chapter 1 ║ forget about the baby
i've just noticed your lovely jewels are missing.
"Now, do repeat me the rules, Gwendolyn."
"I mustn't violate curfew, which is subject to change at your pleasure. I shall be sober during my stay here. My presence for dinners will be required; Wednesdays you'll be absent but, you assure me, you'll know should I decide not to appear. I will attend school, either until I graduate or move out. Most important: I shan't partake in cinematographic productions of any sort as long as you're responsible of me."
Lady Arista watched me with rather unamused eyes. I half expected her to say don't mock me child and smack me upside the head.
Which was probably best she didn't since my nerves were already frayed enough.
The while situation was ridiculous. I wasn't even supposed to be living in 81 Bourdon Place, let alone awake at the unholy hour of 11 AM in a Sunday. What if I attended mass every Sunday at noon? Principal Gilles couldn't have known I didn't. He didn't have any business forcing me into the school today.
I would ditch if I could, but they had me by the balls, because I knew Mister Gilles would call Lady Arista if I didn't appear to tell her that I was officially excluded of St. Lennox High School before I even stepped on a classroom, and then Lady Arista would let me go to take on the foster system on my own.
I was under no delusions that my siblings would run after me should that happen.
So I was a good girl.
Five minutes to noon and I was already waiting outside the principal's office, the very embodiment of a proper lady in black shorts, a t-shirt with cut off sleeves and scruffy sneakers. I've got to admit the expression on Mister Gilles' face was the single solitary thing that got me to smile when he finally deigned to get out of his office. That was about ten minutes after his secretary (a blonde thing with a long face and even longer legs ─which gave me a hint as to why she was hired) had gone in to tell him I was here.
I savoured the horror in his eyes as his gaze ran through me. I merely shook his hand, smiling pleasantly.
"Hello, Mister Gilles. A pleasure to see you again," I quipped.
"Yes, yes, of course. The pleasure is mine, Gwendolyn," he managed to stutter out. Eventually, he looked me in the eye again, confrontational as he straightened his back and brought up his chin.
"This should be fast right? I've got to─"
"I'm afraid it may not, Miss Shepherd." He ran his fingers over his jacket, buttoning it. "We are waiting for another student. He should have been here a while ago, in fact."
Oh, so not only was I supposed to sacrifice an hour of my Sunday to acquire some cheap uniforms and discuss the secrecy agreements, I had to sacrifice my noon because of some irresponsible stinky inconsiderate arsehole.
"Oh, look, he's here!" Mister Gilles said, before promptly bypassing me in favour of walking towards the end of hall. I blinked. I decided to wait here; we should be coming back to the office, right? I sat back down on my awful orange chair, crossing my leg over the other. I smoothed my paperwork over my lap.
My gaze slipped to them. It landed on the arse's arse, which was very nice. The man ─no, boy, look at his hair─ was wearing a leather jacket and loose dark jeans. His hair, longish, to his earlobes, was a nice, rich shade of brown. And he was fit, you could tell by the slant of his shoulders and the way the jacket curved around his torso, the cling of his trousers.
Apparently we wouldn't be coming back to the office because Mister Gilles, after a minute, waved me over in an enthusiastic fashion that was obviously on the arse's benefit. Where the hell was that smile when I told him it was a pleasure to see him? Probably on a land full of dicks, the sexist pig.
"Mister de Villiers, this is Gwendolyn Shepherd." I stared at him, scandalized. The fuck? "And this is Gideon de Villiers." I didn't even look at the boy, his gaze stuck in the principal. He, in returned, gave me heavy-lidded eyes and a passive smile. "Oh, Gwendolyn, it isn't like wouldn't have recognized your face. May as well have been polite and given him the truth."
Yeah, and tell you wife about the affair with the secretary, too, might as well? Because of course he was shagging the secretary, that's what smarmy bastards like him did.
