Chapter 7

Her frame seemed even smaller from a distance and was swimming in the billowing fabric of her muumuu. Even with Lacey shouting ‘abandon ship’ in my head as she urged me to flee like a gazelle, there was nowhere for me to run.

Norma’s face was impassive as she asked, “…you do this kind of thing often, child?”

“No, of course not.” The lie came out much too fast and yanked my voice up an octave or two. Instead piecing together it’s shattered remains, I went into damage control mode. “I mean—only when I’m stressed…or in a new place.”

“Both of which you currently are.”

“Right…” I swallowed as embarrassment heated my face. “Look, I—"

“This isn’t you freaking out about going to the University is it?” She asked, and just a hint of accent peeked through.

“No, not at all.” I stammered. “It’s something I’ve done back at the old house. Look, Elijah knows about it. He and Sylvia have so much going on…I just didn’t want him to worry about me, especially when I’m doing good for a change.”

“Child, I’m still not sure what that was, but I wouldn’t walk around callin’ it good.” Her voice had the same sternness as Twyla’s did when she launched into one of her lectures.

“It’s just something I do to calm down. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel safe.” I admitted, hoping the uneasiness in my voice would prove I was telling the truth.

This time her expression did change. The sight of her narrowed eyes and pursed lips made my skin feel sticky and warm. Half a second was all it took for her face to return to normal.

She nodded at the front door. “Horace and I are the only staff that live in the house. He’s in bed by nine on the weekdays, and eleven on weekends.”

Without another word, she turned around and shuffled back down the hall.

Even though I checked the locks last night, my encounter with Norma left me frazzled. It took a few hours for the patter of my traitorous heart to stop echoing in my ears, so loud that I swore it filled every inch of the pitch-black room.

The dull glow of my phone screen lit a small patch of the room. I had a grand total of three contacts, so I knew it wasn’t a text I’d gotten. Sure enough, it turned on to let me know that not only was my battery dying, but it was also one in the morning.

I intended to put it on the charger, but I blinked and the darkness that cloaked the room was replaced by beams of sunlight.

‘What time is it?’ Lacey snarled.

I tapped on the screen of my phone, which was now dead and went to plug it in when there was a light knock on my bedroom door. Norma nudged it open without looking my way, her focus fixed solely on the metal cart she wheeled into the room. She took one look at me and huffed, “…did you not get any sleep, child?”

Even though I’m an avid morning person, my tumultuous sleep schedule made enjoying those early hours harder. Often I needed time to wake up and let the leftover exhaustion seep from my bones before getting anything done for the day.

Jackie never woke up earlier than eleven, and Elijah often left well before the crack of dawn. Social interaction first thing in the morning, that was something I’d have to get used to.

It just wasn’t today.

My eyes narrowed instinctively, “I slept fine, thank you.”

Norma raised an eyebrow, but I refused to balk. Lacey goaded me on in the background. That was, until she smelled the coffee that drifted towards us in sensual, mouth-watering waves.

“Well I’ll be damned; Elijah wasn’t pullin’ my leg when he said you’re grumpy first thing in the morning. Guess it’s a good thing he told me to bring this.”

Norma’s lips curved into a satisfied smile when I groaned and sat up in bed.

“You’ve got an hour to eat and change into your uniform, then Sylvia is going to stop by with your schedule. Just push the cart into the hall when you’re finished.”

“Thanks, Norma.” I sighed.

Once the door shut, I made a beeline for both the coffee and my uniform.

I’d been pacing when Sylvia knocked, tugging at the button-down blouse and plaid skirt, both of which fit me horribly. The top was made from a very un-stretchy material that cinched everything in. On the bright side, it highlighted my strong hourglass shape Twyla always said she envied—even if it was hard to breathe. The pleated skirt with it’s black, grey, and light blue lines was adorable, but it ended at my knees and squeezed my hips painfully.

“Come in.” I called out and held back a curse as my voice wavered.

Even though this was the third time I had seen Sylvia, I was still awed by her sophistication and elegance. She walked into the bedroom wearing a pencil skirt and peplum top, her waist cinched with a dainty belt. Her heels clicked across the floor as she walked my way, her stride purposeful and businesslike.

“Good morning, Violet. I trust you slept well.” She said, her eyes quickly scanning the messy bedroom before returning to my face.

“Oh…” I blinked, realizing she was waiting for me to answer. “I slept great! I’ve never had a bed this big before, and the blankets are so soft, it was like laying on a cloud. I almost didn’t want to get up this morning.”

