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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2130283
by DeNine
Rated: 18+ · Novel · Young Adult · #2130283
Stella wakes from dreams, New mystery man at school, best friend has a deep secret.

WHAT AM I?



Chapter 1



I stared up at Niceville High, a knot of worry settling in my stomach as I considered another year of school stuck there. Not for the first time, I wished I'd stayed at home in bed.

Only the thought of having more weird dreams about random guys got me out of bed and of course seeing my best friend for the first time after eight long weeks of being separated moved me forward, into the masses of students reuniting after the summer holidays.

I tried to tune out my chattering classmates as I searched over their heads, looking for his face. It didn't take me long to spot him towering over the rest of the crowd, and I wondered grumpily if he'd grown again since I'd seen him last year. His gaze searched the crowd too, scanning the faces of our peers, seeking mine.

Waving my arm over my head, I wished - not for the first time - that I was taller than my five feet and four inches, and I grew increasingly impatient as he continued to look in every direction but mine.

After what seemed like an age, his gaze finally fell on my waving arm, and his face broke into a familiar grin. Striding through the crowd, students stumbled hurriedly out of his way, clearing a pathway between us. I returned his grin enthusiastically, throwing my arms around his neck. Conner hugged my tightly, lifting my feet off the ground and fighting laughter as I struggled against his bear hug. After several long moments he released me, and I sucked in air, wondering if he'd left bruises across my ribs--it wouldn't be the first time. Leaning into him, I punched him lightly on the arm.

"Don't think you're ever leaving me again!" I pouted; putting on what I imagined was my sternest voice. He laughed, ruffling my hair with his hands.

"You take it up with Matthew next time he feels the need to go on an overseas adventure with me in tow. You know what he's like, love, there really wasn't any arguing with him once he'd made up his mind about Europe," he chuckled again, apparently amused by the pout on my face.

"Take me with you next time then," I whined, glaring up at him, fuming. "It's not like I wouldn't have gone with you, you could have at least told me you were leaving. I almost died of boredom home alone all summer!"

Pulling me back into a bear hug, Conner spoke into my ear: "Next time, I promise."

Pushing him away I poked my tongue out insolently, but it wasn't long before my cheeks tugged the corners of my mouth back into a smile; I hadn't realized just how much I'd missed him.

"Good," I grinned, having gotten my way so easily. I wasn't really mad at him anyway, not after I hadn't seen him for two long months. Linking my arm with his, I dragged Conner through the crowd and towards the school. I made it halfway there before I saw him, standing alone by the huge double doors into the main foyer, a piece of paper in one hand and a schoolbag in the other.

I glanced around me and realized that I wasn't the only one who was staring; we didn't get a lot of new students to our school. Two girls I'd known since prep were whispering behind their hands to each other, their eyes glued to this new addition to our peer group.

I could certainly see what drew their stares along with the majority of the other students standing around--he was unlike anyone I'd ever seen in our tiny town; with skin the color of milk and dark hair that was so perfectly messy it couldn't possibly be accidental. He was tall and lean, on the verge of looking unhealthy, and dark, bruise like semi-circles sat under his eyes, as if he hadn't slept in weeks. His jaw was sharply angled, and his cheekbones were high and obvious under his perfectly unblemished, pale, almost translucent complexion.

All of these things combined made him undeniably the most beautiful person I had ever seen, and my breath caught as I surveyed his elegant features. He stared across the student body with a slight scowl marring his features, as if starting at a new school bored him.

I felt a tugging at my sleeve and I dragged my gaze from his angelic perfection to face Conner. I felt irritation cross my face but quickly suppressed it at Conner's expression, his eyes tight as he stared up at the new boy, his brow creased. I only had a moment to wonder what the reason behind his stare was, before the first bell rang, signaling five minutes until the start of classes.

