Chapter 1

It's like high school holds two different worlds, revolving around each other and never touching; the haves and the have-nots. I guess it's a good thing. High school is supposed to prepare you for the real world, after all.
- Lauren Oliver

It's really fucking cold. And not the brisk, refreshing chill of winter, but wet—the kind of cold that just seeps into your bones and saps whatever strength of will you have to do anything other than lie in your bed under a mountain of blankets. But the best part? It's the middle of September. In Phoenix, in the middle of September I'd be swimming and wearing flip-flops, not shivering in my boots and the warmest cardigan I could dig out of my winter clothes box. Where the hell did I move to?

As I pull into the parking lot, I see my fellow students hurrying into the building to escape the wetness that permeates the air—all two hundred and eighty-nine of them. At Camelback, there were twice that many kids just in my sophomore class.

Getting out of my truck, I turn the collar of my brown all-weather jacket up but resist the urge to bury myself in the fleece-lined hood. It's my first day here—I don't want to advertise what a wuss I am in the face of this soggy nightmare. They'll find out soon enough the first time it truly starts raining.

Crossing my arms as I walk briskly across the parking lot, I give myself a good shake. This is my first day at a new school, and I made the right choice. Mom stayed in one place with me for twelve years, but I could always see the wanderlust in her eyes. When she met Phil and we discovered how much he liked to travel, my decision was all but made. And given how things eventually turned out, I need this just as much as Renee does, so I need to suck it up, put on a happy face, and brave the petty miasma that is high school.

I make it to the safety of the main office with only a few curious glances, but my cover is immediately blown by the kind-faced older woman behind the desk.

"Oh! You must be Isabella Swan. The chief said you'd be here today. It's so rare that we have new students come mid-term—I'm sure you'll be the talk of the town!"

Every head in the office snaps up at her bubbly outburst, and my cheeks flare so hot that I now know what supernovas feel like at close range.

"Just Bella," I stammer, and the woman continues on as if my face didn't just explode.

"You're in Mr. Varner's homeroom; here's your schedule and locker number, and you'll get your books as you go through your classes. Make sure to check in with all your teachers—I'm sure they'll make you feel right at home! Oh, and if you need anything, just come back and see me."

I give her that frozen smile people give when they just want to get away—you know, the one that makes you look constipated—as I duck out the office door. And I rear backward as the obnoxious seafoam green of the lobby tilework nearly overwhelms me. I was so caught up in finding the office I didn't even notice it as I came in. Well, hello, nineteen seventy-two, I mumble as I make for the hallway full of lockers, heads turning as I go. It's almost time for the first bell, so I ditch my bag and hurry off to my homeroom.

The room's about half-full when I get there, and although all eyes are on me, Mr. Varner declares he'll introduce me to the class after the announcements, to be sure everyone's here. Oh, joy, wouldn't want anyone to miss out on their chance to ogle the new girl and snicker, my sarcastic side pipes up, but I just nod and try not to trip as I make for the back of the room, hoping I don't take anyone's seat.

As I pass, a girl with a long, black ponytail and pink butterfly-shaped glasses gives me a warm smile, and I can't help but return it. She seems nice and looks like my usual crowd, but things are gonna be different this time. I have to focus. I have to figure out how things work here in the land of soggy nineteen seventy-two—who's the "in crowd," and who just wishes they were.

The back of the room gives me the perfect vantage point to observe, so I start cataloguing what I see. All the groups are here: the nerdy boys with their not quite styled hair and thick-rimmed glasses, the rockers in their ripped jeans and Stones t-shirts, the druggies … well, you just know who they are by that vacant look in their eyes … is that girl with the spiky black hair a goth? I scan the room again. But where are

My thoughts are interrupted by the loud arrival of the group I was looking for. Three guys in letterman jackets strut through the door like they own the place, followed by three tittering bimbos. Now, now, Bella, just because they're showing boob-crack and sound like dying hyenas does not mean they're stupid, I remind myself. You're going to try to befriend these girls. You have to—it's the only way to avoid becoming what you were before. But, Jesus, don't henleys have buttons for a reason?

I shake my head and focus on the guys instead—I usually can relate to them better anyway. Two blondes … nice! The one with the curly hair isn't bad, and that one with the blue eyes is cute, but … he kind of looks … plastic—like a Ken doll.

And then it happens. A god walks into our midst, and I seem to be the only one to notice. Time stops and as a ray of heavenly light falls on his copper hair, I swear I hear angels singing … or is that just the druggies listening to some rave music? Who the fuck cares? Right now, all I can see are deep green eyes and wild sex hair, and my God, just looking at his jaw makes my throat dry. Is that because I'm drooling and any remaining moisture in my body has gone south for the duration?

He's … gorgeous. It's the only word in my brain, and the only one likely to be there when I look at him. Unless, of course, it's chest hair or stubble or naked—Jesus! There we go! The image of naked Jesus snaps my mind back from my porno fantasy and into the present, just as Gorgeous drops his books onto the desk two in front of me and—shit! Eye contact! Those incredible eyes force mine down to my notebook because I'm not able to take in the full blast of his beauty. To him, I probably look shy, but in reality, I've lowered my eyes in reverence. Um … reverence? Exactly when did I start worshipping creatures who think spitballs should be an Olympic sport? What the hell happened to me in the last five minutes?

