• The bell for class to start rings, and as usual, I walk in just a second late. The teacher, Mr. Walker, huffs at me but he doesn't bother with a detention; he just points to the back and I hurry to my seat. As the chatter quiets, Mr. Walker passes out the assignment. It's a worksheet on the Civil War, a pretty simple thing.

    The noise starts up again as soon as Mr. Walker closes the door to his office, but one voice makes its way to me through all the others.
    She sits in the very middle seat, and she’s explaining something to my cousin.

    "No, Josh, that's not how it works. Stand-by puts the computer at a low-power state-" She's beautiful, this girl who has stolen my heart. I don't think she knows it, though. "-while hibernation basically saves everything you have open on the desktop and shuts down the computer, and opens it all back up when you turn it on. There is a difference." She’s turned in her seat, her legs crossed at the knee. I think she does it unconsciously, because I almost never see her without crossed legs when she’s sitting.

    I can't see JT's face but I hear the irritation in his voice when he says, "That's not how Nelson explained it."

    She snorts, shaking her head. "Josh, are you honestly going to trust what a sixty-year-old man says about computers when everything he knows, which isn't much, is probably from reading the manual versus me?" Her light blue-green eyes roll in amusement.

    JT huffs, mumbling, “What makes you so special?”

    “Have we forgotten the ‘my dad is a computer tech’ part and the ‘I’ve been raised around computers’ bit?”

    Her best friend, Danielle, turns around from in front of my girl to glance at JT. "Josh, you are truly an idiot. Are you seriously gonna listen to that idiot over this nerd?"

    She sits up, offended. "Nerd? What the hell do you mean, nerd? I am a geek, thank you very much." I cover a smile, scribbling down the first answer.

    "Fine, whatever." JT says, facing forward. She snickers, and JT shoots a glare at her. She is unfazed, but reaches under the desk to retrieve a book. Above everything else my girl is, she's intelligent. She reads like crazy; more often than not, if I want to find her before school starts, I go to the library where she is always in her corner, reading and listening to her mp3 player. She's practically the only junior without an iPod, but I don't think she even notices, because nobody bothers her about not having one anymore, like they used to. Goddamn Sarah and her stuck up bitchiness.

    I finally drag my eyes away and set my attention on the assignment. It’s incredibly easy, but there are some pretty stupid people in our class. Most of the time, people don't even come to class, except for her. Every day she is here, without fail. I don't think she's ever skipped a class a day in her life, and she hasn't missed a day of school so far. Granted, it's only September, but still. She hates missing school, she told me once, because she hates doing make-up work.

    As I absently circle the answers, my mind starts going through my memories of her.

    She's sixteen, ten months younger than me. My birthday is in two weeks, the beginning of November, and I remember once, she told me hers was in the first week of August. That makes her almost ten months exactly younger than me.

    The first time I saw her, I thought she was a total idiot. It was the first day of our freshman year, fifth period, and the class before lunch. It was English, and I had got there before everybody else because my Spanish class was right next to my English class, and I was watching people walk in. My eyes were following this one chick- I can't remember her name now, she moved later that year, when there was a thud and a crash. There she was, my girl, on the floor, looking bewildered. I guess she tripped on the leg of a desk walking in. It looked incredibly uncomfortable, the way she was sitting, but the thing that got me was the stunned expression on her face; she looked like a total idiot. The people around her were laughing, but it was the amused kind, not the mean kind of laughter. She picked herself up off the floor and gathered her notebook and a book while the four other people poked fun at my girl.

    "God, Brie, you're such an idiot. What the hell'd you do?" One girl, a heavyset dyed-redhead, asked, hands on her hips.

    One of the boys cuts in to her response. "Yeah, did you trip on the desk or something? Or were you just being your graceful self?"

    She stalked to the desk in the back corner of the room and snarled, "Bite me! You screw up too, you know!" She was pissed off, but I don't think it was all from taking out the desk.