Carefully arranging my features into a blank expression, I linked back up with Conner and moved forwards past the whispering girls and their sullen looking boyfriends, towards the main doors. Making sure not to look at him, I strode past where the new boy stood and into the main building, pulling Conner with me. As we walked through the doors I couldn't help but wonder how this boy with his airbrushed features would impact on life at Niceville High; it was obvious already that the whole school would be talking about him.

Walking to the notice board across the room I quickly checked my classes against Conner's and was dismayed to find that we shared only two; literature and history.

Dragging my feet I walked alone towards the science building for my physics class, focusing on trying to recall Newton's Third Law and coming up blank.

Arriving at the cramped science room, I peered in to see my least favorite teacher, Mr. Momohara, setting up what looked unmistakably like a slideshow. A disappointed sigh escaped my lips, and I backed away from the door, looking for any excuse not to enter the room.

After several minutes of watching my classmates walk past me with identical resigned expressions on their faces, I decided that I'd left it long enough, and turned to drag myself into the classroom.

Walking through the doorway I could almost feel the weight of the stares of everyone in the room turned to watch me, and I felt hot blood rush to my face. I stared at my feet, instantly regretting waiting so long to go in. I made it halfway to my seat at the back of the classroom before I realized I wasn't, in fact, the object of everyone's attention. I turned where I stood to see the boy from earlier standing in the doorway, the same bored expression he'd had outside the school playing across his face as he looked briefly over the classroom before turning to Mr Momohara, handing him a slip of paper.

"Ah, Mr. DeNine," he said gruffly, his eyes passing over the boy and stopping at his face, his expression slightly taken aback. "I trust you have the necessary literature?" he asked, nodding approvingly at the textbooks the boy pulled from his schoolbag. "Take a seat wherever you like then, and let me know if you're having any trouble with the coursework," he droned, turning his attention to the roll on his desk and proceeding to bark each name down the list.

Realizing that I was still standing staring at the new boy, I quickly moved to take my seat at the back of the classroom. Pulling my books from my bag, I answered my name as it was called, and waited as he moved down the list towards the S's while I watched the new boy out of the corner of my eye.

He walked down the aisle to take the seat in front of mine, and I couldn't control the feeling of disappointment as his eyes slid over me without stopping. He sat down and I knew that I wasn't the only person sneaking glances at him, waiting for Mr. Momohara to read his name off the roll.

Finally, Suzie Ryan's name was read out, and silence fell as everyone in the room listened for the first name of this mysterious boy.

"Sebastian DeNine?"

The classroom was silent as everyone turned to stare at Sebastian, fitting this name to the newest addition to our year level. He looked up from his textbook, the bored expression never leaving his face.

"Present," he answered, in a voice like honey, and I couldn't stop myself from gaping at the way that one word seemed to ring around the room. I glanced around, and was relieved to see that I wasn't the only one wide eyed and staring.

For several seconds the classroom was silent, then Mr. Momohara called out the next name on the roll, and the chatter of my classmates started up again slowly, and within a minute it appeared that everyone had forgotten about Sebastian. The only giveaway was that every few minutes someone would turn in their chair unsubtly to sneak a glance at him. I even saw Mr. Momohara staring at him a few times, failing to keep the curiosity out of his expression.

I stared at the back of Sebastian's head, rolling the name around inside my own. Sebastian. I smiled to myself, nodding mentally. He definitely looked like a Sebastian. For the rest of the class I couldn't make myself concentrate on my physics work, I just sat watching him, transfixed.

The bell sounded for the end of the period and I gathered my things together, taking my time as I watched Sebastian from the corner of my eye, even pausing by the doorway, shamelessly pretending to search through my bag for something. From the corner of my eye I saw Brooke Dawson--one of the "popular" girls in our grade--sauntering slowly up to his desk.

Standing in front of him, she brushed a lock of blonde hair out of her eyes, and I could barely suppress a chuckle as I watched her growing impatience, the seconds ticking as he failed to acknowledging her. Clearing her throat she rested her hands on her hips, annoyance flitting across her perfectly balanced--and in my opinion, perfectly bland--symmetrical features.