I give myself a good shake as Gorgeous turns toward one of the bimbos and hits her with said Olympic projectile. She's pissed, but the smile he flashes almost makes me swallow my tongue. How can she stand to be that close to him without just licking his jaw? Argh, come back, naked Jesus! I need to stop lusting over what undoubtedly has to be some other girl's man meat.

As Mr. Varner calls the class to order, Gorgeous turns to the front, and sanity douses me like a bucket of cold water. Wow. I can't let that shit happen again. Obviously not getting past first base, and even that over a year ago, has caused some kind of chemical imbalance in my brain. I'll have to be careful when I'm around Gorgeous lest I slip back into horndog Bella mode. I have more important things to do today.

I dodge a bullet after announcements in that Mr. Varner completely spaces on introducing me, but I'm not so lucky for the rest of the morning. Government, English, calculus—I'm paraded in front of each class and forced to say something about myself as my face achieves heretofore unknown shades of crimson. I honestly have no idea what I've said, but I suspect it involved cactus plants and tumbleweeds, as I'm sure they expected. Brilliant. Just the first impression I was hoping for. Let's all go befriend pasty white cactus girl. The first time, the popular kids survey me, but after that, they don't even feign interest.

Gorgeous turns up in my English class just in time for my introduction, looking all sexy in his blue and green and orange plaid button-down with the top two buttons open, chest hair just peeking out—"chest h-h—chest high! That's how tall the tumbleweeds can be!" Oh my God, please shoot me now.

I don't really talk to anyone through my morning classes. I return any smiles I come by, but I'm too busy figuring out where things are, prepping for the next round of humiliation, and observing the popular group to really have time for anything else.

Curly doesn't seem to have a girlfriend. Ken doll favors the overly bubbly one with the curly brown hair, but they haven't been very handsy so I can't tell if they're really attached. Maybe it's all in Bubbly's head. And then there's Resting Bitch Face, the recipient of the homeroom spitball. I swear she's only smiled twice all morning, and both times were at Gorgeous. I had to disguise my snicker as a cough when she smiled at him in calculus and he looked right past her. Anything going on there is definitely all in RBF's head. But Bubbly seems like she'd be okay to talk to, in a purely superficial high school girlfriend kind of way, and possibly that Katie girl too. Hers is the only name I can remember so far.

One more class to go before lunch—biology. Who the hell schedules a class where you're likely to end up reeking of formaldehyde right before lunch? Then again, I suppose it's better than right after lunch, I muse as I offer my pass to Mr. Banner. He's a short guy with glasses, and he reminds me of Danny DeVito, but his smile is warm and reassuring.

"Bella! So nice to have a new face in class! Here's your textbook and lab workbook, and I have a seat for you over here with … where's Edward?"

I glance up and see an empty lab table before me and lots of blank stares.

"Lauren, is he here today?"

Resting Bitch Face (aka Lauren) graces Mr. Banner with a bored look. "He was just in calculus."

Okay, so he's got to be one of the popular kids since Banner asked Bitch Face, but Ken doll, Curly, and Gorgeous were all in calculus and none of them are here now, so I have no idea which is Edward. Fabulous. This is like one of those SAT questions where there're four people in a row, and they give you details about each, and you have to figure out who's sitting next to who. I hate those damn things.

"Well, never mind, Bella. I guess you have the table to yourself today," Banner says, frowning as he ushers me to my seat.

Thankfully, he doesn't put me through another painful introduction, which I'm sure everyone has heard by this point in the day, so I have both peace of mind and time to focus on the big moment in my day: lunch. I'm going to approach the popular kids and try to make friends. I'm not encouraged by what I've seen so far, but even if they're assholes, being with the "in" crowd has more benefits than I can count. And there has to be at least one decent human being among them, right?

The period flies by, and before I know it, I'm in the caf walking toward the popular table with my tray. I chose a veggie burger with carrots and celery, just like Bitch Face and Bubbly, and I follow them to the table where Curly, Ken Doll, and Katie are already sitting. I take a deep breath and try to push down the butterflies in my stomach, but the influx of air just seems to make them flutter faster.

As I open my mouth, all the air in the room is stolen by Gorgeous as he arrives at the table. It's as if all the molecules of oxygen have flocked to play in his unruly auburn locks, and the rest of us aren't fit to breathe now that he's here. My eyes go wide as he runs a hand through the spellbinding chaos atop his head, and he slides smoothly into an unworthy plastic chair. I want to be that chair so much it hurts.

But now the entire table is staring at me, and my practiced, cool introduction is mocking me silently from between the strands of Gorgeous' freshly fucked hairstyle.

