Riley tapped her pencil irritably on the kitchen table, only half her attention on the book in front of her. She was waiting for the big explosion. She had been arrested, again, the night before. Drunk and disorderly was the actual charge, but in reality it was more vodka and fight club. Her small group of friends sometimes felt the need to practice their fighting skills on each other when a convenient rival could not be found. If anyone asked Riley, which of course they did not, there were far worse things. She could be a murderer. She could be a drug dealer. She sighed. She could just get the hell out of this house, with the strange people she did not understand. Her twin brother, Jonathan, reached out a hand and laid it silently over her tapping pencil and it slipped from her fingers. Her father cleared his throat.
Riley stared across the table at him. "What?" she said.
"We've enrolled you in the Meadowbrook Academy," her mother said from where she was hovering by the sink.
"It's a school for people like you," her father said.
Her mother shifted imperceptibly and clarified, "It's a school where girls who have had trouble finding themselves and where they want to be in life can grow safely." She paused and added, "Plus, you won't have to keep going to Jamestown Central High, then."
Riley shrugged. Like it mattered to her what school she went to; she spent most of her days skiving class anyway.
"You'll be living in the dorm there," her father finished.
Riley stared for a long moment, then buried her face back in her book with a firm, "No way I'm going."
Wren leaned out the window that hovered between the second and third floors of the dormitory. There was a new girl, her new roommate, coming in today and Wren wanted to get her measure before they actually met. She knew it wouldn't matter how she felt in the end, she was the only girl on their floor without a roommate. Since coming to Meadowbrook she had felt better and safer than she had felt in years, and while she would quietly make do with whatever happened, she really hoped the girl was someone she could be friends with.
A dark blue car pulled into the circular drive at the front of the school and came to a halt in front of the doors. Wren leaned out farther to see who was on the porch to greet the family. She could see Seth and Zach on the steps, talking quietly. She glanced nervously over her shoulder, knowing she would be in trouble if she were caught, then leaned out further to catch a glimpse of the shadows. She was right; Jacob was leaning casually against the wall, body relaxed, but deep blue eyes studying the car. She watched him for a moment, then when he shifted and glanced up, jerked herself back in the window, almost falling off the sill and down the stairs in the process.
She sat on the stairs for a long moment, then was overcome with curiosity, and pulled herself up to peek out again. The parents seemed normal enough, she observed as the father opened the back door to let his daughter out. Honestly, just that they were dropping their daughter off at the school said a lot. Many of the girls arrived by taxi, with nothing but a bag or a toothbrush.
There was a long silence from the girl in the car and finally the mother stepped forward as well, both parents leaning down to talk to whomever was still hiding in the car. Wren grinned as a voice rose from the car, reply clear and firm, "I have no interest in attending this school and if I'm embarrassing you, you should have thought about that before you brought me."
Wren forgot to be careful, leaning out farther as Zach left the stairs, Seth close behind. Half of her wanted to yell a warning down to the new girl, the rest of her hoped whoever it was would put up a good fight. After a long, one-sided conversation at the car, with the parents standing nervously back, the two young men glanced at each other and Wren saw even Jacob lean forward in interest. Obviously there was a problem. Wren grinned.
Seth stepped back and Zach reached into the car. Apparently the new girl was a quick thinker, because the opposite door popped open and she slipped gracefully out. She put one hand on a lean hip and ran the other hand casually through her short dark hair.
"Oh, she's trouble," Wren laughed, then almost screamed when a hand came down on her shoulder. She glanced over her shoulder and shook her head at one of her across-the-hall neighbors, Anna.
"Jesus, you scared me," Wren muttered, then scooted over to give the other girl room to see the drama below.
Anna rested her elbows on the windowsill, warning Wren, "You're going to get in trouble if you keep sitting up there."
Wren shrugged and pointed. "Our new neighbour."
One elegant eyebrow shot up at the scene below and Anna said dryly, "Well she looks like fun."
Wren agreed as she watched Zach begin to stalk the new girl. Although quick, she was no match for the two seasoned assistants. As she slid around one side of the car Seth moved up behind her and grabbed one wrist. He was forced to duck as the girl swung her other fist at him, the long limbs nearly clipping the man anyway. Zach ran up behind her and between the two they restrained her easily, forcing her to her knees in the drive with her arms behind her back.
She screamed at them then, losing her cool exterior in a mixture of both fear and rage. Wren reached out and grabbed Anna's hand tightly and the two watched wordlessly as Jacob moved off the porch.
Anna glanced over and murmured reassuringly, "Don't worry, you know he always babies the new girls."
Wren nodded, not taking her eyes off her new roommate and said, "It's not that. It's her."
Anna squeezed her hand tighter and had nothing to say. They had all started at that place, or a place similar, even if most of them had come quietly, even gratefully, to the school. Anna reflected silently that some were still at that place, not ready to admit that something was very wrong in their life. She swallowed against the sick feeling in her stomach and stared down at the struggling girl.
Jacob knelt in front of the new girl and murmured something so softly that even with straining the girls couldn't make it out. Apparently the girl's parents couldn't either, since they glanced at each other in obvious confusion.
The girl fell silent, though, and stared speculatively at the quietly handsome face in front of her. After a long moment she glanced away and nodded. Jacob stood then and gestured for the other two to release her. Seth helped the girl to her feet with an apologetic smile, but she jerked her hand back and stared at the ground. Jacob watched her for a long moment, but when no further rebellion seemed forthcoming, he turned and spoke quietly to her parents. The girl muttered something about her bags to the two men and made her way around the car with an unenthusiastic stride. As soon as all eyes were off of her, however, Wren saw her glance up sharply, gauging her chances. She dropped to a runners crouch, hidden behind the car, and after taking a deep breath launched herself up the drive. Her mother shrieked, "Riley!" after her in a voice filled with disbelief.
