Spirit Page 9

“Hunter, we had a talk on your first day here. I said that we wouldn’t be tolerant of any physical altercations with other students. Do you remember this conversation?”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice tight.

“And while I understand that the police found you unarmed during last week’s fire, I do not like the rumors that you have access to a gun.”

“He does,” Calla whispered with a catch in her voice. “He showed it to me. When we were fighting, he said if I didn’t go out with him, he’d—”

“Cut the act,” he snapped.

Calla flinched. She deserved an Academy Award.

Hunter kept his voice even. “I have never threatened you.”

She looked up. There were tears in her eyes. “I liked you, Hunter. I really did. But—”

“Stop it.” He wanted to list everything she’d done. The fires, the break-in, her mission to kill people. But he’d sound like a raving lunatic.

When she was the one who was nuts.

Ms. Vickers rocked back in her chair. She had to be in her forties, with that many gray streaks in her brown hair. Her eyes were tired over sagging cheeks, but she still had a steely gaze. “I’ve asked Calla to come see me every morning,” she said. “I’m going to ask you to give her some space, Hunter.”


“We take harassment very seriously.”

“Fine. Whatever. I won’t harass her. I won’t even talk to her. Can I go?”

“No. I’d like Calla to go. I think you and I should talk for a few minutes.”

Calla sniffed a final time and picked up her backpack, grabbing a few tissues from the box on Ms. Vickers’s desk.

Hunter couldn’t look at her when she edged past him. The door closed behind her with a soft click.

He didn’t want to look at Vickers, either.

“Do you want to tell me your side of the story?” she asked.

“There is no story.”

Vickers didn’t say anything.

Hunter could feel her waiting, and he finally looked up. “There’s no story,” he emphasized. “I will completely avoid her.”

“You sound like you feel you’re being victimized.”

Victimized. There was no safe answer to that, so Hunter just looked away again.

“How would your mother feel,” said Vickers, “if she knew why I called you down here today?”

He snorted. “She’d say, ‘Hunter who?’ ”

Ms. Vickers seemed to freeze, and he realized it was the wrong thing to say.

“Should we talk about your mother?” she said quietly.

This was just great. “What, you think I’m not getting attention at home, so I’m roughing up girls?”

“Are you?” said Vickers.

“No. God. No.” Hunter leaned forward and put his hand on the edge of the desk. “I don’t want to have this conversation.” He grabbed his bag and stood to leave.

“Hunter,” she called after him.

He paused in the doorway.

“I want you to steer clear of Calla Dean, do you understand me?”

“Yes.” He grabbed the doorknob.

“No contact.”

“Got it.”

“And I’d like to have a conversation in a few days to see how things are going.”

He rolled his eyes. “Can’t wait.”

As he stepped out of the main office, he considered that there’d once been a time when he wouldn’t even have thought of walking out on a teacher—much less acting like that in her presence. Then again, there’d once been a time when he’d had expectations to live up to.

He wondered if Becca would talk to him. He’d sent her a text during the week school had been closed, and he’d been surprised to get an immediate response.

Then he’d read it: No offense, but no one trusts you, Hunter.

But here, at school, she might be more receptive. Especially if he told her what Calla had said.

In fourth-period World History, Becca was sitting with Chris, as usual, her dark hair hanging down over one shoulder. She looked up as soon as Hunter walked into the room, and the intensity in her gray eyes almost pinned him against the doorjamb.

When he’d first moved here, he’d sensed that Becca was a Fifth, like he was, but he’d known right away that she wasn’t a Guide. Becca was too trusting. Too kind. He’d liked her right away—but he’d come here to finish his father’s task of destroying the Merricks, and she was an easy link through her friendship with Chris. So Hunter had used her.

And he’d lost any chance he’d had with her.

She stared at him for a long moment, then turned her head to whisper something to Chris.

Hunter felt a flicker of . . . something. Not quite regret—and not quite longing, either. He begged the air to carry her words to him, but it refused.

Maddening, especially when Chris laughed under his breath and gave Hunter a look.

Hunter wanted to stride across the room and hit Chris Merrick in the face. He pictured it happening, aiming his punch through his target like his father had taught him, imagining the way bones would give way under his hand.

“Excuse me.”

He was blocking the door. Hunter shifted to the side to let the girl pass. He forced his hand to unclench.

Then he caught the aroma of cinnamon and apples, the sheen of light on blond hair. The new girl from this morning was frowning at a blue paper. “Is this World History?”

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