Scratch Hawthorne came into History class half an hour late. It wasn't an irregular occurrence as Scratch arrived to all his classes half an hour late, sometimes even a full hour late. It would've been more shocking if he was actually on time for once in his seventeen years of existence but today was not that day. Their professor didn't even bat an eyelash or acknowledge his existence, continuing to drone on about a war in medieval Europe that happened a thousand years ago as Scratch took the only available seat.

Normally, Scratch, being of the popular, cool kid variety would sit in the middle of the class but ever since the explosive, emotive, erratic (all the dramatic 'e' words) fight between him and his now ex-girlfriend Amethyst Franklin, his usual seat was occupied by the Lacrosse captain, Patterson Wilkes. Wilkes was serving as Amethyst's very blatant "fuck you, I'm over you" to her ex, thus, leaving the only available seat for him to take at the front of the class beside the quiet brunette dutifully taking down notes. Maia was so used to not caring about Scratch and his ilk that she barely even noticed him taking the seat beside her. The rest of the class was staring at it all with bathed breath and this moment would surely be the talk by lunch time.

Scratch took this moment to finally look at the brunette at his left and observe her. She was actually quite pretty with her tanned skin and dark hair. She had a fresh faced girly quality about her. How had he never noticed her before?

"Hey," He murmured to her, trying not to catch the professor's attention. "Are you new?"

Maia stopped scribbling down the professor's lecture and stopped to turn to him. She blinked at finally realizing who he was, unable to comprehend what was happening or even what he asked.

He stared back at her and began to look uncomfortable, probably wondering if she was handicapped before she answered.

"I've been here a year."

He looked at her disbelievingly.

"No," He said. "That can't be possible. I would have noticed you."

She shook her head, replying, "But you didn't. I had five classes with you last year."

It was true. Maia had transferred to the exclusive Brewster Academy a year ago after her father accepted a professorship position at the school. He'd moved the whole family to New England and the school had offered her a full scholarship as per the terms of his employment. Maia hadn't been inaugurated into the popular, cool kids group and it had taken her a week to even make a friend and Scratch had only spoken to her once in their Geometry class to ask her if she had a spare pencil (she did).

"Well, you should have lunch with me then," Scratch tried to save face and turned on his usual charm. "So, I can make it up to you."

Maia stared at him again, wondering if this was a prank. They did something similar to a girl a few months ago by inviting the poor girl to one of their invite-only parties at the boathouse and well, it did not end well for said girl. Last she heard, the girl transferred schools and was undergoing therapy.

"I have plans," She reasoned. "Maybe some other time,"

"Maybe, you can change those plans," He leaned closer to her and she pulled back as far as she could into her chair. "I'm a lot more entertaining."

Maia was trying to find a way to turn him down gently when the professor started to call everyone's attention with a class report that would require a partner. Usually, Maia paired up with her friends Berry or Nano but they had both opted to take Chemistry for this time period which left her alone to find a partner.

"Professor Hughes!" Scratch called out, nearly causing the professor to wonder if he was in an alternate dimension where Scratch actually cared about what was happening in his classes. "I'm partnered with…um…"

He turned to her, silently asking her to supply her name. She stared at him in disbelief and she grumbled, more than a little annoyed, "Maia."

"Maia!" Scratch didn't miss a beat. "I get Maia."

"Yes, Mr. Hawthorne," The professor looked like he still wanted to pinch himself but tried to hide it. He held out a small cardboard box filled with pieces of paper. "Why don't you, um, choose your topic here?"

Maia was still busy fuming to protest the events that just transpired and just mutely watched as Scratch returned to his seat and opened a folded piece of paper. He turned to her and asked, "What's a trebuchet?"

Maia debated her options. On one hand, she could have her usual lunch with her friends and this would be uneventful and safe. And on the other hand, she could get on the train and be at her aunt's house within a couple of hours, far away from Scratch Hawthorne's sudden interest in her. After that scene in their History class, Scratch had managed to weasel an acceptance from her to sit with him and his friends during lunch "to discuss their class report".

She sighed as she entered the Dining Hall. Nano and Berry were already seated at one of the tables with Nano's other friends from Computer Club and at the center table was Scratch and his band of too-cool-for-you people. Amethyst was practically sitting in Patterson's lap who was just trying his best to eat his meal to no avail. Maia was about to head to her friends and freedom but Scratch practically sprang up and went for her like a heat-seeking missile.

"Maia!" He greeted her with that toothpaste commercial smile. "Our table's this way."

He grabbed her hand and stared dragging her to the cool-kid table before she could start protesting. Like a pride of lions sensing prey, they all looked up at her as Scratch prodded Mary Sue Lee to give her seat to Maia and go sit at another table. Mary Sue huffed and sat down with the Lacrosse team who cheered at her and started making disturbingly lewd gestures. Maia reluctantly took a seat as Scratch asked her what she wanted to eat.

Each table at the Dining Hall had their own plates of food to get from and for some reason the food at the cool-kid table was something out of a fine dining restaurant. While other tables had sandwiches and juice for their lunch, the cool kids had lobster, caviar, and champagne. Maia felt like she'd entered a completely different world and tried not to make eye contact with Amethyst who was glaring at her heatedly across the table. The blonde was flipping her shiny, perfect hair more than usual and was trying to make out with Patterson who had to turn away to take a bite out of his lobster.

"What's she doing here?" Amethyst demanded. "Is this your idea of a joke, Scratch?"

"Maia's my partner in History class," Scratch explained easily, spreading caviar on a piece of bread. "She's sitting here today."

Maia reluctantly took a bite out of the bread Scratch prepared for her, not knowing what to say in this situation.

"She's not one of us," Amethyst protested. "You can't just bring trash to this table."

"Already did that years ago," Scratch smirked at her. "Don't be jealous, Amy. It's not a good look on you."

"Don't call me that!"

She threw her glass of champagne at his face then ran from the Dining Hall in tears. Patterson picked up his half-finished plate before standing up and going after her. Maia, wide-eyed, turned to Scratch as he wiped off the champagne with a table napkin. He merely shrugged and told her to try some of the lobster.

Her next class was Spanish and thankfully, she did not share this with Scratch and the rest of the cool gang (they'd opted for French). She did share this class with her friends who had witnessed the scene at the Dining Hall and were both acting oddly. Berry had not stop pestering her why Scratch was talking to her and Nano had refused to talk and was brooding like the long lost member of a punk rock band. Both were getting on her nerves really.

"Explain it to me again how Scratch Hawthorne sits beside you in class and suddenly you're part of the cool gang now," Berry said. "Last week, Amethyst slammed a door into your face because she thought she really couldn't see you."

Maia frowned at her and tried to focus on what Senior Moreno was trying to say. Berry didn't let up though and started poking her at the side until she glared at the other brunette.

"Berry, I told you I don't know," Maia insisted. "He just started talking to me and then suddenly I was having lunch with him and his friends. He didn't even know my name until today."

"So, Scratch Hawthorne, the closest thing we have to royalty, sees you and decides you're uber special?"

Maia frowned, feeling like she should be insulted by her friend's line of questioning. She wasn't blatantly insecure but she was still a teenage girl. She wasn't a troll that crawled out of the woods and tried to assimilate with the general population as if nothing was amiss. She wasn't Amethyst who was the closest thing God created to a Barbie but Berry was making her question if her friend thought she was hideous.

"Why wouldn't he?" Nano finally spoke, still not looking at them. "Why couldn't Hawthorne just look at her and think she's special? Maia's very pretty."

"Yes, thank you," Maia gave him a smile before turning back to Berry. "See, Nano thinks I'm pretty."

"Nano has always thought you were pretty," Berry said flippantly as if stating some well-known fact. "Scratch Hawthorne didn't even know you existed until this morning. What changed?"

"I don't know," Maia admitted, looking down at her notebook and tried to distract herself with phonetics. "Maybe it was something he ate?"

