Beautiful demons, p.1
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       Beautiful Demons, p.1

          part  #1 of  Peachville High Demons Series  by  Sarra Cannon / Young Adult / Fantasy
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Beautiful Demons
Page 1
This Is Your Last Chance Six foster homes in one year had to be some kind of record. I ran my sapphire pendant along the silver chain around my neck and looked out at the pine trees zooming past. Where would they send me next? “I don't know what got into you, Harper,” Mrs. Meeks said. Her hair shot out every which way and she wasn't wearing any makeup. The call to come pick me up probably came in after she'd gone to bed for the night. “I can't keep doing this. ” I eyed her. Was she passing me off to another case worker? Mrs. Meeks had been there with me from the beginning. Since the fire. I didn't want her to abandon me now. “It was an accident,” I said. I sat up straight in my seat and studied her tired face. I needed her to believe me. “An accident?” she said. Her voice took on the shrill tone I had come to expect from her. “Mrs. Sanders said you threw a lamp at her. How could that have been an accident, Harper?” “I didn't exactly throw it,” I said. I bit my lip. How could I possibly explain it to Mrs. Meeks? Or anyone for that matter? One second I was arguing with Mrs. Sanders about a party she wouldn't let me go to and the next, well, everything in the room that wasn't nailed down was floating three inches in the air. “It just sort of-” “Sort of what? Threw itself. ” Her face contorted into an angry grimace. She didn't believe me. I sank into the leather seat and sighed. No one ever believed me. Instead, they called me names like 'witch' and 'freak'. “Harper,” she said, her voice softening. “I've always tried to place you in the very best foster homes in the city. Places where I thought they would try to understand your. . . ” She searched for the word. “Your unique issues. But this is the sixth foster home you've been kicked out of this year. And with your history. ” She glanced over at me and sighed heavily. “It's getting harder and harder to place you. ” My history. I leaned my forehead against the window and felt the cool glass against my skin. After everything I'd done, it made sense that no one wanted me. I closed my eyes and remembered the beautiful porcelain skin of my adopted mother, Jill. I never meant to hurt anyone, especially not her. “At this point, there's no other choice,” Mrs. Meeks said. I opened my eyes and looked over at her. In the light from the dashboard, she looked old. Worried. Angry. A wave of nausea rolled over me. “No other choice than what?” She looked over and patted my leg with her hand. Not a good sign. “I'm taking you to a place called Shadowford Home,” she said. “It's in a town south of here. Peachville. And the woman who runs it is well known for taking in girls who are struggling in the regular system. Girls like you. ” There are no girls like me, I thought. “I've never heard of it. ” “Peachville is a small community. Very different from Atlanta. I think it'll be a good place for you. Atlanta is just too big. Too full of opportunities to get in trouble or get mixed up with the wrong crowd. ” She pulled the car off the interstate. From the looks of it, we were in the middle of nowhere. “But I have to be completely honest with you, Harper. If you can't make it work at Shadowford, I'll have no choice but to take you to juvenile detention until you turn eighteen. ” I sat up. “What? You can't be serious. ” A home for troubled girls was bad enough. I certainly didn't belong in juvie. I'd known people who had gone to the one in Atlanta. It was practically like prison for teens. Constant supervision. No freedom. Strict rules. My entire body tensed just thinking about it. “What did you expect?” she said. “Since you were eight years old, I've placed you in foster home after foster home, and you've been nothing but trouble for these families. Throwing lamps. Breaking windows. Fires. ” “None of those things were my fault,” I said. I could feel the stirring of anger and frustration deep in my stomach. How dare she bring up the fire. I had only been eight when that happened, and it wasn't my fault. It wasn't! Change rattled in the cup holder that sat between us in the car. Quickly, I slammed my hand down over the top of it. Not now, I begged. Mrs. Meeks continued on, thankfully not noticing the rattling noise. “It's time you learned to take responsibility for your actions,” she said. “Make things work at Shadowford or you'll go to juvenile detention for the next two years. I'm sorry, but this is your last chance, Harper. ” Page 2
