Shades of Fire

Chapter Three: The Domino Effect

I hated autumn. No, wait. Hate was such a bland word. I loathed autumn. I despised the way the leaves turned colors, the way the chill in the air made my nose go berserk and just the way everything had a golden tint to it. You can say I'm crazy, insane … but heck, I already knew that. At least it's Thursday – just one more day.

I scratched my nose and sniffed the brittle air in the room.

"You look like hell," Valerie said from behind.

I smiled a lighthearted and sarcastic smile.

"No really, you do look like hell. Like you woke up from a pit of fire or something."

My eyes wandered to hers. "You know, I never get enough of those comments."

She laughed. "Is it like allergies or something?"

I nodded weakly.

"Tough luck," she mocked. "I never get allergies and I never get sick. I thank my mom for my amazing immune system."

My glare must have been obvious because she sat down quickly and tapped her fingers on her desk, while attempting to avoid eye contact. Sometimes I disliked people like her. They were literally perfect in every conceivable way and it just wasn't fair.

"Did you get another one of those threat letters?" I asked meekly from my seat.

Valerie shook her head. "Nope and I'm glad."

"I think it might be Lorraine. I overheard her talking to Claire yesterday in the locker rooms and you were quite popular in their conversation," I told her.

Valerie lips turned sour. "I love being the center of attention…"

"But they didn't admit to doing anything," I commented once again.

"It's so obvious it's them. I must be cursed or something!" she wailed.

I giggled.

"This isn't funny!" she moaned.

I stopped my laughing, though some chortles slipped out of my throat. "I'm sorry, I just thought it was funny that you would say such a thing. You are definitely not cursed."

"Then explain my current predicament!" she demanded.

"You're current predicament will blow over, I'm sure."

She sighed. "I hope so."

I knew almost for certain that she had nothing to worry about. I mean girls like her never had anything to worry about. She was nice, smart, charismatic and happy. I didn't think much of what happened. After all, she was Valerie. I knew her for two days and already I knew the type of girl she was. She was the girl you were jealous of, not because she was popular with the boys, but because she had everything, including amazing personality. She was one of those girls you would love to hang out around, but also feel so intimidated by.

"Don't worry about it," I said finally.

Our conversation ended when Miss Havenfield stepped into the room with a look of death in her eyes. She didn't give us any morning greeting or the simple "Good Morning" she usually does. The clacking of her heels was ominous and silencing and even the smell of her coffee was unusually bitter. Everyone took their seats without any direction. I never could have guessed that Miss Havenfield had that kind of power.

The silence was deafening and I was waiting patiently for something to happen.

Miss Havenfield cracked open her dialogue. "So I read your observations last night." She stopped and leaned against her desk. "And I must say, they were not good."

No one made a sound.

"They were not good at all. There were like three, four tops, which were decent or even near good. But other than that, they just weren't what I was expecting. You guys are lucky that you're getting a curve. I don't think you guys understand the point of observations. Don't tell me how many cats there were hanging by the gutter, or what colors made up the lake. I want depth and emotion, which I don't think any of you fully recognize." She paused. " So today, I will give you a list and in-depth coverage for what I am looking for. And for homework, you will be required to write an informative essay on what we discussed during class."

People moaned of course, but she didn't care. She continued. She grabbed a marker and began writing down all these things, fast and clear. In no time it took over the entire board and most of us couldn't keep up with her speed of writing.

For the rest of class, everything followed in the same routine. She wrote on the board. We copied it down. And every so often I contemplated on how to use a pen to stab myself from the torture. I'm not really good at that though.

The bell finally rang and music seemed to play in my head.

Joy to the world, the lord has rung….

"Shit…" I whispered. My butt was asleep. I got up on both my feet, but when your butt's asleep, your butt's asleep. If I waddled like a penguin to the door, I would look like an idiot, so I got up and rearranged my books a bit.

Valerie waved her hand to me. "I'll see you. Gotta run to Calculus."

"See you." I said in return. By that point, I grabbed my stuff and headed for my next class.

"Heidi?" Miss Havenfield called from behind.

I shut my eyes tight, the way I usually do when disappointment runs over me. I turned around. "Yes, Miss Havenfield?" I gave a half-smile. I'll tell you one thing, I'm not a suck-up, but I'm not going to groan at the sight of a teacher I'm not too fond of.