"It could be all that seafood he and his friends keep eating," Berry shook her head. "Salmonella is no joke."

Her last class for the day was English which was a class she not only had with Scratch and the rest of the cool gang but also her friends who were still suspicious of Scratch's motives and tried to act as a barrier between them. She sat upfront between Nano and Berry but she could feel Scratch staring at her back and she felt self-conscious. Professor McGee started the class by announcing that for their midterm project, the class would have to perform a play in front of the whole class and other professors. This got everyone either groaning in distaste or squealing in misguided glee especially when the professor revealed what play it would be.

"Romeo and Juliet," He announced with a smile. "And to make things fair, we'll be holding auditions for the roles and I will be the judge."

The room started buzzing with excitement and Maia turned to Berry who just shook her head. Professor McGee held no punches when it came to his students' theatrical talent and he'd been more than frank when he told Maia last year after she had to deliver a monologue to the class for her finals that she "lacked so much talent the literary gods would rain a flood of epic proportions if she was ever on stage". Berry received a somewhat kinder feedback but the result had been the same. They were probably going to be helping with the costumes or props which suited her just fine.

Professor McGee was handing out copies of the play and paused to look at her a moment.

"Ms. Rowell, maybe you should try auditioning for the lead?" He smiled at her despite her flummoxed expression. "I think you'd bring a certain…what do I call it? Defiance? Yes, that would be it. Give Juliet something new to her."

He turned to Nano next.

"Mr. Jacobs, would you be interested in playing Romeo?" The professor nodded, knowingly. "You have that pining, desperate air to you that would suit him well."

And with that he walked off, wordlessly handing scripts to students before making his way to Scratch.

"Count Paris, perhaps, Mr. Hawthorne? You'd be perfect."

Maia had gone to bed thinking that her surreal day had just been a one-off and everything would be back to normal when she went to classes the next day. This turned out to be wishful thinking as Scratch invited himself to sit with her and her friends at breakfast, leaving his own friends staring at them in shock from their table. Nano's friends from Computer Club were working on some big project and had already left the three of them alone with Scratch who was frowning distastefully at their selection of food. Toast and eggs was apparently beneath him.

He finally turned to Maia. "So, about our class report, we should talk about that more. How about I go to your room after classes?"

Maia made a noise between a cough and dry heave before shaking her head vigorously. "Not a good idea. My dad would find out."

"You're at a boarding school. Who would tell him?" He smirked and reached over to tuck some of her dark hair behind her ear. "And what happens at boarding school…"

"Maia's dad is a professor," Berry cut in, explaining. "He teaches Geometry. You know Professor Rowell?"

Scratch seemed to be recalling her dad who was tall and very pale with thinning blond hair. He looked at her and was trying to see the resemblance which was nonexistent. Maia took after her mother who was originally from New Zealand and had the dark features of her Maori ancestry. Her parents had met by chance when her dad spent the Spring Break of his last college year in Australia and the rest was history.

"I guess that complicates things," He acquiesced. "But it's not completely hopeless. I have a free period after Chemistry."

Coincidentally, by some strange stroke of luck or lack thereof that was her actual free period. And being alone with Scratch seemed like a very bad idea but they did need to work on that damnable class report.

"That's my free period too," Nano added. "You can hang at the Computer Lab. We won't mind."

Scratch started glaring at him which Nano returned. "We wouldn't want to impose."

"Not at all," Nano countered. "Besides, you'd have access to the computers for your research. It would make things easier, right?"

"That sounds good," Maia finally spoke, breaking the staring contest between them. "As long as you don't think the Computer Club would mind, Nano?"

Nano smiled at her, his blue eyes bright and the effect brought out the boyishness of his face. He was usually frowning or brooding but Nano was cute when he wasn't moody or had his head in the clouds. His dark hair was a tad too long, boy needed a haircut.

"It'll be fine. They like you, Maia."

Scratch was still glaring at him and grumbled, "They don't seem to be the only one."

Scratch was waiting for her outside her Art class, leaning on the wall opposite of the door. She nearly froze as she stepped into the hallway. Several students passing by stared at them, whispering to each other. Berry was right behind her who had paint all over her hands up to her elbows.

Scratch flashed them his signature smirk, "Professor Morrow has you finger painting now?"

"No. I just always paint with my hands," Berry explained with a sheepish grin. "Brushes are for boring people."

"You only ever paint cats," Maia pointed out. "We were supposed to be painting still life."

"Cats are still alive," Berry argued before grinning at her and began walking away. "I'll leave you two to work on your 'report'."

Maia would've reached out and slapped her friend but Berry managed to get paint all over her face and was still not dry. She settled for glaring at her friend before turning the opposite direction to head to the Computer Lab. Scratch followed her at a leisurely place.

Maia asked, "How'd you get here so fast from the Chemistry Lab?"

The classroom was at the other side of the building. Scratch would've needed to run at break neck speed to get to her right after class ended but he looked none the worse for wear, every individual hair still in that perfect tousled style that would look ridiculous on anyone else. On Nano, it would've made him look like he just got out of bed.

"I left early."

She turned to look at him over her shoulder but kept walking.

"You can't leave class early."

"I did," He replied, glibly. "I let my lab partner continue doing his thing and I just walked out."

"And the professor didn't say anything?"

He shrugged. She felt like screaming. Scratch seemed to operate on rules the rest of humanity didn't. When they reached the Computer Lab, she was more than eager to start working on that damn trebuchet. The faster they got this done, the faster she could go back to her nice, boring life Pre-Scratch.

Professor Stevens didn't bat an eyelash at seeing Maia, having grown accustomed to her and Berry coming over to pull Nano away from the Computer Lab on a weekly basis. He did, however, stare at Scratch like he was trying to figure out if he was hallucinating or not. He merely nodded at Maia as she explained what they were doing there and continued to look at them in suspicion as she set herself up at one of the computers and began working. Nano was also staring at them from where he was discussing something with the rest of the guys in the club.

Scratch's idea of 'working' was staring at her and playing with the ends of her hair that wasn't tied up in the messy bun she'd put it in this morning. She'd had to smack his hands away more than once as it was distracting her from her research. He'd finally just stopped at messing with the one lock of hair Berry had managed to get purple paint on when she'd turned to him to explain what a trebuchet was.

"It's a medieval catapult," She pointed to the photo on the screen. "I can do the paper. That'll be easy."

"And me?"

He leaned closer to her and she moved her seat an inch away.

"You're gonna make a small replica of it," She smacked his hand going for her hair again. "You passed Woodshop class, right?"

Barely. Scratch barely passed Woodshop class. This is what she found out when they made a stop at the classroom and her dad, who also taught the class, looked at Scratch and vigorously shook his head in horror. Her dad muttered something about a clock and a drill before agreeing to help Maia make a mini replica of the trebuchet.

Her dad loved building random small things and he'd built and furbished a dollhouse for her as a child. Her ninth birthday present had been a pet hamster named Edward who eventually became her dad's pet after she'd lost interest. He'd periodically built things for the hamster inside the huge emptied out aquarium tank that served as Ed's cage. Her father had mourned Ed's passing three years later but by then her dad was an expert with making tiny things.

Her dad had done most of the work but left her to do the varnishing. They tested out the catapult by letting it launch an eraser across the classroom. She'd cheered with him and hugged him in gratitude as he instructed her to let the glue dry over night. Scratch's contribution had been staring at them before giving up and had been on his phone for the past hour.

"I've been hearing things about the two of you," He whispered to her. "You're not dating him, are you?"

Her dad said 'dating' like it was the 'black plague'. Considering what her father must've heard or seen of Scratch since he started teaching at Brewster, it might as well be. Her dad may have lost more hair dealing with Scratch and his friends. He shuddered as he muttered something about a chair and a spatula.

"No. I'm not dating him," Maia denied. "We're just partners for this class report."

Her dad looked to where Scratch was still on his phone and shook his head. "I really hope that's all it is, Maia."

