Deborah was a sickly-sounding name for a sweet girl who never argued with her elders and who wore old-fashioned skirts. It was, alas, what Devon's parents had called her when she was born. It was even on her birth certificate: Deborah Dae-Hye Kim. She'd had variations of the name thrown at her over the years: Deb, Debi, Debbi, Debbie, all awful nicknames; and it had only deepened her innate horror of the name.
So, then, Devon had come into existence.
"What, you want be a boy now?" her mother had said in accented English. "How you get a nice boyfriend later?"
It was still a moral victory and even if people thought she was a boy at first, Devon put up with it. Identity crises weren't new to her, after all. She had lost count of how many times people thought she was Japanese or Chinese. They never seemed to remember Korea: the country that produced the best and purest Asians, or so her grandfather proudly claimed.
She had eyed all the technological gadgets in her house, the ones with Japanese brands. "Isn't it a little disingenuous to drive Japanese cars?" she had asked. For her seventeenth birthday, she'd gotten a sleek bullet of a silver Toyota. And for that question, she'd gotten a blistering lecture about how the good-for-nothing Japanese had enslaved Korea in 1910. Oh, and one more lecture about showing her elders less cheek.
She'd never really had her query answered.
Now it was a new question: "Why can't I graduate already?" The spring semester had just begun today, but there was still too much time left. Until then, Devon had to put up with her lovely fellow classmates.
Case in point:
Quentin Maxwell had two girls, one on either arm. They were very pretty, a brunette and a blonde. Devon even knew them. Not senior girls, but juniors, popular in their own circles. And they were both clinging to Quentin, gazing up at him in a frenzied adoration. Amoeba #1 was stroking his arm, leaning over to whisper into his ear while Amoeba #2 proceeded to play with the bottom of his shirt. And even more amazing, they weren't trying to kill each other.
"Of all sexually puerile things he's done..." Devon drawled, leaning against her locker. The school was teeming with crowds of kids hanging out in the hallways before the bell rang for first period. "This has to be a new low."
Her two male best friends were staring at Quentin with varying expressions of disgust and revulsion, and maybe even envy. Everyone knew that Quentin was the wealthiest person at their school. His parents made generous donations, a consideration that no doubt weighed heavily on the school administration.
Abdullah al-Hassan shook his head. "That does it!" he declared. "My friends, this is a major crisis of the likes we have not seen since the school banned girls from wearing halters. When a racist piece of shit like that gets two girls without even trying, you know the universe is well and truly fucked up."
"Jealous?" Devon said.
"Offended." For the first time that morning, Abdullah seemed genuinely disturbed. "Maxwell slams Arabs all the time. Christ, you've heard him. The 9/11 jokes he cracks..."
Sam Choi's quiet voice cut through the tension. "He slams the poor, the ugly, and the unwanted. Just about everyone who's out of his financial range." His smile was twisted. "He's not the most enlightened."
"Sometimes the world rewards assholes," Devon said.
"Rich white assholes," Abdullah corrected.
She just shrugged. "What do you want us to do about it? Strap bombs to our backs and fling ourselves onto said assholes?" She jerked her head at another random group of kids heading down the hallway. "We'd need a lot of bombs."
"Yeah, they're all sheep," he said.
Devon had to smile. Like her, Abdullah had never hidden his disdain for the lower echelon of pond scum that infested their beloved River Valley High. Sam was less vocal about his dislike, but of course he felt the same way. "Peas in a pod," Abdullah's mother called them.
"But," Abdullah said with a dramatic pause, "they're having sex. And we aren't." He waved a hand. "I find it insulting that we can't even get a date."
Sam's smile mirrored Devon's. "Still sulking Philippa won't pay you any attention?"
"Please. She's just a bitter, pretentious battle-axe."
Devon and Sam exchanged smirks. Philippa Atherton was the school newspaper's editor-in-chief. That in itself wasn't a bad thing since the three of them also worked on the newspaper staff. But Philippa was... well, Philippa. Ever blunt, ever angry, she existed in a bubble of cynicism that torched anyone who stood too close. And for some reason, Abdullah conveniently spent most of his time in her vicinity.
The coincidence hadn't escaped Devon and Sam. Not a single bit.
Clearly sensing their amusement, Abdullah crossed his arms. "That girl probably eats Muslim babies for breakfast. She'd preach at my mother and sisters about the evils of militant Islam and female circumcision and honor killings."
