While walking in the woods to take a break from the stress of it all, Melinda meets a boy named Connor. After a few more run-ins, the two settle into an uneasy friendship, if you can even call it that.
But Connor's closed and mysterious. Whenever Melinda asks too many questions, he suddenly has to go or is no longer interested in talking. When they’re together, she’s torn between wanting him to open up and running away as fast as she can. Still she can't seem to shake her budding interest in him.
Connor has his own way of looking at the world, and his views often conflict with Melinda’s practical nature. Can you like someone and loathe them at the same time? Is he even worth the emotional tug on her heartstrings or distraction from all things Junior year?
And, as if she needs another project right now, Melinda starts to obsess over the abandoned estate she passes on the way to school each day. Between Connor and the old estate, Melinda's beginning to think she's taking on too much.
But Melinda's smart. She finds a way to indulge her interest in the estate and fulfill her obligations. She will uncover the truth behind the aging edifice for an epic article in the school newspaper.
But when her investigation reveals a connection between Connor and a tragedy long-since forgotten, Melinda has a choice: put off her junior year achievements to save a local landmark and a boy who constantly pushes her away or put them both out of her mind for good and focus on making the grade.
Truffle lets out a high-pitched whinny. I straighten my posture, and the horse responds by stopping short, narrowly avoiding a collision with the person blocking our path.
“Equestrian easement. Keep the lane clear, please,” I call to the intruder.
“A sequestered what?” The voice is familiar. When he turns around, I recognize the boy from the woods last night. Connor. I think that’s his name.
“You’re standing on an equestrian easement. This is the trail where riders can exercise horses, as long as we stay between the white poles.” I point out the painted metal markers. Truffle accentuates my point with a gruff snort. His ears prick forward as he regards Connor in a semi-snooty manner.
Connor steps off the trail. “O-kaaaay. Where I come from people don’t keep horses as pets.”
“Where are you from? Mars?” I lift my helmet, and Connor’s eyes brighten when he recognizes me.
“Ah, we meet again. Good guess, Mel, but I’m from Chicago. The only horses I’ve seen were pulling carriages. Costs twenty bucks to ride around the block. Your animal is a huge beast in comparison.”
I laugh, running my hand over Truffle’s thick mane. “He looks fearsome, but he’s really a gentle baby. Do you want to pet him?”
“No,” Connor says, folding his arms over his chest. “I don’t.”
With subtle encouragement from me, the horse prances closer to Connor. I notice his jaw tighten, but he stands firm.
“Don’t be afraid,” I say, allowing my eyes to flash a dare. “He’s a show horse, so he doesn’t spook easily. He likes people. Even people from Chicago.”
Connor reaches out his arm and strokes the short hair on Truffle’s neck. The horse lowers his head and stares at Connor curiously, a strangely human interaction.
“His name is Truffle,” I say.
“Truffle?” Connor gives me a sharp look. “Let me get this straight. Your name is Mel—like Melvin?”
Heat creeps up the back of my neck. “Do I look like a Melvin?”
Connor studies me as he continues to pat my horse. “Truffle sounds like a girl’s name. Wasn’t he allowed to voice his opinion?”
“No,” I say, and then quickly add, “I named him that because he looks like a chocolate truffle.”
“Truffle. Sounds frilly, like ruffle.” Connor tests out the name, patting the horse once more. Truffle responds by nuzzling Connor’s shoulder. “Nice to meet you. I’m Connor.” He drops his voice to a whisper before continuing. “And I promise not to make fun of your name the way your horse buddies do when Mel’s not around.”
My mouth hinges open. I think I might loathe this boy.
Jennifer DiGiovanni is the author of the School Dayz Series. When she’s not writing or reading, she likes to try new sports and activities from archery to ballroom dancing, with varying degrees of success.