The class report had gone well even with Scratch missing half of it as he'd arrived late for class as usual. Professor Hughes had been delighted at the sight of a working mini catapult and had Scratch handle it to see how far things could fly in the classroom. A confiscated pack of marbles in the Professor's desk became tiny cannon balls that flew at students who shrieked and dove out of the way. One of these mini cannon balls of death almost hit Amethyst in the face if not for Patterson's athletic reflexes.

"My hero!" Amethyst exclaimed, hugging her boyfriend who just grinned at their classmates clapping at his good catch. "My knight in shining armor,"

Scratch rolled his eyes and seemed to be aiming for Patterson's face when Maia decided she'd had enough of him channeling his inner psychopath and pushed him away from the trebuchet.

"Enough," Maia told him. "You've had your fun."

He grinned at her cheekily and leaned on the Professor's desk. The bell rang and students started leaving the classroom. Maia started collecting her things and Scratch helped her by wordlessly picking up her books as they made their way to the hallway. She was still carrying the tiny trebuchet.

"Speaking of fun," He started. "We have a party on Friday night. You should come."

Maia stopped walking. She turned to face Scratch and clutched the trebuchet closer to her like a lifeline. "Um…I don't know."

"You can bring your friend. The one with the curly hair," He offered. "Grape?"

"Berry," She corrected. "Her name is Bernice Franklin."

"Oh. Is she new?"

"She's had classes with you since grade school," She gave him a look. "She and Amethyst are cousins."

He looked genuinely shocked. Maia had been shocked too the first time Berry had told her she was related to the school's mean girl. Berry and Amethyst couldn't have been more different. Where Amethyst was a human Barbie, Berry was a merely pretty dark-eyed brunette. Amethyst was awful to anyone who wasn't in her clique while Berry was generally friendly to everyone.

"I don't think Berry would want to go…"

"Go where?"

Berry appeared out of nowhere, blissfully paint-free and got in step with them as they made their way to their next class.

"We're having a party this Friday night," Scratch told her. "Do you and Maia want to go?"

"Yes. Maia and I want to go," Berry ignored Maia's miming for her to stop. "And no, Maia has no choice. Maia will be going whether she likes it or not."

"Great!" Scratch handed Maia's textbooks to Berry who tilted a little with the extra weight. "I'll be seeing you two there."

"Remember, Maia. Be there at seven," He began walking away. "You too, Avocado!"

Berry and Maia stood in the hallway, most probably late for their class but not really caring. Berry turned to her friend and asked, "Did he just call me an avocado?"

Maia had heard about those invite-only parties ever since she transferred. They were always at the boathouse and for some reason the professors never broke up the party. She could sometimes hear them all the way from her dormitories on especially quiet nights. She'd guessed there had to have been alcohol involved at these events as the people who went always looked like death warmed over at breakfast the next day.

Berry had been excited about the party for days which meant she was extra excitable about everything including fruit juice and leaves falling. To be fair, Berry was excited about a lot of things in life and Maia was more bemused than anything when Berry reminded her by the hour about the party. It's not like she could avoid Berry as they did share a dorm together. They used to have another roommate but they don't talk about what happened to her.

Maia didn't know what to wear to the party and she spent over an hour getting ready with Berry who went in with her usual colorful dresses and high knee socks. Maia always ended up looking like the white wall of sweaters next to Berry's Picasso style. Sneaking out of the dorms and down to the boating house was a short but freezing walk which meant the two of them clinging to each other for warmth. The light from the boat house acted like a beacon in the near darkness and they were more than eager to get inside.

The boat house was a sparse two-story building with the first floor filled with the rowing team's boats and equipment. The party was upstairs on the second floor which had mostly crates and old mismatched couches for furniture that had been dragged up there by senior students of past. They had managed to sneak in crates of beer and were getting sloshed by the minute. Most of the people there were Scratch's friends, along with jocks and a few students who were either attractive or rich enough to be invited.

Scratch seemed to materialize out of thin air, beer bottle in hand.

"Maia!" He greeted with a large smile. "And Maia's friend…Apricot?"

"Berry," The two girls corrected in unison.

Scratch for some reason could not remember Berry's name and had been calling her all sorts of fruit for the last few days. Yesterday, he'd called her citrus fruits like 'orange' and 'lemon'. Berry didn't seem to mind though and just shrugged it off with her usual smile. Her friend flashed that same smile at Scratch when he handed her the beer bottle.

"Maia, I have to show you something," He said, taking Maia's hand before she could start protesting. "Let's leave Watermelon to go mingle."

"It's Berry," Maia corrected even as she was dragged off against her will.

Scratch had led them outside to the lake and they stood by the large mass of dark water freezing to their bones. Maia shivered despite her sweater as it was no match for the elements. Scratch, on the other hand, didn't seem bothered at all and just chuckled when she started visibly shivering. He beckoned her closer and when she refused, he rolled his eyes and pulled her until he was hugging her from behind, his head on her shoulder. He had the heat of a furnace and she reluctantly stayed where she was.

"This is nice, isn't it?" He said. "Just the two of us and everything's quiet."

Not knowing where this was going, she didn't say anything.

"Just away from all the bullshit," He continued, sighing against her neck. "You make everything go still, Maia."

She blinked, unable to really process that information. When she looked over at the lake, it felt like everything was the same when she only saw Scratch and his friends in passing and they didn't know she existed. Now, she was practically being cuddled by Scratch and Berry was off somewhere probably being devoured by his friends. None of it made any sense to her.

"Why am I here, Scratch?"

"I invited you and you came."

She wanted to roll her eyes. "No, but why did you invite me?"

"Because I like you, Maia," He answered easily. "I have since I first saw you."

"In the classroom a week ago?" She turned in his arms to look him in the eye. "I've been here for a year and you never saw me then."

"Things are different now," He moved closer, his forehead almost pressed against hers. Scratch was handsome, always had been and him being this close to her was making her head feel fuzzy. "You're special."

"How?" She practically demanded. "And what makes you think that?"

He paused, looking away as if he was thinking. It gave her the moment to look at him and his stupidly handsome profile. Scratch was all high cheek bones, perfect skin and dark eyes. Like a male model on a billboard, he felt unreal.

"I don't know," He finally admitted. "I just saw you in that classroom and something clicked, like something woke up in me."

"Love at first sight?"

She wanted to start laughing. And he did laugh, it sounded different from his usual chuckles or mocking barking laughter. It was softer, kinder.

"Maybe," He acquiesced as if not believing it himself. "Do you believe in that?"

Funny enough, as sensible as Maia usually was, she sort of did. That's how her parents met years ago in Brisbane with her mother on her bicycle just on the way to her part time job and her father just sitting at the park. He took one look at this beautiful girl and fell in love. Then after he went back to Boston, they kept in touch through letters that were long and cloyingly sweet. It was hard to not believe in silly things when she knew one so close to her.

"Maybe," She looked down, staring into Scratch's eyes was dangerous territory. "I don't know."

She stepped away from him and he let her. Whatever was happening made it hard to even think and she just wanted to go back to her dorm. She told him she was too cold and he wordlessly led her back into the boat house. He reached for her hand and she let him, his palms were warm after all.

Berry was apparently such a lightweight that two beers had been enough to somehow get her in a lip lock with the captain of the girls' volleyball team. Her friend, all blushing and bright-eyed, had told her there had been a drinking game and a dare and somehow she and Lynx Valdez were going on a date. This had more than surprised Nano when they told him about this during breakfast.

"What happened at the party exactly?" Nano asked. "And where were you when this was happening?"

Maia opened her mouth and closed it, trying to find a good excuse but had none.

"She was with Scratch," Berry answered. "Anyway, back to me. Lynx is taking me to the ice cream shop in town. What do you think I should wear?'

Maia avoided looking at Nano and took a sip of her orange juice. "It's a bit cold. Maybe a jacket?"

"Maia, not everyone only wears monochromatic sweaters," Berry chided. "Oh, maybe my blue dress with the sparkles!"

