Kassandra Kush

The Lightwood Legacy, Prologue/Chapters 1 & 2

Posted on: May 28, 2013

Still not 100% edited, but just something to get you excited!! The Lightwood Legacy, due out July 4!!!

PROLOGUE

 

            I always knew there was something special about Thomas Lightwood, from the first moment that I met him. Not that it was obvious to the casual eye. In fact, on the surface, Tom and I appeared to be a lot alike, gender notwithstanding. We both attended Pennington Bay Academy, and had for the past eight years, since the third grade. Tom and I were constantly battling each other for first and second place academically in our class. We both had care takers, not active parents. We were both kind of outcasts at our school.

            I say ‘kind of’ for Tom’s sake. That was where the similarities ended. He had the potential to be popular. I was an outcast by choice. I didn’t particularly care for the spoiled, indulged students that mainly populated Pennington. I had my select friends, my well-earned grades, and with a sketchpad in my hand and sarcasm pouring from my mouth, I was content. Tom was an outcast by choice. ‘By choice’ meant that all the girls – including me – liked him, and why not? He was from Georgia, and he was that good old farm boy kind of handsome; shining golden hair he kept a trifle long, so you couldn’t help but notice the perfect waves it fell into. He was nearly six foot two and well chiseled, with angel-blue eyes, kind eyes. Put him in the school uniform, khaki’s and a white button down shirt with a tie and, well, what kind of girl can’t be affected by that?

            It was mainly the boys who had a problem with Tom. He was more unpopular with them for the above mentioned reasons, but also because he played sports with his brother at Pennington until the eighth grade. At one point, Jonathan and Thomas Lightwood had been the golden boys of PBA (Tom and Jon, can you imagine?). They excelled at everything in every way, and it wasn’t possible to not like the Lightwood twins, physically and emotionally impossible. Then eighth grade had dawned and Jon hadn’t come back to Pennington.

            Tom had, but he had been different. Quieter, without the vicarious, outgoing personality he’d once possessed. No one knew why he had changed, or why Jon hadn’t come back, only that he now attended a different boarding school. Tom hadn’t participated in sports that year, or any of the following years. Pennington Bay now held the title for the worst teams in our division, especially in football and basketball, where the Lightwood twins had once dominated, been unstoppable. Boys, most boys, the jocks, at least, blamed Tom for driving Jon away, and for not helping salvage the school’s name himself, though the truth of Jon’s absence had never been revealed.

            Tom and I had a good relationship. We playfully fought each other and made jokes about the loser playing pranks on the valedictorian when we finally graduated. But Tom was good looking and kept to himself, and we were never what one could call good friends. Despite how similar we were, we were never truly alike.

            I was ordinary. Tom Lightwood was not.

            And this is our story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

The Choice That Changed Everything

 

            Pennington Bay Academy worked like any other elite boarding school; students were all wealthy and jaded, drinking, smoking, and old (though definitely not mature) before their time. We were set to rigorous studies, and it was Ivy League or bust for all of us. PBA was set far in the countryside of northern Virginia, a one mile walk outside of the small, quaint town of Pennington. Not close enough for us to comfortably sneak out to at night, but close enough for us to enjoy our weekends off campus.

            There were two boys’ dormitories and two for the girls, with the entire school between us all, again to discourage late-night excursions, though this, of course, didn’t discourage most of us in the slightest. There were always three of us to a room, and this year I was across the hall from my two best friends, and stuck with two girls I had never even spoken to.

In some cruel twist of fate, I, the brain, had been stuck in a room with Jessamine Rose Braxton, the schools biggest diva, glamour queen, and socialite (AKA, the richest girl at PBA), and Vivienne Hayes, our female all-star sports enthusiast, who had been single handedly upholding our school’s female sports of volleyball and basketball. Throw in the smartest girl in our class, me, and I was pretty sure there were hidden cameras in our room so people could study how stereotypes worked.

            Enough about Pennington. It’s merely a place, where most of this happened, yes, but this story is about the people. The real beginning of this story is the second Sunday of November. We were all holding on to the edge of our seats, straining to make it through twenty-odd days to Thanksgiving break. I was in the massive old fashioned library with my two good friends, whining about my two roommates, as I did incessantly these days.

            Allegra and Francesca (Chessie) made soothing noises of disappointment as we packed up our books and prepared to leave, as lights out would be in an hour.  

            “Seriously, Vivienne does like, this whole work-out routine right before bed,” I continued my litany of complaints as we shoved over-sized textbooks into our leather messenger bags and gathered up stray pencils and pens, “with jumping jacks and wall sits and like, two hundred crunches. It’s insane!”

