BOOK 1 // THREE: The Interview

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 My leg was shaking.

Because of this, it hadn't taken long to realise that my footwear choice – the pair of heeled ankle boots my mum had bought specially for the occasion – had been misguided. They were much too obvious. Every so often I'd notice the tap-tap-tap on the wooden floor, remember with a start that my nerves were showing, and stop – except this only lasted until my mind started wandering again.

Waiting outside the UNL admissions office, it was safe to say I'd had calmer moments.

The receptionist had left me alone in the waiting room: a bare box decorated only by a houseplant and the world's stiffest sofa. The exit seemed like a gesture for my nerves, but in reality, it just made my shallow breathing all the more obvious. Sitting here, there was too much space to break the poised façade I was fighting to maintain.

I couldn't stop twisting the ring on my index finger; the motion of the circling gold cross was inexplicably soothing. Though I wore it all the time, the habit of fiddling only appeared when I was nervous. For that reason, it was kind of a wonder I hadn't snapped it clean in half in the last twenty minutes.

Only two years ago I'd inherited it – and even then, not officially. It belonged to Nova before she went missing, back when it was odd to see any of her fingers bare, and I spent most of my time begging to try her rings on. I didn't care much for history, but the gold cross was some kind of old religious symbol. Nova had tried to explain it to me a few times; she was a complete nerd for that stuff, always reading up on weird old beliefs about Gods and commandments and prayers. In fact, she loved it so much she even got the same cross tattooed on the back of her neck when she was seventeen. My parents didn't know about that one.

It was weird that, with Nova gone, the ring hadn't followed her. But on that night when blue lights had been flashing outside my window, and I'd woken up to my parents screaming my sister's name after a speeding car, it had sat on the hallway carpet like some kind of sign.

The irrational side of me once wondered if it held some kind of clue, like keeping it would eventually lead me back to Nova. But after studying it for the best part of two years, I'd had to reach the crushing conclusion that it was just what it looked like: an old piece of jewellery.

The door opened then, and my head snapped up, meeting the gaze of the pale-faced receptionist who'd first left me here.

"The interviewer is ready for you," she said. "If you'd like to come with me."

I rose from my seat. My legs felt unsteady beneath me; I still hadn't got the shaking under control. There was no logical reason to feel so terrified about what I was one hundred per cent prepared for, but my body wouldn't listen to rational thought. Smoothing down my pressed skirt, I followed her into the hall.

I thought I knew the way. Orla had described everything about her interview in painstaking detail when she'd returned last week, gushing about how well it had turned out. The admissions office was at the end of the corridor, overlooking the campus' main courtyard. But just as we were approaching the door, the receptionist made another turn and headed down a separate hallway.

Perhaps she was new on the job? This wasn't the place I'd heard about from any of my other classmates, who'd discussed nothing but interviews for a month straight. And I couldn't resist asking.

"Are you sure this is the right room?" I began tentatively. "Only, I thought the office was back there..."

We'd come to a halt in front of another door. The plaque read J.D. Nielsen – not the name of the admissions tutor my mum had spent the last two weeks prepping me to meet. I hadn't even heard the name before.

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