"Maybe," I rebuked, "but that wasn't the deal." I didn't even know the colour of the boy's eyes, but I could feel their heavy weight on me. I twitched my nose.
Mister Gilles let out something akin to a patient sigh. Obviously, dealing with the illogical behaviour of his collocutor was draining for him. I could certainly relate. The boy, Gilbert something or other, snorted. I stole a glance at him, but his eyes caught mine and I hurried to look away.
They were green. The colour of a dress I once wore ─like the deep sea, or─ an emerald green. His eyes were the colour of the precious stone. I could write a song about them. And he had pretty eyelashes, too.
God, get a grip! I turned back to Mister Gilles, who was prattling something that wasn't a heartfelt apology for giving out my secret.
"Here you go." Mister Gilles gave a bag full of ─I peered into it─ what appear to be my uniforms. I had no idea where he got it out from. He kept on going. Really, he was truly saying the most random things. "Unfortunately, they both graduated this year. In fact," he said, eyeing both of us, "you remind me of them."
"What are we talking about," I whispered to myself.
Green Eyes snorted yet again. Probably a big fan of coke.
"In fact," Mister Gilles repeated, "I was thinking that you could co-star on our next play, Anastasia."
"Excuse me?" I meeped as Green Eyes bit out: "Not a million years!"
"Mister de Villiers, Miss Shepherd, this is a favour you'll be doing to me," he said. It wasn't a request. His voice was detached and his fingers surgeon-still as he criss-crossed them. "As I am doing you the favour, Gwendolyn, to keep your identity secret. Just as I won't be expelling you for low performance, Gideon."
Gideon. Pretty name, too. He narrowed his eyes at Mister Gilles, straightening his back.
I exhaled with a tremble, slowly said: "Well, you haven't been keeping it very well, as to now."
"I don't care if you exclude me," Gideon said, voice light. "It doesn't pose a challenge to find another school. I am a rather good musician." Probably the reason Mister Gilles wanted him in the first place.
"Then I'll be sure to call your uncle when I'm back at my office. I'm sure he won't care either."
I wagered that wasn't true, because Gideon's face tightened considerably.
"I'll take your silence as agreement," Mister Gilles murmured. I repressed a flinch when he straightened his arm towards me, only to grab onto the papers in my hands. "I'll need this to complete your enrolment," he told me with a charming smile, waving them.
My cheeks turned warm, probably very, very red to anyone who laid eyes on me. Anger tinted them, but shame too. This furious impotence that also made me squeeze my fists and narrow my eyes at him. I didn't even look at Gideon, because I had the feeling he wasn't feeling precisely like a king at the moment.
"I bid you adieu, then," he said, giving us a deep bow. A mocking bow, of course. He turned and left us. I had the feeling that not letting us into his office had been some kind of power play, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure how.
"Anastasia is a redhead," I mumbled after him half-heartedly.
"Then get a wig!" He exclaimed, sounding happy.
I glance sideways at Gideon and found him already staring at me. He had nice skin, too. Barely an imperfection if at all. I was depressing.
He snorted, which prompted me to narrow my eyes. Really getting annoying, those snorts. What was he, a sulky pig?
"Yes?" I barked.
"Nothing," he hummed, smirking. And just like that, the turned on his heels, shoved his hands into his pockets and started walking away.
And I felt the teeniest I'd felt today.
The first thing Gideon did after he finally triumphed in getting his flat's key into the keyhole and turning ─regrettably, first triumph of the day─ was run to his computer, a chunky thing that nonetheless worked passably. Quick, he got into YouTube, thanking the gods that his neighbour's son had a crush on him and had given him their high speed internet's password.
He clicked on Stray Maze S01E01 - My 'Mazing Valentine.
And there went his afternoon.
for the path you take will lead to certain destruction.
Leslie's musical taste could be described as vintage. Leslie's taste in general, in fact. And only described, because it wasn't actually vintage. Her thing were not-new stuff. The more obscure, the better.
