Chapter 1- "She's Gone"

Today was no different then the others. It was a normal Thursday, nearly the weekend. My mother woke me up to get ready for school- as always- and now I sat in my first period class. Watching the clock tick. My friends laughing and chatting about me.

I was still half asleep, I yawned and rubbed my eyes constantly. While never losing sight of the door, because like ever morning... I was waiting.

I was waiting to join in the loudness of my friends, I was waiting to start my morning properly... I was waiting for her.

Just to walk in though. I haven't the courage to talk to her, not many guys do- so don't go calling me a sissy. She would come gliding in any second, with the usual entourage of girls at her side. Looking adorable and glowing.

I was unconcerned as I waited, propping my face up on my hand. I tried not to stare a the doorway, but my eyes flickering from the desk top to the threshold wasn't any less subtle.

My hair was mess though wasn't it? I quickly took a moment to lay flat the disobedient strands- but it was no use. My hair was a useless messy mop of blonde no matter what I tried. I hear one of my friends call me over to their desk, but I shrug them off.

She'll be here any minute.

I sadly have to admit I know her schedule. She gets off the train here in the morning, around seven thirty, walks to town square- talks to the owner of the flower shop. Who I just so recently found out is her 'sister', Aven. That part I didn't seek out, my friend Cassandra told me. Her and Hope used to go to the same school in District 8, before it was shut down. Like everyone else's, the exact same thing happened to mine in District 4.

The new government are making a lot of changes now. They started with the laws, and now with education. They want us all to get the proper knowledge, so they canceled out all those old schools- and now there's this new, huge one (I still get lost in it). Every kid in every District was thrown together, a small town was built around it, since they placed it in an area of lands that used to be the wilds. It was a fairly close distance to all the Districts, but they still created a train system for those further away few. Like District 12, District 8, and the Capitol.

Mine was a necessary bus ride there and back, not a train. I kind of wish I did though. Cause then I could try to sit by Hope or something, maybe I'd get a word in. I'd probably chicken out, end up blabbering like a fool, getting lost in her bright eyes.

Better safe then sorry though, I'll stick with the bus.

"Damien?" I look up at Mike. He towered over me when I was sitting, probably a nice change to him. Since I was about six eight, and he would always grumble about the way I dwarfed everyone.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Do you remember last week, about that fishing trip? I asked my mom and she said no. She doesn't want me visiting other Districts." He was clearly agitated about it. "Isn't the whole point about us all being put together to get people to migrate around? She just so stuck in the old days, before the rebellion. Doesn't want me to leave nice and safe District 11."

He sinks down into the desk on my right, and I muster him a small smile of sympathy- while my eyes flickered to the doorway and then the clock. There was only four more minutes before the bell would ring. Where was she?

I tried to focus my attention back on Mike though. We have been planning this fishing trip for awhile, him and my other friends, Levi and Mitch, who were both from District 11 too. They had wanted to go for the longest time. They hear and learn about the ocean in class and all they've ever known in the dry and crop filled fields of District 11, with nothing as blue and shimmering as the waters around my home.

I told them I'd take them out. My family still possessed a boat that I would take out sometimes. My mother didn't mind much, she worked at a local store- and my father was retired. Something he never lacks to relish in, he lectures me all the time.

I could see him now, sitting in his overlarge chair in the middle of our living room, a book laying in his lap, and a finger pointing at my chest. 'Now don't you forget to be thankful, young man. You know how many lives were given for yours? What you have is freedom, savor it.' The words were there constantly nagging at my mind- a weight I think every ones parents put on them.

Enjoy it, your lucky, your special. We know... must you make us feel bad. When we look at them and see the wrinkles, the bags still underlying their eyes from those sleepless work filled nights. The slowly fading hate for something that is no longer in existence. That healing torment in the back of their eyes.

Yet they scold us for frowning. They admonish a sigh or show of anything but happiness.

"Damien!" Snaps Mike- I blink and then focus on him.

"Sorry, still half asleep." A yawn worked its way out of my mouth as proof. "That really sucks. Do you think your dad would let you come? I'll let you take home the fish, bride them with it or something. Tell 'em your learning a new trade."

