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“I’ve got it.” She nods to the second bed in the room, which she has set up as a kind of couch/daybed thing with a red comforter and a bunch of jewel-toned throw pillows. “Go ahead and sit down.”

I do, wishing I was in yoga pants or joggers instead of this dress so I could sit like a normal person. Lia doesn’t talk much as she makes the tea, and I don’t, either. Kind of hard to know where to take the conversation now that we’ve covered everything from dying languages to dead loved ones.

The silence drags on, and I start to feel uncomfortable. But it doesn’t take long for the teakettle to boil, thankfully, and then Lia’s setting a cup of tea down in front of me. “It’s my own special blend,” she says, holding her cup up to her mouth and blowing softly. “I hope you like it.”

“I’m sure it’s awesome.” I wrap my hands around my cup and nearly shudder with relief at finally being able to warm up my fingers. Even if it tastes terrible, it’s worth it to have a chance at not being cold.

“These cups are beautiful,” I tell her after taking a sip. “Are they Japanese?”

“Yes,” Lia says with a smile. “From my favorite shop back home in Tokyo. My mom sends me a new set every semester. It helps with the homesickness.”

“That’s awesome.” I think of my own mom and the way she always bought me a new tea mug every Christmas. Looks like Lia and I really do have a lot in common.

“So how did the party go? I assume not well, considering you ended up in the library, but did you at least get to meet some people?”

“I did, yeah. They seemed nice enough.”

She laughs. “You’re a really bad liar.”

“Yeah, well, it seemed polite to try.” I take a sip of the tea, which has a really powerful floral taste that I’m not sure I care for. But it’s hot, and that’s enough to have me taking another sip. “I’ve been told that before, though. The bad-liar part, I mean.”

“You should probably work on that. At Katmere, knowing how to lie well is practically Survival 101.”

It’s my turn to laugh. “I guess I’m in serious trouble, then.”

“I guess you are.” There’s no humor in her answer this time, and I realize suddenly that there was none in her original statement, either.

“Wait,” I say, strangely discomfited by that fact. “What do you guys have to lie about that’s so important?”

That’s when Lia looks me straight in the eye and answers, “Everything.”



Bite Me

I have no idea how to respond to that. I mean, what am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to think?

“Don’t look so scandalized,” she tells me after a few seconds of awkward silence. “I’m just teasing, Grace.”

“Oh, right.” I laugh along with her, because what else can I do? Still, it doesn’t feel right. Maybe because of how serious she looked when she told me that she lies about everything. Or maybe because I can’t help wondering if that was the truth and these are just lies… Either way, there’s not much else for me to do but shrug and say, “I figured you were just messing with me.”

“I totally was. You should have seen your face.”

“I bet,” I answer with a laugh.

She doesn’t say anything for a few seconds and neither do I, until the silence starts to feel awkward. In self- defense, I finally blurt out, “What language were you reading earlier? It sounded so cool.”

Lia looks at me for a second, like she’s debating if she wants to answer or not. Finally, she answers, “Akkadian. It’s the language that evolved from ancient Sumerian.”

“Really? So it’s three thousand years old?”

She looks surprised. “Something like that, yeah.”

“That’s incredible. I’ve always been so impressed with linguists and anthropologists who do that, you know? Like it’s one thing to figure out what the different letters mean and the words they make.” I shake my head in awe. “But to figure out what they sound like? It kind of blows my mind.”

“Right?” Her eyes glow with excitement. “The foundation of language is so—”

My phone vibrates with several text messages in a row, cutting her off. I pull it out, figuring Macy finally got tired of waiting for me to come back. Sure enough, my home screen is a series of texts from my cousin, each one a little more frantic than the one before it. Looks like she’s been texting me for a while but I had my ringer off.

Macy: Hey, where’d you go?

Macy: I keep waiting for you to come back

Macy: Hey, where are you????

Macy: I’m coming to find you

Macy: Are you okay????

Macy: Answer me!!!!!

Macy: What’s going on?

Macy: Are. You. OK?????

I text her back a quick, I’m good, and my phone immediately buzzes again. A glance at my cousin’s all-caps WHERE ARE YOU? and I know I’d better find her before she loses it completely.

