Page 20

I’m struck by how beautiful everything is, even here on the campus grounds. We’re on the side of a mountain, so everything is sloped, which means I’m constantly walking up or down one hill or another—not easy, considering the altitude, but at least I’m breathing a lot easier than I was two days ago.

There aren’t a lot of different plants here right now, but there are a bunch of evergreens lining the various walkways and clustered at different points around campus. They’re a beautiful green against the backdrop of white snow that covers nearly everything out here.

Curious what it feels like—but not ridiculous enough to take off my gloves—I bend down and scoop up a handful of snow, then let it slip through my fingers just to see how it falls. When my hand is empty, I bend down and scoop up some more, then do what Flint said earlier and pat it into a ball.

It’s easier than I thought it would be, and it takes only a few seconds before I’m hurling the snow as hard as I can at the nearest tree on the left side of where the path forks ahead. I watch with satisfaction as it hits the trunk and explodes, before heading toward the path just beyond it.

But as I walk closer to the tree, I realize I’ve never seen anything like its dark, twisted roots. Huge and gray and gnarled together in a chaotic mess that looks like something out of a really bad nightmare, they all but scream for passersby to beware. Add in the broken branches and ripped-up bark off the trunk and the thing looks like it belongs in the middle of a horror movie instead of Katmere’s otherwise pristine campus.

I’m not going to lie. It gives me pause. I know it’s ridiculous to be repulsed by a tree, but the closer I get to it, the worse it looks—and the worse I feel about the trail it’s guarding. Figuring I’ve already pushed my comfort zone enough for one day just being out here, I veer toward the sun-dappled path on the right instead.

Turns out, it’s a good choice, because as soon as I make my way around the first bend, I can see a bunch of buildings. I pause to look at most of them from a safe distance, since class is in session and the last thing I want is to be caught trying to peek in through the windows like some kind of weirdo.

Besides, each cottage—and they do look like cottages—has a sign in front of it that names the building and says what it’s used for.

I pause when I get to one of the larger ones. It’s labeled Chinook: Art, and my heart speeds up a little just looking at it. I’ve been sketching and painting since I understood crayons can do more than color in coloring books—and part of me wants nothing more than to run up the snow-lined path and throw open the door, just to see what kind of art studio they have out here that I can work in.

I settle for pulling out my phone and taking a quick pic of the sign. I’ll google the word “chinook” later. I know it means “wind” in at least one native Alaskan language, but it will be fun to figure out which one.

I kind of want to know what all the words mean, so as I continue walking past the different outlying buildings—some larger than others—I snap a picture of each sign so I can look up the words later. Plus, I figure it’ll help me remember where everything is, since I don’t have a clue what rooms my classes are in yet.

I’m actually a little concerned about having too many classes out here, because what am I supposed to do? Run back to my room and get all these clothes on in between classes? If so, exactly how long are the passing periods here at Katmere? Because the six minutes I got at my old school isn’t exactly going to cut it.

When I reach the end of the scattered row of buildings, I find a stone-lined trail that seems to wind its way around the grounds to the other side of the castle. A weird sense that I should turn around settles across my shoulders—kind of like what I felt at the library last night—and I pause for a second.

But I know when I’m letting my imagination get the better of me—that tree back there really spooked me—so I shake off the feeling and head down the trail.

But the farther I get from the main building, the worse the wind gets, and I pick up my pace to try to stay warm. So much for getting too hot and taking off a layer like that website suggested. Pretty sure the threat of turning into a Grace-flavored Popsicle gets a little more real with every second that passes.

Still, I don’t turn back. At this point, I think I’ve circled more than half the grounds, which means I’m closer to the main castle if I keep going forward instead of heading back the way I came. So I pull my scarf a little more tightly around my face, shove my hands deep into my coat pockets, and keep going.

I head by a few more clumps of trees, a pond that is completely frozen over that I would love to ice skate on if I can manage to balance with all these clothes on, and a couple more small buildings. One is labeled Shila: Shop and the other says Tanana: Dance Studio over the door.

The cottage names are cool, but the classes they house surprise me a little. I don’t know what I expected of Katmere Academy, but I guess it wasn’t that it would have everything a regular high school has and so much more.

