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The fallen star (fallen.., p.3
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       The Fallen Star (Fallen Star Series, Book 1), p.3

           Jessica Sorensen
 
So if I thought my life had been strange with the not-being-able-to-feel-prickle-up-the-neck-and-suddenly-you-can-feel thing (I really need to give it a name), then I had no clue what strange meant. Over the last few days the word “strange” had taken on an entirely new meaning.

  First off, Alex did not like me. And that was putting it mildly. When he looked at me, half of the time it was as if he was staring into some far off place—like I wasn’t even there. And the other half of the time, the brightness in his eyes darkened with utter loathing.

  It sucked.

  Why he felt this way about me still remained a mystery. The only reason I could come up with was that maybe he blamed me for the fact that every time he sat down at our table in astronomy, the electric sensation sparked up.

  So where did this leave me? Nowhere basically. For the time, my brain had taken up temporary residency in the Land of Confusion.

  Regardless of my problems, life still moved on. School moved on. Mr. Sterling started pushing more and more for group participation, like he could tell Alex and I were having issues and wanted to force us to work them out with each other. But how was I supposed to work out my issues with Alex when I wasn’t sure what the issues were?

  It didn’t matter though, because Alex wasn’t having any part of it. He refused to work on any of the assignments as a group, crossing his arms like a two-year-old and not doing anything.

  It was Friday when things took a shift in a different direction. Mr. Sterling had passed out a deck of cards with the constellations printed on them in gold ink. Now, as a group, we were supposed to be holding the cards up for one another and trying to identify them, but doing so required all three of us to work together. Instead, Alex had half of the cards and was identifying them to himself. He looked exceptionally good today, dressed in a dark grey Henley and faded jeans, his hair scattered messily just like always. But I was trying my best not to focus on how good he looked. And, let me tell you, it was working out real well for me too.

  Across the table, Ailsin sat texting away on her cell phone, her pink manicured nails hammering away at the buttons as she disregarded the assignment entirely. Over the last few days, I caught on that this blasé attitude seemed to be a trend for her, like she didn’t care about her grades.

  The rest of the cards were on the table beside my elbow. I had been doodling an inartistic rose on the cover of my notebook, daydreaming for the last fifteen minutes about what it would be like to be normal, while the electricity flowed lightly across my skin; a continuous reminder that normal was something I would never be.

  As I added the thorns to the stem of my rose, Mr. Sterling appeared by our table, holding a pink slip of paper in his hand. Startled by his sudden appearance—and the fact that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to—I dropped my pen. It rolled off the table and landed on the floor as I scrambled to grab a card and pretend I had been working on the assignment the whole time.

  He frowned disapprovingly at me and set the pink slip down on the table in front of Aislin. “This came from the office for you.”

  She snapped her cell phone shut and flashed him an innocent smile as she gathered up the paper.

  “No more texting,” Mr. Sterling mumbled, adjusting his tie as he walked away.

  Aislin read the paper and then announced, “I have to go to the counselor’s office.”

  Alex dropped the card he was holding and it floated to the floor. “What for?” His voice came out loud, his words rushed, causing a few people to shoot curious glances at us. Alex leaned closer to Aislin and lowered his voice. “Why do you have to go?”

  “I don’t know.” She shrugged and handed him the paper. “It doesn’t say why. It just says I have to.”

  Alex skimmed the paper over, then crumbled it into a ball and tossed it on the floor. It brushed down Nina Monroe’s long blonde hair during the downfall, and she turned around, her eyebrows furrowed as she ran her fingers through her hair.

  Aislin flashed an apologetic look at her and scooped up the ball of paper from off the floor. “Jeez, Alex,” she said, smoothing out the creases. “You really need to stop freaking out about the tiniest things.”

  Alex rolled his eyes. “And you need to stop butting into my business.”

  Aislin pointed her finger at him as she got to her feet. “Be nice while I’m gone. I mean it.” She grabbed her phone and trotted down the stairs, the curls of her golden blonde hair swinging across her back.

