Read The Talents Online

Authors: Inara Scott

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

The Talents (6 page)

BOOK: The Talents
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Everyone seemed to walk off the bus with a crowd of friends, and even though I wanted to be alone, it was hard to watch everyone else laughing and hanging out together. I guess that's why, when Esther and Hennie ran up to me a few seconds later, I couldn't muster a bored look.

Hennie was even cuter standing up than she had been sitting down, but a few feet away she tripped over her shoelace, and if Esther hadn't caught her, she would have done a spectacular face plant right in the middle of the front hall. Esther whooped with laughter. Hennie, her gorgeous skin two shades darker, tried to look nonchalant as she regained her balance. But then she turned to Esther and broke into uncontrollable giggles.

“Hennie, you're as clumsy as ever!” Esther teased. “Dancia, you would not believe how many times I've saved Hennie from total disaster. I swear, she is the most uncoordinated person you will ever meet.”

“Thanks a lot,” Hennie exclaimed. “At least I don't sound like a hyena when I laugh.”

For some reason this set Esther off again, and they laughed together until they were both wiping tears from their faces. The two of them were infectious, and I couldn't help but smile.

“Now Dancia is going to think we're completely insane,” Esther said.

“I don't know about insane,” I said. “But not normal. Which is cool, if you ask me.”

Hennie nodded gravely. “I had a feeling you'd understand.”

Esther grinned and looped her arm through mine. She spun around slowly in the hall. “Isn't the school amazing? Look at all these pictures! It's like an art gallery in here.”

“My mom said she heard they had to have a security system just for the art. And I heard Kofi Annan came to visit last year. Can you imagine?” Hennie asked.

I had no idea who she was talking about, but I tried to look knowledgeable. “Yeah, it's amazing.”

Esther poked her in the ribs. “You're so serious, Hennie! Let's talk about something much more important—did you see all the cute guys on the bus? And who were you sitting with, Dancia? What's his story?”

I nonchalantly perused the crowd to see if Jack was lurking nearby. He was, still standing at the edge of the crowd with a scowl on his face. I steered Hennie and Esther farther away and whispered, “He had just seen me around. We don't really know each other.”

“Well, he's hot, so you'd better introduce us,” Esther said in a stern tone.

“You think so?” I looked at him again out of the corner of my eyes. Jack's face looked older than the other guys', but his body looked like a kid's—with skinny arms and legs.

“Esther likes dark, tormented boys,” Hennie observed.

“And you like blond, happy ones?” Esther asked. “That's new.”

Hennie looked around and then gave a nod toward a tall, lanky boy with a pierced nose, eyebrow, and lip, and long dreadlocks.

“Him?” I said, surprised. Despite what Esther said, I had a hard time picturing sweet, clumsy Hennie going for Nose Ring Guy. “You like him?”

“He's an artist,” Hennie said dreamily. “I saw him sketching while we were waiting for the bus.”

“Oh, Dancia, we're in trouble now,” Esther groaned. “Once Hennie sets her mind on someone, she talks about him nonstop. But she's so shy, she'll never talk
to
him.”

Hennie giggled, which set off Esther, and before I knew it, the two of them were laughing again. I started laughing too, a warm feeling spreading through me.

I'm not sure what brought me back to my senses. Maybe it was Jack, who walked past us, his hands deep in his pockets and a contemptuous look on his face as he surveyed the crowd. Maybe it was the drug of the laughter wearing off, or the crush of the crowd as Cam and Trevor and a few others wearing
STAFF
T-shirts started herding us into a group at the end of the hall. Whatever sparked it, a dull ache slowly drowned out the good feeling Esther and Hennie had inspired. Friends make you vulnerable, I reminded myself. They make you prone to do stupid things and send people to the hospital. No friends and no attachments was the Dancia Lewis way. It had to be.

“Please head into the auditorium, everyone,” Cam shouted above the din. “Principal Solom will be giving you all your official welcome.”

I CAN
sum up Principal Solom's speech in four words: Welcome to boot camp.

Of course, there was a lot more. They showed a movie with pictures of rockets built by Delcroix scientists, and hospitals with kids being cured of horrible diseases by Delcroix doctors. There were scenes of students playing sports, doing plays, and dancing.

But then the movie was over and Principal Solom started talking. She was a tiny woman, maybe five feet tall, so she couldn't use a podium or she probably would have disappeared completely. She must have been almost as old as Grandma, but instead of having that soft, helpless look to her, she looked like she wouldn't think twice about putting you in a headlock and elbowing you in the stomach if you talked back. I was sitting halfway back in the audience, but I still wanted to shudder at the look in her eyes as she marched up and down the stage and barked rules at us for an hour.

The school day started at seven forty-five and ended at three thirty. There were mandatory study hours between seven thirty and nine thirty, when you had to stay in your room or go to the library. Lights-out was at ten thirty. There were rules about when you could visit the opposite sex, when you could use your computer, and how loud you could play your music. They even had rules for when you could use your cell phone. That part didn't bother me, of course, because I didn't have one.

