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Bloodlines Chapter Six

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string(37) " youthful eyes are better than mine\."

TO BE FAIR, THE DAY STARTED OFF GREAT.

Sunlight was streaming in through the windows when we woke up, and I could already feel the heat even though it was early morning. I chose my lightest ensemble from the uniform selection: a gray skirt, paired with a short-sleeved white blouse.

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“Simple jewelry” was allowed, so I kept the gold cross on. My hair was having one of its difficult days – which seemed to be more often than not in this new climate. I wished I could pull it in a ponytail, like Jill did with hers, but it had too many layers to do that neatly. Eyeing where they hit my shoulders at different lengths, I wondered if maybe it was time to grow it out.

After a breakfast neither of us really ate, we rode the shuttle bus up to Central Campus, which was suddenly packed with people. Only about a third of the students were boarders. The rest were locals, and they had all turned out today. Jill barely spoke throughout the entire ride and seemed to be sick again. It was hard to say, but I thought she looked paler than usual. Her eyes were bloodshot once more, heavy with dark circles. I’d woken up once in the night and seen her fast asleep, so I wasn’t entirely sure what the problem was. Those dark circles were actually the first flaw I’d ever seen in any Moroi’s skin – it was always perfect, porcelain. No wonder she could usually sleep in late. She didn’t have to bother with the powder and concealer I used.

As the morning progressed, Jill kept biting her lip and looking worriedly around. Maybe she was just nervous about immersing herself in a world populated entirely with humans. She didn’t seem at all concerned about the logistics of getting to the right rooms and completing work. That was the aspect that still scared me a little. Just get from one class to another, I told myself. That’s all you have to do.

My first class was ancient history. Eddie was in it too, and he practically ran me down when he saw me. “Is she okay? Have you seen her?”

“Well, we share a room, so yeah.” We sat down at neighboring desks. I smiled at Eddie. “Relax. She’s fine. She seemed nervous, but I can’t really blame her.”

He nodded but still looked uncertain. He gave his full attention to the front of the room when the teacher stepped up, but there was a restlessness about Eddie as he sat there, like he could just barely stop himself from springing up to go check on Jill.

“Welcome, welcome.” Our instructor was a forty-something woman with white-streaked, wiry black hair and enough nervous energy to rival Eddie – and if her giant coffee cup was any indication, it wasn’t hard to figure out why. I was also a little jealous and wished we were allowed to have beverages in class – particularly since the dorm cafeteria didn’t serve coffee. I didn’t know how I was going to survive the next few months with caffeine-free days. Her wardrobe favored argyle. “I am Ms. Terwilliger, your illustrious guide on the wondrous journey that is ancient history.” She spoke in a sweeping, grandiose voice that made a few of my classmates break into snickers. She gestured to a young man who’d been sitting behind her, near the large desk. He’d been watching the class with a bored expression, but when she turned to him, he perked up. “And this is my co-guide, Trey, whom I believe some of you may know. Trey is my student aide for this period, so he’ll mostly be skulking in corners and filing papers. But you should be nice to him since he may very well be the one entering your grades into my computer.”

Trey gave a small wave and grinned at some of his friends. He had deeply tanned skin and black hair whose length flirted with the dress code’s rules. The neatly pressed Amberwood uniform gave him the illusion of all business, but there was a mischievous glint in his dark eyes that made me think he didn’t really take being an aide seriously.

“Now,” continued Ms. Terwilliger. “History is important because it teaches us about the past. And by learning about the past, you come to understand the present, so that you may make educated decisions about the future.”

She paused dramatically to let those words sink in. Once she was convinced we were awed, she moved over to a laptop that was wired up to a projector. She pushed a few keys, and an image of a white-pillared building appeared on the screen at the front of the room.

“Now, then. Can anyone tell me what this is?”

“A temple?” someone called out.

“Very good, Mr. – ?”

“Robinson,” the boy supplied.

Ms. Terwilliger produced a clipboard and scanned a list. “Ah, there you are. Robinson. Stephanie.”

“Stephan,” corrected the boy, flushing as some of his friends giggled.

