walk towards me and I sat up straighter. "Miss Martin? I completely forgot about Rix's sports leave. Now, there aren't any other students left to be paired with, but you can also just send in the work yourself, if you would like."

Raising my eyebrows, I stared at Mrs. Batt as if she had two heads. "D-do the thing myself?"

"Yes, dear, the essay."

There was no way. There was absolutely no way. I grabbed the small piece of paper from Rix's desk and stuffed it in my jean pocket. "No, thank you. I think this'll work out just fine."

"Okay, Miss Martin, but if you run into any trouble, just come see me and maybe we can work something out ourselves." I smiled and watched her walk back to the front of the class. Like, that would happen. But instead of dwelling on all the new crap, I surveyed the rest of the room. Partners were laughing and writing notes and working things out like Rix and I were supposed to. Yet there I sat, all alone and feeling sick to my stomach. So much for birthday cheer.

"Hey, mom! Hey, dad! I'm back!" I said, dropping my backpack on the floor and leaping onto the couch. Sweet, sweet freedom.

Mom stepped out of the kitchen and leaned against the doorway. "Hello, Cora. How was school?"

There was something about the way she spoke that made me think she had something mischievous planned for my birthday. Oh gosh. What this year?

"Hey . . . mom. It was fine. How was work?" Okay, I'd play.

"It was fine," she answered. I waited for the punch line. "Your father's upstairs getting changed. I think we're going to go out to a place called Randy's for dinner. Why don't you go change into something nice?"

I shrugged, not overly excited. "Yeah, okay," I said and walked towards the stairwell. There was a trudge in my step.

Dad parked the car at the elementary school on the way to the restaurant. I waited for the little dark haired nuisance to come trotting from the doors. And just as I thought that, she appeared. Her long bangs fell into her eyes, but she refused to let mom cut them. Little squirt.

"Hello, Ava," mom cooed. "How was your day?"

Ava leaped into the minivan and slammed the door behind her, a grin on her little face. "It was great! Mrs. Lenny let us play with the clay. Look!" In her hands, she held out a tiny little giraffe modeling figure. Mom gasped as dad pulled out of the parking spot. "That's so cool! Did you make that all by yourself?"

"Yeah I did!" she answered excitedly. I watched her for a moment longer, waiting to see if she remembered. But she just put the giraffe back and smiled out the window as we drove on by. Well, then. Modeling giraffes over birthdays. I'd keep that in mind.

Once we pulled into the parking lot, Ava couldn't stop giggling. What was with her? She was like a little tickle me Elmo.

"Hey, Cor-Cor. What's up?" She may only be eight, but she was fully educated in the "common" speak.

"Nothing much. I've got a stupid essay to write, but that's about it. Make any other animals?"

She grinned. "No!"

I snickered and stepped out of the car, the autumn air freezing cold. Oh, how I missed the California heat. This place was like Antarctica compared to our other home. What I'd give to be back home tanning by the oceanside.

"Well, I know this isn't exactly Dejordo's pizzeria, but I bet it'll be even better!" Mom tried to say.

With less enthusiasm, I rolled my eyes. "Doubt it," I whispered under my breath. Dad held the door for me and I smiled, bowing as he entered the little red colored building.

"Table for four, please," Mom said. I looked down at my colorless nails and wished I had painted them. They looked so plain without color. Then again, I didn't feel very colorful.

"Right this way, ma'am." The waitress sat us down in a table near the back and handed us our napkins and silverware. She then left us to sit on our own. Everything went quiet.

"How about we talk about something?" Mom suggested.

Dad pulled out his blackberry and played around with the touch screen. "Have you guys heard about the hundreds of human test subjects that escaped Norway Confinement Facility? They say there was an outbreak—"

"Robert." Mom's voice was sharp.

"I want to hear! What happened?" I asked, suddenly very interested.

Ava groaned. "Can we talk about something else while we're eating?" she asked.

"We're not even eating yet," I intervened.

"But—"

"Hello, and welcome to Randy's. I will be your server for tonight. Can I interest you in any . . . drinks . . . " the man stopped and I gasped.

"Oh my God, Rix?"

"Cora?"

Mom frowned. "You know this man, Cora?"

"Yeah, he goes to my school." What was he doing here? Did he work here?

"Uh, I—uh . . . can I take a drink order?"

Dad frowned and surveyed the menu. "I'll just take a water with lemon."

"I'll have the same," mom said.

Ava smiled again. "I'll have a diet vanilla coke, please!" Mom glared at her. "Or . . . just water."

"A lemonade, please," I said.

Rix nodded and jotted it all down on the book before flashing us a forced smile. "I'll be right back with your drinks." Once he left, everyone's eyes were on me. I gulped.

Mom was first to break the silence. "Are you seeing this man, Cora?" she asked. Her eyes were skeptical and I suddenly felt the need to defend him, but didn't have anything good to say.

"No," I answered instead.

"Did you see his arms, Claire? That man is trouble."

Sighing, I rolled my eyes. "Guys, it's no big deal. I just know him from school. In case you haven't noticed, I go to school with other kids. Just saying."

"Cora, I don't want you around that man. He has tattoos all over his arms. He's basically screaming trouble."

This was going nowhere. Where did this come from? "Oh. My. God. I am not dating Rix! Nor will I ever date Rix. We aren't even friends. We were partnered at random and will probably only text each other once or twice. It's no big deal."

Both my parents looked at me in horror. "You're partnered to this man?"

Rix set down the drinks a moment later and handed each to my parents, Ava, and then finally me. I noticed he had pulled his uniform sleeves down to hide the snake tats.

"Are you guys ready to order?" he asked. I saw the slight flush in his cheeks and felt responsible. Why hadn't I just kept my mouth shut? But then again, what was the problem? It shouldn't be this big of a deal. I was seventeen now.

My dad began to say no, but I stopped him. "I'll have a slice of olive pizza. No mushrooms. Thanks."

Rix nodded. "Can I get you three anything? T-today's special is the broccoli soup." He turned away from me and I studied his dark brown hair for a moment and the silver earrings going up the entire length of his ear. They reflected light from the table.

Mom and dad shared a look before ordering their own meal. Ava seemed oblivious to the awkwardness and ordered a slice of cheese. I watched Rix write this down and flash another wary smile before turning and heading back to the kitchen.

Eyebrows twitching, mom watched him go. I waited till he was out of earshot to hiss at my parents. "Could you guys be any more rude? Jeez, he's not the black plague or anything! And, speaking of which, that's what were studying together. God, just thinking of writing all that disgusting stuff with him turns me on. Did you know he's writing about the symptoms? Wow, I better wear matching panties because I think he might write about coughing blood and hanging with rats."

Dad stood up. "That is enough, young lady."

I stopped and stared at my straw. Knowing very well that this was only the beginning, I slumped back in my chair and tried to calm down.

{Will post more later! Please review!}