"You don't need to blind your date, Ber," Nano tried to reason with her, before catching Maia's eye. "And you, off alone with Scratch Hawthorne? You know he probably has every STD known to man, right?"

"We didn't do anything," Maia retorted. "And what I do or don't do with anyone isn't your business."

Nano looked wounded. "I'm your best friend."

"No, I am," Berry cut in. "You're second best."

Still looking at Maia, Nano shook his head as if finally realizing something.

"Yeah, apparently," He stood up. "I'm gonna go. I'll see you later."

Maia watched him walked away, feeling guilty but not knowing why. Nano was always moody and broody about something. He'd been that way since she'd met him but he was never actually this mean to her. She should probably talk to him but it would have to wait.

Maia's mom had been out of town most of the week and had been in Florida. Maia's grandmother, her Nana Tully, had been feeling ill for a bit and her mom had been coming over to help around the house when she didn't have any clients. Her mom was a freelance yoga instructor and pretty much worked everywhere from gyms to spas to even occasionally at Brewster. Luckily, her mom was home this weekend and already finished with a private session with a client when Maia went over to their house on campus. Her mom seemed to know something was wrong immediately and they moved furniture out of the way in the living room and rolled down the yoga mats.

Her mom liked heart to hearts best when they were doing yoga. They began with meditating which was usually spent in silence and just breathing deeply but Maia's thoughts were too muddled to keep quiet.

"Scratch Hawthorne likes me."

Her mother stopped her meditation to look at her inquisitively.

"Isn't that the boy that made that cuckoo clock that nearly blinded your father?"

Wait. That was him? That explained why her dad seemed so wary of him.

Maia shook her head, trying to get back to what she was saying.

"It's only been a week and he'd told me he likes me," She continued. "Who does that?"

"Your dad told me he loved me after a month," Her mom countered. "Though, I could barely read his handwriting so it took me a while to decipher."

Her dad's handwriting was something that looked like cavemen scratched into a wall and would need the help of archeologists to make sense of. Her mom must've really loved her dad to go through reading all his lengthy letters.

"You and dad are different," Maia replied. "I had five classes with Scratch last year and he didn't even know my name till a few days ago.

"Then out of nowhere, he just decides I'm special and he likes me. It makes no sense, mom." She wasn't even trying to meditate anymore. "It could be all just a prank or a bet. Remember, Emily?"

"We don't talk about your old roommate, dear," Her mom shook her head. "That poor girl,"

Her mom started getting up and stretched her legs back, her upper body stretching down into the downward dog. Maia followed her, still troubled, as the blood started rushing to her head.

"What if he's just messing with me, mom?"

"We don't know that," Her mom moved to stretch into the crow pose. "Maybe he genuinely has feelings for you. People could surprise you."

"Yeah, people really can. Remember, Professor Fitz?"

Professor Fitz had been the Literature professor but had to leave in the middle of the previous school year when it got out he'd impregnated one of her classmates, Abigail Collins. Both Professor Fitz and Abigail had left when the pregnancy had been too visible to ignore. No one could guess that Professor Fitz who was well-liked by all his students could do such a thing. People could really surprise you.

Berry had been giddy all weekend long, talking non-stop about Lynx. The volleyball captain was a very pretty girl with tanned skin and toned legs that went on for days from all the time she spent on the court. She and Berry was quickly becoming an item. Berry sitting at another table with the other volleyball plays was becoming a regular occurrence and this left Maia to sit with Nano who was becoming more reticent as the days went by.

By Wednesday, Maia had more than enough of Nano's behavior.

"Nano," She said, trying to keep her voice down. "Did I do something?"

"No," He was still looking down at his plate, moving that lone piece of sausage around with his fork. "You didn't."

"Then why does it feel like you're angry with me?"

"I'm not angry with you."

She bit back the angry retort at the tip of her tongue. "Then why aren't you talking to me?"

"I'm just tired, Maia."

He got up, grabbing his bag and started walking away and out of the Dining Hall. She was left all alone at the table, feeling like crap. She looked up and watched everyone leave for their first class. Berry was holding hands with Lynx as they left with the rest of the volleyball players. Her dad was leaving with the professors.

She looked down and hadn't felt this lonely since her first week at that school and nobody was really talking to her. She suddenly missed her old life in Boston and her old friends that she had to abandon. She missed being able to see her grandparents anytime she wanted before they moved to Florida.

"Hey, pretty girl," That familiar deep voice drawled. "You're looking a little glum there."

"Hey, Scratch," She greeted without looking up.

He took the seat Nano vacated. She looked at him at the corner of her vision and he looked impeccable as always.

"Your friends getting you down?" He smiled at her and it wasn't his cocky smirk. "You want to me to pay someone to get rid of them?"

"That's sweet," She scoffed. "But I think I'm okay."

He moved to tuck her hair behind her ear. He did that a lot. She'd stopped minding after a while.

"You're gonna be late for class, you know," He smirked. "Am I finally corrupting you, Maia?"

"No," She got to her feet and he followed. "You wish."

She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the door, feeling her spirits lifting as they ran through the hallways.

Maia began sitting with Scratch and his friends at the Dining Hall, wanting to avoid Nano and his moodiness. No one at the table gave her any notice, already bored with the novelty of her presence. Amethyst still occasionally threw a glare or barb at her when she wasn't trying to disrupt Patterson from eating his meal in peace. And she was very happy to know, they didn't eat only caviar and lobster all the time (it was still fine dining but food nonetheless).

People had also begun to stop staring so blatantly at her and Scratch, finally getting tired of it or just getting used to it. What they were exactly, Maia wasn't sure. She'd been spending more time with him as he was actually not so bad sometimes but she still wasn't sure if they were friends or more. Scratch definitely wanted to be more.

She didn't get much time to evaluate her feelings as she began to get swamped in school work, auditions for that damnable play, and meetings for the journalism club with her mostly writing articles for every cursed event at the school. She was barely getting any sleep. By the time for the auditions, she was ready to just say her lines and let Professor McGee tell her how untalented she was. She would be much happier just helping with the props then having to memorize lines and having to actually perform in front of her peers.

She sighed as she had to climb up the stepladder that was their current balcony as they had yet to begin working on any sets. The Drama Club didn't have that kind of set available as last year's school play was a bastardization of the first High School Musical film. Script in hand, she looked up to see Professor McGee at a table across the stage. It was only her class at the auditorium which made the place feel especially empty.

"But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?"

She looked down to see Nano at the foot of the stepladder, staring up at her. His blue eyes were wide like he was looking in wonder at some beautiful being. He couldn't be looking like that at her, was he? Not Nano.

"It is the east and Juliet is the sun!"

She continued to look at him as he continued, his voice soft but audible for everyone in the auditorium to hear. Everything felt still like they were all entrapped in this moment in time. Nano with his soft voice murmuring his love for her (for Juliet) and her taking it all in like it wasn't the most unusual moment of her life. He reached up with his hand as if he wanted to touch her at the last line.

"Ay me!" She said, almost feeling the words fall out like they didn't belong to her.

"She speaks,"

He smiled at her and she'd forgotten what Nano's smile was like, all white teeth and boyish dimples.

"And cut!"

They both froze like marionettes dropped by an invisible puppeteer and looked over to Professor McGee who looked very pleased. Maia didn't think he'd ever looked so favorably at her. Most of the time, it was barely concealed contempt. Then again, Professor McGee only really liked members of his Drama Club.

"We have our Romeo and Juliet," He declared. "I have made my decision."


A shriek rang through the auditorium that sounded a lot like Amethyst.

"Let's have auditions now for the supporting characters," The professor intoned, looking down at the papers on his desk. "Let's start with Mercutio."