Ms. Terwilliger pushed her glasses up her nose and squinted. “So you are. Thank goodness. I was just thinking how difficult your life must be with such a name. My apologies. I broke my glasses in a freak croquet accident this weekend, forcing me to bring my old ones today. So, Stephan-not-Stephanie, you’re correct. It’s a temple. Can you be more specific?”

Stephan shook his head.

“Can anyone else offer any insight?”

When only silence met Ms. Terwilliger, I took a deep breath and raised my hand. Time to see what it was like to be a real student. She nodded toward me.

“It’s the Parthenon, ma’am.”

“Indeed it is,” she said. “And your name is?”

“Sydney.”

“Sydney…” She checked the clipboard and looked up in astonishment. “Sydney Melbourne? My goodness. You don’t sound Australian.”

“Er, it’s Sydney Melrose, ma’am,” I corrected.

Ms. Terwilliger scowled and handed the clipboard to Trey, who seemed to think my name was the funniest thing ever. “You take over, Mr. Juarez. Your

youthful eyes are better than mine. If I keep at this, I’ll keep turning boys into girls and perfectly nice young ladies into the descendants of criminals. So.” Ms. Terwilliger focused back on me. “The Parthenon. Do you know anything about it?”

The others were watching me, mostly with friendly curiosity, but I still felt the pressure of being the center of attention. Focusing solely on Ms. Terwilliger, I said, “It’s part of the Acropolis, ma’am. In Athens. It was built in the fifth century BC.”

“No need to call me ‘ma’am,'” Ms. Terwilliger told me. “Though it is refreshing to get a bit of respect for a change. And brilliantly answered.” She glanced over the rest of the room. “Now, tell me this. Why on earth should we care about Athens or anything that took place over fifteen hundred years ago? How can that be relevant to us today?”

More silence and shifting eyes. When the unbearable quiet dragged on for what felt like hours, I started to raise my hand again. Ms. Terwilliger didn’t notice and glanced back at Trey, who was resting his feet on the teacher’s desk. The boy instantly dropped his legs and straightened up.

“Mr. Juarez,” declared Ms. Terwilliger. “Time to earn your keep. You took this class last year. Can you tell them why the events of ancient Athens are relevant to us today? If you don’t, then I’m going to have to call on Miss Melbourne again. She looks like she knows the answer, and think how embarrassing that will be for you.”

Trey’s eyes flicked to me and then back to the teacher. “Her name is Melrose, not Melbourne. And democracy was founded in Athens in the sixth century. A lot of the procedures they set into place are still in effect with our government today.”

Ms. Terwilliger clasped her hand over her heart dramatically. “You were paying attention last year! Well, almost. Your date is off.” Her gaze fell on me. “I bet you know the date democracy was started in Athens.”

“The fifth century,” I answered immediately.

That earned me a smile from the teacher and a glare from Trey. The rest of the class proceeded in much the same way. Ms. Terwilliger continued on with her flamboyant style and highlighted a number of important times and places that we were going to study in more detail. I found I could answer any question she asked. Some part of me said I should ration myself, but I couldn’t help it. If no one knew the answer, I felt compelled to provide it. And each time I did, Ms. Terwilliger would say, “Trey, did you know that?” I winced. I really didn’t want to make enemies on my first day. The other students watched me curiously when I spoke, which made me a little self-conscious. I also saw a few of them exchange knowing looks each time I answered, as though they were in on some secret I wasn’t. That concerned me more than irritating Trey did. Did it sound like I was showing off? I was too unsure of the social politics here to understand what was normal and what wasn’t. This was an academically competitive school. Surely it wasn’t a bad thing to be educated? Ms. Terwilliger left us with an assignment to read the first two chapters of our textbook. The others groaned, but I was excited. I loved history, specifically the history of art and architecture. My homeschooling had been aggressive and well rounded, but that particular subject wasn’t one my father had thought we needed to spend a lot of time on. I’d had to study it on my own time, and it was both startling and luxurious to think I now had a class whose sole purpose was to learn about this and that my knowledge would be valued – by the teacher, at least.

