Poison Princess

Page 5

I always gave him a cool smile, then strode off. And the Cajunland player seemed surprised that I was immune to his charms. Granted, he was attractive—some girls sighed as he passed them. . . .

Acting like I was fascinated with the classroom’s many wall maps, I glanced over my shoulder to gauge his looks once more.

His gaze was already on me. As we took each other’s measure, sunlight beamed through the window, striking his handsome face, highlighting his gray eyes and chiseled features.

With those cheekbones, squared jaw, and raven-black hair, he probably had Choctaw or Houma ancestry.

No wonder he has so many gaiennes.

Where had that thought come from? I faced forward with a blush.

Even if I didn’t have a boyfriend, I’d never go out with a parolee biker. Who, if rumors were to be believed, was the ringleader behind a new rash of thefts in Sterling.

Back to the drawing. I blanched at my ghastly depiction. Slice you to ribbons, choke you in vine. So totally disturbing—but I had no one to confide in, no one to tell me things would get better.

If my crazy was anything like what Gran had gone through, I wished we could talk about it. Yet Mom had forbidden me to contact her, didn’t want me even to think about her. . . .

“Everybody settle down,” Broussard said. “Today we’re going to learn a little about the French Acadians or Cadians—more commonly known as Cajuns.”

He could do all the Cajun PR he wanted to; everybody had already made up their minds about the transfers.

Whenever Clotile sashayed down the hall in her microminis and cutoff T-shirts, boys stopped and stared, jamming traffic. The guys in this town had just never encountered a girl so blatantly available for sex, and it was making them a little wild.

Most students steered clear of Jackson, whose steely gaze and buck knife had done nothing to dispel the cage-the-rage rumor.

The three other Cajuns were just as troublesome, punching students’ books out of their hands or tripping them.

“They were originally French settlers in Acadia,” Broussard began, “what’s now known as Nova Scotia.” He raised a wooden pointer to indicate Canada on a map. “When the Protestant English who controlled that area gave them ultimatums—one of which was to change their religion or leave—the fiercely Catholic Acadians migrated to Louisiana, to settle bayou lands that everyone else had deemed worthless. Acadian—Cadian—Cajun. Get it?”

I couldn’t have been less interested in this subject. I only tuned back in once Broussard had finished his lecture and began outlining our junior paper on local history.

Making up 40 percent of our grade, it would be a partnership effort. I listened without concern as he announced the sixteen partnerships; I could work with fairly much anyone in this class.

“Jackson Deveaux and Evie Greene.”

The. Hell.

Paired with the boy who’d been staring at me for days? I bit my lip, glancing back at him. He gave me a chin jerk in acknowledgment.

Broussard said, “For the last half of this class, you’ll sit with your partner, working out meeting and research schedules for the semester.”

Meeting with Jackson for an entire semester? Obviously I’d have to write the whole paper. But something told me the drunken biker who’d ogled my ass in the Porsche might insist on us “researching” together.

When everyone else began moving desks, he patted the vacated seat next to him with a cocky smirk.

Did he expect me to trip over myself to get near him? To become a doe tag?

I didn’t need this! Already my classes were going to be grueling, without having to deal with a lecherous parolee on a regular basis.

A drop in grades was one of the signs my mom was supposed to look for that might indicate a relapse.

When I imagined returning to CLC, my hand shot up. Broussard ignored me.

I cleared my throat. “Mr. Broussard, can I . . .” My voice trailed off when he turned on me, his thick brows knitted with irritation.

“Evie, start working on this. Now.”

I decided to endure the next thirty minutes, then talk to Broussard after class—

Jackson slammed into the desk next to mine, his gray eyes furious. I hastily shut my journal, but he must’ve gotten a peek because he frowned for a second before saying, “You doan even know me, and you’re angling for another . . . podna?”

I knew podna was hard for him to say, because it also was Cajun for friend. “Wouldn’t you rather work with Gaston?”

“I asked you a question. Why you want to switch?”

“Fine. Because when you drove by us Monday, you were leering at me like a registered SO.”

