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Whoever installed this mess must have been high.
Crammed under a desk in the library, I reach for a wad of tangled wires, completely aware that my butt sticks straight up in the air and hoping nobody notices.
"Dammit." I bang my head on the underside of the desk and try yet again to wrap a label around one of the wires.
"Can I help you?"
I stop, and pushing my glasses up my nose, I glance over my shoulder to see a pair of tanned muscular legs standing right behind me. He's probably staring at my butt. Great.
"Can I help you?" he repeats, and I catch a hint of accent.
"I'm all right," I call back. "Just trying to label some wires." What's he doing here, anyway? The semester doesn't start for two more days.
"You new here?" he asks.
"Student tech crew?"
"Yeah," I answer again, wondering if he's going to keep standing there staring at my ass. At least I'd thrown on jeans. Although they are low rise.
"Sure you don't need any help?"
Obviously he's not leaving, and I'm so not comfortable with the probable direction of his stare. So I wiggle my way out.
I smile up at him, trying not to show my irritation at being interrupted, and catch him looking right down my V-neck T. His eyes jump to mine in that embarrassed, I-just-got-busted-looking-down-your-shirt way that makes him seem more harmless than anything.
I tighten my ponytail as I stand and zero in on those eyes, and phew, what eyes they are. Amber? No, green. No, a combination of both.
He wears his dark hair long enough that it curls against his neck. He smiles then, and I catch a flash of dimples that flutter all kinds of girlie things through me that I have no business feeling. As I take him in one more time, I think of this Calvin Klein poster my momma has of a young Antonio Sabato Jr.
Yes, my momma has an underwear ad hanging in her locker at work.
I remind myself I need to speak. "Great accent," I tell him. "Where're you from?"
"Tennessee?" He laughs a little, and Lord help me if it's not the best I've ever heard. All deep and chuckly. "Guess that explains your twang."
"Big change coming south to the Keys."
"Yeah, big change." He has no idea how huge of a change. Where everything in my life is concerned. "Well, I need to get back to work," I say, more because I don't need an amber-eyed, Spanish, chuckly distraction. "Thanks again for the offer of help. I guess I'll see you around when class starts."
"Sorry, didn't introduce myself." He offers a hand, and I take it, finding it warm and dry and perfect. Nothing worse than a clammy hand. "I'm Riel Villanuevo."
"Oh! You're my peer mentor. The guidance office gave me your name."
His lips curve in confusion. "They did?"
"I've heard all about you. I'm Viola Burnett, the academy's scholarship recipient."
His smile slides away as does his hand from mine. "I'm sorry, did you say scholarship recipient?"
The air between us suddenly chills. I blink and take a step back. "Yes?"
The muscles in his jaw tick. "As of when?"
"Last ... week." What's going on? Why is he suddenly so pissed?
"Who called you?"
I stare at him a second, unable to wrap my brain around his sudden temper. "Dr. Williams, the director."
Riel doesn't say anything for a few seconds, then he jerks his fingers through his dark hair. "Something's not right."
I don't know what to say to that. I'm so completely clueless why he's upset.
He grabs his books off the computer desk.
"I already moved into the dorm," I say, not really sure why.
"Listen," he tells me. "There's been a mistake."
"A mistake?" Dread settles through me. "No, I don't think so." There better not have been a mistake. I spent my entire school career trying to get into this private academy, and I'm here. I'm finally here. No way has there been a mistake.
Riel doesn't respond and instead turns and strides off.
It takes me a solid minute of standing in a befuddled haze to realize he's probably headed straight to the director's office to dispute my scholarship.
Oh, wait a minute! No, he's not! I charge off after him across the library and down the hall, and as I march into the administrative suite, I immediately hear them.
"But Dr. Williams," Riel pleads. "I thought you said the scholarship was mine."
I come to a halt. His? Oh no. This isn't good.
"No," Dr. Williams patiently responds. "I said you were a candidate for the funds. You know as well as I do that it goes back up for review every year."
"But I'm a senior," Riel says. "This is my last year. I've had the academy's scholarship every year I've come here. Shouldn't I get seniority?"
"It doesn't work that way," the director says.
"Why didn't somebody tell me?"
"I thought the committee did. I apologize for the oversight."
Riel sighs. "Is there any other available money?"
"No, Riel, I'm sorry."
Silence falls between them, and guilt works its way through me at the things I said, and didn't say, to get the scholarship. Of course I know nothing about Riel so I don't know if he really deserves it more than me or not, and look at me trying to justify everything. Reverse the roles, and I'd be pissed, too.
"If Viola for some reason doesn't work out, what will you do with the funds?" Riel asks.
"That decision will ultimately go to the committee. Generally, though, the money goes to our second choice, which would be you. But I can't see why she won't work out."
The guilt turns to foreboding and stirs darkly in my gut. There's no reason anyone around here should find out that I stretched the truth on my application.
