In case you missed it, make sure you read chapter one first!
My sleep suffers that night. Charlie doesn’t come back to the room. When I wake up around nine-thirty the next morning, she’s still gone. At first, I’m not sure what’s woken me up—until my phone chirps again from my nightstand. It’s no surprise that even centuries-old boarding schools have text-alert systems now.
Good morning, ladies! Please join me to usher in a successful new school year. Meet in the auditorium at the top of the hour—don’t be tardy.
I set my phone to silent, throw on some clothes, check my hair in the mirror, and head out of the dorm. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’d rather die than pore over the giant paper map my parents left for me. Nothing says outsider like a junior with a map.
Thankfully, I fall in line with a group on their way out of Meyer. From snatches of their conversation, I gather that they’re headed to the auditorium too. They’re far too absorbed in their chitchat to even notice the new girl with them. As we head down, we pick up a couple more girls, including Billie from the bathroom. She’s talking to a tall blonde girl I haven’t met yet.
“Um, hi,” I say.
“Hello,” she responds. “I’m sorry, what’s your name? Some kind of flower?”
“Rose. Nice to see you again.”
“Likewise.” Her voice is flat. She turns to the blonde to continue their conversation, but the blonde is now staring at me.
“Hi, I’m June. You must be new.”
She’s one of the prettiest girls I’ve ever seen, and I’m not sure she knows it. Her flawless skin glows in the sun, gold flecks dance in her brown eyes, and her eyelashes cast shadows on her high cheekbones. She’s not wearing any makeup though, and her clothes are athletic wear that might be a size too big. Her only accessory is a sunflower ring. I look down at her sneakers. They’ve seen better days.
Shit, she’s still staring, and I haven’t answered.
“Rose,” I say. “My name is Rose.”
“Rose!” June exclaims. “Beautiful flowers. Hard to take care of. Who are you rooming with?”
“I’m Charlie’s roommate.”
June’s eyebrows shoot up. “Really? That must be… exciting.”
“To say the least.” Billie frowns. “Was she with you last night? We had a hard time finding her.”
It’s my turn to frown. “I just… I thought she was out with her friends.”
June and Billie exchange a look.
June changes the subject. “Welcome to Livingston! We’re thrilled to have you.”
“Beyond chuffed,” Billie deadpans.
Jesus. Well, at least June’s trying. I’ve been nothing but cordial to Billie, so I’m not sure what kind of stick is up her ass. Whatever.
Since June seems open to conversation, I press my luck a little.
“Hey, uh, June,” I start. “I know we just met, but can I ask you something?”
She holds the door for me as we step outside. “Yeah, of course you can.”
Billie’s expression darkens, but she doesn’t butt in.
I think back to Charlie’s reaction in our room, the way she froze as she processed what I was saying. How fast she changed the subject.
“Charlie’s last roommate,” I say, “was she—uh, what happened?”
June’s face goes white. “Her sister? Eleanor?”
“We don’t talk about her sister,” Billie says.
I bite my lip. Of course they don’t. That would have been too easy. I guess I’ll have to bide my time.
“You shouldn’t mention Nell,” Billie says.
“Who?” I ask.
“Charlie’s sister,” she says. “Don’t bring her up in front of Charlie.”
“Especially if you’re roommates,” June says.
Shit, okay. Message received. I’ll have to be more careful what I say to Charlie and these girls. I keep getting shot down. Still, at least now I know that Charlie lived with her sister, Eleanor, or Nell for short, before… whatever happened.
The auditorium sits in the space between the dorms and the Arts and Sciences building. As we walk past the imposing brick facade on concrete paths shaded by trees, I can’t help feeling intimidated. Damp leaves stick to my boots—still green, but not for long. Connecticut gets cold, as my goosebumps remind me.
We pass more groups of students, but June and Billie don’t greet them. The other students’ eyes linger on me, struggling to recognize me, before moving on. At least I’m not the only new student on campus, thanks to the freshmen. I won’t stick out as badly.
I want to shrink down and hide among the blades of grass or wrap myself up in June’s golden hair until no one else here can see me.
Thankfully, there’s no sign of Charlie. I don’t know whether I’m ready to face her again, not when I’m so self-conscious and uncertain of myself.
