Evernight Page 9

“Mrs. Bethany said they’ve finally finished refitting the labs,” Dad said between sips from his glass. “I hope I have a chance to check them out before the students do. Might have some equipment so modern that I don’t know what to do with it.”

“This is why I teach history,” Mom replied. “The past doesn’t change. It just gets longer.”

“Will I have you guys for teachers?” I said through a full mouth.

“Swallow your food.” The Dad command seemed auto matic. “Wait and see tomorrow, like the others.”

“Oh. Okay.” It wasn’t like him to cut me off that way, and I felt taken aback.

“We can’t get in the habit of giving you too much extra information,” Mom said more gently. “You need to have as much as possible in common with the rest of the students, you know?”

She meant it lightly, but it hit me hard. “Who is it here I’m supposed to have something in common with? The Evernight kids whose families have been coming here for centuries? The outsiders who fit in here even worse than I do? Which group am I supposed to be like?”

Dad sighed. “Bianca, be reasonable. There’s no point in arguing about this again.”

It was past time to let it go, but I couldn’t. “Right, I know. We came here ‘for my own good.’ How is leaving our home and all my friends good for me? Explain that again, because I never quite got it.”

Mom laid her hand over mine. “It’s good for you because you’ve almost never left Arrowwood. Because you rarely even left our neighborhood unless we forced you. And because the handful of friends you made there couldn’t possibly sustain you forever.”

She made sense, and I knew it.

Dad set his glass down. “You have to learn to adapt to changing circumstances, and you have to become more independent. Those are the most important skills your mother and I can teach you. You can’t always stay our little girl, Bianca, no matter how much we might want you to. This is the best way for us to prepare you for the person you’re going to become.”

“Stop pretending that this is all about growing up,” I said. “It’s not, and you know it. This is about what you guys want for me, and you’re determined to get your way whether I like it or not.”

I stood up and walked away from the table. Instead of slinking back to my room for my sweatshirt, I just grabbed Mom’s cardigan from the coat rack and pulled it on over my clothes. Even in early fall, the school grounds were cool after dark.

Mom and Dad didn’t ask where I was going. It was an old house rule: Anybody on the verge of getting angry had to take a quick walk, a break from the discussion, then come back and say what they really mean. No matter how upset we were, that walk always helped.

As a matter of fact, I created that rule. Made it up when I was nine. So I didn’t think my maturity was really the issue.

My uneasiness in the world—the sure, complete belief that I didn’t really have a place in it—that wasn’t about being a teenager. It was a part of me, and it always had been. Maybe it always would be.

While I walked across the grounds, I cast a glance around, wondering if I might see Lucas in the forest again. It was a stupid idea—why would he spend all his time outside?—but I felt lonely, so I had to look. He wasn’t there. Looming behind me, Evernight Academy looked more like a castle than a boarding school. You could imagine princesses locked in cells, princes fighting dragons in the shadows, and evil witches guarding the doors with enchantments. I’d never had less use for fairy tales.

The wind changed directions and brought a flicker of sound—laughter toward the west, in the direction of the gazebo in the west yard. No doubt those were the “picnickers.” I gathered the cardigan more tightly around me and walked into the woods—not east toward the road, the way I’d run that morning, but instead toward the small lake that lay to the north.

It was too late and too dark to see much, but I liked the wind rustling through the trees, the cool scent of pines, and the owl hooting not so far away. Breathing in and out, I stopped thinking about the picnickers or Evernight or anything else. I could just get lost in the moment.

Then nearby footsteps startled me—Lucas, I thought—but it was Dad, his hands in his pockets, strolling toward the same path I stood on. Of course he could find me. “That owl is close. You’d think we would scare him off.”

“Probably he smells food. He won’t leave if there’s a chance of a meal.”

As if to prove my point, a heavy, swift flapping of wings shook the branches overhead, and then the owl’s dark shape darted to the ground. Terrible squealing revealed that a small mouse or squirrel had just become dinner. The owl swooped away too quickly for us to see. Dad and I only watched. I knew I should admire the owl’s hunting skill, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the mouse.

He said, “If I was harsh in there, I’m sorry. You’re a mature young woman, and I shouldn’t have suggested otherwise.”

“It’s okay. I kinda flew off the handle. I know there’s no point in arguing about coming here, not anymore.”

Dad smiled gently at me. “Bianca, you know that your mother and I didn’t ever think we’d be able to have you.”

“I know.” Please, I thought, not the “miracle baby” speech again.

“When you came into our lives, we dedicated ourselves to you. Maybe too much. And that’s our fault, not yours.”

“Dad, no.” I loved it when it was just our family together, only the three of us in the world. “Don’t talk about it like it’s something bad.”

“I’m not.” He seemed sad, and for the first time I wondered if he didn’t really like this either. “But everything changes, sweetheart. The sooner you accept that, the better.”

“I know. I’m sorry I’m still letting it get to me.” My stomach rumbled, and I wrinkled my nose and asked, hopefully, “Could I reheat my dinner?”

“I have a sneaking suspicion that your mother might have already taken care of that.”

She had. For the rest of the evening, we had a good time. I figured I might as well have fun while I could. Tommy Dorsey replaced Glenn Miller, and then Ella Fitzgerald replaced him. We talked and joked about stupid things mostly—movies and TV, all the stuff my parents wouldn’t pay any attention to if it weren’t for me. Once or twice, though, they tried joking about school.

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