The first thing that caught my eye was Juliet James.
I sat at the stop sign, rubbing my hands together and blowing on them while I waited, occasionally tapping the gas to see if it would help with the heat issue. Apparently not. Cars zoomed past me on the opposite road, throwing water my way, but I ignored it. I was in no rush. School was so not worth my life.
I drummed my fingers on the wheel for a while as I watched the rain pour down and waited for the traffic to ease. Honestly, I had almost decided to skip school, but there was nothing to do at home. The electricity was sketchy, my laptop was dead, and I wouldn’t have any new books to read for a while.
“Lena Newman, you are the most interesting person in the world,” I muttered before reaching up and throwing down the visor so I could see myself in the mirror.
I didn’t look half bad. My brown hair was down in waves, covered by a light gray beanie that sat almost perfectly over my ears. Jade green eyes lightly lined, freckles dusting my nose and cheeks, lips colored light pink. My outfit matched in a comfortable winter way, the beanie came paired with a scarf, and I wore a light white long sleeve shirt with jeans that were stuffed into knit snow boots.
It was my rainy day outfit. Warm and comfortable.
A shock of thunder made me push the mirror back up. I glanced around at the roads again before finally pulling out onto the highway. One more block, a right turn, and I was sliding into the very large parking lot of Grant High.
It was oddly empty; I could tell a lot of people had decided to skip. I didn’t really blame them—the water was coming down like God himself was crying, causing the roads to almost flood. It rained a lot in our little town, but not always so much at one time, and even though the roads were equipped for this amount of water, it was still a pain.
With a sigh, I rolled into a parking space as close as I could to the front doors. I sat there for a while chewing on my bottom lip and debating on how fast I would to have to run to not get completely soaked. I had an umbrella in the back seat, shoved somewhere unceremoniously, but I doubted it would be worth the effort to fight with it.
When my door opened I nearly pissed my pants.
A guy flopped into my passenger seat, closing off his own umbrella and shaking it slightly before the door slammed shut.
I think I stared at him for an hour before his appearance sank into my mind. Blond surfer hair, grassy eyes— “Quin,” I breathed, hand over my heart. “Jackass. Don’t ever do that to me.”
He grinned and leaned across the car to peck me on the cheek. “Sorry babe. I was going to ask if you wanted to walk in together but I didn’t want to stand out there while you thought about it.”
I nodded slightly and after giving him a real kiss, he was out of the car again and going around to the driver’s side. Honestly, he was too damn sweet to me. Our relationship had been on the rocks for months, but I kept ignoring it because he was nice. And we got along.
I turned my baby off, frowning as she died down, running my hand over the wheel. Quinton constantly made fun of me because I loved her like a guy would. Except I didn’t know how to make her tick. All that under the hood shit was definitely guy territory and I just didn’t have it in me. I honestly respected the girls that did.
Break the stereotypes ladies, go crazy.
He met me once I got out and selflessly shared his umbrella with me. I huddled up close as we walked into the school. Noise assaulted me first. The comforting sound of rain pouring, and the lovely smell of fresh water suddenly turned into bad cafeteria breakfast and yelling teenagers.
The first thing that caught my eye was Juliet James.
My high school was just big enough that we had every clique imaginable and a lax dress code, but just small enough that new kids were hot gossip. The newest one had come strolling in on the first day looking like she’d walked straight out of hell. I’d never seen anyone like her—thigh high black boots, ripped up leggings, a much too large Sex Pistols shirt, and beautiful blond hair cascading down her back.
Juliet—whose name I had learned when she finally sauntered into my art class at the end of the day—was so beautiful it almost made me cry.
Today she was wearing black leggings that disappeared into barely-laced combat boots and a dark evergreen sweater, all which contrasted wonderfully against her pale, creamy skin. Her top was a size or two too large, dipping down to cover her thighs, the neck hanging off one shoulder, the sleeves covering her hands, even where they were lifted to hold up her cell phone. Her nails were short, covered in chipped black polish, which showed as her fingers typed away on her touch screen.
She was pretty in a natural way, because unlike her style, her features were simple. Rounded cheeks, pouty lips, large bright blue eyes. Her hair was light blond, falling down her back in damp waves, bangs swept across her forehead. She wore very little makeup except for what was dark around her eyes, making them stand out even more than—I was sure—they would on their own.
She peeked at me through her lashes, the corners of her mouth tugging in a smile, before she lifted a hand to wiggle her fingers in a wave.
Quinton nudged me to regain my attention before leading the way to our lockers. I hadn’t even noticed the bell ring, but I let him steal a goodbye kiss before he raced off to class. I sighed and shifted through my books before doing the same.
