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Authors: Josin L. Mcquein

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BOOK: Premeditated
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I absorbed her words more than I listened to them, too caught up with the possibility that I was about to put a face to the sucking chest wound that had formed in the last week. All I knew about Brooks Walden was that he had dark hair and brown eyes, like about sixty percent of the people I’d seen that morning, and that he was a junior, like me, which meant we could be in the same trig class.

At least, it had seemed possible in the beginning, when I was still thinking of Lowry as “not that big” compared to public school. In reality, the place was huge, and the idea of having to locate rather than bump into him was taking over my mind.

“Here you go, two seventeen.” Abigail-not-Abby knocked,
then opened the door before anyone could so much as say “Come in.” “New student, Mr. Tarrelton. Dinah Powell.”

I hung back and took a quick survey of the room.

More windows, which was going to take some getting used to after years of class-in-a-box. None of the faces stood out as particularly evil. There were more guys than girls, and only two of them
didn’t
have dark hair, which made things difficult. I couldn’t get a good look at their eyes without staring, and I wasn’t about to get myself tagged as the Creepy New Girl Who Stares at People.

One of them glanced up and caught my eye, so I diverted my attention to the board to see if there was any clue to the day’s lesson.

Great. Forget creepy, I was going to be the Stupid New Girl Who Does Math on Her Fingers and Toes.

I’d never been a bad student; most of my teachers considered me smart, even. But apparently public-school smart and Lowry smart didn’t carry the same definition. The writing on the board might as well have been Greek. In fact, some of it
was
Greek. Sigma or phi or epsilon or one of those other letters I thought wouldn’t enter my vocabulary before freshman rush at college.

It was the first week of a new term. How were they so far ahead?

“Class, this is Miss Powell,” Mr. Tarrelton started. I was beginning to think he’d forgotten me standing there by his desk like an idiot. “She’s just moved here from …”

“Oregon,” I said. “But I didn’t really move. My aunt and uncle enrolled me here while I’m staying with them. Their daughter’s in the hospital, and they don’t know how long she’ll be there.”

My answers sounded robotic, and not at all the way I wanted. I certainly hadn’t intended to say that much.

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that, Miss Powell,” Mr. Tarrelton said awkwardly. He was so flustered that he didn’t make me finish orientation by way of public humiliation. “If you’ll take your seat, we can get back to class.”

He pointed to the only seat not occupied (second row, by the wall), and I did my best not to dive for it to get out from under the weight of every eye in the room. Mr. Tarrelton fell straight back into the roll.

“Courtney D’Avignon,” he called. I was surprised to see one of the dark-haired boys who wasn’t Brooks Walden raise his hand. The only Courtney I’d ever met was a girl.

“You’re lucky,” the guy behind me leaned up and whispered.

“Huh?”

“You missed one of Tarrelton’s famous pop quizzes. Two minutes earlier and you’d have been trapped with the rest of us.”

Pop quizzes in week one—if I hadn’t hated private school already, I would have hated private school.

“I’m Dex.”

When Mr. Tarrelton called out “Jackson Dexter,” he raised his hand.

It was actually a relief to find out he wasn’t Brooks. He had the dark hair and brown eyes but was too friendly. And I think if I’d found out Claire’s personal demon was sitting so close, I’d have blown my chance right there by attacking him with a freshly sharpened #2 Mirado Black Warrior.

“Dinah,” I said back.

Hayden Leung turned out to be a not-Brooks, as did William
McHenry. Daley Nifong was a dumpy blond with freckles. The guy in front of me was a not-Brooks named Marcus Norwood.

Channing Pepperidge sat forward on her chair as though it were made of upended tacks, so her weight was off her butt and her toes were overpointed, the way you see models sit in magazines. She was the only one who bothered to say “Here.”

Jordan St. Croix was a paper-thin girl with short black hair that made the uniform headband disappear. That just left one possibility, assuming he was in the room at all.

“Brooks Walden.”

He sat on the far side of the room, fourth row, next to the window. I turned my head, pretending to familiarize myself with names as they were called. His head was down, and he was twirling a pen between his fingers. When he heard his name, he raised his hand and flicked the pen in Mr. Tarrelton’s direction.