The Res, Principal Solom told us, was a four-story U-shaped brick building just behind the school. On each floor, the girls' rooms were on one side, and the boys' were on the other. The middle of the U was a big common room. There was a phone in the commons, but you could only use it if you reserved a time slot in advance.

I doubted I'd have too much competition for the common phone. If Delcroix was anything like my middle school, I'd be the only kid without a cell. Still, this sucked because there were only a few hours a day they would let us use the phone. We weren't allowed in the common room during school hours, or study hours, or after lights-out.

Boot camp, I tell you. Boot camp.

I went to find my room right after the lecture, while the other freshmen were still milling around chatting. I figured that was my only way to avoid talking to Hennie and Esther. I managed to lose them in the crowd as we left the auditorium, and ran out of the building and across the grass to the Residence Hall. Like the Main Hall, the Res was an imposing, red brick structure. But whereas the Main Hall seemed built to intimidate, with its big white columns and marble lions, the Res was trying to masquerade as someone's home, with curtains in the windows, and pink and purple pansies outside.

But no one could really mistake it for a home. You had to use an ID badge, which they'd given us first thing this morning, to open an electronic lock on the outside door.

Each room had a keypad at the door, where you punched in another security code. They said it was so we didn't have to carry keys around, but it made me feel like I was living in a bank, always pushing buttons and waiting for green lights before I could go anywhere.

Trevor and two other staff people were standing in the hallway laughing when I walked in. They looked surprised to see me.

“That was fast,” Trevor said. “Did you run over or something? Principal Solom scare you that bad?”

“I'd just like to go to my room, if that's okay,” I said. I wasn't really in the mood to have Trevor make fun of me.

For a second, Trevor actually looked concerned. “Is everything all right?”

“Fine. Can you just tell me what room to go to?”

He stared at me with those disconcertingly light blue eyes, and I had the uneasy feeling that he could somehow see into my brain. “Sure.” He grabbed a box and pulled out an envelope. “Room 422. The pass code to the door is on the sheet inside. Don't lose it. You're rooming with Catherine Arkane. Go up the stairs and take a left. It's near the end.”

I nodded and started to leave. Just as I reached the base of the stairs, I felt a hand on my sleeve. Trevor had followed me. I swallowed hard, expecting a lecture about being respectful to upperclass students, but instead I got a serious look.

“If anyone gives you a hard time, you let me know, okay?”

“Uh…okay. Thanks.”

As if I'd ever initiate a conversation with Trevor.

I ran up the stairs and found my room, without any trouble. The card inside the envelope gave me a six-number code. I punched it into the keypad until I heard the click of the door, and peered inside. Two trunks sat in the middle of the floor in a tiny, sterile-looking room: my junky one, and an ele gant, unmarred black-and-silver version with a printed label on the end that read “Catherine Arkane.” The far side of the room had a sloped ceiling, with one bed tucked in a window dormer. Another bed was pushed into a corner. Matching desks and dressers lined the other walls.

I closed the door behind me and threw myself onto the striped mattress of the bed under the window. Closing my eyes, I pictured Cam putting his arm around my shoulders. It was a lovely image, but for some reason it disappeared a second later and was replaced by the image of Jack, his face pale as he leaned against the bus seat, eyes closed. What had he said?
Keep the bad guys out, or us in?

What a weirdo. I pictured the first time I saw him, eyes wild, Sunglasses Guy close behind. Jack was bad news, no matter that he was someone at Delcroix I actually felt like I could talk to. I couldn't afford to get mixed up with someone like Jack. Not when I was teetering on the edge of complete freakdom all by myself.

I got on my knees and looked out the window, but the only thing I could see was the thick evergreen forest that surrounded the school. I looked for a latch, but the window didn't open. The building was cold even though it was at least ninety degrees outside. I figured they had central air and that was why they didn't want us opening the windows.

Hard to believe that in a few minutes, Jack would be right down the hall from me, unpacking his trunk just like I should be unpacking mine. I wondered what kind of things a guy like Jack would bring to school. He didn't seem the sort to have pictures and knickknacks.

Cam's room would be on the second floor with the other juniors. I imagined his room as warm and friendly. He'd have lots of photos on his walls. Trevor would probably be in some of the pictures, along with Cam's other friends. I bet he had a lot of friends. And a girlfriend. Probably a gorgeous girlfriend.

That was a depressing thought, so I decided to focus on unpacking.

It didn't take long. I set my CD player on the dresser next to the bed by the window, put away my clothes, threw some pens and notebooks into a desk drawer, and put my sheets and comforter on the bed. I set a picture of Grandma and me on the window ledge.

That was all I had.

I heard a few noises down the hall and then some giggling and yelling outside my room. The others were starting to arrive. I lay back down on the bed and picked up the picture of Grandma. It was crazy, but it suddenly hit me that tonight would be the first time I'd been away from her overnight. I hadn't had friends to do sleepovers with, and my soccer camps had only been for the day. An achy feeling started in my chest as I thought about her. What if she needed help cooking dinner? Who would load the dishwasher, or stir the soup while she puttered around and forgot what she was doing?

