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I should be happy.
I am wearing Ryan Kent's letterman jacket, which means that it's official, we're dating (in fact, as of today, it's been six weeks, two days, and four hours not that I'm counting or anything). Ryan Kent, for those of you who might be blind, is a state championship basketball player who happens to be Bard Academy's reigning Sexiest Boy Alive, and is, as of this moment, my boyfriend.
That's me, sitting in the stands of the Bard Academy gym, wearing the Bard Academy uniform along with some of my signature touches (leggings and lots of accessories). I watch as Ryan Kent sails above his competitors and dunks the basketball again. After he smashes the basketball into the basket, he gives me a wink and a wave as he travels back down to the other end of the court.
Coach H shouts at Ryan to stop "showboating," but that's like telling Ryan Kent not to be gorgeous. It's just not in his genetic makeup.
I feel like I should be in a teen movie. You know, one of those movies where the not-so-popular, nerdy girl gets a makeover and finds herself with the star of the basketball team. Granted, I've never been nerdy, but I'm not exactly prom queen material, either. I'm the artsy, thrift-store girl. Typically not the one who lands the most popular boy in school.
So, like I said, I should be happy. And I am happy. Well, mostly happy, except for the fact that I'm not. Entirely.
And I don't know why exactly.
Yes, it's true I'm back at Bard Academy, delinquent boarding school, but it's not that. I know I'm going to risk sounding like "that poor girl with the amazingly cute boyfriend" when I say this, but something is just not right.
And yes, that "something" has a name.
And I can't believe I'm dating one boy and thinking about another. I never in a million years pegged myself as one of those boy-crazy girls. The ones who desperately believe in a soul mate, except that said soul mate changes every day. Granted, I change accessories every day, but I thought I'd be less fickle when it came to romance.
Apparently, I'm not.
Because the more I try to just think about Ryan, the more I end up thinking about Heathcliff, which I know is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Liz, my friend from my old school, would say I'm sabotaging myself. That secretly, I think I don't deserve Ryan Kent, and that I do deserve bad-boy-to-the-core Heathcliff, so I'm trying to make that happen by tanking my relationship with Ryan. She calls this phenomenon Trading Down. It's why, she thinks, she's got serious sex-impulse control problems (meaning that she'll just as easily have sex with a boy as she would let one open the door for her because no matter who she's with she feels she doesn't deserve them).
But maybe I am trying to trade down, and I don't even know it.
It's true that I never actually pictured myself with the captain of the basketball team type, the Should-Be-a-Recurring-Character-on-The OC guy. I always thought guys like Ryan had girlfriends like...well, like Parker Rodham, who is currently glaring daggers at me from the basketball court sidelines. She and her clones are in cheerleading outfits, and Parker keeps doing the splits in an obvious attempt to get Ryan's attention.
It isn't working and that's making her mad.
I could deal with her. What I can't deal with is the fact that Heathcliff is MIA. I haven't seen him since last semester. This from the boy who told me I was his whole life. The only evidence I have that he exists at all is the necklace he sent me, the one that I wear around my neck.
The necklace reminds me that there's another problem with Heathcliff: He's not even real. He's a fictional character from Wuthering Heights who happens to be stuck in this world. That's right. I'm obsessing about a fictional character from 1847. Where do I start with what's wrong with that? Not to mention the minor detail that him being here at all makes our dimension unstable. Confused? Welcome to my world.
"Is that a new necklace or something?" Hana asks me as she leans over, catching me fumbling with Heathcliff's locket. Inside there's a single piece of a page of the original copy of Wuthering Heights, which is the only thing keeping him in this world, as far as I know. Should it be destroyed, he'd be sent back to 1847.
Hana straightens the black-framed glasses she wears and puts down the book she brought to read at the game. Hana is never without reading material. She's what I would call a Lit Nerd, although in a good way. She's like walking CliffsNotes.
"No," I say, dumping the necklace quickly into my shirt again, hiding it away. I feel a twinge of guilt for thinking about Heathcliff when I'm wearing Ryan's jacket. And besides, Hana doesn't even know that Heathcliff is still alive.
