Eight months ago
"Have I congratulated you yet?" Shannon Lee asked, looking up from the yearbook she was signing.
Chris Katy looked up too, smiling back at the girl in front of him. Shannon was twisted around in her own seat in front of him so that they were facing each other. It was the last week of classes, so their sophomore year geometry teacher had cut them some slack and given them the whole period to sign yearbooks rather than do problems. The room was already buzzing with conversation.
"On what?" he replied, raising a questioning eyebrow at her.
"On winning the election," she answered with a playful roll of her eyes and a smile, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. She twirled a loose strand of her long black hair around her fingers. She was a tiny girl. When they stood next to each other, he always seemed to tower over her. Now that they were sitting down, though, they were at eye level.
She had bright brown eyes. They crinkled a little at the edges when she smiled or when she laughed, which happened quite often. He had once read somewhere that the average person smiled fifteen times a day. Shannon Lee was way above average.
That was the first thing he had noticed about her-the way she laughed. Well, no, the first thing he really noticed about her was how small she was. But then she laughed, and the laughter lit up her face, and that, he had never been able to get out of his head.
They had met before, probably sometime in their freshman year at Bollinger High. He knew her by association too, because her best friend was dating one of his best friends. Although that relationship had seemed to be rather on the rocks as of late, but that was a whole nother story.
Sure, they had met before and knew each other well enough to wave when they passed in the hallways, but this year was the year he had really talked to her.
Somehow, the Bollinger administration had scheduled their classes so that they had all six periods together. It had been quite a surprise on the first day, when the beginning of every class had been something of a "You again!" kind of experience. Chris didn't mind though. He had once thought whimsically about thanking whoever in the administration had been responsible for this schedule planning. He had never laughed so much with someone as he had with Shannon.
He had also never liked a girl as much as he liked her.
Chris didn't know why he went so long without doing anything about it. He had gone on dates and kissed girls before, but with her, it all seemed foreign again. She would laugh and joke with him in classes and after school, but he had no idea how she felt. That was the thing about her. She was so friendly with everyone that sometimes he was sure it was all one sided. That she really didn't think anything of him.
Except sometimes he would catch her looking at him when she thought he wasn't looking. And when he caught her eye she would turn away and her cheeks would be slightly pink. But sometimes he thought he was imagining that too.
Chris didn't talk to his friends about it. He had mentioned the others before, but this one, he wanted to keep to himself. At least before he knew what she really thought. Shannon was such a cheerful and open person, but on this aspect, he had found her frustratingly impossible to read.
He could just imagine how his friends would react if they found out.
Jeremy would make fun of him mercilessly for not making a move sooner. Chris had liked her for almost the entirety of sophomore year but had done nothing about it. And it was now the last week of classes. But Jeremy had been dating the same girl for almost three years now, and he didn't have to worry about this kind of stuff anymore. But his relationship with his girlfriend seemed very much full of turbulent ups and downs at this point.
Jeremy was dating Alaina Brandon, who was probably unanimously acknowledged as the most attractive girl in their grade. Alaina was really the whole deal, with the looks, brains, and the popularity. Chris knew that a lot of guys their year and above were jealous of Jeremy, but he personally could never imagine being with Alaina. He was on decent enough terms with her, but sometimes she seemed so icy and calculating that he wondered how his friend could handle it all. Although she did seem to harbor a soft side for Jeremy. Out of everyone at Bollinger, Alaina only really let her guard down around Jeremy. Jeremy and Shannon, that was.
Coincidentally, Shannon was also Alaina's best friend. They were so different in personality that more than once, Chris found it incredible that they got along at all.
While Jeremy would probably make fun of him, Nolan would probably just shrug it off. Nolan Barnes had never been serious about a girl before. He had never liked someone enough to really be wound up about them. He wouldn't understand what Chris was feeling.
"I know it was quite a predictable race, but still," Shannon was saying as she continued scribbling onto one of her friend's yearbooks. "Still, I think you deserve the congratulations on being elected our junior year class President."
"Thanks," Chris said with a grin. "No one ran against me."
She laughed, and his breath caught. Could she really have gone the whole school year without once entertaining the possibility that there might be something there between the two of them? They sat next to each other for six classes a day.
"Not really much of a challenge for you, Christopher," she said with a mischievous smile as she looked up at him. She was the only one who called him that. Whereas other people liked to shorten names, she liked to elongate them. "But, as the girl who's had to put up with you for six classes a day for the last however many months, shouldn't I get some benefits now that you're President next year? Can we have a costume party next year for Halloween? Can we book the Presidio for junior prom? Can we have girl scout cookies in the cafeteria at lunch?"
She looked so excited at this point that Chris laughed. "Shannon, I don't have any authority over what gets served at lunch and you know it. Plus sophomore year hasn't ended and you're already throwing so many ideas at me? Geez, way to demand that I start this job early."
Shannon laughed. "Hey, I got to use my connections where I got them."
He rolled his eyes, but deep down inside, he could feel his heart pounding. It was actually making him jumpy. He hadn't felt this way in a long time.
"Hey, what are you doing after school?"