            “Okay, that is odd,” Allegra, ever the devil’s advocate, admitted, but was quick to follow it with, “but clearly, she’s district champ and MVP and holds almost every state record for a reason. You need discipline for that, and probably a lot of training. A nightly workout is like, like,” she cast around for an example, and then waved an arm to encompass the library, “like us in here studying every night. It’s the way she ‘studies’ so she can be good at what she does.”

            It was such a good comparison that I was struck silent for a moment, unable to come up with anymore criticisms of Vivienne. That still, however, left Jessamine open for discussion.

            “What about Jessamine?” I demanded. “She’s got this elaborate beauty routine she does every night. She actually does a face mask, and she paints her nails every two days! How do you even have time for that?”

            Chessie, who was the beauty of our group, with long, raven hair and dark, café au latte skin that made her just as exotic as her name, stood from the table and slung her bag across her shoulder. “Really, Lo, so some girls find their looks really important. That’s not a crime. Besides, Jessamine’s mom is a fashion designer and her dad is a famous actor, she kind of has a reputation to live up to. I bet she’s under a lot of pressure from her parents.”

            I glared at my two friends as we strolled out from the dim, Gothic style library, through the marble entrance hall and out onto the grounds. “Why do you two always make me seem so shallow?” I grumbled, winding a scarf around my neck as the chill air hit me and tried to worm its way through my red North Face and touch my skin. “Now I feel like a jerk.”

            “You’re not a jerk,” Allegra consoled, and Chessie nodded in agreement. “It is a weird roommate situation, and I bet it is really hard for the three of you to find some common ground. You have totally different interests, and even your backgrounds are pretty different. Just keep being nice and friendly, and I’m sure the ice will eventually break. We’ve only been at school for two months. Give it some time.”

            “I guess,” I said, not inclined to be very optimistic. It was easy for Chessie and Allegra to be so cool and collected about the situation; they still roomed together, and even though it was just across the hall, at times it felt like they were miles away.

            I allowed their talk to drift to other topics, such as Chessie’s audition for the winter musical later this week, our French test on Tuesday, and Allegra’s bid for captain of the debate team, for the five minute walk from mid-campus to our dormitory. It wasn’t until we were ascending the stone steps and began digging in our bags for our passkeys, since the dormitory was locked to everyone but students and faculty after dinner, that I realized I had forgotten to check out a book at the library I needed for class the next day.

            I gave a heavy sigh. “Guys, I forgot to get that book for English. I’m gonna run back and get it tonight so I don’t have to get up early. I’ll be right back.”

            They both turned, and Allegra frowned in worry.

“Do you want us to come?” she asked. “It’s dark out.”

“No, that’s okay,” I said, waving a hand at them. “I know you both still have calculus homework, and I already finished mine. Go on in and finish, it’ll only take a minute.”

            I turned and trudged back across the lawns, sticking my hands into the pockets of my fleece jacket. It would soon be too cold for just sweaters and jackets, and I would have to dig out my coat and gloves from the depths of my closet, where I had stuck them optimistically at the beginning of the school year.

            I shuddered at the thought and continued onward, toward the Edward Church library. It had been built by my great-great-grandfather in the late 1800’s. The Churches had attended Pennington for over two hundred years, since its conception in 1866. Grandpa Edward had donated the money for the new library after the old one had burned down. I was one of the legendary Churches, Philomena to most, Lo to those who knew me well, and Phil to those that didn’t know me at all, but thought they did.

            I always got an eerie, prickly feeling, walking into the library where so many of my ancestors had also strolled, but it also gave me a feeling of instant familiarity, and easy belonging. The place was named after me, why shouldn’t I feel at home here?

            I scurried to the classics section and got my copy of The Scarlett Pimpernel, since the one I had ordered hadn’t arrived yet, and was on my way with thirty minutes still to spare before evening roll call at nine o’clock.

            I pushed open the heavy wooden doors of the library and prepared once again to face the unwelcome cold. As I was about to descend the steps for the second time, a sudden movement to my left caught my eye, and I jumped.

            I whirled in a panic, startled, just in time to catch someone topple over the stair railing and into the bushes lining the library. I was frozen in shock for a moment, and then with a gasp of surprise, I was off down the steps, running around the railing to see who had fallen. For a moment, I was disoriented in the dim light that only came from the library porch far above us, unable to see anything. Then the bushes next to me rustled, and someone crawled out from the foliage.