Do Not Touch My Things We spent the night in a hotel just off the interstate. First thing in the morning, we were back out on the road, heading to Peachville, Georgia. I had never lived in a small town before. Or a group home for that matter. The light was shining through the thick pine trees as we turned down an unmarked gravel road an hour later. “We should be close,” Mrs. Meeks said. A large, weather-worn sign that read “Shadowford Plantation” came into view. I sat up straight and peered through the dense trees. A winding red dirt road led back to a clearing. Mrs. Meeks stopped the car at the top of the hill and we both stared open-mouthed at the huge white plantation house below. Shadowford stood three stories tall with long white columns running from the roof to the wraparound porch. Paint flaked off the white walls and green ivy blanketed the sides of the porch, as if nature was slowly reclaiming the house for itself. Centered on the second floor level was a large balcony with a wrought-iron railing. A girl with bright red hair stood on the balcony. She waved toward us, then disappeared into the house. As we drove the rest of the road up to the house, a chill ran down my spine. There was something different about this place I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The house itself, though old, was breathtaking. But there was also something dark about it. Unsettling. The house grew slowly larger, and my stomach lurched. I wanted to tell Mrs. Meeks to turn around and take me back to Atlanta. To juvenile detention if that was the only option. This house was. . . what? Evil. The word popped into my head and I shivered. That was ridiculous. A house couldn't be evil. It was just my nerves getting to me. A pretty middle-aged woman had stepped out onto the porch. She wore a faded blue dress and her brown hair was piled high in a messy bun at the top of her head. When I looked up at her, she smiled. Her dark eyes were warm and kind, immediately putting me at ease. I realized I'd been holding my breath, and I exhaled. Maybe I had only imagined the creepy aura around this place. Maybe everything was going to be alright. I stepped out of the car and grabbed my bag from the backseat. “You must be Harper,” the woman said. She walked over and gave me a gentle hug. “We’re so happy to have you here at Shadowford. ” “Thanks. ” “I’m Ella Mae Hunt. I help Mrs. Shadowford out quite a bit, so we'll be gettin' to know each other pretty well. ” She had a lilting southern accent that was sweet and gentle. Ella Mae took my bag and set it just outside the front door. “I’ll give you a few minutes to say goodbye, and then I’ll take you inside and introduce you to our other girls. ” I walked over to Mrs. Meeks and she gave me a big hug. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Everything could be different for you here,” she said. “Treat this like a fresh start. A clean slate. ” I squeezed her back briefly, then let go. Maybe she was right and things really could be different here. A new school in a new town. No one here knew my history. “I’ll do my best,” I told her. “I know you will. ” With a sad smile, she got in her car and drove away. I watched until she disappeared from sight, then turned to my new home. Ella Mae was waiting for me by the front door. “I think you’ll really like it here,” she said, opening the door to the big house. “Girls, come on down here and meet Harper. ” Ella Mae’s voice echoed through the high ceilings of the front hallway. Honey-colored wood floors shone beneath her feet and a large staircase rose up to the second floor landing. Three girls made their way down to us. “This is Courtney James,” Ella Mae said. A tall girl who looked to be slightly younger than me stepped forward and held her hand out to me. Her long, straight blond hair lay over her face, covering nearly the entire left side. She kept her head down, her eyes on the floor. When I touched her hand, it was ice cold and limp. “I’m Agnes. ” The redheaded girl I'd seen on the balcony stepped out from behind Courtney and gave me a big welcoming hug. Her eyes were light green and she seemed to smile from within. I liked her immediately. “You’ll be in the room next to mine,” she said. “I’m so excited to have another house-mate here, you have no idea. Where are you coming from?” “Atlanta. ” “Oh cool, I’ve never been to Atlanta. In fact, Peachville's even bigger than the crappy town where I was born, and believe me, that’s saying a lot. ” I laughed. Her bubbly attitude was contagious and I felt all of the anxiety about the house begin to fade away. “This is