Chapter One

A brilliant kaleidoscope of colors passed over my eyes, colors I knew, but didn't know the name of. Colors I'd invented names for. Like Piggy Bank Pink. And Sharpie Black (not that black has any particular shades—but when I see black, I think Sharpies). And iPod Silver—the nice silvery color the new nanos have. But these were ones I'd thought up when I was younger…I scrunched up my nose in concentration.

Swimming Pool Blue? Had I thought of that one yet? That gorgeous aqua color you get in a swimming pool. Of course, if I were making it into an official color, for Crayola or whatever, I wouldn't actually call it swimming pool blue. I'd call it something more interesting. Like Summer Splash.

I know inventing names for colors is something normal people don't do. It's just been a habit of mine since I was much, much younger. Whenever I'm nervous, or extremely bored, I invent colors. I even write them down. There's a long list on my wall in my bedroom—it stretches from ceiling to carpet, all scribbled on, my handwriting changing as I age. The list isn't even in order. There are random bursts of kindergartener scribbles, and sophisticated cursive. It's the most interesting thing in my room, and my most prized possession.

Now, I was just plain nervous. This was my third job interview of the week. I wasn't applying for something huge and professional, like a lawyer or something. (I'm pretty sure lawyers don't have job interviews anyways). I just wanted to be a sales rep at the local Forever 21.

Since I was eleven years old, Forever 21 was my favorite store in the world. It had everything I needed—cute tops, summery dresses, and dazzling earrings—for inexpensive prices, all of which ended with eighty cents. And they had so many colors—every time I saw the familiar Smiley Face Yellow bag with "FOREVER 21" in neat print at the bottom (in Sharpie Black), I got excited. Forever 21 produced more than half my wardrobe. It was probably closer to seven eighths? And for each article of clothing, I'd invented a color.

For my interview, I'd dressed smartly, but not overly showy: long Not Really Black slacks, paired with a gorgeous woven top I'd named Creamy Vanilla (normal people would have called it off-white, but off-white sounded wrong to me.) Plus my hair was done in a chignon, which was always good. Chignon, even the word itself sounds sophisticated. And just in case you're wondering, my eyes and hair were both a color I called Nutella Brown.

My interviewer, meanwhile, wasn't at all fashion-conscious. I couldn't imagine anyone dressed like that working for Forever 21. Her hair was in an Asian mom hairstyle, and there were white hairs poking through. She wore a long, straight dress in the most putrid shade of green I'd ever seen (from then on, I called it Putrid Green). Her smile was wide, and fake.

"So, Miss, er…"

"Sinden," I readily supplied. "But feel free to call me Amber."

"So, Amber." Her smile was tight. "You'll probably get a call in a week. Thank you for your time."

I was about to offer her my e-mail as well, but when I saw the look on her face, it was like she'd just swallowed something the same color as her dress. So I just left, my shoes clacking on the hard tile floor.

When I was finished with the interview, I took time to browse around Forever 21. My cousin's wedding was only eight days away, and I hadn't had time to buy anything decent to wear. I'd only been to three weddings in my entire life—all of them in the family—and the last one I'd been to was when I was seven years old.

And at the time, I'd been so concerned about the old lady beside me that I hadn't noticed much of the proceedings. The woman smiled at me creepily and patted my braids and said, "You've grown so much." I have no idea who she was, and later, when I asked my mom, she had no idea who she was either. Which is a bit creepy, if you ask me.

I was just taking my time, flipping through summery dresses, when a sales associate approached me. Unlike my interviewer, she was young and fresh and sweet, pretty but all angles. I liked her instantly. "Do you need something?" she asked.

"Oh, I'm just going to a wedding week after next and I need something nice to wear." I paused for effect. "Something pretty, but not too pretty, since I can't afford to outshine the bride…something I can wear after the wedding, too?"

She smiled at me. "I'm sure we can find you something," she said. "And by the way, it's very hard to outshine a bride. Trust me."

I was a bit confused. Generally, the sales associates at Forever 21 were friendly, but not this friendly. Generally they asked you if they needed something and then moved on, friendly but not overbearing. They organized clothes, got what you needed, and opened dressing rooms.

But this girl, this Lily, as her nametag read, was as involved with her customers as a soccer mom with her PTA. Even while she was gathering clothes for me, she stopped to chat with other customers, directing them to the changing rooms, and smiling sweetly and shouting hello to anyone who entered. To put it simply, I was amused by her actions.

She soon returned to my side with a whole armful of clothes. The top piece caught my eye instantly. It was a jersey dress, which paired with jeans and a sweater could go off harmlessly as a normal outfit, but with a pair of nice shoes and the right hairdo, it could easy become a wedding outfit. It was almost backless and almost frontless, but I liked it…and it was Swimming Pool Blue.

