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Beasts and Bff's
A Bonus 13 to Life Prequel Story
By Shannon Delany
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Shannon Delany
All rights reserved.
I closed the door behind me, heading down the hallway and straight to Hell. The hall glowed eerily in the morning light. Outside, the wind snarled and threw a kaleidoscope of dry leaves against the large windows. I was sure whoever summoned me had very good intentions, but that only encouraged the gnawing sensation in my gut. Wasn't the road to Hell paved with good intentions?
My feet dragged the whole way to Guidance. The call had gotten me out of Ms. Ashton's literature class — not gym. Nobody ever got called out of gym.
The whole thing made me suspicious. Why did Guidance need me? Had they finally figured out who wrote that scathing editorial about the double standards between the jocks and the nerds? Considering what I knew of Guidance, I could be fairly certain they hadn't — at least not without assistance.
When the call came rattling through the intercom system, I'd shot a look at Sophia, a fellow editor. She'd shrugged. I presumed I hadn't been ratted out.
Then why was I being summoned? Sure, I was perpetually late handing library books in, and there were at least three times I'd signed in tardy with the nurse and accidentally taken her pen. But, seriously. If Guidance wanted to summon a troublemaker, they had the wrong girl. Well — pretty much.
My sneakers scuffed along the oatmeal-colored tile floor and I sighed. God, I asked, don't let them be holding some stupid intervention for me about Mom. The thought stopped me cold. I looked at the flimsy blue pass in my hand. How bad would it be to forge a time and signature on it and go back to class? Would Guidance remember they'd called? It was the middle of first quarter, progress reports were due soon, so wouldn't they be scrambling to organize last- minute study sessions with the kids slipping (or diving) through the cracks?
I glanced up the hallway; its cinder-block walls seemed to tighten around me. Breathe ... The walls retreated. There was no witness to see me scrawl the signature Mr. Maloy joked was proof he could have been a doctor. I could make a quick U-turn and head back to class. ... I chewed my lower lip, considering the odds I'd get caught. Hmph.
I turned down the hall and opened the door to Guidance; scanning the waiting room, I looked for a coat or hat belonging to my dad — anything to warn me to leave before someone with a master's degree decided it was best for me to talk about my innermost feelings — again. But there was no sign of Dad.
A poster hung on one wall, obviously an art project, raising awareness about the rash of teen suicides occurring on the train tracks between Farthington and Junction. Could things ever be so bad I'd willingly jump onto the tracks before an approaching train? The tension fell out of my shoulders. No. I wasn't a suicide risk. I'd witnessed the worst and I was still here. I exhaled, surprised to find I'd been holding my breath.
The secretary was focused on a magazine. Its blaring red cover featured titles including "What Type of Tree Would Your Lover Be?" and "When to Worry About His Psycho Ex." I cleared my throat. She looked up, said, "Oh. Jessica," and pointed a carefully manicured finger toward the conference room. "Mr. Maloy's waiting."
She smiled, big eyes pleasantly blank. Clueless. I figured it was best to have someone like her greeting folks as they entered Guidance. She'd never panic if bullets started flying. She probably wouldn't even notice unless they clipped her stylish hair.
I knocked on the conference room door, goose bumps raising the fine hairs on my arms. I'd been here before, sitting on one of many hard plastic chairs pulled in a tight circle as counselors and teachers told me how much I still had to look forward to in life. How great it would all still be if I only tuned back in ... How they all cared for me and were there to support me ... And I'd hated it. None of what they said mattered. They were paid to say stuff like that. Probably contractually obligated.
Besides, I always hated things that made me cry. And I knew I was strong enough to cope with what had happened. Without help.
As the door opened I saw a group of people I didn't recognize, along with Junction High's head counselor and a police officer. Weird, but a relief. No intervention, then — obviously this party wasn't for me; I was merely a guest.
"Miss Gillmansen," Mr. Maloy said, rising from his spot at the far side of the table.
Sipping from a coffee mug, the cop leaned against the wall by the window.
The others turned to face me. They were tall and well built, with high cheekbones and strong jaws — even the single girl standing with the three guys. They had thick dark hair, glinting eyes — and name tags.
"These are the Rusakovas," Mr. Maloy said, motioning to the group.
Out of the corner of my eye I watched the cop set down his mug and pick up a brochure on the windowsill. It had to just be coincidence he was here. Just more bad timing — typical stuff at my high school.
I turned my attention back to the Rusakovas. I smiled encouragingly.
They did not.
Mr. Maloy rounded the table and, peering none too subtly at their name tags, pointed to one of them, announcing, "This is Peter Rusakova. He's in eleventh grade this year. A junior, just like you."
