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Beautiful Creatures, Page 2

Kami Garcia

  This car was long and black, like a hearse. Actually, I was pretty sure it was a hearse.

  Maybe it was an omen. Maybe this year was going to be worse than I thought.

  “Here it is. ‘Black Bandanna.’ This song’s gonna make me a star.”

  By the time he looked up, the car was gone.


  New Girl

  Eight streets. That’s how far we had to go to get from Cotton Bend to Jackson High. Turns out I could relive my entire life, going up and down eight streets, and eight streets were just enough to put a strange black hearse out of your mind. Maybe that’s why I didn’t mention it to Link.

  We passed the Stop & Shop, otherwise known as the Stop & Steal. It was the only grocery store in town, and the closest thing we had to a 7-Eleven. So every time you were hanging out with your friends out front, you had to hope you weren’t going to run into someone’s mom shopping for dinner, or worse, Amma.

  I noticed the familiar Grand Prix parked out front. “Uh-oh. Fatty’s camped out already.” He was sitting in the driver’s seat, reading The Stars and Stripes.

  “Maybe he didn’t see us.” Link was watching the rearview mirror, tense.

  “Maybe we’re screwed.”

  Fatty was Stonewall Jackson High School’s truant officer, as well as a proud member of the Gatlin police force. His girlfriend, Amanda, worked at the Stop & Steal, and Fatty was parked out front most mornings, waiting for the baked goods to be delivered. Which was pretty inconvenient if you were always late, like Link and me.

  You couldn’t go to Jackson High without knowing Fatty’s routine as well as your own class schedule. Today, Fatty waved us on, without even looking up from the sports section. He was giving us a pass.

  “Sports section and a sticky bun. Know what that means.”

  “We’ve got five minutes.”

  We rolled the Beater into the school parking lot in neutral, hoping to slink past the attendance office unnoticed. But it was still pouring outside, so by the time we got into the building, we were soaked and our sneakers were squeaking so loud we might as well have just stopped in there anyway.

  “Ethan Wate! Wesley Lincoln!”

  We stood dripping in the office, waiting for our detention slips.

  “Late for the first day a school. Your mamma is goin’ to have a few choice words for you, Mr. Lincoln. And don’t you look so smug, Mr. Wate. Amma’s gonna tan your hide.”

  Miss Hester was right. Amma would know I’d shown up late about five minutes from now, if she didn’t already. That’s what it was like around here. My mom used to say Carlton Eaton, the postmaster, read any letter that looked half-interesting. He didn’t even bother to seal them back up anymore. It’s not like there was any actual news. Every house had its secrets, but everyone on the street knew them. Even that was no secret.

  “Miss Hester, I was just drivin’ slow, on account a the rain.” Link tried to turn on the charm. Miss Hester pulled down her glasses a little and looked back at Link, un-charmed. The little chain that held her glasses around her neck swung back and forth.

  “I don’t have time to chat with you boys right now. I’m busy fillin’ out your detention slips, which is where you’ll be spendin’ this afternoon,” she said, as she handed each of us our blue slip.

  She was busy all right. You could smell the nail polish before we even turned the corner. Welcome back.

  In Gatlin, the first day of school never really changes. The teachers, who all knew you from church, decided if you were stupid or smart by the time you were in kindergarten. I was smart because my parents were professors. Link was stupid, because he crunched up the pages of the Good Book during Scripture Chase, and threw up once during the Christmas pageant. Because I was smart, I got good grades on my papers; because Link was stupid, he got bad ones. I guess nobody bothered to read them. Sometimes I wrote random stuff in the middle of my essays, just to see if my teachers would say anything. No one ever did.

  Unfortunately, the same principle didn’t apply to multiple-choice tests. In first-period English, I discovered my seven hundred-year-old teacher, whose name really was Mrs. English, had expected us to read To Kill a Mockingbird over the summer, so I flunked the first quiz. Great. I had read the book about two years ago. It was one of my mom’s favorites, but that was a while ago and I was fuzzy on the details.

