The first day of school was hell. I hadn’t wanted to get out of bed, but nobody in history had ever gotten their parents to let them stay home on the first day. I dreaded listening to the gossips today. They’d all be talking about recent hook-ups, which meant they’d be talking about Bryan and Ange. How would I ever live through the day?
At least this year, my parents were finally letting me drive to school. They were only allowing it because I was responsible for picking Meiyu up from our godparents’ place, but to me, it meant I could escape anywhere I wanted. If Meiyu and I were stuck at home by ourselves feeling afraid, I could whisk her away from the strays to a place where we felt safer.
As I drove to school, I felt Adam’s stare from the passenger side. “What?” I asked rather crankily.
He shrugged, returning his gaze to the front. “You just seem to be in a bad mood.”
“Bad mood doesn’t even cover half of it,” I muttered, feeling sorry for myself.
“You don’t have to come with me to the office if you don’t want to.”
“I already said I would,” I snapped. Then I breathed out, evening my tone. “Sorry.” I shouldn’t be taking out my frustration on Adam. “I’ll walk with you. You don’t know where your classes are.”
“It’s a small school. I’ll figure it out.”
“You’ll need me to introduce you to people,” I said. “It’s my duty as the junior class vice president.”
“I decided I had too much going on, so it had to be vice president,” I said, with a side look at him. He was grinning, and I realized he was only teasing.
“You sure are involved.” He ticked off my various activities on his hand. “Captain of the girls’ swim team, junior class VP, straight A student. Do you also fly and save babies from burning buildings?”
“Haha, no. But I am in Linguistics Club and semi-involved in Volunteers for Life and Math Club.”
“You must not ever want to go home.” I knew Adam was joking, but he actually had hit on the truth. I filled my afternoons with various activities just so I wouldn’t have to go home to an empty house and live in fear.
As soon as we got to campus, people were already whispering. I perked my ears up in the hallway, as I walked with Adam to the administration building. He wanted to finalize some of his classes at the office, and hopefully add photography as one of his electives.
When we reached the office, Sally Perkins and Calinda Mulbery were outside updating each other on the latest summer gossip. They were the school’s biggest busybodies, nosing around in everyone’s business.
“Did you hear?” Sally exclaimed to Calinda. “There’s a new kid who’s supposed to be really weird.”
I glanced at Adam, and he raised an eyebrow. I wondered if these girls knew the new kid was walking right next to me.
Calinda saw us and smiled sheepishly, muttering to Sally through clenched teeth, “He’s right there.”
“I don’t mean the hot new kid,” Sally said, tossing Adam a slightly flirtatious smile. He sent me a smug shrug, as if to say, I can’t help being me. “I meant the other kid, the girl.” Sally bent her head low as though conspiring, and I couldn’t quite hear the rest.
Another new student. I wondered who she was. The mystery didn’t last long though. As I waited for Adam outside the office, a girl with long, disheveled chocolate-brown hair came out the door. She held what looked like a comic book in front of her, reading as she walked, and was so focused on it that she didn’t see me standing there. Before I could move out of the way, we collided. While I remained steadily grounded, she, being several inches shorter and a good ten pounds lighter, was uprooted.
“Are you all right?” I exclaimed, helping her up.
She nodded, not meeting my eyes. From behind us, Sally and Calinda were still sitting there watching. “She’s the one,” Sally whispered. “Emma Hartley. Are those comic books she’s reading?”
Not comic books, but manga. I recognized the design of the covers, since I’d read plenty of those before my drama phase.
“They’re called manga,” Emma spoke up. Whoa, I hadn’t expected her to actually correct them.
Calinda and Sally started laughing to themselves. “What a weirdo,” Sally remarked. “I heard she mutters to herself too.”
I scowled, intending to give them a piece of my mind. “Stop judging people. It’s not like you don’t have your own quirks. I see you picking your nose when you think no one’s looking, Sally. And you, Calinda, stuffing your bra in the locker room.”
The two of them gasped in outrage, but they had nothing to say, since I spoke the truth. They knew better than to mess with me. I wasn’t in the stereotypically snobby and ditzy popular clique like them, but I was definitely more well-liked among the majority of the student body. The girls scurried off, and I turned to see if Emma was all right. But she was gone. I spotted her retreating figure already at the end of the hallway, heading towards the music building.
