Keli’s first completed manuscript is a YA Paranormal Romance set in Northern California.
“Ghosted by her long-time BFF, Emily faces senior year as a social outcast. But when the mysterious new student steps up to defend her and she’s pulled into an intriguing relationship with the elusive boy … who’s hiding a dangerous secret.”
Excerpt, Shift (67,854 words)
©2016, Keli Vice
CHAPTER 1 – FACE THE MUSIC
From where I’m parked in the Junior Lot, I can see the big soccer ball I painted on the pavement six weeks ago under my name: E-M-I-L-Y in tall black block letters. Megan helped me fill in the green grass at the bottom, then I helped her finish outlining her name — three-foot-tall letters that stretch diagonally across her parking space. Lyla, still annoyed we’d woken her up before noon, sipped on the Starbuck’s Frappuccino we’d bribed her with and refused our help painting the red and white pompoms that fill the top of her spot. I grimace at the words underneath: Go Kennedy! I♥#24.
It’s hard to believe only seven weeks have passed since I spent that long summer day with my two best friends. The three of us had been talking about painting our senior parking spaces since the fifth grade, when Megan’s cousin painted his. The Three Musketeers finally made it to senior year and, thanks in large part to Lyla Park’s unstoppable powers of persuasion, scored three sweet spaces in the coveted front row of the Senior Lot.
But that was all before July 4th.
Now, Megan’s gone. And Lyla …. Well, it’s unlikely that Lyla will ever speak to me again without a sneer twisting up her perfectly painted lips. My stomach drops as I realize this is the first year since third grade that we won’t arrive at school together. So much for childhood friendships.
I didn’t intend to arrive early today. I’ve been dreading today. But I couldn’t stand another minute of my mom pretending not to stare at me over her coffee mug, like I might lose it at any moment.
Windows up, my car is filled with the overpowering vanilla scent of the air freshener hanging from my rear-view mirror. The corners of my mouth tighten in a flitting smile and I flick the tacky green tree, watching it swing as I swallow back the lump forming in my throat. Dad surprised me this morning, cleaning out my car and filling up the gas tank before he left for work. I’d told my parents a watered down version about what happened out at the lake, but they know there’s more to the story. The past few weeks have been filled with hushed conversations that cut off the minute I walk into the room.
My dashboard clock ticks towards 8:00am and the parking lot fills around me. I hope none of the juniors recognize my car; the mere fact that I’m parked here confirms the rumors of my social exile. Not like they don’t already know. My fall down Kennedy High’s social ladder had been swift, irrevocable and well-publicized on Snapchat. I only saw the beginning of Lyla’s vendetta before I was blocked, one by one, by just about everyone on my friend list. Juniors included.
My hands clench the wheel, knuckles turning white as a familiar bright red BMW cruises into the senior lot below. The car pulls down the first aisle, turning to park right on top of the red-and-white pompoms. Heart thumping, I watch Lyla emerge from the driver’s side, short shorts and high fringed booties showing off her long tan legs. It doesn’t take long for my soccer ball to be covered with kids, all talking and laughing and checking their phones, Lyla tossing her long black curls at the center of the swirl of social validation.
A hot streak of heat flushes across my cheeks as I spot Bethany and Jordan walking up with Brad Slone. Lyla’s only known them since Freshman year, and they’re the ones who talked her into quitting soccer to be a cheerleader. The beginning of the end of our long friendship.
But the heat turns to a chill as I spot broad shoulders and mussed blond hair, the crowd parting to make way for Kennedy’s #24: Mark Dunn. Lyla pulls off her fat Gucci glasses as he swaggers up, her wide smile visible even from here. Ignoring the crowd, his arms slide around her waist to draw her into a long, lingering kiss, hands wandering down to pull her hips sharply against his groin. Lyla pushes him away but playfully swats his shoulder, the smile still on her face as they turn together to head, hand-in-hand, towards the entrance. Their pack of minions follows, until all I can see is Lyla’s bright red car, sitting smugly between Megan’s and my empty spots.
# # #
I start as the shrill sound of the first bell echoes from the buildings. It’s time to face the music.
Blowing a deep breath out through pursed lips, I grab my backpack from the passenger seat and step out of the car. My shoulders hunch over, eyes glued to my scuffed white Converse slapping down the steps and across the now-empty Senior Lot. I head the long way to Building 8 to avoid the crowded lockers and commons for now.
Basically, there is zero chance of today not sucking, but I’m in no hurry to get things underway. There are nearly 2000 kids at Kennedy High, so I figure I can keep my distance from Lyla and her crew. For at least a while, anyhow.
I tuck my iPhone into my front pocket. The screen’s been blank and silent since Megan’s good-luck text last night. I guarantee Lyla’s phone has been blowing up for hours with can’t-wait-to-see-you and what-are-you-wearing messages.
I usually had fun picking my first-day-of-school outfit, but I’d had just one goal getting dressed this morning: camouflage. My favorite faded cropped jeans are cuffed now at my ankles, topped by the plainest T-shirt I could find in my drawer: white, loose, no cleavage. One glance in the mirror told me there was nothing I could do about the dark circles under my eyes, and my long blond hair up is pulled back in a careless bun.
At least I don’t have to worry about facing my new nemeses in class. Lyla and I used to have a ton of classes together, but over the years she dropped the AP courses one by one, sucked into the Kennedy social scene. Rumor has it Mark barely pulls a C average to keep him eligible for the football team, so there’s zero chance of meeting up with him during class. The hallways are another story.