She looked up from signing her name on the yearbook, raising one eyebrow at him. Her gaze was sharp and piercing. He drew in a breath, wondering if she had already guessed what was on his mind.
"I was thinking of going to the mall with Alaina, since we don't have homework anymore now that school's ending," she said, tapping the side of her face with the end of her pen absentmindedly. She paused for a while, a rather odd expression forming on her face. "I think Zoe's pretty free today. She wanted to get ice cream or something, but both Alaina and I wanted to get shoes."
"Right," Chris muttered, distracted. He didn't want to talk about Alaina, or Zoe Bailey, who was another friend of theirs. "Well-
The bell signifying the end of classes for the day chose that exact second to ring, cutting Chris off. Shannon shut her yearbook, twisting back around in her seat to face the front of the room again as she gathered her stuff. Chris sighed. He had no choice but to do the same.
But as they made their way out the door, he suddenly got up the courage again. He cursed himself for feeling so cowardly. He wasn't usually like this. In fact, he was never like this. He had been a class officer since middle school, frequently made speeches in front of his peers, performed at school assemblies, and played on Bollinger's basketball team. He had no idea what was going on with him today.
He caught her lightly by the elbow as they walked towards the parking lot, where both their cars were waiting. The city of Bollinger was very affluent, and both he and Shannon had parents that ensconced themselves in that kind of environment. They both drove BMWs to school.
"Do you have plans for dinner?"
Shannon stopped in her tracks, swiveled around, and looked sharply at him. Her gaze was almost more piercing than before. He tried to unglue his tongue from the roof of his mouth as he waited for her to say something.
"I might get dinner with Alaina," she said, after a pause that seemed way too long.
Chris frowned a little. "I thought she was getting dinner with Jeremy." He thought about it momentarily, sure that that was what Jeremy had told him.
Shannon shifted on the floor, rubbing her right shin with her other foot. She seemed restless as she tucked another strand of long black hair behind her ear. "Oh, I don't know what's going on with the two of them," she muttered.
"Another one of their spats again?" Chris said lowly, distracted by the way her lips parted when she finished talking.
Shannon shrugged, frowning. He could tell she was genuinely concerned for her friend. "She was saying something about Jen Nielson, you know...Jeremy's history partner? You know how friendly Jeremy can get," she murmured.
Chris knew. Jeremy was charming, funny, and popular. If it wasn't for the fact that he was the boyfriend of Alaina Brandon, Jen Nielson would be on him in an instant. But Chris wasn't about to say that to Shannon. Plus, he knew nothing would come of it. Jen was flirtatious and bold, but she was smart enough to know not to cross Alaina. And Jeremy, despite all his friendliness, wasn't that type of a guy.
But he didn't want to talk to her about Jeremy and Alaina. He pressed on.
"Well, if you don't, you should have dinner with me," he ventured on, holding his breath as she looked up at him with wide brown eyes.
"With you?" she seemed confused.
He nodded, still not daring to breathe.
"Sure, I'll ask Alaina if she wants to come," she said, her voice soft.
He let out the breath he was holding and wiped his hand on his jeans. His palms weren't sweaty, but he did it anyways out of sheer nerves.
"I was thinking it could just be you and me."
Shannon didn't reply. Instead she looked at him, eyes wider than ever before. She seemed shocked. Several seconds passed, and she still didn't say anything.
All around them, people walked by and waved. Between the two of them, they knew a large portion of their school, but neither of them even turned to look at those who passed by and tried to talk to them. Out of the corner of his eyes, he could tell that some people were giving him curious looks, but he was only looking at her. He was waiting for her to answer.
But she never did.
She only continued to stare at him as if she had never quite seen him before. Her lips were parted, her eyes were wide, and she looked as if she was afraid he might attack her.
He had already gone this far. He might as well go all in.
"I like you," he said, mustering up all his courage and feeling the words roll off his tongue. Words that he had wanted to say all year. "I've liked you all year."
There was another pause, one in which he still couldn't quite figure out what she was thinking, and then her expression changed.
"I wish you hadn't told me," she said softly, looking stricken.
Chris watched her mouth form the words as if from some place far away. Even after she said it, he kept looking at her, almost hoping that she was going to laugh and tell him it was all a joke. Even if she didn't, he was waiting for her to say something else, anything else.
But she didn't. She just left it at that.
They looked at one another, frozen in place.
"Right," he muttered, feeling suddenly hollow. His mouth had turned to sandpaper.
"You really shouldn't have told me," she went on, looking like she was on the verge of tears.
His mind was numb. He couldn't even think of what to say at all.
"We can't even go backwards from here," she went on, relentless, that stricken look still on her face. Chris looked at her, wondering if she meant to wound him. His jaw hardened.
"I'm sorry I told you," he said, forcing the words out.
Shannon looked at him for a moment longer, her eyes shining. She could only shake her head.
Then she was gone.
And that was how sophomore year ended for him.
A/N: Everything in this prologue all occurred before the events of Bollinger High, so before Jessica arrives. And yes, Jessica and Nolan and the whole crew will be a part of this story :).