Proof of this was Queen's My Fairy King, currently playing from her iPod on a pair of speakers lying on the bed rather haphazardly.
In the land where horses born with eagle wings
And honey bees have lost their stings
There's singing forever
I licked my lips, but didn't comment on the music. Those were truly beautiful lyrics, but waxing poetic on it was simply unnecessary.
"Anyway," I said after those three verses went by, because Leslie was looking at me amusedly and patient and like she was my best friend even when we hadn't talk for a complete year and went unseen to each other for another three. God, how I loved her. "Arsehole Mister Gilles then made me join him and this other kid called Gideon instead of leading us into─"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," she said, raising her hands in front of her. I turned my head to look at her sideways. Waiting. "Gideon. De Villiers?"
"Mmm," Maybe? "I think so."
She leaned in and whispered: "He's Charlotte's boyfriend."
Say what? I scrunched my face.
"Charlotte doesn't have a boyfriend. Charlotte doesn't have a social life." Full disclosure; neither did I, but we weren't talking about me.
"That is... true," Leslie agreed, giving me a nod. "But she does have a boyfriend. They follow each other everywhere, might as well be joined at the hip."
"I'm sure they are to be from time to time!"
Did Lady Arista know? Did Aunt Glenda know? Her precious daughter, corrupted by a boy who, in retrospective, I'm pretty sure was wearing contact lenses. People didn't have eyes as green as his naturally.
"Well, tell me about him. I imagine Charlotte isn't the only one who fancies him," I commented dryly.
My fairy king can do right and nothing wrong
"Hell no, she isn't. Let's see, Gideon de Villiers... Well, he's pretty good playing anything with strings to pluck He played polo in the Vincent School. He's pretty fit," she added unnecessarily and we shared a mischievous grin. "There isn't a lot on the grapevine about him," she admitted. "he started in St. Lennox like three weeks ago. He pretty much isolates himself, like Charlotte."
"Then my gossip is even more juicy than I thought," I teased, avoiding her eyes with a smirk.
She grabbed my shoulders and turned my torso to her. I stared at her. Her blue eyes were lighter than mine, they looked like a paradise sky.
Like she was some kind of hypnotist. I'd probably enter into some kind of trance if I attempted to count her freckles, her skin was full of them. I obliged.
"Okay, so Mister Gilles makes starts talking about God knows what, gives me the bag with the uniforms, which I think Gideon had to bring, and promptly starts telling us about how we should star on the play."
"I know! We say no, obviously, but since Mister Gilles is a twat, he proceeds to blackmail us. He said he'd tell everyone that I'm Gwendolyn Shepherd if I don't play Anastasia. And exclude Gideon if he doesn't play... the music, I suppose?"
I sighed, face buried into my arms.
"Hey, Gwen," Leslie called, voice pained. "Guess who's got a role in the play too?"
I blanched, raising by head.
"It isn't Charlotte," I told her. "It can't be, because if it is, I'm going to be murdered, Leslie."
"She was supposed to play Anastasia," Leslie laughed. Admittedly, it was a pitying laugh, one of those one couldn't help, but I couldn't help briefly glaring at her. Fuck me sideways, this was going to be an utter mess.
"Just don't let them bury me in the backyard. I'll trust you to bring justice to my death."
And who better than Leslie? My best friend had a floor to ceiling bookshelf full of mystery novels. Half were probably from Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And those were only mystery; she had like a hundred others scattered across her room. Half of those were likely romance.
But Leslie's passion was mysteries and everything obscure. Mine was fantasy and everything unbelievable. That's probably what made us such a good fit. Besides, she had terrific musical taste and the perkiest personality ever.
"Girls!" Leslie's mum called from the first floor. "We're back! Come down! We brought fish 'n' chips for dinner!"
I pouted, widening my eyes at Leslie.
"I can't stay," I whined. "Lady Arista wants me for dinner always and forever in that house."
"Your house is awesome," Leslie offered.