I parted ways with Eddie after that and went off to AP Chemistry. While I was waiting for class to start, Trey slid into a desk beside me.

“So, Miss Melbourne,” he said, imitating Ms. Terwilliger’s voice. “When will you be starting up your own history class?”

I was sorry Ms. Terwilliger had picked on him, but I didn’t like his tone. “Are you actually taking this class? Or are you going to lounge around some more and pretend to be helping the teacher?”

This brought a grin to his face. “Oh, I’m in this one, unfortunately. And I was Ms. T’s best student last year. If you’re as good at chemistry as you are in history, then I’m nabbing you for a lab partner. I’ll be able to take the whole semester off.”

Chemistry was a crucial part of the Alchemists’ trade, and I doubted there was anything in this class I didn’t already know. The Alchemists had arisen in the Middle Ages as “magical scientists” trying to turn lead into gold. From those early experiments, they’d gone on to discover the special properties of vampire blood and how it reacted with other substances, eventually branching out into the crusade to keep vampires and humans separate from one another. That earlier scientific background, and our current work with vampire blood, made chemistry one of the main subjects of my childhood education. I’d received my first chemistry set when I was six. When other kids were practicing the alphabet, my father was grilling me with acid and base flash cards. Unable to admit as much to Trey, I averted my eyes and casually brushed hair from my face. “I’m okay in it.”

His gaze moved to my cheek, and a look of understanding came over him. “Ah. So that’s it.”

“What’s it?” I asked.

He pointed to my face. “Your tattoo. That’s what it does, huh?”

In moving my hair, I’d revealed the gold lily. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“You don’t have to play coy with me,” he said, rolling his dark eyes. “I get it. I mean, it seems like cheating to me, but I guess not everyone cares about honor. Pretty ballsy to have it on your face, though. They’re against the dress code, you know – not that that stops anyone.”

I shifted and let my hair fall back into place. “I know. I meant to put makeup on it and forgot. But what do you mean about cheating?”

He simply shook his head in a way that clearly said I’d been dismissed. I sat there feeling helpless, wondering what I’d done wrong. Soon, my confusion was replaced by dismay as our instructor gave us an introduction to the class and its setup. I had a chemistry set back in my room that was more extensive than Amberwood’s. Oh well. I supposed a little elementary review wouldn’t hurt me.

My other classes progressed in a similar way. I was on top of all my subjects and found myself answering every question. This got me in good with my teachers, but I couldn’t gauge the rest of my classmates’ reactions. I still saw a lot of rueful head shakes and intrigued expressions – but only Trey actually condemned. I didn’t know if I should hold back or not.

I ran into Kristin and Julia a couple of times, and they reminded me to join them for lunch. I did, finding them sitting in a corner table in East’s cafeteria. They waved me over, and as I wove through the rows of tables, I did a quick scan, hoping to see Jill. I hadn’t run into her all day, but that wasn’t too shocking, considering our schedules. Presumably, she was eating over at the other cafeteria, maybe with Eddie or Micah.

Kristin and Julia were friendly, chatting me up about how my first day had gone and imparting wisdom about certain teachers they’d had before. They were seniors like me, and we shared a couple classes. We spent most of lunch exchanging basic info, like where we were all from. It wasn’t until lunch was winding down that I began to get answers to some of the questions that had been bugging me all day. Although it required wading through still more questions first.

“So,” said Kristin, leaning across the table. “Does it just give you a super memory? Or does it like, I don’t know, actually change your brain and make you smarter?”

Julia rolled her eyes. “It can’t make you smarter. It’s gotta be memory. What I want to know is, how long does it last?”

I glanced back and forth between them, more confused than ever. “Whatever you’re talking about can’t be making me smarter, because I’m so lost right now.”

Kristin laughed at that. “Your tattoo. I heard you answering all the hardest questions in math. And a friend of mine is in your history class and said you were dominating there too. We’re trying to figure out how the tattoo helps you.”

“Helps me… answer questions?” I asked. Their faces confirmed as much. “It doesn’t. That stuff… that’s just, well, me. I just know the answers.”

“No one’s that smart,” argued Julia.

