He noticed her as soon as she walked into the room. How could he not? Obviously, she was new. She had to be. He'd definitely remember seeing someone like her at this school before. Aidan would never call himself a fashion expert (especially not where people could hear him), but he'd have to be a moron not to notice that this girl wasn't dressed like most of the other students. While everyone around her was swathed from head to toe in khaki, white, and crisp pastels, she was dressed completely in brown. And yet, she somehow still managed to be the most vibrant one in the room.
Her scoop-necked copper tank top was layered over a cream one that inadvertently showed off her lightly muscled arms. She seemed neither the sporty nor exercise equipment type, but her body was toned. It looked strong, capable. Her coffee colored skirt hung low on her hips, exposing a sliver of her stomach, and flowed in loose waves down to her ankles, the hem just touching the bronze bangles that tinkled as she walked through the room. She'd slipped her feet into a pair of chocolate sandals with a hint of a heel that made a soft clicking sound as she walked. Her jewelry was simple: a long bronze chain looped her neck with some kind of pendant that lay nestled in her generous cleavage; a ring of bangles laced her wrist; and a thin gold ring with a topaz stone circled the index finger of her right hand. Even her skin was a tawny brown that most of the girls at the school spent hours in a tanning bed trying to achieve. Aidan figured hers was probably natural because it lacked the hint of orange the other girls got from the fake tanning. Times like these made Aidan damned glad they didn't have to wear uniforms like other boarding schools.
But that's not what amazed Aidan. Okay, so he really liked the fact that her necklace drew your gaze to her boobs (not that his eyes would really need help with that). What really got him was the fact that she walked into the classroom—fifteen minutes late, mind you —and acted as though she had been doing it every day for years. That new kid nervousness that usually glows around a student for days like a neon sign was completely absent from this girl. Maybe she moved around a lot and so she was used to being the new kid. Could be she was an army brat or something. That would explain why she seemed so comfortable being the new kid. But that wouldn't explain the rest of the class's reaction to her.
Or lack thereof.
Ms. Davis was usually crazy strict about punctuality. He couldn't really imagine her completely ignoring someone who walked into her class 15 minutes late when he'd seen her, on more than one occasion, bitch someone out for walking in rather than being seated when the tardy bell rang. Aidan's gaze followed the girl as, without even a glance at the teacher or a word of apology for interrupting, she walked to the back of the classroom.
But that was the thing, though. She hadn't interrupted. Not even a little bit. And it wasn't just Ms. Davis who was acting strangely. The entire class seemed to be completely uninterested in the arrival of fresh meat. That just wasn't like them. On his first day of school here, he could practically feel their curious stares and whispers tingle like tiny pinpricks all over his skin. Their interest had been more than palpable, it had been vicious. And he'd actually made an effort to fit in! He'd dressed like them, talked like them, came to class on time, and generally did whatever he could to blend. And still they'd treated him like an alien for his entire first week. But in walks this girl who he can tell at first glance is a gazillion times more interesting than he'd been on his first day, and they don't even look at her. In fact, he realized with a quick scrutiny of his classmates that he seemed to be the only one who noticed her at all.
What the hell? How come nobody has even looked at her? We haven't had a new student in our class for years; you'd think these people would be a little more curious.
His eyes returned to Hayley.
Especially when the new kid looks like her.
At first glance, she definitely didn't seem to be prep school material. And that was very much a good thing to his way of thinking. He was intensely intrigued by her; couldn't help it. He could sense that she was different from the other students her. And it wasn't just her clothes or her hair or whatever. It wasn't even just her attitude—that nonchalance that she wore like a coat. There was something he couldn't quite put his finger on. If he wasn't wary of being cliché, he'd say she had an "air of mystery". Screw it, it wasn't like anyone was reading his thoughts, and honestly, there was something mysterious and almost magical about her. Something powerful. Something so ... enthralling about this girl. Seriously, what the hell was she doing at Crestwood?
Of course Aidan knew that the quickest and most effective way for him to find out what he wanted to know was to do a brief scan of her mind to learn the basics about her, but he was reluctant to do so. He almost didn't want to know the details. He didn't want to find out that her differences from their classmates were solely superficial. At the same time, the desire to know more about her was gnawing at him; demanding that he learn more and learn it quickly. So he focused and reached out to make a link with her.
And nothing happened.
