A silver Porsche glided to a stop in a parking space outside of Crestan High School. Tristan stepped out and rolled his shoulders, languidly carding his hand through his hair as he slammed the door closed. Initiating the locks with a subdued beep of his remote, he jingled his keys loosely on his finger before swinging the set up into his palm.
Hands jammed into his jean pockets, he made his way to the front doors.
As soon as he stepped inside, the buzz of the crowd waiting in the auditorium resounded around him. There was a lazy tension in the air and while the air conditioning was on full blast, the sunlight that filtered through the large windows was still palpable in its sweltering heat. Summer was not quite over and many students lounging around in the wooden seats of the great hall were still in their vacation mode, mumbling between gaping yawns.
Tristan picked his way through the throng. His eyes seemed to veer on their own accord, seeking and locking onto a familiar bold shade of crimson. A corner of his lip tipped up in a resigning smile before he cut his way toward a quiet redhead who sat alone in the middle of the rows with her eyes fixated on the seat before her and her fingers in a loose clasp on her knees.
Samantha Westlane, with shoulder length hair that had just recently been grown out and a pair of arresting forest green eyes, was the infamous girl – well, the only girl - in attendance at Crestan High.
After all, it was technically supposed to be an all boys school.
Tristan was five steps away when he was besieged by a heavy weight thrown around his shoulders. He stumbled and straightened up. "Oh. You."
Caine Matthews slipped off his sunglasses, keeping his arm around Tristan's neck. "I am so freaking tired." From the look of the dark circles underneath the tanned boy's eyes and his dazed turquoise eyes, it was an understatement.
Unfortunately, Tristan had never much enjoyed being anyone's crutch. Shrugging Caine off, he tried to continue his path.
The other boy followed close behind. "Aw, come on. Why do you have to be so cold? You're not even gonna ask me about how my vacation went, amidst the sandy beaches of Hawaii and all those lovely aloha-ing beauties?"
"Ass." Caine stifled a yawn. "Why the hell did the Headmaster call all the students in anyway?"
"Well, that much is obvious. But what could have been so important that it was necessary for him to cut my vacation short?"
Tristan offered a tight smile. "We're just going to find out soon, aren't we?" He turned his eyes forward and his smile softened. "Hey there, Sammy."
The girl's head lifted and she shifted around in her seat, a beam already in place. "Tristan! Caine! Hey! How was your summer?"
"Just fine. How's Terry?" He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and took a seat beside her, his head turning to face the redhead. He barely noticed the other boy wandering off to find someone more willing to listen to his tales of escapades in Hawaii.
"He's doing okay. He's in rehab right now and they say he's making a lot of progress." She nodded. "Within a year, he might even get to go back to school."
A low chuckle escaped his lips. "Well, I don't know if he'll look forward to that, but good for him." He leaned back in his chair. "So are your plans all set?"
"Mm, pretty much. This coming fall, I'll be attending your sister's school. Carrie's excited. It'll be a lot closer to Terry's rehab center in the city so that's a good thing. I'll be able to visit him more often instead of having to waste all that time commuting." A wistful note crept into her voice. "Still, I'm going to really miss Crestan though. The environment's totally different and besides," She cocked her head, gracing him with a warm smile. "All of you guys are here."
He grinned back automatically. They both turned to face the stage and there was a strange silence in spite of the other students' clamor.
He maintained his easy smile. "We'll just have to make sure that we visit each other and keep in touch a lot. With email and instant messaging and cell phones, there's zero chance you'll ever lose touch with us - even if you desperately wanted to." Sammy laughed softly, casting her eyes down. She looked back up and their eyes met.
"I'm sure you'll do great wherever you are." His voice was light, his eyes softer.
The corners of her lips pulled up in a small smile. "Thanks, Tris –" An arm snaked around her shoulders then and she blinked, arching her neck up.