I kept the smile plastered across my lips, groaning inwardly. So that was what this was about. "Hello, Peter." I couldn't help my uninspired tone. I wasn't a girl who liked being saddled with the responsibility of escorting newbies to classes.
Mr. Maloy slid his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and gave me a warning glance. "Here is Peter's schedule. Show him around and make sure he's not late."
The police officer glanced at me, saying slowly to Peter, "Got that, Rusakova? Don't be late."
Something prickled along my spine at his tone.
The eldest in the group smiled broadly and wrapped his arm around Peter. "Of course he won't be late, Officer Kent," he guaranteed. "Peter is very glad to be at Junction High."
Peter did not seem so convinced.
Officer Kent said, "We can't have people avoiding an education."
"We were getting one," the other boy — according to his name tag, Maximilian — muttered.
The eldest cuffed him on the back of the head, attempting comedy, but I sensed a threat in the display.
I took the slip of paper and quickly compared it to my own. I looked from the officer to Peter and back to the schedule. Handing my pass over for a signature, my eyes paused on Peter again. He glowered darkly before me, a sharp contrast to the eldest male's bright smile.
I should have forged Mr. Maloy's signature after all.
"Okay," I said, more to myself than to my silent ward. "We're both in Ashton's lit class. Let's head in that direction, for starters."
Peter gave one brief nod of his head, but his face was a tight mask of disinterest.
Exiting the office, I tried to keep my curiosity in check while I steered him by locations he'd need to know as a student at Junction High. I pointed and explained until my arms were tired and my mouth was dry. He never said a word. Never responded with more than a nod. Bathroom, library, cafeteria, art, shop, band, gym, main office, nurse ...
In-School Suspension ...
I eyed him, speculating. Who knew how fast somebody like him could land in ISS? He had that could-be-trouble look. And obviously he came with baggage of the police-escort type. But surely he wasn't dangerous. ... The cops would never let me lead a real criminal to classes, would they? I continued walking and explaining, gradually increasing the distance between us.
If he noticed, he never mentioned it.
The thought he could be dangerous made me nervous. And when I get nervous, I get talkative. I glanced at his schedule again. "Oh. Your name's not Peter," I said, wondering if I'd been pronouncing it at all correctly. Huh. P-i-e-t-r. "It's Pie-eater —"
I read it again. "No, Pee-yoh-ter —"
He stared at me.
"Pay-oder?" I tried. I was determined to get it right. Mr. Maloy had obviously botched this like everything else. My mouth twisted, ready to go one more round with the name, but he raised a hand, staring at me like he was in shock. Or maybe pain. I felt my ears go tomato red.
"I have never heard so many — creative —pronunciations of my name." He smiled, but only briefly. "Peter," he said. "The pronunciation is the same. Just not the spelling." He tugged off the misspelled name tag and crumpled it up.
"Oh." He didn't seem dangerous. ... "Weird," I said suddenly. "You know, it's actually kind of spelled like my worry stone. ..." I dug into my jeans pocket and pulled out the large, flat bead I carried. Gold, silver, and milky white threaded through dark blue. "This is pietersite. P-I-E-T-E-R." I held it out in my open palm and thought I saw momentary interest in his eyes.
"A worry stone?"
"My dad's idea. It's also called Tempest Stone. People say it's good for a lot of stuff, like dealing with change and transformation. Oh. And your gallbladder, I think. Or spleen." I shrugged, slipping it back into my pocket. He definitely looked interested now. Maybe he had spleen issues.
"What do you think it's good for?"
"Rubbing, when I'm stressed." I shrugged again. "Besides, like Shakespeare said, 'What's in a name,' right?"
He looked past me. "Romeo and Juliet. I hate that play."
"Well." How could anyone with a brain hate a classic like that? "A good writer should get people to feel something, I guess." I started walking again, hoping to catch his attention. Even when he spoke directly to me, he seemed distant. Unreachable. Like this wasn't important.
What was it with him? Was I being blown off?
"So, um. Why the cop?" I figured I'd just go for it. Ask the question about the elephant in the room.
Pietr didn't pause, just continued walking beside me. "We went to Europe last year and didn't tell the school."
"Oh." My brain reeled at the thought of just going to Europe. "So you basically skipped school for a few —"
We walked for a while in silence, down the long corridor of tall windows leading toward the English department's classrooms. There was just the noise of my shoes squeaking on the tile floor. His sneakers never made a sound, and I looked over more than once to make sure someone was actually walking beside me.
I hoped I hadn't suddenly suffered a psychotic break and imagined the meeting in Maloy's office. Although I wasn't sure why I'd conjure someone like Pietr during a psychotic episode. ... That was probably just it, though. You couldn't know what to expect if you snapped. Or when it would happen. You just knew everyone expected you to snap and eventually have one. At least, if you were me.
