First days, p.1
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       First Days, p.1

         Part #2 of The Academy series by C. L. Stone
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First Days


  Victor collected me in his arms. My body trembled. I wanted to be brave and stand up but my body wouldn’t allow it. I swallowed back tears. I was ashamed. I’d been stupid. I couldn’t help Gabriel even when I wanted to. I made it worse.

  He pressed me close to his body, his cheek meeting mine.

  “Victor,” I whispered, finding my lips near his ear and tracing at his skin. I was unable to speak louder. Now that it was over, I was a wreck.

  Victor shuddered against me. He bent down, his arm going under my thighs and he picked me up off the floor. My face buried into his shoulder. I was worried about the others but too afraid to look at them.

  Victor held me, not asking, not judging. He simply held on, his cheek pressed to my forehead.

  “Sang,” Gabriel whispered. I opened my eyes and turned my face toward his voice. Blood trickled from his nose and his cheek was puffy. His hand sought out mine and he squeezed it.

  Kota was next to him, looking over his shoulder. Blood stained the shoulder of his white shirt. His tie was flung over his shoulder. His lips were taunt, his eyes dark. “Let’s get her to Dr. Green.”

  T he A cademy

  First Days

  Year One

  Book Two

  Written by C. L. Stone

  Published by

  Arcato Publishing

  .Copyright © 2012 C. L. Stone

  http://aclstone.tumblr.com/

  Published by Arcato Publishing

  http://www.arcatopublishing.com

  All rights reserved.

  ISBN: 1481814915

  ISBN-13: 978-1481814911

  This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

  Other Books By C. L. Stone

  Smoking Gun

  Spice God

  From The Academy Series:

  Introductions

  First Days

  Friends vs. Family

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  For the real “Mike”, who asked me repeatedly to marry him before knowing my name.

  .

  M onday

  F ollowing T he L eader

  August in South Carolina was scorching. I was grateful for the shade of the front porch and the sweet coolness of the concrete on my bare legs. I stared down the mailbox, urging the postman to hurry.

  It was the day before the beginning of school. I had an unusual affinity for classrooms and homework and being among other people my own age. It meant I could watch how they interacted and try to understand reality, normalcy.

  This year would be different.

  A wasp hovered in the hydrangea bushes along the front porch. I ducked my head as it flew past my ear. It flittered to the neighbor’s yard.

  The mailman’s truck meandered up to the box. The moments ticked by and I could see him fiddling with a collection of envelopes through the window. I crouched below the barrier of the porch, out of sight. I prepped my knees to get ready to run.

  The glass door swung open behind me. “Is that the mail?” Marie asked. My older sister stepped out on to the porch. Her angular eyes squinted at the crisp morning sunlight. Her brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail that hung at her neck, reaching midway on her back. Her t-shirt advertised a marathon she’d never participated in. Her jeans hung low on her hips, and covered her feet.

  I didn’t understand how she could wear heavy jeans in this heat, but I didn’t really expect her to stay outside for long. With my cut off blue jean shorts and a thin pink blouse, I was barely tolerating the humidity. I had dirty blond hair, or chameleon hair as Gabriel liked to remind me. He said it changed color depending on the lighting. With green eyes and since I was shorter, about the only thing similar between my sister and I were our last names.

  I turned again to refocus on the mailman. I could still make it.

  The mailman pulled away from the mailbox for the next one down the street.

  I flew off the top of the porch stairs, landing hard on the small sidewalk path that wound around the house. I sprinted across the yard. I was halfway across before Marie managed to make it off the porch. When it was clear I was going to get there first, she stopped her pursuit.

  I hauled out all of the mail, shuffling through bills and advertisement flyers to find an envelope with my name on it. The orange emblem of Ashley Waters High School was printed in the corner. I held on to it, crossing the yard at a slower pace. My heart was pounding from both the running and the thrill of what I held in my hands. A new school, a fresh start, and this time I had an advantage. This year, I wouldn’t be alone.

