Here's a fun little snip based on the first encounter between Taylor and Sophia. Unbeknownst to Sophia and Emma, Taylor's summer camp was actually a martial arts training camp ...

Please Explain

Taylor hurried along the sidewalk in the direction of Emma's house. The friendship beads on her braids swung and thumped against her shoulders, but she didn't care. It would be great to see Emma again, and she could tell her everything she'd learned, including how Dad was going to take her to buy a staff of her very own …

As she neared the house, she saw Emma on the front steps. Cool. She's still home. But there was also someone standing at the gate. Someone she didn't know. The girl turned to look at her and Taylor got the impression of dark, glowering eyes, dark skin, and midnight-black hair that blew in the breeze.

Her best friend in the whole world was also turning to look at her. Taylor waved excitedly. "Emma!"

The black girl's expression turned to a sneer. "Who the fuck are you?"

What's going on here? Who is this? Taylor tried not to show the confusion she felt on her face. Calm. Center yourself. If your center is strong, then you're strong. "We're friends. Emma and I have been friends for a long time." By the time she finished saying it, she felt the strength within her core once more.

This just got her a smirk from the dark-skinned girl. "Really." Beyond her, Taylor thought she saw Emma flinch, just for a second.

Don't strike until you know it's not a feint. Taylor made her voice calm. "Really." Deliberately, she excluded the black girl from her attention. "Emma, what's going on? Your mom said you weren't taking calls."

For some reason, her words struck home harder than she'd intended. Although she saw turmoil in Emma's eyes, the redhead didn't answer. Something's wrong. Something to do with this girl. I have to remind Emma that we've been friends for years. Casting about for a topic, she noticed that Emma's hair had been cut almost into a pixie bob.

"I love the haircut," she said encouragingly. "You manage to make any style look great." Come on, tell me where you got it.

Just for a second, Emma closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Taylor's heart sank. They weren't the warm, friendly eyes of a greeting. Her smile looked almost painted on. Something's definitely wrong, here. Taylor watched as Emma stepped down to her level and put out her hand toward her shoulder. She almost knocked it aside, but she reminded herself that Emma was her friend. Had always been her friend. And yet, the hand lay on her shoulder like a lead weight.

"Go home, Taylor. I didn't ask you to come over." Emma's voice was as dead as her eyes. There was life there, but it was as fake as her smile. She doesn't mean that. She's trying to convince herself that it's true.

"Emma." Her voice was low and even. "Why is it a problem that I'm coming over now? I've missed you so much. I've got so much to tell you about. It's been weeks since we even talked." And that's probably due to whoever this girl is.

If her words raised a doubt in Emma's heart, it didn't show in the redhead's next words. "There's a reason for that. This was just an excuse to cut a cord I've been wanting to cut for a long time."

Taylor registered that the little speech sounded almost rehearsed, even as her heart fell a little. The battle is not yet lost. "Why are you saying this, Emma?"

"Do you think it was fun? Spending time with you, this past year? I wanted to break off our friendship a long while back, even before your mom kicked the bucket, but I couldn't find the chance. Then you got that call, and you were so down in the dumps that I thought you'd hurt yourself if I told you the truth, and I didn't want to get saddled with that kind of guilt."

Emma's voice held spite. Some of it was real, but Taylor decided most of it was intended just to push her away. Why? To impress this girl? What's going on here?

Taylor took a deep breath, working to keep her feelings under control. "So you're saying you lied to me, strung me along." Her words were a challenge.

Emma's eyes showed uncertainty, but then she glanced at the black girl and rallied. "You lied to yourself more than I lied to you."

I was right. She does have something to do with this. Taylor turned toward the black girl. "So who are you? What've you got to do with this?"

"Fuck off," sneered the girl. "You're not wanted here."

"Really." Taylor stepped forward, almost nose to nose with her. "Say that again, please."

Instead, the girl shoved her hard in the shoulder, or at least tried to. That was as far as it went; Taylor had had enough of this shit. The lessons, still fresh in her mind, told her exactly how to turn, where to grasp the wrist, and how to apply leverage. With a startled shriek, the black girl went up and over Taylor's shoulder, landing heavily on her back in the middle of the lawn.

"Now," began Taylor, glancing over at the goggling Emma, "let's just -"

The black girl came up off the grass faster than she'd expected, her leading fist tagging Taylor on the cheekbone. It stung, but Taylor faded back and blocked the follow-up punch, then got inside the other girl's reach. Her knee, driven by exercise-strengthened muscles, came up and buried itself in the girl's stomach. Doubling over, then falling to her hands and knees, the girl began to throw up on to the grass.

Taylor put her hands on her hips and stared at Emma, who was starting to look as though she was reconsidering her life choices. "Okay, Emma. Mind explaining to me exactly what the fuck is going on here?"