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Authors: Ann Aguirre

Infinite Risk

BOOK: Infinite Risk
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For the believers:
Never let the magic die.



For me, the definition of insanity was not “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Instead, it was getting within a few months of graduation and then enrolling as a sophomore at a different school. I barely made it out of Blackbriar Academy alive. I hadn't been to public school since fifth grade, and nerves clawed at my stomach lining until I tasted extra bile.

I can't believe I'm doing this.

Bitter wind blew, cutting through my jacket. As I studied the building, the parking lot was louder and more chaotic than I'd expected, guys horsing around despite the January chill. Sock hats, rubber bracelets, plastic chokers, people with words on their butts, bright T-shirts, heavy eyeliner, skater boys, people with un-smartphones—I'd forgotten that the world had once looked this way. But when I was twelve, I didn't exactly pay attention to the details.

The school swam in cement and pavement. There seemed to be two or three parking lots, one dedicated entirely to students. A couple of fast-food places had sprung up across the street, probably catering to people who left for lunch. As for the building, it was made of faded stone, casting the red trim along the windows and roof into sharper relief. Somehow it seemed like the whole place was dripping with blood.
Damn, you're not Carrie. Settle down.
There was also a bizarre sense of déjà vu, since I'd skipped back in time; only in this timeline, I was eighteen pretending to be sixteen, and everything was impossibly screwed up.
But I can fix it.
That belief had propelled me to jump, and I couldn't let doubt chew through my resolve. Considering the shit I'd seen in the last six months, I shouldn't be fazed by a new school. But it was difficult in a different way, making myself cross the lot and climb the steps to the front office.

Inside, the place smelled of sweat and industrial cleaners. The gray-speckled tile floors were dingy and scuffed beneath fluorescent lighting, and three-fourths of the space in this entry was devoted to trophy cases. On closer scrutiny, I found the majority of them came from sports teams. Two shelves offered other victories from other clubs, but I could already see the focus.

Students hurried by, joking with and bumping one another. One group that went past definitely smelled like pot. Steeling myself, I shoved through the door marked
. There were a couple of girls in there already—one crying—and two people I took to be teachers hurried out with their arms full of papers. This place could not be more different from Blackbriar, but I liked the bustle and anonymity. It took me a minute to catch the attention of the harried secretary. I'd cobbled some transfer documents together, which I hoped would pass inspection long enough for me to do what I had to. Fortunately for me, if not the other students, Cross Point High seemed both underfunded and understaffed, so the secretary barely looked at my forms. For a minute and a half, she clicked rapidly on her keyboard.

“We can't fit you into all your first choices since you're starting in the middle of the year. Better luck next time.” She slid my schedule across the counter, picking up a ringing phone with her other hand.

I took it and pretended some concern over my classes. Really this was just an excuse to be here. My only interest in this school came from needing to meet Kian. If I'd planned better, I could've learned his schedule beforehand. Now I had to rely on luck and intuition.

Clearly, the secretary was surprised to find me still standing there when she hung up. “Something else you need? We don't have a welcoming committee, so if you were expecting a student guide—”

“Ha, no. An old family friend goes here too. I was wondering if you could tell me what lunch period he has?”

She sighed, likely weighing whether it was faster to refuse or just tell me. “Name?”

“Kian Riley.”

After clicking a few keys on the boxy computer, she said, “Freshman? He's on A lunch, same as you.”

“Great, thanks.” I waved and headed out before she could ask why I didn't just text him. There was no reason to spin a story when leaving served just as well.

Thanks to the map in my class packet, I found first period while mentally shaking my head.
Sophomore English. God.
On the plus side, I could do the work in my sleep, so at least I wouldn't be distracted by teachers complaining about my performance and wanting to talk to nonexistent parents. Every move in this timeline had to be cautious and well conceived; I couldn't afford to make things worse and need to leap again, as time wasn't on my side.

I thought I was prepared for everything high school had to offer—Blackbriar Academy had put me through the grinder—but when I stepped into my first class and everyone stopped talking, it was a fresh sort of awful. A quarter of the girls did a lip curl and then deliberately turned away while a portion of the guys sat up straighter and tried to make eye contact. And I'd come in intentional down style, no branded clothes, standard hoodie and T-shirt, cheap sneakers, no makeup, nothing that should make me stand out.

