Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, page 12part #2 of Books of Faerie Series
After Sullivan had failed to give me a demerit for sleeping in, I thought that I’d escaped further retribution, but apparently I was wrong. The next day, before class, he caught my arm in the hall just before I went into the classroom.
“I’m giving you a pass today, James,” he said.
The smell of coffee wafted from inside the room. “I’ll miss Hamlet. ”
“You weren’t worried about that last class. ”
“Oh, God, is this still about last class?”
Sullivan gave me a look that would fry eggs and released my arm. “Only indirectly. You’re getting a pass today because you’re going to go meet with Gregory Normandy. ”
The last time I had seen the name “Gregory Normandy” it was on the bottom of a business card in my Thornking-Ash acceptance packet, with the word “President” underneath it. I felt like a cat presented with a full bathtub. “Can’t I just write out ‘I will never again miss class’ one million times?”
Sullivan shook his head. “What a waste of your highly trained fingers, James. Go find Normandy. He’s expecting you. In the admin offices. Try and keep your vitriol to a manageable low. He’s on your side. ”
I had actually been looking forward to Hamlet as a low-stress introduction to the morning. I thought it was pretty unfair of Sullivan to deliver me to an authority figure before lunch.
I found Gregory Normandy in McComas Hall, a small, octagon-shaped building with windows on every single side. Inside, my sneakers squeaked on the wood floors of the octagon-shaped entry hall. Eight men and women with varying degrees of frowning and baldness looked down at me from portraits on each wall. Possibly founders of this proud institution. The whole place smelled of flowers and mint, though I couldn’t see evidence of either.
I checked the brown plastic nameplates on each of the seven doors until I found Normandy’s name. I knocked.
“It’s open. ”
I pushed the door open and blinked in the sunlight; Normandy’s office faced east, and the morning sun was blinding through the wall of windows behind his desk. When my eyes adjusted, I found Gregory Normandy sitting behind a desk adorned with stacks of paper and two vases of daisies. I was a little surprised, especially given the daisies, to see that his head was shaved close and that his arm and chest muscles looked like he could kick my ass without breaking a sweat. Even with a dress shirt and tie on, he didn’t exactly look presidential, unless we were talking president of Fight Club.
Normandy’s eyes lingered just above my ear; it took me a moment to realize he was looking at the scar. “You must be James Morgan. It’s nice to meet you in person. Have a seat. ”
I took a seat across from him and promptly sank two inches into the plush cushion. Out the window, behind Normandy, I could see the satyr fountain. “Thanks,” I said, cautious.
“How are you doing here at Thornking-Ash?”
“I’m very much enjoying the ability to order take-out every night,” I replied.
Normandy made a face that I wasn’t sure I liked. It was a knowing face, like either Sullivan had warned him I was a smart-ass or that I was otherwise fulfilling some expectation he had of me as a smart-ass. I didn’t quite care for it.
“So you’ve discovered that our piping instructor wasn’t up to par,” he said.
I contemplated several answers, and in the end just sort of shrugged.
Normandy unscrewed the top of a Coke bottle and took a swig before placing the bottle on his desk. “Which of course has you wondering why we bothered inviting you to Thornking-Ash. ”
I felt my eyes narrowing without meaning for them to. “As a matter of fact, I was wondering that very thing. Not that I’m not flattered. ”
“How do you think your friend Deirdre is doing here?”
My arms erupted into goose bumps, and my voice was sharper than I intended. “Is she why I’m here?”
Normandy used his middle fingers to push some of his papers back and forth on his desk; it was a strangely delicate-looking gesture. “What sort of a school do you think we are, James?”
“Music school,” I said, knowing as I said it that it wasn’t the right answer.
He kept pushing the papers around, not looking at me. “We’re interested in music in the way that doctors are interested in fevers. When they see a fever, they’re pretty sure there’s an infection. When we see kids with outstanding musical talent, we’re pretty sure there’s … ”
Normandy looked up at me, waiting for me to finish the sentence.
I just held his gaze. It was hard to imagine that he was really talking about what I thought he was talking about. What was it Sullivan had said—there was more to the teachers than it seemed?
“What do you expect me to say?” I said.
Normandy answered with another question. “Who gave you that scar? It’s a beauty by any standards. Your ‘accident’ was in the newspaper. I have the clipping in your application file. ”
I swallowed, and when I spoke, I was surprised to hear that I sounded guarded. “What do you want?”
