Ch. 3: County Line
Nearly two years. Two years since she had seen anything outside of that damned estate. Olivia couldn't understand why she was dreading this moment. Her mouth was dry and her stomach was knotted. Her middle school stood outside the window, looking the same as it always had. She felt that this should comfort her, but part of her felt that she wasn't ready for this.
Olivia watched as Marie jumped out of the car. Another girl immediately attached herself to Marie's arm and started talking feverously.
"Get out." An English accent pierced Olivia's thoughts. She nearly jumped. Greasy-hair had turned around in the passenger's seat and was watching her. She still had no idea what his actual job was, but today it seemed to be escorting her to school. Nervously she picked up her bag and stepped out onto the concrete. The driver closed the door and then the car was gone.
Marie was immediately at her side, steering her forwards to her crowd of friends. Olivia recognized most of them, though none of them had ever been her friends. Still a bit dazed, she allowed Marie to take control of her.
"This is Olivia. She's staying with her aunt, who works with my dad. Olivia, this is Emma, Jordan, Carrie, and Cassie." Marie beamed and Olivia suddenly felt like she was a prized pony being led in front of the judges.
Cassie immediately latched onto Olivia's other arm. She was trapped between the two girls, who started leading her towards the school. She watched the other students they passed, kids she had known, and wondered what they thought about her.
"So, tell us all about yourself." Cassie prodded.
Olivia paled. What was she supposed to say? The truth was impossible; as much as she would have liked to share her story with the world. She hadn't really thought this through enough. If she even slipped up a little bit she would lose her voice, though that might have been a gift.
Marie stepped in quickly. "Oh, she doesn't like talking about herself. She likes to be a mystery girl." She laughed and grinned at Olivia. This seemed to be a good enough for the other girls, who eagerly switched the topic to themselves. Olivia sighed with relief and patiently listened to a briefing on which boys each girl currently liked.
Bumbling and oblivious Marie was in her element. Olivia knew the girl who couldn't work the microwave by herself and still thought that Olivia was visiting her family when she disappeared for days. This was the girl who needed to be constantly told that everything was okay, that her hair looked perfect, and that she wasn't a horrible person when she cheated on a test. Olivia was usually the person for this role. Yet here was a queen who effortlessly glided through her kingdom, leading Olivia along like a lost puppy.
Olivia was a little disturbed by all of this. People stopped their conversations just to meet her. She was fairly certain that had Marie not been there, she would have been invisible. She tried to enjoy the attention, but it was starting to make her sick. The more people she 'met', the more lost she felt. Everyone was acting so normally; there wasn't even a hint of recognition from anyone.
"Excuse me." She said quietly to the boy Cassie had just introduced as her boyfriend. She really was going to be sick. It was a good thing she still remembered where all of the bathrooms were. She nearly didn't make it to the toilet before she puked.
Marie was waiting for her when she finally came out of the stall. She looked uncertain of what to say or do.
"Sorry." Olivia said, although she didn't mean it. She walked over to the sink to wash her face.
"I ... are you okay?"
Olivia sighed. No, she wasn't okay, but Marie couldn't hear that. "Yes."
"I didn't mean to scare you or anything. I guess that was too many people, huh?"
"No, really, you didn't do anything wrong." Olivia tried to sound like she meant it, but her voice came out dry.
"I guess ... I mean ... it must be a shock or something. You haven't been off our estate since you got here."
Olivia leaned against the sink and looked at Marie. So the girl wasn't entirely stupid.
Marie twisted a curl around one of her fingers. "Look, I know Mrs. Cadby isn't your aunt. I figure you must be here to learn magic, since she's a magician and all." Olivia gaped. "You can tell me, you know. I mean, you don't have to, but it might help to talk about it."
Olivia looked away. She would have loved to tell Marie everything a long time ago. She didn't like the girl too much, but Marie had been the one decent human being she had had contact with for two years. She knew it would never happen, though.
"I can't." Olivia's mouth moved slowly and felt sticky as she said the words: a warning sign that she was in danger of losing her voice.
Marie frowned. "Your eyes are scary-looking again."
Olivia looked in the mirror, although she already knew what to expect. Her eyes, which were normally brown, had moving flecks of orange and yellow in them. She blinked once and they were back to normal.
"I noticed they do that a lot when you're around Mrs. Cadby."
"Don't." Olivia said.
Marie seemed to get the hint that Olivia did not want to stay on the subject. "We have to get you to the main office before first period. I'm going to see if they'll let me show you around. That way I don't have to go to class."
Marie barely had to mention idea before the office secretary handed both of the girls hall passes. The woman didn't seem to care that Marie was going to be missing half a day of classes showing someone around a school that was nearly impossible to get lost in. Olivia was fine with that. Not having to deal with introductions was worth having to spend the day with Marie.
