Note: This takes place during School of Shadows (The Eversfield Academy Vampire Hunters: Book One), and it killed me to delete this scene!
Ultimately, it wasn't moving the book forward in terms of plot. But I love this scene for showing Lila and Gabe's budding relationship and further showcasing both of their characters.
And what happens in these scenes is referenced both in School of Shadows itself and in later books in The Eversfield Academy Vampire Hunters romantic YA urban fantasy series.
P.S. If you're reading School of Shadows now, this deleted scene happens before Chapter 22 (so read it between Chapters 21 and 22 of the regular book).
Chapter 22: Girl of Fate
Lila’s stomach rumbled as she rushed into the classroom. She’d been far too nervous this morning to eat more than a couple bites of cereal.
And it appeared Lila had every reason to be nervous. Not only was she getting piles of homework in addition to all those summer assignments, but she’d had to do that stupid “stand in the front and say something interesting” thing in each of her past three classes. You’d think that, after the first one, she would have it down pat, but no, she blanked on every single one. And I’m probably not finished yet.
Even worse, the story of how she’d fallen off the plank last night seemed to be making the rounds. When she neared other students, conversations stopped and a mixture of pitying and superior looks met her. Here and there, she thought she heard a whispered plank or saw hand motions mimicking a fall.
Being invisible like she’d been at her last school was better than this.
Avoiding eye contact with the students who’d already taken their seats, Lila stumbled to the metal podium front and center. Behind it, a teacher with a snowy beehive shuffled through a stack of papers. Lila assembled what might be the last of her courage.
“Hi, Ms…” Lila stared at her worn class schedule, deliberating between various pronunciations of her math teacher’s name. “Ms. Petoskanov?”
Only when her index finger reached the bottom of the top sheet did Ms. Petoskanov look up. “Yes?” Her voice creaked over her single word.
“I’m new here. I’m supposed to give this to you?” Lila offered a note the color of Pepto-Bismol, identical to the ones she’d handed the previous three teachers.
Ms. Petoskanov collected the quarter-sheet of paper and examined it through bespectacled eyes. She gestured to where Lila stood. “Stay here until class starts.” Spry steps at odds with her raspy voice and wrinkled-as-a-raisin face delivered Ms. Petoskanov to a coffee mug on the corner of a cluttered desk.
With a frown, Lila dropped her hefty backpack to the floor between her feet. Instead of racking her brain for the non-existent interesting fact, she studied her fingernails, the pattern of her too-long plaid skirt, the brand-new scuff marks laced throughout her brand-new flats, anything to avoid that sea of chattering students in front of her.
Brrringhh! B-b-brrringhh! Brrringhh! Eversfield’s old-fashioned bells chimed. They announced the beginning of class.
Lila drew a deep breath, a futile attempt to prepare for her big introduction. An empty desk waited in either back corner of Ms. Petoskanov’s tidy grid. Which was supposed to be hers? Maybe she could pick? In which case, she would choose the one closest to the door and the escape route.
From behind her desk, Ms. Petoskanov clapped her hands together and quieted Lila’s classmates. “All right, class. We will begin in a moment. First, we need to welcome our newest student, Miss Delilah Lee.”
Lila winced. While she appreciated Ms. Petoskanov’s peppy “teaching” voice, she wished she’d gotten Val’s memo. Lila hated correcting people about her name, something she’d had to do her whole entire life. “Oh, um, actually it’s—”
“Oh, that’s right. I’m sorry, Miss Lee prefers to be called Lila. Okay, Miss Lee, why don’t you introduce—”
A blur of ink-black hair dashed through the open door. It stopped Ms. Petoskanov in her tracks.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Petoskanov, I had to run an errand during study hall that went a bit late. But it won’t happen again, I promise.” Gabe lowered his voice to a whisper, “I did get this for you though, as an apology.” Using his hand to shield it from the vision of the other students—all except Lila—Gabe placed a three-pack of chocolate truffles behind a stack of textbooks on Ms. Petoskanov’s desk.
