THE DARK LORD.
THE SUN GOD.
He’s dying, I know he is. The pink-tinged spittle around his mouth confirms it. Fine capillaries, like threads of red cotton, spiderweb the whites of his eyes. His hands grasp at the air, like he’s trying to clutch hold of life itself, but his clawed fingers close around…nothing.
“Fucking bitch. I’m gonna…fucking…kill you!”
I drop my cellphone, gasping.
In front of me, Wolf Hall wears a shroud of early morning mist, its dark, ivy-choked towers spearing upward out of the haze, demarcating the western and eastern wings of the academy. Dew covers the lawn that stretches between the curve in the gravel driveway and the imposing entrance to the building, and the slick blades of grass glitter like they’re coated in diamonds.
Next to me, Mara Bancroft, Wolf Hall’s sweetheart, quirks an eyebrow, handing me the phone I just dropped. It’s six-thirty in the morning but she’s wearing a full face of makeup and not a strand of her jet-black hair is out of place; as always, she’s photo ready. “Whoa, girl. I was only asking if you were going home for spring break.” She smiles easily, because for her, going home means reuniting with her disgustingly wealthy family in the Hamptons. For me, going home…well, there is no going home. Wolf Hall, with its dusty corridors, endless, narrow staircases, macabre stained-glass windows and hidden rooms is home for me now.
While most high school juniors are dreaming of body shots in Cabo during spring break, I have all I can ever hope for right here: Some semblance of normalcy. Safety. Sanctuary.
New Hampshire might be tiptoeing into spring, but the academy, situated at the top of a mountain in the middle of a national park, takes a little longer to thaw out than the rest of the state. I hold my takeaway coffee cup to my chest, using its heat to stave off the early morning chill. I’m no stranger to rules; I’m used to living by them. But there are rules that can be bent on occasion, and there are rules that can be flat-out broken. Wolf Hall has a strict policy about its students remaining on academy grounds during the week. Come the weekend, we’re allowed to roam into Mountain Lakes, the town at the foot of the mountain that we live on, but from Monday through Friday we’re supposed to stay put, where the faculty can see us.
A stealthy coffee-run down the hill in Mara’s G-Wagon is usually overlooked, though. Any teacher up early enough to catch us rolling out of the student parking lot usually doesn’t say anything. Denying us caffeine only guarantees we’ll be grouchy ’til midday, and they’d much rather turn a blind eye than deal with that.
“I’m gonna stay here,” I say. “My little brother’s a nightmare. I won’t be able to get any of my assignments done back in Wichita.”
“Jesus H Christ, it’s cold.” Mara threads her arm through mine and tugs on me, urging me to walk faster. The gravel crunches beneath the soles of our sneakers. “Spring Break isn’t about getting assignments done. It’s about drinking excessively and making out with strangers on a beach somewhere. Haven’t you read the handbook?”
She winks at me. “That’s the point. There isn’t one yet, but there should be. What do you think about this for a title?” She affects a lah-de-dah voice. “The Teenager’s Essential Guide to Surviving Boarding School While Still Managing to Have Fun.”
Mara leads a charmed life. Like most of the students at Wolf Hall, she’s never wanted for anything. Ponies, nannies, ski trips, and private tutors—anything she’s ever wanted has been handed to her on a silver platter. As far as she’s concerned, Wolf Hall is the dullest, most desolate place on earth.
“Sounds like a bestseller,” I say. Her fictional handbook is the kind of thing kids where I come from pick up at a cash register and flip through, fantasizing about a life they’ll never be able to afford.
“You should come with me to L.A.,” Mara says. “I’m not going back to New York. I’m serious. Jemimah’s so pregnant now. All anyone can talk about is the baby. Baby this. Baby that. They’re acting like my sister getting knocked up is the most exciting thing in the world. They don’t realize that once she pops that kid out, it’s gonna be baby shit, baby puke, baby screaming. I swear to god, I am not changing one single diaper.”
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