Chapter 1: The Sidekick and the Invitation (Part 1)
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Having a beautiful girl hanging on each arm robbed him of his opportunity to slip into a chair. In fact, the tall blonde fluttering her eyelashes and the flustered blonde inching ever closer guaranteed such an opportunity would never arise. It was at this moment when yet another girl decided to join the fray and bounded into the classroom with a cry of "Ethan!" She draped her arms over the girls and leaned in close enough to make anyone blush, much to the irritation of the other two. 

What a pain in the ass that must be. 

I stretched an arm above my head as I let out a yawn, thankful that mess had nothing to do with me. No, this problem belonged solely to Ethan, who couldn’t seem to do anything except reach out longingly to his desk. I'm lucky enough to be nothing more than an onlooker to this spectacle—especially considering all the looks he was getting were either spiteful, jealous, or some mix of the two. Yeah, no thanks. I already had enough problems just being the dude's best friend. 

Our homeroom teacher entered the room, setting his coffee cup on the podium and surveying his already messy classroom. He sighed and ran a hand through his messy hair, the same routine as usual. Since I'm often the first student in the room, I'd seen this play out plenty of times before. Mr. Morrison would depart from the classroom to brew a cup of coffee in the teachers' lounge after admiring how even the rows of desks were and how immaculate the floor was. By the time he returned, the desks were misaligned, and scraps of paper, writing utensils, and crumbs littered the floor. 

"Rika…" 

"Uh-huh?" The girl unwrapped her arms from the other girls’ shoulders and placed them behind her back, trying to strike an innocent pose. It didn’t seem too effective. 

The teacher must have thought so too. "Go back to your class. The last thing I want is another call from your teacher asking if you were here again." 

Rika chuckled and gave him a salute. "Yes, sir!" 

She hurried away to the sound of some of our classmates laughing, and Mr. Morrison gulped down his coffee as though his life depended on it. And for all I knew, it might. Maybe caffeine was the only way he could put up with rowdy teenagers all day. With her gone, though, he acted quickly to re-establish control and sent everyone scrambling for their seat. 

"I'll talk to you during lunch, ok?" Ethan, for his part, nodded at the blonde's request. I imagined wind whistling between his ears as he continued to nod, more worried about finally getting to sit down than anything else. He always had been oblivious when girls were flirting with him.  

That didn’t seem to faze Amelia. There was a smile plastered across her face while she sauntered over to her desk, swaying her hips. Such a simple motion captured the rapt attention of the boys in the class. I couldn’t blame them. She always struck me as a near perfect replica of a princess from a storybook, with curly hair cascading past her shoulders, a flawless complexion, and a curvy figure. 

Her on the other hand, my gaze flickered over to the blonde glaring daggers into Ethan, not so much. The girl in question backed away from him and dropped into the chair in front of me, grumbling. Not that Nora wasn’t cute, but her appearance was a staunch contrast to Amelia’s. She had short hair barely falling past her ears and the height to match. That was ignoring her short temper as well. While I wouldn’t say she’d gotten the short end of the stick in comparison, there were a lot of little things that didn’t quite measure up. 

"Idiotic bitch. Dumb slut," Nora whispered the vulgarities to herself, grabbing a notebook from her backpack. 

And she cursed like a sailor. I couldn’t be sure whether her insults were directed at Amelia, Ethan, Rika or all of them. Once again, though, it had nothing to do with me. So, I snickered at her temper tantrum and pulled out the homework from last night as the lesson began. He could deal with his girl troubles himself; there was no way I was getting involved again, even if it wasn't the same girls from last year. My time at Lakewood Academy was not going to be a repeat of the school I transferred from. 

"You're such a creep." 

I shuddered at the memory while circling an important vocabulary term with my red pen. Guess her words from back then still stung. 

After a final swipe of my pen, I took out my textbook and turned to page thirty-eight like the teacher instructed. Awesome, another trigonometry lesson. I couldn’t wait to learn even more about cosine and sine because I was certain they would prove to have a ton of useful applications in life. Letting out a quiet groan, I nonetheless forced myself to pay attention to what Mr. Morrison was saying. He was a great teacher, but I found math so dull. And it didn’t help that Nora refused to sit still. What was her problem? 

She had been furiously scribbling in her notebook, and I knew all that wasn’t notes. There was a single problem written on the board and the teacher talked slowly. This is normally where I would be nosy and ask her about it, but not anymore. Anyone Ethan involved himself with was bad news. As such, I sat there and ignored the nagging itch to kick the back of her chair. I might have too had it been anyone less apt to smash my teeth in if I did. 

The bell rang soon enough, and I managed to slip away without anyone the wiser. Literacy class was next, a nice change of pace from all that math. The best part, however, was neither Ethan nor those girls were there to bother me. Well, except for Rika, that was. I always forgot about her because she'd usually be dead silent in class. It was a noticeable difference from her usual behavior, but she was fairly studious despite giving off the impression of being an air-head. Who knew? All I knew was the pure joy of having this class to myself and forgetting all my worries. 

I pushed through a group of people loitering in the middle of the hallway on the way to my locker. Once there, I exchanged my math book for my literacy textbook, and slammed the locker shut, jiggling the handle to ensure it locked. When I turned around, I was greeted by the cheerful form of my best friend waving at me from down the hall. On either side of him are Amelia and Nora, with Rika bringing up the rear. None of them seemed pleased that the other was there, but they all put on an act for him.  

There was only one reasonable reaction to seeing them all grouped together like that. Go the other way. 

Trusting the people between us to act as cover, I averted my gaze and continued toward literacy class. As much as I liked the guy, there was no way I was getting caught up in another group of his. It'd be better to try to grab him at the end of the day to talk. I stepped into the classroom right as the bell rang and found my seat. Scanning the instructions on the board, I went to work on the writing prompt. It was an interesting question on whether you believed in destiny or not. Apart from our mandatory reading on Plato, I didn’t know much about the philosophy of destiny. Yet, I always found it crazy to think about how life might be planned out for you, and your choices held no real meaning. Still, I couldn’t say I believed that. Too far-fetched for my tastes. 

As I was about to put pen to paper, I was pelted in the head with a crumpled-up piece of paper. A slew of giggles echoed around the classroom, attracting the teacher's attention toward me. I played it off, not so smoothly, by rubbing my chin and pretending to ponder the question. Either she bought the act, or could care less either way, but she returned to taking attendance on the computer. With a quick sigh of relief, I grabbed the paper and stuffed it onto my lap. When I was sure nobody else was paying me attention, I unfurled the wrinkled paper. I expected there to be a message since it's unlikely anyone would be immature enough to throw something across a classroom for no reason. And sure enough, something was written there. 

Meet me by the stairwell near the 500 wing after class. 

After struggling to decipher the messy writing, I couldn’t help wondering who would call me out like that. No name. No reason. Nothing but a demand. And for what purpose? The 500 wing stairwell leads upstairs, but it was blocked off by a stack of desks and broken chairs chained together at the very top. Because of this, the janitors neglected cleaning it, leaving it full of cobwebs and thick layers of dust. So why would someone go through such lengths to ask me there? What was so important that they couldn't speak to me right after class? 

I shook my head, figuring it's no use worrying about it. I'd have to find out later. 

Edit: For anyone reading this novel from the start now: Welcome, and I hope you enjoy! This novel is obviously complete now but feel free to leave a like, a comment, a question, etc. as I am still active and will respond. Always love to hear from all of you!

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