"My house isn't my home," I said quietly, looking down.
Thin wiry arms surrounded me, pulling me toward Leslie. "Gwenny, Nick and Caroline live there. It is your home, even if it isn't your house."
My eyes prickled. I couldn't stay within Leslie's arms any longer or the waterworks would turn on. And I didn't feel like crying.
"I better go."
My phone chirped, the sound making me tighten my mouth.
"Is it him?" Leslie asked, finally pulling away. I avoided her eyes, reaching for my phone. Leslie took it instead. "Don't answer, Gwen," she said cautiously, slowly.
"I know, Les. I know."
your cruelty reveals everything.
"Aunt Maddy, does your friend Trish Tremayne still make those charming little fantasy dresses? I'd like to order one for Charlotte. Darling girl has a costumes party to attend in a few weeks."
Nick and I exchanged looks and stifled snickers.
I'd like to order one, too, Aunt Maddy. Well, not actually. I just wanted to brag about someone else's plans while we're at the table.
I didn't say, because I did having a roof over my head. But I memorized it as best I could to tell Nick later, before going to sleep.
"Oh, I'll have to find her number. I'm afraid I don't recall where my address book went. I have my suspicions on a certain chit I saw ruminating through my purse earlier," Great-aunt Maddy said, voice textured with laughter and good-natured threats.
"I don't know what your talking about," Caroline said primly, nose in the air. At the same time, under the table, she handed a book to Nick.
Warmth flooded me, and my mistake was letting it, because it did weird things to my head. Like making me think that suggesting anything other than her own ideas to Lady Arista was a good idea.
"Lady Arista," I laid my hands on my lap. "I was thinking maybe I could go to the Vincent School. It isn't that far from St. Lennox." It wasn't. I'd looked it up when I'd gotten home.
The table, which had been filled with the murmurs of Aunt Glenda, Aunt Maddy and Caroline's banter, Nick whispers of comebacks for her, and the metallic twinkle of forks against porcelain plates, was now still and quiet.
Lady Arista froze her movement with the fork halfway to her mouth. She's been about to bite into Aunt Glenda's shepherd's pie. It had a nice flavour but also a nauseating aftertaste that no one was acknowledging, and I had to consider that maybe I was being poisoned. Probably because the hysteria caused by Lady Arista's piercing gaze over me also did weird things to my head.
"Why do you say that, Gwendolyn?"
Throat tight, for a reason I couldn't begin to fucking comprehend, I straightened by and threw back my shoulders. Just as I grabbed a breath to start listing the pros of going to Vincent, my Aunt Glenda's offended voice cut through the table.
"Mother!" She braced herself against the table, looking on the verge of standing up. And tearing out her hair. Overall, really crazy. Not that it was news to anyone. "Gwendolyn must go to St. Lennox. Charlotte could get her dizzy spell any one of these days. I won't do to leave her alone during the day!" Nick and Caroline started giggling quietly as Charlotte seemed to bury herself even more into the conscientious art of cutting, stabbing and shoving food onto her mouth.
That's right. Charlotte was due to travel in time any day of these. I'd almost forgotten. What, with not seeing that side of the family since my mother died.
From the corner of my eyes, I saw Charlotte flicker her eyes at Lady Arista and then at me She didn't want me in St. Lennox. The fact gave a little stab at my heart, because apparently Charlotte didn't want me around any more than I wanted Mister Gilles near me.
Anyway, it's not like I want to be Charlotte's babysitter. She'd probably ditch me and wouldn't even offer me a seat besides her for lunch break.
I expected Lady Arista to completely flip out on me. Start demanding that I told her my rules, like she's been doing since we'd arrived and she recited them for me the first time. I'm had my suspicious she was trying to program me, like those psychology experiments they did for the wars.
She just continued eating and the subject was done for. A black hole grew in my heart, sucking, dragging the feeling out of it, however briefly, and I felt nothing as Aunt Glenda proceeded to give me directions for should Charlotte start feeling dizzy.
