It seemed a shame that he couldn’t enjoy everything the academy had to offer, especially when the surroundings were so beautiful, so I decided to explore them myself a little later. Josh took me to one of the private study rooms where Troy and Adam were waiting. Troy was taller than Josh, and had an athletic build. He had thick black hair and a wide smile. Adam’s hair was longer and came down to his chin. It framed his face and hid his eyes. He wore baggy clothes and nodded towards me, instead of greeting me warmly like the other two had. We quickly fell into easy conversation and I felt at home with the boys. I was glad to be in the company of people who actually seemed to appreciate me, and it was nice to not have to feel as though I was in some kind of competition, or under threat.

The conversation was casual as we got to know each other. We asked each other what we were studying and it turned out that Josh and I had almost exactly the same syllabus. Troy was focusing more on athletics and physical education, while Adam was more into music and art. I was excited to learn that we shared botany together though, although my excitement was short-lived when Josh revealed that Julia was in the same class.

Troy and Josh led the conversation, while Adam sat in the corner and listened, occasionally laughing along with us but he didn’t really participate in the conversation. I had always been intrigued by the quiet kids; they were often the most interesting. Most people in the orphanage were like that and I got the sense that Adam had some inner pain he was hiding as well. Even though my attention was drawn more towards Josh, I found myself wanting to get to know Adam better too.

The conversation with them was enlightening. I learned a lot from them, including a lot of unspoken rules about the academy. They told me that Mrs. Thorpe wasn’t as gentle as she appeared, and that I should never ever get the stroganoff to eat. Josh gave me a few pointers about the teachers I was going to have and their quirks, and I was made to feel quite at home. I also learned that Julia had been sent here by her parents who lived in Europe and she rarely went home, which in some ways made her something of an orphan too I supposed. Troy and Adam stayed for a little while, but then they both had classes to attend, so Josh and I were left alone again.

“So how long have you been here?” I asked.

“About a year. Troy and Adam started around the same time as well. We met, at the interview and just stuck together ever since. Some people stay here for longer, others just come to learn a few subjects and then leave again. It’s very flexible, but it does mean that sometimes you don’t get a good chance to make friends. Julia has actually been here the longest. Everyone likes to joke that she won’t leave until she’s studied everything, but I think it’s more to do with her family situation.”

“What’s that?”

“Nobody really knows for sure, and Julia hasn’t been forthcoming. There are rumors around, some people think that her parents are spies, others think they’re royalty. Either way, Julia doesn’t seem to be leaving any time soon. I think that’s part of the reason why she has so much influence here. The faculty likes her because she applies herself and she always manages to skirt the rules in just the right way so that she doesn’t get noticed. Personally I just think they’re rich and didn’t want Julia around, so they packed her off here, hoping that one day she’ll be able to get a career of her own.”

“That sounds pretty harsh.”

“Some parents are like that,” Josh shrugged.

“I wouldn’t know. I’m an orphan,” I said.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say anything insensitive,” he said.

“No, it’s okay. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the way things are.”

“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“My parents died in a car crash when I was younger. I don’t really remember them. I live with my guardian now,” I said bluntly, trying to not give away too much information. Josh was quiet and offered me a weak smile. I’d been in this situation before. Usually when people learned my story they reacted the same way; with pity. I didn’t need their pity. What I really wanted to do was tell Josh that I was a badass vampire hunter, but I had to hide that from him. He probably thought I was just sad and pathetic. I stood up abruptly and told him I was going for a walk in the garden. He blinked and looked surprised, but he didn’t try to stop me from leaving.

I left, feeling stupid. Sometimes I wished I could escape my past and not have to talk about it ever again. Things had been going so well with Josh, but then they had spiraled. I didn’t want to answer any more questions about my past, so it seemed the only thing to do was make a hasty retreat.

Chapter Five

When I reached the garden I felt a little ashamed that I had rushed away from Josh with little explanation. Talking about my past always triggered me into feeling vulnerable and I often lashed out in a defensive manner. I wasn’t used to making friends and, usually, when people asked me about these conversations I was ready for them to try and take advantage of me somehow. I had worked so hard to fight my way through my feelings of inadequacy, but they always managed to rear their ugly heads. They were like an infection that just wouldn’t go away, much like the vampires.

Being in the garden helped relax me. From this vantage point the building looked smaller and the problems with Julia seemed smaller and insignificant. The plants had their own natural lifespan and they didn’t care at all about my problems. I breathed in the fragrant aroma and felt the soft petals. I watched t

he bees and ladybirds flutter about. I gazed at the caterpillars crawling along the stems and lost myself in thoughts about the natural world and how peaceful it was. It was nice to spend some time not having to think about bullies and vampires, and all the evil in the world. It was a relief to be reminded that there was actually a great deal of beauty.

*

I stayed out in the garden until it was time for my next class; botany. Julia gave me an evil look when I arrived and made a point to trim one of her plants with clippers.

“What a welcome,” I muttered as I settled in next to Adam. He shifted uncomfortably and turned his body in on itself as I sat down. The teacher was a bubbly woman who quickly settled into the lesson and spoke at a high pace. It was a very hands-on class, with lots of flowers around to explore and experiment with. There were also huge vines, and tomato plants. The air was humid, and sweat began to prickle on my skin.

For some reason Adam wore a hoody and I couldn’t understand how he could have been comfortable in that, but he didn’t seem affected by it. He just tended to his plant, snipping away the dead leaves.

“I’m glad to see you don’t have allergies like Josh does,” I said, trying to make conversation. This class was far more relaxed than history and we were able to talk with each other, not that Adam was too talkative initially. I hoped that some time alone would bring him out of his shell. I could imagine it wasn’t easy to make himself heard when he had Troy and Josh to contend with. Both of them were outgoing and it could be hard to be heard in such cacophony.

“Allergies? Oh…yeah.”

“At least you get to go into the garden when you can. Do you often?”

“Yeah. I prefer going in the night. When it’s quiet,” he said. I could tell I wasn’t going to get much in the way of conversation out of him. I focused on tending to my own plants.

“I only took this as a bit of a lark, but I’m actually loving it. I never knew botany could be so relaxing,” I said, after a while. “What made you choose it?” I knew from my time in the orphanage that everyone wanted to talk, it was just a matter of time and perseverance, and finding the right topic that would elicit a reaction.

“I like growing things. I like taking care of things. There’s so much death in the world it’s nice to watch something grow for a change,” he said. His voice was smooth and quiet, a little high-pitched.


Tags: Lilly Wilder Paranormal
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