"I already tried all that!" Mike insisted. "Mitch's parents won't let him go either. Levi's will, but that's only because he told them that he was going on a school field trip! What is with our parents?"

I must be extremely distract-able this morning, because just as he grumbled out those words a gang of girls came into the room. Their giggles alerted me first, then as they walked passed I caught their sweet scent. Was it just me? Or do girls always smell extremely nice?

Anyway, I was more distracted by a different fact.

She's not with them.

There was that brunette though, the one she was always hanging around. Hope wasn't with her now. I glanced at the clock again and the second I do the bell blares to life. People fall into their seats, the voices slowly falling to a hum.

Our teacher, Mr. Lark, who wore thin rimmed glasses, and whose head was now shining under the lights lined across the ceilings- began the attendance. His nose nearly brushing the paper on his clip board.

"Miss. Barbwash?"


"Mr. Barns?"


I waited for it. I stared at the doorway, leaning my torso over the top half of my desk. She had to be coming. She wouldn't skip, she's not the type... maybe she was running late. No. Probably not her- the train or something.

"Miss. Clarke?"

The classroom was silent. Mr. Lark lifted his gaze, his own face looked a bit perplexed. But then he shrugged and scribbled something down. Calling out the next name on the list.

Was something wrong? Had she gotten lost? I don't know how she could, she was so smart... Had she gotten hurt? I sat a little straighter at that thought. What if something had gone wrong! What if she fell, or slipped, broke her ankle- on some back road of District 8. (I had no idea what that place was like, but I heard there was only concrete and tall buildings.)

What if she was hidden behind one, calling out for help, dragging herself by her elbows...

Mike was giving me a funny look now. I realized I must have gone pale- forced a deep breath and fell slouching into my seat. Maybe I was being over dramatic. Maybe she got side tracked. Maybe some little old lady needed help and Hope couldn't resist herself...

Yeah that's probably it.

"Mr. Stark?"

"Here." I say. I cleared my throat because my voice sounded scratchy.

Only a bare minimum of five minutes has passed and attendance was finished. I still couldn't quite keep my eyes off the door way.

As the lesson started, about some sort of English concept, I couldn't find myself into it. Levi obediently took notes on the other side of the classroom, I spotted Mitch's head down on his arms (no doubt sleeping) and Mike was pretending to take notes, but he was really just doodling.

I leaned back a bit, trying to spot that brunette again. I can't remember her name, all I know is she is Hope's best friend. Did she looked worried? Or bored? I couldn't tell by that frown on her face. I narrowed my eyes to try and tell- did she know where Hope was?

Then the girls eyes flashed to mine, they are a startlingly bright blue, and I instantly averted my gaze to the teacher. I tried to fight any sort of embarrassment for having been caught staring. I hoped she didn't think I was admiring her... not that she's not pretty- some other guys say she's better looking then Hope. They're crazy though. I prefer Hope's cascading blond curls over this ones shorter, straighter brown hair.

Hazel was much more captivating then the blue. And still more... Hope had something about her. Something about the way she talked, the emotions in her face, and the graceful way she walked. The peace and stillness of her, the certainty, and the mystery she posed for us.

Not just me, no one knew much of her. Besides the general. The little bit of extra we know is that she lives in District 8 and that woman at the flower shop, looks nothing like her, but people claim her sister. Otherwise we don't know what she does when she's not with others, we don't know her family, or past. I find myself wanting to know a lot about her- I want her to tell me. And I want her to know me.

If only I knew what to say to her. I was too nervous to talk to her. My hands would get sweaty and my mouth would go dry, I just knew I'd embarrass myself. She would find me boring, or just weird. Pass me up like those other boys, but only with kind words and a sweet smile. Despite that it'd still sting.

I don't even think she knew I existed. She couldn't. I don't think- there was only this one time.. the first day at this school. I was lost, and this was two years ago, when we were both fifteen. I had run into her while wandering around. She wasn't lost though- and she helped me to my class. I felt meek then, I feel embarrassed about that now. Her helping me? When really I should have been the gentleman helping the young lady- who deserves nothing more then to be waited on.

