1: Meeting Masters
Jane pushed in a quarter and then another after it before dialing the number to her brother’s college dorm. Jane knew that Todd’s classes were later than hers but still hoped that he would be up by then, even if it was ridiculously early. The phone rang and rang, its annoying trill grinding on Jane’s already raw nerves. Her palms were sticky and wet from her sweat, making the receiver slip around in her hands awkwardly. She was nervous about her first day, even if she refused to admit it to herself. Why else would she be bothering her brother at what would very likely be an inconvenient time?
She hadn’t heard from Todd in over two weeks, strange as he usually called every other day to check up on her and make sure their parents hadn’t driven her to a psychotic break. But even before two weeks ago he had been avoiding her calls, only talking to her on a few occasions. She refused to admit to herself how much his neglect really hurt her.
“Hello?” a sleepy voice said on the other line.
The voice was male but definitely not her brother’s.
“This is Jane Parker. I’m calling for my brother, Todd,” Jane said politely. “Is he awake yet?”
“I doubt it. I wasn’t awake,” he said bitterly. “I’ll go check.”
There was a sharp cracking sound as though the receiver on the other line had hit something when the guy had left to call Todd for her. Jane suddenly felt very guilty and awkward for making her call. What had seemed so vital only a few moments ago now seemed silly, childish, and, even worse: selfish.
The sound of the receiver being picked up again alerted Jane to what she hoped was her brother on the other line.
“Jane? Is that you?”
The voice was familiar but not the voice she had been hoping to hear. Jane bit back her disappointment and focused on answering her brother’s roommate.
“Yeah, Shane, it’s me,” Jane said with forced pleasantness. Lately, she’d spoken more to Shane than she had actually talked to Todd.
“He’s not here, Jane,” Shane said sympathetically. “Sorry.”
“Oh,” Jane said, surprised, her heart aching a little. “I see. Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“No, not really,” Shane said, obviously uncomfortable. “He’s been going out pretty early these days. I think he goes to the gym. He usually comes back just in time to take a quick shower and get to class.”
“Todd works out? Since when?”
“I don’t really know,” Shane said with a sigh that spoke volumes about how uncomfortable this conversation was making him. “A while, I guess.”
“Should I call him on his cell phone?” Jane asked hopefully.
“He leaves it here. I think he doesn’t like to be bothered when he works out, but I’m only guessing on that.”
Jane’s jaw locked and she willed herself not to cry in frustration and disappointment. She bit her lips hard until she could taste the bitter, coppery flavor of blood.
“I see,” was all Jane said.
“Look, I’ll tell him you called,” Shane said apologetically. “I’ve got to go, there’s another guy waiting to use the phone.”
Jane knew it was a lie from the forced sound of his voice, but even if she hadn’t noticed that she would’ve still known she was getting the brush off. Besides, apparently it was too early for anyone to be up, at least if that other guy was anything to judge from.
“’Kay,” she said numbly. “Thanks.”
And then she heard the dial tone, and nothing else. Not even her brother’s roommate could be bothered with her enough to say goodbye.
Jane looked over her new school with disdain. Here lay before her a brand new hell: St. Defendens High School.
At first look it looked harmless enough, but Jane was experienced enough to know better. Inside was a giant herd of evil, laughing hyenas just waiting to eat her alive with their cruel, ruthless banter.
In other words: teenagers.
It was enough to make a lesser being let out a blood curdling scream and run for the hills. But Jane Parker was not a lesser being, and she walked through those double entrance doors with her head held high.
The girls stopped giggling as she walked by, and the boys’ eyes went wide and their mouths fell open. Jane could’ve taken laughs and scathing remarks but the silence was unbearable. They had never been silent before at her other school. They had never just stood there like that.
Luckily she found the administrative office before she had to put up with much more.
And yet it’s only just begun, she thought bitterly. She knew it would probably be a hundred times worse because they had been silent the first time they’d seen her.
“I’m here for my appointment with Principal Kingsley,” Jane decisively told a middle-aged woman with bleach-blonde hair who was reading a copy of People magazine laid out on her desk.
The woman’s clothes were tight and too revealing for a school administrator, especially one of her age, and her skin was a sickly orange color that was the obvious result of too much tanning. She looked Jane up and down in a disdainful manner before turning her attention back to her magazine, blowing Jane off completely.
Jane sighed in irritation. She really did not have time for this. Jane slipped her backpack off her shoulders and slammed it loudly on top of the woman’s magazine. The woman jumped back a little in surprise, her mouth opening and closing like a trout.
“Okay,” Jane said curtly. “You obviously didn’t hear me the first time so let me repeat: I am here for my appointment with Principal Kingsley. Did that penetrate your severely hair-dye damaged brain?”
