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Spirit looked listlessly out the window of her room. It wasn’t much of a view, just the roof of the next building, part of a parking lot, and some struggling trees beyond. But ever since the accident, there didn’t seem to be much point to anything, and one view was as good as another.
Footsteps at the door made her turn her head. It was the orderly, a college guy who was in premed. Neil was cute enough to be a television doctor, not a real one, and spent time with her that he didn’t have to. Once Spirit would have welcomed the company. Now, Neil was just one more irritating person who kept wanting her to do things. Like get better. What was the point? Why should she bother to get better? But the people wouldn’t leave her alone. Probably they just wanted her out of the nursing home so they could use the bed for someone else.
“Spirit, Oakhurst telephoned. The car is on the way. They’ll be picking you up in about half an hour, and I’ll bring your chair then.” Neil gave her that brown-eyed compassionate look that always made her give up and do or say what he wanted. He’ll make a good doctor someday, she thought.
“I’m ready,” she said, since it was what he wanted to hear. Of course she was ready. She didn’t have anything to take with her, anyway. Everything she had now was really Oakhurst’s.
When she’d finally woken up after the emergency surgery, the hospital had sent in a social worker and a minister to tell her that Mom and Dad and Phoenix had died in the crash, and that “it was a miracle” she had survived. Who’d want that kind of miracle? She couldn’t even go to the funeral. She’d have been the only one there anyway: both Mom and Dad were only children, so no relatives, and, as far as Spirit knew, she didn’t have any grandparents. Mom telecommuted—had telecommuted—to someplace on the other side of the country, and Dad had worked at home, in the workshop and kiln in back of the house. They’d been coming home from a craft show that night. So, no coworkers. And she and Phoenix had both been homeschooled for the last two years, ever since Dad got into a fight with the school board about the curriculum. So, no classmates.
And then, not three weeks later—like a brick falling on someone who’d been thrown off a building—a sheriff’s deputy came to Spirit’s hospital room and told her that there’d been another accident, that her parents’ empty house had caught fire and burned to the ground. There weren’t any neighbors near enough to see and call it in, of course. She’d seen the photos he’d brought her. The only thing left was the chimney and a few heaps of crumpled metal that had been the furnace and major appliances. The fire marshal said he thought “kids” had done it.
She’d been so drugged up the catastrophe really hadn’t registered until later, when she’d realized that if she ever got out of there, there was no home to go back to. And why would she want to go home anyway? There was no one there.
That was when the lawyer showed up.
He wasn’t her Dad’s lawyer, or an insurance company lawyer. He wasn’t anybody local at all. He could have been a lawyer on a TV show, all slick and polished and without a hair out of place. He talked to her as if she was six instead of almost sixteen and told her that her parents had set up a “trust” for her, that the trust was administered by this “Oakhurst Foundation,” that the Foundation was covering all her bills until the insurance could be sorted out, and that when she was fully recovered, Oakhurst would be sending for her, because she’d be living at “The Oakhurst Complex” until she was twenty-one. And she didn’t need to worry about a thing, because she’d have everything she needed.
Never mind that what Spirit needed these people could never give her. Never mind that her parents had never said anything to her about Oakhurst or a trust. Things were already being done, what was left of her life had already been taken over, and Spirit didn’t care enough to fight it. Things kept arriving from Oakhurst—both while she was at the hospital and when—six weeks after the accident—she was moved to a “rehabilitation facility.” Flowers she told the nurses to take. Books she didn’t read. Clothing she didn’t bother to wear. Stuffed bears she told the nurses to give to somebody else. She didn’t want anything. Why should she? Her parents had always taught her that people were important, not things, and all of her people—everyone who counted—were gone. There was nothing left to fight for.
All Spirit wanted to do was to lie down and go to sleep and never wake up again.
Neil was still standing in the doorway.
She was trying to make up her mind about saying something when he broke the silence. “Look, Spirit. Get mad at me if you want, but this moping around you’re doing has got to stop.”
She stared at him. “What?” she demanded, lifted out of her apathy by the bite of anger. “I’m not supposed to be depressed? In case you hadn’t noticed, my whole family is dead, I’m being shipped off to some dumping ground in the middle of nowhere, and nobody cares!”
