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Hector (5th Street #3)

By:Elizabeth Reyes

ews they'd gotten was that his science project hadn't been entered in the national competition.

As much as Hector wanted to believe Walter not coming back had nothing to do with the robot incident, that maybe Walter had moved or something completely unrelated was the cause of his absence, his conscience kept reminding him of all the other times Walter had been the recipient of his friends' taunting. This may've been the last straw that just drove Walter over the brink.

Now standing here in the school's crowded football field while his mom and brother and the rest of the gang from 5th Street happily snapped pictures of him in his cap and gown, he still couldn't shake the guilt from not having done the right thing.

A weakling had been picked on in front of him, not just this one time but time after time, and for years, he'd watched and done nothing about it. His only hope now was that dropping out of school was the only thing his idiot friends had driven Walter to do.

Chapter 1

The laughter and loud screeching from other students happily making their way through the campus of East Side University was just another reminder of why Charlee was so out of place here. Her best friend, Drew, assured her that after a few weeks she'd begin to enjoy college life. That was easy for Drew to say. She'd attended public school her whole life. Charlee had been homeschooled after a disastrous two-month stint in the first grade that proved she had the social capacity of skunk.

Although she later attempted public school a few times, each time, she'd had the same basic outcome. Even what would've been her senior year in high school, when Drew had just about convinced her to her to enroll that one final year so they could do prom and all the other fun senior things together, had been a no can do.

For three weeks now, Charlee had managed to not make a single friend. She was just as much a friendless hermit as she'd been most of her young life. If it hadn't been because Drew lived next door to her since they were both babies and because Drew was a social butterfly, Charlee was sure she wouldn't have even attended the few parties and school dances her friend had dragged her to over the years. This, too, was Drew's idea. Charlee would've been perfectly happy attending online and keeping any need to actually be on campus to a minimum. But no, Drew insisted, and she somehow convinced Charlee that moving clear across the country to attend college full time would be fun!

Charlee glanced around, careful not to make any eye contact with the group of guys not too far from where she sat. The whole time she'd been sitting there waiting for her ride, they'd been teasing and taunting just about every girl that walked by them. They seemed harmless enough. Some girls even appeared to be flattered by their remarks, but there had been a few times they'd crossed the line and gotten a little rude. Charlee would die of embarrassment if they said anything to her, even if they kept it nice. As they'd inched closer in her direction, she'd actually considered getting up and moving to another spot. But they were already too close, and walking away might call more attention to her than if she just sat there and hoped she could remain as invisible as she usually felt.

She pretended to be immersed in her phone as so many other students seemed to be all the time. Only she wasn't using Facebook or Tweeting or even texting like she knew most were. She was reading-one of her favorite pastimes-although right now she was having a hard time concentrating on the latest steamy novel she'd downloaded and was supposed to be engrossed in. The guys' voices were getting closer, and she'd heard the dreaded phrase, "Check out red over there."

Charlee froze, her palms becoming instantly moist, and her heart began doing that pounding it always did when she got nervous. Shaking off the incredible urge to grab her things and run, she stared at her phone screen, praying Drew would miraculously drive up before they reached her bench.

Why the hell did her car have to break down? It was the one thing that she'd been counting on when she decided to take the plunge and move here. She bought the thing first thing when she got here so she could just drive herself to school, go straight to class, and leave as soon as classes were over. Now she was forced to hang around campus longer after classes until Drew or Drew's dad could pick her up. And Drew said this was a good thing?

"Hey, Red!" One of the guys called out to her.

Though there was no doubt he was talking to Charlee, she pretended not to realize and continued staring at her phone.

"Don't act like you didn't hear me, Ginger. Because I know you did."

Forced to, Charlee glanced up at him but couldn't help frowning. Of course, it would be the loudest, most obnoxious one of the group who'd taken an interest in her. It took all but a second to recognize the familiar and undeniable smell as they all got close enough. She knew the stench all too well since her own step-dad been smoking marijuana for years for his "glaucoma."

"What?" he smirked. "Why you looking at me like that? I just wanna say hello and find out what your name is."

The guy had that same sleepy, somewhat glossy-eyed look her father got when he smoked the stuff. She forced a faint smile. "It's Charlee."

Scrunching up his nose, he turned to his friends then laughed a little too loudly as he turned back to face her. "Charlie? Ain't that a guy's name?"

"Apparently not," she said as she began to gather her things.

His friends began laughing now too as if she'd just said something hilarious. "Okay, okay," he said a little too amused. "Don't go. I haven't introduced myself. I'm Ross and this must be your first year here, right? Because I know I would've noticed a beautiful thing like you before."

"Yep," she said, feeling her face warm from