I stood back and watched his movements. Luke had that way about him that could shut me down in an instant... I kicked the gravel a couple of times and worked up my courage again. “Tell me... I mean... why did you come back? Why now, after all this time?”


1. Chapter I

Charcoal - Chapter I


"Tristan! You have to see the new guy." Ella bounded up to me in the junior hallway.

Sometimes she reminded me of the little dog my neighbors used to own - she trembled in excitement over just about anything.

"Hottest guy ever?" I almost dropped my backpack whilst trying to organize everything. Stupid combination locker never opened.

"Not quite, I guess he could be pretty hot though. This guy's totally got that bad boy vibe. He got kicked out of his last two schools and he's on parole, or at least, that's what Evan Wright's been saying." Ella grinned, "Besides, everybody knows Harry is the hottest guy ever." She jabbed me in the side with her elbow.

I did drop my backpack. My box of pastels scattering out around the floor at my feet, breaking into countless pieces. "I wouldn't know." I grumbled and squatted to pick up the shattered pastels. "He is my brother after all."

Ella rolled her eyes. "He did ask about me at lunch, right?"

"Yeah," - I picked through chalk bits - "he said, 'How's Ella?' and I said. 'She's good,' and then he gave me the house keys." I swear, if she had a disloyal bone in her body, I'd worry Ella was only my friend to get close to my brother - like most of the other girls in this school.

"Hurry up," she said, glancing over my shoulder at the mess I was failing to clean.

"You could help." I waved a broken pastel at her. "I just bought these a couple of days ago, they were brand new."

Ella crouched and picked up a yellow one. "What's with these anyway? I thought you were working with charcoal."

"I can't get it to look right." I plucked the piece of chalk from her fingers and stuck it back in the box with the rest. "I'm starting over."

"But it's due tomorrow."

"I can't turn it in if it isn't right."

"I don't think it looks that bad," She said. "Besides, the new guy seems to like it."

"What do you mean?"

Ella bounced up onto her feet. She grabbed my wrist with her small hand, coaxing me forwards. "Come on. You have got to see this." She sprang towards the art room, pulling me with her.

I clung to my pastels. "You are so weird."

Ella laughed and quickened her pace.

"Here she comes," Mia Howard called as we rounded the corner to the art department. A group of students were gathered in front of the doorway talking to each other and occasionally sending looks to the two of us. They parted to either side as we approached. Freya Bryant glanced at me before whispering something to Mia.

"What's the big deal?" I asked.

Ella pointed into the open classroom. "That is."

I stopped and stared at him. This guy more than pushed the limits of St. Andrew's dress code in a holey Nirvana T-shirt and black, skinny jeans, shredded at the knees. His shaggy, dyed-black hair hid his face, and he held a large sheet of paper in his large pale hands. It was my charcoal drawing, and he was sitting in my seat.

I left the group of bystanders and strode up to the table. "Excuse me, you're in my spot."

"Then you must be Tristan," he said without looking up. Something about his raspy voice sent a shiver down my spine.

I stepped back. "How'd you know my name?"

He pointed at the masking tape name tag on the supply bucket I'd left out during lunch. "Tristan Styles." He snorted. "Your parents must have wanted a boy pretty bad. I bet you have plenty of brothers already."

"Just three. But that's none of your business."

He held my drawing in front of him. "Tristan Styles. They must expect great things from you, being their only daughter."

"They do. Now move."

"This is complete crap," he said. "But you already knew that."

He cocked his head to the side, a smirk on his lips. But just before I could retaliate, he cut me off. "You've got these branches all wrong, and that knot should be turned up, not down." He picked up one of my charcoals between his thin fingers and drew on the paper.

I was ticked off by his audacity, but what I couldn't believe was the ease with which he wove thick and thin black lines into perfect charcoal branches. The same tree is been slaving over all week came to life on the paper. He used the side of his pinky to smudge the coal on the trunk - a major "don't" in Grant's class, but the rough blend had just the right effect on the tree's bark. I watched him shade along the bottom of the branches, but then he began to fix the knot in the lowest one. How could he have known what that knot was supposed to look like?

"Stop it," I said. "That's mine. Give it back." I grabbed at the paper but he pulled it out of my reach. "Hand it over!"

"Kiss me," he said.

I heard Ella yelp in the background.

"What?" I asked.

He leaned over the drawing. His face was still obscured by his messy hair, but a black stone pendant slipped out of his shirt. "Kiss me, and I'll give it back."

I grabbed his hand that held the charcoal. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

"So you don't recognize me? I'm almost offended." He looked up and pushed his hair back, out of his face. His cheeks were pale and hollow, but it was his eyes that made me gasp. The same blue eyes I used to look into almost everyday.

"Luke?" I let go of his hand. The charcoal pencil dropped onto the table, making a slight noise. A million questions came to mind, and buzzed about in my brain. "Does Harry know you're here?"

Luke wrapped his fingers around the black pendant that hung from his neck and his lips parted as if to speak.

Mr. Grant came up to us, his arms crossed in front of his broad chest. I had been to distracted to notice him walk into the classroom or even when he placed all his books and supplies down on his desk at the front. "I told you to report to the counselors' office before joining my class," he said to Luke. "If you cannot follow my instructions, young man, and respect me, then perhaps you do not belong here."

"I was just leaving." Luke shoved back his chair and slumped past me, his dark hair veiling his eyes. "See you later, Rin."

I looked at the charcoal drawing he left behind. The black lines laced together into the silhouette of a lone, familiar tree. I brushed past Mr. Grant and the group of students in the doorway.

"Luke!" I shouted, but the hallway was already deserted.

Luke was good at disappearing, it's what he did best.

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