The reek of mothballs and disinfectant almost knocks me over. Wood paneling lines the walls. It’s not a big dorm. Just enough space between the twin beds to prevent awkward touching in the night, twin dressers and desks that have seen better days, and a gray-brown carpet. Beside the door, sitting on a patch of linoleum, is a sink with a tiny mirror. Still, the room looks clean, and the big window lets in more light than I expected.
I slide the strap of my guitar case off my shoulder, set the guitar on the bed, and walk to the window. Livingston Academy is sprawling. I doubt I’ll ever find my way around–even my residence hall is massive. Though there’s still a day before classes start, the lawn outside my dorm, Meyer Hall, ripples with activity. A few girls sit on the stone steps leading to the front doors. Others lean against the wrought-iron fencing or the building’s brick exterior, make small talk by the rose bushes, and stretch out on the browning grass.
A pang of yearning knifes my chest. I turn away.
I don’t have friends. All I have are my parents—barely. And once they go home, I won’t have anyone.
“Where do you want to start with these?” Dad asks.
I turn. He and Mom are standing in the doorway with several boxes at their feet. I didn’t hear them come up.
Mom chooses a box without my input. Dad cuts the tape and unloads my stuff. They chat like I’m not here, discussing my class schedule.
Nathan would never ignore me like this.
But Nathan’s why I’m at Livingston.
My parents are already starting on the second box. I feel so overwhelmed, like I’m trapped inside a trash compactor along with last night’s leftovers. Cold sweat beads on my forehead. If I don’t get out of here, I’m going to lose it.
“I’ll be right back.” I head out in search of somewhere quiet. Anywhere but here.
A bathroom calls from the end of the hall. When I walk in, it’s another empty room. Humid air clogs my nose and mouth. Standard bathroom stalls line one wall; sinks and mirrors on the other. Shower stalls are tucked away in the back, marked by pastel-pink curtains. I head for the stall in the middle of the bathroom.
Behind me, someone coughs.
I let go of the stall door and spin around. A pale girl with long, red hair and fierce green eyes stands in a sundress, staring. In one hand, she holds an empty beer bottle with flowers sticking out of the mouth and liquid sloshing inside. I can’t see what’s in her other hand, curled into a fist.
She catches me staring and hides the bottle behind her back. “Excuse me.”
“That bathroom stall,” she says. “It’s mine.”
I turn back to the stall. It doesn’t look special. My brow furrows. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“Holy Hecate.” She rolls her eyes brushes past me, shoulder smashing into mine. Her fingers curl around the handle of the door. I barely jump out of the way before she slams it shut.
I’m still standing, shocked, when a black girl with big, round glasses and even bigger hair enters the bathroom. She peers at me over the top of her glasses as she checks her hair in the mirror.
“Thought that was you for a moment, Charlie,” she says, voice tinged with an English accent.
“What? She looks nothing like me,” Stall Bitch—Charlie—answers from atop her porcelain throne.
She’s right. We’re both white, but my eyes are blue to Charlie’s green, my hair is dull brown unlike her scarlet locks, and my mouth is heart-shaped, while hers is more of a pout. I think Charlie has freckles too, but I didn’t get a good look.
I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. Being scrutinized by other teenage girls is nothing new, but I feel exposed. It’s all I can do not to pull the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and hide my face as English Girl looks at me.
“Pretty,” English Girl says. “How about it? Are you new?”
“Transfer student,” I say.
Charlie’s voice floats out of the stall again. “Would’ve pegged you as a freshman.”
“Sorry, I’m a junior.” I don’t know why I’m apologizing. “I’m sixteen.”
Charlie starts muttering something to herself, but I can’t make out what she’s saying.
English Girl walks to the stall, eyeing me as she passes. She raps twice on the door. “What are you doing in there?”
Rude question, considering we’re in a bathroom. But Charlie’s reply is quick and breezy. “I told you earlier, setting the charm.”
Setting the charm? What is she talking about?
“Gods alive,” English Girl replies. “You don’t need it. Eddie’s head over heels.”
“You don’t know him like I do, and I like certainty.”
I still have no clue what they’re talking about. Maybe I should leave.
“Ouch,” Charlie says.
“Don’t do too much.” English Girl returns her focus to me. “I’m Billie. Didn’t catch your name.”
“Rose. Nice to meet you.”
“Brilliant.” Billie readjusts her glasses and fiddles with the door, like she can unlock it. “Let me in. I can help you.”
“Another potion? No thanks.”
Potion? I must have misheard. That can’t be what she said.
“You keep trying the same spell, you’re just going to hurt yourself more,” Billie says.
Spell? Come on. These girls have lost it. I need to get out of here. Besides, they won’t miss me. They’re friends, and close ones, by the looks of it.
I feel another pang. I press a hand to my chest to stifle it, but it doesn’t work.
I pee in a hurry, wash my hands, and go back to my dorm room. Laughter echoes down the hall and prickles the back of my neck. They’re not laughing at me. Probably.