A pair of grey eyes pierced Tristan's gaze before sliding down to the girl. Vincent Grenford, a dark headed boy dressed in a black T-shirt and faded jeans, smiled as he leaned down to press his lips against Sammy's. "Sorry I'm late." The boy looked up briefly again and exchanged a nod of acknowledgment with Tristan before turning his attention back to his girlfriend. "I just had to jet back from our Chicago branch. Mother's being impossible these days. She insists that I get an early start on the business, but I have a feeling she just wants me to see less of –" He stopped himself and looked away. "Stubborn witch, she is."
Her fingers lingered on Vincent's hand. "It's okay. I'll have to be blind and deaf not to realize that she still doesn't care for me much."
Vincent grinned as he slipped into the seat beside her, his arms encircling her waist. "Well, as long as I like you, nothing else matters, huh?"
She rolled her eyes even as she leaned into his embrace with a soft blush.
Tristan surveyed the couple in a sidelong glance before fixating his eyes on the stage, leaning forward with his forearms braced on his thighs. He pressed his steepled fingers against his lips and his normally clear blue eyes were shadowed.
Then the hair on the back of his neck rose and chills trickled down his spine as he got that eerie feeling he always had whenever someone was watching him. A hot breath ruffled his hair. He covered his eyes with the palm of his hand. "Stop it, Will."
William Carter, with twinkling hazel eyes and slightly wavy russet hair that wafted in layers around his ears, leapt over the back of the seat and landed comfortably next to Tristan. "Why so broody with such a wonderful morning? Missed me mucho, didn't you?"
"Hungered for my body, ached to hold me close, dreamt about my gorgeous eyes –"
"Longed to hear my sexy rumbling voice, pined after the vision that is me, wondered about –"
"Don't force me to knock you unconscious. I will do it." Tristan leaned back in his chair. "I haven't had my coffee yet."
"Doesn't my new tan remind you of a lovely mocha shade? Can't you just drink me –"
"Hey look, I think that guy over there is a girl in disguise."
"Wha - where?" The ever perky bisexual craned his neck, successfully distracted.
Jack Waters leaned forward from behind them. "You think you have it tough? You didn't have to drive him over."
Tristan furrowed his brows. "Thought he got his driver's license over the summer."
Jack snorted. "Like anyone will ever pass him, Mr. I Like to Stroke My Driving Stick."
Will turned around. "Hey! They said if you want to be a good driver, you have to be one with your car. Treat it with love and respect –"
"Since when does feeling up a car count as respect?"
"But I love it so very much. I -" Will tossed his head and held up his hand. "Enough! Don't speak! Don't you dare come between us. Crude beings such as you shall never know the depth of unspoken emotions –"
"You've been writing romance novels again, haven't you?"
A brow arched. "Have I ever stopped?"
The screech of the microphone slashed through the air and everyone fell silent. Tristan looked up and blinked. "What the –"
The headmaster of Crestan High was a ruddy, genial man with round frames by the name of Finnigan. His greatest fault was also his greatest feature, an absolute knack for overlooking certain matters that wouldn't directly interfere with the wellbeing of the school. Thus, Tristan, Vincent and the others had so far enjoyed three years of virtually blissful, free reign. At this moment however, Headmaster Finnigan didn't appear quite as jovial.
Blotting a plaid handkerchief along his forehead, Finnigan blinked rapidly on the stage. Next to him was a frowning woman in a cement grey dress, brown hair lined with silver strands pulled back in a taut bun. She looked equally uncomfortable, the corners of her lips pinched and her black eyes narrowed into slits.
But they weren't the cause of the utterly complete silence. Standing before them was yet another man.
First of all, it was apparent that he was much younger than the other two, in his early thirties or so. Secondly, his hair was white – and not in the prematurely old sense. The strands were bleached to a radiant blinding white. The shade that took white-out to the next level.
He was clad in a white muscle tee topped over by a grungy leather jacket. Sweat ran down his forehead and he swiped his hand across his face. A cigarette dangled loosely between his lips before he tucked it behind his ear. His eyes black brown, the man refocused his attention on the students and a lazy grin trailed across his lips. "Hey."
