Read The Talents Online

Authors: Inara Scott

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

The Talents (9 page)

BOOK: The Talents
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THE UPPERCLASSMEN
started school on Monday, and the Res and the Main Hall felt more like a regular school as they filled with students and teachers. I started eating meals with Esther and Hennie. Jack said he didn't like the cafeteria because Trevor was always hanging around staring at him, and I had to admit, it did seem that way. Even after he didn't have to eat with our team anymore, Trevor still made time to look for each of us at every meal.

I tried to tell Jack that Trevor was just being nice, making sure none of us got lost in the crowd, but Jack had it in his head that Trevor didn't like him. So after checking in, Jack would scarf down some food and head for the library, or go outside somewhere on the playing fields to eat. We still hung out between classes and during free time, and we started studying together too, because we had all the same assignments. It turned out Jack was really smart, and when he bothered to finish his homework, he got good marks.

Of course, he usually didn't bother.

On Thursday they had tryouts for cross-country. Actually, tryouts isn't really the right word. They let everyone join the team who would agree to attend practices. The school was so small it wasn't like the turnout was overwhelming.

Esther and Hennie decided they would join the team with me. Esther's mom thought it would be good for her to do some sports, and Esther thought she'd be able to chat more while she was running than while playing volleyball or swimming. I thought this was rather naive on her part, or maybe she just didn't pant as much as I did when I ran. Hennie said she needed to do a sport that didn't require too much coordination, which was wise. I had never seen someone trip quite so often, with so little reason, as Hennie.

I nervously adjusted my shorts as we walked up to the practice fields where the coach had told us to gather. It had poured the night before, so the field was soft and damp, but the sun had been out for a few hours, and tiny tendrils of steam were actually rising from the ground. Soccer season wasn't until the spring, but a bunch of guys were playing a pickup game. The fields were tucked into the far corner of the grassy area that surrounded the school, bordered on one side by tall evergreens. The sun hovered right above the trees, bright and hot.

I bent over and retied my shoelaces. Although I liked to run on my own, I'd never tried it with a team, and I had a horrible feeling I wasn't going to be able to keep up.

“So, is this the new Delcroix cross-country team?”

I froze. Cam had walked up directly behind Hennie. She turned around, eyes wide, and then backed up so he could stand next to me. I struggled to remain calm, with him only a few feet away.

How did he get better looking every day? He was wearing black-and-white-striped soccer shoes and shin guards, and with the sun beating down on him, I swear he looked like a superhero—even taller and stronger than I remembered. The light caught red and gold highlights in his hair, and sparkled on the gold Delcroix crest on his T-shirt.

Esther responded first, naturally, flipping her hair back with a grin. “I don't know about that. Someone might need to call 911 if I have a heart attack halfway through the run.”

Cam smiled, and the corners of his eyes crinkled in the most adorable way. “You shouldn't worry. I bet Dancia can give you some pointers.”

I swallowed hard. Did Cam really remember that I liked to run? “Um, I guess.”

Brilliant. Sparkling conversation.

Hennie and Esther looked at Cam, then at me, then back at Cam.

“How far do you think they'll make us run today?” Hennie asked, her voice barely above a whisper. She twisted her hands as she spoke.

Esther hadn't been kidding when she said Hennie was shy around boys. Just yesterday I'd tried to get her and Yashir to talk when we were studying in the commons together, and she'd actually snapped her pencil in half, she was so freaked out.

“Maybe a couple of miles,” Cam said. “They start the freshmen out pretty easy. You can jog at first, to get used to it. I don't think they do speed work for a week or two.”

Esther looked horrified. “A couple of miles? As in, actual
miles
?”

I had to laugh. “What did you expect when they said the average course length was five kilometers, Esther? That you'd be running inches?”

Esther threw a hand across her forehead. “That's it. I'm definitely going to die out there. You might as well call my mom now. Or maybe call a helicopter. Does Delcroix have a helicopter? I'm going to need immediate transportation to a hospital. You should put them on standby.”

“I'm sure Dancia will get you out. Just make sure you don't get stuck on the wrong side of the wall, Dancia. I'm not sure Esther would make it over in her weakened condition.” Cam gave me a knowing look, like we were sharing a private joke, and I nearly choked.

Cam must have talked to Trevor about me. Or at least about our team. That's the only way he would have known that we did the wall.

“What wall?” Esther asked. “You mean the wall Dancia's team climbed during orientation? I heard about that. It sounded awful. Why does the school have all those things out there in the woods anyway? Poor Hennie's team had to jump off a platform from thirty feet in the air.” Esther's nose wrinkled with distaste. “Tell the truth: is it all just an elaborate system for punishing incoming freshmen?”

“It's mostly for that,” Cam said, deadpan. “We tried other ways of punishing the freshmen, but the police kept showing up.”

We all laughed appreciatively, even Hennie, who was apparently still trying to recover from actually speaking to Cam.

“No, seriously, it's called a challenge course, and everyone in the school uses it, even after orientation,” Cam said. “We see it as a way to develop and test leadership skills. You don't get much of an opportunity to meet challenges like that wall in everyday life, and we believe it's good for you to learn how you'll react when pushed. Will you rise to meet the challenge? Will you give up? Will you cheat?”

Even though he smiled as he spoke, I got the feeling he was saying something very important. I swallowed hard at the wave of guilt that followed, as memories of the wall, and the nudge I'd felt from Jack, replayed in my mind. I hadn't wanted to cheat, but had I? Had an invisible hand helped me climb the wall?

“Good afternoon, Cameron, ladies.”

