Sorry, Sage. Last I checked, you aren't an expert in social matters.
That, I thought bitterly, was the saddest part of all - that Adrian Ivashkov was right.
MY PHONE RANG JUST THEN, saving me from the awkwardness of figuring out what to do about Jill. I answered without bothering to check the caller ID. "Miss Melbourne? Your services are needed immediately."
"Ma'am?" I asked in surprise. Ms. Terwilliger's frantic voice was not what I'd been expecting. "What's wrong?"
"I need you to get me a caramel sauce cappuccino from Spencer's. There is absolutely no way I can finish translating this document if you don't." There were a million responses I could make to that, none of which were very polite, so I went with the obvious point of logic.
"I don't think I can," I said.
"You have off-campus privileges, don't you?"
"Well, yes, ma'am, but it's almost campus curfew. I don't know where Spencer's is, but I don't think I can make it back in time."
"Nonsense. Who's running your dorm? That Weathers woman? I'll call down and get you an exception. I'm working in one of the library offices. Meet me there."
Despite my personal devotion to coffee, getting an "exception" to the school's curfew seemed kind of excessive for an errand like this. I didn't like to bend the rules. On the other hand, I was Ms. Terwilliger's assistant. Wasn't this part of my job description? All the old Alchemist instincts to follow orders kicked in.
"Well, yes, ma'am, I suppose I - "
She disconnected, and I stared at the phone in astonishment. "I have to go," I told Jill. "Hopefully I'll be back soon. Maybe very soon since I'll be surprised if she remembers to call Mrs. Weathers." She didn't look up. With a shrug, I packed my laptop and some homework, just in case Ms. Terwilliger thought of something else for me to do.
With coffee on the line, my teacher's memory was good, and I found I did indeed have clearance to leave when I went downstairs. Mrs. Weathers even gave me directions to Spencer's, a coffee shop that was a few miles away. I got the cappuccino, wondering if I'd be reimbursed, and picked up something for myself as well. The library staff at Amberwood gave me a hard time about carrying in beverages when I returned, but when I explained my errand, they waved me on through to the back offices. Apparently, Ms. Terwilliger's addiction was well known.
The library was surprisingly busy, and I quickly deduced why. After a certain point each night, guys and girls were banned from each other's dorms. The library was open later, so this was the place to go to hang out with the opposite sex. Lots of people were just there to study too, including Julia and Kristin. "Sydney! Over here!" called Kristin in a stage whisper.
"Break free of Terwilliger," added Julia. "You can do it."
I held up the coffee as I passed them. "Are you kidding? If she doesn't get her caffeine soon, there'll be no escaping her. I'll come back if I can." As I continued walking through, I saw a small cluster of students gathered around someone - and heard a familiar and annoying voice. Greg Slade's. Curious in spite of myself, I walked over to the edge of the crowd. Slade was showing off something on his upper arm: a tattoo.
The design itself was nothing special. It was an eagle in flight, the kind of generic art all tattoo shops had in stock and copied en masse. What caught my attention was the color. It was all done in a rich, metallic silver. Metallics like that weren't easy to pull off, not with that sheen and intensity. I knew the chemicals that went into my own gold tattoo, and the formula was complex and composed of several rare ingredients.
Slade made a halfhearted effort to keep his voice low - tattoos were forbidden around here, after all - but it was clear he was enjoying the attention. I observed quietly, glad others were asking some of my questions for me. Of course, those questions only left me with more questions.
"That's brighter than the ones they used to do," one of his friends noted.
Slade tilted his arm so the light caught it. "Something new. They say these are better than the ones from last year. Not sure if that's true, but it wasn't cheap, I can tell you that."
The friend who'd spoken grinned. "You'll find out at tryouts."
Laurel - the red-haired girl who'd been interested in Micah - stretched out her leg beside Slade, revealing a slim ankle adorned with a faded butterfly tattoo. No metallics there. "I might get mine touched up, maybe for homecoming if I can get the money from my parents. Do you know if the celestial ones are better this year too?" She tossed back her hair as she spoke. From what I'd observed in my brief time at Amberwood, Laurel was very vain about her hair and made sure to throw it around at least every ten minutes.
Slade shrugged. "Didn't ask."
Laurel noticed me watching. "Oh, hey. Aren't you vampire girl's sister?"
My heart stopped. "Vampire?"
"Vampire?" echoed Slade.
How did she find out? What am I going to do? I had just begun making a list of the Alchemists I had to call when one of Laurel's friends snickered. Laurel looked at them and laughed haughtily, then turned back to me. "That's what we've decided to call her. No one human could possibly have skin that pale."
I nearly sagged in relief. It was a joke - one that hit painfully close to the truth, but a joke nonetheless. Still, Laurel didn't seem like someone to cross, and it'd be better for all of us if it was a joke soon forgotten. I admittedly blurted out the first distracting comment that came to mind. "Hey, stranger things have happened. When I first saw you, I didn't think anyone could have hair that long or that red. But you don't hear me talking about extensions or dye." Slade nearly doubled over with laugher. "I knew it! I knew it was fake!"
Laurel flushed nearly as red as her hair. "It is not! It's real!"
I jumped at the voice behind me and found Ms. Terwilliger there, watching me with bemusement. "You aren't getting credit for chatting, especially when my coffee's on the line. Come on."
I skulked away, though hardly anyone noticed. Laurel's friends were having too much fun teasing her. I hoped I had diffused the vampire jokes.
Meanwhile, I couldn't get the image of Greg's tattoo out of my mind. I let my thoughts wander to the mystery of what components would be needed for that silver color. I almost had it figured out - at least, I had one possibility figured out - and wished I had access to Alchemist ingredients to do some experiments. Ms. Terwilliger took the coffee gratefully when we reached a small workroom.