  A little-known fact about me: I read all the time. Books were the one thing that got me out of Gatlin, even if it was only for a little while. I had a map on my wall, and every time I read about a place I wanted to go, I marked it on the map. New York was Catcher in the Rye. Into the Wild got me to Alaska. When I read On the Road, I added Chicago, Denver, L.A., and Mexico City. Kerouac could get you pretty much everywhere. Every few months, I drew a line to connect the marks. A thin green line I’d follow on a road trip, the summer before college, if I ever got out of this town. I kept the map and the reading thing to myself. Around here, books and basketball didn’t mix.

  Chemistry wasn’t much better. Mr. Hollenback doomed me to be lab partners with Ethan-Hating Emily, also known as Emily Asher, who had despised me ever since the formal last year, when I made the mistake of wearing my Chuck Taylors with my tux and letting my dad drive us in the rusty Volvo. The one broken window that permanently wouldn’t roll up had destroyed her perfectly curled blond prom-hair, and by the time we got to the gym she looked like Marie Antoinette with bedhead. Emily didn’t speak to me for the rest of the night and sent Savannah Snow to dump me three steps from the punch bowl. That was pretty much the end of that.

  It was a never-ending source of amusement for the guys, who kept expecting us to get back together. The thing they didn’t know was, I wasn’t into girls like Emily. She was pretty, but that was it. And looking at her didn’t make up for having to listen to what came out of her mouth. I wanted someone different, someone I could talk to about something other than parties and getting crowned at winter formal. A girl who was smart, or funny, or at least a decent lab partner.

  Maybe a girl like that was the real dream, but a dream was still better than a nightmare. Even if the nightmare was wearing a cheerleading skirt.

  I survived chemistry, but my day only got worse from there. Apparently, I was taking U.S. History again this year, which was the only history taught at Jackson, making the name redundant. I would be spending my second consecutive year studying the “War of Northern Aggression” with Mr. Lee, no relation. But as we all knew, in spirit Mr. Lee and the famous Confederate general were one and the same. Mr. Lee was one of the few teachers who actually hated me. Last year, on a dare from Link, I had written a paper called “The War of Southern Aggression,” and Mr. Lee had given me a D. Guess the teachers actually did read the papers sometimes, after all.

  I found a seat in the back next to Link, who was busy copying notes from whatever class he had slept through before this one. But he stopped writing as soon as I sat down. “Dude, did you hear?”

  “Hear what?”

  “There’s a new girl at Jackson.”

  “There are a ton of new girls, a whole freshman class of them, moron.”

  “I’m not talkin’ about the freshmen. There’s a new girl in our class.” At any other high school, a new girl in the sophomore class wouldn’t be news. But this was Jackson, and we hadn’t had a new girl in school since third grade, when Kelly Wix moved in with her grandparents after her dad was arrested for running a gambling operation out of their basement in Lake City.

  “Who is she?”

  “Don’t know. I’ve got civics second period with all the band geeks, and they didn’t know anythin’ except she plays the violin, or somethin’. Wonder if she’s hot.” Link had a one-track mind, like most guys. The difference was, Link’s track led directly to his mouth.

  “So she’s a band geek?”

  “No. A musician. Maybe she shares my love a classical music.”

  “Classical music?” The only classical music Link had ever heard was in the dentist�
��s office.

  “You know, the classics. Pink Floyd. Black Sabbath. The Stones.” I started laughing.

  “Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Wate. I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, but I’d like to get started if it’s a’right with you boys.” Mr. Lee’s tone was just as sarcastic as last year, and his greasy comb-over and pit stains just as bad. He passed out copies of the same syllabus he had probably been using for ten years. Participating in an actual Civil War reenactment would be required. Of course it would. I could just borrow a uniform from one of my relatives who participated in reenactments for fun on the weekends. Lucky me.

  After the bell rang, Link and I hung out in the hall by our lockers, hoping to get a look at the new girl. To hear him talk, she was already his future soul mate and band mate and probably a few other kinds of mates I didn’t even want to hear about. But the only thing we got a look at was too much of Charlotte Chase in a jean skirt two sizes too small. Which meant we weren’t going to find out anything until lunch, because our next class was ASL, American Sign Language, and it was strictly no talking allowed. No one was good enough at signing to even spell “new girl,” especially since ASL was the one class we had in common with the rest of the Jackson basketball team.