“A blonde pulls up her skirt and bends over for me? I’m goan to pay attention.”

My eyes darted. Had anyone heard that? Under my breath, I snapped, “I was not bending over for you!”

“You been leering at me just as much, girl.”

“Me?” Inhaling for composure, I said, “Come on, Jack, be realistic. You know that someone like you and someone like me would never be able to work together.”

His voice scathing, he said, “You doan call me Jack, no. Only my friends do.”

Anger issues, much? I was starting to believe the knifing rumor. “There are a thousand other things I’d prefer to call you.”

My nose began to itch, which set me even more on edge. The room darkened. Maybe we were finally going to get some rain. There hadn’t been a drop of precipitation all summer.

With a glare for good measure at Jackson, I glanced outside—

The sun was . . . gone.

Night was falling. And across the sky, ethereal lights flickered, crimson and violet, like Mardi Gras streamers. I gaped as flames arced over the school, those eerie lights like a twinkling crown above the fire.

Across the grounds, a river of snakes slithered over each other, their scales reflecting the lights above. Panicked rats scurried alongside the creatures that usually ate them.

Those flames descended, searing them to ash, everything to ash.

The apocalypse. Just like my visions from last spring. I’d thought . . . I’d thought I was cured, at least of these. But that shivery feeling in my head told me otherwise.

Reject the delusion. Center yourself; you’re in control, focused.

I told myself that, but all I could think was: You’re freaking out, about to hyperventilate, where the hell is center? Damn it, I’d taken my medicine!

I jerked my gaze away, inwardly chanting, Not real, not real. Everyone else in class was talking, Broussard reading with his heels kicked up.

Jackson was staring down at his fists, taking deep breaths. Caging the rage? He opened his mouth to speak. . . .

Another peek at the window. A boy was strolling through the flames outside, stopping fifteen feet or so away from the line of windows. Though fire raged all around him, he was untouched.

He had even features, a mop of dark brown hair, and deep brown eyes. He was tall, with a swimmer’s physique, leanly muscular. An attractive boy.

I’d never seen people in my delusions before! Unless you counted the blood-drinking bogeymen—

“Evie!” The imaginary boy was speaking to me!? “Where are your allies? So much to learn. Know no plays! Allegiances forming!” he said, his demeanor harried. “Beware the old bloodlines, the other families that chronicle. They know what you are! Beware the lure: a wounded creature, a light in darkness, a feast when your stomach cleaves. Allies, Evie! Beware!”

He was . . . talking . . . to me. Maybe the real test of crazy was if I talked back?

I dimly heard Jackson saying something to me as well. What? What? I felt off-kilter, like the ground was teetering. Act normal, Evie. You remember how to do this. Respond to the Cajun like nothing’s wrong. “I, uh, I s-suggest we talk to Broussard after class and get ourselves reassigned.”

He scowled. “You doan know anything about me.”

“I know enough . . .”—finish your sentence—“enough not to trust forty percent of my grade to you.” That had come out way harsher than I’d meant it.

His expression turned menacing. “Are you even listening to what I’ve been saying, you?”

“You don’t prepare,” that imaginary boy murmured sadly. “I go over the edge, the dog at my heels, but the moon is waxing, Empress. You must be ready. Field of battle. Arsenal. Obstacles. Foes. It begins directly at the End. And the Beginning is nigh.”

Empress? The word dredged up forbidden memories of Gran asking, “Does Empress Evie want some ice cream?”

Outside, the landscape was changing. The school’s gardens had been incinerated. Everything was dead. I might as well have been looking at the surface of the moon. Nausea churned.

“Behold the field of battle,” the boy said, motioning toward the wasteland of cinder. “Arsenal?” he queried in a hopeful tone. “Obstacles? Foes? No? Ah, you listen poorly!” Then his face brightened. “Next time I’ll talk louder. And louder. And louder.”

He—and the entire scene—vanished.

Louder? I couldn’t handle this, much less louder! I clasped my shaking hands in my lap as I struggled to hide my panic. Had Jackson just said something else?

Again, I told him, “We’ll get new partners.”

