"You left us," I blurted out, before I could stop myself.
Lor frowned. "You came here to tell me off?"
"No," I replied and I gazed into his eyes, sighing sadly. "I just worried you hated me."
"Does it matter?" he asked quietly.
I was about to reply yes, yes it did, when the door to the right of Lor's opened. Out stepped a tall, lanky guy with tousled short blond hair and eyes the colour of green apples or perhaps white grapes. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw me.
"Am I dreaming?" he said, in a medium-pitched American accent. He walked towards me, murmuring, "Hello, beautiful."
"Aw, Don, I'm flattered," Lor said, making me jump. "I feature in your good dreams?"
Don looked at Lor and his expression became hateful.
"Strangely, when you appear the good dream turns into a nightmare." He looked back at me, his expression sad now.
"Beautiful, are you his?"
I glanced up at Lor, wondering what I should say. His expression was unfathomable, lending me no aid, but he watched me as though interested by what I would say.
I turned to Don and murmured, "No, not yet."
The door to the left of me quietly closed before I'd said the last word. Oh dear. But I was slightly annoyed by the fact Lor hadn't given me any clue. Could I really have been expected to call myself his when we'd not even kissed yet? Why should he be upset?
Don looked relieved.
"That's good. You don't want to waste your beauty on a thing like that."
"He's not a thing," I protested.
Don shrugged. He stepped forwards. Dropping to one knee before me with an ease that made my heart flutter, he took my hand and kissed it.
"Don Blackmaw," he murmured in a low voice. "Enchanté."
"P-Penny H-Howler," I stuttered, shivering slightly - though not with cold - as Don rose to his feet and looked intently into my eyes. "Enchantée," I whispered, spellbound.
‘Wait,' I thought weakly. ‘Isn't this wrong? Like really really wrong? ... What's wrong?'
The last question marked the change in my feelings as Don stroked my hand. He was regarding me with an almost hypnotic intensity, though he looked so lovestruck himself that I couldn't accuse him of trying to make me want him. I discovered that underneath the frustration I was upset and confused by the way Lor had shut the door in my face. Could it be that he didn't love me after all? If he had slammed it, perhaps I might have thought he really cared for me but the quietness of the gesture displayed a certain ... detachment from the situation and he could have been removing himself from it so I'd see that he didn't actually want to be in a relationship with me. I forgot important things that Ed and Teritt had said, forgot the connection Lor and I had seemed to have last Sunday and allowed myself to be enchanted by Donald.
"Angel," he murmured; "are you free for coffee next Friday?"
I swallowed anxiously, not fully captivated. Was he really asking me on a date?"
"Y-yes," I stammered.
He smiled, and I realised he thought I'd meant I'd like to come, rather than I was merely available. But perhaps he was right.
"Well, by then, you'll have started school here, I'm sure. And Fridays are part of the weekend. I'll take that opportunity to show you some great places."
"Th-thanks," I whispered.
"I'll see you 'round then, Angel." He kissed my cheek, doing the one thing Lor never had, and jogged downstairs until he was out of sight. I swayed slightly, reaching out to tightly clutch the balcony rail to my right.
Suddenly I realised that my tour guides had disappeared. Where had they gone? As if reading my mind, Edward appeared at the door of the room closest to the stairs. He looked slightly tousled-looking.
"Oh, gosh, you didn't, did you?" I asked, turning and blushing embarrassedly.
"I'm sorry," he said, sounding awkward. "I... - we couldn't stop ourselves."
"It's fine," I whispered, inwardly mortified. "Absolutely fine. You're boyfriends and you love each other - I ... completely understand."
"You're very open-minded," Edward said, sounding admiring.
"Yeah," I said. Slowly, I turned and allowed myself to regard him.
Edward had straightened his shirt, swept his hair out of his eyes and quickly masked the light that had been dancing in his eyes now.
"Shall we continue with the tour?" he asked, trying to act casual.
"Yup," I replied, trying to be casual again.
"Right. Well, we have bedrooms because the academy provides boarding facilities. It's easier if you live far away but also it brings us wolves together so that we feel like a family."
He smiled at me. Already the atmosphere was starting to ease up.
"There would never be a guy in the girls' wing, would there?" I inquired nervously.
"Of course not," he said, his tone instantly calming me. "They wouldn't dare go there."
I sighed in relief.
Edward began walking, leading me the rest of the way down the corridor.
"Is Teritt not coming?" I asked.
"I think he was tired," Edward said, grinning.
