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HOPE AND CHANGE
I tried not to look at the Billings destruction site as I crossed the snow-covered campus with Constance, Kiki, and Astrid, all of us huddled together against the cold, rushing for the stone chapel on the east side of the quad. Once inside, I was hit with a surprisingly warm wall of air. I tugged off my wool hat and looked at my friends in confusion.
“It’s like the Caribbean in here,” Constance said, removing her red wool gloves.
The Caribbean. Sigh. Even though I’d sworn I’d never go back there, the word instantly conjured up thoughts of Upton Giles, my winter break boyfriend, and my heart pinged and panged like mad. I could practically feel his solid arms around me, smell the clean island scent of him in the air. I wondered what he was doing right then. Oxford was five hours ahead, so he might very well have been heading off to class at the university, lunching with friends, or catching up on his reading for school. I imagined what he might say to me if he knew about Billings.
“It’s your future, Reed. Your choice. Who are you going to be?”
I felt a shiver as his sexy English accent echoed in my mind. Later I’d give him a call and a chance to pep-talk me himself.
“Reed? People are starting to queue up,” Astrid said, nudging me from behind. Her English accent wasn’t quite as hot as Upton’s, but it got me moving.
I shed my coat and let the other girls slide into one of the pews ahead of me so I could sit on the end. The source of all the unexpected warmth appeared to be a series of long white space heaters, which had been placed along the outer walls of the chapel. Their insides glowed red and filled the air with the nose-prickling scent of warm iron. Why no one had ever thought of this before was beyond me. It gave the formerly cold, dank chapel a pleasant, cozy vibe. Many of the students around me actually looked happy to be there. That was new.
The whispering and chatter suddenly intensified and I turned around to find Spencer Hathaway walking into the chapel, along with his two sons Sawyer and Graham. Graham, all preppy in a burgundy V-neck sweater and navy pea coat, took a seat at the very back of the chapel in the senior section. Sawyer and his dad paused at the end of the pew across from mine and whispered a few words to each other; then Sawyer sat as his dad made his way up the aisle to the podium. As soon as Mr. Hathaway got there, the chapel fell silent. In his seat, Sawyer flicked his blond hair away from his eyes. I waved and his entire demeanor relaxed when he saw me.
“How are you?” he mouthed.
I shrugged. “Fine, I guess.”
“Good morning, Easton Academy students!” Mr. Hathaway’s voice boomed across the chapel, scaring my heart into a sprint. I saw Lorna and Missy exchange an incredulous look. Who knew such a commanding voice could come out of such a slight, handsome man? The few people who hadn’t been at attention before were now.
Astrid whistled quietly. “The new headmaster is hotttt!” she sang.
“Ew,” I replied under my breath. “He’s, like, over forty.”
I stifled a laugh and faced forward. I guess when it came to parental types, Mr. Hathaway was on the good-looking side. He was of medium height, no taller than I was, but slim and athletic. He wore his dark hair slicked back from his face, and his pin-striped suit was slim-cut and stylish.
“My name is Headmaster Hathaway,” he said, resting his hands on either side of the podium.
“Double H. I like it. Very sexy superspy,” Astrid said.
“Where do you come up with these things?” I whispered.
“I have a highly creative inner dialogue running through my head at all times,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“I’m here to welcome you to a brand-new semester and a brand-new era, at Easton Academy,” Headmaster Hathaway continued.
“Oh boy. Here we go,” Kiki said sarcastically, slumping so low in her seat her butt hung off the pew. “Hope and change all over again. I get the appeal, but the coattails are full. Get a new point of view already.”
“I’m sure you’ve all noticed there have been a few changes around here since you’ve been gone.” Headmaster Hathaway smoothed his eggplant-colored tie and drew himself up straight, like he was preening over the destruction of Billings. Which kind of made me want to smack him.
Kiki rolled her eyes at me and mouthed “duh.”
“In addition to the obvious, physical changes to the campus, I’d like to mention one new rule up front,” he said, pacing out from behind the podium. “As of today, elitism and insularity will no longer be tolerated at Easton Academy. Any and all social groups and clubs are to be disbanded, and no new clubs will be incorporated unless they have a clear mission statement. In order to facilitate this change, any new clubs will have to fill out an application in my office, which will be reviewed by me personally.”
