CHAPTER ONE

"You know, I've always wanted to go to one of those escape room. Be like a detective, you know?"

I squinted warily at my best friend. "You? Solving a mystery?"

"What?" he sounded insulted. "I could be a great detective."

"Jonas, you once called me over to pick your lock because you forgot your key was in your back pocket."

"I was ten!"

"You were stupid."

"Speaking of stupid, why are we sitting out here?"

"Because my roommate jacked up the thermostat too far. I'd rather be too cold than too hot."

"And why am I here?"

"Cause you're an idiot."

We were in the first month of winter, sitting on a bench outside our university's library. Even though snow had not reached us yet, it was cold enough that Jonas was wearing his gawking white jacket, which contrasted his ebony skin and bushy black hair, and thick black snow pants to ward off the freeze. We were drinking our hot coffee out of environmentally unfriendly plastic cups, because the environmentally friend place closed before dusk and we weren't about to walk an extra 10 minutes in the freezing cold.

I asked, "Aren't escape rooms expensive?"

"Shouldn't be that bad."

I took out my phone and did a quick Google search. "It's twenty dollars per person. Or fifty per hour of game."

"So if we have three people, that'd be perfect, yeah?"

"Jonas, we have no other friends."

"That's because you're butt ugly."

"My butt looks fine."

We both took simultaneous sips from our cups and let out audible sighs of warmth. Mist of dragon's breath escape out lips.

Jonas suggested, "Why don't we ask someone from our classes to join us?"

"It's the examination period. They're mostly hunkering down."

That might not have been the case in most universities, but ours were slightly more elite in its student body than others. Only the nerdiest of nerds got in.

"Why aren't we studying? Aren't we nerds too?" He adjusted his glasses.

"Yeah, but we're cool nerds."

"And what are those?"

"Ones who rush into the examination room in the last second; Freak out constantly during the test; only to ace it after weeks of anxiety waiting for the results."

"Huh. Cool. That does sound like us."

"Yup. Gotta stay within the status quo."

Another sip of our drinks. This time, the misty breath was lessened by the cooling of the coffee. It was almost warm now. The trees had all lost their leaves, but the remains of them littered the ground without snow to give them proper burial. The night sky was clear with the moon scratching the edge of the building where the last of the sunlight beamed out of.

"What about that new girl in class?

"Who?"

"You know, the one that only joined us last month? At the end of autumn."

"Carpenter?"

I watched as his albino eyes danced from light blue to a shade of pink as he rolled them around to think.

"Yeah, that's the one."

"What about her?"

"Maybe she'd be our third wheel? Split the cost?"

"Why would you ask a practical stranger to go out with us?"

Jonas shrugged. "New kid. Must be lonely, you know?"

We were all new kids once. Eventually though, we grew out of it; made friends. But that was a two-way street. Someone had to open the door and another willing to walk through it for that kind of connection to happen.

"Speaking of..." Jonas gestured his head to the library's entrance.

The girl our age with hair of silver, walked out of the great double oak doors. Her head was buried in a book that was up-side down. We Lost the Sky by Marie Howalt. Unlike us who were on the verge of warmth and shivers in our coats, she wore just a simple cyan long sleeved shirt and mud-brown culottes, seemingly impervious to the winter weather. Her hair was a dirty blonde waving to her shoulders and even from that distance, I could tell her eyes were a silver blue.

"What a coincidence,"

Jonas noted before going back to his drink. Despite having offered the suggestion of asking her, he was obviously not really interested. Just making conversation, as one was bound to do.

"Hey, Carpenter!" I called out.

The girl either was ignoring me or did not hear me.

Jonas asked, "What are you doing?"

Ignoring him, I shouted louder. "Winter Carpenter!"

She stopped. Her head pivot up from her book and her silver eyes scanned the surroundings like a machine. Soon, she landed on my waving hand.

"We're planning to go the an escape room. Wanna join?"