Chapter 1

Mako

God, I should have kept up with the homeschooling.

It was the first thing he thought as soon as he stepped into the classroom. The heavy metal in his ears drowned out the whispers of the high schoolers who were gawking at him, but he knew that the words his classmates exchanged weren't compliments. Their discussions faded in the background of the grinding electric guitar and the screaming voices.

"Class, this is Matthew Seance," the teacher said brightly. "He's sixteen and joining us as a sophomore. He's been homeschooled for quite a few years, so make sure you be nice and welcome him into your friend circles!"

The "Matthew" part grated in his ears. Oh dear God, why did I decide to do this?

"It's Mako," he said quietly. Or at least, he thought it was quiet. He couldn't really tell for sure.

The teacher looked at him. "What? M-mahw-koh? Is that your nickname? Could you spell that for me, please?"

"M-A-K-O. Like the shark. Except pronounced with a short a."

The teacher made a note in her attendance book. "Mako… okay. Well, go and take a seat in that empty desk. Next to Charlotte and Elizabeth. And, uh, could you take off those headphones, please?"

Mako ignored the last request and sat down at the empty desk.

The teacher blinked, bemused. "Um… Mako? Are you sure you can hear with those on? If not, I have to ask you to take them off."

"I'm fine," he replied shortly. "I can hear." Much more than I'd like to, actually, he thought sarcastically. I hear more than they'll ever know of.

He glanced around the seats as the teacher went on about schedules and classes. His desk seemed to have been placed in the middle of a row of popular-girl desks. He could see their heads gesturing toward him, their eyes rolling, could hear their smothered giggles… he could practically feel their judgement and contempt for him radiating off of them in waves.

Except there was one girl, sitting at a desk to his right, who stayed quiet. She had light, sparkling green eyes and dirty blonde hair. She wore a pale pink blouse, coupled with a floaty black skirt, beige leggings, and brown high-heeled ankle boots. Despite the pastel shirt, her outfit seemed a lot less tacky than that of the other girls. She made a point of looking straight ahead at the teacher, but she couldn't help but tilt her head ever so slightly towards him every now and then. Not in a malicious way. Just… curious. And to be honest, Mako couldn't fault her for being curious. But still, he drew his eyes away from her and paid attention to the teacher. I'm not here to make friends. I'm only here to learn. I can't make friends. It'll only make it harder when I have to leave them.

Char

The new kid was in a lot of my classes.

Strangely, his seat was always near mine, whether it was in the row in front or behind, or diagonally across from my desk… Whatever. It didn't matter.

Honestly, I'm not too sure exactly why that kid was so interesting. It's not like he looked weird- I'd made an examination of him and he was actually kind of attractive. He had dark gray eyes and his hair was the deepest of blacks that I had ever seen. His height was average, if not a tad bit on the short side. He wore a dark blue and black jacket, navy jeans, and black sneakers. Maybe he seemed a little emo-ish, but stuff like that wasn't really weird in a large, diverse school like this. Maybe it was his attitude. Like he didn't give a damn about all of the drama. He laid low, didn't say a word out of place. But he was far from being shy. His words had a hint of fire and defiance. And that, of course, drew attention. Who did this kid think he was, that he could just try to survive high school without talking to anyone? Without any friends? That was probably it, actually. That and the headphones.

Colored dark blue and bright silver, they were a drastic contrast with his black hair and looked like they were pretty good quality, too. One side had an image of a shark-probably the logo. It wasn't a brand I'd ever seen at stores. But the point is, they were obvious. As obvious as a glob of silver-and-navy paint on his head. And though most teachers let him keep the headphones on after a few inquiries, there was one certain science teacher that wouldn't back down. Everyone was waiting for her reaction and hoping he was in her class. Even me.

The kid could probably tell that Mrs. Arnolds wasn't one of the most tolerant teachers in the world. He cleared up the name discrepancy right off the bat (What kind of nickname was Mako, anyway? What a weird kid), nodded at her request to take the headphones off, and sat down at his desk.

Class went along as usual, but then Mrs. Arnolds noticed that the headphones were still on.