I can't tell her or anyone else about him. For one, she's not his biggest fan (since he kidnapped her, Samir, and Blade last semester). But secondly, he was supposed to have disappeared for good, but he didn't. And I am in possession of the only thing that can send him back the tiny remnant of the original Wuthering Heights. If the teachers found out, they'd demand he be put back into the pages of Wuthering Heights. It's probably why he's keeping a low profile. He doesn't want to be zapped back to 1847.
And yes, you don't have to tell me how insane it is that I'm fantasizing about a fictional character when I have a real-life boyfriend right in front of me, who has just sat down on the bench and has taken off his sweaty jersey and is changing into a new, nonsweaty one. One who isn't, technically, 160 years old.
"By the way, did I tell you that I'm not jealous that you and Ryan are dating?" Hana asks me.
"Only about a zillion times. I think it's pretty clear you are jealous," I say.
"Yes, but if I say it enough times, maybe it'll be true," Hana says.
"Oh, please," Samir scoffs. "What does Ryan Kent have that I haven't got?"
Ryan pulls his new jersey over his championship triceps and whips his glistening blond hair out of his eyes. He's just played nearly an entire game of basketball and he's still shoot-ready for a Hollister ad.
"You have to be kidding me, right?" Hana asks Samir, giving him a playful shove.
"I can't believe you're wearing Ryan's jacket," Samir says. "That's so, like, 1985. I mean, who does that anymore?"
"You're just jealous you don't have a letterman jacket to give," Hana says to Samir.
"Not to mention someone actually willing to wear it," I add.
"Look, we all know that you're just dating Ryan to make me jealous," Samir says. "And, okay, it's working, so let's give up this charade." Samir grabs my hand and pretends to land slobbery kisses on it. Samir is always trying to see how far he can get.
"Gross," I say, pulling my hand away.
"Don't listen to him," Hana says.
"And when do I listen to him?" I ask her.
"Would you guys be quiet? Some of us are trying to watch the game," huffs Blade, my quirky, occult-obsessed roommate, who despite her oddities isn't actually all that bad. For the spring semester, and in honor of Valentine's Day next week, she's dyed her hair pink. She's also put a sparkly barrette in it. Granted, it's a skull and crossbones, but still. It's a start.
"Since when are you into sports?" Samir asks Blade.
"Since Number Thirty-one started playing," Hana adds. Number Thirty-one is a geeky, lanky boy who plays center on Ryan's team, and Blade's current love infatuation.
Samir's face falls a little. I know he was hoping that Blade's short-lived crush on him would last longer than a month, but Blade has moved on. And given Number Thirty-one's awkward appearance (and Samir's definite built-in geek factor), my Goth roomie has a thing for nerds.
More than half of the Bard Academy student body is sitting in the bleachers watching the basketball game. There isn't much to do at a boarding school for delinquents stuck on a remote island off the coast of Maine where pagers, cellphones, televisions, and iPods are forbidden. As a result, school sporting events are always well attended.
The opposing team is some boys' prep school in Maine. Even our rival teams have to be ferried to our island (appropriately named Shipwreck Island, since one hundred years ago it was a magnet for ships in storms, but it's also apropos today because most of us feel like castaways). I heard some of the rival players calling our island "Alcatraz," because of all the stories about the delinquent students here. Apparently they're only one of about three boarding schools still willing to play us. Parents don't like their Harvard wannabes mixing with the wrong crowd.
"You know, it's good to see you with Ryan, though, seriously," Hana says. "I thought for a while you might be holding a torch for Heathcliff."
"Heathcliff?" I say loudly. Too loudly. I dial down a notch. "Why would I be holding a torch for Heathcliff? I mean, how is he my type?"
I'm secretly hoping this leads to a long discussion about Heathcliff. Maybe hearing Hana tick off his bad points will help me shake my obsession with him. Of course, if I'm honest with myself, I just really want the excuse to talk about him. And that can't be good.
Hana studies me for a beat or two. Has she caught on? Does she know I'm secretly wearing his necklace and pining for the boy who nearly got her killed?
"No reason," she says, and then falls silent.
I can't help but feel disappointed. I wanted to talk more about him, and now the moment is lost.