In all the years that he had been reading minds, Aidan couldn't remember ever encountering one that was blocked from him. As a toddler, people's thoughts had come to him in quick, vague images without him even reaching for them. As he got older, he began to hear the thoughts as if people were actually speaking them; each thought, like spoken language, in a distinct voice and colored with various emotions coming to him with little if any effort on his part.
He tried to connect again, this time pushing harder. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had to put this much effort into reading anybody (or into much of anything for that matter). He'd been at the school long enough and was so familiar with his classmates' thoughts that they practically came to him without him needing to reach for them, sometimes whether he wanted them to or not. And these days, he was usually leaning more toward the not; his classmates weren't really known for their profundity.
But now here was this girl that he couldn't read. Not even a little bit. Not even a smidge. Not even at all. Was there something wrong with him? Maybe he'd lost his ability. Could be he woke up without it this morning and just hadn't noticed because he hadn't tried to use it. Just to be sure, he scanned a couple of the other kids in class. It was just as easy as usual. So the problem was definitely not him. Must be her. He tried the girl again, pushing even harder this time.
Confused didn't even begin to describe how he felt. And, honestly, he was starting to get more than a little bit frustrated. He tried again, this time putting all his energy into penetrating the wall. It was then that, without warning, she turned to look at him; their eyes met and locked. Any thoughts Aidan had about reading her mind vanished. Shit, any thoughts he'd had—period—were completely obliterated by her gaze. From the moment their eyes met, he couldn't think about anything.
They stayed like that, locked in each other's eyes until, at the sound of the bell, they both jumped, breaking the connection. Hayley snapped up her stuff as quickly as she could and scurried out of the room, making sure to avoid any more eye contact with Aidan. He watched her go while distractedly gathering his things and trying his damnedest to figure out what to make of this new girl. He didn't know what the hell was going on, but one thing was for sure—this year would definitely be more interesting than he'd expected.
Hayley's first thought upon entering her room was Oh great, a slob. Her second thought, after a brief inventory of the clothes that were falling out of every one of the six suitcases in the middle of the floor revealed not one polo shirt or pastel colored item of clothing was Thank the gods she's not one of them!
"Hey! You must be Hayley. I'm Brigid Quinn." Brigid grabbed Hayley's hand and shook it enthusiastically. A little too enthusiastically if you asked Hayley (not that anyone ever asked her). Even against her unbelievably pale skin, the girl's smile was bright enough to blind you. Hayley was sure the excitement couldn't possibly be real. Surely, no one could be that excited about anything. Eyeing her new roommate warily, Hayley wondered if one of them might have been better than this perky slip of a girl standing in front of her.
If she didn't know better, she'd swear that her new roommate was part fairy or something. She was a tiny little thing—4'11" tops. And she couldn't possibly weigh more than 85 lbs. soaking wet ... in the clothes of an Eskimo ... on the coldest day of winter. At 5'5" (in her shoes), Hayley rarely felt tall, but standing next to Brigid, she felt like an NBA scout might come knocking at her door any minute.
"How'd you like your first day of class? I have to say, I'm not at all sad that I missed the first day. There's nothing more boring than hearing first day speeches from the teachers. Except maybe hearing it for 4 years in a row! Especially Ms. Williams. I mean, seriously, what makes her think that anyone in the class really cares about her cats? The woman really should look into retiring soon. She has to be at least 80 by now.
My first day here completely sucked. We moved here when I was 12 and I soooo did not want to come here. But my dad was offered a new job and so we had to move. We're originally from Kiltimagh, Ireland. Do you know where that is? Probably not. Most people don't. It's a small town in western Ireland. We were just there this summer. I already miss it, even though we just got back today. That's why I missed classes today, because we hadn't arrived back in the States yet. Anyway, when my parents first told us about moving, I really didn't want to leave my friends back at home, but my brother..."
As curious as Hayley may have been about her new roommate, she had already tuned out Brigid's 30-word-per-second monologue around the third or fourth sentence. She'd had to; it was a self-preservation thing. Brigid didn't really seem to mind though. Truthfully, she didn't even seem to notice. She was busy unpacking as she talked; moving from suitcase to suitcase haphazardly. She was used to people tuning her out and rarely needed anyone to listen to her. She just liked to talk. And talk. And talk. It drove most of her family crazy because they also liked to talk and Brigid hardly ever let them get a word in edgewise. The only person who seemed to have no problem with and, oddly enough, actually seemed to listen to Brigid's monologues was her twin brother, Brandon. Unlike the rest of the family, Brandon was naturally quiet and didn't mind having Brigid do all of the talking.