Mary Anne Marsters,” she said, pulling me over to meet the third girl who was still standing on the bottom step. “She doesn’t really talk much. ” Mary Anne was obviously younger than the rest of us. I’d guess she was about thirteen or so. Her short black hair was tucked behind her ears and her pale skin was flawless. I reached my hand out to her, but she merely stared at it for a second, then turned around and walked back up the stairs. “Don’t mind her,” Agnes said. “It takes her some time to get used to people. ” Ella Mae picked up my tattered bag and handed it to Agnes. “Take this up to Harper’s room now, would you Agnes? I’m going to take her in to meet Mrs. Shadowford. I’ll send her upstairs in a few minutes and you can show her around. ” “Sure thing,” Agnes said, then bounded up the stairs two at a time. I wondered why Mrs. Shadowford hadn’t met us out front, but when I entered her dark, lush office, I understood right away. She was in a wheelchair. An older woman, she had shockingly white hair that ran in a single braid pulled over her shoulder. Her pale blue eyes seemed to pierce through me as she turned and sized me up. Butterflies danced around in my belly. This woman was unlike anyone I had ever met before. She had an energy about her that was strong and powerful. I knew right away that she was not the kind of person I wanted to cross. “Harper Madison,” she said. She studied me for a long moment, her eyes squinted and her lips pursed together in a tight, thin line. “I hear you’ve had some trouble in the past with both your adopted parents and several foster homes. ” “Yes, ma’am. ” My voice trembled a bit, betraying my fear. I shifted my weight from one foot to another and studied the thick, patterned rug on the floor. “It’s no surprise that no one else wants you. ” Her words stung. I wondered if I’d even heard her right. “You’re damaged. A broken girl,” she said. “And some of the things you’ve done to the people taking care of you? Well, some of those things are unspeakable. ” My face grew hot. Yes, some of the things I had done were terrible. Someone was dead because of me. I had to carry that guilt with me everywhere, but no one had ever said it out loud like that. The tone of her voice was bitter and cold, like she believed I had done those things on purpose. I opened my mouth to defend myself, but the look in her eyes stopped me. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. ” “I never meant to hurt anyone. ” I stepped forward, putting my hand on the mahogany desk that separated us. “Do not touch my things,” Mrs. Shadowford said through gritted teeth. Her eyes grew wide and intense. I pulled my hand back quickly, but I could see that I’d made the old woman angry. On the desk, her tea cup rattled in its saucer. She reached out quickly to still the cup and the room grew silent. Fear gripped my chest, making it hard to breathe. The air in the small office grew thick and warm. Mrs. Shadowford cleared her throat, then took her hand off the small cup. “That’s enough for this morning. Ella Mae will take you through the house rules. ” I stepped away from Mrs. Shadowford’s desk slowly, then turned to leave the room. My hand closed around the cold brass knob of the door and a small shock of electricity went through my body. I yanked my hand back, surprised. “Harper,” Mrs. Shadowford said from her spot behind the desk. My body tensed as I turned to find her blue eyes staring straight into mine. I tried to swallow, but my mouth had gone completely dry. “Yes ma’am?” “I’ll be watching you. ” Page 3
Trouble Always Finds Me “The rules are as follows. No back talk or disrespect, especially when it comes to the staff. You will need to keep your grades up at Peachville High. We expect to see A’s and B’s only. If any of your test grades are lower than a B, you’ll need to bring them home for one of us to sign. ” Ella Mae went on to list rules that were pretty common for foster homes. Lights out at eleven. No boys allowed upstairs. