September passed quietly, Kyle and Jonah relaxing around Jazz, although Boone remained cold and unfriendly. She hung out with Andy a lot, and Cory and Evan on occasion. The few opportunities she had to replace her tools passed without anything happening. She knew that she was letting her guard down, but the calm pace of school life was blissfully numbing, and she didn't want to face the reality that her tools came with.
Mr. Raymond continued to be nasty, but Jazz helped Andy avoid any further punishments and they did their Greek homework together most nights. Gym class was unspectacular, mostly consisting of team sports, which she was able to hide her skills in, and Boone began to fail Government. Kyle went into a Harry Potter reading spree, and they all watched the movies with him, although Jonah texted obnoxiously the whole time. He had gotten kicked out of class several times for being disrespectful.
September melted into October, and it was the second week in October when Jazz walked into Greek and saw Andy with his head down.
"What's up?" she asked as she flopped into the seat next to him.
"Not much," he mumbled, without looking at her. She frowned.
"Andy, you okay?"
"I'm fine," he said, still refusing to look at her.
"If it's about Jonah's comment the other night, he said he was going to apologize next time he saw you."
"No, I don't care about that. So, did you find that book I was telling you about?"
"Andy, don't avoid the question. Are you or are you not okay?"
He sighed, then turned his head and looked straight at her. Jazz sucked in her breath. He had a black eye and a swollen and cut lip. His cheek was bruised, and she saw a massive bruise disappearing into his shirt.
She demanded, "Who did this to you?!"
"Seth and Drake. They said that I'd been hanging around you and Boone and Jonah and Kyle too much, and that I hadn't gotten a lesson at all this year yet, so they gave me one." His nonchalant tone still betrayed the deep emotions running below the surface.
"Andy, I'm so sorry," she said. "What can I do to make up for this?"
He tried to smile. "It's okay. I was deluding myself to think that it wouldn't happen this year anyway. It's not your fault. It's been good to have a friend. They might be coming after you next, you know."
She clenched her fists. "I've been waiting for it. Don't worry, Andy, I'll be fine. Maybe I can get Jonah to pay them back for this." When he started to protest, she waved him silent. "He's been getting antsy anyway, waiting for the first conflict of the year. This'll just give him an excuse to start it."
Mr. Raymond called the class to order then, and they fell silent immediately. A few days ago he had given a boy four pages of translation on top of the three already assigned for talking in class, and neither of them wanted extra translation today.
After class, they separated as Andy went to the school nurse at Jazz's insistence and Jazz hurried back to Barbier. None of her roommates were in the suite, so she dumped her books and marched back out. She was on the hunt for Jonah. Jazz could take Seth and Drake on, but only with blowing her cover, and she didn't want to do that. Andy needed to be avenged, though, and she wanted them to back off anyway. They had been continually harassing her, and she knew that a beating would come sooner or later.
Apparently sooner, she thought grimly as she rounded the corner of Barbier to take the shortcut to the gym, where her wayward roommate was likely to be this time of day, what with hockey practice and all. Seth and Drake blocked her way menacingly. Jazz took a deep breath.
Remember what you are hiding from, she admonished herself. Brad and the camp are far worse than these two buffoons, so stay low.
"You've seen Andy, haven't you?" Seth interrupted her thoughts. "We're gonna smash you worse than we ever did him." The two separated and moved toward her.
Jazz started trembling slightly. It was partially calculated, to make the two boys think that she was terrified, and partially due to her suppression of her natural instincts. She forced herself not to react as Seth swung a fist at her stomach, and stepped backwards just enough to avoid the full force of the blow. His eyes widened in anger, and Drake slipped around and grabbed her shoulders, but she twisted free, swinging a fist at his face and connecting. He fell back, glaring at her, and then Seth caught her from behind with a heavy blow to her left shoulder.
She stumbled, and Drake grabbed her while Seth pounded her stomach, shoulders, and arms, but she did get her arm free once to land a blow on him. When he finally stopped, Jazz looked up at him through narrowed eyes.