I wished it would last forever.
when we lived in an enchanted world.
I didn't look like my mother.
Not even on the wig I'd bought. It's colour and texture couldn't compare to my mother's shine and shade. Hers had been the flickering tip of the fire, silky and long.
I longed for red hair when I was younger. I didn't look like my sibling or my mum, but at least I looked like my dad. Unfortunately, that stopped being comforting when I could no longer summon his image in my head without the help of a picture.
Looking at the mirror now, I realized that it wasn't the hair. Her nose was more stubborn, more elegant. Her eyes sharper, not as naive. I think we had the same lips, though.
I sighed, hoping to loosen the tightness in my chest, and started slathering cream onto my hands and neck. Mum did it every night by her and I remember countless nights spent watching her as she did so.
"Gwen." Nick stood by the door of my mum's room. Or at least the one she used to sleep in during our visits. He looked around, weirded out. "Are you sleeping he─? What are you wearing?" he cut himself.
I contained a wince.
"A wig." Nick stared at me. I exhaled. "I'm going to be wearing it to school."
Nick frowned. "You look funny."
Gee, thanks, baby brother. I stuck out my tongue at him.
"Not more that you."
Nick threw himself on the bed, stretching limbs across it. He looked about to do a snow angel on the bed, which, frankly, I got. These beds were heavenly. Friday night, our first night here, I thought I wouldn't be able to sleep.
I leaned toward the mirror, adjusting the wig. I wasn't sure I'd put it on correctly. The hair wasn't synthetic, at least, so at least it wouldn't be frizzing* to hell.
"So what's your new name? Wendelin Shepard?" Nick snickered.
I turned to roll my eyes at him, but that didn't stifle the blush on my cheeks.
"Gwyneth Montrose, actually," I said, dignified and chin up as I carefully braided the wig.
"Go to sleep, little demon!" I demanded. "I've got things to do and hours to sleep away. And you've got your first day tomorrow, too."
"Fine." He stretched luxuriously one last time before standing up. "Caroline won't go to sleep until you tuck her up, though."
"You do it?" I asked with a twist of my lips. I really did have things to do. I was supposed to fill a profile form for each professor I had, press my uniforms, finish the concert's last song and watch Anastasia.
I wished we were still with Cara. At least there Caroline didn't need to be tucked up.
"Already tried," Nick mumbled.
A wave of fondness overcame me. Of course he did, he was half demon half angel. I pushed away from the dresser, thinking up what to say to baby Caroline to get her to sleep. After all, she was half demon half angel, too.
SONG No. 9
Sixteen and barely alive
Because I'm young or about to die
Unseen, so I have cried [maybe?]
Girl unsung called Wish-away Gal [take off ─ cara wont like]
my anastasia, my beloved grandchild
I ended up going to sleep at half past two, after I'd tucked in Caroline, accomplished half a stanza, seen one quarter of the film, ironed all of my uniforms, and filled the profiles for about half of today's teachers (so, 3).
Which meant that my lids might as well be tied to anchors by the way they kept falling. Yet, I was ravenous, so there you had me, early at the dining room for breakfast. Warm, greasy food in plate, I took my fork to prepare my first bite.
"Gwendolyn, your hair is unkempt. Do brush it before going to school," Lady Arista said, not even looking at me, as she stirred her tea.
I stared at her. Maybe she did hate me, I thought, blinking quickly to banish the idea. I hadn't heard from her since before mum died, after all. We barely received a note from them when they declined to go to the premiere of Magic Flux, the second film of Epic Trials.
Now the sixth film was about to come out in a few months and I'd seen them for the first time since before then.
"I'd really like to go to Vincent instead of Lennox," I told Lady Arista.
Yet again, conversations ceased around us. Nick, who also looked half asleep as he munched on hash browns, gave a cautionary look that leaned towards panicked. My sister went very still, quietly grabbing a breadstick and sticking it into her mouth. Charlotte barely gazed up before she looked away and took a sip from her cuppa.