Admittedly, my only knowledge of rich boarding schools comes from my mom’s old DVD of Dead Poets Society she made me watch with her once a year. But in that movie, Welton Academy was super strict, super harsh, and super stuck-up. So far, Katmere Academy seems to be only one of the three.

The wind is getting worse, so once again I pick up my pace, following the trail past a bunch of larger trees. These aren’t evergreens, their leaves long gone and their branches coated in frost and dripping with icicles. I pause to study a few of them because they’re beautiful, and because the light refracting through them sends rainbows dancing on the ground at my feet.

I’m charmed by this little bit of whimsy, so much that I don’t even mind the wind for a second because it’s what’s making the rainbows dance. Eventually, though, I get too cold to stand still and make my way out of the trees to find another frozen pond. This one is obviously meant as a place people can hang out, because there are a bunch of seats around it, along with a snow-topped gazebo several yards away.

I take a couple of steps toward the gazebo, thinking I might sit down and rest for a minute, before I realize that it’s already occupied by Lia—and Jaxon.


Sometimes Keeping

Your Enemies Close

Is the Only Thing that

Prevents Hypothermia

Damn it.

I swore to myself that I wouldn’t go running like a scared rabbit the next time I saw Jaxon, but this doesn’t exactly seem like the time to hang around. Not when everything about their conversation screams intense. And—more importantly—private.

The way his and Lia’s bodies are angled toward each other but aren’t actually touching.

The rigidness of their shoulders.

How they’re both completely wrapped up in whatever the other one is saying.

There’s a part of me that wishes I were closer, wishes I could hear what they’re talking about even though it is absolutely none of my business. Still, any people who look as grim and angry as these two do obviously have some kind of problem, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to know what it is.

I’m not sure why it matters so much to me, except there’s an intimacy to their fighting that makes my stomach hurt. Which is absurd, considering I barely know Jaxon. And considering that two of the four times we’ve run into each other, he’s blown past me like I don’t even exist.

That in and of itself is a pretty big hint that he wants nothing to do with me.

Except I keep remembering the look on his face when he chased those guys away from me the first night. The way his pupils were all blown out when he touched my face and wiped the drop of blood from my lips.

The way his body brushed against mine and it felt like everything inside me was holding its breath, just waiting for a chance to come alive.

We didn’t feel like strangers then.

Which is probably why I keep watching him and Lia, against my better judgment.

They’re arguing fiercely now, so much so that I can hear their raised voices, even as far away as I am. I’m not close enough to actually make out the words, but I don’t need to know what they’re saying to know just how furious they both are.

And that’s before Lia lashes out at him, her open palm cracking against his scarred cheek hard enough to have Jaxon’s head flying back. He doesn’t hit her in return. In fact, he doesn’t do anything at all until her palm comes flying at his face again.

This time, he catches her wrist in his hand and holds tight as she struggles to pull away. She’s screaming full-out now, harsh sounds of rage and agony that claw their way inside me and bring tears to my eyes.

I know those sounds. I know the agony that causes them and the rage that makes it impossible to contain them. I know how they come from deep inside and how they leave your throat—and your soul—shredded in their wake.

Instinctively, I take a step toward her—toward them—galvanized by Lia’s pain and the barely leashed violence that hangs in the air between them. But the wind picks up as I take that first step, and suddenly they’re both turning and staring at me with flat black eyes that send a chill straight through me. A chill that has nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with Jaxon and Lia and the way they’re looking at me.

Like they’re the predators and I’m the prey they can’t wait to sink their teeth into.

I tell myself that I’m just spooked, but it doesn’t help me shake the weird feeling, even as I give them both a little wave. I thought Lia and I might be becoming friends yesterday—especially when she suggested doing mani-pedis together—but it’s obvious that friendship doesn’t extend to whatever is happening here. Which is fine. The last thing I want to do is get in the middle of a fight between two people who obviously have some kind of history together. But I also don’t want to leave them alone if their fight has deteriorated to her hitting him and him grabbing her in self-defense.

All of which leaves me unsure of what I’m supposed to do now, stuck where I am, an awkward guard staring at both of them in an effort to prevent I-don’t-know-what while they stare right back at me.