            They were on all fours, but hunched over and panting, as though in great pain. As I watched, their arms trembled violently, and one gave out. They fell to the ground with a cry of pain, and then grunted as they tried to rise up from the ground once more. Light glinted off golden hair, and I had a flash of recognition, followed by immediate concern.

            “Tom!” I cried, and fell to my knees to try and help him.

            “Don’t touch me!” he barked. His voice was low and guttural, foreign and harsh. It was so completely not Tom that I drew back. I was startled by the vehemence and pain that I heard.

            “Tom, what’s wrong?” I asked. My hands fluttered and jerked nervously as I resisted the urge to reach out and touch him. “We need to get you to the nurse, or, or call an ambulance!”

            I began to grope in my bag for my cell phone, as before me, Tom began to writhe in pain. Finally, his arms shook a final time and he collapsed to the ground for good. He rolled to his side, and I finally was able to see his face. It was twisted up in agony, his eyes tightly clenched shut and his face slick with sweat.

            His arms were now clenched tightly around his middle, as though he had terrible stomach pains. My numbed fingers clumsily dropped my phone and I leaned forward again, forgetting myself.

            “Tom!” I said, anguished and panicked and scared all at the same time.

            “No!” It was a growl, and once again I pulled away.

            Tom gave a loud moan, and his legs jackknifed upward, his whole body clenched into a ball, clearly in agonizing pain.

            “No . . . . ambulance,” he panted. “Who are you?”

            I suddenly realized he didn’t recognize me, that it was too dark and he was in too much pain to recognize my voice.

            “It’s me, Lo,” I said, in as soothing a voice I could manage, though it still shook plenty. “It’s Philomena. We need to get you to a hospital, Tom!”

            His spasm of pain seemed to ease slightly, and his legs relaxed a little and came away from his chest. His eyelids opened, revealing his light eyes, brilliantly shining with tears of pain.

            “No hospital,” he said, and squinted at me. “Philomena?”

            “Yes, it’s me,” I said, blinking rapidly against tears of fear and worry.

            “Good,” Tom pushed out, every word costing him, his chest rising and falling like a bellows. “I was looking for you.”

            And with one last massive effort, Tom lifted his arm and grabbed my right hand. There was a massive explosion of white light that blinded me, simultaneously throwing me onto my back. And then there was darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

Danger Comes For a Visit

 

            I came awake by degrees, bit by bit, just as I did on weekends when I knew it wasn’t time to get up yet and I fought coming fully awake for good. My fingers moved a little, I gradually grew conscious of my breathing, and finally, my eyelids twitched. They opened once, and I closed them immediately and drew in a long, sleepy breath. Then my eyes opened again, and I realized I was face to face with a pine bush.

            I frowned, and turned my head, looking in the opposite direction. Far across the grassy quad, I could see the brightly lit rows of windows that I recognized as my dormitory. I was outside, lying on the ground.

            Slowly, foggily, I sat up and pulled my bag, which lay nearby, over toward me. I took a deep breath and forced myself to focus, reaching back in my memory. Then it came flooding back. Tom. Tom.

            I jumped to my feet, even though my achy body protested the abrupt movement. I turned a careful circle, expecting to see Tom’s prone body lying there next to me. He was nowhere to be seen. The lawn, indeed the whole quad, was empty of people.

            Something glinted against the light coming from the library entrance, and I bent down to pick up my cell phone. I had dropped it, I remembered, when I had tried to reach out to Tom. I had been about to call an ambulance. Surely this meant he had been here, didn’t it? I looked out across the quad again, swaying on my feet. I felt tired and disoriented, half drunk or slightly tipsy.

            I clicked my phone on, just to be sure Tom hadn’t called or texted me with some bizarre explanation. All thoughts of Tom fled from my mind when I saw I had only three minutes to make it back to my dorm room before roll call. I snatched my bag off the ground and set off at a dead run toward the dorms, flying across the lawn with a speed fueled by a new surge of adrenaline. I had never, not in eight years, been late or missing to roll call. I refused to have a blemish on my record just because of a freak hallucination.

            I struggled to get my key card out of my bag and hit the side of the building full force, not even slowing down from my run. I swiped the card through and headed straight for the stairs, taking them two at a time. I reached the third floor just as Mrs. Downey, Pennington’s vice principle, was about to walk down them.

            “I’m here!” I gasped. “Sorry! Lost track of time!”

            Mrs. Downey consulted her watch, and then checked me off on her clipboard with a small smile. “Thirty seconds to spare, Ms. Church. I hope this doesn’t become a habit of the new school year.”