"Sure, we believe you," Devon said.
"Just like we believe in Santa Claus," Sam added.
The first warning bell sounded, so they took the short trip to AP English, the first class on their schedule. Since they'd had it the previous semester, they already had pre-assigned seats. Same classmates, same teacher, same everything, really.
Abdullah seemed to share Devon's tedium because he sighed and turned around in his seat. "Something exciting needs to happen."
Sam picked up his freshly sharpened pencil. "Don't you think we've had enough gossip lately?" he said dryly. "I'm not sure if River Valley High needs any more."
He was, of course, referring to the "Is-Sleeping-With-Your-Stepsister-Really-Incest?" scandal that had rocked the school only a couple months ago. What had made it so scintillating was that it had involved Alex Montgomery, the school's god and resident heartthrob. Often said to be the heartthrob. Of all girls he could have had (and he'd had plenty) he'd chosen his stepsister Adrian Blake. Even more astonishing, they were still dating.
"No," Abdullah said. "We can never have enough melodrama."
The teacher was passing out the books they would read this semester. Among the assorted titles were: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. Devon had already read them earlier.
"Mr. Maxwell, how many times have I told you not to make your phone calls in class?" Ms. Sahn strode over to Quentin's desk with books in her arms. "Are you even paying attention?"
Quentin snapped his cell phone shut. "No," he said promptly. He smiled at her under his eyelashes. "My parents will get me in for whatever college I want anyway."
The teacher sighed. "Don't get cute. You don't want detention-"
"Love you too." He blew her a kiss. "You look gorgeous today."
She tried to suppress her smile, but the upturn of her mouth gave her away. "I said you don't want detention."
That dazzling smile widened. "You're right. I'd rather flirt with you instead."
Devon watched color creep into the teacher's cheeks. Just what exactly was it about Quentin Maxwell that made the River Valley High female population go atwitter? The size of his wallet? The illustrious company he hung out with? Whatever it was, he possessed an amazing ability to emit pheromones.
"Mr. Maxwell..." Ms. Sahn warned.
He made a fist. "Damn! I'm losing my touch." He turned around in his seat and peered over Alex's shoulder, so he could glance at the syllabus. "Now I'm all ready. So fill my mind with wondrous knowledge-"
Adrian tossed her dark hair and laughed. "It's not even eight in the morning, Q. How can you be this lecherous?"
It was astonishing how quickly that famous smile morphed into a leer - or maybe they were the same thing. "Darling, if you could only move over here, I'd show you what lecherous means-"
Alex hit the back of Quentin's head. "Stop flirting with my girl."
"Class!" Ms. Sahn said. Smiling slightly, she finished passing out books and syllabi for everyone. "All right, you guys know what to do. The first two chapters by this Friday, and we'll start discussion tomorrow."
The bell rang, so everyone got up to leave the classroom. Or at least they tried. A girl was lurking by the door, blocking everyone's way, and when Quentin walked out of class, she flung herself onto his chest.
"Oh, Quentin!" she said, her gaze so worshipful that Devon, standing in the crowd behind Quentin's back, rolled her eyes. Whoever this particular amoeba was, she was happily exploring his shoulders with her hands.
Sam blew out an irritated sigh. "Great. We get held up just because he wants to engage in some tongue time?"
"Oh yeah. Don't you know we live only to venerate and serve the popular kids?" Devon said dryly.
"You mind letting us out of here, Q?" Grant Darlington said mildly. He was almost as tall as Abdullah, but unlike Abdullah, he was one of Quentin's close friends, something that Devon had never quite understood since Grant seemed to have a functional brain. "Some of us actually have classes."
Quentin tossed a flashing smile over his shoulder. "I'm not finished molesting her yet," he informed his friend. "Now, baby, where were we? What's the most exciting thing that's ever happened to you?"
The girl seemed puzzled. "Um, I don't know - maybe when I got my braces off..."
Quentin chucked her under her chin. "No, baby, that was the second most exciting thing," he corrected. "Now this is the first."
Then he kissed her.
Her head exploded. "Aieeeee!" she wailed. Or something like that anyway. Devon wasn't really sure what sound was currently emitting from the girl's mouth, but it probably stood for: "take my clothes off, you sexy beast."
Every male in the vicinity reacted. It was a signal that couldn't fail to appeal to their caveman instincts. Even Sam and Abdullah were drooling, their eyes lacking any conscious thought until Devon elbowed them.