"Afraid to mess up my face? Afraid that you might get in trouble for beating me up?" she taunted, watching his face darken in anger. The jibe seemed to do the trick, as his fist landed directly on her left eye, then on her cheekbone, then on her nose. Drake dropped her then, and the two boys left, although not before Drake had landed a few kicks on her back, legs, and sides.
Jazz forced herself not to curl up in pain. She had endured far worse, but not with the same pressures of maintaining a certain role, and if she slipped into her usual method of coping with pain, she would definitely freak out anyone who had to deal with her.
Slowly, she forced herself upright and moved haltingly to the back door of Barbier, slipping in and going gingerly up the stairs. The upper hallway was deserted, as many of the boys were off doing other things, or buried in homework in their rooms. Jazz limped down the hall and fumbled her key into the lock, nearly dropping it in her hurry to be in before anyone saw her.
Thankfully, none of her roommates were back yet, and the first thing Jazz did was write a note for Jonah, explaining Andy's problem and asking him to make sure that Seth and Drake got a lesson, and telling him that she would be holed up with homework all evening.
Then she went to her room and dug out her first aid kit, cleaning herself up with an efficiency born of long time familiarity. She wiped away the dried blood from her nose and gingerly touched an antiseptic wipe to the long scrape on her cheek, and then grabbed a Motrin and washed it down with a gulp of Gatorade.
When Jazz finished, she cleared away the first aid kit and spread her homework on her bed, propping a pillow against the headboard so that she could be as comfortable as possible. She was well into her statistics homework by the time Boone and Jonah returned, but she paused to listen to them talk as they discovered the note.
"Andy got beat up for hanging out with us?" Jonah said incredulously.
"I guess it makes sense," Boone said dubiously. "That's one reason Jazz is in trouble, for being our roommate. Doing homework all night? It's Friday night. Even Jazz takes some time off on Fridays."
Jazz cringed. She had forgotten what day it was, and Boone was right. Even she didn't do homework all Friday night.
"Beat Seth and Drake up for Andy's sake?" Jonah asked thoughtfully. "What do you think, Boone? Should we go for it?" Boone shrugged.
"I don't care about Andy or Jazz."
"But?" Jonah prodded.
"But, I think Seth needs a pounding. He's stepping out of line with this."
Jazz breathed a sigh of relief that the two boys wouldn't get away with what they had done to Andy. Before she turned back to her homework, though, Jonah spoke again.
"If Jazz is going to stay holed up all night, that's his problem, but tomorrow the girls are coming over. I don't think he listened to the announcements this morning, but it's a merger weekend."
Merger weekend? Jazz dimly recalled hearing something about it this morning, and if she remembered right, the two schools allowed their students to visit each other's dorms.
"The girls want to hang out with him too, so we'll just have to drag him away from his books," Jonah said, and Boone was silent. "Come on, Boone, he's not that bad. Give the guy a break, will you?"
"Yes, Mr. Bipolar," Boone said sarcastically. "You know, we once had another friend. His name was Kevin, do you remember him?"
"Of course I remember Kevin," Jonah said. "I'm never gonna forget Kevin. But he's not here, and we've got someone else to live with. I figure I might as well be friendly."
"Well, I don't. No punk scholarship kid is going to take his place." Just then, Kyle came in, and the conversation abruptly switched to explaining to Kyle what was happening while Jonah turned on the rock music that he and Kyle were so fond of.
The music gave Jazz a headache, so she finished her statistics homework and changed into her pajamas, her body throbbing. She swallowed two more Motrins and crawled gingerly into bed. It was 5:30.
A while later, she swam up through the fog of sleep to hear Kyle knocking at her door, but elected to ignore him. As if at a distance, she heard Jonah say, "That's odd. No matter how much homework he has, he always answers when someone knocks."
"Maybe he's not feeling good," Kyle suggested.
"He didn't say anything about going to the nurse in his note," Boone commented doubtfully.
"But you know Jazz. Even if he did go to the nurse, he probably wouldn't have said anything, and I bet he didn't go at all," Kyle answered.
"Come on, guys. We'll leave him alone tonight and drag it out of him tomorrow," Jonah said, his voice moving away from the door. Jazz closed her eyes and tried to ignore the pain behind her eyes as she drifted back to sleep.
