"Thank God," she said, after taking a long sip. She nodded at mine. "Is that a backup one? Excellent thinking."
"No, ma'am," I said. "It's mine. Do you want me to start in on those?" A familiar stack of books sat on the table, ones I'd seen in her classroom. They were core parts of her research, and she'd told me I'd eventually need to outline and document them for her. I reached for the top one, but she stopped me.
"No," she said, moving toward a large briefcase. She rifled through papers and assorted office supplies, finally digging out an old leather book. "Do this one instead."
I took the book. "Can I work out there?" I was hoping if I went back to the main study area, I could talk to Kristin and Julia.
Ms. Terwilliger considered. "The library won't let you have the coffee. You should probably leave it in here."
I waffled, debating whether my desire to talk to Kristin and Julia outweighed the likelihood that Ms. Terwilliger would drink my coffee before I got back. I decided to take the risk and bid my coffee a painful farewell as I hauled my books and gear back out to the library.
Julia eyed Ms. Terwilliger's beat-up book with disdain. "Isn't that just on the internet somewhere?"
"Probably not. I'm guessing no one's even looked at this since before the internet was invented." I opened the cover. Dust fluttered out. "Way before." Kristin had math homework open in front of her but didn't look particularly interested in it. She tapped a pen absentmindedly against the textbook's cover. "So you saw Slade's tattoo?"
"Hard not to," I said, getting out my laptop. I glanced across the screen. "He's still showing it off."
"He's wanted one for a while but never had the money," explained Julia. "Last year, all the big athletes had them. Well, except for Trey Juarez."
"Trey almost doesn't need one," pointed out Kristin. "He's that good."
"He will now - if he wants to keep up with Slade," said Julia.
Kristin shook her head. "He still won't do it. He's against them. He tried reporting them to Mr. Green last year, but no one believed him."
I looked back and forth between them, more lost than ever. "Are we still talking about tattoos? About Trey 'needing' one or not?"
"You really haven't found out yet?" asked Julia.
"It's my second day," I pointed out with frustration. Remembering I was in a library, I spoke more softly. "The only people who have really talked about them are Trey and you guys - and you haven't said much of anything."
They had the grace to look embarrassed by that, at least. Kristin opened her mouth, paused, and then seemed to change what she was going to say. "You're sure yours doesn't do anything?"
"Positive," I lied. "How is that even possible?"
Julia cast a glance around the library and twisted in her chair. She rolled her shirt up a little, exposing her lower back - and a faded tattoo of a swallow in flight. Satisfied that I'd seen it, she turned back around. "I got this last spring break - and it was the best spring break ever."
"Because of the tattoo?" I asked skeptically.
"When I got it, it didn't look like this. It was metallic... not like yours. Or Slade's. More like..."
"Copper," provided Kristin.
Julia thought about it and nodded. "Yeah, like reddish-goldish. The color only lasted a week, and while it did, it was amazing. Like, I have never felt that good. It was inhumanly good. The best high ever."
"I swear, there's some kind of drug in those celestials," said Kristin. She was trying to sound disapproving, but I thought I detected a note of envy. "If you had one, you'd understand," Julia told her.
"Celestials... I heard that girl over there talk about them," I said.
"Laurel?" asked Julia. "Yeah, that's what they call the copper ones. Because they make you feel out of this world." She looked almost embarrassed about her enthusiasm. "Stupid name, huh?"
"Is that what Slade's does?" I asked, stunned at what was unfolding before me.
"No, he's got a steel one," said Kristin. "Those give you a big athletic boost. Like, you're stronger, faster. Stuff like that. They last longer than the celestials - more like two weeks. Sometimes three, but the effect fades. They call them steel because they're tough, I guess. And maybe because there's steel in them."
Not steel, I thought. A silver compound. The art of using metal to bind certain properties in skin was one the Alchemists had perfected a long time ago. Gold was the absolute best, which was why we used it. Other metals - when formulated in the proper ways - achieved similar effects, but neither silver nor copper would bind the way gold could. The copper tattoo was easy to understand. Any number of feel-good substances or drugs could be combined with that for a short-term effect. The silver one was more difficult for me to understand - or rather, the effects of the silver one. What they were describing sounded like some kind of athletic steroid. Would silver hold that? I'd have to check.
"How many people have these?" I asked them, awestruck. I couldn't believe that such complicated tattoos were so popular here. It was also beginning to sink in just how wealthy the student body here really was. The materials alone would cost a fortune, let alone any of the alleged side effects.
"Everyone," said Julia.
Kristin scowled. "Not everyone. I've almost got enough saved up, though."
"I'd say half the school's at least tried a celestial," said Julia, flashing her friend a comforting look. "You can get them touched up again later - but it still costs money."
"Half the school?" I repeated incredulously. I looked around, wondering how many shirts and pants concealed tattoos. "This is crazy. I can't believe a tattoo can do any of that." I hoped I was doing an okay job of hiding how much I really knew.
"Get a celestial," said Julia with a grin. "Then you'll believe."
"Where do you get them?"
"It's a place called Nevermore," said Kristin. "They're selective, though, and don't give them out easily." Not that selective, I thought, if half the school had them. "They got a lot more cautious after Trey tried to turn them in." There was Trey's name again. It now made sense that he'd been so disdainful of my tattoo when we met. But I wondered why he cared so much - enough to try to get them shut down. That wasn't just a casual disagreement.
"I guess he thinks it's unfair?" I offered diplomatically.