"Um … hi. I'm Bella. Can I sit with you?" comes out of my mouth in the quietest, shakiest voice possible, but I follow it up with what I hope is a confident and not desperate smile. I scan the faces staring back at me. Curly and Ken doll are eyeing me up, waiting for the girls' responses. I can't look at Gorgeous or I'm going to combust, so I move to the girls instead. Katie's look is neutral, Bubbly looks confused, but Bitch Face has her eyes narrowed like a lioness contemplating her kill. Oh fuck.

She sniffs delicately and looks down her nose at me, her gaze fixed on my chest. Are my boobs too small for this club?

"What's up with your shirt? Are you advertising for where your dad works?" she fires off, her words dripping disdain and sarcasm.

I'm wearing my green "Crown Bowling Supply" shirt. Retro was all the rage back in Phoenix, and this just might be the coolest shirt I own. Or at least, it was when I wasn't in the land of western bumblefuck with a side of ass backward.

Everyone here will probably be wearing them after I've gone off to college, or popped out a few kids or something, and I'm dying to retort, "I guess you guys aren't ready for this yet. But your kids are gonna love it," a la Marty McFly in "Back to the Future". But I don't. Instead, I drop my eyes to the floor, and through my lashes, I can see Bitch Face's smirk.

She knows. How the fuck do they always know? Is there a secret handshake for the popular club? A tattoo? Do they all have the fucking dark mark on their forearms? What is it? If we normal people could just figure it out, we could break in undetected, but somehow, I don't think that's going to happen today.

And why, why did I look down? Why can't I maintain eye contact and say the things I'm thinking? Why do I always have to collapse in on myself? Fuck!

My cheeks are on fire as I stammer, "No, I—"

"Nah, she's Chief Charlie's long-lost kid. That must be her own part-time job," Ken doll fires off, earning an approving look from Bubbly.

"Does Daddy need some extra money, now that he has an extra mouth to feed?" Bitch Face asks with a smile, and now the whole group is grinning and elbowing each other.

"No, you fucktard, I don't have a job, my dad is just fine, and this shirt is awesome. It's you morons who are behind the times and clueless." But the words stick in my throat like they always do, and instead I just shake my head as tears well in my eyes. I need to leave. Now.

I turn on my heel amid the laughter and exit the caf with as much dignity as I can—I don't even look to see who else might be staring. Disgusted with myself and my pathetic attempt to fit in, I dump my tray in the trashcan by the door. I hate veggie burgers!

What the hell was I thinking? I should have known those bitches would see right through me! If only I'd had the confidence to pull it off and come back with some snappy retort so they'd know I wasn't to be fucked with. Dammit!

I spend the rest of lunch in the bathroom, swearing at myself and spilling angry tears … and accepting my fate. I'm not going to be one of the popular ones at this school. I had my chance, and I blew it. Now I'll have to try to figure out where else I can fit in—if I can fit in. I cringe at the thought of being an outcast. High school is hard enough even when you're not a pariah.

PE is miserable—Bitch Face and Bubbly spend most of the period pointing and laughing at me, although even I have to admit my attempts at volleyball are ridiculous. At least, this isn't news. French and physics pass by in a blur as I try to regroup and put myself together. Butterfly smiles at me again, but she must have seen the event in the cafeteria because she seems to know better than to approach me today. Maybe tomorrow I'll try to talk to her.

Finally, I make it to the end of this disaster of a day, and I almost take a full breath as I shove my books into my locker. I just want to go home, forget this ever happened, and start over tomorrow trying to befriend the people I should have looked for in the first place.

I slam my locker door but nearly jump into the next county as I spy Gorgeous tossing his books into his own locker three down from mine. He closes the door, and I know the instant he feels my open-mouthed stare. He rivets me to the floor with those vibrant green eyes of his. Is he really about to speak to me? Could this day actually turn out okay? He looks surprised and almost panicked for a second, but then two other junior boys walk by, one of them bumping his shoulder. His lips part, but his smile isn't angelic, it's leering and wicked.

"So, you struck out today, eh, Bowling Girl? Maybe tomorrow you'll figure out where you belong—the losers aren't hard to spot around here."

The eavesdropping boys chuckle and Gorgeous laughs—his voice is even more fluid and velvet than I'd imagined, but the sound and the words are so hateful that, for a moment, it doesn't compute and I just let him saunter away as I gaze after him, my jaw still on the floor.

Fuck my life. Gorgeous is an asshole too.

A/N: Thank you for reading! Skin Deep will post once a week initially, and then I'll likely up it to twice a week after I finish writing the entire story. This story is currently 75% pre-written, and I always finish what I start, so don't fear the WIP!

I have a Facebook group where I'll be posting pictures and teasers as the story goes on. Just search for "Shadow Fics" on Facebook, and you'll find us!

This story wouldn't exist without a number of wonderful friends who support, encourage, and occasionally kick my ass (this is also known as pre-reading): Belynda Smith, Jennifer Davis, and Planetblue. Alice's White Rabbit has the same responsibilities, but she also keeps my punctuation in line and beats back my use of "that" with zeal (aka beta). Thank you so much, ladies, for all you do. It means the world to me.

See you next week!