Ballad a gathering of f.., p.23

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, page 23

 part  #2 of  Books of Faerie Series


Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie

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Page 23


  “Oh. ” Eleanor’s hand flew up to her mouth. She leaned toward her human and her delight was hard to bear. “Oh. Do you see that, lovely?” Her consort made a noise of consent. Eleanor said to me, “So that is why you tremble with desire, little whore? Because you have been going without?”

  Bullshit I was trembling. I was fine. It hadn’t been that long since Steven. “It’s none of your business. ”

  “Everything is my business. I care deeply for all my subjects and I hate to think of you wanting for anything. ”

  “Is that so?” I sneered.

  “You need only ask,” Eleanor said. She turned toward James, smiling distantly, like she was remembering. “What’s wrong? He won’t make a bargain with you? I can make him more pliable for you. He was very easy to break, the first time. ”

  In her head I saw the memory of him, broken and gasping, so clearly that I knew she’d meant for me to. My voice was fierce. “I don’t want to make a bargain with him. My bargains are my own business. You have your business and I have mine. I don’t meddle in yours and you don’t meddle in mine. ”

  I’d gone way too far, but that image of him had ripped something open inside me. I turned my head, waiting for her wrath.

  But she just placed a hand on my shoulder and shook her head, clucking her tongue. “Save your strength. If you mean to last until the day of the dead without making a bargain, you’ll need every bit of it. ”

  I looked up into her face, and I saw that she was smiling. She was smiling in an awful way that told me she knew exactly how I felt about James and she thought it was interesting. Eleanor, like all the court fey, liked to break interesting things, especially things she’d broken before.

  I pushed her fingers off my shoulders, and when I turned to face her, she was gone.


  In most of my classes at good old TK-A, there were about eighteen students. With the teacher presiding at the front of the classroom, the rest of us had, over the weeks of class time, conveniently arranged ourselves by personality types. Front row: suck-ups and over-achievers like myself. Second row: Friends of suck-ups and over-achievers. And wanna-be friends. And wanna-be suck-ups who were too slow to grab a seat in the front row. Third row: People who were neither suck-ups nor screw-ups (latter parties belonged in the back row). Third row people didn’t interest me. Or anyone else, I think. Too good to be bad and too bad to be good. Back row: as mentioned before, screw-ups, trouble-makers, and those who just didn’t give a damn.

  Funny how I really belonged in both the front and the back rows. Didn’t seem like it ought to be possible.

  Anyway, our normally cozy class structure was all shot to hell this morning, as Sullivan’s class had been thrown together with Linnet’s dramatic literature section for some nefarious purpose undoubtedly to be revealed later on in the period.

  So we’d taken over a larger, brilliantly sunny classroom down the hall that could accommodate the lot of us and suddenly we had to fight for our previous seat/personality assignments. Which is how Paul and I found ourselves in the back row, a place I probably belonged and a place Paul could probably make himself belong by sheer virtue of hanging out with me. What I didn’t expect was to end up sitting next to Dee, who belonged in the back row about as much as I belonged at Thornking-Ash in general. I didn’t have a single class with her and it took me way too long to figure out that she was there because she was in Linnet’s dramatic lit class.

  I sat there for several moments, while the autumn breeze blew in the big windows on one side of the room and fluttered the papers on the desks, and thought of things to say to her that were all various stages of funny, informative, or questioning. In the end I just said, “So you really do take classes here. ”

  Dee did me the favor of laughing, even though it was possibly my lamest line ever, and leaned across her desk to whisper to me, “I’m sorry I was so bawly yesterday. ”

  On the other side of me, Paul took my hand so that he could write on it. I felt him carefully printing on my skin while I tried to think of something coherent to say to Dee. She was all large-eyed and beautiful as usual but I was missing some of that gnawing urgency to be funny and wanted, which I normally felt when I was around her.

  I thought, maybe I can get over her after all. Maybe it doesn’t have to hurt.

  “Before we get started, I’m going to need you all to pass forward your composition outline,” Linnet called from the front, sparing me from saying my second lamest line ever. Linnet looked even smaller and more breakable from way back here in the loser-screw-up-don’t-give-a-damn row. “I’m also collecting papers for Mr. Sullivan. I understand you have outlines due for him as well. ” There was no sign of Sullivan at the front; usually he was perched on top of the desk by now.

  Beside me, Dee flipped open her notebook to pull out her outline and, as she did, I saw the piece of paper underneath it. Some sort of exam. With a big red 42 on it, circled. And F written beside it, in case she’d missed the concept of 42 being a failing grade.

  Straight-A front-row beautiful-lost Dee looked over at me as if she knew instinctively that I’d seen the exam and that I’d know right away what that 42 meant to her. Her eyes were wide and frightened and pleading for a second, and I just stared at her, not bothering to hide my shock. Dee laid her hand down on the exam, very carefully, to stop the breeze from catching the edge of the paper. Her fingers covered the grade.

