House of Korba:The Ghost Bird Series #7

By: C. L. Stone

(The Academy)

Donation Cups and Bat Signals

I guarded the register, occasionally scanning receipts and handling payments from customers, but they didn’t happen often enough to keep me occupied.

Bob’s Diner was slow for a Saturday afternoon. The lunch crowd had already passed through. Uncle was in the back monitoring the kitchen. Luke occasionally swept by me and caught my eye with a handsome smile. His blond locks were drawn back with the clip he stole from me. I had to make do with twisting my hair and using two pencils to hold it in place like hair sticks. Bits of my chameleon blond hair tickled my neck, just short of the collar of the hoodie I was wearing. I kept trying to sweep back the locks that were loose behind my ears, but if I leaned forward, they fell out.

It was nearing the end of October, and I was happy it was almost over. My hope for a quiet, ordinary school year had already vanished. After the bomb threats on the school, a principal and vice-principal after me and the Academy guys, bullies, at home and at school, I got nervous when things got quiet. I wondered what was lurking in the shadows, always waiting for the next surprise.

I leaned against the counter, my head propped up in my hands, counting down the minutes until the end of my shift. Most of the time, I stared at Luke so not be rude and stare at anyone else while I dazed out. In his Bob’s Diner blue polo shirt, his long, lean arms flexed nicely as he carried a tray, or wrote out orders on a ticket. The way he interacted with customers was really enchanting; he’d put on a handsome smile, lighting up those dark eyes, and joke around with the patrons, making me think many of them were repeat customers because of him.

I’d already cleaned the counter, organized the receipts, refilled napkin dispensers and had even scrubbed down the soda fountain machine. Just a few more minutes, and then I had to go home. To my soon-to-be former home. I’d promised my sister, Marie, I’d have the last of my stuff out today so I would finally not have to return for a while. I already had all my clothes at Nathan’s house, but I wanted to do a sweep and check for anything I may have left behind.

Moving out at sixteen is complicated. In my case, it had to be done slowly, because we had people watching the house. There were three of them at a time now on our street. One was outside the diner, since Mr. Hendricks had figured out some of us worked there.

I idly traced the edges of the register, listing things in my head that I should look for in the house. My birth certificate was something I hadn’t been able to find. The boys didn’t mention it, but I’m sure they forgot. I thought it might be in my stepmother’s room. I wanted to check the attic, too. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave their photos taped to the wall inside the secret space they’d created for me. Part of me was heartbroken at the thought of taking them down. I considered leaving them, for now. I could come back for them later.

A figure moved in front of me, and I reacted by holding out my hand, expecting a receipt and readying a smile.

The girl’s eyes widened a little. “Um,” she said.

I shook my head, retracting my hand. “Sorry,” I said. “Did you need something? Did you call in an order?”

“No,” she said. She was a pretty girl, with blue eyes and dyed blond hair, dark brows. She held up a silver can with sequins glued on it. “Are you ... running?”

I stared at her, waiting for her to explain, but she just looked at me with raised brows. I realized now this wasn’t anything about the restaurant, and my insides started to rattle. When I knew the procedure, I was fine handling customers, but something random like this made me want to tell people to ask for Luke. “Huh?”

“For homecoming queen,” she said. She shook her can, making the sequins sparkle under the light. “I didn’t know you worked here. I didn’t see you on the list, but...I didn’t want to ask about leaving this if you were running and didn't want to compete.”

“Homecoming?” I asked. She went to my school? I didn’t recognize her, but she seemed to know me. I looked at the can again, and caught the edge of a photograph and some writing. “I didn’t even know.” I’d only experienced homecoming once at my old school, and I didn’t participate except checking out the posters. Wasn’t that in early October? Or, when the football team had an away game and then first came back? That was weeks ago.

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