It was past nine the next morning when the girls arrived and Jazz still wasn't up. Boone had thought about the possibility that he had sneaked out before the rest of them got up, but he was willing to give Jazz until the girls got there to make an appearance. When he still wasn't showing, Kyle explained the situation to Annika, Sam, and Bonnie.
"Let's get him up, then!" Sam exclaimed, making a beeline for Jazz's door. Kyle snagged her arm.
"We have an agreement not to violate each other's space," he said. "I don't really want to give him license to invade my room. I don't want to know what kind of pranks he's capable of."
Annika raised an eyebrow. "Jazz would do that?"
Jonah laughed. "Jazz would. He's got a vibe that just shouts regular troublemaker, and yet he's really never pulled anything. Not yet, anyway."
Bonnie suggested, "Why don't we go to the nurse's office and ask if Jazz came in at all yesterday or today? That would tell us something."
"Brilliant idea, Bonnie!" Jonah shouted, moving as if to pounce on the small Hispanic girl, who ducked behind Annika, who glared at him.
"Don't bother her like that, Jonah. If it's such a good suggestion, why don't you go find out?"
Before Jonah responded though, Jazz's door opened, and Boone swung around to see that the small boy was finally emerging. To say that he was startled would be an understatement. He had never seen Jazz less than composed and alert, yet the boy was clearly still groggy from sleep, his hair sticking up in messy spikes and his hoodie and sweatpants rumpled. It wasn't that that caught Boone's attention, though. Jazz sported a black eye, a long scrape on his cheek, a yellow bruise on his other cheekbone, and a faint trace of blood below his nose. The way he moved indicated further bruising and immense soreness over the rest of his body.
Bonnie gasped. Jazz came alert at the sound and beat a hasty retreat, but Jonah, closest to his door, grabbed the doorknob before Jazz could get the door closed.
Kyle bounded over to help Jonah get the door open again, but Jonah wrestled it open by the time he got over there. Jazz stood at the foot of his bed, head high and eyes blazing.
"What happened to you?" Jonah demanded, with his customary lack of tact.
Jazz glared. Kyle sighed. "Come on out. Let's talk this over in a civilized manner."
"I'm fine. Go away," Jazz said, his voice flat. Jonah snorted.
"I've never seen anyone look fine like this before. You are not fine, Jasper Howard, and I want to know why not."
"You called me Jasper," Jazz noted dangerously. Boone found himself losing his temper.
"Who cares! Come on, Jazz, get out here," he flared. The small boy held his chin high and stepped past both of them, walking to the front of the common area. He crossed his arms and glared at them all.
"Why, Boone, I didn't think you cared. Must be killing you to act nice like this in front of your lady friends," he taunted.
"I don't. I just want you to get your problem fixed so the others will be interesting today."
"Alright, spill," Jonah ordered, breaking into the exchange of barbs. Jazz gave him a dark look.
"Spill? I've got it all handled, I assure you." Boone rolled his eyes.
"Yes, very well handled."
"Shut up, Boone," Kyle said. "Did you try to take care of revenge for Andy by yourself?"
"Are you kidding? I don't have a death wish. I was ambushed, got a few bruises, and wrote you a note. Problem solved. Now leave me alone and go do your thing."
"You should see the nurse," Annika said.
"And get suspended for fighting? No thanks, I'd rather not," Jazz said.
"At least tell the headmaster that they beat you up!" Sam demanded, and received a dark look of her own.
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm a scholarship kid; bozos like Seth with money get the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't really matter anyway. It's because Andy and I are connected to you guys, so it would have happened sooner or later."
"Hey!" Kyle said. "Didn't we talk about this?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm just stating the facts."
"Talk about what?" Jonah asked.
"A certain, shall we say agreement, between Kyle and myself, " Jazz answered. "It's none of your business. Besides, if it makes you feel better, I got a couple punches in myself."
Jazz nodded stiffly, and went over to the cupboard to pull out a box of cereal. As he assembled his breakfast, Boone let out a sigh, casting Jonah a look of resignation that was not missed by the girls.