  But that didn’t change the wrongness of it.

  “Back row! Pass them up please,” Linnet said, her voice unpleasant and hard around the edges.

  We snapped out of it. Dee passed her paper to the desk in front of her and Paul and I sent our identical outlines for Ballad up our rows. I folded my hands back on my desk, and as I did, I saw Paul’s slanted handwriting standing out against my blocky, square printing on my skin. He’d managed to find room to squeeze in the words females hurt my brain on my left hand. I raised an eyebrow at him and he gave me a look like, well it’s true, isn’t it?

  A 42. Damn. I didn’t think I’d ever seen Dee get anything less than a B plus, and I remembered that one because she’d called me about it. She’d been programmed for technical perfection at birth; a grade like that had to be causing short-circuits and malfunctions across her system.

  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

  “I’d like for you to make your desks into groups of four,” Linnet called from the front. “Both sections have just finished reading and watching Hamlet and I’d like you to discuss it in small groups. I’ll be watching your participation and I’ll let Mr. Sullivan know how active you were in the discussion when he returns this afternoon. ” She started rambling on about discussion questions on the board and she’d be reading our outlines while we talked and whatever, just get on with it, so we just started dragging our desks into circles which completely drowned her out with scraping metallic legs on the floor.

  We ended up in a group with Paul, me, and Dee from the back row, and a third-row student who looked less than pleased to have been assimilated into a greater-than-fifty-percent-back-row group.

  The less-than-pleased student was a girl named Georgia (who played the trumpet—I tried not to hold that against her) and she decided to take charge by reading the first question off the board. “Okay. First question. Which character from Hamlet do you identify with the most?”

  I looked at Dee, really hard—the sort of look that not only forces people into one spot but also burns holes into them big enough to stick pencils through—and said, “Ophelia, because no one told her what the hell was going on, so she killed herself. ”

  Dee blinked.

  Georgia blinked.

  Paul started laughing.

  Linnet, at the front of the room, looked suspicious, because let’s face it, when it’s five minutes into a discussion about a play where practically everyone starts out dead or ends up that way, hysterical laughter sort of draws attention.

  “This is a time for discussion, not conversation,” Linnet said, glaring at us. She drifted ominously in our direction, like a jellyfish. She kept trying to not look at my hands.

  “We are discussing. ” I looked back to Dee, whose eyes darted between me and Linnet. “We were talking about the real-world implications of the lack of communication between Hamlet and Ophelia and what an ass-face Hamlet was for keeping Ophelia in the dark about what he was thinking. ”

  Sullivan would’ve appreciated my off-the-cuff analysis of the material—hey, at least I’d done the reading, right?—but Linnet frowned at me. “I’d prefer if you didn’t use that sort of language in my classroom. ”

  I turned my attention to her and tried to sound like I cared. “I’ll try and keep it PG-13 from now on. ”

  “Do that. I’m sure Mr. Sullivan doesn’t allow that in his class. ” The way she said it had a distinct question mark on the end, as if she wasn’t sure.

  I smiled at her.

  Linnet’s frown deepened and she jellyfish-drifted her tentacles toward another discussion group.

  Georgia glared at me, tapped her pencil on her notebook, and said, “I think I identify most with Horatio, because—”

  “Maybe Hamlet knew Ophelia wouldn’t get it,” Dee interrupted, and Georgia rolled her eyes in disgust. “Ophelia would’ve told Hamlet right off that what he was doing was stupid, without knowing the context. ”

  “You’re assuming that Ophelia didn’t know anything about what Hamlet was going through,” I said. “But Ophelia was there the first time, remember? She knows what back-stabbing freaks Gertrude and Claudius are. It’s not her first time around Denmark, Dee. ”

  “Hello, what are we talking about here?” Georgia asked. “Ophelia doesn’t know anything about Gertrude and Claudius. Hamlet only knows about Claudius murdering his father because of his father’s ghost, and Hamlet’s the only one the ghost spoke to. So Ophelia doesn’t know anything. ”

  I waved off Georgia and said to Dee, “Ophelia’s only clueless because Hamlet doesn’t trust Ophelia enough to confide in her. Apparently, he thinks he can do everything himself, which wasn’t true the first time and is definitely not true this time either. He should’ve let Ophelia help. ”

  Dee’s eyes were a little too bright; she blinked and they cleared. “Ophelia wasn’t exactly a great judge of character. She should’ve just stayed away from Hamlet like Polonius told her to. People only got hurt by being close to Hamlet. Everybody died because of him. He was right to drive Ophelia away. ”

  Georgia started to talk, but I leaned over my desk toward Dee and said, teeth gritted, “But Ophelia was in love with Hamlet. ”

  Dee stared at me and I stared back at her, sort of shocked that I’d said it, and then Paul broke the mood by saying, “I just figured it out. The whole gender-opposite metaphor was throwing me off. Sullivan must be Polonius. He’s got that whole father-figure to Ophelia thing going on. ”

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