Amethyst was actually in the Drama Club, a member since she was a freshman. Berry and Amethyst's grandmother had been on Broadway back in the day and her penchant for dramatics was very useful when she was on stage. Thus, Professor McGee decided to make her the director of the play as she was the only one in their class with any real theatre knowledge (having performed as Sharpay Evans in last year's play). So far, Amethyst had been ruling over them with an iron fist, usually hollering at people at the top of her soprano voice about what they were doing wrong (which was everything).

They were practicing for the play every spare moment they had. Nano continued being a surprisingly good Romeo and when they were practicing their lines, he often spoke the Bard's words to her in such a beautiful way she could see the female (and some of the male) members of their class melting into their seats. Offstage, Nano was still brooding and monosyllabic. The split between these two versions of Nano was giving her whiplash.

Berry was in charge of the costumes which she was ecstatic about as she could sew and had a good eye for fabrics. After talking to the drama club, they were able to unearth a few medieval-looking costumes from a play a few years ago that could be altered which left them mostly having to work on the sets and the props. Berry was able to get Lynx who got the boys' and girls' volleyball teams to help and Amethyst all about demanded Patterson and his lacrosse buddies to help too. Amethyst wanted specific props which meant going into town to buy from the stores there.

And that's how they met the witch.

There was a New Age store outside of town, veering into the woods. The store wasn't hard to find but it still made Maia uncomfortable to go into the woods. Berry had no sense of direction and got lost frequently which meant Maia would have to find them a way out if they took a wrong turn. She'd watched too many horror movies to enjoy a walk in nature like this.

There was a two-story house right in the middle of the forest. They could see from the windows, the store merchandise which ranged from books to little trinkets. An antique bronze wind chime tinkled as they opened the front door and made their way inside. The room smelled like incense and jasmine. They looked around the store and everything ranged from little dolls to beaded bracelets.

An elderly lady was sitting at the counter, her hair gray and falling into long curls down her back. She was wearing a peasant dress and had an assortment of rings on her wrinkled fingers. She was also playing with what appeared to be tarot cards on the counter as they looked around. Berry was happily looking at all the merchandise and was making up her mind about what they needed to get.

"Welcome," The elderly lady said. "Can I help you with anything?"

"We have a school play coming up – Romeo and Juliet," Berry explained. "We're just looking for things that we can use for props and costumes."

The elderly lady smiled and directed Berry to some clothing and items she had at the back of the store. Maia was looking at some of the 'spell books' and picked one up that was about love spells. She opened it and snorted at the spell about peeling an apple and throwing it over her shoulder. She quickly put it back.

"A skeptic?" The elderly lady was back at the counter, reshuffling her deck of cards. "Don't blame you. I mostly sell those to silly little teen girls."

Maia just shrugged and watched as the elderly lady continued shuffling her deck. She'd heard rumors that the lady who owned this shop was a witch. Most of the rumors sounded preposterous and just seemed the workings of people who had nothing better to do. This woman just seemed as real as those love spell books.

"Would you like to know your future?" The lady asked. "Love troubles?"

Maia was quick to decline. "Not quite."

"Pretty girl always has those," The lady smiled at her before holding out her deck. "Pick one."

Maia hesitated. She wasn't one to believe in things like this. Her parents were both sensible people and raised her to be the same. Things like this were something out of Harry Potter, fanciful at best.

Still, while she was there, it seemed rude to just decline. She picked the card from the top of the deck and gently placed it down on the counter for the lady to see.

The Moon.

"Ah, you're confused about certain things. None of it seems clear?" The lady said. "If it's about love, then you're unsure about your own feelings. Don't fret, my dear, things will reveal themselves over time."

Maia wanted her to elaborate more but the woman just snatched the card and started shuffling again.

"First one is free. The next one will cost you five dollars."

Halloween came and blissfully meant a break from Amethyst and practices for the play. Amethyst was a dictator in designer heels who wanted nothing less than perfection from everyone. It was common practice for her to get on stage and tell them line by line what they were doing wrong. Other times, she threw things.

"Maia," Amethyst sunk her sharp nails into her shoulder, making her wince. "I need you to be Juliet."

She pointed to Nano. "He is your Romeo. Look at him like you love him, like the sight of him takes your breath away!"

"Um," Maia didn't really know what to say. Nano even awkwardly coughed. "How do I do that exactly?"

"Pretend he's Scratch for all I care!" Amethyst threw up her hands in frustration. "Work with me here!"

Maia didn't really know how that would help. Scratch was still hanging around her and she let him even if it just meant him playing Candy Crush on his phone while she tried to study in the library. Nothing significant had happened between them since the first party back in September. She'd attended a few more parties since then, mostly hanging with Berry and Lynx who were still going strong.

Scratch decided to hold a party on Halloween with Amethyst demanding it be a costume party. Berry was able to make them costumes at the last minute with her as Alice in Wonderland and Lynx as the Mad Hatter. For Maia, she made a Dorothy Gale costume with her old ballet flats spray painted red and covered in glitter. Berry giggled as they made their way to the boat house.

Scratch's costume was just a t-shirt that had a badly stitched heart on it. Maia snorted and asked what he was supposed to be.

"The Tin Man," He replied. "I have no heart, remember?"

"And you couldn't have put more effort into it?"

He tugged on what of her pigtails. "Shut it, Dorothy. Not all of us have a Berry who can make us costumes."

Maia gaped at him, happily surprised. "You called her Berry!"

"That's her name, right?" He shrugged it off like it was nothing. "Besides, she's cool."

She smiled, feeling all warm. Maybe it was all that lack of sleep making her dizzy because in that moment, she thought Scratch Hawthorne wasn't so bad after all.

Scratch handed her a beer and he made her laugh the rest of the night.

Berry was sober by the time they crawled back to their dorm. Their make-up smeared, they undressed out of their costumes and into their pajamas. With some make-up wipes, they worked on getting the gunk off their faces. Even some of Lynx's Mad Hatter make-up ended on Berry.

"Berry," Maia looked over at her friend who was wiping at her smeared red lipstick. "How'd you know you liked Lynx?"

Her friend stopped what she was doing and turned to her in surprise and asked, "Why are you asking?"

She shrugged.

Berry moved closer to her. Their beds were only a few feet apart. "Is this because of Scratch?"

"I don't know," Maia began untangling her pigtails. "He's not so bad, is he?"

"Nope. He's okay," Berry nodded, smiling. "Maybe we should've invited Nano to the party."

Maia snorted. "Nano wouldn't go. He hates parties."

He'd also been an asshole to her these past few weeks so that was out of the question.

"No, he wouldn't go," Berry got up and made her way to their bathroom. "He's the Cowardly Lion after all."

November almost flew by as the time came for them to finally premiere their rendition of Romeo and Juliet was drawing near. It was going to be after Thanksgiving as they still had the Winter Formal to worry about. Amethyst was also on the planning committee for the event and was singularly driving them all to insanity. The only silver lining with her interactions with the blonde was that she'd finally stopped caring about Scratch and was more focused on the events she was in charge of.

Amethyst, despite being incredibly blonde and pretty, was actually very smart and determined when she wanted to be. She was able to evoke fear and obedience with the pout of her red-stained lips and a narrowing of her blue eyes. They probably wouldn't have been able to do any of the things they were supposed to if not for the fear of her wrath crashing down upon them. They only quietly hoped Amethyst never developed an interest in ruling a nation as she would no doubt live prosperous and fearful in her reign.

The last practice before Thanksgiving, Amethyst decided they needed to work on the kiss.

"But we agreed we'd only do this kiss on the actual day," Maia reasoned. "Right?'

Amethyst rolled her eyes. "I'm not asking you to stick your tongue down his throat, Maia."

Nano questioned, "Is this necessary?"

"Yes, Edmund," Amethyst always used his real name, citing 'Nano' as the dumbest nickname she'd ever heard (never mind she dated a guy whose nickname was 'Scratch'). "Better get all the awkward kiss anxieties here during practice then on the day itself. The audience will sense it."

Maia leaned on the balcony that was everyone's collective effort and tried not to look at Nano who was holding on to the trellis they set up for him to cling to for the scene.