From that day on I'd been keeping tabs on her. Which isn't hard. As everyone around here has been doing the same- not to my extent though. Those from her old school in District 8 shared what little they know of her, to us, from other Districts and with that they have us curious and just as captivated.

I glance up at the clock again and it showed I'd been sitting here for twenty minutes. And still Hope is gone.

Had a family member gotten hurt? Did she have family? Or did she just sleep in?

I couldn't find one good explanation and the fact that she wasn't here, consumed me. It was distracting to the point I was a little ashamed of my liking for this girl.

I count too much on her entrance of this room every morning. Maybe I should change that.

I was hoping silently that while I contemplate a way for that to happen, that she would come stumbling in. But it never happened and I watched the clock painstakingly tick away an hour of class. When the bell rang I rose from my chair, sadly.

Well this is stupid.

I follow Mike out into the halls, Mitch and Levi catching up behind us. Mike and Mitch were complaining about our canceled trip.

"Well maybe I could come to District 11 and talk to them- they could meet me." I suggest, halfheartedly. I don't know how much I would want to go to District 11..

"You sure?" Levi says. "It's really hot and muggy this time of year. The bus ride takes forever, and I don't know if it'll even work out. My mother hates outsiders."

We pause at our lockers now, I quickly open mine and Mitch adds. "Well we could show him the fields- don't know how amazing it'll be for you. Nothing like the ocean."

The thought wasn't anywhere near entertaining. But I shrug. "Well maybe I'm tried of water and beaches. I'll go if you want me to."

Guilty looks were shared around me and I knew they wanted me to come. But hated the lack of fun I'd have. I'd go anyway, anything to distract me. I mean, where was she? Would she be showing up sometime later in the day? Could I hope for her face to emerge from the crowd any second?

I shook away the questions. "I'm going, guys. Can't stop me." I flash them a grin, closing the locker with a snap. "You're stuck with me for the weekend."

Three beaming faces look up at me. The only one that was close to mine, was Mitch's because he was six four and I was still slouching.

"You sure?" Mike asks.

"Defiantly." I state, giving them all a curt nod, as we started heading down the hall. "I'm coming. What bus am I taking?"

"B-11. We live on the lower part of the District, so not A-11." Levi answers.

I hum a sound of acknowledgment and then wave them on down the hall, slipping through the flow of people until I can emerge into my next classes door. There was only a few people in it already. None of them from District 4 or of my friends. I made sure to check the whole room though, in case Hope had shown up. Since we have the first three classes together, and the last three not.

None of the faces matched hers. But I spotted the brunette again- sitting with three other girls around her. They were talking quietly, she was smiling.. I couldn't stop myself.

Before I knew where I was heading, I was walking over to the group. The girl with red hair standing around, noticed me first, her green eyes were soft and she flashed me a huge smile- I ignored it and stood just before the brunette.

When she turned towards me, I clutched the books in my hand tighter.

"Hello..?" She says, her eyes blinking up at me in confusion. The other girls around us teetered over each other and whispering things. I tried not to let it bother me.

I could feel a heat creeping up my neck though. What was I doing? What was I going to ask? Why...

"Do I know you?" The brunette asks after my awkward moment of silence.

"No." I answer honestly. Feeling foolish already.

"Oh." She glances over to her friends then back to me. "Well.."

"Do you know where Hope is?" I finally sputter out. My voice catches at Hope's name, and I pray she missed it.

A show of a realization crosses her face and a soft laugh shakes her chest. "Oh, I should of known." Had she been getting a lot of people asking about Hope? "She called me this morning. Told me she was sick and wouldn't be coming today."

She's sick. Of course, how had I not thought of that one? How had I come up with... I shake that away since the girl was waiting for a response. "Not too sick right?" I ask, and then curse the wording.

She didn't seem to mind it and shook her head. "Nope, just a little cold. Be good as new tomorrow."

