As promised here’s the short story I wrote for World Book Day.
Hope you enjoy!
I’ve always hated the first day of school. Even worse is the first day of school in a new city. It would be easier if we didn’t move so much. If I could just stay put in one school for long enough I’m sure the other kids would get used to the way I look, maybe even start to accept me. I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore. I’m a senior this year. All I have to do is survive until graduation.
Manhattan is a big change from Massachusetts. I don’t exactly blend in here, but at least I don’t feel as conspicuous as I did in Wellesley, or Duxbury before that, or any of the scores of places we’ve lived over the years. That’s a plus.
Since we moved here two weeks ago I’ve been taking walks around the city while wearing different faces—faces that are plainer than mine and won’t cause any problems. I’ve been able to wander, explore, and blend in.
I’ve loved it here, actually, even though New York City is the most dangerous place for me to be. I’ve discovered a renegade graffiti artist who’s been leaving tags on the side of some seriously expensive real estate. The tags are unique. Special. More like works of guerilla art than vandalism, and they always feel like they were made just for me. It’s silly, I know, but they really speak to me. I’ve been changing my face every time I sneak out to look for more tags, but I can’t wear a different face to school. My mortal father has no idea what I am, and it would be quite a shock to him to find some stranger’s face hovering over my name in the yearbook.
Today, and every day from now on, I have to wear my true face to school. The Face.
I see the other kids streaming into the exclusive private school across the street from Central Park and swallow, my hand still on the door handle. I’m stuck here for a moment, reluctant to open the door, and wishing like crazy that this time it’ll be different. Wishing I’ll make even one friend this time.
My driver looks at me in the rearview mirror, worried, and I push the door of the black town car open before he gets into trouble with my father for my tardiness. I look down at my button-down oxford, green and blue kilt, white tights, and burgundy leather penny loafers as I hurry across the street and into the school. I worry that my oxford isn’t loose enough and that my kilt isn’t long enough to hide my figure. I hunch my shoulders and scowl.
Keep your face down, I remind myself. Don’t smile at any of the boys.
As I start weaving my way through the crowded halls I can feel eyes landing all over me; eyes lingering, peering closer and searching for some kind of imperfection. I think most of the time people stare because they can’t believe it. They stare because they want to be sure that I am as flawless as their first glance hinted, and once they confirm that, they can let it go for the most part.
It’s only the people who are missing something in themselves, the people who are the most shallow and materialistic, who can’t let it go. They come after me, coveting me, like a thing. And there’s no lack of shallow kids in the kinds of schools my dad sends me to. I’ve begged to go to public, but he’d never allow it. What would all his high-powered partners think about me mingling with the serfs of the middle class? They’d probably never develop another luxury building with him again.
I try to concentrate on the map I got in my orientation packet. I hear the conversations of the other students around me die down as I pass, and the whispers that rise up like a hissing tide behind my back. Trying to ignore them, I read the numbers on the lockers to my right, counting down the row, and realize that my locker is buried behind a cluster of large, noisy boys. Jocks for sure, each of them flooded with testosterone. I can feel static tingling in my fingertips, and I push down the fight-or-flight response. The last thing I need to do is accidentally electrocute someone in the hallway on my first day of school. How would I explain that? I stop and almost turn around to flee when the jocks see me and break apart.
“Is this yours?” asks a tall boy with sandy-colored hair. He steps back and gestures to my locker.
I nod and deepen my scowl, my head bent. I dart between the tall sandy-haired boy and a shorter, thicker boy with dark hair. Another boy joins them, closing me in.
“You’re new here,” says the sandy-haired boy confidently. I can already tell he’s the alpha, staking his claim. There’s one of him in every school. “What’s your name?”
“Daphne,” I say, fumbling with the combination lock. My hands are shaking.
“I’m Flynn,” he replies, his voice dropping. He’s moving closer to me, but I doubt he’s aware of that. I doubt any of them are aware of the fact that they’ve surrounded me. They’re running on instinct now.