“It’s not that crazy. I’m no genius. I guess I’ve just learned a lot. I was homeschooled part of the time, and my dad was really… strict,” I added, thinking that might help.

“Oh,” said Kristin, toying with a long braid. I’d noticed she wore her dark hair in very practical ways while blond Julia’s was always teased and tousled. “I guess that could be it… but then, what does your tattoo do?”

“It doesn’t do anything,” I said. Yet even as I spoke the words, I felt a slight tingle in my flesh. The tattoo had a kind of magic in it that stopped me from speaking about anything Alchemist-related to those who weren’t part of the inner circle. This was the tattoo stopping me from saying too much, not that there was any need. “I just thought it was cool.”

“Oh,” said Julia. Both girls looked inexplicably disappointed.

“Why on earth would you think the tattoo is making me smart?” I asked.

The warning bell interrupted further conversation, reminding us all it was time to get to our next class. There was a pause as Kristin and Julia considered something. Kristin seemed to be the leader of the two because she was the one who gave a decisive nod. I had the distinct feeling I was being assessed.

“Okay,” she said finally, giving me a big smile. “We’ll fill you in more on everything later.”

We set up a time to hang out and study later, then parted ways. My impression was that more socialization than studying would go on, which was fine with me, but I made a mental note to get my homework done first. The rest of the day went quickly, and I received a note in one class from Molly the advisor. As expected, I’d passed out of all of my language courses, and she wanted me to come by and discuss matters during the last period, when I technically had no class. This meant that my school day would officially wrap up with PE.

I changed into my assigned gym clothes, shorts and an Amberwood T-shirt, and trekked outside into the hot sun with the others. I’d felt a little of the heat ducking between classes today, but it wasn’t until I actually had to stand outside for any length of time that I really and truly appreciated the fact that we were out in the desert. Glancing around at my classmates, who were guys and girls of all grades, I saw that I wasn’t the only one sweating. I rarely burned but reminded myself to pick up sunscreen to be safe. Jill would need it too.

Jill!

I peered around. I’d nearly forgotten that Jill was supposed to be in the same class. Except, where was she? There was no sign of her. When our instructor, Miss Carson, called attendance, she didn’t even say Jill’s name. I wondered if there’d been a last-minute schedule change.

Miss Carson believed in jumping right into the action. We were divided into teams for volleyball, and I found myself standing beside Micah. His fair, freckled complexion was growing pink, and I almost wanted to suggest sunscreen to him as well. He gave me one of his friendly smiles.

“Hey,” I said. “You haven’t seen my sister today, have you? Jill?”

“No,” he said. A slight frown crossed his forehead. “Eddie was looking for her at lunch. He figured she was eating with you over at your dorm.” I shook my head, a queasy feeling welling in my stomach. What was going on? Nightmare scenarios flashed through my mind. I’d thought Eddie was overreacting with his vigilance, but had something happened to Jill? Was it possible that, despite all our planning, one of Jill’s enemies had slipped in and stolen her out from under us? Was I going to have to tell the Alchemists – and my father – that we’d lost Jill on the first day? Panic flashed through me. If I wasn’t about to be sent to a re-education center before, I definitely was on my way to one now.

“Are you okay?” Micah asked, studying me. “Is Jill okay?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Excuse me.” I broke out of my team formation and jogged over to where Miss Carson was supervising.

“Yes?” she asked me.

“I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am, but I’m worried about my sister. Jill Melrose. I’m Sydney. She’s supposed to be in here. Do you know if she changed classes?”

“Ah, yes. Melrose. I got a note from the office, just before class, that she wouldn’t be attending today.”

“Did they say why?”

Miss Carson shook her head apologetically and barked an order to some guy who was slacking off. I rejoined my team, mind spinning. Well, at least someone had seen Jill today, but why on earth would she not be attending?

“Is she okay?” Micah asked me.

“I… I guess. Miss Carson seemed to know she wouldn’t be in class but doesn’t know why.”

“Is there anything I can do?” he asked. “To help her? Er, you guys?”