"Mr. Seance! What are you doing?"

Mako looked up at her and blinked.

"Take off those headphones!" She snapped. "And pay attention to class!"

"I am paying attention," he murmured, returning his gaze back to the desk. His voice was just barely louder than a whisper but softer than a conversational level. He did everything quietly, subtly, but that hidden spark of impudence that I had heard before leaked out of his voice.

"I very much doubt that, Mr. Seance," Mrs. Arnolds said crabbily. "Take them off or I'll send you to the principal's office!"

Mako slowly lifted his head up from his desk. This time, he sat in the seat in front of me, so I couldn't really see exactly what kind of expression his face and eyes conveyed then. Mrs. Arnolds took a few unsteady steps backward, her eyes wide with shock. And the last time Mrs. Arnolds had looked that shocked was a year ago when Dave McDonnell had knocked over a plate of chemicals during a lab, caused a mini mushroom cloud, and promptly threw up onto her lab coat when she'd come over to investigate. I still have nightmares about that incident, because he was my lab partner and had damn near gotten the vomit on me.

Mrs. Arnolds blinked. "Uh…" She turned to the whiteboard and continued the lesson without missing a beat.

The whispers ran rampant throughout the rest of the class. I was duly impressed. What kind of kid could glare down Mrs. Arnolds?

At lunch, he sat alone. At least, he was alone for a while.

"Oh my god, did you see that emo new kid? Like, May-koh, or whatever?" Britney took a dainty bite into her pizza, making sure that her bright pink lipstick didn't leave a smudge on her face.

"Must have some sort of shark obsession," Crystal remarked disdainfully. She carefully checked her glossy cyan nail polish for any chips. "That name… gawd, I wonder how his parents deal with it. And does he ever take those headphones off?"

"Yeah… I don't think so," Kitty rolled her heavily masacara-ed eyes. "But O-M-G! Did you see the look on Mrs. Arnolds' face in Chem? Per-riceless."

Liz, my bestest friend in the world, murmured her assent, but she sent me a sidelong glance and rolled her eyes. I didn't need to think to know that she wasn't rolling her eyes at the new kid.

"He's a weird kid," I said, picking at the lettuce in my salad. "Guess we should just stay away from him."

"You said it, girl," Britney agreed. "He's probably, like, an emo psychopath and does drugs or something."

Several sets of eyes turned toward the Mako guy in question.

Sean Callaghan, the world's ultimate comic book geek, made his way across the cafeteria and set his tray down on Mako's table. From what I could see, it looked like Sean tried to strike up a conversation, but the new kid barely acknowledged him. Just kept eating, reading, and listening to whatever music was playing in his headphones.

"Ugh. Of course he would be the only person to sit next to him," Courtney shook her head scornfully.

"Sean Callaghan?" Kitty asked distastefully. "Even the other geeks don't talk to him."

"How fitting," Britney sneered. "The two biggest losers are sitting next to each other. It's almost cute. He's finally found someone!"

The table of girls laughed. I gave a halfhearted chuckle and ate a forkful of salad. Why do I hang out with these girls again? Why do they hang out with me, for that matter? I'd much rather go sit with the group of hipsters sitting in the corner than with them. They actually do interesting things like fine art and design and drama in their free time. I might even sit with Sean and that weird Mako kid. At least they wouldn't gossip endlessly about people that they barely know.

Then why don't you? A voice asked in my head.

I sighed. Of course I couldn't sit next to them! That would be insane, not to mention that it would be complete social suicide!

I cast another glance at Sean and Mako's table. But if only… if only I didn't care. Then maybe life would actually be fun.

Mako

Mako reacquainted himself with the characters of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as he ate his turkey sandwich. Why do library copies always have so many stains on the pages? He thought irritably. How hard is it to keep food from dripping onto a book?

Suddenly, a boy slid his lunch tray on the table and sat down in the seat across from Mako.

"Hey!" The boy greeted him cheerfully. "I'm Sean!"