I nod, and then settle my thoughts some. "Okay, I was just... wondering." My eyes scaled to my desk in the back of the class. I wanted to leave now. The girls were all staring at me- with some look I don't like. "Thanks though.." I start to back away, and my feet shuffle around her desk when she shifts around and asks.

"What's you name? I'll tell her you'd asked about her."

I immediately shake my head. "Oh, no that's okay. I'll just.. see her tomorrow." There's no need for Hope to know I'm her stalker..

"Well maybe you want to come see her?" She offered next, flashing a bright smile. "Me and a few other friends are going to meet up with her later, to make sure she's okay. She'd be happy to see that other people missed her.."

"I can't go to District 8." I shot off immediately. I don't think that's a lie, my mother would let me... just I couldn't. To District 8? To Hope's.. house? Though it sounded like they were meeting up with her somewhere instead. She shouldn't leave her bed if she's sick..

Still same difference. I can't go.

"Oh.." The brunette murmurs, sitting back again. "Okay."

I rush to my seat, just before the bell rings. I felt my heart was ticking a bit too fast- and I hadn't even been talking to Hope herself. I pay even less attention in this class, spending a long time just scratching idle lines on my notebook. Strange how her missing one day of school turned my normal flow into whack.

Usually I'd be staring at the board, mirroring the words there. While my ears strained to listen to every helpful answer Hope gave to the teacher, who adores her. I'd watch her hand raise, long to hold it, and then move on with nothing more to it.

I'd leave this period to participate in one more with her, and then after that I'd wait for two glimpses of her at lunch and heading towards the train station at the end of the day. Then it's up to tomorrow- that scant few minutes before eight in to morning, to see her walk in.

That's all I ask for. To have her brighten my days with a distance. I don't think I would ever get her in my grasp though. Better men then me have tried and failed. She just wasn't the dating type. I've only ever dated one girl, Marsh, back when I still went to the school in District 4. Before I knew someone like Hope existed.

Marsh and I don't talk anymore. Our break up was brutal. She cheated on me, and I tried to rope her back in, charm her with my old ways- she just ended up using me until her new boyfriend got away clean. She charmed me into letting it slide, about not hurting him. I'm not usually violent.. but this guy stole a girl I thought myself in love with. He's lucky I realized it was all just hormones, and easily muffled feelings. He's about half my size, I could have made him a pulp...

I don't care for Marsh now. Well I mean I'm glad she's still... happy (whoring around). But romanticly.. I seem a bit hopeless with that now- since it's Hope I'm liking.

I know my friend Levi has a crush on Hope too. I hide it better then he does.. maybe not today. And I don't like to think I could win her over more then him. I can't know what she wants..

Wish I did though. It would be so much more simple. I don't think she's interested in love. I wish I knew the words to say to her to make her relax and talk to me. Not like the way she talks sweetly to everyone- I mean really talk. Let me in.. was it possible she had walls? I think so, walls she hides well with her charismatic air and inviting eyes.

Did she build them through the years? Or were they inherited? Had her childhood been one of suffering, and now she trusts terribly? Or am I just way off the point.. and what did the teacher just say?

"Mr. Stark, will you be going to your next period today?"

I glance up from my notebook, to find rows of empty desks in front of me- my math teacher standing at the head of them. Giving me a odd and amused look.

These are the moments that I really just wish to smack myself in the head.

"Umm.. er- yes, sir." Her eyes flash. "Ma'am! Yes, ma'am." I stumble from the desk, my foot gets stuck on the leg of the chair, I snatched the books off the top- before ripping it free.

"A little off today, Mr. Stark?" She asks, in a wilting tone- as I rush to the front of the room.

"Uh- yes. Still tired I think. I gotta-" I glance out at the slowing traffic in the hall. "-go."

She nods and I have to stride around the halls to my locker, grab my gym bag, and then run to the locker rooms. The bell rings while I'm half way there- god damn it. This will be my third tardy. I'll have to serve a detention for it.

My dad's gonna kill me. I'll be home late, and take the later bus. It'll be dark by that time. Will they keep me from going to District 11?

I rush into the gymnasium, straightening my shorts- running a quick hand through my hair. The strict coach-like teacher glares at me, his booming voice reaches my ears- demanding fifty push ups. I drop right there, outside the doorway. The other kids are outside already, running laps.