"I know your situation," Dr. Williams says. "I'll do everything I can to help you."
Situation? What situation?
"Right." Riel finally speaks. "Well, thanks for seeing me."
"Riel?" Dr. Williams stops him from leaving. "How is everything at home?"
Riel doesn't answer, and I take a step closer to hear.
A phone rings. "Need to take this," Dr. Williams says, and I quickly turn to leave.
"Have fun eavesdropping?" Riel snips as he brushes past me.
I want to snip back but have no place. He's right; I had been eavesdropping.
A blond guy sticks his head in the door to the administrative suite. "Yo, Riel, you coming tonight? Gonna be a kickass beginning-of-the-year bash."
Riel shakes his head. "Too much going on."
"Sucks for you," blond guy says.
"See you in a couple days, though, when school starts," Riel tells him.
Blond guy glances at me, giving me a once-over. "Freshman?"
He gives me what I'm sure he thinks is a sexy smile. "Welcome. I'm Peter."
With that, blond guy's gone and Riel turns to me. Confusion, worry, and strain reflects in his gaze for a beat, bringing on my own confusion and worry. What have I done to this guy?
It seems like he wants to say something, so I hold my breath and wait. Instead, he shakes his head and walks off.
I close my eyes. This is not how I expected to start my year.CHAPTER 2
Ponce de Leon Academy, located in the Florida Keys, sits on several acres of manicured land right off the beach. Palm trees and live oaks provide plenty of shade for the cobblestone paths leading between the brick buildings that are fashioned much like an up-to-date fort. Tennis courts, an Olympic-sized pool, a workout facility, and an equestrian area make the place seem more like a resort than a school campus.
The academy is known for its academic excellence in the science and mathematical fields. Graduates typically can write their Ivy League tickets. But it's also the only academy with a direct track to MIT, and that has been my goal for as long as I can remember.
The academy only offers one full-ride scholarship a year awarded based on academics, which I excel in, family values, and citizenship, of which I have none. I don't even know where to start with how many ways I stretched the truth in those areas.
Riel Villanuevo, though? He's the real thing. Thanks to last night's internet search, I now know he is eighteen years old. He's a senior and has maintained a higher GPA than anybody in the history of the academy. He's a community leader, a volunteer, and yep, it doesn't get any better than Riel.
Which both depresses and irritates me. He does deserve the scholarship. Probably more than me.
But I really did work my ass off to get here. Grades. Extra classes. Study prep. I never half-assed a single assignment. Sure there's more I could've done, like Riel, but with school, working forty hours plus a week, and helping Momma with the twins, there were only so many things I had time for.
Winning the scholarship is my huge payoff for all my hard work. I'll do whatever it takes to keep it. Because this education is my ticket to freedom. To breaking the cycle no one ever thought my family would. To getting my momma and the twins out of the projects and into a better, safer place.
With that thought on my brain, I head out of my dorm and across the hot muggy campus, wondering when the infamous ocean breeze is supposed to kick in. I step into the administrative area and to the guidance office where I rap on my counselor's door.
"Come in," she calls.
I open the door. "Excu —" and my gaze goes from the counselor to the guy sitting in front of her desk. Riel. "Oh."
She smiles. "Viola, Riel and I were just talking about you."
My gaze immediately drops to the folder he has in his hand. VIOLA BURNETT is printed on the tab. Panic flashes through me. "Why are you looking at my folder? Is that allowed?" Surely, it's not.
"Yes," the counselor says. "He's your peer mentor. Given what happened with the scholarship mix-up, I tried to find you another, but the rosters are full."
But how? Why is he still here? I won the scholarship. Shouldn't he be gone? How is he paying for the enormous tuition of this place?
Riel stands then, and his height spurts intimidation through me, followed by a blaze of irritation at my own self. I'm done being intimidated by guys.
"Just getting to know you," he says, tapping the folder. "Seems you have quite the record."
He's going through my folder. What if he double-checks everything? He'll find inconsistencies. He could go to Dr. Williams. I might be pardoned for one fib, but not for two. I'll lose my scholarship. Riel will get it.
"Yes." I clear my throat and mentally go through everything I submitted in case he asks for details.
"As your peer mentor," the counselor says, "Riel recommends whether or not you be released from your probationary period."
I already know all of this. And, honestly, coming here, I didn't think it'd be a big deal. Then again, I didn't know who my peer mentor would be.
"Classes, studying, required tech crew, community hours." Riel lifts his brows. "Keeping this scholarship entails a lot." He huffs a laugh that holds no humor. "I should know."
I glance at the counselor. This is a major conflict of interest. But I don't say anything. I don't want to make any waves in my already precarious situation.
"It's Riel's job," the counselor says, "to be frank, honest, and firm with you. Every new student does a semester of probation. No exceptions."
I nod. "Yes, ma'am."
