Chapter 1: Invisible

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Lani

I am invisible. Not literally—though it may feel like it—just metaphorically. To everyone else, I am a nameless, faceless person. And it's wonderful. No one knows that I used to be Lani Heling. Once I'd been awarded custody of Gideon and Iris—now 14—I'd gotten our last names legally changed to our grandmother's maiden name: Ballan. I loved that we were able to leave Boston behind—leave Marie behind—and no one knew who we once were. I loved being invisible and unknown.

But...this...this couldn't be happening.

"Lani, would you just talk to him?" my best friend—as well as my only friend, still—Willow said to me now. We stood in the cafeteria for lunch. It was a Monday, and so far all I wanted to do was go back three days and change everything. I liked the way I was ignored, the way I didn't exist. I liked it a lot, actually. People left me alone, I left them alone. It was a mutual agreement without much discussion. Since Friday, however, everything had changed. And it all started with a boy. Excuse me, a man. He was definitely all male. He also happened to be the most popular, muscular, good-looking guy on campus. Freshman to junior year I avoided him and his friends like the plague. Until this year. Our last year.

Willow had convinced me we needed to go to a party. I can't tell you how she convinced me since I really don't like people, crowds, parties, alcohol and the games the party goers liked to play. I never should have let her bring me. But she said she needed me. Willow didn't need anybody. She was a strong, independent, fiery red-head. She was beautiful and tough and definitely knew how to pack a punch. When she said she needed me, I knew I couldn't let her go alone. I thought when was the last time Willow needed anyone? Let alone me? Never. So I went.

And it ruined everything.

"No." I replied flatly.

"But he likes you." She complained—more like whined at me.

"Well, I don't like him. Or his friends for that matter. He's pretentious, pig-headed, and arrogant. All three I dislike strongly. The mere fact that all three of those terrible qualities are in him equal complete dislike of him. I will not talk to someone I cannot stand, let alone like." I said angrily.

"But that's just how he is to the people around him now. What if there's more to him than meets the eye? You can't judge a book by its cover Lani."

"This is not a cover. That is just how he is. I assure you, I will not be talking to him. It will only be a waste of time." I said.

"How can you say that?" she asked looking at me strangely. Even though it'd been four years since we won, Willow seemed to expect me to be...different. But, while we'd gotten away from Marie and everything that included, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was still more to come. Or that people couldn't be trusted. I'd learned that from my own mother, and if someone who was supposed to protect you and love you couldn't be trusted, who could?

"Because I met him, remember?" I sighed.

"I remember. Meeting someone for the first time doesn't mean you know them. He could be totally different." She said.

"I highly doubt that." I scoffed.

"What if he proved it?"

"How? And why would he even want to? His reputation is everything to him, I'm sure."

"What if he showed you who he truly is? And he'd want to. For you, he'd definitely want to." She said, nodding more to herself. I stared at her for a moment. Was she nuts?

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