Home > Crave (Crave #1)(15)

Crave (Crave #1)(15)
Author: Tracy Wolff

It’s impossible; I know it is. But the idea terrifies me enough that I jerk my gaze from his and lift my Dr Pepper to my mouth, trying hard to look unconcerned.

All of which leads to the carbonated drink going straight down the wrong pipe.

My abused lungs revolt as I cover my mouth and cough hard, eyes watering and humiliation burning in my belly. I pretend he isn’t watching, pretend Flint isn’t pounding on my back, pretend that I don’t even notice the weight of all those cold stares as my new classmates watch me trying to suck air into lungs that just won’t cooperate.

I need to get away from Flint’s overzealous help, from Jaxon’s threatening, all-encompassing gaze. At least if I find the nearest restroom, I can die in peace.

I start to move—I think I saw a bathroom marked in the hallway a couple of doors down—but I’ve taken only a few steps when Jaxon’s suddenly right next to me. He doesn’t acknowledge me, doesn’t even look at me as he passes, but just like at the top of the stairs yesterday, our shoulders brush as he walks by.

My choking fit disappears as quickly as it started. Fresh air floods my lungs.

If I didn’t know it was impossible, I would think he had something to do with it. Not just the choking but the stopping of it, as well.

But he didn’t. Of course he didn’t. The whole idea is absurd.

Knowing that doesn’t keep me from turning around and watching him walk away, even though it’s the worst thing I can do—for my sanity and my reputation—if the snark and giggles behind me are any indication.

He doesn’t look back. In fact, he doesn’t look at anyone as he walks along the edges of the buffet table, surveying its bounty. Doesn’t so much as glance up as he eventually swipes one large, perfect strawberry from a bowl.

I expect him to pop it in his mouth then and there, but he doesn’t.

Instead, he walks to the center of the room—and the huge red velvet wingback chair positioned under the chandelier like a throne, with several other chairs in a half circle in front of it. Once there, he slouches down into the chair, legs spread out in front of him as he says something to the five guys—all dark, all gorgeous, all stunning—sitting in the other chairs.

It’s the first time I realize there’s anyone in those chairs.

By now, nearly everyone in the room is watching Jaxon, trying to catch his eye. But he ignores them all, deliberately studying the strawberry he is pinching between his thumb and index finger.

Eventually he lifts his gaze and looks straight at me. Then he raises the strawberry to his lips—and bites it clean in half.

It’s a warning if I’ve ever seen one—and a violent one at that—as a drop of red juice hangs for a second on his bottom lip.

I know I should stay, know I should face him down. But as his tongue darts out and licks up the strawberry juice in a very obvious screw you to Flint and me and everyone else in the room, I do the only thing I can.

I turn to Flint and blurt out, “I’m sorry. I have to go.”

And then I head for the doors in as close to a run as I can manage without looking even more pathetic, desperate to get away before I shatter beneath the weight of Jaxon’s obvious contempt.

Because one thing is certain—that little show was meant to underscore just how insignificant I really am to every single person in that room. I just wish I knew why…

11

In the Library,

No One Can

Hear You Scream

Once I get outside the room, I start to run, desperate to put as much space between Jaxon and myself as I can manage. I have no idea where I’m running, and I don’t think it would matter even if I did. Not when I don’t have a clue where anything is in this place.

I take a left at the end of the hallway, operating on pure instinct. On my complete desperation to be anywhere but at that party.

I have no idea what I did to make Jaxon so mad, have no idea why he blows so hot and cold with me. I’ve run into him four times since I got to this frozen hellhole, and each time has been a different experience. Douchey the first time, blank the second, intense the third, and furious the fourth. His moods change more quickly than my BFF’s Insta feed.

I get to another dead end, and this time I take a right. Seconds later, I come upon a staircase, this one as plain and un-fantastic as the main one is grand and ornate. I race down one flight and then another and another to the second floor. Once there, I take another right and don’t stop until I run out of hallway.

I’m also out of breath and a little queasy, thanks to the altitude sickness that I just can’t seem to shake. I stop a minute and let myself breathe. As I do, the embarrassment finally recedes enough that my rational mind can take over.

Suddenly, I feel like a total moron for freaking out and an even bigger one for running away from Jaxon, who performed the very scary act of biting into a strawberry while looking at me.