My lighting thrills under my skin, responding to the male threat. I try to calm down. I remind myself that they can’t help it. They want to see my face—they need to see it—so they’re coming closer. I wonder if I should try something different this time. Maybe if I let them see me they’ll get what they want and give me some space. I tuck my hair behind my ear with my pinky, straighten up to my full height of five feet nine inches tall, and look Flynn full in the face. His grey eyes go hazy and he sways closer to me, reaching, wanting, his self-restraint spiraling to nothing. Bad idea. I should have kept my head down.
His shoulders tense and he turns. Behind him I see a pretty brunette glaring at us. A well-dressed and expensively accessorized clique of
It Girls surrounds her, each of them wearing looks of varying shades of jealousy and outrage. Except there’s one spunky girl in the back with a face full of freckles who seems amused. She hasn’t been brainwashed by the lame restrictions of high-school hierarchy. Hope flickers inside me.
“Hi Kayla,” Flynn says, moving quickly to the queen bee’s side.
“Who’s this?” Kayla asks him. Like I’m not even here. She takes his hand possessively.
“I’m Daphne,” I reply. I don’t bother trying to smile at Kayla. We aren’t going to be friends. I hope she doesn’t try to do the whole ‘hostess of the school’ thing—showing me around, pretending to be helpful and welcoming until she finds a good place to stick her knife.
Kayla looks me up and down and turns away without saying a word. Good. She’s not even going to pretend to be civil. Her honesty is refreshing. The bell rings and the It Girls haul the rest of the boys away from me like they’re saving them from the plague.
I know that by the end of the day Kayla and her Prada mafia will have spread some vicious rumor about me trying to have sex with their boyfriends against the lockers or something equally absurd and the whole school will turn against me. This must be some sort of record. Usually I make it through an entire week before the lies about me sleeping with teachers, somebody’s father, or half the football team start. I try to remember that I only have one more year of this bullshit and I’m free, but my throat closes off with tears anyway. I pull myself together. I’ve cried about this enough times and I refuse to do it again. I look down at my map to find my homeroom.
It’s a small school. I think there are only about seventy or eighty kids in my grade, but even so I don’t see any of the jocks or the It Girls in my first three classes. I’m in the Advanced Placement track with all the geeks. I’m comfortable around geeks, especially the math and science kind. The girls are too busy thinking deep thoughts to care how I look and the boys are too freaked out by anything female to even acknowledge me. I would try to be friends with any of them, but I know that as soon as they find out that my GPA crushes theirs they’ll all hate me too. Jocks and It Girls have nothing on geeks when it comes to competitiveness.
I’m early to fourth period. AP Social Studies. I have my book out on my desk, pretending to read, while the rest of the students take their seats. I feel someone standing over me. It’s the It Girl with the freckles. She shifts from foot to foot. It feels like she wants to say something to me.
“Hi,” I say guardedly. There’s something in her eyes. Something almost like caring.
She opens her mouth but suddenly stops herself. She walks past me and takes her seat, a worried frown on her face. Class begins. The lecture is short and the round table discussion is long, more like a debate, really. There are twelve kids in this class, and they throw themselves into the topic with relish. I stay out of it and just listen. I learn that Freckles’ name is Harlow. She’s smart. Witty. And what a mouth on that girl. ‘Wiseass’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. I can’t help but like her.
I see Harlow again at lunch and I smile at her. She almost smiles back, but it gets stuck halfway across her lips. Her eyes un-focus with conflicting thoughts and her almost-smile sinks back down into a fretful frown.
I sit alone. Several boys ask if they can eat lunch with me and I tell them no. I don’t say it nicely, either. At my last school I tried to date once. Sweet kid. He asked me to junior prom and for some idiotic reason I said yes. By the end of the day he’d already been in three fights. I told him to forget it. As long as I say no to everyone no one fights over me. Enough wars have been started over this face. My face. My curse—and my mother’s curse, and her mother’s curse, and so on all the way back to the first woman to ever wear this face. Helen of Troy.
Lunch ends and I glance at my syllabus. Phys Ed. Oh joy. I trudge to the girl’s locker room, wondering if the people who decided on the class order are purposely trying to make the students barf. Who schedules Phys Ed right after lunch? Not that gym class is any kind of work out for me. In fact, it’s insufferable. I’m always so paranoid I’ll move a little too quickly, or lift something that’s a little too heavy for a girl my age, and I’ll be found out.
