Girls with Sharp Sticks (Girls with Sharp Sticks, #1)(8)

“Philomena,” Guardian Bose calls from his seat in the front row. I jump, startled.


He stands, chomping on his gum. He grabs Valentine by the arm and pulls her out of the seat. She keeps her eyes downcast, her defiance seeming to have faded away.

“Take the back stairs and go see Dr. Groger,” the Guardian tells me. “Ask him to patch you up.”

I nod, embarrassed again for my earlier behavior. My knee still stings.

The Guardian walks Valentine off the bus, and Anton quickly rushes the rest of the way down the stairs to meet them. He gives the Guardian a pointed look before gently taking Valentine’s elbow and leading her inside.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Sydney asks me as we get to our feet. We follow the other girls off the bus. I tell Sydney that I’ll be fine, but I thank her for the concern. She blows me a kiss before joining the others on the stairs of the school.

As the girls head inside, Mr. Petrov says hello to each of them as they pass, his yellowed teeth crooked in his smile. He assesses each girl, his eyes traveling over their uniforms. Their hair. Their skin. His wife nods along, her gaze drifting from girl to girl.

I round the side of the building and walk to the back steps, which lead to the kitchen entrance.

This room is always loud—dishwasher running, refrigerator humming. There’s a large silver pot on the stove bubbling with water, and Mrs. Decatur, the cook, is chopping carrots at the counter, the knife clicking on the wooden board below it.

Mrs. Decatur is only here Mondays through Fridays. She’s a little older than my parents and wears her white-blond hair pulled into a tight bun. She’s never spoken to me beyond pointing out a recipe. On the weekends, the other girls and I take over the cooking. Home economics is one of the important skills we learn at the academy, the value of an organized domestic life. Cooking, cleaning, hosting, and decorating—we try to excel in each. And if I’m honest, we’re better cooks than Mrs. Decatur. I much prefer the food the girls serve. We at least try to sneak a dash of salt where we can.

Mrs. Decatur glances up at me and I smile. She doesn’t return the pleasantry, and instead grabs a stalk of celery from beside the cutting board and chops again. I push through the room, resisting the urge to grab a piece of carrot on my way.

The hallway from the kitchen is narrow, and it always makes me feel claustrophobic when I have to come through here. The walls are thin plaster and the floors are stained concrete. Unlike the rest of the building, little was done to make this area more palatable. Thankfully, I turn a corner and enter the reception hall.

This is one of the nicest rooms in the entire academy, but the students are rarely allowed in here. It’s mainly used for parental visits and open houses, and the occasional prospective sponsor or investor. It’s finely decorated with dark wood wainscoting and beautiful flowered wallpaper. There are several tables with thick, padded chairs, a red couch with end tables on either side of it, and a buffet.

As students, we have dorm rooms and a few sitting areas throughout the building, but nothing this elaborate. Nothing this nice. Lennon Rose once asked our sewing teacher why we didn’t have a “place to relax,” and he said relaxation was laziness. And that girls needed to stay in top form.

I get through the reception hall and take another turn, finding the back stairs that lead up to the doctor’s office. My knee is sore, but the blood has dried, leaving the skin stiff. When I get to the second-floor landing—the hallway extending to include several other offices for the teachers—I stop at the doctor’s room, my shoulders tight with tension, and knock on the frosted glass.

“Come in,” the doctor calls warmly. I open the door. Dr. Groger is sitting at his desk, several files open in front of him. He has white tufts of curly hair just above his ears on both sides, the top of his head smooth and bald. His glasses are perpetually sliding down his nose, and he pushes them up when I walk in.

“Ah . . . Philomena,” he says, but immediately notices my bloody knee. He stands from his desk quickly and walks over to take my hand. He leads me to the table, and I climb up on the paper-covered pad. Dr. Groger wheels over his stool and a silver tray. He sits in front of me and pushes up his glasses.

“What have you done, my dear?” he asks good-naturedly, wetting a gauze pad to clean my wound. I wince at the sting, and Dr. Groger pouts sympathetically. “Let’s get this taken care of,” he continues. “We wouldn’t want it to scar.”

The doctor is always warning us about scarring, how difficult scars are to repair. How unsightly.

I don’t have any scars. Not one. Sydney has a small, half-moon-shaped scar on her arm from when she got caught on a piece of old razor wire while pulling weeds near the fence last year. The doctor tried, but he couldn’t repair all the damage. Even though he promised her it wasn’t that bad, Sydney’s still a little self-conscious about it. I told her I thought it was cute. Then again, it’s not on my body. I might feel differently then.

Once the doctor is done cleaning my scrape, he inspects it carefully, taking measurements with a steel instrument. He jots something down on a notepad and then opens the metal box on the tray he wheeled over.

“Now stay very still,” he warns in a fatherly voice, patting my knee with his cold hand.

The doctor opens the foil package with the grafts in it and selects the correct size. Using a pair of tweezers, Dr. Groger lays the small skin graft over my scrape and presses the edges down until they stick. He takes his time to be precise.

Suzanne Young's Books