"Oh," I said.

"Like it?" Lily grinned at me. "I thought this might be nice. And since the dress is so simple and solid colors, you might have wanted to go with more patterned accessories, but I thought you might want to finish nice and simple." She added a pair of Sharpie Black kitten-heel pumps to my arms. "With your hair loose and long, it's such a nice color."

"Thanks," I smiled at her. "You're such a great help. Do you do this for everyone?"

She sighed. "It's a habit," she admitted. "I used to be a personal shopper at Barneys…"

"Barneys?" Barneys, as you should know, is this huge, amazing department store in New York, crowded with designer names and unbelievable prices. Personal shoppers basically do what Lily had just done for me—except they require appointments, and are closer to their customers.

"But due to a problem in the family, I had to move here," she explained. "But I can't help my Barneys-derived disease." She smiled at me. "You should go try it on. I'll find you some nice earrings."

An hour later, I was on the train coming home, a Smiley Face Yellow bag on the seat beside me, crammed with the Swimming Pool Blue dress, the Sharpie Black pumps, and dangly Shiny Dime earrings, Lily's number safely entered in my cell phone (the color of which was what I called Asian Mom Visor Black—a little lighter than Sharpie Black).

At that moment, my cell began to ring. I checked the ID: Carrissa. "Hello?"

"Amber? It's me." Carrissa often showed a tendency to forget about the caller ID function that most cell phones were equipped with. Actually, her parents were pretty cheap and refused to pay the extra money it cost for caller ID, so she often forgot that other people had it.

"Hey," I said, fiddling with my bags.

"Remember Derek's party tomorrow?"

"How could I forget," I replied, more like a sentence than a question.

"Well I'll come over around four to help you get ready, okay?" Carrissa spoke quickly, her words all running together. "And you know who else is coming to Derek's party?"

"Who?" I wasn't really expecting anyone important. Derek wasn't the star quarterback of our school, or anything. He was a normal sophomore, just like the rest of us. His parties were, at the most, fun, but they lacked the beer-infested making-out, loud-music chaos that most of the seniors' parties had.

"Brendan," she whispered. "Brendan Roth. Plus all his friends."

I drew in my breath.

Brendan Roth was about the most popular guy in the entire school. Remember in that old show, Recess, how the kids have to deal with all sorts of weird kids—like the new kid, and those kindergarteners that were like some weird clan? Well, if our school was Recess, Brendan Roth was certainly the King, that guy they carried around in a chair, and everyone was made to do his bidding. Not that Brendan actually made people do his bidding. He more or less ignored his special status. I sometimes saw him around the school, usually with one of his friends. He was undoubtedly good-looking, tall, and, according to the rumors, very nice as well. Not hat I'd ever confirmed the rumors. I'd never even spoken to him.

"Are you serious?" I asked. "Who told you?"

"Derek himself. And you know he wouldn't lie about things like that."

This was certainly true. Derek, like Brendan, ignored the social pyramid. It didn't really matter for Brendan, though, because he was at the top—Derek, stuck in the middle, near the bottom, was forever forgetting the rules that befitted his class, and therefore getting ignored by everyone.

"Oh, okay," I said, as the train screeched to a stop. "Hey, I'm at my stop. I'll call you later, okay?"

"Sure, sure," replied Carrissa, and she hung up before I even had a chance to say goodbye. She was like that, Carrissa. Her life was one fluid, rapid motion.

I instead called Ashley, who sounded like she'd just woken up from a deep sleep. "Mmmmm?" she said.

"Ash? It's me, Amber. Are you going to Derek's party tomorrow?" I asked.

She seemed more awake. I could picture her sitting up in bed, pushing the straps of her top back up to her shoulders, brushing out her messy Peach Snapple hair. "Derek's party? Um…maybe. Why?"

"Derek told Carrissa that Brendan and all his friends are coming," I said in a hushed, quick voice.

"Brendan Roth?" asked Ash.

"No, Ferrell," I said, rolling my eyes, my voice laden with sarcasm.

Ash ignored my sarcasm. "Really…huh."

"Why don't you sound excited?" I teased. "Is it just because Lucas won't be there? Because he probably will be." Even though he was only a junior, Ash found Lucas extremely attractive. He was actually pretty unattractive, except for that one time we were in the same PE class and he came out of the water with his hair all matted over his face. That was the most attractive I'd ever seen him. He also often made it to the sophomore parties, which was a bit weird to me.

Even though Ash was miles away, I could just picture her rolling her large eyes. "Just don't get your hopes up, kiddo," she said.