There was an awkward silence for a moment, broken only by Jazz crunching the cereal.
"Well," Annika said brightly, "what do you guys want to do today?"
Jonah thought for a moment, then his face lit up. "Let's play board games!" he exclaimed, with the air of an Eureka.
"Okay," Sam agreed. "What games do you have here?"
Kyle rummaged in the cupboard beneath the TV. "Um, Monopoly, Clue, Life, and Apples to Apples." Sam clapped her hands.
"Monopoly!" she cheered. Annika rolled her eyes.
"Sam, we play Monopoly all the time. Can't we play something else for once?"
"Kyle'll play with me, won't you?" Sam pulled the game out of the cupboard and set it on the floor. Kyle shoved the coffee table over as Sam set up the game board.
"Hey, let's play in teams," she suggested suddenly. "Will that make it interesting enough for you, Annika?"
"Fine," the tall blond sighed. "There's no way I'm on your team, though."
"Kyle and I will be a team," Sam said cheerfully. Jonah flopped down on the floor and grinned up at Bonnie.
"Be my partner, Bonnie? Please?" Bonnie sighed.
"Okay, okay, cut out the puppy eyes. I'll be your partner." Jonah pumped his fist in the air and pulled her down to sit beside him.
"We have an uneven amount of people," Bonnie pointed out.
"Oh, don't mind me," Jazz said through a mouthful of cereal. "I got stuff to do." Sam looked thoroughly disappointed.
"Jazz! We want to get to know you. How're we going to do that if you insist on avoiding us?" Jazz swallowed his mouthful and gave her a dry look.
"I'm not avoiding you. After I get some decent clothes on, I'll watch for a little bit, okay?" The auburn haired girl gave him a dazzling grin, but Jazz was not impressed, unlike most of Sam's chosen victims, Boone observed.
He settled down next to Annika, who had designated herself as banker and was doling out the paper money. As the game began, Boone shifted slightly so that he was able to see Jazz, who was finishing his cereal.
He vanished into his room a few minutes later, and then went into the bathroom, emerging about a half hour after the game started. His hair was damp and clung to his forehead in long tendrils, and he was wearing that infernal black hoodie again.
Boone was really beginning to dislike that hoodie. It seemed to symbolize all that was different about Jazz, and everything that Kevin was that Jazz was not. That bothered Boone immensely, but he locked the feelings away and concentrated on the game.
Jazz sat on the arm of the couch, watching as the competition grew fierce. Sam was inclined to buy property and houses on a whim, but Kyle balanced her tendencies by forcing her to save money first, and then buy. Jonah made rash decisions and relied on Bonnie to bail them out of trouble, which she did gracefully, while Annika told Boone what to do, which he then modified to suit him. She was less than pleased at this.
At one point, when Jonah and Bonnie were nearly bankrupt and Kyle and Sam owned the whole side of the board before Go, Boone happened to look up at Jazz. The wistful expression on the boy's face was not what he expected to see, and as soon as Jazz saw him looking, his face closed down and he gave Boone a bland look.
The game came to an abrupt end when Jonah lost the rest of his and Bonnie's money and Boone landed on Boardwalk and was unable to pay Kyle and Sam. Laughing, Sam did a victory dance around the room, nearly colliding with Jazz, who jumped backwards into the wall. Boone saw a ghost of pain cross the boy's face. Kyle said suddenly, "Jazz, you should go to the nurse."
"What for? I thought we went over this already," the small boy demanded crossly.
"Well, she can make sure you don't have a cracked rib and I bet she'd give you some pain meds."
"I don't have a cracked rib," Jazz said dismissively. "I don't need pain meds, either. I'm fine."
A look of sympathy appeared on Bonnie's face, but Jonah didn't let her say anything, knowing how Jazz would likely react to any sign of pity.
"Anyone want to take a gander outside? Go for a walk while we still can?"
Annika smiled. "Yes, let's. It was so beautiful this morning." She rose and started toward the door, the others trailing after her. Sam paused in the doorway.
"Are you coming, Jazz?" Jazz looked at her solemnly for a moment, then nodded carefully and stood up.