Oh well, I’d done a Good Samaritan act and didn’t regret it, whether she was grateful or not.
A peal of laughter caught my attention, and I turned around to see Ange strolling towards me. “That was hilarious, Jas,” she said, clapping her hands. “That girl didn’t even thank you, and you didn’t know she’d disappeared while you were defending her. It’s classic Jasmine, trying to help everyone even when they don’t want your help, thinking you’re better than them.” Her smile turned into an evil glower. “That’s what always annoyed me about you. You always thought I couldn’t make friends on my own.”
“If I ever made you feel that way, I didn’t mean to,” I said, facing her bravely. “You were new and didn’t know anyone, so I—”
“You believed it was your duty as the star of Orchid High to be a friend to someone in a lesser position than you.” She sneered, looking so nasty that it surprised me. I was so used to seeing her innocent, smiling face.
But now it was a wonder how I’d ever thought she was sweet. I supposed now that she’d betrayed me, she had no further need to pretend she liked me. Her intense hatred was completely radiating from her pores now. “Your condescending attitude annoyed me from day one, but I went along with you just to see how I could put you in your place.”
“So you decided to steal Bryan,” I scoffed.
“I didn’t steal him.” She smiled icily. “He was never yours. He admitted he liked me too. But I’ll bet it hurt, didn’t it? Knowing that for once, I came out on top, not you.” She folded her arms, and smiling smugly, stepped closer, getting into my face. “Of course he would choose me over you. I’m sweet and innocent and pretty, and you…” she made a disgusted look, “…you always smell like chlorine. No wonder you’ve never had a boyfriend. No guy would want you.”
I knew she was only baiting me, but still a part of me couldn’t help but cringe at the horrible words. I searched for the words to defend myself. One would think that since I knew eight and a half languages, I could come up with something, but to my everlasting horror, my mind was blank.
“Who says?” Adam’s welcome voice was like a choir of angels to my ears. He slowly walked forward, pushing Ange out of my personal space.
“Who are you?” Ange glared, clearly annoyed for being interrupted during her tirade. But it only took two seconds before her face lit up. Then she started batting her eyes flirtatiously. “Oh, you must be one of the new kids. It’s sooo nice to meet you.” How had I endured her whiny tone before? She was so high-pitched she could communicate with whales.
“Who says no guy would want her?” Adam moved in on Ange, and she backed up several paces, now looking a little afraid. I couldn’t blame her. From his dark expression to his menacing stance, Adam could make the Dark Horse of Khan jealous.
“Oh, you heard that?” Ange squeaked. “I was just giving a little advice to Jas. As her BFF, I have to be honest.”
“Hmm.” Adam tilted his lips in a tiny smile, which I knew had nothing to do with humor. But Ange had no idea.
She twirled her hair and beamed. “Hey, since you’re new, you probably don’t know many people here. How ‘bout I come find you at lunch, and we—”
“No thank you,” Adam said. He backed up, putting an arm around my shoulders. I was too shocked to do anything. “I don’t think I can stand the perfume radiating from your body. It’s suffocating.”
Ange’s jaw dropped as she realized where Adam had placed his arm. “Are you two—“
“Strange.” Adam sniffed my hair, and I finally summoned the wits to try and push him away, but he didn’t budge. “Jasmine doesn’t smell like chlorine to me. She smells like roses.”
My perfume of choice had always been the Midnight Rose from Splash and Spray. But I didn’t use a lot of it, so I was surprised that Adam could tell.
Ange pointed at me angrily. “You’re a two-timer. You said you liked Bryan, and you already have a boyfriend.”
I opened my mouth to defend myself, but Adam took over instead. “Not exactly. I’m not her boyfriend yet. Ever since we met a year ago at a swim meet, Jasmine’s rejected me twenty-three times.”
Ange’s mouth was in danger of splitting wide open. “Twenty-three times?”
“And counting.” Adam shrugged. “But I’m never giving up. That’s why I transferred to Orchid High. I figure I have a better chance if she sees me every day. Anyway, it’s almost time for class.” He guided me away several paces before turning back to make one last remark. “Oh, word of advice. Whatever perfume you’re wearing isn’t working.” I had the quick satisfaction of seeing her eyes bulge out.
“But this is Starlit Dusk from Scentuous Secrets,” she protested.
