Authors: Kate Brian
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #Dating & Sex
It felt weird, speaking to my friends so formally, and they obviously felt it too. A few of them had to press their lips together to keep from laughing or smiling. This niggled at my nerves and I felt a sudden desire to just get this over with. Who was I to be doling out rules and regulations? To be running a meeting like this? I looked at Noelle again and my thoughts were reflected in her eyes.
My very bones burned with ire.
“Light your first match, plebe,” I said, looking her directly in the eye. Which, I’ll admit, took some serious effort.
“Reed, don’t you think this is a tad … ill-advised?” Noelle replied. “We already torched Gwendolyn this year and I—”
“You will not speak until you are asked a question,” I blurted forcefully.
Someone behind me took in a sharp breath. Noelle’s jaw stiffened.
“Shh!” Vienna’s eyes were wide as she shushed Noelle. I stood a bit taller, inflated with pride. At least I was intimidating
. Noelle rolled her eyes but lit the match. Over the tiny flame, she eyed me with annoyed impatience.
“What is the acreage of the plot on which Easton Academy is sit—”
“Twenty square acres,” she replied before I could even finish.
She blew out her match, dropped it on the floor, and lit another. I hesitated, thrown by the fact that a) I hadn’t even finished the question b) she’d answered correctly and c) she’d already moved on.
“Um … in what year was the Billings School for Girls absorbed by Easton Acad—“
“Nineteen seventy-five,” Noelle replied.
Flame extinguished. Flame ignited. This time, I was ready.
“The Easton chapel was constructed in the style of what religious sect?”
“Christian-Dutch reform,” Noelle answered.
Crap. That was my hardest question. I felt myself start to give in. I should just give Noelle her gold star and move on. But I’d said five questions, and five it would be.
“How many men were in Easton’s original graduating class?” I asked.
“Ten,” she replied.
“What is the oldest building on the Easton Academy campus?” I asked.
Gwendolyn Hall until recently. Now it’s the chapel,” she replied.
She waved her fingers to extinguish the last match, then crossed her arms over her chest like she just couldn’t wait to get out of there. I felt all trembly inside, as if I’d just confronted my worst enemy and failed. I turned to Tiffany, resolving to be tougher this time.
Faster, stronger, better. I couldn’t remember where that motto came from, but now it was mine.
“How many former headmasters’ portraits are currently hanging in the art cemetery?” I asked, my voice steady.
“Fifteen,” Tiffany answered.
Slowly, I moved through the circle of potentials. Tiffany went five for five, as did Ivy. Vienna got four right. Portia nailed all five and Shelby got four, but London got only two correct and was tearful by the end of it. Suddenly I started to wonder what we were all doing here. Couldn’t I just say, “Hey, let’s form this secret society,” and invite them all to join me?
I glanced shakily at Ivy. She narrowed her eyes slightly, urging me on. We were doing this to honor our sisters’ memories. The ritual of it was important. The tradition mattered. These were the things that made the Billings Literary Society special. Succeeding at these tests would set our members apart.
Rose went five for five. Astrid too. Kiki answered hers even faster than Noelle had. Missy got four out of five. Lorna managed all five without breaking a sweat. Finally, I came to Constance, the last in the circle aside from Amberly. Constance grinned as she struck her first match.
It didn’t light. She tried again. Again, nothing.
tsked impatiently. I shot her a silencing glare and she raised her hands in mock surrender. My shoulder muscles coiled at her total lack of reverence. If this was such a joke to her, why didn’t she just leave?
I turned around again and focused on Constance. Finally, on the fifth try, the match lit, but Constance’s hand was quaking and the grin was gone.
“The building that now houses the Easton gymnasium was originally constructed as what?” I asked.
Constance’s eyes widened. My heart skipped a beat.
A civil war hospital,
I told her telepathically.
A civil war hospital!
The flame went out. “Ow.” Constance shook her hand, then sucked on her fingertips. I felt sick to my stomach. No answer meant a wrong answer.
“Second question,” I said, my voice quavering.
It took her three tries to get the match lit this time. Finally, the flame flickered to life, playing over her pale face. Her eyes were glassy with unshed tears and my heart constricted. My next question was even harder than the first. I couldn’t do that to her. She needed to get her confidence back. Even as my conscience prattled on in my ear, telling me that fair was fair and that all the questions tonight had been hard, I knew what I had to do.
“In what year was Easton Academy founded?” I asked.
Someone scoffed. It was arguably the easiest question of the night.
“Nineteen fifty-eight,” she answered.
I felt like a lollipop stick had lodged itself sideways in my throat.
“I mean, 1858,” she corrected, then laughed nervously.
“Right.” But according to the book, I had to mark it as wrong. The first answer was the final answer.
It took Constance six tries to get the next match lit.
“What were the first names of the founding brothers?” I asked.
Amberly’s jaw dropped. I knew what she was thinking. Her questions had better be this easy.
But she didn’t understand. Constance was the weakest of the bunch. Not when it came to friendship and loyalty and compassion, maybe, but when it came to self-confidence, to overcoming nerves, to being singled out in a crowd.
“Micah and Mitchell,” Constance said confidently.
Right. Thank God. Only one try on the match this time.
“And their sister was named?”
“Ma—” Constance stopped. Her face turned green. She blinked up at the ceiling, her lips screwed up in concentration. “Mary—no. Maryyyyy … something.”
Dammit. She knew this. I knew she knew it. She was the one who had told us all about her at the solarium that night. She had to remember this.
“Mary … Mary-Alice?” she said.
I swallowed hard. “Incorrect.”