            “Definitely not,” I said, lungs still whistling for more air. “My apologies, and thank you, Mrs. Downey. Good night.”

            She nodded to me and headed down the stairs, and I walked halfway down the hallway and let myself into my dorm room. Closing the door behind me, I braced my back against it and slowly slid down to the floor. I was exhausted, not just from running but through my whole body, down to my very core. I still felt out of it, lightheaded and airy.

            Vivienne and Jessamine were both in our common room, and they looked over at me as I thumped to the floor and closed my eyes, relieved to be back home, back somewhere that felt safe.

            “Thought you were going to miss roll call,” Jessamine said, in her precise British accent. She and Vivienne exchanged a look. “We were worried, you’re always here.”

            “Next time let us know, and we can cover for you,” Vivienne added, every other word accentuated with a small grunt as she continued her evening crunches.

            I opened my eyes and looked at them, these two girls that I barely knew, but here they were, already offering to cover for me. I was more astounded at the fact that they thought I would ever be attempting to stay out past roll call than their offering to cover for me. I was well known at Pennington, yes, but definitely not for being one of the infamous late-nighters.

            “Um, thanks,” I said, “but I just lost track of time. At least, I think I did.”

            Jessamine leaned forward in her desk chair, squinting at me through her Tiffany’s reading glasses. “Are you all right?” she asked, real concern in her voice. “You look a little . . . off.”

            I reached to push some hair off my forehead, and realized it felt clammy, covered in a chilly sweat. I began to struggle out of my North Face, suddenly hot but not feeling any inclination to get up off the floor.

            “I feel off,” I said, my voice as tired as I felt. Once my jacket was off, I leaned my head back against the door and closed my eyes. I would have been content to fall asleep right there, sitting upright in the common room.

            I jumped when I felt a foreign hand touch my forehead, and opened my eyes to see Vivienne standing before me, dressed in her usual work out uniform of a sports bra and gym shorts. She was touching my forehead, a concerned Jessamine hovering behind her.

            “You’re warm,” Vivienne said, moving her hand to feel my cheek, and then pulling it away. “Do you want us to take you to the nurse?”
            I shook my head, knowing this was not the answer, and also because going all the way back to the ground floor seemed like an exhausting trip. “No, I’m not sick, just tired all of the sudden.”

            “What happened?” Jessamine asked, sounding genuinely concerned. “We heard Allegra and Francesca get back almost an hour ago, and we were surprised you didn’t come in right after them. And then you were almost late . . . .” she trailed off, looking at me expectantly.

            I sighed, trying to cast around in my murky mind for the exact details. “I’m not sure. I went back to the library for a book, and then I thought I saw Tom Lightwood fall over the rail, and then he was laying there like he was in pain and then he touched me and there was this bright light, and next thing I knew, well, I guess I passed out. But when I woke up, Tom wasn’t there. Maybe I imagined the whole thing. Maybe it’s just stress over midterms.”

            Vivienne looked concerned, though they didn’t immediately say I was crazy and I felt affection for my roommates swell at the fact. “If you think you passed out, you should really go see the nurse, Philomena. You could have hit your head or something.”

            I shook my head. “I didn’t hit my head, I promise you. It doesn’t hurt at all.” I reached for the door handle and used it to pull myself to my feet. “Look, just let me go to bed tonight, and if I still feet weird tomorrow, I promise I’ll go see the nurse first thing, okay?”

            Still looking anxious, Vivienne and Jessamine watched as I walked unsteadily to our joint bedroom. I changed into my oldest sweats, splashed some water on my face to clean off the sticky sweat, and then collapsed onto my bed. I was asleep before I could even reach to pull my duvet over me.

 

            Contrary to all expectations, when I awoke the next morning, it was with a surplus of energy. My alarm went off at six and I sprang from the bed without even pressing snooze. I felt immediately wide awake, my fogginess and lethargy from the previous day completely gone, only a distant memory.

            I grabbed my shower caddy and scurried to the bathroom. I always rose early both to hit the bathroom before Jessamine laid siege to it and so I would have plenty of time to check over my homework from the previous day or hit studio if I felt so inclined.

            I showered and watched myself in the mirror as I blew my hair dry. I looked the same as ever; deep, dreamy brown eyes with a fringe of thick dark lashes, a thin scattering of freckles across my small nose and cheeks. My hair was very dirty blonde, made blonder and less dirty with my biggest concession to vanity, highlights. It hung long, nearly to my elbows, mainly because it was naturally curly and this way it was low maintenance.