“No, thanks. That’s nice of you to ask.” I wished there was a clock around. “I’ll check on her as soon as class is over.” A thought suddenly occurred to me. “But Micah? Don’t say anything to Eddie.”

Micah gave me a curious look. “Why not?”

“He’s overprotective. He’ll worry when it’s probably nothing.”

Also, he’ll tear the school apart looking for her.

When class ended, I quickly showered and changed clothes before heading to the administrative building. I was desperate to run back to the dorm first to see if Jill was there, but I couldn’t be late for the appointment. As I walked down a hallway to Molly’s office, I passed by the main one – and an idea came to me. I stopped in to talk to the attendance secretary before going to my appointment.

“Jill Melrose,” the secretary said, nodding. “She was sent back to her dorm.”

“Sent back?” I exclaimed. “What does that mean?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.” Melodramatic much?

Annoyed and more confused than ever, I went to Molly’s office, taking comfort in the fact that even if Jill’s absence was mysterious, at least it was sanctioned by the school. Molly told me I could either take another elective or engage in some kind of independent study in place of a language, if I got a teacher to sponsor me. An idea popped into my head.

“Can I check in with you tomorrow?” I asked. “I need to talk to someone first.”

“Sure,” said Molly. “Just decide soon. You can go back to your dorm now, but we can’t have you wandering around every day during this time.” I assured her she’d have an answer soon and headed back. The shuttle bus didn’t run very often during classes, so I just walked the mile back. It only took fifteen minutes but felt twice as long in the heat. When I finally reached the dorm room, relief flooded me. Hanging out in our room as if nothing strange had happened was Jill.

“You’re all right!”

Jill was lying on the bed, reading her book again. She looked up morosely. “Yeah. Kind of.”

I sat down on my own bed and kicked off my shoes. “What happened? I had a panic attack when you weren’t in class. If Eddie knew – “

Jill sat bolt upright. “No, don’t tell Eddie. He’ll freak out.”

“Okay, okay. But tell me what happened. They said you got sent here?”

“Yeah.” Jill made a face. “Because I was kicked out of my first class.”

I was speechless. I couldn’t imagine what sweet, shy Jill could have possibly done to warrant that. Oh, God. I hope she didn’t bite someone. I was the one everyone expected to have trouble fitting into a school schedule. Jill should have been a pro.

“What were you kicked out for?”

Jill sighed. “For having a hangover.”

More speechlessness. “What?”

“I was sick. Ms. Chang – my teacher – took one look at me and said she could spot a hangover a mile away. She sent me to the office for breaking school rules. I told them I was just sick, but she kept saying she knew. The principal finally said there was no way to prove that’s why I was sick, so I didn’t get punished, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the rest of my classes. I had to stay here for the rest of the school day.”

“That’s… that’s idiotic!” I shot to my feet and began pacing. Now that I’d recovered from my initial disbelief, I was simply outraged. “I was with you last night. You slept here. I should know. I woke up once, and you were out cold. How can Ms. Chang even make an accusation like that? She had no proof!

The school didn’t either. They had no right to send you out of class. I should go to the office right now! No, I’m going to talk to Keith and the Alchemists and have our ‘parents’ file a complaint.”

“No, wait, Sydney.” Jill jumped up and caught ahold of my arm, as though afraid I would march out then and there. “Please. Don’t. Just let it go. I don’t want to cause any more trouble. I didn’t get any bad marks. I wasn’t really punished.”

“You’re behind in your classes,” I said. “That’s punishment enough.”

Jill shook her head, eyes wide. She was afraid, I realized, but I had no idea why she wouldn’t want me to tell. She was the victim here. “No, it’s fine. I’ll catch up. There are no long-term consequences. Please don’t make a big deal out of this. The other teachers probably just thought I was sick. They probably don’t even know about the accusations.”

“It’s not right, though,” I growled. “I can do something about it. It’s what I’m here for, to help you.”

“No,” said Jill adamantly. “Please. Let it go. If you really want to help…” She averted her eyes.

“What?” I asked, still filled with righteous fury. “What do you need? Name it.”

Jill looked back up. “I need you… I need you to take me to Adrian.”

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