I pump up and down quickly, my hair blinds me a little- its agitating, I'm gonna have to cut it.

Once I've done fifty I jump back up- start at a jog towards the doors outside and then slip right into the running groups.

Mike's in my gym class- but he's way up front and I'm lagging today. I just barely jog, the more delicate girls are at my back. I hear them whisper through pants, and I catch my name in it.

The guy next to me, from District 1- I know because he wears those ridiculous labels. He's soaking up the fact that his name is being said also. He's not extremely fit, as obvious since we're in the back, but he's so arrogant I can feel it coming off him in waves.

His labels is on the necklace that bounces up and down against his chest. Others like tattoos- which most parents disprove of since they are a reminder of what the Capitol people used to do. Some have metal bracelets engraved, scarfs, and etc..

I don't have one. It's just their way of thinking they are better. As if they still pride themselves into being better then the other Districts. Some parents of the old 'Career' Districts like to encourage this thinking. People from my District sometimes do it. I don't like to though.

It's really hot today. The sun is beating down on my black T-shirt, I'm already sweating and I've only gone three laps. The guy next to me, stripped off his shirt. Not very impressive- I'd say. But the girls flutter and sprint to keep up with us.

I match his stride, because it keeps me going in pace. Not that I would like to talk to him. He keeps giving me this leering look- thinking he's better then me. Though I'm taller then him by at least five inches, and I know my own chest out muscles his.

I'm not baited into the fight. I keep my shirt on- for my own sake. When I finally pull myself out of the gutter, I push aside thoughts of Hope and out sprint all of them, finishing my laps up at a nice and even fourteen.

I get marked down for the tarty- I'm expecting a slip to arrive to me by the end of the day. The rest of the class was spent playing field soccer. I was voted goaly because of my height. But my team still lost, they didn't get how badly I could have messed up.. but really I just kept letting the girls score.

The rest of the day went by slowly. It was boring. I don't think I've had a more dual or off day then today. I received my detention slip at the end of my last period. Mitch negotiated with me that I should serve it tomorrow and they'll wait around for me until after so I can still go to there places for the weekend. That way my parents won't ever know.

I get to my locker as people are starting to fade away, the halls dying down. I'm shuffling through my papers, since ny bus would be here soon. Was it math homework or social studies that was due tomorrow? I can't remember- so I shove them both in the backpack. I slam the locker, twisting the dial- when I heard footsteps behind me.

I turn and spot that brunette heading my way, she departed from the group of girls that she was with earlier, waving them off with a smile. I was tempted to run. What did she want to say? 'Hi, hello- I just found out that crazy obsession you have for Hope. Get lost, she doesn't need you around.'

Something along those lines, probably. Or not, since she has to drop back her head all the way to meet my gaze- which really isn't intimidating. And she's smiling so brightly I'm afraid her face is going to split right in half.

"Your that kid, right?" She asks.

I shift my weight onto my other foot. "Maybe."

She laughs. Its high pitch and I'm tempted to flinch.

"No, I'm pretty sure its you."

I shrug and take a step, almost around her. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I really need to be going. If I miss my bus I'm stuck here for three hours waiting for the next one. I give her a apologetic smile. "My bus.."

"Oh yeah, sorry. I just wanted to make sure you're sure... you don't wanna come with us?"

Her stare is measuring me. I stare back. I'm sure I can't. I- I do want to see Hope. But at my nice and safe distance. I'm sure I would like to know she's alright. But I can't.

"I'm sure."

Her smile falters. "Damien is your name, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Is the lamest answer I came up with.

"I'm Noah." Her eyes narrow some. "Do you remember..?" I raise an eyebrow at the end of her statement. Remember what? That I talked to you earlier? That your names Noah? That I'm going to miss my bus? And then she sighs. "I guess I was wrong... sorry for bugging you."

That spiked my curiosity. "Wait, what do you mean?" I make to grab her elbow and she whips around- I drop my hand meekly.

