Jake sent the new kid sprawling – right hook to the face. Textbook.
A flurry of gasps and squeals resounded in the gym. No one wanted new-boy Tom’s pretty face broken just yet.
“Back to your drills!” Coach Caraway bellowed, sweeping his steely gaze over the thirty-odd students who were craning their necks, trying to get a better look at the fight from their stations.
His words, however, were ineffectual. Tom had just bounced back onto his feet, fists balled, grinning like a psychopath.
“Is that your worst, Jakey-boy?” he goaded as the two began to circle each other.
The onlookers sniggered. Jake was huge, like six-foot-four huge. He was thick with muscle and as quick as someone half his size. At eighteen, he looked less of a boy than most men ten years his senior.
Jake gritted his teeth. “Big mistake, Isakov,” he growled as he feigned another attack. “Only my mum calls me that!”
The gym erupted in laughter, Tom included, and Jake took advantage of the opening. He launched himself at Tom with super-human speed, knocking him to the ground and pinning him there. Tom, still chortling, accepted defeat good-naturedly.
It was a fair win – or at least I would have thought it so had I not seen Tom’s eyes fix on Jake before he’d even made the final move. Tom had altered his stance, ever-so-slightly, in order to ease the impact that he knew was coming. He’d let Jake win.
I glanced sideways at my best friend, Trixie. She was standing under the chin-up bar that we were supposed to be utilising. Her brows were knitted together, and her eyes were flicking furiously back and forth across her phone’s screen.
“Oi, Trix,” I hissed.
“Huh?” She blinked distractedly in my direction.
“Really?” I gave her an astonished shake of the head. “Your all-that-is-man boyfriend just laid the best looking guy in the world flat on his back – and you’re scrolling your feed?”
Trixie locked her phone and straightened up. She tucked a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear and glanced over at the ring. Coach Caraway was still going over the fight with the boys.
“My boyfriend is the best looking guy in the world,” Trixie commented after a moment. “And I see him all the time. Believe it or not, but that article was a tiny bit more interesting than watching the live action production of ‘Testosterone'.”
“I don’t believe it,” I grinned, jumping up and catching hold of the chin-up bar.
“We’re not all as frivolous and shallow as you, Kat,” said Trixie, rather archly.
I half snorted, half grunted as I tried to pull my chin up over the bar. I was weak after the summer break. I’ll admit that. But I wasn’t shallow. I really couldn’t help the fact that new-boy Tom was flawless. Every one of his features was perfect – his electric blue eyes, his defined jaw-line, chiselled cheekbones… He had dark hair styled in this disconnected undercut where his fringe kept falling into his eyes - Leo from R&J style - and he kept pushing it back out of his face. It was perfect. And that was just above the neck - there were also the popping delts that shaped his shoulders, the veins and muscles that wrapped like vines around his forearms, not to mention the never-missed-a-leg-day –
“But honestly Kat,” continued Trixie, rudely interrupting my train of thoughts. She’d pulled her phone back out of her pocket. “What I was reading… You’ve been watching the news, right?”
“Not really,” I admitted, dropping down from the bar, grimacing. I really needed to get myself back into shape.
“Well done, Staporek!” Caraway called, addressing me by my last name. He was still standing in the ring, but the boys had moved on. “You did, what? Three chin-ups?”
I felt myself blushing, but bullying wasn’t something I liked to take bowing down.
“Four, sir,” I called back, just as loudly. “Five if you include the last one – I got nearly half way up!”
“Over here,” Caraway barked, pointing to the ring as if he hadn’t heard me. Apparently, he hadn’t acquired a better sense of humour over the holidays.
I did as I was told without question. It had taken six years at the St Nick’s Institute to master the fine art of pushing boundaries. Now, in my seventh and final year of education, I could safely say that I knew which buttons to press, and which to avoid.
I stood on the edge of the ring – which was literally a circle, twenty-five feet in diameter, marked with chalk on the gym floor – and looked up at Coach Caraway. His beady eyes were scanning the room once more, no doubt searching for an opponent worthy of me.
“Brislane,” he snapped decisively. “You, too. Over here.”
Kate Brislane, my worst enemy, had been giggling with her gaggle of airheads, Ariana Sobriel and Marissa McKenzie. To be fair, Ariana and Marissa were fine when they were nowhere near their shrewish leader. Kate was tall, thin and one or two shades past a natural tan. Not that she looked bad, Kate would have been smokin’ hot, what with her green eyes and wavy blonde ponytail, if it weren’t for her resting-bitch-face. As she stalked over, she wore her trademark expression, with just a hint of disdain.
“If it isn’t fat Kat,” she sneered when she, too, arrived at the ring.
I wasn’t fat, not even a bit, Kate just seriously lacked imagination when it came to insults.
“Enough,” Caraway growled, shooting Kate a glare, “You know the drill. No nails, teeth, hair-pulling or spitting.”
“Got that, Kate? Keep your canine canines to yourself,” I said, earning a few snickers from onlookers.