She felt the tears start then, burning her eyes, burning her cheeks, and she wiped them angrily away. Of course nobody cared! Maybe even Mom and Dad hadn’t cared, if this was their idea of what should be done with her—the treacherous thought had been eating at her for weeks, no matter how hard she tried to suppress it. They couldn’t have cared, they hadn’t told her about any of this, hadn’t consulted her—
“Have you got any idea how much your rehab cost, not to mention your surgeries?” Neil asked, scowling. “Did you know the insurance cut off after ninety days, and Oakhurst picked up after that and paid for everything? And all the extras, too—private duty nurses, your physical therapy sessions, your private room at St. Francis and here—trust me, those things don’t come cheap. Without that rehab you wouldn’t be walking now. So whoever these people are, what ever the school is like, it’s not going to be a dumping ground. But that’s not why you’re being emo—”
“Emo! I am not—”
“What would your folks think?” Neil interrupted ruthlessly. “You! Sitting around hoping to die! They went to a lot of trouble, thinking about what might happen if they were gone, planning for it, finding the place they did! You know how many kids with both parents gone end up in the system, tossed around to group homes, foster homes . . . forgotten? No. You don’t. And you never will. Your parents took the time and planned ahead, even though they hoped it would never come to this, and now there you sit, wanting to throw away their last gift to you like it was nothing. What do you think they’d think if they saw you like this?” Neil shook his head. “It’s not what they’d want for you. And it’s not respectful to them.” With that, before Spirit could think of a retort, before any of the angry replies she wanted to make could actually form into words, Neil turned and left.
It was as if a fire had kindled inside her. How dared he! How dared he say those things! She hated him! But the anger was having a strange effect on her. She began to feel more alive than she had in . . . months. By the time a nurse came to tell her that the car had come for her, Spirit felt almost as if she had awakened from a drugged daze.
The orderly brought her wheelchair—the fancy one that Oakhurst had paid for. She hadn’t needed it in weeks, but she knew it was the facility’s policy that she wouldn’t be let to make the trip from her room to the curb on her own two feet. She’d expected the orderly to be Neil, and had been looking forward to giving him a piece of her mind. Money couldn’t make up for the loss of her parents, her little sister, her life. But she didn’t even see him anywhere on the floor. Good riddance, she thought sourly.
She scanned the curb as they emerged into the bright light of a September afternoon, looking for the sort of car she expected would pick her up to take her to an orphanage. She was looking for some kind of van, but all she saw was a limousine—an actual Rolls-Royce in a rich chocolate brown. She frowned; the nurse had been very specific that her car was here.
She took a closer look. On the front door of the car there was a design in gold leaf. She peered at it. She couldn’t tell what was in the fake-English coat of arms, but she could read the words Oakhurst Academy that were underneath it in Old English letters.
The door opened, the chauffeur—he was even wearing a uniform!—got out and opened the passenger door, then offered her his hand to help her up out of the chair. She blinked at him in disbelief.
“I’m here to take you to the airport, Miss White,” the man said with grave formality and a faint trace of an English accent. “Your luggage is already in the boot.”
Stunned, Spirit let him take her hand and help her up and into the back of the car.
“It will be a long drive, miss, and the refrigerator is fully stocked. Please help yourself to what ever you’d like,” the chauffeur said. “Oakhurst has sent along some orientation literature, if you’re interested in perusing it during the drive.” And with that, he closed the door behind her.
Feeling out of her depth, Spirit settled back and fastened her seat belt as the chauffeur walked around to the driver’s side, got behind the wheel, closed his door, and the limousine pulled smoothly away from the curb.
“Hi, I’m Loch,” said a voice from the shadows on the far side of the limousine. “Lachlan Spears, but, you know, call me Loch. I guess you’re Spirit White.”
She strangled on an “eep!” and stared at the corner. Somehow Lachlan Spears had turned off the interior lights on the other side of the limousine’s back seat, and the tinted windows made it dark in here, even in daylight. When he leaned forward, though, and Spirit got a good look at him, what she saw was a thin, handsome guy about her age, with the sort of flyaway hair only a good haircut got you, and melting blue eyes. He was holding a big folder—like the kind she had for her school stuff, the kind that had pockets on both sides. He held it out and she took it automatically.
“That’s the school stuff,” Loch said diffidently.