“Sorry, Lia, but I’ve got to go. Macy’s freaking out.”

“Why? Because you left the party? She’ll get over it.”

“Yeah, but I think she’s actually worried.” I don’t tell her about what happened with those guys last night, don’t mention that that’s probably why Macy is so upset that she can’t find me. Instead, I focus on my phone and text back Lia’s room before standing up. “Thanks for the tea.”

“At least stay a couple more minutes, finish your drink.” She looks half amused, half disappointed as she continues. “You don’t want your cousin to think she can boss you around.”

I carry my cup over to the bathroom sink. “She’s not bossing me around. I think she’s afraid I’m upset or something.” It seems easier to give that explanation than to go into everything that happened with Marc and Quinn. “Besides, if I know her, she’s on her way to your room right now.”

“You’re probably right. Macy does tend to be the hysterical type.”

“I didn’t say that—” A knock on the door cuts me off.

Lia just grins at me in an I told you so kind of way. “Don’t worry about washing the cup,” she says, taking it from my hands. “Just go show Macy that you’re not crying your eyes out. And that I didn’t murder you.”

“She wouldn’t think that. She’s just worried about me.” Still, I make a beeline for the door, then throw it open to reveal my cousin—as predicted—on the other side. “I’m right here,” I tell her with a smile.

“Oh, thank God!” She throws her arms around me. “I thought something had happened to you.”

“What could possibly happen to me when nearly everyone else is at the party? I just went for a walk,” I try to joke.

“I don’t know.” She looks suddenly uncertain. “Lots of things…”

“I think Macy was worried you might have gone outside,” Lia interjects. “If you had wandered out in that dress, you’d be close to dead by now.”

“Yes, exactly!” Macy looks like she’s seized on the excuse. “I didn’t want you to freeze to death before your first full day in Alaska is over.” It’s a strange answer, especially considering she knows what almost happened to me last night and that I was terrified of being thrown outside for just that reason. But now isn’t exactly the time to get into all that, so I turn to Lia instead. And say, “Thanks for everything.”

“No worries.” She grins at me. “Stop by again sometime. We’ll do mani-pedis or facials or something.”

“Sounds good. And I’d love to hear more about your research.”

“Mani-pedis?” Macy repeats, sounding surprised. “Research?”

Lia rolls her eyes. “Obviously, you’re invited, too.” And then she closes the door in our faces.

Which…let’s be honest, seems weird, considering how friendly she’s been all night. Then again, the second Macy showed up, everything about Lia got a lot sharper. Maybe her abrupt good night has more to do with my cousin than it does with me.

And then Macy whispers, “I can’t believe you got invited to do mani-pedis with Lia Tanaka. After being invited to her room.”

She doesn’t sound jealous, just confused. Like it’s the strangest thing in the world for Lia and me to have something in common. “It wasn’t hard. She seems really nice.”

“‘Nice’ isn’t the adjective I would normally use to describe her,” Macy answers as we start down the hall. “She’s the most popular girl in school and normally takes great pains to remind people of that. Although lately, she’s been really reclusive.”

“Yeah, well, after losing her boyfriend, I figure she’s entitled.”

Macy’s eyes go huge. “She told you about that?”

“Yeah.” A sickening thought occurs to me. “Is it a secret?”

“No. It’s just… I’ve heard she doesn’t talk about Hudson.” Her voice is off when she says it, and suddenly she’s looking anywhere but at me. I’m pretty sure it’s because she’s uncomfortable and not because the thousand-year-old tapestry she’s currently looking at and has probably seen a million times is more interesting than our conversation. I just wish I knew why.

“That’s not that surprising, is it?” I answer. “And she didn’t really talk about him to me. Just told me that he died.”

“Yeah. Almost a year ago. It kind of rattled the school.” She’s still not looking at me, which is growing weirder by the second.

“Was he a student here?”

“He was, but he graduated the year before he died. Still, it really freaked a lot of us out.”

“I bet.” I want to ask what happened, but she’s so uncomfortable that it seems rude, so I let it go.