"I really hate dressing up, but these two here insisted on some proper attire shit so here I am, decked out in a freaking leather jacket in the mid of August, sweltering my ass off. Hell if I'm gonna rent out some suit just to see you bunch, especially since only one of you is a girl." He winked at Sammy. Tristan heard a distant growl emanating from Vincent's direction.
Headmaster Finnigan stepped forward and stammered, "May – maybe we should have some introductions –"
"Hold on to your horses, tubby. I'm getting there." With a beam on his face, he opened his arms. "I am the great Stephen Lee. Behold."
The woman snapped, "Mr. Lee, honestly –"
"This lady here is Headmistress of Wrenfield High School, Mrs. Drogane. The fine fellow over there is your own superb Headmaster Finnigan."
Dutiful applause followed. Tristan furrowed his eyebrows. Wrenfield High? Carrie's school? What's the Headmistress doing here for?
The man leaned forward, bracing his arm against the podium stand. "Let's make this short. I am the head of these two schools' new board, the supervisor of a new program that's gonna be initiated this coming fall to promote connections between Crestan and its sister school, Wrenfield."
There was complete silence.
"Presenting the almighty School Wide Interrelation Program Exchange – there will be an exchange of around twenty five percent of each student body between Crestan and Wrenfield."
A pause and then the murmurs rifted through the crowd.
Sammy blinked. "But . . . isn't Wrenfield an all girls school?"
"Hallelujah!" A voice came from behind them.
"Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming? Someone pinch me, damn it!"
"What will the parents say? Is this a joke? He doesn't seem very -"
"Hell, I don't care if the mafia took over the two schools! Let there be girls!"
Stephen Lee perched his chin in the palm of his hand as he drawled, "I take it you all will be going into a world with girls after you graduate so why the hell should you guys be isolated little hermits til then?"
The noise grew louder and Caine hummed to himself, "I like this man's thinking."
"I found the idea of mixing up the guys and gals intriguing – in the legal sense, ya know, and not the whole girl hacks off her hair, drops her voice, binds her – ya know. Nice job by the way, Samantha Westlane." The girl flushed in her seat. "A new school board was created over this summer and we were all in favor of revamping the two school images."
"Were they high?" Another voice slinked through the auditorium.
Lee's lips quirked. "Mmm, no comment." He pushed away from the stand. "Now let's get things going before I melt. You guys should know that it was a, um, random lottery and I have the list of the names who have been selected to make the move to Wrenfield. Each person will get a notification letter –" He waved a pink slip of paper in the air. "- and for this upcoming fall semester, that bunch will be attending Wrenfield High." He cleared his throat. "Everyone good? Good. Names."
Sammy brightened. "Hey, maybe I'll still be able to stay in Crestan –"
"Samantha Westlane. Congrats, you're our first switchee."
Vincent leaned forward in his seat. "It's alright. I can still get into Wrenfield with you."
Tristan rested back into his seat, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. He didn't have much interest in this game the board was playing. Ridiculous. Like the parents would actually accept this. His eyes lost focus, staring blindly at the etchings on the wooden back of the seat before him. G. G. was here. Sucker. Why don't people ever leave something more meaningful behind besides –
"Yes!" William leapt out of his seat and did a little jig. "I'm gonna be with Sammy forever and ever and ever –"
"Shut up, Will." Vincent was visibly tense.
Another name was called and a tanned Hispanic boy in the second row flushed, grinning even as he got pummeled by slaps on the back, courtesy of his friends around him.
Jack's brows knotted. "I have to be with Carrie – but what if Carrie gets into Crestan? What if I get in and she gets out? What if – ah, my head hurts." He buried his face in his hands.
Caine twisted around in his seat a few rows before them. "Hey, I just want to be with the girls so either way, I score."
"Caine Matthews," Lee boomed.
"Guess I'll be scoring at Wrenfield then." Caine sat back with a smug grin.
There was a loud uproar in the far corner of the auditorium as yet another boy laughed triumphantly, getting high fives from his friends.
Tristan remained silent, tracing the gashes that made up the G. Most likely made by a key. What a defacement of property. It's a -
He heard it through a fog.
And he froze. His eyes flickered up and he found everyone staring at him. His brows furrowed.