Deep inside, I know it’s more than that. It’s the look on his face, the indolence of his body language, the very obvious fuck you in his eyes as he stared directly at me. But still, fleeing the way I did seems absurd now.

Not absurd enough to make me go back to that ridiculously uncomfortable party, but more than absurd enough to make me embarrassed by my actions.

As I straighten and try to figure out what I’m going to do—heading back to my dorm room for more Advil and then some sleep is pretty much top of the list—I realize I’m standing in front of the school’s library. And since I’ve never met a library I didn’t like, I can’t resist opening the door and walking inside.

The moment I do, I get hit with the oddest feeling. Dread pools in my stomach, and everything inside tells me to turn around, to go back the way I came. It’s the strangest feeling I’ve ever had in my life, and for a second I think about giving in to it. But I’ve already done more than enough running for the day, so I ignore the pressure in my lungs and the uneasy churning in my stomach and keep walking forward until I’m standing in front of the checkout desk.

Once there, I take a few minutes to just stand and look around the library. It only takes a second for the feeling of dread to dissipate and for absolute wonder to take its place. Because whoever runs this library is my kind of people. Part of it is the sheer number of books—tens of thousands of them at least, lined up in bookcase after bookcase. But there are other things, too.

Gargoyles perched on random bookshelves, looking down as if guarding the books.

A few dozen shimmering crystals, interspersed with sparkling ribbons, hanging from the ceiling in what appears to be randomly spaced intervals.

All the room’s open spaces have been turned into study alcoves, filled with beanbags and overstuffed chairs and even a few well-worn leather couches where there’s room for them.

But the pièce de résistance, the thing that has me dying to meet the librarian, is the stickers plastered everywhere. On the walls, on the bookshelves, on the desks and chairs and computers. Everywhere. Big stickers, little stickers, funny stickers, encouraging stickers, brand-name stickers, emoji stickers, sarcastic stickers… The list goes on and on, and there’s a part of me that wants to wander the library until I read or look at every single one.

But there are too many for one tour—too many for a dozen tours, if I’m honest—so I decide to start this one by checking out the stickers I run across when following the gargoyles.

Because after seeing the rest of the library, I don’t believe for one second that the statues are randomly placed. Which means I desperately want to know what the librarian wants to show me.

The first gargoyle—a fierce-looking thing with bat wings and a furious snarl—stands guard over a shelf of horror novels. The bookshelf itself is decorated with Ghostbusters stickers, and I can’t help but laugh as I trace the spines of everyone from John Webster to Mary Shelley, from Edgar Allan Poe to Joe Hill. The fact that there’s a special homage to Victor Hugo only makes it better, especially the tongue-in-cheek placement of three copies of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame right in the gargoyle’s line of sight.

The second gargoyle—a squat fellow resting on his haunches on a pile of skulls—presides over a bookcase filled with textbooks on human anatomy.

The fantasy bookshelf, complete with beautifully covered books about dragons and witches, is home to the third gargoyle statue, who has really fantastical wings and big claws curling around the miniature book she’s reading. Unlike the others, both of whom look ferocious, this girl looks mischievous, like she knows she’s going to get in trouble for being up way past her bedtime, but she just can’t put the story down.

I decide instantly that she’s my favorite and pick out a book from her shelf to read tonight in case I can’t sleep. Then nearly laugh out loud as I trace my finger around the edges of a sticker that reads, “I’m not a damsel in distress; I’m a dragon in a dress.”

I continue wandering from statue to statue, from a small shelf on Gothic architecture to a whole bookcase devoted to ghost stories. On and on it goes, and the longer I’m in here, the more convinced I am that the head librarian here is the coolest person ever—and has fantastic taste in books.

I make it to the end of the trail and turn the corner around the last bookshelf in search of the final gargoyle, only to find him pointing straight toward a half-open door. There’s a huge sign on it that reads students must have permission to access this room, and—of course—that only makes me more curious. Especially since the light is on and there’s some weird kind of music playing.

I try to place it, but as I get closer, I realize it’s not so much music as it is chanting in a language I don’t recognize and certainly can’t understand. Instantly, my curiosity turns to excitement.

When I was researching Alaska, I learned that there are twenty different languages spoken here by the state’s native peoples, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s what I’m hearing. I hope so—I’ve totally been wanting a chance to listen to one of the native languages spoken. Especially since so many of them are threatened, including a couple that have less than four thousand speakers in the entire world. That these native languages are dying out is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.

   
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