Chapter One

Live Fast, Fight Hard.


School bag. Drink bottle. Coffee. Banana. Phone. Phone!

Clad in socks, I slide across the length of the kitchen, grooving to silent music and a rock star is born in the soft blue light of the morning. If only someone was nearby to see it. Out of the kitchen, leap across the text books and video games on the living room floor, hurtle into my bedroom, throw my pillows and doona around, my mobile phone falls to the floor but it's happened so many times before that I'm sure it's indestructible. I dial a number without looking at the keys and hunt for my school hat. Pick up Noah, pick up.

"Morning superstar!" It's sickening how perky some people can be before ten o'clock in the morning.

"Where are you?"

"School."

"School! School! What am I going to do?"

"Drive?"

"What, the lawn mower?"

"That's an idea."

"Noah, I hate you!"

"Some say hate, others say love…"

"Drive back here right now and pick me up!"

"I tried to wake you up and the fifth time you chucked your phone at my head. And you said 'get lost.' So I did," Noah says in the voice of a witness well-prepped for interrogation.

"But you never listen to me!"

"Yes, but in keeping with my new year's resolutions, I am now."

I scream in frustration. "I'm going to have to catch the train or something!"

"Yes, that is what happens when you total your car."

I hang up on him. Useless. I pick up my school bag and slip my phone into my pocket in one swift movement and fly out the door. Once in the hallway, I slam my finger against the elevator button. A bone in my finger cracks. The elevator is five floors away.

"You know what? That's fine, I'll take the stairs." The steel grey doors glint at me, remaining firmly shut. "You know what happens to elevators that refuse to co-operate? They get taken to a scrap heap and they die." The doors maintain their steely silence, so evidently they don't care much about their impending doom. The lift arrives while I'm debating whether it will be faster to take on four flights of stairs, and for the twenty seconds in which I'm standing in the lift, I tap my foot against the carpet. That's when I realise I'm wearing no shoes. Shit.

I skate across the marble floor of the lobby (I feel sock-skating is faster than walking) and dig around in my bag for a pair of havianas. The teachers are going to kill me, the prefect who arrives perpetually late in varying states of disorder. Well, as long as I get to kill Noah first, that's fine. What kind of brother leaves their only twin at home and goes to school?

"Good morning Miss Marlow."

Ben, the doorman smiles at me. I nod and perform a weird sort of tribal hop, struggling out of my now dusty socks. Ben watches me with as much amusement as he can allow to flitter across his face. I wave at him and run out onto the street. Outside, the pavement is hot against my bare skin and though the sun is not yet high in the sky, an oppressive heat has descended upon the day. If I have to brave public transport, I'm probably going to sweat and stick to the vinyl seats and get trapped between school kids who haven't discovered the existence of deodorant. Oh, there is no punishment gruesome enough to get Noah back for this. I make my reluctant way to the train station and a molten red convertible pulls up noiselessly beside me.

"Damsel in distress?" The voice is smooth, with an undercurrent of condescension. There is only one boy I know who speaks like that. Tyler Dillon. Everything about Tyler Dillon is calculated to intimidate. He has piercing jade eyes framed by eyebrows that can lift at any moment to depress pretension. His response to anything and everything is a slight curl of his lips- a smirk that never fails to make me want to slap him. Restraining that urge now, I continue doggedly on my path, and stare straight ahead.

"Now that I've seen you, sure I'm distressed."

"Noel, you wound me. Almost, I am persuaded to ignore my better self and leave you be."

"You don't have a better self."

"A gentleman never argues with a lady."

"Assuming you're the gentleman."

"And you the lady."

"Piss off."

He laughs coldly and accelerates. I stop. It's at least another half a kilometre uphill to the train station. I have to be at school in twenty minutes. Why, oh why do I have to get into these situations? Pull yourself together Noel. I grimace and run towards Dillon's car. He must have been watching me in the rear-view mirror, because he slows down immediately. I reach him to find his smirk has grown. He puts his sunglasses on his head.

