"I'm sure there's more to it than that," I said gently. I wondered if I was going to be spending a lot of time playing therapist to Jill during this assignment. The prospect of actually comforting a vampire still seemed so strange to me. "I mean, you're obviously important. Everyone's gone to a lot of trouble to keep you safe here."
"But is it for me?" asked Jill. "Or is it to help Lissa keep the throne? She's hardly spoken to me since she found out we were sisters." This conversation was steering into uncomfortable waters, into interpersonal matters that I didn't really know how to deal with. I couldn't imagine being in either Vasilisa or Jill's place. The only thing I felt certain of was that it couldn't be easy for any of them.
"I'm sure she cares about you," I said, though not really sure at all. "But it's probably strange for her - especially with all the other changes in her life too. Give it time. Focus on the important things first - staying here and staying alive."
"You're right," said Jill. She lay back on her bed and stared up at the ceiling. "I'm nervous about tomorrow, about being around everyone, in classes all day. What if they notice? What if someone finds out the truth about me?"
"You did fine at orientation," I assured her. "Just don't show your fangs. And besides, I'm pretty good at convincing people they didn't see what they think they saw."
The grateful expression on her face reminded me uncomfortably of Zoe. They were so alike in many ways, shy and uncertain - yet intensely fierce and desperately wanting to prove themselves. I'd tried to protect Zoe - and only failed in her eyes. Now, being here for Jill made me feel conflicted. In some ways, I could make up for what I hadn't been able to do for Zoe. Yet even as I thought that, some inner voice kept saying, Jill is not your sister. She's a vampire. This is business.
"Thanks, Sydney. I'm glad you're here." She smiled, and the guilt only twisted further inside me. "You know, I'm kind of jealous of Adrian. He thinks it's so boring at Clarence's, but he doesn't have to worry about meeting new people or getting used to a new school. He just gets to hang out, watch TV, play pool with Lee, sleep in... it sounds amazing." She sighed.
"I suppose," I said, a little surprised at the detail. "How do you know all that? Have you... have you talked to him since we left?" Even as I said that, the idea seemed unlikely. I'd been with her most of the day.
The smile dropped from her face. "Oh no. I mean, I just figure that's what's going on. He mentioned some of it earlier, that's all. Sorry. I'm being melodramatic and rambling. Thanks for listening to me... it really does make me feel better."
I smiled tightly and said nothing. I still couldn't get over the fact that I was starting to feel so warmly toward a vampire. First Rose, now Jill? It didn't matter how likable she was. I had to keep our relationship professional so that no Alchemist could accuse me of getting attached. Keith's words echoed in my head: vamp lover...
That's ridiculous, I thought. There was nothing wrong with being nice to those in my care. It was normal, a far cry from "getting too close" to them. Right? Pushing my worries aside, I concentrated on finishing unpacking and thinking about our new life here. I sincerely hoped tomorrow would go as smoothly as I'd assured Jill it would.
Unfortunately, it didn't.
TO BE FAIR, THE DAY STARTED OFF GREAT.
Sunlight was streaming in through the windows when we woke up, and I could already feel the heat even though it was early morning. I chose my lightest ensemble from the uniform selection: a gray skirt, paired with a short-sleeved white blouse. "Simple jewelry" was allowed, so I kept the gold cross on. My hair was having one of its difficult days - which seemed to be more often than not in this new climate. I wished I could pull it in a ponytail, like Jill did with hers, but it had too many layers to do that neatly. Eyeing where they hit my shoulders at different lengths, I wondered if maybe it was time to grow it out.
After a breakfast neither of us really ate, we rode the shuttle bus up to Central Campus, which was suddenly packed with people. Only about a third of the students were boarders. The rest were locals, and they had all turned out today. Jill barely spoke throughout the entire ride and seemed to be sick again. It was hard to say, but I thought she looked paler than usual. Her eyes were bloodshot once more, heavy with dark circles. I'd woken up once in the night and seen her fast asleep, so I wasn't entirely sure what the problem was. Those dark circles were actually the first flaw I'd ever seen in any Moroi's skin - it was always perfect, porcelain. No wonder she could usually sleep in late. She didn't have to bother with the powder and concealer I used.
As the morning progressed, Jill kept biting her lip and looking worriedly around. Maybe she was just nervous about immersing herself in a world populated entirely with humans. She didn't seem at all concerned about the logistics of getting to the right rooms and completing work. That was the aspect that still scared me a little. Just get from one class to another, I told myself. That's all you have to do.
My first class was ancient history. Eddie was in it too, and he practically ran me down when he saw me. "Is she okay? Have you seen her?"
"Well, we share a room, so yeah." We sat down at neighboring desks. I smiled at Eddie. "Relax. She's fine. She seemed nervous, but I can't really blame her."
He nodded but still looked uncertain. He gave his full attention to the front of the room when the teacher stepped up, but there was a restlessness about Eddie as he sat there, like he could just barely stop himself from springing up to go check on Jill.
"Welcome, welcome." Our instructor was a forty-something woman with white-streaked, wiry black hair and enough nervous energy to rival Eddie - and if her giant coffee cup was any indication, it wasn't hard to figure out why. I was also a little jealous and wished we were allowed to have beverages in class - particularly since the dorm cafeteria didn't serve coffee. I didn't know how I was going to survive the next few months with caffeine-free days. Her wardrobe favored argyle. "I am Ms. Terwilliger, your illustrious guide on the wondrous journey that is ancient history." She spoke in a sweeping, grandiose voice that made a few of my classmates break into snickers. She gestured to a young man who'd been sitting behind her, near the large desk. He'd been watching the class with a bored expression, but when she turned to him, he perked up. "And this is my co-guide, Trey, whom I believe some of you may know. Trey is my student aide for this period, so he'll mostly be skulking in corners and filing papers. But you should be nice to him since he may very well be the one entering your grades into my computer."