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. All standard rules. Then, as if it were just another rule, she said, “And never, under any circumstances, are you to go up to the third floor. ” Immediately, a strange tingle went through my body. If she had never mentioned it, I probably wouldn’t have given the third floor a second thought. But now it was mysterious. Forbidden. Tempting. What could they possibly be hiding up there that would be so important to protect? “Let me be completely clear about this. If you are found breaking any of the rules we’ve talked about today, you’ll be expelled from Shadowford without a second chance. Do you understand?” I nodded. “And from what your case manager said on the phone when she called last night, you’ll go straight from here to the detention center in Atlanta. You seem like such a sweet girl. I would hate to see you end up at a place like that. ” I didn't want to see myself end up there either. Juvenile detention was like a jail sentence. Not to mention that going there for my last few years of high school would kill my chances at ever getting into a good college. I had to make things work here, no matter what. That meant putting whatever was up on the third floor out of my mind. Not to mention whatever had happened with Mrs. Shadowford's teacup. I told myself it was nothing – that it couldn't be the same thing that happened to me when I got angry – then followed Ella Mae through the first floor of the house. Shadowford was even bigger than it looked from the outside. The large staircase split the floor in half. On one side was a formal sitting room with a big brick and tile fireplace. Heavy gold drapes hung in the windows and the antique furniture looked ornate and expensive. Ella Mae told me that the sitting room was only used for formal meetings and sometimes for special occasions. Behind the sitting room was a formal dining room that held a long, shiny table and ten matching chairs. Against the wall, a china cabinet held beautiful bone china, crystal champagne flutes and silver serving trays. A sparkling chandelier hung above the table and a pretty stained glass window sent colorful light dancing across the room. “Is this where we’ll eat everyday?” I asked. I had never even been in a room so immaculate and fancy. If I had to eat here, I’d be scared of messing something up. “No. Usually we all eat at the table in the kitchen. It’s a little more casual and laid back in there. But on nights when Mrs. Shadowford joins us, she prefers us to eat in the dining room. ” I wondered how often that actually happened. Hopefully not very often. The old woman had completely creeped me out. If at all possible, I planned to avoid her. The kitchen ran along the back of the house. It was a huge room with lots of large windows that bathed the room in natural light. A large oak table with a scarred top and six mismatched chairs took up a large part of the floor on one side, while the other side held the main area of the kitchen. The cabinets were painted a buttery yellow that gave the whole room a happy, cheerful feeling. So far, it was my favorite room in the house. “Sharon Griffith is our cook here. Sharon, this is Harper, our newest resident. ” Sharon was a tall, pudgy woman with super short brown hair. She was cleaning the countertops and barely looked up to nod a curt hello to me. I had never had an actual cook before. At several of the foster homes, I’d been expected to fix my own meals most of the time. The final room Ella Mae brought me into was warm and inviting. “This is where the girls like to hang out and study or watch TV,” she said. The leather couch in the center of the room looked comfortable and worn. Fuzzy blankets were piled together in a basket in the corner. Books were arranged neatly on built-in bookcases on either side of the flat panel TV. I glanced through the titles and saw a few that actually looked interesting. A couple of worn desks lined the room on the left side, each holding a cup of pencils, a stack of blank paper, and a laptop. “Can anyone use the computers?” “We only have those two laptops and anyone is free to use them as long as they stay down here in this room at all times. There is wireless internet, but you have to get permission to use it,” she said. I sighed. At least there was some link to the outside world here, but it would be a pain to get permission to use the internet every time. I’m sure all my friends in Atlanta would be wondering what the heck happened to me. They’d all get to school Monday and find out that I was moved to another town. Hopefully, no one would know exactly what happened. I'd have to think up something good for the email I sent out, but I could worry about that later. The rest of rooms on the first floor made up Mrs. Shadowford’s private suite. “Unless you’re specifically invited to go inside, those rooms are strictly off limits. ” Finally, Ella Mae led me up the stairs, down the hallway, and into a pretty room with light blue walls. “This will be your room,” she said. I stepped inside and my mouth opened in awe. A queen sized wooden bed with a beautiful canopy was the centerpiece of the room. On one wall there was a dressing table with a beautiful mirror attached and a stool to sit on. The floors were covered in the middle by a plush rug