Her face crumpled. She blew out the match. And then she started to cry. My heart shattered into a thousand tiny pieces and fluttered to the floor. Lorna leaned over and put her arm around Constance, whispering something in her ear.
“Fifth question,” I said, hating myself.
Lorna lit the match for Constance. Even though it was technically against the rules, I said nothing. Ivy blinked but remained silent.
“Name one of the original members of the Billings Literary Society.”
They had all been given a list. My original intent had been to have her name all of them, but I wasn’t about to go there.
“Theresa … Theresa Billings,” Constance mumbled.
That, at least, was right.
It seemed to me that even the windows and desks and doors sighed with relief as Constance extinguished her final match. As I turned to Amberly, Constance continued to sniffle. I had to wonder if, through the years, the previous members of the BLS had endured nights like this one.
Suddenly I wasn’t sure I had the nerve to administer the next two tasks—to put my friends through the wringer like this. I wasn’t sure it was in me. Maybe whoever had left the book in my room had made a mistake. Noelle was much better suited to this type of leadership role. She was the one who could order people around without batting an eye. The one who always remained cool in the face of other people’s raw emotions. This role was practically written for her.
So, as I caught sight of Constance’s red eyes, I had to wonder why was I the one playing the part.
On Tuesday morning, I paused outside the food line in the dining hall, holding my tray of cereal and toast in front of me. The Billings tables were quiet. No animated conversation, no going over homework and paging through magazines. Everyone was staring at their food, not even acknowledging one another. I hesitated—told myself that we were all tired after sneaking back to our dorms at almost 2 a.m. That they weren’t angry or disgruntled about the emotional roller coaster of the night before. But it was difficult to believe.
Sawyer startled me so badly my tray almost tipped.
“Sorry,” he said, grimacing as I saved my bowl from going over the edge. Compared to how I felt, he looked insanely awake and happy, his eyes bright and his smile even brighter. He wore a green sweater under his coat and his dark blond hair fell forward over his forehead.
“S’okay,” I said.
“Wanna sit together?” he asked, tilting his head toward an empty table.
I brightened instantly. An excuse for avoiding the obviously depressing vibe at my table, which
just be focused on me? “Sure,” I said.
As I slid into a seat across from Sawyer I kept my eyes on the Billings Girls. Constance wasn’t there. Nor were London, Vienna, or Amberly, who had gotten four out of five of her questions right. It was possible that London and Constance’s absences had nothing to do with their embarrassment over being the two low scorers on the first task, but not likely. Vienna had probably run to Coffee Carma to get London her favorite vanilla spice latte and apple Danish to bring over to her room, and Constance was most likely huddled under the covers in Pemberly, replaying the whole awful episode over and over again in her mind.
I wished she were there so I could tell her she had plenty of chances to make it up. If she could ace the next two tasks, the first would barely count. And after last night, I had decided that the next two tasks were going to be easier than the first. More fun. More group-oriented. No more being put on the spot.
“Hey,” Sawyer said. “Everything okay?”
My eyes darted back to him as he took a sip of coffee. He made a face and ripped open a sugar packet.
“Yeah. Sorry,” I said, dipping my spoon into my Lucky Charms. “I just didn’t sleep well last night.”
I have a surprise for you!” Ivy sang, walking over to our table in a whirl of red coat. She dropped her tray next to Sawyer’s, whipped off her hat, and sat down. “I just got us passes to go off campus after classes today! We are going shopping.” She picked up her bagel and glanced at Sawyer. “Hey, headmaster’s son. How are ya?”
I blinked a few times. Her energy was so incongruent to my exhaustion and deep thoughts, I felt like I’d just been knocked off my chair.
“Um, fine,” Sawyer said with a laugh. “You sure are a morning person.”
“You know, usually I’m not,” Ivy said thoughtfully. “But today I’m in a good mood.”
was happy. Her lips were perfectly glossed, her lashes long and curled, her skin rosy. I felt ten times more tired just looking at her.
“Shopping?” I said. “For what?”
“I need to get a new dress for the dance,” Ivy informed me.
“The dance. Right.” I glanced at Sawyer, and he blushed and looked away.
Rose, who was passing by the table slowly, looking as out of it as I felt, paused. “What are you doing over here?”
“Sawyer asked me to sit with him,” I said. “Want to join us?”
Rose looked over her shoulder at the Billings tables. “Okay.”
She slid behind me and sat down, smoothing the skirt of her purple dress over her legs. “I’m Rose,” she said to Sawyer. “You’re one of the headmaster’s sons.”
Sawyer laughed under his breath. “Sawyer,” he said, then looked at me. “What do I need to do to become something other than ‘the headmaster’s son’?” he joked.
“Streak in the class building during first period,” Ivy suggested, her mouth half full. “That’ll do it.” She reached for her juice as Sawyer laughed. “So, Reed? Shopping tonight?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Yay!” Ivy clapped her hands and took another bite of bagel.
“Why are you so awake?” Rose semiwhined, reaching for her coffee.
“Oh, you mean … oh.” Ivy stopped, clearly realizing she shouldn’t say anything out loud and took a sip of OJ. “I’m used to not sleeping. Ever since the …
… it’s just not something I do much of.”
“Oh.” I told myself I shouldn’t feel guilty about this. It was not my fault. It was Sabine’s. And to a lesser extent Josh’s. But the fact that Ariana’s crazy half-sister had targeted me because Ariana had ended up in an insane asylum after trying to kill me just couldn’t be my fault. All I’d done was show up at Easton. The rest was on the insane blood pumping through the Osgood/DuLac veins.