1 Just the Beginning, Part 1

Nothing ever happens in Granby, Colorado. At least, that's what I had always told myself. It's a beautiful, quaint town nestled in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Up to that point, I had lived a boring life as the high school daughter of the Chief of the local Ute Tribe. Then my whole perspective shifted in an instant. Suddenly, nothing was as it seemed. Before then, I'd never known how blissful boring could be.

***

"Hey, Jess! Wait up!" I looked over and Michelle Taylor, my best friend, was across the parking lot at Middle Park High School, headed toward me, teetering on five-inch black stiletto heels. She was dressed to the hilt, as always. But today, the outfit of choice was a tight-fitting shirt and a matching black mini. No one at our school ever dressed in anything but hiking boots, flannel shirts, and T-shirts. As she strolled toward me, all eyes were on her, as usual. Every boy wanted to date her, and every girl wanted to be her. And, of course, she was totally oblivious.

I shook my head, amazed. "How do you balance yourself on those things?" I asked, truly amazed at her skill.

"Practice." A sly grin spread across her face as she adjusted the books in her arms. Carrying a backpack like the other kids wasn't her fashion choice, or so she said. She opted to carry her books instead. But luckily, someone was usually there to help her pick up the things she dropped. "Let's go! We don't want to be late for Mr. Wilson's lecture."

I scoffed. "Since when are you ever in a hurry to get to class?"

She linked her arms with mine, throwing her long strawberry curls over her shoulder. "Since Mr. Wilson started working here."

"Michelle! I can't believe you!" I quickly dropped her arm, hurrying toward class, not in the mood for her antics.

"What?" She looked at me with wide-eyed innocence, trying to keep up.

"Well, for one thing, he's a teacher." I rolled my eyes, shaking my head. She should know better. "And for another thing... he's a teacher!" But I really couldn't blame her. Since the arrival of our new history teacher, half the girls in the school were panting when he walked by. With his brown curly hair and big, round almond eyes, he looked more like a supermodel than a teacher. And the kicker was that he didn't seem to notice. Just like someone else I knew.

"Ssshhh!!!" Michelle placed a finger to her lips, looking both ways. "Someone will hear you!"

"Oh, so that's it." I laughed, finally understanding. "That's why you're so dressed up today! Michelle, he's a teacher. He's not going to even look at you."

A mischievous smile lit her lips. "We shall see." Her blue eyes gleamed.

"You're unbelievable." I rolled my eyes as I slung my backpack over my shoulder, pushing my long, straight brown hair over my shoulder.

Technically, I was also a member of the local Ute American Indian tribe, but I didn't believe in the old ways. Many of our relatives had moved from the reservation and had established a local village within the Granby City Limits. It's known as Hidden Cove Village, near Shelter Island on Granby Lake. Although the village isn't a reservation, many Ute live there. It was secluded and we could practice the old ways. I guess our parents didn't want their children to lose touch with their roots. But as the daughter of the Chief, I never did... no matter how much I tried.

I had always wanted more than my heritage. I wanted to blend with the local population as well as keep the old ways. Since we were in the Granby City Limits, we all attended Middle Park High School with children of all cultures and races. But Michelle was all light and sunshine, looking as if she'd just stepped off a California beach, in sharp contrast to my dark eyes, dark hair, and dark complexion. But even though she could be annoying--in a good way--she was my best friend and it was impossible not to like her.

On the other hand, I was nothing special. Michelle had the attention of every male within a hundred-mile radius. One time, Cane Summers, a local boy, had a crush on her. The poor guy stared at her for a week, offered to walk with her to class, and thought himself so in love with her that he literally ran into walls when she passed... and she never noticed. Once, she accidentally dropped her pencil and Cane rushed across the room to pick it up. But she just smiled sweetly and thanked him. You'd have thought he was going to faint from the little bone she'd had unwittingly thrown him. It amazed me how she could be so oblivious.

But I seemed to notice too much, self-conscious as I am. A guy looks at me and smiles and my cheeks instantly turn a pale pink as I look away. And usually, I'm dressed in my typical jeans-and-a-T-shirt routine with a flannel shirt thrown over for good measure and hiking boots. Sexy, right? But today, I decided to be a bit more daring with black, tight jeans and a purple shirt that accented my curves. I had no idea why I wore it. Something just told me to dress up a bit today. I had also worn my low black flats, giving my hiking boots a rest for the day.