Lunchtime, however, made interaction unavoidable; the entire eighth grade at lunch during the same period. Marie had apparently forgotten everything from that morning when practically forced Olivia into a chair in the middle of the most crowded table in the room.
The boy sitting across from her grinned. "I'm Nigel."
"Nigel plays basketball. He's really good." Cassie piped up from her seat next to Nigel.
"I run track too. In the summer, you know?"
"No, I don't." Olivia had a sneaking suspicion that she had been sat across from this kid for a reason. She was willing to bet that he was single—and in the market. At least she didn't recognize him; she had a feeling that had she known him two years ago they wouldn't have been friends. She sighed. If Marie was going to be insistent that she be a part of this crowd, she might as well put up a good face. She smiled and tried to look sheepish. "I don't know a lot about sports."
"Oh! Well, everything has a season it's played in. Basketball ..."
"Excuse me." Nigel's explanation was interrupted by a voice behind Olivia. She knew who the voice should belong to, and she wasn't sure she wanted to turn around to confirm it. "I just wanted to introduce myself and see how you like our school."
Not Lucky. She couldn't bear to hear him talk to her like a stranger. "It's big." She finally said, turning around to face him. His voice was a little deeper and he was definitely taller, but overall he hadn't changed much.
"My name's Lucky. If you need any help or anything, just ask."
"I don't think she needs any help from you, so you can go back to your own table and stop hitting on her." Cassie was glaring at Lucky.
Lucky didn't seem to be intimidated by Cassie at all. He was still waiting for a response from Olivia, who grimaced and looked down at her hands. All she had to do was get up and walk over to Lucky's table. She could remake all the friendships she once had and forget all about people like Cassie and Nigel. Marie would get over it.
But she wasn't ready for that kind of pain. She was thankful that she had lost the ability to cry her first month with Mrs. Cadby; otherwise she would have had to explain away more than getting sick in the bathroom. She looked up and sneered. "Lucky? What kind of a name is that?"
Nigel laughed and smirked at Lucky. "Sorry, man, she doesn't seem interested."
Lucky shrugged, although he looked much less enthusiastic than before. "Offer still stands. See you around." Olivia could hear snickers all down the table as he walked away and realized that there had been a large audience.
Marie frowned. "Hey! Lucky's a nice guy!" When she was met with stares she added, "Though, he is pretty strange." She grinned and elbowed Olivia, who nearly fell over. She was busy brooding and staring at her food. She had just passed up her chance to have her best friend back, and if Lucky was anything like the kid he used to be, he wouldn't waste his time trying again.
Olivia stared at her locker. It was plastered in sticky-notes with welcome messages on them. Someone, most likely Cassie, had even made a colorful sign on one of the school's computers. She resisted the urge to fake-gag. Lucky would have found this hysterical.
She tried not to think about him as she shoved her new textbooks into her book-bag. It was a stylish over-the-shoulder bag that could only fit half her books, which was unfortunate because she had a lot of catching up to do. She was fairly certain she could catch up, but she wanted school to be the least of her worries.
Marie wasn't anywhere in site; her locker was on the other side of the school. The lockers were assigned alphabetically, and Olivia's last name now fell under 'C'. She had shuddered every time a teacher had called "Cadby, Olivia" in her afternoon classes.
She started walking towards the parking lot, but stopped when she saw Cassie approaching with Nigel in tow. She tried to look like she had just remembered something, turned around, and started walking quickly towards the main entrance. She would have to walk around the outside of the building, but she was in no hurry to meet the driver. She allowed herself to be pushed along by the mass of students heading for the busses. Everyone was too interested in getting out of the school to pay much attention to her now.
It was a cold day, too cold for a skirt, but her wardrobe still didn't contain much else. Grey clouds threatened rain, which made her happy. Mrs. Cadby generally avoided going outside in any kind of bad weather, which usually meant that if Olivia did she wouldn't be looked for. Mrs. Cadby could conjure up winds that would find Olivia and push her wherever she wanted, but she didn't usually bother unless she wanted something specific.
Olivia pondered how easy it would be just to get on one of the busses. The thought made her heart pound. They would find her, of that she was fairly certain. How long would it take, though? An hour? Two? Half an hour without Mrs. Cadby, Marie, or greasy-hair would be worth it. Determinedly she swung up to the steps of the first bus in line and found a seat near the back.
A boy sat down next to her and gave her an odd look. "You okay?"
Olivia realized that she was sweating. "Yeah ... um, I've never been on school bus before. I'm new."
"Oh." The kid turned around and started talking to the people in the seat behind him.
Olivia curled up into the seat and stared out the window. She felt protected in such a large group of people. Mrs. Cadby wouldn't try anything in front of all these kids. Though she didn't doubt that the woman could and would erase their memories afterwards if necessary, she also knew that a spell like that took a lot of time and energy. No, Mrs. Cadby would wait until Olivia was alone, and that could take hours.