“Mr. Matei, you know I do not tolerate tardiness. But I suppose…” Ms. Petoskanov completed a quick—but thorough—investigation of the chocolate, obvious only from Lila’s standing perspective. “In this case, you have not missed anything. Yet. Take your seat while Miss Lee introduces herself. Miss Lee, go ahead.”
“Yes, um…” Lila peeked at Gabe. She’d expected to see nothing but his muscular back as he retreated to his desk.
Instead, Gabe walked backwards along the wall of windows. He flashed a crooked smile and winked at her.
Lila’s legs turned to mush. Her brain did the same. Her fingers flew to pick at her hair only to find this morning’s tight braid.
No. You got through that car ride last night without making an idiot of yourself. You can do so again.
Everyone’s eyes were on Lila and here she was, losing her mind over some boy. Lila’s breath hitched, but she forced herself forward. Her voice shook. “Uh, hi everyone. Um, like Ms… Like she said, my name is Lila Lee. I’m a junior, and I just started at Eversfield this year.” Lila glanced at Ms. Petoskanov for help, but she was too busy drooling over her truffles. “Um, I’m in Lizzie, I mean, Elizabeth Blackwell…house. Um…” Biting her bottom lip, Lila searched for something else to say. Should she give up and ask Ms. Petoskanov whether she could be done?
Ms. Petoskanov dropped her chocolates into a drawer and closed it. A lock clicked into place. “Yes, very good, dear. You may take your seat.” Ms. Petoskanov pointed at the final open seat, the one in the back corner near the exit.
The one all the way across the classroom from him.
“Oh, and Miss Lee, please see me after class. We’ll have to go over your summer assignments and their due date. Now, class, please hand your summer assignments to the person in front of you, then open your textbook to page one hundred twenty-four.”
Guess I’m making up the first hundred pages on my own.
* * *
Lila stretched her frozen claw of a hand. How did a little old lady like Ms. Petoskanov generate pages and pages of notes during a single hour-long class? And how many questions could this overzealous classmate ask? At the close of class, he’d headed straight for Ms. Petoskanov. Since Lila still had to collect her things at that point, it hadn’t worried her. Now, she’d spent the last five minutes standing a respectful distance away, watching the clock and waiting. All for the glory of adding more homework to her already endless heap.
It wasn’t all terrible, though. Lila had lunch next, so he wasn’t making her late for her next class. And being late for her first lunch at Eversfield might be good. With everyone settled by the time she got there, maybe she could find a friendly face or two. At the very least, she could tuck herself into a corner.
Or a stall in the bathroom.
Wait. I’m in a boarding school now. I could just take my food to my room.
Lila almost smiled.
Bzzzt bzzzt. Her phone vibrated.
Lila checked it.
This time, she did smile. On its screen was a gif of the cutest kitten in the world falling asleep in front of the camera.
Val: Me in history
Hmm, should I go with a snarky response or a sympathetic one?
“Okay, Mr. Frazer? I need to speak with Miss Lee now if there’s nothing else.” Despite Mr. Frazer’s working lips, Ms. Petoskanov ushered him to the open door. “Remember, Mr. Frazer, you can bring any other questions to my weekly office hours.”
With Mr. Frazer out the door, Ms. Petoskanov walked past Lila to her cluttered desk. She sank into her chair, crossed one leg over the other, then waved Lila over. “All right, Miss Lee, I apologize for the wait. I’ve taken the liberty of extending the deadline for the work the rest of us completed over the summer.”
Returning her phone to the front pocket of her bursting-at-the-seams backpack, Lila suppressed a frown. She should be used to it by now. After all, she’d gotten the list of the various summer assignments from Ms. Pershing yesterday.
But somehow, getting all of it reiterated now, at the end of each class, with the deadlines big, bright, and bold, made it so much worse.
“As you saw, the entire class completed a bundle of assignments over the summer and turned them in today. Obviously, you could not do this. In case Ms. Pershing missed any, I printed the assignments for you a second time.” Ms. Petoskanov handed Lila a hefty pile of papers fastened together with an extra-large binder clip. She was not the first teacher today to do so. “On top you’ll see the list of assignments. I expect you to finish them by next Monday, although I do recommend you don’t wait that long.” Ms. Petoskanov pointed at the heavy packet clutched to Lila’s chest. “Below the top sheet are copies of the relevant lecture notes from our Pre-Calculus class. They may help you with the assignments, should you need it. Our textbook also contains review chapters. I saw that you have it already.”
