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Loch Raven

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Chapter One

The hot August sun shined down as I looked up through the giant skylight. The train station buzzed with noise and hustling bodies. My dad handed me my messenger bag. Normally stuffed with schoolbooks, it now carried my most precious possession—my digital camera.

“Do you think Archie’s going to be okay?” I asked him.

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” my dad assured me for the millionth time. I didn’t like the idea of my cat riding in a luggage car, but there had been nothing I could do about it. “I’m sure he’ll sleep the entire way.”

A message blasted over the intercom in the station. Last call for all passengers. I knew this was it, but still I hesitated before going up the stairs, my eyes lingering on the wispy clouds overhead. I wondered if the sky would look the same where I was going up north. My dad mistook my hesitation for something else and he quickly wrapped his arms around me, giving me one final hug.

After finding my seat, I pressed my face against the window and found my dad waving to me from the platform. His lips were smiling, but his eyes most definitely were not.

The doors closed and the train started moving with a jolt. I plopped down in my seat, surprised by the sudden movement. The only trains I had experience with were of the subway variety. I hadn’t been expecting something so colossal.

Looking back out the window, I watched my dad jog a few yards to keep pace with the train. He only stopped when he ran out of platform, but I could still see him still waving as he slipped into the distance.

I wondered guilty if he already knew I wouldn’t be returning home.

Nine hours and seven minutes later, the train reached a small station with a brightly painted sign welcoming travelers to New Market. Standing alone on the platform, I watched the sleek, silver train pull away, its loud horn echoing in the distance.

I shaded my eyes and squinted up at the sun. The sky looked more or less the same.

A pathetic meow caught my attention and I found my luggage stacked on the ground. Archie’s carrier sat on top and was currently being inspected by someone.

“That’s mine!” I called out, breaking into a slow jog toward my luggage.

The person turned and I surprised to discover that he looked about my age, maybe a few years older. Despite his square jaw and no-nonsense close-cropped haircut, his face broke into a friendly smile as I approached. I noticed the station’s logo stitched onto the pocket of his polo shirt.

“I heard the little guy crying and I thought maybe they’d dropped him off at the wrong place,” he said, poking his fingers through the door of the carrier. Archie rubbed his head against them and purred loudly. Normally he didn’t like having fingers poking at his face, but he probably wanted to get out of that carrier so badly that he would have purred for anyone.

“Don’t pay any attention to him.” I shrugged, trying to cover up the fact that that little jog had left me a little winded. “That cat is such a drama queen. He’s fine. We’ve just had a long trip, that’s all.” Despite my dismissive words, I crouched down so I could get a look at Archie. He barked a meow at me, demanding to be let out.

“Is someone coming to pick you up?” the guy asked. When I straightened again, I realized he’d retrieved a metal trolley and had already started loading my luggage onto it. “I take it you’re a freshman, but the shuttle for the college doesn’t start making the rounds until next week. I could call you cab, if you want.” Muscles flexed under his sun-tanned arms as he picked up my giant suitcase. He lifted it like it weighed nothing at all.

“I’m actually going to Loch Raven Manor,” I explained, picking up Archie’s carrier so he could load the last of the suitcases. “Someone’s coming to pick me. The groundskeeper, I think.”

“Oh, that would be Brack. Well, in that case, you can wait for him over here. Follow me.”

I did as I was told and followed the guy as he pushed the trolley to the front of the station. After setting the trolley next to a shaded bench, he left me to go disappear inside. A dirty travel bus sat parked outside with its door flung open. The driver paced around in little circles talking on a cell phone. One U-Haul truck occupied a parking spot in front of the small, dingy truck stop that shared the parking lot with the train station.

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