"You again? So lovely to be able to run into one's neighbours at the drop of a hat."

"Dillon?"

"Yes?" He drums his fingers against the steering wheel.

"Can, I um, well, I was wondering if…uh…"

"I refuse to let you into my car if you cannot converse intelligibly."

"Why do you have to make everything so freaking hard?"

His meets my gaze stoically. "All I ask is that you communicate with me," he drawls. "You know, I am not at all picky. You can speak in English, French, or even Mandarin, though you'll have to confine yourself to numbers, for that's all I understand."

"Dillon?"

He looks at me in mock surprise. "Why, sweet pea! How simply glorious to run into you!"

I brave the train.


After thirteen years of drilling our heads with mathematic formulae, testing us on the impact of globalisation and ensuring we can strip any quote in the English language down to metaphors, similes and hyperboles, we students are declared ready to sally forth into the world. In our thirteenth year of school, however, it occurs to those worthy ministers of our education, that perhaps the ability to recite quotes from Romeo and Juliet may not come in useful in real life. Hence, Trust Day is born. The wise students call in sick. The smart students who remember that teachers are writing their references brave the ordeal with a grimace. The forgetful students, like myself, come to school and find themselves shepherded into the school gymnasium by teachers shouting 'Trust Day' in the shrill, enthusiastic voices of people who don't believe in their cause.

"Yeah! Bring on the trust!" Jet, known to the teachers as Bridget, nudges me with a grin. I'm sitting beside her on the bleachers, rubbing my temples. From the moment I got on the train and was sandwiched between two girls avidly discussing the qualities of different brands of eye-shadow, I have known it is going to be a bad day. And if you're going to buy eyeshadow, it's got to be MAC- there's no need to ruin other peoples' train ride with a fruitless, noisy debate.

The founding philosophy of Trust Day is that we learn to trust our fellow students. Co-operation, says Mrs. Sutherland, from whose demented brain Trust Day was born, is the key to success in life. Real co-operation, she adds, as if she is preaching to convert the masses, is founded upon trust. For the first activity of the day, we are assembled into two lines. Since they feel like execution lines, I wonder whether the first test of trust is whether we have faith that the teachers aren't in a diabolical plot to kill us all.

"We're going to start with a game!" says Mrs. Sutherland, clapping her hands. I'm sure she was the kid who always sat alone in the playground while the school bully chucked apple cores at her. It's what I want to do to her now. "I want you to look at the person in front of you. That's your partner for the day!"

Oh no. This is not happening. I grab Jet's elbow and pull her towards me. "Jet, swap places with me." Jet takes one look at who is standing in front of me and shakes her head vigorously. "Come on."

"No! No way Noel, she's your friend."

"She is not my friend!" I hiss. Jet shrugs and waves happily at her partner, who is Dean, her boyfriend of one and a half years. Undoubtedly because there is some sick power with a twisted sense of humour dictating my life, I have landed Emily Clement as a partner. She stares at me with a slightly incredulous look, arms crossed, a perfectly plucked eyebrow raised.

"Everybody make your way to the blue mats over there and find a space with your partner," instructs Mrs. Sutherland with a snap of her fingers. "Quickly now."

Emily and I do as we're told. We stand facing each other, sizing each other up, oblivious to the other two hundred odd students around us. Emily's hair falls like sheets of toffee onto her shoulders. Her gaze is calculating, her smile is rigid and mechanical. She has perfect posture which flags her as a life-long ballerina even to a stranger's indifferent eyes. I had once made vegemite pies with this cold debonair girl, we had laughed at movies and made ourselves sick with popcorn and now when I look at her, hatred swells in my chest- hot, bubbling, nauseating.

