"Zoey! Over here!"
I almost cried in relief when I heard Damien's voice and saw his hand waving at an empty desk next to him.
"Hi." I sat down and smiled gratefully at him.
"Are you ready for your first day?"
I nodded. "Yep." I wanted to say more, but just then a bell gave five quick rings and as the echo of it died Neferet swept into the room. She was wearing a long black skirt slit up the side to show great stiletto boots, and a deep purple silk sweater. Over her left breast, embroidered in silver, was the image of a goddess with her arms upraised, hands cupping a crescent moon. Her black hair was pulled back into a thick braid. The series of delicate wavelike tattoos that framed her face made her look like an ancient warrior priestess. She smiled at us and I could see that the entire class was as caught as I was by her powerful presence.
"Good evening! I've been looking forward to beginning this unit. Delving into the rich sociology of the Amazons is one of my favorites." Then she gestured to me. "It is excellent timing that Zoey Redbird has joined us today. I am Zoey's mentor, so I'll expect my students to welcome her. Damien, would you please get Zoey a textbook? Her cabinet is next to yours. While you explain our locker system to her I want the rest of you to journal about what preconceived impressions you have of the ancient vampyre warriors who are known as the Amazons."
The typical paper rustling and student whispering commenced while Damien led me to the back of the classroom where there was a wall of cabinets. He opened one that had the number "12" in silver on it. The cabinet contained neat, wide shelves filled with textbooks and supplies.
"At the House of Night there aren't lockers, like at regular schools. Here, first hour is our homeroom and we each have a cabinet of our own. The room will always be open, so you come back here to get books and whatever, just like you would go to a locker in the hall. Here's the sociology book."
He handed me a thick leather book with the silhouette of a goddess stamped on the front of it along with the title, Vampyre Sociology 101. I grabbed a notebook and a couple of pens. When I shut the cabinet door I hesitated.
"Isn't there a lock or something?"
"No," Damien lowered his voice. "They don't need locks here. If someone steals something, the vamps know it. I don't even want to think about what would happen to someone stupid enough to do that."
We sat back down and I started to write about the only thing I knew about the Amazons--that they were warrior women who didn't have much use for men--but my mind wasn't on my work. Instead, I was wondering why Damien, Stevie Rae, and even Erin and Shaunee all freak out about getting in trouble. I mean, I'm a good kid--okay, not perfect, but still. I've only had detention once so far, and that wasn't my fault. Really. Some turd boy told me to suck his cock. What was I supposed to do? Cry? Giggle? Pout? Umm . no...So instead I bitch-slapped him (although I prefer just using the word smacked), and I got detention for it.
Anyway, detention wasn't actually that bad. I got all my homework done and started the new Gossip Girls book. Clearly detention at the House of Night entailed more than going to a teacher's classroom for forty-five minutes of "quiet time" after school. I'd have to remember to ask Stevie Rae...
"First, what pieces of the Amazon tradition do we still practice at the House of Night?" Neferet asked, drawing my attention back to class.
Damien raised his hand. "The bow of respect, with our fist over our heart, comes from the Amazons, and so does the way we shake hands--by gripping forearms."
Huh. That explained the funny handshake.
"So, what preconceived notions do you have about the Amazon warriors?" she asked the class.
A blonde who sat on the other side of the room said, "The Amazons were heavily matriarchal, as are all vampyre societies." Jeesh, she sounded smart.
"That's true, Elizabeth, but when people discuss the Amazons, legend tends to add an additional layer to history. What do I mean by that?"
"Well, people--especially humans--think that the Amazons were man- haters," said Damien.
"Exactly. What we know is that just because a society is matriarchal, as ours is, it does not automatically mean that it is anti- male. Even Nyx has a consort, the god Erebus, to whom she is devoted. The Amazons were unique, though, in that they were a society of vampyre women who chose to be their own warriors and protectors. As most of you already know, our society today is still matriarchal, but we respect and appreciate the Sons of Night, and consider them our protectors and consorts. Now, open your text to Chapter Three and let's look at the greatest of the Amazon warriors, Penthesilea, but be careful to keep legend and history separate in your mind."
And from there Neferet launched into one of the coolest lectures I'd ever heard. I had no idea an hour had passed; the ringing bell was a total surprise. I'd just shoved my sociology book back into my cubbie (okay, I know that Damien and Neferet called them cabinets, but come on--they totally remind me of the cubbies we used to have in kindergarten) when Neferet called my name. I grabbed a notebook and a pen and hurried over to her desk.