Lila nodded, her eyes now flowing over the top sheet of the packet from Ms. Petoskanov. It listed eight assignments, each consisting of thirty problems. Two hundred and forty problems to complete in less than a week. In addition to the homework Ms. Petoskanov had given them today. In addition to the homework—both current and overdue—from the rest of her classes.
Ms. Petoskanov smiled, displaying a yellowed snaggletooth to the right of her front teeth. “Wonderful. The textbook is an excellent resource. Now, my weekly office hours are posted outside the door, as well as the meeting times of a few study groups. I suggest you use at least one method to catch up.” Ms. Petoskanov assessed Lila through lenses that magnified her amber eyes. “I know, Miss Lee, this must be quite different from your old school. Should you need help, please come to my office hours or join one of the study groups or both. Remember, we would not have admitted you if we did not think you up to the challenge. Yes, you have a good deal of work ahead of you, both now and over the next two years. But I assure you, it will be well worth it.” Her motivational speech complete, Ms. Petoskanov stood and guided the staggering Lila toward the exit.
In the two minutes it had taken for Lila to “chat” with Ms. Petoskanov, gravity had quadrupled its force. Lila dragged her feet toward the door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Miss Lee.”
“Yes. Thank you.” The door closed behind Lila. Had she just thanked her teacher for assigning her months’ worth of homework to complete in a week?
Yes, she had.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Lila untucked her navy polo, then tugged at the hem. Well, I can at least try not to get lost.
Again. For the third time today. It turned out that Val’s tour didn’t help all that much.
Or maybe it did and she was that bad at navigating Eversfield.
Shaking her head at her stupidity, Lila glanced up to get her bearings.
Icy blue eyes collided with hers.
Lila’s heart hiccuped. Her breath stuttered. Her thoughts skittered to a halt.
Gabe—Gabe—leaned against the opposite wall. A lock of wavy hair dipped past his inky brows. His mouth was cocked in that crooked half-smile.
Yes, she’d gotten through that entire car ride last night just fine. And she’d gotten through the appetizer course of Semester Start just fine.
But this morning, Val had whispered all those things about how Gabe was so cute and such a good choice and how he definitely liked her as more than a friend and how they would be so good together and it was just too much. It put too much pressure on her to be pretty and witty and perfect.
No, the only way she could talk to him now was if she thought of him as nothing but a friend. That was the only way out of this.
Gabe slid his phone into his pocket. “Hey. Thought I’d walk you to the caf for lunch.”
Wind gusted through the open window at the end of the hall.
It slammed into Lila.
It slammed into her papers from Ms. Petoskanov.
It scattered her papers every which way.
It scattered her papers around Gabe’s feet.
Chapter 23: Boy of Lies
Gabe squatted and picked up several sheets of what looked like extensive math notes. Only mostly by accident, his fingers brushed against Lila’s.
Like during the appetizer course of Semester Start, all those heavy Nightstalker concerns fell off his shoulders. This time, an intoxicating energy surged through him, like he could do anything. It was more than strength, more than calm, more than confidence.
It was more.
His stomach flipped.
Who was this girl? What was she?
Lila gathered the last piece of paper, then clutched the entire stack to her chest. “I’m so sorry. That wind came out of nowhere, right? I can’t believe it. You shouldn’t have to… I’m sorry.”
Gabe handed Lila the papers he’d gathered. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault.” Unless you’re a manifesting Wind Diviner.
I’ll have to text Marina as soon as I get a chance.
“Yeah, well. Sorry anyway.” On her knees, Lila wiggled the re-formed packet into a space between two textbooks in her backpack.
Gabe started down the hallway. “C’mon, let’s go eat.”
Lila’s shoes slapped against the tile floor as she caught up to him. That soothing, electrifying, jasmine-coffee-vanilla scent came with her. “What… I mean, how… I mean, how did you know?”