After a walk around the grounds, the seven of them settled down on one of the lawns, talking and tossing a ball around. Jazz asked a question about Davis, and that sparked a whole round of Davis stories.
Eventually the conversation circled around to winter break.
"So, where is everyone going for Christmas?" Annika asked.
"Thinking about Christmas break already?" Boone said. She shrugged.
"I like to plan in advance."
"I'm going home," Sam said. "Hopefully my mom and dad won't fight too much over break and actually pretend to be a happy family. My sisters probably won't come home for the whole break, just Christmas."
"I'm going home too," Kyle said, "and we might go to Disney World the week after Christmas, for Aaron's birthday. It's December 27, you know."
"That's sweet," Bonnie said, smiling. "How old will he be now?"
"He's turning eleven."
"I wish I had a younger brother," Bonnie said wistfully. "Older brothers are too much work." Jazz jumped in.
"You have an older brother?"
"Two, actually. My mom and dad wanted a daughter to balance them out, so they adopted me, but I don't think it worked. They just get really macho and protective. It's kind of annoying."
"How old were you when you got adopted?"
"I was nine. Why?"
"I have a Hispanic friend who was in the foster care system, and I was just wondering. He never got adopted," Jazz said, and Boone thought that he looked like he was tasting something sour. He thought it was time to turn the conversation away from Bonnie.
"I'm going to the empty mansion that my parents may or may not decide to visit in their holiday travels. Jonah's coming over to spend break with me after Christmas."
"Yep," Jonah nodded, while peering at his phone.
"Annika, where are you going?"
"My mom is doing a photo shoot in Alaska, so we're doing Christmas up there, then flying to Moscow to stay with my grandparents for a few days. Then we're coming back here and I get dropped off early, because she has to do a big interview, and I'd just be bored waiting around for her."
"Wow, world traveler," Jazz said.
"Yep, that's me. Are you going home for break?"
"No, I'm staying here." That got everyone's attention.
"Stay here? Why on earth would you do that?" Sam demanded. "I admit, I don't like going home and facing the fighting, but it's better than staying at school with nothing to do."
"That's what happens when you're a scholarship kid with nowhere to go," Jazz said, and gave them a crooked smile.
"Even scholarship kids have places to go. Where are you from?" Kyle asked.
"I'm not really from anywhere in particular, although I was born in this state. I've been in the foster care system since I was six, but somehow I got transferred through a couple different states. My scholarship is actually through an anonymous donor, but I got it because of my grades." Jazz presented all this casually enough, but he seemed to be uncomfortable about it.
"Foster care for about eleven years, then? Are you an only child?"
"Yeah, eleven years—I'm seventeen now, and I have an older brother. We were in the same homes for a while, but we've been separated for a long time. I don't know where he is right now," Jazz said, a hint of a deep-seated grief creeping into his voice.
"So, is anyone up for playing practical jokes on Davis?" Jonah asked. "It's about time we did something, and get Jazz and Kyle to think about something other than grades all the time."
"Hey, at least we have something to do during hockey season while you and Boone are busy beating up the other teams," Kyle retorted.
"Yeah, yeah," Jonah said, lost in thought. Then he brightened. "I know what we can do! We can put saran wrap over his doorway and toilet seat."
"Jonah, that's so sixth grade," Annika complained. "Let's not do anything today. If you guys want to do that, do it when we're not here."
"Agreed," Bonnie said. "Hey, isn't that the bus pulling in?"
"Yeah, we better get going," Sam said, and Kyle gave her a hand up. Jazz disappeared as the group headed toward the parking lot.
"What's up with Jazz?" Sam demanded, able to talk about him for the first time all day. Jonah feigned ignorance.
"Something up with Jazz?" Bonnie poked him.
"He doesn't act right, Jonah. You know what she means." Jonah went serious.
"That's just Jazz, Sam. He isn't all that normal, although I will admit he was extra weird today."
"What do you mean, he isn't all that normal?" Annika questioned.
"He's obsessed with his grades, for one thing," Boone said.
"So? Kyle is too," Sam said, and Kyle scowled at her.
