Chapter 1

Maya's first day at school was a nightmare. She knew no one, spent more time wandering the hallways looking for her class then being in her class, and during lunch, managed to get the stink eye from a blonde upperclassmen when she refused to give up the last chocolate milk. Needless to say, she was excited for the day to be over and done with so she could go home, climb into a snuggy and read a book, something fantastical, so that her life would seem even suckier than it already was.

Last period was Chemistry. Maya dragged her feet to her class. She hated science. She hated Biology and dissecting frogs. She hated physics with its complicated algebra equations. Now she was certain to hate chemistry. She had a feeling she would probably do something stupid, something like mix two dangerous chemicals together so that they would explode. At the very least she expected to turn her hands permanently blue.

Maya turned the corner and stopped in her classroom. The room was wide and brightly lit. Twelve tables were lined up along the length of the room with two stools set at each table. The tables were filling up fast so Maya hurried in, eyeing the kids who had already claimed their tables. Some glared back at her, others stared blankly back. Maya finally stopped though when a girl with dirty blonde hair smiled at her.

"Are you saving this seat?" Maya asked. The blonde girl blinked before shaking her head. Maya internalized her sigh of relief as she slid into her seat. After she pulled out her book and paper, she found the girl looking at her expectantly.

"I'm Jen," the girl said. Maya smiled and introduced herself. She felt something light in the back of her head. A possible friend after a long stressful day.

The teacher came in with a flourish, telling everyone to sit down and shut up. Ms. Weiss handed out the syllabus and Maya checked in and out as her teacher went over each bullet point. In her mind, she was asking her potential friend questions, like what people did for fun around here, in the Midgrade town of Cascadia. Maybe Jen wouldn't mind showing her around to those fun spots. Maybe Jen would invite her to meet her other friends, and Maya would say something ingenious and hilarious and everyone would love her and want to hang out with her.

Maya was dreaming.

"Alright," Ms. Weiss said, voice as sharp as a whip. "Now that we went over the boring stuff, let's get on with something more interesting. Now, for the duration of the term you are going to have partners, but you are not picking your partner."

The room erupted in groans. Maya deflated herself a bit; so much for picking a potential ally.

"Yes, yes," Ms. Weiss said. The woman waved her hand dismissively. "I know. Being a teenager is hard. Now I'm assuming you all have basic navigational skills so when I call out the name of you and your partner, please relocate yourselves in a timely manner with minimal damage to the furniture."

Jen's name ended up being the first called, and she gave Maya a smile before walking away. Maya deflated entirely in her chair, resting her head in her arms on her desk. Why did she even bother? With her luck, she was going to be partnered with a stoner, who would be more interested in using the Bunsen burner to light up, or worse, a drama monster, who would purposefully spill acid on themselves and claim Maya did it on purpose.

"Maya Whitfield, Jason Sondheim," Ms. Weiss said.

Maya sighed. Jason was the name for stoners everywhere.

She didn't lift her head when Jason slid into the seat next to hers or put his back pack down on the floor. There was a general chaos around the room as people resituated, deciding who would move and who would stay. Maya watched as two boys who clearly hated each other sit as far away from each other as possible.

"Maya?" Jason said. Maya pulled her eyes away from the two boys who were taking turns glaring at each other to look at her new partner.

Jason, as it turned out, was stupidly handsome in that stupid way that turned Maya's brain to mush for all of the first ten seconds that she looked at him. He had a strong jaw, bright blue eyes, jet black hair. He was smiling at Maya with a brilliant bright smile, one that stretched his face to touch the corners of his eyes.

"I don't think we've ever met," Jason said. "Are you new here?"

Maya sat up in her seat slowly. Her heart was doing that hammering thing, where it beat so hard against her chest that she had to fight to keep her voice steady.

"Um, yeah," Maya said. Her brain failed to give her any further instructions on what else to say.

"I'm Jace," Jason said. "Just tell me if you need any help."

Maya nodded and murmured a thanks. Something was probably wrong with him, Maya thought. He was a teenage boy so the likeliness was pretty high. He probably had terrible hygiene. He probably picked his nose and wiped it on his jeans. He probably laughed at terrible things, like poor people. Thinking these thoughts made it easier to think and Maya felt her brain slowly reform, returning to what it once was.

Their first assignment was to add different chemicals together, ones prepared by Ms. Weiss. Maya went up to collect her samples which were all separated by small test tubes. She set the test tubes on the counter, as Jason set up a mix kit and a set of beakers. They set up and agreed that Jason should deal with the actual chemicals while Maya wrote out the descriptions of the reactions.

"So how are you liking Cascadia?" Jason asked.