Riel props his hip on the counselor's desk and gives me a long study. "I know you probably think this is a conflict of interest — "
"But there's only six other mentors and their rosters are full. I'll be on the up-and-up about this, I promise you that. I've mentored a lot of students over the years, and I'll treat you just like I do them. I'll be watching you closely. Observing you. Checking up on your work. Anything less than the best and I can't recommend you be released from probation."
"Yes, I know," I say when all I really want to do is argue about this whole thing.
He holds up my folder. "I just started reviewing your files. Impressive."
I try not to let that go to my head. I can only imagine how hard it was for him to say that to me. "Thanks."
He motions to my jeans and tee. "Jeans aren't allowed on campus."
Embarrassment warms my face, and suddenly I'm propelled back to regular high school when the popular girls would tease me about my clothes. "Sorry," I mumble.
"You know to be in uniform when classes start? For you that would be your academy jacket and skirt."
"Yes." I push my glasses up my nose. "I know."
"Okay." Riel slides away from the counselor's desk and sits back down. "If you have any questions, come to me. That's part of my job."
Though he's being civil and very professional about all of this, Riel is the last person I'll go to. I plan on hovering far, far below his radar.
A few silent seconds slide by while he opens my folder and begins sifting through papers. I stand here, barely breathing, trying to see over his shoulder, wondering if there's anything in there other than what I submitted.
He glances up then, straight into my eyes. "Did you need something else?"
Shaking my head, I back up, and I let myself out the door.
I'll come back when he's not here and ask to see my file. Though I don't know what good that'll do since he's looking through it right now. At least I'll know for sure what he has and hasn't seen. At least I'll know what new truth I might have to come up with.CHAPTER 3
That's where I go first thing in the morning, back to the guidance office to double-check my file. It's full of exactly what I submitted: transcripts, reference letters, miscellaneous things, and my fake essay, but nothing I myself didn't send in.
So with peace of mind for now, I set out for the rest of the day with the student tech crew, and eight hours later the day is gone.
"Remind me why I signed up for tech crew?" Sharon, the girl beside me bitches.
"Because it'll look good on your college apps." I drag my tired body across the polished tile and gleaming wood of the dorm hall. For me, the scholarship requires it.
"Right." Sharon yawns. "That. Do you realize we unboxed, set up, wired, and installed fifty computers today?"
"Yeah, I counted. My body's screaming. Wish these dorms had bathtubs. I'd so be in one right now."
"And classes start first thing in the morning."
Sharon groans. "Don't remind me."
I let myself into my room. "See you later."
"Four Motrin, here I come."
I wave as I click my door closed. I don't think I've ever been so exhausted.
With the biggest sigh in history, I slip off my shoes and moan with pleasure. I glance across the tile floor to the empty twin bed that's supposed to belong to my roommate. Maybe she decided not to come.
Sitting on the floor, I stretch my legs toward the ceiling and prop them on the wall, like I've seen my momma do a million times after being on her feet all night.
Closing my eyes, I allow my mind to drift to my old life. Little ole Viola from that family. Well, I'd shown all of them, hadn't I? No one had expected me to actually win the scholarship. How many people had told me I wasn't good enough?
But my momma and my good friend Levi had believed in me. So had my Algebra II teacher, Mrs. Nowicki. I smile. She's one of the ones who wrote me a recommendation letter to this place.
Levi. My smile gets bigger. I miss him. My ex-boyfriend, Manny, hated when I talked to Levi on the phone. In fact one time, Manny even forbade me to talk to Levi. I never really got it. It's like Manny was jealous or something. Then again, he'd done a lot of that over the year we'd dated — telling me where to go, what to do, and who I could and couldn't hang out with.
But I've never once thought of Levi in that way. We grew up together in the projects and were always more brother and sister than anything. Now, though, Levi plays keyboards for the indie group, Bus Stop. When he started making money, he moved his family into a beautiful home in one of the best neighborhoods in our hometown. That's what I want, too. I want to make good money and take care of my family.
I sigh again, wiggling my numb, cool toes, and rotating over, I reach for my phone. My ex no longer controls my life. I can talk to whomever I damn well please. Starting with Levi.
"Viola!" he yells on the second ring.
I laugh. "Hey!"
"Oh my God. I forget how crazy our hometown is."
"Oh, man. You're home?"
"Yeah, we got a break from the tour, so I came back here to check on everyone."
"I wish I was there."
"Me, too," he agrees. "I could use a Zesto run."
Zesto makes the best banana splits, and me and Levi have shared way too many of them over the years.
"You're not going to believe this," Levi says. "My little sister got pregnant by that stupid idiot she's been dating."
I roll my eyes. "Didn't I tell you?"
"Ugh. I can't stand him. And boy, oh boy, is Mom pissed."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Watching You"
Copyright © 2018 Shannon Greenland.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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