“Marina saw your schedule in your room and told me that you two have Chem together, which I happen to know is her first class after lunch. I also happen to know that she has the same lunch period I do.” Gabe’s insides twisted at the admission that he’d checked up on Lila. “Since we only have three lunch periods and you and I have Calc during the first one, I put two and two together.” He elbowed Lila, desperate to make her smile, even though he shouldn’t care about her or her smile. “Get it? Math? Two and two?”
Lila shook her head, but her full lips twitched toward the smile he craved. “Did you really just make a math pun?”
“Yup, and I’m darn proud of it.” Gabe led Lila down the stairs and into the covered walkway between the math and science building and the cafeteria.
Lila’s fingers fiddled with a backpack strap. Trained as he was to notice any movement out of the ordinary, it caught his eye.
Gabe rocked back onto his heels, then whistled. “Geez, Lila, what did you fill your backpack with? Books for your entire course load? That thing looks like it’s about ready to explode.”
“Oh, um…” Lila bit her lip and shoved her hands into the pockets of her plaid skirt. She avoided his gaze like a naughty dog.
It was better than a confession. “Really? You’re carrying all your books for all your classes?”
“I didn’t know what I would need. And the teachers have been adding to it.” Lila shrugged. The straps of her overloaded backpack dug into her shoulders.
Gabe’s free hand itched to take it from her. He could carry that stuffed backpack without an ounce of pain, thanks to his supernatural nature. But it wasn’t a line he could cross, also thanks to his supernatural nature. “Okay, that’s fair. I’m guessing they’ve given you enough homework to last a month or so?”
“If not longer,” Lila grumbled.
“Well, here’s a tip, courtesy of one Gabriel Matei. It’s okay to go back to your room between classes. In fact, I encourage it.”
Lila’s bright eyes darted up to his. “I didn’t think I would have enough time. This campus is so big. How do people do it?”
“Now that depends on who you are. Take Marina, for example. She plots out each and every stop in her day based on proximity to her—your—room. Me, on the other hand, you saw my strategy today.”
Lila snorted. “What? Bribe the teachers?”
“No, I wouldn’t say bribe. I just keep…little gifts in my room. Just in case.”
“Mm-hmm.” One of Lila’s dark eyebrows arched. “Does this mean your room is always stocked with chocolate?”
Gabe grinned. Energy that had nothing to do with fighting the Indestructible and everything to do with her pulsed along his limbs. “Maybe. You’re welcome to find out.”
“Hmm.” Lila tugged at the end of her braid. “No. I think you’ll have to prove it to me first. Should be easy since we have Calc together and all.”
“All right, I’ll see what I can do. No promises, though. My stash is for bribing teachers, not junior girls.” Gabe held the cafeteria’s back door open for Lila.
Walking through it backward, she pointed at his chest. “Aha! You admit it! You do bribe the teachers!”
Lila turned around. Her brows rose and her mouth fell open.
Even this rear portion of the cafeteria swam with students. Although Gabe had expected nothing less, it was brand-new for Lila. She stopped just inside the door, her face slack. That vibrant green gaze crawled over the crowd. Along the wall of windows, two cafeteria workers swiped card after card while the other three handed out boxed lunches from neat piles on the tables spread out in front of them. The aromas of today’s hot food—of pizza and grilled cheese and some sort of casserole—weaved around them.
“Here, come with me.” Ignoring the tickle of butterfly wings, Gabe grabbed Lila’s wrist and squeezed them through the mass of students. Only once they had both entered the dim hallway in the opposite corner did Gabe release her.
His fingers swept through his hair, shaky.
Gabe’s jaw clenched. She’s just a potential Latent I have to keep an eye on. That’s all. His heart beat in time to the two pairs of feet hitting the floor.
When they emerged from the narrow hallway, Gabe gulped away whatever-that-was and spread his arms wide. He squinted against the blazing light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. “Here we are.”