Aunt Glenda, however, watched Lady Arista and I with nearly feverish eyes. She probably did hate mum. Or maybe just me.
"Pardon me, child?"
"I said," I was starting to think this wasn't such a good idea, "that I'd greatly prefer to attend to Vincent." I paused. "I guess I should explain. Yesterday, when I went to my appointment with the principal─"
"Gwendolyn," Lady Arista snapped rather rudely. "I have little care concerning your petty complaints on that man. Mister Gilles was kind enough to receive you on a weekend, to cater to your whims, and your suggesting to repay him by nullifying his generosity. Or is that not what your suggesting?"
"Well, not actually, he wasn't─"
"That man was accommodating and welcoming to a demanding brat like you, and so you will go to St. Lennox. This is the last I will hear on this or so God help me, I will make it a rule and you will be held accountable to the consequences of breaking it."
By the time she was finished with her diatribe, I'd almost narrowed my eyes and almost closed my mouth, almost looked straight at her. But not actually, because my eyes were starting to water and my throat felt tight and watching her made my chest hurt. So I basically looked like a constipated sick person trying to look at the sun.
I inhaled, stifling the tremors my breath tried to let out, and walked out. I wasn't hungry any more and I still had to brush my hair and put on the wig.
could i talk to you?
i rlly need to talk to u
u know how things r
u cant ignore me 4e
i didnt mean to get u in trouble
56 message(s) unread
well versed in etiquette / extraordinarily nice.
"You shouldn't be so obvious."
I looked up from my cell and stared at Charlotte, definitely not in the mood to deal with her riddles. I had thought she would run away from me the moment we were less than twenty meters from school property.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Your hair." Duh, her eyes said.
I pulled my backpack strap tighter over my shoulder. We'd had such a blissful, silent bus ride to St. Lennox. Charlotte had daintily sit down and read some book whose cover she wouldn't let me see ─probably something she got from her introduction to mysteries 101─ while I stared in a zombie-reminiscent way at my phone. I wished Lark would take a hint.
I waited for Charlotte to elaborate on her answer. She made her way toward the school. Oh my God, could she get any more cryptic? Maybe it was a family defect. Lady Arista didn't ever give more information than necessary and Aunt Glenda actively mislead people. Even I was difficult to deal with, from time to time.
I caved and followed after her.
"What about it, Charlotte?" I asked.
"It stinks of low self-esteem."
I gaped at her as she walked away.
"Charlotte just told me I have no amour propre to speak of," I told Leslie once I finally got out of my stupor and reached went to find her at the school canteen.
Leslie gave me a weird look before she started choking because her hysterical laughter had sent the orange juice in her into her lungs. Bitch. I rolled my eyes and sat next to her, handing her napkins as she tried to breathe oxygen again.
"I knew you'd wear a wig, but somehow I didn't actually process it in my mind." She giggled herself silly for about two minutes before attempting to talk again. "I mean, it's just so surreal. I think I like you better with black hair."
"Yeah, well, Charlotte does, too."
Leslie puckered her lips, puzzled.
"Huh?" She widened her eyes. "What did she say to you?"
I told her my recent conversation with my cousin. In fact, the only one we'd had since I'd moved into the manor.
"She's just jealous," Leslie preached. "You do look pretty with red hair. A little pale," she amended.
"You mean sickly."
"I really don't!"
"Yeah, because I already look pale with black hair," I reminded her miserably.
"You look.. tragically fragile with red hair. A little washed out, but we'll fix that smudging a little black eyeliner around your eyes. Then you can perch on a school yard bench in just the right angle from the sun and I'll take some photos of you. We'll upload them to Facebook once we create you a new account," she decided, dragging me towards the bathroom. "I think I've got an eyeliner in here somewhere..."
A/N I've never called myself a poet or a musician. Just keep that in mind hehe.