The only classes Kleo didn’t share with any of her friends were fifth and ninth period. Sometimes it was annoying; she had no time to herself in any of her classes before Government. Yancy, being a private school, allowed their freshmen to attempt AP classes, for no reason other than it got them that much more money every year. Kleo sat through Latin with all of her friends, band with Alex, algebra with everyone but Aadil, Emily, and Avery, choir with Alex and Emily, and then she finally went to Government by herself. She admitted that she was a little worried though, because she hadn’t seen Ryan in two days and it just wasn’t like him not to call her.
It was a relief to have some time to herself, but she didn’t enjoy the class. She could have taken it another year, but she didn’t really see any point in that. Lao Ma had encouraged her to get her required state history and government classes out of the way in her first year of high school, and that was what she was doing. However, no amount of encouragement could make up for Mr. Kunzler’s dull voice, or the way he droned through the textbook, and assigned them pages of questions for homework and then copied and pasted them into a word document for their quizzes.
Kleo was happy to be going to government anyway though. It was fifth period, which meant that her day was half-way over, and she only had forty-five minutes until lunch. Unfortunately, her government classroom was all the way across the school and in the basement. She had to walk at a very brisk pace to get there before the bell rang, but she didn’t mind; the long walk gave her time to scan faces and people-watch.
It was a habit that had been instilled in her over years of living on the run and by herself, or finding shelter with the local gang when she didn’t have money for a motel nor the energy to steal some. Those were the days before Camp Jupiter, before her mother had found her and led her to Jason. It was still a useful skill though, so she kept practicing; people watching in high-school proved very amusing, even if it didn’t save her life.
Amy Trinh was standing by her locker and talking to Joseph Gonzalez; she was about to cry and he was shaking his head pitifully at her. She wasn’t the first girl to have a bruising crush on him, and she certainly wouldn’t be the last. Meaghan Sealy was holding her fingernails out for inspection by Tamika Briggs; daily beauty inspections were mandatory if you wanted to join the Perfects. Tamika happened to be one of the other cheer captains, and Kleo struggled to quash every insult that threatened to leap off her tongue whenever she was forced to interact with her. The resident potheads of the senior class were talking to each other; their lips moved slowly and their eyes didn’t seem to focus on anything.
There was nothing out of the ordinary so far. Kleo continued to walk down the hallway. The set of stairs she needed was just past the Front office, which was really nothing special. The walls were yellow and covered in pictures showing students in friendly embraces with teachers, administrators, and their peers. Kleo thought it was rather like a lion’s den decorated with propaganda and intentionally gruesome and startling statistics about lambs, with some fancy plaques purporting grand achievements of the pride.
At first she prepared to turn onto the staircase, essentially turning her back on the cave of perpetual misery known as the suite of administrator’s offices, but then she heard something over the dull roar of the students conversing in the hallway around her.
“-a federal investigation.”
The words flowed from her right, out of the walls guarding the principal’s office from view. At first she pushed it aside, but then she heard Principal Myers reply in her high-pitched, nasal voice.
“Of course! We take discipline of students very seriously here at Yancy Academy Mr. McCormick.”
“It’s Special Agent McCormick Ma’am.” He corrected her. He had a clear southern accent, and he spoke through a film of politeness that Kleo found contradictory in a federal agent. Kleo, having abandoned all thought of going to government in the inescapable school basement, pressed herself up against the wall.
The principal’s office shared a wall with the janitor’s closet. If she was lucky, she could hide in there and eavesdrop on the conversation. She tried the door, and cursed bitterly when the handle refused to budge. She looked around wildly, cursing her luck (or lack thereof). She had to listen in somehow.
She took out her student ID card, and tried to slip it into the electronic lock mechanism between the door and the it’s frame. It proved unsuccessful. She kicked the door, which only hurt her foot. She cursed some more, and concentrated as she tried one more time to unlock the janitor’s closet. She thought to herself fervently as she began to slide the thin piece of plastic into the narrow space once more.
Please work! Please work! I need this to work! This has to Work!
She felt something hot shoot from her hand and surge forward into the lock, but she couldn’t be sure what it was because she had been so focused on the card in her hand. Though, if she hadn’t known better, she would have said it was a tiny bolt of electivity.
“What is it exactly that you want with her?” Myers asked somewhat hesitantly. “She’s an exemplary student; the captain of several school teams-“
“I’m not interested in what Ms. Grace has done while in New York Ms. Myers. I am only concerned with the things she did before she arrived. I’ll need to look at her transcripts and any other documents you have received from her.”
“Shit!” Kleo hissed.
She scrambled to get her phone out of her purse, but then thought better of it. Her priority was getting out of school without being noticed by McCormick. Her heart raced as she placed her cellphone back in her purse and pressed her ear to the door once more. The word floated through the drywall and into her ears, but her mind was splitting its attention between formulating an escape route and deciding who to call.