“I’m glad you’re pleased with the room. The bedding is filled with eiderdown. Cultivating the feathers is a slow, meticulous process but it’s completely ethical, and you’ll never feel anything softer in your life. They’re imported from Iceland, and if only you knew how long that takes…” She shook her head softly but seemed genuinely pleased when I expressed my liking for the room she decorated. “Anyhow, let me not forget why I’m here.”

I might’ve never noticed the folder in her hand if she hadn’t held it out to me. In her other was a small pink bag with silver foil lettering. The cursive script read, ‘Sasha’s Boutique’ and what was in the bag gave off the light scent of expensive perfume.

“Your schedule, a list of all after-class groups, and a map of the grounds.” She explained as I scanned through the documents. “You’ll get a chance to look them over on the way to the academy. Since you cannot drive, my driver will be out front every morning at seven thirty sharp to take you. A student will be showing you around for the week as your assigned escort. They’ll make sure you find your classes and explain the various social circles and hierarchy at Darkling.”

Panic rose in my throat, and I swallowed it back with a smile.

“Wonderful, I’m so excited.” My cheeks ached, and I was suddenly glad I’d patted some blush on them this morning because without it I knew I’d look like a ghost.

“I can see how important Elijah is to you, and even though I haven’t known him as long, he’s important to me as well. It’s only natural you’d go to him with your concerns, but I want you to know that I’m always available if you need me.” I held my breath as Sylvia spoke, scouring her face for any hint of deception. She held the dainty boutique bag out and said, “I’d like us to be friends, Violet. What do you say?”

There was nothing in her eyes or within the layers of her voice that led me to believe she was being anything other than genuine. She even waited patiently as I scrambled to remove the look of surprise on my face and come up with a response.

“I think I’d like that.”

Her lips lifted in a beaming smile when I accepted the bag from her outstretched hand.

“As friends, I’d like there to be a certain amount of trust between us. Now I understand trust doesn’t just miraculously appear, but I’m willing to build on it if you are.” It was the way she spoke that revealed slivers of each one of her titles.

“I’m a little inexperienced in the trust department.” I admitted reluctantly, absentmindedly tugging at the hem of the button-down.

I tried not to physically react when she glanced down at the uniform I wore.

“Understandably so, but I’m incredibly tolerant I’ve been told.” I blinked back the glimmer of surprise and gave her every ounce of my attention when she continued as though she hadn’t just scanned me head-to-toe. “I’m aware Elijah’s spoken to you about how things are in this pack, and I apologize you were told with such little notice. He worries like any parent would, but it was the thought of you staying behind that kept him from preparing you sooner.”

The pieces clicked together in my head and the result made my lips turn down, “He thought telling me would scare me away?”

“Life here can be stressful, Violet. There is a great amount of pressure being associated with the Alpha in any fashion and were at the top of the food chain. It’s a valid worry given the hand you’ve been dealt, which is why I told him to allow you more time process everything.” Her sharp expression was intimidating and twisted my stomach into painful knots.

I didn’t grimace or react, but instead did as I had thousands of times and pasted a charming smile onto my face. You’d never be able to tell I practiced the expression in the mirror every morning and night for seven years.

People didn’t just expect me to be cruel and violent, they wanted me to be.

Countless night’s I’d go to sleep with aching cheeks, lips still pulled into a cheerful smile as I sunk beneath the blankets and closed my eyes. It didn’t matter that I could smile, it had to be believable. A single crack and everyone would see right through me.

When others pile their expectations on your shoulders, there’s nothing that makes them angrier then when you fail to meet them. It doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad.

I perfected my smile and plastered it on my pretty face, all so no one would be able to see just how angry I truly was.

Everyone wanted me to be a monster, so I made sure they knew I was just a little girl.

“When Elijah told me he was moving to be with you and asked if I would come, it wasn’t the first time I thought about a life away from the cabin.” A sour memory of our old pack made my eyebrows inch closer together. “It wasn’t until we got here, and I met you that I saw the amazing life he has, and I think I’d like one for myself.”

Trust wouldn’t build if I didn’t give up a piece of truth now and again, so I gave her something I could part with.

“I must admit, you’re different than what I expected…” She mused, her eyes like lasers as they mapped my face. I kept still under her gaze, but not too still to where I’d look tense. Just when I thought I’d have to ask her to elaborate, she continued. “…you’re stronger, and much surer of yourself than I was led to believe.”

I tried not to let my chest deflate as I dissected her words and the meaning behind them. Too easily I noticed how her words seemed to border on insult and praise, which fit the warning Elijah had given me.

