Read Firespell Online

Authors: Chloe Neill

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

Firespell (4 page)

BOOK: Firespell
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“UNIMPRESSED RR,” she texted back. She’d taken to calling me “Richie Rich” when we found out that I’d be heading to St. Sophia’s—and after we’d done plenty of Web research. She figured that life in a froufrou private school would taint me, turn me into some kind of raving Blair Waldorf.

I couldn’t let that stand, of course. I sent back, “U MUST RESPECT ME.”

She was still apparently unimpressed, since “GO STUDY” was her answer. I figured she was probably on to something, so I moved back to the stack of books and gave them a look-see.

Civics.

Trig.

British lit.

Art history.

Chemistry.

European history.

“Good thing they’re starting me off easy,” I muttered, nibbling on my bottom lip as I scanned the textbooks. Add the fact that I was apparently taking a studio class, and it was no wonder Foley scheduled a two-hour study hall every night. I’d be lucky if two hours were enough.

Next to the stack of books was a pile of papers, including a class schedule and the rules of residency at St. Sophia’s. There wasn’t a building map, which was a little flabbergasting since this place was a maze to get through.

I heard the hallway door open and shut, laughter filling the common room. Thinking I might as well be social, I blew out a breath to calm the butterflies in my stomach, then opened my bedroom door. There were three girls in the room—the blonde I’d seen in the library and her two brunette friends. Given Scout’s descriptions, I assumed the blonde was Veronica, the shorter- haired girl was Amie, the third of my new suitemates, and the girl with longer hair was Mary Katherine, she of the limited intelligence.

The blonde had settled herself on the couch, her long, wavy hair spread around her shoulders, her feet in Amie’s lap. Mary Katherine sat on the floor in front of them, her arms stretched behind her, her feet crossed at the ankles. They were all in uniform, all in pressed, pleated skirts, tights, and button- down shirts with navy sweater-vests.

A regiment of officers in the army of plaid.

“We have a visitor,” said the blonde, one blond brow arched over blue eyes.

Amie, whose pale skin was unmarred by makeup or jewelry except for a pair of pearl earrings, slapped at Veronica’s feet. Veronica rolled her eyes, but lifted them, and the brunette stood and walked toward me. “I’m Amie.” She bobbed her head toward one of the bedrooms behind us. “I’m over there.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said. “I’m Lily.”

“Veronica,” Amie said, pointing to the blonde, “and Mary Katherine,” she added, pointing to the brunette. The girls both offered finger waves.

“You missed the mixer earlier today,” Veronica said, stretching out her legs again. “Tea and petits fours in the ballroom. Your chance to meet the rest of your new St. Sophia’s chums before classes start tomorrow.” Veronica’s voice carried the tone of the wealthy, jaded girl who’d seen it all and hadn’t been impressed.

“I’ve only been here a couple of hours,” I said, unimpressed by the attitude.

“Yeah, we heard you weren’t from Chicago,” said Mary Katherine, head tilted up as she scanned my clothes. Given her own navy tights and patent leather flats, and the gleam of her perfectly straight hair, I guessed she wouldn’t dig my Chuck Taylors (the board of trustees let us pick our own footware) and choppy haircut.

“Upstate New York,” I told her. “Near Syracuse.”

“Public school?” Mary Katherine asked, disdain in her voice.

Oh, how fun. Private school really
was
like
Gossip Girl
. “Public school,” I confirmed, lips curved into a smile.

Veronica made a sound of irritation. “Jesus, Mary Katherine, be a bitch, why don’t you?”

Mary Katherine rolled her eyes, then turned her attention to her cuticles, inspecting her short, perfectly painted red nails. “I just asked a question. You’re the one who assumed I was being negative.”

“Please excuse the peanut gallery,” Amie said with a smile. “Have you met everybody else?”

“I haven’t met Lesley,” I said. “I met Scout, though.”

Mary Katherine made a sarcastic sound. “Good luck there. That girl has
issues
.” She stretched out the word dramatically. I got the sense Mary Katherine enjoyed drama.

“M.K.’s just jealous,” Veronica said, twirling a lock of hair around one of her fingers, and sliding a glance at the brunette on the floor. “Not every St. Sophia’s girl has parents who have the cash to donate an entire building to the school.”

I guess Scout hadn’t been kidding about the extra shelves.