“Whatever it is, it makes me want to puke.” Then he grabbed my arm, towing me down the hall away from a fuming Ange.
When we were far enough away, I dug my heels into the ground, forcing him to stop. He glanced back at me questioningly, as though he didn’t already know what I was going to say. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Following you to class.” He blinked innocently. “You said you would show me around.”
I wanted to do nothing more than point out that during these past few minutes, he’d been doing all of the leading and none of the following, but I had more important things to say. “Why did you lie to Ange? When she finds out there’s nothing between the two of us, she’ll never let me live it down.”
“What lie?” he frowned, as though he really was oblivious. “Ohh…you must mean when I said we met at a swim meet a year ago. Don’t worry, she’ll never know. I’ll just join the guys’ swim team. I did receive lifeguard training, you know.” He grinned smugly. “So my swimming technique’s not too shabby.”
“Just where will you find the time to work at Dean’s restaurant, join yearbook, and attend swim practice?” I exclaimed.
“That is true.” He thought about this for a second before another idea sparked. “Then I’ll just say I was at the swim meet taking pictures for school.”
I was about to make another reply but stopped myself, realizing he’d just distracted me from the main point. “ARGGHHH!”
His smile instantly died as he noted my frustration. In its place, he drew a concerned frown. “All right, calm down before you have another attack. I said all that back there because I wanted to help you get back at Ange.”
I flashed him a bewildered look. “By being my pretend boyfriend?” That always happened in dramas, but in the end, the truth always came out.
“Nah ah,” he shook his head. “If you’ll remember, I told her I wasn’t your boyfriend, but a…rejected suitor, if we may.”
I had to crack a smile at that. “Suitor? This isn’t the nineteenth century.”
“What can I say? I’m very well-read.” That smug smirk returned. “Anyway, I said it because I knew it would drive Ange crazy.”
“If I continue to make it obvious that I like you but always get rejected, Ange will go insane wondering what’s so good about you to make a guy like me have no pride. I’ve seen girls like her before. She’s just jealous of you, and she wants whatever you have. So I’m betting she’ll stop liking Bryan so much and try to get me instead, just to prove that she’s better than you.”
I thought about this for a minute. He actually seemed to have a point. This kind of thing happened in dramas all the time. But I wasn’t entirely convinced. “If Ange finds out it’s a lie…”
“Who says it’s a lie?” he grinned. “I’d still be asking you out after your twentieth rejection even without Ange in the picture.”
I sent him a glare, to which he responded with a carefree, unrepentant shrug, and said, “I told you I like you.”
I knew he did and honestly, I was flattered. But I’d also told him that night after my asthma attack that I still liked Bryan. Plus, I barely knew Adam. He hadn’t even told me his real last name yet. So I really could not even try to return his feelings, and all I could give him was friendship. Even knowing this, he still liked me and said he was happy to be friends for now, but he wasn’t giving up yet. I’d never met anyone with such tenacity.
Two girls walked past us, pointing and whispering, and I groaned. Ange was already starting the rumors about us. I was fine with pushing Ange’s buttons, but I hated being gossiped about. Who knew what she was saying about me? I’d bet my swimsuit she’d told everyone I had a huge crush on Bryan, and now she was probably saying I was a two-timer, leading the new kid on.
I just hoped Ange wouldn’t pry further. If she found out Adam was living at my house as a hobo, neither of us was going to escape this school alive. If only there was a way to take the focus off of me. If only there was some other gossip that was more interesting.
Several loud shouts sounded from the field behind us. We looked behind us, where a crowd had formed, looking and pointing at some spectacle.
“What’s going on?” I began walking towards the field, curious as to what had everyone’s attention so early in the morning.
“Probably a fight,” Adam replied, following me. We peered above the shoulders of the crowd, and my eyes widened in recognition as I saw the new girl from earlier. She was rocking herself back and forth, muttering to herself. Frustrated tears rolled down her cheeks. And that wasn’t all. The Vicious Vagrants stood around her, trying to get her to stop crying. Marcus stood in front of the others, looking very upset. He was muttering something about roses and a big misunderstanding. How strange. What did the Vicious Vagrants have to do with the new girl?
