Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, page 2part #2 of Books of Faerie Series
Deirdre bit her lip. “I had no idea how crazy the class schedule would be. But—wow. It’s so good to see you. ”
There was a long, awkward moment where a hug would’ve usually happened, before last summer. Before Luke, and way before that text message I’d sent—the one neither of us could forget.
“You’re very tanned,” I said. A lie; Dee didn’t tan.
Dee sort of smiled. “And you cut your hair. ”
I ran a hand over my head, let my fingers worry over the new scar above my ear. “They had to shave it to put the stitches in. I just shaved all of it to match. I wanted to shave my initials in it, but—this will come as a shock to you—I just now realized that my initials spell JAM. It was kind of humiliating. ”
Dee laughed. I was absurdly pleased that she did. “It sort of suits you,” she said, but her eyes were on my hands and the scribbled words that covered both of them up to the wrist. More ink than skin.
I wanted to ask her how she was, about the faeries, about the text, but I couldn’t seem to say anything important. “Better than it would you. ”
She laughed again. It wasn’t a real laugh, but that was okay, because I hadn’t really meant it to be funny. I just needed something to say.
“What are you doing here?”
Both Dee and I spun and found ourselves facing one of the teachers: Eve Linnet. Dramatic Lit. She was a small, pale ghost in the dim light. Her face might’ve been pretty if she hadn’t been scowling. “This isn’t school grounds. ”
Something nagged me as wrong, though it took me a second to realize what. She’d come from the hills, not from the school.
Linnet craned her neck as if she’d just noticed Deirdre; Dee’s face was red as if we’d been caught doing something. Linnet’s voice was sharp. “I don’t know what sort of schools you two came from, but we don’t allow any of that sort of behavior here. ”
Before last summer, I would’ve made some joke about Dee and I—about how it wasn’t like that, how I was her bound love slave since birth, or how nothing had happened because Dee was repulsed by a certain chemical component in my skin. But instead I just said, “It wasn’t like that. ”
I knew it sounded guilty, and she must’ve thought so too, because she said, “Oh, it wasn’t? Then why were you all the way out here?”
I had it. I looked past her, toward the hills, and her eyes darted along my line of vision. “We were waiting for you. ”
Dee looked at me sharply, but not in the way Linnet did. Linnet looked angry, or afraid. For a long moment she didn’t say anything at all, and then, finally, she said, “I don’t think any of us should be here right now. Let’s go back to the dorms, and I’ll just forget this whole thing ever happened. It’s a terrible way to begin a school year, anyway. In trouble. ”
As Linnet turned to lead us back to the school, Dee cast an admiring glance in my direction, and then rolled her eyes toward Linnet, thoughts plain: she’s crazy!
I shrugged and allowed Dee half a grin. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with Linnet’s sanity, though. I think that I wasn’t the only one who had gone running out to meet that music.
Day eleven (11) (onze), according to the ticks on my left hand. The first week—all coy introductions in class and fluffy assignments—was over, and the second week was showing its teeth. Out came the giant homework assignments, the writing-upon of boards, and the general rending of garments that go with high school. It was funny—I’d really thought in the back of my head that a school filled with music geeks would be different from a regular high school, but really the only thing that was different was that we played our roles according to where we sat in the orchestra. Brass players: jerks. Woodwinds: snobby cliques. Strings: overachievers with their hands up all the time. Percussion: class clowns.
The only class that didn’t change much the second week was Mr. Sullivan’s English class: first period, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays. Bring your own caffeine. He let us drink coffee in class. It would’ve been hypocritical for him not to.
Anyway, Sullivan had started out the school year sitting on his desk and playing music on the stereo as he taught. While the other teachers buttoned down and buttoned up and got serious in week two, Sullivan stayed the same, a young, knobby diplomat for Shakespeare and his ilk. He’d assigned us murderous reading assignments in the first week, and those didn’t change either. We might’ve cared more about the murderous reading assignments if we hadn’t been allowed caffeine and to shift our desks around as we liked and to swear when needed.
“We’re going to be studying Hamlet,” Sullivan announced on day eleven. He had a huge travel cup in his hand; it made the whole room smell like coffee. I’d never seen him without coffee. As a junior faculty member, he lived on campus and doubled as our dorm’s resident advisor—his wife, rumor had it, had left him for a CEO of a company that made crap like My Little Ponies or something. The hall by his room always smelled like a shrine to caffeine. “How many of you have read it?”
It was a small class, even by Thornking-Ash standards: eight kids. No hands went up.
“Heathens,” Sullivan said pleasantly. “Well, it’s better if you’re all Hamlet-virgins, I suppose. Surely you’ve at least heard of it. ”
There were mumbling noises of assent. I hadn’t read Hamlet, but I was on good terms with Shakespeare. From the moment I heard, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” I’d been okay with Shakespeare. No fanboy stuff or secret handshakes or anything like that. But if we passed each other in the hall, we’d probably nod at each other.