"Aw, poor thing," I said sympathetically.
I followed him into a brightly wallpapered corridor which had a ceiling this time, perpendicular to the one in which the boys' rooms were located.
Almost straightaway doors started appearing on both sides of the hallway. I was amazed: there seemed to be about thirty in total.
"This is the main teaching corridor," Edward told me. "Here you're taught English, Maths, Languages, Flora, M. C. Law and Psychology."
"What are Flora and M. C. Law?" I asked, confused.
Edward grinned. "Werewolf lessons."
"Are they compulsory?"
"Yup. And you'll be surprised to hear that English and Maths aren't."
"English and Maths aren't compulsory?!"
"Nope. You can do Drama instead of English and Physics rather than Maths and if you really hate one of those pairs, you can choose not to do it. You must choose at least one of the four, though."
"That's so cool! I mean, I love both English and Maths but still! The concept's cool."
"What do you have if you don't choose one of them?"
"A free period? That's even cooler!"
"There's a lot more freedom here," Edward remarked. "You have to do Moon Child Law, Music Appreciation, Games and at least some form of science, though."
I winced slightly. "Science isn't quite my strong point."
"Ah, just choose the General option, then: you don't go into a lot of detail and there's less emphasis on the homework."
"Which do you do?"
We had been walking past the classrooms for quite some time now. Each door was made of wood so I couldn't see the actual rooms. A number was painted on most - not all - in black if it was even and blue if it was odd.
"Biology. It's kind of necessary if you reach Level 2 of Flora."
"What is Flora?"
"Oh, the study of plants and that sort of thing. It's like very specific Biology."
"And Moon Child Law?"
"Like your P. S. H. E. but relevant to Moon Children. There's also study of the history and evolution of the law."
I was intrigued. "Can you break human law and not get punished?" I wondered aloud.
"No, of course not," Edward said, looking strongly amused. "The human law is there for the safety and fair treatment of others. And we are actually people. You can break Moon Child Law without breaking human law, though. And then you do get punished."
I shivered. "That's worrying."
"Oh, I shouldn't. You can tell when you're doing something wrong - the system's built that way. So that naïve werewolves aren't unfairly punished."
I sighed in relief.
Edward opened the last door on the right-hand side of the corridor, into a room that must be situated at the front of the house.
Before we went through he gestured to the corridor at a right angle to this one, saying "That's the girls' corridor. You'll see it if you start coming here."
He grinned cheekily.
I flushed. "I told someone I would."
I followed him into the astonishingly long room. At the back wall was a wide window, through which sunlight streamed, illuminating brightly the banister in the centre of the room framing on one side a hole down which led set of stairs.
"What an odd structure this house has!" I exclaimed.
I walked along the strip of floor and around the end of that banister which accompanied the stairs on their descent to the ground floor. I gazed down into an artificially lit cupboard which contained blue aprons.
"That leads to the lab," Edward informed me, "but I'm not taking you anywhere until you tell me about this mystery person you promised you would attend Lupin Scuela."
I turned to see him sitting on a bench in front of the window. His hair glowed, looking like brown sugar in the sunshine.
"His name's Don," I told him instantly, eager to see more of the mansion, even if we had passed the majority of rooms en route to the lab.
"Donald Blackmaw?" Edward asked, seeming startled. "Where did you see him?"
"In the Boys' Corridor," I replied, wondering if there was something wrong with the boy who had talked to me so charmingly.
Edward frowned slightly.
"I'd be careful if I were you, Penny. There's something I don't quite trust about Don."
"Oh, okay, I will," I said, deciding not to tell him I was going out on a date with him.
Edward nodded. Then he smiled and stood up. He led me down the staircase and presented me with an apron at the base.
"Will I need that?" I asked, laughing.
He shook his head. "Nah."
He hung it back up on its hook.
We left the cupboard and I found myself in a vast room with three distinct sections. Each contained three tall benches at which three people could be seated, a teacher's desk - complete with computer and swivel chair; a pair of whiteboards on the wall which the desks were facing, and an array of cupboards and shelves, lined with different instruments according to the section.
The one directly opposite the apron cupboard appeared to be the area for Biology, small animals and models (I hoped) of body parts located in glass containers on the shelves and microscopes in the glass-fronted cupboards; the area in the opposite corner of the room to the cupboard the one for Chemistry - I recognised a fume cupboard against one wall and saw Bunsen burners in the cupboard, not to mention observed all the jars of solids and bottles of liquids; and the last, against the wall of the giant window (semi-covered by a tall ceiling-to-floor lilac curtain), for Physics. In the last section I saw a boy of mine and Edward's age with hair the colour of fox fur writing out a long, complicated-looking formula on the board. He wore a white lab coat, making him look a bit like a teacher.