History was first period, so I shuffled in and took my usual seat in the front. The spot behind me was quickly occupied by my best friend. I’d met Lacey Parker in fourth grade, when she’d very seriously told me I was allowed to be her friend because I was pretty. Looking back, that was likely the type of toxic shit parents told their daughters to stay away from, but in Lacey’s defense she was just the sort of person who could get away with collecting friends because they were attractive.
She was quite gorgeous herself, for one thing, and everyone in school knew it—five-nine model tall, more thin than curvy but with the type of ass that rappers sang about in the 80s. She had flawless dark skin that was an amazing contrast with her perfect white teeth. When she smiled you just almost hear a dentist commercial. Her hair was long and fell around her chest in large dark loose curls, and she often complained about what it took to maintain. Lacey was high maintenance all around though. She was Grant’s token black kid for the most part, but for all our school’s flaws, seeing color wasn’t one of them.
Today she was wearing black leggings, a high-waisted teal skirt, and a white shirt that read Paris in elegant cursive under a fitted black jacket. She was a cheerleader, the most popular girl in school, and somehow managed to get away with hanging out with me instead of the other snobs. She was probably just so cool nothing could stomp her reputation down. Not even me.
Not that I was a complete social outcast. I dated a football player and my bestie was a cheerleader, but I floated somewhere in the middle. In all honestly, I think people just put up with me because they thought I was funny. Technically, I wasn’t. Just sarcastic and bitchy, which evidently made for good jokes.
Lacey plopped down, opened her book and sat her elbows on the table as she narrowed her eyes. I spared a glance at her, but she was very obviously glaring at someone else.
With a sigh, I twisted sideways and pressed my back against the wall. “All right. Who has your attention?”
And then I saw her. Juliet. She was standing at Mr. Radford’s desk, tucking blond strands behind her ear as he talked about some piece of paper she was holding. Pretty much everyone was looking at her. I could hear the gossip starting around us, but it was nothing I was ever really interested in hearing.
“Can you believe her?” Lacey was saying.
This usually wasn’t odd talk. We liked making fun of other people, though hers was from more of an I’m-A-Snotty-Cheerleader perspective while mine was more of an I-Hate-Everyone issue.
I tilted my head and shrugged. “I don’t know. I like her.”
Lacey snapped her head around so fast I was actually surprised it didn’t fly off her neck. I shrank in my seat, holding up my hands in defense as she gave me a glare I wasn’t sure how to read.
“What?” I asked. “She’s different.”
Lacey scoffed and sat back in her desk, flipping the pages in her book with an irritated aura that meant she obviously wasn’t paying attention to what page she wanted to be on. “She looks like a bitch to me,” she grumbled.
“Takes one to know one,” I shot back. Lacey just shrugged, obviously not bothered by my little jab.
I sighed and twisted around correctly in my seat, flipping through pages in my book before I found the section we were on. Someone passed the notes out, and I sighed in relief that they were pre-made—we just had to fill in the blanks. Best. Notes. Ever.
I stuck the end of my pencil in my mouth so I could chew on it absentmindedly while I watched Juliet move to sit in the very back desk, and then she was out of my view for good.
Out of sight, out of mind.
The rest of the day pretty much went on like that. I walked with Quinton to my classes, but we only had two actually together, so we usually parted at the doorway.
Third period I had an aide block, which put me working in the library. It was a slow, quiet job I’d had for the last few years, and often made me feel like Tibby in the first Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants—when she’s stocking shelves and gets so bored she starts putting price stickers on her face.
Mostly I spent the time arguing with teenage idiots about how to correctly pronounce the word “library” (lahy-brer-ee) and restocking books and putting others back into their right place. I spent an insane amount of time spinning around in my seat while trying to balance a pencil on my upper lip.
And that was when she came in. I didn’t even notice her, just heard her. And by the sound in her voice, I knew she was smirking. “That looks productive.”
The pencil fell off of my lip almost immediately and I spun around haphazardly to see the devil herself leaning against my desk, elbows propped on it and chin resting in her hands. She smiled at me, green sleeves falling down to the crooks of her arms now. I could see the outline of a tattoo on her wrist—something that looked like a basic infinity symbol.
“You know,” she said, “I don’t think I ever got your name.”
It seemed to take a moment to realize she was actually talking to me. I blinked twice, I think, before I answered. “Lena,” I said finally.
“Cute,” she decided, then smiled and gave a nod. “It fits you.” Her blue gaze flitted around the room as she stood back up. “I’m Juliet, by the way.”
I knew that, of course, but didn’t bother to tell her so. Instead I just smiled back and, after a beat of silence, seemed to realize where we were. “So, do you need help picking out a book or something?”