"Uh-oh, looks like Ms. W is leaking again," Samir says, nodding over in the direction of the Bard faculty section where Ms. W and Headmaster B are watching the game. It's true. Ms. W has a wet sleeve again. It's dripping onto the bleacher in front of her.
I wave at Ms. W, get her attention, and then point to my own sleeve. Startled, Ms. W looks down and then the water mark disappears.
"Is it just me, or are our teachers getting careless?" Samir asks. "I saw Coach H glide through a wall in the boys' dorm last night. He's lucky that nobody but me saw him. And to think they're so clumsy after they gave us that big lecture."
Samir is talking about the end of last semester when Headmaster B sat the four of us all down and swore us all to eternal silence about the Big Secret, which is the fact that all of our teachers are dead. They're ghosts and not just any ghosts, they're famous literary figures stuck in purgatory for either taking their own lives or dying before their time. Headmaster B made us all swear not to tell any other student on campus about the Big Secret. I mean, like we would. You know, because we're so likely to be believed. The swearing part is really unnecessary. Try telling someone at boarding school that you know that their teacher is really Virginia Woolf or Charlotte Brontë. It's not the sort of thing that's going to win you friends.
"I think something is up with them," Hana says. "They seem distracted, don't you think? Like something is bothering them."
"You mean aside from the fact that they're dead and stuck in purgatory with a bunch of adolescents?" Samir asks.
"We ought to form some kind of society the four of us," Blade says. "You know, a secret society to help protect them from themselves."
"A secret society?" Hana asks, skeptical.
"We could call ourselves the LITs Literary Investigation Team."
"That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard," Hana says.
"I think it's kind of cool," Samir says. "You're just jealous you didn't think of that acronym first, Ms. Bookworm."
"Whatever," Hana says, dismissive, as she adjusts her black-framed glasses. "You can't seriously think we ought to form our own secret club," Hana adds. "I mean, are we twelve? Miranda, what do you think?"
But I'm not paying attention. I'm busy watching the tall guy in the hooded sweatshirt, the one that has his face nearly entirely covered, the one who snuck in through the side door of the gym and is now milling about, arms crossed, on the left side of the bleachers across from us. Something about his shape looks familiar. Tall, broad, and brooding. Could it be Heathcliff?
"Miranda? Hello?" Hana says, snapping her fingers.
"Forget her," Samir says. "She's too busy looking at her Man Meat." This is what Samir calls Ryan Kent.
"Besides, I don't know if Miranda would be eligible for membership in LITs," Blade says. "You know, because she is one-sixteenth fiction."
Blade is referring to the fact that my great-great-great-great-grandmother was Catherine from Wuthering Heights. It's a very weird piece of information that I'm only just starting to digest. Apparently one of Catherine's children managed to cross over to our world and did the deed with my great-great-great-grandfather, and now, here I am. The descendant of somebody who began as a figment of a writer's imagination. Don't ask me how it all works, I'm still trying to figure it out myself. All I know is that my middle name Earnshaw means I'm related to one of the most famous characters in literature. I keep waiting to see what else I find out while I'm at Bard. Was Hamlet my uncle? Anything is possible here.
"That's racist," Hana says.
"You mean fictionist," Samir corrects.
"Anyway, Miranda would have to be in the club or I wouldn't join," Hana adds.
"Would there be meetings? Because I definitely don't do meetings," Samir says.
I watch the hooded figure at the back of the gym make his way closer to the faculty section. If that is Heathcliff, he's playing a dangerous game. He has few friends among the faculty. As far as I know, if any of them knew he was still walking among us, they'd want to see him banished for good. I'm not even watching Ryan now as he scores a three-point shot at the buzzer. Everyone in the bleachers stands to cheer, and I temporarily lose sight of the Hooded Sweatshirt Guy.
"I'll be right back," I tell Hana, trying to push my way through the crowd and down to the floor. Hooded Sweatshirt Guy is making his way out of the gym. I feel an urgent need to catch him. Is it Heathcliff? Could it be? I can't tell. I need a closer look.
I'm caught up in a mini crowd cluster, and have to push through to get to the gym doors. I swing them open, and suddenly I'm standing outside in the cold February air. Alone.
Copyright © 2007 by Cara Lockwood