Chapter 9

As I waited within the lunch line, I couldn’t help but scan the Dining Hall. There were rows upon rows of padded booths, each one pristine and new. Circular tables, much like the ones you’d see in a public school, filled the empty spaces.

From afar, close to the wall of spotless glass that overlooked the back half of the courtyard, I could make out a salad and fruit bar.

With a tray in my hands, I steered past the busiest part of the Dining Hall and towards the one empty table nestled in the back of the room. The Lobster Risotto and Chipotle Garlic Seaweed Butter spewed an interesting assortment of scents into the air. Each one was a different colored shred of silk, weaving around one another until their shades muddied and turned into something new.

As I approached the table, I realized I’d been wrong. There was a single person perched on one of the round seats, an Asian girl with granite eyes and choppy layered hair. When she turned her head to stare me down, I noticed a few strips of green woven within the dark strands.

“Mind if I sit with—” I began to ask, my voice warm and full.

The one that cut me off was the opposite.

“Absolutely not.” She said harshly, yanking the headphones back from one of her pierced ears.

“Okay.” I hummed, trailing off as I moved to the opposite side of the table and plopped down. Hurt swirled in the pits of my stomach, laced with enough embarrassment to make even the strongest of wolves’ surrender.

The light scent of pineapples and whipped icing floated up to reach my nose as I pulled out the little container Norma had given me and removed the cupcake inside. The perfect swirl of icing on top had settled a bit from the long day, but still looked presentable with its sugared pineapple perched on top. I could feel the mystery girl’s eyes on my face as I licked some of the icing from the top and took a small sip of what the lunch lady called Dom Perignon champagne.

I only had alcohol a total of two times, and each were miniscule sips of Jackie’s fruity wine coolers. The dry and somewhat bitter flavor raced across my tongue, coupling with the sting of alcohol, which was strong enough to make me gag.

A soft but audible snort came from the granite-eyed girl, but when I turned and looked her way, she had her head tilted down at her salad.

“Might want to lay off the cupcakes.” I heard a male voice say, followed by the raucous laughter of his friends.

When I turned my head and saw him, with his golden-blonde hair, crisp football jersey, and dimpled smile, I knew it couldn’t have been him who tossed the callous insult my way. A sigh of relief lingered on my lips when his friend and obvious sidekick stepped forward with a smirk on his face.

“I’m not taking diet advice from a guy who only eats boiled chicken.” I observed, pasting a sunny expression on my face.

The rest of the guys surrounding the two, who also wore various football jerseys in shades of deep blue and black, began to hoot and shove at their rude friend. I glanced down at the rice and pale-looking chicken on his plate before turning back to my cupcake.

A tingling sensation raced along the back of my neck, and Lacey’s warning that someone was staring at us had me turning around—only instead of another insult, I found a dimpled grin aimed my way.

“If you keep looking around like a confused idiot someone is going to get pissed off, and I really don’t think you could survive a verbal battle on your first day, especially with someone smarter than Kota.” The girl with the headphones frowned, staring down at me past her slender nose.

I ignored her rudeness, because other than Roselle, she was the first person to willingly talk to me.

“I don’t understand why everyone looks so tense. It was just a cliché fat-shaming insult.” I lifted a shoulder in a half shrug and took a bite of my cupcake, which tasted much better after sitting in the fridge all night.

“They looked tense because they didn’t know how’d you react. Not sure if you know this, but scars among our kind send a message.” She huffed, a look of disbelief on her face. “…please tell me you’re not this naïve…or stupid.”

“I’m not naïve or stupid.” I reassured her, even though most of my knowledge came in the form of books and not real-life experiences. Either way, she didn’t need to know that. “I’m actually really nice once you get to know me.”

Ignoring my matter-of-fact tone, the girl fixed me with a blank stare. “You might want to hold off on telling everyone how nice you are. Once they find out—and they will, they’ll take that niceness of yours and use it against you.”

“How else will I make friends around here?” I questioned, placing the balled-up cupcake wrapper on the edge of my tray.

The girl simply stared at me; her eyes framed by dark liner that somehow made her gaze even more piercing.