Sam had the grace to look sheepish. "I can't help it."
Devon checked her watch. Precious seconds were ticking away while Quentin did his best to reenact vampirism. The girl was practically swooning in his arms, making embarrassing motorboat noises while everyone watched.
"Only an insecure person would feel the need to show off in public," Abdullah said loudly. "Get a room, Maxwell."
Quentin pulled away from the girl. He'd evidently heard Abdullah because he smiled. "Jealous?" he drawled. "I don't blame you, Saddam. If I were you, I'd be jealous of me too."
Abdullah snorted. "Why? Your grades aren't that great."
The smile was even more brilliant. "Good grades don't get you sucked off. At least I'll die, knowing that I've had sex. The same can't be said for you." Laughing, he propelled his girl out of the doorway. "Don't worry. I'll send you my leftovers, have them show you how it's done."
Sam caught Abdullah's arm before Abdullah could go after Quentin. "Don't do it. Maxwell's not worth getting suspended for," he warned, as the impatient crowd finally surged into the hallway.
Amoeba #1 and Amoeba #2 had spotted Quentin, but instead of freaking out when they saw him with another girl, they sidled up to his side, fluttering their eyelashes and flipping their hair. No self-pride, Devon thought.
"Ladies," Quentin said charmingly, "I was beginning to think you'd forgotten all about me. So, tell me, what do you think of a foursome?"
The amoebas giggled as if it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard. In a cloud of perfume and estrogen, they trailed after him.
Abdullah was too rigid, and in that moment, Devon wondered if he was truly jealous - or perhaps only bitter. Sometimes assholes really did get away with everything, but then again, that was why they were assholes.
She gave him a quick hug. "I'll see you." They didn't have second period together, so she wouldn't see him until journalism class. "Later, guys."
Photography class was on the other side of the school building, and thanks to Quentin's little show after AP English, Devon had to make a run for it. She pushed other kids away impatiently, ignoring their muttered complaints. They didn't have Mr. Ferreira as their teacher. Devon had heard from Abdullah that he was a martinet who believed his students should have been drowned while still in their cradles.
She slipped into the classroom just right before the bell rang for the final time. A quick visual sweep of the room told her that there were seven large tables. Except for the last one, every table had four seats, obviously for the students.
Devon slid into one of the two remaining empty seats. She recognized Bianca Gallo and Midori Ono from AP English class. She nodded at them and received friendly smiles in return.
"Are you taking this as an elective?" Midori asked her.
"Yeah, I had to fill my schedule."
Mr. Ferreira was standing near the last table earmarked for his exclusive use. "No talking!" he barked as he whipped out his clipboard. "When I call out your names, please raise your hand and say 'present.' If you aren't on my list, get the hell out of here."
Devon arched an incredulous eyebrow. Abdullah really hadn't been kidding when he'd blasted Mr. Ferreira earlier, but since he tended to be melodramatic, she'd written it off. "Wow. Martial, much?" she whispered to the other girls.
Bianca stifled a laugh. "Personally, I think he reminds me a lot of Mr. Melbourne. What is it about our school that attracts hateful teachers?"
That made Devon grin. Mr. Melbourne was a former AP English teacher that had gone down spectacularly in flames against Alex Montgomery and his stepsister last semester. The lesson here? Never mess around with the school's god.
"Because hatefulness is a quality the hiring committee looks for?" she joked.
"Deborah Kim?" Mr. Ferreira called out sharply.
"Present," she said, raising her hand. "Call me Devon, please."
His loud snort told her what he thought of that idea, but much to her surprise, he made a grudging note on his clipboard. "Fine." He ran through the list of names until he got to the M's. "Quentin Maxwell?"
Said person sauntered into the classroom exactly at that moment. Devon wondered if he'd been standing outside the room, listening for his name. Probably not, she thought as she scanned his rumpled appearance. How he managed to squeeze in an amorous display between first and second periods on the first day of the spring semester was beyond her.
The teacher regarded him with some impatience. "You would be our infamous Mr. Maxwell, I presume. Do you even have a hallway pass?"
Quentin flashed a grin, one that lit up his dark eyes. "Mr. F, I gotta say I'm flattered." He produced a crumpled piece of paper. "But you really aren't supposed to show favoritism."
