chapter 3 - who's that?

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"Have you seen the headline about you and that famous actress?" Justin says with amusement as students gape and move aside so that we can continue down the hall.

"No," I reply uninterested, turning the corner where my locker is located. Several students stand around watching something go on, and it just happens to be by my locker. As usual, Cassie's loudmouth is going off on her latest target. The new girl leans against my locker in silence, looking visibly exhausted.

"What's her issue with the new girl? She seems nice." Justin wonders, his brow furrowing in concern.

Cassie always treats people with hostility if she feels threatened. She doesn't give a damn about how it impacts people and makes them feel. Her negative attitude puts fear in people, which makes them afraid to even talk or look at her.

"Move," I tell Cassie and her catty clique, making her three friends back away. I step closer to the girl, and my eyes lock onto hers, feeling an unfamiliar intensity building inside me. Her long, dark lashes flutter slightly as she gazes up at me, and her amber-brown eyes draw me in with their soft and alluring warmth. She absent-mindedly brushes a loose strand of hair behind her ear, revealing the delicate line of her jaw and the curve of her neck.

"That's my locker," I tell her.

"What?" Her response is delayed. I steal a glance at her flawless profile, but she seems distant. before Cassie pulls at her arm, causing her to nearly fall. Justin steadies her at arm's length, asking if she's okay, but she shrugs him off, her eyes glassy, and vanishes down the hallway.

"She's so annoying," Cassie harshly comments, which makes her friends laugh.

I gather what I need as Cassie starts to use a saccharine tone she thinks is cute. Ignoring the prickle of irritation that crawls up my neck, I slam my locker shut, the metallic clang a welcome punctuation mark to the unwanted attention. Justin walks next to me with a knowing look in his eyes, but even he can't stop the annoyance brewing inside.

Cassie's hand grabs onto my bicep, and a cold fury replaces the annoyance as I pry her hand off. She tries to play it off with a flirty flutter of her eyelashes, but I can see the hurt in her eyes before she puts on a fake smile again.

I can't seem to shake her off. No matter how many times I explain or how many walls I put up, she seems oblivious, or worse, persistent in some twisted game I don't understand.

Getting rejected is like throwing a pebble into a still pond—there's a moment of disturbance before everything goes back to normal. The truth is, the rumors and gossip are the worst part. It's like walking through a cloud of smoke that never seems to clear, reminding you that even in school, there's no escaping the drama.

I walk down the stairs, and when a voice catches my attention, my steps come to an abrupt halt as I hear my name spoken aloud.

"I wish there were fewer people like Cassie and Ace. I hate that I have to deal with two bullies at the same school." The voice declares—her tone seems gentle when she says my name, yet her words come off with a sharp edge.

My jaw clenches as I round the corner of the staircase and see my sister standing in the hallway with the new girl. Annoyance bubbles within me at her words—how can she form an opinion when she doesn't know anything about me? It feels like a kick in the gut. I've gone out of my way to be neutral around her, not wanting to scare her off like some overeager freshman. Now, I'm lumped in with Cassie, the school bully—someone I don't want to be in the same category as.

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