Evernight Page 8

“Patrice? It’s Courtney.” The girl outside knocked on the door even while she was opening it, obviously certain she would be welcome. She was even more beautiful than Patrice, with blond hair that fell almost to her waist and the pouty kind of lips I’d seen only on starlets in TV shows, who could afford stuff like collagen. The same kilt that hung awkwardly at my knees made her legs look a thousand miles long. “Oh, your room is much better than mine. I love it!”

The rooms were all pretty much alike, actually—a bedroom large enough for two people, with white, cast-iron beds and carved wooden dressers on each side. The window looked out upon one of the trees that grew closest to Evernight, but I couldn’t think of anything special about it.

Then I realized there was one thing. “We are closer to the bathrooms,” I said.

Courtney and Patrice both stared at me as if I’d done something rude. Were they too refined to acknowledge that we needed bathrooms?

Embarrassed, I kept going. “I’ve never, um, shared a bathroom before. I mean, I have with my parents, but not with—what, it’s like, twelve of us sharing each one? That’s going to be crazy in the mornings.”

This was their cue to agree and gripe about it. Instead, Courtney kept studying me, curious. I figured her curiosity was only normal, but I wished she would say something. Her narrow-eyed gaze felt threatening, even more so than most strangers’ did.

“We’re going out on the grounds tonight,” she said—to Patrice, not to me. “To eat. A picnic, you might say.”

Meals at Evernight were meant to be taken in the students’ rooms. Apparently they explained this as “tradition,” the way things were back in ye olden days before anybody had invented the cafeteria. Parents would send care packages to supplement the Spartan grocery allowance delivered each week. This meant I had to learn how to cook using the little microwave my parents had bought me. Patrice obviously didn’t worry about such mundane problems. “Sounds like fun. Don’t you think so, Bianca?”

Courtney shot her a look; apparently that invitation wasn’t meant to be open.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m supposed to eat with my parents. Thanks for asking me, though.”

Courtney’s lush lips could look almost ghoulish when twisted into a smirk. “You still want to hang out with Mommy and Daddy? What, do they feed you with a bottle?”

“Courtney,” Patrice chastised her, but I could tell that she was amused.

“You’ve got to see Gwen’s room.” Courtney began tugging Patrice out the door. “Dark and dreary. She swears it might as well be a dungeon.”

They took off together, and whatever fragile connection Patrice and I had created was broken in an instant. Their laughter echoed throughout the hallway. Cheeks burning, I fled my new room, then the dormitory floor, hurrying upward toward my parents’ apartment and refuge.

To my surprise, they let me in without a fuss. They didn’t even ask why I was early. Instead, Mom gave me a big hug, and Dad said, “Check out our packing job, okay? There are a few things for you to do, but we got you started.”

I was so grateful I could’ve cried. Instead I went to my room, eager for peace and quiet in some safe place.

Only a few pieces of winter clothing still hung in my closet. Everything else had been bundled into Dad’s old leather trunk. A quick check of my overnight bag showed makeup, barrettes, shampoo, and the rest all neatly tucked in. Most of my books would stay here; I had too many for the few shelves in our dorm room. But my favorites had been set out for me to box up: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, my astronomy texts. The bed had been made, and on one pillow was a packet of things for me to hang up on my walls, like postcards friends had sent over the years and some star maps I’d hung on the walls of our old house. But something new had been hung in this room, an affirmation from my parents that this was still my home, too: a small, framed print of Klimt’s The Kiss. I had admired the print in a shop months ago, and apparently they’d bought it as a surprise for me on my first day at the new school.

At first, I was simply grateful for the gift. But then I couldn’t quite stop looking at the picture or shake the thought that somehow I’d never really seen it before.

The Kiss was a favorite of mine. From the days when my mother first showed me her books about art, I’d always loved Klimt. I was in awe of the way he gilded every pane and line, and I liked the prettiness of the pale faces that peeped out from the kaleidoscopic images he created. Now, however, the image had changed for me. I’d never paid as much attention to the way the couple tilted toward each other—the man leaning in from above, as if tugged toward her by some inexorable force. The woman’s head fell back in a swoon, giving in to gravity’s pull. Her lips were dark against the paleness of her skin, flushed with blood. Most beautiful of all, the picture’s shimmering background no longer appeared to be something separate from the man and woman. Now it felt as if it was a rich, warm mist, their love made visible, turning the world around them to gold.

The man’s hair was darker than Lucas’s, but I was trying to imagine him there nonetheless. My cheeks felt warm—blushing again—but this was a different kind of blush.

I jerked back to the here and now; it felt almost as if I’d fallen asleep and begun to dream. Quickly I smoothed my hair and took a couple of deep breaths. I realized I could hear Glenn Miller’s “String of Pearls” on the stereo. Big Band music always meant that Dad was in a good mood.

I couldn’t help but smile. At least one of us liked Evernight Academy.

When I finally finished my packing, it was nearly dinnertime. I went into the living room, where music was still playing, to find Mom and Dad dancing together, being a bit silly with it—Dad pursing his lips, mock sexy, and Mom holding the hem of her black skirt in one hand.

Mom spun around in Dad’s arms, and he dipped her backward. She tilted her head almost to the floor, smiling, and saw me. “Sweetheart, there you are.” She was still upside down as she spoke, but then Dad righted her. “Did you get your packing done?”

“Yeah. Thanks for helping me get started. And thank you for the picture; it’s beautiful.” They smiled at each other, relieved to have made me happy, at least a little bit.

“Quite a feast tonight.” Dad nodded toward the table. “Your mother outdid herself.” Mom didn’t usually cook big meals; the night was definitely a special occasion. She’d made all my favorites, more than I could ever eat. I realized that I was starving because I’d gone without lunch, and for the first part of the dinner, Mom and Dad had to speak to each other. My appetite kept my mouth too full to talk.

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