"Not like Jazz. He got a ninety-seven on a test once and nearly flipped, not that most people would be able to tell. He won't accept anything less than a ninety-eight on anything, even if it means asking the teacher if he can redo the assignment."
"He's very athletic," Jonah picked up, "and he gets up at weird hours and goes off and trains or something. He always wears long sleeves and pants, and gets in really weird moods sometimes. He hardly ever talks straight out about himself."
"Hmmm," Annika hummed. "Just leave him alone with his secrets, then. You'll learn more eventually. You live with the guy, after all. Whoops, we better get going. See you guys later." She pressed a quick kiss to Boone's cheek and dragged Sam up the bus steps as she waved frantically to the three of them. Jonah gave Bonnie a quick hug and gently shoved her to the steps, then stepped back.
As the bus pulled away, Boone could see Sam still waving from the back window of the bus.
Jazz hadn't realized how hard it would be to be injured in unfamiliar surroundings. True, she had been hurt before, usually in unfamiliar surroundings, but she had always had Raphael, Micah, or Poe with her, or at least the knowledge that one of them would be coming for her.
Here, she was completely alone, and she couldn't even control the pain properly without someone noticing and getting suspicious. The memories came to life every time she closed her eyes, and it was all she could do to stay calm sometimes. Nightmares woke her several nights in a row, and she found herself drenched in sweat and fighting tears every time she was forced to relive a mission, every time she watched the bomb go off again.
She stopped sleeping properly, and only dozed for a few hours every night, black circles appearing under her eyes. As far as she knew, she wasn't screaming during her nightmares, since her roommates didn't say anything about it and her throat wasn't sore when she woke up.
Still, they didn't act the same around her, and she was too miserable to care right then. The week passed slowly, Jazz working on homework and avoiding her roommates as much as possible until her bruises healed. She did notice when Boone and Jonah swaggered into the cafeteria on Tuesday evening, Boone with a bruised cheek and Jonah sporting a black eye of his own, but Seth and Drake looked a lot worse when she saw them in class on Wednesday.
On Friday, the four of them were called into the headmaster's office. Jazz was far from happy about it, but she was also fairly sure that it wasn't for fighting, because they would have gotten in trouble several days ago for that.
Headmaster Daley began, "How is the semester going for you boys?" Kyle tossed Jonah a look.
"Fine, sir." The headmaster was no fool, and he knew when to get to the point. He was a tall man, not at all stocky, with a head full of dark brown hair, graying at the temples.
"I'll get right to the point. We have a student transferring in, a senior, and we need to put him in your suite. I'm afraid that there isn't anywhere else for him to go. I wanted to give you advance notice, just in case you are using the extra bedroom for something and have to clean it out." He waggled his eyebrows at them, and it seemed so out of character for the rather intimidating headmaster that Jazz nearly burst out laughing.
"We haven't used it all," Kyle started, but Headmaster Daley waved him silent.
"It's a bit of a joke, Kyle. Anyway, we don't know exactly when the boy will arrive, although it should be within the next week. His guardians will contact us a few hours before he gets here. All right, boys, you can go now. I just wanted to let you know."
The four of them left, and by mutual consent, found an empty stretch of hallway to congregate in.
"Another new kid?" Jonah groaned, but realized what he had said and backtracked hastily. "Not that you're bad, Jazz, it's just that I can only handle so much!"
Jazz rolled her eyes, but didn't say anything. Boone sighed, and Kyle appeared to have thought of something.
"One of us will probably get called to the office when he gets here, to show him around and all." Boone scowled darkly.
"I didn't think of that. I volunteer you, Kyle." Kyle quirked an eyebrow at him, but nodded.
"Fine with me. All of you would probably scare the poor kid to death."
"Boone isn't exactly the friendliest guy on the block, I make people nervous sometimes, and Jazz makes people nervous all the time. Yep, you're elected, Kyle," Jonah said.
"I get it," Kyle said. "At least I'm not going around starting fights."
"Ooh, low blow, Kyle," Jonah snickered. "Got anything to say to that, Jazz, O starter of fights?"
Jazz rolled her eyes and didn't respond, choosing instead to walk away.
