CRAVING FOR YOU
“I can do it.”
“Seriously, it’s okay. Just chill for a minute.” She holds up her hand in the universal stop gesture. “We’re not in any hurry.”
Her tone begs me not to argue, so I don’t. Especially since the panic attack I’m trying to fend off is only making it harder to breathe. Instead, I nod and watch as she carries my suitcases—one at a time—up to the school’s front door.
As I do, a flash of color way above us catches my eye.
It’s there and gone so fast that even as I scan for it, I can’t be sure it ever really existed to begin with. Except—there it is again. A flash of red in the lit window of the tallest tower.
I don’t know who it is or why they even matter, but I stop where I am. Watching. Waiting. Wondering if whoever it is will make another appearance.
It isn’t long before they do.
I can’t see clearly—distance, darkness, and the distorted glass of the windows cover up a lot—but I get the impression of a strong jaw, shaggy dark hair, a red jacket against a background of light.
It’s not much, and there’s no reason for it to have caught my attention—certainly no reason for it to have held my attention—and yet I find myself staring up at the window so long that Macy has all three of my suitcases at the top of the stairs before I even realize it.
“Ready to try again?” she calls down from her spot near the front doors.
“Oh, yeah. Of course.” I start up the last thirty or so steps, ignoring the way my head is spinning. Altitude sickness—one more thing I never had to worry about in San Diego.
I glance up at the window one last time, not surprised at all to find that whoever was looking down at me is long gone. Still, an inexplicable shiver of disappointment works its way through me. It makes no sense, though, so I shrug it off. I have bigger things to worry about right now.
“This place is unbelievable,” I tell my cousin as she pushes open one of the doors and we walk inside.
And holy crap—I thought the whole castle thing with its pointed archways and elaborate stonework was imposing from the outside. Now that I’ve seen the inside… Now that I’ve seen the inside, I’m pretty sure I should be curtsying right about now. Or at least bowing and scraping. I mean, wow. Just…wow.
I don’t know where to look first—at the high ceiling with its elaborate black crystal chandelier or the roaring fireplace that dominates the whole right wall of the foyer.
In the end I go with the fireplace, because heat. And because it’s freaking gorgeous, the mantel around it an intricate pattern of stone and stained glass that reflects the light of the flames through the whole room.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Macy says with a grin as she comes up behind me.
“Totally cool,” I agree. “This place is…”
“Magic. I know.” She wiggles her brows at me. “Want to see some more?”
I really do. I’m still far from sold on the Alaskan boarding school thing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to check out the castle. I mean, it’s a castle, complete with stone walls and elaborate tapestries I can’t help but want to stop and look at as we make our way through the entryway into some kind of common room.
The only problem is that the deeper we move into the school, the more students we come across. Some are standing around in scattered clumps, talking and laughing, while others are seated at several of the room’s scarred wooden tables, leaning over books or phones or laptop screens. In the back corner of one room, sprawled out on several antique-looking couches in varying hues of red and gold, is a group of six guys playing Xbox on a huge TV, while a few other students crowd around to watch.
Only, as we get closer, I realize they aren’t watching the video game. Or their books. Or even their phones. Instead, they’re all looking at me as Macy leads—and by leads, I mean parades—me through the center of the room.
My stomach clenches, and I duck my head to hide my very obvious discomfort. I get that everyone wants to check out the new girl—especially when she’s the headmaster’s niece—but understanding doesn’t make it any easier to bear the scrutiny from a bunch of strangers. Especially since I’m pretty sure I have the worst case of helmet hair ever recorded.
I’m too busy avoiding eye contact and regulating my breathing to talk as we make our way through the room, but as we exit into a long, winding hallway, I finally tell Macy, “I can’t believe you go to school here.”
“We both go to school here,” she reminds me with a quick grin.
“Yeah, but…” I just got here. And I’ve never felt more out of place in my life.
“But?” she repeats, eyebrows arched.
“It’s a lot.” I eye the gorgeous stained glass windows that run along the exterior wall and the elaborate carved molding that decorates the arched ceiling.
“It is.” She slows down until I catch up. “But it’s home.”
“Your home,” I whisper, doing my best not to think of the house I left behind, where my mother’s front porch wind chimes and whirligigs were the most wild-and-crazy thing about it.
“Our home,” she answers as she pulls out her phone and sends a quick text. “You’ll see. Speaking of which, my dad wants me to give you a choice about what kind of room situation you want.”
“Room situation?” I repeat, glancing around the castle while images of ghosts and animated suits of armor slide through my head.
“Well, all the single rooms have been assigned for this term. Dad told me we could move some people around to get you one, but I really hoped you might want to room with me instead.” She smiles hopefully for a second, but it quickly fades as she continues. “I mean, I totally get that you might need some space to yourself right now after…”
And there’s that fade-out again. It gets to me, just like it does every time. Usually, I ignore it, but this time I can’t stop myself from asking, “After what?”
Just this once, I want someone else to say it. Maybe then it will feel more real and less like a nightmare.
Except as Macy gasps and turns the color of the snow outside, I realize it’s not going to be her. And that it’s unfair of me to expect it to be.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, and now it almost looks like she’s going to cry, which, no. Just no. We’re not going to go there. Not when the only thing currently holding me together is a snarky attitude and my ability to compartmentalize.
No way am I going to risk losing my grip on either. Not here, in front of my cousin and anybody else who might happen to pass by. And not now, when it’s obvious from all the stares that I’m totally the newest attraction at the zoo.