It didn’t take long to find out. By second period, everyone was talking about how Emma Hartley had been caught rolling in the grass with Marcus Lew. More than a few nasty comments were being tossed her way. Now that the focus was on Emma, I hadn’t heard anyone talking about Ange and Bryan. Although good for me, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Emma, especially when I overheard Yolanda Rally call Emma a slut. The new girl might be odd, but she certainly didn’t deserve all the horrible things being said about her. Besides, I was sure there had to be a misunderstanding about her and Marcus.
“She was making out with Marcus,” Yolanda told her friend. “She probably has something going on with all four of them.”
I was about to march over to tell them to shut up, but I saw Ange coming our way. I backed away, but Ange had already seen me. She cast a side smile in my direction and slithered up to Yolanda.
“Hi Ange,” Yolanda said. “How was your summer? I heard you hooked up with Bryan.”
“Oh yeah, we did.” She gave a little flip of her hand, as if to say it was no big deal. “It’s not serious though. That’s old news. I met the new kid this morning, and—”
“OMG, you did? Isn’t she a freak?”
“She?” Ange seemed a little lost. Somehow, she hadn’t gotten the information that there were two new kids. “The new kid’s a guy.”
“Oh.” Yolanda’s face fell. “You meant the other new kid.”
“Yeah, Adam. He’s super hot, and I heard he transferred here ‘cause he’s got a huge thing for Jasmine Carwarner. She’s totally leading him on though because she has her eye on my boy—”
“Oh really?” Yolanda cut her off, looked bored. “That’s great, but have you heard what happened this morning with the new girl?” She related the whole story with exaggerations again to Ange, who seemed flabbergasted that her bit of gossip had totally been glossed over.
I was amazed. Everyone was too busy gossiping about Emma to care about what was happening between Adam and me. I hated feeling relieved at Emma’s expense, but it wasn’t like I could help that they were more interested in her.
As much as I hated to take pleasure in someone else’s pain, I hoped it would stay that way.
At lunch, Julie waved at me, beckoning me to her table. “Jasmine, over here.”
“I thought you were busy,” I commented. Usually Julie used lunchtime to work on the school paper.
“It’s only the first day,” she said. “Plenty of time to get busy later. Where’s Adam?”
“Applying for yearbook staff,” I told her. “He wants to be on the photography team.”
“Oh good, Carter’s in chess club, and Bryan and Ange obviously aren’t coming.” She nudged her head at the opposite end of the cafeteria, where they sat with Lindsey and Darlene’s group. Bryan looked a little uncomfortable, but it was his choice to sit there, so why should I care? “It’s just the two of us, and we won’t be disturbed.”
I narrowed my eyes, wondering what she was up to.
“So did you find out anything else on Adam’s back story?”
Oh, so that was what she was after. Julie, ever the prying journalist. I debated whether to tell her. She was my best friend, but I didn’t want her publishing things about Adam in the paper.
“Oh come on, you should trust me better than that.” Oh gosh, she could read my thoughts.
“Fine,” I said, deciding she wouldn’t tell. “But promise me you won’t say anything to anyone.”
She raised her right hand in the air. “I swear on my poor Muffy’s grave.” Muffy had been her cat that got run over by a car last year.
“We were right,” I said.
“I knew it.” She pumped her fists in the air. “So why’s he pretending to be a hobo?”
Quickly, I related the story of how Adam was entering a photography contest and couldn’t tell his disapproving family.
“Is he rich? Is his family famous?”
“He says they’re not that rich,” I said. “And his family does party planning. He admitted that Garvey isn’t his real last name.”
“So what is it?”
I shrugged. “He told me to figure it out on my own if I want to know.”
“His cousin’s name is Christopher.” I shook my head helplessly. “That’s all I know.”
“That Adam sure is stingy on the hints.” Julie rubbed her hands together deviously. “But if he thinks that’ll stop us, he’s wrong. If he’s keeping his last name a secret, it means there’s more to his story than he’s letting on. His family must be famous or something.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.” She took a vigorous sip of her OJ. “Besides, I swear I’ve seen him somewhere before. Not in person, but in the newspaper or online somewhere. It must have been an important article for me to still remember it. But I can’t quite—” She shook her head. “No matter, I keep all the articles I think are important. I’ll look it up.”
Julie’s superpower was her ability to never forget a face. If that face had been in a photo, she’d have a little more trouble remembering, but eventually, she’d figure it out. I was sure of it.