"How are you?" she asked, smiling warmly.
"I'm okay. I'm good." I said quickly.
She lifted an eyebrow at me.
"Well, I suppose I'm nervous and confused."
"Of course you are. It's a lot to take in, and changing schools is always difficult--let alone changing schools and lives." She glanced over my shoulder. "Damien, would you walk Zoey to Drama class?"
"Sure," Damien said.
"Zoey, I'll see you tonight at Ritual. Oh, and has Aphrodite issued a formal invitation for you to join the Dark Daughters in their private ceremony afterward?"
"I wanted to double-check with you and make sure that you feel fine about attending. I would, of course, understand your reticence, but I encourage you to go; I want you to take advantage of every opportunity here, and the Dark Daughters is an exclusive organization. It is a compliment that they already seem interested in you as a possible pledge."
"I'm fine with going." I forced my voice and my smile to be nonchalant. Obviously she expected me to go, and the last thing I wanted was for Neferet to be disappointed in me. Plus, no way in hell was I going to do anything that might make Aphrodite think I was scared of her.
"Well done." Neferet said with enthusiasm. She squeezed my arm and I automatically smiled at her. "If you need me my office is in the same wing as the infirmary." She glanced at my forehead. "I see the stitches have almost completely dissolved. That's excellent. Does your head still hurt?"
My hand automatically found its way up to my temple. I could only feel the prickle of a stitch or two today when there had been at least ten yesterday. Very, very weird. And, even weirder, I hadn't thought about the cut once this morning.
I also realized I hadn't thought about my mom or Heath or even Grandma Redbird....
"No," I said, suddenly realizing Neferet and Damien were waiting for me to answer. "No, my head doesn't hurt at all."
"Good! Well, you two better go before you're late. I know you'll love Drama. I think Professor Nolan has just begun working on monologues."
I was halfway down the hall, hurrying to keep up with Damien when it hit me.
"How did she know I was going to take Drama? I just decided it this morning."
"Adult vamps know way too much sometimes," Damien whispered. "Scratch that. Adult vamps know way too much all the time, especially when that vamp is a High Priestess."
In light of what I hadn't been telling Neferet I didn't want to think about that too long.
"Hey, y'all!" Stevie Rae rushed up. "How was Vamp Soc? Did y'all start the Amazons?"
"It was cool." I was glad to change the subject from the too mysterious vampyres. "I had no idea they really cut off their right breasts to keep them out of the way."
"They wouldn't have had to if they'd been as flat as me," said Stevie Rae, looking down at her own chest.
"Or me," sighed Damien dramatically.
I was still giggling when they pointed me to the Drama room.
Professor Nolan didn't ooze power like Neferet. Instead she oozed energy. She had an athletic, but somehow pear-shaped body. Her brunet hair was long and straight. And Stevie Rae had been right--she had a serious Texas twang.
"Zoey, welcome! Have a seat anywhere."
I said hi and sat beside the Elizabeth girl I recognized from Vamp Soc. She looked friendly enough and I already knew she was smart. (It never hurts to sit next to a smart kid.)
"We're just about to begin choosing the monologues that each of you will present to the class sometime next week. But first, I thought you'd like to have a demonstration of how a monologue should be performed, so I asked one of our talented upperclassmen to stop by and recite the famous monologue from Othello, written by the ancient vampyre playwright, Shakespeare." Professor Nolan paused and glanced out of the window in the door. "Here he is now."
The door opened and oh my dear sweet lord I do believe my heart totally stopped beating. I'm positive my mouth flopped open like a moron. He was the most gorgeous young lad I had ever seen. He was tall and had dark hair that did that adorably perfect Superman curl thing. His eyes were an amazing sapphire blue and...
Oh. Hell! Hell! Hell! It was the guy from the hall.
"Come on in, Erik. As usual, your entrance timing is perfect. We are ready for your monologue." She turned back to the class. "Most of you already know fifth former, Erik Night, and are aware that he won last year's worldwide House of Night monologue competition, the finals of which were held in London. He is also already creating a buzz in Hollywood as well as on Broadway for his performance last semester as Tony in our production of West Side Story. The class is all yours, Erik." Prof Nolan beamed.
