Sweet Venom
Page 6

 Tera Lynn Childs

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Let’s see, there was Vail in homeroom. She didn’t exactly go out of her way to be friendly, but she wasn’t horribly rude, either. Which is more than I can say about the rest of Alpha. That’s something.
There was the counselor, Ms. West, who seemed pretty cool. Mrs. Deckler was nice too, and already knew I’d have English with her in addition to homeroom. Counselors and teachers in Orangevale never cared that much.
And I have a whole world of electives to choose from. I browsed them at lunch—having no one to eat with, I slipped away to the library to eat my avocado-and-sprouts sandwich alone—and narrowed down my selection to about five choices. With no first-day-of-school homework, picking my electives is my main task for the night.
I reach our block, and while I dig out my key ring, I try to focus on the positive. Mom worries, and I don’t want her to think I’m unhappy at the new school. Even if I am.
No, I have to give it more than a day. Tomorrow could be infinitely better. It can hardly be worse. I can’t act less confident.
In Orangevale I never had to use house keys. Mom was always home, the door unlocked, ready with an after-school snack. Our building in San Francisco is a multistory U-shaped thing with a locked front gate leading into the courtyard and a locked main entrance. The only ways inside are using a key, getting buzzed in by a tenant, or sneaking in after someone else. I tried that last one the first day in town and got a dirty look from one of our neighbors, so I don’t think I’ll be using the sneaking-in technique again.
The key turns easily in the lock and the gate swings open with a high-pitched squeak. I make sure it closes and locks behind me before heading toward the door. I love the courtyard. It’s full of shady trees and brightly colored tropical flowers that smell like I’ve always imagined Hawaii would. A little piece of paradise in the big city.
At the lime-green front door I flip to another key on my ring. Everything—the door, the trees, the flowers—is a stark contrast of color against the bright white of the building rising up on three sides. Too bad the interior isn’t as vibrant and cheerful.
I head into the gloomy hallway, with its dark wood floor and insufficient lighting. It creeps me out a little. Too many shadows and hidden corners.
I hurry to the stairwell and run to the second floor. After one near-death experience in the classic—aka creaky and ancient—elevator, I’ve decided I could use the exercise of taking the stairs.
At our apartment door, I select the third and final key on my ring and burst inside. My rotten day forgotten, I set my backpack on the dining table and follow the smell of brownies to the kitchen.
“Mom, I’m home!” I shout, grabbing a still-warm treat from the piled-high plate on the counter.
She emerges from the back hall wearing paint-spattered jeans and a matching smock. Since we’ve been in the apartment only a little over a week, she’s still finishing up the decorating and unpacking. Judging from the shade of soft taupe dominating her clothes, I’d guess she’s tackling the master bedroom today.
“So . . .” she prods with a huge smile on her round face, “how was your first day? Tell me everything.”
As a rule, I don’t lie to my parents. I don’t even usually keep things from them. We’re very close, and I want it to stay that way. But this move has been difficult in so many ways—the long family talks after I got the scholarship, the concerns about uprooting me and Thane in the middle of our high school careers, the last-minute decision that meant a last-minute move. If Dad hadn’t gotten that promotion to the San Francisco office, we’d still be in Orangevale.
Now Dad’s working crazy hours, and I know Mom is still stressed about everything. I don’t want her worrying that we’ve made the wrong decision, which is why I smile and say, “It was great. I think Alpha is going to be really good for me.”
“Thank goodness,” she says, ignoring her freshly painted state and rushing forward to wrap me in a tight Mom hug. “I was so worried.”
“And all for nothing,” I tease. Mission accomplished. Mom is relieved, which means the smile on my face isn’t as forced as it was a minute ago. “You’ve got brownie in your hair.”
She runs her fingers through her black-brown waves. “Did I get it?”
“I’m not sure,” I say, leaning in to inspect. “I can’t tell under all that paint.”
“Ha ha.” She teasingly smacks me on the shoulder. “Not funny.”
I shrug. “I thought it was.”
She steps around me into the kitchen and heads for the sink.
“And you found the bus and everything easily enough?” she asks over her shoulder.
“Mmm-hmmm,” I say around my mouthful of brownie. Mom doesn’t need to know about the bad bus driver any more than she needs to know about Miranda or my solo lunch in the library.
Mom busies herself with washing the few dishes in the sink while I finish my brownie. Moist, chocolaty goodness. The perfect cure for my disappointing day.
I pour myself a glass of pineapple Fanta to wash down the last crumbs.
“Where’s Thane?” I ask after a big gulp. “Isn’t he home yet?”
“The public schools have a later schedule. He gets out twenty minutes after you,” she answers, drying her hands on a kitchen towel. “He should be home soon. Do you need anything?”
“Nope, I’m good.”
“Okay, then I’ll get back to my painting.” Her smile is thrilled but weary. She’s excited to be making over the apartment, but also exhausted. “Shout if you need anything.”