Home > Very Bad Things (Briarcrest Academy #1)(2)

Very Bad Things (Briarcrest Academy #1)(2)
Author: Ilsa Madden-Mills

I shuddered in revulsion, taking in his gaunt face and red-rimmed eyes with sagging skin underneath. Cocaine. Someday, it would take away his handsome visage completely and leave it in ruins. His clothes screamed money though, from the tailored suit to his Louis Vuitton watch. Just like me, he was pretty on the outside.

His hands twitched nervously, calling attention to the long, jagged scar on top of his right one. That nasty gash had taken eighty-five stitches at the emergency room, and if he rolled his sleeves up, it would stretch all the way up to his elbow. As I stared, he flushed red and dropped his head to stare at his shoes, like the answer to all life’s questions were lying on the dirty gym floor. They weren’t.

I suddenly wished I was high. At least I wouldn’t remember what I’d done.

I turned my back to him and walked away. He was nothing to me.

Making my way up the steps, I smoothed down my dress and tried to breathe evenly, so I could give my well-prepared speech—all about how freaking wonderful it is to be a student at BA, how super-terrific it is if you study hard and make good grades, and how awesomely fantastic it is to be rich and smart in a crappy little world. Right.

I snorted. If these people only knew the dirty truth about me. How weak I was. How I was dying a little bit every day in small doses. Would they look at me differently? Treat me like a pariah? Yes, my internal voice whispered.

Shake it off and breathe, I ordered myself. I sucked in a long breath through my nose and exhaled through my mouth as I moved forward to Mr. Cairn, whom I’d privately nicknamed Mole, albeit a rather nice mole. With his gray hair and squinty eyes, he looked deceptively unassuming, but he also had keen instincts and even keener intelligence. Nothing much got past Mole. Even now, his beady gaze probed my expression, and I think maybe he could see my cracks. Automatically, my body went into beauty pageant mode, and I sashayed toward him robotically, the new sandals Mother hated clacking against the stage.

It was time for the dog and pony show.

Looking at me warily, Mr. Cairn politely moved aside and took a nearby seat on the stage, along with our second headmaster and various esteemed, contributing alumni who helped make BA one of the top private schools in Texas. I nodded, giving them my practiced fake smile and turned to face the audience. With the glare of the bright spotlight in my face, it was hard to see much past the first row, but I saw my parents and my best friend Mila, along with her parents.

I also made out Drew Mansfield, my once secret crush since seventh grade—may he rot in hell for screwing me and then dumping me last year. He’d shattered my heart, and I dreaded seeing him and his crooked smile at school, day in and day out. In the cafeteria. In class. At debate.

At least Finn was gone, his seat now unsurprisingly empty. It had always been hard for him to face me in the light of day. The night is where he reigned.

The rest of the audience sat in darkness. Waiting.

Watching the perfect girl.

I’ve stood in front of the podium too long because I can see Mother glaring at me, covertly motioning with her hands for me to start. Dad’s lips have thinned, and I can see the impatience settling on his face. He probably had an important meeting at the courthouse to get to. Was that my future? To follow in his footsteps, blindly doing whatever society expected? Or would I turn out like Mother? Clawing my way to the top of the network ladder, reaching for stardom on national television.

Is that what it took to be happy?

The audience began murmuring, becoming antsy. After all, they expected me to deliver a rousing speech about the merits of BA, proving to them that the forty-two thousand dollars a year they paid was worth it. I couldn’t disappoint them, yet my mind went blank as I stared into that dark abyss, that giant hole of emptiness. Maybe I could have stood there all day, refusing to face my future, but it wasn’t permitted.

I commanded myself to smile again and turn on the charm, but my body rebelled. Shit. That had never happened before. And stage fright wasn’t a possibility, not when I’d been in front of people and on display my entire life, just like Mother’s precious china. No, my body’s unwillingness to perform was entirely new. On edge, I tried again, digging deep inside the core of me, searching for the Nora they expected to see, for the girl people claimed was brilliant. Nothing. I licked my sudden dry lips, shocked by my body’s refusal to obey. Where was the girl who could win an Academy Award for her depiction of a well-adjusted person?

I couldn’t let them see the real me, the one that was obscene and gross. They’d hate me; they’d be disgusted by me. As they say here in Texas, they’d ride me out of town on a rail.

Panicked, I fiddled with my note cards, shuffling them around on the podium. I had to give this speech flawlessly, and if it wasn’t dazzling and worthy of the Blakely name, Mother would be mortified. She would punish me.

I tried to smile for the third time but got nothing. Just nothing. Not even a facial tic. I began to wonder if I could move at all. I felt frozen in place, like someone had zapped me with a ray gun.

Is this where it would all end? Was I going to break down and let this audience see my shame? God, please no. I hung my head, remembering my sins. My ruin.

My now sweaty hands gripped the note cards as my heart pounded, so loud that I would swear the people sitting on the front row could hear the blood whooshing through my veins. They were all staring at me like I’d lost it. I had. I’d finally stepped off the razor’s edge I’d been walking for years.

I closed my eyes and thought of Weissnichtwo, rolling the word around in my head, letting the syllables soothe me. My words always made me feel better. Only it didn’t work this time because I’d broken wide open. Like a cake that’s been baked too long, I was done.

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