Rule number one for my kind: don’t EVER let full mortals discover that demigods—we call ourselves Scions—exist.
As I pull the door to the girls’ locker room open I hear a whispered it’s her, and my heart falls. I underestimated Kayla. I didn’t think she’d resort to a physical attack, not yet anyway. I should have suspected this from the way she didn’t even try the ‘hostess of the school’ passive aggressive route. This girl isn’t passive about anything. She’s just aggressive. My uncle Deuce is going to kill me for letting a bunch of mortals get the drop on me.
Kayla and the It Girls don’t know this, but I can see them all moving in on me. They’re so slow it’s pathetic. Before they can grab me I already know what my choice has to be. I have to let them get me or they’ll see how fast I can move and they’ll know that there’s something seriously strange about me. And Kayla is the type to dig. She won’t let it go until she finds out what I am.
And then I’ll have to kill her.
They grab me and pull me back into the showers. I fight the instinct to electrocute them. It isn’t easy. I go sort of limp in their arms, knowing that if I don’t struggle I won’t miscalculate my strength and accidentally break anyone’s arm.
There’s a chair set up, waiting. Kayla’s put some thought into this. They throw me down into the chair and she stands in front of me. Smug. There’s a glint in her eye that tells me she enjoys this a bit too much. I’ve seen the look before. That twisted kid in my sixth grade class had the same look in his eyes when he stuffed a firecracker in a toad’s mouth and watched it explode. He was one of those skinny, wimpy-looking bullies—the kind that get by, not on size, but on sheer cruelty. Kayla’s like him, I realize. She’s not the prettiest or the smartest (that would be Harlow) she’s just willing to do things that the other girl’s aren’t.
She has a pair of scissors in her hand. I’m worried now. I’m not afraid of pain, but what if she cuts me and they all see the wound heal right before their eyes?
“Please stop,” I say, my lower lip trembling. It’s not an act. I don’t want to have to kill. Not again.
“I haven’t even started yet,” Kayla says. “Harlow,” she calls over her shoulder.
Harlow comes forward, her lips pursed together resentfully. I look up at her, pleading. She doesn’t want to do this, and I can tell from the looks on their faces that about half of the It Girls don’t either, but Harlow is the only one with strength to stand up to Kayla. I shake my head at her, hoping the real Harlow shows up and tells Kayla to go to hell. Harlow grabs a lock of my long hair and Kayla hands her the scissors. They’re going to cut my hair.
“Don’t, Harlow,” I plead, tears blurring my eyes. They don’t understand. Without my hair, I’ll have no way to hide my face. I’ll be exposed and it’ll just get worse.
Harlow’s forehead puckers, her face drawing together with hopelessness. I realize that she wanted to tell me in Social Studies that this was going to happen, but she stopped herself. I wonder what Kayla has on her.
“Do it,” Kayla snarls.
A dark look crosses Harlow’s face, a tiny spark of rebellion, and then disappears. She obeys. As Harlow hacks through my hair I glare at Kayla. Angry tears are spilling down my face even though I try to blink them back. It’s so humiliating to cry in front of them, but I can’t help it. I hate Kayla. I hate her because she’s taking my hair and leaving me exposed, yes, but I hate her even more for Harlow. For a second there I thought maybe, eventually, Harlow and I could have been something like friends.
“Not brave enough to do it yourself, Kayla? Have to get some other girl to do it for you in case I talk?” I say to her. Her satisfied expression falls for a moment. She knows that everyone heard that, and that it will stick with them long after today. Resentment will brew in the ranks. Kayla has no choice but to take the scissors away from Harlow and do it herself. Good. Get your hands dirty, I say to her with my eyes. Show them what you are.
“You’re not going to talk,” Kayla says through gritted teeth. She takes the front lock of my hair, the one right over my eyes, and I feel her cut it down practically to the scalp. “Or next time, I’ll cut more than your pretty blonde hair.”
Kayla sprinkles my hair on the grimy tile of the shower. It glistens as she drops it, like she’s making it rain gold thread from her hand.
