Authors: Heather Sunseri
This work is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Heather Sunseri
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing
from the author, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in
connection with a review or article.
For my mom.
For always believing
For encouraging me to
explore the mysteries of life
and by simply living.
I couldn’t believe Coach had called
a six a.m. practice. It was the first day of classes for crying out loud. Not
to mention the start of my last year at Wellington.
And the last year of drowning in
secrets—mine and everyone else’s.
I pushed through the locker room
door to the swimming pool that Friday. Cool water splattered against my ankles.
After breathing in steam and chlorine, I stopped short.
Briana had an arm draped over Coach
Williams’ shoulder, studying the clipboard in his lap. With a flip of her curly
red hair, she threw her head back and belted out a laugh that tangled the tiny
hairs on the back of my neck.
My head throbbed too much for a
run-in with my arch nemesis. I walked toward the pool and dunked my swim cap in
When I turned back around, Briana
was in my face. Well, her breasts were. She was a solid five-foot-ten, while I
was more the size of a tall Olympic gymnast. I leaned away. “What do you want, Bree?”
“It’s a shame you missed practice
yesterday. I shaved more than a second off my fifty-free. If I’m not mistaken,
that’s good enough to beat you on your best day.”
I smiled my best
it-would-be-a-shame-if-you-sucked-in-too-much-water-during-practice smile. “Congratulations.
I’m super sorry I missed that.” To think Briana Howard and I were once friends
“Lexi, Briana. In the water. Now,” Coach
Williams yelled from his office.
“Okay, Coach,” I said without
removing my eyes from Briana. “You first, Bree.” I gestured with my palm facing
up toward the pool. I wasn’t about to turn my back on the girl who’d
practically jerked the ponytail out of my head over some boy last year.
“Gladly.” She strutted over to the
edge of the pool and completed a perfect swan dive into the middle lane.
I rolled my eyes and joined some
sophomores three lanes over. Not nearly far enough away.
I stretched my swim cap over my
head and tucked loose strands inside the folds. With my arms spread wide, I
fell backwards. The water, cool and refreshing, enveloped me. The whooshing
sound shut off all noise—the sounds outside my head anyway. I pushed off the
wall and glided arms first.
My workout was the one hour of the
day when I could think uninterrupted. For the next sixty or so minutes I would
forget evil teen frenemies and dream of the day I would break free of high
school. More importantly, the day I would walk away from Wellington Boarding
School forever and into college bliss.
As I crawled through the water, I
relished the thought of freedom—or the anonymity—that college would bring.
Escaping to a large university
meant fleeing from the secrets that haunted me at Wellington. Secrets that,
though different for each student, plagued many of the teens who attended the
little-known boarding school. Secrets that begged extra security and a gated
entrance. Secrets that made me realize that I never
people I called my friends at this school. Secrets that had required me to
change my name when I was twelve years old.
I hadn’t been in the pool very long
when a hand pushed softly on my head during a water break. I perched my goggles
on top of my cap and looked up at Coach Williams. “What’s up, Coach?”
“Dean Fisher needs you.” He pointed
over his shoulder with his thumb. “Some new kid is starting today. He wants you
to play tour guide.”
Straining my neck, I peered around
Coach. Dean Fisher waved me out of the pool. A boy stood beside him, his back
to me. Sandy hair in need of a trim flipped haphazardly above the neck of a
“Just great,” I said under my
breath. “Can’t you get me out of it? I really need the practice.” I couldn’t
let Bree get further ahead of me. Not to mention that showing some new boy
around just wasn’t my thing for too many reasons to name.
“Sorry, kid. You’ll have to make up
the practice later.”
Coach Williams offered me a hand
and lifted me from the pool with little effort. I tipped back a bottle of water
as I padded over to the dean. His three-piece suit and salt-and-pepper hair
“Lexi, your stroke’s looking strong.
You ready for this week’s meet?” Expectations were hidden behind the dean’s smile.
“I’m trying to be, sir.” It would
help if I could get my practice in uninterrupted.
His expression faltered briefly
before he turned slightly and reached a hand to his guest’s elbow. “I want you
to meet Jack. He’s joining us for his senior year. Jack, this is our star
swimmer, Lexi Matthews.”
I turned to the new guy, cringing a
little at the title the dean gave me. I was far from a star. Besides, I
resented the pressure.
Water dripped off the end of my
nose as I once-overed Jack. He was dressed in blue jeans and a black concert
T-shirt that did nothing to hide the well-defined muscles underneath.
I offered my hand and my best
attempt at a smile. It wasn’t his fault my practice had been cut short. “Nice
to meet you.”