  Just like that, a tension-filled bubble formed around Alex and me. Electric sparks danced all over my skin. My heart was like a jackhammer in my chest, feeding my already growing concern of how much more my heart could take before it would explode.

  I needed to concentrate on something else.

  I plucked a card from the deck and tried to center my attention on the gold dots forming the constellation. Right away I knew it was Andromeda, but still flipped the card over to check the answer. Yep, Andromeda printed in bold black letters on the back. I slipped it underneath the bottom of the deck, took another card from the top, and stared at the set of gold dots. This one was a little bit trickier, which was a good thing because figuring out the answer took more of my attention. I could feel my heart rate slowing down and my body relaxing. But then Alex began tapping his pen on the table over and over and over again. I don’t know if he was doing it just because, or if he was attempting to get under my skin. If it was the latter then it was working.

  At first, the tapping noise was only mildly annoying. But the movement seemed to be stirring up more and more sparks inside me. My heart began to speed up again. My head started pounding. I massaged my temples with my fingertips, taking a deep breath before I looked up at Alex.

  My plan was pretty simple. I would give him a death stare until he stopped tapping his pen. I ran into a bit of a problem, though, because when I looked at him and our gazes met, my mind blanked out. I ended up just staring at him like an idiot gaping at their celebrity crush.

  Alex stared back at me with this semi-intrigued, semi-panicked look on his face. What he was finding so intriguing was beyond me. The electricity? Me? Or maybe he found it interesting that he was making me feel the electricity? I always assumed it was me causing the electric sensation, but maybe I was wrong.

  Alex and I continued to stare each other down like we were having a staring contest or something. Alex, for some reason, seemed to find it entertaining. The amused smile playing at his lips proved that. I was torn between wanting to slap that amused smile right off his face and leaning over and pressing my lips to his. Yeah, I know, definitely something I should not be thinking.

  “Gemma. Alex.”

  I blinked and realized Mr. Sterling was standing beside our table, a stern expression on his face.

  How long had he been standing there?

  “Can I speak with you two in the hallway…now?” he asked, but it wasn’t a question that was allowed to be answered with a no.

  “Alright,” I muttered at the same time Alex said, “Okay.”

  Alex kept his eyes glued on me as he rose to his feet. I stood up too, and we followed Mr. Sterling down the stairs and out into the hallway.

  I found the situation very unsettling. The hallway was empty and silent. Mr. Sterling looked irritated. I had never been in trouble before, but I was getting the impression that this was going to be my first time.

  “I was wondering if there was a problem between you two?” Mr. Sterling asked.

  I shook my head. “No.” I mean, what was I supposed to say? There’s this really strange electric feeling buzzing between us, and despite the fact that Alex hates me, I can’t seem to hate him back. Yeah, that wouldn’t make me sound crazy at all.

  Mr. Sterling stared heavily at us—his attempt, I assumed, to be intimidating. The thing was, he just wasn’t a very intimidating teacher. In fact, he had a reputation for being a real softy and letting things slide.

  “It just seems like there isn’t a lot of group interaction goi
ng on,” Mr. Sterling said, his attention focused on me. “Now, Gemma, I expected you to be a little more welcoming to Aislin and Alex since they’re new here.”

  My jaw dropped. What! Was he kidding? “I-I’m not…I mean I—”

  He held his hand up, silencing me. “I don’t want any excuses. What I want is for the three of you to work together and get along.”

  My jaw tightened as the prickle stabbed at the back of my neck. I was pissed; more than pissed. I was downright furious. I burned the hottest glare I’d ever summoned up at Alex. He pressed his lips together to, of all things, hold back a grin. Apparently my anger was another thing that entertained him.

  I clenched my hands into fists. I have never been a violent person before, but if Mr. Sterling hadn’t been standing there, I might have hit Alex. Well, okay, that was a lie. But in the imaginative part of my brain I would have.

  “Now, we have a fieldtrip coming up pretty soon and working in a group is a very big part of it,” Mr. Sterling continued on, oblivious to my outrage. “So I want you two to get to know each other by working on the other assignments as a group.” His gaze wandered back and forth between Alex and me like he was waiting for us to promise we would.