There wasn’t a whisper of hesitation laced within her words as she said, “Could I ask you a bit of a personal question, Violet?”

“Sure, yeah.” I nodded a bit too eagerly, but if anything she seemed pleased with my enthusiasm and willingness. “Ask away.”

Sylvia paused and glided to the sitting area of the bedroom. She padded down the slim steps and perched herself on the arm of the sofa. A neurotic giggle bubbled in my throat when she nudged the throw pillow’s I’d tossed onto the floor with the toe of her red-bottomed heels.

“I’m aware Elijah’s told you I’m blunt, for lack of a better word. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a woman working in the STEM field is sugar coating only gets you ignored, and I loathe being ignored.” Irritation made her hazel eyes warm like melted toffee, and even though the emotion wasn’t directed at me, I tucked her words away in my memory. “The second most important lesson I’ve learned is derived from simply being a woman. If there’s something different about you, the world will not hesitate to let you know nor will they ever let you forget. I’d like to know some of the things the citizens of your old pack have said about you.” 

“Oh, well—they’ve said things about my scars, obviously. Usually it’s the same thing, but there’s always one or two who manage to get creative.”

She nodded softly, and I shoved down the sliver of pain that rolled through me, brought on by the understanding in her eyes. “What is it you would do when they said these things, Violet?”

The answer was simple, and while it might’ve sounded like cowardice, I thought of it a bit differently.

“I’d turn in their direction and say nothing.” I replied and watched as disappointment danced across her face only to vanish as I continued explaining, “When I was younger, I’d ignore them. Elijah taught me to turn my head and get as far away from them as I could. It took me awhile to realize I was letting them win.”

“I see, and how does walking away let them win?” There was no judgement woven within the sophisticated purr of her voice, only genuine curiosity.

I swallowed the sliver of worry that threatened to drip into my voice and said, “I used to think they held all the power, but the only power they had was what I’d give them when I cowered or ran away. The day I realized the truth, they couldn’t hurt me anymore.”

Sylvia said nothing, but the weight of her stare made me shift uncomfortably on my feet. She wanted more, something undeniably authentic that would prove my strength and determination.

“They hated me, shunned me, bullied me. For awhile, I wondered what I did to deserve it. Then I learned it wasn’t me making them do those things but fear.” I could feel my features smooth themselves out, my lips curling into a soft smile that hid every trace of what I was actually feeling. “An entire pack, afraid of a child. Once I realized how much they feared me, how…uncomfortable I made them, I used it to my advantage.

“Was this before or after you began home-schooling?” She asked without breaking her gaze.

Lacey and I cursed in tandem when my fingers gave an involuntary twitch. My expression didn’t slip an inch, but I knew if she noticed my minute physical reaction, she’d notice the light in my eyes that told her no more questions.

She nodded her slender chin, as though she’d gotten what she’d been in search of and stood from the sofa.

“I want to thank you, Violet. Given your situation and the small parameters of your memory, I can’t imagine revealing secrets to be an easy feat. The reason I’m asking you these questions, is because what you’ve endured at your old pack, you will face here.” Her face was serene, free of sympathy even though there was a softness in her eyes I couldn’t quite place. “In many ways, it will be worse for you. Money and power breeds cruelty, and the people of this pack are bloated with both. What will keep you afloat are your ties to my family. I understand Elijah’s already spoken to you about responsibilities and expectations, so I won’t regurgitate what he’s already said, but there’s something I need from you and without it, you cannot be accepted into this family.”

There was a small part of me that hoped what Sylvia asked wasn’t impossible.

“I need you to step out of your comfort zone and far away from the bubble you’ve placed yourself in. Dedicating yourself to learning our ways won’t be enough, you have to find a way in and it won’t be easy. To do that you become someone new—someone you might not recognize at the end of it all.” She said, the confidence in her voice almost awe-inspiring. “If you can manage this, there won’t be anything in life you can’t handle.”

Comments (3)
goodnovel comment avatar
K.Artifex - Author
I really love the advice and lessons Sylvia gives in this chapter. it might seem harsch, but soooo valuable in the long run
goodnovel comment avatar
Kiera J
I'm very curious how Sylvia will react should Violet fail to assimilate.
goodnovel comment avatar
Talisha
I really like her “soon to be step mom” I really hope she’s not a villain in this story. Step moms get a bad rep in most literature and I really want this to be different, she seems strong, wise, maybe a little too analytical but good none the less.
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