Page 13

Much less all the words I wanted to say to him.

"Now," the Vandy was saying brightly, "Mr. Cross showed excellent technique there, although I would have definitely stayed on the opponent's chest longer."

Archer nodded very slightly at me when she said that, and I wondered if he was trying to say that's why he'd done it; I would have been worse off if it had been the Vandy. I really didn't care. I was still pissed.

"And now, Mr. Cross, Skill Four," the Vandy chirped.

But this time Archer shook his head. "No."

"Mr. Cross," the Vandy said sharply, but Archer just tossed the stake at her feet. I waited for the disemboweling or the caning or, at the very least, the writing up, but once again, the Vandy just smiled her tight smile. She picked up the stake and handed it to me.

I was certain I was going to throw up. Wasn't there some other newbie she could torture? I glanced around and caught a few sympathetic looks, but everyone else just seemed relieved it wasn't them about to get squashed.

"Very well. Watch and learn, people. Skill Four. Come at me, Miss Mercer."

I just stood there staring at her.

She pursed her lips in irritation, and then, without warning, her hand shot out to grab me. But I was ready this time, and angry and hurt. Without thinking, I pulled my leg up and thrust it out.


I saw my sneaker-clad foot slam into her chest as if that foot belonged to someone else. It couldn't possibly have been mine. I'd never kicked anyone in my life; I certainly wouldn't kick a teacher.

But I had. I had kicked the Vandy in the chest, and she went sprawling onto the blue mat, not far from the very spot where I had sprawled earlier.

I heard the other students draw in a collective breath. I mean, really.

All fifty of them seemed to gasp at the same time.

It was right about then that the enormity of what I'd done hit me.

I knelt down and offered her my hand. "Oh my God! I . . . I didn't mean . . ."

She threw off my hand and got to her feet, nostrils flaring. I was so very, very screwed.

"Miss Mercer," she said, breathing heavily, making me think of a bull,

"is there any reason you can think of that I shouldn't give you detention for the next month?"

My mouth moved, but nothing came out.

Then, like a godsend, I remembered Elodie's advice. "I like your tattoos!" I blurted out.

I only thought the class had gasped before. Now the sound they made was like the air escaping from a balloon.

The Vandy tilted her head at me and narrowed her tiny eyes. "You what?"

"I . . . I like your tattoos. Your ink. Your, um, tats. They're really cool."

I'd never seen anyone have an aneurysm before, but I was afraid that was exactly what the Vandy was about to do. Frantic, I looked out at the crowd of students until I met Elodie's eyes. She was grinning, and I realized that I had just made a truly horrible mistake.

"I hope you weren't planning on having any free time here at Hecate, Miss Mercer," the Vandy sneered. "Detention. Cellar duty. Rest of the semester."

The semester? I shook my head. Who had ever heard of detention that lasted eighteen weeks? That was insane! And cellar duty? What was that?

"Oh, come on," I heard someone say, and I looked up to see Archer glaring at the Vandy. "She didn't know, okay? She wasn't raised like us."

The Vandy shoved a lock of hair off her forehead. "Really, Mr. Cross?

So you think Miss Mercer's punishment is unfair?"

He didn't answer, but she nodded as though he had. "Fine. Share it, then."

Elodie squawked, and I took some satisfaction in that.

"Now, both of you get out of my gym and report to Mrs. Casnoff," the Vandy said, rubbing her chest.

Archer was out the door almost before the words left the Vandy's mouth, but I was still feeling a little stunned, not to mention hurt. I limped toward the exit, ignoring Elodie and Chaston's glares.

Archer was already way ahead of me and walking so fast that I could hardly catch up.

"You like her 'ink'?" he all but snarled when I was finally next to him.

"Like she doesn't have enough reasons to hate you."

"I'm sorry, but are you pissed at me? Me? I'm the one who had your knee practically crushing my spine, buddy, so let's check the attitude."

He stopped so suddenly that I actually walked three steps past him and had to turn around.

"If the Vandy had pulled that maneuver, you'd be at the infirmary right now. Sorry for trying to save your ass. Again."

"I don't need anyone saving my ass," I shot back, my face hot.

"Right," he drawled before walking toward the house. But then something he'd said struck me.

"What do you mean she has enough reasons to hate me?"

He clearly wasn't going to stop walking, so I had to jog to catch up.

"Your dad's the one who gave her those 'tats.'"

I grabbed his elbow, my fingers slipping on his sweaty skin. "Wait.


"Those marks mean she's gone through the Removal. They're a symbol of her screwup, not a point of pride with her. Why would you . . ."

He trailed off, probably because I was glaring at him.

"Elodie," he muttered.

"Yeah," I fired back. "Your girlfriend and her friends were really helpful in filling me in on the Vandy this morning."

He sighed and rubbed the nape of his neck, which had the effect of pulling his T-shirt even tighter across his chest. Not that I cared. "Look, Elodie . . . she's--"

" So do not care," I said, holding up my hand. "Now, what did you mean when you said my dad gave her those tattoos?"