Jane was vaguely aware that people were beginning to stare but she couldn’t bring herself to care. She put up with this enough at home from her family. There was no way in hell that she was going to put up with it from a woman who was paid to be helpful to her.
“Hey, you can’t talk to me like that-” the woman began in outrage.
“Jane Parker. Principal Kingsley. Appointment. Does any of this ring a bell?” Jane asked scathingly.
“She isn’t in yet,” the woman said with a glare as she sharply pulled her manicured hands out from under Jane’s backpack. “She’s talking to one of the teachers about the curriculum. You’ll have wait.”
Wait? In the administration office where everyone could see her and stare at her like she was an animal in the zoo?
That office was quickly beginning to look a lot like a pool of hungry piranhas. There was no way she was waiting in it.
“I’ll be happy to,” Jane said sweetly. “I’ll be in her office when she gets here.”
“Wait, you can’t-”
“Seeing as she’s the one who’s late for our meeting I’m sure she won’t mind my waiting in her office,” Jane said with finality, removing her backpack from the desk and magazine.
Without waiting for the woman’s answer she strode into Kingsley’s office.
It’s beautiful, Jane thought as she took in the pale, warm cream color on the walls and the elegant furniture.
She quietly shut the door behind her, letting the mood of the room soak in. The whole office was a tribute to the Victorian era with only slight and subtle modern additions. There were two cream-colored chairs that matched the walls set in front of a large cherry wood desk that looked hand-carved. The main accent color was a rich, royal burgundy that offset the cream in a way that made Jane feel luxurious and ladylike. In that room she could’ve easily imagined herself a duchess that was about to write out invitations to her next ball.
It was like being swept away to another century.
She sat in one of the chairs facing the desk and saw an identical chair resting behind the desk where Kingsley no doubt sat during the day. She only managed to sit still for about five minutes when she couldn’t help exploring a little more. The room may not have been excessively large but it had a great deal in it to examine, though it still managed to feel spacious and open.
An antique china cabinet sat to the left of the desk near a corner of the room, the light from the adjacent window making the glass sparkle like crystal. It was filled with pictures and antiques from the Victorian era. There was a hand-painted tea set decorated with fragile pink roses and vines; next to that was a framed piece of embroidery depicting a man proposing to a woman. There were quite a few things that went along the same lines filling the glass-paned cabinet.
Jane spent several minutes looking them over but she quickly grew bored and stepped away from the cabinet, ready to go back to her seat again. A glimpse of something in the reflection of the glass caught her eye, causing her to stop. She turned around and saw a curtain over what she had first thought to be another window. However, there was something off about it. All the other curtains were drawn back and the windows open to let in the cool fall air and keep the room from getting stuffy.
This one wasn’t.
She stepped toward it slowly, almost cautiously – life had taught her to be cautious. She reached up and took hold of the curtain, pulling it aside gently so as not to disturb whatever was underneath.
Photographs. Much to her surprise, there were dozens and dozens of photographs covering the whole wall from one end of the curtain to the other, and the curtain covered almost the whole wall, not including the one window that faced the china cabinet.
All of them seemed to be of the same set of people, all in their early twenties and late teens. They were all very attractive people, the kind you see in magazines and tv advertisements. Even the one gothic girl in the photos seemed model-perfect. They were all well dressed in clothes that looked expensive and tasteful, and each of them had their own unique style. The goth girl was one, another was a short young Asian woman dressed in bright yellows and gold, and another girl that seemed a little older than the other girls in the pictures was dressed in soft pinks and creams that added a sensual touch to her shapely body. Another girl that caught Jane’s eye was one that was dressed in an airy white dress trimmed with flowers and she wore a crown of daisies on her head.
The three boys in the pictures were all handsome in different ways. The first was strong, tall, and had broad shoulders and bulky muscles that showed through the football jersey that he wore. The second was shorter and had dirty blonde hair, and he seemed a little thinner than the rest. The third though…
The third was something altogether different from the others, Jane could feel it instinctively. He seemed separate, intentionally divided from the others, though he seemed less so from the Asian girl.
In height, he was between the first and second boys, and his clothes were all black and, Jane noticed with more than a little amusement, looked perfectly tailored to fit him. His hair was a very dark brown, almost black in color, and long, tied back at his neck with a black ribbon. His nose sloped elegantly and was neither too long nor too short. His mouth quirked up in an air of perpetual sarcasm and arrogance, and his dark eyes seemed both brooding and irritated, as though he was far above and beyond allowing someone to take his photograph. He was undoubtedly the most beautiful person she had ever laid eyes on, and she hated him for it, because he only reminded her of how utterly plain she was.
It made her chest ache to know that she would never be beautiful or even pretty, and she felt deeply ashamed for caring. She hated him for all the emotions he brought about.