Target locked. Game on
.

4

By the end of trig, I’d figured out no less than twenty ways to kill Brooks Walden before he left the room. True, not all of them were practical, and half of them were gratuitously messy, but they’d have worked well enough—if I’d wanted him to get off easy.

Claire didn’t get an easy out; neither would he.

I settled for the daydream, trying to keep up with the lesson, and hated Abigail-not-Abby just a little bit more for describing Mr. Tarrelton’s lectures as needlessly slow. He talked like he’d been mainlining caffeine. So rather than pretend I knew what was going on, I copied everything he scrawled on the board and focused on staying awake. Not only would detention have been bad, but I was pretty sure I’d dream of maiming Brooks, and with my luck, I’d talk in my sleep.

At my old school, math had been my best subject, one I liked, but here … 
ugh
. After thirty-one minutes of equilateral something-or-others getting mixed around with isosceles what-chamacallits, I wanted to strangle myself with a hypotenuse. (I’d fallen so far into my delirium, that joke was actually funny.)

Marcus, in front of me, gave up on note taking and drew tiny cartoons of Mr. Tarrelton being eaten alive by psychotic sigmas, and to my left, Jordan’s hands under her desk made the distinct
click, click, click
of someone texting. Channing half
coughed a laugh, so I was fairly certain who was on the other end of the message.

To my horror, when the bell finally rang, I glanced at my notes and couldn’t even read half of them. My brain had disconnected from my hand at some point during the hour and decided that random doodles were a better way to fill my paper.

“It’s not really trig.”

As I shoved my papers into my book and then my book into my bag, a shadow far too tall to be my own appeared on the wall. Dex leaned on the desk that had belonged to Jordan St. Croix, so we were facing each other.

“What’s not trig?” I asked.

“This class,” he said.

“Then why did I just suffer through it?”

He smiled in a way real people shouldn’t be able, warming the room by at least ten degrees.

“Because whatever passed for trig at your old, and I’m guessing public, school—which actually
was
trig—wasn’t up to Lowry standards. They changed the curriculum a couple of years ago. The class you’re in now is what most schools call precalculus.”

I
really
hated private school. And Jackson Dexter wasn’t too high on my list of likes, either. I mentally squished him between the building and Abigail-not-Abby. (She kicked him in the face; it was great.)

“That your subtle way of telling me you know I’m not part of the club here?” I asked.

“No more than I am. I went to Massey Junior High. I was slated to start Ninth Street before I got my scholarship.”

“I went to Ninth Street before I moved to Oregon this summer.”

“It takes a few a days to learn the rhythm, but you’ll figure it out. Trust me.”

Nope, sorry. Trust was a no-go.

“When’d you lose the nose ring?” he asked.

“About two hours after I figured out I’d be going here, so … three days ago. How could you tell?”

“I’m observant. And I’m guessing the lisp means you had one in your tongue, too?”

“Orange barbell.” Sticking my tongue out was a reflex whenever anyone asked about the piercing; it was weird not seeing it.

“Would’ve guessed pink.”

“Not my color,” I said, retrieving my schedule slip to locate my next class.

It was in the annex, so I needed to go out of the main building and into the one behind it. I shifted into the flow of students on their way to the staircase. Dex followed me.

“Where you headed?”

“English lit.”

“Not Greystone.” He cringed.

“Tripp.”

“Perfect.” He reached for my bag, adding it to his shoulder, then grabbed my arm the same way Abigail-not-Abby had in the office. “You’d never have survived the Gargoyle. She loves fresh meat.”

“Um … what are you doing?”

“Being charming and walking you to class. New girl gets a guide, I’m fairly certain it’s in the school charter.”

“You don’t have to do that.” We fought over possession of
my arm until I gave up for lack of space and excess of interest from onlookers.

“You’re making a scene, new girl.” Dex smirked.

“Smirked” is a weird word. You see it a lot in books and think you know what it means, but it’s not a feat many can pull off. Not like him.

“You really don’t have to follow me,” I insisted. “Really. Truly.
Preferably
 …”

It’s exceptionally difficult to map out someone’s social downfall if you’re dragging a five-foot-ten, hundred-and-sixty-pound stalker. I’d hoped to figure out where Brooks went after he left not-trig, but the window of opportunity on that one had shut. “I know where I’m going.”

