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Authors: Chloe Neill

Tags: #Usenet, #Speculative Fiction, #Exratorrents, #C429, #Kat

Firespell (3 page)

BOOK: Firespell
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When I flipped the phone closed again, I stared at it for a minute, tears pricking at my eyes. I tried to keep them from spilling over, to keep from crying in the middle of my first hour at St. Sophia’s, the first hour into my new life.

They spilled over anyway. I didn’t want to be here. Not at this school, not in Chicago. If I didn’t think they’d just ship me right back again, I’d have used the credit card my mom gave me for emergencies, charged a ticket, and hopped a plane back to New York.

“This sucks,” I said, swiping carefully at my overflowing tears, trying to avoid smearing the black eyeliner around my eyes.

A knock sounded at the door, which opened. I glanced up.

“Are you planning your escape?” asked the girl with the nose ring and black nail polish who stood in my doorway.

2

“Seriously, you look pretty depressed there.” She pushed off the door, her thin frame nearly swamped by a plaid skirt and oversized St. Sophia’s sweatshirt, her legs clad in tights and sheepskin boots. She was about my height, five foot six or so.

“Thanks for knocking,” I said, swiping at what I’m sure was a mess beneath my eyes.

“I do what I can. And you’ve made a mess,” she confirmed. She walked toward me and, without warning, tipped up my chin. She tilted her head and frowned at me, then rubbed her thumbs beneath my eyes. I just looked back at her, amusement in my expression. When she was done, she put her hands on her hips and surveyed her work.

“It’s not bad. I like the eyeliner. A little punk. A little goth, but not over the top, and it definitely works with your eyes. You might want to think about waterproof, though.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m your suitemate, Scout Green. And you’re Lily Parker.”

“I am,” I said, shaking her hand.

Scout sat down on the bed next to me, then crossed her legs and began to swing a leg. “And what personal tragedy has brought you to our fine institution on this lovely fall day?”

I arched a brow at her. She waved a hand. “It’s nothing personal. We tend to get a lot of tragedy cases. Relatives die. Fortunes are made and the parentals get too busy for teen angst. That’s my basic story. On the rare but exciting occasion, expulsion from the publics and enough money for the trustees to see ‘untapped potential. ’ ” She tilted her head as she looked at me. “You’ve got a great look, but you don’t look quite punk enough to be the expulsion kind.”

“My parents are on a research trip,” I said. “Twenty-four months in Germany—not that I’m bitter about that—so I was sentenced to lockdown at St. Sophia’s.”

Scout smiled knowingly. “Unfortunately, Lil, your parents’ ditching you for Europe makes you average around here. It’s like a home for latchkey kids. Where are you from? Prior to being dropped off in the Windy City, I mean.”

“Upstate New York. Sagamore.”

“You’re a junior?”

I nodded.

“Ditto,” Scout said, then uncrossed her legs and patted her hands against her knees. “And that means that if all goes well, we’ll have two years together at St. Sophia’s School for Girls. We might as well get you acquainted.” She rose, and with one hand tucked behind her back and one hand at her waist, did a little bow. “I’m Millicent Carlisle Green.”

I bit back a grin. “And that’s why you go by ‘Scout.’ ”

“And that’s why I go by ‘Scout,’ ” she agreed, grinning back. “First off, on behalf of the denizens of Chicago”—she put a hand against her heart—“welcome to the Windy City. Allow me to introduce you to the wondrous world of snooty American private schooldom.” She frowned. “ ‘Schooldom.’ Is that a word?”

“Close enough,” I said. “Please continue.”

She nodded, then swept a hand through the air. “You can see the luxury accommodations that the gazillion dollars in tuition and room and board will buy you.” She walked to the bed and, like a hostess on
The Price Is Right
, caressed the iron frame. “Sleeping quarters of only the highest quality.”

“Of course,” I solemnly said.

Scout turned on her heel, the skirt swinging at her knees, and pointed at the simple wooden bureau. “The finest of European antiques to hold your baubles and treasures.” Then she swept to the window and, with a tug of the blinds, revealed the view. There were a few yards of grass, then the stone wall. Beyond both sat the facing side of a glass and steel building.

“And, of course,” Scout continued, “the finest view that new money can buy.”

“Only the best for a Parker,” I said.

