For the first time in her life, Mirabelle Santiago felt nothing. Not anger, regret, or sadness. Not even outrage at the unfairness of it all. Even now, as her stepfather drove her to her new school--a school that even in writing sounded more like a prison than a school--Mirabelle could not even summon the hint of disbelief.
"You made sure you have everything you need?" Salvatore asked, the usual bite in his tone miraculously gone. In fact, he was the happiest she had ever seen him since... well, since her mother died two years ago. He had always said there was something wrong with Mirabelle. He spend the last few days reminding her how right he had been all along.
"Yeah," Mirabelle answered rather defiantly. His ill-placed happiness was starting to get to her.
This earned her a sharp look she pretended not to see as she turned her head to look out the passenger side window. Outside, the world continued as if nothing catastrophic was taking place. As if everything was as it should be... but it wasn't. Not for her, it wasn't.
"Are you sure?" he insisted. "Because I'm not driving back to get anything you forgot."
"I know," Mirabelle muttered.
"You're not giving me an attitude, are you?"
Anger permeated into her being before she registered the threat in his voice.
"No, sir," Mirabelle answered quickly, trepidation rising in her chest.
She turned to find that his jaw was clenched, his lips set to a thin line, and his brows furrowed into a frown. All bad signs. He shot her a deadly glare as if to warn her that she was treading on dangerous waters.
Mirabelle tensed. Leave it to Salvatore to rouse the worst of her emotions.
It was a long, dreadful moment before he said, "Good."
Slowly, the tension eased and his anger subsided, ebbing out of her being. Inside her chest, her heart slowly returned to its steady beat and it was a few moments before Mirabelle allowed herself to breath. Intense invasions like that always took her breath away, especially when suffused with so much animosity.
She should have learned how to shut his feelings and emotions out by now, should have learned how to shut everyone's feelings out. But she hadn't. She couldn't. Try as she might, she simply had no control over it. Her mother called it a gift. A gift from God. She had said that it was given to Mirabelle for a reason and that Mirabelle had to use it to do good. For a while, Mirabelle believed that to be true. Until she learned the hard way that no matter how helpful she tried to be, people didn't like their secret feelings to be known. And that they would hate her for knowing.
It wasn't a gift. It was a curse. A curse that turned her into a freak.
Against her will, she was reminded of the incident again. Her small moment of weakness that got her transferred to her new prison-like school. Joseline McBeth and Tina Ferris had chanted "freak" over and over again, their chants turning into screams when the blood splattered everywhere. Over the white porcelain sinks, the mirrors, the tiled floors... it wouldn't stop. So much red, so much screaming...
Her right hand squeezed around her left wrist and the pain that shot up her arm nearly blotted the images from her mind. But they were so vivid... still so fresh. All over again, Mirabelle felt the pain. And then the horror.
The loud vibration against her thigh brought hert back to the present. Her cell. Someone was texting her. Most likely Julia. When it vibrated again, Salvatore shot her a glance.
"Going to get that?" he asked, sounding annoyed. He was always annoyed when it came to her phone. The one he had to pay for.
Before he got annoyed enough to take her phone and throw it out the window--like he did with the last one when it wouldn't stop vibrating due to the obscene amount of texts Julia had sent her. Understandably so; Julia had just gotten her first dog--Mirabelle dug it out of her purse, unlocked the screen, and immediately put it on silent. A quick glance at the message pop-ups showed that it was in fact Julia. Sending her another massive attack of messages.
"I miss u so much!"
"What's the science hw?"
"Ur going to txt me everyday, right?"
"Hello? Answer me!"
Mirabelle smiled as she scrolled through her best friend's messages. It was good to know that she had at least one good friend that still genuinely cared about her. Enough to not give a damn about her social standing if she continued to be friends with Mirabelle.
The speed of which her other, so-called friends bailed on her after finding out about the incident hurt... hurt a lot more than Mirabelle would ever admit. She reasoned that in the end, it was always good to know who her real friends were. Even if it was painful.
"Yes, I'm almost there. Driving now," Mirabelle answered.
Julia's response was almost instant.
"Wait, u drive?!!!"
Mirabelle suppressed her laughter. Count on Julia to make her want to laugh out loud in the same space as Salvatore.
Mirabelle typed a quick reply, reminding Julia of the science, math, and English homework while she was at it. There was a reason Mirabelle was Julia's point person for... well, everything. Julia didn't forget her head because it was attached. What was she ever going to do without Mirabelle?
The thought caused Mirabelle pause. She was reminded again that she was headed to a place that was miles away from everything and everyone that was familiar to her. To a place she didn't belong. Overbrook Academy was a boarding school for the troubled teen. Mirabelle wasn't troubled. Even after her mother's death, the single most painful and horrible day of her entire life, Mirabelle had emerged from the tragedy... untrouble. Sad, but untroubled. She continued to excel in school--it was what her mother would have wanted. She made friends and even had a plan for her future. Though only fifteen, she already knew what university she wanted to attend, what major she wanted, and how to attain the full-ride scholarship she needed to make it happen. Nothing about that was troubling.
