Chapter 1 THE GUILDER BOARDING SCHOOL
THE GUILDER BOARDING SCHOOL
“You can’t undo the past. The sins of the father are the sins of the son, or in this case, daughter.”
Uncle Argyle’s ominous words had echoed in Rae’s head long after he dropped her off at the airport. “A proverb of truth,” he had called it. Who spoke like that nowadays? Some good-bye. Tightening her ponytail and trying to tuck her forever-escaping dark curls behind her ears, she looked at her watch, then out the bus window at the tree lined countryside. It seemed strange to see the sun. All she remembered was rain when she had lived in Britain nine years ago.
Trying to get comfortable, Rae tucked her foot up on the seat, and rested her head against her knee as she looked out at the scenery flashing by. A sign outside the window showed the miles before the bus reached Guilder. It’d be another twenty-five minutes. She popped her ear buds in, blew the bangs away from her forehead and stared out the window across the rolling farm fields, trying to let the music from her iPod distract her.
It didn’t work. Just when she felt the tension begin to ease from her shoulders and she started to get into the song, something caught her eye. Black smoke billowed just near the top of a lush green hill. Rae stared, her heart fluttering as an old memory began to take hold. She knew what that smoke meant. She’d seen it before, long ago.
Someone’s house was burning.
Crap, crap crap, no I don’t want to go there. Her heart started racing and her stomach turned over, making her feel nauseous.
Dropping her knee, she gripped the seat in front of her, burying her face in the back of her hands taking deep breaths, like the therapists taught her to do. She’d gone through years of therapy to treat what had been called “panic attacks”. It didn’t matter what other people called it. To her, it was simply hell; like being sucked back in time against her will, to a place she never wanted
to revisit. So she breathed the way she‘d been taught, slow breathe in, all the way, then slow breath out, all the time chanting it's not real, it's not real in her head.
It helped calm her racing heart and made her feel more in control, but it didn't erase the memory. Nothing on Earth could do that. Being back in England for the first time and seeing the strange smoke. Rae felt six years old all over again.
She'd been in the living room coloring with new markers before bed when her mother told her to take them to the tree house her dad had built for her and play there until she called her in. That call never came. The blaze bounced horrific shadows around the inside of the tree house. The stinky black smoke slithered in and scared her little six-year-old self in ways the monsters under her bed never had.
Rae shuddered and lurched upright, forcefully bringing herselfback to the present. Could this school be any further into the sticks?
Glancing around the now vacant bus. she wondered if the driver had purposely left her until last. She‘d watched the last few people get off at a school about fifteen minutes ago, Roe-something or other. They all looked the same. all pretty girls with blonde hair. not one of them thin. pale, and tall like her. They hadn't been friendly. Big surprise there... She was used to it. She tended to fly under the radar at best. So she handled them the way she always handled the ones who instantly didn‘t like her for no reason she could come up with. Rae avoided making eye contact and tried to appear immersed in the Guilder Boarding School brochure. It wasn't that she didn't want to make friends. She'd just never really had any. Most kids her age either didn't like her or didn't notice her.
It bugged her that Uncle Argyle had pushed so hard for her to go when Guilder sent the letter. He’d been the one to move them all from Scotland to New York when she'd come to live with them, taking her away from the horrible tragedy of her parents' death, and now, he suddenly leapt at the chance for her to go back? It didn’t make any sense. It sort of sucked to leave her current high school. She lacked close friends, but she also lacked enemies, which was a plus in her book. The girls there seemed just as stuck up as the ones who‘d gotten off the bus earlier, but they'd simply ignored her. Rae always told herself it didn’t matter anyway. Cliques were so passé in her opinion.
Another weird thing that she couldn’t seem to find an
answer to was why Guilder would choose her? How did they even know she existed? Her uncle boasted how big a deal it was for her to be selected, but he'd never once explained how they’d even come to know about her in the first place. She had the grades, the brain part always came easy for her, but she didn’t have any extracurricular activities at all, nothing to make her stand out. So, how had this amazing school she’d never heard of before decide to take her on? It didn’t make any sense. She tried a few times before she left to corner her uncle and get him to explain part or all of it, but he'd always seemed to be busy.
