I groaned in protest as someone shook my shoulder gently, I turned onto my side to escape their incessant shaking. “Go ‘way!”
“Karin, wake up.” Rowan laughed, not bothering to lower his voice. I winced at the volume and flipped onto my back to I could shoot him my best glare.
“It’s too early for this. Let me sleep. I’m sick.” I all but snarled, but there was no malcontent behind my words. I was too awake to go back to sleep now, anyway.
“Nurse said that that you woke up last night and your eyes were bleeding loads.” He told me, sitting on the edge of the bed as he handed me a plate of toast. I took it from him, smiling gratefully. Then I felt my eyes widen as the events of the night before played through my mind, and my gasp caused me to choke on crumbs for a couple of seconds. Rowan’s hands hovered over me worriedly, “what’s wrong?”
“Oh, my God.” I said, before realising that my lack of explanation wasn’t going to help Rowan understand my sudden onslaught of horror. “Last night something really, really weird happened.”
“Weird, like how?” Rowan asked, concerned. He sat back down and pushed a hand through the crop of hair on the top of his head.
“Like, full-on crazy.” I said uselessly. “Look, I know I’ve already tried to talk to you about this but now I know there is something going on.”
“Karin,” Said Rowan in a warning tone. “I don’t want to hear it if it’s another one of your theories.”
I sat up, and got out of bed. I was wearing one of the pale yellow night gowns which the infirmary was heavily stocked with. In another time, another place, I would have been ready to murder whoever put the hideous thing on me. But today I was too caught up in my own head.
“Rowan, please, just listen to me, okay? Hear me out.” I said slowly, moving so I was stood a little way from my cot. Rowan gave a long-suffering sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation, but he still nodded.
“Annis. That’s the name of The Head.” I started, and realisation spread across Rowan’s face. He opened his mouth, and I knew he’d start grilling into me about mind-reading and the like so I quickly moved on. “I didn’t read her mind, before you say anything. Well, I did. But not for her name. Nurse called her that when she came to visit me last night.”
“Karin.” He said, appalled.
“Just listen!” I burst out, frustrated at him. “I pretended to be asleep because, y’know, I felt like I needed to hear what they were saying about me. And I was right. I totally did. They went on about how I might die because of my abilities, and if I don’t, everything’ll hurt because of them.”
As I said it aloud, it suddenly dawned on me that I might actually die.
That made my stomach twist in panic, but I carried on talking in order to distract myself. “So, I tried to read their minds – oh, don’t look at me like that! You would’ve done the same thing. Right, so, I read Nurse’s mind and she was just feeling really sorry for me. But I tried to read The Head’s mind and there was nothing. Nothing at all in her head, but then she just said, really clearly in her mind ‘I wouldn’t do that’, or something. So I freaked out and then my eyes started bleeding again.”
“Wait, wait, you mean you could read her mind?” Rowan asked, frowning.
“No – yes, I mean, sort of.” I stumbled over my words, feeling frustrated. “I could only hear that creepy bit. Anyway, so Nurse left and I stopped pretending to be asleep and just looked at her. I asked her, ‘what did you do to me’. She didn’t say a word. I know I sound ridiculous, but I think something has gone… gone wrong with me.”
“Gone wrong?” He repeated, the corners of his mouth were pulled down in worry and he walked over to me, taking my hands.
“Yes. Something’s gone wrong.” I said, swallowing down the lump that was sat in my throat. “Also, there’s something else.”
“What is it?”
“Nurse said I wasn’t safe.” I whispered. “Rowan, I don’t think any of us are safe. There’s something messed up about The Head.”
“Look… Karin…” He began. I tugged my hands from his gentle grip and started shaking my head, the sting in the back of my eyes promised tears.
“Please believe me.”
“I do believe you! I absolutely do!” Rowan exclaimed. “But have you thought that maybe you’re just freaking out a bit too much?”
I flipped my head from side to side again, realising I was going to lose this argument. I hung my shoulders in defeat. “Yeah, I’m just being stupid,” I laughed, embarrassed.
“You’re not being stupid. Everything’s just a bit confusing at the moment,” he said gently, taking my hands again so he could pull me towards him slowly. I smiled sadly at him as he steadily pressed me against him; one of his hands cupped the back of my neck, while the other pushed into the middle of my back. I leaned into him, accepting his embrace. He stroked my hair softly, “you’ve had a tough couple of days, huh?”
“I guess.” I mumbled into his shoulder. I felt his body vibrate as he chuckled and I smiled into the wool of his jumper, inhaling deeply. He smelt of cinnamon and warmth and something that was just Rowan. He was the steady anchor I needed to get through whatever I was going to have to get through.
While I knew my frustration at his lack of understanding on the whole crazy-headmistress would not dissipate easily, I didn’t want to get into an argument with him.
I pulled away from the embrace first, smiling sheepishly at him as he tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear. Stepping away, I sighed heavily. “I really need to get to class today. I’ve missed so much and it’s only my first term!”