She had to warn her friends. They would be the first people McCormick hauled in to bully, with or without parental consent. On the other hand, she couldn’t call or text them without it showing up on their phone records, which McCormick could easily get a subpoena for. Kleo considered calling Lao Ma or Haresh, but the same problem smacked her in the face – they were traceable.
Facing a severe dilemma, Kleo chewed her bottom lip. Her teeth brushed the ring around the corner of her mouth. Instantly, as if by divine intervention, she had an idea. It wouldn’t guarantee her an infallible escape route, but it would give her a disguise.
She set her bag on the floor lightly, and set her phone atop one of the cabinets. She set it to record, so that she could listen to the conversation unfolding in the principal’s office later. Then she opened up her bag very slowly; she had to make as little noise as possible. After removing all of her piercings, except for the studs in both of her ears, she set about changing her clothes.
There were lockers in the janitor closets, and more than one was unlocked. Kleo guessed that the jumpsuit she stole belonged to Ms. Craigesson, a sweet but rather crass woman in her early fifties. She shimmied out of her jeans and shoved them into her bag along with a small bag containing her piercings. After zipping up the unflattering and rather pungently-smelling janitor’s uniform, Kleo removed the braid in her hair and allowed the mass of black strands to hang about her upper body in a veil.
Satisfied with her disguise, she pressed her ear back to the wall separating her from the federal agent who had come to detain.
“It appears that Ms. Grace did not report in for her fifth period class.”
“Of course not.” Agent McCormick said smugly. “Where are all of the exits to this school?”
Kleo knew that was her chance. She opened the closet slowly, and placed her bags in front of her body to shield them from the view of the two officers posted outside the entrance to the Main Office. Her heart pounded furiously in her chest, and she tried in vain to suppress the dizzying tangle of thoughts coursing through her consciousness. She heard McCormick and Myers exit the office, and she struggled desperately not to increase her speed.
“Look Normal.” She thought. “Look Normal!”
She considered using a cloaking spell, but without any ingredients our means of channeling the spell it was far too dangerous. She had no idea how much energy she would need to get to wherever she was going o flee to, which meant that she couldn’t afford to cast a spell based on energy alone.
None of the agents seemed to notice her. Kleo breathed a massive sigh of relief when she reached the service elevator. She pressed the button for the roof, and waited with baited breath for the ding of the machine to tell her that she had arrived.
She felt briefly at peace when a breeze swept by her, though she had no idea why. Kleo always felt better when she was off the ground – flying on an airplane was sheer bliss for her, while rock climbing was a beloved pastime. She walked out onto the school roof cautiously, until she realized that it was ten in the morning on a Monday; no one would be out on the streets, much less staring up at the roof of the school building.
“Only one problem now.” She whispered to herself as she looked down over the edge of the building.
How was she supposed to get down? The school was easily 30 feet high, and the closest building was eight feet away. Kleo took one long, deep, laborious breath. She only saw one option. She couldn’t scale down the school building because it was entirely smooth brick-face – no window ledges or gutters to aid her descent. A jump down would surely break both of her legs, if not kill her.
She backed up slowly until she was in the dead center of the roof. Then, after one last anticipatory breath, she surged forward. Her feet pounded against the concrete roof in time with her heart, and just before she lifted her feet off the ground, she felt the adrenaline gushing through her bloodstream.
Then the strangest thing happened. Kleo couldn’t explain it in any way, since she had never jumped off a building before and she had never felt a breeze strong enough to lift her across eight feet before either. It felt as if a sudden gush of wind had lifted her up though. The wind seemed to carry her across the gap.
Kleo landed safely on top of a convenience store roof, which was a fair ten feet shorter than the school. The gust seemed to have cushioned her from the impact as well. Shaking it off, Kleo rushed to get out of range of the school windows. The next building was newspaper stand, which was short enough that she easily hopped down from it. Oddly enough, Kleo felt a strange longing for the wind to carry her again. She dismissed it as the need to confirm her suspicions about the experience, but there was more to it than she wanted to admit. Deep down she knew what it really was; she simply wanted to ride the wind again.
From there she headed downtown, to Dave Stutler’s research space. He shared it with his master Balthazar Blake and his fiancé Veronica, but they were friendly enough. All of the sorcerers in New York that were worth knowing knew all of the others. She could call Lao Ma from there, and it wouldn’t look suspicious because Balthazar and La Mao called each other often to arrange their Ma Jong games.
However, Kleo’s momentary happiness at hatching a plan faded when she realized that it was too dangerous to use her metro pass, or any public transport. She sighed.
“It’s going to be a long day.”