"That wasn't a compliment." The teacher's scowl deepened as he glanced at the pass, and from his expression, Devon had the strong feeling the excuse was fake, but he let it go. "Take your seat."
"Are we fighting already? Even my girlfriends lasted longer than that."
A laugh erupted from Bianca. She clapped a hand over her mouth, and Midori ducked behind a curtain of hair, but not before Devon saw her smile.
Mr. Ferreira's jaw clenched. "One more insolent remark, and you'll get detention." His fingers curled around the clipboard, and with hooded eyes, he watched Quentin stroll over to Devon's table.
Quentin flung himself into the last chair. "Surrounded by pretty girls, what more could I want?" he declared as he inspected every girl in turn. He dumped his backpack on the floor. "So how do you feel about modeling for me?"
"Preferably naked, you mean?" Devon couldn't resist saying.
He winked at her. "I was saving that line for tomorrow. I know for a fact that the school stores some whipped cream in the cafeteria's refrigerators."
The lie came easily. "I'm lactose intolerant."
He didn't miss a beat. "Not a problem. We'll just use chocolate syrup instead."
Her lips turned up into a smirk. Couldn't he ever talk to a girl normally without hitting on her? Then again, what did you expect from the school's biggest player? It was a dubious honor Alex had once owned before giving up his harem for his stepsister.
"You're such a comedian," Devon drawled.
"A gorgeous comedian," Quentin corrected. "I am fucking hot, and you know it."
That drew a laugh from her. For all of his supposed charm, he really wasn't that handsome, if you looked at him in an objective light. It proved there was still some justice left in the world: rich people didn't always get everything.
"What? You don't think so?" he said, clearly catching her disbelief. He turned to Bianca and Midori who had been avidly listening. "There's nothing wrong with your eyesight, right?" He winked at them.
"Oh, stop it," Bianca said, giggling. She had a steady boyfriend, Devon knew, but not even she seemed resistant to his charms. "Mr. Ferreira's looking at us."
The teacher most certainly was. He'd concluded the attendance roll, so he was going around the room, passing out the syllabi and various papers. "Study the handouts," he said, stopping at the first table. "We'll have a quiz this Friday. I want you to memorize the names and functions of the camera features."
"Sir, are we using digital or film?" someone called out.
"Good question. We'll be using only film cameras. Black and white." He raised a hand to stop the grumbling. "Listen up. This class is meant to be challenging. If you don't like it, get the hell out of here."
Quentin promptly rose from his chair. Every pair of eyes zoomed to him, but seemingly without acknowledging their stares, he sauntered over to the antiquated pencil sharpener with a pencil in hand. It was such an overdone show of casualness that Devon knew he'd meant to respond to Mr. Ferreira's last comment.
Midori had her hand over her mouth. "He is such a ham," she whispered, mischief sparkling in her almond-shaped eyes. She fluffed her sleek cap of hair. "Just when I thought this class would be boring..."
"Shame on you," Devon whispered back. She leaned across the table, so Midori and Bianca could hear her better. "White boys are the devil, you know."
She exchanged an amused glance with Midori. Even if Midori was Japanese, they were still able to share some common Asian jokes. River Valley High had a strong Caucasian student population with Hispanics as the largest minority, so Devon knew every single Asian in the school.
"Maybe," Bianca said, looking at Quentin, "but that devil has a fine ass."
The teacher had enough. "I'm sure you've worn your pencil to a nub, Mr. Maxwell," he snapped. "Sit down."
Devon barely refrained from rolling her eyes. Since there were six tables with four kids each, it made twenty-four students in total. There wasn't any other empty seat, but judging by the feminine blushing and giggling here, Devon didn't think she'd have a hard time convincing another girl to trade seats with her.
The depth of her annoyance startled her, made her stop to consider it. Sure, she thought Quentin was a jackass of the highest order because of his offensive comments and manwhoring ways, but they'd never had any nasty run-ins.
Quentin was lounging in his chair, toying with his pencil. His eyes moved over Mr. Ferreira's face in a constant, alert motion, his gaze never resting on a single point. He really did have fantastic eyes, Devon had to admit. They were just as brown as hers were, but when he tilted his head, they had a splash of gold.
"Admiring my profile?" he said from the corner of his mouth. "Take your time, baby."
"You aren't that hot," she replied.