His palm wrapped around my
outstretched hand. My eyes drifted up to his, the color of the sky at twilight,
in time to see him scan the length of my body. A shadow of darkness grazed over
each inch, all the way to my toes. Though my swimsuit covered all the important
parts, I was suddenly self-conscious with nowhere to hide as he studied me.
I pulled my hand from his grasp and
slid the swim cap off my head, running my fingers through my long hair. I
crossed my arms and forced my gaze toward the dean.
“Dean, I would love nothing more
than to show Jack around, but I’m afraid I really need the practice today.”
“I’ve already spoken to Mr. Sayre.
He said you could have seventh period today to make up the practice. Besides,”
Dean’s grin returned, “Jack is attending Wellington this fall while getting to
know those of you hoping to join The Program.”
A gasp escaped my mouth. “Sir?”
“Jack has already been a part of
The Program for a year. I’m sure he can answer any questions you and the others
Jack was part of The Program as a
junior? That made less than zero sense. “I thought The Program was only for
Wellington seniors, sir.”
“Jack is part of the initial pilot
program along with a few others.”
“A few others?”
“Your questions will be answered
soon enough, Lexi,” Dean Fisher said. Discussion over.
I didn’t understand the big secret.
But that’s Wellington. One big secret after another.
It didn’t matter. I didn’t care
about The Program anyway. I already knew the lengths medical researchers went
to in order to save one life to the detriment of another thanks to my infamous
father. The Program was just another way for Wellington to take parents’ money and
teach children the controversial lengths doctors go to in order to cure
terminal diseases and life-threatening injuries.
The dean and Wellington teachers
assured students that acceptance to The Program practically guaranteed seniors
acceptance to the pre-med program of their choice. I’d guarantee my acceptance
to a top pre-med program another way.
“Why don’t you grab a shower? Jack
will meet you outside the girls’ locker room.” The dean started to walk away
but turned back. “Oh, and you’ll need to get to know Jack and introduce him at Thursday
A smiled played at the corners of
Jack’s lips. And the way his eyes bore into mine… The look was strange. Unnerving
The two men headed for the pool
exit. A chill galloped down my spine. Get to know him? “Yes, sir,” I said with
a casual salute once the dean was out of earshot. I took a deep breath and
squeezed the bridge of my nose, hoping to massage away the growing headache.
Dripping and breathing hard, Briana
stepped beside me. “Who’s the yummy new guy?” Her goggles dangled at her hip. “Please
tell me they’re not letting you introduce him to our school. You’ll run him off
just like the last person they allowed you to mentor.”
Would I tell Briana that Jack was
more than just a new student? Briana would be more than interested in the “yummy
new guy” if she knew he was part of The Program. “You mean Anna? The eighth-grader
who developed viral pneumonia and had to be hospitalized for six weeks?”
Briana shrugged. “I’m sure you were
partly to blame for Anna never returning. You’re toxic, Lexi. You’ll scare this
guy off, too.”
She was probably right. I
scare this guy off. Most likely by choice.
Jack sat on a bench between the
sports center and the boy’s dormitory. He straightened his legs out in front of
him, his Chuck Taylored feet crossed at the ankles, and his arms stretched across
the back of the bench. The sun glinted off his hair, the color of wheat just
before harvest, and glimmered peacefully over his face.
I looked out across the school’s
front lawn. A perfect mid-September day in Midland, Kentucky. The leaves on the
trees had begun to change a little—a mix of red and gold among mostly green. A
good day to walk around campus and introduce fresh eyes to Wellington, I
I moved into the sun’s line,
shadowing Jack’s face. “You were supposed to wait for me outside the locker
room.” I regretted my tone immediately.
He opened one eye, but otherwise
remained where he was. “Did you have trouble finding me beyond the one door
that separated us?”
Sarcasm. I guessed I deserved that.
“So, I’m supposed to give you a tour. We should get started.”
“Actually…” He bent over and
reached for something at his feet. When he rose, he held two mugs from the
school’s coffee shop. “The nice man at Common Grounds said you appreciated a
good Chai, and the dean said you would have questions for me. You know, for my
big introduction into the school.”
I raised an eyebrow, studying his
expression. There was a smugness about him. Reaching for the drink he offered,
I wrapped my fingers around the warm cup and lifted the opening to my nose. The
sweet scent of Chai perked up my mood just a little. “Thanks. I guess I could
sit for a moment.”
Dropping my bag at my feet, I sat
and balanced a notebook and pen on my lap while I reached into my satchel for my
prescription pills. Realizing Jack was staring at me, I shrugged. “Headaches,” I
answered his silent question, although I wasn’t sure why I owed him an
The smirk that had spread across
Jack’s face faded. He nodded. “We can do this later.”
“No, it’s fine.” Since “never” was
not an option. I lifted my pen, poised to take notes. “So, doctor, I guess?”