“Actually, I work here next period,” she answered, crossing her arms before leaning one hip against my desk. Or, our desk, I guessed, since it was about to be hers. “I can see that it’s super exciting in here.”
I grinned at her. “Oh yeah, party central.”
The bell rang then, cutting us off, so I hopped out of my seat and wished her luck. Then I had just over half an hour of English before I was free for lunch. English wasn’t my favorite subject, but I didn’t mind it too much. Art was my favorite, which mildly irritated my parents. They wanted me to do well in school for my future, understandably, but nothing really interested me.
A kiss on the cheek pulled me from my thoughts and I looked up in time to smile at Quinton. He had a football in one arm, his friends just around the corner. They were yelling about something, telling me to put him in his place, probably, but I ignored them like always and just grabbed my lunch.
“How was class?” he asked, tossing his football from hand to hand as he led the way down the hallway, with me just a step or two behind him.
I shrugged. “Fine, I guess. The usual first week stuff.”
We filled the walk to the cafeteria with idle chitchat about our first week assignments, and then we went our separate ways.
The cafeteria was the one room where Grant’s cliques were immediately noticeable. Quinton sat with the rest of the jocks, but I didn’t actually fit anywhere like that. Constantly straddling between the worlds of Popular Friends and Aloof Attitude.
At the very back of the cafeteria was a table—rectangular instead of circular like the others—and balanced on three legs because the fourth was mostly useless. It was chipping on the edges. There gathered everyone who didn’t have a label.
The middle seat was mine and had been since freshman year. Lacey always sat to my left. She never sat with the other Snotty Cheerleaders unless she absolutely had to, and even then, she usually pushed off their business for another time.
We had two other friends who joined us—on the opposite side of the table, to the right by herself, was Aikiko Fujimoto. She was a tiny thing with a dark pixie cut and innocent-looking eyes. She liked math too much to be a real human and was often quiet just because she couldn’t stand people. She’d started going by Kiki back in middle school when she got tired of people mispronouncing her name, and occasionally pretended like she didn’t speak English to get out of shit.
Georgia Harris, who was taller than any of us, sat in front of Lacey. She had natural tan skin, sharp features, and long curly hair. A few years ago, Georgia had been that one girl everyone just knew. Then she’d gotten pregnant the summer between sophomore and junior year and had come back changed. She’d dumped most of her old crew, dropped her schedule down to half a day to get a job, and started chilling with us. She was a single mom to a beautiful biracial daughter and on good terms with the baby daddy.
Maybe we were a table of outcasts, but it worked for us.
Because of that, though, I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she showed up.
A tray dropped harshly on the part of the table between Georgia and Kiki, and we all jumped at the foreign sound. Juliet flopped down in the seat without a word and went to eating as if she’d sat there her whole life.
I was still in shock when I heard Lacey speak. “Uh, what exactly are you doing?”
It wasn’t unusual for random people to come sit with us. We were sarcastic, crude, and lacked filters—typical affordable high school humor. Generally, however, people made appointments to be at our table.
Juliet looked up slowly, her gaze focusing on Lacey with the most unamused, unimpressed look I’d ever seen. “Oh, how rude of me.” She thrust out a fork-full of cafeteria spaghetti. “Would you like a bite?”
Lacey screwed her nose up. “I have my own, thanks,” she deadpanned. But she didn’t, really. She had a salad. Most people got both, but not Lacey. The salad was enough for her. Heaven forbid her waist grows past a size three.
Juliet’s attention turned toward me. “Can I sit here?” she asked, as if I was the ringleader. I wasn’t—Lacey was, because Lacey was the ringleader of the world—but for whatever reason, I just shrugged. We were the outcast table, after all. And no one else could really handle Juliet’s level of…Julietness. I was sure of it.
“So,” Georgia drawled. She always had a habit of making us realize how awkward our silences got. That didn’t happen often either, which meant we really were surprised at Juliet’s appearance into our group. She propped an elbow on the table and looked at our newest addition. “I’m Georgia,” she introduced. “That’s Kiki beside you. You evidently know Lena, and I’m sure you’ve heard Queen Lacey’s name all over the school by now.”
Juliet stared at her, took a drink of soda, then nodded. “Juliet,” she replied as an introduction.
“Juliet?” Lacey asked with a scoff, which I should have seen coming. “What, was your mom a Shakespeare fanatic or something?”
Juliet’s gaze hardened, and I could tell this wasn’t going to end well. “Yeah,” she snapped. “She was. She played Juliet on Broadway in London the year she met my father. And then she died a few years ago. Bet you’re laughing real hard now, huh?”