Hating it, Maya thought but instead, she said outloud, "I haven't been here terribly long."

"Did your parents want to move here?"

Maya wrote down the first reaction, where a big silver clump appeared in the clear liquid. "Nope."

"Did they not want to move here?"

"They are in the Amazon."

Jason raised an eyebrow. Maya stopped to look at him. He really was so gosh darn pretty. She tried not to ogle so instead she looked at the clumpy mixture they had in their first test beaker.

"Are you going to mix or do you want to switch with me?"

Jason grinned. "Did you like, abandon your parents in the Amazon or do they work in Seattleā€¦?" He almost sounded like he was ready to laugh.

Maya huffed, looking at her clumpy solution. She dropped her pencil on her notebook, resigning herself.

"My parents are doing an eight month environmentalist study in the Amazon forest," Maya said. "It's only for eight months though and they weren't certain where they would be after so it was agreed that I would stay with my aunt, so I could get through school."

Jason nodded. "That actually sounds kinda cool. Who's your aunt? Anyone I know?"

"Probably not."

Maya picked up her pen and gestured for Jason to continue with his job. He picked up a test tube and poured it into a beaker.

"What's your aunt's name? You'd be surprised who knows who around here."

"Her name is Antonia Reever."

Jason stopped mid spill and blinked at Maya, slow realization dawning on his face. "Really? Do you know how many times she had gotten drunk and proposed to me?"

Maya tried to taper down her blush even as her face betrayed her. "Proposed to you what?"

Jason laughed, so hard that he nearly shook the chemical out of the test tube. "Do you really want to know?"

Maya thought about her aunt, and her drunken tirades at midnight. She thought of Tonia coming into her room and demanding they watch romantic movies until it was three in the morning. Of her telling Maya that it could have been her in those romantic movies, with her happily ever after, and if Maya had ever heard of what snow blowing was.

"Nope," Maya decided.

Jason was still laughing as he finally poured the chemicals together. They mixed into a cloudy white mist.

"So wait, do you call her Aunty Anty?"

"I'm nowhere near that lame."

Jason chuckled. Maya was grateful her blush hadn't faded from earlier. She didn't want Jason to get too full of himself.

"You're going to have to get used to my lame jokes," Jason said. "We are partners for the foreseeable future."

Maya smiled in spite of herself. She found herself enjoying this just a bit too much. It was setting off warning bells in her head.

The rest of class passed by enjoyably. Maya found out that Jason was on the honor roll, that his favorite class was history and mythology and he played basketball and lacrosse. He needled her for information before she finally said she enjoyed reading and swimming. She didn't explain that by swimming, what she meant was, 'floating around on her back in shallow water while she soaked in the sun."

Jason smiled regardless. "See, that wasn't so hard."

Maya rolled her eyes. They cleaned up their space and were just handing in their assignment when the final bell rung. Maya left the class, on a one track mind to go home and relax. She pushed through the school of students, making her way out into the hallway.

"Are you going to the Homecoming game?" Jason asked, appearing from seemingly nowhere. Maya nearly jumped out of her skin but recovered quickly enough. She stopped at her locker, and Jason paused right there with her.

"I wasn't making any plans just yet," Maya said, gathering her things and locking her locker. Jason was right there, at her side all the way out.

"Well, you should come," Jason said. "The football team is pretty much guaranteed to win for the fifth year in a row. They are going to make a big deal about it and throw the biggest homecoming bash ever. It would be a shame to miss it."

Maya felt like her ears were ringing. Just starting at her new school, all she was hoping for was to make a few friends. Now, she was almost certain he was all but asking her out. It seemed fast, too fast. But Maya's red flags were doused with gasoline because he was so damn pretty and charming and she was a sixteen year old girl. Now was the time to make mistakes on pretty and charming.

"Yeah, maybe I'll do that," Maya said, managing a smile even though she mostly wanted to throw up. Jason gave his own thousand watt smile.

"Excellent," Jason said, already walking away, backwards so he could keep an eye on her. "I will definitely see you around."

Maya watched as Jason continued along, walking down the sidewalk towards the student parking lot. He passed by other students, and smiled and waved, and the students waved back. He reached the edge of the parking lot where he stopped right in front of a blonde girl who he leaned down, hugged, before he kissed her gently on the mouth.

Maya felt her heart plummet into her stomach. Of course, she thought. Too good to be true, as always. She stood there, watching them for a second when the blonde looked over. Her eyes narrowed in on Maya before she offered a cheerful smile.

Maya shivered and looked away. She could swear there was nothing sincere in that smile. She turned and headed down the street, towards home. She was going to need a book. A really big book.