"By the way, I like your outfit today." Michelle smiled, obviously approving of my change in wardrobe. "What'd you do? Sneak away with the credit card your dad gave you and head for the mall?"

I smiled, ignoring the ribbing. "Do you like it?"

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"Yeeeesss…." she said, dragging out the word. "At least you're out of those flannel shirts." She shivered as cold chills poured over her body.

"Ugg!" I rolled my eyes, pulling her toward class. "Come on. We're going to be late."

"Now look who's in a hurry!" Michelle hurried to catch up, but she could only move so fast in those heels.

"You're going to break your neck in those--"

"Ssshhh..." Michelle cut her off. "Someone'll hear you!"

"So? Who cares?" I walked a bit slower so Michelle could do her catwalk strut into class.

"I care," she stage-whispered as we walked into Mr. Wilson's history class, arriving fashionably late, as Michelle liked to call it.

"Uh...." Mr. Wilson stopped teaching class to look down at his roll sheet. He was still learning everyone's names. "Yes… Ms. Michelle Taylor and Ms. Jessica Chavez. Thanks for joining us. Please, take your seats."

I quickly did as he asked, feeling pink rise in my cheeks. Michelle's stilettos reverberated loudly throughout the classroom as she took her seat. Lilly Masterson and Demi Baxter, two of the prettiest juniors in the school, snickered. I gave them a dirty look and they stopped. Michelle just ignored them. Mr. Wilson began his lecture again, picking up where he left off.

"Man, he's hot!" Michelle chuckled, taking her seat beside me.

I rolled my eyes. "Will you keep it down?"

"Am I interrupting you, ladies?" Mr. Wilson's voice boomed throughout the room, stopping his lecture yet again.

"No, no," Michelle replied casually, waving her hand dismissively. "Please continue."

Half the class giggled, and I suppressed a smile.

"Well, Ms. Taylor, I'm so glad I have your approval." He rolled his eyes and then continued his lecture.

"My pleasure." Michelle smiled.

The class laughed again. But this time, Mr. Wilson ignored her.

Michelle gazed at him, twirling her pencil but took no notes. "Man, he's hot," Michelle whispered across the aisle.

"Ssshhh...." I replied as low as I could, trying to pay attention. "You're going to get us kicked out of class."

But Mr. Wilson ignored us and kept teaching. The next forty-five minutes went on uneventfully as Mr. Wilson did his best to fill our craniums with knowledge. We'd been studying the history of the local Ute American Indians and, although Mr. Wilson was new to our school, he was quite knowledgeable on the subject.

"The Ute American Indians were a proud people who felt they were closely related to the bear," Mr. Wilson continued. "Chief Ouray was one of the first to agree on a treaty with the white man. In fact, he traveled to Washington D.C. with his wife to meet with President Abraham Lincoln himself...." Mr. Wilson went on with his lecture, and just when my head was ready to explode, he stopped. "By the way, we have a new student joining us today. His name is Dakota Ouray. I know you all will make him feel welcome." The last sentence was intended as a warning. "Dakota, please stand for us."

A moment later, a beautiful boy with russet skin and onyx hair falling just past his shoulders stood to greet the class… and my heart stopped. I lowered my head, but he looked straight at me and smiled. His russet skin seemed to glow in sharp contrast to his brown almond eyes. Dakota confidently turned to face the class. I would have been mortified, but he looked completely at ease.

"Dakota, are you any relation to Chief Ouray of the Ute tribe?" Mr. Wilson asked, lifting an eyebrow.

Dakota paused for a moment, looking around the class. "Yes. He was my great grandfather from long ago."

"Really?" Mr. Wilson looked impressed, and it takes a lot to impress a high school teacher. "Well, then, you'll have to tell us more about him some time."

Dakota's lips curled into a lovely smile and my heart fluttered. "I really don't know any more about him than what you've already covered, Mr. Wilson, but I'll see what I can do."

"Great!" Mr. Wilson smiled like it was the best news he'd ever heard. "I'm sure the class will look forward to hearing it."

Suddenly the bell rang, and everyone filed out of the classroom, but Michelle grabbed my arm. "Isn't he the best?"

"Mr. Wilson?" I asked, my mind on Dakota. Suddenly, I remembered how to breathe again. Slowly, my heart regained its normal rhythm. How could I react this way to a boy I'd just met?

"No! Not him!" Michelle said, looking at me as if I were from outer space. "Dakota, of course!"

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