No. She wasn’t. In fact, she had gone so pale she could almost pass as Caucasian. There was silence for a moment, but Lacey eventually deflated. “I’m sorry,” she said, and she meant it. Even Juliet must have realized that, because she shrugged and let it go.
For a while, no one said anything. Looks were shared, questions asked without mouths ever opening, but no one knew what to say. Juliet’s confession had hit home for all of us, who still had mothers to go home to. Regardless of our relationship with them, they were alive.
Finally, Georgia broke it, asking Lacey about her latest boyfriend. Aaron Something. He was a college student. Lacey’s relationships had always been Georgia’s favorite topic—she loved her child, no doubt, but sometimes I thought she missed dating, and lived vicariously through Lacey.
Lunch came to an end not long after and I trotted off to Chemistry by myself, only to see Juliet slip in right after class had started. Just like she had in History, I watched her stalk off to the back to sit by herself.
Only twenty minutes after that, the electricity went off.
It was really only then I realized it was still storming outside. The thunder seemed oddly loud all of a sudden, as did the rain beating against the roof. I sighed as I looked up, only to hear Ms. Fran do the same.
“All right students, stay in your seats, I’m going to go see what I can do.” The door opened and then she was gone, leaving us alone in the complete dark.
With a bunch of teenage boys.
I had never been so glad to have a corner seat in my entire life. I just sank, closing my eyes. At least I could get a nap, if nothing else. I found my thoughts wandering to a specific girl sitting about three tables behind me, though. I couldn’t hear her talking in the masses, so I figured she was doing the same thing I was doing. Hiding.
Why couldn’t I stop thinking about her? I hadn’t even realized how bad the obsession was until noticing the only time I hadn’t thought about her today was during library. And mostly because that job was like the prerequisite to having your brain scraped out of your head. I probably couldn’t have even remembered her name during that situation. But now…
The door swung open and the little flashlight reappeared. “You can all go home,” Ms. Fran announced, and tried to say something else but it was covered by the sounds of whooping and hollering from all the freaking idiots in the room.
With a sigh and a shake of my head, I began gathering my things.
I didn’t wait around for Quinton as I went to toss what I could in my locker. Most likely he would still have weight practice, so it wasn’t worth pushing through the crowd just to find him. The hallways were dark anyway. I’d probably trip on something.
“Hey bitch,” Lacey greeted as she slid beside me, using the flashlight app on her phone to get around. “Going home?”
“Yes?” I answered. I was already planning a good time with some candles and How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Morgan. Lacey said I had a weird book style; I said it wasn’t my fault all she read was porn and thus couldn’t appreciate good literature. Her argument was that erotica was the only good literature.
“Ugh, you’re so boring,” Lacey muttered, dropping her head against the locker so hard it rattled. “I’m going to Aaron’s. They’re having a blackout party. There will be booze and sex, I’m sure.”
“And STDs, I’m sure,” I rebounded mockingly. She glared at me, flipped her hair over her shoulder, and stalked off. Which I took to mean she didn’t need a ride home. “Have fun, whore!” My parting words were met with a few snickers from people listening to us, and I was sure Lacey’s middle fingers were high in the air, but I couldn’t see them so it didn’t matter.
Outside, the storm had really picked up. The sky was dark gray, making the world look duller, even though it smelled fresh. Rain was coming down hard, coating the ground in layers of water.
I sighed as I dug my keys out of my bag, deciding I’d have to make a run for it, when something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye.
Blond hair. Green sweater. Juliet.
I hesitated a moment before stepping outside and under the awning, looking her over. She was sitting on one of the half brick walls, still safely dry, knees pulled up, sketchbook resting on them, drawing calmly.
There were other teens rushing around us, laughing and darting out into the rain, but they all seemed to fade because I cared more about her. Before I even knew what I was doing, I was standing next to her, tapping two fingers gently against her forearm to get her attention. She looked up at me slowly, her hands subconsciously falling over whatever she was working on.
“Aren’t you going home?” I asked.
“I’m waiting for my brother,” Juliet answered with a slight shrug, picking at the edges of her sketchbook. “He gets out at four, I don’t have a car, definitely don’t want to take the bus. You know the drill.”
“That’s almost two hours from now. You’re welcome to ride with me.”
She seemed unsure and eventually shook her head. “I don’t want to be a burden. I’m fine. I’ll just draw. I like drawing in the rain anyway.”
So did I, but not when it was falling this hard. “I offered, so chill, and get ready to make a run for it.”
She considered me another few moments before eventually shutting her book, tucking it safely in her bag, and then jumping off the wall. She regarded the parking lot warily, and slid her hand in mine. “Lead the way.”
I grinned, held onto her tightly, and took the first step.
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