Mirage 1 ~ There’s No Place like Home
I’d never thought too much about friendship before I came to Winterhaven, mostly because I hadn’t had many friends. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t. The more people I got close to, the more people I saw in my visions, which were harbingers of awful things to come. Besides, the more friends I had, the more people I had to hide my secret from, the more I had to pretend that I didn’t know about things before they happened.
But now … now I had friends. Friends I didn’t have to pretend with. I looked around the classroom at them, their heads bent over their desks—Marissa, her dark hair falling across one pale cheek; Kate, her chin propped in one hand as she stared
dreamily out the window; Sophie, pushing her strawberry-blond curls off her forehead, her brow furrowed in concentration. Jack and Joshua, sitting side by side, as if there were nothing weird about a telekinetic football star and a shape-shifter outcast being friends. And Cece—wonderful, amazing Cece—my roommate, my best friend.
Together, they had risked their lives for me. And for Aidan.
I glanced over one shoulder at the tall girl sitting two rows back, her model-perfect face pale and taut. Jenna Holley. Jenna hadn’t been a friend—not even close—and yet she’d saved us all.
Why? I still didn’t know. I wanted answers, and now that we were back at Winterhaven—
“Five more minutes,” a voice called out, startling me. I looked up and saw Dr. Byrne pointing to the clock on the wall.
I glanced down at the page on my desk, blinking hard. There were still a half-dozen little circles that I hadn’t filled in. Good thing this was just the SAT practice test, and not the real thing. There was no way I could concentrate right now, not with all of us back together again. All I could think about was that horrible day in May—a day I’d never forget, as long as I lived.
On the plus side, my friends knew the truth now—that Aidan was a vampire and that I was some supposedly rare kind of vampire slayer. A Sâbbat. I was finally getting used to it, and even coming to terms with the fact that I’d actually slain
not one but three vampires with my trusty little hawthorne stake. The Sâbbat’s weapon of choice, apparently. Ironically, mine was lovingly crafted by a vampire, which had to be a totally new one in the Sâbbat world—not that I’d know, as I’d never met another Sâbbat. Chances were pretty slim that I ever would, since that there were only three in the world at any given time. At least, according to the legend.
“Two minutes,” came Dr. Byrne’s voice, interrupting my wandering thoughts. Dr. Hottie, the girls at Winterhaven liked to call him, and I had to admit it was a fitting nickname. I briefly wondered what his talent was, since everyone here at Winterhaven had one. Maybe he was an empath, like my friend Marissa, I mused. That would make him ideal for teaching the SAT prep course—he could make us all feel relaxed and confident, if he chose to.
“One minute,” he intoned, and I began to hastily fill in the remaining circles. If I marked them all C, chances were I’d get some right. At least, I hoped so.
It was the first day of orientation, that weird transition time at Winterhaven when the upperclassmen had to hide their gifts and talents from the freshmen till they all caught on. And while the other upperclassmen were busy finalizing their schedules and signing up for extracurriculars, my friends and I were all stuck making up the final SAT prep class, the one we’d
missed last spring after the whole showdown thing. None of us had been in any condition then to finish the class, much less take the actual SATs.
So here we were, stuck inside this stuffy classroom, trying to remember everything we’d learned three months ago. Everyone except Aidan, that is. He was still at home in Manhattan, but he’d promised he would be here tomorrow. I could barely wait to see him—the minutes were dragging by. It had been too long. Way too long.
After all, my summer hadn’t exactly gone as planned. Instead of spending a few weeks in Atlanta, I had spent the entire break there. I hadn’t really had a choice. On the last day of finals, Gran had had a stroke—a fairly serious one—and so I’d packed up my trunks and flown down there to help out the moment classes were over.
Not that I was complaining. Sure, I missed my friends. And I missed Aidan, especially since our telepathy didn’t seem to have a long-distance channel and we were forced to use more conventional methods of communication to keep in touch. But Gran and her companion/housekeeper, Lupe, needed me, and family comes first. Besides, it had given me a chance to catch up with Whitney, my best friend since kindergarten, even if we had grown apart lately. How could we not, with all the secrets I was forced to keep from her?
Anyway, my Winterhaven friends had mostly scattered over the summer, and Aidan had remained at school, working obsessively in the chemistry lab on his cure for vampirism. And since the only way we could ever really be together was if he did manage to find a cure, let’s just say I’m very supportive of his work.
And so summer had come and gone. Whitney and I had successfully rekindled our friendship. Gran had gotten stronger and fully regained her speech, and I’d helped Lupe hire a full-time home health aide who moved in with them just last week. The aide, Melanie, seemed great, and that alleviated my guilt about leaving them. I knew they were in good hands, and I was excited to get back to school and start my senior year.
“Time!” Dr. Byrne called out, and I realized that he’d given us way more than the one minute he’d promised. With a sigh, I set down my pencil and followed the chattering crowd up to Dr. Byrne’s desk to drop off my answer sheet.
“Don’t forget the senior meeting in the auditorium,” he yelled over the din. “We’ll be talking about college applications.”
Great. I glanced over at Cece, who rolled her eyes. It seemed like we were never going to get any time to just hang out and catch up. Cece and I reached his desk together, slapping our answer sheets onto the top of the pile.
“Oh, and Miss McKenna?”
I glanced up in surprise at the sound of my name.