Lee grinned eerily from his place up on the stage, the sunlight illuminating the white shock of hair. "Congratulations, kid. You're our last name on the list."
Silence and then –
"Oh, hell no." Vincent groaned.
"I love the man. I think he's my long lost brother."
"Will. He's Asian."
"So?" William kissed his pink slip reverently. "I could be Asian. The Chinese delivery guy always said my pronunciation was good."
"Of what? Kung pao chicken?" Tristan said dryly as he stuffed his own paper into his pocket.
Sammy halted in her steps. "Uh, Vincent –"
Vincent stepped in front of them. "Hey, Will."
William grimaced. "Oh crap."
"So I see you got into Wrenfield."
"Would you like to give me your ticket?"
There was a pause before Will carefully responded, "Not particularly."
"Come on." Wheedling turned threatening as Vincent took a step forward. "You know you want to."
"Um, no . . . can't say that I do."
"Give it to me, Will."
"Is that, like, a double entendre?"
"Well, you know, maybe you're just not meant to be with Sammy – ack!" William circled around Sammy as Vincent tried to grab hold of him.
Sammy held her hands out and tried to intercept her boyfriend. "Vince, it's okay. I mean, we were planning to go to different schools before this program so we'll just –"
He stopped in his steps. "That was before he got into your school."
Tristan ignored the blistering glare he received.
"Oh please, Vincent, I can't believe –"
"He's just being an idiot again," Will said.
"Who's the idiot?" Vincent's grey eyes blackened.
"I just called her. Carrie's still in Wrenfield." Jack came up to them. "I need a ticket. Will –"
"No! Why the hell are you all going after me?" He paused. "Funny, I always imagined I would have liked it."
Caine interrupted, "Did Carrie mention anything about the girls coming to Crestan? Are they really hot?"
"Gee, I don't know. Do you think I should have asked my girlfriend if she thought the new girls coming to our school are hot?" Jack rejoined. "I might as well have asked her to slaughter me – in addition to getting Tristan to dice me up again just for his sister."
Tristan flashed him a thumbs up.
"Will –" Jack started.
"Why don't you go hound Caine?"
Caine shook his head and clapped his hand on Tristan's shoulder. "Sorry, guys. You should know Tristan needs me to introduce girls to him."
Tristan rolled his eyes.
"Will, come on. You don't need Wrenfield. Crestan is going to be perfect for you –" Jack coaxed.
"Back off, Jack. I called his ticket first," Vincent broke in.
"Stop pressuring Will. If he doesn't want to do this –" Sammy shook her head.
"I don't understand why you're not on my side, Sammy. Do you want us to be apart for –"
"Well, of course not, but I really don't see how threatening Will is going to do anything –"
"It'll do plenty. It'll get me the ticket."
A flush swept up her face. Sammy had the tendency to turn colors when she got particularly flustered – or angry. "You know, you're starting to –"
"Alright. Stop." Searing sunlight rippled across Tristan's face as they walked down the steps. His voice was nonchalant. "I'll give you my ticket, Grenford."
Vincent blinked. "What?"
Tristan covered his eyes against the light and he shrugged. "I don't much care either way so you can have my damn spot and stop your squealing."
The expression on Vincent's face flickered between annoyance and uneasiness. "Really?"
Sammy looked over at Tristan. "Are you sure, Tristan?"
Tristan fished the pink slip out of his pocket and held it out. "Yeah. Sorry that I don't have two, Jack."
Jack just shook his head mutedly.
Caine was just as stunned. "Wow. Tristan. You're really giving it to Vincent? Are you sure? I mean, what about -"
"Do I look like I'm joking?" Tristan glanced over at Vincent. "Well? You going to take it or not? I'm not going to stand here forever."
Vincent still seemed uncertain, warily eyeing the paper. "Um, wow. Thanks, man. Never thought – hey, if you ever need something, make sure to call me first thing." His hand reached out. "I really appreciate –"
Vincent's hand swiped back as he blinked in disbelief. He touched his reddening hand and then he growled, "What the hell?"