Here he paused, to level us all with a no-nonsense stare. I didn’t know of any clubs on campus that were strictly social clubs, so I wasn’t sure whom he was trying to intimidate.
“I want you to know that while some of these changes may seem, at the moment, unfair, they were all made in your interest—and in the interest of the community of Easton Academy at large. I have been brought here by your board of directors to usher in a new way of thinking,” he said, clasping his hands. “I value honesty, integrity, humility, and, above all else, equality.”
I swallowed hard. Was Mr. Hathaway saying what I thought he was saying? Had it been his decision to tear down Billings to send a message? To put us all on the same level? I glanced over at Sawyer, but he was staring ahead, studiously avoiding my gaze.
“But I also value your opinions,” the headmaster said, seeming somehow to make eye contact with each of the two hundred–plus students in the room. “This is your school. It should be a place where you feel nurtured, inspired, and safe.”
I looked down the pew at my friends. Safe was one thing I hadn’t felt around here in a long time. Around the room, people sat up a bit straighter, looked at one another, impressed. Hathaway already had them eating out of his hand.
“To that end, I will have an open-door policy,” Mr. Hathaway continued. “If you have any questions about the changes being made on campus, please feel free to stop by my office to chat. My goal is to get to know every one of you personally. The better we know one another, the better we can work together.”
A bright smile creased Headmaster Hathaway’s tan face. I had definitely liked Sawyer’s dad when we were all down in St. Barths together, and he still seemed like a vast improvement over Headmaster Cromwell, who was more like an automaton than a person, but there was something about his touchy-feely speech that made my skin crawl. I wanted a headmaster, not a new BFF or therapist.
“But this semester won’t be all about work,” he said, relaxing his posture and giving us a grin. “A week from Saturday I will be hosting a schoolwide party in the Great Room. A get-to-know-you dance of sorts. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I expect to see all of you there.”
A dubious murmur carried throughout the room. No one at Easton attended on-campus school dances. Unless they were clueless. Or freshmen. Or were, you know, dared to go, as I had been last year by Missy and Lorna for the first dance of my sophomore year.
Of course, I’d ended up sharing my first kiss with Thomas Pearson at that dance, so, as lame as it had been, it was one of my best nights at Easton. I hugged my arms around my body, a chill traveling across my shoulders and all the way down my arms. It had been more than a year since Thomas had died, and I was starting to wonder if that visceral reaction to his name would ever go away.
“Just to be clear, your attendance is expected at this dance,” Mr. Hathaway continued. “I believe it will engender school spirit and strengthen our sense of community. If, for some reason, you are unable to attend, I expect to personally receive your excuse in writing and signed by your parents. That’s how we’ll be doing things around here from now on, people. Trust is a big thing with me. I’ll do whatever I can to earn yours, and I hope you’ll do the same for me.”
Right. Making us bring an excuse note to get out of a dance was very trusting.
As Headmaster Hathaway continued to wax on about our bright new future, I glanced over my shoulder, trying to get a glimpse of Noelle. Maybe Double H would erode her earlier nonchalance and inspire her to help me bring Billings back. But as I turned, my gaze fell on someone else. Someone so distracting I forgot what I’d been thinking two seconds before.
Josh Hollis. Josh, who was no longer my Josh, but Ivy Slade’s Josh. He was sitting in the back row of the boys’ section, wearing a black cashmere sweater over a white T-shirt, his curly, dark blond hair slightly unruly. He seemed tense; his hands were tucked under his arms and he was pressed so far back in the pew that it looked like he was trying to fuse his spine to the wood. I saw him glance toward the aisle and followed his gaze. There sat Graham Hathaway—the usually jovial, devil-may-care Graham Hathaway—bent forward with his elbows braced on his knees, his feet bouncing beneath him, his jaw and fists clenched tightly, like he wanted to punch someone.
My eyes darted back to Josh. He was now chewing on the side of his thumb and sliding his eyes toward the exit, as if he wanted to escape.
Graham, Josh. Josh, Graham.
Did those two know each other?
The moment Mr. Hathaway dismissed us, Josh was out the side door, shoving it open with the heel of his hand. As everyone else got up and gathered their things, the room exploding with conversation, I saw Ivy look around for him. Our eyes met and I shrugged.
Never a dull moment at Easton.