“Stay away from my boyfriend,” she says.
My chest is so tight with tears I don’t trust myself to speak aloud. As if Flynn, the poster child for over-privileged and overconfident average, is any kind of temptation for me. I nod contritely, like she’s broken me, just to get this over with.
Kayla smirks and motions with her head for everyone to leave. They file out silently, some of them overwhelmed by what they witnessed. I drop my wet eyes. I don’t want to see their expressions. I’m too ashamed I’m crying.
When they’re gone, I stand and go to the mirror. I can hear the girls at their lockers in the next room, getting ready for gym class. I look in the mirror. A big section of hair is missing from the side of my head and, of course, there is the shorn part over my forehead.
I can’t go back to class with my hair like this. The teachers will know something bad happened to me, even if I deny it, and eventually they’ll figure out what happened in the showers of the girl’s locker room. Kayla won’t get in trouble. Evil chicks never do. But the others will, and I’ll have made enemies out of all of the It Girls, even the nicer ones who went along with this but didn’t really want to. Then Kayla will have what she really wanted—an army of spiteful little monsters, all of them looking for any way to make my life even more miserable. Kayla may not be book smart enough to be in AP classes, but I realize a few hours too late that she is a genius when it comes to malice.
I have to get out of here. Go home. Try to fix my hair before anyone sees. I’ll get in trouble tomorrow for skipping class—I’m sure Kayla’s aware of that—but there’s no help for it.
I’m fast enough that no one can see me although they would be able to feel the rush of air as I blow past them. Luckily everyone is inside their classrooms and I don’t cause a disturbance. I race through the empty hallways, vault over the metal detector at the entrance to the school, and I’m out on the streets.
This is the tricky part. Central Park West isn’t the easiest place to navigate at Scion speed; there are too many people and a collision is almost inevitable. If I were to collide with full mortals at this speed I could kill them. I only have a few blocks to go from school to home. I hurl myself over the bumper-to-bumper traffic, my arms and legs reaching and striding like I’m running on air, before I touch down on the opposite sidewalk. I leapfrog over the pedestrians and the stone wall before their eyes can focus on me, and smack down on the packed earth of Central Park.
Trees rush past, blurring. In seconds I’ve cut diagonally through the park and I’m at West 59th at the bottom of Central Park. I see my building and slow down to a walk. I can make it the last block at a normal pace.
People stare. They tilt their heads down as I pass, trying to see my face under the curtain of my remaining hair, like they always do. And they notice the hack job. Some even notice the red tear streaks on my cheeks. I push past them all, even the kindly ones who only want to help. I know from experience that if I give in and accept anyone’s compassion I’ll have a stalker the next day. That’s the worst part of my curse. Needing to act like such a bitch all the time.
Rich, the doorman at my building has spotted me, and waves. Now I can’t alter my face to avoid the stares. I should have thought of changing my face before I slowed to a walk, but ah well. Live and learn. As I come through the front door Rich notices my hair. His face is aghast. I put my finger to my lips as I rush to the elevator, my big doe eyes begging him not to tell. It’s unfair, really. I don’t like manipulating people, but right now I have no choice.
I get inside our huge penthouse apartment and hurry past my stepmother’s tacky gilded furniture, crystal chandeliers, and silk upholstered walls. I swear, my stepmother thinks she’s Marie Antoinette or something—if Marie Antoinette had a Texas drawl and an obscenely obvious boob job. I used to feel bad for her. It isn’t easy following my mother who, like me, had The Face. And then Rebecca, my stepmother, sent me finishing school. Any goodwill I had toward her went right out the window with that stunt.
I get to my room and rush straight to the bathroom. I have scissors under my sink and take them out. I don’t have many options with my hair so short up front. I have to cut it all down nearly to the scalp. I think about shaving it, but then stop myself. A bald girl will attract even more attention than one with severely short hair. When I’m done I realize I have the same haircut as Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby.
It looks good. Great, even. In fact, I probably look better with short hair because you can see all of my face and the fragile-looking curve of my neck. I look ethereal.
I am so screwed.
