Page 5

She shook her head and wiped away the stray tears. "No, no, sweetie, it's fine. I just . . . I just wish I could have given you a more normal childhood."

I sat down and wrapped my arm around her. "Don't say that. I've had an awesome childhood. I mean, how many people get to live in nineteen states? Think of all I've seen!"

It was the wrong thing to say. If anything, Mom just looked sadder.

"And this place is awesome! I mean, I have this cool, extremely pink room, and Jenna and I seem to have bonded enough to fight, which is a pretty important part of the girl-friendship thing, right?"

Mission accomplished. Mom was smiling. "Are you sure, sweetie? If you don't like it, you don't have to stay. I'm sure there's something we could do to get you out of here."

For a second I thought about saying, "Yes, please, let's catch the next ferry out of this freak show."

Instead, what I said was: "Look, it's not forever, right? Just two years, and I'll have Christmas and summers off. Just like regular school. I'll be fine.

Now go before you make me cry and I look like a huge dork."

Mom's eyes teared up again, but she pulled me into a tight hug. "I love you, Soph."

"Love you too," I said, my throat tight.

Then, after making me swear to call at least three times a week, Mom was gone.

And I lay down on my not-pink bed and cried like a huge dork.


Once I'd gotten that out of my system, I still had an hour until dinner.

I decided to do some exploring. I'd opened the two small doors in our room, vainly hoping for private bathrooms, but no. Just closets.

The only bathroom on the whole floor was at the opposite end of the hall, and it, like the rest of the house, was spooky. The only light in it came from a few low-wattage bulbs surrounding a big mirror over the bank of sinks. That meant that the shower stalls in the back of the room were shrouded in darkness. Giving the showers a closer look, it occurred to me that I'd never had a true reason to use the word "dank" before now.

I knew I should have packed flip-flops.

In addition to the mildew-rific showers, there were also a bunch of claw-foot tubs against one wall, separated by waist-high partitions. I wondered who would ever want to take a bath in front of a bunch of other people?

Risking all manner of communicable diseases, I went to one of the sinks and splashed water on my face. Looking at myself in the mirror, I saw that the water hadn't really helped. My face was still bright red from crying, which had the charming effect of making my freckles stand out even more.

I shook my head, as if that would suddenly improve what I was seeing. It didn't. So with a sigh I set out to investigate the rest of Hecate Hall.

There wasn't much happening on my floor; just the usual chaos that occurs when you throw roughly fifty girls together. There were four hallways on the third floor, two to the left of the staircase, two to the right.

The landing was huge, so it had been converted into a lounge. There were two couches and several chairs, but none of the furniture matched, and it all looked a little worse for wear. Since all the seats were taken, I hovered near the staircase.

The faerie I'd seen earlier, the one with the blue tears, had apparently recovered. She was draped over a chartreuse fainting couch, laughing with another faerie. This one had light green wings that beat softly against the back of the sofa. I'd always though faeries' wings would be like butterflies', but they were thinner and more translucent. You could see veins running through them.

They were the only faeries in the room. The other couch was taken up by a group of girls who looked about twelve. They were whispering nervously to each other, and I wondered if they were witches or shifters.

The dark-haired girl I'd seen on the lawn sat in an ivory wingback chair, idly flipping channels on the tiny television sitting on top of a small bookcase.

"Could you please turn that down?" the green-winged faerie said, turning to glare at the girl in the chair. "Some of us are trying to have conversations, Dog Girl."

None of the twelve-year-olds reacted to that, so I figured they were all witches. Surely a shifter would've looked more offended.

The blue faerie laughed as the dark-haired girl stood and turned off the TV. "My name is Taylor," she said, tossing the remote at the green faerie. " Taylor. And I turn into a mountain lion, not a dog. If we're going to live together for the next few years, you might want to remember that, Nausicaa."

Nausicaa rolled her eyes, her green wings beating softly. "Oh, we will not be living together for long, I assure you. My uncle is king of the Seelie Court, and as soon as I tell him I am sharing a room with a shifter . . . well, let's just say I expect my living arrangements to change."

"Yeah, well, it doesn't look like your uncle could keep you out of this place," Taylor fired back. Nausicaa's face was still blank, but her wings beat faster.

"I will not live with a shifter," she said to Taylor. "I certainly don't want to deal with your litter box."

The blue faerie laughed again, and Taylor turned bright red. Even from several feet away I saw her brown eyes turn gold. She was breathing hard as she said, "Shut up! Why don't you go and hug a tree or something, you faerie freak?"

Her words sounded garbled, like she was mumbling around a mouthful of marbles. Then I realized that she was mumbling around a mouthful of fangs.

Nausicaa had the good sense to look a little scared. She turned to the blue faerie and said, "Come on, Siobhan. Let's let this animal get control of herself."

The two of them rose. They glided past me and down the stairs.

I looked back at Taylor, who was still panting, her eyes squeezed shut.