Finally he looked up at her, and I could see her quiet outrage as his bored expression didn't change in response to her long legs and blonde hair.

"Can I help you?" he asked in that same honeyed tone, one eyebrow raised now as he watched her from where he stood.

"Oh, well, I just wanted to introduce myself, my name's Rachel, Rachel Dawson," she said, her usually confident giggle coming out a squeak. "Um, if you need someone to show you around or anything..." she trailed off, her pale cheeks flushing as she seemed to forget what it was she'd intended to say.

"Bye," she said after a moment, staring at him for a second before turning away. I watched her walk briskly past me out of the classroom and this time didn't quite manage to suppress a laugh.

Sebastian turned where he was standing to stare at me, and I was shocked by the color of his eyes: a clear gray, quite unlike anything I'd ever seen before. The corners of his mouth twitched up, and I found myself returning his smile. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but stopped, his eyes locked behind me, all traces of laughter instantly gone from his face.

I turned and saw Conner standing in the doorway. His face was stormy as he stared back at Sebastian, his jaw set at right angles. I looked from one to the other, confused at this mutual animosity. I felt my face burning as they turned their stares on me; Conner beckoning me to the doorway and Sebastian with an almost vacant expression that I didn't understand.

I pulled my schoolbag onto my back and hurried out the doorway after Conner, forcing myself to not look back at Sebastian and his strange gray eyes.

As I walked to the canteen with Conner, I could feel his gaze focused intently on me. "What?" I snapped, feeling oddly on edge, trying to get the image of Sebastian's staring eyes out of my mind.

"So you met the new student then?" Conner asked casually, casting a quick glance behind us, back towards the classroom. Following his gaze I saw Sebastian standing in the hallway, watching us, and a shiver ran through my body. Something about his penetrating gaze was really creepy.

"Not exactly," I shrugged. "I haven't spoken to him or anything. I saw him reject Rachel Dawson though," I grinned, an image of her stricken face flashing through my mind. "What was with look he was giving you, though?" I asked, tilting my head to look at him. "I mean, you've never met him before, have you?"

Conner's face gave nothing away, and he just shrugged his shoulders. "I don't think so. He didn't seem very friendly though, did he?" He laughed quietly; a strangely dark sound.

We arrived at the large hall where the canteen was and moved to our usual table next to the wall. I sat with my back to the rest of the school as they took their own seats, and Conner dropped onto the bench across the table from me. I looked around at the laughing groups of our peers and smiled to myself; Conner was all the friendship I needed.

A familiar piercing giggle came from behind me, and I turned in my seat, already dreading who I knew would be standing there.

"Hi Conner!" Amanda, Brooke's dim Best Friend for Life, grinned toothily at Conner, ignoring me entirely.

"Hello Amanda," Conner replied, shifting uncomfortably in his seat under her beaming gaze.

"How were your holidays?"

"Conner went to England with his big brother!" I enthusiastically provided before Conner could so much as open his mouth. Amanda's eyes darted to me momentarily before they settled back on Conner.

"Wow! England? That's super interesting!" she bubbled, directing her words to Conner as if he'd been the one to answer her question. I watched her incredulously; amazed at the way her painted red lips drew back over her teeth as she spoke in an uninterrupted smile. "Anyway," she continued, barely pausing for breath, "I'm throwing this huge party on Saturday, and it'd be so super if you could come!"

"Oh, that's really nice of you Amanda, but I've actually already made plans with Stella for Saturday," Conner spluttered, his expression stricken.

"Well, Stella's totally invited too, of course," Amanda said, still managing to ignore me. The pause before she'd answered was barely noticeable, but her eyebrows had drawn slightly lower over her eyes as she'd said it.

"We'd love to come!" I said, grinning at Conner across the table. He stared back at me, his expression pained. Amanda pouted for a moment at her conversation being interrupted a second time, but then she grinned, apparently realizing that she'd gotten her way.