“Now you’re getting it,” Scout said approvingly. She walked back to the door, then beckoned me to follow. “The common room,” she said, turning around to survey it. “Where we’ll gossip, read intellectually stimulating classics of literature—”

“Like that?” I asked with a chuckle, pointing at the dog-eared copy of
Vogue
lying on the coffee table.


Absolument
,” Scout said. “
Vogue
is our guide to current events and international culture.”

“And sweet shoes.”

“And sweet shoes,” she said, then gestured at the cello in the corner. “That’s Barnaby’s baby. Lesley Barnaby,” she added at my lifted brows. “She’s number three in our suite, but you won’t see much of her. Lesley has four things, and four things only, in her day planner: class, sleeping, studying, and practicing.”

“Who’s girl number four?” I asked, as Scout led me to the closed door directly across from mine.

Her hand on the doorknob, Scout glanced back at me. “Amie Cherry. She’s one of the brat pack.”

“The brat pack?”

“Yep. Did you see the blonde with the headband in the study hall?”

I nodded.

“That’s Veronica Lively, the junior class’s resident alpha girl. Cherry is one of her minions. She was the brunette with short hair. You didn’t hear me say this, but Veronica’s actually got brains. She might not use them for much beyond kissing Foley’s ass, but she’s got them. The minions are another story. Mary Katherine, that’s minion number two—the brunette with long hair—is former old money. She still has the connections, but that’s pretty much all she has.

“Now, Cherry—Cherry has coin. Stacks and stacks of cash. As minions go, Cherry’s not nearly as bad as Mary Katherine, and she has the potential to be cool, but she takes Veronica’s advice much too seriously.” Scout frowned, then glanced up at me. “Do you know what folks in Chicago call St. Sophia’s?”

I shook my head.

“St. Spoiled.”

“Not much of a stretch, is it?”

“Exactly
.

With a twist of her wrist, Scout turned the knob and pushed open her bedroom door.

“My God,” I said, staring into the space. “There’s so much . . .
stuff
.”

Every inch of space in Scout’s tiny room, but for the rectangle of bed, was filled with shelves. And those shelves were filled to overflowing. They were double-stacked with books and knickknacks, all organized into tidy collections. There was a shelf of owls—some ceramic, some wood, some made of bits of sticks and twigs. A group of sculpted apples—the same mix of materials. Inkwells. Antique tin boxes. Tiny houses made of paper. Old cameras.

“If your parents donate a wing, you get extra shelves,” she said, her voice flat as week-old soda.

“Where did you get all this?” I walked to a shelf and picked up a delicate paper house crafted from a restaurant menu. A door and tiny windows were carefully cut into the facade, and a chimney was pasted to the roof, which was dusted in white glitter. “And when?”

“I’ve been at St. Sophia’s since I was twelve. I’ve had the time. And I got it anywhere and everywhere,” she said, flopping down onto her bed. She sat back on her elbows and crossed one leg over the other. “There’s a lot of sweet stuff floating around Chicago. Antiques stores, flea markets, handmade goods, what have you. Sometimes my parents bring me stuff, and I pick up things along the way when I see them over the summer.”

I gingerly placed the building back on the shelf, then glanced back at her. “Where are they now? Your parents, I mean.”

“Monaco—Monte Carlo. The Yacht Show is in a couple of weeks. There’s teak to be polished.” She chuckled, but the sound wasn’t especially happy. “Not by them, of course—they’ve moved past doing physical labor—but still.”

I made some vague sound of agreement—my nautical excursions were limited to paddleboats at summer camp—and moved past the museum and toward the books. There were lots of books on lots of subjects, all organized by color. It was a rainbow of paper—recipes, encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauruses, books on typology and design. There were even a few ancient leather books with gold lettering along the spines.

I pulled a design book from the shelf and flipped through it. Letters, in every shape and form, were spread across the pages, from a sturdy capital
A
to a tiny, curlicued
Z
.

“I’m sensing a theme here,” I said, smiling up at Scout. “You like words. Lists. Letters.”

She nodded. “You string some letters together, and you make a word. You string some words together, and you make a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. Words have power.”

I snorted, replacing the book on the shelf. “Words have power? That sounds like you’re into some Harry Potter juju.”

“Now you’re just being ridiculous,” she said. “So, what does a young Lily Parker do in Sagamore, New York?”

I shrugged. “The usual. I hung out. Went to the mall. Concerts. TiVo
ANTM
and
Man vs. Wild
.”