"Hi, Dave," Edward called, strolling up to the boy. Turning to me, he said, "You can explore as long as you don't touch anything."
While he conversed with Dave, I walked around the room. I thought about how we had gotten here and figured it must be the room to the left of the long corridor connection the mansion's entrance hall and the gallery, as you looked on with your back against the wall where the two staircases were. I examined first the Biology section, peering at the cupboard creatures until I was frightened by the sight of a big tarantula, then the Chemistry area - thinking of how much I enjoyed the experiments in this subject, before walking over to the two boys because the space made me feel small and lonely.
Dave didn't appear to be the talkative sort: he merely nodded, shrugged or shook his head when Edward asked him a question. I noticed that the single door in the room was located in the centre of the wall up against which the apron cupboard and the Physics whiteboards were.
Edward caught my glance and grinned.
"Well, I've still got rooms to show Miss Howler," he told Dave, who smiled slightly at Edward's use of my title rather than my forename; "I'll see you at lunch."
Dave nodded and returned to his formula.
"Science boffin, that one," Edward said affectionately as he led me out of the room and thus out of the building.
I gasped. Before us stretched a beautiful meadow which contained all sorts of flowers, herbs and plants. Bordering it were many species of tree and a row of willows lined the back, their branches dangling like ropes into a small barely visible river behind the border.
"It's so beautiful," I whispered.
"We come out a lot during our Flora lessons and study the plants in a great environment." He grinned. "Dave has hayfever so I can always hear him sneezing."
"Is it just you and Dave?" I inquired, noticing how his ‘we' had become ‘I'.
"In Flora 2, yeah. Lor and Don can't be bothered to go up a level and Teritt struggles a bit with Flora 1."
"There are only five of you in your year?"
"Yeah. But I wouldn't call it a year because we're all different ages. I'd just call it a group."
"How many groups are there?"
"Two. But we don't really talk to the other group. I think it's composed of two girls and one boy."
"Wow - small numbers."
"There aren't many Moon Children in the country. But I think it helps because it's easier to form close friendships."
"D'you think I'd get on with the other girls?" I asked, slightly worried I'd be alone in this group of five boys.
"They're 18 or 19. You might not." He smiled again. "But we'll be your friends. And Molly, the receptionist, is lovely. She'll sort out any problems you have."
"Thanks," I said quietly, trying to hide my disappointment at the fact I wouldn't have a really close girlfriend.
Edward noticed my dejection and said, "Hey, it'll be okay."
I smiled ruefully.
"I know it will. It sounds really exciting to go to school here."
Edward nodded. "I personally love it."
"Because of Teritt?" I teased.
Edward smiled widely.
"Teritt's one of the best parts of it."
"How long have you been together?"
We had now commenced walking forwards along the mansion's left wall.
"A year," Edward replied. "We started dating within a fortnight of my arrival. I was quite shy because I'd never met another gay guy, and Lor, Don and Dave were all straight. But Teritt was confident and he told me we had every right to be together."
"Of course you did," I told him.
Edward seemed to radiate warm feelings.
"Yeah. I see that now. And no one minds so we really enjoy our lives here." Edward frowned and his aura shattered. "Except when the Alpha's here. Teritt pretends it doesn't faze him but I know he hates it as much as I do."
"Hates what? You wouldn't tell me last week." I tried to inquire gently but I couldn't deny my curiosity.
We rounded the corner and walked along the front of the academy building. Edward looked pained.
"If you're a gay guy or a straight girl, you find the Alpha..." He trailed off, cheeks red under the all-revealing sun.
"Find him what?" I asked, alarmed. "Is this going to apply to me?"
"Then tell me!" I winced at my volume: I hadn't meant to shout. "I'm sorry," I told him, quieter this time. "Just, ... if it concerns me, ..."
"Of course you have a right to know," Edward said. "I just can't phrase it politely."
"Oh dear," I said worriedly.
Edward nodded in agreement.
"Will you say it anyway?" I questioned.
"I'll have to." Edward looked mildly distressed. I distantly noticed we were passing the mansion's entrance by and dimly wondered if we were going the right way.
Edward took a breath.
"I find him: Teritt finds him: you'll find him..." He shook his head in utterly unwilling admiration: "the sexiest man in the world."