“Shut up, Staporek, unless you want to spend tonight cleaning the gym.”
“Sorry, sir,” I chirped, disingenuously.
Caraway, again, pretended not to hear me, “You’ll have five minutes based on points. A pin down before time’s up will also determine the winner. Any questions?”
Kate and I eyed each other, each ready to pounce.
“Begin!” Caraway stepped out of the circle.
I didn’t wait for Kate to make the first move. I kicked out, landing a hard blow on her thigh, and followed it up with a punch aimed at her face, but she blocked and kicked out hard, hitting my shin. It hurt. But we were all accustomed to superficial pain. We’d been practising hand-to-hand combat since we were eleven.
Kate struck out again, hitting me hard in the shoulder. I stepped back, and Kate, thinking she had the upper hand, lunged at me. I scooted to the right and she missed. I swung around and shoved her hard in the back. She stumbled, nearly fell forward, but managed to regain her balance just before my next blow. But she’d been expecting it. She spun around, faster than I had anticipated and her fist unlocked in the last moment. Her sharp, acrylic nails cut into my shoulder. I gasped at the sting.
“No nails, Brislane!” Caraway barked from the sideline.
Kate had stepped back, a smirk on her face. I touched the stinging scratches. They were weeping.
If she’d been aiming to piss me off, she’d succeeded. I lunged at her, taking her by surprise. I pushed her back and kicked her hard in the stomach. She was caught off guard, and the kick had winded her. While she was still breathless, I slammed my fist into the side of her bony face and assisted her fall to the ground with a good old fashioned shove.
From there it was easy. I pinned her to the ground and clicked my fingers. Orange fire burned in my hand. I held my flame, as the weapon it was, ready to strike if she tried to move. I grinned down at her, victorious. I’d won.
“Alright,” Caraway said, coming into the circle. “Put that out, Staporek. And get off her.”
I let my flame go out and got up. It was only then that I noticed thirty-odd pairs of eyes on us. I guess it wasn’t that surprising – mine and Kate’s antagonism went way back.
Thankfully, the bell rang and there was a rush of chatter and movement. Everyone was anxious to get a good table at breakfast – It was the first day of the new semester, after all. The tables claimed today would be locked in for the remainder of the school year.
Trixie appeared at my side, already changed into her uniform and thinking along the same lines.
“See you in the hall?” she asked, glancing to the boys' change rooms from where Jake had just emerged.
“Yeah, go! I’ll be there in a minute.”
She hurried off with Jake and I made my way to the change rooms. Usually, we’d all shower after morning gym, but as I said, getting a good seat on the first day back was of vital importance. I skipped the shower – gross, I know – and quickly pulled on my uniform: stockings, a navy and grey plaid skirt, white shirt with an embroidered coat of arms on the front pocket, and navy blazer with identical needle-work.
I hurried out of the bathroom, still buttoning up and tucking in my shirt.
Felix had waited for me, which didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was seeing new-boy Tom waiting with him.
“Hey, I thought you’d be at breakfast,” I said to Felix. “Jake and Trix will have to fend off the first years all by themselves.”
“I’m sure they’ll manage,” Felix said, grinning in his easy way. “I was showing Tom around the gym.”
I turned to Tom and gave him a way-too-bright smile, “So when’d you show up?”
His electric eyes met mine, and I swear to God every atom in my body did a full-circle Mexican wave.
“Late last night. I would have arrived earlier, but my flight was delayed…” His voice was not a letdown, it was low and smooth. His accent had a British twang that wasn’t common in British Columbia. “Then my cab driver got lost, you know… the usual.”
I nodded, trying hard to comprehend his words, and not just get lost in the sound of them.
“We got a knock on our door at about three thirty this morning,” Felix continued the story as he led the way towards the dining hall. “He’s been put in our apartment.”
“Oh, cool,” I said, unsure how I really felt about sharing an apartment with the best looking guy in the world. “Suppose that makes sense. Everywhere else is pretty full.”
Student lodgings were great for us seniors. We lived in a block of two bedroom lodging houses behind the school’s main buildings. We were allowed to nominate who we wanted to share with, too. I shared a bedroom with Trixie, and we shared the apartment with Jake and Felix - and now Tom.
“They didn’t let boys and girls mingle back in St Petersburg,” Tom commented.
“They don’t usually here, either,” Felix said over his shoulder, “But they ran out of room. They threw us together because Trixie and Jake are pretty much married with kids –“
“Actually, their parents gave permission,” I interjected, rolling my eyes at Felix.
“Well, yeah,” Felix grinned.
“And you two?” Tom prompted, glancing sideways at me.
“Kat here is my little sister.”
I snorted and shoved Felix in the back. “Actually,” I corrected, “Felix is my adopted brother. And he’s only a month older than me.”
Felix grinned. “Who’s counting?”
I turned to Tom. “You’re from Russia, right? Why the British accent?”
