chapter: i

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In Grace Fletcher's mind, there was nothing more constant than Zachary Duncan's smile.

Cities would be laid to waste and be pitiful pile of rubble before Zachary's smile faded from his face.

The sun would one day collapse in upon itself, taking with it the beloved green earth. And still Zachary's smile would improbably remain.

The thing seemed permanently fixed onto his face, like someone had taken superglue and stuck the corners of his mouth up. It wasn't bad to look at either. Zachary had white teeth that would have been perfect except for his crooked incisors. Though even those were endearing in an odd sort of way.

That's why Grace could not figure out why she disliked that smile so much.

Maybe she didn't like that it was always there, almost mocking when there was nothing to be smiling about. Maybe she didn't like that sometimes it looked forced, fake. Maybe it really was his crooked teeth that irritated her so much.

Or maybe she just wanted a reason to dislike the boy everyone else seemed to love.

The perfect student, Zachary was the male Muggle equivalent of Hermione Granger. It didn't matter which class he was in; when the teacher asked a question of the class his hand was the first to shoot into the air--if not the only one.

In addition to being annoyingly brilliant, the smiling boy also had a monopoly on the looks department. With lightly tanned skin, sandy blonde hair, and warm brown eyes, Zach was more or less the embodiment of the stereotypical American hottie. Another strike against him in Grace's book, but that was more a matter of personal preference. How dare he be her physical "type"?!

The third and final reason Zachary Duncan annoyed her was that he would not leave her alone. He had some misguided notion that because they lived across the street from each other they should be the best of friends.

Almost everyday he would appear on her front doorstep, car keys in hand and infuriating smile pasted on his face, and ask her if she wanted to ride with him to school.

"It'll save gas," he told her.

"Not today," was always her reply.

In return, his smile would widen a little, threatening to split his face in half, and he would say, "Tomorrow then," before turning around and heading off to school in his green pickup truck.

Grace was certain both of them knew that she wouldn't be riding to school with him anytime soon, so she didn't know why he even bothered asking.

The carpooling suggestions were not the end of her troubles with him, though. Since the fourth grade if they shared a class, he would insist on sitting next to her. On a few occasions he had attempted to partner up with her on a project, but before he could she would grab her best friend Melody.

"I don't know why you think he's so bad," Melody said lightly one day as the two of them shopped for their junior prom dresses. "He seems like a pretty good guy to me."

"You don't know him," Grace retorted, ignoring the small voice in her head that told her she didn't either.

Melody flicked a piece of reddish blonde hair off of her shoulder and pursed her full lips. "I'm just saying maybe being friends with him--or even just tolerating him--wouldn't be such a bad thing."

Grace frowned and quickly changed the subject. "What do you think of this one?" She held up a one shouldered dress the color of amethysts.

A good enough friend to know Grace didn't want to talk anymore, Melody let the sides of her mouth slip upwards and nodded encouragingly. "I like it."

The summer before their senior year, Grace was delighted to learn that Zachary and his family would be spending the majority of their summer vacationing on the other side of the country--Florida to be exact. She shouldn't have been as happy as she was about that, and even felt the tiniest pang of guilt, but all those negative feelings were washed away when Zachary Duncan showed up on her front doorstep with that stupid grin the morning he and his family were supposed to leave.

"We're heading out!" he declared cheerily when Grace opened the door.

She looked at him blankly. "Shouldn't you be over there instead of talking to me, then?"

His broad-ish shoulders moved up and down in a shrug. "I just wanted to say goodbye.


Zach's smile softened a little. "No waterworks?"

"For you? Never." The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them and she instantly regretted engaging her voice box in the first place.

Zachary's smile, for the first time in Grace's memory, had fallen.

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