in dark blue. “Are all the rooms like this?” Ella Mae laughed and touched my arm gently. “This is a gorgeous old house. I know you’re going to love it here. Mrs. Shadowford is really a wonderful, giving woman once you get to know her. And she’s so generous, letting you girls use this heirloom furniture that’s been in her family for generations. I trust that you’ll treat these things with care and respect. ” Wonderful and giving weren’t the first words that came to mind when I thought about the woman I’d met downstairs, but Ella Mae had a point. No one had ever trusted me with such opulent, expensive things. It only made it all the more important that I didn’t mess up and let my anger get the best of me here. “Hi neighbor,” Agnes said, knocking three times on my door. “What do you think? These rooms are amazing aren’t they?” “I’ll leave you two girls to get acquainted,” Ella Mae said. “See you downstairs in an hour for lunch, then we’ll head into town to get supplies for school Monday. ” When we were alone, Agnes plopped onto my bed. “Don’t you just love this canopy? I have one in my room too, but it’s red instead of blue. And did you see your bathroom?” I shook my head and she jumped up and went to a closed door on the other side of the bed. When she opened it, I could hardly believe my eyes. “Are you serious?” In a house with three other girls, I fully expected to share a bathroom. Instead, I had this large bathroom with a claw-foot tub and the cutest white pedestal sink all to myself. “Totally. Each of us gets our own bathroom here, which is way cool,” she said. “We’re responsible for cleaning our own rooms and bathrooms at least once a week. And we have to do our own laundry and stuff. I don’t care, though. This is by far the nicest place I’ve ever lived. ” “How long have you been here?” We walked back into my main room and I started unpacking my bag. I didn’t have much. Just a few torn pairs of jeans, some t-shirts, and other essentials. My sapphire necklace was pretty much the only thing of value that I had. “Oh gosh. Almost two years, I guess. Ever since I was fourteen. ” I continued to unpack as Agnes talked about the school and the town and how different things had been for her ever since she first came to Shadowford. She talked about this place as though it had saved her life. I couldn’t help but wonder if it would do the same for me. When my clothes and things were put away, I stuffed my bag under the bed and walked over to the window to see what kind of view I had from up here. My room faced the back of the house. Just behind where the kitchen was, a cement patio extended outward. Agnes said that sometimes they had barbeque’s out back there. Beyond the patio was a garden, and although it looked overgrown, it was still filled with a mixture of colorful flowers and leafy plants. A stone fountain in the middle was covered with deep green moss. Many years ago, it must have been so beautiful out there, but now it was neglected and almost eerily dark. “What are those buildings out back? Past the garden?” Agnes peered around me and squinted in the bright sunlight. “Well, the building there off to the right of the house is the barn. I’ve never been in there, but I guess there’s like tools and stuff in there. And back behind the garden is the house where Ella Mae lives. ” Movement near the barn caught my eye, and I saw someone quickly dart out from behind the weathered brown door. When he turned around, my heart did a little double time. It was a guy who looked about my age, maybe a little bit older, and he was gorgeous. He wore a plain black t-shirt and loose jeans, torn at the knee. His hair was brown and spiked up a bit on top. He looked like the kind of guy who didn’t follow the rules. Even from this distance, I could tell he was tall. “I thought there were no boys here,” I said, nodding toward the guy. He glanced around as if to make sure no one had seen him come out of the barn, then started walking toward the house. “Oh him,” Agnes said. “That’s Ella Mae’s son, Jackson. Trust me when I say you don’t want anything to do with him. ” “Why not?” “He’s trouble. ” As if to prove her point, Jackson stopped and looked straight up at me. My face flushed as our eyes met across the distance. Casually, he raised his hand to shield his eyes from the mid-morning sun. Yes, he was trouble alright. No matter where I went, trouble always seemed to find me. I waved down to him and Jackson’s face broke out in a smile. He lifted his chin in a nod of acknowledgment, then turned and made his way back to the small house behind the garden. Page 4
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