“Oh, my God, I
love
that show,” Scout said. “That guy eats everything.”

“And he’s hot,” I pointed out.

“Seriously hot,” she agreed. “Hot guy eats bloody stuff. Who knew that would be a hit?”

“The producer of every vampire movie ever?” I offered.

Scout snorted a laugh. “Well put, Parker. I’m digging the sarcasm.”

“I try,” I admitted with a grin. It was nice to smile—nice to have something to smile about. Heck, it was nice to feel like this boarding school business might be doable—like I’d be able to make friends and study and go about my high school business in pretty much the same way as I could have in Sagamore.

A shrill sound suddenly filled the air, like the beating of tiny wings.

“Oops, that’s me,” Scout said, untangling her legs, hopping off the bed, and grabbing a brick- shaped cell phone that was threatening to vibrate its way off one of the shelves and onto the floor. She picked up the phone just before it hit the edge, then unpopped the screen and read its contents.

“Jeez Louise,” she said. “You’d think I’d get a break when school starts, but no.” Maybe realizing she was muttering in front of an audience, she looked up at me. “Sorry, but I have to go. I have to . . . exercise. Yes,” she said matter-of-factly, as if she’d decided on exercise as an excuse, “I have to exercise.”

Apparently intent on proving her point, Scout arched her arms over her head and leaned to the right and left, as if stretching for a big run, then stood up and began swiveling her torso, hands at her waist. “Limbering up,” she explained.

I arched a dubious brow. “To go exercise.”

“Exercise,” she repeated, grabbing a black messenger bag from a hook next to her door and maneuvering it over her head. A white skull and crossbones grinned back at me.

“So,” I said, “you’re exercising in your uniform?”

“Apparently so. Look, you’re new, but I like you. And if I guess right, you’re a heck of a lot cooler than the rest of the brat pack.”

“Thanks, I guess?”

“So I need you to be cool. You didn’t see me leave, okay?”

The room was silent as I looked at her, trying to gauge exactly how much trouble she was about to get herself into.

“Is this one of those, ‘I’m in over my head’ kind of deals, and I’ll hear a horrible story tomorrow about your being found strangled in an alley?”

That she took a few seconds to think about her answer made me that much more nervous.

“Probably not
tonight
,” she finally said. “But either way, that’s not on you. And since we’re probably going to be BFFs, you’re going to have to trust me on this one.”

“BFFs?”

“Of course,” she said, and just like that, I had a friend. “But for now, I have to run. We’ll talk,” she promised. And then she was gone, her bedroom door open, the closing of the hallway door signaling her exit. I looked around her room, noticing the pair of sneakers that sat together beside her bed.

“Exercise, my big toe,” I mumbled, and left Scout’s museum, closing the door behind me.

It was nearly six o’clock when I walked the few feet back to my room. I glanced at the stack of books and papers on the bureau, admitting to myself that prep-ping for class tomorrow was probably a solid course of action.

On the other hand, there were bags to be unpacked.

It wasn’t a tough choice. I liked to read, but I wasn’t going to spend the last few waking hours of my summer vacation with my nose in a book.

I unzipped and unstuffed my duffel bag, cramming undergarments and pajamas and toiletries into the bureau, then hanging the components of my new St. Sophia’s wardrobe in the closet. Skirts in the blue and gold of the St. Sophia’s plaid. Navy polo shirt. Navy cardigan. Blue button-up shirt, et cetera, et cetera. I also stowed away the few articles of regular clothing I’d brought along: some jeans and skirts, a few favorite T-shirts, a hoodie.

Shoes went into the closet, and knickknacks went to the top of the bureau: a photo of my parents and me together; a ceramic ashtray made by Ashley that read BEST COWGIRL EVER. We didn’t smoke, of course, and it was unrecognizable as an ashtray, as it looked more like something you’d discover in the business end of a dirty diaper. But Ashley made it for me at camp when we were eight. Sure, I tortured her about how truly heinous it was, but that’s what friends were for, right?

At the moment, Ash was home in Sagamore, probably studying for a bio test, since public school had started two weeks ago. Remembering I hadn’t texted her to let her know I’d arrived, I flipped open my phone and snapped shots of my room—the empty walls, the stack of books, the logoed bedspread—then sent them her way.

BOOK: Firespell
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