"It's just a kiss," Amethyst rolled her eyes, adjusting her black beret as if they were greatly inconveniencing her. "It's not even a real one. It's called acting."

Nano sighed and turned to Maia, muttered, "Let's just get it over with before the Queen has another fit."

Maia finally looked at him. He wasn't Romeo or Nano in this moment, some in between creature. She nodded. "It's just a kiss. It's not even a real one."

He didn't say anything and leaned closer. She closed her eyes and waited. His lips were dry, she noted, as their lips made contact. She held her breath as the kiss continued. It wasn't terrible so far.


Nano pulled away quickly and she opened her eyes, looking down at Amethyst who was waving her arms around like an angry bird.

"You have to mean it!" The blonde practically exclaimed. "It has to look like you actually deeply, passionately love each other."


That was the only Maia got out before Nano was kissing her again. He was annoyed, she could tell, but that made the kiss better somehow. It was deeper this time and she closed her eyes as Nano kept kissing her. She might've even sighed as his hands were on her neck and he pulled her closer.

She opened her eyes as he finally pulled away. Nano's eyes had always been that pretty blue but he'd never looked at her with such raw emotion. Like he loved her. It made her freeze as several realizations crashed upon her.

"That's more like it," Amethyst called out. "Not bad, Jacobs. How about we do this scene again from the start?"

Nano was already climbing down the trellis and she watched him feeling more confused than ever.

Nano had avoided her more thoroughly after that. He didn't speak to her at all and didn't sit with her in any classes. He didn't even say goodbye to her as they all left for Thanksgiving. Nano was going to be in Chicago and she and her family were going to visit her aunt in Boston which meant she wasn't going to be able to see him at all until after they got back.

She kept in touch with Berry who was in San Francisco. And even ran into old friends while she was in Boston. She tried to message Nano one night but chickened out and erased it before she could press send. Things were just so complicated and she still couldn't understand how they got there.

After they were stuffed to the brim with food and she was morosely staring out the window of Aunt Helena's house, her mom came to sit beside her on the couch and patted her shoulder in comfort.

"You okay, Maia?"

"Boys," She sighed. "Why are they so much trouble, mom?"

Her mom was obviously amused but tried to look sympathetic. "Is it Scratch again?"

"No," Maia shook her head. "It's Nano. I think he likes me."

"Oh." Her mom seemed be trying to figure out what to say for a moment. "Do you like Nano?"

"I don't know."

"How about Scratch?"

"I don't know either."

"Ah, to be seventeen and be torn between two boys," Her mom kissed the top of her head, letting her rest her head on her shoulder. "You poor thing,"

"Can I just skip to being an adult? They never have to deal with these things."

"Actually, Maia…"

"What do I do, mom?"

"Pick one." Her mom got up and came back with a notepad and a pen. "Let's make a list of pros and cons. That could help you out."

Her always organized and sensible parents to the rescue.

Maia was more than happy to see Berry again after the Thanksgiving break. She hadn't been able to tell her friend about her confused feelings about Nano because she didn't want to really bother her friend when she was so happily in love with her own girlfriend and Maia and her love troubles just seemed so ridiculous.

"This pros and cons list is ridiculous," Berry remarked, looking over at the list she and her mom had made. "You do realize you put 'asshole' on both guy's cons section, right?"

Maia shrugged. "They're both assholes."

"And they both have 'sweet' on the pros section," Berry pointed out. "And they're both 'moody'. Are they the same person?"

When she put it that way…

"I put 'cocky' on Scratch's cons section and 'judgmental' on Nano's," Maia explained. "They also both have 'stupid nicknames'."

"They really do," Berry took out a pen from her pencil case and started adding to the list. "Let's put 'couldn't remember Berry's name' on Scratch's list."

"And 'still won't talk to Maia' on Nano's."

Berry paused and looked at her. "He's still avoiding you?"

Nano still was avoiding her like the plague which was especially annoying as they had most classes together. He didn't even sit near her anymore which made her want to start throwing things at him. She felt like some evil ghost had taken over her friend and she was getting sick of his behavior. And there was still the kiss which she hadn't stopped thinking about every spare moment she got.

She took the list back from Berry and double underlined 'asshole' on Nano's list.

The day of the play finally came. Word had got out about it and most of the school was apparently coming since Scratch and the cool gang was going to be in it. This prompted a near nervous breakdown from Amethyst who had to be carried off to the backstage away by Patterson away from everyone. She and Berry had to go there for the costumes and stayed back as they saw Patterson comforting a crying Amethyst.

"It's gonna be okay, Ames," Patterson was stroking her blonde hair and trying to wipe her tears. "It's just a play. You've been in plenty of them."

"That's different!" Amethyst said, clearly distraught. "I was just an actor saying my lines. This is my play. I'm the director and if they hate it…"

"They're not gonna hate it," Patterson tried to tell her but she was back to crying. He sighed and got up. "I'll get you some water. I'll be right back."

He stopped when they saw the two of them. "Hey."

"Hey, Patterson," Berry replied.

He just gave them a smile and walked around them. Maia and Berry looked at each other whether to approach Amethyst or not but Berry eventually just walked over and sat beside her cousin.

"You okay, Amy?"

"Don't call me that, Bernice," Amethyst tried to wipe at her tears and Berry offered a handkerchief. "Thanks."

"They're not gonna hate the play, you know," Berry told her. "There are probably drill sergeants less strict than you."

Amethyst snorted. "Sure."

"Everything's going to be okay," Maia moved to stand nearer to Amethyst. "Everybody knows their lines and everything's set up."

The blonde looked at her with watery eyes for a moment. "Why are you being so nice to me? Both of you?"

"You're upset and you are still my cousin," Berry explained, grasping Amethyst's teary face in her hands. "And once upon a time, we were best friends."

Amethyst looked at her and sighed. "I'm sorry about abandoning you in freshman year."

"It's fine," Berry started wiping her tears away and straightening her blonde hair. "Having to sit with your friends would mess with my aura. They're far too negative."

"Except Patterson, he's a good guy," Amethyst said with a smile. "I don't know why I was so hung up on Scratch. He's an idiot."

Berry looked over at Maia as she asked, "So you're over Scratch, Amy?"

"Ugh, screw Scratch Hawthorne!" Amethyst declared. "I have a hot and sweet lacrosse captain who worships the ground I walk on. Why would I go for second best?"

Finally back to her usual bravado, Amethyst got to her feet, but not before giving Berry a hug and giving Maia a smile. Patterson was back with a bottle of water and some Xanax. Amethyst gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. After reapplying her lipstick, the blonde was back to top form and bossing everyone to her will.

The play had been an overall success. No mishaps or mistakes. Everyone delivered their lines well and the audience swooned during the romantic scenes. The kiss was different this time, Maia thought, longer and deeper. She'd stared into Nano's blue eyes and believed, really believed the emotion from each line. She thought about her pros and cons list and mentally added 'great Romeo' to his pros section.

By the end of the play, they got a standing ovation and Amethyst soaked up the applause like a sunflower meeting the sun. She'd thanked the whole cast and crew for a job well-done, especially to Berry who she called 'indispensible'. Everyone was in high spirits. The only catch was Nano still was ignoring her and Maia was officially done with it.

She was about to give him a piece of her mind when Scratch came up to her and blocked her path.

"Maia!" He smiled at her. "We're having a party at the boat house for the cast and crew after this. You need to come."


She looked past him to see Nano was already gone. Disappointed and annoyed, she turned away from Scratch and started walking away to go backstage.


She ignored him and kept walking, unable to see the hurt look on his ever handsome face.

Maia wanted to wallow in her dorm room but Berry forced her out to go to the party. They had invited everyone who helped with the set so the lacrosse team, volleyball teams, and Drama Club was there, making the second floor of the boat house a lot more crowded than usual. Maia wondered how long she had to be there before she could slink back to her dorm and spend the night on a Netflix marathon. She was exhausted, emotionally and physically.