"I read your paper last night." I felt my face fall like a cartoon where it lands in a puddle of mush on the floor. This was it. The moment I've been dreading since I arrived at Excelsior. It's the moment where the teacher will have a one-to-one with you about your writing. They'll rip it to shreds and then, they'll feed it to the dogs. My half-smile faded, and I didn't say anything. "Well, don't you want to know what I thought?"

No. I wanted to tell her no. "Um, I don't know." I laughed a little. I laugh when I'm nervous."

"It was rough," she said. "But it was one of the good ones I read. I heard this strong voice in your paper. Some parts were hard to read, but some parts, I just wanted to read more."

Wait, what did she say? "Um, thank you," I blurted.

"How come I don't hear that strong voice during class?"

I wanted to tell her that if I spoke, overly enraged writers and their minions'd probably jump me after school. "I'm not that good verbally…"

She looked at me. "Most people that don't say much have the most to say." She smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow."

I smiled back and waved a goodbye.

My mouth felt agitated with emotions. I felt like I had been spending my days in a dark corner of the room, and finally, someone shined some light onto me. It scared me, burned me a little, but it wasn't bad. She implied that I had a lot to say. If she was giving me the opportunity to say what I wanted, I was weary on taking her up on her offer. But would that offer come again, or would it fade back into that darkness?

I got a text during my math class from Mike. His texts were usually funny, but today it was blunt: "Picking you up today from school. Need to talk to you." He had been acting awkward lately. But then again, teenage boys always act awkward. I mean that's what they're known for.

I got my stuff and went to the front entrance as oppose to the bus lot. He had a silver and used 2001 Camry. It wasn't so hard to find in a parking lot full of BMW's. Did I mention kids here were spoiled and rich? If I didn't, well, they are.

He was standing next to his car, leaning in his signature pose. He saw me and waved.

"Hey," I began. "Why the sudden courtesy-call?"

"Can't a guy be nice for a friend?"

"Not unless he wants something in return…" I hit him lightly in the arm, laughing a little.

He sighed. "I'll tell you on the way to your house."

I nodded. As I got in the car, I smelled burgers and fries. Boys. "Hey, where's Kim?"

He didn't answer me.

"Helloooo. Where's Kim? We're the Three Musketeers. We're missing one."

"Uhh… she had homework or something." He started up the car and we were on our way back to my house.

My phone began to vibrate. "Hold on," I told him. "Hello?"

"Hey Heidi." It was Kim. What a coincidence.

"Hey Kim," I gave Mike a quick look.

"Okay, something awkward happened. Mike's not here. He usually drives me to my house, but he's nowhere to be found."

"That's because Mike's-" Before I could say anything else, Mike's giant hand was waving into my face. "Hold on, Kim." I glared at Mike who was panicking at the wheel and I covered the receiver. "What is wrong with you?" I hissed.

"Don't tell her I'm here," he whispered back.

"Why?" I asked.

"I'll let you know later, but please. Just don't tell her I'm here."

I looked at him and shook my head in annoyance. "Fine," I said.

"Yeah, Mike texted me today and he told me to tell you that he went home sick. I completely forgot to call you at the end of the day. Sorry, my fault," I lied. What a girl does for her desperate and weird guy friend.

"Oh okay…" she said. " I hope he feels better. Well, I got to go now. Gotta walk home now."

With that, I shut my cell phone off and turned my attention to the kid caught stealing in the cookie jar. "Okay, you spill right now."

"Uh, can I wait until we're at a red light?" he asked, laughing in hesitation.

"No. You tell me right now. What is going on with you?" I asked.

I had never seen Mike this nervous except for that one time he had to read his fourth grade graduation speech in front of the whole class and he nearly passed out in anxiety. "Okay," he began. "Well, there's this guy named James Harrison who goes to our school. You probably don't know him cause he moved like two months ago. Well we're good friends now and something happened."

Oh my god. I had to think to myself for a minute … could it be that Mike is interested in…? "Are you gay?" I blurted out.

Mike nearly lost control of the wheel. "What the hell?" he screamed. "No!"

"Oh…" I stayed silent.

"Will you let me finish before jumping to conclusions?"