And that was when everything became crystal clear. He reminded her of her ex-boyfriend Jimmy, what with the preening. On the paper, Jimmy had fit the bill: a smart, attractive Korean guy. He was Sam's cousin, so therefore he had to have some of Sam's decency. Unfortunately, what the paper hadn't said was that Jimmy had an inferiority complex that expressed itself in gigantic doses of jealousy.
Actually, that probably should have been her first clue. Someone who insisted on calling himself "Jimmy" instead of James or Jim was clearly an overgrown frat boy in the making. He'd repeatedly hinted that they have sex in his car backseat. The final straw was him accusing her of cheating on him with Sam and Abdullah.
Hello Jimmy, goodbye Jimmy.
The only good thing was that he'd been a full grade ahead, so he was now in college. That, and Devon had vowed never to date another braggart. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me...
"I'll be giving you guys the tour tomorrow," Mr. Ferreira said, his voice breaking into her thoughts. He gestured towards the back of the classroom: another doorway that evidently led to the darkroom. Even from here, Devon could only see blackness. "There isn't enough equipment in the darkroom for everyone, so you'll need a partner."
One of the kids raised his hand. "Do we get to pick our partners?"
"Sure. The seat you've chosen right now is the seat you'll have for the semester, but you can choose any person."
Well, there went that idea of exchanging seats with someone else. Devon knew Bianca and Midori were best friends, so they would link up. She glanced around the room, running through the list of kids. Since this class was open to anyone, there was a healthy mix of freshmen and sophomores, little kids really.
Quentin's drawl brought her head around. "I notice you're pointedly not looking in my direction," he said with a grin.
"And I notice you're pointedly looking at my chest."
Amused malice danced in his dark eyes. "Just imagining you all covered in chocolate syrup." His fingers kept flipping the pencil over and again. "I think I'll name my collection: 'A Visceral Appreciation of the Female Anatomy.'"
Her lips pursed in a silent whistle. "Wow. Visceral has three syllables. How long did it take you to look it up in the dictionary?" She tilted her head in a teasing manner. "Or did you get someone to read it out loud?"
Even as she said it, she knew she was being unnecessarily bitchy. Quentin was just being Quentin, but the thought of working with him in such close quarters for an entire semester (plus, being leered at) didn't sit too well with her. And besides, it didn't help that he really did remind her of Jimmy.
Quentin smilingly brushed off her comments. "I think I'll create an application and pass it out to every girl in this class. See if they want to be my partner." He aimed his pencil at her. "Do you think they'll tear each other's clothes off?"
Mr. Ferreira's mouth abruptly twisted, as if he'd heard Quentin's comments. And perhaps he had because he called for the class's attention.
"Due to some students' unfortunate and rapid displays of idiocy, I've decided to rescind my decision that you could work with a partner of your own choosing. You will now be partnered with the person sitting directly next to you." He eyed Devon in something like sympathy. "Ms. Kim, you have my condolences."
She thrust her hand in air, but the teacher preempted her by shrugging off her narrow-eyed, silent outrage. "I don't want any hair-flipping and hip-swaying in this class. If anyone disagrees with my decision, get the hell out of here." Clearly considering the discussion over, he strolled over to the other side of the classroom.
"Great," she said. Still, all she had to do was to share the same equipment with Quentin in the darkroom, so it couldn't be that bad - oh, who was she kidding? This had disaster written all over it in screaming neon letters.
Someone laughed, and of course, it was Quentin. "So, I guess you're stuck with me for the next few months." He grinned cheekily. "I bet you had no idea you'd be so lucky when you woke up this morning."
Devon buried her head in her hands and sighed.
AUTHOR NOTE: I'm back with this revised version! Here's hoping that this one works :) If you guys don't know already, this is the sequel to "Reason and Romance Redux." It's probably smart to read that story first before trying this one. I do feel compelled to warn you guys that this story is going to be LONG because Quentin and Devon apparently have a lot to say!
As always, many thanks to Kendal and Lord Iron-Balls who harangued, screamed, and threatened me into posting this version. The story wouldn't have come alive without you guys. And as always, thank you to the readers who have kindly emailed me, supported me, and waited for me. You make this fun.
A: Just anticipating some questions. Yes, this story will remain rated T throughout. No dating bets or contests. No, the teacher really is not like Mr. Melbourne, and no, he won't be fired. Yes, this story is going to be a long sucker. Probably longer than Redux. Yes, you'll see the Redux characters. Yes, you'll see the heart of the story soon. Have I covered everything? ;)