"Super! Umm, I'll see you on Saturday then! Bye Conner!" She turned without a second glance at me, and I poked my tongue out at her back as she ran off to join Brooke. Girls like Amanda were the reason I'd hated the first seven years of my schooling. Frizzy red hair and glasses hadn't exactly made me popular with that crowd in primary school, and it only took a few people thinking you were a weirdo and before long the whole grade thought so too. In the past couple of years I'd swapped the glasses for contacts and discovered the hair straightener, but by that point I think it had been written too deeply into my genetic makeup to have any real effect.

Conner, on the other hand, was an entirely different case. When I'd first met him, he was a gangly twelve-year-old with acne and one of the worst bowl-cuts I've ever seen. In the past five years, he'd grown about a foot and filled out in the chest and shoulders. He'd even found a decent hairdresser who'd managed to tame his golden curls into something that seemed to make most girls swoon. It didn't make any difference to me of course, he was still the same gawky twelve year old in my eyes, but the rest of the girls in our year seemed to have different ideas.

Amanda wasn't the only girl who'd been coming up to Conner and inviting him to all kinds of things, but whether it was one-on-one movie dates or crowded parties, his reply was always the same. I asked him why he adamantly refused every girl who asked, even the ones who weren't Barbie dolls, but he just said that he wasn't interested. This answer always made me roll my eyes and insist that he was a boy, so if a pretty girl asked him out then there was no such thing as "not interested". But he just laughed and said that one day I'd understand.

Conner was far from laughing right now though; in fact he looked fairly peeved. I just grinned, drawing my lips back over my teeth as far as they'd go and batting my eyelashes at him in my best imitation of Amanda. Apparently he didn't find it as funny as I did.

"Why'd you do that, Stella?"

"Well she asked me so nicely and all, I just couldn't say no!"

He snorted, rolling his eyes at me. "You know we have to actually go now, don't you?"

"It was worth it," I replied defiantly, but already I was regretting opening my mouth. Just the thought of going to one of Amanda's parties was painful. A sudden idea popped into my head, and I grinned unwittingly.

"You're actually smiling? You've just doomed us both to a night in Amanda's company, and you're smiling?"

I wiped the smile off my face, knowing full well that Conner wouldn't approve of the reason behind it.

"Oh come on, it'll be fun, just for the experience of it," I replied lightly, trying to pull him out of his gloom. He was no fun to be around like this.

"Whatever, Stella."

I shrugged, rolling my eyes at him. He could be such a drama queen when it came to girls.





Chapter 2



Conner always walked my home from school, even when he didn't want to. This was one of those days. We walked in silence, which was unusual for us. He was still annoyed at me for accepting Amanda's invitation on his behalf. His silence didn't upset me, mainly it was just irritating. I wasn't about to speak first though; I'd never been one for breaking silences. And besides, Conner had never been mad enough to ignore me for long. So we walked side by side, neither of us saying a word. It wasn't long before he broke.

"Why'd you have to do that, Stella?"

"Do what?" I asked innocently, feigning ignorance. He wasn't having it.

"Don't play dumb Stella, it doesn't suit you."

I snorted, shooting him my filthiest look, but he ignored it.

"You know how much I hate those things."

"You can't hate something you've never tried," I replied flippantly, even though I'd expressed the very same opinion countless times before.

He rolled his eyes at me, and I shrugged. Normally I would have backed down, but this party I actually wanted to go to.

"Come on, it won't be that terrible. Why don't you want to go so badly?"

"X"Yeah?" I answered, swallowing the lump that had suddenly appeared in my throat.

"Just stay away from him, okay Stella?"

"What? Why?" I asked, confused.

"He's just bad news."

"Oh," I said, suddenly deflated. "How do you know that?"

"Trust me on this one, okay?"

"Okay, Conner." I laughed, but it sounded hollow, even to my own ears. "It's not like I had any plans to be friends with him or anything."

"Good," he replied, and I nodded vaguely into the receiver. There was silence on the other end of the line, and I knew he was waiting for me to speak. "Um, I'll see you tomorrow then," he said when I remained quiet.

