This excerpt was not yet edited, nor has it been read by beta readers. Updated versions will be posted in the coming months.

Chapter One – Zander

“Hey, man! You’ve got to pay… Nevermind.”

Every day, it was the same.

Every day, the same five guys hung out on the sidewalk a few yards from the school entrance taxing students who only wanted to go to school.

Every day, as one of them approached him, Zander Fredrick did the same thing: he projected the impression of danger, that he was someone people should be afraid of. It was a suggestion, a feeling, something to make the collector uneasy to be around him.

Zander could do this for as long as he remembered. He didn’t know what he was, but he understood early enough that he wasn’t like the others. Not only did he feel the moods of people around him, he could also control them, including those of a small crowd if need be. He could also impregnate a place or an object with emotions. Zander’s power had been what kept him alive all these years. Knowing the feelings of people around him helped him manage difficult situations with the appropriate fight or flight response. And his power was what made him a talented artist and a surprisingly good cook.

In one of the poorest schools in the Bronx, where he was one of the only half-dozen or so white people in attendance, his ability came very handy.

“You’re still easily making friends, I see,” Violeta said as he walked by her.

She felt into step with him and they made his way to the English classroom.

Zander had many secrets. The first of which was that he loved school. Zander knew if he was to get somewhere in life, he had to go. He did not attend the best school in the city, but at least he was going somewhere with an art program, which was also equally important to him.

Another one of Zander’s secrets was his art. While his friends knew he could draw, they did not understand the extent of his talent, which was also related to another one of his secrets, what he could do with people’s feelings.

School was an interesting place to say the least, and Zander stood out like a sore thumb in the middle of a sea of colorful clothes. Zander always wore dark colors, preferably black or army green. He never had any interests in wearing anything else and on his first day in freshman year, the other kids had stared at him and wondered where he had come from. Now, after a little suggestion on his part, they left him alone, which he preferred.

He made his way to his usual seat, the second seat from the front, along the window. Often, he had been caught looking outside and his teachers had falsely assumed he wasn’t listening. But when he could repeat word for word what they were saying, they left him very well alone. The sight of the sky and the birds helped Zander concentrate as they did not have any emotions, as opposed to the students in his classroom who were loaded with them.

While his literature classes were full of emotions, his mathematics class was the total opposite. Except for the exceptional outburst of frustration from a student who didn’t grasp the concepts, the emotions were always low, as if people could not be at the same time logical and emotional. That situation suited Zander perfectly and consequently, he excelled at math. But he still preferred the feelings of his literature and arts classes.

“Earth to Zander,” Violeta said, sitting at her usual seat next to him.

Zander looked toward her, a shadow of a smile appearing on his lips. He liked the tall black girl. She was one of the least superficial people in the school, and she understood the value of an education. She was also one of the only ones who actually talked to him, even if he tended to keep his reply short. He also knew she had gotten a lot of grief from the other students for talking to him. Most of them had questioned why she would want to associate with a white kid and a punk, no less, but she had told them to mind their own business. Violeta was a little scary at times and her outburst had effectively quieted the complaints.

“Did you read it?” she asked, showing him her beat up copy of Dracula.

“Yeah.” Reading was another of Zander’s passion. He particularly loved the classics and had read most of them at least twice already.

“What did you think?”

He felt how much she had liked it.

“It’s okay,” he answered.

“It’s okay? That’s all you’ve got to say?”

Zander shrugged.

Violeta amused him. She was passionate and true. With her, what you saw was what you got, and with his ability, Zander saw to what point it was true. He had teamed up with her on some of his classes and had never regretted it. He knew the feeling was mutual. Violeta and he had the same dedication when it came to school work and it showed in their team results.

“You’re so frustrating, Zander Fredrick! I thought you’d have more to say about it.”

Zander had a lot to say about it, as was proved by his longer than average paper on the book, which he gave to the teacher the minute she asked for them.

“Show off!” Violeta whispered in his direction when she saw the length of his paper.

Zander looked at her and gave her a genuine smile this time. The paper she was handing was as long as his.

“Takes one to know one,” he said with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah. But I never pretended I found the book only ‘okay.’”

“Miss Washington, something you want to share with the class?” the teacher asked.