As if my body were suddenly on automatic, I clapped with the rest of the class. Smiling and confident, Erik stepped up on the little stage that was situated front and center in the large, airy classroom.
"Hi. How are you guys doing?"
He spoke directly to me. I mean, directly to me. I could feel my face getting really hot.
"Monologues seem intimidating, but the key is to get your lines down, and then to imagine that you're actually acting with a full cast of actors. Trick yourself into thinking you're not up here all alone, like this..."
And he began the monologue from Othello. I don't know much about the play, except that it's one of Shakespeare's tragedies, but Erik's performance was amazing. He was a tall guy, probably at least six feet, but as he began to speak he seemed to get bigger and older and more powerful. His voice deepened and he took on an accent I couldn't place. His incredible eyes darkened and narrowed into slits, and when he said Desdemona's name it was like he was praying. It was obvious he loved her, even before he spoke the concluding lines:
She loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that she did pity them.
As he said the last two lines his eyes locked with mine and, just like in the hall the day before, it seemed as if there was no one else in the room--no one else in the world. I felt a shiver deep inside of something very much like what I'd felt the two times I'd smelled blood since I'd been Marked, only no blood had been spilled in the room. There was only Erik. And then he smiled, touched his lips to his fingers as though he was sending me a kiss, and bowed. The whole class clapped like crazy, including me. Really. I couldn't help it.
"Now, that's how it's done," Professor Nolan said. "So, there are copies of monologues in the red bookshelves at the rear of the class. Each of you take several books and begin looking through them. What you're trying to find is a scene that means something to you--that touches some part of your soul. I'll be circulating and can answer any questions you have about inpidual monologues. Once you've chosen your pieces, I'll go through the steps you'll need to take as you prepare your own presentation." With an energetic smile and nod, she motioned for us to start looking through the zillions of monologue books.
I still felt flushed and short of breath, but I got up with the rest of the class, even though I couldn't help peeking at Erik over my shoulder. He was (unfortunately) leaving the room, but not before he turned and caught me gawking at him. I blushed (again). He met my eyes and smiled directly at me (again). And then he was gone.
"He's so f-ing hot," someone whispered in my ear. I turned and, shockingly, Ms. Perfect Student Elizabeth was staring after Erik and fanning herself.
"Doesn't he have a girlfriend?" I blurted like an idiot.
"Only in my dreams," Elizabeth said. "Actually, word has it that he and Aphrodite used to be hooked up, but I've been here for a few months and it's been over between them at least that long. Here ya go," she tossed a couple of monologue books at me. "I'm Elizabeth, no last name."
My face was a question mark.
She sighed. "My last name was Titsworth. Can you imagine? When I got here a few weeks ago and my mentor explained that I could change my name to whatever I wanted it to be, I knew I was going to get rid of the Titsworth part, but then the whole issue of picking a new last name just stressed me too much. So I decided I'd keep my first name and not hassle with a last name." Elizabeth No Last Name shrugged.
"Well, hi," I said. There were really some odd kids here.
"Hey," she said as we went back to our desks. "Erik was looking at you."
"He was looking at everyone," I said, even though I could feel my stupid face getting all hot and red again.
"Yeah, but he was really looking at you." She grinned and added, "Oh, I think your colored-in Mark is cool."
"Thanks." It probably looked weird as hell on my beet-red face.
"Any questions about choosing a monologue, Zoey?" Professor Nolan asked, making me jump.
"No, Professor Nolan. I've done them before in drama at SIHS."
"Very good. Let me know if I can clarify setting or character for you." She patted me on the arm and kept moving around the room. I opened up the first book and started to flip through the pages, trying (unsuccessfully) to forget about Erik and concentrate on monologues.
He had been looking at me. But why? He must have known that it had been me in the hall. So what kind of interest in me was he showing? And did I want a guy to like me who had been getting a blow job from the hateful Aphrodite? I probably shouldn't. I mean, I definitely wasn't going to take up where she left off. Or maybe he was just curious about my freakishly colored-in Mark, like practically everybody else was.
But it hadn't seemed like it...it had seemed like he'd been looking at me. And I'd liked it.
I glanced down at the book I'd been ignoring. The page was open to the subchapter: Dramatic Monologues for Women. The first monologue on the page was from Always Ridiculous by Jose Echegaray.
Well, hell. It was probably a sign.