    From there on out, I was convinced she was boring and dumb, even when she scored the highest on a test everybody else bombed, and when she got the lead in the play. I was being stubborn. I didn't want to admit that I was wrong in judging her.

    I made her life hell, teasing her and purposefully pissing her off, and getting her in trouble, but that was because I actually started noticing her. I watched her, to see what made her mad so I could do it and what made her happy so I could ruin her mood. By the time the end of the semester rolled around, I thought I knew everything about her- but I was wrong. I misjudged her ability to trust.

    I had noticed, absently, that she made female friends quickly, even after fights with them so I figured, once I decided I was done torturing her, that I could be her friend. I was horribly mistaken.

    Every time I held open a door, or smiled, or, hell, every time I looked at her, she glared suspiciously, or ignored me completely. Her friends did the same, and one, the redhead, went so far as to threaten me. While my girl's group of friends wasn't really what you'd consider a typical high school clique, there was still a fairly clear hierarchy, with her at the top. She was smart, volatile, and could hold her own in a verbal fight, and she was also fiercely loyal of those she considered friends; likewise, they protected her whether she wanted it or not, and they saw me as a threat.

    Whenever I tried to sit near her in class, she'd find a reason to move across the classroom. It was like she didn't want anything to do with me; she was too suspicious because of my previous treatment of her to trust me. I, of course, didn't get this at all.

    During March of our sophomore year, our English teacher paired us for a project.

    She was absolutely furious, but she put aside her hatred for me long enough to get it done. It was a group essay-thing, where we had to write two essays between us, edit them, the whole nine yards.

    The first thing she said when I went to sit next to her was, "I'll write them, you can edit." I agreed, simply to make it easier for us, and by the end of class, she had one essay completely done. I was shocked, moreso when I read it and discovered that she was an excellent essayist for her age. She watched me as I read it, a small smile on her face when I looked up and stared in shock at her. First she just smiled, then she giggled, then she started laughing when I asked how she learned to write that well.

    I got pretty close to her, I think, during that week. She finished the second essay that night, gave it to me the next day, then took one back and edited it, stealing the other from me before I was done. She let me re-write them, though, because the teacher told her she couldn't do all the work. She rolled her eyes but she let me have it, and we talked for the three days of no work for us, while the rest of the class wrote their own essays.

    I remember her asking me why I was so mean to her. My answer prompted a laugh. "Because the first time I saw you, you looked like an idiot 'cause you tripped over a desk. I decided I didn't like you. Why were you so mad?"

    Her answer surprised me. "Because I had just found out that my mom was gonna try and fight for custody of my siblings and me."

    "Your parents are divorced?"

    "Yeah, since seventh grade."

    I had no idea her parents had split- this was certainly news to me. I didn't want to push her good mood, so I changed the subject. "How old are you?"

    "I'm fifteen, sixteen in August. You?"

    "Sixteen. You're pretty young."

    She grinned, leaning back in her seat, crossing her legs and hooking one foot around the leg of the desk. "The only sophomores I know are younger than me are Eli 'n Jacob an' Ollie."

    "Does it bother you that's you're so much younger than everybody?"

    She shook her head, absently thumbing the pages of her book. "No, most people don't care that I'm younger than them, only that I'm a smartass and mean to them."

    "Oh." The conversation drifted off, and she immersed herself in her book, stopping only when the bell rang. She left, going upstairs to choir, and I headed downstairs to Spanish. I thought about her during the entire class, blocking out the half-hearted attempts of the teacher to keep the attention of the class. I saw her during lunch, when I went into the library to check out a book for science, and she smiled at me.

    That was the second sign that I made a breakthrough.

    At the beginning of the fourth quarter, she switched her schedule around to stay in choir, because her counselor wanted to put her in Science fourth period, which was when she had choir, so she switched into seventh period science, which messed up her entire schedule. She ended up in my math, English, and history classes, and she ended up sitting next to me for two of the three, thanks to seating charts.