Mako nodded to him and continued reading. Through the corner of his eye, he studied this "Sean" carefully. His floppy brown curls nearly reached his eyes, which were a nondescript shade of light brown. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a brown hoodie over a white t-shirt, he seemed to be composed entirely of an unremarkable gradient of brown. He unfurled a comic book from underneath his arm and set it on the table next to his tray.

"So… you're Mako, right?" Sean made an effort to fill the silence.

Mako nodded again and turned a page.

Sean grinned. "I just thought you looked a little lonely over here. I usually sit by myself, too, so I know how it feels."

Mako shrugged.

"Whatcha reading?" Sean asked.

Mako lifted up the book so that Sean could see the name on the cover.

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," Sean read slowly. "Never heard of it."

Mako's eyebrows shot up and looked at Sean incredulously. Who in the world hadn't heard of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? It was quite a famous classic.

Sean laughed. "I read comics. 'Specially DC stuff. Marvel's not as good, in my opinion." He sighed with disgust. "Most of the Marvel-worshippers out there claim that they're geeks, but you're not a geek unless you have some DC in your life."

Mako gave him a pointed look.

"Hey, don't judge!" Sean protested. "I doubt you've ever read any comics in your entire life. And don't interrupt a geek on a true geek-out session, all right?"

Mako rolled his eyes and continued with his reading.

Sean rambled on and on and on about his comics. Most of it was him arguing about Marvel versus DC. This kid could probably argue the whole world right here and now if he wanted to, Mako thought. He concentrated on his book and half-listened to what Sean was saying amidst the heavy metal in his headphones, but his conversation wasn't much more interesting than the music that pounded in his ears. It was all just blah blah blah Marvel is overrated and only has good movies. Blah blah blah DC is better. Blah blah. Blah.

When lunch finally ended, Sean waved goodbye and headed to his own classes. It turned out that he didn't have many classes with Mako, which was a little bit of a relief. The kid was nice enough, but Mako didn't think he could tolerate all of the comic-book-geeking-out for more than once a day.

He almost snoozed through the rest of his classes, though he had to look like he was paying attention. He couldn't risk them taking away his headphones because he wasn't listening to the teachers. Still, the classes were so much easier than he had thought they'd be. Should have transferred at the beginning of the year, he thought ruefully. Then I could have taken some proper placement tests and gotten into some AP or advanced classes. Oh well. No undoing it now. And anyway, it's much less convoluted to simply learn from someone else rather than teach the stuff to myself.

Once the classes were over, Mako packed up his backpack and unlocked his bike from the bike racks. It had taken a few weeks of careful saving, but Mako had finally been able to buy a bicycle of his own to travel to work, and now, to school.

He quickly pedaled over to the apartment complex in the neighborhood next to the school. He made sure to lock it tightly in the bike rack and headed up the stairs to his small apartment on the second floor. It was barely decorated and sparsely furnished, with only a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and one bedroom, but it had a bit of a cozy feeling to it. Besides, he was emancipated and was living on limited state funding, so this was the best he could afford. And even then, this apartment should have costed him more than the meager six hundred dollars he paid for it every month. It was only because of random chance and his quick reflexes that he had gotten it at all.

Mako dropped his backpack on to the living room couch and headed to the kitchen for a quick bite to eat before he went to work. A small, silver paper crane fluttered down from the top of the fridge. Mako smiled to himself and picked up the piece of origami.

His landlady and her nine-year-old daughter had shown up at his door, carrying a small, white box tied with a thin ribbon and a small bag. The sweltering July heat sucked the air conditioning out of the small apartment.

"Here. A cake. Happy sixteenth birthday, Mako," the landlady had said warmly. Her daughter nodded brightly along with this statement.

Mako took the box. "...You didn't have to."

"We… we wanted to," the daughter said shyly. "And…" The daughter bashfully offered the tiny paper bag to Mako. "I thought you might like it."

Mako took the bag and peeked into it. A small, painstakingly folded, silver crane lay in the bottom. He smiled. "Thank you. This place needed some decoration, anyway." He took it out and put it on the kitchen counter.

"I… I'm glad you like it," the daughter mumbled.

He turned toward the two guests again. "Well… thank you," Mako smiled briefly. "I mean, you two can come in and share the cake with me…"

"Oh no, we couldn't."

