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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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!"
me back into a bear hug, Conner spoke into my ear: "Next time, I
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
my feet I walked alone towards the science building for my physics
class, focusing on trying to recall Newton's Third Law and coming
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Suzie Ryan's name was read out, and silence fell as everyone in the
room listened for the first name of this mysterious
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
I help you?" he asked in that same honeyed tone, one eyebrow raised
now as he watched her from where he stood.
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.
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.
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.
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.
pulled my schoolbag onto my back and hurried out the doorway after
Conner, forcing myself to not look back at Sebastian and his strange
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
familiar piercing giggle came from behind me, and I turned in my
seat, already dreading who I knew would be standing there.
Conner!" Amanda, Brooke's dim Best Friend for Life, grinned
toothily at Conner, ignoring me entirely.
Amanda," Conner replied, shifting uncomfortably in his seat under
her beaming gaze.
were your holidays?"
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
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!"
that's really nice of you Amanda, but I've actually already made
plans with Stella for Saturday," Conner spluttered, his expression
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
you do that, Stella?"
she asked me so nicely and all, I just couldn't say no!"
snorted, rolling his eyes at me. "You know we have to
actually go now, don't you?"
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
actually smiling? You've just doomed us both to a night in
Amanda's company, and you're smiling?"
wiped the smile off my face, knowing full well that Conner wouldn't
approve of the reason behind it.
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.
shrugged, rolling my eyes at him. He could be such a drama
queen when it came to girls.
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.
you have to do that, Stella?"
what?" I asked innocently, feigning ignorance. He wasn'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
can't hate something you've never tried," I replied flippantly,
even though I'd expressed the very same opinion countless times
rolled his eyes at me, and I shrugged. Normally I would have
backed down, but this party I actually wanted to go to.
on, it won't be that terrible. Why don't you want to go so
I answered, swallowing the lump that had suddenly appeared in my
stay away from him, okay Stella?"
Why?" I asked, confused.
just bad news."
I said, suddenly deflated. "How do you know that?"
me on this one, 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
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.
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.
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
I shrugged, attempting nonchalance.
doesn't look like nothing, to me," she replied, scrutinizing me
through narrow eyes.
sighed. "I'm just looking for clothes, Mom. You know
I haven't gone shopping in almost a year?"
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.
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.
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.
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
no, you have to go!"
groaned, but she didn't seem to get the message.
exciting, my daughter, finally going to a party..." she was talking
to herself now, mumbling as she stared at me.
been to parties before," I mumbled, but if she heard me she didn't
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
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.
she murmured after a long moment. "This won't do."
fine, Mom," I said, embarrassed by the interest she was showing in
my social life.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
it was my turn to sigh. "Okay, Mom," I groaned, painfully
aware that arguing with her would get me nowhere.
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."
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
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
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.
that's best," I agreed. "I've always got my jeans and
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
my mother agreed. We both stared at my reflection in a kind of
good, kid," the shopkeeper said before turning back to her
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
much is it?" she asked the shopkeeper, turning away from my
reflection to look at the woman.
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."
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
felt strangely guilty.
don't have to do that, Mom," I said, walking up beside her.
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
frowned at her, but decided not to argue the point; I did really love
dress, after all.
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