Evernight Page 5

“Bianca?” My mother emerged from the bedroom, her hands knotting her bathrobe belt. She smiled drowsily at me. “Did you get up early for a walk, sweetheart?”

“Yeah.” I sighed. Not much point in trying to make a dramatic scene anymore.

Dad came out next. He hugged Mom from behind. “I can’t believe our little girl is already at Evernight Academy.”

“It all happened so fast.” She sighed. “The older you get, the faster it goes.”

He shook his head. “I know.”

I groaned. They talked like this all the time, and we’d made a game of how much it annoyed me. Mom and Dad only smiled wider.

They look too young to be your parents, everybody in my hometown used to say. What they really meant was too beautiful. Both things were true.

Her hair was the color of caramel; his was a red so dark that it almost looked black. He was average height but muscular and strong; she was petite in every way. Mom’s face was as cool and oval as an antique cameo, while Dad had a square jaw and a nose that looked like he was in a few fights in his youth, but on his face, it worked. Me? I got red hair that could only look red, and skin so pale that it looked more pasty than antique. Everyplace my DNA should have turned right, it swerved left. My parents told me I would grow into my looks, but that’s the kind of thing parents say.

“Let’s get some breakfast into you,” Mom said, heading toward the kitchen. “Or have you already had something?”

“No, not yet.” It wouldn’t have been a bad idea to eat before my big getaway, I realized; my stomach was growling. If Lucas hadn’t stopped me, I’d be wandering around in the woods right now, incredibly hungry and facing a long hike into Riverton. So much for my big escape plans.

The memory of Lucas tackling me, the two of us rolling over into the grass and leaves, flashed through my mind. It had terrified me then, and when I thought of it now I shivered, but it was a completely different kind of feeling.

“Bianca.” My father’s voice sounded stern, and I looked up guiltily. Had he somehow guessed what I’d been thinking about? I realized immediately that I was being paranoid, but there was no mistaking how serious he was as he sat beside me. “I know you’re not looking forward to this, but Evernight is important for you.”

This was the same sort of speech he gave before I had to take cough medicine as a kid. “I really don’t want to have this conversation again right now.”

“Adrian, leave her alone.” Mom handed me a glass before she headed back toward the kitchen, where I could hear something sizzling in a frying pan. “Besides, if we don’t hurry, we’re going to be late for the preorientation faculty meeting.”

He looked at the clock and groaned. “Why do they schedule these things so early? It’s not as if anyone could want to be down there at this hour.”

“I know,” she muttered. To them, anytime before noon was too early. Yet they’d worked as schoolteachers my whole life, continuing their long feud with eight A.M.

While I ate breakfast, they got ready, made little jokes that were supposed to cheer me up, and left me alone at the table. That was fine by me. Long after they’d gone downstairs, and the hands of the clock crept closer to orientation time, I remained in my chair. I think I was pretending that, as long as breakfast wasn’t over, there was no way I’d have to go meet all those new people.

The fact that Lucas would be down there—a friendly face, a protector—well, it helped a little. But not much.

Finally, when I couldn’t put it off any longer, I went into my room and changed into the Evernight uniform. I hated the uniform—I’d never had to wear one before—but the worst part was that returning to my bedroom reminded me once again of the strange nightmare I’d had the night before.

Starched white shirt.

Thorns scratching at my skin, lashing me, telling me to turn back.

Red plaid kilt.

Petals curling up and turning black as though they were burning in the heart of a fire.

Gray sweater with the Evernight crest.

Okay, a good time to stop being hopelessly morbid? Right around now.

Determined to act like a normal teenager for at least the first day of the school year, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. The uniform didn’t look terrible on me, but it didn’t look great, either. I tugged my hair into a ponytail, picked out a tiny twig I’d missed before, and decided my appearance would have to do.

The gargoyle was still staring, as though he were wondering how anybody could look that dorky. Or maybe he was mocking the total failure of my escape plan. At least I wouldn’t have to look at his ugly stone face any longer. I squared my shoulders and left my room—for the last time, really. From now on, it didn’t belong to me.

I’d been living on campus with my parents for the past month, which had given me time to explore virtually the entire school: the great hall and lecture rooms on the first floor, after which it split into two enormous towers. The guys lived in the north tower, along with some of the faculty and a couple of musty filing rooms that seemed to be where permanent records went to die. The girls were in the south tower, along with the rest of the faculty apartments, including my family’s. The upper floors of the main building, above the great hall, housed the classrooms and the library. Evernight had been expanded and added to over time, so not every section was in the same style or seemed exactly to fit with the rest. There were passageways that twisted and turned and sometimes led nowhere. From my tower room I looked down on the roof, a patchwork of different arches and shingles and styles. So I’d learned my way around; that was the only way in which I felt prepared for what was to come.

I began down the steps again. No matter how many times I made this trip, I always felt as if I might tumble down the rough, uneven steps, over and over, all the way to the bottom. Stupid, I told myself, worrying about nightmares with dying flowers or about falling down the stairs. Something a lot scarier than any of that was waiting for me.

I stepped out of the stairwell into the great hall. Early this morning, it had been hushed, cathedral-like. Now it was packed with people, ringing with voices. Despite the din, it seemed as if my footsteps echoed throughout the room; dozens of faces turned toward me at once. Every single person seemed to be staring at the intruder. I might as well have hung a neon sign around my neck that said NEW KID.

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