Read The Talents Online

Authors: Inara Scott

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

The Talents (7 page)

BOOK: The Talents
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She narrowed her eyes at me, as if trying to decide if I was joking. I kept my face impassive. Catherine Arkane, I decided, was like a young Principal Solom. Intense, motivated, and unafraid to throw an elbow if necessary. Luckily, I had dealt with people like Catherine before, and found the thing to do with them was simple: bow in their general direction, agree with everything they said, and then stay the hell out of their way.

Of course, I'd never had to
live
with someone like her before.

That might make things a bit more difficult.

“ALL RIGHT
, everyone, gather 'round.” Trevor gestured for us to come closer.

I swallowed hard, and like everyone around me, obeyed without question. Tall Douglas firs and spindly vine maples surrounded us, creating pools of shade from the morning sun.

“Look around you. These ten people will be your freshman team. Each team shares an adviser, a homeroom, ethics seminar, and study hall. You'll see each other every day, and hopefully you'll end up supporting each other through the year. Even though you'll only officially be in a team for your freshman year, the friendships you make now will stay with you throughout your time at Delcroix. I know everyone on the team I started with are still good friends, even two years later.”

I looked around the circle to assess the damage. Perfect Girl stood to my left, wavy ringlets framing her face like a golden-brown halo. Perfect Girl's name, I had learned the day before, was Allie. It figured—cute and perky, just like her.

Jack stood to my right. That also didn't surprise me, because fate seemed determined to stick us together ever since we'd arrived at Delcroix two days before. Jack had shown up next to me in the auditorium our second morning at school, when they introduced us to all our teachers and handed out our schedules, and it turned out we had a lot of the same classes. We spent most of the day wandering around together, getting lost as we tried to find our classrooms, and talking about how weird everyone else was. That worked for me because, other than Esther and Hennie, who I kept trying to avoid, it seemed like every other freshman at Delcroix was some ultrasmart, ultracool, and ultratalented kid who made me intensely uncomfortable. It made me feel infinitely better to know that Jack was as unsure about why he was here at Delcroix as I was.

The amazing thing about Jack was that he really didn't seem to care what anyone thought about him. Once, during an assembly, a teacher came over to shush him, and he just stared at her, as if daring her to say something else. She didn't.

This morning after breakfast the team leaders had split us into groups and walked us out to the forest. Jack appeared at my side moments after they announced the groups. Even though the trail into the woods narrowed in spots, and we had to walk single file, Jack managed to stay close to me. A few of the other girls, including Allie, gave him come-hither looks, but for some reason, he only talked to me.

Now Jack hung back a few feet from the circle, looking bored. He rolled his eyes as Trevor spoke, which was particularly bold because Trevor was staring right at him.

“Mr. Landry, why don't you go around the circle and say everyone's name?” Trevor said. “I'm sure you remember them from roll call.”

The faces of our group held a mix of nervous smiles and studied boredom. I kept my own expression blank.

“Dancia, Allie, Alessandro, Paul, Emma, Hector, Marika, Gideon, and Yashir,” Jack said, pointing at each person as he spoke.

Everyone looked amazed. I couldn't remember more than one or two names in the group. Trevor narrowed his brow, clearly irritated that he hadn't managed to embarrass Jack. We went around the circle a few more times, practicing all the names. Alessandro was a short, dark-skinned kid with longish black hair. Paul, Emma, and Gideon looked like your basic middle-class white kids, nothing too special. Hector was tall and buff, the kind of guy who would never notice me if we passed in the hall. Marika had long dark hair in braids down her back. She was cute in a wholesome sort of way. Yashir was the guy that Hennie liked. He seemed serious but friendly. He wore silver rings on several of his fingers, and he fiddled with his dreadlocks when he spoke.

“Okay, now that you're all acquainted, let's get down to business.” Trevor led us over to an enormous wall in the middle of the forest. It was about twelve feet high and at least that long, made of smooth, dark wood planks.

