“That doesn’t exactly raise my confidence level, considering I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“It’ll be fine,” they both say at the same time.
It’s my turn to raise my brows as I look back and forth between them.
“Trust me,” Flint implores. “I’ll take good care of you.”
“Don’t trust him,” Macy tells me. “Put a snowball in that boy’s hand and he’s utterly diabolical. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun.”
I still think it’s a bad idea, but Flint and Macy are my only two actual friends at Katmere. Who knows what will happen with Lia, and as for Jaxon… Jaxon is a lot of things, but I definitely wouldn’t call him a friend. Or even friendly, for that matter.
“Okay, fine,” I give in gracefully. “But if I end up dying in the middle of the fight, I’m going to haunt both of you forever.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ll survive,” Macy assures me.
Flint, on the other hand, just winks. “And if not, I can think of worse ways to spend eternity.”
Before I can come up with a response to that, he leans over and drops a kiss on my cheek. “See you later, New Girl.” And then he’s gone, slipping out the door without a backward glance.
I’m left with a wide-eyed, openmouthed Macy, who is all but clapping her hands in delight over one little peck. And the sad knowledge that no matter how adorable Flint is, he doesn’t make me feel anything close to what Jaxon does.
“Did he…” Macy gasps out after he shuts the door behind him.
“It’s not a big deal,” I assure her.
“Flint just…” Apparently the word is still failing her, because she taps her cheek in the same spot where Flint kissed mine.
“It’s not a big deal,” I say again. “It’s not like he planted one on me or anything. He was just being friendly.”
“He’s never been friendly like that to me. Or anyone else I’ve seen.”
“Yeah, well, you’ve got a boyfriend. He’s probably afraid Cam will kick his ass.”
Macy laughs. She actually laughs, which…okay. The idea of her thin, lanky boyfriend kicking Flint’s ass does seem a little absurd. But still, shouldn’t she at least pretend to defend him?
“You want me to talk to him?” I tease. “See if he’ll kiss you next time?”
“Of course not! I’m very happy with Cam and his kisses, thank you. I’m just saying, Flint likes you.” She grabs a brush, starts running it through her hair.
Despite her words, there’s something in her tone that has me narrowing my eyes. “Wait. Do you have a crush on Flint for real?”
“Of course I don’t. I love Cam.” She avoids looking me in the eye as she grabs some product.
“Yeah, because that’s real convincing.” I roll my eyes. “Look, if you want to be with Flint, shouldn’t you just break up with Cam and go for it?”
“I don’t want to be with Flint.”
“I’m serious, Grace. Maybe I used to have a crush on him, way back in ninth grade or something. But that was a long time ago, and it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Because of Cam.” I watch her face closely in the mirror as she starts to style her short, colorful hair.
“Because I love Cam, yes,” she says as she spikes up a few strands. “And also because it’s not like that here.”
“Not like what?”
“The different groups. They don’t mix much.”
“Yeah, I noticed that at the party. But just because they don’t doesn’t mean they can’t, right? I mean, if you like Flint and he likes you—”
“I don’t like Flint,” she groans. “And he definitely doesn’t like me. And if I did like him, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because…”
“Because what? He’s popular?”
She sighs, shakes her head. “It’s more than that.”
“More than what? I’m beginning to feel like I’ve fallen into Mean Girls, Alaska version or something.”
A knock sounds on the door before she can answer.
“Exactly how many people stop by your room before seven thirty in the morning anyway?” I joke as I cross to the door. Macy doesn’t answer, just kind of shrugs and grins as she starts on her makeup.
I pull open the door to find my uncle looking down at me worriedly. “How are you feeling? Macy said you were throwing up last night.”
“I’m better, Uncle Finn. The nausea’s gone and so is the headache.”
“You’re sure?” He gestures for me to climb back into my bed, so I do—a little gratefully, if I’m being honest. I’ve gotten so little sleep the last two nights that I feel like I’m in a fog, even if the altitude sickness has finally gone away.
“Good.” He puts a hand on my forehead, like he’s testing if I have a fever.