“New student?” the teacher asked, cutting into the whispers. She was a middle-aged woman with salt-and-pepper hair worn in plaits, given to hippie style, if her fringed blouse and swishy skirt offered any insight.

“Chelsea Brooks,” I said, offering my schedule.

“Ah, a transfer from Pomona, California. You'll miss the nice weather, but we do have tornadoes.” She grinned as if that was funny somehow, and indicated a seat in the third row from the door, near the back. “That one is empty.”


“But before you sit down, introduce yourself to the class.”

Ah, Christ, this really is hell.
Changing how I looked hadn't given me any additional skill at public speaking, and I certainly couldn't tell the truth. Best to pretend apathy, slacker magic at work. With a shrug, I mumbled, “I'm Chelsea Brooks. I used to live in Pomona; now I'm here.”

“Sucks to be you,” someone called.

I took that as my cue and went to my desk without adding anything. The teacher read the room and started the lesson, likely figuring that if she let them, the class would seize this excuse to delay cracking the books. Around me, everyone opened their copies of
A Tale of Two Cities,
which I read when I was nine and found incredibly boring. With the exception of
Jane Eyre
The Count of Monte Cristo
, the classics never interested me.

“I'll share with you,” the guy at the next desk said.

Before I could argue, he moved across the aisle and spread out his dog-eared copy of the alleged Dickens classic. Students took turns reading while I stared out the window. There were enough eager beavers that the teacher didn't have to beg for answers, but she apparently enjoyed picking on people. I dodged until nearly the end of the period, but she called me out eventually.

“What are your thoughts on the book, Miss Brooks?”

“It's really obvious that Dickens got paid by the word,” I said.

Half the class laughed. I didn't mean to be a smart-ass; that was my actual opinion, but the teacher sighed. “Would you care to elaborate?”

“He wasn't exactly subtle with the allegory. If you want symbolism, the transformation and resurrection motifs are pretty obvious. Carton is meant to be a Christ figure.”

“Interesting.” But she didn't look pleased with my analysis.

The bell rang, however, freeing me to escape. I rushed out in the first wave, joining the throng of students surging to their next class. The guy who'd shared his book fell into step with me. He was short and thin, had light brown skin, and wore a cream beanie, black skinny jeans, and a cable-knit sweater. I had zero interest in fitting in or making friends, so I didn't speak.

Finally, he said, “You have a serious dislike for Dickens, huh? Mrs. Willis probably won't forget that.”

“I'll survive.”

“I'm Devon Quick, by the way.”

“You already know who I am.”

“Right, Chelsea from Pomona.” He smiled, and I couldn't bring myself to be a complete icicle in light of such niceness.

So I waved as I cut into my next class. For the next three periods, the teachers seemed content to let me pretend to be a houseplant. And then lunch arrived. All my nerves prickled to life at once. Finally, I had a chance to look for Kian. I raced through the halls, skirting clusters of students, and didn't stop until I hit the cafeteria. My stomach felt too knotted to eat, but it would be weird to sit down with nothing, presuming I could even find him. So I went through the line and got pizza sticks, salad, and a fruit cup, along with everyone else.

From what I knew of being a social outcast—and it seemed like Kian had occupied that stratum as well—I picked a path through the crowded tables.
He'll be near the garbage cans or the doors in case he needs to make a quick getaway.
I spotted him at table in the back corner and headed that way, conscious of my heart pounding in my ears.

I tried to tell myself to calm down, but younger Kian was still Kian. In theory, the fact that I was older and out of my time stream should be enough to keep me focused, but I couldn't stop looking at him as the distance between us lessened. Ten feet. Five feet. His hair was longer than when I knew him and badly cut. From the way he was hunched over his tray, I couldn't see his expression. Thick glasses obscured his beautiful green eyes and half his face. He had problem skin, and he was so skinny it didn't look like they fed him at home. Oblivious to me, he stared to his left, watching some girl with shiny hair.

, I remembered.

“Is it okay if I sit here?” I asked, setting my tray down.

Kian's head jerked in my direction, and I couldn't help smiling. At this distance, I could see him. His eyes were the same beautiful green, thick lashed and stunning, but most people wouldn't notice. For a long moment, he stared, mouth half open, and it was like looking into an awkward mirror. Instead of waiting for a response, I joined him.

BOOK: Infinite Risk
10.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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