    We talked a lot during class, when she wasn't helping me in math or making fun of me in English for not knowing the difference between their and there. We argued, debated, insulted, and poked through the end of the quarter, and I thought about her the entire summer. I wondered often if she thought about me, if she had a boyfriend, what she was doing, if she went anywhere for vacation- thoughts of her decorated the walls of my mind, but I couldn't tell anybody because my dad didn't have time to listen to me and my mom was busy trying to raise three little girls and keep them from killing each other to really be able to help. My best friends couldn't care less about her, because she tended to piss them off- she didn't like them and they didn't like her. Zach, at least, didn't badmouth her, because she appreciated that he wasn't as stupid as he acted, but the rest wouldn't have anything to do with her. I asked JT all the questions I could manage without seeming suspicious, but he wasn't exactly helpful.

    When the first day of our junior year finally rolled around, I was so nervous that she had changed or had decided she didn't like me anymore that I was going through bouts of anger, nervousness, and panic. It drove me crazy, and on the first day of school, I was so out of it that I didn't notice her walk in to my first period class, until she dumped her binder on the desk in front of mine. I raised me head, expecting to see one of my friends, but instead I saw my girl, tanned, lightly muscled, and several inches taller. I stared blankly, my jaw on the floor, as she settled herself in the seat directly in front of me. I didn't say a word, and neither did she- she just watched me watch her, a small smile on her face.

    "Um, hi." Not the most intelligent thing I've ever said, but it broke the ice.

    "Hey. How was your summer?"

    Well, I didn't have you, so it sucked. "Eh, it was okay. What about yours?"

    She winced at this- I sat up straighter, curious. "My parents fought over custody again, but other than that, it was pretty good. I spent most of it with my cousin, horseback riding and just working around on her dad’s farm. Manual labor and stuff. I also helped her with her 4-H steers. It was pretty fun, except for when I got thrown off one of the horses."

    I blinked, shocked. "Whoa. Did it hurt? Getting thrown, I mean?"

    She shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair. It’s grown pretty long now, almost to her hips. I don't think she's cut it since before our freshman year. "Nah, I landed in the river, but the belly-flop was not fun in any sense of the word. That happened two weeks ago, but I still have bits of purple on my stomach."

    I whistled, noting a tiny wince when she says that. It musta hurt like hell, but she's not known to complain, my girl, least not to me.

    Two weeks later, I'm watching her from the back of the history class, as she chats with her friends, looking simply beautiful in her jeans and ponytail, oblivious to my staring, not knowing the extent of my love for her.

    It is love, I muse, biting on the eraser of my mechanical pencil. There simply is not another word for it.

    The bell rings, and she is among the first few out of the class, as per usual. I wander out the door, head down, hair in my eyes, still thinking as my feet take me to math.

    Somebody slips their hand into mine- I glance to the right, and my heart skips a beat. There she is, my girl, a faint blush on her cheeks. I look down, and it is her hand in mine.

    My heart fairly skips for joy.

    I don't think she realizes just what she's done.

    She smiles up at me, tightening her hand around mine. My breath catches, but I don’t say a word, the voice in my head telling me she’s just messing with me.

    Thankfully, the voice quiets with her tugging me to our next class, navigating through the clouds with ease.

    I accidentally brush against her exboyfriend in the group forming outside Herron's class as we wait for her to come unlock the door. He looks at me, the sees her, and our hands. He narrows his eyes- he knows of our rivalry, friendly though it has become- but he sees her smile, and how she leans against me as she talks quietly with her other best friend, the short bushy-haired dancer, and he nods. Just one nod, but it is enough for me to know he approves.

    She takes her seat when Herron finally lets us in and I take my own as the teacher begins to write the bell work on the board. A crumpled piece of paper bounces off my head halfway through class. I carefully open it, eyes flashing to Herron every few seconds, but she’s distracted. I scan the few words on the paper- 'I still love her- break her heart and I'll break every bone in your body.' I know who it's from. I also know that there isn't a chance that I'd do that.