“TESS, THIS IS DEVON MCCAIN. SHE’LL BE YOUR ROOMMATE. Devon, this is Tess Szekeres. She’s a sophomore.”
The house counselor, Mrs. Frith, moves aside as she makes the introductions and waves me into my new room. I enter, hesitating in the doorway as two enormous emerald eyes size me up.
“Hi, Tess! Welcome to Thorn Abbey!” Devon steps forward and gives me a quick, fierce hug. She is tall, maybe five ten, and reminds me of an Amazon warrior. Her long, silky black hair looks striking against her crisp white blouse and plaid school jumper.
“I’ll leave you to unpack and get settled,” Mrs. Frith says to me. “Devon is a junior. From Boston. She’s been here since ninth grade, so she can fill you in on anything you need to know.”
“Yeah, like all the best places on campus to get high and make out,” Devon says merrily.
My cheeks grow hot as I wait for Mrs. Frith to start yelling or give Devon a detention or something. But instead, she laughs. “Good one, Devon. Don’t forget the Welcome Tea at four, in the downstairs parlors. See you girls then.”
“Lipton’s and stale scones. Can’t wait.” Devon closes the door after Mrs. Frith and turns to me with a dazzling smile. She has perfect teeth—braces, obviously—and I instinctively clamp my mouth shut. “I thought she’d never leave. Come on, show me the clothes you brought. I saved you the good closet.”
“Um, thanks. I didn’t bring . . . that is, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to . . .”
My voice drifts as I picture my wardrobe, Old Navy circa 2010, folded neatly in my one suitcase. I glance around the room, which is so much bigger than my own at home. Devon, who must have arrived on the early side of check-in, has already taken possession of her half. She’s hung framed posters on the yellow-rose wallpaper: a Vogue cover from the sixties, an ad for a German production of the opera Aida, and photos of Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse. Her desk is cluttered with makeup, tampons, an iPod, a white laptop, and what look like birth control pills. There is a purple silk quilt on her bed that looks impossibly glamorous.
Devon plops down on the quilt and kicks off her ballerina flats. She grabs a bottle of nail polish from her nightstand and starts painting her toenails. The way she is sitting, I can just make out a tattoo on her left thigh—a flower?—and a sliver of her black lace panties. I look away.
“Soooo. What is that, Greek?” she asks me.
“Your name. Sounds Greek.”
“Actually, it’s Hungarian. My family’s a mix of Hungarian, Swedish, Chinese, Dutch, and a few other things.”
“Wow. Mine are, like, straight Irish American. My dad’s ancestors were potato farmers from Galway. My nana on my mom’s side was an opera singer from Dublin. I’m boring, compared to you.”
“I don’t think so.” I can’t imagine Devon ever being boring.
“Where did you transfer from?”
“You mean, what school? Avery Park.”
“Never heard of it. Oh my God, is that one of those hippie prep schools where you grow organic vegetables and worship Gaia the earth goddess?”
“No, it’s just a regular high school. Like a normal public school. It’s in Avery Park, New York, near Albany.”
“Oh?” Devon raises one eyebrow. “Well, you’re going to love it here. Private school is soooo much better than public school.”
“I know. That’s why my mom made me apply, because my classes weren’t challenging enough and because—”
Devon shakes her head. “No, you idiot, not the classes! I meant the other stuff. You can get away with anything in private school.”
I stare at her. I’m not sure what to say.
“You have a lot to learn, Young Apprentice,” Devon says, smiling her dazzling smile again “Unpack your crap, then I’ll take you on the unofficial tour.”
Nancy Ohlin is the author of Consent; Always, Forever; and Beauty. She is also the author of the Shai & Emmie series with Quevenzhané Wallis. Born in Tokyo, Japan, Nancy divided her time between there and Ohio. She received a BA in English from the University of Chicago, and she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her family. Learn more at NancyOhlin.com.