"Yeah, bye Conner." I hung up the phone and threw it to the end of my bed, fighting the temptation to call him back and demand to know what he was talking about.

I was halfway through emptying the entire contents of my wardrobe onto the floor when my mother knocked on my door, sticking her head tentatively through. "What on earth are you doing?" she asked, her eyes widening in alarm as she glanced around my room. I followed her gaze and shuddered at the thought of packing everything away when I was finished; it looked like a clothing bomb had exploded.

"Nothing," I shrugged, attempting nonchalance.

"It doesn't look like nothing, to me," she replied, scrutinizing me through narrow eyes.

I sighed. "I'm just looking for clothes, Mom. You know I haven't gone shopping in almost a year?"

"I know, you always refuse when I offer to buy you new things," she nodded, rolling her eyes.

"Does this mean you want to go shopping together?" She grinned enthusiastically at me and I tried not to make a face.

"No offence Mom, but not really. Anyway, it'd be too late by the time we went anyway." Her eyes lit up when I said that, and I knew I'd let too much slip.

"Too late for what?" She gasped, and I could see the cogs turning in her mind as a thought occurred to her. "Stella, do you have a date?" The excitement in her voice was palpable, and I grimaced, hot blood rushing to my cheeks.

"Of course not, Mom, it's just a stupid party. I might not even go." I squeezed my eyes shut, wishing that she'd leave me alone.

"Oh, no, you have to go!"

I groaned, but she didn't seem to get the message.

"How exciting, my daughter, finally going to a party..." she was talking to herself now, mumbling as she stared at me.

"I've been to parties before," I mumbled, but if she heard me she didn't show it.

"What are you going to wear?" she said suddenly, snapping out of her daze. She stepped into my room, carefully tiptoeing around the clothes that were scattered across the floor to stand beside me.

She stood staring into my wardrobe, much the same as I had just a couple of minutes earlier. From the look on her face, she was finding it just about as inspiring as I had.

"No," she murmured after a long moment. "This won't do."

"Its fine, Mom," I said, embarrassed by the interest she was showing in my social life.

"Fine? Of course it's not fine, Stella!" She threw her hands above her head with a theatrically exasperated sigh. "What were you going to wear, your ratty old jeans and a t-shirt?"

I shrugged, trying not to glance at my bed, where my favorite pair of denims and a faded grey fitted tee sat neatly folded: the only near suitable thing I'd scrounged from my wardrobe.

She sighed again, and I sat down on my bed, beginning to wonder whether it would just be easier to pull out of the party after all.

"Well, I guess we will have to go shopping, after all," she said, crossing her arms over her chest with an expression she often wore around me, specifically when she expected me to be difficult.

Now it was my turn to sigh. "Okay, Mom," I groaned, painfully aware that arguing with her would get me nowhere.

"Good," she grinned, and a dried flake of paint cracked on her cheek before falling to the floor. She didn't seem to notice. "Tomorrow it is, then."

I watched her walk out of my room with a familiar feeling of dread that always settled over me whenever she forced her way. I was definitely beginning to regret accepting Amanda's invitation in the first place.





Two days and countless shops later, we still hadn't made any headway, and the mother-daughter time was definitely starting to take its toll. I was standing in front of a mirror in yet another outfit that looked like it would be better suited to a character out of some bad 80's sit com when my mother came up beside me, eyeing me critically.

"No, that's not it either," she murmured, and I rolled my eyes in agreement. "Maybe we'd better call it a day," she said. Her tone uncertain.

"Maybe that's best," I agreed. "I've always got my jeans and tee."

She grimaced, her expression pained. I grinned, changing quickly back into my favorite overalls and hurrying out of the shop. My mother trailed behind me, the corners of her mouth turned down and her feet dragging along the pavement.

About a block from the shop I realized that I couldn't hear the dragging of feet from behind me, and I turned around, groaning inwardly at what I saw. My mother was standing out the front of a vintage store about 50 meters behind me, motioning frantically for me to join her. I sighed, trudging back in the direction I'd just come from, already worn out and cranky from the long hours we'd spend shopping fruitlessly.