The door opened just then to reveal a beautiful woman who looked about twenty or so with hair the color of blood, dark and crimson, shining in the light that came in through the open windows. Jane had never seen hair that color except her own, but made no comment.
When the woman’s eyes met Jane’s she smiled warmly and walked toward her.
“My dear, you must be Jane,” the woman said, an almost affectionate look in her eyes. “I have been so looking forward to meeting you since Mrs. Parker and I spoke on the phone last week. I hope you are settling into your new house well.”
The woman took Jane’s hand in her own and led her to the chair in front of the antique desk. Jane sat in it, while the woman perched elegantly on the edge of the desk.
“I assume that you’re Principal Kingsley?” Jane asked with a slight raise of her eyebrows.
“Oh, yes, do forgive me,” Kingsley said, looking slightly embarrassed. “I have been remiss in my manners. Not only was I late but I did not even introduce myself properly. I am Lilith Kingsley, your principal. But I do hope that you will call me Lilith when we are alone. To be truthful, being called by my surname makes me feel rather old.”
“You don’t look it,” Jane said, eyeing ‘Lilith’ oddly. She didn’t really know what to make of this woman. “Actually, to be truthful myself, you don’t look a day older than twenty-two, a bit young to be a principal.”
Jane statement seemed to make Lilith a little uncomfortable, the older woman shifting a little in her seat. She covered it quickly though, forcing a wide smile.
“Well, I am older than I look, and besides that I skipped several grades when I was in school,” Lilith said, her warmth not cooled the slightest by Jane’s lack of enthusiasm.
“Yeah, that explains everything,” Jane said with a touch of sarcasm.
To Jane’s surprise, Lilith laughed at her snarky comment.
“You are quite the spitfire,” the older woman said lightly.
Despite her reservations Jane returned the smile slightly, aware of a slight fondness for her unique principal growing in her. The woman may have been a bit over-friendly but she seemed to have a good heart, or at least Jane thought so. This Lilith Kingsley seemed already fond of her so Jane felt no reason not to return the favor. It was rather a rare thing for Jane to genuinely like someone but she had a feeling that her principal would be one of the few.
“I think that you and I are going to get along just fine, Jane,” Lilith said, true warmth of feeling in her eyes.
Lilith looked so affectionate, so motherly at Jane that for one blissful moment she pretended that the woman in front of her was really her mother, and her life with the Parkers was just a bad dream. Jane’s heart reached out toward Lilith’s, and she almost felt that the older woman was doing the same thing, reaching out for her love and approval. The feeling was so intense, but so real, that Jane’s eyes began filling before she could manage to stop them.
Lilith looked as though she was about to reach out to embrace her when the intercom made a slight static noise before the administrator’s voice spoke through it.
“Lukan Masters is here, Ms. Kingsley.”
The spell was broken, and Jane was simply Jane Anne Parker again, an ordinary nobody whose overactive imagination had just humiliated her in front of her new principal.
She turned around to hide the action of hastily drying her eyes with her sleeve.
Lilith sent an apologetic look Jane’s way before walking around her to flip a switch on the intercom.
“Thank you, Denise,” she said. “You may send him right in.”
“Of course. Right away, Ms. Kingsley,” ‘Denise’ said with more respect than Jane thought the tart of an administrator had in her.
Lilith turned toward Jane again, a refreshed smile on her classically beautiful face, as though the previous… whatever-it-was had never happened.
“Well,” Lilith said with a pleased sigh. “It looks as though your guide is here.”
“Guide?” Jane asked with a frown as a young man entered the room – the same beautiful young man that had evoked myriad painful emotions in her when she had been studying the pictures on the wall. “What guide?”
Lukan Masters, the most beautiful creature she had ever laid eyes on, stared at her with the same look she imagined he would give an insect that had the nerve to splatter on the windshield of his car.
In other words, he looked on Jane with absolute revulsion and disgust.
He eyed her up and down, obviously trying to figure out how anyone in his presence had the nerve to be anything but beautiful and god-like in appearance. Jane’s gut clenched as she fought back the feeling of inferiority and the tears that came from that feeling. She felt so low, lower than she had ever felt before, and because of that she hated him. Seeing him as he was in that picture – beautiful and arrogant, never knowing what it felt like to be plain and ordinary – had been bad enough, but to be forced into the same room with him, to be guided by him throughout the school – especially since he seemed to feel so much disdain for her – was a humiliation that she couldn’t bear.
Lukan Masters’ interest was short lived however, and he soon ignored her in favor of polishing his nails on the black satin dress shirt that showed through his open leather jacket. Jane felt as though she’d been slapped in the face at the obvious slight.
“Lukan is to be your guide around the school until you know your way around better,” Lilith said, interrupting Jane’s thoughts.
Lilith looked between the two students in a way that made her intentions for them more than obvious.
