Evernight Page 6

The other students clustered together in circles too tight for a newcomer to enter, their eyes dark and quick as they darted over me. It was as though they could see down into the panicked fluttering of my heart. To me, it seemed that they all looked alike—not in any obvious way but in their shared perfection. Every girl’s hair shone, whether worn down in a cascade past her shoulders or tied back in a prim, sleek bun. Every guy looked self-assured and strong, with smiles that served as masks. Everybody wore the uniform, with the sweaters and skirts and blazers and trousers in all the acceptable variations: gray, red, plaid, black. The raven crest marked them all, and they wore the symbol as though they owned it. Confidence radiated from them, and superiority, and disdain. I could feel the heat leaching from me as I stood on the outskirts of the room, shifting from foot to foot.

Nobody said hello.

The murmuring welled up again within an instant. Apparently gawky new girls weren’t worth more than a few moments of interest. My cheeks were flushed with embarrassment, because obviously I’d already done something wrong, even if I couldn’t guess what. Or did they already sense—as I did—that I didn’t really belong here?

Where’s Lucas? I craned my neck, searching for him in the crowd. Already I felt as though I might be able to face it if Lucas were beside me. Maybe it was crazy to feel like that about a guy I barely knew, but I didn’t care. Lucas had to be here, but I couldn’t find him. In the middle of all these people, I felt completely alone.

As I edged toward a far corner of the room, I began to realize that a few students were in the same situation as I was—or, at least, they were also new. A guy with sandy hair and a beach-bronze tan was so rumpled that he might have slept in his uniform, but being supercasual didn’t win you any points here. He wore a Hawaiian shirt open over his sweater but beneath his blazer, its gaudy cheer almost desperate in Evernight’s gloom. A girl had cut her black hair so short that it was more like a boy’s, but not in a cute, pixie style; it looked more like she’d haphazardly taken a razor to it. Her uniform hung on her, two sizes too big. The crowds seemed to part around her as if repelled by some force. She might as well have been invisible; even before our first class, she had been branded someone who didn’t matter.

How could I be so sure? Because it had just happened to me, too. I was trapped on the edge of the crowd, intimidated by the din, dwarfed by the stone hallway, and as lost as it was possible to be.

“Everyone!”

The voice rang out, instantly shattering the noise into silence. We all turned as one to the far end of the hallway, where Mrs. Bethany, the headmistress, had stepped upon the podium.

She was a tall woman, with thick dark hair she wore piled on top of her head, like someone from the Victorian era. I couldn’t begin to guess her age. Her lace-trimmed blouse was gathered at the neck with a golden pin. If you could think of somebody so severe as beautiful, then she was beautiful. I had met her when my parents and I moved into the faculty apartments; she had scared me a little then, but I’d told myself that was because I’d only just met her.

If anything, she was even more imposing now. As I saw her instantly, effortlessly claim command over this roomful of people—the same people who had shut me out by mutual, silent accord before I could even think what to say—I realized for the first time that Mrs. Bethany had power. Not just the kind that came with being headmistress but real power, the sort that rises from within.

“Welcome to Evernight.” She held out her hands. Her nails were long and translucent. “Some of you have been with us before. Others will have heard about Evernight Academy for years, perhaps from your families, and wondered if you would ever join our school. And we have other new students this year—the result of a change in our admissions policy. We think it’s time for our students to meet a wider range of people, from more varied backgrounds, to better prepare them for the world outside the school’s walls. Everyone here has much to learn from the other students, and I trust that you will all treat one another with respect.”

She might as well have spray-painted, in giant red letters, SOME OF YOU DON’T REALLY BELONG. The “new admissions” policy was no doubt responsible for surfer boy and short-haired girl being here; they weren’t intended to be “real” Evernight students at all. They were only supposed to represent a learning experience for the in crowd.

I wasn’t part of the new policy. If it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be here. In other words, I wasn’t even “in” enough to be an outcast.

“At Evernight, we do not treat students as children.” Mrs. Bethany didn’t look at any one of us in particular; she seemed to look just over us, a distant kind of gaze that nonetheless took in everything within her field of view. “You have come here to learn how to function as adults in a twenty-first-century world, and that is how you will be expected to behave. That does not mean that Evernight has no rules. Our position in this area requires that we maintain the strictest discipline. We expect much of you.”

She didn’t say what the repercussions would be for failure, but somehow I thought detention would be only the beginning.

My palms felt sweaty. My cheeks were getting flushed, and I probably stood out like a signal flare. I’d promised myself that I’d be strong and that I wouldn’t let the crowd get to me, but so much for promises. The high ceiling and walls of the great hall seemed to be closing in around me. It still felt like I couldn’t quite breathe.

My mother somehow got my attention without waving or calling my name, the way moms can. She and Dad were standing at the far end of the row of faculty, waiting to be introduced, and they both gave me hopeful little smiles. They wanted to see me enjoying myself.

It was their hope that got to me. Having to deal with my fear was hard enough without facing their disappointment.

Mrs. Bethany concluded, “Classes will begin tomorrow. For today, get settled into your rooms. Meet new classmates. Learn your way around. We will expect you to be ready. We are glad to have you, and we hope that you will make the most of your time at Evernight.”

Applause filled the room, and Mrs. Bethany acknowledged it by smiling slightly and closing her eyes, a slow, satisfied blink like that of a well-fed cat. Then conversation rose up, even louder than before. There was only one person I wanted to talk to; just as well, since it looked like only one person might possibly be interested in talking to me.

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