  “Hand it over,” Marie said, meeting me halfway in the yard.

  I removed my envelope out of the pile and gave her the rest. She took the cluster of mail and headed back into the house. If she had gotten to it first, she would have kept my envelope and more than likely given it to our mother. I would have had to fight with her to get it back.

  I remained in the yard, waiting for my sister to disappear. When the front door closed behind her, I spun on my bare feet and sprinted down the street to Kota’s house.

  I couldn’t let my sister know where I was going. My family couldn’t learn my secret. Not yet.

  The boys were waiting for me.

  Kota’s black rimmed glasses slid down his nose as he was checking the mail. I called to him from up the road. He looked up and waved to me, pushing his glasses up his nose with his forefinger, masking his exquisite green eyes. “Did you get it, Sang?” he asked.

  Dakota Lee and I have a tender friendship. A week ago, he brought me into his circle of friends. It was how I came to learn about the Academy, the secret school they held loyalties to. The only problem was I didn’t know a thing about it and I wasn’t allowed to ask questions. I was going to keep this promise for the sake of our friendship and for what Kota said was my own safety. There were dangers around them to which I wasn’t aware of. I had to have faith when they told me to trust them. It seemed surreal to me but I kept my mouth shut and I kept my eyes open, hoping to glean over time the answers to the questions that buzzed through my head every time they shared a glance or whispered something around me. They were my first friends -- my only friends. What else could I do?

  I held up my envelope. “Anyone else?” I asked.

  “I’m still waiting to hear from Victor and Gabriel. They’re heading over as soon as Victor confirms.” He flicked through the mail in his hands, singling out a similar envelope.

  “Hey!” Nathan shouted and jogged toward us from up the street. He wore dark running pants and a red tank shirt with a Nike swoosh on the front. I admired the way his biceps flexed as he held up his envelope. “Let’s check them out.”

  We followed Kota through the side door in the garage. Kota dropped the rest of the mail off in a bin near the kitchen. Nathan held open a door in the hallway, revealing a set of blue carpeted stairs. Nathan held his hand out, ushering me to enter. I padded my way up the steps to the room over the garage, Kota’s bedroom.

  Nathan dropped onto his knees on the blue carpet and started to rip open his envelope. I sat cross-legged next to him, doing the same. Kota went to his desk, grabbing a silver letter opener and cut through his envelope, unfolding the printout inside.

  I swallowed as I read my schedule for the upcoming year.

  Homeroom Room 135

  AP English - Trailer 10 - Ms. Johnson

  AP Geometry - Room 220 - Ms. Smith

  Violin - Music Room B - Mr. Blackbourne

  AP World History - Trailer 32 - Mr. Morris

  Lunch

  AP Biology - Room 107B - Mr. Gerald

  Japanese - Room 212 - Dr. Green

  Gym
- Gymnasium - Mrs. French

  Seven classes. Barely room to breathe. Thinking ahead to the upcoming year, it seemed overwhelming. Maybe it had been a mistake to be so enthusiastic about this.

  “What’s wrong, Sang?” Nathan asked. His head tilted in my direction, a rusty brown eyebrow arching.

  I pursed my lips, twisting them slightly. “I was just wondering if this was a good idea.”

  Kota knelt next to me, sitting back on his heels on the floor. “May I see?”

  I handed it to him. Our fingers brushed as he took it from my hands but he didn’t seem to notice. None of them ever seemed to notice touching as much as I did. If they grabbed my hand or bumped my hip, they passed it off as if it were nothing. Coming from a family that never touched, this was a lot to get used.

  Kota’s eyes scanned my schedule, reading off the list under his breath.

  Nathan peered over Kota’s shoulder. “Holy shit,” he said. “How’d you get seven?”

  “She doesn’t have a study hall.” Kota focused on me. “How did you get into the Japanese class? When did you meet Mr. Blackbourne?”

  Nathan’s eyes widened, awaiting the same answer.