"I insist. It's the least I could do."

"Well… alright."

It had been a quiet, candlelit evening. Soft laughter, smiles, and small talk over a few slices of chocolate cake. The pretty orange of the setting sun slanted through the windows and on to the couch.

Mako carefully placed the crane on to the kitchen table. Grabbing a yogurt from the depths of his refrigerator, he stared longingly at the spot near the back where the cake had once sat. After a few moments, he snapped out of the trance, threw on his red Target uniform (which he hated- why did it have to be so damn bright?), and exited the apartment.

Char

"Charlotte, can you get some of these and put them in the cart?" My mother pointed to the last few items on the shopping list as she pushed the cart through Target.

I glanced at the list. "Ugh… can't you do it, Mom?"

"You're sixteen years old, Charlotte. You have to get used to finding them yourself," Mom said sternly. "Now go."

"Fine…" I rolled my eyes and headed off in the general direction of the section that I needed to find.

But of course, I soon lost myself in the labyrinth of near-identical aisles of the huge Target store. I need to ask someone where they are… I peeked around, looking for the red-shirted employees.

Spotting one in the aisle across from where I stood, I called out to him. "Um, excuse me-"

When I saw the familiar dark-blue and silver headphones against his black hair, it was too late.

"Yes?" Mako said politely. "May I help you?" I could see recognition in his eyes, but he didn't seem to care.

I blinked, feeling a blush creep up to my cheeks. "I… uh… um… n-never m-mind! I'll go ask some-"

"What do you want?" He asked, exasperated.

I stared at my feet. "Um… Where are the pads?" I mumbled.

Mako pointed a spot ahead of us. "Aisle 17, in the Feminine Care section. They'll be on your left."

"...Thanks." I turned around and hurried away from him.

Oh my GOD! That was so embarrassing! I put my hands on my my face, as if I could somehow conceal the bright redness that had blossomed there. Why the hell was he there?

Mako

Mako rolled his eyes at his classmate's quickly retreating figure. She was a girl and girls had their needs; Mako understood that. There was no need to be so embarrassed to ask someone where the pads were. It's not like she could help the fact that she needed to buy them. Anyway, things only become embarrassing if you think it's embarrassing. Huh. Maybe I should stop trying so hard to understand people. I'll never need to talk to them much anyhow.

"Excuse me?"

Mako turned and walked toward the old woman who had gotten his attention. "Yes, ma'am? How may I help you?"


He was roaming around near the dairy section when he saw her again.

She was placing a carton of milk into her mother's shopping cart.

He nodded at her briefly. "You got what you needed?"
The girl's eyes widened slightly and her cheeks reddened. "Uh… yeah. Thanks."

The girl's mother gave him a suspicious look, so Mako took it as a cue to leave.

"Who was that?" He heard her ask as he walked away.

"Just a guy from school. New kid."

Yup, he thought. Just a guy from school.

Hey! This is the first chapter of the sometimes mentioned, possible collab story between Sage. Meryllis. Banks and me! Hope you enjoyed it.

Sage: To our wonderful readers, please keep in mind that Mako's last name is Seance. Just remember, because that word has quite a lot of significance. Oh, the irony. Well, not irony. Just the appropriateness. BTW I came up with the last name ;) Anyway, that was some fast expositioning we did there. This story is moving quickly. Still got a LOT of background to explain, though…

Snowflake: Shhhhhhh don't give too much away :C

Sage's Disclaimer: We use the "art student=hipster" stereotype purely for establishing a high school social caste system. We do not intend to offend anyone. We also don't have anything against solitary, dark-dressing dudes. I have actually been accused of being emo a lot. (Not that I mind, of course, because it's quite funny to hear people say that I "pull off the all-black and kohl eyeliner damn well and should seriously consider going goth/emo").

Snowflake: Lol yeah. Mako is pretty effin awesome, if I do say so myself. I came up wif da concept for his character ;)

Sage: Stroke of genius. Even more so when we find out some more about him…

REVIEW DA CHAP! IT MAKE US MUCH HAPPIES!