A low voice from behind Tristan retorted evenly. "That should be my line, kid." Tristan looked over his shoulder to see Lee already drawing back his hand and tucking it in his pocket.
Lee flicked his cigarette to the ground and crushed it underneath his heel before he whistled. "Nice car. Yours, Harland?"
"Your dad is good to you."
"Suppose so," Tristan said evenly.
Lee stretched his arms and then casually mentioned, "Don't give your ticket to anyone, Harland."
"What business is it of yours?" Vincent snapped.
"Scuse me? Who's the head of the program here again, punk?" Lee arched a brow derisively. His eyes darted over to Tristan again. "Don't give your ticket away. You're supposed to be in Wrenfield."
"What the hell? Then what's the point of this so called lottery process? It's not random at all," Caine argued.
"So sue me. It's random enough for me," Lee said cheerfully. "And that's all that counts."
"So this must mean you really want me too!" Will exclaimed.
Lee gazed at the beaming Will for a while. "Um, yeah . . . kid. Sure." Lee turned to Tristan. "Point is that there are some cases where the board felt that there are special applicants who should be at Wrenfield –"
Tristan folded his arms. "And I'm one of them? What? They thought I should meet girls?"
A lopsided grin unfolded on Lee's lips. "Hmm. Perhaps. Or maybe there's just one particular girl you're supposed to meet."
Tristan's eyes narrowed. "What? What do you mean?"
The man had already turned to walk away, flapping a hand back at them. "That's all I'm gonna say. See ya at Wrenfield, Harland."
Stephen Lee stripped off his jacket and tossed it into the backseat of his car. He fished out his cell phone from his back pocket and pressed speed dial. There was a groggy "Hello?"
"What the hell, brat? You're still in bed? Get your lazy ass up already!"
He rolled his eyes and dialed the number again. This time, an annoyed "What do you want?" answered.
There was silence again, but he could tell it wasn't because of a lack of interest. Oh, quite the contrary.
"So?" Her voice was nonchalant, but after this many years, he could easily pick up the nuances of tension.
"Soon, kid. Soon."
"Yeah?" He knew her knuckles were probably white from clutching the phone.
"Relax. Not half bad. Not half bad at all."
There was a sputtering scoff on the other end and he smiled. "You'll be fine. I won't let anything happen to you."
"Whatever." But her voice was low.
Lee tapped his fingers against the dashboard, waiting patiently. Sweat trickled down his temples and he let them slide down his cheeks.
"Is he . . ."
". . . nice?"
"Think so. Pity. I'm gonna feel bad for him."
"Shut up. Jerk." Her voice was low and quick. "It's not like I have a choice. I don't."
"I know, kid. I know."
There was a long pause before she finally hung up and he slid the phone shut, holding it tight in the sweaty palm of his hand as he listened to a faltering breeze beneath a sun that was much too hot.
Thanks for taking the time to read and review! I really appreciate it! I'm in a hurry because I have to spew out a paper for my research mentor but I really, really wanted to thank you all for the comments.
Just a quick response to FAQs: Thanks for all the advice. I do have pre-written chapters so the length of these first chapters will be about the same and I always have the general plot detailed out – just need to sort out the sequence of scenes on paper. The character of the girl seems to be either a hit or a miss with most of the readers and that's fair enough. Everyone has their own opinions and all I can ask is that you give this story a try. If it's not your cup of tea, then it's more than okay to check out other great stories on this site. There are a lot of fantastic writers out there and all of us know how lovely it would be to get some feedback from you kind folks. Yuppers. :)
These early chapters are taking things a bit slow just to build up the background details on the characters and the plot, but in the chapter, things will definitely start to pick up.
So I hope you'll stick around for the next chapter next week and I hope you guys are having a great pre-summer.
Thanks to everyone who pointed out the weird spacing in the beginning. It's because of an uploading glitch when I loaded the document. Everything should be fixed now. Thanks again!
And thanks to TheShizno for taking the time to read so carefully. I'm glad you caught my mistake. Hopefully, nothing's missing now. :)
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