"Well, you paused dramatically. I thought that maybe it was something that you know… was relationship related," I rebutted.

"It is."

"So… he's interested in you?"

"No!" Mike sighed. "Just let me continue with my story, okay?"

"Fine."

" Well, two days ago he met Kim cause I had to drive her home. And today during first block he told me that he wants to ask her out … on a date."

I looked at him for a minute. " And the problem is?"

"I don't want him going out with her!"

My lips turned into a smirk. "And why is that?"

I could see his face turning red like a cherry tomato. "Because he's like… you know one of those guys. He's not for Kim. You know, James isn't… he's not…."

"He's not you?" I asked.

"What? No. You are insane. Crazy. A crazy lady!"

"And you're a babbling idiot crushing on one of your best friends. Wait, a jealous babbling idiot crushing on one of your best friends."

He slowed down into the red light ahead of us. "I am not jealous," he defended.

"Just ask her out before James does," I told him.

"But I can't. He's my friend."

"And she could be the love of your life!"

Mike let out a breath. "Sometimes Heidi, you're so wrapped up in fiction. This is real life. Not one of your stories."

Life is fiction. It's just all one story filled with little ones in between – tragedy mostly, of course. "James probably has some idea you like Kim. That's why he told you first. So just tell him."

"But I…"

"But nothing."

We began moving again. "What if she doesn't like me back?"

"Is it a chance worth taking?" I asked him. He didn't answer back. I looked at him sympathetically. "Mike… "

"I'll see what I'll do," he looked at me and smiled. "And I promise you'll be the first to know."

"I better!"

There was a brief silence that carved its way between us. As we got to the next light, he coughed. "So um, why did you think I was gay?"

I nearly choked at the question. "Well, because… you were talking the way a girl would."

"But why would you even consider it?"

It's the 21st century. Any guy can choose the way he wants to live his life. I'm not judging, I'm just saying," I told him.

"You were saying I was gay."

"It was a question!"

"You said I was gay."

I sighed. "Forget it. You're not gay."

"Yeah, I know that. But do you?"

"Yes, I know that!"

"Good," he said laughing.

I shook my head in playful frustration and looked out the car window at the people passing by. Everyone had somewhere to go and sometimes I wondered what they were hiding. I mean Mike had a crush on Kim, completely overwhelmed by it, but such a good actor in front of her. And I knew him. How deep can a soul be and how concealing?

And what about him? What about the guy who sat next to the bookstore those two days? What secrets did he hide? My mind loved to drift off on a tangent. Things were fading until suddenly, I saw him yet again. Irony never ceases to amaze me. He was walking as usual. He always seemed to walk. But he illuminated from the crowd like everything else faded away around him and it was just him.

"Hey, stop here." I told Mike.

"What?"

"Stop here!"

He parked onto the side. "Okay, jeez. What's so important you have to stop for?"

"Homework." I opened the door. "Thanks!"

"Homework?" I nodded and slammed the door. I waved a goodbye to him and he rolled his eyes in return.

I circled myself about two times before I saw that guy again. I dared not to run, so I walked fast. I bustled through the crowd with my backpack on my shoulders. I had to stop quickly to get out my notebook. Sometimes I needed it when things were moving faster than I could catch up with. My black and gold school jacket rustled as I put my backpack back on.

As I got up, I couldn't see him again. This time, I decided to jog. I had to find him. My grade depended on it, yes, but something else dragged me. It pulled me hard and it refused to let go.

I groaned. I couldn't find him. How frustrating is that?

I turned around and bumped into something big. "Excuse me. Sorry," I said. But no matter which way I moved, so did the person in front of me. I looked up.

"Well, well, well. There's a Grandview Prep girl in front of me," the guy said.

"What?" I was backing up, laughing a little in fear and frustration, until I bumped into something else. What were the odds that it was another large fellow? I rolled my eyes. "What do you want?"

"You know what I hate about you prep school kids? You think you're so much better than everyone else," the guy in front said. So I figured he probably goes to Bernard High.

I looked at him holding up my hands with my notebook in defense. "I really don't know what you're talking about and I really have to go now."

"Well what do we have here?" The fellow from behind grabbed my notebook from my hands.

"Hey! Give that back!"