The bus pulled away from the school and started heading through town. "Hey, where does this bus go?" She asked the boy next to her.
"The townships. If you don't live there, you're on the wrong bus."
"No, that's where I'm going. Just checking." She smiled and relaxed. If she waited until the last stop she would have at least an hour. A large neighborhood might have been better protection, but at least this was going to put her as far away from the Wakefield estate as she could get without completely leaving the county.
The bus crossed the large stone bridge that the town was named for. It went over the hill that she remembered racing bikes on as a kid and started down one of the many country highways in the area. People who didn't know the area got lost easily on these roads. The corn fields all looked the same and there were no street names, just numbers. She, Lucky, and Moira had often enjoyed giving visitors backwards directions into town.
By the time the bus reached its first stop, rain had already started to fall. Lightening flashed in the distance. Unfortunately, this made the driver want to get the kids off quicker and drive faster so that nobody would be caught in the thunderstorm.
Finally Olivia noticed that there were only three other occupants on the bus, and they were all putting their jackets back on and shoving books back into their bags. As the bus pulled over she stood up and tried to look like she knew where she was going. The girl getting off in front of her gave her the tiniest of smiles before darting out into the rain.
Olivia didn't have a jacket, just the red sweater she had been wearing all day. She stepped carefully onto the curb and the door snapped shut behind her. It drove away quickly and she supposed the driver didn't want to be caught in the coming thunderstorm either.
The rain obscured her vision. There was no sign of the other three kids, though she could hear their voices on the other side of the road. She was standing at the intersection of two highways. She vaguely recognized where she was and started walking down the road in the opposite direction of Stonebridge.
Rain hit her face, but she wasn't bothered by it. She walked on the road because the shoulder was covered in uncut grass that was higher than her knees and would have soaked her legs. A long time ago she would have heard the grass singing to her in rain like this, but not anymore. Her magic was of a different brand now.
The farther she walked the stronger she felt. What if nobody ever came? What if she kept walking until she reached the next town? She would call Lucky and he could get his brother to drive him to her. It would take a long time, but if she worked at it she would be able to tell him what had happened—one word at a time. He would come, out of curiosity, and he would listen to her for the same reason. Somehow she would find a way to prove her story and they would find some way to fix the situation. They would go to the Greater Council if they had to.
As impossible as that seemed, the very thought of it was heartening. She started to walk faster, despite the force of the rain. The county limits sign had to be close. She squinted and tried to see through the rain. There.
Welcome to Oren County
A shiver went up Olivia's spine. She couldn't tell if it was from excitement, fear, or the cold. "Should've worn a jacket." She told herself with a grin through chattering teeth. She was only three steps from the county line.
Olivia sank to her knees in the middle of the road. Her entire body was shaking now and it wasn't from the cold.
As much as she tried, she couldn't will her limbs to move. It wasn't like the time in the car, when her body had felt too tired to move. This was different. Everything felt like it should be working, except that her body wasn't doing what she was telling it to do. She looked at the sign, which she had fallen just short of passing. It taunted her.
She wasn't sure how long she sat there like that, but by the time she heard a car behind her, every inch of her was soaked through. She was shaking violently now, both from the cold and the spell.
The car stopped. Please let it be some nice person wondering what a girl's doing sitting in the middle of the road.
Car doors opened. There were no kindly voices asking her if she was alright; just footsteps and the sound of rain hitting an umbrella. One set of footsteps stopped. The clip-clopping sound of high-heels continued until it was in front of her.
"A spell." It wasn't a question. Olivia didn't even bother to look up.
"Obviously a necessary one. I thought we were past this sort of stunt." Mrs. Cadby didn't bother trying to help her up. "What were you trying to do? Make yourself sick? You did a good job of that."
"You frightened Marie. You will apologize to her." Clip-clop. Mrs. Cadby was walking back towards the car.
Olivia felt somebody picking her up. She looked up through her wet hair and saw a hard face and long, greasy, dark-brown hair. She hoped she would make him sick too. That alone would have made the day worth it.
Olivia's cold had kept her out of school for two days. She had been locked in her room for the entire time, not that she had been up for walking around anyways.
When she opened her locker the day of her return she found five get-well cards from her 'friends' that had been stuffed through the grate. She shook her head. As annoying as they were, she had to admit that they were mostly well-intentioned. She put the cards back in their envelopes and stuck them in her backpack. At least she would have something bright to put in her room, for once.
She reached for her math textbook on the top shelf and felt another envelope. She frowned, wondering how someone had managed to put a card up there. There was no grate on the top of the door for it to go through.
It was a letter envelope with nothing on the front. When she opened it, all she found was a plain white piece of paper with a quick note scrawled on the top.
Hang in there.