While this wasn't exactly abnormal behavior for him, it still left her with a sense of foreboding. something that had clung to her ever since she got the letter. She couldn't figure out why. but she had a strong sense that something big was coming. Whether it was good or bad, she didn't know.
A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, pulling her mind out ofthe endless circle of questions in her head. She turned to look out the window, and was stunned to see the largest bird she'd ever seen in her life. Maybe an eagle? The thing flew parallel with the bus. right beside her. Pressing her face against the cool glass, her gaze focused intently on the curious sight. She jerked back when its large wings flapped, brushed the window, and then veered away. She watched its graceful flight as it soared and then swooped to settle onto the limb of a large tree just ahead. As the bus passed by, the bird seemed to lock eyes with Rae and she was mesmerized. Rae had always wondered what it would feel like to be a bird. to fly so free, go anywhere the wind took her. She continued to watch the bird until she couldn’t see it anymore, then slumped back into her seat as the bus sped onward down the long road.
Guilder Boarding School. She gnawed at the cuticle on her thumbnail a little too hard and ripped the skin, drawing a wince from her. She couldn't help it. she always did this when she was nervous. She‘d be the only American girl. Well. not really American. She held a British passport but had moved to New York after her parents died in the fire. leaving her orphaned. So...not really American. not really British; a little of both, but belonging to neither.
The bus cruised by an aged stone sign. Guilder Boarding School, Founded 1520. One ofBritain’s Finest Educational Institutions. Rae read the sign and wondered
how a school could be that old and not be featured in stories or online. She'd found nothing when she tried researching it. The bus passed under an old arch. supporting a covered walk, punctuated by leaded windows. that were connected by two round. red-brick towers. The stream of people coming and going from the doors at the bottom made her think it must be some kind of office. She craned her neck to get a better view. The buildings were old but were well kept and held an almost magical aura of their original Tudor era. She half expected to see men in tights and codpieces strutting down the road, leading their horses, with corseted ladies perched delicately atop them. The mental picture amused her and she absent-mindedly smiled. Her eyes were drawn to the ornate, brick chimneys along the buildings' roofs. She glimpsed the other buildings beyond. This place looks huge...hope I don't get lost.
The driver pulled to a halt in front ofa building with an embossed plaque that said “Aumbry House”. The ancient building had ivy growing all over it. It looked like it was probably older than Henry VIII, leaving Rae with horrifying visions ofchamber pots dancing in her head. It better have indoor plumbing...
The bus door slid open with a hiss. Rae gathered her two small suitcases and her book bag, clambered down the aisle and finally. blessedly. off the bus.
“Welcome to Guilder, Ms. Kerrigan." Rae awkwardly spun around to face the voice. finding that a tall, thin woman stood on the concrete steps of the building, her eyes darting left and right, pausing on Rae for barely more than a few seconds.
Rae stared. wondering where the lady had come from. She wasn't there a moment ago. Rae looked at the woman's long, wool skirt. This might be England, but today is sweltering. How is she not melting in this heat?
“I am Madame Elpis, your house mistress." The lady darted down the large concrete steps, pausing on the last step and, in one fluid motion. tucked her clip board under an armpit and extended her hand.
The woman's features reminded Rae of a bird her iet-black hair, dark eyes, and especially the jutting nose. Rae nodded and dropped a suitcase so she could return the handshake. her lingers crushed by the woman‘s clawlike grip. Ow, ow. ow! So you're freakishly strong, got it.
“Come along. No time for dilly-dallying." She turned and marched up the steps, not checking to see if Rae followed or needed any help with her bags.
cracked a smile for the first time in hours.