  I’d been on the team since eighth grade, when I grew six inches in one summer and ended up at least a head taller than everyone else in my class. Besides, you had to do something normal when both of your parents were professors. It turned out I was good at basketball. I always seemed to know where the players on the other team were going to pass the ball, and it gave me a place to sit in the cafeteria every day. At Jackson, that was worth something.

  Today that seat was worth even more because Shawn Bishop, our point guard, had actually seen the new girl. Link asked the only question that mattered to any of them. “So, is she hot?”

  “Pretty hot.”

  “Savannah Snow hot?”

  As if on cue, Savannah—the standard by which all other girls at Jackson were measured—walked into the cafeteria, arm in arm with Ethan-Hating Emily, and we all watched because Savannah was 5'8" worth of the most perfect legs you’ve ever seen. Emily and Savannah were almost one person, even when they weren’t in their cheerleading uniforms. Blond hair, fake tans, flip-flops, and jean skirts so short they could pass for belts. Savannah was the legs, but Emily was the one all the guys tried to get a look at in her bikini top, at the lake in the summer. They never seemed to have any books, just tiny metallic bags tucked under one arm, with barely enough room for a cell phone, for the few occasions when Emily actually stopped texting.

  Their differences boiled down to their respective positions on the cheer squad. Savannah was the captain, and a base: one of the girls who held up two more tiers of cheerleaders in the Wildcats’ famous pyramid. Emily was a flyer, the girl at the top of the pyramid, the one thrown five or six feet into the air to complete a flip or some other crazy cheer stunt that could easily result in a broken neck. Emily would risk anything to stay on top of that pyramid. Savannah didn’t need to. When Emily got tossed, the pyramid went on fine without her. When Savannah moved an inch, the whole thing came tumbling down.

  Ethan-Hating Emily noticed us staring and scowled at me. The guys laughed. Emory Watkins clapped a hand on my back. “In like sin, Wate. You know Emily, the more she glares, the more she cares.”

  I didn’t want to think about Emily today. I wanted to think about the opposite of Emily. Ever since Link had brought it up in history, it had stuck with me. The new girl. The possibility of someone different, from somewhere different. Maybe someone with a bigger life than ours, and, I guess, mine.

  Maybe even someone I’d dreamed about. I knew it was a fantasy, but I wanted to believe it.

  “So did y’all hear about the new girl?” Savannah sat down on Earl Petty’s lap. Earl was our team captain and Savannah’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. Right now, they were on. He rubbed his hands over her orangey-colored legs, just high enough so you didn’t know where to look.

  “Shawn was just fillin’ us in. Says she’s hot. You gonna put her on the squad?” Link grabbed a couple of Tater Tots off my tray.

  “Hardly. You should see what she’s wearin’.” Strike One.

  “And how pale she is.” Strike Two. You could never be too thin or too tan, as far as Savannah was concerned.

  Emily sat down next to Emory, leaning over the table just a little too much. “Did he tell you who she is?”

  “What do you mean?”

  Emily paused for dramatic effect.

  “She’s Old Man Ravenwood’s niece.”

  She didn’t need the pause for this one. It was like she had sucked the air right out of the room. A couple of the guys started laughing. They thought she was kidding, but I could tell she wasn’t.

  Strike Three. She was out. So far out, I couldn’t even picture her anymore. The possibility of my dream girl showing up disappeared before I could even imagine our first date. I was doomed to three more years of Emily Ashers.

  Macon Melchizedek Ravenwood was the town shut-in. Let’s just say, I remembered enough of To Kill a Mockingbird to know Old Man Ravenwood made Boo Radley look like a social butterfly. He lived in a run-down old house, on Gatlin’s oldest and most infamous plantation, and I don’t think anyone in town had seen him since before I was born, maybe longer.

  “Are you serious?” asked Link.