Sullivan pressed on. “Well, let’s start there. What do you guys think of when you hear ‘Hamlet’? No, Paul. No hands. Just call it out. ”
“A small village,” said Eric. Eric technically wasn’t a student. I think he was supposed to be a teaching assistant but damned if I’d ever seen him assist Sullivan with anything. “Right? Like a tiny hamlet in the Swiss alps or something. ”
This was such a stupid answer that the rest of the class immediately relaxed. The bar had been set low enough that we could shout out just about anything.
“Ghosts,” Megan said. She was a vocalist. Vocalists irritated me because they were hard to classify into orchestral personality groupings in my head.
“To be or not to be!” shouted Wesley, whose name was also Paul and so had adopted his last name in the interests of clarity. It was nice of him to offer, considering that my roommate Paul’s last name was Schleiermacher and I couldn’t begin to spell it, much less say it.
“Everybody dies,” Paul added. Somehow, that made me think of the antlered figure behind the school.
“Suicide,” I said, “and Mel Gibson. ”
“Mel Gibson?” Eric demanded from behind me.
Sullivan pointed at me. “So you should’ve raised your hand, Mr. Morgan. You are familiar with Hamlet. ”
“That’s not what you asked,” I said. “You asked if we’d read it. I saw part of the movie on TV. I thought Mel Gibson acted better when he was wearing a kilt. ”
“Which is an excellent segue. The movie part, not the kilt comment. We’ll be watching the movie first—not the Mel version, sorry, James—and then reading the play. ” Sullivan pointed to a television screen behind him. “Which is why I brought this in. Only—”
He looked around the room, at our desks pulled into a circle around him, all of us waiting for wisdom to flow from his mouth. “Only I fear your butts will get flat from watching a movie in those chairs. We need something better. Who’s got good arm muscles?”
So we got the two sofas from the second-floor lounge. It only took four people per sofa to carry them down the hall, past the closed doors of the other classrooms, and into our room. Sullivan helped us shove them against the wall and draw the blinds so we wouldn’t get glare on the screen. It turned the room dark, so the fact that it was morning di
We piled onto the sofas and Sullivan turned a chair around backwards and sat next to us. We watched the first quarter of Hamlet (who took himself way too seriously) and Sullivan let us crack jokes about the more melodramatic bits (which was all of it) and for the first time since I’d arrived, I felt like I sort of belonged.
Another painfully beautiful fall day in the land of hyphenated schools; the trees were still green in the basin, but on some of the north faces of the hills and mountains surrounding, the leaves were beginning to burn red and orange. The combination made it look fake, like a model train layout. I had the car stereo set to “obnoxiously loud,” which was probably why I didn’t hear my phone ring; it was only when I caught the glow out of the corner of my eye that I realized someone was calling.
Maybe Dee, finally.
I grabbed it from the passenger seat and looked at the number. Mom. Sigh. Putting the phone on speaker, I set it on the dash. “Yeah. ”
“Who is this?”
“Your darling son. Fruit of your womb. Sprung from Dad’s loins after twinkling in his eye for God knows how lo–”
Mom cut me off. “It sounds like you’re in a wind tunnel. ”
“I’m driving. ”
“In a wind tunnel?”
I leaned forward and slid the phone closer. “You’re on speaker phone. Better?”
“Not hardly. Why are you driving? It’s during the school day, isn’t it?”
I wedged the phone into the sun visor. It was probably still a little noisy, but it was the best she was going to get. “If you knew, why did you call?”
“Are you cutting?”
I squinted at the street signs. There was a small sign that said, “Historic Downtown Gallon, VA” (I thought the VA was redundant, as any visitor who had gotten this far should remember what state they’re in) and had an arrow pointing to the left. “No, Mom. Cutting is for losers who go to jail after being unable to get a job. ”
Mom paused, recognizing her own words, especially since I’d delivered them in a high-pitched voice and her faintly Scottish accent. “That’s true,” she admitted. “So what are you doing?”
Peering at the picturesque but economically deficient main street of Gallon, I answered, “Going to my lesson. Before you ask, it’s a piping lesson. Before you ask, no, Thornking-Ash doesn’t have a resident piping instructor. Before you ask, I have no idea why they’d give scholarship money to a kid whose main instrument was the pipes, considering the answer to unasked question number two. ” My peers at Thornking-Ash and I were required to take two credits of Musical Performance in order to flex the musical muscles we’d need to successfully woo universities. Hence, piping lessons.
“Well, who is this guy? Is he any good?” Mom’s voice was doubtful.
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