  But I was too irritated to make such a promise.

  “Alright,” Alex said, his eyes flickering in my direction. “We will.”

  I had to hold back an eye roll. What was this “we” crap? I wasn’t the one going out of my way to hate someone I barely knew.

  “Good,” Mr. Sterling said with a pleased smile. He opened the door to the classroom. “Now I’ll let you two get back to the assignment.”

  Grinding my teeth, I stepped back into the classroom and made my way back to my table. Kelsey Merritt awarded me with one of her infamous you-are-such-a-loser looks as I passed by her, and then batted her eyelashes at Alex. In spite of how mad I was, I still felt a wave of relief as Alex turned his head away from her.

  But I hated that I reacted that way.

  I hated that Alex had that much control over my feelings.

  I dropped down in my chair and watched Alex as he shuffled the deck of cards like he was getting ready for a game of poker. He cut the deck once, twice, and then tapped it on the table, aligning the cards evenly with one another.

  “Alright.” He slid the deck of cards at me. “You hold them up and I’ll tell you the answers.”

  I raised my eyebrows questioningly. Was he being serious? Because I thought when he made the agreement with Mr. Sterling, he made it as an empty promise.

  I eyed the deck of cards warily, wondering if it was a trick. If I picked one up and showed it to him, would he laugh at me because I actually thought he wanted to work with me? Or was he just trying to be cooperative?

  There was only one way to find out.

  Reluctantly, I grabbed the deck of cards and flipped the top card over.

  “Cassiopeia,” Alex answered indifferently.

  He was correct, so I nodded and slipped the card under the deck. I lifted up the next one at the exact time the intensity of the electricity decided to ascend a notch.

  “Ursa Major,” he said. Then very condescendingly added, “Or the Big Dipper.”

  The sparks blazed as I held up another card.

  “Ursa Minor.” He caught my eye. “Is something wrong?”

  Although my heart was racing, I managed to sound composed. “Nope. Nothing’s wrong.”

  He rolled his eyes, and my anger simmered as I showed him another card.

  “Andromeda.” He shook his head. “This is so ridiculous.”

  Okay, that was it. Enough was enough. A few choice words burned at the tip of my tongue, but I bit them back. “You know what, you’re right. This is ridiculous.” I tossed the card I was holding onto the table and slumped back in the chair. “If you don’t want to work with me, then fine. Maybe you should just leave again.” The prickle poked at my neck, but whatever emotion was trying to emerge was smothered by my anger. “You don’t even know me, yet you hate me. Just like that. You never even gave me a chance.” I shook my head. “Yeah, you’re right. This is ridiculous.”

  Wow. Where had that come from? It was so unlike me. Normally I was quiet. I held back saying a lot of things to the point that it felt like my chest was going to burst from the pressure.

  As soon as I was done with my little speech, I wanted to take it back. Yeah, he deserved it. He possibly deserved worse. But still, I should have been the bigger person.

  He cocked an eyebrow, his expression hovering somewhere between shock and curiosity. “That’s quite the temper you have.”

  “You’re the one that has the temper,” I mumbled, and then quickly bit down on my tongue to stop myself from saying anything else.

  He watched me closely, his expression softening as he leaned over the table. “Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll make you a promise.” He paused. “I promise I won’t be a jerk anymore.” I was about to relax until he tacked on, “At least for the rest of class, anyway.”

  I shut my eyes and shook my head. What kind of a promise was that? Better yet, what kind of person said something like that? The gorgeous kind, I thought as an afterthought. Instantly, I wanted to smack myself on the head. What was I doing, thinking that way about a guy who clearly hated my guts?

  I pulled myself together before opening my eyes. “Fine. Whatever. Sounds good.”

  For the rest of class, we worked together in peaceful harmony. We took turns holding up the cards. There were no more fights or stare-downs. To an outside observer, the situation probably appeared normal. Of course, they couldn’t feel the sparks constantly spiraling and swirling in my body, a silent reminder that things were far from normal.

  They weren’t even close.