CHAPTER ONE - The Gopher State

"Chemistry... History..." I mumbled aloud to myself, pushing back the textbooks lined up neatly in my locker. "Math." I grabbed Fundamentals of Calculus from the shelf and carried it on my arm, along with the three spiral notebooks and binder I was already carrying. I slammed the metal door shut, fumbled with the lock and rushed off to Room 219, thankfully managing to get there before the bell rang.

It was third period: calculus with Mr. Hunter. Always ever so punctual, Becca was already there and had saved me a seat next to her.

"It's only the first week of school and I'm already stressed out," I groaned, ducking my head as I took off my messenger bag. I sat down and let out a deep sigh as I sank into the seat. "You'd think they'd let us chill." Becca raised an eyebrow. "Well, at least for a while at first!"

"Wishful thinking, my friend," she said dejectedly. "But yeah, tell me about it. I have a geography essay on North American urban systems due on Monday and on top of that, Ralph Waldo Emerson poetry to analyze for English." She made a face and despite the situation, I couldn't help but laugh.

"Is this seat taken?" a quiet voice asked. We both turned and a girl we'd never seen before was pointing to the seat behind me. She had wavy brown hair and was dressed in a cute pink skirt with a matching tank top, along with the cutest pair of flats I had ever seen.

"Nope. I don't think so," Becca replied, smiling.

I turned fully in my seat to face her as she sat down and I gushed about her shoes. She blushed, muttering a shy thanks and just as I was about to introduce myself, a flustered Mr. Hunter walked into the classroom, apologizing for his lateness. He whipped out his black marker and immediately started scribbling on the white board.

Remembering Hunter's notorious rule and his zero policy for "disruptive talking" in class, I gave her a half smile instead and turned back around to face the impending doom of Derivatives and Integrations.

- -

"Well that was fun, " I said sarcastically, draping the strap of my bag over my shoulder as I stood up from my seat.

"I think thrilling is a much better word to describe it." I turned to face the now not-so-shy brunette and grinned. "I'm Amber," she said, sticking her hand out. I shook it and happily introduced myself and Becca.

We walked out of class together and joined the masses in the hallway. We followed the flow of the crowd to the cafeteria.

"Really now," I said seriously. "Where did you get those awesome shoes?" Amber laughed.

"From only the finest of course," she said with mock haughtiness and a twinkle in her eye. "A chic little boutique.... in Minnesota." Becca and I burst out laughing and not being able to keep a straight face anymore, Amber giggled.

"So much for Paris and Milan," Becca chuckled, catching her breath. "Is that where you're from?" We turned the corner and walked into the noisy cafeteria.

"Uh huh. The good old Gopher State. Just got here two days ago."

"How are you liking it?" I asked, joining the line at the counter. I took a tray from the stack and set it down.

"It's okay so far," she said contemplatively. "It's just weird how we don't even have all our boxes unpacked yet and I'm already here at school. It's just happening so fast, you know?"

"Can't say I do," I sheepishly admitted. "I've lived in Stoneybrook my whole life." I took a turkey sandwich and a Snapple kiwi-strawberry drink as we passed the displays. We paid at the cash register and walked through the side doors, deciding to sit outside to make the best out of the good weather that was bound to leave us soon enough.

"Well Amber, you might miss Minnesota," Becca said, taking a seat across from me around the round table. "But at least you have new friends here." She smiled sincerely.

"Cheers to that," Amber laughed, raising her can of Pepsi. I clinked my juice bottle with her can and grinned, but it slowly drained from my face as my eyes scanned the outside Quad and rested on a lone figure sitting at a table.

Even through the crowd, I noticed him.

...The world could be crumbling down around me and I would still notice him.

He was hunched over a binder and textbook, his eyebrows furrowed in quiet frustration He looked up distractedly and our eyes locked. The moment passed and he clenched his jaw and looked away. I swallowed a lump in my throat and my eyes brimmed with tears. The hurt was still there. As far as I knew, it wasn't going to go anywhere.

But I blinked the tears away, plastering a smile on my face.

"So..... do they take orders at that boutique in Minnesota?"