I start to crack a joke about altitude sickness not being a virus, but as he follows the hand on my forehead with a kiss to the top of my head, I get choked up. Because right now, with his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth curled into a frown that only makes his dimples more apparent, Uncle Finn looks so much like my dad that it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to cry.
“I still think Macy’s right,” he continues, oblivious to how broken I suddenly feel. “You should spend the day resting and start class tomorrow. Losing your parents, the move, Katmere Academy, Alaska—it’s a lot to get used to, even without altitude sickness.”
I nod but look away before he can see the emotion in my eyes.
He must recognize my struggle, because he doesn’t say anything else. Just pats my hand before wandering back to the built-in vanity where Macy is still getting ready.
They talk, but they keep their voices so low that I can’t hear anything, so I just tune it all out. I crawl back into bed, pull my covers up to my chin. And wait for the pain of missing my parents to pass.
I don’t plan to fall asleep, but I do anyway. The next time I wake up, it’s after one, and my stomach is grumbling pretty much nonstop. This time, though, the discomfort is because it’s been more than twenty-four hours since I’ve put anything that even resembles food into it.
There’s a jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers on top of the fridge, and I glom onto both of them. A ton of peanut butter and an entire sleeve of crackers later and I finally feel human again.
I also feel trapped—inside this room and inside the school.
I try to ignore the restlessness, try to watch one of my favorite shows on Netflix or read the magazine I didn’t finish on the plane. I even text Heather, though I know she’s at school, hoping she can message back and forth with me for a while. Except—according to the one text she does manage to send back—she’s about to take a calculus test, so definitely no distraction there.
Nothing else I try sticks, either, so finally I decide to just go for it. Maybe a walk around the Alaskan wilderness is exactly what I need to clear my head.
But deciding to go for a walk and actually getting ready for one are two very different things up here. I take a quick shower and then—because I’m a total newbie—I google how to dress for an Alaskan winter. Turns out the answer is very carefully, even when it’s only November.
Once I pull up a site that looks reputable, the clothes Macy made sure I have make a lot more sense. I start with the wool tights she got me and one of my tank tops, then add a layer of long underwear—pants and shirt. After the underwear, I slip into fleece pants in hot pink (of course) and a fleece jacket in gray. The site gives me the option of another, heavier jacket to go over this one, but it’s nowhere near as cold as it’s going to get in a couple of months, so I decide to skip it and go straight for the hat, scarf, gloves, and two pairs of socks. Finally, I finish with the down-filled hooded parka my uncle got me and the pair of snow boots rated for Denali that are at the bottom of my closet.
A quick look in the mirror tells me I look as ridiculous as I feel.
But I figure I’ll look even more ridiculous if I freeze to death on my second full day in Alaska, so I ignore the feeling. Besides, if I end up getting really warm during my walk, I can take off the fleece layer—or so the online guide suggests, as sweat is the enemy up here. Apparently walking around in wet clothes can lead to hypothermia. So…just like everything else in this state.
Instead of texting her and interrupting one of her tests, I leave Macy a note telling her I’m going to explore the school grounds—I’m not foolish enough to actually wander out past the wall into the wilderness, where there are wolves and bears and God only knows what else.
Then I head out. As I walk down the stairs, I ignore pretty much everyone I come across—which is almost nobody, since most of the school is in class right now. I should probably feel guilty that I’m not, but to be honest, I just feel relieved.
Once I’m on the ground floor, I take the first outside door I can find and then nearly change my mind as the wind and cold all but slap me in the face.
Maybe I should have put on that extra layer after all…
It’s too late now, so I pull my hoodie up over my head and duck my scarf-covered face down into my parka’s high collar. Then I set out across the yard, despite the fact that every instinct I have is screaming at me to go back inside.
But I’ve always heard you’re supposed to start something how you plan to end it, and I am not going to be a prisoner inside the school for the next year. Over my dead freaking body.
I shove my hands in my pockets and begin to walk.
At first, I’m so miserable that all I can think about is the cold and how it feels against my skin, despite the fact that nearly every inch of me is covered in multiple layers.
But the more I walk, the warmer I become, so I up my pace and finally get the chance to start looking around. The sun rose about four hours ago—at nearly ten a.m.—so this is my first daylight look at the wilderness.