"I don't know about you guys, but I have homework to do." It wasn't exactly a lie, because she would do homework when she got back to the room, but it was mostly a way to get her out of the conversation. As she left, she heard Jonah sigh.
"It's Friday again. Do you think he's hiding something else from us?"
Jazz smiled grimly. Jonah, you have no idea.
It was still dark when she got up on Saturday, before even her usual waking time of five o'clock. She couldn't sleep, so she didn't see the point of staying in bed. Quietly making her way outside, she walked to the tree she had climbed on her first day of classes and settled at its base, for the sake of her still healing bruises.
For a while, she tried to review her Greek vocabulary mentally, but found the dark outdoors soothing, and managed to doze off.
She found herself in a swirling darkness, where images flashed by, foggy memories reared their heads, and old injuries ached fiercely. Jazz felt dazed and incoherent, instinctively reaching out to one of the images, to touch it, to hold it, to gain a center of balance. No sooner had her fingertips brushed the edge of the image than it blurred, and became a memory focused around a central image.
Jazz felt a slight twinge of panic, but she didn't know why. She realized, then, that she could look around, and she discovered that it wasn't dark anymore. Instead, faces surrounded her. The panic flared up, and she tried to focus on a face, any face. To her horror, it was Amy. Her friend's face was swollen, just like it was the last time Jazz had seen her, and blood trickled from her nose.
"Amy?" Jazz whispered, and her voice echoed, as if she were in some great amphitheater.
"You left me," Amy whispered, the words slurred as they left her swollen lips.
"I didn't mean to, they dragged me away," Jazz said tearfully. Amy took a step closer, and suddenly, they were the only two there, and they were standing in the ruins of the old camp.
"Jazz, we swore. Never leave each other behind, never stop trying." Jazz trembled. "You did both!" Amy screamed suddenly, and Jazz, her best friend, heard all the pain and anguish behind her rage.
"Amy, I—I'm sorry," she whispered hoarsely. Amy's shoulders slumped, and she gave a shuddering sigh.
"I know," she mumbled. "I know. Oh, Jazz, I miss you so much." Her head lifted, and she gave Jazz a tremulous smile. "I'll be okay." Jazz gaped at her best friend.
"You're dead, Amy, and it's my fault. How will you ever be okay?"
Before Amy answered, a golden cloud suddenly obscured her, and Jazz nearly attacked the cloud. "It's fine, Jazz," Amy's laughing voice floated out, and then the cloud dissolved to reveal her as she had been on that final good night.
Amy's long chestnut hair was hanging in a silken wave down her back, her green eyes sparkling, her cheeks rosy. She wore civilian clothes, jeans and a corduroy jacket, and her necklace around her neck. Jazz caught her breath. The simple puzzle piece charm glowed a faint silver, and she unconsciously raised a hand to her own throat, but her necklace was not there.
"I'm waiting for you, Jazz," Amy said.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"When you accept my death, or—" Amy hesitated.
"Or when you join me. Whichever happens first, Jazz. Then I can stay like this forever."
"Amy—your necklace—" Jazz couldn't finish. Amy looked down and touched the charm gently.
"I know. Remember, Jazz, it's only a symbol. Our friendship is more than just a necklace." She looked up, and the sun slanted across her face. "I have to go now. I know you will do the right thing."
Jazz watched in horror as her features slowly resumed her battered appearance and she faded from sight.
"Well? What are you going to do?" a voice demanded from behind her. Jazz jumped and whirled, instinctively taking a defensive position. She couldn't believe her eyes.
Jazz jolted awake, sweating and upset. The dream again. She had the same conversation with Amy every time, but she always woke up after that. Never had Raphael intruded before. He wasn't even dead, as far as she knew, so he had no right to be there.
Jazz swallowed hard. Amy had been gone for years, and she still had the dream on a regular basis. Suddenly, she was aware of how cold she was, and she forced her aching body up from the ground. There were no classes today, so Jazz decided to spend most of the day working the soreness out and do a bit of training.