            I forwent my contacts, which I seldom wore, and slid on my glasses, which were a rectangular shape and made of thick red plastic. They were a far cry from Jessamine’s elegant Tiffany’s frames, but I loved the funkiness of them, and felt more myself with them on, opposed to contacts.

            I slicked on some mascara, liner, and foundation (hey, I’m not a complete lost cause). A swipe of chapstick passed incognito for real gloss, and I was done in the bathroom. I exited just as Jessamine was beginning to stir. Vivienne was already gone, at the track for her daily two-mile run. Since Jessamine was already sitting up, rubbing her eyes as she removed her sleep mask, I went ahead and flipped on the light so I could better find my clothes.

            “Morning!” I sang, still feeling uncharacteristically cheerful for not generally being a morning person.

            “Morning,” Jessamine replied, her accent sharper in her sleep roughed voice. “You’re looking better today.”

            “I feel oddly fabulous, so I guess I’ll run with it,” I said. I pulled on a light blue button down shirt, skirt in plaids of white, navy, gold and light blue, and a pair of the navy leggings we were allowed to wear in the colder months. Our uniform really wasn’t that bad, and aside from the skirts, we could generally wear any appropriate collared shirt in our school colors. Only boys had to wear ties, and they had fortunately done away with the blazers long ago.

            “That’s good, I’m glad to hear it,” Jessamine said, and drifted off to the bathroom.

            “See you later!” I called through the door in a sudden burst of roommate affection. After their concern last night, I decided Chessie and Allegra were right; Jessamine and Vivienne really weren’t as bad as all that, and I should try harder with them.

            Jessamine made a positive sound from the bathroom, and I skipped to my closet and dug out my red peacoat. So I like the color red, sue me. I pulled it on, debated a scarf as well but decided I didn’t want to carry it around with me all day. I grabbed my bag from the floor of the common room, double checked I had my cell phone, and left the room. I left a Post-It note with studio written across it on Chessie and Allegra’s door so they would know where I had gone and struck off for the cafeteria.

            The sun was just beginning to rise when I stepped outside the dormitory and crossed to the cafeteria. Flanked on both sides by the four dormitory buildings, the large white marble structure that housed our state-of-the-art classrooms sat impressively in the foreground of campus, a large parking lot in front of it. Hiding behind this was a more motley collection of buildings, the cafeteria, our gym, the field house, and a building of apartments for the teachers who lived on site but weren’t dormitory den mothers. Beyond all that was the athletic fields and stadium. I could just see the outside track and several figures running around it, one of them undoubtedly Vivienne.

            I hurried to the cafeteria and took a Styrofoam cup of coffee, a bagel, and a pear from the breakfast selection arrayed for our pleasure. I darted from the cafe to a back door to the school and descended the stairs to the basement level and our large studio classroom.

            I propped myself on my usual stool, opened my sketchbook to a fresh page, and proceeded to eat my breakfast while waiting for a brilliant idea. Our school had a student magazine published every month, full of short stories and art pieces and other tidbits from students. As chief junior editor, my piece should have been one of the first submitted. Instead, I couldn’t think of anything amusing enough to satisfy me. I was generally known for good satire pieces, and I didn’t want to lose my reputation.

            I was toying with the idea of somehow using Tom’s weird episode last night when the ten minute warning bell rang, and Tom suddenly became forefront in my mind. I had AP English with him first period, and I wanted to corner him and ask about last night. Assuming he was there, and not lying dead in a ditch somewhere, I thought, and grimaced.

            I tossed my trash and hit the stairs for the third floor. Part of my resolution this school year was to always take the stairs and never the elevators, in the name of my health, since I did little else. Okay, so I cheated on Fridays, big deal. On the whole I’d done pretty well.

            Breathless, I used the railing to haul myself up the last two steps and joined the throng of students in the hallway, scouting for Tom as I pushed through to my classroom. I felt a tidal wave of relief when I saw his tall form cutting a path through the crowd, literally a head taller and shoulder’s width wider than all others.

            I waited anxiously at the door of our classroom, tapping my foot impatiently as he approached. “Tom!” I exclaimed when he was finally within earshot. “I was so worried about you!”

            Tom gave me a confused, innocuous smile as he paused next to me. “What? Why were you worried about me?”

            I blinked at him, startled into blurting, “Because of last night, duh. You just vanished. When I woke up, you were gone, and you were so sick . . . .” I trailed off when I saw Tom’s politely confused expression.

            “Lo, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, reaching up to adjust the strap of his backpack over his shoulder. “I got in from Atlanta late last night and went straight to my dorm.”