Wren collapsed on the windowsill in helpless laughter and Anna just shook her head, a slow smile creeping over her face despite herself.
"Well, at least we know her name now."
Jacob sighed slightly as Riley sprinted up the drive towards the front entrance. No doubt the gatekeeper had already closed the gate, but she had no way of knowing that. He briefly debated going to retrieve her himself, but then decided against it. That would have repercussions she had no way of knowing she was even risking. He turned back to her parents, smiling politely because it was his job. But his heart broke at the thought that anyone could willing give up their child. To him, it was worse that they loved her in a way. They should have done everything possible to help her themselves instead of finding a place to do it for them. But despite his anger he gave them reassuring words to take home.
Riley nearly screamed in frustration when she saw the gate, tightly closed. She had wondered why no one was chasing her and for a moment had allowed herself the belief that she was going to get away. Now it seemed they felt there was no need to chase her. She could see the street in front of the school, with cars and people walking by. She could taste that freedom.
Using that as her inspiration, she swallowed her anger and slipped a charming smile over her face, brushing the dark hair into place before approaching the small office by the gate. "Like a guard shack," she muttered resentfully.
The old man who had opened the gate stepped outside with a soft, easy smile. "Hey now girlie," he said in a warm voice, "What can I do for you?"
Shit. She hadn't thought this far. She smiled back, a real smile now, in the face of his kindness, and said a version of the truth. "I need to get out and I was wondering if you could open the gate for me, sir," she murmured.
"Hmm," he said. "I don't remember hearing about it, but then I forget a lot lately. You did get permission, right?"
"Oh, of course!" she replied, beginning to feel nervous. It couldn't be this easy, right? After those two guys had restrained her so easily. They were better than the police.
The old man was nodding, though, and moving into the building to open the gate for her. It began to sweep towards her and she took two eager towards the sidewalk before jerking to an abrupt halt as strong fingers wrapped around her wrist.
"No!" she cried desperately, twisting with a skill that nearly had her free. She whirled angrily about as the gate ground to a halt and slowly began to reverse itself.
The old man had come to stand in the doorway of the little building and smiled gently at her. "I guess maybe you didn't have permission after all. That's my grandson, Micaiah," he introduced her to the tall man who was currently trapping her wrist.
She glanced back, her mouth falling open. No wonder she hadn't been able to get away. His hands were huge. He was long and lanky and had lean muscles showing under graceful golden forearms. His skin was only a shade or two lighter than his golden bronze hair that curled gently to his shoulders. He watched her with one eyebrow raised over black eyes and she wanted to hiss at him that he was the devil.
As if he could hear her thoughts he smiled slowly and said, "You can just call me Micah. Everyone does, except for Gramps."
"As if I'm going to call you anything," she hissed in reply, jerking her arm.
He chuckled at her, unsympathetic but unoffended. "Call back up to the school, Gramps," he said without taking his eyes off the girl. "Ask Christian where this little girl's supposed to be."
She glared at him through furious tears as the older man disappeared back into the hut. "You bastard," she whispered.
His eyebrows shot up at this unexpected address and he knelt in front of her, carefully not letting go of her wrist. "You haven't been here long, have you?" he asked gently. She stared over his shoulder at the trees, still bare with winter. "Not much of a point in ignoring me, kid. I've got all the time in the world."
"About an hour," she bit out.
He nodded. "And you're already going to run away?"
"I never asked to come here in the first place!"
"Hmm…" he said. "Have you met your roommate yet?"
She glanced at him uncertainly and said, "No."
"What's her name?"
"Um…" she searched her memory and shook her head. "Can't remember. Byrd maybe?" She grinned slightly. "I know that's not it."
"That's it!" She laughed, her face suddenly beautiful with an honest smile that fell away as she remembered her situation.
Micah pretended like he hadn't noticed anything. "I just know you and Wren are going to get along."
"I don't want to be here," Riley stated. "It doesn't matter who my roommate is."
"What's so bad about here?" Micah asked.
She searched his face and deciding he was serious, thought for a moment. "I don't really know."
"Did you have to leave friends?"
"Not really friends."
The old gatekeeper appeared in the doorway of his building. He drawled, "Christian said she ran outta there like the hounds of hell were chasing her. Said Jacob wants her back up there whenever you get the chance." He paused and looked significantly at Micah. "He said she can just go up and meet her new roommate. There's no need to go anywhere else."
Micah nodded and rose. "Ready?" he asked.
Riley stared at him. "I'm not going back."
Micah grinned and before Riley knew what was happening she was over his shoulder and staring at the ground. She shrieked in outrage, squirming against his hands, but he strode easily back up the drive without loosening his grip.
Wren burst into surprised laughter. When her friend didn't even glance up Wren dropped her bare foot off the window where she was still perched and thumped Anna over the head with it.
"What?" the girl mumbled from inside her biology homework.
"You've gotta see this," Wren said.
Anna sighed heavily and closed her book, standing up to look over the smaller girl's shoulder. She laughed too when she saw Micah saunter up to the porch with the recalcitrant new student flung over his shoulder. They were impressed that such a position had managed to only incite further anger from her. Was nothing going to teach her?
They glanced almost in unison at Jacob who leaned against the porch railing, expression as unreadable as usual. When the gatekeeper dropped the girl to her feet he nodded once at Micah, then turned and walked into the building, Riley trailing hesitantly behind.