The front of the cafeteria was even more packed than the back. Most waited in a line extending from the serving stations next to him and Lila, down the wall of windows, and past the side doors. The line stopped a few feet shy of the back corner. Scattered along the reddish-brown benches and chairs were the few students who’d already made it through that line and those who’d chosen a boxed lunch from the back of the cafeteria instead of a hot meal. In the far corner, Eversfield staff climbed up a stairway to the overhanging staff lounge. They included a tray-laden Ms. Pershing.
From his usual table near the middle, Emilia waved to Gabe. He gave her an easy, confident, “this is just another day at Eversfield” smile, but his nails bit into his math notebook. Emilia was a reminder that he could not stay with Lila. He had responsibilities that were too important to ignore, even for a half hour. He’d done his part. He’d walked her here. He’d watched for manifesting talents. His work was done. It was time to leave her.
But what harm could it cause to stay? It was Lila’s first day, and here she was, all alone again, just like at Semester Start last night. He could stay with her.
His gaze collided with Emilia’s. No, he couldn’t.
But there was one thing he could do. “Hey, you comin’ to the Pasteur party Wednesday night? As our partner school, everyone from Blackwell’s invited.” His guts tied up in knots waiting for Lila’s answer.
She tightened her grip on her backpack’s straps. “Oh, um, probably? I can’t imagine Val would miss a party.”
“And where she goes, you go?”
Lila shifted from foot to foot. She looked out the window framing the courtyard with its spokes of cobblestone paths separated by mowed grass and trimmed trees. “I mean, yeah. I guess.”
“In that case, I’ll see you there.” The time to leave Lila and return to his life as Eversfield Cell First and destined-to-die-a-gruesome-death Warrior had arrived. At least he’d already discussed the weirdness of last night with Emilia, and she’d confirmed that nothing strange had happened during her patrol and that Cosmina hadn’t said anything about feeling weird at The Black Bean. He hadn’t checked in with his parents about any visiting Diviners yet, but if he was the only one feeling off, it was probably in his head. Too much stimulation with those stupid visions of her.
With those stupid visions of the intoxicating girl before him.
The one he had to leave, for her own good and for the good of all his fellow Eversfield students. “Well, this is my stop.”
“Oh, okay.” Lila covered her frown with a half-hearted smile.
Compassion swelled within him.
Gabe ground his teeth against it. A heartbeat later, he grinned and pointed a teasing finger at Lila. “Now, don’t forget, Lila…”
Her emerald stare dashed up.
Gabe’s breath caught in his chest, but he forced the words out, “Stop by your room before your next class and unload that thing. You look like a giant tortoise.” Gabe turned away from her. He retreated to Emilia and the Nightstalkers.
Until he remembered. Then, he spun on his heel and walked backward through the maze of tables and chairs. He called, “Oh and Lila! You don’t have to bring every textbook to every class. In fact, you probably don’t need to bring them at all. That was tip number two.” Gabe winked—the perfect disguise—then turned around and jogged the few remaining feet to Emilia.
With a cocked eyebrow, Emilia handed him his usual plate of pizza. “What was all that about?”
“All what?” Grateful for the excuse to compose his thoughts, Gabe dug into his lunch.
“Back there. With the girl from last night at Semester Start.”
Gabe swallowed a bite. When he spoke, nonchalance dripped from his voice. “I told you. She’s Marina’s new roommate. I’m s’posed to keep an eye on her, you know, because of last year.” Somehow, he’d forgotten about those worries after only a little more than twenty-four hours. “We’re in the same math class right before this, so I walked her here.”
Emilia nodded. She accepted his half-truth as complete. “You gonna keep doin’ that?”
Gabe hadn’t thought about it. Yet his decision was made in an instant. “Think so. At least till we know she’s no threat.”
The lies piled up around him. To Emilia, his relationship with Lila was about protecting Marina, something from which it had started. To Marina, it was about discovering whether Lila was a Latent, something that still concerned him. To him… Well, he didn’t know what it was about. And maybe he liked that. A touch of uncertainty in his life when his future was certain. Plus, when he was with her, all the…complications of life as a Nightstalker Warrior faded away like they were someone else’s concerns. Like he had a normal, human future.
“So, about patrol tonight…”
Gabe squashed his grimace. For that short while, he was almost a regular person and not a supernatural freak. That time had passed.