            “You didn’t,” I blurted once again, and then wanted to wince, but forged onward. “You were by the library. I saw you. You fell over the railing, and you were so weak you couldn’t even stand up.”

            Tom gave a small laugh. “If I was that sick, do you think I’d be able to come to class today?” he pointed out.

            I gave a small shrug. “I, I guess so.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, aside from repeating over and over, But I saw you!

            “Midterms are coming,” Tom said kindly, “you know how crazy they make people. You’re probably just mixing a dream with reality or something.”

            “Yeah,” I said, now embarrassed by my concern for him. I was too startled by his outright denial to give any of my usual flippant responses. “I suppose so.” The second warning bell rang, and Tom and I filed into the classroom with all the other students, and class began.

Tom probably would have convinced me that the whole thing really was my imagination, the fault of a gas leak I’d unknowingly inhaled or something, if he hadn’t so studiously begun to avoid and ignore me the whole week.

Four of my seven classes were with Tom, and at every single one, he hardly looked or spoke to me. He still took his normal seat next to me, as if switching seats would arise too much suspicion, but there were no more whispered comments during class. We didn’t discuss our assignments, reference each other’s notes or homework, or discuss splitting the reading on The Scarlet Pimpernel the way we sometimes did when our workload was big, as it was this week with midterms coming up.

            It wasn’t for lack of trying on my part. I attempted to go on as normal, but Tom was markedly different. He answered me halfheartedly, didn’t look me in the eye, and left class the instant the bell rang, instead of walking with me when our paths wound the same way. Not that we had been best friends or anything. We had been good study buddies and had a friendly rivalry, and that was all.

Our conversations rarely went off the topic of anything non-school related, though those topics had kept us chatting amiably for the past five years or so. Still, we’d pretty much been friends. His continued avoidance convinced me more than anything that something really had happened outside the library that night, and the mystery of it frustrated me intensely. Suffice to say, every day that passed with Tom not even glancing my way just made my eyes narrow all the more, and steam heat up, ready to come out my ears.

            That first day my mood worsened with every class, until seventh period finally rolled around and I stomped into studio, slamming my bag down on my table. Our teacher, Mrs. Clare, cautiously approached my table.

            “Are you all right, Lo?” she asked.

            I sighed, now faced once again with the blank page of my sketchbook. “I’m fine,” I mumbled. “I just haven’t been able to think of anything to submit for the Publisher. I’m sorry it’s so late. I was thinking of doing some kind of comic strip or something, but I just haven’t been inspired lately.”

            Mrs. Clare, who had been my art teacher at Pennington for the last five years, gave me a motherly pat on the back. “Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you give it a rest until after midterms, and work on it over Thanksgiving break? You’ll have to have something when you get back, though. I need it all in before the end of the month.”

            I nodded in agreement and spent the rest of the period working on other projects, though halfheartedly. The bell finally rang, and all across the school students pulled out their cell phones with sighs of relief; we were free. I pulled out my own and went to meet Chessie and Allegra in their dorm room so we could continue cramming for our French test the next day.

 

            I probably would have gone on being pissed off at Tom, quietly seething but never knowing the truth, forever, if we hadn’t been able to go into Pennington the following Sunday, our last weekend before break started on Wednesday. Everyone was in a flurry of excitement, girls pleased to be able pull out their cute winter clothes, boys glad to be able to escape and smoke a joint without fear of the administration and to leer at girls in their low cut shirts. Ah, the life of the young, rich, and entitled.

            I was just glad for the ready-made excuse to take a break from studying for midterms. It just wasn’t the same without Tom there to help me, and my irritation with him wasn’t helping either. Still, with Chessie and Allegra at my side, it was hard to stay in a bad mood during the walk into the small town, and I found myself mostly forgetting about it all as we got lunch at the tavern and walked through the shops arm in arm, discussing our Thanksgiving break plans.

            Chessie was traveling to Spain to visit her grandparents, while Allegra was going with her family to spend the holidays in their Manhattan condo. I was going to spend the time at one of my parents’ houses, the one that my Great-Aunt Delia looked after, several hours outside of Pennington. To say I was not excited about this would have been a massive understatement. My friends did their best to console me, promising that for Christmas, they would try their hardest to get me on the guest list of any parties their parents were throwing.

            That cheered me a little, and we continued walking and sipping hot coffee until dusk, and then joined the slow trickle of students beginning to head back to the school. There was a dam of students building up, however, just inside the town limits. The three of us slowed, and finally edged closer to the crowd, straining to see over everyone’s heads.

            “What do you suppose is going on?” Chessie asked, and then we all jumped as sirens wailed in the air, and the crowd parted to allow several cop cars through.