Hayley sat on her bed and watched her new roommate in action, amazed that Brigid even had the breath to talk with all that bouncing around she was doing. She was unpacking things at Mach speed; quickly, but gracefully stepping over the many heaps of clothes and shoes and books and sports equipment and millions of other things that Hayley couldn't make out. If I could bottle up her energy and sell it, I could probably pay my own tuition here, Hayley thought, watching her in amazement.
"So have you eaten yet? Do you want to go to dinner? The food here is actually pretty good. I'm glad too, because I really like to eat. Not that you can tell by looking at me. But fast metabolisms run in my family. My grandmother said that when my mother was younger, she could out-eat the entire family—even her four older brothers—without gaining a pound. I can't out-eat the entire family or anything, but I can definitely hold my own..."
How can she talk that much without needing to stop for air? Hayley shook her head, amused and more than a little bit impressed. Some people are truly gifted. She slid on her shoes, grabbed her key from her desk, and followed Brigid out of the door.
"What was your old school like? Did you go to another boarding school or is this your first one?" When Hayley didn't answer, Brigid stopped to look at her curiously. It was only when Hayley almost ran into her that she noticed that Brigid had stopped talking. She looked at Brigid, her cheeks red with embarrassment.
"Oh, sorry. I zoned out for a second." Wow Hayley, you're just a social butterfly aren't you? You've only known the girl for 20 minutes and you're already insulting her by ignoring her. Now I see why you have so many friends. But Brigid was more amused than insulted.
"It's okay." Brigid smiled and continued walking. Hayley followed, glad to see laughter in her eyes rather than malice. "I know I have a tendency to go on and on. But anyway, did you go to another boarding school before this?"
"No, this is my first. I used to go to public school when I was younger. Then I was home-schooled by my grandmother from the time I was 12 until now."
"Did you like being home-schooled? I remember when we were younger, my brother used to try to get our parents to get him a tutor so he wouldn't have to go to school. He's not really a big fan of being around a lot of people. He's a lot better than he used to be though. I think it helps that his roommate is the sociable type. When we first got here, I was the only person he would talk to. But Aidan helped him come out of his shell a little. He still doesn't talk much though." They walked through the doors of the dining room and stopped while Brigid scanned the room for her brother.
"There he is over there with his roommate, Aidan," Brigid announced, pointing vaguely towards some kids sitting at a table eating. Hayley couldn't really see where Brigid was pointing, so she just followed her blindly to the table. It was when they were only a few feet away from the table that Hayley stopped, her breath suddenly leaving her.
It was him.
The boy from her English class.
Hayley didn't know what to do. She hadn't stopped thinking about him all day. She still couldn't understand how he had been able to see through her spell. No one in any of her other classes had noticed her. No one had even looked her way until she'd gotten to her room, closed the spell, and started talking to Brigid. And that whole 20-minute-eye-contact-thing? She had no clue what to make of that. Her training had definitely not prepared her for this. Hayley had never felt such an intense connection with anyone before. What was so special about this boy, she wondered. Sure he was attractive. Quite attractive actually. Even if she tried to deny that, no one would buy it. He was six feet of pure drop dead gorgeousness—short black hair with a no-fuss cut; clear skin that any teenager in the grips of the evils of puberty would kill for with just a hint of tan; eyes of the purest blue Hayley had ever seen. And that body. Even under his clothes, she could tell that he had his fair share of muscles. But not so many that he looked like a model for a steroid ad. He looked fit, strong. Perfect.
But right at that moment, she was more concerned about getting through her first day without too much fuss than she was about trying to understand what it was about this boy that got to her. It was already too late to go back to her room. Brigid would wonder what was wrong and she couldn't really explain that she was upset that someone had seen through a spell. Besides, Brigid probably already thought she was a spaz after the way she'd practically run her over on the way to the dining hall. No, she had no choice but to just suck it up and make it through this dinner. How bad could it possibly be?
"Hey guys. Brandon, Aidan, this is my new roommate, Hayley. Hayley, this is Brandon, my twin brother, and Aidan, his roommate."
"Hi." She said it so quietly the boys could barely hear her.
