Only one day, and Misty decided that introducing herself as a Breckenridge girl was a mistake. She’d gotten some attention with her Carmody pendants, but few were willing to strike up an actual conversation with her. No one wanted to be friends with a Breckenridge girl. They were confined to the mansion and grounds, except for school and trips the house mothers arranged. Misty had heard houses like Breckenridge used to have their own built-in schools, but for various reasons, Breckenridge sent their residents to public school. She’d heard that part of it was to make sure the girls had some interaction with the outside world, but that didn’t work well. There were clusters of matching blue dresses in prime corners of the playground, where the lunch monitors didn’t often go. Misty had only seen one of them talk with someone from “the outside” — the tallest of her housemates, a fragile blonde with perpetually teary eyes.
She’d be stuffed in one of those dresses soon enough. That insufferable Mother Kendrick already suspected Misty of sabotaging the spare uniforms, even though Misty couldn’t possibly have known where they were stored or where bleach was kept.
The motion and sound of all the students at play was overwhelming, especially the sound. There were a hundred conversations in earshot, impossible to pick apart. Screaming, laughter, complaints. Basketballs thudded and shoes scraped on asphalt. A garishly-painted football with a four-fin tail gave a whistle as it was hurled skyward. She came to rest on a set of stacked railroad ties that lined the path from the lunchroom to the playground. The leaves of the short, stunted tree she sat under made dancing patches of sunlight and shadows across the ground. The breeze combed her hair, bringing the chill, papery smell of summer’s undoing, of old leaves and fire. Winter was as unfamiliar as the tree she sat under, and generally unpleasant from what she had heard.
She hated being here, every minute of it. He loved it. He had once told her the best time of year was spring.
Misty gave an exasperated huff as the voice of her “guardian” crept into her mind. She was annoyed with herself for wishing he was there. It wasn’t as if she needed guidance or discipline, as he insisted. She had enough discipline not to clock him over the head for saying that. It just would have been nice to have someone familiar around. Her stay at Breckenridge, so far from home, was indefinite.
Something crashed into her, nearly knocking her off her seat. Her thoughts scattered, her head flared with pain, her mind boiled with rage. As soon as she regained her balance, she shot to her feet. A boy with startling red hair made a running leap off the end of the railroad ties. “Watch it, moron!” Misty hollered at him.
The boy skidded to a halt and glare at her, fists clenched. Another boy turned as well. She caught a glimpse of his eyes widening before he hid his face entirely behind the bill of his hat. Misty swelled with pride, knowing she was capable of such a withering look, but unfortunately it had no effect on the redhead.
The boy in the hat caught the redhead’s shoulder. She heard him whisper, a warning in his words. As good as her hearing was, she only caught that it was a warning, but she recognized the voice and felt a jolt. She had to find out his name. “Who are they?” she demanded of a group of girls nearby.
Two of the girls lowered their eyes to their shoes, but a third said, “The Sox fan is Jayson Hadley. The little guy is Randy Fresnel.”
“Who you calling little, Hannah?” Randy snapped at her. “And who are you calling a moron?”
Misty stood. “You heard me.”
“So you gonna apologize?”
Many of the students had stopped on the pathway to watch them. The basketball had stopped thudding. Jayson mumbled something about not fighting with girls. Misty knew she had to talk to him, but the pain in her head fueled rage too hot to keep inside. “Excuse me? For what? You kicked me the head, you apologize!”
A fist raised. Misty tensed. She was not used to fighting only with her hands, but her anger urged her to try. It seemed like half the school was gathered around them now. Jayson finally lost his temper, though it was at Randy. “Seriously, stop.”
“You heard what she said!” Randy hissed at him.
“I’m starting to think she’s right. Let it go!”
Jayson was on her side? That was a surprise. She seized on the distraction and turned to leave. “Maybe you should watch where you’re going if you don’t want to hear the truth about yourself.”
Randy’s hand crushed her shoulder. Without hesitation, she grabbed his arm and spun, yanked him towards her, and buried his fist in his stomach. He had started to say something, but the rest of his words came out in a yelp. The crowd gave a collective shout, then fell silent.
Randy didn’t fight back. He crumpled and came to rest on his hands and knees. His eyes screwed shut, his mouth gaped, working for air. She looked at Jayson, expecting the next blow to come from him, but he simply backed away, his hands up. She cast her sharpest scowl at the onlookers, and some of them took a step back, too. The Breckenridge girls stared from a distance, their expressions ranging from snide disapproval to fear to delight.
Randy wheezed when she nudged his hand with her toes. “Next time, watch your step,” she said.
She walked off just as a lunch monitor dispersed the crowd. Jayson was back beside his friend. She picked up her pace, but all Jayson said to the monitor was, “He got hit in the stomach with a basketball.”
“I did not,” Randy protested hoarsely.
Jayson cut him off in a voice too low for the monitor to hear, but Misty caught every word. “Shut up! Do you want to get suspended?”
Jayson Hadley. She scribbled his name in capital letters as soon as she got ahold of her daily planner. There was more than homework to be done later.