“Can I see you for just a few moments, after we’re all done here?”
The whole room seemed to go silent at once, everyone glancing from me to Dr. Byrne and back to me again. “Sure,” I said, feeling the heat rise in my cheeks. What in the world did he want with me?
“Do you want us to wait?” Cece asked, tipping her head toward Sophie, Marissa, and Kate, who stood by the door, goggling.
“No, it’s okay. Just save me a seat, okay?” I stood there awkwardly by his desk as the room emptied. Jenna was the last out, glancing back curiously over her shoulder as she stepped into the hall.
Dr. Byrne picked up the answer sheets, adjusting them into a neat stack before he shoved them into a manila folder. Finally his gaze met mine, and he smiled. Which, embarrassingly enough, caused my heart to do a little flip-flop. Since I had no idea what his gift was, I kept my thoughts locked up good and tight—a preventive measure. At Winterhaven you never knew who might be listening in.
“Do you want to sit?” He gestured toward the seat in the front row, right across from his desk.
“Sure,” I murmured, slipping into the seat he’d indicated
while he leaned back against the desk, his arms folded across his chest.
“Don’t worry,” he said with a laugh. “You’re not in trouble or anything. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I looked scared? Well, I guess that was better than looking flustered.
“I was just speaking with Mrs. Girard, and she tells me you were getting some psychic coaching from Sandra Wilkinson last year. She’s a mind reader, right?”
“Yeah,” I answered, wondering where this was going. “At first she was just teaching me to block. But then we started working on my visions. It’s not really her thing, but she tried to help as best she could.”
“Well, you’re in luck. I’ve got a little extra time this semester, and I told Mrs. Girard that I’d be willing to help out. I’ve never really coached before, but I’m willing to give it a try if you are.”
I wasn’t quite following him. Give it a try? He was offering to coach me?
“I’m a precog,” he clarified, noting my confusion. “Visions. Pretty much just like yours, from what I understand. Generally bad stuff, and almost exclusively about people I’m close to. Sound familiar?”
“Yes,” I said breathlessly, leaning forward in my chair. “Are
you able to control them? You know, summon a replay, or anything like that?”
He nodded. “Pretty much. It’s not an exact science, but I know a few tricks. Anyway, if you’re interested, I’m willing to share what I know.”
“Definitely,” I said, nodding. The idea of working with someone with the same gift as me, someone who actually understood what it was like and who might even be able to help me—well, it gave me a new kind of hope.
“Great,” Dr. Byrne said with a smile, and I couldn’t help but wonder how old he was. Rumor put him right around twenty-five or so, but that seemed awfully young, considering he had a PhD and had been teaching at Winterhaven for a year already. “How are Saturday mornings for you?” he asked, drawing me from my thoughts. “I’m living on campus this year. Assistant West Hall dorm master.”
Marissa had said as much, just this morning. The school was abuzz with the news that we’d now have Dr. Hottie around seven days a week, instead of five.
“Sandra and I always met on Saturdays at eleven,” I offered. We’d met in my dorm room, which I supposed wasn’t an option with Dr. Byrne, considering the “no guys on the girls’ floor and vice versa” rule—even if he was a teacher.
“Okay, then. Eleven on Saturdays it is. We can meet in my
office. It’s in the science wing, corridor C. I’m on the fifth floor. Probably more comfortable than a classroom.”
“Sure,” I said with a shrug, going for nonchalance. But oh my God, my friends were going to die. Truly, I was never going to hear the end of this one. Because they all had crushes on Dr. Byrne—pretty much the school’s entire female population did.
Unaware of my current train of thought, Dr. Byrne nodded, pushing off from his desk. “Great. We’ll start this Saturday, then.”
I nodded, a little too stunned to do much else.
After a pause, he glanced down at his watch. “You should probably get over to the auditorium. The senior meeting’s just about to begin.”
“Sure, thanks,” I managed to mumble, my cheeks burning with embarrassment. I reached for my bag and slung it over one shoulder, suddenly anxious to get out of there, and fast.
I hurried out, my sneakers squeaking against the tiles as I made my way through the now empty hall toward the auditorium. For the, oh, perhaps fiftieth time that day, I wished Aidan was there beside me. The anticipation was driving me nuts. I could feel it—a living, breathing thing pulsing through my veins, making my heart beat faster. After an entire summer apart, Aidan had never felt so close yet so far away.
He should have been there at LaGuardia to meet my plane;
he should be at school with me now, suffering through orientation like the rest of us. Instead, he was out hunting murderers and rapists, drinking their blood to slake his thirst so that he could come to me completely sated and not at all tempted to drink my blood. Not that he’d ever really had the urge to do so, except when we were making out.
Of course, he had no idea about my urges—the ever-increasing desire I had to feel his teeth against my neck. I couldn’t understand it—it went against all my natural Sâbbat tendencies. And I’d certainly never admit to it, especially to Aidan. It would only alarm him, and probably rightfully so. It definitely alarmed me.
Increasing my pace, I made a sharp right turn and hurried down the corridor till I came to the last set of doors on the right. I stepped into the auditorium, scanning the crowd for my friends. I saw them near the back, a row of familiar heads all bent toward each other in conversation. As if she sensed my presence, Cece turned. Spying me just inside the door, she waved me over.
A slow smile spread across my face. Aidan or no, it was awfully good to be back home at the ’Haven.