She comes close, too close for my liking. She nods me lower to her height and her eyes are glancing around the hall until I'm just at a whispering distance.

"You promise you won't tell?" She asks.

"Yes.. promise." I mutter, and then her eyes are staring into mine.

"I've known Hope for all my childhood." She starts and I wonder if she knows what she's saying.. to me, who didn't even know her name two seconds ago. I would have told any other girl to save it- and rethink what they'll share, but this is about Hope and my curiosity is getting the better of me. "And I've- well I don't know much about her. I know her favorite color, her opinions, all those things.. my point is- I don't know where she lives in my District, I don't know that girl in town, chick named Aven. Or.." She paused here. Her lips pursed and she seemed to rethink her saying.

But I nudge her further. "Or what?"

"I thought it was you." She blurts out.

I don't know what she could mean. All the things she is mentioning are already known, and no one understands them. And still she mentions me, associated with Hope..?

"Me, what?"

"I thought you were that guy. The one I saw her with."

Ouch. Did you have to say that so bluntly? I winced on the inside, and took a visible deep breath. So Hope did have a guy. A secret one. Great...

"It wasn't me." I clarify. I hike the bag higher on my shoulder and start walking down the hall. But Noah matches my pace, her voice flowing at a fast pace.

"But who is it? He was tall- like you. I think. I only got a glimpse." She prattles on as if she has been holding this to herself for a long time. "I showed up early to where we meet up on the corner over by the town square. She was hugging him- and then she saw me and she came at me, pushing me and turning me away. She was talking really fast and was all flustered- I'd never seen her like that! And whenever I mention it she waves it away, pretending I made it up."

"Sounds like she doesn't want to talk about it, to me." I mutter. Suddenly finding myself in not a talking mood either.

It was a lot nicer knowing she wouldn't have me, and didn't have anyone else- then knowing that she did. Now I feel like a pathetic hung up sap.

Noah doesn't seem to want to accept this. The whole pretending it isn't real. I would like to- if she would stop following me.

"I know she doesn't. But she's never purposely kept something from me before! I just.. why wouldn't she tell me who? It's none of the guys from our District and well.. when you came up to me today and asked about her I thought.. but obviously not. I just-"

We reached the front doors of the school now and I pushed out of them, the sun caught my eyes and I spotted my bus a little ways away, readying to go. "Look- I'm sorry but I have to go. I'm sorry that she's.. keeping things from you, but I really don't know Hope. It wasn't me." I wave a hand as I run down the steps and she stand there staring after me.

I hop onto the bus not a second before the doors close and as I slip into the nearest empty seat- I look back at the girl, Noah. And her face is sad, reminding me of a pouting dog, her shoulders are slumped. The exact kind of look my parents would have snapped at me for possessing.

And I know she isn't going to drop this. I made a promise not to tell- and I wasn't going to. But Noah told me, not anyone else. Me, and that fact was going to keep her coming back. I can see it in the look on her face- she was going to talk to me tomorrow... she's going to ask me for help, in finding this guy- that I swear I envy so much I would turn the color green.

I don't know whether to be excited that I'm finally getting a chance to slip into Hope's life- or if I should be terrified beyond my wits. It was a coincidence that she thought it was me and now that she knows it isn't- she wants my help. There was something upsetting about that fact- that Hope had a secret.

And I know, I was going to help Noah. I wouldn't be able to stop myself. Because... Hope has a secret, and I'm going to find out what and who. It had to be something small though- what would Hope be hiding?

How would I ever get her to tell me? How had I even gotten myself into this? She misses one day of school and I find myself knowing a secret only her best friend knows.. a secret- that has only deepened the mystery around this girl, Hope. Of District 8.

I guess I'll just have to see what Noah wants to do- tomorrow.

A/N: I couldn't stop myself! And I know the first chapters a bit boring.. but I'm preparing the set of the story for you. I hope you like it so far. It's going to be purely a romance really. (sorry guys.) Expect a lot of 'awe' moments later on. Waiting to see Hope? Hoping to see her POV? Yeah- your not getting it. Not yet anyway. Thanks for reading, review! -Taryn(: