Chapter 2

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I drifted through my morning classes like a ghost, making it to lunch without running into Nathan or any of his teammates. For the first day of the school year, things had so far been unusually tolerable. Since we were seniors, the teachers must have been finished with coddling us; thankfully there had been no "bonding" games or going around the room saying a fact about ourselves. We all knew each other by this point, after all. Instead it was right into the boring stuff: syllabuses, grade breakdowns, and textbook handouts.

Someone in the previous years had drawn a pair of exaggeratedly large breasts for the man on the cover of my newly-assigned math book. Jay, proving his immense maturity, thought it was hilarious and teased me about how it would be the only pair of tits I'd get my hands on before graduation. To avoid further harassment, I discarded the book into my locker before we headed to lunch, hoping that I wouldn't have such an intimate relationship with the hardcover; I was terrible at math.

It was my last class of the day that my luck finally ran out. Right around the time that I made the mistake of thinking I was going to get through a whole day without trouble, I strolled into my biology class, and sitting in the far corner of the room was the caramel-haired source of my bitter affection.

My gut twisted and I lowered my gaze, hurrying to take a seat on the other side of the room. Anxiety tied knots in my throat and my leg began to bounce on the ball of my foot. I didn't like this situation at all.

Actually, that was a lie. A part of me loved it. A part of me revelled in the idea of spending a semester in the same room as her, being able to look over whenever I wanted and see her sitting there, biting the end of her pen, brushing aside a wavy curtain of hair, flashing white teeth with a smile, looking in my direction.

I torn my inappropriate gaze away from her indiscreetly, knowing she saw me staring but trying to act as if a red heat of embarrassment wasn't assaulting my face. That was why I didn't like this situation. I couldn't be trusted in a room with her for a whole semester. I would get myself into trouble. The goal for this year was to avoid stirring the pot as much as possible, and that look I had just been caught giving her had already pushed me into dangerous territory.

I would switch courses. It was decided. This class wasn't even necessary anyway; all I needed was one more science credit, it didn't matter which science it was. I was starting to feel partial to physics. Perhaps a crash course in gravity would help me keep grounded for the rest of the year. I had really only picked biology to cut open a pig fetus. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

I thought to get up and speak to Mr Malcolm immediately, but he began addressing the class as soon as he entered the room, giving me no time to approach him. I sat back awkwardly in my seat instead, tearing at the frayed hem of the strap on my backpack to occupy my unsettled fingers, as I usually did.

He introduced himself, an unnecessary gesture considering he was well known around school for being a hard-ass. He confirmed his reputation with a level, unimpressed expression and a no-funny-business attitude. While Mr. Malcolm droning voice covered grading, I zoned out, watching the clock hands as they slowly neared the hour mark, counting the seconds to settle my nervous habits slightly as I waited for dismissal. I was lost in my own head just enough to find myself confused when the rest of the class groaned in a unified vexation.

"That's right, assigned lab partners. And you can moan all you want about it, I'm not letting you team up with your best pal and goof around all semester. So y'all can suck it up now and deal with it."

If my anxiety was active before, it was now on overdrive. There were very few people I was comfortable enough to be partnered up with in group projects let alone a full semester of shared work. My previous concerns over Emma seemed null as I was now preoccupied with stressing over exactly who I'd be forced together with for the year. I tried to assure myself that it didn't matter regardless, since I'd just be switching courses, but the looming dread of an extended, forced social interaction had me panicked.

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