Last free chapter before the book releases on August 4th. Be sure to preorder! The price is lower for the preorder ($2.99 preorder vs. $4.99 after release), so if you are going to order it you might as well save yourself a couple bucks. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks
Lilith came out of her room the next morning expecting that Lamia would rehash the argument from the previous night, but apparently not. Lamia merely glanced up from her morning newspaper at the breakfast table, muttered “Good morning,” to her, and went back to her paper again.
Loverboy, thankfully, was gone. Lilith idly wondered how early Lamia had woken the poor SOB up to make sure he was out before breakfast. To her credit, Lamia made a habit of doing that to all her “visitors” ever since one especially creepy fellow spent the entire morning ogling Cara and Lilith. He finally propositioned a four-way while stuffing his face with a spoonful of Lucky Charms. It would have been truly disgusting if it hadn’t been so funny. Before Lilith had even processed what the guy had said, Lamia had thrown the dude’s cereal bowl in his face, grabbed him by the shirt collar, and dragged him across the apartment leaving a trail of soggy marshmallows and toasted oats in his wake. Then she threw him bodily out the door. Lilith would never have expected such force from a woman her size. But ever since then breakfast was strictly girls-only, and Lucky Charms became Lilith’s favorite cereal.
The three ate in silence this morning, which suited Lilith just fine. Cara was last minute cramming with flashcards for her test, and Lamia seemed unusually absorbed in the paper. According to the headline, a freak tornado had devastated a local apartment complex. With some shock, Lilith realized that she recognized the place—the three of them had lived there for a few years before moving to this place. Good thing that they moved.
Lilith scooped up and slurped the last dregs of milk out of her bowl, carried it to the sink, and gathered up her book bag. She thought she was going to make it out of the apartment cleanly when Lamia finally spoke to her again.
“Don’t forget,” she said, eyes still on her paper. “You come straight back here after school. No lollygagging.” She peered over to top of the paper to make eye contact, and said, “Do you understand me?” Then, as if seeing Lilith for the first time that morning, added, “What do you think you’re wearing? That’s not appropriate for school.”
Lilith was wearing her school uniform—she had no choice—but she had rolled her skirt up to be blatantly short of dress code. She did it for no other reason than to annoy her foster mother. She’d fix it before they actually got to school.
“Don’t—” Lilith started to spit out a harsh retort, but then she caught sight of Cara out of the corner of her eye. Her sister was staring at her with one of her stupid raised eyebrow looks. She softened her tone. “—worry,” she continued, nearly choking on the word. “I’ll come straight home.”
Cara flashed her a bright ‘thank you’ smile, then went back to her flashcards.
“And my outfit is just fine,” Lilith continued. “All the girls dress like this.”
“Cara doesn’t,” Lamia pointed out.
“Cara’s a prude.”
“Hey!” Cara exclaimed. Lilith could hear the stifled laughter in her sister’s voice, but apparently Lamia hadn’t.
“Apologize to her, Lilith.”
“I’m sorry that you’re a prude, Cara.”
“That’s okay,” Cara said cheerfully, “It isn’t your fault. Wait for me and I’ll walk with you.”
Lamia finally seemed to realize she was being toyed with. She sat at the table scowling as Cara packed up her study materials, gave Lamia a goodbye kiss on the cheek, and headed out the door with Lilith. “Fix your clothes!” Lamia called out as the two of them were leaving.
“Sure thing, Mom!” Lilith said, then made a display of unbuttoning the top button of her shirt. She made sure the door closed behind her before Lamia could say anything else.
“You’re too much,” Cara said as they began to walk down the stairs, but with a twinkle in her eye. “I thought you said that you were going to be nice.”
“You played along,” Lilith pointed out as she buttoned her shirt back up.
“You’re a bad influence on me.” She laughed as she watched Lilith unroll her skirt back down so that it stopped just short of her knee. “You realize you do the exact opposite of every other girl at school. You’re supposed to leave home in dress code and arrive at school all slutty, not the other way around.”
“That depends what your goals are,” Lilith pointed out.
“True,” Cara said softly. Her face took a far-away expression and that coy smile returned to her lips. “Very true,” she said, and then hiked her own skirt up slightly. It still ended well below her fingertips, which was the actual dress code.
“Oh, god,” Lilith said. “You’re thinking about your date with whats-his-face, aren’t you?”
Yes, she was thinking about whats-his-face, who turned out to be Jeremy Wyatt, the backup kicker on the football team. As of last week he was at best a social tag along, but that all changed when the regular kicker broke his leg in a skateboarding accident and the game against the school’s arch-rivals came down to a last-second forty-two-yard field goal. He bounced it off the left upright, but it still went through, and it was enough to propel him out of social obscurity and into the realm of conquering hero. And, apparently, it gave him the confidence to ask Cara, who he thought was “the prettiest girl in school,” out on a date.
Lilith listened to Cara gush about him for the entire twenty-minute walk to school, but she didn’t really mind, except that she had to hurry Cara along from time to time. Her lovestruck sister tended to dawdle while extolling the virtues of young Jeremy, and the sky was growing increasingly dark. Lilith may be willing to humor her sister, but she wasn’t willing to get caught in the rain for it.
Lilith couldn’t understand what Cara found so alluring about this guy, but she seemed happy, so Lilith was dutifully happy for her. And this Jeremy kid didn’t sound like he’d been popular long enough to be a total douche, so maybe it would work out.
They parted ways when they got to school. Even though they were in the same grade, they didn’t have any classes together. Cara was enrolled in all Honors and AP classes, while Lilith was just in regular classes.
Jacksonville College Preparatory School, or JCPS, was northern Florida’s premier private school. For the most part, its student body consisted of two types: those whose parents were rich enough to inflate the school’s coffers with exorbitant donations, and those who were smart enough to inflate the school’s academic statistics, and thus help the school attract more of the first type. While Cara certainly fell into the second group, Lilith was a rare exception.