"Right, is everybody ready?" Mrs. Sutherland's voice is suddenly much louder and more piercing than a whistle. She should really not be allowed to hold a megaphone. "Well, I'm sure we all know this game! I want one partner to stand behind the other, about half a metre away. And then I want the person who is in front to fall backwards for the other person to catch! Trust!" she says, with religious zeal. "Trust is the foundation upon which we must ground our relationships!"

I snort. "Life is always so ironic, isn't it Em?" Emily flinches involuntarily. She has always hated the shortening of her name. It interferes with her perception of herself as a sophisticated individual.

"Don't be ridiculous Noel." This is Emily's defence against any attack. If someone is not ready to treasure every leaf she has stepped on, if someone is ready to criticise her divine self, they must be unhinged. Her eyes sweep to my feet and the mobile eyebrow rises once more. "I see you are wearing non-regulation footwear."

"Actually, you'll find it is within regulations if you are suffering from a foot condition." Emily stares at my healthy looking feet. "I have a terrible condition. My skin starts shedding like leaves in autumn if you touch it."

"Don't be ridiculous," she repeats with not much originality, but plenty of disgust.

"Come on everyone! Surrender yourselves to the wonder of the unknown!" Brilliant. Mrs. Sutherland is a closet poet.

"Will you go first or shall I?" demands Emily. Her primary talent is her ability to deceive anybody, and thanks to this well-honed skill she has been elected to be the female head prefect. I'm sure she doesn't want to jeopardise this oh-so sacrosanct position, otherwise she wouldn't propose to be within a metre of me, with or without the hypothetical skin condition.

"I will. I'm not sure if I can take your weight." It's a low hit, but it is oddly satisfying to see colour flush into those cold features.

I stand with my back to Emily, square my shoulders and take a deep breath. To a girl who has spent seventeen years enduring the progressively dangerous practical jokes of Noah Marlow, surrendering myself to Emily Clement is nothing. Of course, she will catch me. Emily never flagrantly disobeys teachers, she is far too intelligent for that. I shoot a furtive look over my shoulder. Emily is standing with her arms by her sides, looking indifferent.

"What's the matter? Think I can't take your weight?"

A girl beside me falls into the arms of a boy with a squeal of delight. Right, if a girl who squeals like a pig can do this, so can I. I shut my eyes and let myself fall. I think it occurs to me after about half a second that Emily isn't behind me. I hit the mat with a loud thud. I lie with my eyes still closed. Pain shoots up my spine, distorting my thoughts. Why am I...Emily, did she let me fall? I sit up slowly, my hand on the small of my back.

"Oops," Emily giggles with one manicured hand over her mouth. Pain forgotten, I leap to my feet.

"What the hell was that?" I push her shoulders and Emily staggers but she maintains her calm.

"Guess I must have just missed you."

I shove her again. "What's your problem? Are you demented in the brain? Do you get some twisted kick out of watching other people suffer?"

Emily rams her shoulder into mine. "Don't touch me!"

She walks past me. A ray of light filters through the windows and hits her hair, it glints golden and an inexplicable fire rages through me. I yank a handful of that too-perfect hair and Emily's scream cuts across the laughter and chatter of the other students.

"Don't you dare walk away from me!" I yell.

Emily turns. She is trembling but her expression is one of mingled disgust and fury. Then her mouth opens and I don't hear what she says, and in the next instant she leaps forward. For the second time that morning, I'm free-falling, and once again, my back hits the blue gym mat. I don't have time to think, someone else's strength flows into me and I throw Emily off me, a torrent of words escaping my mouth- everything I've wanted to say for the last two months and I can't hear a thing because Emily is screaming at me, her face white with rage. I feel the sting crawl across my cheek before I realise Emily has slapped me and Noah's voice echoes in my head- 'concentrate your attack', so I ball my hand into a fist and take a swing at her. I hit Emily's chin and I think it hurts me more than her but it doesn't matter. Her eyes widen, she runs at me again, but this time I'm prepared- I grab her shoulders and my leg lifts and in the spirit of defence I knee her stomach. A manic laugh gurgles from my mouth. Emily, Emily attacked me, oh God, what the hell am I doing?