Archer looked at me incredulously. "Whoa."


"You seriously don't know?"

I'd never been able to actually feel my blood pressure rising before, but it certainly was now. It felt kind of the way magic used to feel, only with more homicidal rage thrown in.

"Don't. Know. What?" I managed to say.

"Your dad is the head of the Council. As in, the guy who sent us all here."


After that little tidbit of information, I did something I have never done in my entire life.

I had a full-on drama queen meltdown.

By which I mean I burst into tears. And not tragically beautiful, elegant tears either. No, I had the big messy ones involving a red face and snot.

I usually make it a point not to cry in front of people, especially hot boys that I'd been totally crushing on before they'd tried to choke me.

But for some reason, hearing that there was yet another thing I didn't know just sent me right on over the edge.

Archer, to his credit, didn't look exactly horrified by my sobbing, and he even reached out like he might grab hold of my shoulders. Or possibly smack me.

But before he could either comfort me or commit further acts of violence upon my person, I spun away from him and made my drama queen moment complete by running away.

It wasn't pretty.

But by that point I was beyond caring. I just ran, my chest burning, my throat aching from a combination of Archer's chokehold and tears.

My feet pounded against the thick grass with dull thumps, and all I could think was what an idiot I was.

Don't know about blocking spells.

Don't know about tattoos.

Don't know about big, stupid, evil Italian Eyes.

Don't know about Dad.

Don't know anything about being a witch.

Don't know, don't know, don't know.

I wasn't sure exactly how far I'd run, but by the time I got to the pond at the back of the school, my legs were shaking and my side ached. I had to sit down. Luckily, there was a little stone bench right next to the edge of the water. I was so out of breath between the running and the crying that I totally overlooked the moss creeping over the seat and flopped down. It was hot from the sun, and I winced a little.

I sat there, my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands, listening to my breath saw in and out of my lungs. Sweat dripped from my forehead to my thighs, and I started to feel a little dizzy.

I was just so . . . pissed. Okay, so Mom had been freaked out by Dad being a warlock. Fair enough. But why couldn't she at least have let me talk to the guy? It would have been nice to get a little heads up about the Vandy.

You know, just a friendly "Oh, and by the way, your gym teacher hates me a lot, and so, by extension, hates you! Best o' luck!"

I groaned and lay across the bench, only to come shooting back into a sitting position when the hot stone touched my bare arm.

Without really thinking, I laid my hand on the bench and thought, Comfy.

A tiny silver spark flew from my index finger, and immediately the bench under me began to stretch and undulate until it morphed itself into a pretty, lush, velvet chaise lounge covered in hot-pink zebra stripes. Clearly, Jenna was rubbing off on me.

I settled back onto my newly comfy resting spot, a pleasant buzz humming through me. I hadn't done magic since coming to Hecate, and I'd forgotten how good even the littlest spells could make me feel. I couldn't create something out of nothing--very few witches could, and that was some seriously dark magic anyway--but I could change things into different versions of themselves.

So I put a hand on my chest and smiled as my gym uniform rippled and receded until I was wearing a white tank top and khaki shorts. Then I pointed a finger at the water's edge and watched as a stream spiraled upward from the surface of the lake, spinning into a cylinder until I had a glass of iced tea hovering in the air in front of me.

I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself, and more than a little magic drunk, as I leaned back against the chaise lounge and took a sip of tea. I may be a loser, but hey, at least I'm a loser who can do magic, right?

I sat there with my sweaty arm over my eyes for several minutes, listening to the birds, the gentle lap of the water against the shore, and for those few moments I was able to forget that I was in some serious trouble when I got back to the school.

Lowering my arm, I turned my head to look at the pond.

There, just across the water, was a girl standing on the opposite shore.

The pond was pretty narrow, so I could see her clearly: it was the ghost in green I'd seen my first day at Hecate. And just like on that first day, she was staring right at me.

It was beyond creepy, to say the least. Not sure what to do, I raised my hand and lamely waved hello.

The girl raised her hand in reply. And then she vanished. There was no gradual fading away like I'd seen with Isabelle's ghost. Just one minute she was there, then she was gone.

"Curiouser and curiouser," I said, my voice just a little too loud in the quiet, and creeping me out even more.

My good mood had started to fade as the spell buzz wore off, and I looked down to see that my cute and much cooler outfit had dissolved back into my gym uniform. That was weird. My spells usually lasted a lot longer than that. The lounge beneath me was starting to feel a little harder too, and I figured it was only about five more minutes before I was sitting on hot mossy stone again.

My thoughts turned back to my parents and their apparent penchant for being big ol' liars. But even as I tried to work up righteous anger at them for getting me into this mess, I knew that wasn't what had my ugly gym shorts in a twist.

It was that my worst fear seemed to be coming true. It's one thing to be different around people who you're really, well, different from. It's a whole other problem to be an outcast in a group of outcasts.