The door to my room is still open. I stare at the gold placards on the wall beside it: MASTERS, C. & E. I guess they haven’t had time to switch one of those names for mine.
My parents are right where I left them.
I stand there for a moment, watching, more out of place with my parents than I was in the bathroom with those strange girls. I walk in and wander over to my guitar, slipping it out of the case. My fingertips brush the strings.
Mom pulls a pillow from a box. “Everything all right?”
No. “It’s fine,” I answer.
“Thought we heard girls in the hall,” Dad says. “Did you meet them?”
I chew the inside of my cheek. Please, anything but this. Anything but my parents pretending this is normal. Pretending this is a regular school transfer.
“A few,” I say.
Mom sets the pillow on my bed and props a hand on her hip. “Open up a little if you want to make friends, Rose. Not everyone is out to get you.”
What happened between me and Nathan is splashed in red paint all over the walls. My dirty little secret won’t be a secret for long. The media never released my name, but it wouldn’t be hard to put it together. It’s spelled out in my permanent record.
I cross my arms. “Are the boxes done?”
“Nearly, no thanks to you.” Dad smiles, but the jab still lands. I know he doesn’t mean it like it sounds. Neither of them ever does. “It’s normal to be nervous. You’re in a new place, and you’ll be making new friends. You’ll be fine.”
“It won’t be like last year,” Mom assures me.
Dad shoves his hands in his pockets. “That man—”
Mom glares at him.
“I mean, well… yeah. Not many men around here. You’ll be all right.”
I want to believe them. But in their eyes, what happened last year was entirely one-sided. They don’t know I loved him.
Still, maybe they have a point. In a school full of girls, where even most the teachers are women, how can I be tempted?
Mom crosses to hug me. “We’ll make this quick. You know how your father gets.”
Behind her, Dad sniffs. When Mom steps back, he moves in. His tears wet my cheek. “Be good now, all right?”
I turn away to wipe my face and give Dad some privacy. Maybe they’re worried about sending me somewhere they can’t keep tabs on me as easily, but maybe they should have thought of that before shipping me off to Livingston.
When he turns again, his eyes are bright and hopeful. I haven’t seen that look on his face in a while.
“Call us,” Mom says.
I grab Mom’s purse from the bed and hand it to her. “Not like it’s forever. You’ll see me in November. Thanksgiving, okay?”
“Promise?” Mom echoes.
“Yes, Mom. I’ll call you.”
No one says anything else. My parents look me over and walk out of the room. The door clicks shut.
I sit on the edge of my bed and push my guitar away. My roommate’s unmade bed sits across from me. The blankets are all over the place. One poster hangs on the wall behind her bed—something by Monet—but I don’t see a single suitcase, and the closet rack is empty.
If she has the same room as she did last year, where is all her stuff?
We still have a whole day before classes start. Maybe her parents are coming tomorrow.
I flop onto my back and stare at the ceiling. Wood stares back. One stray match and this school would burn down in a second.
I’m almost asleep when keys jangle in the lock. I sit bolt upright as the door swings open.
“Shit,” Charlie says.
I think back to the placard. MASTERS, C. Her last name must be Masters.
“You’re my roommate?” I reply.
“Why else would I have the keys to this room?” She pushes the door shut and puts her hands on her hips. The light streaming through the window is kinder to her face than the lights in the bathroom. She has freckles like me, much more prominent on her paler skin. But there’s a fresh cut on her cheek. It must have happened in the bathroom.
“Your face,” I say. “It’s bleeding.”
“I know,” she says. “Guess I missed your parents. They coming back?”
“Bummer.” She doesn’t sound bummed. She doesn’t even sound the least bit interested in me. Instead, she leans over the sink and reapplies her crimson lipstick in the mirror.
“What happened to your sister?” I ask. “Did she graduate last year?”
Charlie’s application falters, the point of the lipstick freezing at the corner of her mouth. She doesn’t turn, but her eyes in the mirror meet mine. Then, they narrow.
“Masters, C. and E.,” I say, lifting a hand lamely to point at the door. “Same last name. I thought—”
“Forget it.” Charlie goes back to putting on the lipstick. She frowns at her reflection, mutters something under her breath, and washes her hands. “Don’t drink this water. Old pipes.”
“Thank you.” My face must be crimson. “Um, your cut…”
“It’ll stop.” Charlie shrugs, grabs her designer purse from the floor, and heads out of the room. I glimpse something by the sink and walk over to investigate. It’s a small vial of blue liquid—and it glitters in the light.
I pick it up and run my fingers over its smooth surface. Something shifts and shimmers inside the liquid, like a fog trapped in a mirror. The swirling mist reflects my image back at me.
I shriek and drop the vial. It shatters on the linoleum. Shit, now I’m screwed. What do I do?
The liquid burns through the linoleum and I wonder who—or what—these girls really are.
Chapter two is now available! Click here to check it out!