“Whatever,” Mary Katherine said, then crossed her legs and pushed herself up from the floor. “You two can play Welcome Wagon with the new girl. I need to make a phone call.”

Veronica rolled her eyes, but swiveled her legs onto the floor and stood up, as well. “M.K.’s dating a U of C boy,” she said. “She thinks he hung the moon.”

“He’s pre-law,” Mary Katherine said, heading for the door.

“He’s twenty,” Amie muttered after Mary Katherine had stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind her. “And she’s sixteen.”

“Quit being a mother, Amie,” Veronica said, straightening her headband. “I’m going back to my room. I suppose I’ll see you in the morning.” She glanced at me. “I don’t want to be bitchy, but a little advice?”

She said it like she was asking for permission, so I nodded, solely out of politeness.

“Mind the company you keep,” she said. With that gem, which I assumed was a shot at Scout, she walked to Amie. They exchanged air kisses.

“Nighty night, all,” Veronica said, and then she was gone.

When I turned around again, Amie was gone, her bedroom door closing behind her.

“Charming,” I muttered, and headed back to my room.

It was earlier than I would have normally gone to sleep, but given the travel, the time change, and the change in circumstances, I was exhausted. Finding the stone-walled and stone-floored room chilly even in the early fall, I exchanged the uniform for flannel pajamas, turned off the light, and climbed into bed.

The room was dark, but far from quiet. The city bustled around me, the thrum of traffic from downtown Chicago creating a backdrop of sound, even on a Sunday night. Although the stone muffled it, I wasn’t used to even the low drone of noise. I had been born and bred amongst acres of lawns and overhanging trees—and when the sun went down, the town went silent.

I stared at the ceiling. Tiny yellow-green dots emerged from the darkness. The plaster above me was dotted with glow-in-the-dark stars, I assumed pasted there by a former St. Sophia’s girl. As my mind raced, wondering about tomorrow and repeating my to-do list—find my locker, find my classes, manage not to get humiliated in said classes, figure out where Scout had gone—I counted the stars, tried to pick out constellations, and glanced at the clock a dozen times.

I tossed and turned in the bed, trying to find a comfortable position, my brain refusing to still even as I lay exhausted, trying to sleep.

I must have drifted off, as I woke suddenly to a pitch-black room. I must have been awakened by the closing of the hallway door. That sound was immediately followed by the scuffle of tripping in the common room—stuff being knocked around and mumbled curses. I threw off the covers and tiptoed to the door, then pressed my ear to the wood.

“Damn coffee table,” Scout muttered, footsteps receding until her bedroom door opened and closed. I glanced at the clock. It was one fifteen in the morning. When the common room was quiet, I put a hand to the doorknob, twisted it, and carefully pulled open the door. The room was dark, but a line of light glowed beneath Scout’s door.

I frowned. Where had she been until one fifteen in the morning? Exercise seemed seriously unlikely at this point.

That mystery in hand, I closed the door again and went back to bed, staring at the star-spangled ceiling until sleep finally claimed me.

3

My bedroom was cold and dark when the alarm—which I’d moved next to the bed—went off. Not nearly awake enough to actually sit upright, I fumbled for the OFF button and forced my eyes open. My stomach grumbled, but I didn’t think I was up for food. I already had butterflies—the combination of new school, new classes, new girls. Questionable high school cafeteria fare probably wasn’t going to help.

After a minute of staring at the ceiling, I glanced over at the nightstand. The red light on my phone flashed, a sign that I had messages waiting. I grabbed it, flipped it open . . . and smiled.

“SAFE & SOUND IN GERMANY,” read the text from my mom. “FIGHTING JET LAG.”

There was a message from Dad, as well, a little less businesslike (which was pretty much how it worked with them): “HAVE A HOT DOG FOR US! LV U, LILS!”

I smiled, closed the phone again, and put it back on the nightstand. Then I threw off the covers and forced my feet to the floor, the stone cold even beneath socks. I stumbled to the closet and grabbed a robe, then grabbed my toiletries and a towel, already stacked on the bureau, prepped and ready for my inaugural shower.

When I opened my bedroom door, Scout, already in uniform (plaid skirt, sweater, knee-high pair of fuzzy boots), smiled at me from the common room couch. She held up the
Vogue
. “I’ll read about skinny chicks in Milan. When you get back, we’ll go down to breakfast.”