            “I don’t know,” I said, and then called, “Jess! Hey, Jessamine!”

            Jessamine, closer to the inside of the circle of people, turned until she saw me, and then motioned for us to come closer. We fought through the crowd until we reached her.

            “What’s going on?” I asked, standing on tiptoe, still a fair distance from whatever was causing all the ruckus.

            “I’m not sure,” Jessamine said, her pretty face tight with concern. “I wasn’t one of the first ones here. I heard something about Dennis Hill, but I’m not sure if it’s got something to do with him or not.”

            “Dennis?” Chessie asked, craning her own neck. “For real? He probably smoked one too many joints and tripped over a cobblestone and hit his head.”

            Dennis Hill was a senior, one of the richer, better looking boys at Pennington – translation, mega douchebag. I could hear cops calling for room, that there was nothing to see here (always a total lie), and little by little the crowd began to disperse. The four of us stayed put, however, huddled together and unwilling to leave without finding out what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t sure if it was concern, rabid curiosity, or wanting to be able to hold the prime gossip. Probably a combination of all three.

            Gradually, only a dozen or so of us were left, and we could see, just past the cop cars, that there was indeed a body lying on the ground, half covered with a blanket. As one, we sucked in some air, shocked.

            “It is Dennis,” Jessamine said in shock.

            “Oh my,” Chessie said, instantly looking guilty over her earlier comment.

            “Is he . . . .” Allegra began, but then trailed off, the reality too horrible to say.

            He’s dead. Oh, my gosh, he’s dead. He’s dead, and I bet I know who did it. Shit. Crap. This is bad. It couldn’t have been him. He’s not here, he doesn’t go to Pennington anymore!

            “What do you mean, you know who did it, Tom?” I asked aloud, and turned slightly to my right, expecting to see Tom standing next to me, I had heard his voice so clearly. Only there was no one there, just an empty patch of scruffy grass.

            “Um, Lo?” Allegra said, and pointed. “Tom is over there. Way over there.”

            I looked in the direction that she pointed, and saw that Tom was, indeed, all the way across the crime scene, a good two hundred meters away from us. He was staring at Dennis, who lay prone on the ground, looking very much as though he was dead from what we could see. As I watched Tom, he looked up and met my eyes.

            Crap, it’s Lo. There it was again. I jumped as I heard his voice inside my head, and my eyes when wide with panic. Tom’s lips weren’t moving, he was only staring at me, though as I watched, a faintly alarmed expression entered his eyes.

            She can hear me. Oh no. Oh shit. What am I gonna do? She can hear me now, not good, not good. Don’t think anything. Stop thinking. Lalalalalalalalala.

            I shook my head and the noise stopped abruptly, Tom’s voice vanishing as though it never was there in the first place. I was thoroughly discomfited now, and could barely keep myself from clapping my hands over my ears, struggled to keep myself under control around my friends.

            “Ladies, please move along, we need to secure the area,” said a portly cop, making shooing motions at us with his hands.

            Sticking close together, we began to move back down the path, and I jumped nearly a mile into the air when someone called my name.

            “Lo!”

            We all turned, startled and on edge, and then visibly relaxed when we saw it was only Vivienne, jogging down the path toward us.

            “Hey, Viv,” I said, and we absorbed her into our circle.

            “Did you hear?” she whispered, all confidential. “Greg Lowell and Andrew Anderson found Dennis’s body, and they’re saying he was murdered. There was this giant hole in his chest, I guess, and it looked like someone burned him there!”

            “What?!” we all shrieked in unison, and began to scuttle back toward the safety of the school.

            I couldn’t help but chance a look back over my shoulder, and caught sight of Tom once more. He was watching us leave, though from this distance he couldn’t seem to tell I was looking at him again. Just like that, the dam in my mind seemed to break open again.

            -if it is him, Lo isn’t safe. I should tell her. But I can’t. I can’t believe I did it to her, how could I be so stupid? I need to tell her. Soon. If he’s here somewhere, if any of them are here, they might find out about her. Crap. This is so messed up. If any of them find her first, they might hurt her, or worse. I’ll tell her, after break. I think. Maybe. Should I?

            I shivered as I turned back to the school, one thing obvious. Tom Lightwood was hiding something potentially dangerous, and it involved me, and now possibly a murder. And he was going to spill the beans, and definitely not after Thanksgiving break.

