As soon as she tripped and fell right in front of the geography classroom into the arms of someone who smelled like pine and a wisp of smoke, Aynnhailleah Angel Astrid knew she was in trouble.
Things had already been abnormally out of sorts. The night before, she had flown back in from winning an international dance competition too late to come back onto campus, so she had been forced to spend a night in Valley City, Peaks Kingdom, located right below Central Mountain. Then, she had somehow overslept for the first time in her life, and she had to sprint to campus to get to class on time. But what took the cake was that once she was already more than halfway up the mountain path to Kennard Academy, she had the sickening realization that she had forgotten her uniform blazer, which she had so carefully packed for her return, in her suitcase in the Vermillion Hotel’s presidential suite. She just knew that sometime that day, Mrs. Grant, the perpetually scowling algebra teacher who just seemed to hate Angel since the first day of freshman year, would send her to detention for ‘breaking the dress code.’
This just wasn’t her day, it seemed. Angel steadied herself and, stepping back, lifted her head to see who it was that she had run into.
She clamped her mouth shut before she could blurt the word, “Whoa,” and she swallowed hard. How had she never seen him around school before?
He had to be taller than six feet with how he towered over her, and he looked like he had stepped off the cover of The Mode, the top international fashion magazine. Though he had a thin scar slashed through his left eyebrow, rather than detracting from his face, it made him look even more handsome. His hair evoked memories of soft, freshly fallen snow, and long, thick lashes of the same shade framed his blue eyes. They were like a bottomless ocean in the way that they seemed to pierce right through her. His gaze met hers, and she felt as though she were transfixed within the beam of his vision. She blinked and quickly lowered her head, feeling heat rush into her cheeks.
“Sorry about that,” she said softly, and she hurriedly stepped through the doorway just as the first period bell rang. Before she could hear if he had replied, she scurried toward her seat in the second-to-last row before she could be scolded by Mrs. Smith for barely making it on time to class. Her high heels clacked painfully loudly on the floor tiles with each step she took. At least she had made it on time—even with all the crazy things that happened to her on her way to school, she had her honor student reputation to keep up.
“Wow, he looks like a model. Have you ever seen him before on TV or social media?” one of her classmates whispered to another as she passed by.
“No, he must be new. But he looks so unreal. He’s seriously on the same level of beauty as Angel. Obviously, they don’t have the same kind of beauty, but he’s just as stunning.”
Angel narrowed her eyes.
“Transferring during senior year, huh. And not on the first day, but in the middle of the second week. I wonder why,” said the first classmate, then fell silent.
As soon as she sat down at her desk, Angel turned to glance at the front of the room. The boy had walked in behind her and approached Mrs. Smith’s desk, handing the teacher a note and speaking to her in hushed tones. Angel felt her jaw tighten and her fists clench as she watched him. There was no way this was happening.
There had never been a day in her life in which she had felt this way about anyone—until now, of course. A feeling of worry coursed through her as Mrs. Smith began to speak to him.
“Jeh-mez Blake,” read Mrs. Smith in a pseudo-posh accent as she examined the name pin attached neatly to the breast pocket of the boy’s blazer jacket. Angel had to admit to herself that their school uniform somehow looked better on him than any other boy, as if it was especially tailored to suit his broad shoulders and muscular physique.
Anyways, it was obvious that Mrs. Smith had no idea how to really pronounce J-H-É-M-E-S, as much as she might believe she did. Angel rolled her eyes and covered her mouth discreetly as she fought back a chuckle that rose up from her throat against her will. It wasn’t good of her to laugh at her teacher, but she had briefly caught sight of the new boy’s name pin on the way to her seat and she thought that it should be obvious that it was—
“James,” said the boy in a polite but flat tone, as if he was used to the unpleasurable task of correcting people who could not say his name correctly. “It’s pronounced James Blake.”
She knew it.
“Ah, yes,” said Mrs. Smith, nodding as if she had known all along. “Well, it’s a pleasure to have you, Jhémes. Why don’t you have a seat behind Miss Astrid, then.” She motioned in Angel’s direction.
Angel whipped her head around, taking in the sight of the empty desk behind her. When had this spot been empty? She was sure her best friend, Bryony Peters, had been sitting behind her in geography for all of the first week of school. Right? Or perhaps not. Where was she now? Angel hadn’t had the chance to look around when she first walked in.
“Hello, Astrid,” said Jhémes, propping his backpack against a desk leg and gracefully sinking into the seat. He stretched out his long legs until they were practically under her chair.
Angel twisted around completely in her seat and slowly met his eyes, which were like deep, piercing blue beams of light shining straight through her. She carefully pushed back a thick lock of her flowing, waist-length raven hair, and it shone glossily even under the artificial lights of the classroom.
“Hi, Jhémes,” she replied, giving him a graceful smile. “Actually, Astrid’s my last name. I’m—”
“Annalee,” he said, peering at her name pin. It was completely printed from left to right with a much smaller font than everyone else’s. A-Y-N-N-H-A-I-L-L-E-A-H Astrid.
“Yeah—What?” Angel quickly snapped her gaping mouth shut. “Uh, right! Wow, you’re the first person to get my name right on the first try.” She let out a laugh to hide how flustered she felt. “But I go by my middle name, Angel. It’s a lot more, well, easier, you know?” She shrugged nonchalantly.
Jhémes nodded, one corner of his mouth making the slightest curve upwards. “It’s unique.”
Not more than the spelling of Aynnhailleah, it wasn’t. “Thanks.” Angel smiled and began to turn back around in an attempt to end the conversation.
But Jhémes stared deeper into her eyes. Angel shifted uncomfortably. When was he going to look away? She had to wonder what exactly he could be so intent on.
“Is—Is something the matter?” she asked, putting a hand to her cheek. “You’re staring quite hard at me. Oh, is it about me bumping into you at the door? I’m really, really sorry. Are you okay?”
He remained silent for a moment, then he said quietly, “Your eyes. They are such a beautiful amethyst color.”
“Oh. Thank you?”
Not a word about her bumping into him at the door, but instead he praised her eyes. Angel had violet eyes, which no one else she knew, not even a single member of her family, had. Everywhere she went, people would gush over how beautiful and special her eyes were, but hearing his unexpected compliment somehow felt different. Somehow, it made her feel as if she were flying along the highs and lows of a roller coaster.
She felt herself on the verge of shaking with the thrill and the pit of dread in her stomach. What was it about him that made her feel this way?
“Angel, Jhémes, if you two are done flirting with each other, I would like to begin today’s lesson,” said Mrs. Smith pointedly, her face pinched into a disapproving expression.
There was a collective snicker that rose from their classmates, and Angel could feel herself blushing furiously at the insinuation. She snapped back around and stared intently down at her notebook.
She did not look at Jhémes for the rest of the class period, but she could not focus. Somehow, it felt as though there were needles boring into the back of her head the entire time, and her mind was filled with bottomless ocean eyes, snow white hair, and a large, strong embrace that smelled of pine and smoke.
Next: Episode 1.2