She was the token poor kid, a recipient of one of the school’s limited “need-based scholarships.” The scholarships were nothing more than a thinly veiled PR campaign where, for the meager cost of an extra desk in a few classrooms, the school could brag in all of its brochures about “reaching out” and “giving back.” She was the sob story the school could tell to highlight its own charity—and thus be worthy of more donations—and the orphan part made Lilith’s sob story extra-sobby.
It was a dubious distinction, one only made possible through Lamia’s close friendship with the school’s administrator. Lilith often wondered how “close” they were. While the man had never been by the apartment, his face flushed whenever he asked Lilith about her mom. Which he did every time he saw her.
It did nothing to enhance Lilith’s reputation within the school. While Cara was technically in the same boat, she had distinguished herself academically and thus managed to insert herself into the “smart kid” circle. It may not have been the top of the social ladder, but it was at least a rung, which was more than Lilith could claim.
JCPS was located on the banks of the St. Johns River, and usually Lilith would spend her time before class sitting by herself in the grass overlooking the river with her sketchbook. But the weather today was not cooperating. The sky had continued to worsen, and now a wind had picked up, frothing the river’s water into choppy white caps. A downpour was imminent, although with any luck it would blow over by the time she had to walk home.
With nothing better to do Lilith headed early to her first-period geology class, known affectionately around campus as “rocks for jocks.” She grabbed a seat in the back row and doodled on a piece of notebook paper while waiting for class to start. She tried her best to ignore the other students as they filed in. Try as she might, she couldn’t block out all of the inane gossip that was being bandied about.
Her ears perked up when she heard Cara’s name mentioned. Apparently, one of the JV cheerleaders was miffed that she was snubbed by Jeremy in favor of “little miss smarty pants.” Lilith couldn’t help but smile. A cheerleader’s wounded pride was a beautiful thing. Maybe she’d stick an extra finger down her throat after lunch.
The bell rang, class started, and Lilith zoned out. The class was designed so that even the stupidest of “student-athletes” could pass it for a science credit and maintain their athletic eligibility. It’s why she took it; she could ace it without trying. It was practically nap time.
The first half of her day passed as it usually did, with Lilith coasting from class to class in relative anonymity, ignoring and being ignored by both students and teachers alike. She sometimes liked to imagine that she was a ghost haunting the school instead of a student attending it, fantasizing about all the ways she’d mess with people if given the chance.
Her fantasy was shattered as she was walking to her locker at the beginning of lunch period. She accidentally bumped shoulders in a most un-ghostly manner with a prissy little blonde named Namaah, who’s painfully perfect body was the wet dream of every guy in school. And empirical proof that karma was nothing but bullshit.
“Watch where you’re going, dyke,” Namaah hissed.
Namaah was surrounded by her entourage of hangers-on, each clutching a Prada bag or a Louis Vuitton. They all laughed at what apparently passed as scathing wit. Then they went along their way, forgetting about Lilith completely.
“What a bitch,” Lilith said to herself as she watched the group go.
“Language, young lady,” a passing teacher warned. Lilith mumbled an apology and walked away before she would end up wiping down tables after lunch.
After exchanging her books for her afternoon classes, Lilith headed towards the cafeteria to get lunch. As she approached the entrance she noticed a commotion in the courtyard. A growing group of students was crowding around watching something. She couldn’t see exactly what was going on, but the eagerness of the crowd suggested it was something good. Maybe a fight. They were relatively rare at her school, and usually got broken up by the teachers after just a punch or two, but they did happen. After her little encounter with Namaah, Lilith was in the mood to watch someone get decked.
As she edged her way closer she realized this wasn’t a fight, or at least not the physical kind. Insults were being thrown instead of punches, and it seemed to be a rather one-sided affair. She heard a boy’s voice, raised high enough for all to hear, ring out in a mocking tone.
“I took pity on you, you dumb slut.” Chuckles washed through the crowd. “But I thought if I took care of you, you’d return the favor. I ain’t in it for charity.”
Ah, a public breakup. Not quite what she had in mind, but could be entertaining nonetheless. Some prissy little princess ruining her designer makeup by bursting into tears, followed by the dramatic dash to the nearest restroom made comical by her ludicrously impractical but eminently fashionable shoes. If she had any luck, maybe it would even be one of Namaah’s dimwitted lackeys.
Gauging from the excitement of the circling vultures, the tears were on the verge of flowing. Lilith pushed her way forward to see who it was, but then the crying started and she didn’t have to. She recognized the sound of the sobs.
It was Cara.
“That’s right,” the boy who must be Jeremy laughed. He was dressed in a brand new letterman jacket and was brandishing a Burberry golf umbrella like a sword. He was not nearly as dreamy as poor Cara had made him out to be. As one might expect from a backup kicker, he was scrawny and short. He looked even shorter standing with his arm around the waist of a smirking Namaah, who was at least two inches his senior even after changing into a pair of flats. “Go cry to Mommy.”
He gasped dramatically. “Oops,” he said, placing his hand over his mouth with mock sincerity. “I forgot. You don’t have one.”
A few seconds of stunned silence followed. Jeremy’s smug face faltered a little bit. Had he crossed a line? But then Namaah burst out laughing, quickly followed by everyone else.
Everyone, that is, except Lilith. She marched up to the bastard and punched him in the face as hard as she could. The little man’s head snapped back and he dropped to the ground in a heap. Lilith noticed with satisfaction that his nose was bleeding. Then she picked up the overpriced umbrella that he dropped in his fall and swung it at him. It made a satisfying cracking sound as it broke. She got in another good whack before someone finally pulled her off him.