"And I should do that why?" He bent down and shoved his protruding nose in my face.

Sure, I was getting intimidated, but I wanted my notebook back. "Because if you don't give that back-" I began.

"What's going to happen?" He laughed and pushed one of his big clammy hands into my shoulder until I had to step back to keep my balance. " You're going to have to mess me up?" Both boys gargled in laughter like hyenas.

"If you don't give that back to her, I'll mess you up."

I turned to the right of me to see the object of my inspirations standing there on the curb with his hands in his pockets. It was him. For the record, I did not sigh dreamily at the sight of him. Do you seriously take me for some kind of cheap romantic? Okay, on occasions, I am, but not now.

"You're going to defend this prep girl?" one of them asked.

"If I have to," he replied.

"You think you can take the both of us?" the other challenged.

Blue eyes drifted from one guy to the other. "Why not?"

The two didn't move. I suppose it was the case of intimidation. The blue-eyed boy stepped closer and closer until he reached over and grabbed the notebook from the other's hand.

"Thank you," he said. "You can go now."

The two dispersed. "Asshole…" one of them whispered.

My savior's eyes met mine. "Thanks," I said.

He opened the notebook without a word, turned around and walked away with it.

"Hey wait!" I screamed.

Okay, can someone explain to me what the hell just happened here?

He still didn't respond to my plea.

"Hey, I'm talking to you! If you just got back my notebook to take it away from me, you might as well just be as bad as them!"

Still no answer.

"Give me that back!"

He finally noticed my existence and turned around. "Why are you stalking me?"

"You're the one who took my notebook – I'm just trying to get it back!"

"No," he said. "In this notebook. Why are you writing things about me? You've been following me for the past two days."

I stopped. It was one of those moments where words wanted to come out but they were literally stuck in my throat. They were choking me. I desperately wanted to run. I wanted to grab that notebook from his hands and run away. I stood like a statue. My brain couldn't command my body to move. I was stuck there in sinking quick sand.

"Well?" he asked again.

I felt like a huge idiot that was about to ramble like a fool. So naturally, I rambled like a fool. "Okay, so I have this really huge project for my Writing Seminar class and I thought that when I first took notes on you as a subject that it was going to be a one-time thing. But then my weird and freaky teacher decided that it was going to be a yearlong project. I really didn't mean to stalk you. I'm just trying not to get an F. In fact, my teacher really likes my descriptions about you. I'm really sorry. So if you don't mind, I'll be taking back my notebook now. Bye!" And with that, I quickly grabbed my notebook from his hand and quickly walked the other way.

I practically sprinted actually.

"Hey wait!" I heard him scream after me.

Oh I really wished he'd just let it go. I kept running like my life depended on it. Unfortunately I should have known better than to run away from a guy that looks like he could beat me walking. He suddenly jumped in front of me and put both his hands on my shoulders to keep me still. I felt like a little kid.

"Please let go," I said holding on tightly to my notebook not looking at him in the eye.

"What the hell did you just say back there?" I looked up and surprisingly he looked freaked out himself.

"Uh, if you let go, I'll say it slower."

He let go of me. "Deal."

"Okay, so basically, I haven't been stalking you. Let's get that clear. I'm in the Excelsior Writing Program at Grandview Preparatory School and one of my assignments was to write about a subject that interested you. And well, I'm interested in you," I saw him stare at me. " I mean, not in that way. Like, I'm not obsessive or anything like that at all! I mean you're interesting … as a person. And I thought it was a one-time thing. Until my teacher told me, it was a project. I really wasn't trying to stalk you. I'm sorry."

He sighed. "Well, I'm sorry that I freaked out. And I'm sorry that you're going to have to find a new … subject." His voice was unsympathetic at that last part.

"Wait, I can't just find a new subject."

"And you just can't keep stalking me,"

"I thought we made it perfectly clear that I'm not stalking you!" I yelled.

"No, you made that assumption. What you did was stalking!"

I groaned in frustration. "Oh my god. You're … an asshole!"

"And you're crazy!"

"It's not like I'm cutting off your hair and doing voodoo with it or something. So just chill."

"Yeah, I'll chill when you stop following me!" He screamed.