At the top of the marble steps leading to the open doors, two girls hang around smoking. I catch a flash of red hair and try to keep moving, but to my horror, June grabs my arm and pulls me over to Charlie’s friend, a dark-haired Latina I haven’t met. Her winged eyeliner is as crisp as her black bob, and the stare she fixes on me cools my blood.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” Charlie says to June. She doesn’t look at me. A tiny green bandage covers the cut on her face.
June lets go of my hand and kisses the dark-haired girl on the mouth. The other girl’s lipstick transfers to June, tinting her lips red. She doesn’t seem to care. When she pulls away, she gestures to me. “Ronnie, this is Rose. Isn’t she pretty?”
Ronnie quirks an eyebrow at me. “Must be Charlie’s roommate.”
Was Charlie talking shit about me already?
Before I can fire off any retort, Charlie throws her cigarette down and stomps it out. She flips her hair over one shoulder. “Come on, let’s find seats.”
She’s not talking to me.
Billie cocks her head and studies me as the group of girls pass, leaving me to catch up. They might not want me to follow, but they’re the only ones I know. While June seems eager to include me, no one else does.
The girls file into a row of seats toward the back. I start to sit beside June, but then everyone is settled, and there are no seats left. June shoots me an apologetic glance. I swear Charlie smirks.
“Might have luck closer up,” Billie offers, only somewhat helpful.
Reluctantly, I trudge up the aisle until I find an empty seat on the end, about halfway up. My face is on fire, and I swear I feel everyone talking about me, trying to figure out what group I belong to. I’m the only one not caught up in conversation with friends.
Luckily, I don’t have to sit in awkward silence for long. A willowy woman with flowing blonde hair and perfect posture strides onto the stage with a book in her arms. She’s wearing a long black dress with a shawl that I mistake as a cape at first, the way it billows out behind her and makes it look like she’s gliding. Her heels click as she settles into place behind the podium. She adjusts the microphone and looks out over the crowd. I can’t see her eyes well, but I feel like she could look right through me if she wanted. I think she’s in her early twenties.
“Who’s that?” I whisper to the Asian girl beside me.
“Headmistress King,” she says.
I never expected the headmistress to be so close to my age.
“Good morning,” King booms into the microphone. It screeches with feedback, but she ignores it. A few people titter. “Good morning, ladies.”
Her voice is nothing like I expected. It’s authoritative, but not intimidating. She speaks in a singsong, but her face is all business.
A halfhearted chorus of “good morning, headmistress” echoes around the room. I stay silent, mostly because I have no clue what’s going on.
“A new academic year is upon us,” King intones. “That means a fresh start. Make the most of it, I urge you. Choose wisely what’s best for your future and remember that all actions—no matter how small—can have unintended consequences. And sometimes, those consequences can turn tragic.”
She pauses for a minute, for effect I think, until I hear murmurings and whispers all around me. Some girls bow their heads. The black girl on the other side of me closes her eyes.
“Eleanor Masters,” King continues, “was a light in the lives of the people who knew her throughout her eighteen years on this earth. Though that light may have dimmed, it will never go out.”
Charlie’s sister died. Shit. That’s why my room was open.
Another silence falls over the auditorium. I’ve never felt more excluded. I turn to look toward the back of the room, where Charlie and her friends are sitting, but I’m too short to see them.
Up at the podium, King clears her throat. “The administration would like to remind you all that if you’re struggling mentally or emotionally, please seek out campus resources. In addition to our regular counseling staff, we will also have some grief counselors with us for this quarter. And… you may come to me, personally, if you’re uncomfortable speaking with a counselor.”
She pauses again and shuffles her papers. “Take today to prepare for the year. Study well, engage with your classmates, and put your best foot forward. Remember, Livingston girls—”
“Shape the rest of the world,” the students finish in unison. Apparently, I was wrong about not feeling more left out.
A minute or two of chatter ensues while King collects her things. Another woman comes up to the microphone and launches into a speech about time management. I fight to keep my eyes open as another boring speaker follows, and then King returns to the microphone to send us off, thank God.
“That’s all for now, ladies. You are dismissed.”
Everyone stands, and I stand too. But as my row groups up in the aisle, something at the stage’s edge catches my attention. King has descended the staircase and is now absorbed in conversation with a tall, handsome man with sleek, dark hair and bright blue eyes—so bright that I can see them even from this distance. How did I miss his entrance?
King clutches her book to her chest. The man reaches for it and she steps back, shaking her head. They look up and catch me staring.
