five

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The intensity of the meeting made the quiet days that followed seem painfully dull. In between classes, I searched through my locker, the pockets of my coat, the pages of my books.

No notes. Nothing.

Back in the orchestra practice room during lunch, I tackled Paganini. Thoughts of Justin and the League wove through the less-demanding parts, causing my hand to press down on the strings so hard that they left dents in my fingertips.

By the fourth day of waiting, I was in a downright foul mood. I was on my way to speech class when someone tugged on the hood of my jacket. I wheeled around, prepared to unload on the offender.

Nora leaned out of the language lab. "Hi, Ariana."

I was shocked at how happy I was to see her. "Hola, bonjour, and guten tag."

"I was just wondering, well, have you gotten any ... you know, correspondences?"

"You mean notes? No, have you?"

She shook her head. "Nada. Okay, well, maybe you could let me know if you do."

"Sure."

A hand clamped down on my shoulder. Justin towered over us. "It's fine to e-mail each other or meet after school, but please don't speak in school."

"Why not?" I asked. Friends who couldn't talk in school? School was when you needed them most.

"I'll explain later. Just trust me."

All I heard was later. When? I wanted to ask him. When was later?

He released his grip, but his hand stayed on my shoulder. "We'll meet at the bleachers at a quarter to five."

My heart started racing, even though there were four more hours to go. I felt my bad mood slip away like dirty water down the drain.

"Actually, I have two tests to study for, thirty-five pages of reading to do, and an in-depth essay on the value of city curfews for urban teens," Nora said. "But I can find time."

Oh, no, I thought as I reviewed my own schedule. Friday afternoons I had my viola lessons with Mr. Watson. "I don't think I can make it today," I told him. "I've got a private lesson."

Justin's eyebrows shot up. He looked as if he'd never heard of a private lesson before. I was about to clarify that it was for my viola when he said, "Okay, Ariana, we'll have to meet without you."

Meet without me? "Could we do it on Saturday or Sunday? I'm free anytime ..." I blushed, realizing I'd just admitted that I had no plans on the weekend.

Justin plucked his backpack off the ground. "It will never be easy to get us all together if we don't make it a priority." He started to leave.

"No, wait. Maybe ... maybe I could call in sick this one time." I hadn't missed a lesson with Mr. Watson in months. And people did get sick in February.

"I really want you to be there," he said. His uncompromising gaze caused my heart to leap in my chest.

"Okay. See you then," I whispered.

"Great!" He smiled and the dimple on his cheek made a special appearance.

When he was out of earshot, Nora said, "Hot one minute. Cold the next."

Mostly hot, I thought, watching him tuck a thumb into his back pocket before fading into the crowd.

"Ariana, are you with us?" Mr. Holmquist asked.

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