Rae dropped her suitcases on the uncluttered side of the room. Her roommate, Molly. must have stepped out halfway through unpacking. Her closet doors were spread open, with hangers already full of clothes and more shoes than Rae had owned in her entire life. She'd never been big on dressing up. but she still knew designer labels when she saw them and she saw an awful lot of them in that closet. Hopefully, her roommate didn't end up being superficial. Rae stood there wondering how she'd deal with it if she had to room with Guilder's Next Super Model. Visions of her roommate stomping up and down the room in heels practicing her “walk" distracted her. She didn't hear the footsteps walking down the hall to the door.
"What are you doing in me room?” Rae jumped and dropped her purse. A fashionably dressed girl stood in the doorway. She had dark, mahogany red hair. the kind women paid insane amounts of money to try to copy. Oh great...well, here we 90.
“Molly?" Rae swallowed. “I’m your new roommate."
Molly stared Rae up and down. “You‘re Rae Kerrigan? I pictured someone totally different. You’re not scary at all!" She laughed as if at some private joke. Scary? Me? What is she talking about?
“Name‘s Molly Skye. I’m from Cardiff, in Wales." She shoved one of her suitcases onto the floor and dropped into the small, open space on the bed.
Rae watched, confused. Why would anyone think of her as scary? Because she lived in New York? She had a terrible premonition of being the odd one out. and school hadn't even started yet.
“You're not sixteen, eh? No ta’too?" Molly pointedly dropped her gaze down to Rae‘s waist, as if she expected Rae to show her something.
Tattoo? Rae squinted, trying to listen closer to Molly’s accent. The way she spoke, some of the words were hard to make out. Why would she ask ifI have a tattoo?
“Me birthday's in three days. It’s going to be so awesome!" Molly leaned back on her elbows. “When’s yers?“
“My birthday? Uh...not ‘til November.” Straight into the personal info. Okay, I think I know what my roommate is going to be like.
"November? You do have a long wait.” Molly grimaced and shook her head. “Poor you. You'll be the last one inked for sure.” She jumped off the bed. Rae noted the
strange comment. but Molly’s motor-mouth went speeding on, so she filed it away for examination at a later time.
“What’d you think of our room? Pretty cool. eh? Aside from the construction on the floors above us." She shot the ceiling an annoyed look. ”I just talked to one of the workers. He said they finish at four. They start again at like eight in the morning! Can you believe that? Who gets up at that time, anyway?"
Wow. Molly can talk without pausing for breath. Rae nodded and tried to keep up. She watched Molly roll from the balls of her feet to her heels, back and forth continually. It was a typically nervous gesture that Rae attributed to meeting new people. Everybody has their issues, but it's still surprising, considering how fast she's talking.
“Can you believe we got invited to Guilder? We're two of sixteen females within a landmass of rich. supposedly unattainable, handsome boys." When Rae didn’t respond, Molly squinted at her. “You do know why you‘re here, right?"
Rae shrugged. Jet lag seemed to be eating her brain cells. "To be honest, I don't really know what you mean. I haven't been in England since I was six and I know nothing about Guilder." Despite numerous Google searches at home and having my nose buried in the brochure for an hour on the ride here.
“You're not slow or something. are you?" Rae shook her head slowly wondering if her talkative new roomie had just insulted her. Molly stared, scratching her head. “You really don’t know, do you?" She looked up and to the left, obviously recalling something important. She straightened, as if quoting some bit of brochure from memory. “Guilder’s a highly sought after educational institution, but it is primarily a school for the gifted. People who get to go to Guilder know why. The rest of the world has no idea!"
Rae curled her fingers tight, her nails digging into her palms. She felt stupid and also irritated at herself for feeling stupid. It wasn't something she wanted to deal with, especially after such a long day of travel. “What makes us...gifted?"
Molly's eyes grew huge. She paced the room. “Oh. my... Me da's never going to believe this. You seriously don’t know ANYTHING?!”
Rae felt her blood pressure rising. She knew she was tired. confused, and nervous. None of that it was helping
her temper, but she was determined not to lose it on what amounted to a total stranger. She pressed her lips tight to stop any snappish comment that might escape. Can't the ditz just answer a simple question with a straight answer?