Spirit made a sour face—because it wasn’t a school, it was an orphanage—but opened it anyway. It was full of . . . stuff. On one side was a bunch of Chamber of Commerce pamphlets about the area around Oakhurst. She opened one about someplace called Radial, which was apparently “the jewel of McBride County.” Spirit wrinkled her nose. According to the facts and statistics in the little pamphlet, Radial had a population of 700 and was four hours away from Billings, which was the largest city in Montana. She gave up and turned to the school literature. It was a very slick booklet that looked more like something you’d get from a pricey private college than an orphanage. On the front was the expected view of the orphanage-slash-school . . . except it didn’t look like anything Spirit expected. Oakhurst School looked like one of those big manor houses that got used in movies set in En gland.
The school’s coat of arms had been on the front of the folder, and it was on the cover of the booklet, too, only here it was in color. It was pretty fancy. Spirit bit her lip, thinking of the rude things Phoenix would have said about it. Phoenix had adored every dumb movie about King Arthur and Camelot to come along, from The Sword in the Stone to First Knight to A Knight’s Tale.
On top of the shield there was a bear’s head on a plate, which was weird just to start with. On one side of the shield was a gold upside-down cup, and on the other was a broken silver sword. She frowned. The design was decidedly unsettling. On the shield itself, which was mostly red, there was a broad white stripe going from the top right to the bottom left, and on top of that was an oak tree (for Oakhurst, she guessed) in bright green and brown. Only when she looked more closely, there was a gold snake coiled in the branches. Maybe it all made more sense if you were English. She turned the page quickly. More pictures of the manor house. It was huge. And unless they’d Photoshopped the heck out of it, there wasn’t a chip in the stone or a blade of grass out of place.
She paid no attention to the text . . . it was just a bunch of stuff about the guy who’d built the place back in the early 1900s. Instead she stared at the glossy photographs. They looked like a set for one of the Harry Potter movies, not like anything Spirit could imagine being actually real. There was the “Great Hall,” done up in the kind of grand Art Deco scheme she remembered from visiting the Empire State Building in New York City once. There was a “refectory”—which looked pretty much like a dining room, with white linen tablecloths and enormous chandeliers; a library—which could have been pulled right out of another of those fake British Stately Homes; and a couple of pictures of classrooms. It looked as if there were school uniforms. Spirit frowned. She thought she was going to get pretty tired of brown and gold before she was done with this place, though. She turned the page quickly, intending to skip the rest of the boring stuff (if this was an orphanage, who was this supposed to impress?) but something caught her eye.
“Oakhurst residents will be encouraged to explore information technology in our state-of-the-art facility in order to prepare themselves for the challenges of the future.” Spirit knew computers, so she frankly stared at the full-page spread on the computer lab, because the descriptions of what was available for the students’ use was mouth-watering. The whole school had WiFi, and its own servers, and the servers ran on a T1 line to the outside world—a full-duplex circuit transmitting 1.544 megabytes per second concurrently. Uploads, downloads, and netsurfing would take place at the speed of light. And the brochure said that each arriving student was “issued” their own laptop. She turned the page. There were photos of a tennis court and an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool. And there were riding stables! A gymnasium! An exercise room with more equipment than an athletic club! Each picture just made her stare harder. Finally she looked up at Loch.
“I keep thinking it can’t be real either, but . . . this is the school’s own Rolls.” Loch shrugged. “And I can’t think of any reason they’d want to fool us. I can’t touch a penny of my trust fund until I’m twenty-one, and, uh, it’s not like I’m anyone important. All Father’s stock and everything just got bought back by the partnership and the money was put into the trust. And neither of us has any place else to go anymore.”
She’d thought she was cried out by this time. But that reminder of why she was on her way to this place was enough to crack Spirit open all over again. To her dismay, her eyes brimmed up and spilled over, and when she tried to catch her breath, she heard herself give a long shuddering sob. Loch looked helpless as he handed her the box of tissues set into the armrest next to her.
“I . . .” Loch gulped. “I’m sorry, Spirit . . .”
She struggled to get control of herself, and Loch kept talking, stumbling through a long rambling explanation of how he’d ended up here in the back of this limousine with her because he was obviously mortified at having made her cry.
Excerpted from Shadow Grail 1 by Legacies.
Copyright Â© 2010 by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill.
Published in 2010 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.