No one knew for certain when the trouble started at the Colgan School. Some members of its alumni association blamed the decision to admit girls. Others cited newfangled liberal ideals and a general decline in the respect for elders worldwide. But no matter the theory, no one could deny that, recently, life at the Colgan School was different.
Oh, its grounds were still perfectly manicured. Three quarters of the senior class were already well on their way to being early-accepted into the Ivy League. Photos of presidents and senators and CEOs still lined the dark-paneled hallway outside the headmaster’s office.
But in the old days, no one would ever have declined admission to Colgan on the day before classes started, forcing the administration to scramble to fill the slot. Historically, any vacancy would have been met with a waiting list a mile long, but this year, for some reason, there was only one applicant eager to enroll at that late date.
Most of all, there had been a time when honor meant something at the Colgan School, when school property was respected, when the faculty was revered—when the headmaster’s mint-condition 1958 Porsche Speedster would never have been placed on top of the fountain in the quad with water shooting out of its headlights on an unusually warm evening in November.
There had been a time when the girl responsible—the very one who had lucked into that last-minute vacancy only a few months before—would have had the decency to admit what she’d done and quietly taken her leave of the school. But unfortunately, that era, much like the headmaster’s car, was finished.
Two days after Porsche-gate, as the students had taken to calling it, the girl in question had the nerve to sit in the hallway of the administration building beneath the black-and-white stare of three senators, two presidents, and a Supreme Court justice, with her head held high, as if she’d done nothing wrong.
More students than usual filed down the corridor that day, going out of their way to steal a glance and whisper behind cupped hands.
“She’s the one I was telling you about.”
“How do you think she did it?”
Any other student might have flinched in that bright spotlight, but from the moment Katarina Bishop set foot on the Colgan campus, she’d been something of an enigma. Some said she’d gained her last-minute slot because she was the daughter of an incredibly wealthy European businessman who had made a very generous donation. Some looked at her perfect posture and cool demeanor, rolled her first name across their tongues, and assumed that she was Russian royalty—one of the last of the Romanovs.
Some called her a hero; others called her a freak.
Everyone had heard a different story, but no one knew the truth—that Kat really had grown up all over Europe, but she wasn’t an heiress. That she did, in fact, have a Fabergé egg, but she wasn’t a Romanov. Kat herself could have added a thousand rumors to the mill, but she stayed quiet, knowing that the only thing no one would believe was the truth.
“Katarina?” the headmaster’s secretary called. “The board will see you now.”
Kat rose calmly, but as she stepped toward the open door twenty feet from the headmaster’s office, she heard her shoes squeak; she felt her hands tingle. Every nerve in her body seemed to stand on end as she realized that somehow, in the last three months, she had become someone who wore squeaky shoes.
That, whether she liked it or not, they were going to hear her coming.
Kat was used to looking at a room and seeing all the angles, but she’d never seen a room quite like this before.
Though the hallway outside was long and straight, this room was round. Dark wood surrounded her; dim lights hung from a low ceiling. It felt to Kat almost like a cave, except for a tall, slim window where a narrow beam of sunlight came pouring in. Suddenly, Kat found herself reaching out, wanting to run her hands through the rays. But then someone cleared his throat, a pencil rolled across a desk, and Kat’s shoes squeaked again, bringing her back to the moment.
“You may sit down.”
The voice came from the back of the room, and at first Kat didn’t know who’d spoken. Like the voice, the faces before her were unfamiliar: the twelve on her right were wrinkle-free and fresh—students just like her (or as much like her as a Colgan student could possibly be). The twelve people on her left had hair that was a little thinner, or makeup that was a little heavier. But regardless of age, all the members of the Colgan School Honor Board were wearing identical black robes and impassive expressions as they watched Kat walk to the center of the circular room.
“Sit, Ms. Bishop,” Headmaster Franklin said from his place in the front row. He looked especially pale in his dark robe. His cheeks were too puffy, his hair too styled. He was the sort of man, Kat realized, who probably wished he were as fast and sporty as his car. And then, despite everything, Kat grinned a little, imagining the headmaster himself propped up in the middle of the quad, squirting water.
As Kat took her seat, the senior boy beside the headmaster rose and announced, “The Colgan School Honor Board shall come to order.” His voice echoed around the room. “All who wish to speak shall be heard. All who wish to follow the light shall see. All who wish to seek justice shall find the truth. Honor for one,” the boy finished, and before Kat could really process what she’d heard, twenty-four voices chorused, “Honor for all.”
The boy sat and ruffled through the pages of an old leather-bound book until the headmaster prodded, “Jason . . .”
“Oh. Yeah.” Jason picked up the heavy book. “The Colgan School Honor Board will hear the case of Katarina Bishop, sophomore. The committee will hear testimony that on the tenth of November, Ms. Bishop did willfully . . . um . . . steal personal property.” Jason chose his words carefully, while a girl in the second row stifled a laugh.