There was Scratch again.

"Hey," He almost looked nervous. "Are you mad at me or something?"

"I'm not mad at you, Scratch," She felt guilt bloom in her belly. She was kind of rude to him earlier. "I'm just kind of tired."

"Yeah, you're not tired," Scratch gave her a look. "You're sad. Admit it."

"No, I'm…"

Scratch's too handsome face was smug and she sighed and acquiesced. He just laughed and beckoned her over to the table they set up for beer pong.

"Let's get drunk," He told her. "That'll cheer you up."

She was about to tell him no when she heard Amethyst come into the room in her usual way of practically tackling Patterson upon seeing him. He just smiled and hugged her back. She had to admit, they were really cute.

"Beer pong?" Amethyst pursed her lips turning to the doorway and called out, "Oh, Edmund!"

Maia turned around so fast she almost gave herself a crick in the neck. There was Nano standing awkwardly and looking like he did not want to be there. Amethyst ran to him and grabbed his arm, dragging him towards the table like a tow truck and the world's unhappiest car.

"Come join the party, Romeo. We're playing a game." Amethyst beckoned her boyfriend to come over. "Patterson will pair up with you for the game."

"That's not fair," Scratch argued. "Wilkes has perfect aim."

"Pity," Amethyst returned. "Cause losers have to take their shirts off."

Maia started backing away. "I'm out."

Nano tried to back out too but Amethyst gave him a stare that made him stay put. She commandeered some other unwitting Lacrosse player to partner up with Scratch before sauntering her off to the corner Maia was trying to hide in. Picking up two beers out of a crate, she handed one to the brunette and wrapped her free arm around the other girl's shoulders.

"I'm just letting the men have a place to posture," The blonde explained. "It's safer than a fight outside that could give them hyperthermia."

"What are you doing, Amethyst?"

The blonde turned to her with a mischievous smile. "I got your dear Edmund here. The fool was locking himself away in his room listening to some truly dreadful music."

"But why?"

"You were kind to me earlier when I'd admittedly have not deserved it," Amethyst explained. "I'm repaying my debt."

"By getting Nano here?"

Amethyst sighed, aggravated. "Yes, Maia. As I've spent weeks watching him pine and get jealous over you. I'm sure everyone will finally be relieved for the end of all these emotional push-and-pulls."

Maia gaped at her. "What?"

Amethyst rolled her eyes and took a swig of her beer, like she needed alcohol to deal with all this. "Edmund has had the biggest crush on you since you transferred here and everyone but you has noticed."

But she had noticed. Ever since that kiss during practice and maybe she'd known all along but was too afraid to give this secret life.

"Scratch won't make you happy," The blonde said. "As someone who dated him, I assure you of that. Romeo over there just needs a little push and he'll be all yours."

Maia stared at her, feeling grateful and terrified of Amethyst's manipulative ways. She wanted to hug the girl but had a feeling the blonde would smack her if she tried.

She still had to ask, "What's the point of them being shirtless though?"

The game had ended and Scratch was taking off his shirt, showing off his six-pack abs. He was truly physically perfect. It was almost disturbing. The girls and some of the guys couldn't help but stare.

"No, that's just for my enjoyment," Amethyst smirked. "And to annoy my ex,"

Nano was talking amiably to Patterson, actually smiling and not broodingly scowling at everything. Maia finished her beer and left it by one of the crates, needing liquid courage for this. She waved at Berry who was cuddling with Lynx on one of the couches. Steadying herself, she patted Nano on the shoulder.

He turned around and the smile on his face melted off. He was back to being his awkward self.

"We need to talk," She told him. This had been building up for longer than she was able to know. "Let's go downstairs?"

"Um…" Nano looked around for an escape.

Oh no, you don't, Maia thought and grabbed his arm, dragging him towards the door. If Amethyst Franklin could go for what she wanted without fear than so could she. Even for this one moment, she was going to be freaking fearless. Nano said nothing as she dragged him downstairs.

They sat down on one of the tarps the floor as there was no furniture. It was colder there than upstairs so Maia hid her hands in the pockets of her sweater. Nano was trying to hide inside his dark blue hoodie. They were beginning to shiver.

He asked, "We couldn't have talked upstairs?"

She shook her head. "Too many witnesses,"

He let out a nervous laugh before jokingly replying, "You're not gonna kill me, are you?"

"A part of me wants to," She admitted. "You ignored me for months, Nano."

He opened his mouth like he was going to start to deny it but when he saw the genuine hurt on her face he closed his mouth and just said, "I know. I'm sorry."

"Is it because you were jealous of Scratch?"

He didn't answer for a moment, staring down at their feet before finally letting the truth escape his lungs.

"Yes," Releasing the words felt like breathing. "I couldn't stand to see you with him."

She had the urge to reach over and smack him but let it go. She wanted to keep hearing this.

She continued, "Because you like me?"

He wouldn't look up to make eye contact with her. "Yes."

She wanted to move closer but she kept still. She was shivering but kept up her line of questioning. She had a feeling she might not get another chance.

"For how long?"

He let out a laugh that was more like an exhale. "Ever since I met you."

Amethyst was right and maybe even Berry if she'd just took the time to notice what they were telling her. God, she'd been so blind.

She moved, getting closer to him. He was the warmest thing in that room and it felt nice.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I wasn't brave enough," He confessed with more than his usual self-deprecation. "Then Scratch Hawthorne was always around and…"

"Right," It had been so messy with Scratch and her confused feelings. "Berry called you the Cowardly Lion."

He smiled at their friend's very apt observations before adding, "He becomes brave at the end of the book, you know."

"You should be brave now," She said almost like a whisper.

He gulped, staring at her with those pretty blue eyes before moving forward and it was like the kiss in the play but better. This kiss was for her, not Juliet or an audience. And their lips were chapped from the cold and she was sure her fingers were going numb but she didn't care.

He pulled away, smiling shyly. "Was that okay?"

She nodded, wanting to laugh from relief and happiness and a dozen other emotions. "Better than okay,"

He yelped when she punched him in the arm, clutching it to himself with shocked wide eyes. He exclaimed, "What the hell, Maia?"

"Don't ignore me like that again," She admonished. "It was an asshole move."

He may be the sweetest boy she knew but he also made her miserable and confused for months. All of this maybe could've been avoided if he'd just told her how he felt. Stupid boys and their stupid decisions.

He closed his eyes and laughed like he was exhaling. "You're right. I'm sorry."


"And I was an asshole?" He opened his eyes and stared at her with that soft look again, the same love struck one when he was Romeo looking up at her on the balcony. "I really like you, Maia."

She smiled back, feeling the stress and exhaustion from the day melt away. "I really like you too."

A sound made her look up to see Scratch turning around and going back upstairs. A part of her wanted to follow him but she stayed put.

The week after was their Winter Formal. The school's Dining Hall had been converted into a Winter Wonderland with paper mache snowflakes and a light machine that mimicked the Aurora Borealis. Boys were in tuxes and girls in their gowns. Amethyst was the prettiest girl in the room as usual in a red gown that made Patterson unable to look away from her. Berry and Lynx were dancing and lost in their own world.

Maia was contemplating how stiff her hair was from all the hair spray and mouse as Nano spun her around the dance floor. For all his social awkwardness, he was very coordinated. He admitted to his mother insisting on dance lessons when he was younger and she was grateful for them since he wasn't stepping on her toes. He was also very good at ignoring her parents watching them (as they had volunteered to chaperone much to her consternation).

"What are you doing for the holidays?" Nano asked her, effortlessly gliding her in the waltz.

"We're visiting my grandparents in Adelaide," She answered. "You gonna be in Chicago?"

"As usual," He replied. "Which means we're gonna Skype everyday right?"