Yet, here she was. Diagnosed "emotionally unstable" and shipped to a mental school. It was all kinds of steps backwards.
Mirabelle suddenly felt like she drowning, sinking deeper and deeper into a dark abyss. What was she going to do? All of her careful plans were out the window. Her chance for that full-ride scholarship? Decimated. Who would offer an "emotionally unstable" student a scholarship? She wasn't even starting at square one; she didn't even know what square she was standing on.
She couldn't breathe.
Her phone vibrated. Julia again.
"Remember fool, we're besties 4ever. And wait and see, u'll be back before u know it."
The message blurred as tears gathered in Mirabelle's eyes. With a small gasp, she filled her lungs with air again.
That's right. She had a plan. The one she and Julia had come up with. She didn't belong in Overbrook and she would prove it. Prove it in the best way she knew how: by excelling in her studies and everything else that she did. It wouldn't be hard; she had achieved and maintained an outstanding 3.98 GPA for most of her academic life. Excelling was the one thing she was good at. No, great at. Soon, the administration would realize that her transfer had been a mistake and would be sending her back to her old school. Back to her old and familiar life.
"Ah, there it is," Salvatore exclaimed, his tone cheery again as he turned into the winding road that led to the school's main entrance.
Located at the edge of one of Oaks Grove's largest wooded landmark, Overbrook Academy rose from between tall and lush trees towards an open campus ground of rolling green that practically sparkled under the bright rays of the sun. It was a picture perfect location, what with the colorful arrangement of flowers adorning the main entrance and the sprinkle of young trees around the parking area.
Except... there seemed to be an ominous gloom hanging over the half hidden buildings. As if they were lurking behind the trees and not rising over them. As they neared the entrance, an eerie sense of being watched immediately made Mirabelle's skin crawl, the countless darkened windows giving the impression of hundreds of peering eyes.
Mirabelle found herself cowering in her seat as they approached the main entrance. The concrete awning that stretched from the main doors to the curving road was far from welcoming; it looked like a large, open mouth, ready to devour them whole. As Salvatore parked the car and exited, Mirabelle was almost too frightened to move. What was wrong with this place?
It wasn't until the loud thump of the trunk as her stepfather closed it after retrieving her suitcase that Mirabelle was jolted into action. Quickly grabbing her things, she stumbled out of the car.
Outside, the dark, ominous feeling was worse. Mirabelle was rooted to the spot where she stood.
"Well, you said you have everything," Salvatore said as he rolled her suitcase next to her. He sounded even more cheerful than he did before. "Have fun, Mira," he called as he made his way back to the car. He was literally dumping her here.
"You have to sign a few papers," she called after him.
What the was wrong with her? Was she honestly calling him, Salvatore, back? The serpent that stole her mother's love and made biting remarks at Mirabelle every chance he got?
She stole a glance back at the school, thinking that perhaps she had imagined the dark, ominous feeling, or that maybe it was just her own doubts. Almost instantly she was struck with the uneasy feeling that something wasn't right. No... that something was terribly wrong. She couldn't walk in there alone.
"What?" Salvatore called, frowning as he poked his head over the top of the car. He wasn't happy anymore.
For some reason, that made her feel marginally better.
"Papers... you have to sign them," she repeated.
What papers, she had no idea. But she prayed that somehow, someway there were in fact papers he had to sign. Otherwise, he would make her sorry. She was already starting to feel sorry.
Salvatore narrowed his eyes at her. That meant trouble. Slamming the driver door shut, he made his way around the car.
Instantly, Mirabelle knew that she made a mistake. Everything about his body language and expression screamed danger. It took an enormous amount of willpower to stand her ground. As much as he intimidated her, she refused to give him even an inch.
"Are you scared?" he asked as he advanced towards her, like a predator advancing towards his prey. He kept his voice down so as not to be heard by the few people walking about the main entrance. Image was important to him.
"N-no," Mirabelle stammered, her answer sounding pathetic even to her own ears.
Why, why, why had she called him back? He wasn't going to help her. He would rather see her rot in a mental hospital than offer her any kind of help. He didn't want anything to do with her, he never wanted anything to do with her. It was clear from the moment he bedazzled his way into her mother's home; Mirabelle had been, and will always be, a rock under his shoe.
"That's too bad," he began to say, standing so close to her, she could smell his cologne.
It made her nauseous.
"Mr. Vicario?" a woman called suddenly.
Mirabelle and Salvatore both turned to find a tall, dark haired woman dressed in a suit with a pencil skirt approaching them. She stopped a few paces from them, a wide, welcoming smile stretched across her lips as she looked at Salvatore questioningly.
