I collapse face-first into the sound barrier and sob and sob and sob. Someone is knocking on my door. There it is again! Are you okay? A blonde with long, tight curls waits on the other side.
Volleyball player big. A diamondlike nose ring sparkles in the hall light. Were those your parents who just left? Chocolat chaud. Hot chocolate, I can make some in my room. Despite myself, I follow. Meredith stops me with her hand like a crossing guard. The doors automatically lock behind you. We enter her room. I gasp. No mini-toilet, those are shared down the hall.
Quite good-looking, actually. Plays for Arsenal. The English football club? You could hammer nails with those thighs. Her room is amazing. In addition to the paraphernalia taped to her walls, she has a dozen china teacups filled with plastic glitter rings, and silver rings with amber stones, and glass rings with pressed flowers.
I try on a ring with a rubber dinosaur attached. The T-rex flashes red and yellow and blue lights when I squeeze him. I need clean walls and a clean desktop and everything put away in its right place at all times.
Meredith looks pleased with the compliment. Clearly the product of a school photography class. Four people stand before a giant hollow cube, and the abundance of stylish black clothing and deliberately mussed hair reveals Meredith belongs to the resident art clique.
I know her room is artsy, and she has all of those rings on her fingers and in her nose, but the rest is clean-cut—lilac sweater, pressed jeans, soft voice. She breaks into a wide smile, and her nose ring winks. Clair and me and Rashmi. Well, everyone but Ellie. She graduated last year. Was that an invitation to sit with her? Meredith must be single. Unfortunately, I can relate. He was tall-ish and funny-ish and had decent-ish hair.
Too much spit. I always had to wipe off my chin. Not really. Besides, the breakup freed me to lust after Toph, multiplex coworker babe extraordinaire. It did make me feel guilty. And things were starting to happen with Toph—they really were—when summer ended.
Matt knew I made it up, but he was too nice to say so. Six-hour time difference, remember? I set my long-empty mug of chocolat chaud on her dresser. See you at breakfast? See ya. Not a wall. A boy. Musician hair. Beautiful hair. Are you all right, then? Does Mer live here? The boy clears his throat. Tall girl? Big, curly hair? Meredith lives there. Is with. The scary enthusiasm? The beautiful boy gives an amused grin. His teeth are lovely—straight on top and crooked on the bottom, with a touch of overbite.
I have a gap between my front teeth the size of a raisin. Anna confused. My heart thump thump thumps in my chest. Meredith opens her door. They laugh and hug and talk over each other. How was your flight? Have you seen Josh? I fumble with the key on my necklace. Two girls in matching pink bathrobes strut behind me, giggling and gossiping. A crowd of guys across the hall snicker and catcall. Meredith and her friend laugh through the thin walls.
My heart sinks, and my stomach tightens back up. I double-check for my meal card and pop open my Hello Kitty umbrella. I cross the road with a group of chattering students. She swears, and her friends tease her. I drop behind. The city is pearl gray. Its massive dome and impressive columns rise up to crown the top of the neighborhood.
Nothing I should be able to view from a classroom window. My new neighborhood is the Latin Quarter, or the fifth arrondissement. According to my pocket dictionary, that means district, and the buildings in my arrondissement blend one into another, curving around corners with the sumptuousness of wedding cakes.
I am here to live, and I feel small. The entrance is through a grand archway, set back in a courtyard with manicured trees. On either side of the doors hangs a red, white, and blue flag—one American, the other French. It looks like a film set. A Little Princess, if it took place in Paris. How can such a school really exist? My father is insane to believe I belong here. Two-point deduction for Paris.
Suck on that, Preppy Guy. The ceiling on the first floor is impossibly high, dripping with chandeliers and frescoed with flirting nymphs and lusting satyrs.
It smells faintly of orange cleaning products and dry-erase markers. I follow the squeak of rubber soles toward the cafeteria. Beneath our feet is a marbled mosaic of interlocking sparrows. The whole school is as intimidating as it is impressive. It should be reserved for students with personal bodyguards and Shetland ponies, not someone who buys the majority of her wardrobe at Target. Even though I saw it on the school tour, the cafeteria stops me dead.
I used to eat lunch in a converted gymnasium that reeked of bleach and jockstraps. It had long tables with preattached benches, and paper cups and plastic straws. The hairnetted ladies who ran the cash registers served frozen pizza and frozen fries and frozen nuggets, and the soda fountains and vending machines provided the rest of my so-called nourishment.
But this. This could be a restaurant. Unlike the historic opulence of the hall, the cafeteria is sleek and modern. The chairs are already filled with people gossiping with their friends over the shouting of the chefs and the clattering of the dishes real china, not plastic.
I stall in the doorway. Students brush past me, spiraling out in all directions. My chest squeezes. Should I find a table or should I find breakfast first? And how am I even supposed to order when the menu is in freaking French? Oh please oh please oh please. A scan through the crowd reveals a five-ringed hand waving from across the room. Meredith points to an empty chair beside her, and I weave my way there, grateful and almost painfully relieved.
You look so lost. A lanky guy with short hair and a long nose salutes me with his coffee cup. Rashmi has blue-framed glasses and thick black hair that hangs all the way down her back. She gives me only the barest of acknowledgments. No big deal. In the hallway. I guess. Josh smirks. He lets go of her hand and gives an exaggerated sigh.