After a moment, she shuddered, and when she opened her eyes, they were brown again. Then she looked up and saw me standing there.

"Faeries," she said with a nervous laugh.

"Right," I said. Like I'd ever seen a faerie before today.

"This your first day too?" she asked.

When I nodded, she said, "I'm Taylor. Shifter, obviously."

"Sophie. Witch."

"Cool." She knelt on the couch the faeries had vacated, folding her arms on the back and looking at me with those dark eyes.

"So what did you do to get in here?"

I glanced around. No one was paying attention to us.

Still, I kept my voice kind of quiet. "Love spell gone wrong."

Taylor nodded. "There's a bunch of witches in here for stuff like that."

"You?" I ventured.

She pushed her hair out of her eyes and said, "Pretty much what you just saw. Lost my temper with some girls at marching band practice, lioned out. But that's nothing compared to the crap some of the kids here have pulled." She leaned forward and her voice dropped to a near whisper. "This one werewolf, Beth? I hear she actually ate some girl. Still," she sighed, looking past me toward the stairs, "I'd rather have somebody like that for a roommate than a snotty faerie."

She looked back at me. "What are you rooming with?"

I didn't like the way she said "What," so my tone was a little sharp when I said, "Jenna Talbot."

Her eyes widened. "Dude. The vamp?" She chuckled. "Forget it. I'll take a bitchy faerie over that any day."

"She's not so bad," I said automatically.

Taylor shrugged and picked up the remote she'd thrown at Nausicaa.

"If you say so," she murmured, turning the TV back on.

Apparently our conversation was over, so I headed to the second floor. That was Boy World, so I couldn't really do any exploring. The layout was identical to the third floor, but their lounge area looked even more beat up than ours. Stuffing was leaking out of one of the couches, and a card table leaned crookedly in the corner. There was no one in there, but I did glance down one of the halls. I saw Justin trying to maneuver a huge trunk into what I guessed was his room. He paused, and his shoulders sagged with defeat. I felt a little sorry for him. Watching him try to push around a trunk that was nearly as tall as he was reminded me that, vicious werewolf or not, he was just a little kid. Then he turned, saw me, and, I boy you not, snarled.

I hurried down the stairs and onto the first floor. It was quiet down there. I only saw a couple of people hanging around, including a tall jock-looking guy all in denim and flannel. I wondered if he was someone's older brother, since he looked too old to be at Hecate, and he was wearing jeans instead of khakis.

My footsteps were muffled by a thick oriental rug in swirling shades of red and gold as I turned down one of the hallways off the main foyer.

I peeked into the first room I came to. It looked like it had once been a dining room, or maybe a large parlor. Directly across from the door, one wall was nothing but windows, finally allowing me a good look at the grounds. This room overlooked a small pond with a pier and a pretty, ramshackle cabin. But what really struck me was all the green. The grass, the trees, the thin coat of algae on the pond, where I really, really hoped we wouldn't be canoeing or anything . . . all of it was this bright, hurt-your-eyes green that was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Even the heavy clouds that were beginning to swell with the threat of an afternoon thunderstorm seemed lime-tinted.

The carpet in this room was also green, and it felt soft, almost mushy underfoot, making me think of moss or fungus. Pictures covered the other three walls. Every one showed the same thing: a group of Prodigium gathered on the front porch. I didn't know if they were witches or shifters, but there were no faeries. A tiny gold plaque at the base of every frame told the year, starting in 1903 and ending with last year's picture, just to the right of the door.

There were only six adults in the oldest picture, and all of them looked really serious, like they'd probably kicked kittens for fun. Younger Prodigium didn't start showing up until 1967. I wondered if that was the first year Hecate Hall had become a school. And if so, what was it before then?

Last year, there were nearly a hundred kids, and everybody looked a lot more relaxed. I spotted Jenna in the front, standing next to a taller girl.

They had their arms slung over each other's shoulders, and I wondered if this was the mysterious Holly.

To be honest, I felt a little jealous. I couldn't imagine ever being close enough to someone to casually put my arm around them in a picture. In all my old school pictures I was always the one standing alone in the back with my hair in my face.

Was that why Jenna had seemed so weird when I'd mentioned her old roommate? Had they been best buddies, and now I was the interloper trying to take Holly's place? Great.


Startled, I turned around.

The three most beautiful girls I'd ever seen in my life were standing behind me.

Then I blinked.

No, they weren't all drop-dead gorgeous. It was just the one in the middle. She had auburn hair that fell in soft bouncy curls nearly to her waist.

She probably didn't even have to use a diffuser. I bet she woke up with her hair looking like something out of a Pantene commercial while little bluebirds circled around her head, and raccoons brought her breakfast or something.

I also couldn't help but notice that she didn't have any freckles, which was enough to make me hate her instantly.

The girl to her right was a blonde, and even though she had that whole California girl thing going--stick-straight hair, tan skin, deep blue eyes--her eyes were too close together, and when she smiled at me, I noticed she had a pretty bad overbite.