Paper Princess Page 24

I feel weird wearing a uniform, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon. I notice the other girls at school have found ways to sexy up their attire. Like Savannah said, skirt lengths have been altered, and a lot of the girls leave nearly half their shirt buttons undone so you can see the lacy tops of their bras. I’m not interested in drawing attention to myself, so my hem stays at my knee and my shirt stays buttoned almost to the collar.

I have precalc, Entrepreneurial Studies, and English in the morning. Valerie isn’t in any of those classes, but Savannah is in all three, and Easton is in the English class, but he sits in the back of the room with his buddies and doesn’t say a word to me. I don’t care. I kind of hope he ignores me all semester.

Being ignored seems to be the theme of the day. Nobody says a word to me except my teachers, and after making several attempts at smiling at kids in the hallway and getting no response, I eventually give up and pretend they don’t exist either.

It isn’t until lunch that I finally see a familiar face. “Harper! Get your butt over here.” Valerie waves me over from the salad bar in the cafeteria.

Actually, cafeteria might not be the right word to describe this cavernous room. The walls are wood paneled, the chairs are leather upholstered, and the food area looks like the buffet setup of a luxury hotel. At the far edge of the room are endless sets of French doors, all open and spilling onto an outdoor eating area for students who want to sit outside when the weather’s nice. It’s not even the end of September, so the sun is shining and I suppose we could sit outside, but I spot Jordan Carrington and her friends out there, as well as Reed and Easton, and opt to stay inside.

Valerie and I load our trays with food and find an empty table in the corner of the room. I glance around, realizing that all the students look older. “No freshmen?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “Their lunch is an hour earlier.”

“Gotcha.” I stick my fork in my pasta and keep looking around. Nobody meets my eyes. It’s like Valerie and I don’t exist.

“Get used to your cloak of invisibility,” Valerie says knowingly. “Actually, you should wear it like a badge of honor. That just means the rich bitches don’t care enough to torment you.”

“What’s their idea of torment?”

“The usual. Spray-painting rude shit on your locker, tripping you in the hall, trashing you online. Jordan and her minions aren’t very creative.”

“So she’s the female-equivalent of Reed, huh?”

“Yeppers. And if it were up to her, she’d be on his arm every day and screwing him every night, but alas, my poor cousin can’t seem to land her man.”

I snicker. “How is it you know everything about everyone?”

Valerie shrugs. “I watch. I listen. I remember.”

“All right. Then tell me more about the Royals.” I feel awkward asking, but after all my run-ins with the Royal brothers, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to arm myself with ammo against them.

My new friend groans. “Oh no, don’t tell me you’ve got the hots for one of them already.”

“Ew. Never.” I force myself not to think about the way my heart pounds whenever Reed Royal enters a room. I’m not crushing on the guy, dammit. He’s an asshole and I want nothing to do with him. “I just want to know what I’m up against.”

She relaxes. “Okay. Well. I already told you about Easton and Claire. One twin has a girlfriend, the other is a slut like his big brothers. Reed, I’m not sure about. Half the chicks in this school claim to have slept with him, but who knows if that’s true. Only one I know about for sure is Jordan’s friend Abby—trust me, my cousin wasn’t happy about that hookup.”

“What else? Scandals? Rumors?” I feel like a detective questioning a suspect.

“Their dad has a trashy girlfriend. I think that’s been going on for a couple years.”

The memory of Callum and Brooke’s dinner shenanigans flashes in my mind. “I know all about the girlfriend,” I say with a sigh.

“Okay…what else…their mom died a while ago.” Valerie lowers her voice. “From an overdose.”

My breath hitches. “Really?”

“Oh yeah. It was all over the news and in all the papers. I guess she’d been prescribed sleeping pills or something, but it interfered with some other medication she was taking. I don’t really know the details, but I think her doctor was under investigation for screwing up the prescription.”

Despite myself, my heart aches for the Royals. There are pictures of their mom on the fireplace mantel in the living room. She was a pretty brunette with kind-looking eyes. Every time Callum mentions her in passing, grief fills his eyes, which tells me he must have truly loved her.

I wonder if she was close to her sons, and I suddenly feel really bad for Reed and his brothers. Nobody should ever have to lose their mom.

Since I’ve tapped out Valerie’s Royal knowledge, we change the subject and I tell her about my new job. She promises to come by after school twice a week to annoy me, and we spend the rest of the lunch period laughing and getting to know each other more. By the time we drop off our trays, I’ve decided I’m definitely keeping her as a friend.

“I can’t believe we have zero classes together,” she complains as we leave the cafeteria. “What the hell, girl? Who forced you to sign up for all those math and science and business classes? You should be taking Life Skills with me. We’re learning to apply for credit cards.”

“I chose them. I’m here to learn, not waste time.”

“Nerd.”

“Brat.”

We part ways outside my chemistry class. We already exchanged numbers at lunch, and she promises to text me later, then flounces off.

When I enter the chem lab, the teacher rises from his desk as if he’s been waiting for me. He’s hobbit-sized, with a bushy beard that looks like it’s trying to devour his face. He introduces himself as Mr. Neville.

I try not to look at the other students, but my gaze has already picked out Easton at one of the tables. He’s the only student without anyone sitting beside him. Shit. That’s not good.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ella,” Mr. Neville says. “I peeked at your transcript earlier and was impressed by your previous science grades.”

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