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Chapter 1

Caleb With the AC all the way up, I still baked in the stifling heat. The other guys probably were too, but they didnt complain. I followed the black Toyota in front of me as it curved into the pot hole covered parking lot of Killeen High. The number in the minute column flipped. Wed be late. Again. My phone buzzed against the console and I flicked my eyes to find it. Hey, I got it. Try not to get us killed, my best friend, Josh said. Sorry? Who is it? I asked as the black sedan stopped in front of us. A girl with tight black curls down her back climbed out of the car. Her ankle-length khaki skirt stood out in the sea of barely dress code legal miniskirts, and even in this heat, black sleeves covered her arms all the way to the wrists. The shirt hugged her body in all the right places, and her skirt shifted to the contours of her hips as she moved. At least from the back, this girl was hot. She had to be new or I would have seen her before. The school wasnt that big. Man, did you hear me? Are we goin? Josh asked. Huh? I looked at Josh. The text was from Kevin. Hes having a kegger Friday night. Are we goin? Yeah. As I took my foot off the break, mystery girl stepped into the parking lot instead of going toward the building. Oh my God! I stood up on the break and the jeep halted without the sound of bones crunching under my tires or the impact of rolling over a person, but I didnt see the girl anymore either. Youre okay, man. We didnt hit her, Josh said. I didnt dare take my foot off the break until she resurfaced. What was she doing? Was she insane? When she popped up clasping her hands in front of her, I gasped. What an idiot. She still didnt go toward the building. Instead, she dropped to her knees in the grass stretching her arms in front of her. A turtle crawled out of her hands. She nearly caused me to run her over to save a turtle. I wanted to be angry, because that was so stupid. But if she hadnt darted in front of my jeep like that, I would have killed a turtle. And what kind of girl risked being flattened by a truck to save a turtle? I shook my head pushing the near accident to the back of my mind. One way or another I would meet this girl today. When I got to my locker, Kailee, my ex-girlfriend, stood in front of it with her arms folded over her blue tank top, tapping a white shoe on the linoleum floor. I gave her a brief nod and focused my eyes on the numbers on my lock as fast as I could. I called you yesterday, she said. I must have missed it. Take a hint, already Kailee. Id been ignoring her since we broke up, and she refused to acknowledge it. Oh.

There was silence as I tossed my backpack into the locker and grabbed my biology book off the top shelf. Are you going to Kevins party Friday night? I turned to face her. Yeah, probably. Hey, I have to run. We could go together, she said. The turtle saver crossed in front of us, but she had held a piece of paper out in front of her, and from this angle I still couldnt see her face. My eyes followed her, waiting for a glimpse of the mystery girl. Caleb? CALEB? Kailee asked. Oh, what did you say? She shot a look at the dark-haired girl before glaring at me. Drop dead, Caleb. What did I do? Kailee flipped her bleached blonde hair over one shoulder and stomped off. At lunch, I threw my stuff down on our table and headed for the lunch line. Matt and Josh sauntered in a few seconds later, tossed their stuff on top of the table, and followed me. She stood right in front of methe girl with the tight curls whod saved the turtleher back to me, still. I kicked myself for being so excited over a girl. I would only be around for a couple more months. What was the point? Then a voice in the back of my head said, You might as well have fun while you can. I grinned. That was the point. Seorita, eres bonita, I said. She didnt move, or reply at all, simply stood with her back to me. I let a few seconds pass before trying again. Cant you say hello? Finally, she turned to look at me. She had sharp facial features and deep brown eyes. She was beautiful but not in the way I expected. I didnt realize you were speaking to me. My name isnt seorita or bonita. Her accent wasnt Spanish, but she was exotic all right. Whats your name? Mirriam Yohanna. Her tone told me shed rather I had not asked. Where are you from? Not Mexico. She knew Spanish. She just didnt answer me. So where are you from?

Mirriam Captain America behind me was so annoying. He was six feet of muscle. With a chiseled jaw and a small dimple on the left of his face, he was cute enough. If you were into All-American guys which I wasnt. When my eyes connected to his golden brown teddy bear eyes, a wave of dj vu washed over me. Where are you from? he asked like he was shocked I didnt answer him in Spanish. It was probably better to be hit on by annoying guys than immediately made an outcast, but hed assumed I was Mexican. He called me beautiful and he knew nothing about me. I hated guys like that. For once, I wished my older brother Abrahem, was with me. I sized him and his band of All-American boys up, a group of buzz cut guys in khakis with tucked in shirts. No barbells sticking through their faces anywhere. None of the ink stains that were so cool in America ran down their arms. These were decent guys. It disgusted me that decent guys here could walk up to a girl theyd never seen before and instantly turn her into an object. For a moment, I missed home even more than I did every second of every day. Paintings were beautiful. People had depth, or at least I did. Where am I from? The birthplace of humanity. I turned away from him again. Zmal, I spat the word out. No way did any of the boys behind me knew what I said, so my tone must have been enough because two or three of them laughed wildly and another one said, Smooth, Caleb. Way to go. Where exactly is the birthplace of humanity, and what are you so bent out of shape about? Hmm. Maybe, its frustrating that someone would approach me in Spanish. Every brown person in the world is Mexican, right? Im sorry. It is Texas. Its usually a safe assumption. And why would you walk up to a girl you dont know and call her beautiful? Its so disrespectful, not to mention cheesy. The guys beside him laughed. I glared at them with raised brows, and the tallest of the three held up his hands. Sorry. Im sorry, too, All-American Boy said. But where exactly is the birthplace of humanity? I stared at the floor for a minute or two. I wasnt embarrassed of where I came from, and people were going to find out sooner or later. But once they knew, life would be harder. It was an army town. Ommy must have been trying to get us killed when she moved us here. I looked up at him. Mesopotamia. Where is that? Might as well get it out. Iraq.