  “Totally. Carlton Eaton told my mom yesterday when he brought by our mail.”

  Savannah nodded. “My mamma heard the same thing. She moved in with Old Man Ravenwood a couple a days ago, from Virginia, or Maryland, I don’t remember.”

  They all kept talking about her, her clothes and her hair and her uncle and what a freak she probably was. That’s the thing I hated most about Gatlin. The way everyone had something to say about everything you said or did or, in this case, wore. I just stared at the noodles on my tray, swimming in runny orange liquid that didn’t look much like cheese.

  Two years, eight months, and counting. I had to get out of this town.

  After school, the gym was being used for cheerleading tryouts. The rain had finally let up, so basketball practice was on the outside court, with its cracked concrete and bent rims and puddles of water from the morning rain. You had to be careful not to hit the fissure that ran down the middle like the Grand Canyon. Aside from that, you could almost see the whole parking lot from the court, and watch most of the prime social action of Jackson High while you warmed up.

  Today I had the hot hand. I was seven-for-seven from the free throw line, but so was Earl, matching me shot for shot.

  Swish. Eight. It seemed like I could just look at the net, and the ball would sail through. Some days were like that.

  Swish. Nine. Earl was annoyed. I could tell by the way he was bouncing the ball harder and harder every time I made a shot. He was our other center. Our unspoken agreement was: I let him be in charge, and he didn’t hassle me if I didn’t feel like hanging out at the Stop & Steal every day after practice. There were only so many ways you could talk about the same girls and so many Slim Jims you could eat.

  Swish. Ten. I couldn’t miss. Maybe it was just genetics. Maybe it was something else. I hadn’t figured it out, but since my mom died, I had stopped trying. It was a wonder I made it to practice at all.

  Swish. Eleven. Earl grunted behind me, bouncing the ball even harder. I tried not to smile and looked over to the parking lot as I took the next shot. I saw a tangle of long black hair, behind the wheel of a long black car.

  A hearse. I froze.

  Then, she turned, and through the open window, I could see a girl looking in my direction. At least, I thought I could. The basketball hit the rim, and bounced off toward the fence. Behind me, I heard the familiar sound.

  Swish. Twelve. Earl Petty could relax.

  As the car pulled away, I looked down the court. The rest of the guys were standing there, like they’d just seen a ghost.

  “Was that—?”

sp; Billy Watts, our forward, nodded, holding onto the chain-link fence with one hand. “Old Man Ravenwood’s niece.”

  Shawn tossed the ball at him. “Yep. Just like they said. Drivin’ his hearse.”

  Emory shook his head. “She’s hot all right. What a waste.”

  They went back to playing ball, but by the time Earl took his next shot, it had started to rain again. Thirty seconds later, we were caught in a downpour, the heaviest rain we’d seen all day. I stood there, letting the rain hammer down on me. My wet hair hung in my eyes, blocking out the rest of the school, the team.

  The bad omen wasn’t just a hearse. It was a girl.

  For a few minutes, I had let myself hope. That maybe this year wouldn’t be just like every other year, that something would change. That I would have someone to talk to, someone who really got me.

  But all I had was a good day on the court, and that had never been enough.


  A Hole in the Sky

  Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, string beans, and biscuits—all sitting angry and cold and congealed on the stove where Amma had left them. Usually, she kept my dinner warm for me until I got home from practice, but not today. I was in a lot of trouble. Amma was furious, sitting at the table eating Red Hots, and scratching away at the New York Times crossword. My dad secretly subscribed to the Sunday edition, because the ones in The Stars and Stripes had too many spelling mistakes, and the ones in Reader’s Digest were too short. I don’t know how he got it past Carlton Eaton, who would’ve made sure the whole town knew we were too good for The Stars and Stripes, but there was nothing my dad wouldn’t do for Amma.

  She slid the plate in my direction, looking at me without looking at me. I shoveled cold mashed potatoes and chicken into my mouth. There was nothing Amma hated like food left on your plate. I tried to keep my distance from the point of her special black # 2 pencil, used only for her crosswords, kept so sharp it could actually draw blood. Tonight it might.