I blush, avert my gaze, and follow the other students out of the auditorium. A whiff of cigarette smoke smacks my face as soon as I’m outside. Charlie, June, Billie, and Ronnie are grouped up on the steps. Charlie smokes a cigarette and leans against a column. Ronnie lazily waves ribbons of smoke out of her face.
“‘You may come to me, personally’? Maybe she means that, but none of the other teachers want to talk to us.” Ronnie shakes her head. “They only care when it’s a teacher.”
“Last year,” Billie says. “They should have brought in counselors right after it happened.”
“Bureaucratic bullshit,” Charlie declares. “I’m not surprised, though. What did you expect?”
“She had to say that for the investors.” June twists the ring on her finger. “You know that. If she could, she’d–”
“My father is on the goddamn board of trustees. He’s been giving this school money for years. If they really gave a shit, they would have given me time off. Screw what the investors thought.”
“They didn’t give you any time off?” I ask.
Charlie cuts her eyes at me. “I’m sorry, can I help you?”
“Please, Charlie,” June butts in.
Charlie makes a face, but she leaves June alone. She flicks ash in my direction. “What happened is none of your business.”
“Where were you last night?” I ask.
The look she shoots at me is nothing short of scathing. “Not your business, either.”
Right away, I want to crawl under the dirt. Shit, why does she hate me when she doesn’t even know me? Maybe she’s right, maybe it really isn’t any of my business. Maybe I should go with another approach.
“I like your purse,” I say.
She looks at it. “Yeah. Oh, by the way, did you find a little vial in our room?”
My heart climbs into my throat. “I uh, it… shattered.”
“What do you mean?” Her eyes are emerald fire. “How did that happen?”
“It fell out of your purse. I dropped it.”
“Well, which one is it?”
“I, uh, um.” They all stare at me. I’m going to puke. “It fell out of your purse. I picked it up and”—and it did some spooky shit—“and I dropped it.”
“And it shattered?” Charlie asks.
I break eye contact with her, not even chancing a glance at the others.
“You should leave us alone,” she says. “I’d hate for you to break something else.”
I want to disappear. Not for the first time, I wish I were back home, where I’d be spending time with family, or working on homework. I sure as shit wouldn’t be fumbling my way through a conversation with strangers who hate me for no reason.
Maybe I’ll go back to the dorms, try to do something productive. Write a new song, maybe play my guitar–something that will help keep my mind off how I’m feeling.
I drop my head to my chest and mumble an apology. I don’t care if Charlie hears it.
Charlie’s laugh and the smell of smoke seem to follow me as I trace the path through the trees back to the dorms. My chest is tight. My eyes burn.
More than anything, I want to break down and cry. I sit on a bench to the side of the walkway and bury my face in my hands. Stupid Charlie. Stupid girls who don’t want anything to do with me.
Stupid me too, for fucking up so bad I got shipped off in the first place.
“You’re an idiot.”
The voice is deep. My head snaps up.
At the edge of the forest, two figures lurk, talking. The man from the auditorium speaks with a boy who looks to be around my age. Though they murmur in hushed tones, the wind carries their words to me.
“You were supposed to ask the Masters girl to bring it to me,” the older man hisses. “I thought that was the plan.”
“Something came up,” the boy says.
“Your girlfriend didn’t cooperate?”
“I didn’t want to—”
“Earth and elementals, do you think I give a damn? If I spent any time thinking about what you wanted, son, nothing in this world would ever get done.”
The boy shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “Why don’t you ask King for it?”
“You don’t think I’ve tried?” The older man scoffs. “I all but threatened her over it today. If you had been there, you might have–”
The bench creaks as I shift my weight to get up. Shit.
His eyes flicker toward me. I freeze as his gaze travels over my face.
He scowls. “Not here. Let’s head back.”
The boy ducks his head. Together, the two of them head into the forest, disappearing in the trees.
I lean forward, bracing my palms against my thighs. What the hell was that? What were they talking about?
Whatever I heard, it didn’t sound good. Combined with the weird interaction between that man and King, something seems way off here.
If I had one person here I thought I could trust, maybe I’d tell them about it.
Still, what can I say? I don’t know what I saw. I don’t know what I heard, what they talked about. I could go to King, but I don’t know her, and the thought of talking to her alone makes my stomach flip.
For now, I’ll keep what I saw to myself. What’s the worst that could happen?
Want to read more? Chapter three is now live!