He shrugged, “I’m not used to speaking English anywhere but in the UK. Give me a day or so and I’ll pick up that Canadian raising.” He cut me a sideways glance, his lip pulled up at the side.
I laughed and tried to ignore the butterflies that were tornadoing around my belly. It was futile. I was pretty sure that I was in love with Tom Isakov by the time we reached the dining hall.
The hall itself was a grand old room with polished floorboards and white-washed walls bearing golden-framed paintings of men in tights and ladies in poofy skirts. Three crystal chandeliers hung in a line from the centre of the high ceiling. Sturdy oak benches were placed neatly and symmetrically, making full use of the vast floor space.
Presently, the room was a hive of activity. A long line of students waited to get at the buffet on the right-hand wall and others tried to navigate the room with plates piled higher than OHandS standards should allow. Some loners were standing uncertainly, without a bench to go to, some benches were overcrowded with giggling thirteen year olds who thought they owned the place.
Jake and Trixi were mercifully sitting right at the front of the room, away from the children and close to the staff table. Bianca Calle and Lisa DeLacey were with them. They grinned and waved when they saw us approaching.
“We got you guys toast, but it’s probably cold and gross by now,” Bianca said.
“Better than joining that line,” I said. “Thanks.” I dropped my bag and slipped into the seat beside Trixie. Felix sat next to me and Tom sat across from us, next to Bianca. She caught my eye briefly and I (pathetically) suppressed a giggle.
“Do you have your timetable on you?” Lisa asked.
I fished around in my bag and found my diary. Felix did the same, and we all compared classes. It was a good semester. Science with everyone, psychology and history with Trix, lingo with Bianca and Lisa, and Tom.
“You dropped astro?” I asked Jake, double checking his timetable.
“Yeah, thought I’d be better off doing computer science this year. I had to sit an exam over the break to get in, being final year and all.” He shrugged. “I’ve been thinking about going into web surveillance.”
I snorted. “You’ve been watching too much Homeland. You know that it’ll actually be boring as hell, right?”
Jake shook his head. “Justin Peele landed a job at the South American HQ doing data analysis. I was chatting to him over the break, he loves it. Pays alright, too.”
“Yeah, but he only got that job because his mum’s having an affair with the director,” Trixi scoffed.
Jake grinned. “Maybe I’ll have to hit up Mrs P.”
Trixie’s elbow landed squarely in Jake’s ribs, and in true Jake fashion, he pretended to be fatally wounded.
“Seriously, though,” said Bianca over Jake’s groaning, “With all this media hype going on, it probably would be pretty interesting. You’d have access to all the classified documents on those psychos who’ve been throwing around all those death threats.”
“Wait, what?” I asked. I mean, sure, I didn’t go out of my way to watch the news, but I usually heard about the important stuff one way or another… and death threats? They sounded pretty important.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you, Kat,” said Trixie, exasperated. “There’s a group who’ve been contacting random people through Sparkbase and sending them, like, threatening messages and stuff.”
“Don’t know. The agency thought it was hoax, kids being stupid or something. But then they actually started attacking people. The agency doesn’t seem to know much, only that vamps are the culprits – a rebel group.”
“Yeah, it’s a vampire group,” said Bianca. “I got one of those messages over the summer. I showed my parents and we went to our local agency. Before we knew it, we were being flown to USHQ – on a private jet, mind you. It was actually pretty sweet.”
“What did the message say?” asked Felix. He’d gone pale. Under the table, I took hold of his hand.
“Some random tried to add me on Sparkbase, but I refused their invite. Next morning I had a message from them. It was a video. They’d hacked into my account and taken a family photo from my private feed. They, like, sliced our throats in the photo. But there was blood running down our necks. It was creepy as.”
There was a silence. I mean, it was Bianca. Cute-as-a-button, brunette from Alberta, Bianca. What the hell did a bunch of crazy vamps want with her?
“Did they find out who did it?” I asked.
“I don’t think so. They said they had suspects. But then my parents had to get back to work and the agency didn’t seem to need us anymore. They said they’d monitor my feed closely from now on.”
“They monitor everyone’s feed,” I said. My dad managed records for Sparkbase at Canada HQ and he’d come home with some pretty out-there stories about people and their habits. Careers could depend on a search history, and the agency kept records of everything. Obviously he would have known about all of this - probably more than anyone else we knew. I wondered why he and Mum hadn’t brought it up. But then I remembered whose hand I was holding.
“If they’re monitoring everyone’s feed, why don’t they know who hacked my account?” Bianca asked.
“They would have gone through an independent proxy server to hide their IP,” Tom said lightly. “Pretty standard.”
Jake nodded. “It’s not that easy to find someone online. By the time the agency finds the Proxy, the guy could’ve easily changed his IP.”
“Alright Tony Stark.” Trixie rolled her eyes and started stacking the plates from breakfast. Felix got up and helped her take the dishes over to the first years who were on dish duty.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. Under the table, I unlocked my phone and checked the message. It was from an unknown sender. And it contained five words.
We know who you are.