When I arrived at the principal’s office, the secretary raised her eyebrows at me. “She’s waiting for you,” she said, totally exasperated.
I nodded, then crossed the secretary’s office. A thin wailing could be heard, like a cat being smothered. When I opened the door, I saw why.
The office that had once been such a cherished haven was now topsy turvy. Already certificates had been taken from the walls. The shelves in the bookcase were half empty. But there, sitting behind Macmaney’s desk, was that strange woman. And she wasn’t just sitting.
She was lounging back in his office chair, stiletto-heeled pointy boots propped up on the desk atop a stack of papers that was clearly marked as being the list of students who got high marks. Worse (it didn’t stop there!) she was staring up at the ceiling as if utterly bored, all while sawing away lazily at a golden violin.
I knocked loudly on the door, wondering how she hadn’t notice me enter. Was it an act? No, she startled.
“Ah!” she said happily, swinging her feet down and holding her violin aside. “There you are!” She pointed to the seat before her with the violin’s bow. “Sit!”
I thunked down into the seat, leaving the door open behind me. She noticed this and smiled at me. Her eyes didn’t follow the motion. Then, she fairly shouted. “Secretary! Close my door!”
There was a scuffle. The secretary, such a normally sweet and mild lady, marched into view. She was red in the face. “My name, is-“
“Thank you!” the principal cooed, waving her fingers at the door.
The door slammed. The principal gave me that plastic smile, and it suddenly occurred to me that her skin might be fake. Did they make plastic skin? Like, instead of getting injections, creams, or lifts, did they simply give rich people new faces? Was that a new thing?
“So,” she said, propping her elbows on the desk and steepling her fingers before herself. “You bloomed yesterday?” Then, with a face she added “Late, eh?”
Eh? Who said that? Grandparents, that’s who. I blinked, not sure what to say. Again, she smiled. If I was her councilor I’d tell her to try a new tactic. Smiling was obviously not going to do her job for her.
She dropped her hands down to the desk’s surface. She wiped up a smudge of mud that her boots had left behind. Inspecting it, she squished it between her fingers. “So uh, what are you?” she asked the mud. Her eyes flicked up at me, directing the question my way.
“A crow,” I said flatly. Then, hoping to end this conversation, I added “It’s not very interesting.”
She smiled – and for perhaps the first time it was a real smile. It wasn’t broad or wide. It was subtler, far subtler, but it made her eyes sparkle like gold. “Everyone says that. Cats, crows ,” she scraped the mud off on the edge of her desk. “They’re common. But you know what?” Her hand crawled sideways across the desk and plucked up a rubber band. She began fiddling with it. Then, as if remembering that she was talking, she suddenly continued. “Everyone says they’re common. But I think, that the reason there’s so many of them is because few people know how to use such special talents. So,” she spread her hands, stretching out the elastic on one set of fingers. “There’s got to be a lot of crows and cats. They’re the few that can cross between worlds, if you believe the legends, but who wants to do that? So there’s got to be lots of them.”
Oh, please shut up.
“And, you know, so,” her eyes had now traveled up to the ceiling. She paused. I wondered if there was gum stuck up there. “The question,” she said slowly “Is whether you’ll use these exceptional powers or if you’ll just be a common crow. Right?” Her eyes dropped back down to me. “Because, all crows are special, but not all of them choose to use this, so,”
“I understood,” I said sharply. That wickedness returned to her.
“Yeah, you’re smart,” she said nastily, leaning back in the chair. Pushing it back, she propped one foot up onto the desk, then the other. I cringed. Her grin turned into a chiding smirk. “So what’s your name?”
“Kyrie,” I mumbled, suddenly feeling like I was losing a subconscious battle.
“That’s not a name,” she said in that same darkly amused tone.
First, I was surprised she knew that. My mother had explained to me that it wasn’t really a name, but that she’d called me that anyways because she knew I’d become something grand. But few people knew that my name wasn’t actually a name. Also, how rude of her? Was she even allowed to say that to me? So I scowled at her. “Well that’s my name,” I said saucily.
“It certainly is,” she said happily. The elastic twanged in her fingers. “So a late bloom eh? That doesn’t usually happen.”
I blinked. That’s why it’s called ‘late’?
“It’s said that the later the bloom, within reason, it uh- no, that’s not right. It’s earlier that brings extra power. Sorry.”
Yeah, us late sucks are the weak ones. I’m pathetically weak if so. I’d read of an adult who bloomed, and despite blooming still couldn’t use magic because of it being so late.
The elastic twanged. “Anything trigger this? I’ve heard that sometimes it takes a bit of a,” she snapped her fingers in the elastic-free hand, then cocked her head to the side. Her hair hung haphazardly in her hair. “Eh?”
Eh. Again. “No,” I said flatly. Then, thinking that if I satisfied her she might let me go, I added “I was getting attacked by a sprite. Then I fell over funny and,” I shrugged. “Pouf.”
“Pouf,” she repeated without moving, her eyes aglow. The elastic twanged in her fingers. Then her eyes wandered back to the ceiling. “I heard you were principal, uh,”
“Mackinney,” I blurted.