Molly swung around in front of Rae, dramatically squared her shoulders, and put on a serious face. “When we turn sixteen. we receive our ink blot.”
“A ta’too.” She leaned forward and whispered. “It gives us special powers."
Pause...say what? “P-Powers?” Rae tried not to laugh. Had her uncle sent her to an institution for the insane? “You‘re kidding, right?" Uncle Argyle had told her the experience would change her life, but hadn't said how. Rae figured he meant she'd do some growing up like a maturity thing. And, of course, there was that silly proverb. But perhaps he’d mistakenly sent her off to a giant rubber room.
Molly waved a hand. “I'm serious. The gift is passed down from generation to generation." She blew out an exaggerated breath. “Any guy around here who's sixteen has a ta‘too on the inside of his forearm." She dragged Rae toward the window and pointed to the building across from them. “That's the boys‘ dorm. Let's go outside and walk around. I’ll get one of them to show you what I mean.”
Her eyes dropped down to Rae's clothes, her lips pursed tight together. “Do you fancy a quick change before we go?”
Rae laughed, despite her roommate's serious expression. Molly definitely was crazy, but she had a point. She'd dressed comfortably for travel, and even though she wasn’t big on fashion, even she drew the line at meeting her new classmates looking like a workedover hag. She could use some freshening-up. “Yeah, give me a moment."
“I'm off downstairs to try and find some cute boys. Meet me outside when you're ready." Molly left, still chattering nonstop with no one in the hall to listen.
Rae opened the closest suitcase and grabbed the first pair ofjeans and top within reach. She hesitated and dug a little deeper into her suitcase. The jeans were fine, they were new, but a white t-shirt seemed too plain. She found a pink Converse tank top with ONE STAR written in sparkles. She pulled out her hair tie, wishing her unruly black curls were straight like Molly's perfect hair.
She never bothered with makeup because she had crazylong eyelashes that mascara seemed to only want to clomp up against, and almost everything else just made her look kinda like a sloppy hooker. Keep it simple, that‘s what her aunt had always told her. She settled for lip gloss, and deodorant, and then grabbed a pair of sandals before tossing her purse under her pillow. Now, time to find out what Molly‘s been babbling on about, or at least maybe meet some cute guys. She might be invisible most of the time, but eye candy was eye-candy, no matter which side of the Atlantic it was seen on.
Once outside. she shaded her eyes against the bright sunlight with her hand and searched for her new roommate.
Molly stood further down the sidewalk, talking to a very hot guy with chestnut brown hair. dark eyes and a dimple on his right cheek. It disappeared when he stopped smiling and began talking again, making Rae a little sad. She wanted to see that dimple again. Rae bounded down the steps. and then slowed down, trying not to appear too excited. She flinched and covered her head when a loud crashing noise sounded from above, and a large piece of debris flew down from the fourth floor and landed in the blue bin beside her. Face burning. she pretended it hadn't bothered her and continued walking. Molly and the boy turned to stare in her direction.
Rae heard someone holler from above, but couldn’t make out what the guy said. Embarrassed by her reaction a moment before, she ignored the shout and kept walking. Molly’s eyes grew big, her hands flew to her cheeks and her mouth dropped open. She screamed. Rae stared as Molly frantically pointed above her head. Rae tipped her head up. She froze in horror when she saw a huge, severed piece of wood paneling balanced like a seesaw on the window ledge several floors above.
The wood scraped against the windowsill. and teetered as if undecided which way it should fall. Oh crap! A gust of hot. dry wind blew by, knocking the severed beam into final descent. It spun as it fell and all sound was just gone.
Fight orflight. Rae dropped her gaze, her eyes darted about. The guy beside Molly moved toward her frozen frame. Everything moved in slow motion except for the guy running like a freight train. He was greased lightning. moving faster than anything Rae had ever seen. It didn't seem possible for a person to move so fast.
And why am I focused on him when I was about to be squashed like a bug?