“I want you to tell me if you see anything strange. I want you especially to tell me if Deirdre Monaghan sees anything strange. We’re here”—he stabbed his finger on his desk emphatically when he said here—“for a reason. And we want to make sure kids like you and Deirdre make it successfully to college. Without … interference. ”
I rubbed my palms over my goose bumps. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Mr. Sullivan heard you play. He thinks you’re good enough to attract the wrong sort of attention. And I already heard Deirdre play, so I know how good she is. ”
It was weird hearing him call her Deirdre so much, instead of Dee. How could someone who didn’t even know to call her Dee know anything about her problems? “I’ll let you know,” I said. There was a long pause. “Is that all?”
Normandy sort of nodded, and I stood up. He looked up. “I know you don’t want to talk about Them. And you shouldn’t. I don’t have to tell you it’s bad to mention Them out loud. But please, tell Patrick—Mr. Sullivan—if you see him. ”
I didn’t tell him what I was thinking. Which was not that I didn’t trust him, but that I didn’t trust him to be useful. The adults who had known about the faeries this summer hadn’t done anything, except possibly make things worse.
“Thanks for your concern,” I said politely.
That was the first and only time I went to his office.
Sleep has its own cadence, its own melody
Like death, sometimes silent, sometimes rising
In a beautiful harmony not quite remembered
When from one or the other you’re flying.
—from Golden Tongue: The Poems of Steven Slaughter
James slept a lot. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that he slept when he was bored or unhappy or convincing himself that he wasn’t unhappy. He slept at stupid times of the day, too, like halfway through a morning class or really late in the afternoon so that he ended up wide awake when the rest of the world was sleeping. His casual sleep-any-old-time attitude had his silly roommate Roundhead firmly convinced of James’ confidence, but I knew James’ self-screwing for what it really was.
It was the end of a cool day and James was sleeping now, tightly curled on his bed while Roundhead was off doing something having to do with an oboe. I sat at the end of James’ bed and watched him sleep. James slept like he did everything else: totally intense, like it was a competition and he couldn’t let down his guard for a minute. His scribbled hands were pulled up to his face, his wrists turned to face each other in a sort of weird, beautiful knot. His knuckles were white.
I slid a little closer and hovered one of my hands a few inches above his bare arm. Beneath my fingers, goose bumps raised on his skin in response to my presence, and my teeth appeared from behind my lips, a smile despite myself.
James shivered but
Well. I could give him a dream he wouldn’t forget. I shifted to the other side of the bed, dancing on the line between invisibility and visibility so that I wouldn’t wake him, and looked into his frowning face. Really what I wanted to do was give him a dream about accidentally crapping himself in front of a lot people or something equally weenie-shrinking, but the truth was, I had no talent for causing embarrassing dreams. It was easiest for me to send an agonizingly beautiful dream—something so breathtaking that the dreamer was absolutely bereft upon waking. I’d learned the hard way that a little went a long way—one of my early pupils had killed himself after waking from one of my creations. Seriously. Some people had absolutely no capacity for suffering.
I laid my hands carefully on James’ head and began to stroke his hair. He shivered under my touch, whether from cold or because he knew what was coming, I didn’t know. I inserted myself into his dream, looking, as I had been lately, revoltingly gorgeous, and called his name.
In his dream, James jerked. “Dee?” His voice was plaintive.
I was really beginning to hate that girl.
I stopped stroking his hair and smacked his head instead, becoming visible so fast that my head pounded. “Wake up, maggot. ”
James winced under my hand. Without opening his eyes, he said, “Nuala. ”
I glared at him. “Otherwise known as the only female who will ever be in your bed, loser. ”
He flopped his hands over his face. “God have mercy, my head feels like hell. Kill me now, evil creature, and put me out of my mercy. ”
I pressed a finger against his windpipe, just hard enough that he’d have to ask me for a hall pass to be able to swallow. “Don’t tempt me. ”
James rolled out from under my finger, shoving his face into his blue-checked pillow. His voice was muffled. “You have such a winning way about you, Nuala. Tell me, how long have you been gracing God’s green earth with your positively incandescent personality?” In his head, I saw him guessing one hundred years, two hundred years, a thousand years. He thought I was like the rest of them.
“Sixteen,” I snapped. “Didn’t you ever hear it wasn’t nice to ask?”
James turned his face so that he could look at me. He was frowning. “I’m not a very nice person. Sixteen doesn’t seem very long to me. We are talking years, right, not centuries?”
I didn’t have to tell him anything, but I did anyway. Scornfully, I said, “Not centuries. ”
James rubbed his face on his pillow as if he could rub drowsiness off. He glanced back at me and raised an eyebrow. He kept his eyes on my face, but his expression was distinctly suggestive when he spoke. “Faeries must, um, develop a lot faster than humans. ”
I slid off the bed and crouched beside it so that we were eye to eye, inches apart. “Would you like to hear a charming bedtime story, human?”