"Yes?" Salvatore answered hesitantly.
"Nice to meet you," she said, extending her hand to him. "I'm Kathy Morris, the clinical director. We spoke on the phone."
"Oh... yes. Of course. Nice to meet you too," Salvatore said pleasantly, shaking her hand with both of his warmly as he flashed her a wide, toothy smile. His winning smile, as he liked to call it.
It made Mirabelle sick.
"You must be Mirabelle... Santiago?" she asked, also extending her hand to Mirabelle. Mirabelle couldn't tell if she was asking if her last name was Santiago, or if she was pronouncing it correctly.
"Oh, wow, that is excellent Spanish pronunciation," Salvatore said, sounding incredibly amazed.
It was so fake, Mirabelle had to keep from making a face. Not to mention, it hadn't been excellent pronunciation. Mrs. Morris said "Santiago" like most native English speakers did. With an accent.
"Oh, well. I don't know about that," Mrs. Morris said with a laugh, waving her hand at him. She immediately returned her attention to Mirabelle. It was good to know that not everyone was a sucker for Salvatore's fake charms.
"How are you sweetheart?" she asked Mirabelle, still outstretching her hand to her.
Mirabelle was hesitant to shake it. Touching people was worse, much worse, than being near them. The invasion of emotions was more potent, sometimes even overwhelming. And it was creepy to be that in tune with complete stranger's feelings and emotions.
"Don't be rude, Mira. Shake the nice lady's hand. Especially after such a beautiful pronounciation of your mother's name, eh?"
God, how she hated him.
Reluctantly, she took Mrs. Morris' hand. She was immediately filled with a warm, welcoming feeling. A warmth that very nearly chased away the dread and fear that her stepfather and the school ignited. That was definitely an unexpected surprise. And an unexpected welcome.
"I'm good, thank you," Mirabelle answered, giving Mrs. Morris a genuine smile.
"That's good to hear," Mrs. Morris said, patting Mirabelle's hand affectionately. "The two of you look a little a like," she then said, looking back and forth between Salvatore and Mirabelle.
Mirabelle was appalled by the comparison. She and Salvatore looked nothing alike. While he sported classical Latino features--tanned skin, dark almost black, wavy hair, and dark brown eyes--Mirabelle was the opposite with her pale white skin, brown hair, and light brown eyes. Not to mention, he had sinister look about him, a predatory look.
Mirabelle was nothing like that monster.
Salvatore must have also been disturbed by the comparison for her coughed a little before saying, "If you recall, I'm her stepfather, not her father."
"Oh, that's right. I'm sorry," she said, looking genuinely apologetic. "Shall we go in and finalize all the paperwork?" she quickly changed the subject, looking over at Salvatore.
"Oh. Well, you see, Mrs. Morris," Salvatore began to say with a chuckle, his charms amp up to the max as he clapped his hands together. "Mira assured me that all I had to do was drop her off."
Which was technically true. Mirabelle had assumed that he filled out all the necessary paperwork ahead of time. The fact that he hadn't wasn't her fault; it was his. But trust Salvatore to place all the blame on someone else. After all, as a lawyer it was what he did for a living.
"Oh, no. There's are a few legal papers you have to sign in person," Mrs. Morris said, looking horrified of the idea of him just "dropping" Mirabelle off.
As she gave him directions to where he could park his car (apparently, an "over there" wasn't enough for Mrs. Morris), Mirabelle stole another glance at the looming buildings. Being around Mrs. Morris and her warm feelings nearly made Mirabelle forget that there was something off about the school. The longer she stared, the more prominent the uneasy feeling became.
"Well, let's go inside and show you around you new home while your stepfather parks the car," Mrs. Morris said, draping an arm around Mirabelle's shoulders.
Normally, Mirabelle would flinch away, but she more than welcomed the friendly director's kindness. She couldn't help feeling that she needed it for what was to come.
As they neared the entrance, Mrs. Morris' warmth was slowly chased away by something cold... something dark.
Mirabelle's steps faltered.
"Are you alright, dear?" Mrs. Morris asked, concerned.
"Yeah..." Mirabelle answered distractedly, forcing her feet to continue moving forward. But each step brought her closer to that cold... that evil.
Mirabelle broke into a cold sweat, her skin prickling and her senses alert as if doused with adrenaline. Every fiber of her being wanted to turn and run as far away as possible, but Mrs. Morris' arm kept her locked in place.
They stepped inside.
The shock hit her like a ton of bricks. It took everything she had not to jolt back and away. Feelings of anguish, torment, fear, and anger hit her all at once, swirling and clashing like a storm. She looked around her, searching for the source. Who in the world could be feeling such a melee of emotions all at once like that?
It didn't take her long to realize that there was no one but Mrs. Morris with her in the wide and open entrance hall. Which meant only one thing...
The emotions were trapped inside the building. Something terrible had happened at this school.
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