To relieve the silence I asked, "Where are you from?" If he wasn't going to talk, maybe I shouldn't keep encouraging conversation. But I was determined to give him a chance. Coming to a new school was bound to be difficult. Coming with a cop in tow ...and then, not making friends — or even acquaintances — wouldn't make it any easier.
He looked over his shoulder and said, "Farthington." He seemed to regret even the single word.
I paused, stopping in the hall to look at him. "Wow. I would've totally left that place, too. You guys had all that weirdness with that wolf attack."
"I didn't even know there were wolves that close until I heard it on the news. I mean, you occasionally hear about a rabid raccoon leaping onto somebody's porch and biting them, but ... wolves?"
He remained silent.
"Did they get the wolf that did it?"
"They think so."
From Farthington and reprimanded by a cop? There had to be a story here, and I was starting to feel like I had to be a code breaker to piece it together. "I'm with the school newspaper — I'd love to interview you about it."
"No, thank you," he said with absolute conviction.
My reporter instincts made me twitch. Even a reporter for a small school paper has to react when a student admits to being from the site of the bloodiest, goriest, most mysterious and bizarre wolf attack in a century and the guy doesn't want to talk about it. It was an eye- poppingly big story. And Pietr summarily turned down my shot at writing the article — writing something far more exciting than "Students Struggle with New Library Filing System."
Okay. He'd rejected my request about the Phantom Wolf of Farthington. I wasn't beyond trying again.
But something about him was bugging me, and it was more than the fact he came from a place where things actually happened. Living in Junction made you aware the grass was greener everywhere else. I wanted to live someplace exciting, too — okay, maybe not Farthington, because the idea of a rampaging beast freaks me out. I shivered, remembering last night's strange encounter at the stables.
I refocused on my more immediate problem. Pietr. It wasn't that he was shy — I've been shy, so I can read that vibe like reading the alphabet. Shy was nothing like what he put out.
I squinted at him, trying to figure out what his problem was while he looked everywhere but at me. He was handsome enough. His dark hair spiked up and out in an unruly shock, a strand or two shadowing eyes that seemed nearly navy. Comparing him to Derek (whose stats I absolutely knew by heart), I estimated he was five foot ten or so and probably growing by leaps, considering the other family members I'd just seen.
He didn't look like he had a reason to be mysterious. He looked like he could actually be somebody. Probably another snotty out-of-towner who thought he was too good for a small town. Maybe Farthington with its bizarre news made him immune to what was important to folks in an old railroad town like Junction. Maybe it was simply beyond his capability to care.
But that couldn't be true. If I could still care about something — anything — anyone else could, too.
He just stood there. Silent and absolutely inattentive.
"You're not really interested in any of this, are you?" I said, waving my hands to encompass the whole school.
He looked down at me for the briefest moment. Our eyes connected, and I caught my breath. His eyes were so much more than nearly navy blue. Looking at them was like looking at the variations in the pietersite in my pocket. He tore his gaze away coolly and simply stated, "I'm not interested in much."
He shrugged, not bothering to look at me again.
Had that been a complete dismissal of me? Was it me and not the school or my hometown that he thought he was so much better than? I was being blown off.
Fuming, I began walking again, lengthening my stride to close the distance between us and our first real destination quickly. He kept up easily. "Well, you'll have to care about school if you ever want to get out of here," I snapped, turning the door's handle. "Welcome to lit."CHAPTER 2
I stalked into the room, my peers' eyes trying to catch a peek at my expression. I released the door, letting it — and hoping it would — smack into Pietr's face.
He didn't even glare in my direction. I made my disappointment obvious: Handing my pass to Ms. Ashton, I rolled my eyes. But she didn't notice, letting the pass slip through her fingers as she crossed the floor, apologies to Pietr falling from her lips — for my behavior!
"I'm so sorry Jessie let go of the door too soon — are you okay?" She scanned his face, her eyes bright and oddly eager. I took my seat and watched the other students' reactions to our arrogant new class member. The girls were all sitting — literally — at the edge of their seats, fingers white around the knuckles as they gripped their desks and made mooneyes at him.
I couldn't believe how they all seemed so blatantly and suddenly obsessed with Pietr. I mean, okay — I looked him up and down without feeling a hint of self-consciousness, measuring and weighing what I saw there. Yep. Not bad looking, sort of had that catalog-model look, good enough for print but not typical runway material.
Excerpted from Beasts and Bff's by Shannon Delany. Copyright © 2010 Shannon Delany. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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