"Pardon?" I asked, making my way down the escalators, my cargo in hand.

"I'm just saying," Ash said, yawning. "That you shouldn't get your hopes up about Brendan. Because he's probably coming with her, right?"


I'd nearly forgotten. I reached the end of the escalator.

Brendan did have a girlfriend. She definitely wasn't the prettiest, most popular, or nicest girl at our school, so I never really understood how she got to date Brendan Roth. Okay, maybe I was being harsh on her. Her name was Yoko, and she was pretty in a very Japanese way—she was small, and looked as though a passing wind could break her in a second. Her hair was shoulder-length, straight, and Expensive Leather Sofa Brown. (It was natural, too.) She had large eyes, a small nose, and teeth that were just slightly protruding—like most Japanese girls. She was pretty, but not so pretty that all passing guys looked after her. She was actually pretty popular, but only after she became known as Brendan's girlfriend—and she was nice. But nice hardly counted when you weren't pretty or popular enough to be noticed first.

But Yoko and Brendan had been dating for nearly nine months. For our school's standards, they might as well have been married. And they made a cute couple—although they didn't announce their relationship publicly, everyone knew. The private life of Brendan Roth was routine school gossip.

"Right," I finally managed to say, when I realized Ash was still waiting for my answer. "I'm not looking for anything from him though. He's too old for me."

Ash said, "Right," in this totally unconvincing tone that meant she didn't believe me and I was just trying to save face. Which I was. But she didn't have to sound like I did. "Hey, are we meeting up at the party then, or before?"

"Four at my house," I replied. "Carrie's coming too."

"Alrighty." She yawned. "Well I've got to go baby-sit. Bye, sexy."

"Bye," I said. I placed my cell phone back in my purse, which was Too Dark to be Bubblegum Pink. And then I strolled all the way home.

"So, what's your sign?"

I'd realized Derek's party was going to be "big," but I hadn't fathomed the actual meaning of the word. It seemed Derek had invited the whole school, and half of it had come. I certainly didn't recognize the guy sitting beside me on the sofa, watching the Warriors game. I actually suspected he was a desperate freshman from the local university, hitting on high school sophomores.

I sighed and started to get up, but he tugged on the light, cottony material of my dress. "I think," he said, in a slow, drunk voice, "that we have a connection."

"Oh, shut the fuck up," I said, and walked away. Geez.

Luckily, I saw Nick, a fellow sophomore, in front of me. "Nick!" I said.

He turned around, and breathed a sigh of relief. "Amber!" He grinned. "Thank God. I thought you were Richard."

I stiffened. "What, does that mean I sound like Richard?" I rolled my eyes. And then I realized something. "Wait, Richard is at this party?"

Nick nodded, sitting down on the sofa and putting me on his lap. We'd known each other for five years and were comfortable enough that we did most things that close couples did, without the romantic attachment. Most people would have called us "friends with benefits," but we weren't. We just weren't.

"Derek didn't invite him, if that's what you're thinking," Nick said. "But it's easy to crash a party as big as this. He kept coming up to me, and asking if you were here."

I shivered. Richard had "stalked" me for nearly two years now, and I found him…creepy. To be honest, he wasn't terrible—he didn't have a bowl haircut, and his breath smelled fine, and he wasn't pimply or anything. But I found Richard disturbing, if no one else did. I would have rather fried my guinea pig than date him. Not that I owned a guinea pig, but you get what I mean.

"And what did you tell him?" I asked.

Nick shook his head. "I can't even remember." He groaned. "Just do your best to be polite to him, okay?"

"I'll just avoid him," I said.

"That works too," Nick laughed.

I kissed his cheek fondly, and then found it was as dry as a desert.

"Do you want me to go get you something to drink?" I asked.

"Sure," Nick replied. "A beer would be good." Then he saw my expression. "Actually…whatever you can find."

"Alright! See you in a sec!" I jumped up and headed toward the kitchen. I didn't approve of people drinking beer, especially Nick. We were close, and I knew that there was a history of alcoholism in his family that had effected nearly every relative he had, excepting the ones who were smart enough to abstain from drinking. Nick maintained that a few beers wouldn't ruin his life, but I was wary. I figured it was my job to keep him pure.

When I reached the kitchen, I found only a few cases of beer, and a frightened Ikea White dog in the middle of the floor. It looked up at me, and began wagging its tail frantically. I picked the dog up, stroked it behind the ears, and looked around for something to drink.

"Need something?" asked a male voice from behind me.

"Yeah," I said, turning around. "I—."

Then I stopped. Because standing there was Brendan Roth.

A/N: Please please review I haven't written anything in a long time so if no one reviews I'll pull the story off...