#2039

“You must be Kaylie! Hi!” The grinning young woman who answered the door was not precisely what Kaylie had been expecting. The name Fox Hollow implied uniforms and scowling adults, maybe even servants or something, not some girl in a sweatshirt and yoga pants. “Um.” Kaylie shifted her backpack from one shoulder to the other and managed a wavering smile. “Hi?” She shook the girl’s extended hand and absolutely nothing weird or paranormal or scary happened. Kaylie didn’t know if she was disappointed or relieved.

“I’m Stephanie; I’ll be your group leader this year,” The girl released Kaylie’s hand and stepped back, opening the door wide so the eleven year old could enter. “Come on in. Welcome to Fox Hollow, we’re so excited you’ll be joining us.” As Kaylie stepped over the threshold the draft brought Stephanie’s scent to her and she froze. “Wait,” she did a double take as if Stephanie might have been switched with someone else, “you’re a werewolf?!” The older girl nodded and laughed. “Wow, you have a good nose on you! Yeah, there are five of us here – well, six now that you’re here.” With that she turned and gestured toward a staircase in the front entry of the house. “Come on, I’ll show you your room.”

As Kaylie followed Stephanie up to the third floor, she craned her neck to take in as much of her new home as possible. Each landing of the staircase entered into a sort of common room from which hallways full of doors branched. In the first common room two teenage girls were playing checkers while a third sat reading on the floor. None of them looked, well, weird, but Kaylie had to remind herself that she didn’t look weird on the outside either… except on full moons. The checkers girls didn’t look up as Stephanie and Kaylie passed, but the reader did; when she flashed them a smile, she had far more pointy teeth than most humans.

“Your room will be on the third floor,” Stephanie explained as they reached the landing. “You’ll have a roommate every year, but since you’re coming late in the season you’ve already been assigned someone. Her name is Maddy, she’s super nice. I think you guys will love each other.” They passed through the common room and headed down the hallway. Kaylie sneaked quick glances into any of the open doorways, eager to see more of the kids she would be living with. As she passed one open door, though, she caught the gaze of an older teenage girl. She was utterly beautiful – straight platinum hair, flawless pale skin, skinny and fit – but when she caught sight of Kaylie she scowled in disgust and turned away. “Eww,” she could be heard commenting to someone out of sight, “another werewolf? I swear they were way pickier about their students when my mom went here.”

Kaylie stopped dead in her tracks. Stephanie kept walking for a beat or two, then stopped and glanced back at the girl’s queasy face. She sighed and knelt down next to her. “Don’t let Amber get to you,” she said, quiet yet firm. “I promise not all the vampires here are so stuck up. She’s just… old blood. And wants to make sure everyone knows it.” She knuckled Kaylie gently on the arm. “Don’t worry, you’re gonna love it here.” She rose and held out her hand. Normally Kaylie would never hold an adult’s hand – she wasn’t a baby anymore! – but in that moment she needed the firm tether to keep her from falling into fear’s clutches. She gripped Stephanie’s hand and they walked the last stretch to a closed door.

“Maddy,” Stephanie called as she knocked, “your new roomie’s here!” She smiled reassuringly down at Kaylie. Somewhere within the room, a muffled voice called, “Come in!” and Stephanie opened the door. “Maddy,” she introduced them with a flourish, “this is Kaylie. Kaylie, this is Maddy; she’s been here a year now, so she can teach you all the tricks and tips.” She winked at the eager young girl standing in the center of the extremely tidy room. “Take good care of her. But don’t get so excited that you forget your homework, though, okay?”

“Okay, okaaaay,” Maddy bounced on the balls of her feet in anticipation. “Now go, I wanna show her everything!” Laughing, Stephanie gave them both a thumbs-up and headed back downstairs. Maddy turned her attention to Kaylie and tried for what she hoped was a friendly smile. “Hi! I’m so glad you’re finally here. It’ll be nice to have a roommate again.” She turned, then glanced back over her shoulder. “Oh, can you shut the door?”

“Sure,” Kaylie shut the door and followed Maddy into the room. She had always been taught to shake hands with someone you meet, as a sign of respect, so she held out her hand to the other girl. “It’s nice to meet you, Maddy. I’m Kaylie. Um, like Stephanie said, I guess.” Maddy stared down at her proffered hand and for a second Kaylie was sure the girl thought she was totally weird and a loser. Then Maddy held out her own hand – and passed it directly through Kaylie’s, with only a sudden cold shock as evidence of the contact. “Sorry, I can’t shake hands,” Maddy explained with an apologetic smile. “One of those awkward parts about being a ghost.”

“You’re a ghost?” Kaylie realized she had nearly yelled, and forced her voice back to an inside level. “That’s so cool, I’ve always wanted to meet a ghost!” Maddy shook her head. “No way, you’re a werewolf, that’s way cooler!” They argued back and forth until they were both overcome with a serious case of the giggles, and by then it was time for dinner.

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