A girl waited inside the school's glass double doors, arms hugged tight over her chest, shivering in her short skirt and thin tights.
This must be Portia
, Hendricks thought. She'd gotten an email from her last night.
the email had read. My name is Portia Russell and I'll be your guide to all things Drearford High tomorrow morning. Meet me inside the front doors at 10 a.m. sharp and I'll give you the lowdown on the cafeteria food to avoid and which teachers are secretly evil. (Kidding kidding!!)
Hendricks had never been the new girl at school before, so she didn't have any experience with this, but she'd been expecting a good-girl librarian type. Pretty, but in a virginal way, and more likely to spend her Friday nights studying than partying.
She'd been only half right. Portia was dressed like a good girl—cardigan, skirt, headband holding back thick, black curls—but Hendricks could see at a glance that she wasn't one. Her cardigan was a size too small, her skirt a hair too short. Her dark brown skin seemed poreless.
here," Portia said, holding the door open for her. "It's freezing
! Aren't you dying?" She grabbed Hendricks by the arm and pulled her inside, giving an exaggerated shiver as she tugged the door closed. "The weather has been so
"It's not so bad," Hendricks said, but only because she thought it was shitty to complain about this town when she'd only just moved here.
"If you say so. You're from Philly, right? The Walter School?"
Hendricks could hear the words prestigious
in the way Portia's tongue curled around the name. The Walter School
. Hendricks had dressed down for her first day at Drearford High—boyfriend jeans slung low on thin hips, messy blond hair tucked in a topknot—but she could still see Portia studying her, weighing her assets, placing her somewhere on the inevitable social ladder.
Hendricks knew what she saw. Beneath the slouchy clothes and messy hair, she was still blond and thin and tan, pretty enough that Portia wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen with her, generic enough that she wouldn't be a threat.
"I've heard that place is amazing
," Portia said, hooking Hendricks's arm with her own. "You're slumming it here. Why didn't your parents move to Manhattan?"
"They flip houses for a living," Hendricks explained. "They came up here to look at an old property and decided they liked it so much they wanted to keep it for themselves. I guess they couldn't resist the whole quaint small-town thing."
It was the truth, but only half the truth. Hendricks was quickly becoming an expert at lying by omission.
Portia paused for a fraction of a second, something flicking across her face. "Well, this
is definitely a change," she said. "Let's get the tour out of the way so you can get in to see Principal Walker and get your schedule set up. The school's tiny, so it'll only take a second. This here is a hallway, similar to hallways you may have seen in Philadelphia. You'll find most of your classes here, or down one of two other
"Fascinating," Hendricks said, deadpan.
Portia snickered. "Right? It's a good thing they sent me out to meet you or you'd have never found your way around." She paused in front of an empty cafeteria. "We eat here in the winter, at that table in the back corner, but juniors are allowed to take their lunches outside so we move to the fountain as soon as it gets—" Portia stopped talking abruptly and rose to her tiptoes, waving.
The school doors whooshed open and a line of boys in tracksuits streamed into the hall. Sneakers squeaked against the floor, and deep, laughing voices reverberated off the walls.
"Hey, Connor!" Portia called, and the tallest, blondest tracksuit-clad guy broke into a shockingly wide smile and separated from the others to jog over to them.
Hendricks felt her shoulders stiffen. She pretended to study a cuticle.
"Ladies," Connor said, brushing the hair back from his forehead. "How are you this morning?"
Hendricks looked up, frowning slightly. Normally, she hated it when guys called girls "ladies." They either used the word mockingly or like they were reciting a line from that playbook on how to pick up women. But Connor hadn't said it like that. His tone had been a touch formal, and there was something old-fashioned and all-American about his crew cut and cleft chin. Wholesome
, Hendricks thought. Then again, Grayson could seem wholesome, too. When he wanted to.
This excerpt ends on page 19 of the hardcover edition.