Paper Princess Page 12

“Stick around,” Callum tells Durand through the open driver’s window. “I’ll ring you when we’re ready to leave.”

The black car disappears toward a parking gate at the far end of the drive. Callum turns to me and says, “Headmaster Beringer is expecting us.”

It’s hard to keep my jaw off the ground as I follow him up the wide set of steps toward the front doors. This school is bonkers. It oozes money and privilege. The manicured lawn and massive courtyard are deserted—I guess everyone is already in class—in one of the far fields I see a blur of uniform-clad boys playing soccer.

Callum follows my gaze. “Do you play any sports?”

“Uh, no. I mean, I’m athletic, kind of. Dance, gymnastics, that stuff. But I’m not very good at sports.”

He purses his lips. “That’s too bad. If you join a team or squad, you’re exempt from taking the phys ed class. I’ll ask if there’s an opening on one of the cheerleading squads—you might be a good fit there.”

A cheerleader? Yeah right. You need pep for that, and I’m the least peppy person you’ll ever meet.

We step into a lobby that belongs in a college movie. Large portraits of alumni hang on the oak-paneled walls, and the hardwood floor beneath our feet is polished. A few guys in blue blazers saunter by, their curious gazes landing on me briefly before they continue on.

“Reed and Easton play football—our team is number one in the state. And the twins play lacrosse,” Callum tells me. “If you earn a spot on a pep squad, you might end up cheering for one of their teams.”

I wonder if he realizes he’s just building an even bigger case for me not becoming a cheerleader. No way am I bouncing around and waving my arms in the air for an asshole Royal.

“Maybe,” I mutter. “I’d rather concentrate on my studies.”

Callum strides into the waiting room of the headmaster’s office as if he’s been there hundreds of times before. He probably has, because the white-haired secretary behind the desk greets him like they’re old friends.

“Mr. Royal, it’s lovely to see you here under positive circumstances for a change.”

He offers a crooked grin. “Tell me about it. Is Francois ready for us?”

“He is. Go right in.”

* * *

The meeting with the headmaster goes smoother than I expect. I wonder if Callum threw some money at the guy so he wouldn’t ask too many questions about my background. But he must have been told some things, because at the start of the meeting, he asks if I want to be called Ella Harper or O’Halloran.

“Harper,” I answer stiffly. I’m not giving up my mother’s name. She raised me, not Steve O’Halloran.

I’m given my class schedule, which includes a gym class. Against my protests, Callum tells Headmaster Beringer that I’m interested in trying out for a pep squad. Jeez. I have no idea what this man has against PE.

Once we’re done, Beringer shakes my hand and tells me that my student guide is waiting in the lobby to take me on a quick tour. I shoot a panicky glance at Callum, but he’s oblivious—too busy talking about the ninth green being tricky. Apparently he and Beringer are golf buddies, and he waves me off, telling me Durand will bring the car around in an hour.

I bite my lip as I leave the office. I don’t know how I feel about this school. Academically, I’m told it’s top-notch. But everything else…the uniforms, the fancy campus…I don’t fit in. I already know this, and my thoughts are confirmed the moment I meet my tour guide.

She’s wearing the navy-blue skirt and white dress shirt that make up the school uniform, and everything about her screams money, from her perfectly styled hair to the French-tip nails. She introduces herself as Savannah Montgomery—“Yes, those Montgomerys,” she says knowingly, as if that’s supposed to clue me in. I still have no fricking idea who she is.

She’s a junior like me, and she spends a good twenty seconds sizing me up. Her nose wrinkles at my tight jeans and tank top, the scuffed combat boots on my feet, my hair, my unmanicured nails and hastily applied makeup.

“Your uniforms will be shipped to your house this weekend,” she informs me. “The skirt’s non-negotiable, but there are ways around the hem length.” She winks and smooths out the bottom of her skirt, which barely grazes her lower thighs. The other girls I glimpsed in the hallway had their skirts down to their knees.

“What, blow the teachers, get a shorter skirt allowance?” I ask politely.

Her ice-blue eyes widen in alarm. Then she laughs awkwardly. “Um, no. Just slip a hundie to Beringer if one of the teachers complains, and he looks the other way.”

Must be nice living in a world were you can slip people “hundies.” I’m a dollar-bill kinda girl. Because that was the denomination usually tucked into my G-string.

I decide not to share that with Savannah.

“Anyway, let me show you around,” she says, but we’re barely a minute into the tour before I realize she’s not interested in playing tour guide. She wants intel.

“Classroom, classroom, ladies’ room.” Her fancy fingernails flick at various doors as we head down the hall. “So Callum Royal is your legal guardian?—classroom, classroom, junior faculty lounge—How did that happen?”

I’m stingy with my response. “He knew my father.”

“Callum’s business partner, right? My parents were at his funeral.” Savannah flips her chestnut brown hair over her shoulder and pushes open a set of doors. “Freshman classrooms,” she says. “You won’t be spending much time here. Sophomore classes are in the east wing. So you’re living with the Royals, huh?”

“Yes.” I don’t elaborate.

We whiz past a long row of lockers, which look nothing like the narrow, rusty lockers in the public schools I went to over the years. These are navy-blue and the width of three regular lockers. They gleam in the sunlight streaming in from the wall of windows in the hall.

We’re outside before I can blink, walking down a cobblestone path lined with gorgeous shade trees on each side. Savannah points to another ivy-covered building. “That’s the junior wing. All your classes will be in there. Except PE—the gym’s on the south lawn.”

East wing. South lawn. This campus is ridiculous.

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