I was getting back to my normal self. I didn't care who he was, but if my grade depends on something, I'm not letting so jerk-off tell me what to do. " And if I don't stop following you, you'll what? Call the cops? Sue me? Oh, I'm sooo scared."

It seemed that I caught him off guard a bit. "… I will …if you don't stop," he warned.

"Then do it!"

"You are crazy, aren't you?!"

"I'm as sane as the next person. You're the one screaming!"

"So are you! Just leave me alone!"

I walked right up to him and stared him in the face. It was awkward how one moment I was scared and in the next, I wanted to kick him in the crotch… really hard. "Don't worry, you won't even know I'm watching you." I turned around and walked away.

I left him standing confused. "Y-you better not."

"Then stop me," I challenged, not even looking back at him. I grinned devilishly.

When I got back home, I slumped onto my bed. I was exhausted. It was a long day – too long actually. I reflected back on what I had done. I faced my fears of talking to a teacher, gave my best guy friend girl advice on how to ask out my best friend and declared some sort of war against a complete stranger who saved my life. That's a day in the normal life of Heidi Jones.

I sighed. How I wished to be back in middle school where only pointless drama ensued.

I heard the phone ring. "Heidi, can you get that?" I heard my mom scream.

I promptly got up and grabbed the phone. "Hello?" I spoke into the receiver.

"Hey, it's me. Kim."

"Hey, Kim… you will not believe my day."

She laughed. "You won't believe mine either."

"You first."

"Well, this guy James asked me out today."

James? James! Right, he's the guy Kim shouldn't be going out with. That's the mental note I took down today during my discussion with Mike. "Oh really?"

I could hear her giggling from the other end. "Yeah, and I said yes."

"What?!" I practically screamed.

"Ouch, could you warn a girl before you scream like that Heidi?"

"But wait," I started. "What about Mike?"

"What about him?" She asked.

"I thought… you had a thing for him."

"I do… well, did. I don't know. I'm so sick of waiting for him to make the first move. There's another guy out there who wants to go out with me. I might as well give him a chance."

I pursed my lips together, trying to figure out what to say to get her to change her mind. "Have you told Mike about this yet?"

"Yeah, I was going to. I mean James is his friend and everything."

"Don't you want to wait just a little bit longer for Mike?" I asked.

I heard her sigh. "No, I really don't."

"But-" I began. I heard a beeping noise. "I'm sorry Kim. I got someone on the other line. I'll call you back, okay?"

"Nah, I'm going to call Mike and tell him and then after that, squeal about my first date to my stuffed animals."

"Oh… okay. Good luck…" I hung up and waited for the phone to ring. "Hello?"

"Hey Heidi, it's Mike."

I swear. I was going to have a brain seizure by the end of the day. "Hey Mike."

"So, I promised I'd let you know before I did anything…. so I wanted to tell you that I'm going to call up Kim and ask her to meet me tomorrow after school and I'll ask her out. Does that sound good?" He told me. He sounded enthusiastic. Was I supposed to crush his heart with the truth?

"Um, it definitely sounds like a plan," I told him. I wasn't lying. He in fact did have a plan. That's not lying at all.

"Great… oh, I have someone on the other line. I guess I'll tell you how it all goes down tomorrow, okay? Bye." He hung up.

"Oh, I wonder who was on the other line…" I said into an empty phone.

The operator spoke in a reply. " f you would like to make a call, please dial the area code and phone number." I hung up.

I groaned. How could all this happen in one day? I don't know why, but I had a feeling that today was the day someone up there began a chain of dominoes that not even all hell could stop. I learned about the domino effect in school. And it sucks. It sucks a lot.

Author's Note: So, I guess I couldn't wait until I put up the third chapter. I was going to wait until next week, but since I already had it done, I really wanted to post it. Call me insanely … weird. But anyway, I hope you guys liked it! Heidi and this guy finally meet and it doesn't go down so well. Who is he? Well, more will be clearer next chapter.

I really have to some getting ahead of myself and posting up these chapters so fast because I might end up missing things within the chapter that are important etc. But with summer assignments, I really might not have time to write. So that's why I'm trying to also space out the postings… I'm pathetic, I know. :P

Please read and review! I hope you all liked it. And thanks again to those who reviewed (especially those who came back to review again…) You guys rock!

Eva