“Sure,” I mumbled. But halfway to the hallway door, I stopped and glanced back. “Were you exercising until one fifteen this morning?”

Scout glanced up at me, fingers still pinched around the edge of a half-flipped page. “I’m not admitting whether I was or was not exercising, but if you’re asking if I was doing whatever I was doing until one fifteen, then yes.”

I opened and closed my mouth as I tried to work out what she’d just said. I settled on, “I see.”

“Seriously,” she said, “it’s important stuff.”

“Important like what?”

“Important like, I really can’t talk about it.”

The room was silent for a few seconds. The set of her jaw and the stubbornness in her eyes said she wasn’t going to budge. And since I was standing in front of her in pajamas with a fuzzy brain and teeth that desperately needed introducing to some toothpaste, I let it go.

“Okay,” I said, and saw relief in her eyes. I left her with the magazine and headed for the bathroom, but there was no way “exercise” was going to hold me for long. Call it too curious, too nosy. But one day after my arrival in Chicago, she was the closest friend I had. And I wasn’t about to lose her to whatever mess she was involved in.

She was on the couch when I returned (much more awake after a good shower and toothbrushing), her legs beneath her, her gaze still on the magazine on her lap.

“FYI,” she said, “if you don’t hurry, we’re going to be left with slurry.” She looked up, her countenance solemn. “Trust me on this—you don’t want slurry.”

Fairly confident she was right—the name being awful enough—I dumped my toiletries in my room and slipped into today’s version of the uniform. Plaid skirt. Tights to ward off the chill. Long-sleeved button-up shirt and V-neck sweater. A pair of ice blue boots that were shorter but equally as fuzzy as Scout’s.

I stuffed books and some slender Korean notebooks I’d found in a Manhattan paper store (I had a thing for sweet office supplies) into my bag and grabbed my ribboned room key, then closed the door behind me, slipping the key into the lock and turning it until it clicked.

“You ready?” Scout asked, a pile of books in her arms, her black messenger bag over her shoulder, its skull grinning back at me.

“As I’ll ever be,” I said, pulling the key’s ribbon over my head.

The cafeteria was located in a separate building, but one that looked to be the same age as the convent itself—the same stone, the same gothic architecture. I assumed the modern, windowed hallways that now linked them together were added to assuage parents who didn’t want their baby girls wandering around outside in freezing Chicago winters. The nuns, I guessed, had been a little more willing to brave the elements.

But the interior of the cafeteria was surprisingly modern, with a long glass wall overlooking the small lawn behind the building. The yard was tidy, inset with wide, concrete paving stones, tufts of grass rising between them. In the far corner sat a piece of what I assumed was industrial sculpture—a series of round metal bands set atop a metal post.
Ode to a Sundial
, maybe?

Having perused the art, I turned back to the cafeteria itself. The long rectangular room was lined with long rectangular tables of pale wood and matching chairs; the tables were filled with the St. Sophia’s army. After ten years of public school diversity, it was weird to see so many girls in the same clothes. But that sameness didn’t stifle the excitement in the room. Girls clustered together, chatting, probably excited to be back in school, to be reunited with friends and suitemates.

“Welcome to the jungle,” Scout whispered, and led me to a buffet line. Smiling men and women in chef gear—white smocks, tall hats—served eggs, bacon, fruit, toast, and oatmeal. These were not your mom’s surly lunch ladies—these folks smiled and chatted behind sneeze guards, which were dotted with cards describing how organic or free- range or un-steroided their particular goods were. Whole Foods must have made a fortune off these people.

My stomach twitching with nerves, I didn’t have much appetite for breakfast, organic or not, so I asked for toast and OJ, just enough to settle the butterflies. When I’d grabbed my breakfast, I followed Scout to a table. We took two empty chairs at one end.

“I guess we were early enough to avoid the slurry?” I asked.

Scout nibbled at a chunk of pineapple. “Yes, thank God. Slurry is the combination of everything that doesn’t get eaten early in the round—oatmeal, fruit, meat, what have you.”

I grimaced at the combination. “That’s disgusting.”

“If you think that’s bad, wait until you see the stew,” Scout said, nodding toward a chalkboard menu for the week that hung on the far end of the room. “Stew” made a lot of appearances over the weekend.

Scout raised her glass of orange juice toward the menu. “Welcome to St. Sophia’s, Parker. Eat early or go home, that’s our motto.”

BOOK: Firespell
7.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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