"Hello Hayley. It's nice to meet you." Brandon gave her a small smile, trying to reassure her. Despite her control, her nervousness covered her like a blanket and he was reminded of his first day at Crestwood and how nervous he'd been. But Brandon could tell it was more than just new school jitters that attacked Hayley. Her nervous was too intense, too ... piquant to be just about being at a new school. Respecting her privacy, he didn't try to figure out the whys of her anxiety; he just tried to alleviate it a bit.
Aidan was conspicuously silent, making Brigid look at him curiously. It wasn't like him not to speak to a pretty girl. And Hayley was more than pretty enough to turn his head. Usually, he'd have turned on that infamous smile that had gotten him more than his fair share of female admirers before she'd even made it to the table. But instead he just sat there, staring at her like he'd never seen a girl before in his life and had no idea what to make of her. It perplexed Brigid immensely. She looked at her brother with a question in her eyes as she took her usual seat at their table, but he just shrugged.
"So, Hayley, where are you from?" Brigid seemed to be the only one at the table willing to make an effort to get a conversation started. She gave Hayley a smile, encouraging her to open up.
"I'm originally from Houston, but I've lived in D.C. for the past five years."
"Why'd your folks decide to move here? One of 'em get a new job or something?" Aidan had finally regained his composure enough to try to learn something about her from an actual conversation since he clearly couldn't get the information the way he usually would. Hayley looked at him, fire shooting from her narrowed eyes. If looks like these could kill, she wouldn't even need the five years of combative magic training she'd had.
"My parents are dead." Sure, she knew it was irrational to be upset with Aidan for mentioning her parents. It's not like he could have known they were dead. Besides, they had been dead for five years; it's not like the wound was still fresh. But there was just something about what happened earlier in class that made her think that he should somehow know her after that; that he should have known not to mention her parents.
Silence enveloped the table as they tried to think of a way to help Aidan get his foot out of his mouth. Unfortunately, before a successful plan for removal could be formulated and executed, a group of cheerleaders sauntered over to the table, stopping directly in front of Aidan.
"Hey Aidan," the one in the front, obviously the ringleader, cooed. She was pretty, in that I-spend-6 hours-doing-my-make up-and-hair kind of way. Her hair was a caramel blond with honey streaks whose uniformity made an effort to imitate what hours in the sun would naturally accomplish for someone more genetically blessed.
"Are you going to lead the rugby team to another championship this year?" She stood there, coyly twirling her hair around her finger and batting her mascara-enhanced eyelashes at him.
Sweet Goddess, what a cliché. Really, how obvious could you possibly be before someone just pukes on you? Hayley wondered disgustedly.
"Of course," he answered, finding that chick-winning smile he seemed to have misplaced the moment he laid eyes on Hayley. "I'll be sure to score a few tries just for you." She bounced away with a flirtatious giggle and butt wiggle aimed at Aidan, the other girls following, never even acknowledging the existence of the other three people at the table. 'Of course. I'll score a few tries just for you.' Dear gods, that's sickening. I wonder if he had to think for months to come up with that one. It probably took him almost as long as it took her to decide what lip-gloss to wear. Well, there goes my idea that our little ... thing this morning meant anything.
It was so teenage soap opera-ish that she almost couldn't decide whether it was funny or just annoying. Either way, she'd had enough social time for the day.
"Well guys, it was nice meeting you. I'm going to head back up to my room and finish unpacking and stuff. I guess I'll see y'all later, Brigid. Thanks for inviting me to dinner."
"Okay, Hayley, I'll be back up to the room in a little while." Brigid smiled and waved as Hayley walked away from the table.
"Actually, I'm heading out, too. Gonna head to the gym and do some lifting. These muscles don't just show up overnight, ya know." Aidan gathered his stuff and followed Hayley out of the dining hall. Brigid watched him leave, quiet for once.
"Well that was ... interesting. I've never seen him so quiet around a girl before. Especially not a pretty one. What do you think is up with that?"
Brandon looked at his sister and shrugged. Even after Hayley and had left, he could feel the tension in the air that they'd created. It was obvious—to him at least—that there was something going on between the two of them. Clearly, they were attracted to each other. But there was something else contributing to the tension that Brandon couldn't get a handle on.
He was 99.9% positive his sister was going to meddle. How could she not? It would go against her very nature not to. The curiosity was pouring off of her in waves. He was surprised she wasn't drowning in it.
"So, what are we gonna do about those two?" Her eyes were alight with mischief. Brandon shook his head in defeat, knowing there was nothing he could do to stop her.
So predictable, that sister of his.