  I blushed. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten to tell them. “When Dr. Green stopped me in the hall at registration, he brought me to his office. Mr. Blackbourne was in there. They adjusted my schedule.”

  Nathan and Kota shared a look between them. The only thing I caught was Nathan’s eyes narrowing. Did they not like this?

  “What?” I asked. “I know it’s a lot but you said they were there to help out the school. Is it bad they changed it?”

  “No, it isn’t bad,” Kota said, maybe a little too quickly. “Did you happen to mention us at the time?”

  I grazed my forefinger across my lower lip, pushing it toward my teeth. “I might have said something like I knew you, Kota. I didn’t say anything about the others. Dr. Green recognized your handwriting on my paper.”

  “I didn’t know Mr. Blackbourne was teaching a class,” Nathan said.

  “I don’t think it was pre-planned,” Kota said. He hooked a couple of fingers into the collar of his shirt and tugged.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked. The way they were reacting to this made my heart shiver. “Mr. Blackbourne asked if I was interested and he offered to teach me. Should I drop the class?”

  “It’s just odd that he’d take an interest,” Nathan said.

  “Maybe not,” Kota said, relaxing into a smile. He handed my schedule back to me. “It’s fine. He knows what he’s doing. If he wants to teach you, you’re in good hands.”

  Last time Mr. Blackbourne was mentioned, they diverted. Now they seemed nervous. They may not have voiced their opinion, but I got the feeling they didn’t want Mr. Blackbourne to know about me, or me about Mr. Blackbourne. Academy secrets. I scanned my schedule, hoping to change the subject. “I’ll still share classes with you all, right?

  “You’re in my English class,” Kota said.

  Nathan moved closer to me and held his paper next to mine.

  “Just geometry and gym,” I said. “But in gym the boys and girls are separated aren’t they?”

  “We’ll mix up sometimes, I bet. Besides, we’re all in the same gym. I’ll wave to you. Maybe.”

  Kota’s phone rang on his desk and he answered it. After a few minutes he hung up. “All schedules are accounted for. They’re heading in now.”

  Nathan’s blue eyes locked with mine. He grumbled. “And so it starts...”

  I used Kota’s restroom as the guys went downstairs to wait on the others. I smoothed out my blouse, pulling out the lower hem so the length fell over the pockets of my shorts. I buttoned and unbuttoned the collar to figure out what looked better. There were thin spots in the material and I was sure my father bought it at a used clothing shop.

  I was combing my fingers through my hair when I heard a car rolling into the drive. I threw my hair into a twist and clipped it. No time to fiddle with it. The boys were here.

  I ran downstairs and out into the living room. Kota held open the front door, pushing his glasses up his nose. In a line came Victor, Luke, Gabriel, North and Silas. While they were all dressed casually, casual for the guys was a different level. Polo shirts, clean slacks, button up shirts with collars. Everything looked new and I spied Hilfiger, Abercrombie, Gucci and Armani logos. It made me feel like a complete slob in my old things. I shifted on my feet on the blue carpet of the living room, my hands going behind my hips to hide any nervous shaking.

  The others greeted Kota and Nathan in the hallway. Silas was the first to spot me. Locks of his black hair hung around his eyes and he brushed it aside, smiling at me. He came close, towering over me and pulled from his back pocket his envelope. “Hey look, they let me in.”

  I giggled. His smile widened, his clean white teeth a contrast to his olive skin.

  We collected in Kota’s living room. I sat in the middle of the couch. North, dressed in black with a single gold hoop earring, sat to my left. Gabriel wearing a bright orange shirt and blue crystal studs in his ears, sat to my right. Their contrasting styles had me glancing from one to the other, pondering how they managed to stay friends when they seemed so different. The others sat on the floor in a circle facing us. It felt strange to be higher up than everyone else but they didn’t seem to notice.

  I blushed as North casually put an arm behind my shoulders against the couch cushions. I peeked up at his tan face. His dark eyes caught mine and I glanced away. While I knew he wouldn’t hurt me, his eyes were so intense it had my insides vibrating.