I hustle to reach Room 21 before the second bell rings, letting out a sigh of relief as I walk into Leadership. The classroom is almost full, and most of the students are already seated with notepads or laptops on the desks in front of them. I smile; AP students can’t help but arrive early to make a good impression. Even senior year, old habits are hard to break.
Feeling my shoulders start to unclench, I nod hello to a few people as I wander towards the back of the classroom, plopping down in the first empty seat I find. My heart gives a little tug, looking at the empty desk beside me where Megan should be sitting. Today would be so much easier if she was here.
Mr. Cartan is bent over his desk at the front of the room, pulling binders and papers out of a worn leather messenger bag. Following my classmates’ lead, I pull my laptop from my backpack and wait along with the others.
Just as the bell rings to signal the start of class, I glance up to see an unfamiliar face at the door. Kennedy’s a big school, but new students don’t arrive all that often. And in this case, it’s hard to keep my eyes off the boy who just walked in.
To call him merely good looking would be an epic understatement. He’s not good looking. He’s gorgeous. With deep brown hair and broad, athletic shoulders, he stands well over six feet, dwarfing the students hear him.
His expression as he glances around the classroom says he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care that all eyes are on him. I stare, fascinated, as he walks across the room. He wears a crisp khaki collared shirt cuffed at the forearm, unbuttoned over a faded light gray T-shirt with a logo I can’t quite make out. Dark creased jeans show off long, muscular thighs. He looks like a freaking Abercrombie & Fitch model. My cheeks catch fire and I drop my eyes as he heads down my row.
My shoulders clench back up as he sits in the empty desk right next to mine, leaning back and stretching his long legs out under the desk in front of him. Silently commanding my limbs not to fidget, I look around the classroom … anywhere but to my right. I soon realize I’m not the only one pretending not to notice the hot new guy sitting among us.
Thankfully, Mr. Cartan calls the class to order. The newcomer’s name turns out to be Sam Jackson, who answers the calling of his name during roll in a deep, clear voice that sends a little flutter down my spine.
The room is silent when Mr. Cartan reaches the M’s and calls out Megan’s name.
“Megan McKenna?” he repeats, looking up for the first time and scanning the room. I half raise my hand as his eyes reach me, brows up in inquiry.
“Megan moved,” I say in a flat voice to hide my desolation.
“Oh,” he replies, surprised. “My paperwork hasn’t been updated.”
Heads turn in my direction.
“Her dad was transferred.” I answer the unspoken curiosity. “They moved back to San Diego two weeks ago.”
And that’s why I’m alone and friendless on the first day of school.
I don’t add this last part.
Mr. Cartan returns to his list, and I return to dreading the day ahead. After I reply “Here” to the calling of “Emily Westin,” Mr. Carten launches into the typical first-day spiel: reviewing class expectations and grading procedures. This is my fourth year of Leadership, so I lean back and mostly tune him out.
My desk sits just behind the one to my right, the perfect angle to steal a few glances at Sam Jackson as the teacher talks. I almost wish I’d worn a cuter outfit and put on some makeup. Almost.
Sam’s jaw is kind of square, and his long, straight nose shows just a slight ridge at the top — as if it had once been broken. In profile, his lips are full, eyelashes absurdly long and thick. I can’t see the color of his eyes from this angle, but I imagine them to be blue — the perfect color for this perfect teenage male-model specimen.
My attention snaps back to Mr. Cartan when I realize he’s talking about our senior service project, and I struggle to pay better attention. I’ve known what my project will be for three years now, and I’m really hoping my proposal is chosen for our class trip.
The hour slides by, an odd combination of distraction and dread. It’s almost like there’s a pull of energy to my right, willing my eyes to look over.
I manage to avoid looking directly at him until the bell finally rings, then I linger while gathering up my stuff. A little sigh of relief escapes my lips as he makes his way out the door, and I take my first full breath since Sam Jackson sat down beside me.
That was weird.
I stand up and shake off my daze as Julie Marvello wanders over, her eyes huge under round glasses, curly brown hair rioting all over her head.
“Who was that gorgeous man and where has he been hiding?” she says, her voice breathy and incredulous.
I turn to my pixie-sized classmate, giggling with relief. “I have no idea … but he is seriously hot!”
I’m grateful for this small exchange. Julie and I have known each other for years, and take a lot of the same classes. But we’ve never hung out before, and it’s nice to be reminded that I do have a few friends outside of Lyla’s tight-knit circle.
We walk out together, laughing in the shared acknowledgment that ogling hot guys is definitely not our style. We’re both known for being on the serious side, but it’s a relief to share a lighthearted moment.
We glance up and down the hallway, but neither of us spot the object of our amusement. With a little pang of disappointment, I turn back to Julie.
“What do you have next?” I glance down at my schedule. “I’ve got Simms for English.” This will be the second year I have Ms. Simms for the AP level class. She’s tough but picks great books for us to read.
“AP Physics,” she replies, “but I’m sure I’ll see you again today … and I sure hope we see him,” she adds with a suggestive smile.
I roll my eyes in response but can’t help smiling as I head in the opposite direction. It takes me about ten seconds to remember I’m supposed to be consumed with dread. The distraction of Sam Jackson fades in a flash and the anxiety about running into Lyla and Mark floods back. It’s going to be a long day.
# # #