Frustration strangles me. I can’t get away from myself. It’s like I’m trapped inside a movie that I’ve been totally miscast for. I’m not a fragile doll, or a man stealer, or a bitch, or a temptress, or any of the one-dimensional characters people think I am when they look at me. I look down at the heart-shaped charm around my neck. It’s a powerful relic, handed down an unbroken line of mothers and daughters for 3,300 years. It can alter my appearance at will and make me look like any woman in the world, but it can’t make me comfortable in my own skin.
I dig out the make-up kit my stepmother gave me three Christmas’s ago. I peel the plastic off and open it. I gob on the black eyeliner, mascara, and shadow. I’ve never put make-up on before so I just wing it. When I’m done inking out my eyes and whiting out the red of my full lips, I turn to my closet. It’s stuffed with very understated clothes in the finest materials—lots of merino wool kilts, cashmere sweaters, and tailored couture blazers for private school in Massachusetts.
I hack the hem off one of my kilts, cut the neck off a soft T-shirt, and rip holes in a pair of black tights. My stepmother has a pair of black leather boots with tough-looking silver buckles on them. I get dressed and take the boots from her closet. I take a black leather jacket while I’m at it, and turn to look at myself in her full-length mirror. I’m still beautiful, but at least now my outside looks as angry as I feel.
I want to see some graffiti. I want something clever and dangerous in my life. Something that hovers right on the edge of dirty. I leave my apartment and go outside, my head held high. Well, higher at least.
The last time I saw one of those special tags, it was downtown around Greenwich Village. I head west and hop on the A train, planning to get off at Spring Street. I don’t like the subway. Someone always tries to chat me up, or worse, rub up against me. I stand with my back against the end of the car, glaring at anyone who comes too close. I think the eyeliner and the boots are working. People actually leave me alone for once.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see one of those special tags at the deserted end of the Washington Square station. I race to get off the train before the doors close. My heart starts pounding as I stride toward it. It’s gorgeous.
Big and bold, it’s a mural of a beautiful young woman. I slow down as I get closer. Her hands are bound and her head is shaved like a medieval martyr. She’s even wearing a crown of thorns, sticking cruelly into her otherwise smooth brow. She’s crying black tears. The stylized stenciling underneath the portrait says “Innocence Lost” in jagged, electrified letters. I stare at her face.
This is impossible. There’s no way this artist would have had time to make this mural since I cut my hair and painted my eyes. I just stepped out of my apartment ten minutes ago. Who did this? I look in the bottom right-hand corner of the mural for a signature and see the letter A. After the A is a 3-D rendering of a pile of jacks. A-jacks.
That’s a Greek name. A Scion name. There is no Ajax in my House, the House of Atreus. He is my enemy.
The paint is still wet. I have to get out of here right now.
The mural is on the downtown platform. I run to the stairs to go around to the uptown side, and as I’m striding up the steps I hear whispers. Sobs. My vision blurs with rage. Not anger, or frustration, but a white-hot hatred that takes my breath away.
The Furies are here.
I scramble blindly through the turnstile with the Furies’ shrieks for vengeance in my ears. Oh gods, no. The other Houses don’t know that my House still exists. They think we went extinct. My only hope is that I’m not caught. I can’t get caught—or killed.
Two trains are pulling into the station, side by side on opposite tracks. One train is going uptown and the other is going downtown. I throw myself onto the uptown train and watch the doors, willing them to hurry up and close. At the very edge of my sight I can see the Furies. They blink in and out of view as I turn to look at them. Their long black hair is matted with ashes and their faces are streaked with gore as they weep tears of blood. They whisper the names of the dead and call to me, begging me to murder my enemy and avenge my House. I back up against the windows opposite the door and spin around.
In the other train, looking at me through the window, is the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen. He has golden hair and bright blue eyes. His skin seems to glow softly, like he carries the sun inside him. One of his paint-stained hands is clutching his chest, like he just got punched, and the other is pressed flat against the glass of the window. I raise my hand and press it against my window, mirroring him. He looks so confused. Stunned. Like he’s just seen a ghost.
My enemy. Ajax.
The screams of the Furies rise to a fever pitch and the two trains pull out of the station, tearing us apart.