           

            I got up at an insanely early hour the next morning and quickly dressed and gathered my things, slinking quietly out the door. I crossed campus in the early morning cold and camped next to the door of the high school boys’ dormitory. I wished I smoked or something, so I would look a little less inconspicuous, but as it was, I just leaned against the wall like a creep and waited, trying to look nonchalant.

            Some of the boys gave me an odd look as they left, but most didn’t even notice me standing there. I heard Tom coming before I saw him. Heard him in my head, I mean. It made me jump again, hearing that foreign voice that didn’t belong there. He was thinking about me, debating with himself about telling me something once again.

            Lo deserves to know. I should probably tell her right away. What if she doesn’t believe me? Still, she heard me yesterday. She probably suspects something.

            Tom pushed out the door and I hustled forward, plowing into him and knocking him off the sidewalk. Surprise more than my strength forced him into the direction I wanted him to go, until I had his back against the brick wall of the dorm building.

            “You’re right, I suspect something,” I snapped, a week’s worth of frustration bursting out. “So what is it that you need to tell me?”

            Tom looked nervous, and his eyes darted around the quad, which was coming alive with people. “Lo, not here,” he said in a low voice.

            “Here, now,” I corrected, taking a step back and planting my hands firmly on my hips. “What’s going on? Why am I in danger? Who killed Dennis? And why do I hear your voice in my head?” I was hissing now, a dangerous sign for Tom’s wellbeing.

            Lucky for Tom, he didn’t try to deny anything. “Lo, look, it has to do with that one night, when you found me by the library, and I was sick,” he said, still talking quietly, eyes shifting left and right.

            “I knew it!” I said, jubilant. “Why did you pretend you didn’t remember?”

            “Because! And quit shouting!” he said, irritated. “Look, I have to, um, explain some things to you. But it’s complicated. It’ll take a while, and we shouldn’t do it here. Why don’t you, um, why don’t you come to Atlanta with me for Thanksgiving? Come with me, and I swear I’ll tell you everything.”
            I was caught off guard. It was an invitation every girl at this school would have killed for. I was more than a little freaked, but not enough to be scared of Tom or anything. Maybe it was the slight southern accent, maybe it was the golden angelic looks, but there was just something trustworthy about Tom Lightwood. I knew, felt in my soul, that he couldn’t have a bad or malicious bone in his body.

So of course I said yes. Not only did I want the promised explanation, I also was rabidly curious to open the Thomas Lightwood book and see what it contained. I would get to see Tom’s house, his bedroom. Hear, apparently, some of his secrets.

            Besides, I wasn’t a total idiot. Spend a week with one of the best looking boys at Pennington, or knock around an empty house with my elderly aunt? No contest.

            “Fine,” I said.

            Tom blinked. “Fine?”

            “That’s what I said, isn’t it? When do we leave?”

            Now Tom seemed to be the one caught off guard, apparently by my ready acceptance. I guess I had switched pretty abruptly from mad to agreeable. “Um, Tuesday. Right after school lets out. We’ll take a car to the airport, we should land around eight. My guardian will be there to pick us up.”

            “All right. I’ll be ready Tuesday after class,” I said. “And, maybe we should keep this on the down low. Chessie and Allegra . . . .”

            “Yeah,” Tom agreed instantly. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, right now. Just say, just say you’re giving me a ride to the airport. I think that’s believable.”

            I nodded. “Okay, deal. I can drive. You don’t have a car on campus, do you?”

            Tom shook his head. “No. Too far to drive from Atlanta.”

            “All righty,” I said, pleased by this turn of events. Mystery solved, and getting away from Aunt Delia? Talk about a great two-for-one deal. “Tuesday after class, then.”

            Still looking a little confused by my mood swing, Tom followed me toward the main school building, and I wondered how in the world I would manage to hold on for forty-eight hours to find out the truth.

 

 

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Guardian Blurb

Lyla Evans just wants to be left alone; to fly under the radar and not attract attention. After seventeen years, she knows how the game is played. Her parents are hardly ever home, and when they do show up, they’re quick to anger and even quicker with their fists. With foster care comes the threat of being separated from her two younger siblings, and Lyla would die before allowing that to happen. She’s learned to keep her head down and depend on no one but herself and God to get by.

When a strange man starts paying too much attention to her and her siblings, showing up to rescue them and then disappearing without a trace, Lyla begins to panic that everything she’s been hiding is about to come out. But as she slowly becomes friends with Rafael and even trusts him with her deepest fears, Lyla learns he has secrets far bigger than her own that will turn everything in her world upside down.

In this story of abuse and rescue, love and faith, angels and demons, an unlikely friendship grows into a fantastical love story appealing and appropriate for readers young and old alike.

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