Lilith expected Lukan to date Jane as a personal favor. The conspiratorial look in her eyes made it blatant.
It was the last blow to Jane’s ego that she could take, and it took all her self-control not to slap the older woman’s face, and that had only to do with the fact that Lilith had been kind to her so far, not because she was the principal of the school. Had any other person put her in this degrading situation they would be lucky if they weren’t crippled by the time she was done with them – with the notable exception of her family, and that was only because she had no one else.
“The thought’s appreciated but I can handle myself,” Jane said firmly in a tone that she was sure would end the discussion.
Lukan raised his eyebrows at Lilith, almost as if he was asking if his part in this tedious task was done yet.
Lilith shot him a look that was a most definite ‘no’.
“I am sure that you can, but nonetheless Lukan will be your student guide for the next few weeks,” Lilith said to Jane in a tone of authority.
So, Lilith was throwing the weight of her position into this wild matchmaking scheme, was she? Well, Jane Parker wasn’t so easily defeated by anyone, even a principal.
“With all due respect, I really think that’s a decision that should be left to me,” Jane said with every bit as much authority, and a slight touch of venom. She wasn’t going down without a fight. “Maybe I don’t want to be saddled with a Dorian Gray wannabe just because you had a whim to play matchmaker.”
Both Lukan and Lilith looked shocked at not only Jane’s direct challenge of Lilith’s authority, but her bold accusation.
“Jane, what in the world would have given you the idea-” Lilith began innocently.
“The way you were eyeing me and Masters a second ago gave me the idea,” Jane said hotly, placing her hands on her hips. “I know the type. Let me guess, I’m the charity case of the week? You figure you get me a boyfriend and a makeover, and just like that you can fix me? Well, maybe I don’t want to be the new charity case. Maybe I don’t want to be set up with a guy who looks at me like I’m a splattered insect on his shiny new car. You know, I thought you were different for a second, however cliché that might sound. You were one of the few people who didn’t make me feel like a freak of nature the first second I met them just because I don’t wear low-riding skinny jeans that show my butt crack and so much makeup that no one really knows what I look like. But instead, you cozy up to me just so you can play Emma Woodhouse. Well, set your bait for another teenage misfit, ’cause I’m not biting! Good day, Principal Kingsley.”
Jane’s last words were said with more than a little bitterness and hurt, and she wasted no time in bolting out of the room without a backward glance, not noticing or caring that she had left her backpack behind near her chair.
She ignored the stares of the administrator and students as she made her way quickly out of the office area and into the halls. She ditched her first class to head for the library. She needed a little time to think and sort through her unusually high-running emotions. She didn’t question how she knew where the library was as it was directly concerning the situation she had just gotten herself out of.
Lukan Masters stared after that strange Jane Parker girl, whose sudden outburst had both surprised and impressed him. It wasn’t often that anyone, even him, stood up to Lilith, let alone actually yelled at her.
And yet it wasn’t just that alone that had caught his eye.
At first glance the girl seemed ordinary enough, but if one lingered on the girl’s hair or eyes – especially her eyes – one would see something… unusual. It wasn’t something he could’ve described in words, but there was something about the coloring of her eyes and hair that seemed somehow unique. Both were hues that he had never seen before.
Her hair seemed very close in color to Lilith’s, though that in itself was odd enough considering how dark a red Lilith’s hair was. The Parker girl’s had been darker however, somewhere between crimson and black, but it wasn’t either. It was shining and sleek, though that wasn’t easy to tell as she had it kept up in a large clip that hid most of it from the back.
Her eyes reminded him of looking into a kaleidoscope, with flecks of gold, brown, green, midnight blue and aqua sprinkled through them like stardust, with a background of grey.
Something in them pulled at him, urged him toward her a little.
However, he hadn’t noticed either her hair or her eyes until after she had begun to defy Lilith. He had given her little more than half a glance before treating her with the same disdain that he treated most of her kind with. He regretted not having looked more closely. She was obviously a very… passionate and volatile sort of person, one with whom others should think twice about trifling with.
“I cannot imagine where she got the idea that I was trying to set the two of you up,” Lilith said with a slight air of nervousness, pulling Lukan out of his thoughts. “The idea is completely ridiculous; as though I would ever meddle in another person’s affairs. I do not know what put the idea into her head.”
“I believe she told you that you did, Lilith,” Lukan said coolly, still looking at the door the Parker girl had gone out of. “You’ve never been very good at the art of deceit, nor at that of matchmaking. I’d give both up if I were you. Good day, Lilith.”
He took several graceful steps around a rather unhappy-looking Lilith and bent to pick up Jane Parker’s backpack before walking out into the outer office, and from there he followed the girl’s scent down the hall.
He was rather intrigued by her, and after all he did have to return her backpack to her, didn’t he? What was the harm in having a little chat with her as well?