Beryl (and her sister Chalce and her brother Stone) belong to the Aunt Family; everyone else is a new character.
It had been a bad week and it looked like it was just getting worse. Beryl took the long way between English and Trig to avoid Laryn Schneider and Taylir Rhodes, who had decided that it was her fault that Mrs. Hosenpher hadn’t graded their last exam on a curve.
(It wasn’t, she’d done everything she could to get it curved, but Laryn had it out for her and Taylir did whatever Laryn said lately, so she was kind of stuck.)
She winced as she passed by a couple of Jaime Yolen’s friends. Jaime didn’t like Stone and Chalce had gotten into some sort of funk with Jaime last year, so Beryl did her best to stay out of their way. But given a choice between three burnouts and Laryn Schneider…
“Berrrr-yyyyyyl. Bare Beryl, barely more than a Bear, Beryl, Berrrryl.”
She made the mistake of glancing behind her. Yeah, there was Jayden Chapman and JJ Martin and Greg Olson. And there was Laryn and Taylir, walking towards her with murder on their faces.
They wouldn’t actually kill her. She knew that. They wouldn’t kill her and they wouldn’t maim her — probably — but they could make her life miserable. They were good at that.
“I thought we had this all worked out after that trig exam,” Laryn purred. She was sheer nastiness; if you distilled her you’d end up with the sort of dark magic Beryl wasn’t supposed to know about. “You keep your grades nice and average and then the rest of us don’t suffer because of your freakishness. We were pretty nice about it, I thought. We were very clear. We made sure you knew what we wanted.”
“You sent her home with eggs in her hair and tomatoes down her shirt.” JJ didn’t sound like he had an opinion on the matter, but JJ never sounded like he had an opinion on anything.
“Like I said. We were nice.” Laryn didn’t even look at JJ.
Beryl wasn’t quite looking at JJ either. But she was looking at Jayden, who had pulled the cigarette out from behind his ear and was doing something — crumbling the tobacco onto the ground, all casual like it was just a tic, but he was laying it very carefully for all that.
She looked back at Laryn before she could draw attention to Jayden and, at the same time, reached into her pocket as surreptitiously as she could. She had something in there, she was sure, even if it was just Aunt Asta's old sneezing powder. She always had something in her pocket. Considering who her aunts were, she more or less had to.
“Nice,” she agreed. “So nice. You really were."
What was Jayden up to? And how was she going to get out of this with Jaime Yolen’s friends over there and Laryn and Taylir in front of her?
This was going to hurt.
"You were so nice, I very carefully did not skew the curve this time. I promise you, guys.”
“Nice try." Laryn was getting closer. Beryl didn't back up. Running wouldn't really help this time. "So sweet, I promise, but Taylir saw your grade. There’s no way you were trying to do a nice normal grade and accidentally got over 100.”
“Look, I know you guys think I’m some sort of a brain or something—”
“Oh, not a brain. Someone actually smart would’ve gotten a nice, normal 80 on this thing," Taylir sneered. "Not a hundred and four."
"And four?" Greg laughed. "She got a hundred and four? Damn. Someone's being pretty bitchy with the extra credit, didn't even give her one-oh-five."
Beryl snorted. "It's Mrs. Hosenpher. She hates me." Which might be how she'd ended up accidentally skewing the curve.
"She hates your brother, too," JJ offered. "Your family in some sort of feud with hers?"
"Wouldn't surprise me," Beryl muttered. "Look, Laryn-"
"No. No, the time right now is for you to look, and you are going to. You have got to learn, or you are going to be a thorn in my side for the rest of school and I am not having that. I'm not taking another B home to my mother because you don't know how to get a proper grade."
"You know," Beryl offered in a last-ditch attempt, "we could always buy Mrs. Hosenpher a book on proper grade curving. You know, one where she doesn't punish anyone for someone getting a good grade?"
"Are you saying my grades aren't good?" Laryn closed in.
"Technically," Greg pointed out helpfully, "you were saying your grades weren't that good. I mean, have at, I'm not going to stop you, but just be sure what you're pummeling her for."
"Oh, I'm sure. And she will be too." Laryn grabbed the front of Beryl's shirt.
"Fuego," Jayden murmured. Beryl clenched her hand on the first thing she found in her pocket.
Oh, good, it was one of Aunt Frances's luck tokens. Those things didn't do anything.
The hallway filled with smoke - no, half the hallway filled with smoke, a neat line with Beryl and Jayden and JJ on one side and the other three on the other side - smoke so thick you couldn't see anything at all through it. Laryn let out a noise that sounded something like a harpy and quickly devolved into hacking coughs; somewhere in the third or fourth lung-scraping hack, she released Beryl's shirt.
Jayden looked at the cloud of smoke and spoke in a voice that sounded nothing at all like his voice - sepulcher and creaking and British. "You do not touch those who belong to the school. You do not disturb the grades the school chooses to give. You do not, above all, you do not cheat."
The noises from the other side of the cloud sounded terrified and, well, dying. Beryl took a step forward, actually worried about Laryn Schneider and Taylir Rhodes, damn the family obligation.
Jayden put a hand on her shoulder. "You don't want to do that. They'll be fine," he added reluctantly, very quietly, "just shitting bricks for a bit. Come on, what you do want to do is not be here. Math, right? Let's go."
In a move that confused her more than everything else that had happened so far today, and that was saying something, Beryl found herself running through the halls with Jayden Chapman, trying hard not to laugh and harder to look innocent and most of all, trying not to ask him what the hell, man?
He grinned at her - an expression she had never seen on his face. "Gotta help each other out, right?" He flicked her shoulder with two fingers, leaving her even more confused. "Also, I hear you do wicked magic. Go on, be a brain." He gave her a little shove. "They won't bother you again. And, uh. Neither will I."
Before she could sort that one out, he was gone in the crowd and the bell was ringing. Beryl slipped into her seat and stared out the window; there was a plume of smoke in the courtyard that nobody else seemed to notice.
Jayden Chapman . Doing smoke magic with the dog end of a cigarette. Mrs. Hosenpher giving her a one-oh-four when she had been trying to pull an 80.
What the hell was going on with this world?
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