The motorcycle cut in front of Nathan Malone just as he was pulling into the high school parking lot. He slammed on the brakes and blasted the car's horn, but the rider on the back, dressed in black leather and a streamlined helmet, flashed him an obscene gesture as the cycle's driver sped off with a roar. Nathan took deep breaths. Another car snaked past him and a voice yelled, "Hey, buddy, park it someplace else! You're jamming traffic."
Startled, Nathan put his foot on the gas and shot forward, almost running over three girls crossing the lot. They shouted at him. He stomped the brake and clamped the wheel, his palms clammy, and inched forward, searching for the parking space assigned to him in his Crestwater welcome packet. His friend Skeet had warned him that the first day was gridlock. Maybe Skeet was used to the bedlam, but Nathan wasn't. Years of homeschooling hadn't prepared him to spend his senior year in one of Atlanta's biggest public high schools, but here he was--ready or not. He shouldn't let the two idiots on the cycle determine his mood.
He found the space, marked by a bright yellow painted number, and pulled in, careful to park between the lines. His car was new--well, not new new, but new to him. His parents had given him the keys just a few nights before, part of his seventeenth birthday gift, but also a way to make up for shoving him into a public school from the relative shelter of his homeschooling experience. Not that Nathan minded. He'd wanted to be a regular kid for a long time. And being regular meant attending public school. "A cesspool, my man," Skeet had always said. "Not for the faint of heart."
Nathan shouldered his book bag and headed off for the entrance and the common area, where Skeet had sworn he'd be waiting for him. He'd better be! Nathan already felt tight as a string on his guitar, and that was before the incident with the cycle.
The halls were packed and so noisy Nathan wanted to cover his ears. How did people think, much less study, in this decibel purgatory? One good thing about his home classroom--it was quiet. Or it had been quiet until the twins, Abby and Audrey, were born in July and his mother realized in a panic that she couldn't juggle two babies and teach Nathan's senior class load. Not with college looming. At first he'd felt euphoric, like he'd been let out of a cage, but now, in the teeming hallways, he felt dwarfed and lost. What every other kid in the school knew as normal, he saw as extraordinary.
"Nate!" Skeet's voice cut through the noise. "Over here!"
Nathan worked his way over to Skeet, who was sitting on a short wall. The wall surrounded a monolith of concrete and brass: Crestwater's mascot, a rising dolphin balancing on its tail. "Hey, man."
"Find your space?"
"Yeah. But not before a cycle almost plowed me down. Aren't they illegal on school property?"
"Not so." His brow puckered. "Who was driving?"
"How should I know? There were two of them. The rider on the back gave me the finger when I honked."
Skeet grinned. "Odds are it was Lisa Lindstrom."
"A girl?" Most of the girls Nathan knew were homeschooled like him, younger, all giggly and silly, and they didn't ride cycles and flash rude hand gestures.
"Was the cycle black and silver with a big red heart painted on the tank?"
"I didn't take that close a look. It almost creamed me. I was just trying to get out of the way."
"Not a guy in the school who wouldn't give up his car speakers to get a tumble from Lisa. She's a knockout--transferred in as a junior last January. Keeps to herself, though. I call her 'a heartache on a Harley.' " Skeet pressed his hand over his heart.
"She sounds like a conceited pain."
"No . . . she just doesn't give a damn. I know, hard to believe, but she seems to be totally unimpressed by Crestwater's movers and shakers. She's my hero." Skeet leaned closer. "She's the one who stood up Rod Stewart for the junior-senior last year."
Nathan put the pieces together. Rod "Roddy" Stewart, no relation to the rocker, was a football legend at Crestwater and on track for a full ride to Georgia and the Bulldogs after he graduated. Skeet had told Nathan all about the big dump the day after last year's prom because it was all over the school and because Skeet didn't like Roddy. "That was the girl?"
"Way the story goes, Rod went to pick her up and she was long gone--off to a frat party, according to her mother, who said, 'Gee, you're the second boy tonight who showed up to take her to the prom.' " Skeet cackled gleefully. "Seems she jilted some other poor punk too. We never did know who. Man, Roddy was steamed. I mean, who stands up Mr. 'I'm Too Sexy for My Shorts' and lives to tell about it?"
"Well, she still doesn't sound like the kind of girl a guy gets all warm and fuzzy over."
"You got that right. She's--" He searched for words. "The stuff legends are made of."
Nathan laughed. "You sound like you're in love with her."
Skeet looked self-conscious. "I'm not in her league. Besides, you haven't seen the biker dude up close who sometimes rides with her. He could squash your head with his bare hands."
"Okay, okay. Let's move on." He dug out his class schedule. He was in all AP classes, nothing with Skeet. "Meet me here at the end of the day and I'll drive us home."
"Football rally after school on the field. We've got to go and drool over the cheerleaders."
"Oh." Nathan disliked that he was so out of sync with high school life that he didn't know the basics. "I thought you hated football."
"I hate Rod. There's a difference. Come to the rally with me, then we'll head home."
"I'll have to call Mom. You know how she freaks when I'm late."
Suddenly Skeet's eyes widened. "Here she comes," he said under his breath.
Nathan turned to see a tall girl with long chestnut-colored hair striding past. She wore black leather pants, cowboy boots, and a trendy top. She carried a black leather jacket over her shoulder. "The diva?" he asked out of the side of his mouth.
"In the flesh," Skeet said reverently.
Nathan eyed her. Skeet had been right about her being pretty. Yet everything about her body language said Stay away. A group of girls stepped aside when Lisa passed. A few of them giggled, and others started whispering. She ignored them.From the Hardcover edition.