“Yeah, him. He had a special interest in un-bloomed?” She asked as if it was the weirdest thing. Like he ate his sandwiches with too much relish on them.
I bit my lip. “Yeah,” I said hoarsely. “He encouraged us to uh, study.”
“Uh,” she repeated. I wasn’t sure if it was a purposeful mockery or if she was trying to urge me on.
I spread my hands. “I didn’t see him often. He just – encouraged us every now and then.”
“Uh,” she said again. I had the urge to scramble and flee. Instead I spread my hands.
“Do you, uh, want to know anything in particular about him? Can I go?”
She made a face as if she didn’t care and couldn’t imagine why she would. “No. Get out if you want. Shoo.”
I rose and got out of there as fast as my legs could take me. But I was sure to shut the door behind me, and not to look over my shoulder as I did so.
The secretary looked at me kindly. “Did it go okay?” she whispered.
I gave her a haphazard look, unsure what to say. “I – don’t know what she wanted?” I held out my hands, and the secretary nodded, wide-eyed.
“I don’t think she does either,” she whispered, voice barely making a sound.
“Oh, okay,” I mumbled. Ducking my head, I left.
The walk back to class was strange. I kept seeing those orange eyes in my mind even though they hadn’t particularly struck me during our meeting. I kept wondering what the whole point of that meeting had been. Was she simply trying to pick up Principal Mackiney’s flag, so to speak? If so, she was doing a terrible job at it. I mean, she was obviously hired by the bosses of whoever it was that ran the school board, so why pretend otherwise?
I scowled as I remembered yesterday’s meeting. Why was everyone pretending she’d only been hired… wait a minute.
I stopped right before an intersection. My heart set itself. In a jolt I turned around and darted back the way I’d come. In a rush I sprinted down the hall (breaking about ten non-running rules in the process) and skidded into the open door leading into the secretary’s office.
“Hi,” she said. I held up a hand and waved hastily as I crossed to the principal’s door. Without knocking I pushed it open.
She was exactly as I’d left her. Feet up on the desk and elastic in her fingers. “Eh!” she said as if she was pleased to see me.
Still in the doorway, I refused to go in. Doorknob in hand, I merely leaned in, pointedly keeping the door half open with my leg in the way. “You were here yesterday morning,” I announced.
She raised her eyebrows. “I was? News to me. Write an article about it.” And she twanged the elastic, shooting it up into the air. She caught it in a snatch.
I gaped at being scoffed at so openly. “I saw you get out of your car,” I fibbed. “And you met with the- bureaucrats. Why were you hired before Mister Mackaney died?”
There was a creak from behind me as the secretary straightened in her chair. The new principal’s eyes flicked beyond me, then back to me. Her smiled turned simpering. “That’s great. I’ve wanted a car. What color was it?”
“I uh,” crap! “It was dark.”
“Uh,” she said, obviously mimicking me. “And? I wasn’t here. I only got here this morning – and I got lost!” she swept her feet off the desk as if this was an exciting story. “This place is huge! Did you know that?”
“Uh,” I’ve come here since I was a kid? Duh?
She banged her fist on the desk. I jumped and behind me, the secretary squeaked. “Déjà vu!” the principal cried out. “You saw this morning yesterday! When you transformed! Am I right?”
“Bloomed,” I corrected her.
“Same thing,” she said happily, picking the elastic back up from where she’d dropped it. Creaking back in her chair, she spread her arms. “But that’s what you saw kid. This morning, yesterday. How ‘bout that for secret powers, huh?”
My jaw was open and it was trying to make sense of all this. “What were you doing in the tower then this morning? Why there? And why,” I braked my jaw when I saw the light in her eyes. Her smile was shrinking to a captivated smaller, more realistic size. I snapped my jaw shut. She leaned forward, snake-like.
“What were you doing in the tower?” she asked nastily. Without looking she reached sideways into a pile of rule books. Drawing out the middle one she set the whole stack crashing to the floor. She held it up to me and I startled at the title of ‘Ground Limits’. “Towers’ off limits, isn’t it?” she asked with a sly grin.
“I wasn’t at the tower,” I fibbed, eyes dropping to the carpet, still wondering how she’d managed to grab the book on ground limits from the stack. Maybe it was a stack of ground limits books?
“Oh? So you had a vision? Or what?”
“Uh, yeah,” I looked up, trying to act convincing. “It just sort of – flashed before my eyes when I bloomed.” Not very creative, but it seemed to work.
She winked at me. “Told you you were magical.”
I backed out of the doorway. “Yeah,” I said weakly. As I was swinging the door shut she called out.
I jerked the door back open. “I’m not a kid!”
She laughed. “Totally. Knock next time.” The elastic twanged in her fingers. “Or you’re suspended.”
I slammed the door as hard as it could go. The secretary jumped, eyes huge. I muttered an apology, head ducked, and stuffed my hands into my pockets as I walked away. In the hallway, I swore I heard the scraping of violin strings.