“No, no. I’ll be all right,” she said quickly, turning to the front.

With a smile on his face, Zander turned his attention to the window and began to look at the clouds chasing each other in the sky.


Chapter Two – Elyssa

“Elyssa! Val and I are trying to decide what to wear to Jason’s birthday party Saturday afternoon,” Laura, one of Elyssa Thompson’s two best friends, said as Elyssa climbed the school steps that warm morning in late September.

Elyssa was a senior at an exclusive private school in East Manhattan. Her commute of walking throughout Central Park, which was beautiful and relaxing except when it snowed or rained, at which time her father had someone drive her.

Overall, Elyssa’s life was almost a fairytale, and she often wondered if something would eventually burst her dreamy bubble. She certainly wished it would never happen as she was overall very content with her life.

“Well, that shouldn’t be very complicated,” she said, pushing her hair behind her ear. “You’ll wear what’s appropriate for the weather.”

As much as she loved her best friends, Elyssa sometimes thought they were as dumb as doorknobs. Both of them loved to talk about clothes and modeling while Elyssa’s interests lied more toward business and volunteering.

“Oh, you’ve got a point,” Laura said. “What’s the forecast for Saturday afternoon?”

“Hold on, I’m checking,” Valery said, grabbing her bag and looking for her phone. A few moments later, she was typing on it furiously. “Rainy with 65 degrees,” she said with a pout. “Well, I guess we won’t be able to wear tank tops and mini-skirts.”

“Probably not,” Elyssa said with a smile.

The first bell rang and Elyssa and her friends made their way into the school.

“Good morning, love,” her boyfriend, Rob, said, walking to her and kissing her full on the mouth, his tongue seeking entrance immediately.

At the end of sophomore year, after six months of tutoring him, Elyssa had begun dating the popular and rich football team captain and quarterback, to the undying annoyance of the head cheerleader who had had her eyes on him for the better part of two years.

As he kissed her, Rob’s football buddies, who were always in Rob’s shadow, began to cheer and whistle. Elyssa felt heat rise to her face. She liked her boyfriend very much but she did not particularly like those public displays of affection.

“Hum hum!” A woman behind Elyssa cleared her throat, and Rob pulled away from her, a huge grin on his face.

“Now, Mr. Lewis, Miss Thompson, you both know we do not really appreciate those public displays,” the principal said.

“Mrs. Clarence, we have to live with our time,” Rob sweetly said with a huge smile on his face. “And our times tolerate such displays.”

Elyssa felt more heat rush to her face. She would never have dared speak to the principal that way but Rob had done so for the better part of the previous year. Apparently, the behavior had not grown out of him during the summer.

“Well, Mr. Lewis, I would suggest you show a little restraint, or you and Miss Thompson may land in detention,” she said as sweetly as Rob.

“Touché, Mrs. Clarence. Touché,” he conceded, amused.

He gave another quick kiss to Elyssa and walked away.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Clarence,” Elyssa said.

“And what do I always tell you, Miss Thompson?” the principal asked. “Do not apologize for the behaviors of others. You have enough of your own behavior to account for.”

“But he’s my boyfriend.”

“He may be, but he’s not your son, therefore not your responsibility,” the old lady said gently. “Now, you head on to class before you’re late.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Clarence.”

Elyssa headed toward her classroom followed by her two friends.

“She’s something else,” Laura said, shaking her head.

“I don’t like her,” Valery said, wrinkling her nose. “She gives me the creeps.”

“Don’t say that, Val,” Elyssa said. “She’s always been nice to us.”

Elyssa liked the old woman and appreciated her wisdom, which helped her more than once in her short high school career. Elyssa believed if most of the students would listen to half the advice Mrs. Clarence gave, they would be quite a wise student body. But of course, teenagers being teenagers, Mrs. Clarence’s advice was for the most part overlooked.

“Tell us, Lysse, will you come to Jason’s party Saturday?” Laura asked, completely changing the subject. “We were hoping you would.”

“Sure,” she answered. “I’ll be there.”

Valery squeaked in delight while Laura smiled.

“What will you wear?” Valery asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Elyssa answered, walking into the classroom.

As she took her seat, the bell rang, closing the wardrobe conversation.