  “I vote we get bean bag chairs,” Luke said. He shoved locks of his long blond hair behind his ear. He leaned back on his hands as he sat with his legs crossed on the floor. “If we’re going to have meetings here, we need something besides the floor.”

  “We’re working on that,” Kota said.

  North’s fingers traced small circles at my shoulder. I glanced at the others to see if they noticed but they were watching Kota. I tried not to blush. This was normal, right? I told myself he was just being friendly and willed my heart to still.

  “Now that we have schedules, let’s start at the beginning,” Kota said, getting the attention of everyone in the room. “Or rather, let’s start with getting there.”

  “I’ve got Gabriel,” Victor said, fiddling with the silver medallion at his neck.

  “We’re good,” North said. “Luke and I can grab Silas.”

  “Good. Logically, I’ll take Nathan and Sang,” Kota said.

  “You mean on the bus?” I asked. They all looked at me. My cheeks radiated heat. “I mean I don’t think I could get away with riding to school with anyone. If I’m not getting on the bus, my sister will know and she’d tell my parents.”

  “Aw, shit,” Nathan said. “I didn’t think about that. Don’t tell me we’re riding this year.”

  “You don’t have to. I mean I can ride the bus. You guys can ride together. It’s no big deal. I’ll just see you when I get there.”

  The group exchanged glances. I caught Luke’s gaze as he stared at me, his blond hair falling in front of his dark eyes. I wasn’t sure if he realized he was doing it or maybe he was just staring out into space but happened to be looking in my direction. When he came back, he started blinking and held a dazzling smile. His striking face distracted me from watching the others. Did he do that on purpose?

  “It’s not a big deal,” Nathan said, falling back on the carpet, putting his hands behind his head to prop it up. “We’ll do it.”

  “But,” I started to say. It just seemed too unfair. It wasn’t a big deal to me. It was just a bus ride.

  Kota cut me off. “No, it’s fine. My car isn’t totally reliable anyway. We’ll ride.”

  I pursed my lips. His easy excuse to make me feel better left me feeling uneasy instead. The others nodded, taking Kota’s lead. When Kota finalized a plan, everyone went through with it. It was hard for me to believe the guy who appeared to
be one of the least aggressive; the least likely leader had come to the role he had developed.

  “But that brings us to another issue,” Kota said. His fingers brushed away the neatly-trimmed brown hair against his forehead. “We need to work on getting your parents used to us. It’ll be difficult but the sooner we find a way, it’ll make it easier on all of us.”

  I bit my tongue to keep from saying something. I’d told him before I liked the way things were working now. My father didn’t come home until very late in the evening, often well after eight when I was already up in my room and I didn’t see him at all.

  My mother, who was ill, kept mostly to her room. I checked in once a day and for the most part, I could escape outside. If she did ask where I had gone, I would rattle off different things; in the woods, the garage, taking a walk to the empty church down the road. In our old neighborhood back in Illinois, I often took walks outside. At our old house, the closest kid lived a couple of miles away. Despite voicing her opinion about bad people out in the world, I couldn’t stay inside all day, and my mother eventually relaxed enough to allow me to take walks.

  Marie told me they bought our new house here on Sunnyvale Court because it was the least crowded street within an hour’s drive of where my dad worked. It was a last minute purchase and my mother wasn’t happy about it, but it did have a lot of wooded areas.

  So far, my mother hadn’t questioned me about going for walks. She only reminded me that I shouldn’t talk to anyone. My mom would eventually realize how many kids were on this street. I didn’t want to think about the restrictions she would impose once she found out. I needed to be more careful, though. I had to show up more around the house on occasion.

  Gabriel reached out to my head, rubbing at my hair. I held back from flinching. I enjoyed their touches but they were always so unexpected and when they did it quickly, my first reaction was usually to back up as I assumed it was an accident. “Don’t worry,” he said, his lean fingers massaging my scalp. “We’ve got a plan.” He let go of me and turned his head to Kota. “We’ve got a plan, right?”

 
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