Her normal training regime was out, due to increased traffic around campus and her bruises, although Brad would have pushed her through the pain. Jazz did a lot of running that day, finding corners around campus she did not know, and doing stretching exercises in between long runs. She did go to the cafeteria for lunch, but she avoided the early rush and barely finished in time to leave when the staff cleared everyone out.
It was around two o'clock when Jazz reluctantly headed back to Barbier. The day outdoors had made her feel a lot better, but she needed a shower, and she really did have to get started on some homework, although she had finished about half of it the night before.
She wove her way through the boys sprawled throughout the lobby, doing everything from drooling over car pictures to playing cards to arguing about their favorite sports teams, and went up the stairs. The door to the suite was slightly ajar, so she pushed it open and went to her room.
After taking a quick shower, she was in her room spreading her books and papers across her bed, so that she could take inventory of what needed to be done, when Boone slammed into the suite, followed by Jonah. They were yelling at each other, so Jazz ignored them, as this was a relatively common occurrence.
The silence that fell a second later was not. Jazz frowned. Their arguments had a fairly predictable pattern, and this abrupt silence was not part of it. She got up and was on her way over to her door when she heard Kyle say, "Um, welcome to the suite."
Oh brother. The new kid. Do I really have to meet him? This was her first thought, but her mind came to a screeching halt when she heard the boy answer.
"Is this yelling common around here?"
Jazz nearly stopped breathing. It can't be. It just can't! But she knew it was. That's Raphael's voice!
It took her a moment to regain her composure, during which time Kyle introduced Boone and Jonah, and asked the other two where Jasper was. She couldn't help but smile to herself, despite her tangled thoughts. Kyle was obviously giving her an opportunity to threaten the new kid the same way she had threatened the three of them when they met.
With an iron mask over her true self, Jazz opened her door and stepped out. She immediately recognized Raphael, even with his back to her. Boone heard her door open and turned, the others following. "Oh, there you are," Kyle said, and was about to go on when Raphael turned around and looked straight at her. His dark eyes instantly filled with incredulous surprise, but Jazz found her confusion melting away, and she remembered her anger with him.
"Raphael," she growled.
Boone was shocked at who the new student turned out to be: a wiry Hispanic boy with a barbed wire tattoo around his left bicep and several scars visible on his neck and arms. He could tell that Kyle was uneasy around him, even as he made the introductions, and Jonah was already brooding.
Jazz's reaction was nothing he could have imagined. The small boy came out of his room and froze, eyes drilling into Raphael's back.
"Raphael," he growled, and Boone felt a chill go down his spine. Jazz had never, ever sounded so dangerous. The Hispanic boy turned, and his eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Jazz?" He was so utterly astonished to see Jazz here that Jonah stopped brooding and stared at him. Then Raphael's eyebrows lowered, and he matched Jazz's glare with one that was equally intense. For a long moment, their eyes clashed, and Boone thought that he could even see sparks falling to the carpet.
"H—How do you know each other?" Kyle asked at last. Raphael broke the glare-off and looked over at him.
"We met in juvie."
"Juvie?" Kyle echoed. Raphael clarified.
"Juvenile detention." At the looks of shock he received, Raphael smirked. "Hasn't told you about that, has he." It wasn't a question. He looked back at Jazz. "Yep, he's a thief and I'm a hacker."
"Hacker?" Jonah said blankly. Raphael sighed this time.
"You dudes got to get with the lingo. Computer hacker. Comprendo?" Jonah nodded, staring at Jazz, who was frozen in an icy fury.
"Well? Aren't you gonna talk to me, Jazz?" Raphael said.
Jazz spat icily, "No, I'm not gonna talk to you, traitor. I have nothing to say to you." With that, he pivoted, shoulders and back stiff and straight, and disappeared back into his room.
"Whew. Touchy, ain't he," Raphael commented. "He a transfer student too?"
All three boys were silent for a moment, and then Kyle said, "Yes, he's a transfer student." They were at a loss of what to say next. Raphael solved the problem.
"Which room do I get?" Jonah pointed to the room on the other side of Jazz's, and Raphael picked up his duffel bags and went in and shut the door.
Kyle looked at Jonah, who raised his eyebrows. Then they both looked at Boone.
"This is going to be a long year," he sighed.