"Girls! Girls! Stop!" Mrs. Sutherland has fought her way to our side. One glance at her face, blotched red with anger, is enough to sober me. Emily is doubled over, clutching her stomach. "I have never been so shocked and disappointed by my students." Then she speaks the words of doom. "Principal's office, now!"


Mr. Carter drops our school files onto the desk. "Please explain."

It's one of those moments when your brain is fighting with your mouth-speak, speak, it screams, but your tongue has dropped off the circuit. I stare at my hands, lacing and unlacing my fingers. What should I say? Sorry Mr. Carter, your head prefect is a cut-throat bitch and I thought she should be taken out? It's not the truth, but it would be fun to see his incredulous reaction. Emily sits so straight it's as if an electric volt has flashed through her. She stares vacantly ahead. I wonder if this is how she'll look before she dies- quietly furious because she couldn't manipulate events in her favour.

"I am giving you an opportunity to explain this extraordinary behaviour. It would be best for both of you if you speak."

"Mr. Carter," I say, with no clear idea how to finish. I just don't want to give Emily the chance to speak. "I'm really sorry. It won't happen again." Looking as if someone has ripped off her toenails, Emily nods.

"I should hope not, but that fails to explain why two of our most talented and valued students were attacking each other." He pauses, looking intently at our faces. "Especially two students who I believed to be friends."

"One friend has been recognised within the school for her leadership skills. One has not. Such things have been known to divide friendships before," explains Emily, meeting Mr. Carter's quiet gaze. I clutch the armrests of my chair.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Language, please, Noel."

I lean back in my chair and cross my arms. "She's making it up. I don't care who's head prefect."

Mr. Carter's gaze travels from Emily's stoic face to my outraged one. "Look, I'm going to be honest with you. I have no idea what has come between you, but whatever it is, it does not warrant violent, I might even say, demeaning conduct. We are a prestigious institution and we value good behaviour in our students. I am well aware that this is the first incident of this nature for both of you. I am not going to punish you." Emily lets out an audible sigh. Mr. Carter's lips twitch. "But I am going to take measures to ensure this doesn't happen again. You are both members of the prefect body. I want to see evidence that you two are working harmoniously together. You will also both see the school counsellor, individually to begin with, and then as a pair. I will be keeping an eye on you. That is all." Understanding ourselves to be dismissed, we stand up and walk towards the door. "Noel, will you please stay for a moment?"

Emily smirks triumphantly and leaves. Inexplicably, I feel guilty, and I say "sure!" in a neurotic kind of way. I sit down again.

"You are always very forthright. Is there anything you think I should know?" I shake my head. I feel it will be the height of stupidity to say 'she started it'- though it is the truth. "All right," he continues. "I'm afraid I'll have to put you on probation as a prefect."

"What?" I splutter. "Why?"

"It's for reasons wholly unrelated to what has happened this morning. I've been looking at your file. You have arrived late every day this term. You are not wearing your school shoes today. Emily lodged a complaint against you yesterday. She says you have not been attending to your prefect duties. Is this true?"

"No! Well, I got Jet, I mean Bridget Pacey to do my last duty because I had something on, but I'm doing hers this week…" It sounds flimsy, even to me.

"I see. Well, you are on probation for two weeks. This school looks to its prefects to be role models and leaders for the entire student body. I shall decide in two weeks whether you are worthy of that privilege. That is all."

Outside, Emily Clement has been waiting for me. I note with satisfaction that a bruise is stretching like spilt ink beneath her pale skin. I must remember to thank Noah for his tip later. We walk noiselessly out of the reception room and in the safety of the hallway, Emily mutters, "This isn't over."

"Wouldn't dream of it, Em."

That back-stabbing, manipulative little viper is going down.