This is our year, I just know it. You and St. Clair would look really cute in matching tuxes. Hallway boy. Beautiful boy. His hair is damp from the rain. She should utilize the corners of her mouth more often. He remembers me. Words fail me. Unfortunately, my stomach speaks for itself. As if he needed any further weapons against the female race. Josh must be right. Every girl in school must be in love with him. You ought to feed that thing.
Have to give you a lifetime table ban. Tell them what you want. Accept delicious goodies. And then give them your meal card and two pints of blood. In French. The language of love. A blonde with a beaky nose and a teeny tank top coos as soon as we get in line. How was your summer? Did you have a good holiday? Cherrie loves to swish her hair and shake it out and twirl it around her fingers. My father has an amazing penthouse that overlooks Central Park.
I snort to keep from laughing, and Beautiful Hallway Boy gets a strange coughing fit. Must have the wrong address. This means no sausage, no scrambled eggs. Listen carefully and repeat after me. And this one? Known me less than a day and teasing me about my accent. Care to discuss the state of my hair? My height? My trousers? The Frenchman behind the counter barks at us. Sorry, Chef Pierre. He places our orders in perfect French. At least, it sounds impeccable to my virgin ears, and it relaxes Chef Pierre.
He loses the glower and stirs the granola and honey into my yogurt. A sprinkling of blueberries is added to the top before he hands it over. No Cocoa Puffs? You shall have to settle for Froot Loops Fridays instead. My father sent me here to be cleansed. My old school was all about cutting ahead and incensing the lunch ladies, but here everyone waits patiently. I turn back just in time to catch his eyes flicker up and down my body.
My breath catches. The beautiful boy is checking me out. I was born in San Francisco, and I was raised in London. Something evil pokes the pink folds of my brain, forcing me to recall my conversation with Meredith last night. Clair is my last name. The boy is excited to see him, and he smiles back. Did you have a nice holiday? He went on a day trip to the Taj Mahal.
I went to Panama City Beach with the rest of Georgia. Another boy runs up, this one skinny and pale with sticky-uppy hair. Nikhil forgets us and greets his friend with the same enthusiastic babble. In Atlanta. In the South?
Like Monsieur Boutin, he wears a pressed white uniform and starched hat. He also has a handlebar mustache. Chef Handlebar swipes my card and zips it back to me with a quick merci. Thank you. Another word I already knew. On the way back to our table, Amanda watches St. Clair from inside her posse of Pretty Preppy People.
All I know is his crooked-tooth smile and his confident swaggery walk. The guy ahead of me is arguing with the guidance counselor.
I glance at A-through-G, and see Meredith Chevalier and Rashmi Devi have already received their class schedules and exchanged them for comparison. My attention snaps back. Can they do that? I will die—DIE —if I have to take gym again.
I step forward and say my name as kindly as possible, to make up for the jerk who just left. She gives a dimpled smile back. Have a nice first day. I hold my breath while I scan it. No surprises. Or whatever. Unfortunately, Mom is a purist and refused to let me graduate without another year of all three. Thanks, Mom. Send me away for some culture in a city known for its art and make me suffer through another math class. I shuffle toward Meredith and Rashmi, feeling like the third wheel but praying for some shared classes.
Her rainbow-colored plastic rings click against each other. What an unfortunate nickname. Clair waits with Josh in Q-through-Z. I wonder if I have any classes with him. I mean, them. Classes with them. The rain has stopped, and Josh kicks a puddle in St.
Clair laughs and says something that makes them both laugh even harder. Suddenly I register that St. Clair is shorter than Josh. Much shorter. Most are shy or defensive, or some messed-up combination of the two, but St. That settles that. As if I needed another reason not to lust. Boy Wonder is officially off-limits. The head is graceful and carries herself like a ballerina. She has a long neck, and her snow-white hair is pulled into a tidy knot that makes her look distinguished rather than elderly.
Her gaze glides across us, her one hundred handpicked pupils. Clair looking at me. He claps and lifts his hands in my direction.
I blush and jerk away. The head keeps talking. Focus, Anna. But I feel his stare as if it were the heat of the sun. My skin grows moist with sweat. I slide underneath one of the immaculately pruned trees. Why is he staring? Is he still staring? I think he is. Why why why? Is it a good stare or a bad stare or an indifferent stare? The head wraps up, and Rashmi bounds off to join the guys. Meredith leads me inside for English. But the desks are the same, and the whiteboard and the wall-mounted pencil sharpener.
I concentrate on these familiar items to ease my nerves. The Entrance? They were made into movies. I watched The Entrance with her once and totally cried when that girl died of leukemia.
Clair trails in behind her and takes the seat in front of Meredith. I cough. Clair leans back in his chair and nabs her schedule.
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It was around the time of the divorce that all traces of decency vanished, and his dream of being the next great Southern writer was replaced by his desire to be the next published writer. And it total y depresses me, but the ladies eat it up. And they have turned him into a bestsel er and a total dick. Two of his books have been made into movies and three more are in production, which is where his real money comes from. Hol ywood. And, somehow, this extra cash and pseudo-prestige have warped his brain into thinking that I should live in France.
For a year. At least the people in my new school speak English. I mean, real y. Who sends their kid to boarding school?
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