The voice sounded familiar. I turned around to see Mr. Judan walking in our direction, his white teeth gleaming and thick hair swooping back from his forehead in elegant waves. Once again I was struck by the feeling that he was way, way too attractive and well dressed to be working at a high school. Even out here, in the middle of a field, surrounded by kids in shorts and T-shirts, he looked ready to go have dinner with the president, with his fancy suit, red silk tie, and expensive-looking leather loafers.

He smiled at each of us, but instead of making me relax, his anchorman voice made me dig my nails into my palm. “I know Dancia, and I recognize Esther. You must be Henrietta. How lovely to see you all.”

We smiled politely. No one looked particularly comfortable, even Cam. Silence fell over the group.

“How is everyone enjoying school thus far?” His white teeth sparkled through a broad smile. He didn't seem to notice that he'd managed to make us all profoundly uncomfortable.

Even Esther struggled to respond, her mouth flopping open and closed several times. Surprisingly, it was Hennie who spoke up for the group.

“It's been wonderful, sir, but we were just discussing the challenge course. I had no idea Delcroix utilized stress-induced leadership scenarios. Why is that?”

Delivered in Hennie's sweet, breathy tone, you could almost miss the underlying bite in her question.

Mr. Judan raised one black brow. “What do you mean, my dear?”

Oh my. From his direct tone, I gathered he hadn't missed the bite.

“Cam explained that the school directs us toward challenges in order to see how we react in times of stress. I find this fascinating, and couldn't help but wonder—is there some sort of test involved here? And if so, what happens if we fail?”

Yeesh. I hadn't thought about it that way. I looked at Hennie with newfound respect. Listening to her quietly confident voice, I had a sudden vision of Hennie sitting across the table from her brilliant father, debating foreign policy in one of the five languages she spoke.

Note to self: don't mess with Hennie.

Mr. Judan shot Cam a look I couldn't read. Was he pissed? Was the whole challenge thing supposed to be a secret? Cam's tanned skin developed an underlying hint of pink.

“No, no.” Mr. Judan chuckled, and an easy smile spread across his face. “No test at all. I think Cameron may have misstated the purpose of our challenges. You see, research tells us the best teams come out of shared experiences. We want you to have a highly supportive and successful freshman team, so it makes sense to give you opportunities to take part in one of those experiences.”

He locked eyes for a moment with Cam, who seemed to get some silent message, because he nodded a second later.

“Now, I really must be going. It was a pleasure to meet you all. Please, join me in my office when you are finished with your game, Cameron. I have something I need to discuss with you.” He waved to the cross-country coach, Mr. Yerkinly, who was walking up from the Main Hall.

An uncomfortable silence followed. Then one of the soccer players waved to Cam. He glanced down at his watch. “Looks like it's time for our game. I'd better go.” He paused. “Dancia, do you have a second?”

My heart stopped. “Um, what?”

“I just wanted to catch you alone for a second.”

I shot Esther a quick, semi-hysterical glance. “Sure.”

We walked a few paces away, to the edge of the field. My heart was beating so fast I thought I might faint. When we were out of earshot from Esther and Hennie, Cam gave me one of his slow smiles. “Listen, I just wanted to say that I know Trevor encouraged you to spend a lot of time with your team, especially during the first week, but I don't want you to think that you have to keep hanging out with them now that orientation is over.”

I blinked and tried to focus on what he had just said. My heart slowed abruptly. Apparently he hadn't pulled me aside to ask me to be his one true love.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I just mean, there may be people on your team that aren't as good for you as other people. That's all. Esther and…what's her name? Hennie? Esther and Hennie seem like nice girls, Dancia. I can see that you three are already great friends.”

Still unsure of what mysterious code Cam was using, I cocked my head and stared at him. “Yeah, Esther and Hennie are super,” I said uneasily. “We have a lot of fun together.”

Cam looked pleased. “I thought so. I just wanted to make sure you knew that was okay. To hang out with them, I mean, instead of people from your team all the time. And you should come find me at lunch sometime. I'd like to introduce you to some of my friends too.”

If he was trying to confuse me, he had absolutely succeeded. First he was talking about my team, then Esther and Hennie, and now he wanted me to meet his friends? Why me? Why not Esther, who could actually talk to him and make him laugh; or Hennie, who was like a picture from a magazine? As baffled as I was, I still felt a rush of pleasure.

“Okay,” I said. “That would be great.”

He walked me back over to Hennie and Esther, and gave each of us one of his blinding smiles, starting with me. “Remember, whatever you need, Dancia, or any of you, let me know. I'd love to help.”

The second he was out of earshot, Esther hit me with her notebook.

“ ‘Whatever you need, I'd love to help'?” she repeated. “What's going on with you and Cam?! Are you, like, going out or something?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, my voice cracking. I swallowed and tried to regain my composure. “I told you, he was my recruiter. They probably have a rule that they have to be extra nice to the people they recruit. Besides, he said ‘any of you.' He wasn't just talking to me.”

Esther snorted. “I don't think so.” She and Hennie exchanged meaningful looks. “He didn't even notice us. He only had eyes for you. What did he say over there, anyway?”

I threw my head back and closed my eyes, retying my hair into a massive ponytail. “I have no idea. Something about how he thinks I should be friends with you, and that I shouldn't worry about spending all my time with my team. I couldn't follow him.”

“You mean, he doesn't want you to spend all your time with Jack,” Hennie said knowingly.

My mouth dropped open. I hadn't even thought about it, but the only person on my team I had become friends with was Jack. Was he trying to say something to me about Jack?

Esther giggled. “Oh, Hennie, that's brilliant! He's jealous! He's been watching Dancia hanging around with Jack these last two weeks, and he's horribly jealous!”

BOOK: The Talents
3.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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