“You don’t make friends around here, and on the off chance you think you have, you better run in the opposite direction. That saying about keeping your enemies close…where do you think that originated from?”

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                      ~

I thought on what the mystery girl at lunch had said for the rest of the day. Switching between grim determination and the kind of anxiety that left your stomach in knots and the food within churning painfully, I somehow managed to survive my last two classes without Roselle’s help.

Mind you, I did get lost on the way to my Archeology class, but only because it was located halfway across campus, nestled within the furthest corner of the building.

I nearly seized up when I entered the dimly lit room, void of any windows and warm with the scent of stale air. Each thunderous beat my heart made against my ribcage left my teeth vibrating. I barely managed an answer when the curly-haired professor asked why I’d been late, her dangly earrings distracting as they caught what little light filled the room and refracted it along the stone walls. Students snickered as I knew they would, and inevitably my face began to heat both with embarrassment and a crushing sense of claustrophobia.

Thankfully, I didn’t get the chance to sit down before Professor Sprout called the room to attendance and ushered us all outside. It was more than a relief to find out Archeology class was typically held out in the sprawling field that made up the courtyard. The dingy classroom was for rainy days and supply storage.

As Professor Sprout flitted about, her curls a halo of sunshine that bounced around her shoulders, I nearly forgot I was new here. Each and every student was absorbed in her lecture, in the way she presented the dusty old relics and turned them into something fascinating and new. I wished the feeling would last and tried my all to hold onto it, but those ninety minutes were fleeting.

Only by running did I make it to my last class on time. Not that anyone would’ve noticed since every single student was too preoccupied gawking at the young, smooth-faced professor.

I slipped inside the classroom without drawing attention to myself, sinking into an empty chair at the back of the room. Absentmindedly, I listened to a group of girl’s whisper about the sordid details of their darkest fantasies, all involving the newest addition to Darkling University’s faculty.

Professor Larkin paced the room as he began his lecture, taking long strides that briefly wrinkled the legs of his slate grey suit. The booming voice that pounced from his full lips was fitting for a man of his size, which resembled a warrior rather than an everyday professor.

His dark skin was nearly blemish free, apart from the small sliver of a scar I thought I’d seen peeking from beneath the sleeve of his suit jacket. It was his grey eyes that sealed the deal, tying up the last threads of his intimidation until just a single look made each one of us squirm in our seats. It was painstakingly clear why this man taught Business Fundamentals.

When my last class of the day came to an end, I all but sprinted from the room. The sound of my name rang in my ears, too faint for me to figure out who had called out. Finding my locker, which Roselle circled in pink ink, was surprisingly easy. In fact, it was the only thing I hadn’t struggled with.

The first wave of students had been let out and were forming small packs, laughing, and gossiping as the hallways filled and became more crowded. Heels clicked against the ground and the whooping of over-excited males beat like a ceremonial drum in my ears.

I tried not to cringe as I felt some of the more oblivious students brushing against me, clipping my shoulder as they walked. Silken perfumes, some floral and others unbearably musky, permeated the air in featherlike waves that brushed against my skin. With little hassle I wrenched the door open, shoved each achingly heavy textbook inside and slammed it shut.

One step was all I took when the double doors at the end of the corridor were flung open. A gust of air rushed through, carrying a plethora of rich scents from outside. It was a momentary break from the clouds of perfume and cologne I’d been walking through, or that’s what I thought—until I caught sight of him.

The sapphire-eyed jock with the friendly grin stood at the end of the corridor, his hair swooshed over his head from the sudden breeze. His scent obliterated that of the perfumes and colognes, silenced the chatter of voices and thud of feet tapping against stone.

His eyes met mine before replicating the cheeky smile he’d given me, the one I’d been sure was tossed in my direction.

Rather than hear, I felt Lacey’s gasp of utter bewilderment.

The flicker of surprise was short lived, bulldozed by a tidal wave of sensation—of emotion that flooded the very depths of my being until I was sure I’d burst from it all.

This was nothing like the books described—incomparable to the dry and utterly bland explanation our textbooks gave on mating bonds. Every trace amount of oxygen left my lungs, fleeing from the room as it raced towards the guy whose scent filled my veins.

The guy whose name I didn’t even know.

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