“We’re side by side, which puts this firmly into escorting territory, and no you don’t.” He angled the shoulder with my bag on it away so I couldn’t take it back.

I was sure he thought this routine was creating endearing aggravation, but all it did was tempt pre-Lowry Dinah into coming out to play for a few minutes and reminding him how different girls from Ninth Street were compared to the ones here.

“Ones downstairs, twos upstairs, threes in the annex,” I said.

“And Mr. Tripp outside in the courtyard.”

That wasn’t on my schedule.

“It says room three twenty.” I waved my slip in Dex’s face as I wondered what the school charter had to say about sending the new girl on a wild-goose chase.

“Normally, yeah, but he’s got some sort of special project brewing, and he told us to meet outside since the weather’s been so warm.”

“If you’re lying, I
will
hurt you.”

“If I’m lying, you’ll get your chance in detention. I’m in the same class.” He confiscated my schedule and looked it over before sticking it in his pocket. “I’m also in your gym class, and theater.”

He took my arm again.

“So you’re trying to pass off convenience as manners. I think I need to see a copy of this charter thing.”

“You have one, if Headmistress Kuykendall gave you a new-student folder.”

I tried to get ahead of him and slip into traffic, resigned to letting him keep my stuff for the time being, but that wasn’t as easy as it should have been. Not when the person I was trying to evade was taller and had control of my arm. Dex pulled me to the right when I headed left at the bottom of the stairs to go out the back doors.

“Courtyard’s this way,” he said.

“This school needs GPS,” I grumbled.

“You don’t need it. You’ve got me.”

I made a mental note to tone down my Claire impression in the presence of any boy but Brooks. There was no other explanation for Dex’s response unless hair bleach was made from smart-ass pheromones. Random guys did not just walk up to me, take possession of my body parts, and assign themselves as my personal entourage.

“I’d rather figure things out on my own,” I said.

“We’ll just end up there at the same time anyway. I might as well get some brownie points out of the deal.”

“You don’t strike me as the Girl Scout type.”

“I have a little sister,” he said. “Brownie points are very important.”

“Only if you earn them.”

“I earn everything I get,” he said. “Otherwise, I get nothing. People like us have to look out for each other. Once you pass the front doors, ‘friend’ becomes a multitiered arrangement, and, believe me, we’re never on even ground.”

Okay, so maybe Dex was climbing up the “like” list a bit.

We went out the front doors and turned down a covered walkway that led past the parking lot. I hadn’t noticed much about the grounds when Dad dropped me off, other than to realize they were very green, but now that I had a chance to look around and take it in, Lowry was beautiful. Even the area not covered by an awning wasn’t really open to the air. Huge oak trees grew everywhere that wasn’t asphalt. Leaf-patterned shadows created a shaded patchwork on the ground and our skin. This was the sort of place they used as backdrops for our class photos in fifth grade, and the kind that showed up in travel magazines when fall turned the leaves different shades of red and gold.

“This way.” Dex tugged on my arm again.

We left the walk and headed to the side of the school building, where a tall iron gate grew out of the wall stones. Beyond, a group of students milled in a courtyard, staking claim to ornamental rocks for seats. A couple of people took off their blazers and sat on them instead.

They gathered around a middle-aged man with a silver suit, silver hair, and silver-rimmed glasses, who had taken over a bench under the biggest tree I’d ever seen outside a brochure for Disney World.

“It was planted the year they laid the school’s foundation,”
Dex said, pointing at the tree. “Eleanor Lowry’s husband and son are buried under it.”

“You made that up.”

“It wasn’t all that uncommon in her day. They died in some kind of epidemic; the tree’s a memorial. She’s buried here, too, but her grave’s sealed under the foyer. There’s a marker carved into the marble if you want to look for it.”

I was going to school on dead people. Scratch that—my aunt and uncle were
paying a fortune
for me to go to school on dead people. The only things buried under Ninth Street were gerbils.

Rich people were weirder than I thought.

“Does it bother you?” I asked.

BOOK: Premeditated
3.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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