Girls with Sharp Sticks - Suzanne Young Page 0,1

of us. We’re confined to campus most days of our accelerated yearlong program, and we don’t go home on breaks. They say the complete immersion helps us develop faster, more thoroughly.

Recently, the academy raised its curriculum rigor, increasing the number of courses and amount of training. Our class of twelve was selected based on the new heightened standards. We’re top of the line, they like to say. The most well-rounded girls to ever graduate. We do our best to make them proud.

Guardian Bose says something to the woman with the red umbrella. She laughs, shaking her head no. The Guardian’s posture tightens, and then he turns to find me watching him. He angles his body to block my view of the woman. He tips his head, saying something near her ear, and the woman shrinks back. Within moments, she hurries toward the indoor facility and disappears.

I turn away before Guardian Bose catches me watching again.

Thunder booms overhead and Lennon Rose screams before slapping her hand over her mouth. The professor looks pointedly in her direction, but then he glances up at the sky as the rain begins to fall harder.

“All right, girls,” he says, adjusting the hood on his rain slicker. “We’re going to wrap this up for now. Back to the bus.”

A couple of the girls begin to protest, but Professor Penchant claps his hands loudly to drown out their voices. He reminds them that we’ll return next month—so long as we behave. The girls comply, apologizing, and start toward the bus. But as the others head that way, I notice that Valentine doesn’t move; she doesn’t even turn in that direction.

I swallow hard, unsettled. Rain pours over Valentine’s slicker, running down the clear plastic in rivers. A drop runs down her cheek. I watch her, trying to figure out what’s wrong.

Sensing me, she lifts her head. She is . . . expressionless. Alarming in her stillness.

“Valentine,” I call over the rain. “Are you okay?”

She pauses so long that I’m not sure she heard me. Then she turns back to the flowers. “Can you hear them too?” she asks, her voice soft and faraway.

“Hear what?” I ask.

The corner of her mouth twitches with a smile. “The roses,” she says affectionately. “They’re alive, you know. All of them. And if you listen closely enough, you can hear their shared roots. Their common purpose. They’re beautiful, but it’s not all they are.”

There’s tingling over my skin because a few moments ago, I did try to listen to the roses. What are the chances that Valentine and I would have the same odd thought?

“I didn’t hear anything,” I admit. “Just quiet contentment.”

Valentine’s behavior is unusual, but I want to know what she’s going to say next. I take a step closer.

Her smile fades. “They’re not content,” she replies in a low voice. “They’re waiting.”

A drop of rain finds its way under the collar of my shirt and runs down my spine, making me shiver.

“Waiting for what?” I ask.

Valentine turns to me and whispers, “To wake up.”

Her eyes narrow, fierce and unwavering. Her hands curl into fists at her side.

I shiver again, but this time it’s not from the rain. The academy tells us not to ask philosophical questions because we’re not equipped for the answers. They teach us what we need, rather than indulging our passing curiosities. They say it helps maintain our balance, like soil ripe for growth.

Valentine’s words are dangerous in that way—the beginning of a larger conversation I want to have. But at the same time, one I don’t quite understand. One that scares me. Why would the flowers say such a thing? Why would flowers say anything at all?

Just as I’m about to ask her what the flowers are waking up from, there is a firm grip on my elbow. Startled, I spin around to find Guardian Bose towering over me.

“I’ve got it from here, Philomena,” he says in his deep voice. “Catch up with the others.”

I shoot a cautious glace at Valentine, but her expression has gone back to pleasant. As the Guardian approaches her, Valentine nods obediently before he even says a word. Her abrupt change in character has left me confused.

I start toward the bus, my brows pulled together as I think. Sydney holds out her hand when she sees me and I take it gratefully, our fingers wet and cold.

“What was that about?” she asks as we walk.

“I’m not exactly sure,” I say. “Valentine is . . . off,” I add for lack of