“This is the wall. On the back of it is a ladder that leads to a platform a few feet from the top. Follow me—this will be your only chance to see it before we begin.” He led us around the backside. The platform looked frighteningly high off the ground. Nervous laughter trickled off into silence.

Jack snorted under his breath. “You've got to be kidding me.”

Trevor glared at him. “Your job as a group is to get over the wall. After I explain the rules, you will have thirty minutes to complete your task. Not a second more.”

“You want us to climb that thing?” Gideon asked doubtfully, as we returned to the front.

Trevor smiled. Not a nice smile. More of a smirk. “You can get over the wall any way you choose. There are only a few rules. You can't go around the wall or touch the sides. You can have up to two people stand on the platform. While they are on the platform, they can help those coming over, but they must come down in the order they went up. Once someone gets over the wall and comes down from the platform, they can come back around and help as spotters for people going up, but they can't touch them.”

Everyone groaned. Trevor silenced us with one of his icy-blue stares. He showed us a few basic safety moves, telling us to push the person into the wall if they started to fall, which sounded more sadistic than safe. We practiced with him for a minute or two, then he held up his hands for quiet.

“You know the rules. I'll be watching to make sure you obey them. The clock starts now.” Trevor pushed a button on his watch and stepped back to lean against one of the trees.

We looked at each other silently. Hector walked over to the wall and reached his hand up as high as he could. It went about two-thirds of the way to the top. He motioned to Paul, the skinniest kid. “Why don't you stand on my shoulders?”

They flailed around for a few minutes, trying to get Paul onto Hector's shoulders. Once they did, Hector leaned against the wall for support, but he could barely stay upright when Paul tried to stand up. Paul, meanwhile, got so scared when he tried to straighten his legs that his entire body shook, and he couldn't reach up to grab the top of the wall.

“It's high up here,” he said, his voice wavering as he tried to get his legs to stay still.

Allie said, “He needs more support from below.”

Hector frowned. “What's that supposed to mean?”

She put a French-manicured hand on his arm and patted comfortingly. “It's hard to stand up straight on someone's shoulders. I was a cheerleader, so I know. It takes forever to learn to do that. A pyramid is easier and more stable.”

Why was I not surprised that she was a cheerleader?

Allie guided the group into forming a pyramid at the base of the wall, with her at the apex. She ended up an easy foot or two from the top.

“Wait!” Marika interrupted, as Allie started to pull herself over. “Shouldn't we plan this out? I mean, once Allie goes over the wall and comes down from the platform, she can't be part of the pyramid anymore. Shouldn't we think about the order?”

A few scattered groans greeted her questions. After a pause, Allie called down, “Good point, Marika.” She climbed down from the top set of shoulders and jumped lightly to the ground. The rest of the pyramid dissolved around her.

“You mean we're going to have to do that again?” Hector asked, rubbing his shoulders.

“Cheerleading isn't as easy as it looks, is it?” Allie said with a wink. Everyone laughed.

Great, I thought. Perfect Girl is cute
and
funny.

After milling around a while longer, people started throwing out ideas for the order. Everyone, that is, except Jack and me. I had no intention of offering stupid suggestions that would bring attention to myself. Jack seemed to have the same plan, except his also involved following me around and whispering comments under his breath, like: “Do you think this is actually a test to see if we're stupid enough to throw ourselves over a twelve-foot wall simply because Trevor told us to?”

A good point, when you thought about it.

Finally they decided to send Gideon up first, and then alternate girls and boys. My rude awakening came when I heard the group discussing who should go last.

“It will have to be someone skinny. I'll hang down the wall and they can hold on to my ankles. The people on the platform can pull us both up,” Yashir said.

“They'll have to be tall,” Marika added. “To catch your ankles. And strong enough to pull themselves up the wall if necessary.”

“What about Dancia? She's tall and thin.” Jack and I stood a few feet from the crowd, and Yashir motioned for us to come closer. “Dancia, can you do a pull-up?”