He was silent for long moments before grating, “You doan think I can do the work, doan think I’m smart enough?”

My third day of school. The apocalyptic visions had returned. I was insane.

Two years and out? I wouldn’t make two weeks. I gave a bitter laugh.

“You’re laughing at me?” He clenched those big, taped fists like he was just dying to hit something. Most likely my face.

“What else would I be laughing at?” I questioned sharply, defensively. It took me a second to realize that I’d just insulted the hell out of the Cajun.

I felt like sobbing. The medicine wasn’t working, I wouldn’t make two years till college, and I’d just been hideous to Jackson, even if I hadn’t completely meant to be.

Maybe I could apologize later, tell him I hadn’t been feeling well—

“Tu p’tee pute,” he sneered to my face. You little bitch.

I stiffened. Scratch that apology.

Unable to help myself, I glanced at the window again. That boy was gone, and the sun had returned to shine over green grass and achingly brilliant blooms.

Maybe I’d dreamed that wasteland. Maybe all of this day was a dream! A side effect of my medicine was a sense of being outside one’s body.

I felt a million miles away.

Or maybe that scene was like a residual hiccup from last spring—a sign, a test—to see how committed I was to being normal.

If this was a trial by fire, I’d pass. I’d excel.

Jackson scowled at me, clenching that pencil in his fist until I thought it would snap. The tension between us groaned as I battled the urge to take out my journal, to draw that cryptic boy’s face.

The clock on the wall ticked like a bomb.

How would I manage to hide this latest development from my eagle-eyed mother during one of her interrogations? For most of my life, Karen Greene had been the ideal mom—funny, kind, hardworking. But lately, it’d seemed like a stranger had taken her over, one determined to bust me for something.

If she discovered I was hallucinating again, I had no doubt my mother would lock me up in a place like CLC indefinitely.

Because she’d done it to her own mother eight years ago.

At last the bell rang. Once the rest of the students had filed out of class, Broussard pronounced to Jackson and me, “The assignments stay the same. You two have to work it out.”

Jackson’s pencil snapped in his fist.

Brandon was waiting on me at my locker, casually eating an apple, so blissfully immune to drama or doubts. Between bites, he said, “What’s the matter? You look like you’re about to freak out.”

Ding, ding, ding. Then I reminded myself that what I’d just suffered was a mere residual vision. So what was there to freak out about? “I’m fine. I just got partnered in history with Jackson Deveaux. Broussard won’t reassign me.”

“Deveaux shoved his shoulder into mine yesterday,” Brand said. “Don’t know what his problem is. You need me to talk to him?”

Brand was a lover, not a fighter. “I don’t want you to do anything that will get you kicked off the team.” Plus, I suspected Jackson would mop the floor with him. “Those Basin kids are driving me up the wall.”

He nodded. “I hate those four punks.” Startling words from Brand. Normally, he was like me, getting along with everybody. “The girl seems all right, though.”

Does she, then? Yesterday after biology, I’d smiled to find Brand waiting for me, but he’d turned, agog, as a braless Clotile sauntered past—before I cleared my throat with an arch look.

Even more embarrassing? Jackson had seen the whole thing, smirking over the rim of his flask.

Now Brand seemed to be awaiting something from me. What? My brain was soup.

Jackson stormed up to his locker then, Lionel following him. As Jackson tossed his history text inside, he shot me a killing look. I slitted my eyes before I turned back to Brand.

“I’ve got an idea I want to run by you,” he murmured, his lids growing heavy.

Oh. Back to that. Ever since I’d returned, I’d been avoiding the subject of My Promise, hoping Brandon would take a hint.

In texts, he’d actually begun counting down the days left until my birthday—like he had a cherry countdown widget.

When I caught him sneaking a glance at my chest, his expression one of longing, I remembered a movie where one of the heroines had likened boobs to smart bombs. I’d laughed. Now I marveled at how right she’d been.

I scraped up a placid smile. “Let’s talk after practice.”

He leaned in. “Spence’s parents are going out of town, not this weekend but the next. So it’d be after your birthday . . .”

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