She giggled and wanted to kiss him since they were still in that happy, bubbly phase but her parents were watching so she just smiled at him. As he spun her around the dance floor, she saw her parents talking by the punch bowl, they looked content. Amethyst and Patterson were dancing and the blonde was staring up at her handsome boyfriend in adoration. Berry and Lynx had sat down at a table and were helping themselves to the finger food. And there was Scratch sitting by his lonesome.

She hadn't spoken to him since the after party of the play and he didn't follow her around anymore. He might've finally taken the hint that she didn't return his feelings but she still felt bad. He'd had his moments of being a real friend to her. Making up her mind, she excused herself from Nano, and went over to where Scratch was sitting.

"Hey," She started. "You're looking a little glum here?"

He didn't look up at her. "I'm not. I'm tired."

"You're not tired," She took the seat beside him. "You're sad. Admit it."

"Ha ha," He sarcastically replied. "Very funny, Maia."

There was an awkward pause, neither of them speaking. She took the time to observe. He was handsome as always, even more so that night in his fancy suit. It felt strange to see the boy that everyone noticed to be by himself but he'd always had been she'd noticed these past few weeks. Even with the cool gang around him, he was always alone. She might've been the closest thing he'd had to an actual friend.

"I never said sorry about Nano and sort of dumping you-"

"We were never together," He cut in. "And you dumping me for Jacobs was inevitable. Everyone could see that ending."

Mollified, she divulged, "I was never really sure what we were."

"We were an almost something," He expounded. "It could never really work no matter how much I wanted it to."

He was right and she knew that for a while. There was always something missing between the two of them. Like two mismatched jigsaw pieces or her secret hatred of seafood. Or he was looking for something and she just was the closest thing he could find to it. It still wasn't enough.

"Still, I am sorry that I hurt you."

"I'm not hurt," He gave her his cocky smirk, all bravado. Too bad she knew how much of it was fake. "I'm the Tin Man, remember? Heartless."

"You know I know that's not true, right?"

"No one would believe you," He quirked an eyebrow at her before giving her one of his genuine smiles. "And who knows, maybe next year I'll find a girl who's perfect for me. One who's dad doesn't hate my guts."

Her dad actually really low-key hated him.

"I'm sure you will," She smiled back at him, offering her hand. "Friends?"

"As if the knife wasn't deep enough…" He rolled his eyes but took her hand anyway and gave her perfunctory shake. "Sure, whatever, friends."

He got to his feet and started walking away. "I'll see you around, Maia."

He didn't look back as he left the Dining Hall. She went back to her friends and enjoyed the rest of the night.

When Maia came back from winter break, she found they had a new roommate. She had to pause as she saw the stunning redhead in her dorm. With perfect pale skin and unusual violet eyes, the girl looked like something out of a painting. She looked too pretty to be real, especially when the girl seemed oblivious to her overall otherworldly beauty.

"I'm Volkswagen Smythe," The girl told her in a voice like tinkling bells which sounded both melodic and impossible. "I'm from Seattle. My parents died after getting hit by a blimp."

Maia had to look at Berry who confirmed all of this to be true. Things were even more unbelievable when Volkswagen told them her only living relative was the witch in the woods. The redhead had blatantly denied her great aunt being or that she herself could be a witch.

"I'm nothing special," Volkswagen sighed, looking away forlornly. "Why would I have something extraordinary like that?"

Maia didn't know what to say to that but tried her best to be friendly to the other girl. She and Berry showed her around campus and told her about their classmates. At the Dining Hall during breakfast, Volkswagen kept staring at Scratch and the cool gang. The redhead looked stunned.

"Who's that?"

Volkswagen couldn't stop staring particularly at Scratch, like he was some kind of god.

"That's Scratch Hawthorne," Maia answered for her. "He's nice."

Nano snorted beside her and she ignored him.

The redhead continued to stare at Scratch, twirling her really unusually bright red locks with her fingers in a nervous habit. During their first class, Scratch arrived late as usual. Maia gave him notice as he made his way into the room. Volkswagen was sitting behind her, not wanting to attract attention by sitting at the front, so Lynx (who also had that class with her) took Scratch's usual seat which left him to sit beside the new girl.

She heard the redhead gasped as Scratch sat down and tried to concentrate on the class as Scratch spoke to their new classmate.

"Hey. Are you new?"

This was a Christmas present for my friend, Joy. I hope you like it, dear.

I would like to thank Faith and Allyssa whose encouragement kept me writing.

References in the story:

1. Maia is named after one of my favorite fictional characters Maya Hart in Girl Meets World. Also, Australian actress Maia Mitchell who's very pretty. Her last name 'Rowell' is taken from YA author Rainbow Rowell. Her appearance and ethnicity is based on Australian actress Courtney Eaton.

2. Scratch's name is a joke and is inspired primarily by Patch Cipriano in Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush Hush series. He was inspired by numerous YA book heroes. Scratch's last name is from Gale Hawthorne in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy. His appearance is based on Brazillian model Francisco Lachowski.

3. Nano's real name Edmund is named after Edmund Pevensie in C.S. Lewis' Narnia series who was played by Skandar Keynes in the films. Part of Nano's personality was inspired by Edmund's surly personality in the first film. His last name 'Jacobs' is inspired by Jacob Black from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga. His appearance is based on American actor Logan Lerman.

4. Berry's personality and appearance is based on Riley Matthews from Girl Meets World, especially finger painting portraits of cats. Her last name 'Franklin' is named from the title of a Paramore song.

5. Amethyst's name is from my birth stone (I'm a February baby) and her personality is taken from several fictional characters like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, Sharpay Evans from the High School Musical trilogy, Quinn Fabray and Kitty Wilde from Glee, Lydia Martin from Teen Wolf, etc.

6. Patterson Wilkes name is inspired by British actor Robert Pattinson. Patterson = Pattinson.

7. Lynx Valdez's last name is from my best friend Allyssa. Her appearance is based on American actress Bianca Santos.

8. Maia's parents are based on my best friends' parents. Their love story on how they met is based on Allyssa's parents.

9. The hamster that Maia owned named Edward is named after Edward Cullen from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga. The hamster is also named after Adward Sponsorhands, Youtuber Jenna Marbles' deceased hamster.

10. The witch was inspired by Old Magic by Marianne Curley.

11. Volkswagen Smythe's name is inspired by an old co-worker of mine. She and her siblings were all named after cars (i.e. Kia, Chrsyler, Mercedes). She is based off of a lot of YA heroines like Bella Swan and Nora Grey. Her appearance is mostly based off of American actress Katharine McNamara who plays Clary Fray in Shadowhunters. Her parents dying from being hit by a blimp is inspired from American TV show Friends.

12. Professor Fitz was inspired by Ezra Fitz in Sara Sheppard's Pretty Little Liars series who is an English teacher who had a romantic relationship with one of his students. He even goes on to marry her in the TV series.

Additional information (stuff that didn't make it in the story as it wasn't that important or too awkward when I tried to include them in scenes):

1. Maia's grandmother she mentioned who lives in Florida is Irish. Her grandparents used to live in Boston before they moved.

2. Berry is half-Jewish.

3. Berry had a crush on Patterson in their freshman year and she used to stalk him. He still remembers.

4. Berry was supposed to get a pet kitten that they would hide in the dorm that they named 'Pete'. Inspired by Peeta Mellark from the Hunger Games trilogy.

5. Scratch's first name is Mieczyslaw. This is a reference to Stiles Stilinksi in Teen Wolf.

6. Scratch's Polish grandfather gave him the nickname 'Scrappy' as a child as he was very mischievous. It got shortened to 'Scrap' and eventually became 'Scratch'.

7. Nano's nickname was given to him by his family. He was the runt of the family before puberty kicked in. He's also the youngest of five siblings.

8. Nano grows up to be a tech mogul (i.e. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs) and Amethyst was supposed to make a comment about it.

9. Amethyst was overweight as a child and her mom used to call 'Tubby Amy'. This is why she hates being called that nickname. And yes, Scratch knew the story and called her that anyway.

10. Amethyst is allergic to cats.