I lay there for another minute or two as the sounds in the hall got louder. Then I heard the door click, and someone thrust it open so hard it slammed against the wall and bounced back a few inches.

A thin, dour-faced girl wearing knee-length navy shorts and a white button-down shirt stood in the doorway. She had long black hair pulled back from her face with a red headband. She wasn't unattractive, but her thin lips were pressed together, her hands on her hips as she surveyed the room. I jumped to my feet.

“Hi, I'm Dancia—”

“I see you took the good bed,” she snapped.

I recoiled. “I'm sorry, I didn't realize you might—”

“Sure, whatever. Keep it. I'm Catherine. Nice to meet you.” She spoke in short clipped tones, and her gaze flicked up and down my clothes and then around the room, landing on the picture of Grandma and me.

“So,” she said, “where are you from?”

“Danville.”

“Really?” She sounded horrified. “Where did you do middle school?”

I blinked. “At Danville Middle.”

“What do your parents do?”

“My parents are dead. I live with my grandma. She doesn't do anything, really, except go to doctor visits and watch
The Price Is Right
.”

I had a horrible, childish urge to stick out my tongue.

“I see.”

Catherine flounced over to her trunk, paused to rearrange her position so I couldn't watch, and then flicked a combination lock. She opened the trunk and pulled out a picture in a large silver frame. It was her, wearing a school uniform of a navy pleated skirt, white shirt, and tie. She was shaking hands with Mr. Judan.

“I was personally recruited by Mr. Judan,” she said, placing the picture on her desk and giving it a loving pat. “He came to my boarding school. I attended Saint Mary's School for Girls in San Francisco. It's a very prestigious school that only accepts forty students per class, and I was at the top of my class every year. I took the SAT last year and got a perfect score on the math section. Mr. Judan said I'm a math wizard. That's why he wanted me here at Delcroix.”

“Oh.” I was pretty sure I was supposed to be impressed by all this information, and since I'd already pissed her off by taking the bed under the window, being from Danville, and having dead parents, I decided not to tell her that Judan had come to recruit me as well, and told me they wanted me here for my unusual courage. “That's great.”

I sat back down on my bed and plucked at the hem of my pants.

It was going to be hard not to hate Catherine Arkane.

I thought about what Esther had said on the bus when Cam hugged me: no one had recruited her at all, or maybe they had called her mom at work. It made me wonder again why the school had sent Cam and Mr. Judan to meet with Grandma and me.

“What was it like?” I tried to sound impressed. “When he recruited you, I mean. Did he meet with you by himself?”

“Well, my dad was there too,” she said. “He flew all the way from D.C. to be there.”

“But that was it? No one else from Delcroix?”

She sniffed. “As if the chief recruiter isn't enough?”

I kept my eyes on my pants. So Cam hadn't visited her? This information was both thrilling and unnerving. I loved the idea that Cam and I had some special connection, but I couldn't escape the inevitable conclusion that he and Mr. Judan must have visited me by mistake. They must have gotten my name wrong, or transposed two numbers on an IQ test somewhere. Catherine Arkane obviously belonged at Delcroix; I did not.

Catherine pulled another picture out of her trunk, this one of her and a man in a suit and tie. “That's my dad. He went to Delcroix. He works at the White House.”

I squinted at the picture. Catherine's father looked a lot like her—tall, thin, and grumpy.

“That's cool.”

Catherine placed the picture on the desk. “Right. Cool.”

She pulled three more frames out of her trunk: two displayed pictures of her in a school uniform standing beside men wearing suits, and one showed her awkwardly hugging a woman wearing a suit. I wondered if anyone in her family ever wore jeans.

“Is that your mom?” I asked.

She nodded. I had the feeling she had lost interest in talking to me. I was officially beneath her.

She unpacked with smooth, efficient motions, like someone who had done this many times before. She seemed to know exactly where each picture should go on her desk, and where all the clothes would fit in her drawers. I put on my headphones, turned on a CD, and pretended not to watch her.

When she was finished, she sat down on the edge of her bed and cleared her throat. I sat up warily.

“Time for ground rules,” she said, and fixed her dark eyes on me.

“Ground rules?” I removed my earphones.

“Look, I started boarding school when I was in fifth grade, so I know a little bit about how to deal with roommates. Here's the story. You don't touch my stuff, you don't make noise when it's time to study, and you don't leave the lights on after ten. Got it?”

I nodded. What could I say? Somehow I'd managed to get a complete psycho for a roommate. It only seemed fitting.

“I'm here to study and learn. I consider it the highest possible honor to have been chosen to attend Delcroix, and I hope you do too. I intend to make Mr. Judan and my father and all the other people who came before me proud. And I don't intend to let anything stand in the way of my success. Do you understand?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “You're absolutely right. Those rules sound perfect. I only wish I had thought of them myself.”

BOOK: The Talents
7.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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