My resolve changed though, when I looked through the shop window to what my mother was pointing at. I gaped at the mannequin in the display, or, more accurately, at the dress it wore. Spaghetti straps across the shoulders held up a modest bust that pulled tightly in at the waist before flowing out into a wide, elegant skirt of the same almost metallic purple fabric. Short enough as to not be too formal, but long enough to maintain my well preserved dignity, I knew that it was exactly what I had been looking for. I strode into the shop, shocked that I had almost missed this. The shopkeeper, a trendy woman who looked to be in her mid-to-late thirties, pulled the dress delicately off the mannequin while my mother stood behind me, almost crooning in her excitement.

I took the dress into the change room, declining my mother's offer of accompaniment. I slipped it on, careful not to catch it on anything. I opened the door without looking in the mirror, preferring to see my mother's reaction first, trusting her fashion sense more than my own.

Her mouth fell open, and for what must have been a full two seconds she stood staring at me, taking me in, it seemed. Then she grabbed my arm, dragging me to stand in front of a full length mirror.

"Wow," I breathed, stunned at the way the dress seemed to hug my body in all the right places, accentuating what were mere lumps under my usual clothes, turning them into actual curves.

"Wow," my mother agreed. We both stared at my reflection in a kind of awed silence.

"Looks good, kid," the shopkeeper said before turning back to her magazine.

I grinned widely at my mother, ecstatic that our hours of searching had actually paid off. She smiled back at me, and I guessed she was mainly just happy that I wasn't going to wear my jeans to the party.

"How much is it?" she asked the shopkeeper, turning away from my reflection to look at the woman.

"That one," she began, drawing out the "O" in one so that the word lasted several seconds as she looked up the item on her computer. "That one's 160."

"A hundred and sixty dollars?" I asked, stricken. None of the clothes I'd ever owned have even come near to costing that much. I turned to my mother, whose expression mirrored my own. My heart sank, and I knew that so much money was out of the question. I looked back at the mirror, trying to find fault with the dress; anything that would make it less attractive to me.

"Well," I mumbled, doing my best to convince myself. "It is a bit too short, I suppose. I wouldn't want to show up looking like a tart." I sighed, feeling entirely unconvinced.

My mother was silent behind me, and I turned to her, expecting to be bombarded with reasons that $160 was too much money. I was prepared, and already resigned. It was too much money to spend on a dress, anyway. Her expression wasn't what I'd expected though, and she looked almost torn. Almost as if she was considering it.

"Oh, please mom," I started, taking advantage whatever momentary consideration she was allowing herself, knowing that it wouldn't last long. "Considering how often I buy clothes, it really isn't much. I'll start doing extra around the house, I'll even cook you dinner."

She sighed, but remained silent. I was confused; she wasn't putting up any of the usual arguments reserved for when I wanted something outside of the household budget. It'd taken me months of persuading to get her to upgrade our black and white television to a color one a couple of years ago, and that was for both of us. I understood, of course; when you're selling your art for money and working at a day care center, money doesn't exactly grow on trees. I never really expected her to actually buy the dress, I mean, money like that could pay for two weeks worth of groceries which is why I was so shocked when she pulled her wallet out of her bag and moved to the counter.

"Will credit be fine?" Her voice sounded wary, like it did when we'd just had an argument, and I realized she must have been arguing with herself.

I felt strangely guilty.

"You don't have to do that, Mom," I said, walking up beside her.

She turned to me, and there was a happy smile on her face. "Of course I do, Stella. That's what I'm here for, silly girl."

I frowned at her, but decided not to argue the point; I did really love dress, after all.

"Thanks Mom! I'll clean the whole house for a month," I promised as I closed the door into the change room and pulled the dress over my head. I stood staring at it, waiting for the feeling of glee at getting such a gorgeous dress to overcome the guilt that bubbled under my skin as I listened to my mother typing her pin number into the machine.





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