I admit I was so flattered by him calling me thin that I didn't hesitate before responding. “Yeah, one or two.” A second later, it occurred to me I probably should have kept my mouth shut. Before I had time to retract my statement, Yashir and Marika—the apparent decision-makers of the group—nodded.

“That's it, then. Dancia goes last.”

I made a halfhearted protest, but no one was listening. They were already focused on making the pyramid and getting Gideon to the top. It's harder than you'd think to pull yourself up and over the top of a wall, and as I watched Gideon struggle, my stomach began to roll. I might have to do that by myself? What were they thinking?

Panic started to set in, so I decided to throw myself into the fray. Even though I force myself to stay on the sidelines a lot, doing nothing drives me absolutely crazy. I guess that's why I like running so much. It gives me something to do when I get stressed out. After about twenty minutes of struggling in the heat and getting stepped on, climbed over, and kicked in the head countless times, my face burned and sweat soaked my T-shirt. But everyone—except Jack, of course—was completely absorbed in the task. Marika almost ripped her pants trying to get her leg over the top, and Yashir smashed his knee getting Hector off the ground. The giggles and cheers when Yashir made it up were infectious. Jack spent some time in the pyramid, and when his turn came, pulled himself up and over the top of the wall with surprising strength. But he did it all with a lazy, uncaring air that would have made me crazy if I had stopped long enough to pay attention.

Then came my turn. Emma and Alessandro were standing on the wall, and Yashir was hanging off the wall by his arms.

“I'm supposed to do what?” I asked, squinting up at Yashir.

“Just grab his ankles,” Alessandro called down. “We'll pull you both up.”

Emma didn't look like she could pull up a toddler, let alone two teenagers. Still, I nodded. Alessandro sounded as if he actually believed this was possible.

“You'd better do it fast,” Yashir said. “This hurts like hell.”

“Okay, okay!” I screwed up my courage and jumped. His ankles were higher than they looked, and the first few times, I missed. Then I caught his ankle for a second before falling back to the ground.

“Dancia, Dancia,” Allie started chanting softly. A few others joined in. Their attempt at encouragement fell somewhere between inspiring and nauseating, though the nausea probably came more from my fear of failing than from anything else. My hands turned slick with sweat, and I had to keep wiping them on my pants before I jumped. On the fourth try, I managed to get a hold of both ankles, and they started to pull us toward the top.

The pain hit immediately, shooting from my elbows to my shoulders. I thought my arms were going to be ripped from their sockets. Somehow in the midst of the agony, I tried to lock my hands tight.

Though I had wanted not to care, I realized at that moment that I did. I wanted to get over the wall. I might not have friends, and the entire school might one day remember me as that girl no one really knew, but by God I was going to get over that wall.

Except…I was slipping. Slowly but surely, I was falling back toward the ground. Alessandro and Emma pulled Yashir high enough to get his torso over the wall just as one of my hands slipped down to his shoe. Alessandro reached over to try to grab me, but he couldn't get more than a handful of my ponytail. I would have willingly given up every curl on my head to have gotten over the wall at that moment, I swear.

“Two minutes left!” Trevor roused himself from his position by the tree long enough to shout at us, and the cheers got even louder. I think Allie might have actually done a jumping jack or two in my honor.

I clutched tighter at Yashir's shoe and willed my fingers not to let go. But at that moment my fingers didn't appear to be taking orders from my brain.

I looked down, pleading really, as if I could convince the ground to move away from my feet. That was when I saw Jack looking up at me, hands in perfect spotter-form, a tiny furrow in his brow. When our eyes met, he nodded.

“No problem,” he mouthed.

I turned my attention back to Yashir's shoe—an enormous bigger-than-my-head concoction of black leather and hard sole—and my fingers slipped another fraction of an inch. My mind spun furiously. Had I asked Jack a question? Why did he nod? Did he think I wanted his help?

BOOK: The Talents
8.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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